This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an executive order to change the management and oversight of state drug court programs as part of his administration’s ongoing effort to increase government efficiency and effectiveness. Executive Order No. 12 transfers the drug court programs from the Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) effective July 1, 2012.
Management and oversight of state drug court programs across Tennessee will be moved to the Department of Mental Health on July 1 under an executive order signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The move is effective July 1 and affects some three dozen drug courts, including Hamilton County’s. Haslam said in a news release that his Executive Order No. 12, which transfers management from the Department of Finance and Administration to Mental Health, is part of his administration’s ongoing effort to boost government “efficiency and effectiveness.”
Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials will speak at a daylong summit Thursday in Nashville for elementary school teachers wanting to teach financial literacy skills. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman also will be featured speakers at the gathering, sponsored by the Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission. The free event at the Legislative Plaza will offer teachers training and curriculum that will help implement concepts such as planning, saving and investing.
Gov. Bill Haslam made an appearance on CNBC with host Rick Santelli yesterday to answer questions on Tennessee’s not having an income tax. During the brief segment, the governor said he hoped other states would continue levying income taxes on residents to ensure a competitive advantage for businesses that would be attracted to Tennessee’s tax status. “I hope they keep a very high cost structure and a high tax structure in place,” Haslam said.
Alexis Turner, 8, and her little brother, Ayden, 6, usually like mystery novels, Sherlock Holmes and The Boxcar Children being two of their favorites. But on Wednesday afternoon they got a new book called “Frindle” for free and they said they definitely want to read it. Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam gave away 200 copies of “Frindle” to kids at the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball game on Wednesday to promote her Read20 Family Book Club.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam’s “Read 20 Family Book Club” promotes the importance of family involvement when it comes to literacy. Each month a book is picked as the featured “book of the month”. Children and family of all ages are encouraged to read 20 minutes of the book each day together (or from any book of their choice). “I am very excited to launch the Read 20 Family Book Club,” Haslam said in a statement released to the media.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam will visit the Nashville Sounds on June 14 to promote the First Lady’s Read20 Family Book Club. The Haslams will help distribute copies of Andrew Clements’ Frindle, June’s “Book of the Month,” to the first 200 children to enter the game. The books are donated by the Phoenix Club of Nashville, a nonprofit organization benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee. Distribution will begin at 6:15 p.m. at Herschel Greer Stadium, 534 Chestnut Street, Nashville.
A Tennessee Board of Regents committee has recommended a 5.6 percent tuition hike at member schools, according to a report in Nashville’s The City Paper. The recommended increase would raise tuition for a student enrolled in 15 hours of classes by $662 per year. Individual schools can also make additional “institutional requests” to raise tuition, the report said. The recommendation now goes to the full Board of Regents. Local schools under TBR’s supervision include the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Some Tennessee college students this fall could see an increase in tuition and fees of more than 7 percent that was recommended Tuesday by the finance committee of the state Board of Regents. The increases will be presented later this month to the full board, which oversees six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers. East Tennessee State University has the potentially highest increase at 7.2 percent and Austin Peay, the lowest at 3.4 percent. MTSU students could see as much as a 6.8 percent tuition hike.
New wildlife area is result of 6 years of civic cooperation In a unique example of cooperation among local, state and federal government officials, nearly 1,000 wooded acres that once hosted a massive marijuana operation were dedicated Wednesday as protected wildlife areas on Short Mountain in Cannon County. Officials at all levels of government put their paperwork aside for one morning to finally enjoy — six years in the making — the pristine ridges and scenic views to be preserved in a land transfer unmatched in Tennessee history.
Work to widen a four-mile stretch of Oak Ridge Highway and Western Avenue is accelerating — but commuters in the next 2½ years generally won’t run into lane-closure hassles. The approximate $31 million project officially began over a year ago to widen the two-lane corridor between Schaad Road and Copper Kettle Road. The upgraded road will have two 12-foot lanes in each direction with a 12-foot center turning lane.
The University of Tennessee will split its government relations and communications department next month following the retirement of the vice president who oversaw those duties, President Joe DiPietro told staff in an email Wednesday. Hank Dye, vice president of public and government relations since 2005, will retire July 11, something he had discussed with the president since the beginning of the year, DiPietro wrote. Anthony Haynes, UT’s lobbyist in Nashville, will become vice president for government relations and advocacy, reporting directly to DiPietro.
With a trial date looming, former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner wants to put the brakes on the federal case filed against him last month. Defense attorneys Donald A. Bosch and Ann Short today will ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley to declare the case against Baumgartner “complex,” a move that, if approved, would delay the July 18 trial the disgraced ex-judge faces on seven counts of misprision of a felony.
Comments on AIDS inflame students, alumni in his N.Y. hometown A group of students, teachers and alumni at a New York high school are calling for the removal of state Sen. Stacey Campfield from its hall of fame based on his comments on homosexuality and AIDS. Several people denounced Campfield at an apparently raucous school board meeting in Vestal, N.Y., the small town near Binghamton where the Knoxville Republican grew up.
The Ten Commandments will soon make their return to the Monroe County Courthouse. The ancient documents used to be on display in the Madisonville building seven years ago, but were eventually taken down when the Supreme Court ruled in a similar McCreary County, Kentucky case that such acts endorsed religion. Monroe County Mayor Tim Yates has decided to put the documents back on display due to a new state law Governor Bill Haslam signed in April.
Tennessee Democrats say their analysis of Secretary of State records shows more than 11,000 voters across the state have parts or even all of their voting histories “disappear” between December and last month. Among them are 527 voters in Hamilton County, according to Democrats, who call the entire issue “troubling” and warn it could lead to some voters getting unfairly purged from voting lists.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, directing sharp words toward Mayor Karl Dean’s administration and questioning its proposed budget, said Wednesday he’s unsatisfied with the level of funding in his department –– especially during a time of a potential property tax increase. “As we sit here today, we can barely survive on the budget as we live today in our institutions and the services we provide,” Hall told the Metro Council at ongoing budget hearings Wednesday.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger today will unveil next year’s budget, which includes a 3 percent raise for county workers without a tax increase. Though details of the proposal haven’t been released, Coppinger confirmed Wednesday that his budget will include an across-the-board raise for employees. That will come, in part, from extra revenue generated from a projected 2 percent natural growth in property taxes and excess fees, Coppinger said.
The law director’s office will remain an elected position in Knox County, the county’s Charter Review Committee decided Wednesday when it voted against putting language that would change how the office is selected before voters. Also in its Wednesday meeting, the committee tabled talks on a ballot issue letting voters choose whether to elect or have appointed people in so-called “fee offices” such as the trustee and property assessor.
Construction of Murfreesboro facility continues, but judge blocks occupancy A Murfreesboro judge has blocked local officials from issuing an occupancy certificate for a new mosque. The move comes about two weeks after Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that construction approval for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was void. Corlew agreed with mosque opponents that there was not sufficient public notice of the meeting where construction had been approved two years earlier.
Commission meets in executive session tonight Imam Ossama Bahloul worries that a court ruling will prevent his Islamic Center of Murfreesboro congregation from occupying its new mosque in time for the July 20 start of Ramadan. “Our dream is to have this,” the congregation’s religious leader said Wednesday as he offered a look at construction on the first phase of the mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike. “We tried to explain to people we are not building a mega-mosque.
A judge in Rutherford County says construction of a new mosque can continue, but no one can move in. Mosque opponents had asked for an injunction to stop construction altogether. Chancellor Robert Corlew denied the request, but told the county not to issue an occupancy permit. Corlew has already voided the Rutherford County Planning Commission’s approval of the nearly-completed mosque, saying it failed to give proper notice of that meeting. The county still has a few weeks to appeal, and until then Corlew says he won’t halt work.
Senator bucks GOP again For the second time in a year, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is backing a high-profile clean-air rule written by the Obama administration — and drawing sharp criticism from fellow GOP lawmakers and conservative groups. Alexander announced this week that he will vote against an effort to undo a new Environmental Protection Agency rule that would slash emissions of mercury — which can cause serious birth defects and mental retardation in children — and other hazardous substances from coal-fired power plants.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says he will vote to uphold a clean-air rule, even as attackers say he’s siding with President Obama in a “war on coal.” The political group American Commitment is lobbying for a vote to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency rule. And it’s spending close to a million dollars targeting pivotal senators like Alexander. “Alexander supports new regulations that will hurt Tennessee families. Washington special interests call it the Utility MACT, but we call it billions in new costs, higher electricity prices, and fewer jobs for Tennessee workers.”
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker was among those questioning the CEO of JPMorgan Chase Wednesday. While some senators grilled Jamie Dimon over the two billion dollars his company lost earlier this year on a bad hedge, Corker chose a different tack. Some in Washington saw Dimon’s appearance before the Senate banking committee as a step toward new financial regulation. It’s something Corker has qualms about – he didn’t like how the Dodd-Frank law turned out two years ago, in particular the consumer protection agency it created.
Republican congressional candidate Ron Bhalla appears to have fixed his campaign finance disclosure 10 days after the Chattanooga Times Free Press exposed several accounting errors and omissions. Federal Election Commission regulations require candidates to itemize and describe most campaign transactions, but Bhalla’s 11-page finance report included just one expenditure — a $14,145 lump-sum disbursement to himself without any explanation. Bhalla is challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
In a normal election season, Ed Stanton Jr. and Cheyenne Johnson, both Democrats and the incumbent general sessions clerk and assessor, respectively, would have reason to feel at ease about their reelection. Shelby County, which now has an African-American majority, is presumed to be predominantly Democratic as well. That arithmetic certainly held four years ago, when Johnson handily won her seat, as did Democrat Otis Jackson, who was defeated by interim clerk Stanton in this year’s party primary after being indicted for official misconduct and placed on suspension.
Election Commission backs 6 referendums It is official: The Aug. 2 Shelby County election ballot will ask citizens of six suburban municipalities whether they want to create their own school districts and raise their taxes to pay for them. Two ordinances each from the suburbs were approved in alphabetical order Wednesday by the county Election Commission: Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. In matter-of-fact, near monotonous tones, the five commission members took turns making a total of 12 motions that they seconded and approved unanimously.
The group drafting the blueprint for the merged Shelby County public school system will go longer than its normal two-hour session Thursday, June 14. The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. session is an important milestone for the schools consolidation planning commission that began its work in September. The planning commission will take a series of votes on different parts of the plan the group has considered in pieces as they have arrived from different working groups.
Five of eight groups looking to launch charter schools in Nashville whose applications were rejected by the Metro school board last month are appealing for another chance at starting their schools. Wednesday marked the deadline for appeals. The school board will consider these new proposals at its June 26 meeting. Among those resubmitting is the controversial Great Hearts Academy, an Arizona-based charter school chain with plans to bring five K-12 schools to Davidson County.
Knox County schools have tabled for now a pilot project to test year-round schools. Last year they considered and delayed for a year a pilot project at Fulton and Austin-East high schools to abolish the long summer-vacation tradition and go to a four-quarter school year with breaks in between. Though the school board is said to like the idea, during budget discussions this year the decision was made that implementing the project this coming year needed more discussion.
Non-mandated positions and programs will be at the top of the cut list should Washington County Schools’ estimated $4.2 million budget deficit not find a fix. “The nursing program, technology program, athletics, maintenance, instructional assistants,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said after the county’s Budget Committee had raked through the proposed $64 million budget for the 2012-13 school year — again. “Then, if it gets crucial, we start looking at assistant principals, but the first cuts would be in personnel.”
Bedford County Board of Commissioners stunned both School Supt. Ray Butrum and County Finance Director Robert Daniel by passing tax rates Tuesday night which will force the school system to cut $438,000 out of the proposed budget it submitted to the county last month. The school system approved property tax rates and all budgets except the general purpose school budget Tuesday night.
Hacker says info was released to alert school system to its vulnerability The school system has hired an expert in managing data and information theft who will help determine exactly who was affected by the hacking of personal information from school system students and past and present employees earlier this week. A hacker who is claiming sole responsibility for that leak re-released that data Wednesday afternoon.
Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system has been controversial since its implementation last year, and a new report issued by an education reform group offers suggestions for some needed changes. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, better known by the acronym SCORE, held roundtables across the state, conducted an online survey of teachers and principals and interviewed educators about the system. The resulting study offers the state some reasonable adjustments to the evaluation system that officials should pursue. SCORE, founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist and run by former state Sen. Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, was formed to help revolutionize education in Tennessee, traditionally one of the most fiscally frugal and academically underperforming states in the nation.
Graduation rates are a mixed bag at MTSU. Nearly a fifth of students don’t make it out of their freshman year. And only 52.9 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen who entered MTSU between 2004 and 2009 graduated from the university. These are troubling statistics for a university that claims Tennessee’s largest undergraduate enrollment. Compare the latter figure to the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s 66.8 percent graduation rate or private Vanderbilt University’s 85 percent graduation rate, and it becomes evident improvement is needed.
The public’s business should be discussed in public. Some members of the Shelby County unified school board forgot that. The result has been an avoidable and distracting controversy over the contracts of schools superintendents John Aitken and Kriner Cash. If it wasn’t already apparent, it became clear at a special school board meeting Monday that chairman Billy Orgel and a few other members of the 23-member body approached Cash, who heads Memphis City Schools, in December about buying out his contract.