This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Flood warnings continued Sunday in several counties in Middle Tennessee after heavy rainfall swelled rivers and tributaries. The National Weather Service in Nashville issued a flood warning for the Cumberland River in Clarksville, which was expected to reach above flood stage on Sunday and then start to decline. The Red River in Port Royal affecting Robertson and Montgomery counties was expected to reach moderate flood levels on Sunday. Clint Mathis, the Stewart County Emergency Management Agency director, said there were five or six calls from residents needing rescue from the flooding on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Severe storms rattled Middle Tennessee during the weekend, causing many area creeks and rivers to rise significantly, but the Cumberland River remained well below flood stage. The heavy rain closed some roads and forced some temporary evacuations in Middle Tennessee. Most of the Midstate saw 3-4 inches of rain between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Stewart County, about 80 miles northwest of Nashville, endured the heaviest rainfall, receiving as much as 6 inches. The deluge there washed out bridges and roads, created sinkholes and damaged or destroyed several homes.
Heavy, rapid rain caused some major flooding and damage to roadways, homes, and businesses in Stewart and Houston County Saturday night and early Sunday morning. “There were five or six rescue calls in Stewart County,” said Clint Mathis, Stewart County Emergency Management Agency director. “The people were rescued, and there were no injuries.” The Stewart County Rescue Squad, along with the officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, members of Montgomery County Swift Rescue Team, the Henry County Swift Water Rescue Team and Trigg County, Ky., rescue squad assisted flood victims.
Some areas of Montgomery County that are flood prone, including Woodstock subdivision, experienced flooding from heavy weekend rains. The Tharpe family is among Woodstock residents who are aggravated by the recurring flooding at the subdivision near Exit 1.It is the third year in the past four that the subdivision has flooded. “The first time it flooded (in 2010), we had to move out of our house for almost a week,” Michael Tharpe said Sunday. “It seems like it happens every year. We thought the problem was fixed but when we woke up this morning, we saw a lake in our backyard again.”
Workers at a Fayette County animal shelter scrambled to recover dozens of dogs loosed from their kennels Saturday night when an F1 tornado touched down about 10 miles northeast of Arlington. The plight of the animals, and of Bill Funk, the shelter’s owner, drew support from all over the storm-damaged community as people showed up not only to help look for the missing dogs but to drop off spare bowls, leashes, dog food and kennels. “The tornado just tore the place up,” Funk said. “We’re devastated here. It’s terrible.”
Judge required agency to revamp method Attorneys for the Department of Children’s Services return to federal court today under a judge’s order to produce a better plan for investigating child deaths. DCS is responsible for reviewing the circumstances behind the deaths of children in state custody and children who had been reported to DCS for suspicions of abuse or neglect and subsequently died. But a Tennessean investigation found that the agency was taking no formal approach to examining child deaths.
Every time the temperature drops in the spring, Sumner County strawberry farmer Mike Bradley watches the weather forecast and hopes for the best. Recent cold nighttime temperatures and overnight frost advisories had him worried. And he knows there’s the possibility of more cold snaps on the horizon. “We’re just going to have to hope that luck will be with us,” he said. “This time of year, usually we get frost before daylight and it doesn’t stay very long, but nothing’s set in concrete. A killing frost can happen at any time.”
Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro wants you to stay in school — specifically, his school. Catanzaro, who brought training centers from Germany, who opened a $33 million health science center, whom the Gallup Organization calls a “Maximizer,” now wants to add five applied science bachelor’s degrees to his community college. He first proposed the addition to the Tennessee Board of Regents and has been lobbying ever since. By 2018, he hopes, Chattanooga State will graduate about 60 students per year with these degrees not currently offered by area four-year institutions.
Tennessee is plunging ahead with a plan to drug-test some welfare applicants even though a Florida judge stopped a similar program over constitutional issues and Arizona authorities caught only one welfare-receiving drug abuser in three years. Reports from the Tennessee agency charged with implementing the drug-testing law show the state may try to catch drug-using applicants with a diagnostic quiz that includes questions such as “Have you abused more than one drug at a time?” and “Do you ever feel bad about your drug abuse?”
University of Tennessee graduate students got some practical advice for their national energy policy ideas that might be politically unpopular from two former public figures who have governed in the real world. The occasion was Thursday when presentations by a policy studies class in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education were made to the center’s namesake, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, acting the role of “president.” Then walked in his friend and “vice president,” former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who’s also been a U.S. secretary of energy and a diplomat.
Metro Nashville Public Schools is looking to pick up an extra $44 million for next school year’s budget, and Mayor Karl Dean is reticent to give the district all of it. During the recent economic downturn, funding for education has continued to grow while most other Metro services were stuck in place, and Dean hinted earlier this month at a need to balance that. But exactly what will be shaved or chopped off MNPS’ $764 million proposed operating budget is yet to be seen, although the mayor indicated he’s unwilling to sacrifice the district’s charter schools to do it.
Attorneys in the Hamilton County Commission prayer lawsuit say they’ve made their cases and are awaiting word from a federal appeals court. Lawyers for the county, and for Thomas Coleman and Brandon Jones, who are suing to stop prayers at commission meetings, traveled to Cincinnati last week to appear before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Coleman and Jones had appealed an August 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice denying a request to stop the prayers while the overarching lawsuit is resolved.
When federal agents descended on the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J on April 15, it was the first inkling the public and company executives had of an FBI and Internal Revenue Service investigation that began nearly two years ago. After the country’s largest diesel retailer sought to downplay the probe, federal officials took the unusual step of unsealing an affidavit that helped authorize the raid before any charges have been filed. The sworn statement recounts internal Pilot conversations that led investigators to conclude there was a widespread scheme to defraud trucking company customers in order to boost company profits and pad sales commissions.
An investment group with a major stake in Pilot Flying J voiced its support Sunday for the embattled Knoxville-based company and the Haslam family amid an ongoing federal investigation. CVC Capital Partners holds a 47.5 percent share of the Pilot travel center empire, representing the largest ownership stake outside of company’s founding family. On April 15, FBI and IRS agents raided Pilot’s corporate headquarters on Lonas Drive and other facilities.
In the high-dollar game of Republican politics — the kind played on the telephone and at fundraiser dinners at the homes of millionaires — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recalls seven words its Tennessee players feared the most. “Ted Welch is holding on line one.” Hearing it meant a few things: One, the recipient would soon be challenged to give a specific sum of money to a Republican candidate. Two, he or she would usually commit to that figure before hanging up. And three, the check would be mailed immediately.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told reporters in a Friday conference call he does not favor military intervention in Syria despite reports Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons against his own people. President Barack Obama has set “a clear red line” that regime use of chemical weapons in Syria is not acceptable, a White House official told reporters in a background conference call Thursday. The White House official said the U.S. intelligence community has “varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria with the chemical agent sarin.
Lawmakers pressed the Obama administration to intervene in Syria’s civil war, citing the regime’s alleged chemical-weapons use, as the White House weighed its response against a sobering fact: Damascus has developed a world class air-defense system. That system, built, installed and maintained—largely in secret—by Russia’s military complex, presents a formidable deterrent as the White House draws up options for responding to a U.S. intelligence report released last week concluding that Damascus likely used chemical weapons on the battlefield.
Fiona Murphey wanted to do something to improve the environment. So the 13-year-old student at West End Middle School took the very American step of writing her congressman. She wrote a five-page letter as part of an eighth-grade English assignment and she really didn’t expect a reply from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper. She never dreamed the Nashville Democrat would show up at her school to surprise her in front of all her classmates. But that’s what happened recently. “I wasn’t sure he was going to read it,” Murphey said of her letter.
Legislation that would force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes from their customers has put antitax and small-government activists like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation in an unusual position: they’re losing. For years, conservative Republican lawmakers have been influenced heavily by the antitax activists in Washington, who have dictated outcomes and become the arbiters of what is and is not a tax increase. But on the question of Internet taxation, their voices have begun to be drowned out by the pleas of struggling retailers back home who complain that their online competitors enjoy an unfair price advantage.
Unlike many communities focused on cutting budgets, this small township of hilly farmland an hour south of Pittsburgh recently splurged on a new firetruck, a police cruiser and a new pavilion, bathrooms and riding mower at its Wana B Park. The shopping spree was financed by a $1 million check—nearly half as much as the township’s $2.3 million operating budget—thanks to a state law passed last year to assess fees on natural-gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale formation. The township, which has 130 such wells on its 39 square miles, is among the state’s most densely drilled areas.
A recent survey says Middle Tennessee consumers are becoming more optimistic about the local economy and are increasingly upbeat about the future. The survey by Middle Tennessee State University’s Office of Consumer Research found that the trend follows a decline in the local consumer outlook that has been mired in the negative range since 2008. The local consumer outlook index rose to 193 from 144 in February. The survey of 355 randomly selected adults in Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson counties was conducted April 16 to April 18.
A contract with Memphis’ new Electrolux plant is proving to be a game-changer for a small recruiting service that was in the right place at the right time. “This is a recruiter’s dream,” said Adam Reding, vice president of operations for Ross Recruiting Services, which is in the second six-month phase of its contract with Electrolux to find people for salaried jobs in the plant and office. The massive 1,200-employee appliance factory, scheduled to open in June, is expected to send an economic updraft through the region as it ramps up.
Schools merger countdown Days left: 63 Solved: District officials reposted all central office jobs after rewriting some descriptions and salary levels to save money. The deadline to apply is Monday. Unsettled: The board debated for hours last week the differences between two bids it has for outsourcing custodial services. After seven votes, and an emotional appeal from the interim superintendent for a decision, there still was no agreement. The discussion splintered along several themes, including which contract is best for the workers.
Students in two Maury County schools are no longer trying to hide their cell phones in backpacks or desks — they have them out in the open. That’s because administrators have decided the best way to stop improper use of the devices in schools is to harness them. Since February, Hampshire Unit School and Spring Hill High School have encouraged students to bring their own digital devices to school twice a week to help with assignments. Hampshire Unit School Principal Leigh Ann Willey told the Columbia Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/17EAJix) that the pilot program is centered on research.
As spring rains soaked the central United States and helped conquer the historic drought, a new problem has sprouted: The fields have turned to mud. The weekly drought monitor report showed the heavy rains that also caused some flooding in the last week brought drought relief to the upper Midwest, western Corn Belt and central portions of the Plains. Farmers may be thankful the land is no longer parched, but it’s too wet to plant in corn country, and freezing temperatures and lingering snow have ruined the winter wheat crop.
An apartment building at East Tennessee State University was evacuated Saturday night after a number of law enforcement officers were called in to check for explosive materials. An email from David Collins, Vice President of Finance and Administration, was sent to all faculty, staff and students about the incident Sunday morning. Public safety officers were investigating two apartments at Buc Ridge where drugs, drug paraphernalia and other unusual items were discoverd, according to the email.
Students at an East Tennessee State University apartment building were evacuated early Sunday morning after a drug investigation led to the discovery of propane canisters, fertilizers and other powders and liquids in a student’s apartment, which prompted a search that turned up a non-active pressure cooker in that student’s car. Four students have been charged with various marijuana-related drug offenses resulting from the original investigation. Federal and local authorities determined there was no threat from explosives, according to a statement from the university.
Term limits apply to the Knox County Commission and all the general government elected offices. Some commissioners think term limits also should apply to the Knox County Board of Education. Term limits have worked well for County Commission and general government offices, as well as for the Knoxville City Council and mayor’s offices. There is no reason to believe term limits wouldn’t be just as beneficial for the school board. Legislative approval would be required, however, and afterwards a referendum before the change could be made. Knox County voters approved term limits in 1994.
Cynicism will rarely steer you far wrong in Washington but, for whatever reason, Congress hastily voted to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to end the 10 percent cut in hours and pay of its 15,000 controllers as well as other employees essential to the functioning of our air-travel system. The FAA, like every other federal agency, was the victim of Congress’ and the Obama administration’s ill-advised attempt to force itself to deal with the budget deficit by imposing 10 years of across-the-board budget cuts — the “sequester” in Washington-speak — that Congress thought would never come to pass.
An April 15 Associated Press/Roper Public Affairs poll records what we all sense: The average citizen is fed up with our federal government. Of 1,004 adults questioned, 56 percent responded that “America is heading in the wrong direction.” Only 7 percent trust “the government in Washington to do what is right just about always” and 11 percent claimed “the government never does what’s right.” So, is this distrust justified? Let’s stroll through a few events: The U.S. government operated with no budget for four years while spending without restraint.
Should the smooth functioning of the Internet rely on the ratio of ice cream to cake in an ice-cream cake? Seventy-four U.S. senators seem to think so. Last week they voted to allow a bill to proceed that would force online retailers to collect sales taxes for the states and localities where their customers live. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, sent a blast email to Americans who use the online buying service urging them to tell “Congress ‘No!’ to new sales taxes and burdens for small businesses.” The bill would put at risk the Internet’s status as the vibrant home of low regulation and low taxation.