This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee motorists will have access to real-time traffic information under a smartphone app the state Transportation Department is developing, Gov. Bill Haslam said today. The governor said officials are developing an application that will let iPhone and Android users easily access traffic and incident report information, which is already online. He said he hopes the free service will be ready by the fall. “TDOT has a lot of information with their [SmartWay] camera approach, a lot of information on roads and drive times,” Haslam said.
Stuck in traffic? Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that there will soon be an app for that. The governor said the Tennessee Department of Transportation is working on an application for smartphones to make it easier for motorists and others to tap into the agency’s real-time traffic and incident report data, much of which is already online. He hopes the free service will be rolled out in the fall. “TDOT has a lot of information with their (SmartWay) camera approach, a lot of information on roads and drive times.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is working on a smartphone app using the traffic data it already collects. It’s tentatively set to be available later this year. At a digital government conference in Nashville, Governor Bill Haslam told attendees that he just wants other drivers to have what he has. “If you’re the governor and you’re riding around with state troopers and you’re wondering ‘how does I-40 look?’ or ‘what’s the best route home today?’ I can get all that information real easy, but we want to make that so that everybody can. [laughter] Although it might mess up some of my fast ways home, but I’m willing to take that chance.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam traveled to Marion County to sign legislation to reduce the state portion of the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. “We’re focused on making state government more efficient and more effective while reducing the cost to taxpayers,” said Haslam. “The sales tax on food touches all Tennesseans, and this is an effort to lower the burden. I applaud the General Assembly for passing this important piece of legislation this year.”
Gov. Bill Haslam hasn’t thought much about what his perfect General Assembly would look like, but says there’s “no doubt” the scores of Republicans in the Legislature have helped him advance his agenda. Despite political division between moderate and conservative Republicans on several hot topics this year, Haslam says more GOP members in the Legislature means his team will have an easier time passing much of his legislation, like they did the last two years approving civil service and education reforms.
Governor Bill Haslam is slowly revealing which state lawmakers will get his help with their reelection campaigns. Rep. Debra Maggart will be one of the first. Maggart has been under assault from the Tennessee Firearms Association for her role in helping the Haslam Administration block gun legislation. The bill would have allowed people to keep weapons in their vehicles while parked at work. A recent fundraising letter says the Hendersonville Republican should be removed from office as an example to others.
Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. John Dreyzehner visited the Dyer County Health Department on Thursday morning as a part of the new commissioner’s tour of West Tennessee. Dreyzehner, who was appointed to serve as health commissioner by Gov. Bill Haslam in September, traveled to public health departments in several West Tennessee communities on Thursday, May 31. Accompanying him were Deputy Director of Regional and Local Health Rick Long, acting Director for the Division of Community Health Services Leslie Humphries and Regional Director Marilyn Barnes.
A Marion County man has been arrested on charges of TennCare fraud. Randy W. Troy, 44, of Whitwell, was arrested in Bradley County Tuesday, accused of “doctor shopping.” Doctor shopping is the practice of going to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain prescription drugs before it is reported to the state. “When individuals misuse their TennCare benefits, it’s a serious issue the Office of Inspector General will not tolerate,” Inspector General Deborah Y. Faulkner said.
A Marion County faces charges in nearby Bradley County for TennCare fraud involving “doctor shopping,” which involves going to multiple doctors to obtain drugs. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) with the assistance of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office today announced the arrest of Randy W. Troy, 44, of Whitwell. He is charged with one count of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain a controlled substance by “doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors in a short period of time to obtain prescription drugs.
A Greene County woman has been charged in Carter County with TennCare fraud for allegedly selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Monday announced the arrest of Phyllis Hamm, 55, of Chuckey, after a joint investigation with the 1st Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Johnson City Police Department Vice Unit, the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and the Elizabethton Police Department.
Speaker after speaker Tuesday praised a spirit of cooperation that resulted in funding for a huge new building on the city’s Roane State Community College campus. Originally, the Health Sciences and Technology Building wasn’t on a list of planned state college construction projects, Roane State President Gary Goff said. But Oak Ridge and Anderson County governments chipped in $500,000 each to help match $9 million for a two-story building should that state funding become available, he said.
Officials break ground on new classroom building Ground was broken on new 35,000-square-foot building on the Motlow State campus Tuesday morning, marking a major leap forward for the growing community college. MaryLou Apple, the college’s president, told a gathered audience of about 75 individuals—made up of faculty and students, along with state, city and county government officials—the expansion means only good things for the Smyrna community.
The next employment data showing jobless figures for the state of Tennessee will be released next week. The next local data comes the week after that. They are the next markers in what’s been a long parlor game since the depths of the financial crisis, one that’s been played from Washington to Main Street and everywhere in between. It takes various forms, with economists, politicians, business leaders and others stepping up each month to divine meaning behind the data, and the analyses all start at that same point: What will the next jobless numbers show?
Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected a petition from a Bedford County man serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. David Edward Niles, who was convicted in the Jan. 11, 2010, shooting death of Laura Parker, 26, claimed that Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during the search of his residence. Niles also claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him and that Crigler abused his discretion in denying a motion for funds for a psychiatrist.
Investigator pushes to strengthen law for sentencing sex offenders A state law dealing with sentencing for sex offenders was changed because one Jackson police officer was mad and determined to make a difference. Investigator Mark Headen oversees sex offender crimes for the department. In March 2011, he received a report about Union University security getting a license plate number for Jason Nickell, a registered violent sex offender. Two women filed reports that a white male had been stalking them. Once Nickell’s picture was released, 13 more women came forward as victims, Headen said.
A top Metro education official is skeptical, after the state gave permission to three new charter schools to start in Nashville. The Metro school board has its own system for vetting charters, but the state recently gained the power to sometimes approve them as well, to teach students zoned for the weakest schools. At a meeting last week on new charter proposals, the Metro board’s vice chair, Mark North, singled out one from KIPP. North pointed to test scores at the school KIPP already has in East Nashville, arguing they’re not good enough to add another facility.
“Metro has a spending problem” emerged as a reoccurring battle cry among those sporting fluorescent yellow shirts at the Metro Council Tuesday night. They were the ones lined up to oppose Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed 53-cent property tax increase. These Nashvillians took turns hammering what would amount to a 13 percent bump on their property tax payment during “the worst economy of our lives,” as one tax-hike critic put it. Their message to the council: Vote down Dean’s tax plan.
Hundreds on both sides state their case The people of Nashville finally had their say Tuesday on Mayor Karl Dean’s proposal for a 53-cent property tax increase, and they had a lot on their minds. Metro Council signed off on the proposal — and the $1.71 billion budget it would help fund — on second reading in a voice vote around 10 p.m. But that was largely a formality because Dean’s plan would have become law if the council did nothing. A final, definitive vote on the budget is expected at the next regularly scheduled council meeting June 19, when members probably will have to declare where they stand during a roll-call vote.
The proposed 2012-13 budget for Bradley County is a little smaller than the current budget, but it contains no cuts or tax increases. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis presented next year’s proposed budget to county commissioners Monday, saying the numbers show the county “can live within its means.” “I am confident that this budget will meet the obligations of the county and maintain the services that the residents have become accustomed to, that they’ve come to expect, and we’re doing it without placing an additional tax burden on the citizens,” he said.
Reduces rate, but increases health care costs for city workers, retirees The Memphis City Council on Tuesday rejected Mayor A C Wharton’s call for a 47-cent property tax hike, using one-time funds and budget cuts to deliver a property tax reduction to taxpayers. The council set the city’s overall tax rate at $3.11 per every $100 of assessed value, down from the current $3.19. The annual city property tax for a $150,000 house would drop from $1,196 to $1,166.
Tommy Coleman plans to ask Hamilton County commissioners today to hold a moment of silence rather than a prayer before their meetings. Coleman, a 28-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student, said he decided to take up the matter locally after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to county commissioners on May 21. Though Coleman is not a member of the foundation, he said he supports its position. The foundation, based in Madison, Wis., sent the letter after an unidentified local resident complained to the group, staff attorney Patrick Elliott said.
Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans appear divided on U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are headlining at separate fundraising events this month for Fleischmann, making the congressman the definite 3rd Congressional District leader in high-profile endorsements thus far. But Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker remain publicly ambivalent to Fleischmann’s re-election despite the first-term congressman’s struggle to emerge as the obvious front-runner in a contested Republican primary.
Memphis was on the right side of job creation during the past year, adding 9,200 jobs to its payrolls. The Bluff City’s job gains ranked it 29th of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., according to MBJ affiliate On Numbers. Memphis had 602,000 nonfarm jobs in April 2012 compared to 592,800 in April 2011, a 1.55 percent boost. In terms of percent change, the Memphis metro area was 22nd nationally. On Numbers used newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to total the latest employment figures for the nation’s 100 biggest labor markets.
Nashville officials will unveil construction plans today for the new Lentz Public Health Center at a groundbreaking ceremony. Mayor Karl Dean, Metro Public Health Director Dr. Bill Paul and Stephen Corbeil, president of HCA’s TriStar division, will preside over the event. The ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. at the corner of 26th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue. The hospital company and the health department are swapping properties.
Evelyn Donegan works at the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Chattanooga, but the company has announced it’s planning layoffs. On Tuesday, she showed up at MAU Workforce Solutions to apply for a job for a company that’s a supplier to the Volkswagen auto assembly plant. “I’ve done several things,” said the Chattanooga woman, citing her background at a number of different jobs. “I believe in learning how to do various things.” MAU, a recruiting and staffing company, was expected to interview about 100 people Tuesday for 50 jobs for a VW supplier it didn’t want to immediately identify.
The Chattanooga Pilgrim’s Pride deboning plant will lay off 105 more workers by Saturday for a total of 190 jobs cut in less than a month. Company officials expect this will be the last round of layoffs aimed at improving plant efficiencies. Chattanooga used to house the only major deboning facility in the region for the company, but officials decided to expand deboning operations to other plants in an effort to save on transportation costs.
Memphis City Schools officials formally turned over the school buildings Tuesday, June 5, that will become part of the state-run Achievement School District starting with the new school year in August. That includes the three schools in Frayser managed by the ASD and two other schools that charter school operators under contract with the ASD will run in existing Memphis City Schools. As that was happening, Achievement School District officials named five more charter operators who will work in the local public school system the following school year – 2013-2014 – the first year of the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
Teacher evaluation talk animated the typically subdued School Board Tuesday night, with several members questioning the state’s recently adopted evaluation model. “How confident are we that the state really knows what they’re doing?” board member Jimmie Garland asked during an explanatory presentation, capturing the board’s wariness about the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, which attracted criticism throughout the academic year.
66 full-time positions will be added Knox County Schools will begin spending $7 million in newly allocated money next school year. “Today, we are focused on implementation. We’re focused on making sure we put in place those educational initiatives in a way that will make a difference in student learning and student success,” said Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Knox County Commission voted 7-4 Monday night to increase the school’s budget by $7 million — above natural spending growth of $13 million.
Knox County Commissioners on Monday assumed as much as half and maybe even all of the $7 million they allotted to the school system for a series of education initiatives would fall under the so-called “maintenance of effort” funding — meaning it would recur in future years. But that might not be the case. So the county could be in for another budget battle next year. Under the $7 million plan, commissioners opted 7-4 to use $3 million that the mayor earmarked for an early literacy program.
As Sullivan County’s school system sails into some uncertain financial waters, school officials are emphasizing they value and want to keep current employees employed. “Every effort will be made to keep everyone who’s working working,” Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Ron Smith said during Tuesday night’s BOE meeting. The BOE will meet later this month to begin wrangling with an initial budget shortfall of $6.9 million, while the County Commission is facing about a $5 million issue in non-school areas.
New York City is paying private contractors more than $1 billion this year to operate a little-known special education program for 3- and 4-year-olds, nearly double the amount it paid six years ago. The program serves 25,000 children with physical, learning, developmental and other disabilities. While the number of children in the program has risen slowly in recent years, annual costs have soared to about $40,000 per child, according to an analysis of city education spending by The New York Times.
The four states with the nation’s highest unemployment rate are Nevada, Rhode Island, California and North Carolina. All except North Carolina are replete with financially stressed local governments, some near insolvency. North Carolina’s success at dodging similar crises is due in large part to a little-known state agency called the Local Government Commission. Other states have formal and informal tools to assist local governments, but none has the same reach as North Carolina’s commission, which imposes budget controls and advises troubled communities.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall challenge Tuesday, winning both the right to finish his term and a voter endorsement of his strategy to curb state spending, which included the explosive measure that eliminated union rights for most public workers. The rising Republican star becomes the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt by defeating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the union leaders who rallied for months against his agenda.
When your concerned columnist last week lambasted Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood for accepting a plea bargain between 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn and former Sevier County Clerk Joe Keener that allowed Keener to escape jail time for his theft of almost $100,000, he worried he had been a bit hard on Blackwood. He worries no more. The 6th Judicial District Attorney General’s office is now asking Blackwood to recuse himself from cases involving the 2007 rape and killing of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In court filings, the DA’s office went much further, questioning Blackwood’s impartiality.
The Knox County Commission had the opportunity to provide its students with the opportunity to take a great leap into the future, but wound up settling for a tentative step forward. The panel on Monday rejected an ambitious, $35 million annual increase in the schools budget. However, a compromise proffered by Chairman Mike Hammond resulted in a $7 million increase over natural revenue growth that will go directly to the classrooms. The additional funds should help improve students’ performance, while the debate surrounding the school system’s proposal should set the tone for future discussions.
Not to be paranoid, but here’s a question: Does the effort by the Shelby County Election Commission to purge voter registration records of nonvoting residents represent a desire to be more efficient? Or, is the effort designed to suppress voter turnout among groups that are more likely to support Democratic candidates? It’s an important question because it strikes right at the heart of a core American value: the right of every single citizen to vote. Not every person does vote, of course. And the Election Commission has now decided to move to “inactive” status the names of more than 151,800 registered voters who have not voted in either of the two most recent federal election cycles.
The financial future of USEC Inc.’s American Centrifuge Project — and, in turn, the Oak Ridge role in research and manufacturing of centrifuge machines for the project — continues to ride the edge of the cliff. USEC said the company and the U.S. Department of Energy are making progress on a cost-sharing proposal that would allow the company to move ahead with the research and demonstration program, with the ultimate hope of gaining big-bucks loan guarantees. Another deadline came last week, and USEC said it received approval from its credit group to continue spending for at least the next couple of weeks while working on that deal with DOE.
Tennessee’s congressional delegation should step in and take action to help veterans who suffered sloppy medical tests at the hands of the Veterans Administration and can’t get relief through the courts. At least one of them, Carl Huddleston, claims he contracted hepatitis B after taking a colonoscopy with unclean equipment at the York VA Medical Center here. But an appeals court ruled recently that Huddleston filed his claim three months too late to win a medical malpractice case against the federal government. Huddleston took the colonoscopy in October 2006 but wasn’t notified until February 2009, along with 10,000 other veterans, that he needed to be tested for hepatitis B and C and HIV because of mistakes made cleaning endoscopic equipment in Murfreesboro, August, Ga., and Miami VA facilities.
Obama and Romney will put their political spin on May’s rise in unemployment, but that is of little comfort to the 12.7 million Americans who are out of work. There’s no way to put a happy face on the nation’s May jobs report: It stinks. The unemployment rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, ending an 11-month run when the rate was dropping, You can argue — and the White House will — that the increase in the unemployment rate was because so many Americans, 642,000 of us, tried to re-enter the workforce. Statistically that’s true, but it’s of little comfort to the 12.7 million still unemployed, a number that rose by 220,000. The grimmer number is that last month the economy created only 69,000 jobs, the fewest in a year.