This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
State leaders announced Tuesday that information technology company Hönigsberg & Düvel Corporation is expanding its Chattanooga operations, which will add 116 new jobs to the area and represent a $600,000 investment. “When companies in Tennessee make decisions to expand and grow, it is our goal to offer the right environment and partnerships to ensure those jobs are created here,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful to Hönigsberg & Düvel for increasing the company’s presence in our state and creating more high-quality jobs for our citizens.”
A Wolfsburg, Germany, information technology company that came to Chattanooga two years ago after work began on the Volkswagen plant plans to add 116 jobs over three years. Brandon Miller, business development manager for Honigsberg & Duvel in Chattanooga, on Tuesday declined to say if VW, also based in Wolfsburg, is a client. But Miller said the company works with automakers in the South and it’s aiming to bolster business with health care and financial clients along with those in government and education.
Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t too keen on letting Tennesseans in on who he’s meeting behind closed doors. “There’s just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues,” the governor said recently. The administration rejected a request from TNReport in July to review or obtain copies of the governor’s calendar-scheduling planner dating back to his Jan. 15, 2010, inauguration through June 30, 2012.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Heidi Arlene White, a criminal investigator, was fired Tuesday after Madison County deputies arrested her on a charge of public intoxication early Sunday morning. A passerby called the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, reporting a car off the road on U.S. 45 East near Medina in Madison County, and the passerby got the impression the car’s occupants were under the influence, said Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork. The Sheriff’s Office responded to the call about 12:30 a.m. White fell as she got out of the car, Woolfork said.
The Davidson County Election Commission has decided not to use electronic poll books in this fall’s general election. The decision comes just more than a week after evidence surfaced that some voters, including three elected officials, were not asked which primary they wanted to vote in, but given Republican ballots for the Aug. 2 elections. Tennessee Citizen Action and the Metro Council had called for independent audits of the election. The new electronic poll books were used at 60 voting precincts in the Aug. 2 elections, with plans to deploy them throughout the county for the general elections.
Just hours after the Davidson County Election Commission voted Tuesday not to use electronic poll books for voting in November, Metro Council members voted to hold off on paying for the machines. The poll books, which replaced paper poll books recently in 60 of the county’s 160 voting precincts, have been at the center of criticism in the past week because some voters received the wrong ballots during the Aug. 2 primary. The commission had planned to use the new poll books in all 160 precincts for the Nov. 6 general election.
A new “transportation user fee” being studied by the city’s Public Works Division could generate revenue for such projects as street repaving, pothole repairs and median maintenance. Planning for the new fee is in the embryonic stage, but Public Works director Dwan Gilliom said it could provide up to $60 million annually. Public Works has hired North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn and Associates to do a $75,000 study to explore the fee . “Exactly how it would be paid, who would pay it, how it would be assessed and how it would be implemented is what we’re looking at,” said Gilliom.
From 2008 to 2010, the percentage of people with health insurance dropped in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, with Tennessee seeing the greatest percent decrease in the insured population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. However, all three states saw an increase in the percentage of children covered by health insurance. Those numbers, released last week, mirror national statistics as families saw their income levels drop during the economic downtown, according to Kim Bailey, the research director with the health advocacy group Families USA.
After six years, Red Bank has given its traffic cameras the red light. Minutes after a handful of residents spoke out Tuesday against how the cameras have hurt the city’s image and businesses, Red Bank commissioners voted 4-1 to ax the city’s four traffic cameras, which cite motorists who speed and run red lights at the city’s busiest intersections along the city’s main artery, Dayton Boulevard. The lone holdout for keeping the cameras was Commissioner Ruth Jeno, who said that the cameras’ effect on safety was more important than their impact on business or city coffers.
While Tennessee Republicans have the luxury of dreaming about their governor or one of their senators contending for national office in 2016 or 2020, the state’s Democrats are just trying to win a single statewide race. And it could take at least six more years. The Tennessee Democratic Party has struggled to put together a strong “bench” of statewide candidates in recent years. The party hit what many Democrats felt was rock bottom last month, when voters chose political unknown Mark Clayton as their Senate nominee against Republican incumbent Bob Corker — only to have the party disavow Clayton the next day because he opposes gay marriage and abortion and has espoused some fringe views.
There’s fresh scrutiny for a proposed gas pipeline through a popular park in a well-to-do south Nashville neighborhood. Piedmont Natural Gas announced the project cutting through the Radnor Lake area earlier this year, and now its plan is open for review. To vet Piedmont’s plan, the non-profit Friends of Radnor Lake has recruited experts on wildlife, water and geology. President Greer Tidwell says they’re volunteering, saving the group for work he estimates would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Tidwell says the volunteer specialists are double-checking Piedmont’s homework to make sure it has minimal impact on the park.
When rain pours down at more than two inches an hour and flash flooding is in the forecast, the old stormwater systems serving Midtown and other parts of urban Memphis begin choking. Thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, National Weather Service meteorologists report that the heavy rain may have briefly topped the two-inches-an-hour threshold during the weekend. Street underpasses on Union and East Parkway, Southern and Josephine and McLean and York were among the low-lying points that flooded until the rain let up and the stormwater system caught up.
Judge David Loughry dismissed new Democratic Property Assessor Rob Mitchell’s campaign sign vandalism charges against past Republican Property Assessor Bill Boner Tuesday. Mitchell, who won the Aug. 2 election, spent nearly all of his first official day in office at the County Judicial Building after he took out a warrant to have Boner arrested in July. He accused the incumbent of damaging a campaign banner that had been hanging on the side of a wall at the Premier 6 movie theater at Jackson Heights shopping center where Boner serves as the property manager.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann dodged obstacles both physical and political Tuesday while touring the crumbling Chickamauga lock. As he did in two prior visits to the 72-year-old TVA structure, the freshman Republican vowed to secure money for the lock’s much-needed repair and replacement but admitted uncertainty in pinpointing a timeframe. Unlike his other fact-finding missions, however, Fleischmann wore a hard hat, black rubber boots and a solemn expression as he toured the lock’s bowels for the first time.
Congressman continues calls for reform of Inland Waterways Trust Fund A drainage of water provided a convenient backdrop for Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to point to a drainage in funding for ongoing maintenance and eventual replacement of the Chickamauga Lock Tuesday. But six months after his last visit to the lock, the congressman’s prescription for addressing the yearslong predicament remained the same—and his personal outlook toward a solution to securing federal monies specifically for Chickamauga was minimal.
Coal is under increasing attack as an energy source, but it has one of the nation’s strongest lobbies coming to its defense — rural electric cooperatives. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the allied Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association want to see a rewrite of the Clean Air Act that would allow coal to continue to play a key role in meeting electricity demand. That’s also the goal of the coal-mining industry and major investor-owned utilities that depend heavily on coal, such as the giant American Electric Power of Ohio.
Already under tremendous fire for an unprecedented security breach a month ago, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is now dealing with another stunning blunder. The U.S. Department of Energy confirmed Tuesday night that inspectors from DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security — who were at Y-12 last week to conduct a major top-to-bottom security review — found copies of security quizzes and answers and other inspection-related materials in one of the plant’s patrol cars.
Journal Communications Inc. of Milwaukee said this morning that it has signed a definitive agreement to buy WTVF NewsChannel 5 Network from Landmark Media Enterprises for $215 million in cash plus a working capital adjustment at closing.“This station will be a cornerstone asset within Journal Communications,” said Steven Smith, chairman and CEO of Journal, which is not related to the Brentwood-based custom publisher of the same name. “WTVF TV is an exceptional local news station with an extraordinary staff that demonstrates its commitment to Nashville every single day.”
Nashville’s WTVF NewsChannel 5 is being sold to Wisconsin-based Journal Communications Inc. in a deal valued at more than $215 million. The deal still requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission before the deal can be finalized. Journal is purchasing the station from Landmark Media Enterprises LLC. The Nashville television market is the 29th-largest in the country, according to Nielsen, and will be the largest media market where Journal Broadcast Group owns a TV station. The company also owns TV stations in Milwaukee, which ranks 34th, and Las Vegas, which ranks 40th.
Nashville’s WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5, will be sold to a Milwaukee, Wis.-based media company for $215 million, the buyer and seller announced jointly on Tuesday. Journal Communications Inc., publisher of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper, is the buyer, pending approval of the Federal Communications Commission. The company also owns 14 television stations and 35 radio stations in 12 states. It is not connected to the Franklin, Tenn.-based company of the same name, a publisher of business and agricultural magazines.
Nashville’s NewsChannel5 Network is being sold in a deal announced Tuesday morning worth $215 million. WTVF has been for sale since 2008. Owner Landmark Media had announced it would sell NewsChannel5 in a deal that ultimately fell apart because of the economic crisis four years ago. So long as the Federal Communications Commission approves, WTVF’s new owner will be Milwaukee-based Journal Communications. CEO Steven Smith says NewsChannel5 will become a “cornerstone asset” for the company, lauding Nashville’s economy and diversity of industry.
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board met for a board study session Tuesday afternoon and discussed several new state laws that would require them to make changes to their policy. Jeanine Chester, chief human resources officer, presented the new laws to the board and explained in detail what revisions would be made to current policy. Bills regarding teacher disciplinary suspension revises current law regarding the suspension of teachers, updated proficiency requirements for end of course teachers and a change in personnel records as open records were discussed.
If a federal judge upholds laws allowing municipal school districts in Shelby County, teachers in Memphis City Schools or Shelby County Schools who move to the new, smaller systems may lose the rights and privileges the state says would otherwise be guaranteed in a unified system. That revelation in the Tuesday morning session of a trial on the constitutionality of the Aug. 2 municipal school district referendums came during questioning of the state’s top education official, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and it was the most groundbreaking development U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays heard despite nearly 10 hours on the bench.
The first of two days of testimony in the federal court case over the state laws setting up municipal school districts ended with a lot of reading material for U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays. There were transcripts of depositions and transcripts and recordings of debate over two years in the Tennessee legislature. Mays also heard testimony from two experts from different fields with different views on school age population growth in other Tennessee counties. The opening day of arguments and testimony Tuesday, September 4, was a demonstration of just how detailed, complex, technical and paper intensive the dispute over a basic question has become.
A proposed agreement on how surplus school properties are discarded could help bridge the gap between the Hamilton County Board of Education and the Hamilton County Commission, officials said Tuesday. The two panels have been at an impasse in recent weeks, with much of their dispute centered on the sale of old school buildings and the construction of new ones. The school board will consider the agreement between the board and the commission that lays out the process for selling unused school property. The draft calls for the school board to funnel funds from the sale of surplus properties to other capital improvements within the system.
Knox County school board members said Tuesday that while they are happy to have additional revenue generated from sales and property taxes after the books close for the 2012 fiscal year, they want to have more conversation about how the dollars are spent and how to forecast better in the future. The district will receive about $13.94 million as a result of the additional revenues, which also include more Basic Education Program funds.
Environmentalists in this greenest of places call the California Environmental Quality Act the state’s most powerful environmental protection, a model for the nation credited with preserving lush wetlands and keeping condominiums off the slopes of the Sierra Nevada. But the landmark law passed in 1970 has also been increasingly abused, opening the door to lawsuits — sometimes brought by business competitors or for reasons unrelated to the environment — that, regardless of their merit, can delay even green development projects for years or sometimes kill them completely.
Students at Florida’s public colleges and universities who are United States citizens or legal residents cannot be charged out-of-state tuition simply because their parents are in the country illegally, a federal judge has ruled. Judge K. Michael Moore of Federal District Court determined that the policy violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution by forcing those students to pay three times as much as children of legal residents or citizens. The ruling came on Friday in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of several Florida students who were denied in-state tuition because they could not prove that their parents were in the country legally.
The urgent issue of online sales taxes is a subject that just about everyone talks about, but one that never seems to move any closer to resolution. Talks at state and federal levels have been unproductive. State officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam, and business leaders around the nation have urged Congress to address the issue. A Senate committee, for example, recently heard testimony about getting online retailers to collect sales taxes, but that prompted no additional action before Congress adjourned for its summer recess. Moreover, there’s no indication that movement on the subject is nigh. Such delay is the antithesis of good government. Postponing meaningful discussion of the issue or simply ignoring it won’t make it go away.
As the world knows by now, the security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge by three peace activists on July 28 was an unprecedented and unacceptable failure. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Inspector General last week was the latest to pronounce it so, and will not be the last. Multiple investigations are under way, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a Sept. 12 hearing on the incident. While the need to analyze the multiple security failures is pressing, the findings of the inspector general and others will be useless if corrective action is not taken. The inspector general offered eight recommendations to the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous arm of DOE, to follow. NNSA has agreed to implement them.
Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz’s concerns about the ultimate cost of reforms under way at Juvenile Court are legitimate, but those concerns should be taken in the context of what it will cost the county if the reforms are not put in place. Commercial Appeal reporter Beth Warren wrote in a story Sunday that the federally mandated reforms to overhaul Juvenile Court are expected to cost millions because the proposed changes would create new positions, including full-time public defenders and a court-based Disproportionate Minority Contact coordinator who would work to reduce the number of African-American youths brought to court, held in jail and transferred to adult court.