This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam cast workforce development as a top funding priority Tuesday, saying the state “can’t afford” for higher education to face cuts as he pursues a range of reforms. The Republican governor held the latest in a series of roundtable discussions with leaders in business, education and government. Haslam focused on hearing input on curricula in higher education, but also discussed a range of policy initiatives with those in attendance and reporters afterward. Higher education, from universities to technical colleges, have to be a priority, he said.
A battle is brewing in Nashville over who should have the final say in opening a local charter school. But Tennessee’s governor says it’s premature to consider taking local politics entirely out of the charter-school approval process. Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters he believes the process of allowing the state to override local boards’ charter school rejections is working, and that more time is needed to know whether changes to the system are warranted. “I think for now, I’m comfortable with the way we have it,” the governor said at Tennessee Technology Center Tuesday.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, in a statement Wednesday, said Metro is violating state law by not authorizing Great Hearts Academies’ charter, and state officials would “take appropriate action to ensure that the law is followed.” One of the actions the state could take if Great Hearts isn’t approved locally: withhold funds from Metro Nashville Public Schools. Huffman issued the statement the morning after the school board Tuesday night voted to indefinitely defer the charter proposal of Great Hearts Academies, an application the state board of education on July 27 ordered Metro to approve.
The state threatened to withhold funding from Nashville schools Wednesday if officials don’t bow to state demands and approve a controversial charter school on the city’s west side. The Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education, however, says it followed directions Tuesday when voting to defer approval of Great Hearts Academies. In a terse, two-sentence statement, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman accused the Metro board of breaking the law and said “we will take appropriate action to ensure that the law is followed.”
“An unfortunate step backwards” – that’s what Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is calling Tuesday night’s move by the Metro school board. The state has threatened legal action over the board’s refusal to approve an Arizona-based charter-school operator that wants to expand into Metro. Despite a state order to approve Great Hearts Academies, Metro’s board voted 7-to-2 to defer the matter. Ross Booher, a lawyer with Great Hearts, says he hadn’t expected to watch board members intentionally break state law, even as their legal counsel advised them not to.
Tennessee’s top education official is threatening legal action against Nashville’s school board. Despite an order from the state, board members refused last night to approve an Arizona-based charter school that wants to expand into Metro. By a 7 to 2 vote, the school board chose to defer action on Greats Hearts Academies. The move flew in the face of a state order from last month. Great Hearts CEO Dan Scoggin says it’s disappointing, because without a charter the move into Nashville could be slowed. But Scoggin doesn’t think it’s Great Hearts’ legal battle to fight.
Before Mayor Karl Dean made public comments scolding the school board in May over charter schools, a family relative who has ardently supported the controversial Great Hearts Academies application revised the mayor’s prepared remarks. A series of emails from inside the mayor’s office about Great Hearts Academies shows that Bill DeLoache, a cousin of Dean’s wife, Anne Davis, was a key figure in unveiling Dean’s public support of the charter school application even as concerns began to arise about the proposal.
Promising to make his office more customer-oriented – and by that he means promoting accessible, efficient and responsive operations for taxpayers – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday assured more than 50 local small business that he’s working to save them money. And he wants to improve the state’s environment for attracting and retaining businesses. “We’ve removed the veil of secrecy for vendors who want to do business with the state and we’re making things as transparent as possible,” Hargett said during a forum sponsored by the Area Action Council, the local arm of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Two Coffee County residents have been charged with TennCare fraud in separate cases, both involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General in Nashville announced Wednesday the arrest of Bonnie L. Wilder Mills, 34, and Adam J. Lane, 21, both of Manchester. The arrests were assisted by the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office and the Manchester Police Department. An indictment charges Mills with one count of TennCare fraud, in connection with using TennCare benefits to obtain Vyvanse, a stimulant used to treat attention deficit disorder, while planning to sell a portion of the drug.
It’s not worth the paper it’s written on. So says Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Bolitho about a motion by disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner to have federal charges against him thrown out. “Defendant’s novel argument for dismissal of the indictment is based entirely on an erroneous and incomplete understanding of the statute and the cases interpreting it,” Bolitho wrote. “Accordingly, defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to allege an offense should be denied.” Baumgartner is charged in U.S. District Court with seven counts of lying to various people, including state court officials, to cover up his mistress’ drug-trafficking activities — known legally as misprision of a felony.
Immigration attorneys across the country and in Nashville say their offices are overflowing with young undocumented aliens. Starting Wednesday, immigrants who were brought across the border by their parents can apply for temporary legal status. Applying for this two-year work permit requires a paper trail. Young undocumented immigrants have to show they’ve stayed out of legal trouble, lived in the U.S. continuously and graduated or gotten a GED. Jonny Garcia spent the day at McGavock High School collecting his records.
Robertson County is embarking on a comprehensive land-use plan to help guide growth and development decisions in the fast-growing county. With the county expected to add more than 26,000 new residents over the next two decades, County Mayor Howard Bradley said they all can’t live on 5-acre lots. The county must channel that growth where it most makes sense, Bradley said. “We know how important it is to keep our open space and agriculture viable,” Bradley said in a recent interview. “Agriculture was worth $100 million to this county last year.”
The County Commission’s failure to develop its redistricting plan, the loss of critical local precinct-change data by the state, the massive complexities of redistricting overall, and a new staff without redistricting experience contributed to unprecedented local problems in the Aug. 2 elections, Shelby County’s chief election official reported Wednesday night. The County Commission’s redistricting plan was legally due last Dec. 31, but was never finalized. The Shelby Election Commission decided on June 14 that it “must proceed at a rapid pace to implement the redistricting at all levels” based on no county commission plan, but the next day a court ruling approved a plan — and that ruling was promptly appealed.
In baseball terms, Hamilton County voters couldn’t even crack a .250 batting average — fewer than one in four registered voters in Tennessee’s fourth-largest county cast a ballot in the Aug. 2 elections. But it’s all relative: Enough residents took advantage of two weeks of early voting, hot races and beautiful election-day weather to give Hamilton County its largest turnout rate for a comparable election since 1992. Of 216,003 registered voters, 50,562 visited the polls or mailed absentee ballots, yielding a 23 percent turnout and ending a 12-year stretch in which the rate floundered in the teens.
Upset over reports of Democrats voting in GOP primaries earlier this month, some Republicans are reviving an previously shelved effort to require party registration and closed primaries in future Tennessee elections. State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Mark Winslow, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee, say they met Tuesday with House Speaker Beth Harwell to advocate the idea. Harwell, a former state Republican Party chairwoman who has previously opposed closed primaries, said she is now reconsidering the proposal.
One of Tennessee GOP state Rep. Tony Shipley’s major campaign contributors has been called before a state board to answer for his contribution activities. The Truth Matters political action committee, established last July by Middle Tennessee businessman Andrew Miller Jr., gave Shipley $7,100 and gave thousands of dollars to other GOP candidates. Miller’s and the PAC’s activities will be the subject of a Sept. 5 hearing held by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance (TREF) to determine whether the PAC was used as an “illegal conduit” to avoid individual contribution limits.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Wednesday cited Alstom’s $300 million turbine plant in Chattanooga, saying he’s hopeful that future federal fiscal reform can spur more such investment and jobs.”From the perspective of more jobs in Chattanooga, more jobs in Hamilton County, more jobs in the country, I think our greatest, most important effort … is to get our fiscal house in order,” said the Tennessee Republican. Following an hourlong visit to the Riverfront Parkway factory that makes turbines for the energy industry, Corker said businesspeople tell him that America’s budget problems hinder their willingness to invest.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is scheduled to meet with business and community leaders at a luncheon hosted by the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. The luncheon was set for noon EDT Thursday. According to a news release from Corker’s office, the Tennessee Republican was to discuss the nation’s fiscal challenges and “the importance of embracing the free enterprise system.” On Wednesday, Corker visited a Chattanooga plant that manufactures turbines for power plants.
Fourth-place finisher Larry Crim sued the Tennessee Democratic Party, its executive committee and state chairman, Chip Forrester, plus the Tennessee Division of Elections in federal court on Wednesday and asked for an emergency ruling. Federal Judge Kevin Sharp set a hearing for this morning to consider whether to stop the vote certification. The state party has disavowed the winner of the Aug. 2 primary, Mark Clayton, because of his anti-gay platform. Party officials said Clayton wasn’t a Democrat because the only time he has voted in party primaries was when he ran for Senate four years ago.
Recent Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Larry Crim is heading to federal court to demand a new Democratic primary following disavowed candidate Mark Clayton’s win earlier this month. Crim filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday claiming the Tennessee Democratic Party and its chairman Chip Forrester failed to weed out Clayton’s candidacy before the race. Thus, he requests the court to void Clayton’s candidacy and hold a new primary. The lawsuit claims Clayton didn’t vote in enough Democratic races, per party bylaws, to run for senate in August — a fact that wasn’t caught by the TNDP. The suit also names the Tennessee Division of Elections.
After state Democrats decisively lost the Tennessee House and Senate in the 2010 election there was a move to dump state Chair Chip Forrester. Big money contributors like Doug Horne favored replacing Forrester with Matt Kuhn of Shelby County. Forrester rallied members of the executive committee and won re-election to a two-year term in January 2011. There are calls now for his ouster, which is unlikely, but there will be a concerted move to prevent his being re-elected to another term. The next election for party chair is in January, but candidates for the post will likely emerge after the November election.
When a Congressman gets new counties added to his district, the first election can be crucial. Ask Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, who narrowly won his third district race. His new counties were carried handily by his opponent Scottie Mayfield. Redistricting added three new counties to U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s district for this election and the Knoxville Republican went to Lincoln Memorial University in Claiborne County on Saturday to speak at a Lincoln Day Dinner.
A federal judge’s ruling declaring Kentucky’s ban on wine sales in grocery stores unconstitutional has boosted the confidence of advocates pushing for revisions to a similar law in Tennessee. To gauge whether there will be a direct impact across state lines, consider the following: 1. Does Tennessee have the same law? No. Though the results may be the same, Tennessee and Kentucky achieve them in different ways.
A presidential candidate was in Tennessee Wednesday but wasn’t campaigning or fundraising for his White House campaign. Instead, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson came to Nashville to ensure he made the state’s ballot as an independent presidential candidate in November, including meeting one requirement that candidates sign every nominating petition his campaign submitted. Later in the day, his campaign was also getting additional petitioners to nominate him after more than half of the people who tried to nominate the former New Mexico governor were considered invalid by state election officials.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, only a few were standing in the parking lot of the U.S. mmigration office just off Summer Avenue. None was young illegal immigrants applying for a new Obama administration program allowing them to stay and work for two years. Instead phones were ringing steadily at local community Hispanic centers and law offices who specialize in immigration matters. For the most part, confusion and misinformation carried the day. “It is not the Dream Act,” said communications coordinator Eben Cathey with the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition in Nashville.
Electricity rates for Tennessee Valley Authority customers in seven states are on the agenda for the utility’s board of directors. The board meets Thursday in Knoxville and will vote on the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Part of the financial plan will be deciding whether to raise or lower the price that wholesale power distributors pay TVA for electricity. TVA’s rate actions are usually passed on by the distributors to residential and commercial customers in Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.
The fuel-cost portion of electric bills will increase again next month in the Tennessee Valley. But TVA directors are expected to vote today to keep a lid on the size of any base rate increase over the next year. The Tennessee Valley Authority is raising its monthly fuel cost adjustment in September by 5.9 percent. The increase is the fifth in the past six months. But TVA rates still will be 7 percent below the level of a year ago because of fuel costs reductions during late 2011.
An Athens, Tenn., auto supplier plans to more than double its manufacturing site, adding 40 to 50 jobs over the next few years. Creative Foam Corp. announced last week that increasing demand across the Southeast and Mexico, including Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, led to the decision to expand. Tim Martell, director of operations at the Athens plant, said the company decided to expand in Athens for a variety of reasons. “It’s a little bit of everything. We have a great employee base, we’re a good company, we have a strong presence in the industry and I think that’s helped us move forward,” he said.
Nibletz.com, which bills itself as “the voice of startups everywhere else,” is moving its base of operations to Memphis, after considering a few other cities – and what reportedly were sweeter incentives elsewhere. Not only that – the company also will host an annual conference in Memphis each December, starting this December 9-11, called “Pitchmas.” The conference has elements similar to TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the most anticipated events each year in the technology industry.
Several Hamilton County Board of Education members say they’ll question the proposed spending of more than $300,000 on consultants to work with teachers throughout the school district. In a meeting tonight, administrators are asking the board to approve about $343,000 in federal dollars for consultants, an issue that created sparks at last month’s board meeting. In July, board members questioned spending $27,500 for a Georgia educator to work with teachers over 11 days at Clifton Hills Elementary School.
Countywide school board members meet Thursday, Aug. 16, to take another step toward the selection of a single superintendent to oversee the schools merger process. The board meets at 5 p.m. at Overton High School before the latest in a series of public forums at the school on the proposed schools consolidation blueprint. The board is to vote on selecting six people to serve with seven school board members on the ad hoc committee that is to come up with a method for selecting the merger superintendent. The committee is to recommend a process to the full board for its approval by the end of this month.
The first two weeks of school at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering charter school have been a blast for seniors. They’ve visited theme parks, spent an afternoon at the movies, ate pizza out, visited the zoo, and toured STAX and UT-Martin. Back on the campus at 1254 Jefferson, administrators have been scrounging for classroom space, looking for ways to accommodate 73 seniors after consolidating the middle school this summer, which used to be on Dudley, into the high school on Jefferson.
Scores for the Gibson County Special School District on the 2012 round of state testing landed the district among the top 20 highest-scoring systems in the state, according to statistics from the state’s Web site. “We’ve had high gains in achievement, more than a year’s growth,” said Eddie Pruett, director of schools. In third- through eighth-grade reading, 60 percent of Gibson County Special students scored proficient or advanced. In math for the same grade levels, 61.3 percent of students were proficient or advanced.
Like the federal Affordable Care Act, the 2006 Massachusetts health law it was patterned after was aimed primarily at providing health coverage for the uninsured. There’s no question it did that. Fewer than 2 percent of adults and 1 percent of children remain uninsured in the state. But like the federal law, it had few provisions aimed at reducing costs. Now Massachusetts, which has the highest per capita health spending of any state in the country, is moving on the cost front.
A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday declined to block a new state law requiring specific kinds of photo identification to vote. Liberal groups, arguing that minorities and the poor would be disproportionately deprived of the ballot, said they would appeal to the State Supreme Court to stop the law before the November elections. The groups said the law, like those recently passed in 10 other states, was a Republican attempt to suppress participation of the less privileged, who tend to vote for Democrats.
As Gov. Bill Haslam continues his tour of Tennessee listening to business and industry leaders talk about what they need from higher education, he is getting the same basic message: Employers want higher education outcomes to be relevant to workplace demands. This is a theme we have been talking about for more than a year. Higher education — and K-12 education as well, for that matter — must rethink what it does and how it does it to better prepare students to enter the workforce. Haslam has held higher education forums across Tennessee to find out what employers need and what higher education institutions need to meet workplace demands.
It is clearly the view of some Metro Nashville school board members, and their supporters in the community, that a process is valid only when it reaches a decision they agree with, and those who disagree with that view do so with bad intentions. We hope that when the new members of the Metro Board of Education convene for their first meeting on Sept. 11, they act as responsible adults and not like the worst of the children they are elected to oversee. In a fit of pique, the outgoing school board defied an order from the State Board of Education requiring Metro schools to approve the Great Hearts America-Tennessee application to open a charter school in Nashville.
Republicans clearly doubt their ability to win a presidential election without rigging the electoral system to suppress voting by Americans they fear would vote for a Democrat. This is not mere conjecture. Rather, it is the plain and only apparent reason that Republicans in 33 states have taken notably un-American, if not unconstitutional, steps in the last several years to suppress voting by minorities, by students, by seniors and by naturalized immigrants. The various strategies they employ to achieve such shameful suppression of voting rights are now well-known and widely employed.
State of Tennessee has a golden opportunity to reduce spending in future elections: Stop funding Democratic primaries. Democrats could still get on general-election ballots, but the same way other small parties with ineffective leadership get their candidates on the ballot. Green, Libertarian, and Constitution Party candidates will be on the November ballot in much of the state, and not a government cent was spent funding primaries for those parties. In this month’s Democratic primary, a plurality of voters chose for the U. S. Senate an unknown who filed no campaign disclosures and merely rolled over his 2008 anti-Lamar campaign into an anti-Corker campaign. He did not even update his website.
A metaphor now so popular in Washington, D.C., that it has become a cliche is “fiscal cliff.” The cliff is one of Congress’ self-introduced pitfalls that would be the stuff of low comedy if the consequences weren’t so severe for the country. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire Jan. 1 and across-the-board budget cuts of $110 billion are set to go into effect automatically Jan. 2 if Congress can’t agree on a long-term spending-reduction plan. The combination of large-scale tax increases and meat-ax cuts in federal spending could easily send the country back into recession, just as the economy is picking up steam and world confidence in our fiscal house is returning. Congress passed the automatic cuts last year as a way of getting itself out of another self-applied bind.