This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has joined two other governors, whose states have large automotive plants, in creating the National Governors Auto Caucus, a bipartisan group to address topics that impact the auto industry. Republican Rick Snyder of Michigan and Democrats Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jay Nixon of Missouri joined Haslam as founding members. The group announced the new caucus at the Center for Automotive Research conference in Traverse City, Mich., on Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Damage assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured flooded areas of three East Tennessee counties Friday to begin the process of determining if the area is eligible for federal disaster aid. There is an $8.5 million threshold for the area to qualify for federal dollars to help residents rebuild what raging flood water swept away or destroyed Sunday night. Some local officials are not optimistic that will happen. But there was enough damage documented by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to lead Gov. Bill Haslam to seek the federal assessment.
The Great River Road along the Mississippi River runs for 125 miles in Tennessee and passes four state parks, including Reelfoot Lake. Now, the scenic byway is getting a boost. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is providing a $1.5 million grant to build a new visitors center for the Great River Road at Reelfoot Lake. The funding is part of $2.1 million in grants the department announced Friday. The Tennessee River Scenic Byway is receiving $500,000 for bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements, and the Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway is getting $20,000 to install more interpretive signs.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Friday that federal and state aeronautics grants totaling $376,623 have been approved for five airports, according to a news release. The grants are for infrastructure and other improvements. Airports receiving grants include the Gibson County Airport in Trenton, Savannah-Hardin County Airport, Lebanon Municipal Airport in Wilson County, Smyrna Airport in Rutherford County and Millington Regional Jetport in Shelby County
One of the investment groups that has been among the most active in the TNInvestco arena has named a new director to oversee its investment sourcing and management. Council & Enhanced Tennessee Fund officials said Rick Apple will be responsible day to day “for all aspects of the investment process, from deal sourcing and screening to portfolio monitoring and reporting.” Apple joined the Tennessee Fund and Council Capital — which partnered in 2009 with Enhanced Capital out of New York to launched a TNInvestco fund — two years ago while he was working on his MBA and law degrees at Vanderbilt University.
Two failed searches for a permanent vice chancellor for research have led the University of Tennessee to fly in a new batch of candidates for the third time in two years. The school is on its second interim vice chancellor since Brad Fenwick left the position in August 2010 to return to the faculty at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. Top choices from previous searches all accepted other jobs, and rather than consider lesser candidates from the same pool, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek chose each time to start over, said Margie Nichols, vice chancellor for communication.
News Channel 5 is challenging a recent court opinion that found that reporter Phil Williams did not defame General Session judge Daniel Eisenstein while stating that Williams may have cast the judge in a false light. The questions stem from two news reports by Williams about the judge. Rebuking the false light opinion, delivered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Williams’ attorney Ron Harris filed a motion on Thursday contending that Williams is beyond reproach because the news stories in question were true, which the court of appeals confirmed.
Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for lame-duck lawmakers taking out-of-state trips, says House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick. But he won’t ask outgoing legislators who traveled to Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit to pay the bill themselves, he told reporters Thursday. The lawmakers are either retiring or have been booted by voters in the primary but still chose to take the publicly-funded trip, TNReport revealed Tuesday.
Of the more than 600,000 votes cast in Tennessee’s primary elections last week, 277 were from provisional ballots bec ause voters didn’t have a valid photo I.D. Tennessee Election Coordinator, Mark Goins, says the low number of provisional ballots is proof that the state’s new photo I.D. law isn’t keeping people from voting. “You’d think that, that you know a lot of individuals would not be allowed to vote because they didn’t have a photo. What we’re seeing is just the opposite.” Still, Goins says spreading information about the voter I.D. requirement will be a “marathon and not a sprint.”
A brand-new American flag flew overhead as worshippers made their way into the first prayer service at the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro Friday afternoon. Inside, leaders of the mosque praised God and gave thanks for the First Amendment. “This mosque is proof of the wonderful Constitution of the United States,” said Ahmad Abu-Halimah, vice chairman of the Islamic center’s board. “You walk in this mosque and say, yes, this is what the Founding Fathers did. They established freedom of religion.”
The city’s Muslim community opened its new mosque with traditional Friday prayers and an effort to cleanse itself of harsh feelings after a two-year struggle surrounding its worship center. With no protesters or disruptions about, Imam Ossama Bahloul sought a “day of forgiveness” for the Muslim congregation as some 350 to 400 members knelt on the prayer rug across the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Despite vandalism, possible arson, a barrage of criticism and a prolonged legal battle, Bahloul said any Muslim who follows God cannot hate another person, including Rutherford County residents who filed suit to stop the mosque’s construction on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike, just outside town.
The worshipers bowed low, their heads touching the freshly laid carpet, as the new mosque filled with echoes of exultation. “God, thank you for the ability to worship here today,” said Remziya Suleyman, 27. “Thank you, thank you.” After years of threats, attacks and court action, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque opened its doors Friday, allowing 300 people to mark the occasion on Islam’s day of weekly public prayer. After the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday and an arson attack on a mosque in Missouri on Monday, the opening went off without the protests or violence that some had feared.
A new mosque in Middle Tennessee opened for services today, after a two-year battle in which opponents tried to connect it to terrorism. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro pushed past vandalism, bomb threats and a court fight before opening. Murfreesboro has had a Muslim congregation for decades, and member Amirah Fathy says the bigger facility has been a long time coming. Aside from a few vocal opponents, Fathy says most of the community has been supportive.
Ex-clerk isn’t running for office again, attorney says Six weeks after he resigned under a cloud as Davidson County clerk, John Arriola appeared to show interest this week in running for the same post this fall.But his attorney said Arriola won’t run again. “He plans on moving on with his life,” Bryan Lewis said. “I can say that with 100 percent certainty.” Five days before the qualifying deadline, it’s unclear what Arriola will do. Lewis said it was Michelle Arriola, John’s wife and a former councilwoman, who picked up the qualifying petition Thursday at the Davidson County Election Commission.
After many meetings and much discussion, it’s finally a done deal. Rockwood City Council in a 4-1-1 vote Thursday approved on final reading a new budget that includes a 15-cent property tax hike — the first in many years, Mayor James Watts said. The budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 totals $6,438,150, or $337,670 less than the previous year’s budget, Watts said. The tax rate increased from 75 cents to 90 cents per $100 assessed value. So far, Watts said Friday, “I haven’t received any complaints on it.”
The Civic Center Plaza was the emptiest it had been in months. The Occupy Memphis encampment, one of the last active Occupy movements in the country, is no longer residing in the plaza after being removed Friday morning by Memphis police officers because of sanitation issues. At 4:23 a.m. Friday, the group’s Facebook page posted: “WE ARE BEING EVICTED IN 2 HOURS. WE NEED HELP!” The tents, signs and protesters were gone before 7:30 a.m. There were only pedestrians walking. Soon the fountains will be working again.
Mark Clayton says he wants to see Tennessee’s governor and two senators returning to private life in the next two years, sent packing by Democrats such as himself. “I want to get some excitement going for the party,” said the Democratic nominee in this year’s Senate race against Republican incumbent Bob Corker. “We’ve got some big things coming up. We have to get in touch with what’s really the mainstream in Tennessee.” Unfortunately for Clayton and the Tennessee Democratic Party, they don’t seem to be in the same galaxy when it comes to defining “mainstream.”
Tennessee Democrats legally could strike their controversial U.S. Senate nominee, anti-gay rights activist Mark Clayton, from the November ballot and replace him with another candidate, according to State Election Coordinator Mark Goins’ office. “The process requires one of the losing candidates to contest the election within that five-day window after certification,” said Blake Fontenay, a Goins spokesman, Friday. “Then,” Fontenay said, “the party must decide if ‘justice and fairness’ make it necessary to set aside the election results.” The decision could be made with the executive committee acting as the State Primary Board.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s office has announced two personnel changes. As of Aug. 3, the congressman’s chief of staff, Chip Saltsman, is back as a paid staff member after taking a two-month unpaid leave of absence to run Fleischmann’s campaign. Through a spokesman, Fleischmann confirmed the reinstatement but declined further comment. From the beginning, Saltsman said his leave of absence amounted to following House ethics rules that require clear separation between official duties and campaign work.
With the nation’s worst drought in a half-century continuing to decimate crops, the government on Friday slashed its estimate of the soybean yield, made only a month ago, to the lowest level since 2003 and its estimate of the corn yield to the lowest level since 1995. The smaller harvests will drive up prices for food and animal feed, analysts said. The prospects are also increasing pressure on the Obama administration to divert less corn to the production of the biofuel ethanol. Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, visiting drought-stricken farmers in Nebraska on Friday, said that despite the reduced crop production, farmers are in better shape today than during the last major drought, in 1988.
Although TVA has excavated more than 1.6 million cubic yards of coal ash from the Emory and Clinch river area, the utility and EPA are looking at ways to handle another 500,000 cubic yards of ash that remain underwater in the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers. The alternatives being considered to deal with the residual ash from the 2008 Kingston ash spill will cost TVA a minimum of $10 million and as much as $179 million, according to an engineering evaluation and cost analysis report released Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Reverberations from the security shock at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant continued Friday night, with an announcement that Babock & Wilcox is bringing in new leadership for the government contractor that manages the Oak Ridge plant. Effective immediately, Charles (Chuck) G. Spencer will serve as acting president and general manager of B&W Y-12 LLC, the main contractor at Y-12 since 2000. B&W Y-12 is a partnership of Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel National.
Dolly Parton told reporters that a proposed water-snow park in Nashville is in a “holding pattern” but did not elaborate further on the park to be built in partnership with Gaylord Entertainment. During a news conference Friday celebrating her latest gold record, WKRN-TV (http://bit.ly/MI03x7 ) reported the country singer was questioned about the progress of the park, which she announced in January. Parton said she was waiting on Gaylord to get some things straightened out before moving forward. Last month Gaylord Entertainment announced jobs were being eliminated pending shareholder approval of a deal to sell its hotel brand to Marriott.
Dolly Parton said plans for a new water park at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center are “kind of in a holding pattern right now,” WKRN News 2 reports. Parton made the announcement during a Friday morning news conference about her most recent gold record. Gaylord and Parton announced their plans for a $50 million water and snow park in January. In May, when Gaylord announced plans to sell its Gaylord Hotels brand — and the management rights to its resort properties — Parton and Gaylord said the partnership remained in effect.
The longer the school funding debate in Sumner County drags on, the tougher it becomes for those trying to lure companies to town. Companies look for strong, stable school systems when deciding where to relocate or expand, said James Fenton, executive director of the Gallatin Economic Development Agency. “Right now just Google Sumner and it’s popping up,” Fenton said. “If it drags on, then the headlines are going to have a very negative impact on us. If everyone can come together quickly and move forward it will not because we have strong test scores.”
Sumner County students are a step closer to being back in school, with the County Commission agreeing to meet Monday in hopes of ending a budget impasse with the school board. The commission will meet at 7 p.m. in the county administration building in Gallatin in an attempt to close a $2.76 million gap in the school board’s 2012-13 budget. Sumner schools were to open Aug. 6, but the school board kept them closed in a move to force full funding of the district’s budget request. District spokesman Jeremy Johnson said Friday that the school board probably will meet again on Tuesday.
It’s still not clear when school will begin in Sumner County, thanks to the ongoing fight over the district’s budget. The next move belongs to the County Commission, whose budget committee is scheduled to meet on Monday-a week after what should have been the start of the academic year. The School Board shaved about a million dollars off its spending plan at a meeting last night, but still wants three million dollars more than what the commission voted to allocate. More money means increasing property taxes, something commissioners don’t want to do. But parent Chris Crans argues the tax hike would be reasonable.
The core mission will remain much the same, but over the next five years, the Public Education Foundation will venture into new territory, including school districts outside Hamilton County. A long-term planning and rebranding effort for the educational nonprofit will change everything from the logo to the name — it’s now simply PEF. With new industries rolling into the area and newly implemented educational reforms at the state level, PEF leaders said it’s an important time to capitalize on educational progress.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald held his first meeting Friday with an education transition committee that will help steer the suburb toward its desired municipal school system. About a dozen people, including civic leaders, former and current educators and candidates for the Bartlett School Board, attended the meeting. Businessman Dan Byrd will act as chairman for the group, which will meet over the next 15 weeks on an array of topics from finances to organization. Part of the reason for having the candidates is so those elected to the five school board positions on the Nov. 6 ballot can prepare to move forward with the committee’s ideas.
In a frank and amiable exchange on the WKNO-TV program Behind the Headlines, the superintendents of Shelby County’s two still functioning school systems — John Aitken of Shelby County Schools and Kriner Cash of Memphis City Schools — looked into the crystal ball Friday and provided estimates, a year away from merger, on the future of local education. Both superintendents attempted to stress the positive — Aitken referring to the year ahead as a “celebration” of what comes next and Cash speaking of “a great sense of hope and optimism.”
The school year just began in the county’s two public school system, but planning for the 2013-2014 school year is already under way on numerous fronts. The one being watched closest is the schools merger front. In California, 13 teacher residents for Aspire Public Schools are working with mentor teachers in the charter schools Aspire operates there. It is in preparation for teaching at two charters Aspire will open here next school year as part of the state’s Achievement School District.
There is an epidemic that has swept through Nashville that is unknown to most citizens. It is not a physical illness but does affect the health of our community. It is an epidemic that is avoidable but has continued to grow over the years. This epidemic is people in Nashville driving without a license and without insurance. Nashville’s population in 2010 was tallied at 626,681. In 2011, Davidson County General Sessions Court judges presided over 91,080 criminal cases. Of these, 41 percent involved driving offenses. The great majority of crimes involving driving, 33,052, were arrests for driving without a license or driving on a canceled, suspended or revoked license. The obvious solution for this problem is for those people who do not possess a license to stop driving.