This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The state Department of Education will release data showing Tennessee’s progress on education reform in an event early Tuesday afternoon in Nashville. Education officials will reveal the results of the 2011-12 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, the state’s standardized testing program for third grade and up. The release follows several years of education reform under Gov. Phil Bredesen and Gov. Bill Haslam that have made the tests tougher and tied teacher evaluations to test results.
While learning reading, writing and arithmetic is important, too many of today’s students don’t finish school with the “soft” skills needed to be successful in the workforce, state and business leaders said Monday. Even when students leave school academically prepared in certain fields, business leaders say they often lack the more intangible qualities such as teamwork, critical thinking and interpersonal relations. At a meeting Monday of the Southern Growth Policies Board, Gov. Bill Haslam and North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said educators need to work with students on soft skills.
His Psychology degree from UT taught him plenty about the human condition. So why is Hixson native Alex Shirk learning about electrical connections at Chattanooga State’s Wacker Institute? “I had the wrong idea about a career and I partied a little bit too much,” he says. “I would much rather have come here and gotten on my career path rather than just take something for no reason.” His odds are better than good. Wacker has offered jobs to 95% percent of those completing its four-semester program, according to Institute Director Dr. George Graham, though the polysilicon solar chip factory in Charleston is still more than a year from opening.
It could be time to ditch the bachelor’s in basketweaving and toss out the master’s in medieval literature. The work force of tomorrow needs to know how to program a robot, weld steel and do math, business leaders said Monday at a meeting of the Southern Growth Policies Board. There are plenty of jobs available right now for those with the right skills — the problem is, graduates today don’t have those skills, officials said. “We are always short on nurses,” said Karen Ward, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Chattanooga-based health insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
The state will dole out $2.3 million to help pay for an extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk from Ross’s Landing to St. Elmo and the foot of Lookout Mountain, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday. The money will be well spent on the Riverwalk, Haslam said, calling the walkway a jewel of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Extending the Riverwalk from the Chickamauga Dam to Lookout Mountain will reinforce the attraction as the prime greenway in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Riverwalk is on the list of projects chosen by the United States Department of the Interior’s Great Outdoors Initiative to receive federal funds aimed at “reconnecting Americans to the natural world.” The $2.3 million transportation enhancement grant was announced Monday afternoon on the Chattanooga Pier by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer. The money will be used to link the downtown Riverwalk at Ross’ Landing to the existing bike route on South Broad Street and the Lookout Mountain trail system.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer today announced a nearly $800,000 grant to transform Jackson Square in Oak Ridge. The $798,687 transportation enhancement grant is for Phase I of the Jackson Square Townsite Reconfiguration Project, which includes major modifications to the parking lot on Broadway Avenue. The project will transform this area into an attractive, landscaped plaza and parking area.
AdTech Ceramics, which designs and makes custom electronic components for the military, medical and other business sectors, is growing its Chattanooga facility. The high-tech company, located at 511 Manufacturers Road, will invest $2.25 million and create 25 more manufacturing jobs, said AdTech President Bill Minehan. Minehan said the company currently employs “well over 100 people” at the plant. “We’re continuing to invest in both capacity and capability to meet customer demands and expectations,” he said, adding the new hiring will be done over the next couple of years.
Turning 18, moving out and heading to college is hard with a support system. Imagine doing it alone. That’s what nearly 20,000 children nationwide in foster care face each year. But now a new law signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will help to change the fate of many kids in care in Tennessee. With the stroke of a pen, Governor Haslam gave children in Tennessee foster care a better chance as they transition into adulthood. Of the 8,000 children in foster care, 60% are teenagers.
Gov. Bill Haslam may soon be able to forget about a legal headache. The former Knoxville mayor had previously served as a director and chairman of Dallas-based Harold’s Stores Inc., which sought bankruptcy protection in 2008. The following year bankruptcy trustee Douglas Gould sued Haslam and several other defendants with ties to the company. In a recent filing, Gould asked the court to dismiss all claims against Haslam, without giving a reason for the action. An attorney for Gould could not be reached for comment.
Tourism officials are launching a self-guided driving trail that connects farmland and small towns in nine West Tennessee counties. The Cotton Junction Trail is being launched Tuesday by the state departments of tourism development and transportation. The trail starts in Memphis and heads east and north along 320 miles of roads through Carroll, Crockett, Fayette, Gibson, Haywood, Madison, Shelby, Tipton and Weakley counties.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is eliminating its contract with an outside agency that trains social workers. DCS is one of several state departments finding savings by doing more of its work in-house. The Tennessee Center for Child Welfare – which is affiliated with MTSU – plans to lay off 45 employees. It had a $14 million annual contract to provide training for DCS case workers. Spokesperson Molly Sudderth says DCS can save several million dollars if it does its own training.
Many Tennessee driver’s license examining stations now use Apple iPad technology for license renewals. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security has installed kiosks inside 26 driver service centers to speed renewals and replacements. Most of the terminals are in urban areas of the state. Drivers can fill out the form electronically and pay using a debit or credit card. They should receive the new license within minutes. The kiosks can also be used to change drivers’ addresses or pay reinstatement fees.
There’s been a significant drop in how much money is missing from local governments in Tennessee, but the total amount is still in the six figure range. An annual report from the state comptroller’s office shows that more than 213-thousand dollars were stolen or mishandled in the fiscal year that ended last June. That’s down from more than 700-thousand the year before, and is the lowest amount reported since the start of the economic downturn. But there’s still a long way to go to get to pre-recession levels.
Taxpayers in Tennessee are owed more than $910,000 that has been stolen or cannot be accounted for, a state Comptroller’s report shows. That figure represents the amount of money that county offices were still short at the end of fiscal year 2011, after audits revealed the missing money. County offices recovered more than $1.1 million of wayward funds last year. The report reads like a how-to manual for public malfeasance. In Davidson County, a worker in the Metro Trustee’s office was involved in a scheme of stealing tax payments and then using future tax payments to cover up the thefts.
TDOT handled work, leaving road wider with bike lanes A repaving project on Riverside Drive by the Tennessee Department of Transportation has been completed two months earlier than scheduled. Deanna Lambert, the community relations officer for Region 3 of TDOT, said there are only a few more signs to be put in, but the project is mostly finished. “This project was originally expected to be completed later this summer,” she said, “so we are happy to announce that it is even finished a couple months ahead of schedule.”
Two former Tennessee Highway Patrol investigators accused of stealing money from the state Department of Safety and then trying to cover their tracks could avoid jail time and keep a clean record. Billy Grooms and David Brown, who worked as agents with the Criminal Investigation Division for East Tennessee, have applied for pretrial diversion, said 3rd Judicial District Assistant District Attorney General Ritchie Collins, the prosecutor specially appointed to handle the state’s case against both men.
A decision that Raynella Dossett Leath cannot inherit property from the husband she is convicted of killing has been reversed and sent back to Knox County Chancery Court. Meanwhile, her challenge of her conviction of murdering of David Leath awaits a decision by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. That conviction was the basis for a summary judgment from Chancery Court in favor of David Leath’s daughter by a previous marriage, Cindy Leath Wilkerson. She had sued her stepmother under a state law that forbids anyone who has caused a death from profiting by it.
Starting next week, a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood test when an officer has valid suspicion of intoxication will be virtually meaningless. It’s a restructuring of Tennessee’s DUI law regarding forced blood draws for blood alcohol content tests. Another new aspect of the state’s DUI laws increases punishment for someone convicted of DUI if they had a child under age 18 in the vehicle at the time of the offense. Assistant District Attorney Robin Ray said the changes will toughen the DUI law in Tennessee.
Legal challenges give hope to TN advocates The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s immigration law is unlikely to change Tennessee law, but it already is beginning to reshape the debate on future immigration policy here. The high court on Monday ruled, 5-4, that three parts of the Arizona law are unconstitutional: requiring immigrants to carry documents denoting whether they are legal residents, making it a crime for illegal immigrants to apply for a job and allowing local law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a key part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law is essentially a green light to Tennessee lawmakers to enact something similar here, state Rep. Joe Carr said Monday. The Lascassas Republican says he’ll likely use the ruling to refuel his drive toward making Tennessee an inhospitable place to foreigners who lack explicit U.S. government approval to be in this country. In a decision released Monday, the Supreme Court struck down three provisions of the 2010 immigration law.
Tennessee supporters of laws cracking down on illegal immigrants are hailing Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds a key provision in Arizona’s get-tough approach. But the high court’s decision is generating concern from the state’s immigrant community, where members say they fear it will encourage “mean-spirited” state lawmakers to push for new laws. In their decision, Supreme Court justices struck down much of Arizona’s law, including a section requiring police to arrest people on immigration charges.
The Supreme Court’s ruling Monday on Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law is likely to have little, if any, immediate impact on Tennessee because the Volunteer State’s law is much more limited. The National Conference of State Legislatures said the ruling — which upheld the part of the Arizona law requiring police to try to determine immigration status during a lawful stop, but struck down three other major provisions — would have immediate impact on five states that enacted similar legislation: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.
The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona’s crackdown on immigrants Monday but said a much-debated portion on checking suspects’ status could go forward. The court did not throw out the state provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States illegally. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges. The decision upholds the “show me your papers” requirement for the moment.
One ruling resulted in essentially the same reaction from two very different sides. In Georgia and Alabama, two states with tough immigration laws, groups on both sides of the debate saw the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration enforcement law as a victory. One side deemed it as a clear message that it’s the federal government’s right to enforce immigration law, not the states’, while the other took it as reassurance for the states.
Recreation spaces help Metro ranking Nashville and the 12 counties that surround it are no longer among the laggards on an annual fitness index. The metropolitan area jumped 10 spots on the American Fitness Index, a report from the American College of Sport Medicine. Greater Nashville now ranks 27th, between Phoenix and Chicago on that list. The improvement comes after Mayor Karl Dean launched the NashVitality campaign to spur people to eat better and move more.
John Arriola, the embattled Davidson County Clerk whose practice of collecting fees to perform weddings put him under fire, has resigned. Jonathan Saad, director of external operations at the county clerk’s office, confirmed to The City Paper Monday Arriola notified his staff earlier that morning of his resignation. “He thanked everybody for their wonderful work and the job they had done,” Saad said. A brief resignation letter from Arriola was sent to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and the Metro Clerk’s Office.
Clerk’s wedding fees led to investigation Embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, pursued by prosecutors and scrutinized by fellow elected officials and voters for nearly a year, plans to resign at the end of this week rather than face the possibility of a felony indictment. The decision, announced Monday, will allow Arriola to keep an approximately $34,000-a-year pension after earning six-figure salaries since he was first elected six years ago. That’s on top of the $119,400 he collected for performing marriage ceremonies, none of which he’ll have to repay (he did return money to some people who requested refunds, however).
The threat of facing a grand jury helped convince Davidson County Clerk John Arriola to resign after a fight to keep his job. News reports and then multiple audits uncovered mismanagement in his office. Prosecutors say resignation is the most “beneficial resolution” because there were “no clear-cut violations of criminal law.” The questionable practice that got the most attention from investigators was the nearly $120,000 he had collected in wedding gratuities, which appeared to be more like mandatory fees.
The Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission ignored a court recommendation Monday to place a mosque back on an agenda, provide proper public notice and vote on the plans. The planning commissioners two weeks ago voted to appeal Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s June court order. That order voided planners’ previous approval of the mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike on the basis of inadequate public notice for the meeting in question, May 24, 2010.
The chairwoman of the Knox County Democratic Party on Monday said the organization would hold a special meeting soon to discuss Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign financial reports, some which include misstatements and undisclosed expenditures. “We certainly want to get to the bottom of what’s happening,” said Gloria Johnson. “We certainly want to make sure that nothing illegal or inappropriate was done.” The upcoming meeting comes in response to a News Sentinel story Sunday detailing questionable spending and accounting discrepancies in the mayor’s campaign finance disclosure statements.
Knox County commissioners want to know what the public thinks about the board’s pre-meeting prayer. Officials had initially planned to talk more about a resolution that would create written guidelines for commission invocations on Monday, but since it was a last-minute addition to the agenda, they decided to hold off until next month and give residents a chance to weigh in. The proposal will now go before the commission’s Rules Committee to vet and also before the board during next month’s work session to discuss further.
With little more than a month left until Aug. 2 elections, as many as 20,000 Shelby County voters may not know which precinct they are assigned to vote at — and many thousands more remain unclear about the congressional and state legislative districts they reside in. The number of precincts in the county has gone from 236 to 219, a loss of 17 precincts. Richard Holden, Shelby County administrator of elections, said voters will be notified of their new precinct locations by mail before early voting begins on July 13, which lasts through July 28.
The proposed wheel tax is dead in Sullivan County, but a 20-cent property tax increase needed to fund the 2012-13 budget took a step forward Monday night. The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee voted 5-2 for the property tax increase, with Commissioners Bob Neal and John Crawford voting no. The committee also approved $1.5 million in cuts to the spending plan, which is supposed to start July 1. Last week, the committee discussed the possibility of a wheel tax to raise money but opted instead to go with a property tax.
Sullivan County property owners will be looking at about a 9.4 percent tax increase for the fiscal year that begins next week if the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee has its way. If enacted by the full commission, it would be the first county tax increase in eight years. The committee hasn’t officially hashed out all the details of a comprehensive county budget for the 12-month budget cycle that begins July 1, but a majority voted Monday to recommend a 20 cent tax increase to the full commission.
Dyer County Commission passed the 2012-2013 budget exactly as it was recommended by its budget committee at its monthly meeting on Monday evening. The debated budget was passed without incident and included a new tax-rate distribution where 6 cents from property tax revenue will be reallocated from schools into the debt service fund. Although the distribution for the coming year changed, residents will not be burdened with a tax increase for this coming fiscal year.
Monday was moving day for nearly 300 prisoners who formerly dwelled in the old Carter County Jail and the temporary jail pods. Small groups of prisoners carrying bags of personal items were moved throughout the day to the new jail. Opening day for the $26 million facility began early. Jail Administrator Capt. Tom Smith said the staff was told to assemble at 6 a.m. The day called for 100 percent participation of the jail staff. Smith said no one had the day off and everyone worked a long, hard day.
The Chattanooga area’s two public hospitals had their best numbers in more than year in May, with Erlanger Health System posting it’s first monthly profit since August and North Georgia’s Erlanger at Hutcheson seeing it’s smallest losses in two years. Erlanger officials also presented their budget for next year, predicting a 4.3 percent growth in admissions and a $10.8 million profit on total operating revenues of $597 million. Chief financial officer Britt Tabor said the budget presented to the public hospital’s finance committee Monday night was conservative on revenues.
In five years, it’s possible every 4-year-old in Shelby County will be enrolled in the kind of pre-kindergarten that research shows gives children, particularly poor children, a rocket-like start in life. Universal pre-K is the No. 1 recommendation on the plan the Transition Planning Commission will present to the Shelby County unified school board tonight. It’s also the most expensive item in the 180-page wish list of how the commission thinks the merged district should look, adding roughly $3 million a year for five years to cover the 2,500 children who qualify for subsidized pre-kindergarten but don’t get it.
After effectively ruling out Kriner Cash last week as the leader of the consolidated Shelby County school system, school board members now turn to a decision about how to select that superintendent. The Tuesday, June 26, school board meeting will continue a discussion among the 23-member board that began over two meetings last week. Those meetings showed a board grappling not only with reaching a consensus but its unwieldy size and opinions from other civic players in the drama.
Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register’s administration has recommended denial of Great Hearts Academies’ amended charter application, delivering another potential blow to the Phoenix-based charter group’s desire for five Nashville charters. “The original concerns remain,” Alan Coverstone, executive director of Metro schools’ Office of Innovation, told The City Paper Monday. He said concerns are primarily related to diversity questions stemming from its school location and transportation plans –– two areas that Great Hearts’ revised application sought to address.
Several rivers low, but major impact is not expected Weather conditions that have dried parts of the Tennessee River valley to drought status are expected to persist across a hotter-than-usual summer, leaving Nashville residents with less hydro power and the potential for water quality issues. Still, Randy Kerr, civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said people need not fear life-altering effects. Boaters at Percy Priest Lake need to be on the lookout for more shallow areas, Kerr said, but “once you get out in the reservoir, there’s still plenty of water.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s next big initiative will be a review and possible overhaul of the state’s higher education system. The governor announced last week he would begin the review during meetings with higher education leaders next month. A comprehensive review of the structure, cost and mission of Tennessee’s institutions of higher learning is long overdue, and Halsam is building a track record of systematically addressing such major issues and pushing through supporting legislation.
It’s a comedy of errors, minus the laughs. To perhaps no one’s great surprise, a state appeals court has upheld a lower court’s 2011 decision throwing out Chattanooga’s case against River City Co. and two associates over costly repairs at the attractive but problem-plagued Passage on the riverfront. The celebrated project and other Tennessee River waterfront work formally were unveiled in 2005, though there are indications that the city early on saw some electrical and other problems.
The well is dry. Unless we experience an economic comeback, the likes we haven’t seen since 2006, Rutherford County Commissioners will have tapped the schools’ reserves for the last time, at least for a while, to finance the next budget year. To pay for the county’s upcoming fiscal year budget of $442.5 million, about 75 percent of which is for schools, the county will have to dip into its rainy-day fund or raise taxes. Based on the recommendations of the County Budget, Finance & Investment Committee, the county overall is counting on nearly $18 million in reserves to balance its upcoming budget.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three provisions of Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070, while upholding its most controversial provision: Section 2(B), which allows police officers to demand proof of immigration status of anyone they “reasonably suspect” may be undocumented. The real lessons of SB 1070 were not found in Supreme Court chambers, but in the disastrous effects it has had on Arizona. Ruling that federal law did not pre-empt Arizona’s disastrous “show me your papers” policies, the Supreme Court has given a green light to racial profiling in the name of immigration enforcement.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s immigration law on Monday, but let its most controversial provision stand. The ruling affirms the supremacy of federal law over state regulations governing immigration — a triumph for the Obama administration. The court’s approval of the so-called “show me your papers” provision of those laws, however, makes the victory incomplete. Those who favor harsher laws governing illegal immigrants view that approval as vindication of their stance. A more definitive ruling will be necessary to fully resolve the issue.
With much of the nation awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, a lower profile decision by the court last week could have major consequences to communities across the nation. The justices’ ruling on a case from Montana opens the door to unlimited corporate and special interest money to begin flowing into state and local elections. The court ruled that its 2010 Citizens United ruling applies to all elections, whether federal, state or local.
When philosophies clash, who loses? The Metro Board of Education meets tonight to review appeals from the five charter school groups whose petitions were rejected in May. All but one of the resubmissions should be easy for the board to decide. The recommendations from the evaluation committees are to approve the resubmissions from KIPP Nashville Middle School, Purpose Preparatory Academy and Great Hearts America-Tennessee, and to deny the appeals from Genesis Transitions and Excel Academy (Goodwill Industries).