This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Three prosecutors are the finalists for the Criminal Court Judge vacancy. The Judicial Nominating Commission selected Deputy District Attorney General John Campbell, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean DeCandia and Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi as the finalists for the vacancy created when John Fowlkes won U.S. Senate confirmation as a federal judge. The commission made its selection Friday, Aug. 24, after a public hearing at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
The state’s housing agency declined to apply for up to $12 million in federal rental assistance for people with disabilities, despite a need for housing and recommendations to apply by TennCare, the state’s Medicaid agency. The Tennessean reports that board members of the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency declined to apply for the new Section 811 rental assistance program, which requires the state Medicaid agency to partner with a housing agency to provide vouchers for rent for people with disabilities.
The Tennessee Lottery — one of MetroCenter’s most high-profile tenants — is looking for new office space and has issued a request for proposals from prospective developers for site selection. A quasi-public entity chartered by the Tennessee Legislature and founded in 2004, Tennessee Lottery operates from about 65,000 square feet of office space at 200 Athens Way. Because of growth, the entity needs approximately 75,000 square feet. Tennessee Lottery’s lease expires in February 2014.
The Tennessee Lottery plans to build a new 75,000-square-foot headquarters in Nashville. The quasi-public entity, which now occupies 65,000 square feet of space in Metro Center, has issued a request for proposals to developers. Proposals are due Aug. 29. State law requires that the lottery’s headquarters stay in Nashville, said spokesperson Kym Gerlock.”The lottery will need 225 parking spaces and prefers to have six covered spaces,” according to the request for proposals.
Tennessee State University interim President Portia Shields could remain in office for the spring semester if a new president is not found by January, a spokesman for the state Board of Regents said Friday.Shields’ contract is set to expire at the end of the year. That contract bars her from being a candidate for the permanent job. The job has been advertised and the university has received applicants, but the search advisory committee charged with finding a new president won’t hold its first meeting until Monday.
The plan for raising East Tennessee State University employee salaries was revealed Friday during the school president’s first state of the university address. Brian Noland became president of ETSU in January. This semester marks the first full academic year for his presidency. “As we all well know, faculty salaries have historically trailed regional and national averages at ETSU,” Noland said in an interview before his speech Friday morning in the D.P. Culp University Center. “Depending upon how you count, we’re either in the bottom third or we’re at the bottom. So this is the beginning of a multi-year process to change that position.”
McPhee: University faces ‘important times’ MTSU President Sidney McPhee welcomed returning and new faculty and staff back to campus for the Fall semester Friday morning. During the annual meeting on the Friday morning before classes begin McPhee spoke of the challenges the university faces in helping students to succeed. “These are exciting and very important times for Middle Tennessee State University,” McPhee said. “We enter our second century with a clear mission… to increase our already considerable commitment to student success and in so doing, helping to provide even more college graduates for Tennessee’s work force.”
The Tennessee Department of Health suspended admissions to the Center for Aging and Health in Erwin. The state said a recent inspection revealed violations in the centers’ administration, performance improvement and nursing standards. In addition to the admission suspension, the state also fined the nursing home facility $5,000 and imposed a more than $3,000 fee per day until violations are fixed. We contacted the Center for Aging and Health, administrator Gary Sheets told us the Erwin long-term care company is working on coming into compliance with the state quote “regarding paperwork and medications.”
State Sen. Jim Summerville offered no apology for the email that cost him the chairmanship of a legislative committee. Summerville, R-Dickson, was removed as chairman of the Senate’s higher education subcommittee after sending an email stating he didn’t “give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks” after the group of black lawmakers criticized the subcommittee’s inquiry into a grading controversy at Tennessee State University. He was replaced by state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not previously a member of the committee.
Plaintiffs opposing a Murfreesboro mosque asked a federal judge Friday to let them intervene despite a court order that allowed the mosque to get a certificate of occupancy. “It’s not fair, and it doesn’t follow the law,” Murfreesboro attorney Joe Brandon told federal Judge Kevin H. Sharp during a hearing in Nashville. Given that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro obtained its final certificate of occupancy Thursday, the judge said he would examine case law presented by the U.S. Department of Justice before making a decision early next week about whether the plaintiffs opposed to the mosque should be allowed to intervene in the federal case.
Days before a state appeals court is set to hear an appeal in the recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield, a local community group wants to intervene, saying the city is infringing on its right to hold a citizens’ initiative. The Rev. Leroy Griffith filed a motion Friday in the recall appeal, saying the state law that dictates the city’s ability to recall the mayor also affects the ability to conduct city initiatives. Griffith said he plans to travel to Knoxville on Wednesday when the appeals court hears from the groups who called for Littlefield’s ouster.
The city of Millington and backers of the suburb’s municipal schools effort filed a lawsuit Friday against the Shelby County Election Commission in Chancery Court asking that the Aug. 2 defeat of a referendum seeking a half-cent increase in the local option sales tax either be reversed or declared void because non-Millington residents were allowed to vote. Chris Patterson of the Wiseman Bray Law Firm filed the lawsuit electronically with the court. The plaintiffs also are seeking an expedited resolution on the matter.
The second legal challenge of the Aug. 2 election results was filed Friday, Aug. 24. in Shelby County Chancery Court. Millington Mayor Linda Carter, alderman Michael Caruthers and Douglas Dakin, the chairman of the pro municipal schools group People for the Advancement of Millington Schools are suing the Shelby County Election Commission. Caruthers role as chairman of the Millington Municipal Schools Transition Committee is also noted. The lawsuit alleges voters who lived outside Millington got ballots with Millington races including the municipal school district and sales tax hike referendums on it and told officials at their polling places of the mistake.
Shelby County Commissioners will probably vote Monday, Aug. 27, on whether to override a veto by County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Luttrell vetoed the countywide sales tax referendum resolution Thursday that was passed by the Shelby County Commission at its Aug. 13 meeting. The resolution puts the half-cent sales tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot. The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. County Commissioner Mike Ritz has already indicated he expected the veto and would try to override it.
Sen. Lamar Alexander is pro-life. But last week his staff made it clear that he disagrees with the platform his party is expected to adopt at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The GOP platform calls for outlawing abortion in all circumstances. No exceptions. “Sen. Alexander is pro-life. He opposes abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother,” spokesman Jim Jeffries said. Alexander was among the few Tennessee Republicans last week willing to spell out exceptions to his otherwise unwavering support for outlawing abortion.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher supported local business owner Danny Moore, of Moore Pumps Inc., who celebrated the expansion of his business with a flag-raising ceremony held Friday morning. “He represents the American dream,” said Fincher after the ceremony. “This is what it’s all about. He started out of his truck and built a successful business.” Fincher is running for a second term for his 8th Congressional District seat, which serves Madison, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Haywood, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion, Tipton and Weakley counties and part of Shelby County.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has been notified to deploy as part of the upcoming rotation of forces in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense officially announced Friday the deployment of approximately 1,900 active component soldiers from 1st BCT as both battle space integrators and functional advisory and assistance teams for the Afghan Security Forces. As one of the first Security Force Assistance Brigades in the Army, Bastogne soldiers have been preparing for months for this deployment to Afghanistan to provide training, advice and assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Department of Defense is pulling more units from Fort Campbell to help close out the war in Afghanistan. On Friday the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade Combat Team received orders to deploy. The Pentagon announcement includes roughly 2,800 infantry soldiers from Fort Campbell, scheduled to ship out through the winter. The formal announcement is old news to Private 1st Class Jose Valley, who already knew he was bound for war in the coming months. He’s spent the last few weeks learning about Afghan culture since he and others will be working side-by-side with local forces.
It’s rare to buy a product without the ubiquitous “Made in China” label. But just how much impact the rise of the Chinese economy has affected the U.S. job market has recently been quantified in a report by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the report claims that more than 2.7 million American jobs, more than 56,000 of them in Tennessee, have been sacrificed because of the U.S. trade deficit with China.
Nearly 1,000 police, fire, ambulance and TVA workers will surround the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant on Tuesday as warning sirens are sounded within a 10-mile radius of the Soddy-Daisy plant. Officials caution area residents not to be alarmed by the emergency response. The activity is simply part of TVA’s annual drill of its emergency response to a potential nuclear accident or radioactive release and is not part of any real terrorist threat or nuclear accident.
A security police officer said he was fired because he apparently wasn’t rough enough with protesters during the July 28 predawn break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. Fifty-two-year-old Kirk Garland, who has decades of experience at high-security U.S. Department of Energy installations, said he’s being used as a scapegoat for an embarrassing breach that was not of his doing. “I just think it’s ridiculous that I was the one that was fired,” he said.
Countywide school board members have been known to debate what is on their agenda for as long as an hour or so before moving on to other matters. That may be the case Monday, Aug. 27, when the board picks up where it left off at their work session a week ago. Last week’s meeting adjourned abruptly with word that a football player at Millington Central High School had died during football practice. The board did not get to a resolution by board member Betty Mallott that would name Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken “to lead the transition of Memphis City Schools to the Shelby County Board of Education and to make recommendations necessary for this board to satisfy its responsibilities.”
Hamilton County Schools will likely hire more teachers in response to continued growth in student enrollment. The school system released 10th-day enrollment figures Thursday, showing a count of 42,435 students in schools. That’s 422 more students since this year’s fifth-day count and 2,080 more over the first-day count. This year’s 10th-day count also is 426 students higher than in 2011. School administrators met Friday to examine the latest enrollment report, which will help determine staffing levels at all schools.
A policy requiring Anderson County high school students to submit to random drug screens if they’re involved in any extracurricular school activities “seems a little crazy” and raises civil-rights questions, the parents of one student contend. Ken and Dina Miller of Andersonville said they have refused to sign a consent form authorizing random drug screens of their son, a new freshman at Anderson County High School. That decision means their son won’t be able to participate in a large variety of school-sponsored events, they said.
An external audit says Nashville’s Public Schools saved millions of dollars last year by outsourcing custodians and groundskeepers. The decision came two years ago, as part of a budget push to protect teachers from job cuts. The audit says the district saved more than $6 million last year by outsourcing, while a survey of Metro principals found most were content with the service. The move to outsource custodians was controversial, drawing criticism from unions and some city council members.
There probably are a lot of people in this state who “don’t give a rat’s ass” about what Tennessee’s legislative Black Caucus thinks. But it is quite out of line for a state senator to tell caucus members that in an e-mail. Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, used those words to express his feelings about the caucus’ concern about his subcommittee’s hearing on allegations of inappropriate changes of students’ grades at Tennessee State University last fall. The graphic language cost Summerville his chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee. Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who chairs the Education Committee, rightly gave him the boot, explaining that “there is a standard of courtesy that must be observed by members of the General Assembly.”
There are reasonable arguments for the Shelby County Commission Monday to let stand Mayor Mark Luttrell’s veto of a measure setting a referendum on a countywide half-cent increase in the sales tax, or for commissioners to override the veto. Commissioner Mark Ritz, who proposed the resolution to add the referendum to the Nov. 6 ballot, said the money derived from the tax increase would help close an estimated $57 million budget shortfall for the new unified Memphis-Shelby County school district when it begins operations next August.
A federal judge reasonably decided this week that TVA is legally liable for the damages caused by the huge toxic ash spill four years ago at its Kingston power plant. The spill swamped adjacent residential properties and fouled the Clint, Emory and Tennessee rivers in the nation’s biggest environmental disaster of its kind. The verdict is not surprising. What is surprising is that TVA has sought since the spill to avoid assumption of its liability, and spent well in excess of $11 million to defend its irrational defense. The agency’s own standards and procedures have long required regular, thorough examinations of the huge retention ponds — lakes would be a more fitting description — it has routinely used for decades to permanently store the toxic sludge produced by its coal-fired power plants.