This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Lunch featuring Tennessee’s 49th governor, Bill Haslam, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Embassy Suites Murfreesboro Hotel & Conference Center. Open to both Chamber members and non-members, the event is designed to give Rutherford County residents the opportunity to hear about Governor Haslam’s plans for 2013. Following his presentation, Haslam will answer questions from attendees. The cost to attend is $30 for Chamber members and $40 for non-members.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced $322,400 in collection grants to establish, upgrade and expand used motor oil collection centers in 21 counties across Tennessee. “It’s important to educate citizens on the proper disposal of used motor oil, and the use of these convenient community collection centers can have a direct impact on the water quality of our lakes, streams and groundwater in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Amazon employee Mitchell Prince said Tuesday he’s in his second Christmas season at its Chattanooga distribution center and he termed the scope of business inside “unbelievable.” “It’s busier this year,” the Fort Oglethorpe man said, noting the Enterprise South industrial park facility has expanded operations since its last peak period. Cyber Monday nationally was the biggest ever for online retailers, according to a company that tracks web sales. Internet sales were 30 percent higher over a year ago, reported IBM Benchmark.
The Tennessee Board of Regents unanimously approved Tennessee State University alumna Glenda Glover as the ninth president of the 100-year-old school on Tuesday. TBR Chancellor John Morgan announced he would recommend Glover to the board last week. She is set to start at TSU on Jan. 2. Glover, the former dean of the College of Business at Jackson State University, received support from the TSU National Alumni Association and other community members. Gov. Bill Haslam, who spoke with all four finalists for the job, also praised Glover.
Glenda Baskin Glover is ready to come home. Glover, a 1974 graduate of Tennessee State University, was unanimously elected as the school’s new president during a special meeting of the Tennessee Board of Regents on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a great honor when God calls you home,” Glover said. “This is a great homecoming.” Glover, a dean at Jackson State University in Mississippi, was one of four finalists for the job. She will replace interim President Portia Holmes Shields starting Jan. 2. Greg Duckett, a board member who was chairman of the search committee, said all four of the finalists were well qualified, but Glover stood out.
The Board of Regents has unanimously approved a new president for Tennessee State University. The panel – which includes the governor – voted Tuesday to hire Glenda Glover, currently dean of the business school at Mississippi’s Jackson State University. Glover herself attended TSU as an undergrad and went on to become a lawyer and a CPA.Like many alums, she has fond memories of the school. But in recent years, TSU tends to make headlines for the wrong reasons, like an episode a few months ago that involved the head of the faculty senate being handcuffed and led out of a meeting.
Local teachers Klye Loudermilk, Hope Malone and Kelli Seymour are among 15 educators named across Tennessee to share best practices statewide. Loudermilk, of Sullivan County’s Blountville Elementary, Malone, of Bristol’s Avoca Elementary, and Seymour, of Johnson City’s Southside Elementary, are part of a new program the Tennessee Department of Education announced Monday. The program enlists highly effective teachers from the state’s top schools to share best practices and help improve student achievement across the state.
Last year, Knox and the 15 surrounding counties had 354 lab-confirmed illnesses linked to foodborne pathogens. But the actual number of people sickened by a virus or bacterium in food was likely far higher. In many cases, there’s a lag of several days before symptoms start — too long to reliably link any one food to the illness. State epidemiologists’ best chance is tracing several people’s illness to a single source, such as peanut butter contaminated with salmonella during manufacturing, or produce tainted with hepatitis at the grower’s.
There may be uncertainty about the best name and proper identity for the slice of downtown sandwiched between the central business district and Germantown. But there is no doubt that the sweeping land mass — variously referred to as North Capitol, the Market District and, generally, the Bicentennial Mall area — has long languished, with various large-scale civic projects proposed for its empty lots, then failing to materialize. The result is an almost eerily people-and-building-free North Capitol.
Authorities say the number of Tennessee courthouses involved in a rash of false bomb threats has risen to 29. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said Tuesday that nine threats were reported in West Tennessee counties, including the federal building in Memphis. Qualls says there were six bomb threats in Middle Tennessee and 14 in East Tennessee. Many buildings had to be evacuated after the threats. Qualls said no bombs were found.
Authorities in Tennessee are investigating bomb threats that forced the evacuation of 24 courthouses including Carter County and the federal building in downtown Memphis. Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt said Tuesday there were seven courthouse threats in West Tennessee, four in Middle Tennessee and 13 in East Tennessee. Sullivan County was not included in those threats, local authorities said. Leslie Earhart, public information officer for the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, said so far the courthouse I Blountville has not been affected by the threats, and the Sheriff’s Office has not been called out to help any other agency.
The Carter County Courthouse was shut down for over two hours on Tuesday because of a bomb threat. Specially trained police dogs were brought in to search the building and no bombs were found. The building reopened shortly after 1 p.m. Mayor Leon Humphrey said the call came to the county clerk’s office at 11:06 a.m. He said the clerk who took the call said the message sounded like an automated tape recording. The caller said there were “multiple” bombs in the courthouse.
About 8:30 Tuesday morning, a woman called the Memphis Police Department’s communications bureau, warning that bombs were about to go off in three government buildings in Downtown Memphis. All across Tennessee Tuesday morning, similar phone calls rang out, all warning that bombs were about to go off in government buildings. Those calls set off a scramble to evacuate 30 courthouses and buildings in 30 counties across the state while officials searched for explosives. No bombs were found in any of the buildings, and no one was injured.
Bomb threats at 30 courthouses across Tennessee on Tuesday forced employees to evacuate and local law enforcement agencies to respond to what one sheriff’s department’s deputy chief said amounted to domestic terrorism. Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency received a phone call that a bomb had been placed in a local courthouse. By 3:30 p.m., 30 courthouses had received bomb threats, said agency spokesman Dean Flener. “We take bomb threats very seriously,” he said.
The artistic eggery skills Daune Jordan learned from her aunt a decade ago shine through on a state Christmas tree ornament at the Governor’s Mansion. Jordan created Rutherford County’s official Christmas tree ornament by capturing the image of the 1800s era chapel at the historical Cannonsburgh Village in Murfreesboro. “It had to be unique to Rutherford, according to the first lady’s (Crissy Haslam’s) letter,” said Jordan, a Murfreesboro resident who is the wife of County Commissioner Jeff Jordan.
Carolyn Jenkins knows she’s probably not going to win Wednesday night’s $500 million Powerball drawing. Heck, she’s much more likely to be elected president, get struck by lightning or die at the hands of a vending machine. But that didn’t stop the Columbia, Tenn., resident from buying a $2 lottery ticket Tuesday at a Shell station on Lebanon Road in Nashville. And she said she planned to be back today for another. “I realize I’m probably tossing money away,” said Jenkins, who works for Cumulus Radio in Nashville.
No matter how you pick your lottery numbers — from the first digits you read in this morning’s paper to the count of your dog’s tail wags — you still face tough odds to become tonight’s Powerball winner of a cool half-billion dollars. It’s a long shot of 1-175,000,000 that you will take possession of that oversized $500 million check — $327 million in take-home money. But that won’t keep millions in Tennessee and Georgia from trying. “You have to take a chance,” said Stasha Ables, 21, who was among the Georgia Lottery hopefuls trying their luck Tuesday in a Mapco on Chickamauga Avenue in Rossville.
The men attempting to halt the Hamilton County Commission’s practice of prayer before meetings have taken the next steps in their appeals process, emphasizing their claims that the commission’s recently-adopted prayer policy a “sham.” Robin Flores, the attorney for plaintiffs Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones, filed a 46-page brief Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing against a U.S. District Court judge’s decision not to grant a preliminary injunction which would have temporarily halted prayer before meetings.
Tennessee’s senate speaker says he’ll focus on cutting a tax on investments, not one on food, in the coming legislative session. Republican Ron Ramsey says it’s to reward those who save their money. Earlier this year lawmakers cut the state’s inheritance tax and its gift tax. They also trimmed the food tax just slightly, by one-fourth of a percent. Governor Bill Haslam wants to bring it down to an even five percent next year. Past that, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey doesn’t see dropping it much further.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Tuesday he would rather cut a bigger slice out of the tax on money saved for retirement than slice much deeper into the sales tax on food. Ramsey said he will back Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to drop the so-called “grocery tax” to 5 percent from 5.25 percent, but said it is “blatantly unfair” that the state taxes people for socking away money for retirement. “Just the fairness of the issue. That we encourage [you] to save for your retirement, but when you do, we tax. That’s just wrong,” Ramsey told reporters in his office Tuesday.
Grand jurors in Greeneville have indicted state Rep. David Hawk on a felony reckless endangerment count after a March incident involving his estranged wife. The Greeneville Sun (http://bit.ly/UZLcvg ) reported the indictment was returned Monday by a Greene County grand jury, which declined to formally charge the Republican lawmaker with domestic assault. The indictment states Hawk recklessly caused bodily injury to his spouse, Crystal Goan Hawk. Hawk has maintained he is innocent of the charges.
Mayor Karl Dean, one of Nashville’s leading backers of publicly financed, privately led charter schools, doesn’t have the same support for a state-administered voucher program, he indicated Tuesday in advance of the Tennessee General Assembly’s next session. “I do not, by nature, at this point support vouchers,” Dean told an audience gathered for a luncheon sponsored by the Nashville chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, stressing he still doesn’t want to “prejudge” findings a Gov. Bill Haslam-appointed task force is set to unveil regarding a possible voucher system.
Clint Eastwood for president? How about God? Or Han Solo? Then again, perhaps, a cartoon character like Elmer Fudd floats your boat. Those were just a handful of the names Knox County residents took the time to write in as candidates on the Nov. 6 presidential ballot, according to the 40-page list of 2,318 names officially approved this week by county election officials. As always, some were funny, others creative and a few too lewd, crude and rude for newsprint. It should also go without saying that none of the write-ins won.
The nonprofit group that filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is now accusing him of “lying” to the public before the Nov. 6 election. Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said Tuesday it filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging DesJarlais, a pro-life and pro-family values candidate, broke House rules by “blatantly lying” when news outlets confronted him about an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient.
A watchdog group Tuesday filed a complaint against Rep. Scott DesJarlais with the Office of Congressional Ethics, accusing him of “blatantly lying” about a telephone conversation with a former patient and mistress. In making its filing, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington referred to the October release of a transcript of a telephone call that DesJarlais, a licensed physician in Tennessee since 1993, had with a female patient more than 10 years ago in which he urged her to have an abortion, concerned she might be pregnant with his child.
The federal lending program designed to make college education available to everyone is creating a pile of debt so large it is fanning worries that it has become too easy to borrow too much. U.S. student-loan debt rose by $42 billion, or 4.6%, to $956 billion in the third quarter, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday. Overall household borrowing fell during that period. Payments on 11% of student-loan balances were 90 or more days behind at the end of September, up from 8.9% at the end of June, a rate that now exceeds that for credit cards.
A nuclear watchdog group is touting a memorandum sent by Bill Johnson — TVA’s soon-to-be new leader –as the smoking gun that should reopen the Duke-Progress energy merger that formed what is now the nation’s largest utility company. Jim Warren, director of NC WARN in North Carolina, filed legal papers this week with the North Carolina Utilities Commission claiming that an April memo from Johnson to his Progress board shows he and Duke merger officials may have withheld information about the rising costs at the crippled Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Florida.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting Monday, Dec. 3, to discuss TVA plans for improving flood-protection strategies for its Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear plants. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at the NRC Region II Office, 245 Peachtree Center Avenue NE, Suite 1200, in Atlanta. The Tennessee Valley Authority will provide the NRC with an update on its plans for protecting the nuclear plants in the case of an extreme flood event. The Sequoyah plant is on Chickamauga Lake about 16 miles northeast of Chattanooga and the Watts Bar plant is on Watts Bar Lake about 60 miles southwest of Knoxville.
FootSmart has expanded its Memphis distribution operation to accommodate growth for the next two to three years. The Atlanta-based company, which is a direct retailer of foot and lower body health care products such as shoes and braces, is improving its current space at 5830 E. Shelby Drive while adding 65,000 square feet. The addition gives FootSmart 215,000 total square feet. “We’re growing at double digit percentages (in sales),” vice president of operations John Caplinger said.
U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued a ruling Tuesday night voiding all efforts Shelby County’s suburban municipalities have made in moving toward operating new school districts. In a much-anticipated 65-page ruling issued at 7:45 p.m., Mays ruled specifically against a 2012 state law that allowed for the creation of new municipal school districts and school boards. He agreed with core arguments the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council made in a September trial on the major state constitutional issues on that law, known as Public Chapter 905, while rejecting many of the core arguments from the state of Tennessee and suburban municipalities.
The long-awaited ruling from U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays concerning the municipal-schools issue has come down. In a 65-page ruling, Mays has found Chapter 905, the enabling legislation from the 2012 sesson of the General Assembly unconstitutional, effectively putting a stop to the plans of six Shelby County suburbs to set up special school districts for the 2013-14 school year. Mays further held in abeyance the question of the constitutionality of two other pieces of enabling legislation — Chapter 970, also from the 2012 session, and Section 3 of Chapter 1 of 2011 (a.k.a. Norris-Todd), which first authorized the lifting of a long-standing state ban on new special school districts.
Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ruled Tuesday, Nov. 27, that the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County must stop their movement toward suburban school districts. He also threw out August referendum results in which suburban voters approved ballots questions on forming the districts. And he voided the Nov. 6 election results in six sets of school board races for the municipal school districts. It was unclear late Tuesday if the ruling specifically voids the approval of sales tax hikes on the August suburban ballots that were to be used to fund the municipal school districts.
Nashville is up against New York, Seattle, and Dallas in trying to pull down $40 million for its school system. The competition is part of the federal grant program known as Race to the Top. Tennessee was one of the first recipients of Race to the Top money, in the state competition. Now Metro is trying to get money to work with students one on one. Director Jesse Register says the district has picked ten schools—including a charter school—where teachers will create learning plans tailored to every single student.
Metro Nashville Public Schools may have lost out on millions of dollars after a scuffle with the state over a particular charter school, but federal education officials may help the district more than make up for it. MNPS is one of 61 finalists seeking a portion of $400 million in a district-focused Race to the Top contest to award districts leading the country in innovation to drive student performance.“We have a terrific application,” said Jesse Register, director of schools. “It is a huge next step for us in this district.”
Metro Nashville Public Schools is among 61 national finalists to split $400 million in grants awarded through the Race to the Top-District competition. Tennessee won a $501 million Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. It was named one of the first two statewide winners due to its sweeping education reform plan. The new grant program is to fund local plans to improve student readiness for college, close the achievement gap among poor or minority students and improve teacher effectiveness, a news release said.
Knox County Schools is accepting charter school proposals — for both new schools and potential conversions of existing schools to a charter — for the 2014-15 school year. In July, the school system revamped its process for future charter school applicants establishing a request for proposal. The request for proposal outlines specifically what the district is looking for in a charter school. The first part of the process for applicants is the submission of a letter of intent, which includes evidence of community outreach to the school and the state’s Division of Charter Schools.
Unless there is an unlikely change of heart in the Tennessee legislature, Tennessee’s teachers will have to deal with employee issues without collective bargaining rights. That situation results from the terms spelled out in the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011. The act essentially refines the relationship between the state’s teachers and local school districts, removing teachers’ ability to engage in collective bargaining toward new contracts. The act is a blow to teachers and as Keith Williams, Memphis Education Association president, observed, teachers’ unions will have to reinvent themselves to effectively represent their members.
We don’t care whose fault it is. “October is usually one of our best months, if not the best month,” downtown Nashville restaurant owner Shawn Courtney told the Tennessean, “and this year it wasn’t even close.” And no matter how many “Smashmobs” the Predators management arranges for its promotional partners, they will never substitute for thousands of fans gathering on Lower Broadway before and after a hockey game. With every resident in Davidson County an investor in the Predators via the subsidies we pay through our tax contributions, it is disappointing to see the lack of urgency from both the team and player leadership on resolving their disputes. Neither our players nor owners think their presence at the negotiations will make a difference.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker again has stepped forward with a plan to end congressional gridlock. This time, his target is the looming fiscal cliff that threatens the U.S. economy and could push the nation back into recession. We don’t know if Corker’s 242-page proposal is the right approach to avoiding the fiscal cliff, but it is the only plan we know of that offers compromise that could get both sides of the debate to the table. Time is running out for Congress and the president to get together. Across-the-board budget cuts and tax increases are set to take effect on Jan. 1. Corker’s proposal offers a framework both sides could use to avert the potential economic crisis. Corker is a political pragmatist who never has shied away from tackling big challenges and offering solutions that include compromise.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paid dividends in helping ORNL’s Titan debut as the world’s fastest supercomputer, and ORNL Director Thom Mason cited the relationship between federal entities as a way to make the best of things during tough economic times. Under a memorandum of understanding signed a few years ago, ORNL agreed to collaborate and help provide resources for NOAA’s climate research program. The program was funded with about $75 million from NOAA’s allotment of Recovery Act funding. The Oak Ridge lab helped purchase a Cray supercomputer called Gaea that is NOAA’s leading system for climate modeling and simulations, and that machine is housed in ORNL’s National Center for Computational Sciences.
Unlike Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana, Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker has been in the news for all the right reasons. You remember Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin — the guy who said that women who were subjects of “legitimate rape'”couldn’t get pregnant because their bodies had a way to shut down. And if only we could forget Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that if a woman was raped and got pregnant it was because it was “something that God intended to happen.” These bone-headed comments cost Akin and Mourdock seats in the U.S. Senate in states where Republicans should have a better than 50-50 chance of winning. The party didn’t win the seats because their candidates felt they had to bow down to the wing of the GOP that is all tied up in knots over paranoid visions of the future and reactionary political rhetoric. Contrast these two losers with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who was re-elected in a breeze.