This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Experts say area labs don’t spark enough startup businesses Tennessee’s well-funded university research centers generate great ideas for an almost infinite variety of new products and services. But most of those innovations never reach the marketplace, never create jobs or spawn new companies. If more discoveries could be channeled to entrepreneurs and backed by investors, technology transfer experts say the result would be more startup businesses and a wave of additional jobs for Tennessee.
Learning at the University of Tennessee may soon be revolutionized by a $350 plastic chair. That chair — 1,410 of them, actually — is the crux of a $4 million renovation project under way in the Humanities and Social Sciences building. Set on wheels, the brightly colored seat spins in all directions and has a rotating desktop that will allow students to be mobile inside the classrooms. “What we he hope to do over time is move to having a lot of learning in the classroom be interaction,” said Bill Dunne, an associate dean of engineering and chair of the classroom upgrades subcommittee.
The University of Tennessee has been ratcheting up its construction projects across campus this summer: $16.5 million in campus and state funding, plus insurance settlements from the 2011 hailstorm, will pay to replace or repair as many as 100 roofs, including Andy Holt Tower, Ceramics Annex, Kingston Pike Building and Biosystems Engineering and Soil Sciences Office Building. $3 million in masonry repairs from the state will fix as many as 10 buildings. This will help prevent future accidents like that at McClung Tower, where a chunk of concrete separated from the building, said UT officials.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is offering free radon test kits through next Monday. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can seep into homes through cracks and openings in the foundation. In concentrated levels, it can threaten human health. Federal statistics show it as the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States. The kits are available at www.tn.gov/environment/ea/radon . A limit number are available at local county offices of the Division of Ground Water Protection.
Eleven of Tennessee’s 12 Court of Appeals judges have declined to be involved in an appeal of John Jay Hooker’s latest effort to invalidate the state’s system for selecting appeals court judges. Hooker, who has twice been the Democratic party nominee for governor and has run unsuccessfully for others offices as well, has crusaded against the judicial selection system since filing his first lawsuit against it in 1996. Two years later, a specially appointed State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the plan in a separate lawsuit with Hooker involved.
State Rep. Linda Elam released a letter Tuesday challenging her primary opponent to a debate “at the earliest possible date” after the cancellation of a tea party event last week. “The people of District 57 deserve to hear directly from those seeking to represent them in the Tennessee State House,” Elam said in the letter addressed to former state Rep. Susan Lynn, her opponent for the Republican nomination. Elam’s letter also gives her version of the events that led the Wilson County Tea Party, “in the interest of civility,” to cancel a forum hours before it was to take place July 16.
The chairman of the House Republican Caucus is asking why the National Rifle Association is coming after her in the Tennessee GOP primary while, she said, letting former Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh off the hook for years when he blocked gun legislation. “It’s unfortunate,” Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, said over the weekend. “As caucus chairman, I’ve wondered why the NRA wasn’t there to help us defeat Jimmy Naifeh. They never were there to help us defeat the Democrats. They never ever helped us to do that financially.”
At the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual fundraiser over the weekend, the overarching theme was unity for a newly dominant party that towers over the state political scene. “Republicans are united,” state GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, of Chattanooga, told 1,000 or so party stalwarts gathered in a Nashville hotel ballroom Saturday night for the Statesmen’s Dinner. “We’re united in this room; we’re united statewide.” But the GOP’s big tent shows signs of fraying, with serious intraparty challenges in two congressional districts and as many as 10 state legislative seats in Aug. 2 primaries.
A Metro councilwoman said she changed her mind about hosting an “after the budget” party for the council this summer after being accused by local Republicans of celebrating the recent property tax increase. While Councilwoman Sheri Weiner of Bellevue called the criticism “so ridiculous,” she said she was backing down anyway because “I don’t want to offend anybody, no matter what their opinion is.” Weiner, a first-year councilwoman, said she had heard a while ago that council members typically get together to “unwind” after the budget process is completed.
Evie Britt is the nursing administrator for Williamson County’s jail, where there are a few faces she knows she’ll see every day. There are always a few inmates willing to concoct some symptoms if it will get them out of their cell for a few hours, she said. “It’s a headache one day and something else the next day,” Britt said. To reduce the number of frivolous visits made by inmates to the medical staff, county commissioners last year adopted steeper copays. It now costs $25 to see Britt or one of her co-workers, and an inmate is charged $10 for prescription medications.
Both parties in a federal lawsuit over prayer at Hamilton County Commission meetings claim the First Amendment is on their side. In the six weeks since Brandon Jones and Tommy Coleman sued Hamilton County over the commission’s regular Christian prayers during meetings, the county courthouse has drawn dozens of people expressing their thoughts and emotions through silent protest, prayer, public comment and, occasionally, verbal confrontation.
The Knox County Commission today is expected to adopt a written policy regarding prayer before board meetings, despite some opposition from one local organization and another one that’s already gone after other Tennessee governments for religious observance. The move comes in the wake of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation asking Hamilton County commissioners to do away with its regular invocation and the subsequent June federal lawsuit against the board.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen is on the steering committee of a new, bipartisan group working to “fix” the nation’s debt problems. The group’s website at fixthedebt.org says, “The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a non-partisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path. We come together from a variety of social, economic and political perspectives, around the common belief that America’s growing federal debt threatens our future and that we must address it. The Campaign will mobilize key communities — including leaders from business, government and policy — and people all across America who want to see elected officials step up to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges.”
There’s a former Broadway singer turned small-business owner, a Starbucks barista who calls himself an “anti-candidate,” a deputy sheriff with a nickname reflecting his size, a senior citizen who once campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy and a man who’s on the ballot but not trying to win. A colorful field of Republicans has emerged in pursuit of their party’s nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville in the 5th Congressional District this fall. Unseating Cooper, a five-term incumbent who has positioned himself as a reformer, is probably a long shot for the GOP.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black appears to be targeted by an independent expenditure campaign from a group called Congressional Elections PAC. The group has purchased 30-second spots that have been airing during news broadcasts on Nashville TV stations. The unflattering images of Black make it pretty clear that it’s not from one of her supporters. A Federal Election Commission filing on Thursday put the cost of the ad buy at $45,000. Congressional Elections PAC purchased the ads through Lewis Advertising, a Wetumpka, Ala., firm.
David Leaverton, who came to Knoxville in 1996 to become a punter for the University of Tennessee football team and essentially stayed, has resigned as senior field director for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and is returning to his home state of Texas. After representing the senator in a 15-county area for 5½ years, he said he and wife Erin are moving to Dallas to be near their families. They have a 1-year-old daughter, Grace, and another child is on the way.
Federal land managers are stepping up efforts to acquire privately owned acres that lie within national parks, even as funding to do so has been slashed. The urgency, officials say, comes because of owners like 66-year-old Bob Lundgren, who inherited his father’s historic rights to a 120-acre patch of forest inside Glacier National Park’s southern boundary, along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Mr. Lundgren’s plot was an “inholding,” one of the thousands of pockets of private land that were left within the boundaries of U.S. national parks and other protected areas decades ago.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General says the utility was overcharged by $4.1 million for pressure-washing services. The utility also was underpaid $3.6 million by Memphis Light, Gas and Water. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the findings were included in OIG reports released this week. Those reports also found the utility did not follow proper procedures in implementing a new expense management system. TVA generally agreed with the OIG’s recommendations, although it did not agree with all the findings.
Up to 51 Oak Ridge security jobs will be eliminated over the next couple of months, the government’s contractor confirmed. Courtney Henry, a spokeswoman for WSI-Oak Ridge (formerly known as Wackenhut), said the job reductions are an outgrowth of reviews conducted last year by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office. Those reviews analyzed the security requirements and evaluated the funding at the federal facilities in Oak Ridge, including the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant — a high-security installation where hundreds of guards are employed.
A tremendous amount of attention — and money — has been focused on the upcoming school board elections in August. And most of the coverage, including in this publication, has focused on the campaigns, the candidates and the horse-race nature of it all. But before voters head into the booth, we wanted to examine some of the most important issues those candidates will face if elected to the board. Nashville is an interesting position because of the sheer amount of changes happening within education, from charter schools to student testing to teacher evaluations and many more.
Metro Nashville Public Schools hiked beginning teachers’ pay to $40,000 this year, citing competition from other urban areas as well as neighboring suburbs. More than 1,000 people are vying for about 540 positions as the school system gears up for the first day of class Aug. 1. “We’re getting significant applicant flow as a result of our increase in salary,” said Craig Ott, interim superintendent for human resources. He said the district is hiring 20 to 30 teachers a day. Officials created 90 new faculty positions to keep up with increased enrollment, said MNPS spokeswoman Olivia Brown.
In the first nine months since Alabama police have been required to check the immigration status of every criminal suspect they encounter, Clanton police chief Brian Stilwell estimates his officers jailed fewer than a dozen immigrants as a result. The immigrants who were detained, and later turned over to federal immigration authorities in Montgomery, ranged from serious offenders to harried drivers. One had a murder warrant out in Texas. Another was involved in drug trafficking. But others were pulled over for speeding or not having their headlights on. One woman, stopped for driving erratically, was trying to breast-feed her child.
A gang of Republican leaders in various Tennessee counties is embarrassing its party and our state by spewing bigotry toward one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent hires. Stewart County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Mallory and up to a dozen other GOP activists are urging county party organizations to condemn the governor and calling on the Republican State Executive Committee to take action. At least eight county party organizations have passed resolutions seeking some sort of action by the state party. The primary object of this ire is Samar Ali, director of international marketing with the Department of Economic and Community Development, though two county party groups targeted homosexuals in state government as well.
Some of us forget that the First Amendment is buttressed by tolerance. First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is underpinned by tolerance — tolerance of an individual’s or group’s right to openly express an opinion, to practice their religion, to assemble in a peaceful manner and tolerance of a free press. Recent news, however, shows that some of the staunchest advocates for maintaining the purity of the Constitution seem have forgotten the tolerance part. In Tennessee last week, some county Republican party chairmen criticized the state’s GOP standard barrier Gov. Bill Haslam for keeping Democrats and gays in key positions, and for hiring a Muslim, Samar Ali, as director of international marketing with the Department of Economic and Community Development.