This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam travels to New York this week for annual meetings with major bond and credit rating agencies. Taking place on Monday and Tuesday, the confidential meetings will find the governor defending the state’s top-tier ratings from financial services companies such as Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s. The ratings influence borrowing costs for the state, along with the value of bonds. In days leading up to his trip, the governor’s office was relatively quiet about the outlook going into the meetings.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Nissan will add 810 new jobs at its Smyrna vehicle assembly plant for a third shift at the site. The third shift for the Nissan plant is the company’s first ever at the plant in its nearly 30-year history in Smyrna, and with this announcement, the company has added more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs in Tennessee since mid-2011. Nissan, founded in Japan, began its Smyrna plant in 1983. The plant has an annual production capacity of 550,000 vehicles on a capital investment of $2.5 billion.
Nissan North America Inc.’s announcement Friday that it was about to begin a third shift at its Smyrna plant — filling another 810 new positions in the process — further highlighted what company executives say has been a slow build toward gaining U.S. market share. The contention, in short: The auto industry is indeed recovering, and Nissan has been running out front for awhile. “At its fundamental core, when you gain market share you’re growing at a faster pace than the rest of your industry,” said Dave Reuter, vice president of communications.
For years, the idea of school choice meant parents pulling up stakes to move closer to a nicer school, or sink thousands of dollars into a private one. But state officials are gearing up for a heated debate on whether to hand certain students taxpayer dollars to attend the private, public or religious school of their choice, without forcing parents to change their address or raid their children’s college fund. What a voucher program would look like in Tennessee is still up in the air as a Republican-leaning group of education experts appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam irons out details of a plan they expect to recommend to the governor after the November election.
One of the state’s highest-ranking education officials last month said it bugged him that parents shopping around for the right school have fewer options than when deciding “where they buy bread and toothpaste.” But while parents have some choices on where to send their children to school, evaluating the difference between educational outcomes in one building versus another is not as easy as it sounds. There is no shortage of data on school performance, graduation rates and classroom sizes, but the mounds of information can be intimidating for parents who simply want to make sure they’re making the right choice.
When Debra Sells started working in higher education more than 30 years ago, students in Tennessee were paying about 30 percent of tuition costs, while the state was covering 70 percent. But since that time, the tables have turned — and students are now taking on the brunt of the college cost burden. According to Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, students now pick up 67 percent of the cost, while the state pitches in 33 percent. Sells, vice president for student affairs at Middle Tennessee State University, said the result has been increased stress on students.
Twenty clinics and hospitals in Middle Tennessee are among the 74 facilities statewide that received products from New England Compounding Center, whose moldy medicine is blamed for a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis. Although infections in this state have been limited to one product — methylprednisolone acetate used in spinal epidural injections — letters are being sent to all patients treated with any medicine made by the Massachusetts-based company after May 21. Federal and state officials are casting a wide net to monitor the outbreak, which continues to show signs of having reached its peak in Tennessee.
Twelve area health care facilities are among 74 identified by the Tennessee Department of Health that received suspect material from a compounding pharmacy at the center of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak. State health officials said the facilities received material from New England Compounding Center after May 21. The material includes injectable medications used in some eye and heart surgeries at the facilities, according to a news release from the Department of Health.
Massachusetts regulators a decade ago alleged there were serious issues with the production of pain medication by the specialty pharmacy recently implicated in the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak, according to newly released state documents. But the state pharmacy board backed off a proposal to issue a formal reprimand and a three-year probation after the firm’s lawyer complained in a letter that the action could “destroy their business.” Instead, in 2006, the Massachusetts pharmacy board agreed to a milder penalty for New England Compounding Center and its president, Barry J. Cadden.
Church-related parents’ day out or preschool programs have until next summer to become licensed child-care centers or to limit their services to no more than two days a week. The parents’ day out programs tend to fill a child-care niche for parents who work part-time or stay at home, grandparents who care for kids and those who work from home or with odd schedules. The deadline comes after the state Department of Human Services Office of General Counsel re-examined the child-care center law and then asked the state attorney general for an opinion.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is currently seeking the public’s assistance in retrieving information about a homicide that occurred in a Crockett County, Tenn. residence last week. Matt McKnight, 40, was found shot to death at approximately 1:15 p.m. in his home located at 2747 Gum Flat Rd. in Gadsden on Thursday, Oct. 18. McKnight lived in the home with his parents and his body was discovered by his mother. It is believed that McKnight was shot to death during a home burglary. The crime scene revealed that McKnight had a physical altercation with his attacker and the suspect may have suffered injuries.
Investigators say killer may have been injured in struggle The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is asking for the public’s help to find out who killed a Crockett County man last week. TBI officials believe Matt McKnight was shot in his Gadsden residence Thursday afternoon during a home burglary. Law enforcement also found evidence that shows McKnight may have had a “physical altercation with his attacker.” TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said on Monday that McKnight, 40, was shot once and evidence shows that the burglar may have suffered injuries.
For 86-year-old Rhea County artist Nell Moretz, painting her area’s landscape on a Christmas ornament for the governor’s residence is a highlight of her long career. “I feel very honored” knowing that guests at the home will view her artistry, Moretz said. First lady Crissy Haslam sent invitations to artists in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties to take part in creating the 2012 holiday decorations at the Nashville residence. Haslam said in the letter that one of her official duties is to welcome the holidays.
Gov. Bill Haslam now has a list of applicants for the Hamilton County General Sessions Court position temporarily vacated by Judge Ronald Durby. Fourteen applicants filed paperwork with the governor’s office by the Oct. 19 deadline. Larry Ables, John Harvey Cameron Jr., Robert Davis, Joseph DeGaetano, Yolanda Mitchell, Richard Pettit, Robert Philyaw, Ron Powers, Janice Pulver-Lewis, W. Lloyd Stanley Jr., Lila Statom, Phillip Strang, Gerald Webb and Kevin Wilson were the names provided by Haslam’s office Monday.
The Tennessee state Supreme Court last week declined to intervene in a case brought by Chattanooga against the group allegedly responsible for city’s crumbling portion of the 21st Century Waterfront known as The Passage. An appeals court had previously dismissed the city’s lawsuit because Chattanooga officials waited too long to file it, having had knowledge that there were major problems with construction as far back as 2005. Hargreaves Associates, the architects who designed The Passage, claimed that in 2005 they informed the city of irregular walls, cracks in construction, inadequate drainage and electrical problems.
Sex, lies and audiotape. That will be the crux of the federal case against disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner this week, with jury selection to begin today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho have filed various motions indicating how they intend to prove Baumgartner is guilty of seven counts of misprision of a felony for allegedly lying to cover up a drug conspiracy involving his pill-supplier and mistress Deena Castleman.
In a radio ad, state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney is declaring the party’s backing for Elizabethton attorney Thomas Gray, who is opposing re-election of former House Speaker Kent Williams, the only independent member of the Tennessee Legislature. Devaney earlier this year wrote election officials to declare Williams is not a “bona fide Republican” after the 4th House District incumbent picked up qualifying papers to run as a Republican. Williams was initially elected as a Republican, but joined with Democrats in 2009 to elect himself to a two-year term as House speaker and was subsequently booted from the GOP by former Republican Chairman Robin Smith.
Longtime Democratic State Rep. Joe Armstrong is being challenged Nov. 6 for his 15th District seat — not by a Republican, but by the state’s fledgling Green Party, which sees the contest more as an opportunity to establish party recognition and publicize its ideas than to win a race. “We don’t want to hurt the progressive candidates of the other parties, and since he has no Republican opposition, we won’t be splitting votes and ending up with some right-wing extremist in office,” said Calvin Cassady, 24, a University of Tennessee graduate student and real estate rehabilitation entrepreneur.
Former state Sen. Rosalind Kurita has endorsed Mark Green to represent state Senate District 22. “Regardless of your political party affiliation, the most important quality in a candidate is integrity,” Kurita said in a news release on Monday from the Green campaign. “Dr. Mark Green is a man of integrity who has a proven record of service to his country, community and family.” “Camie and I are truly honored by Rosalind Kurita’s endorsement,” Green said in the release. “She was and is a great public servant to the state.”
More Tennesseans have voted early and by absentee ballot than four years ago, perhaps spurred by a new photo identification law that some believe ultimately will suppress turnout nationwide. About 3 percent more Tennesseans have cast their ballots than at this same point in the 2008 election, a trend that on the surface runs against predictions that turnout would be lower this year. Tennessee’s requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls may have created a counterintuitive spurt in early balloting, bringing in voters who might have been afraid they would be turned away on Election Day.
A new early-voting location in Powell prompted some questions from Connie Hughes, a resident of the area. She thought the parking was slight at 6631 Clinton Highway, and that it would be hard for older Knoxvillians to get in and out to vote. “There’s really no good place to drop an elderly person,” Hughes said Monday. “The people that worked there were absolutely fabulous, but moving it, I don’t understand why.” As is the case with so much in the world, the decision came down to money.
New ads are attacking Congressman Scott DesJarlais as a “hypocrite,” amid claims the Republican doctor urged a patient he had an affair with to get an abortion, but some Republican voters are standing by the incumbent. DesJarlais was first elected in the Republican wave two years ago, and his newly redrawn district runs from the edges of Chattanooga to Rutherford County. In Murfreesboro, Pam Holbert says she voted for every Republican on the ballot – except one.
Candidates haven’t addressed key issues As Eli Melton wipes dust off the wooden triangular box containing the flag she received after her husband died, the race for the presidency seems a million miles away. It’s been nearly 20 months since her husband, an Iraq war veteran, was killed in a car wreck in Missouri. Since then, the 25-year-old single mother living in the shadow of Fort Campbell has managed to raise her two daughters alone while going to college. That has left little time to figure out which candidate would do more to improve her life. In that respect she’s not alone. Military communities see the presidential election through a different prism.
The last youth offender housed at the Murphysboro Juvenile Center in southern Illinois shipped out over the summer, but the boot camp-style facility isn’t exactly shut down. Murphysboro’s odd status comes amid a court and legislative battle that has thrown into limbo Gov. Pat Quinn’s effort to close it and half a dozen other youth and adult facilities in a bid to shave $70 million from the state’s beleaguered annual budget of $33.7 billion. The Democratic governor argues the state can safely and more efficiently house both the youth prisoners, whose numbers have dropped 30%, to less than 1,000 in the past five years, and the adult population, which is at a record of more than 49,000, in fewer facilities with almost no layoffs.
Voters in five states will decide next month whether to raise taxes to help fund public schools, part of a slew of ballot initiatives this year that reflect the intensifying nationwide battle over how to run government-funded schools. Arizona, Missouri and South Dakota have tax-increase measures on ballots, while California is offering voters dueling proposals. Oregon has an initiative to redirect to schools some money that corporations receive as tax rebates. That is the largest number of education-tax initiatives to appear on state election ballots in two decades, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If it were up to Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory, they’d have a little less company on the ballot in North Carolina this year. In particular, they wouldn’t be sharing space with candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dalton and McCrory are opposing gubernatorial nominees, but they agree on one thing: The governor ought to be able to appoint the state’s top education official. It doesn’t appear that wish will be granted anytime soon — making the office appointive would require a constitutional amendment.
A federal criminal trial began Monday for Walter Cardin, a medical case manager charged with falsifying documents that resulted in $2.5 million in safety bonuses paid out to his employer, a TVA-contracted construction company. Federal prosecutors allege that from March 2003 until November 2006 Cardin falsely reported injury and lost time numbers for workers at the Browns Ferry nuclear reactor restart in Athens, Ala.; the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn; and the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy.
The three Plowshares protesters who infiltrated the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant on July 28 have released a series of government photographs taken that morning outside Y-12’s storage facility for bomb-grade uranium. The protesters, who face multiple federal charges, acquired copies of the government evidence through the pretrial discovery process. They said they were releasing the photographs publicly in order to draw more attention to the nuclear weapons work in Oak Ridge and plans to spend billions of dollars on a new uranium processing facility at Y-12.
When it comes to hiking trails, the Tennessee Valley Authority doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But a new web page might change that. TVA actually manages 137 miles of public trails along reservoirs and TVA-owned lands in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Clay Guerry, TVA natural resources management specialist, said the purpose of the new web page is to introduce the public to dozens of TVA trails that have never received the recognition afforded to trails in the Smokies or Tennessee state parks.
Erlanger Health System’s first quarter ended with a $636,000 loss — a little more than half its loss for the same quarter last year, according to Erlanger’s financial report. Erlanger reported a $906,000 loss for the month of September, according to Britt Tabor, the system’s chief financial officer who presented the financial report Monday night. The hospital had a little more than a $1 million loss in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012, and a $1.3 million loss for September during that period. Tabor said the budget is expected to get back on track.
Unicoi County resident Bill Gaines said that many residents in Unicoi County “want a choice” when it comes to health care in the area. He said a decision by the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control to accept Wellmont Health System’s proposal to acquire UCMH would give people that choice. Unicoi County resident Jean Bergendahl said she sides with Mountain States Health Alliance on the acquisition, primarily due to its commitment to construct a new facility in Erwin. They were among citizens who voiced their opinions on the acquisition proposals at an informational community forum Monday evening.
Whether the reason is access to capital or lack of customer demand, the result is the same: fewer entrepreneurs are filing business licenses in Shelby County. That’s according to third quarter totals from the Shelby County Clerk’s office, which show a decline of 10 percent in the number of business licenses filed in the July to September period (1,435) compared to the same period in 2011 (1,592), according to The Daily News Online,www.memphisdailynews.com. The third quarter 2012 number, however, was more than the 1,397 business licenses filed in the second quarter of this year.
Injecting itself squarely into Metro’s ongoing fight with the state over Great Hearts Academies, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is calling for the Metro school board to somehow resolve its loss of $3.4 million in state education funds without pursuing legal action. In a sharply worded letter hand-delivered to school board members Friday and Saturday, the chamber expressed “deep disappointment” over the district’s deduction of state funds, a penalty Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman carried out last week following the board’s September rejection of Great Hearts’ charter school application.
Tensions remain between Metro Schools and parents who want a public charter school in West Nashville, after the Metro school board blocked one a few months ago. To bypass the board, some are now eyeing a so-called “parent-trigger” law, though it would take tweaking from state lawmakers. In the recent movie “Won’t Back Down,” Maggie Gyllenhaal uses a parent-trigger petition to overhaul her daughter’s blighted urban school. That’s not how schools look in the West Nashville district of Council Lady Emily Evans, where some parents are calling for a public school that’s not just good, but stellar.
Early tests results a few weeks ago showed that students in the state’s Achievement School District on average are performing at the 16th percentile in the nation in reading and math. “At a gut level, we intuitively knew kids were coming in that far behind,” said ASD Supt. Chris Barbic. But emotionally, even Barbic was stunned. His job is to take the schools from the bottom five percent in the state to the top 25 percent. He has five years to do it. Every year, the feat will increase as the number of schools assigned to the ASD grows. This year, there are six. Next year, there will be 13.
The unified school board voted last month to make universal prekindergarten a funding priority, but giving every 4-year-old in Shelby County the opportunity to learn his ABCs in a classroom might take awhile. While City Hall is calling for a more solid commitment by the board to help sell the proposed half-cent sales tax increase, half of which would be dedicated to education, factors beyond the board’s control make it difficult to set a precise timetable on pre-k expansion.
Shelby County Commissioners approved $13.9 million in funding for computer software and a program to handle the human resources and financial needs of the merged school system to come. The original request was for $15 million and including contingency funding in the event the project had cost overruns. But commissioner Steve Basar proposed the lower amount that was the estimate staffs of the two school systems said it would take to establish one common human resources and payroll computer system for the two school systems to be merged starting in August 2013.
Unfortunately, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) has reached an impasse with the Tennessee Department of Education. The state, despite our local school board’s efforts to reconcile the situation, has withheld $3.4 million in Basic Education Program (BEP) funds in response to the board’s repeated denials of the Great Hearts Academies charter school application.What happens next will determine whether we can find détente, or whether the Volunteer State’s second-largest school system will remain at odds with the State of Tennessee. Today, the Nashville School Board will convene in a special meeting to consider legal action against the state over its withholding of funds. As a board member, I support a frank discussion on this matter.