This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced this week the award of a $156,800 transportation enhancement grant to the city of Niota for the Depot Restoration Project. The Niota Depot, which was constructed in 1854, is the oldest standing train depot in the state of Tennessee and presently serves as the Niota City Hall. The Depot Restoration Project will make urgent repairs to the depot’s stone and brick foundation, and restore the baggage room doors.
Thousands of teachers and administrators are filtering into classrooms in West Creek High School and across the state this summer while their students find ways to beat the heat. They have been preparing for Tennessee’s multiyear shift to the Common Core State Standards curriculum. Educational insiders say it will transform the way teachers and students tackle vital material by the time it is fully implemented in the fall of 2014. The curriculum, which aims to produce students who are more prepared for college or careers, is being adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Right off the Lake City exit from Interstate 75, fishermen by the dozens stop by the M & B Market on their way to Norris Dam State Park. They’re buying the minnows and worms that are sure to lead to a big catch down at the marina. The BP gas station and convenience store, which is about 2½ miles outside of the state park, relies on Norris Dam visitors for much of its business. “Between bait and pop, that’s what keeps us in business,” store owner Misty Cobb said. “We probably get 30 to 40 people a day on their way to the park.”
About 30 kids braved the wilderness to become Junior Rangers at Frozen Head State Park last week — learning about park safety, building bird houses and identifying animals native to Tennessee by their pelts. The Junior Ranger Day Camp is a free program at select parks, but anyone who simply wants to visit a Tennessee state park can gain entry for absolutely no cost at the gate. Along with the 75th anniversary of state parks, Tennessee hikers, bikers and campers this year are celebrating five years of free park entry.
Granted, traffic fatality statistics are kind of a bummer. Jennifer Corum, though, wonders if posting Tennessee’s year-to-date death toll on those interstate message boards every day isn’t acting as some sort of negative reinforcement in drivers’ subconscious. “I have a feeling the numbers have spiked heavily because drivers are thinking about the word ‘fatality’ while driving. “Not being spun with positive wording makes it worse, in other words,” Corum writes in a recent email asking Knox Know-It-All to see whether there’s any correlation.
County Republicans in recent days have twice fired across the bow of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, accusing the state’s top GOP leader of getting into bed with Muslim extremists. In the face of that criticism, Haslam met with several of Williamson County’s most prominent Republicans for lunch at a busy downtown restaurant in Franklin. While sipping a glass of iced tea in the crowded dining room of Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant on Thursday, the governor said his critics deserve little of his time.
Adam Loveless recognizes the customers addicted to prescription drugs. Their voices full of gravel, their demeanor edgy and nervous. They come into Toliver’s Pawn and Gun frequently, carrying family items — a TV, jewelry, games. They need money. “They’ll say it’s for diapers or groceries, but you know what they really do with the money,” said Loveless, who works at the pawn shop on the town square in Manchester. “You see a lot of good people that have gone to using painkillers; it’s just blown up.”
Even as suburban voters flock to the polls during early voting for the Aug. 2 elections, the issue most motivating them — referendums to create suburban municipal school districts — faces an uncertain legal future. And it won’t likely become clear until weeks after the Shelby County Election Commission approves the ballot for the Nov. 6 elections that will include races for school board positions in those suburbs that vote to approve the new municipal districts. A trial is set for Sept. 4 in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays on whether the 2012 laws that allowed the referendums to occur this year violate the Tennessee Constitution.
While most suburbs were in basic training to fight a war for municipal school districts, Germantown was already on the battlefield. Residents in the six Shelby County suburbs have formed volunteer citizen armies to win their right to operate their own school districts. While five political action committees are spreading the one-word battle cry “yes,” Lakeland has a small protest political action committee with an answer of “no.”
City officials recently discovered that one local company hadn’t been paying its required franchise fees, but so far they haven’t gotten a response in the matter. Trinity Communications in Jasper, Tenn., which offers local cable, phone and Internet service in Marion County, has paid the city only once since July 2008, officials said in June. A payment of $498.53 was received in April 2011, but officials said no paperwork accompanied the payment, so there was no way to know how Trinity calculated what was owed.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s household checking account shows deposits that match undisclosed checks his wife wrote to herself in 2010 against his mayoral campaign fund. On one statement, those deposits add up to more than 70 percent of all the money deposited that month into the Burchetts’ joint account, which subsequently was used to pay for mortgages, utilities, insurance, gas, credit cards and personal purchases. Allison Burchett, who is seeking a divorce from the mayor, met with a News Sentinel reporter and editors to respond to her husband’s statement that he was unaware that she had written checks to herself from the Elect Burchett mayoral fund that were not revealed on campaign disclosure statements as required by law.
Republican Scottie Mayfield lent his congressional bid $150,000 earlier this month, and he’ll be able to increase that amount if necessary, according to personal financial disclosures filed with the government. It was the first significant loan of this year’s barnburner of a 3rd Congressional District race, and disclosures indicate the Athens, Tenn., dairy executive’s campaign may have had to scale back without it. Disregarding the $150,000 he lent his campaign July 6, records show Mayfield would have been operating a week later with about $19,000 in campaign cash.
While contested state primary elections are days away from being decided, former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee had his eyes set on the presidential election as he spoke at the Tennessee Republican Party’s Statemen’s Dinner on Saturday night. Huckabee’s speech at the state GOP’s biggest fundraiser of the year was almost entirely centered on the November general election. The speech, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, also included sharp rebukes of President Barack Obama and his policies.
While an epic drought ravages the middle of the nation, budget-conscious politics signal a major shift in how the federal government proposes to backstop Tennessee farmers in hard times. It’s a rewrite of agriculture programs in Congress that makes them more dependent on private-sector crop insurance than subsidy checks they traditionally receive from the Agriculture Department. The only problem, critics say, is taxpayers remain heavily at risk, paying 60 percent to 70 percent of farmers’ insurance premiums and serving as the insurance companies’ backstop when hard times strain their finances.
In a city where the typical worker is paid nearly 10 percent less than the U.S. average, Chattanooga still has some of the highest paid workers in government. As the home of the nation’s biggest public utility and one of Tennessee’s biggest public hospitals, Chattanooga has 15 government employees who are paid more than the president of the United States and 47 who are paid more than what the president’s Cabinet officers earn to run the biggest departments of the federal government.
Campers say TVA rules on structures, fees threaten way of life on the river Buddy Thomas says he and his friends thought they had found a natural getaway where they could enjoy their golden years at an affordable price. He’s one of 48 campers, mostly retirees, whose recreational vehicles are parked on land leased from the Tennessee Valley Authority along the Tennessee River at the Perryville Marina near Parsons. But Thomas said he’s worried a change in the enforcement of regulations by the TVA could threaten his river community and that a proposed increase in TVA fees to marinas and campgrounds could drive up costs for everyone.
A group trying to bring the public HOPE Academy charter school to Blount County says it is giving up its effort for the 2013-14 school year, and instead says it will push for a private STEM-focused school. The group’s application for a charter school for 2012-13 was rejected twice by the Blount County School Board last year. An appeal to the Tennessee Board of Education was also rejected The group, titled Innovative Education Partnership Inc., had the opportunity to apply for the following year, 2013-14, but on Saturday in a press release said it has chosen not to do so.
The early morning meeting of the Bedford County Board of Education was intended to be a perfunctory one, giving board members an opportunity to review a printed version of budget revisions which were discussed in a special called meeting Monday evening. Instead, they used the meeting to express their frustration with budget constraints — and, in some instances, with one another. Members, with the exception of Leonard Singleton and Chad Graham, met at the Central Office at 6:30 a.m. Friday to finalize cuts totaling more than $438,000 from the 2012-13 budget as directed by the county commission in June.
The Tennessee Department of Education has proposed common-sense changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system that should make the scoring fairer for the teachers and improve the quality of the annual reviews. That changes adopt some of the recommendations proposed by a Tennessee-based education advocacy group and information gleaned from interviews with educators across the state. This is an example of implementing a much-needed program, then making adjustments to it as data on its effectiveness are gathered.
It’s not that Tennessee public school teachers don’t want to be evaluated. They do. But they want the evaluations to be fair. That is the aim of a new report, put out by the state Department of Education: fairness. It is the first comprehensive review of the initial round of teacher evaluations. It is 43 pages of dense, specific observations and recommendations. It found deep flaws in the evaluation system, and offers ways to fix them. It also found some good results. “The majority of teachers in the state are not simply adequate, but exceed expectations against high standards,” it says.
This summer, Tennessee’s Democrat-conquering Republicans of the 2010 and previous elections are being evaluated by those who put them in power in ways that might make many of them green with envy for the rational and reasonable system for evaluating school teachers. If you think the process for evaluating teachers is rational and reasonable, well, ask a teacher or two about it and then settle in for a discourse that will not often include those words. Despite its many shortcomings, however, the teachers’ system at least has established criteria for what is good and bad in performance, a sliding scale of one to five for the ultimate grade and somewhat knowledgeable evaluators.
It started, as many stories do, with a pretty woman. She was a barmaid in New Orleans. Ray Duncan can’t remember her name, but he brought her back to Knoxville. “I fell in love,” he admitted. “I started buying things for her and I started writing checks.” Five bad checks, totaling no more than $600. He was 19 when he was caught, convicted and sent to prison. Duncan, now 55, lost his right to vote. That’s what bothers him the most. He hoped that a new state law, designed to expunge the record of certain one-time, nonviolent felons, would clear him in time to vote in the fall presidential election. But it won’t, at least not by November.
Just when you thought bigotry couldn’t get any worse in Tennessee, out from the woodwork crawls a cadre of extremist Republicans who are becoming an embarrassment to the state party. They are avowed tea party Republicans who normally would just be ignored. But because of their persistence, local influence and access to the Internet, party leaders can’t keep pretending they don’t exist. Their latest rants are against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who they argue has betrayed conservative values since taking office and now must be sanctioned — whatever that means.
Recently, I bought a do-it-yourself engine repair book from Amazon.com. When the book arrived, I got to thinking. Had I just driven another nail in the coffin of the bookstores in Greater Memphis? Did my online, out-of-state purchase worsen the budget problems of the city of Memphis because I didn’t pay any sales tax on the book? Does our national embrace of the free-market economy that has trained each of us to seek out the best deals on TVs, clothes and books even allow room to talk about notions such as “buy American” and “shop locally”? The idea of patriotic shopping began to form in my mind.
A federal judge’s ruling last week requiring Rutherford County to restart the inspection process for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was no surprise. Any first-year law student could have determined that government can’t step on the rights of one religious group simply because some people in a community don’t agree with the way it worships. District Court Judge Todd Campbell did what Chancellor Robert Corlew should have done more than a month ago, order the county to resume the process for granting the ICM a certificate of occupancy, just as it would any other religious organization.
No matter what happens to President Obama’s health care reforms after the November elections, the disjointed, costly American health care system must find ways to slow the rate of spending while delivering quality care. There is widespread pessimism that anything much can be achieved quickly, but innovative solutions are emerging in unexpected places. A health care system owned and managed by Alaska’s native people has achieved astonishing results in improving the health of its enrollees while cutting the costs of treating them. At a recent conference for health leaders from the United States and abroad at the native-owned Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, the Alaskans described techniques that could be adopted by almost any health care organization willing to transform its culture.