This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
But rating by business group lauds University Of Memphis online study program University and college systems got a mixed report card from business groups, doing well in fostering online learning but failing in other categories. Tennessee was graded an F in one area because of “burdensome” state regulations for the accreditation of schools. “One of the reasons Tennessee legislators have made it more difficult for Tennessee schools to get approved is the default rate for student loans at for-profit schools is significantly high,” University of Memphis President Shirley Raines said.
A state licensing board has fined a major car dealership $5,000 after a customer complained that a $349 “customer benefit package” had been tacked on to his bill for the purchase of a new vehicle. A 12-page consent order by the state Motor Vehicle Commission, issued in May and announced earlier this month, concludes that Gary Mathews Chrysler-Dodge Jeep violated the state motor vehicle licensing law when it added the package.
It’s just a matter of time until two of Cleveland’s perennial traffic bottlenecks are solved, Tennessee Department of Transportation representatives told city officials. More turn lanes at North Ocoee and 25th streets and exit 20 at Interstate 75 are being planned. But that could be several years away. The Cleveland City Council will learn more Monday, especially about North Ocoee at 25th streets, where business and residential owners are concerned about how much property, and parking lots, they will lose to those wider lanes.
Tennessee’s Comptroller of the Treasury on Thursday released a report showing that Marion County — at $114,194 — accounts for nearly one-seventh of $736,694 in public funds still not recovered from $1.47 million missing from public coffers over the last several years. A recent guilty plea in Marion County Circuit Court was an initial step toward recovering part of the money missing in the wake of an investigation of the county’s administrator of elections in 2010, records show.
The University of Tennessee’s Center for Information and Communication Studies’ efforts to support rural librarians, and to increase the number of Hispanic library science faculty members, will be helped along by two grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grants are two of the 32 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grants awarded this year. Bharat Mehra and Vandana Singh of UT’s School of Information Sciences received a $478,258 grant for the continuation of the school’s Information Technology Rural Librarian Master’s Scholarship Program, to fund scholarships to 13 rural librarians in the Appalachian region who wish to pursue a degree in information sciences.
For the first time in Tennessee, some one-time, nonviolent offenders will have the right to expunge their felony conviction, forever erasing that criminal record. A bill signed into law last month, and effective July 1, allows some offenders to expunge a select set of felonies and misdemeanors for a fee, after meeting all court requirements. The law applies only to offenders with a single conviction. The economy has already proven a powerful incentive for people to have their records expunged.
An anonymous mailer targeting 20th Senate District candidate Steve Dickerson hits the Republican for — shock! — playing rock ‘n’ roll. “Exposing Steve Dickerson,” a tri-fold mailer that comes complete with a stamp of Ronald Reagan stroking his chin and Barack Obama photoshopped into a doctor’s coat, has been going out in waves this month to select recipients. The mailer promotes an anti-Dickerson website, www.NoDickerson.com. It lists some of his donors who, like Dickerson, are doctors. But the real expose comes inside, with the disclosure that Dickerson plays in a hard rock band, No Good Deeds.
Questions about whether state House candidate Courtney Rogers is running a legitimate campaign led her to harshly criticize her incumbent opponent in a release last week. Rogers is facing House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Debra Maggart for the 45th District seat in Sumner County. The incumbent had previously questioned whether her opponent was a legitimate primary challenger in an article published in The Tennessean. In a statement her campaign released Wednesday, Rogers said her military service and endorsements make her qualified to not only run, but to win her race.
Perhaps more than any Tennessee campaign this summer, the contest between Scott Hughes and Doug Overbey poses the question of whether Tennessee’s ruling Republican majority in the Legislature has achieved an appropriate balance in governing on proclaimed conservative principles. Answering the question on Aug. 2 will be voters in Blount and Sevier counties. Designated as Senate District 2, it is one of the most staunchly Republican regions of the state and has a history of unseating incumbent senators.
Two of the three candidates opposing state Rep. David Hawk in this summer’s Republican primary acknowledge they had no plans to enter the contest until the incumbent was charged with domestic assault on his wife. Hawk, who represents House District 5, says his attorney has advised him not to talk about the pending case. His challengers say, more or less, that they don’t need to bring it up. Greeneville businessman Hawk, 44, has spent 10 years as a lawmaker and says the experience and relationship gained over that period warrant reelection for another term.
Projected revenues for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office are down by 62 percent this fiscal year from a decade ago and 38 percent since Sheriff Jim Hammond took office. But Hammond’s office says that’s because of factors outside his control. Hammond was elected in 2008 after the budget process for the 2009 fiscal year, during which the office brought in $4.1 million in revenue. Preliminary estimates for this year’s revenue show the office short of its $3 million budget by about $400,000.
A new cemetery being established for all U.S. veterans will be located in Gibson, Henderson or Madison County. Chris Dangler, who chairs the steering committee that wants to establish the graveyard, said he hopes to submit the top three choices for the cemetery’s location to the state at the committee’s July 12 meeting. Dangler said the cemetery will be around 100 acres. The final location will depend on its proximity to a four-lane road, the number of trees on the property, if the property floods and other factors.
U.S. Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, has thrown his support to colleague Chuck Fleischmann, a first-termer from Chattanooga who’s in a three-way GOP primary fight this summer. This would be more or less unremarkable if West, a University of Tennessee graduate, hadn’t made national news two months ago with his claim that some 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party. Fleischmann, on the other hand, is “there as we stand together to protect and advance constitutional conservative principles,” West says in a video endorsement.
Reports from high on the Cumberland Plateau are that a group of supporters of Lou Ann Zelenik have made an independent billboard buy backing her run for the 6th Congressional District. A group called Friends of Lou Ann Zelenik has bought at least one billboard in Cookeville — and perhaps several more around the region — stating that Zelenik will repeal the federal health-care reform law and its funding if elected to Congress.
Weston Wamp did everything but call U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann a lightweight Saturday as he reacted to court documents showing the freshman congressman didn’t always approve campaign ads in his successful 2010 race. “I can’t even connect with a candidate who isn’t in charge of his own operation,” Wamp said Saturday after a Chattanooga Tea Party debate heavy on agreement among most of the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary field. “I look at TV commercials as my opportunity to say exactly what I want to share with people on my own terms.”
Two years ago, three well-financed Republicans were battling to win an open Eighth Congressional District seat abandoned by 11-term incumbent Democrat John S. Tanner. The winner, incumbent Stephen Fincher, is being challenged by Dyer County juvenile delinquency counselor Annette Justice in the Republican primary Aug. 2. He’s likely to face Democrats’ Timothy Dixon, Wes Bradley or Christa Stoscheck in November as well as two independents, including James L. Hart of Henry County, who has repeatedly sought the office since 2002.
All eyes this week are on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is widely expected to rule on President Barack Obama’s controversial health care reform law. In what could be its biggest decision in more than a decade, the court will shape not only the course of this year’s presidential election, but also define the future of health care for generations. No one, other than the justices themselves, knows how the court will decide. It could uphold the Affordable Care Act, perhaps by postponing a decision.
With the Supreme Court likely to render judgment on President Obama’s health care law this week, the White House and Congress find themselves in a position that many advocates of the legislation once considered almost unimaginable. In passing the law two years ago, Democrats entertained little doubt that it was constitutional. The White House held a conference call to tell reporters that any legal challenge, as one Obama aide put it, “will eventually fail and shouldn’t be given too much credence in the press.”
In the last four years, Memorial Hospital raked in more than $130 million in profits, and its charity care costs rose by half. Yet for all Memorial’s growth, Chattanooga’s other nonprofit hospital — financially ailing Erlanger — still shoulders the lion’s share of the free medical care provided to those unable to pay their hospital bills. Last year, public hospital Erlanger Health System provided 78 percent of the charity care for area patients unable to pay their bills — 5 percent of its expenses — while Memorial chipped in about 19 percent — not quite 1.5 percent of its expenses.
Only one of every four teens in the United States has a job, indicating that, within the next few years, the country will have its least-experienced rising workforce ever. Of the more than 17 million teenagers in the country, more than 1 million are looking for jobs. A whopping 11 million either haven’t looked or quit their searches. “Basically everywhere I’ve gone, they’ve said they’re full,” said Sam Cromer, a senior at Notre Dame High School. “I’ve kind of given up.”
Earlier this year, state Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter told state legislators that Gov. Bill Haslam believes so strongly in evaluation of employees that he has personally evaluated the performance of everyone in his cabinet. Curious how our state government’s top managers fared under gubernatorial scrutiny, yours truly made a request — in accord with the state’s open records law — for a copy of the evaluations. In a week or so, the reply came back: Sorry, there are no such records.
Dare we use the word “compromise” in this era of hard-line political partisanship? That’s what we suggest in response to the recent request from Democratic state lawmakers for a special legislative session, and Gov. Bill Haslam’s reaction that it isn’t called for. Frankly, Democrats have a point, but so does Haslam. We believe there is enough common ground to satisfy both sides, if only they will cooperate. Democratic state lawmakers want a special legislative session to consider spending part of the $225 million revenue surplus announced after the 2012 legislative session ended.
Tennessee’s Open Meetings Law requires all public business to be conducted in the sunshine — no secrets allowed. But as with most good laws, it is trumped by a constitutional provision that elected leaders can use to circumvent the public’s right to know. In this case, we’re talking about attorney-client privilege, a practice in which government attorneys can go into a closed-door meeting with county commissions and city councils and consult with them on pending litigation. We understand that attorney-client privilege, which stems from a 1984 Supreme Court ruling, is crucial in the private setting where clients need to feel safe that what they tell their lawyer is confidential.
The man accused of driving the sport utility vehicle that struck and killed Nelzon A. Soto, Chastity Elaine Thornell and Thornell’s unborn daughter May 30 has a prior drunk driving conviction. Curtis Scott Harper, a 22-year-old University of Tennessee graduate from Franklin, Tenn., has been charged with three counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication, one count of driving under the influence, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of leaving the scene of an accident and one count of second-offense DUI.
Consolidation has brought Nashville orderly growth at reasonable expense The 50th anniversary of the vote to merge city and county governments into what is now Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County is coming at a time when Nashvillians can see firsthand just what that consolidation has meant to their daily lives. On June 28, 1962, 56 percent of votes cast favored a merger, just four years after a similar referendum had failed. In 1958, voters objected to what they saw as a costly change. But the alternative to merger, annexation, proved even more expensive to county residents outside the city limits, and that appears to have made the difference in 1962.
Fifty years ago next Thursday, Nashville voters said “yes” to a new idea that some opponents claimed was Communist. The referendum measure that passed on June 28, 1962 — tying Davidson County into one metropolitan government jurisdiction — may seem today like an obscure detail of public administration. But the vote opened up the future for Nashville. The process was not easy. I was barely a teenager at the time, but I remember the campaign billboards, yard signs and hot tempers. My father, Sherman Hunt, a member of what turned out to be the last Nashville City Council, was an advocate of the new form of local government and was frequently off at debates or organizing meetings.
The mayor of a major Southeastern city recently asked for and got a substantial increase in property tax rates. The hoped-for revenue from the tax increase implies a transfer of $100 million from taxpayers to the local government. The mobilization of substantial public opposition to the tax increase tells us that many taxpayers felt that they could better use that money themselves and that the city government should make better use of the money that it already receives. But a majority of council members saw things differently. None of this is unusual. Different people are guided by different standards, and they also perceive costs differently.
Memphis City Schools superintendent still has critical work to complete as schools merge. As members of the Memphis and Shelby County unified school board discussed Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash’s contract last week it appeared some members were motivated more by control and politics, rather than what’s best for children. A motion to renew Cash’s contract, which expires in August 2013, was defeated. The expiration is just before the Memphis and Shelby County school districts are scheduled to begin operating as a single county school district.
No captains are made in calm waters. That old proverb offers an apt reminder of the need for leadership in Memphis right now on the remarkable plan that can make Greater Memphis public schools truly great. The plan must navigate turbulent waters in the days ahead. Most people won’t read it. Many will be scared off when they hear about reinventing the schools. Those with closed minds will fall back on platitudes and assumptions that allow them to dismiss the plan before even giving it a chance. Give it a chance. When you do, you likely will reach this stunning conclusion: Memphis has a chance to make a great leap ahead in public education.
We take you back to that fateful evening of Dec. 20, 2010, when the eyes of everyone in Shelby County were trained on the Memphis City Schools Board of Education. At about 11:30 p.m., after a grueling six-hour meeting, the board voted, 5 to 4, to surrender the city school charter, thereby forcing a merger with Shelby County Schools. The vote and its aftermath had the feel of a controversial Supreme Court case, the ones that always end up being a 5-4 decision. The Citizens United ruling allowing corporations to pump unlimited money into political campaigns, the disputed 2000 presidential election and the landmark Bakke affirmative action decision in 1978 are three examples. Honestly, I never thought the school board would actually give up its charter.