July 11 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.  

Haslam Convenes Summit of Higher Ed. Leaders to Review TN Schools (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today called together post-secondary education leaders from across the state along with statewide business organizations to discuss the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated focus on the issues of affordability, the quality of our Tennessee colleges, universities and technology centers, and how to do a better job of matching the skills state institutions are teaching with the needs of employers.

Summit at governor’s mansion takes aim at higher ed problems (CP/Greenberg)

Gov. Bill Haslam knows that solving the complex problems surrounding higher education in Tennessee won’t come easy. But on Tuesday, the state took the first step to addressing issues by hosting a post-secondary education meeting at Conservation Hall in the Governor’s Mansion. “The challenge is very obvious … the status quo won’t hold,” Haslam said. “Today is the beginning of a process.” That process included bringing together representatives from the Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Tennessee System and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to hear presentations from well-renowned higher education experts.

Haslam: Penalizing Underperforming Colleges Will Take ‘Political Courage’ (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam set the table Tuesday for a discussion of how Tennessee colleges can do a better job readying students for the workforce. Much of the conversation centered on the state’s new policy of tying schools’ funding to outcomes like graduation rates. For the rewards-based system to work, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro told Haslam the incentives have to be there. Haslam answered that’s fair – and so do the penalties, meaning potentially unpopular funding cuts.

Haslam summit examines ways to change TN’s higher education system (TN/Sisk)

Rising tuition seen as one obstacle Experts discussed rising college costs and ways to make degrees more valuable in a Tuesday forum at the governor’s mansion, kicking off efforts to revamp Tennessee’s higher education system. Three speakers from the academic and nonprofit worlds told Gov. Bill Haslam and other Tennessee officials that the nation is turning out too many college graduates with skills that do not match up to the needs of employers. They also said rising tuition is making it harder for families — especially the poor — to get post-secondary degrees and certificates at the same time employers are demanding them.

Gov. BIll Haslam tackles higher ed costs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Declaring Tennessee higher education “at a crossroads,” Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday began laying the political groundwork for a more cost-conscious Tennessee system that also generates higher numbers of graduates in well-paying fields demanded by employers. The occasion was a Haslam-sponsored forum for higher education and business leaders in which experts outlined various challenges facing colleges and students. Those areas range from declining state financial support to better matching the needs of employers.

Haslam’s higher ed review targets efficiency, maybe more funding (NS/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday began a round of talks about higher education that, he said, may eventually lead to an infusion of more state funding and some restructuring of operations at the University of Tennessee and the Board of Regents systems. But the governor told academic and business officials at the initial gathering that he sees a need for “measuring the quality of output by higher education,” especially as it applies to producing graduates for available jobs, and for making the system more cost-efficient.

Higher education experts praise Tennessee efforts (Associated Press/Loller)

Austin Peay State University’s effort to advise student course selection through a software program called Degree Compass is winning praise from education experts. At a higher education forum Tuesday sponsored by Gov. Bill Haslam, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Bill Tucker pointed to Degree Compass as one of several things the state is doing to provide more Tennesseans with quality post-secondary education. Tucker and other experts told representatives of the state’s colleges and universities that Tennessee needs to broaden access to higher education to have a better educated and better paid workforce.

Talking Tennessee (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey are among the Tennesseans in recent days who’ve participated in a “Twitter battle” ginned up by the cable business network CNBC as part of the network’s annual study of the country’s top states for business. In addition to releasing its own ranking of the country’s states on the basis of business-friendliness this week, CNBC this year added a social component to the exercise built around Twitter. That new social component is designed to be a head-to-head contest driven partly by videos all 50 governors were invited to submit to CNBC explaining why their state is a top state for business.

TN Ranks No. 16 in Best-for-Business Study (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam may have talked a good game in a video pitching Tennessee as one of the best states in the nation for businesses, but CNBC disagreed. In an independent study, the news outlet ranked the Volunteer State 16th in the country. While Tennessee couldn’t snag a best-in-the-nation title in any of the 10 categories CNBC calculated, the state managed to rank second for “cost of living,” unchanged from last year’s study. Tennessee improved its position in other categories, like ranking fourth for “infrastructure and transportation” and sixth for “business friendliness.”

Mark Emkes named to Business Hall of Fame (Nashville Business Journal)

The former head of Bridgestone Americas and a top aide to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been named to the Nashville Business Hall of Fame. Mark Emkes, who currently serves as commissioner of finance and administration for the Republican governor, is the 2012 recipient of the award. The former chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas will receive the award Oct. 9 at Loew’s Vanderbilt Hotel at an event hosted by Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee.

Incentive clawbacks added to Tennessee ECD program (Memphis Biz Journal)

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is crafting a “clawback” provision that can be inserted into the state’s FastTrack grants, according to TNReport. Clawbacks would allow the state to recoup some of its investment when a new or expanding business doesn’t deliver on all of the new jobs it promised. Tennessee paid companies $27.3 million through its FastTrack program between 2008 and 2010 to train more than 6,200 new workers, according to an investigation by Memphis Business Journal affiliate publication Nashville Business Journal.

Emergency drill tests readiness (Tennessean/Haas)

If the roads were impassable, communications down and fuel, food and water in short supply what would Tennesseans do? Emergency responders are trying to answer that question this week. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has been conducting training exercises all week, using a fake disaster to simulate such an emergency. But that fake disaster — an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault, a 150-mile long fault line between St. Louis and Memphis — raises real worries by emergency planners.

Audit Finds Widespread Problems in East Tennessee Drug Task Force (WPLN)

Most of the 31 task forces charged with coordinating drug enforcement efforts across Tennessee are keeping good records, according to an annual audit by the state Comptroller’s office. But the report shows one in far northeastern Tennessee is riddled with problems that local officials agree can only be fixed by a change in leadership. The Third Judicial District’s Drug Task Force operates in Green, Hancock, Hamblen and Hawkins Counties, a mostly rural area with a big methamphetamine problem.The audit paints a picture of the task force office as a mess of unopened, unpaid telephone bills and overflowing evidence lockers.

State considers fracking regs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Blackerby)

The rush is on by the oil and gas industry to tap into the nation’s abundant, but sometimes hard-to-extract supply of natural gas. At a Tuesday afternoonpublic hearing in Knoxville, many opponents of the controversial method of drilling for natural gas in deep shale and tight formations — called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — asked at what cost in Tennessee? About 50 people attended the hearing at the Knoxville field office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Report: DCS Slow to Comply With Reform Plan (Associated Press)

A recent report shows problems making the transition to a new computer system are preventing the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services from fully complying with a court-ordered reform plan. The report released this week is the latest assessment of the agency’s performance under a reform plan brought by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights and a group of Tennessee attorneys to improve foster care across the state. According to the report, the agency’s conversion to a new computer system called Tennessee Family and Child Tracking System has prevented the collection of DCS data in over 20 areas of court-ordered reform.

TSU leaders dispute grade changes (Tennessean/Wilson)

More than 100 Tennessee State University students initially marked “incomplete” in two fall courses saw those marks changed to letter grades, but university faculty and leaders disagree on who made those changes and whether they were ethical. Several university professors said university administrators made the changes without the instructors’ consent, but university and state officials insist they had approval after clearing up a miscommunication about course requirements. One of the instructors involved said he was disgusted his colleagues would spread lies about the university.

Bankruptcy Filing Haunts Challenger to Maggart (TN Report)

In 2005, Courtney Rogers’ life savings were gone. The oil distributorship business her husband bought with a friend months before the 9/11 attacks had failed. Business debts were piling up. And the couple was filing for bankruptcy. And even though it stemmed from the failure of her husband’s company, Rogers is being sucked back into that difficult chapter in their lives now that she’s running for state political office. Rogers is waging a dark horse campaign to unseat one of the House’s leading Republicans, GOP Caucus Leader Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville.

Senate candidate Greg Vital says claim about education ‘Freudian slip’ (TFP/Carroll)

State Senate Republican candidate Greg Vital said he’s not a college graduate despite saying the opposite in a public forum. “That was a Freudian slip,” Vital said Tuesday. “It was a mistake.” Vital is campaigning for the District 10 seat now held by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who’s running for Chattanooga mayor. On May 31, Vital spoke at a candidate forum sponsored by the Hamilton County Young Republicans. During his opening remarks, Vital said he “finished up” college in 1979 and “graduated with only $900 on my student loan.”

New candidates face off in newly created district (Daily News Journal)

Republican candidates for the newly-created 37th House seat both tout a background in education and the private sector as they campaign for the post. In fact, Smyrna resident Richard Garvin and his wife, Natara, met at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., before he finally persuaded her to marry him. Now, he’s a professor at Fisk University in Nashville, in addition to office manager of Star Medical Group in Smyrna, and she is director of Career Development and Leadership at Fisk. Natara supports him “fully” in his House campaign, calling it a step in the right direction that dovetails with his other community service.

City Council votes 7-1 to OK $95 million capital budget (TFP/Hightower)

The Chattanooga City Council approved a $95 million capital budget Tuesday night that includes complete repairs on the 21st Century Waterfront and an indoor firing range for police. But one council member tried to rally support around one last item: Putting more money into roads. “Is this as much passion as we can get for roads?” Councilwoman Deborah Scott asked the council in a specially called meeting. Councilman Manny Rico responded that there are many needs in a city the size of Chattanooga.

Mayor’s subpoena against KNS on hold as judge steps aside (N-S/Donila)

The judge set to determine whether the News Sentinel must answer a subpoena filed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s divorce attorney has stepped aside, bringing the issue to a temporary halt. “If we were flying an airplane we’d be in what they call a holding pattern right now,” said Richard L. Hollow, the newspaper’s lawyer. Last month, a process server for Albert J. Harb delivered a subpoena to editor Jack McElroy, asking for sign-in sheets for all News Sentinel visitors between May 15 and June 24.

States Face Tough Choices Even as Downturn Ends (New York Times)

As state governments begin to emerge from the long downturn, many are grappling with a difficult choice: should they restore some of the services and jobs they were forced to eliminate in the recession or cut taxes in the hopes of bolstering their local economies? The debate over the proper balance between taxing and spending has been raging in Congress, on the presidential campaign trail and in statehouses around the country, and no two states have settled it more differently this year than Maryland and Kansas, whose fiscal years began July 1.

For Some States, Medicaid Expansion May Be a Tough Fiscal Call (Stateline)

Skeptics say the Republican governors who have pledged not to take part in the health-care law’s Medicaid expansion are just posturing, and that eventually they will succumb to the lure of federal dollars. They note that several GOP governors initially refused stimulus money on political principle, but eventually accepted it because their states were desperate for help. “I am confident that, in the end, virtually every state will expand its Medicaid program,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a non-profit group that advocates for expanded health care coverage.

DOE’s big bucks available for small businesses (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Shannon Eaker’s ears perked up Tuesday when he heard a couple of the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest contractors say they had a difficult time meeting certain goals for subcontracting. The DOE contractors said they were especially looking for qualified service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. That’s exactly the kind of feedback that Eaker, chief scientific officer for BES Technologies LLC, was seeking when he signed up for DOE’s regional Small Business Summit this week at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Tennessee still negative nearly 100,000 jobs since recession began (MBJ)

Tennessee is among the states still struggling to recover from job losses from the Great Recession, data from a new On Numbers study show. The Volunteer State ranked No. 36 with a net loss of 95,300 jobs between May 2007 and May 2012. The economic downturn officially began in December 2007, so the five-year study period allowed a comparison of pre-recession and current employment levels. By contrast Texas ranked No. 1 by adding 410,400 jobs in half a decade. New York was a distant second with a gain of 88,600.

Cannon Equipment closure to end 71 jobs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

A Chattanooga manufacturing plant that traces its roots back 75 years is shutting down. The Cannon Equipment factory on Riverside Drive, which for many years was known as Cumberland Corp. and is a maker of material handling equipment, is closing in early August with 71 people losing their jobs, according to the company. In the mid-1990s, the plant had up to 250 employees. “It kind of was a surprise that it is closing down,” said Tim Spires, who heads the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association. “It’s still tough out there.”

Mid-South teachers hired extras to take certification tests, feds say (CA/Buser)

Since 1995 dozens of teachers and aspiring teachers in Memphis, Arkansas and Mississippi paid a broker from $1,500 to $3,000 to have others take their licensing exams. That broker, federal authorities say, was guidance counselor Clarence Mumford, who arranged for stand-ins by having the teachers send him their drivers’ licenses and Social Security numbers, then hiring Memphis City Schools employees or former employees to take the tests. Mumford was named in a 45-count indictment Tuesday charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, document fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Judge to consider if municipal school bills apply outside Shelby Co. (CA/Locker)

State lawmakers walked a legislative tightrope on the municipal school district bills, trying to balance the political reality of opposition to new school districts elsewhere in Tennessee to the legal requirement that the bills must apply to more than just Shelby County. That balancing act led to the passage in April of the two bills written to allow Memphis suburbs to proceed with referendums this year on whether to create municipal school districts. But precisely where the two new laws apply, and the legislative debate that shaped them, have emerged as the central focus of the latest legal battle over new municipal districts in suburban Shelby County.

Schools Referendum Foes Face Heavy Legal Burden (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners seeking to stop the referendums on municipal school districts have a heavy legal burden going into Thursday’s hearing on the matter in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. “No judge in his right mind wants to enjoin an election,” Judge Hardy Mays said Monday, July 9, as he emphasized how high the burden will be. Thursday’s hearing before Mays increases the burden as it limits the scope of an early voting eve decision by him to two parts of the Tennessee Constitution.

La Vergne reps skip rezoning meeting (Daily News Journal)

La Vergne residents were the loudest about wanting one main school board member to serve them, yet representatives from that city were absent from the first redistricting committee meeting Tuesday. “It was strange they weren’t here,” new committee Chairman Jeff Phillips said after the meeting. Phillips hopes that Aaron B. Holladay, a Rutherford County Board of Education member from La Vergne, and Tonya Knell, a La Vergne resident representing her city, will attend the next committee meeting at 5 p.m. July 25 in Room 205 of the County Courthouse on the Public Square in Murfreesboro.

 

OPINION

 

Gail Kerr: Once again, Capitol fountains leave kids hot, dry (Tennessean)

The 31 dancing fountains that usually entertain upwards of 200 kids on summer days in Bicentennial Capitol Mall are not dancing this summer. They’re shut down and locked behind a chain-link fence. During the record heat wave, the kids were out of luck. The popular fountains, which became an urban swimming hole for children, have not worked since May 2010, when that nasty record flood caused $770,776 in damage to the mall. “It was a big mess,” said Meg Lockhart, public information officer for the state Department of Environment and Conservation.

Times Editorial: The NRA’s rabid demand (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The National Rifle Association obviously is steamed that Tennessee’s Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature had the audacity earlier this year to reject their strenuous lobbying effort to pass another gun-rights law — this time, a law allowing employees to bring their loaded handguns to work and leave them locked in their car on employer-owned parking lots. So to intimidate and pressure state lawmakers to kneel before the extremist NRA guns-everywhere-all-the-time agenda before the August primaries and the general election in November, the NRA has issued a pointed survey to legislative candidates.

Greg Johnson: A closer look at race for 17th House District (News-Sentinel)

The race for the Republican nomination for state representative in the newly created 17th District could come down to voter turnout. Straddling the boundary between Sevier and Jefferson counties, district demographics tilt toward Jefferson, with 55 percent of the electorate. But Sevier County attorney Andrew Farmer stands a good chance to win his first elective office. Farmer, a “general practice” attorney, has a heap of endorsements from Sevier County politicos, and enthusiasm is high in Sevier County over the possibility of electing two native sons to the state House.

Editorial: Be prepared for changes at ballot box this year (Daily News Journal)

The Rutherford County Election Office is cutting it close by sending new voter registration cards and election information to voters this week with early voting to start Friday for the August election. But considering the Rutherford County Commission didn’t approve a redistricting plan until May 17 and the state Legislature took a year to formulate new district lines, the local office didn’t get much time for preparing some 130,000 voter cards in advance of the county general election and state and federal primaries. Most people probably won’t receive their cards and information until Thursday.

Frank Munger: Ruling could help early Oak Ridge workers collect $$$ (N-S)

It looks like it may be a little easier for the families of some early Oak Ridge employees to collect from the government compensation program for sick nuclear workers. The U.S. Department of Labor last week said it was notifying all former employees of Tennessee Eastman Corp. and Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corp. who were employed at the Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge. The notice was about a new “special exposure cohort” that eliminates some of the red tape for employees who developed one of the types of cancer associated with radiation exposures in the workplace.