This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Amazon is expanding the full-time staff at its Chattanooga distribution center even before it ramps up hiring for its holiday Christmas season. “We’re hiring for hundreds of positions in Chattanooga to meet increased demand,” said company spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman. “We also expect to hire at our sites leading up to the holidays.” She wouldn’t say exactly how many more people Amazon is now hiring, nor give the specific number of employees the Chattanooga facility will have after the new hires.
The city of Harriman is getting nearly $448,000 to begin its Riverfront Greenway project. The greenway is part of the city’s plan to improve development along the Emory River. The first phase is a 1,500-foot-long paved trail that will provide access to a park and soccer fields. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday in a news release announcing the grant that it was wonderful to see communities across the state creating a network of greenways, trails and walkways for residents and visitors.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Rural/Metro Division General Manager Rob Webb to a second term on the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Board as a representative for ambulance service operators. “This prestigious board helps ensure high-level care is available in our rural counties as well as our metro areas,” Webb said in a press release. “I am honored to continue serving the state of Tennessee to maintain the same quality emergency medical care throughout the state that we at Rural/Metro provide to the East Tennessee community.”
36% of available jobs in Chattanooga require a four-year degree At age 31, four months after being laid off from his last job, Darrius Cole is starting his career over by going back to school. The former construction worker from Florence, Ala., is among two dozen students who started a two-year program last week at Chattanooga State Community College to become a nuclear plant operator. “My last job was as a laborer at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, and I saw there that the people who had the best jobs — and the ones that seem to always keep their jobs — are those with the best education,” Cole said.
The state’s 911 operators will soon be able to receive emergency reports by text message. The Tennessee Emergency Communications Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a pilot project led by AT&T. It sounds like a relatively simple advance in technology, but telecom companies have spent years trying to find a good way to send text messages to 911, and they still don’t have one. Tennessee will become the largest test case in the country. Smaller-scale systems have been implemented in Vermont and North Carolina where very few people used the service.
The State of Tennessee is nearly $5.9 billion in hock, the state comptroller’s office reported Wednesday. The good news: That’s expected to be the lowest indebtedness per person of any state in the nation. At the end of fiscal year 2010, the latest year for which complete figures are available, Tennessee ranked 50th among the states, with the lowest state debt per capita. The state’s total indebtedness stood at $5,861,696,000 on June 30, the end of fiscal year 2012, down $257.2 million from six months earlier, according to state Comptroller Justin Wilson’s semi-annual Indebtedness Report.
Nancy Jones, chief disciplinary counsel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, has announced she is resigning from the position, effective Sept. 30, to become general counsel at the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. Jones has served as BPR chief disciplinary counsel since May 2007. Prior to joining the BPR, Jones spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor in New York, Oklahoma and Tennessee and was a litigation partner at Nashville firm Bass Berry & Sims.
A now former-assistant special agent in charge at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation asked that his rank and pay be reduced for his behavior during a June traffic stop in Murfreesboro. Now a special agent criminal investigator making more than $12,000 less per year, veteran Agent Dale Armour requested that his rank and pay be reduced at the conclusion of an internal investigation at the TBI, according to his personnel file. The demotion is in reference to a June 18 traffic stop of local resident Lindsay Malcolm on Thompson Lane.
Meeting set to take place amid flap over top post A special faculty senate meeting at Tennessee State University will be held today despite a conflict over who is in charge of the group. The planned meeting would be the first since professor Jane Davis, the senate chairwoman, was arrested last month during a meeting with interim President Portia Shields. School officials claim that Davis was voted out of office after her arrest on Aug. 20. Davis says the Aug. 20 meeting violated the senate’s constitution and the vote was invalid.
Rutherford County will receive approximately $453.9 million in state appropriations during the 2013 fiscal year, state Sens. Jim Tracy and Bill Ketron announced Wednesday. The total amount coming into Rutherford County is $14.7 million more than last year and $38.3 million more than that approved during the 2010-11 budget year. Rutherford will receive a portion of the federal funds included in Tennessee’s $31 billion budget as adopted by the 107th General Assembly. “In a slim budget year, this is very good news for Rutherford County,” said Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, Senate Republican Caucus chairman and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, has endorsed incumbent state Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, for re-election in the 67th House District. The endorsement was made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised of NFIB members, according to a news release from Pitts’ office. Pitts is unopposed in the general election, which will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6. “Joe Pitts has stood firmly with our state’s entrepreneurs,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee, in the release.
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance has voted to proceed with a campaign finance complaint against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. The panel voted 4-1 on Wednesday to require more information about questionable spending first reported by The Knoxville News Sentinel, including payments of more than $15,000 to Burchett’s wife, Allison. The mayor’s attorney told the panel that the allegations are evidence of what he called a “sad divorce” between the Burchetts, and efforts are being made to rectify errors in his disclosures.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett faces an October hearing to explaina series of irregularities in campaign disclosure forms he filed connected with his successful 2010 election run.Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance, in a 4-1 vote Wednesday, said it would issue the mayor a “show cause” letter requiring him to explain how the errors occurred and to fix them if possible. Burchett was not present Wednesday. The board, should it choose to further investigate, will have to decide later whether to dismiss any issues or assess a civil penalty, which can be as much as $10,000 per offense.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett must answer to the state over allegations of campaign finance misdoings. On Wedneday, the board of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance voted 4 to 1 to issue a show cause to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, after they discussed a complaint filed by Knoxville News Sentinel opinion columnist Pam Strickland. In it, she cites a series of KNS articles that raise questions over mis-stated funds from Burchett’s 2010 election, involving checks to Burchett’s estranged wife, Allison Burchett.
Members of the three major chambers of commerce in Williamson County voted overwhelmingly to unite into one organization, according to an announcement Wednesday from the chamber Transition Board. The vote in favor of combining the Brentwood-Cool Springs Chamber, the Cool Springs Chamber and the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber was in excess of 95 percent approval, according to the announcement. A combined chamber is expected to be a stronger resource as well as an advocate for businesses.
Two men suing Hamilton County commissioners over prayers held during commission meetings now have about $5,000 from private donors to help fund their case. In recent weeks, plaintiffs Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones began raising funds for court and litigation fees. “We weren’t surprised at all that we were able, through the Internet and the help of social media, to raise $5,000,” Coleman said Wednesday. “It was a rough estimate from our attorney in regards to upcoming appeals fees, filing, depositions. We also wanted to have it on hand. If the trial was on hand and there was a verdict, we’d need to have it on hand.”
It’s a lopsided money race in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann holds an 8-to-1 fundraising lead over his Democratic challenger, Dr. Mary Headrick. “Publish that number — let Chuck Fleischmann put his guard down,” Headrick said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Let him think I’m not going to do any TV ads or any big things. Let him relax and think he’s got it won.” A conservative freshman congressman who fended off a popular dairy executive and a political scion in August’s Republican primary, Fleischmann reported $106,075 in general election contributions through July 13.
In an extended sit-down chat with Tennessee reporters last week in Tampa Bay, U.S. senator Lamar Alexander addressed the issue of Republican hegemony in the state and the dangers — yes, dangers — that could come in its wake. “Entrenched success brings vulnerability. We have to be on our toes and keep an open door, recruit good candidates, and allow diversity in our thinking, and not try to turn everybody toward one single point of view.” That’s not quite the kind of “dangers” that might be foreseen by committed Tennessee Democrats, a beleaguered and diminishing breed these days.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has been named one of the top 10 utilities in economic development by Site Selection magazine. Louisville Business First reports that the selections were based on an analysis of corporate end-user project activity in 2011, survey data, Web site tools and data, innovative programs and incentives for businesses, job-creating infrastructure and facility investment trends. The entire Top Utilities article is available on the magazine’s Web site.
List based on economic investment TVA is $2 billion over budget on a nuclear plant project and faces more than $1 billion in costs associated with a 2008 coal ash spill, but it’s still one of the nation’s top utilities, according to Site Selection magazine. The Tennessee Valley Authority is one of ten power companies on the trade magazine’s 2012 list of the best power companies for economic development. The magazine credits Knoxville-based TVA for helping to attract or retain some 43,000 jobs across its seven-state service area and generate $4.9 billion in economic development in 2011.
WSI-Oak Ridge, the protective force subcontractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, said Wednesday it is conducting a “full investigation” into the dissemination of security test information among members of the plant’s guard force in advance of a U.S. Department of Energy inspection. Courtney Henry, a spokeswoman for WSI, said the company wants to determine whether the actions were done to give the security guards an advantage in the upcoming tests or whether it was an “unintentional act as part of overall knowledge testing” for the security police officers at Y-12.
Y-12 nuclear weapons plant security contractor WSI says it will investigate after test questions connected with an inspection were released to employees. Inspectors from the Department of Energy’s Office of Health, Safety and Security were conducting a top-to-bottom security review at Y-12 last week when they found copies of security quizzes and answers along with other inspection materials in a plant patrol car. Y-12 and its security protocols have been under scrutiny since peace protesters were arrested for trespassing and damaging a building at the complex in July.
Are Y-12 security guards cheating on tests? That’s the question after copies of quizzes and answers were found in a patrol car. People in Oak Ridge now have concerns over security. First it was the security breach. An 82 year-old Catholic nun and two other protestors get passed security guards armed with guns at Y-12. It shocked the people who live nearby. “The fact that those people got in there so far is concerning. It’s a long way to get in a facility and thank God they were there to protest and not harm us.”
The trial over municipal school districts in Shelby County was delayed Wednesday because of a dispute about maps purporting to show municipal and school district population in Gibson and Carroll counties. The parties will reconvene in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays on Sept. 20, giving attorneys for the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission time to take depositions of a mapping specialist who had taken the stand Wednesday afternoon at the behest of attorneys for Shelby County’s suburban municipalities.
After hearing Thursday, Sept. 5, from a second expert about the business of searching for a merger schools superintendent, the ad hoc committee working on a method for that search could begin making some decisions. The committee of countywide school board members and other leaders will hear from Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools. A week earlier, the committee heard from Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association.
The Memphis federal court hearing over the state laws governing municipal school districts has become an argument about the school age population in Milan, Tenn. and surrounding Gibson County. All sides in the lawsuit appeared to be close to ending their proof Tuesday, Sept. 5, when attorneys for the six suburban towns and cities called Carolyn Anderson of Nashville as a witness. Anderson is the GIS specialist for the Tennessee Legislature. She makes maps using computer programs that interpret data. In this case, it was a map of the school age population in Gibson County that turned what was expected to be five minutes on the witness stand into an all afternoon affair that will continue on Sept. 20.
A group of ambitious Heritage High School students helped to start a STEM program that officially kicked off this school year. STEM or Science Technology Engineering and Math is the buzz word in education in recent years and Heritage students didn’t want to get left behind. “I want to be a neurosurgeon,” said Heritage Senior, CJ Williams. He is part of the group who helped to founded the STEM program. “We saw that it could really help our futures. For what we’re wanting to do we could gain a lot out of it.
Parents pushing a new charter school for Nashville’s affluent west side say their children need a more rigorous curriculum with higher student expectations than traditional public schools can provide. Critics, however, ask why those parents aren’t flocking to the existing LEAD Academy Middle School, a college prep charter school in the same area.When the two charter schools are studied side by side, it’s obvious both prepare students for college success, said Alan Coverstone, executive director of the Metro Schools’ Office of Innovation, which oversees charter schools in Davidson County.
Jubal Yennie’s “grades” have increased his sophomore year, going from a 2.96 his first year to 3.5 his second. Sullivan County’s director of schools earned the 3.5 out of a possible 4 in his school board evaluation released Tuesday. The immediate past Sullivan County Board of Education — two members different from the one that met Tuesday night — gave Yennie the evaluation. In his first evaluation, done in 2011 and reported to the BOE Sept. 6 of that year, he received a 2.96. Yennie, who holds a doctoral degree, was hired away from Williamson County effective June 2010.
Hawkins County deputies allegedly found an active “one pot” meth lab Saturday afternoon in a vehicle occupied by two women who were the subject of an undercover drug investigation. One of the women, Amanda Ashely Harrison (aka Amanda Rines), 24, 708 Petersburg Road, Rogersville, was also wanted for a parole violation. Saturday afternoon the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit was assisting the sheriff’s patrol division in an attempt to locate Harrison to serve that warrant.
“Virtual schooling” has had a rough first year in Tennessee, with its students performing poorly on standardized tests. Is anyone really surprised by this? With the exceptions that online schools were originally intended for — that is, children who because of extenuating circumstances cannot attend a brick-and-mortar school every day — expecting kids to get a well-rounded education without the classroom or without parents qualified to home-school them simply is a bad idea. It may sound clichéd in these days of multiple personal electronic devices, but human (that is, in the same room) interaction really is vital to children’s development, as students and as people.
Tennessee has a lot of irons in the fire as it puts into effect tactical programs to boost student test scores. One of those programs is Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school approved by the Tennessee legislature last year. The K-8 academy is run by K12 Inc., the largest publicly traded online company with 100,000 full-time students in 30-plus states. About 3,000 students, including 439 students from Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, attend the academy. State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is pressing for an inquiry into the virtual academy after seeing test scores he described as dismal. It may be too soon for a formal inquiry — this is only the virtual academy’s second year of operation in the state.
Are there any bright spots for Tennessee Democrats come November, given the results of the last election with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket? Yes, there are at least three state House seats, one of them in Knoxville, that are at least possibilities. In redistricting, state Rep. Harry Tindell’s seat could have been drawn much more Republican than it is; there is less than a 10 percent differential of Republican to Democrat. We have been told the Republicans did not want to hammer Tindell, because he is a nice guy. (They just hammered him enough to get him to retire.)
When Jerry Burgess founded the HealthCare 21 Business Coalition in 1997, his mission was to help companies in the Knoxville area and beyond better manage their health benefits, with an emphasis on employee wellness and maximizing health plan value. While attending a conference in Philadelphia three years ago, Burgess had a eureka moment. The newspaper he was reading over breakfast reported that the Senate Finance Committee had added a provision to then-pending health-care legislation for the creation of a federally backed cooperative insurance company in each state to innovatively compete with dominant health insurers.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has yet to serve a full-term representing Tennessee’s 3d District in Congress, but he has learned something important in Washington. He’s mastered the political art of making promises to please constituents and win votes without providing any indication of how he will fulfill those pledges. The needed repair of the Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River is a perfect case in point. Fleischmann agrees the current TVA lock, now 72 years old, is deteriorating, that it requires immediate repairs, and that replacement is a structural necessity to maintain river traffic — and thus is an economic necessity for East Tennessee. But in the face of overwhelming evidence about the lock’s death-bed condition, he does little else than talk about it.