This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Transforming the Buck Teeter family’s northeast Montgomery County farm fields into one of the southeastern United States’ most impressive industrial complexes is a process that has already consumed close to three years. Modernly designed administrative offices flanked by a long series of warehousing, laboratories, lofty silos and shimmering steel make this plant appear, from a distance, like a small and futuristic city — and in many respects, it is just that. Soon, the first 500 employees of the $1.2 billion first phase of Hemlock Semiconductor LLC will begin manufacturing polycrystalline silicon, a critical base component in solar energy panels.
First lady Crissy Haslam will help try to break a reading world record. On Tuesday, Haslam will kick off a read-in at Karns Elementary School in Knoxville in front of what organizers hope will be a record-breaking audience for a children’s storybook reading. Karns Assistant Principal Christine Boring said the current record for the largest storybook audience is in the 900s. Karns has more than 1,200 students and anticipates that they all will attend. As first lady, Haslam is working to promote early literacy.
With two people dead and nine others sick from a rare form of meningitis contracted at a Nashville hospital, the world’s best disease investigators are trying to unravel the mystery of how a common mold penetrated sterility safeguards and whether it endangered patients at other health facilities. Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health and will visit the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, where the 11 infected patients were treated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Tennessee health officials are investigating a cluster of cases of fungal meningitis, two of which have been fatal. The people affected were all given steroid injections for back pain; eleven were at St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery. Officials say a common factor may be tainted medical supplies, potentially affecting more than a dozen other states. Officials are emphasizing this is not the type of meningitis that’s spread from person to person.
Two people in Tennessee have died and nine others are ill after an outbreak of meningitis among patients given steroid injections in the spinal region for pain at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville. A patient who received the same type of treatment in North Carolina is sick, and health officials say patients in other states may be affected. Meningitis is an infection involving the lining of the brain and central nervous system. The outbreak is an unusual type caused by a fungus and is not spread from person to person.
Extra cleaning crews were called in to disinfect a Williamson County elementary school after four Franklin families reported cases of viral meningitis, school officials confirmed late Monday. The seven children in the four families are students at Oak View Elementary School in Franklin, said Carol Birdsong, district spokeswoman. Information on the conditions of the children was unavailable. Viral meningitis can be contagious, unlike a rare and unrelated fungal meningitis reported Monday at a Nashville hospital. However, it is less likely to be deadly, and physicians are not obliged to report it to the state as they must for bacterial meningitis.
Tennessee’s Board of Probation and Parole reported in the past year that dozens of dead offenders were alive and being monitored, according to a state comptroller report released on Monday. The state-funded office, which at the time of the audit had an $86 million budget, claimed that at least 82 dead people on probation or parole were still alive, a mistake the comptroller attributed to “inadequate supervision.” “It’s obviously a problem,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Tennessee’s former Board of Probation and Parole conducted annual arrest checks on at least 82 parolees who had been dead for between six months and more than 19 years, an audit found. The audit, conducted by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office, revealed two cases in which probation and parole officers entered information indicating the offenders were still alive. “Inadequate supervision of offenders results in increased public risks and jeopardizes public safety,” Wilson said in a statement.
In more than 80 cases, Tennessee parole officers continued to file reports after an offender’s death. That’s according to a new audit from the State Comptroller’s office. In most cases, the officers didn’t have to make contact with a parolee—they just had to see if their names appeared in arrest records. In one instance, an officer kept reporting on a parolee, 19 years after his death. The audit says there are only two cases where it appears parole officers deliberately lied about an offender’s status after they died.
Eastern Tennessee is home to some of the top-tier institutions in the South, according to the latest college rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Ten colleges and universities within a 100-mile radius of Chattanooga have been included in the magazine’s 2013 Best Colleges rankings, released Sept. 12. Five area colleges were listed in the top 20 for several categories, including “Best Value” and best of the region.
A?Sparta woman has been arrested on a charge of TennCare fraud, according to the Tennessee Office of Inspector General. Connie Lucille Hooper, 42, was arrested on Friday on the charge of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. She had been indicted by the Davidson County grand jury and will face the charges there. Allegedly, she fraudulently obtained prescriptions for the painkiller Lortab, also known as Hydrocodone, and the drugs were paid for by TennCare.
Youth between the ages of 10 and 15 who are hunter safety certified and who have never harvested a deer are eligible to win a spot in a special hunt. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, 42 young hunters will be selected to participate in one of two events on Oct. 29. One will be held in Humphreys County and another in Trousdale County near the Smith County line. Both locations will have a Friday night cookout and campout.
State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill visited the Washington County Public Library in Jonesborough Monday to announce nearly $20,000 in new state funding for e-books and other electronic and print materials and to celebrate the opening of new computer labs at the library in Jonesborough and at its branch in Gray. State Rep. Matthew Hill and state Sen. Rusty Crowe joined Sherrill for the ceremonial presentation of a $19,552 check that Library Director Pat Beard said will be used to purchase electronic and audio books and audio-visual and print materials for teens and children.
Tennessee’s highest court today ruled a man who’d been misled to believe he was a father is due more than 25-thousand dollars from his ex-wife. The decision came in the case of Tina Hodge and Chadwick Craig, a couple who got married soon after high school because she was pregnant. The pair had been on again, off again, and she’d had sex several times with another man, but when asked at the time if she was sure the child was Craig’s, Hodge assured him it couldn’t be anyone else’s. Sixteen years, a divorce, and a paternity test later the truth came out: he wasn’t the father.
A disgraced Knox County judge is insisting he be tried on federal charges by a jury selected from East Tennessee. Former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s push for a jury pool from the Knoxville region of U.S. District Court had the Greeneville-based federal judge tapped to handle the case worried about seating an unbiased panel Monday. However, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer warned that he would not delay the upcoming trial more than a week or so should a jury not be seated in Knoxville.
Most Southeast Tennessee legislative candidates are giving a thumbs down to the possibility of cutting local school boards out of the decision-making process when it comes to approving public charter school applications. Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Democratic opponent Sandy Smith don’t see eye to eye on many things, but both said they don’t like making the state the sole authority when it comes to approving charter schools. “I don’t like taking all the decision making out of the local hands,” Dean said.
The Tennessee Republican Party is focusing its campaign energy on Nashville this election cycle. But following recent Democratic retirements in Davidson County, neither side is playing up his party. The GOP sees opportunity to increase its majorities in at least three districts where incumbents have called it quits, including the 53rd House seat previously held by Rep. Janis Sontany. The south Nashville district stretches from the working-class neighborhoods of Woodbine to stately subdivisions on the county line.
District 44 House candidate Steve Glaser has questioned some of the campaign contributions being accepted by his opponent, Sumner County Assistant District Attorney William Lamberth. Glaser said Lamberth is taking donations from local attorneys whose clients end up under his prosecution. Glaser, also an attorney and a former Portland city judge, issued a news release last week calling on Lamberth to return a $500 campaign contribution donated in March by the father of a Portland man facing trial in the shooting death of his wife.
Soon after synthetic drugs came on the scene, users found themselves wild-eyed and delusional, unable to explain to emergency room doctors what they had ingested. Usually, it was something they had bought — legally — at gas stations or convenience stores. At the urging of police, lawmakers banned the legal substances to close every possible loophole a creative chemist might use to keep making the drugs. And now, synthetic versions of traditional, illicit drugs appear to be on the decline in Tennessee, according to law enforcement, drug treatment centers and emergency room data.
Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney called for an apology Monday from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner for what Devaney described as a “racially insensitive joke” while declaring that many voters oppose President Obama because of his race. Turner, speaking Saturday at a Democratic Executive Committee meeting in Nashville, was quoted on a Nashville Scene blog post as saying: “We’ve got a president up here whose color is not the right shade according to a lot of people, and they just hate him for that reason. … I was talking to a guy this morning at a filling station and it didn’t matter what Obama did, he’s not going to like it because Obama’s an African-American.”
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith won’t apologize to his own party over a sexist joke he put on a board meeting agenda, but he quickly said sorry when his second-in-command slammed some Republicans earlier this year. In January, Smith dashed off a remorseful letter to Chattanoogan.com after party Vice Chairman Rodney Strong came up with nicknames for the Republican candidates in the 3rd Congressional District race, dubbing U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann as “Do-Nothing Chuck,” Weston Wamp as “Little Prince Wamp” and Scottie Mayfield as “The Milkman” at a county party meeting.
The Germantown Democratic Club (for yes, Virginia, such a group exists and may even be thriving) met at the Gazebo in Germantown Municipal Park Saturday for its annual picnic. Here Dave Cambron exhorts his fellow Democrats to take heart from recent poll samplings that show President Obama to be leading Mitt Romney nationwide. Attendance at this year’s event seemed well above the average turnout in recent years. Ironically enough, considering that Germantown is considered to be the heart of the heart of Shelby County’s Republican constituency, the Germantown Democrats, who also include a good many members from Cordova, Collierville, and unincorporated areas, constitute one of the county’s more active party groups.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and City Council member Shea Flinn did an about-face on Monday, announcing their support for a countywide, half-cent sales-tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot At a news conference, Wharton said he now is in favor of the referendum for a countywide tax hike because the money would be used to fund prekindergarten education. Earlier this year, Wharton, working with Flinn, proposed a half-cent sales-tax for the city, which the Memphis City Council approved.
Proponents of a countywide half-cent sales tax hike are promising pre-kindergarten access for all children in Shelby County if voters approve the proposed tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who had opposed the sales tax hike, announced Monday, Oct. 1, that he now favors the measure as long as the money goes to “universal pre-k” in Shelby County. Wharton said he changed his mind as County Commission chairman Mike Ritz and Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn worked out a way to leverage the sales tax revenue for education with private funding to guarantee funding for pre-kindergarten programs.
A candidate who’s seeking to represent Nashville in Congress posted a photo of his gun and a pointed message for President Barack Obama on his campaign Facebook page. Brad Staats, the Republican nominee challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in the 5th Congressional District election, posted the picture of the silver and black Colt 911 semi-automatic pistol on Friday. Under it he wrote: “Many people in Tennessee keep asking me about my opinion on Second Amendment rights. Apparently Tennesseans are part of that crazy crowd that Obama says ‘cling to (their) religion and guns.’ Well, then I must be part of that crazy crowd. Here is something that I usually have with me. Welcome to Tennessee Mr. Obama.”
A typical middle-income family making $40,000 to $64,000 a year could see its taxes go up by $2,000 next year if lawmakers fail to renew a lengthy roster of tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, according to a report released Monday. Taxpayers across the income spectrum would be hit with large tax hikes, the Tax Policy Center said in its study, with households in the top 1 percent income range seeing an average tax increase of more than $120,000, while a family making between $110,000 to $140,000 could see a tax hike in the $6,000 range.
The Postal Service sank deeper into debt on Monday after the agency defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment due at the end of September, the second time it has missed a deadline this year to set aside money for its future retiree health benefits. The agency said it expected net operating losses to be $15 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That loss includes the two missed payments totaling $11.1 billion for the agency’s future retiree funds. This month, the Postal Service also faces a $1.5 billion workers’ compensation insurance payment to the Labor Department.
Action at nuke plant overdue, watchdogs say The security contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee was fired Monday after authorities said three protesters cut through fences and vandalized a building in an unprecedented break-in. Security contractor WSI Oak Ridge said it has started winding down operations and will transfer its protective force functions to B&W Y-12, the managing contractor at the plant, over the next several weeks. The Department of Energy had earlier recommended that WSI’s contract be terminated.
Williamson Medical Center outlined plans Monday to invest $67.6 million in an adjoining three-story tower for pediatric services as well as upgrades to other surgical suites. Specifically, the renovation and expansion would add two new operating rooms, a dedicated pediatric emergency department, 12 pediatric inpatient beds and four pediatric observation beds, according to a public notice. The new tower will be called the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Williamson Medical Center and include physicians from Vanderbilt, the result of a strategic affiliation agreement signed last September.
A college admission counselor Monday night told about 75 people at Hillwood High School that the biggest misnomer about getting into college is that admissions are dependent on a specific path. The meeting was aimed at providing information on how Metro schools serve accelerated students, and Montgomery Bell Academy College Admissions Counselor Ginny Maddux told the group that colleges want a diverse freshman class. She said that includes students from both public and private schools; those who were home schooled; and those who excel in art, math, science or the humanities.
Knox County Schools has decided to apply for funds through the federal government’s Race to the Top District competition. The nationwide competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, would provide nearly $400 million to support school districts in implementing local reforms that would personalize learning, close achievement gaps and take advantage of technology tools that prepare students for college and their careers. Between 15 and 25 awards will be made, according to a news release on the competition.
When one compares the salaries of educators from Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County schools to the results on state assessments and participation in state and national competitions, it’s safe to say local teachers are worth the money. According to the Tennessee Education Association’s rankings of the state’s 136 school systems, both districts rank in the top 20 percent in average pay for classroom teachers, principals and instructional personnel. Instructional personnel also includes attendance teachers, supervisors, school psychologists, social workers, librarians and vocational teachers.
Educators in five Tennessee school districts are teaming up for professional development and curriculum help through the Tennessee Rural Education Association. The newly formed Tennessee Valley Learning Network is a work in progress but already is making hard-to-get resources available to more educators, Copper Basin Elementary School Principal Ryan Goodman said. The network, open to educators from Bradley, Marion, Monroe, Polk and Rhea counties, “kind of streamlines the resources available,” Goodman said.
Two kinds of charter schools exist in Memphis. One gets free rent and one does not. The schools that don’t have 15 to 30 percent less money to spend on students and teachers, creating a new layer of haves and have nots in public education. Until the statewide Achievement School District began using charter schools this fall to turn around failing schools in Tennessee, the schools were responsible for finding and paying for their own space, easily one of the biggest headaches in opening a charter.
Affording private schools in Tennessee may be out of reach for some parents – even if they get voucher money the state would otherwise send to public schools. It’s one concern before the governor’s task force on school vouchers. School districts get a set amount of funding for each student enrolled. The idea behind vouchers is to instead let parents spend that money on private schools. Such a move would shift over around $7 thousand. Task force member Chris Barbic says the trouble is some private schools in Nashville cost double or triple that much.
Looks like it’s time for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to do a little housecleaning. A state audit of the Board of Probation and Parole has indicated that board employees conducted annual arrest checks on at least 82 dead parolees. One of the offenders had been deceased for nearly 20 years. It must’ve been very difficult for parole and probation officers to determine if these parolees were deceased, right? Not exactly. State auditors took a few seconds to enter state parolees’ names into Google to determine which ones had gone to be with the Great Parole Officer in the Sky. That’s it. That’s all it took. The incompetence didn’t end there. Auditors also found that parole and probation officers didn’t bother to attempt to supervise parolees, as required by law. Only 43 percent of the oversight of “regular offenders” was “in compliance with all board supervision requirements during calendar year 2011.
Support Our Schools, the advocacy group formed earlier this year that was prominent in the drive for better funding for Knox County Schools, will continue to push for educational improvement. The group’s decision is a welcome development, as it has the potential to fill a niche as a citizens’ organization devoted to systemwide enhancements for K-12 education. To realize that potential, Support Our Schools will need to reach out to a broad spectrum of Knox County residents, including those who successfully opposed its push for a big funding increase for the 2012-13 school year. It is hard to argue with the Support Our Schools philosophical underpinnings as outlined by organizers in a guest column published in the News Sentinel in January — that strong schools are the foundation for a good quality of life, a healthy citizenry, a literate workforce and lower crime.
Hints recently began to spread on Facebook that state Sen. Stacey Campfield had become unhappy about people quoting from his blog, “Camp4U.” Since the Knoxville Republican also has a Facebook page, I recently took a look at both of them. On Facebook, I found the following disclaimer on his “profile page,” which is personal information shared with visitors: “The contents of this profile site or page are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law.” My questions are: Which law does he mean? What expectation to privacy is there for publicly posted information, voluntarily given to anyone who signs up for the service? My understanding of the First Amendment, as well as the meaning of “privacy,” apparently differ from the those held by the honorable senator.