This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced September 21-27, 2012 as POW/MIA Recognition Week. In 1990, the 101st Congress passed legislation to recognize the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag. Since 2011, the week beginning the third Friday of September and extending through the following Thursday of each year shall be designated as “Tennessee POW-MIA Recognition Week” to remember and pay tribute to service members captured by the enemy and those still missing in action.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons came to Jackson on Tuesday morning to discuss the importance of DUI enforcement, seat belt violation enforcement, and drug trafficking along the state’s highways with state troopers in the district. Gibbons and Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott met with troopers in all of the state’s Highway Patrol districts this summer, concluding their tour Tuesday at Jackson’s Tennessee Highway Patrol District Office on Vann Drive.
The people at one public agency are facing criticism for sparing no expense on out-of-state trips, extravagant meals and theater performances. More than $2 million taxpayer dollars covered travel, entertainment and booze for the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, according to an audit by the state comptroller. Among the most jaw-dropping expenses was a nearly $60,000 trip to Washington, where 34 people consumed nearly $5,000 in food and drinks. The receipts from that trip last March show the group dined on upscale meals at the Capitol Grill and the Oceanaire, and it was nothing but the finest of dining for these guys.
An agency set up to provide social services in 14 counties on the Cumberland Plateau squandered $2 million in state and federal funding on travel, entertainment and subsidies for a training resort, the comptroller’s office said Tuesday. The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, which provides job training, food for the elderly and other services, spent nearly $60,000 on a trip to Washington, D.C. last year, more than $3,000 on meals in Nashville and more than $100,000 a year on mobile phones for employees, an audit by the comptroller found. The organization also had spent nearly $1.7 million since 1995 on subsidies for the Lakeside Resort and Educational Training Complex.
A state investigation of the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency has turned up 2 million dollars in questionable spending. The agency’s mission is to improve the quality of life in a 14-county region. It gets government money to run things like an intervention program for juvenile offenders and a service that helps shut-ins with their household chores. But an audit by the state comptroller’s office shows the UCHRA also paid for more than 160 cell phones in just one year. There was a trip for 30 people to Washington, D.C., complete with a visit to the wax museum, and meals that cost $175 a head.
Tennessee’s apple harvest fell below expectations this year, and local growers say the summer’s dry conditions and extreme heat took a toll on some orchards. Still, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This year, apple growers are expected to produce about 7.5 million pounds of apples, down a million pounds from the last year, according to the state. There might not be as many apples as in previous years, but they are tastier, state agriculture officials say. “(It) typically makes conditions right for rich, firm, sweet apples,” said Dan Strasser, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
A total of $300,000 in disaster relief funds have been earmarked by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency for those affected by the flooding in Washington County on August 5 of this year. The funds can be used to supplement a Federal Home Loan Bank grant for housing repairs not covered by insurance or other disaster relief programs. Representative Matthew Hill announced the news today in a press release. The funds come as a result of his work with state leaders and administrators at the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), Hill states in the release.
Students are back in class at the downtown campus of Tennessee State University after a bomb threat was called in this morning. While police found no evidence of an explosive device, it’s the latest in a rash of bomb scares at colleges around the country. In the past two weeks, threats have been called into Louisiana State, North Dakota State, and a small college in Ohio. All 40,000 students at the University of Texas were evacuated after that school received a threat. Anne Glavin is president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
Some UT faculty members are unhappy with a response from UT leaders about proposed same-sex marriage benefits. That issue has come up at colleges and universities across the country, including UT, over the past few decades. In April, the Faculty Senate approved a draft resolution in support of the school opening its benefits to same-sex couples. Chancellors Jimmy Cheek and Larry Arrington responded to them Monday afternoon with a brief letter that rejects the proposal. “It was a very brief dismissal of the very serious points that we had raised for discussion on campus,” said Tina Shepardson, an associate professor in the Department of Religious studies.
Officials from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and Roane State Community College in Harriman will announce an agreement that will allow students to be dual enrolled. MTSU President Sidney McPhee and Roane State President Gary Goff will sign the agreement on Wednesday in Knoxville. The agreement will allow qualified students to have a structured guaranteed plan to progress from an associate’s degree program at Roane State directly to a bachelor’s degree program at MTSU.
A Tennessee university and a community college are teaming up to make graduating from college easier and less expensive for students. Officials at Middle Tennessee State University and Roane State Community college are expected to enter into a dual admissions agreement on Wednesday. It will give students a guaranteed plan to progress from an associate’s degree program at Roane State directly to a bachelor’s degree program at MTSU. The agreement allows students to have access to resources at both schools.
A mother watched from her porch Monday night, not knowing that it was her 15-year-old son she saw dying after a shooting involving an off-duty Memphis police officer. While Memphis police released no information about the incident on Tuesday, the shooting of the boy whom family members identified as Justin Thompson prompted Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to announce that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is being called in to investigate it.
Officers with the Brownsville Police Department and the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole conducted a sex offender compliance check Monday. The purpose of the compliance check is to establish if the registered sex offenders living in Brownsville were adhering to state laws concerning their registration with local law enforcement and TBI, according to a news release. Officers checked the compliance of 27 sex offenders and found that six were not in compliance. Of those six, five were arrested on charge of being in violation of the sex offender registry.
Parties in a lawsuit challenging how high-ranking Tennessee judges are selected are presently more wrapped up in who will rule on the case than the merits of the case itself. Gov. Bill Haslam last week appointed three new members to a Special Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit against him challenging the constitutionality of how the state has picked judges over the past four decades. Haslam’s earlier appointees stepped down after John Hay Hooker, a longtime political gadfly behind the lawsuit, pressured them to recuse themselves for having ties to an organization that lobbies against popularly electing judges.
House Democrats are voicing their opposition to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration’s decision to withhold $3.4 million in state funding from Nashville because of a disputed charter school application. The lawmakers at a news conference outside the legislative office complex in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon argued that Haslam’s decision was unfair to students at city schools. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the withheld funding could be subject to a legal challenge, while fellow Nashville Democrat Mike Stewart said lawmakers didn’t envision the state holding the power to demand the approval of applications when they passed a law allowing more charter schools in Tennessee last year.
Nashville Democrats said they will oppose any effort to impose a statewide chartering authority, and they said Metro Nashville Public Schools may have grounds to sue the state after it withheld $3.4 million for rejecting Great Hearts Academies’ charter school application. Four Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that the state Board of Education overstepped its authority earlier this month when it punished the Metro school board for repeatedly turning down Great Hearts’ plan for a West Nashville charter school.
Democrats in the state House want a meeting with the Education Commissioner to ask that he rethink penalizing Metro Schools by $3.4 million. If the state follows through with the fine, they say the penalty should be “challenged, possibly in court.” The state is coming down on Metro Schools for not approving a charter application from Great Hearts Academies. A state board had ordered the district to reconsider, while adding contingencies that the school modify plans to provide transportation and ensure diversity.
The candidates running for the State House in District 60 agree that creating more jobs and growing the economy are on the minds of voters in their area. But state Rep. Jim Gotto and Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan part ways on how to make any of that happen. Gotto, the Republican incumbent, supports loosening restrictions on zoning and cutting red tape to encourage businesses to grow. Jernigan, his Democratic opponent, wants to create jobs by favoring local firms bidding for state and local contracts and offering tax credits for hiring jobless workers.
Knoxville Chamber has received an all-clear from the county’s finance department, which was tasked with looking into how the organization used $80,000 in county contributions to market the area. As a result, Knox County Commission has withdrawn a resolution that threatened to withhold funding to the operation, and the board’s chairman, Tony Norman, says he wants to leave behind any past conflicts he’s had with the chamber. The sides also agreed that the chamber would keep money it receives from the county in a separate account from its private funds.
A new Election Reform Advisory Board approved Monday, Sept. 24, by the Shelby County Commission is to report its recommendations by the end of March to the Shelby County Election Commission. And the Election Commission is under no obligation to act or even accept the recommendations, although election commissioners Steve Stamson and Norma Lester are also on the committee of 12. The board was proposed a year ago but no appointments were made by the commission until the aftermath of the Aug. 2 elections.
Five weeks after his comments about “legitimate rape,” Tuesday marked the last day for U.S. Rep. Todd Akin to leave Missouri’s Senate race through a court order. He didn’t, and Akin’s Republican colleagues from Tennessee don’t appear to be thrilled. But they’re not among the many Republicans publicly clamoring for a new candidate in a must-win race for GOP control of the Senate. In an Aug. 19 interview with a Missouri news station, Akin brought abortion to the forefront when he said pregnancy arising from rape “is really rare.
The general election campaign in the 9th Congressional District sparked to life Monday, Sept. 24, with a brief encounter between incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and a team from the campaign of Republican challenger George Flinn. The three Flinn campaign workers showed up for a Cohen press conference at Memphis International Airport where Cohen announced $31.8 million in federal funding for infrastructure projects at the airport. And one of the three with another carrying a video device asked Cohen at the end why he voted against the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill twice.
After years of taking the lead on the battlefield, Army leaders from Fort Campbell are learning how to take a backseat role when they return to Afghanistan this fall to serve as military advisers. About 1,900 troops from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, will serve as a Security Force Assistance Brigade with a mission to prepare the Afghan security forces for the coming withdrawal of NATO troops. It’s a much different role than during the brigade’s previous deployment during the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.
Nashville General Hospital would consider partnering with a larger health care system, but no suitor has stepped forward. “If there is in Nashville’s rich health care industry interest in General, let’s find out what that is and let’s put that on the table,” said Waverly Crenshaw, chairman of the Metro Nashville Hospital Authority. Without such a partner, the board’s only choice may be to end or curtail inpatient services, which would send more uninsured people to other hospitals’ emergency rooms and cause problems for Meharry Medical College, whose students and residents train at Nashville General.
Could vacant lots and tasty vegetables add up to $5 million? The city of Knoxville is hoping so. A few weeks back, the Scope highlighted a challenge issued by the private philanthropy of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With $9 million in prize money on the line — including a $5 million grand prize — the organization asked cities to submit their best ideas for improving urban life. In response, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s administration has pitched an idea for an urban food corridor in Knoxville. The grant application — which can be found on the city’s website — is light on details, but the idea is to transfer vacant lots to a nonprofit organization.
A German firm will get a tax incentive to set up a manufacturing operation in Knox County. The county’s Industrial Development Board on Tuesday approved a payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentive for BHS Corrugated North America. BHS, whose parent company is based in Germany, is planning to develop a 33,500-square foot building in the Hardin Business Park at a cost of $2.4 million, and would invest $4 million in equipment and tooling. The facility is estimated to support 35 jobs with an average annual wage of $49,865.
While Metro Nashville school officials grapple with how best to define school diversity for a system that has no majority race or ethnicity, on Tuesday they promised no school would be closed as a result of a new plan. Director of Schools Jesse Register presented a draft diversity plan to the Metro school board Tuesday to start a conversation on what members want in a diversity plan. Register will quickly compile their comments and develop a process to solicit community input, he said. Register presented his plan in the wake of the board’s decision earlier this month to defy state officials and reject a charter application over the diversity issue.
Countywide school board gets down to details year into task A year after they took the oath of office along with other members of the new countywide school board, David Reaves and Billy Orgel got a brusque introduction to each other. They had never met. But Reaves had heard about Orgel. Orgel and Reaves generally agree on the terms of the encounter. “Why do you send your child to White Station? You don’t live in that neighborhood,” Reaves greeted Orgel. “It’s a good school,” Orgel replied. Just a few weeks later, it was Reaves who nominated Orgel to be the first chairman of the countywide school board.
Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash came in second for the Duval County superintendent job, receiving two of seven votes Tuesday. Instead, the school board will offer a contract to Nikolai P. Vitti, chief academic officer in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. People close to the vetting process in Jacksonville, Fla., said research the board did in Memphis may have hurt him the most. Board member Becki Couch said the vote was based on “a combination of things,” and mentioned responses from community groups that met with Cash Monday and comments gathered in Memphis.
The Duval County Florida school board has picked someone other than Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash to lead the Jacksonville-based school system. The seven board members, meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25, picked Nikolai Vitti, the chief academic officer of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida to be the new leader of the school system of 125,000 students. Cash was the only one of the three finalists who has been a superintendent. The afternoon vote followed a long day in Jacksonville that began with a last set of public interviews of the three finalists by the school board starting with Cash.
Dyersburg Police arrested four suspects early Friday morning after an alleged meth lab was found inside a residence at the Royal Holida Trailer Park on St. John Ave. Scotty Forsythe, 53; Angela Wilcox, 29; Jereme McPherson, 41; and Sherron Evans, 37, are all charged with initiating methamphetamine manufacture. Police were made aware of the suspects after an anonymous call came in to police dispatch describing a chemical smell coming from a trailer on Lot No. 10 of the trailer park.
Pennsylvania state officials on Tuesday streamlined requirements for getting a voter-identification card in a bid to keep a court from blocking the law. The changes come as the measure faced a renewed court challenge six weeks ahead of the presidential election. Earlier this month, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a lower-court judge to block the law unless he determined that there will be “no voter disenfranchisement” and that new state voter IDs are easy to obtain. Legal experts said the order presented a high bar for allowing the law to take effect ahead of the November election.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that small population variations among a state’s Congressional districts do not run afoul of the principle of “one person, one vote,” even though advances in computer mapping technology have made it possible to achieve near-perfect equality in representation. The court also added six cases to its docket for the coming term, including one concerning whether the police need a warrant to draw blood from someone arrested on suspicion of drunken driving who refuses to consent. The ruling issued Tuesday, which was unanimous and unsigned, involved West Virginia’s three House districts.
Can it be true? There is good news on the drug abuse front. Yes, perhaps using military-sounding terms such as the “war on drugs” is not always productive. But that doesn’t mean that nothing good is being achieved. On Tuesday, USA TODAY reported the findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has found that prescription drug abuse in the U.S. fell last year to its lowest rate in nine years. This did not happen without the hard work of government and health experts: In Tennessee and other states, laws during that period got much tougher on patients who abuse their prescriptions; on doctors who overprescribe; and on “pill mills” and pain clinics.
The book of James in the New Testament makes startling comments about the teaching profession. I thought about them as I read about the strike in Chicago and heard from both sides how we should treat those who teach our children. James, Jesus’ brother, in a letter to early Jewish Christians, probably around 50 A.D., writes: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1 RSV) Teachers today who are judged solely on the performance of their students — to the point that it determines their pay scale and their job security — are getting a raw deal. Though women are seldom part of the “you all” in scripture, the fact that James directs his advice to men is a bit ironic because women make up the bulk of teachers in our society — mostly because the pay scale is so unattractive, most educated brethren opt for financial security.
Citizens and policymakers throughout Tennessee have long hoped to take positive steps in the fight against methamphetamine production. To that end, I have some good news to report. The “I Hate Meth” Act, passed during the 2011 Tennessee legislative session, is proving to be an undeniable success for retailers and law enforcement officials in the fight against domestic meth production. As part of the legislation, the pharmacy where I work, along with others across Tennessee, began using a state-of-the-art system — known as the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) — which automatically blocks unlawful sales of cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE). As your readers know, meth cooks have been known to use PSE to manufacture their drug. In just over six months, since NPLEx became fully operational in Tennessee, the technology has yielded impressive results.
No work, no pay. It’s a common theme throughout our nation — except in the halls of Congress. Where else could a group shirk such a responsibility and go on vacation? That’s why we’re glad to see momentum gathering for a piece of legislation that would stop congressional paychecks if members of Congress don’t pass a budget and all 12 accompanying spending bills by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, is sponsoring the measure in the House, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander put his clout behind it this week by saying he will become a co-sponsor in the Senate. Dubbed “No Budget No Pay,” the resolution would appear to be a common-sense measure for a matter that shouldn’t even surface annually.
I was at a dinner party last weekend with people who have varying political leanings. With wine flowing, it could have easily turned into the vitriolic discussions that currently fertilize Facebook. Instead, two guys got out their guitars. And every person around the room joined in on “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.” We all knew the words, in a 1970s chip implanted in our brains by popular culture. It was a nice moment — I truly believe people have more in common than what separates us. And that was why it was so good to see U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander join six Tennessee Republicans and one Tennessee Democrat in backing a bill that would stop members of Congress from getting paid $3,346 of your tax dollars every week if they don’t get their work done.Wait. Read that sentence again. Republicans and Democrats on the same side. Hell? Meet frozen over.
Hamilton County’s Democratic party is taking a beating it doesn’t deserve because two of its elders — Paul Smith and Ward Crutchfield — won’t leave the podium. It’s past time for them to go. Crutchfield should know better than to call attention to himself. The 83-year-old former state senator left office in disgrace under the cloud of his felony bribery conviction in the Legislature’s Tennessee Waltz scandal. How he managed in 2007 to wrangle an in-home penal sentence for that offense, and retain control of a $145,000 campaign war chest, still bothers many of his former constituents. Yet Crutchfield has needlessly resurrected all those bad extortion memories recently by teasing suggestions that he may run for the City Council next year. He should save himself, and the party, from such an embarrassment.
President Barack Obama has nominated four people to the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors, but confirmation in the Senate could move at a glacial pace. That would be unfortunate, because the nation’s largest public utility risks not having a quorum at the board’s next scheduled meeting in February and needs leadership through a critical transition period. The board must find a replacement for CEO Tom Kilgore, who is retiring effective at the end of the year, and continue the transformation of the TVA culture sparked by the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. One Obama nominee to the TVA board, Peter Mahurin of Bowling Green, Ky., has been in limbo since his selection in February.
If there was any doubt that the security breach at Y-12 had made its way to the international stage, Energy Secretary Steven Chu cleared that up last week. In his speech to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference in Vienna, Chu referenced the July 28 break-in at the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons plant. He called it an “unfortunate incident” and an “important wake-up call” for the entire U.S. weapons complex.Here’s an excerpt from his prepared text: “And since the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the United States has worked with more than a dozen countries to remove approximately 650 kilograms of HEU and plutonium — enough material to make dozens of nuclear weapons.”
Hospital emergency rooms should not be the dumping ground for those without health insurance. Emergency-room doctors, nurses and admitting clerks across the nation surely winced when Mitt Romney told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday that emergency rooms are health-care providers for people without insurance. One of the mysteries of this presidential campaign is why the Republican presidential candidate has chosen to run from the signature health-care plan he enacted while governor of Massachusetts. ERs are the most expensive and inefficient means of delivering routine health care, which is why universal health-care plans, like “Romneycare” and “Obamacare,” require some form of health insurance.