This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Keith Siskin to the 16th Judicial District Circuit Court, which serves Rutherford and Cannon counties. Siskin fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Don Ash to a senior judge position earlier this year. According to a news release from the governor’s office, Siskin has been a juvenile court magistrate since 2004 and presided over both criminal and civil proceedings including parentage, child support, child custody and visitation, dependency, neglect, abuse and delinquency matters.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday that he has appointed Keith Siskin to the 16th Judicial District Circuit Court, which serves Rutherford and Cannon counties. As a judge in the 16th District, Siskin fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Don Ash to a senior judge position earlier this year. Siskin has been a Juvenile Court magistrate since 2004, presiding over both civil and criminal cases including parentage, child support, child custody and visitation, dependency, neglect, abuse and delinquency matters.
Two months after being recommended by a group of his peers, Keith Siskin learned Monday that he would oversee the 16th Judicial District Circuit Court. Siskin, who currently serves as a Rutherford County Juvenile Court magistrate, will handle Circuit Court cases for Rutherford and Cannon counties. He will take over for Judge Don Ash, who accepted a senior judge position earlier this year. “I am very excited. It’s a position I’ve wanted to be in for a long time,” Siskin told The Daily News Journal less than an hour after the announcement was made.
Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam will make another appearance in the Tri-Cities Tuesday as the featured speaker for a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the MeadowView conference and convention center. Haslam will speak about the current state of affairs in Tennessee, Nicole Austin, the Kingsport chamber’s government relations director, said Monday. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for our members to get a briefing from Gov. Haslam on what’s going on across the state,” Austin said.
Beta Phi Fraternity for women announced that their annual celebration of “Pi Beta Phi Fraternity Day” will take place on Nov. 3, as declared by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam through an official State of Tennessee Proclamation. “Pi Beta Phi Fraternity Day” honors Pi Beta Phi’s 100-year commitment to philanthropic service and all Pi Phis, friends and citizens of Tennessee are invited to attend. In 1912, with the establishment of its Settlement School in Gatlinburg, Pi Beta Phi became a stabilizing force and catalyst to a community whose mountain people were in need of educational opportunities and healthcare.
Etowah is receiving $89,591 in Safe Routes to Schools funding for sidewalk construction, crosswalks and signs at Etowah and Mountain Views schools, Gov. Bill Haslam and TDOT Commissioner John Schroer announced Monday. The money also will be used to provide safety programs and activities encouraging walking and biking as safe and healthy, a news release states. The grant is made through a federally funded program that is administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Election officials have been making Shelby County early voters who show only a Memphis library card as their photo identification cast a provisional ballot, and an attorney for the city on Monday demanded the practice stop. Attorney George Barrett wrote in a cease and desist letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper that state election officials are in “defiance” of a court order, and the city of Memphis will go to court if the provisional ballot policy doesn’t stop. The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last week that the voter ID law is constitutional but also said the Memphis library card qualifies as a government-issued photo ID.
State officials refused Monday to back down from their decision not to allow voters who use Memphis photo library cards as their ID to cast ballots on electronic machines. Such voters are being issued provisional ballots, which might or might not count, depending on future court rulings. If the state Supreme Court ultimately rules that library cards are not valid for voting purposes, voters who used them would have up to two business days after the election to show proper identification in order to have their votes counted.
Whatever the final disposition of the library-card controversy in Memphis, it has so far affected a very small percentage of those voting locally, according to Shelby County Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers, who says that only 19 provisional ballots have so far been issued out of more than 151,000 persons voting early in Shelby County. And Meyers does not believe that all 19 of those cases involved voters arriving at polling places armed with library cards to satisfy requirements of the state’s Photo-ID law.
The city of Memphis has sent a “cease and desist” letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper demanding that his office instruct state election officials to tell local election commissioners they must accept photo library cards as valid identification to vote early. The letter, released by the city Monday, Oct. 29, came the same day the city filed a response opposing the state’s effort to stay a Tennessee Appeals Court order last week the ruling upheld the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law and ruled that the city-issued library cards are valid identification under that law.
After losing a job in the finance industry a few years ago, Sherry Conatser decided to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. “I spent 13 years in automotive finance before I was laid off. I decided I wasn’t going to spend any more time in a cubicle. I’ve always wanted to teach, so I figured now was the time to do what I love,” she said. She enrolled at MTSU as a student in the Ready2Teach program offered by the Tennessee Board of Regents. Currently in the pilot phase, Ready2Teach is a teacher-preparation program that gives future educators a glimpse of what happens in the classroom prior to the student-teaching experience.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Monday he is asking the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into whether state forfeiture procedures were violated when he returned a car to a mother after her son’s drug arrest. “This is a procedural situation. It had nothing to do with influence,” Hammond said. “I don’t know the lady. … She may have gone to school with me, but so did a thousand other people.” Marcia Tenenbaum said she and Hammond were classmates at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the criminal justice program.
Special education students in Anderson County’s alternative school were illegally isolated, including being barricaded in a special room, an administrative complaint alleges. School officials confirmed a former member of a crisis team at the county’s alternative school filed that grievance recently with the state Department of Education. School officials denied that any special education students were kept against their will in any room. Dale Martin said he had to endure a “hostile work environment” because he refused to participate in isolating and secluding special education students in ways that violated state laws.
A federal judge on Monday tossed out one charge and questioned the remaining counts against a disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court judge. In a stunning move, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer ruled federal prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to allow jurors to even consider one of seven charges ex-Judge Richard Baumgartner lied to cover up his mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy, and he questioned the sufficiency of the proof on the remaining charges. “Frankly, the proof is slim on some of these counts” Greer said.
The video footage from the files of the Bristol, Tenn., Police Department should be persuasive enough: an incoherent, wild-eyed emergency room patient writhing in the madness of a bad trip on the synthetic drug known as “bath salts.” Still, law enforcement officials worry about that and other hazards teenagers must avoid in a world where chemists are coming up with new ways to get high and the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise. Tennessee district attorneys have kicked off a statewide campaign, Deceptive Danger, to fight the abuse of prescription drug medication and synthetic drugs, using scary video footage and heart-to-heart chats with Tennessee’s youth.
Even as a pending expansion of Medicaid services for poorer Americans is being highlighted as a political issue by observers like columnist Paul Krugman, who writes about it this week, a Tennessee state senator from Shelby County is proposing legislation to prohibit expansion of the program in Tennessee. Passage of such legislation would presumably bind the hands of Governor Bill Haslam, who has been non-committal about whether the state should accept add-on federal funds for Medicaid expansion under terms of the Affordable Care Act.
Two Tennessee Republicans say they’re going to make sure the state doesn’t expand its insurance program for the poor. Governor Bill Haslam has been on the fence. Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis and incoming Republican Jeremy Durham of Franklin – who is running unopposed for the state House – say they’ll file a bill the day after the election to block the expansion of TennCare. “Doesn’t matter what Haslam decides to do. I feel that we can’t afford it.” Under President Obama’s health care overhaul, federal money would cover all of the costs for the first few years.
Voters continue to stream to the polls in Tennessee, often waiting in line to cast a ballot early. In Maury County, the presidential race is driving turnout. The candidate signs outside the election commission are almost all for local races, but voters like Gloria Ruffin say it’s the top of the ticket they came for. Ruffin has been unemployed more than two years. She says Mitt Romney and other Republicans seem to think she doesn’t want to work.
Jail staff, sheriff named in 23 suits The number of inmate lawsuits filed against Maury County Sheriff Enoch George and jail administrators has nearly doubled since a federal judge held a hearing on jail conditions last month. The Daily Herald reports that there are at least 23 cases now filed against the sheriff, but an attorney told a federal judge on Monday that jail officials made several changes in response to inmate complaints. U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes last month gave county officials 30 days to address inmates’ complaints.
The chairman of the Shelby County Commission and the newest county commissioner have different thoughts on the countywide tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot. But chairman Mike Ritz and commissioner Steve Basar, elected to the commission in August, agree that the countywide school board hasn’t been aggressive enough in carrying out the transition to the schools merger to come in August. “I don’t think they are being aggressive enough at all,” Basar said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”
Democrats ratcheted up their attacks on U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais a day after a Chattanooga newspaper reported the congressman had a relationship with a second patient before his divorce in 2001. State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester urged Republicans to ask DesJarlais to resign, and a Democratic political action committee announced it would spend an additional $180,000 on advertisements seeking to dislodge the first-term Republican in favor of his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Eric Stewart of Belvidere.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Monday called for Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais to resign after a report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press that a second patient of the physician said she had an affair with DesJarlais a dozen years ago. DesJarlais’ campaign manager, Brandon Lewis, said in an email, “We have absolutely no intention of resigning” in the Nov. 6 contest with Democrat Eric Stewart. He charged that Stewart, a state senator from Winchester, has no credibility.
A news story detailing a second affair between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and a patient 12 years ago is not credible, according to his campaign. The DesJarlais campaign did not deny a relationship between the South Pittsburg physician and a patient, which was reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press over the weekend. Instead, it tried to cast doubt on the story. “The woman mentioned in this article has reached out to both the congressman’s wife and the paper to express concerns about her statements being taken out of context and factual inaccuracies contained in this article,” a statement from campaign manager Brandon Lewis said.
Tennessee’s top Democrat is demanding Gov. Bill Haslam’s staff release text messages with the governor about revelations U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who is also a doctor, had a sexual relationship with a former patient. The call for the text messages comes a day after a second DesJarlais patient said she also had a sexual relationship with DesJarlais. The GOP congressman is seeking re-election in the 4th District. “DesJarlais ran his medical practice like a Craigslist cat house and now he’s mad that people are upset about it,” said Chip Forrester, executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party who has called for DesJarlais’ resignation.
The Tennessee Democratic Party is trying to take full advantage of news accounts detailing extra marital affairs of Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais. The party chair now sees dethroning the freshman representative as a political parting shot. At a press conference, the outgoing Chip Forrester used extreme language, calling DesJarlais – who is a doctor by profession – a “monster” and a “fraud” who should be in jail.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Monday called on embattled US Rep. Scott DesJarlais to resign, saying the Republican Congressman “ran his medical practice like a Craigslist cathouse.” Forrester’s comments came in the wake of news reports this weekend from the Chattanooga Times Free Press that a second woman has come forward to say that DesJarlais, a physician, had a sexual relationship with her while she was under his medical care.
About 250 jobs are expected to be created in Trenton over the next three years as MacLean Power Systems opens a manufacturing plant in that city. The Mundelein, Ill.-based company manufactures transmission and distribution lines and substations for electrical power distributors throughout the world. The company will invest $12 million in its Trenton facilities over the next three years as it establishes itself in two buildings. The facility is expected to make hardware connectors, anchoring systems and other components for electrical transmission and other towers. “This means changed lives,” said Trenton Mayor Tony Burriss.
Hospital’s options weighed A growing faction of Nashville residents is making its position clear: Don’t end inpatient care at the struggling Nashville General Hospital, reducing it to a facility that provides only outpatient and clinical services. Supporters reiterated their stance Monday at the final community meeting in a series meant to sort out how the city should address Nashville General’s severe financial woes. As city leaders ponder the safety-net hospital’s future, Mayor Karl Dean says it would be “premature” for his administration to take a stance on whether Nashville General Hospital should end its inpatient services to stay financially afloat.
Erlanger at Hutcheson hospital posted a systemwide profit of $91,104 in September, a dramatic improvement that executives attributed to increases in patient numbers, surgeries and emergency department patient volumes. The hospital’s board of directors’ budget and finance committee met Monday to review September financial results. The North Georgia health system had reported profits in July and August from hospital operations, but last month was the first month since January 2009 that Erlanger at Hutcheson has reported a systemwide profit, according to a news release.
Blues City Brewery, which has been one of the good-news stories for Memphis manufacturing the past 18 months, has laid off some workers recently, company officials confirmed Monday. George Parke, president and CEO of parent company City Brewing in La Crosse, Wis., didn’t give a specific number, but said, “We have laid off quite a few people.” Employment had reached a high of about 240 people after City Brewing in early 2011 bought the underused plant that over the years had brewed Schlitz, Stroh’s and Coors and bottled such nonalcoholic drinks as tea and energy drinks.
Chattanooga area businesses today and Monday grappled with dangerous Hurricane Sandy, shutting offices, rerouting trucks and bracing for the superstorm’s fallout. Unum closed key branches in Worcester, Mass., and Portland, Maine, on Monday and were to decide whether to shut them for a second day today, said company spokeswoman M.C. Guenther. She said the Chattanooga-based insurer also shuttered six field offices in the Northeast on Monday from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The New York office at the least was to be closed today.
Though far from the eye of the storm, Knoxville’s business community is dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. About 10 flights out of Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport were canceled Monday because of the storm and it’s likely the number will increase as the storm worsens, said Becky Huckaby, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. Thousands of flights were canceled nationally. The canceled flights were scheduled for New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pa., Huckaby said.
An arson investigator with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department blamed an early Sunday morning fire that destroyed a house in the Fitzsimmons Hill area on the manufacture of methamphetamine. Investigator Travis Ludlow said about half of the home of Ricky and Penny Oliver, 111 Dan Cole Road, was burned in the fire. The remaining half sustained heavy water and smoke damage. Unlike other fires blamed on methamphetamine manufacturing, Ludlow said Sunday’s fire was not caused by an explosion. He said it appears that the remains of a manufacturing operation caused the fire.
The somewhat ambivalent response of Tennessee’s leaders to reports of outrageous tax breaks given some landowners under the state’s “Greenbelt Law” can be explained but inaction is not in the public’s best interest. Some legislators and one of the state’s most powerful special interests might balk at revisiting the popular tax breaks. But lawmakers should review and if necessary revise the law, which affects the taxes of virtually every property owner in the state. The News Sentinel and the Commercial Appeal teamed up to examine the law, which allows county property assessors to give tax breaks that can range up to 90 percent or more on farmland, woodlands and open spaces. More than half the land in Tennessee is categorized as “greenbelt,” and some property owners receive enormous tax savings by doing the bare minimum to qualify.
New data analysis from the Southern Regional Education Board reinforces the importance of community colleges. For the first time in the South, the number of students enrolled in community colleges is expected to surpass enrollment in four-year universities. This is an important statistic that helps highlight the important role community colleges play in higher education and in workforce development. In 1970, about 500,000 students were enrolled in community colleges in SREB states. Today, the number stands at 2.8 million, and the latest data projects that it will exceed student enrollment in four-year universities in 2012. There are several reasons for the growth in community college enrollment. They point to the important role community colleges play in higher education, and the needs they serve that vary widely from those of traditional four-year universities.
Our state Capitol is undergoing a major renovation. A $15 million project will replace heating, air, plumbing and electrical systems. Offices of the governor and others had to be vacated for the work on the 153-year-old structure. I have been thinking about the history of the Legislature: the relocations, the construction of the Capitol and the furnishings — pieces of history — I acquired during the time I worked there. The state of Tennessee was established in 1796 but did not have a real Capitol building until 57 years later. The first Territorial Assembly had 13 members and met for the first time in February 1794. By the next year the territory had a population of 60,000 people and became large enough to constitute a state.
Power struggle between Congress, president is threat In Greek mythology, the gods played petty games among themselves with disastrous results for innocent mortals on earth. The tragedy was made greater by the gods’ self-absorption and seeming indifference to the broader destruction they caused. Today, in Washington, D.C., a similar tragedy is playing out, except this one is real. And it is entirely avoidable. It involves Congress and the president, who, locked in a power struggle over the national debt and the role of government, have created a great “fiscal cliff” for the federal government if no deficit reduction agreement is reached by the end of 2012. The cliff is a set of automatic tax increases and spending reductions that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the federal budget deficit by $607 billion, the equivalent of 4 percent of gross domestic product, between fiscal years 2012 and 2013.