This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A coalition created to help parents and others understand the new and more rigorous Common Core standards being used in Tennessee classrooms began its work Tuesday. The group, called “Expect More, Achieve More,” includes more than 100 education, business and civic organizations, including Metro Nashville Public Schools and several other Middle Tennessee organizations. It plans to spend the next year helping Tennesseans understand the changes created in the school curriculum by the new standards.
Gov. Bill Haslam vowed he and his staff would re-evaluate whether they should keep the governor’s meeting schedule secret, but he says he hasn’t gotten that far yet. “We really hadn’t had that discussion again, and we will, in terms of looking at that,” Haslam told reporters Friday before a ribbon cutting at Saks distribution center in La Vergne. Haslam’s administration rejected a TNReport request for the governor’s calendar dating back to his 2011 inauguration, citing “deliberative process privilege,” a common law provision not written into state code and meant to keep internal discussions private.
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Tuesday that he had to send strong signals early in his tenure of heading the Tennessee Highway Patrol that the election of a new governor would not lead to favoritism for certain troopers. In a speech to a group of southeastern law enforcement officials, Gibbons said that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam insisted after his election in 2010 that only performance and merit should influence promotions and assignments. “I’ll be honest, there was some people who were kind of surprised at that early on,” said Gibbons, former top prosecutor in Shelby County.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Tuesday that the state’s DUI laws have received so many additions over the years that they are in need of streamlining, which he may ask lawmakers to do. “What we’re looking at is trying to possibly streamline our DUI laws. Right now our DUI law is 58 pages long. That’s compared to an 18-page first-degree murder death-penalty statute. So it’s very complicated,” Gibbons said after a speech to Southeastern law enforcement officials meeting in Nashville this week.
State election officials still aren’t satisfied with how Davidson County intends to remedy a ballot mix-up. The state Election Commission met Monday. The state wants voters to be notified in all 60 precincts that used a new computerized check-in system. The Davidson County Election Commission has discussed sending letters to voters in just three precincts. In the August primaries, if poll workers failed to ask for a preference, voters automatically received Republican ballots. In one precinct, according to state officials, 100 percent of voters initially received GOP ballots.
In one case, a 52-year-old man sped north out of Georgia, his 4-year-old daughter tossed carelessly in the back among his belongings. In the other, an 11-year-old girl who had been visiting her father walked into Old Hickory Mall in Jackson while he slept in his car. When he woke up, he told police, she was gone. Two different cases, two different outcomes — and a side-by-side illustration of what can happen when children disappear. One occurred more than a decade ago, before Tennessee turned to a nationwide system known as Amber Alerts; the other more recently.
Chancellor says he’s happy with result The University of Tennessee made no movement in its bid to become a top-25 public research university, holding steady at No. 46 on the latest rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek insisted Tuesday he was happy with UT’s ability to hold steady its spot on this list.”We’re very pleased we stayed where we are. We were tied with nine other schools (last year) and six of those fell below us this year,” he said.
The Land Trust for Tennessee and the TWRA are hoping to raise money to complete the purchase of a 68-acre tract of land near the old Blythe Ferry site to add to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. The land, once part of the failed 600-acre Rarity Rivers development, is being offered for $425,000 by the bank that foreclosed on it. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the trust still need to raise about $148,000. “We have limited time to protect this property and the future of the refuge,” said Tricia King, Southeast region project manager for the Land Trust of Tennessee.
Couple reschedules vows after state shuts down The Treehouse Leshia Crane and her husband, Andrew Crane, were scheduled to have a ceremony to reaffirm their wedding vows on Saturday at The Treehouse-The Way in Crossville. When she learned that the State Fire Marshal’s Office had closed the structure to the public because of a slew of safety issues, she was shocked. “I was freaking out a lot. I am actually in the Army and I live in Oklahoma, so I’m doing this all long-distance,” she said.
A disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court judge will not get a preview of the playbook of prosecutors seeking to convict him of federal charges he covered up a pill distribution conspiracy, a magistrate judge has ruled. U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has shot down requests by defense attorneys for ex-judge Richard Baumgartner that Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho contended were nothing more than ploys to force them to show their strategy at Baumgartner’s Oct. 23 trial on seven counts of misprision of a felony.
The domestic assault case of state Rep. David Hawk has been bound over to a grand jury. The Greeneville Republican was charged in March. At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, a judge heard testimony from two sheriff’s deputies and Hawk’s wife, Crystal. According to The Greeneville Sun, she testified that her husband threw her out of bed the morning of March 18, then struck her in the face, giving her a black eye. Hawk has denied striking his wife. He said she pulled a gun on him and threatened to shoot.
Rhea County commissioners will balance their new budget without a wheel tax or solid waste fee, but those revenue sources may appear later, commissioners indicated. Meeting in a workshop session Monday, commissioners heard from Budget Committee Vice Chairwoman Emmaly Fisher that the panel recommended a $26 wheel tax, with revenue going to the county’s fund balance, and a $12 solid-waste fee to offset costs in that area. Finance Director Bill Graham said the proposed budget has a $677,000 deficit, which would be covered from the county’s fund balance.
Chattanooga’s top tourism promoter wants renewed investment on sports and riverfront infrastructure to continue 10 straight years of growth in the industry. Bob Doak, president and chief executive officer of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, called on city leaders to help generate ideas to expand both areas at the bureau’s annual luncheon Tuesday. Over the past decade, tourism grew from $543 million to a more than $810 million industry. With that renewed focus, he expects that trend to continue.
City, Knox County to open contract talks The marriage may have been troubled, but it appears Visit Knoxville will renew its vows with local government officials. The city of Knoxville and Knox County announced Tuesday that Visit Knoxville — formerly known as the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. — had been selected as the “apparent successful proposer” on contracts to provide tourism marketing services. While negotiations must still be completed, it appears that a happy ending is in store for the agency, which was battered by criticism after former CEO Gloria Ray’s compensation package was publicized.
With the presidential election less than 60 days away, Democratic President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are racing down a well-trod path targeting swing states. These days, that amounts to zeroing in on Ohio, Florida, Virginia and maybe as many as nine other closely contested states with candidates tailoring pledges to a narrow band of undecided voters to capture a state’s coveted electoral votes. Meanwhile, critics contend, candidate largely ignore many states like Tennessee and Georgia where the outcome is fairly set.
At the moment, it is little more than dirt and gravel. But a sunbaked field at the edge of this farming town will play a significant role in one of the most ambitious retailing ventures of the era: the relentless quest by the online mall Amazon.com to become all things to all shoppers. A million-square-foot warehouse stocking razor blades and books, diapers and dog food will soon rise on this spot, less than a mile from the highway that will deliver these and just about every other product imaginable to customers 85 miles away in San Francisco.
By the year 2050, Tennessee will be three to five degrees hotter on average, according to a new report by experts from Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Lab, and drawing on a raft of government data and academic journals. Tennessee has already gotten two degrees hotter since 1950, and that trend is expected to accelerate in coming decades. It’s could bring more extreme weather – droughts and floods, like the state has already seen in recent years.
Once again ignoring its own legal counsel, and seemingly defying a state order, the Metro school board Tuesday rejected the controversial charter school application of Great Hearts Academies. This time, the decision came down to a 5-4 vote. And after denying the Phoenix-based charter group for the fourth time in three-plus months Tuesday, Metro’s continued resistance might have forced a new reality: It appears Great Hearts’ entry to Nashville could require a lawsuit from the charter group or further pressure from the Tennessee Department of Education.
In a surprise move, the Metro Nashville school board defied the state’s education power structure Tuesday and denied a controversial charter school for Nashville’s West Side over concerns that it would cater mainly to wealthy, white families. The vote marked the third time Metro board members denied a charter to Great Hearts Academies, a firm that operates a system of 12 charter schools in Arizona. But the vote also marks the first time a local school board has defied the State Board of Education, which ordered Metro to approve the charter school and hinted at funding penalties if they didn’t.
Tuesday night the Metro school board once again disregarded a mandate from the state and denied the charter application of Great Hearts Academies. The nine-member panel voted 5-to-4, defying a directive from the state board of education. It’s a different school board with four newly-elected members. But several echoed the same concerns of their predecessors: that Great Hearts is not giving a full-faith effort to make sure their charter school diverse. The charter organization – based in Arizona – argues that it has met all the requirements laid out by the district.
The Commercial Appeal reports that the two suburbs have already exceeded the $100,000 their respective governing boards had authorized to pay attorneys. On Monday, Collierville aldermen approved adding another $100,000 for attorneys’ costs. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald’s administration will ask that city’s board for $250,000 more on Tuesday night. Bartlett and Collierville, along with the Shelby County municipalities of Arlington, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington, are defending themselves against a lawsuit brought by the County Commission challenging the legality of an Aug. 2 vote that approved the creation of public school systems for all six suburbs.
Elaine Swafford knew the challenges she faced when she took over the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, a charter school identified as one of the worst-performing schools in the state. A $100,000 boost from a multinational corporation could help her turn around the all-girls school. The school received a grant from AT&T Aspire, the company’s multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at decreasing high school dropout rates and improving college readiness.
Memphis City Schools leaders and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton will announce Wednesday, Sept. 12, the opening of a new charter school for children in Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court custody. Herenton, also a former Memphis City Schools superintendent, and current school system superintendent Kriner Cash will announce the Thurgood Marshall Academy will open in August 2013 at the start of the school year. Herenton announced earlier this year that he was working with court officials on the charter school.
The two newest countywide school board members are question marks on the most critical and time-sensitive questions the entire school board faces with less than a year to the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems. Mary Anne Gibson and Oscar Love were appointed Monday, Sept. 10, by the Shelby County Commission. “I’m not prepared to make a statement on that,” said Love a retired Memphis City Schools principal. “I’ll have to think more about it and have a better understanding. I want to always make a decision in the best interest of children. I don’t think I’m at that point in terms of being familiar with the issues.”
Sullivan County Vice and Narcotics detectives say they’ve arrested a couple responsible for dumping 50 bottles used to make methamphetamine. We told you about the discovery last week. Detectives went to the couple’s home on Bancroft Chapel Road on September 4th to talk to them about some pseudoephedrine they had purchased, only to find out that they had moved out. The meth dump site was discovered across the road in a wooded area. On Monday deputies tracked Anthony and Tara Tuell to a home on Sevier Avenue in Kingsport.
A Kingsport couple have been arrested on drug charges following last week’s discovery of a dumpsite outside their previous residence, which allegedly contained more than 50 bottles used to manufacture methamphetamine. The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office reports Anthony Tuell, 28, and Tara Tuell, 25, were located onSevier Avenue in Kingsport. They are each charged with promotion of methamphetamine while Anthony faces an additional charge of initiation of the methamphetamine manufacturing process.
The last few years haven’t been easy for students and teachers in California public schools. Beleaguered by budget woes, the state now spends $8 billion — or 21 percent — less on education than it did five years ago. Some districts have had to shrink or eliminate their art, music or sports programs. Others have had to lay off teachers or reduce the number of school days. In November, voters will decide whether to approve a temporary sales tax increase and income tax hike on the state’s highest earners to restore some of those cuts.
The recently launched “Expect More, Achieve More” coalition combines the efforts of about 100 education, business and civic organizations to help spread the word and garner support for Tennessee adopting national K-12 common core education standards. The state is in the second year of implementing the higher standards designed to raise public education outcomes. The new standards mean school is getting harder for students, and parents will have to do their part to support their children. The new coalition offers resources to parents, teachers and communities to help them understand and adapt to the higher standards. One of the things learned from the 2010 legislative effort to reform Tennessee public education is that the state’s education standards were significantly lower than other states.
Food safety is something we all take for granted, yet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, each year about 15 percent of Americans (about 48 million in 2011) will get sick from something they eat. About 3,000 people die from food-borne illness each year. In 2011, Tennessee had 15 food-borne illness outbreaks, 11 of which involved restaurants. So when the head of restaurant inspections for the Tennessee Department of Health tells us, as Hugh Atkins did Sunday in The Tennessean, that our food safety rules “… are so old they don’t even address sushi,” we should take heed. Tennessee’s food safety law was written in 1976, when most of us couldn’t spell sushi, much less choose to eat it, and much has changed in the intervening 36 years that should be addressed.
One of the most important things state government must do — if not the most — is taking care of its abused and neglected children. And once again, the state is failing mightily. Today, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services officials cannot say how many children in state custody have died. That is, as Rep. Sherry Jones said well, “ridiculous.” She asked for the information in early July.The blame goes to a $37 million computer system installed two years ago. It’s been an utter and complete mess. Last year, the department owed $2.5 million in back payments to foster-care agencies because the computer screwed up the payment system. Department officials have known from day one this computer system has bugs.
Happy days are here again! Well, perhaps not quite, and the song by that name typically is associated with the Democratic Party, not the GOP now leading Knox County government. But news that the county is wrapping up its fiscal year with a surplus of $24.2 million certainly is cause for celebration. Isn’t it? The extra money is the result of higher-than-expected sales and property tax revenues as well as the county’s share of the Basic Education Program schools funding formula. So in that regard, the windfall reflects the fact that the county and state economies are getting stronger, and that, undoubtedly, is good news. Local government officials, too, are welcoming the extra cash.
UTC officials’ decision to end the practice of offering a public prayer before football games and replace it with a moment of silence is correct, even if it angers some individuals and community groups who wrongly interpret the First Amendment. The new policy, announced Monday by Chancellor Roger Brown, is effective immediately. The moment of silence will be observed Thursday at the Mocs’ home opener against Glenville State at Finley Stadium. UTC and Brown no doubt have received calls complaining about the policy. The number of complaints and the volume at which they are delivered doesn’t matter, though. Compliance with the law does. UTC’s ruling does not prevent an individual from praying or otherwise exercising his or her religious freedom, as many complainants argue. Rather, it upholds and honors constitutional principles and government neutrality toward religion.
It’s not always easy to predict the path and elevation of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge crises, of which I’ve witnessed a few. Sometimes they just go on and on, morph and refocus, with a life all their own. Other times, the dark clouds dissipate rather quickly. Back in 1986, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists evaluated samples from the pressure vessel at the High Flux Isotope Reactor and determined that it was becoming embrittled by constant bombardment of radiation at a faster rate than anticipated. A Department of Energy official predicted it could take a couple of weeks before the 100-megawatt research reactor was restarted. That proved to be especially ambitious. Studies quickly turned into investigations and conclusions that ORNL had not maintained the reactor properly, sometimes substituting money slated for maintenance and safety for other high-priority items of the day.
Although the 2012 presidential election probably will not come down to one voter as the balloting did in the 2008 movie, “Swing Vote,” the current campaigns probably make a lot of voters feel rather disenfranchised. Based on current polls, supporters of President Obama in Tennessee and supporters of Mitt Romney in Hawaii, for example, might as well stay at home Nov. 6. Political analyses have identified nine to 12 “swing states” that will fill the itineraries of the Democratic and Republican campaigns and be where they will spend the most dollars on campaign advertising. As former Democratic nominee Al Gore can attest, getting the most votes across the nation does not win the presidency. The successful presidential candidate has to win 270 electoral votes, and only two states do not have winner-take-all systems for electoral votes.