This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is weighing both an increase in funding for the state’s public pre-kindergarten program and creating a school voucher system in Tennessee, though the Republican says he doesn’t consider the two proposals linked. The governor told The Associated Press after a recent groundbreaking ceremony outside Nashville that while both measures face heavy opposition among various factions of lawmakers, he doesn’t see one as providing political cover for the other.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration bought several thousand acres in East Tennessee for $8.8 million from The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization. Doe Mountain’s 8,600 acres of undeveloped land are in Johnson County, immediately southwest of Mountain City. The purchase will conserve a large block of the Southern Blue Ridge mountain range region, which runs partially along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The property is adjacent to the 650,000-acre Cherokee National Forest.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is working on a free smartphone app using the traffic data it already collects. According to WPLN, it’s tentatively set to be available later this year. The state already watches traffic congestion through a system of highway cameras, posting estimated drive times on interstate signs. Gov. Bill Haslam says a smartphone program is meant to customize that information and put it in one place. WPLN said the state has not publicized how much it will cost taxpayers.
By virtually any standard, last week’s landmark celebration at Ducks Unlimited’s 75th Anniversary National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., was a rousing success. Among the convention highlights were a special meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, redoubling partnership efforts with The Pew Charitable Trusts to protect Canada’s boreal forest and a new financial partnership with Discover. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Lamar Alexander addressed the record crowd of more than 1,400 attendees at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and the convention ended on a high note with a surprise $75 million estate gift commitment from three members of the Wetlands America Trust (WAT) board.
First lady Crissy Haslam has begun the Read20 Family Book Club to encourage families to read 20 minutes each day this summer. A book will be featured as the “book of the month” on her Read20 Family Book Club website, http://www.tn.gov/read20 . “Frindle” by Andrew Clements is the selected book for June. It’s about a boy who encounters adventures after creating a new name for the pen: “frindle.” Haslam will travel the state this summer to promote the program, visiting hometown baseball games this month.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center broke ground Friday, June 8, on its $49 million Translational Science Research Building, which will be built on the grassy lot at the northwest corner of Union Avenue and South Manassas Street. The building will bring together investigators from the school’s six different colleges and various disciplines. The integration of researchers from multiple disciplines is a focal point for translational research, breaking down scientific silos and barriers to encourage cross-pollination of ideas.
Medical breakthroughs won’t help patients if the ideas don’t leave the laboratory. Construction of a $49 million building based on that principle is now under way at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus on the corner of Manassas and Union. The medical school’s 135,000-square-foot Translational Science Research Building will be a mirror image of and will be connected to the Cancer Research Building that fronts Manassas and Madison. The new research building is expected to to be complete by fall 2013.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown believes in knowing when the time is right to make changes. And Friday, Brown decided the time was right to announce his retirement from his six-year position at the school. “It’s bittersweet,” said Brown, who is expecting to leave UTC by March 2013. “I have so loved working at UTC. But I just know it’s time.” Brown, 64, said Friday that he and his late wife, Dr. Carolyn Thompson, had been discussing retirement for several years and agreed 2013 seemed the right time.
The University of Memphis will establish an endowed chair in early childhood and elementary education with a $3 million gift announced Friday from Jim and Gina Wiertelak in honor of his late mother. Wiertelak, who retired last year as chief operating officer of Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., said his mother, Carolyn L. Wiertelak, was a first-grade teacher in Chicago for 35 years. The family includes a long line of educators, including his grandparents, a sister, a niece and a daughter.
Outdoorsmen in Tennessee get a bargain today: Free fishing with no license required. The annual free fishing day is sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to increase interest in fishing. Additionally, youngsters ages 13-15 may fish without a license from Saturday through Friday. Some privately owned pay lakes will continue to charge during this special day and week. The free fishing applies to Tennessee’s public waters, TWRA-owned and -operated lakes and state parks. The TWRA says the state has one of the most diverse collections of fish in the country.
The Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk’s office plans to give money back to 2,400 people for overpayments made as long as 12 years ago. About $300,000 will go back to citizens, General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. said at a courthouse news conference Friday, adding the first round of notification letters was scheduled to go out that day. Stanton’s opponents in the Aug. 2 election questioned the timing of the announcement. Stanton said the public needs to know.
The State of Tennessee is lately booting up new technologies designed in theory to ease the public’s often wearisome interactions with government bureaucracies. But genuine progress toward making government more transparent to taxpayers is actually pretty slow going, according to groups that promote easy access to public information. The governor announced moves to give taxpayers access to state construction and traffic tie-up data on their smartphones this fall and just finished a massive overhaul of the state’s website.
Shelby County Commissioners will see if they have all 13 commissioners present before they see if there are nine votes to pass a redistricting plan. Third and final reading of a redistricting ordinance is on the commission’s agenda for Monday, June 11. The commission meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. The presence of two commissioners at the Monday meeting was in question during committee sessions last week.
Chattanooga finance officials have found an additional $130,000 to restore at least some proposed funding to local social service agencies. Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city found more money through cuts and in the city’s contingency fund. “We just rearranged it,” he said. Several social service agencies were astonished a month ago to find the mayor’s proposed 2012-13 fiscal year budget had a lump sum of $700,000 allocated to them.
Were automated polls accurate, or skewed? Polling done for the Knoxville Focus, a free weekly newspaper, was an influence in the Knox County school budget boost, approved 7-4 by County Commission on Monday, although the veracity of the surveys is questioned by some. The polling was done by Cyragon LLC, a political consulting company owned by Ben Farmer, a Republican activist who has helped with campaigns of Sessions Court Judge Andrew Jackson VI, former mayoral candidate Ivan Harmon, County Property Assessor Phil Ballard and Richard “Bud” Armstrong, a Republican expected to be elected law director in August since he has no Democratic opponent.
Filmmaker says mosque ‘built on foundation of lies’ An outspoken supporter of the Murfreesboro mosque has switched sides and joined the anti-Islam movement. Eric Allen Bell, a documentary filmmaker from California, was a fixture at court hearings and protests over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in 2010. Back then, he was making a movie called Not Welcome, which depicted mosque critics as Southern Christian bigots. Now he says the mosque is part of a plot to destroy America.
“After a devastating event like this, a disaster, people sometimes feel so totally out of control, they may need some mental health counseling,” says Ginger Naseri, Program Director for the Tennessee Recovery Program. Since the state of Tennessee declared a need for the Tennessee Recovery Project, nearly 880 counseling sessions have been held and over 23,000 individuals have received helpful coping materials. However, program officials say more help is needed, more than they expected.
Fort Campbell said goodbye to an iconic figure on Friday with a Change of Responsibility ceremony at 101st Airborne Division Headquarters. Division Command Sergeant Major Scott C. Schroeder relinquished his position to incoming Command Sgt. Maj. Alonzo J. Smith Friday, before a large crowd that included active and retired generals, local dignitaries and many other guests. Schroeder assumed responsibility as the top non-commissioned officer of the division in February 2010 as the division was deploying as Combined Joint Task Force 101, Regional Command-East in Afghanistan.
The Tennessee Valley Authority wants to reassure power consumers of its plans to expand nuclear operations and its commitment to retool the Watts Bar Unit 2 project, which has been under scrutiny for delays and expensive overages. On Wednesday, TVA officials met with more than 100 Bradley County business and community leaders at the Museum Center at Five Points to review revised plans for constructing the second nuclear reactor at Watts Bar.
While many retirees are likely to dismiss conversations that include the words ‘Tennessee’ and ‘retirement’ in the same sentence, the latest survey by TopRetirement.com shows that aging professionals should at least consider the Volunteer State as a post-career home. Snowbirds may not flock to Tennessee during the winter months and beaches in the state are limited to lakesides instead of the ocean, but the state’s retirement-friendly tax provisions mean only interest and dividends are taxed while personal income is left alone.
Construction of the new Electrolux appliance factory in Memphis is on schedule, the company’s top U.S. executive said Friday, with the first assembly line to start rolling by the end of the first quarter of 2013 and full production to ramp up by the end of 2014. And by 2015, the plant in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park will be capable of producing 2,500 ovens in more than 60 different styles and brands on any given day, said Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America.
Incentives often difference between closing or losing industrial real estate deal A few months ago, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was recounting to an audience of businessmen a recent breakfast he’d had with a site location agent. That agent had a client out of California looking at sites in the Memphis area for a project. The location agent had drawn up what the financials for the project might look like – and it included $25,000 in attorney’s fees. The client asked if those numbers could be whittled down.
With Volkswagen, Wacker Chemical, Olin, Amazon and Whirlpool facilities, can Bradley County still be called rural? Thousands of manufacturing jobs have been created or saved here the past two years. Some vendors present for the opening day of Five Points Market, one of three farmers markets now operating in Cleveland, have mixed opinions. Leroy Bowman retired as a heavy equipment operator and turned to the soil three years ago. “I created myself another job,” he said.
Countywide school board members will at least talk Monday, June 11, about the employment contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. But how far the board gets beyond looking over the contract and making a decision about whether Cash stays through the August 2013 merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems was still an open question as the weekend began. The school board meets Monday at 5 p.m. at the Teaching & Learning Center at Hollywood Street and Union Avenue.
Florida’s attempt to purge ineligible voters from its rolls has been halted, at least for now. County election officials say they have stopped searching for illegally registered voters because the state’s list of 2,700 voters suspected of being noncitizens is outdated and inaccurate. “We felt the information wasn’t credible and reliable,” said Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. “Too many voters on the state’s list turned out to actually be citizens.”
Deep in the South Valley neighborhood, in a cramped medical clinic room adorned with candles and crucifixes, a fresh-faced man who called himself Justin G. told the other addicts how he had gotten hooked. “This girl I was hanging out with had a prescription for Percocets. I would take them, and next thing you know I’m buying them,” the man recalled. “Then I got a good deal on some OxyContins. But they stopped making those. That’s when I started doing heroin.”
Compromise that yielded a property tax reduction for the coming year is only a temporary fix. Let’s hear half a cheer for the Memphis City Council. The council has completed the city’s budget for the fiscal year that begins next month, with relatively little bloodshed and not much hysteria. Property taxes will drop about $30 a year for the owner of a $150,000 house. Essential services were mostly left intact. The cooler heads of compromise prevailed. Councilmen Jim Strickland and Harold Collins kept things moving ahead in gaining a majority vote for a budget that contains $609 million in expenditures.
Motlow State Community College is writing a new chapter in its history. And now there will be more space to house all the books. On Tuesday, the college broke ground on a new 35,000-square-foot building, set to open next fall on its Smyrna campus. The new addition will be twice as big as the school’s current 17,000-square-foot building. Aside from the campus feel that will come with two buildings, the new building will provide much-needed extra space for teachers — many of whom are cramped in a single office — and students who squeeze into classrooms and take breaks at just a handful of tables outside.
The Obama administration suddenly looks like a house of cards. What happened in Wisconsin signals a shift in political mood and assumption. Public employee unions were beaten back and defeated in a state with a long progressive tradition. The unions and their allies put everything they had into “one of their most aggressive grass-roots campaigns ever,” as the Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey and Dan Balz reported in a day-after piece. Fifty thousand volunteers made phone calls and knocked on 1.4 million doors to get out the vote against Gov. Scott Walker.