This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Transportation have announced a grant of more than $600,000 for projects benefiting downtown Clarksville. The grant, announced Thursday, will go to a project that extends a transportation trail along the Red River and completes a walkway in Clarksville’s downtown River District. The grant funds the first segment of the Clarksville River Trail, the first of two sections of a multi-use, north-south trail segment extending from the merge of the Cumberland and Red Rivers and continuing north along the Red River.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation(TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today a $626,360 transportation enhancement grant to Clarksville for a project that extends a trail along the Red River and completes a walkway in the downtown River District. The grant funds Segment I of the Clarksville River Trail, the first of two sections of a multi-use, north-south trail segment extending from the merge of the Cumberland and Red Rivers and continuing north along the Red River for approximately 1,500 feet.
Gov. Haslam announced enhancement grant extending walkway 1,500 Strolls along the RiverWalk will soon be 1,500 feet longer, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday morning. After walking along the bank of the Cumberland himself, Haslam told a delegation of local leaders and schoolchildren that the state and its Department of Transportation have awarded a $626,360 enhancement grant to a project that will extend the walkway from its northern endpoint and along the bank of the Red River.
The city of Clarksville is getting a $600,000 grant to extend its greenway along with Cumberland River. The money being divvied out by the state is actually from Washington and specifically for projects that would otherwise fall by the wayside. There were about 80 applications for these so-called enhancement grants this year. Twenty of them will be funded. Governor Bill Haslam appeared in person to hand the money to the Mayor of Clarksville. While the oversized check said it was from the state Department of Transportation, Haslam credited the federal government.
Governor Bill Haslam is walking back the suggestion Metro Schools could lose state money for not approving a controversial new charter school. This week’s board vote is being followed at the highest levels of state government. In the governor’s view, Metro had no choice in the matter. The state board of education ordered the district to approve the charter application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies. Ignoring that directive is akin to breaking state law, but Haslam says the students shouldn’t have to pay the price.
Nashville school officials will reconsider a controversial charter school application in September when a new group of board members takes office.Outgoing school board Chairwoman Gracie Porter, who continues in her role until the end of August, and system Director Jesse Register jointly decided to add the application from Great Hearts Academies to the September agenda, said Meredith Libbey, assistant to Register. “I can’t speak to their motivation,” Libbey said of why the two officials decided to put Great Hearts on the agenda.
The Metro school board will reconsider the charter application of Great Hearts Academies at its next meeting in September, but the board by then will include four new members whose positions on the dispute could be key. District officials have demanded that Great Hearts first resubmit an acceptable diversity and transportation plan before consideration. For now, the quartet of recently elected board members — who won’t be sworn into office until Aug. 28 — is staying largely mum on the matter.
Tennessee’s run of having a better unemployment rate than the nation as a whole is over. An estimated 8.4 percent of Tennesseans were jobless in July, up from 8.1 percent in June, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. It was the third straight monthly increase and the highest rate since December. It’s also the first time since September that Tennessee didn’t equal or beat the national rate. The U.S. jobless rate stood at 8.3 percent in July. Despite the end of the streak, state labor officials and economists say they aren’t alarmed, and some even expected the uptick.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for July increased to 8.4 percent, up from the June revised rate of 8.1 percent, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis announced today. The national unemployment rate for July 2012 was 8.3 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the June rate.?? Tennessee’s July unemployment rate is the highest since December 2011, but is still 1 percent below the figure of one year ago. Total nonfarm employment increased 6,400 jobs from June to July.
Tennessee’s statewide unemployment rate increased to 8.4 percent in July, up from a revised June rate of 8.1 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. July marks the third consecutive month unemployment has increased in Tennessee. It marks the state’s highest unemployment rate since December, but remains 1 percentage point below a year ago. The national unemployment rate for July was 8.3 percent, up from 8.2 percent.
The state board that regulates campaign finance in Tennessee has launched an investigation to determine whether a Middle Tennessee health care investor used a political action committee he funded to skirt the law limiting campaign contributions. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance sent letters this week to Andrew Miller of Nashville and the Truth Matters PAC. The letters say the board is looking into whether Miller used the PAC as a conduit to exceed the $1,400 per election limit on individual donations to a single campaign.
More than 4,200 of the most impressive freshmen in University of Tennessee history will begin arriving on campus Saturday, continuing a trend of high-caliber classes over recent years. The academic prowess of incoming freshman is one of the few benchmarks in which UT is on par with the nation’s top-25 public universities. This year’s class has an average ACT score of 27 and a grade-point average of 3.89, slightly higher than last year’s incoming class. Just under half of this year’s freshmen class graduated high school with a 4.0.
Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, became a historical day for Clarksville, Tenn., when the first community college opened its doors. The Clarksville campus of Nashville State Community College held its grand opening and campus dedication at 9:30 a.m. Opening remarks were given by Director Steve Conklin, and Senator Tim Barnes gave the community remarks. Then, along with Representative Joe Pitts, Mayor Kim McMillan, Mayor Carolyn Bowers, NSCC President George H. Van Allen and Conklin, Barnes held the official ribbon cutting.
Crissy Haslam, wife of Gov. Bill Haslam, and Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation President Theresa Carl will be at Argie Cooper Public Library, 100 South Main St., on Tuesday from noon until 1:15 p.m. to promote the Imagination Library program. The public is invited. The Imagination Library program, founded by entertainer Dolly Parton, provides a new book each month for children from birth to age 5. The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, according to a news release, began in 2004 as a statewide campaign to systematically implement the Imagination Library program in every county in Tennessee.
Two area state lawmakers working to put the reins on Tennessee’s judicial drug task forces say this week’s Times Free Press series about the 10th Judicial District adds impetus to the effort. “Everybody’s watching” the newspaper’s series, said state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The series investigated allegations of unchecked spending, lack of oversight and prosecutorial misconduct in the 10th District counties of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk. These charges and allegations raised in other districts across Tennessee in the last two years “make legislators fell like more oversight should be needed of drug task forces.”
Tennessee’s solar industry has rallied more than 30 state legislative candidates it says will oppose any “dramatic and burdensome” tax increases. In what is an ongoing push, the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association is circulating the pledge in the hopes of short-circuiting attempts to change the way solar installations are valued for local property tax purposes. The pledge comes after Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office delayed a bill it was pushing last spring that the industry contended would be a massive tax increase and hit to economic development in the solar sector.
Memphis International Airport’s top guns had Memphis and Shelby County mayors both standing behind them and looking over their shoulders Thursday. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told the Airport Authority they’ll reach out to area governors, starting with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam next week, in hopes of forging a broader business-government-consumer coalition to preserve the airport as a regional economic engine. Wharton is organizing an ad hoc task force that can marshal private and public resources to quickly, nimbly put together incentives that go beyond what the Airport Authority can legally offer.
When Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are in Nashville Monday, Aug. 20, to meet with Gov. Bill Haslam they will probably also discuss possible incentives for Memphis International Airport. Both mayors talked guardedly about the still-forming effort Friday, Aug. 16, at the monthly meeting of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board of commissioners. They also told the board that city and county government, as well as economic development officials, may have more flexibility than the board in pushing such incentives and aiming them at particular airlines.
Rhea County commissioners are struggling to find $1.5 million in new revenue or face cutting services to balance the 2012-13 budget. At their workshop session this week, Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson said commissioners have “looked at the budget, at department requests, at what they spent last year. We’re at a point that we need more money. We’ll either have to find a revenue stream or cut services or personnel at some point. “Our fund balance continues to go down,” Masterson said.
Tennessee Republicans who have voted for Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal twice in the 112th Congress see no reason to back away from it now, despite speculation it could cause trouble for the party’s presidential ticket. Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, authored a proposal to reshape federal spending over the next decade and beyond with major cuts in non-defense spending — including safety-net programs such as Medicare — along with further income tax reductions.
Senator lauds Ryan spot on ticket Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is hurting the central bank’s reputation, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told a Knoxville audience on Thursday. The Republican from Chattanooga, who sits on the Senate banking committee, spoke at a lunch event hosted by the Knoxville Chamber. While his remarks focused heavily on the nation’s overall fiscal situation — an area of particular interest for Corker — the lawmaker also had some pointed remarks for Bernanke. Corker said that “I think the chairman of the Federal Reserve is, personally, hurting the Federal Reserve’s reputation and I think he is becoming a great distraction right now.”
A federal judge tossed out an effort to overturn Democrat Mark Clayton’s win in the U.S. Senate primary, after a pointed and at times lively hearing Thursday in Nashville. Judge Kevin Sharp rejected Larry Crim’s challenge of the Aug. 2 vote, saying that the Nashville attorney and his lawyer had not presented any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of party or state election officials. Sharp also chastised Crim’s team for waiting until after the vote to raise objections to Clayton’s candidacy.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will not raise electricity rates this fall. The agency’s board voted to keep rates steady for the fiscal year that starts in October. Despite record power use over the summer, CEO Tom Kilgore says TVA didn’t see a drastic increase in the cost of generating power. “We burned a lot of cheap gas this summer and that nuclear plant was running all summer.” Brown’s Ferry Unit 1 in Alabama ran at full capacity. TVA brought its fifth natural gas-powered plant online, as well. While the cost of making electricity has gone down, so have TVA’s profits.
But board gets earful about tree cutting policy After two hours of hearing complaints about TVA’s tree cutting policy and other issues, the TVA board of directors approved a budget proposal Thursday that includes no wholesale electric rate increase for fiscal year 2013. Lower fuel costs and savings from TVA’s “diet and exercise” program of cutting costs and looking for ways to boost efficiency and productivity were instrumental in dampening the need for a rate increase, said TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas.
There will be no rate hikes in electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority this year. The TVA board met Thursday morning in Knoxville and voted on a $11.2 billion budget that doesn’t include any rate hikes. During Thursday afternoon’s board meeting of Memphis Light Gas and Water Division, TVA general manager of customer service Laura Campbell gave the board the news that the base rate won’t change. TVA sets the base rate annually. The base rate is what TVA charges MLGW and other utility companies in a seven-state area that supplies electricity to 9 million customers.
At the end of a TVA board meeting that began with more than 30 unhappy people complaining about tree cutting, nuclear costs, not enough energy efficiency and new recreation fees, the utility CEO Tom Kilgore quietly announced his resignation. “I’m formally announcing today that I will retire soon. I gave them four to six months, with a preference for four months. I’ve enjoyed my time here,” he said. He made the announcement after hearing the board pass an $11.2 billion 2013 budget and no recommended rate increase.
Using a football analogy, TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore told the agency’s board members he was in the fourth quarter of his career and it was about time to call it a game. Kilgore announced at the end of a board of directors meeting Thursday that he planned to retire by the end of the year. TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said an effort is under way to find a successor for Kilgore, who said he would remain in charge until someone is hired. In his announced Thursday, Kilgore recalled addressing community college students during their commencement.
Utility’s first president says he wants to pursue other projects Tennessee Valley Authority President Tom Kilgore is retiring. The announcement came as TVA board members met Thursday in Knoxville to discuss rates that customers in seven states will pay as the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. TVA announced that the board of directors has a process under way to recommend a new president and CEO. Kilgore announced his retirement at the end of the meeting. He will serve as the head of the federal utility until a successor is hired.
Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, will retire by the end of the year. Kilgore made the announcement at today’s meeting of the TVA board. Kilgore joined TVA in 2005. The following are excerpt from a TVA press release: The board panel is retaining an executive search firm to identify candidates to succeed Tom Kilgore, TVA’s president and CEO. Mr. Kilgore announced his intention to retire by year end at the August TVA board meeting.
The CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority is retiring. Tom Kilgore has been the head of the utility since 2006. Kilgore waited until the very end of TVA’s board of directors meeting to break the news. “I’m formally announcing today, I told the board that I want to retire soon. I gave them four to six months, with a strong preference for four months. But I don’t want to walk out until they’ve got my successor.” Board members praised Kilgore, saying he brought an urgently needed consistency in leadership.
Bedford County has been designated “in need of subgroup improvement” and Community High School has been named a “focus school” by the Tennessee Department of Education. In Bedford County’s case, the designation means that Hispanic students and students with limited English proficiency haven’t scored as high as desired by the state or have shown declines in test scores. School Supt. Ray Butrum, speaking Tuesday night to Bedford County Board of Commissioners, noted that in terms of achievement, the county met all nine of the state’s goals.
A school-choice policy expert says this week’s dust-up between the state and the Metro education board is part of a broader argument over who exactly charter schools exist to serve. Great Hearts Academies would be the first charter in Metro to take advantage of new laws letting them recruit more students who aren’t necessarily poor or in failing schools. The story is hardly unique to Metro: an ambitious charter operator rides in from out of town, but not all of the locals prove easy to win over.
Every time it seems Illinois might be pulling out of its budgetary tailspin, a new crisis hits. The latest one, which Democratic Governor Pat Quinn wants lawmakers to address during a special legislative session Friday (August 17), is the state’s ballooning annual pension payment. Those payments have become so large they are eating up all of the state’s new tax money and still forcing cuts to schools and Medicaid. Getting those required payments under control will be no easy task, especially in a one-day session sandwiched between summer vacations and the campaign season.
The re-emergent question of how Tennessee selects its appellate judges and Supreme Court justices has barely made a ripple in a year of government turmoil over education reform, gun rights and other hot-button issues.But with the attention paid to voting rights, it’s perhaps surprising that we haven’t heard more about the “Tennessee Plan” and the state constitution. For the past 40 years, the Tennessee Plan has made it so that state appellate judge nominees are chosen by a special commission, with the governor appointing the judge from among those nominees. The public does not become involved until that judge is up for “retention.”
Automatic per diem cash makes abuse too easy The Republican candidate for state Senate District 22 recently brought the per diem controversy into the local spotlight. Dr. Mark Green announced that, if elected, he wouldn’t accept these payments for his legislative expenses, and he painted incumbent Democrat Sen. Tim Barnes with the ugly brush for taking $59,460 in such payments during the four years of his first term. Barnes countered that he accepts a lot less in legislative payments than many of his colleagues, and he collects only what’s mandated when the legislature is in session. It doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things – $173 per day during the legislative session for basic expenses.
Why wasn’t the Election Commission better prepared? It was everybody’s fault but ours. That seems to be the gist of the 4½-page letter Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden e-mailed to state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, explaining why a variety of problems occurred during the Aug. 2 voting period. While the issues Holden cited are real, the one nagging question Holden and the county’s five election commissioners need to answer is this: They had ample warning that this hurricane was coming, so why weren’t they better prepared to deal with it? Goins had asked Holden for comprehensive answers to a list of questions related to the county’s voting problems, which caused an estimated 3,200 voters to receive incorrect ballots for some of the races they voted on.
Among others, my mama (that’s what I called my grandmother), the late Julia Nell Youngblood Strickland of Harriman, and state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who was my ninth-grade civics teacher, taught me that the election process that we practice in the United States is a precious thing. Every step along the way is valuable and should be treated with honor and respect. That’s why I paid close attention to News Sentinel reporter Mike Donila’s articles about irregularities in Tim Burchett’s 2010 campaign finance reports in his bid for Knox County mayor. I expected discrepancies in the five-digit range by the campaign would mean the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance should automatically look into it.
The perennial problem with free speech and freedom of the press is that they sometimes lead to things being said and written that people don’t want to hear. That’s why the First Amendment is so important, it protects free speech. But exercising First Amendment rights can be a bumpy road. That’s what reporters at the University of Memphis campus newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, are finding out as a result of aggressive reporting of campus hard news. We understand the challenges faced by Helmsman reporters, editors and journalism professors, and offer our support of their efforts. The controversy involves a significant cut in Helmsman funding by the university that some say was motivated by displeasure over negative stories about campus crime and other hard news.