This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
While others touted the beauty of Cummins Falls during its dedication Tuesday, Carol Hudelston saw a greater purpose in the new state park. The Cookeville woman lost her 18-year-old son, Bryan, in an accident at the falls in September 2009. Tears flowing, she joined the crowd Tuesday to show her support for the state takeover of the site and its provisions for visitor protection. “He came here a lot to swim,” Hudelston said.
The newest state park in Tennessee is now Cummins Falls near Cookeville. The property surrounds the state’s eighth largest waterfall The park is relatively small, just 211 acres. But it has a gem in the middle. Cummins Falls was ranked as one of the ten best swimming holes in the country by Travel and Leisure magazine. Much of the property was bought at auction in 2010 by conservationists concerned that a developer would build scenic homes. The state then purchased the property and is taking over operations.
The wheels are in motion for Mars Petcare’s move south. The pet food giant broke ground this week on its $87.9 million regional innovation center in Thompson’s Station. It will be Mars’ sixth site in Tennessee and the company’s first U.S. regional innovation center for North America, one of five globally. It’s where new pet food recipes will be produced, and researchers and veterinarians will test the foods on dogs and cats that will live there. Mars expects to hire 144 new employees at the innovation center when it’s complete in 2014.
Pet food company Mars Petcare broke ground Tuesday morning on an $87 million regional innovation center in Williamson County. Governor Bill Haslam, Congressman Martha Blackburn, and company leaders were on hand for the ground breaking ceremony on Tuesday in Thompson’s Station. It marks the beginning of construction on the four-building campus where Mars and the Nutro Company will create new pet food innovations for the North American market.
Mars Petcare, which makes well-known brands like Pedigree and Whiskas, has begun construction of a research facility in rural Williamson County. The Franklin-based company plans to hire 150 people. The site includes laboratories, meeting space and pods where dogs and cats will live while they’re participating in studies. David Macnair is vice president of research and development. “The campus will serve as our home base for developing new breakthrough products that help make a better world for pets, a reality.”
Late Monday, the Tennessee Technology Development Corp. announced the first round of investments made through the state’s INCITE Co-investment Fund. Investors participating in the program invested approximately $4.4 million in Tennessee ventures. The companies that received the funds are local players Molecular Sensing, Pathfinder Therapeutics and Pro Player Connect as well as Chattanooga-based SIGNiX and business incubator Venture Incite, which has offices in Nashville and Oak Ridge.
The state of Tennessee’s INCITE fund has fueled more than $4 million in private investment in ventures including health care, business services and the sports world. In an announcement, The Tennessee Technology Development Corp., which is administering the fund for the state, announced $4.4 million in private investment following $1.9 million from the government fund. INCITE is a nearly $30 million pot of federal money the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, developed as part of a larger innovation and job creation plan.
Two Sevierville women are each facing two counts of TennCare fraud following a joint investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and the Sevierville Police Dept., the OIG’s office announced on Tuesday. “The Special Agents of the Office of Inspector General are working closely with local police officers all over the state especially as it pertains to case involving the illegal use or sales of prescription drugs,” Inspector General Deborah Y. Faulkner said.
Battle against painkillers, meth may be fueling more heroin use As Tennessee celebrated four years of general crime declines last month, a devil was lost in the details: Drug crimes rose to their second-highest number in 11 years. The story was repeated across the Nashville area. While overall crime in 2011 was a mixed bag, drug-related incidents generally rose in Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced that federal and state aeronautics grants totaling $394,100 have been approved for six Tennessee airports. Airports receiving grants include: McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport in Madison County; John A. Baker Field in Lewis County; Houston County Airport; Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport; Hassell Field in Wayne County and Smithville Municipal Airport in DeKalb County, according to a news release.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is planning to step up efforts to enforce seat belt usage over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. State Troopers along with other state and local law enforcement agencies are participating in the national seat belt enforcement campaign, Click it or Ticket, May 21 through June 3. The 2012 Memorial Day holiday period begins at midnight Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. Nineteen people were killed on Tennessee roadways during the 2011 Memorial Day holiday weekend, six more than in 2010.
National Health Investors’ expansion plans likely aren’t getting any help from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, according to a note from one of its borrowers. NHI executives told the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday that ElderTrust of Florida officials have informed them that Attorney General Bob Cooper has told ElderTrust it will not approve the company’s proposed sale of seven skilled nursing facilities to NHI. ElderTrust is a not-for-profit entity to which NHI has loaned money.
A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in his history — a fact that a couple GOP incumbents want to highlight even while a fellow member of their caucus faces trial for DUI himself. The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.
Soddy-Daisy residents will not see a tax hike this year, but city employees could see an across-the-board raise after the City Commission passed the first reading of its $10 million budget. Commissioner Shane Harmon, the lone opponent to the 5 percent raise in last Thursday’s 4-1 vote, said he made his decision based on the state of the economy. “I know it’s been awhile since employees had a substantial raise, and I know they deserve one. But I think now is the wrong time,” Harmon said.
A no-tax-hike budget that includes 2 percent raises for Clinton city employees has been approved on first reading, City Manager Roger Houck said. Council members in a 7-0 vote Monday approved the $9,842,504 budget, which keeps the property tax rate at 76 cents per $100 assessed value for the second year in a row. A healthy 7 percent increase in sales tax revenue helped balance the budget, Houck said. Final reading, and a public hearing on the fiscal proposal, is scheduled June 25.
Collins’ plan touts balance, keeps libraries open, lowers tax, and dips into reserves for schools A second Memphis City Council member introduced a budget plan that would reduce the city property tax rate. Like Councilman Jim Strickland, council member Harold Collins produced his own budget proposal. Collins’ proposal would set the city’s tax rate at $3.11, down from the current $3.19 per $100 of assessed value. Mayor A C Wharton has proposed a one-time, 47-cent property tax increase for the next fiscal year to fund Memphis City Schools.
The Shelby County Commission may not have the last word on a county government operating budget it added nearly $1 million to and for which it raided the county’s $90 million reserve fund to balance the budget. “They will send the budget up to us and like every resolution, we either sign it, veto it or not sign it,” Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said after the Monday, May 21, vote by the commission. “We’ll sit down and we’ll sharpen our pencil and look at what we can do and what can’t do and make our decision.”
A new bill co-sponsored by United States Congressman, Dr. Phil Roe, hopes to make epinephrine shots in schools mandatory across the country. Currently only Nebraska and Virginia have laws in place requiring schools to stock epinephrine and school staff to administer it should a student experience an anaphylactic reaction due to severe allergies. H.R. 3627 or the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act is designed to encourage states to adopt the policy which was recently enacted in Virginia following the death of student who had eaten a peanut and experienced an anaphylactic reaction.
Yes-or-no questions don’t always get an easy answer from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and his Republican challengers. At Monday night’s 3rd District GOP primary debate, WRCB-TV anchor David Carroll asked Fleischmann, Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp to assume they had won the Republican nomination. Would they debate the Democratic nominee? Bhalla and Wamp said yes. Fleischmann praised “the debate process,” described it as “very, very informative” and said it was “what our Founding Fathers wanted.”
The Tennessee Valley Authority is investigating who hung a noose at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports this is the fifth time a noose has been reported at a TVA facility in the past four years. Agency spokesman Travis Brickey said he did not know whether investigators believe the placement of the noose was racially motivated. He said he could not give any other details on the incident.
Two Tennessee employers are finalists for an award sponsored by the Department of Defense. Iostudio of Nashville and the Tennessee Valley Authority are competing for the 2012 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which honors employers for exceptional support of Guard and Reserve employees. They are among 30 finalists; 15 winners will be announced this summer. Iostudio, a marketing firm, sends care packages to deployed employees throughout the year.
The Tennessee Valley Authority and Native American tribes in the valley have consulted on issues affecting both. A three-day workshop May 15-17 in Chattanooga fulfilled a requirement that TVA consult with tribal leaders routinely. The federal utility has conducted the workshops every five years since 2002. TVA historian and Native American liaison Pat Ezzell said a strong relationship with the tribes is important because each tribe is recognized as its own sovereign nation.
Aileen Stalvey says she was “born to shop,” but shopping for surgery left her with a bill from Baptist Hospital for more than twice the amount she’d been quoted. “Even though we asked for a price and got a written estimate, the invoice comes out afterward charging us double what we signed for,” said the Inglewood woman, whose disputed bill has been turned over to a collection agency. “It’s like a roofer saying, ‘I’m going to go do your roof,’ and then afterward sending a bill for the tiles. We found out later that the implants needed to do my operation were not included in the estimate.”
Knox County Schools’ makes end of school year today During her freshman year at the L&N STEM Academy, Gillian Davis and her classmates got an opportunity to visit Dollywood, but it wasn’t just for the thrill of the roller coasters. Instead the students used the rides in the amusement park to record the movement of things for their physics class. “It made it even cooler to see how motion worked because I had never really thought about it,” said Davis, who is 14.
Dobyns-Bennett High School is ranked eighth across Tennessee and just past 1,000th nationwide in a list of best high schools from U.S. News and World Report. It is among two Tri-Cities high schools that made the top 10 in the Volunteer State and three in the top 16. In a list where magnet schools were in the top three positions statewide, D-B was fifth best among non-magnet schools and ranked 1,037th nationally among all high schools, which for purposes of the rankings are magnet, charter and all others.
Transition panel nears completion of outline The commission planning the transition to a merged city-county school system gave the unified school board a brief introduction Tuesday to what it has in mind. The Transition Planning Commission will reach a key milestone on June 14 with the completion of the first draft of its plan, TPC chairwoman Barbara Prescott said in a presentation to the board at its weekly work session. The board will get the draft — about 150 pages of text and PowerPoint slides — on June 25.
Faced with depleted federal stimulus dollars, Metro Nashville Public Schools plans to cut jobs of more than 100 special education paraprofessionals, or trained aides, the school district announced Tuesday. “While cutting positions is not easy, we have been very careful to review all students’ needs and we will continue to meet those needs,” said Debbie McAdams, the district’s executive director for Exceptional Education, the division that oversees Metro’s special-needs students.
There will be at least 100 fewer people working with students who have disabilities in Metro Schools next year. The district announced the job cuts today, blaming an end of federal stimulus money. Attrition may ease some of the job cuts. Others are expected to take positions as bus drivers or cafeteria workers. But the district may still resort to layoffs. A statement from Metro Schools says the full number of positions that need to be reduced won’t be known until later this summer.
Bradley County education officials want to hire a few more guidance counselors, offer school system employees a raise and tackle a few small capital projects in the coming budget year. In a meeting with Bradley County commissioners earlier this week, schools administrators announced plans to increase service levels, energy efficiency and safety on Bradley school campuses while staying within a limited budget. “What makes a great school system is great people,” said Johnny McDaniel, director of the county school system.
Alternate proposal also discussed at meeting Members of the Knox County school board and County Commission publicly met Tuesday for the first time to discuss the school system’s request for an additional $35 million for a much broader, long-term plan that targets a number of educational investments, including technology and additional instruction time in classrooms. Commissioners asked questions about accountability and additional instructional time.
Two people were arrested when Blount County authorities raided a residential methamphetamine lab Tuesday afternoon. Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies and investigators with the 5th Judicial Drug Task Force responded to the residence on Old Chilhowee Road, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. It was not immediately clear how authorities were first alerted to the scene. Authorities allegedly discovered four separate “one pot” methamphetamine labs outside, where the suspects apparently were attempting to burn any remaining evidence.
The Carter County Sheriff’s Department and the Elizabethton Police Department worked together Monday to make a traffic stop and arrest the driver on methamphetamine charges. The driver was identified as Dallas C. Vance, 23, 206 Mosier Road. He was charged with possession of schedule III drugs, possession of schedule IV drugs, initiation of methamphetamine manufacture, promotion of methamphetamine manufacture and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Tuesday a tax-cut measure that had divided GOP lawmakers in one of the country’s most fiscally conservative states, pitting tea-party advocates who argued it would spur economic growth against some fellow Republicans who worried the cuts go too far. The tax plan, which was the subject of weeks of intense debate and political maneuvering in the legislature, will reduce the top individual state income-tax rate to 4.9% from 6.45% in 2013.
It’s good news that Bob Corker has decided to seek a second term as a U.S. senator from Tennessee. This is not to say Corker’s record is perfect or that he shouldn’t face a strong challenger from the Democratic Party. Nobody’s perfect in politics. Every politician needs to be true-tested by a tough race. But Corker clearly has grown and expanded his political range in his first term. For Memphis, Corker’s victory over local phenom and congressman Harold Ford Jr. was a tough pill to swallow for many.
When Chuck Fleischmann first ran for his 3rd District congressional seat two years ago, he adamantly refused to participate in public debates. Now we know why. In his first such debate — on Tuesday night, and now in his pursuit of a second term — Fleischmann appeared uncomfortable yet uneasily eager to appear assertive and in charge, which had the contrary effect of making him seem defensive and rote, his scripted responses more programmed, strident and vacuous than convincing.
Much of the taxpaying public has, over time, been inoculated against a blanket call for more money for schools. That’s a problem for the present effort to pump $35 million new dollars annually into the Knox County school system. Mayor Tim Burchett has said he’ll veto a tax increase to provide the money. Supporters of additional funds for education are pouring pressure on county commissioners to approve the school budget increase and override a mayoral veto.
For too many students, a college education that is supposed to create opportunities can also mean years of struggle to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Schools must be required to do more to educate students about the real cost of their education and about a complex borrowing process that even the most sophisticated people have trouble understanding. An article in The Times last week described the experience of 23-year-old Kelsey Griffith. She currently earns a meager wage as a restaurant worker and owes $120,000 in student loans for an undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University, a college whose recent graduates are among the most indebted in the country.