This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
College-bound high school students in Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties could gain an expanded dual-enrollment and early college program aimed at technical careers through Chattanooga State Community College in coming years. The counties’ high schools already have “dual credit” and “dual enrollment,” or “early college,” courses available through the Chattanooga State campus in Bledsoe County, but officials in both counties are working to add a path toward engineering. The two systems are just getting started on proposed programs of study that dovetail into Chattanooga State’s curriculum while still fitting into the high school curriculum, officials said.
Nearly 40 percent of the state’s roads are considered in poor or mediocre quality, according to a recent national report, and Tennesseans will spend on average $182 a year fixing their cars as a result. Blown tires. Bad ball joints. And bent rims. That’s the kind of damage Greg and Brenda Griggs see at their East Nashville repair shop. “I don’t know, they are pretty bad,” Brenda Griggs said of the roads. “A lot of potholes, which causes a lot of problems with brakes and tires and the front axles on these front-wheel-drive cars.”
Two companies are battling for a $200 million-plus contract to provide health care to Tennessee’s prison inmates. One came in almost $16 million cheaper and has a long but controversial history of providing those services. The second, more expensive company has struggled to explain how it has enough experience to do the job. It also happens to employ the wife of the head of the Tennessee Department of Correction. The second company, called Centurion, won. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s wife, Latrese, works for the company as an inmate re-entry coordinator in Georgia.
Audit finds centers inflated numbers to keep funding The effectiveness of the state’s $52 million job training program has been called into question after auditors found regional job training centers across the state were inflating their numbers to hit strict performance measures and keep their federal funding. Since the recession began in 2008, the state’s 13 local workforce training centers have been faced with a major challenge: Federal performance measures continue to rise, but high unemployment has led many dispirited workers to give up on job searches and leave their training programs voluntarily.
Researchers wanted to bury the 10 bodies on the south bank of Fort Loudoun Lake. They had to do it by hand. The brush, though bare in winter, was too dense and too sloped for machines. Instead, scientists in February cleared a path leading to the spot where, shovel by shovel, they dug four holes. One grave now holds the piled remains of six people. Another holds three, and another a single body. A fourth was dug out and then refilled only with dirt, a control for the experiment. For the next three years University of Tennessee scientists will monitor these fresh burial sites from the sky, from the ground, through sampling and in different light spectrums to determine if the mass graves can be detected from afar.
In Uganda, the question of whether to exhume the discarded remains of victims killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army is not an easy one. Two University of Tennessee researchers spent last summer talking with locals there to find out whether exhumations are plausible, how they should be done and whether they will provide any comfort to the communities. If the project moves forward — and it’s still in the formative stages — it could join ongoing mass grave research as marquee examples of the anthropology department’s expansion into international human-rights work.
Here’s a trick question: Who are the customers of the University of Tennessee’s College of Business Administration? One answer might be “students,” since they pay tuition, attend classes and earn diplomas. Another might be “taxpayers,” since UT is a state-funded institution. But for Stephen Mangum, the new dean of the business college, a different answer is the best one. Mangum, who took the reins on March 1, argued in a recent interview that employers and other organizations are the true customers of the college, while students “in many ways are one of our major products.”
Dressed head to toe in a navy bathrobe and house slippers, Pat Reilly places his bloodied face onto the cold ground in front of Campus School to die. There is an ambulance at one end and a Murfreesboro Police squad car, lights flashing, at the other. A nurse runs to Reilly’s aid, but she is too late. A small crowd of spectators gathers along the Lytle Street sidewalk. At first, they aren’t sure what they’ve just come upon. A massive crane-like structure with what appears to be a large camera mounted at the far end looms overhead as the action unfolds below.
State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has taken quite a bit of ribbing this session over his bill to bar United Nations observers from observing Tennessee elections. Last week, one of his fellow Republicans gave him a hard time. State Rep. Matthew Hill, a veteran legislator who also represents Jonesborough and shares an office suite with Van Huss, had plenty of ammo ready when Van Huss took the podium Thursday to present House Bill 591. His “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” would restrict the use of drones by police, and Hill joked about the suspicion that his colleague might seem a little paranoid.
Bradley County is facing another tight budget year, but salary increases may be considered. County Mayor D. Gary Davis last week presented county commissioners a budget to consider for the fiscal year starting July 1. Overall, the budget requests exceed last year’s budget by 1.7 percent. Of 60 departments in the county’s general fund, only 24 or 25 requested budget increases, while at least nine departments asked for less money than this year, Davis said.
Already spread out across an area larger than New York City — but with less than a 12th the population — Memphis was poised to take another step in its relentless expansion into new territory. But earlier this spring, the administration of Mayor A C Wharton withdrew a proposal asking the City Council to approve a $1.7 million, 3,300-foot sewer interceptor into the Mary’s Creek watershed in East Shelby County. For the short term, the action put on hold a project that would open an area east of Houston Levee near Walnut Grove to annexation.
A growing group of Tennessee and Kentucky lawmakers continues to fight the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its plan to restrict boating and fishing access near Cumberland River dams. In a letter Friday to an assistant secretary of the Army, the lawmakers urged the Corps of Engineers not to completely cut off access near the 10 dams the agency operates on the Cumberland and its tributaries. The letter cites a budget resolution passed last month in the U.S. Senate signaling opposition to the Corps plan.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign announced last week that it raised more than $1 million in the first three months of the year. “As senator and governor, Lamar Alexander has been standing up for Tennessee, and we are ready to stand up for him,” said campaign finance chairman Steve Smith. “We raised more than $1 million in only 10 weeks, and we are on pace to double that amount in the next quarter.” The campaign said it plans to have four major fund-raising events throughout the state in April and May, including one at fellow Sen. Bob Corker’s Chattanooga home.
The tweet referred to a famous song: “Try a Little Tenderness.” Maybe it should have mentioned a different one: “Suspicious Minds.” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen got into his second Twitter-related mess of the year with a message to singer Cyndi Lauper after they both attended a Memphis-themed event Tuesday at the White House, The Associated Press reported. But this time the mess was intentional, Cohen said Friday. The Memphis Democrat’s tweet to Lauper, who is married, said, “great night, couldn’t believe how hot u were. See you again next Tuesday. Try a little tenderness.”
While millions of federal workers are facing furloughs, automatic budget cuts don’t appear to be thinning local lawmakers’ wallets. It’s different at the highest levels of government. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State John Kerry have announced this month they’re giving back money in solidarity with federal workers confronting pay cuts. But ask local lawmakers about personal cutbacks, and they’ll refuse the question or redirect it to their congressional offices, whose workers are absorbing the brunt of what’s formally known as sequestration.
Knoxville lawyer Pam Reeves is being vetted by a committee of the American Bar Association for the U.S. District Court judge position being vacated Aug. 1 when Thomas W. Phillips retires. Phillips’ successor will be named by President Barack Obama, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Some members of Knoxville’s legal community in receipt of a letter from the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary are being asked to evaluate Reeves’ professional qualifications in terms of integrity, competence and temperament.
With Nashville’s long-trumpeted Music City Center set to open in four weeks, conventions booked for the facility’s first two full years of operations are still below figures Metro consultants said to expect. But project boosters maintain a comparison is too early, not indicative of the real story and even unfair — the center’s anchor hotel won’t open until October and the convention center itself is opening its doors a few months later than projections had assumed. In fact, tourism officials say demand for the most expensive municipal project in city history is humming.
The federal No Child Left Behind law was born in Texas, and billionaire Ross Perot first rallied big business to support tougher standardized testing and high school graduation standards here nearly three decades ago. But the state now appears ready to step back from the strenuous accountability policies it has long been a national leader in championing, amid fears that youngsters are being forced to take too many high-stakes tests and that too many might drop out because of higher expectations. A number of other states are also considering pulling back.
Labor department needs a change in culture At the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, officials are still looking for rock bottom. Since the beginning of the year, we have witnessed the sudden resignation of the department’s commissioner and her two top deputies; and the release of audit findings, including contract improprieties, failure to recoup millions of dollars in unemployment compensation overpayments and the fact that dead people were collecting unemployment.
The Volunteer State was never synonymous with progressive politics. But we could take comfort that our legislature wasn’t as cringe-worthy as that of the Magnolia State. The Mississippi legislature waited until February to formally ratify the 13th Amendment, which in 1865 abolished slavery. A 148-year-old oversight is embarrassing. What the Tennessee legislature has done to the poor and working class is reprehensible. A reprieve from the madness in Nashville should come by Wednesday, when the session is expected to end. But last week, a bill that hurts low-wage workers became law.
The discovery by lawmakers Wednesday that President Obama had tucked away a proposal in his new budget to sell off TVA understandably hit TVA officials, workers and some area lawmakers like a bomb — or, depending on the lawmaker, at least like a pesky mosquito. Yet the odds against a sale actually happening are immense. This isn’t the first time privatization of TVA has been proposed in Washington: It’s a set piece of periodic political football, and it surely will not be the last. But since there is really nothing to gain by selling off TVA and plenty to lose, the best that can come of this proposal is that it may shake TVA’s leaders out of their lethargic status-quo management style.
President Barack Obama has a good idea. That’s a sentence that has never been written on this editorial page and, barring miraculous circumstances, will not again. Obama, who, by any historical definition is a socialist, has endorsed one of the most free market policy stances in recent memory. In fact, his idea is so rooted in limited government that the Right’s beloved freedom fighter, Barry Goldwater, was the first to propose it. Obama’s grand plan? Privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday released his $3.8 trillion budget proposal for the next fiscal year, prompting criticism from both the left and the right. And some head-scratching in the seven states served by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Obama administration plans to conduct a “strategic review” of TVA to determine whether all or part of the federal corporation should be sold to the private sector. The proposal is part of the administration’s Creating a 21st Century Government initiative, which focuses on cutting waste, streamlining agencies and other reforms. We do not need a strategic review to know the privatization of TVA — which is more than just a utility — is not in the best interests of its 9 million customers or the American public as a whole.
The uproar reverberating from the mountains of East Tennessee to the Mississippi Delta would be recognized by the Iron Lady. Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain who died last week, might even sympathize with her ideological opposite, President Barack Obama, over the outcry raised by his vague proposal to explore the sale of the Tennessee Valley Authority. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., quickly condemned the 213 words in Obama’s 200-plus-page budget. “This is one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” Alexander said.
There is discussion of making some changes in the region’s Veterans Affairs hospitals, run by the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. The plan would move 42 beds and the acute and intensive care units, to Nashville from The Alvin C. York VA Medical Center here in Murfreesboro. Also, the mental health patients in Nashville would be sent to Murfreesboro. According to the plan, this increases efficiency by eliminating having each hospital provide all services. It is critical to note that at this time, nothing has been approved, according to Christopher Alexander, a spokesman for Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, and that plans would likely be implemented in 2014.
Devastated by the recession, the city of Stockton, Calif., is trying to renegotiate its debts in a bankruptcy case that could set an important precedent on whether courts can forcibly reduce the pensions of government employees. Like many cities hit hard by the bursting of the housing bubble, Stockton found its finances in a mess. Even after drastic cuts to city services that have sent the crime rate soaring, the city of 300,000 people about 80 miles east of San Francisco has an annual budget deficit of $26 million. It has laid off a quarter of its police force, which has meant that officers often respond only to crimes in progress. The city’s crisis is not unique.