This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A new think-tank report suggests Garrett Manos isn’t getting the attention he deserves as a valuable worker in the science, technology, engineering and math fields in the Memphis-area economy. Manos, 18, graduated from Strayhorn High School in Tate County, Miss., three weeks ago. He promptly landed a job as a technician working on construction equipment in Memphis at Stribling Equipment LLC, a Richland, Miss.-based John Deere dealership. With a scholarship he won using automotive skills honed in high school vocational courses, Manos will attend Northwest Mississippi Community College to earn a two-year technical degree.
The morning after last week’s Southland startup conference wrapped up in Nashville, Memphis entrepreneur Richard Billings sat in his car outside an investor’s office in Middle Tennessee and practiced his pitch. Arriving early for an appointment to discuss his digital publishing company Screwpulp, Billings used the extra time to steady his nerves before trying to convince folks with money to sink some of it into his fledgling company. Like the founders of the other 45 startups selected to participate in this year’s inaugural Southland conference, Billings needs outside capital to propel his company forward.
Valero Refining Co. relied on short-term fixes instead of identifying the underlying problems with a pump that had failed five times before it triggered an explosion that enveloped three workers in a toxic cloud of acid, killing one, state records show. Following an investigation of the Dec. 3, 2012, incident — the second in less than nine months at the Southwest Memphis refinery resulting in a fatality — the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development cited Valero for nearly two dozen safety violations deemed “serious.”
Construction would be years away, but state officials want public input now on the best way to design a widened Alcoa Highway in Blount and Knox counties. Preliminary designs show the 8.4 miles of Alcoa Highway from Interstate 140 to Cherokee Trail as a six-lane road with no left turns for a road that carries up to 56,000 vehicles a day. Current intersections will become interchanges with on and off ramps. Frontage roads will be added at several points to accommodate businesses and residential areas.
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has emerged as a secret weapon for Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers seeking to douse some of the fiery legislation put out this year. But his legal advice may have put his office in jeopardy. A string of high-profile opinions has shown the political clout the attorney general wields. Though seldom a focus of public attention, the state’s top lawyer has influenced some of the year’s biggest debates, touching on topics from animal cruelty to Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy.
Groups post biggest increases in region, census data show Growth of Hispanic and Asian populations in Middle Tennessee outpaced that of white and African-American populations between 2011 and 2012, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show. In 10 Midstate counties between July 2011 and July 2012, the Hispanic population grew by 4.36 percent and Asian population by 4.31 percent, the data show. By comparison, the region’s African-American population grew by 2.39 percent and the number of whites by 1.81 percent.
Mayor Ernest Burgess hopes Rutherford County property taxpayers will accept a proposed 4 percent increase to provide a new Stewarts Creek High School and better pay for the public service providers. “Our citizens deserve and need a level of service that will meet their expectations that we’ll be able to respond to timely and effectively,” the county mayor said during an interview at his office at the County Courthouse on the Public Square. “And just as important is the fact we have 40,000 students that we have the responsibility to provide a quality education.”
Top U.S. intelligence officials said Saturday that information gleaned from two controversial data-collection programs run by the National Security Agency thwarted potential terrorist plots in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries — and that gathered data is destroyed every five years. Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records gathered daily by the NSA in one of the programs, the intelligence officials said in arguing that the programs are far less sweeping than their detractors allege.
Driver’s license photographs and biographic information of most Americans would be accessible through an expanded Department of Homeland Security nationwide computer network if the immigration legislation pending before the Senate becomes law. The proposed expansion is part of an effort to crack down on illegal immigration by requiring all employers to confirm the identity and legal status of any new workers by tapping into a Homeland Security Department system called E-Verify, which is now used voluntarily by about 7 percent of employers in the United States.
A handful of new urgent-care, walk-in medical clinics have opened in the Chattanooga area this year, part of a nationwide resurgence in quick-care popularity that is expected to double the number of retail clinics in the United States by 2015. Retail clinics are primed to carve out a strong niche in today’s health care environment, in part because of the surge in newly insured people that the Affordable Care Act will create and in part because Americans are increasingly focused on convenience and speed.
Bradley County school board recently voted 5-1 to add $43,000 to a $72,000 project to repave Ocoee Middle School’s parking lot and driveway. Board member Chris Turner cast the opposing vote. The $43,000 change order would address previously undiscovered weaknesses under the pavement, said Doug Caywood, a consultant on the project. Williams Construction, which is handling the paving, has experienced “a lot of failure around the site” as pavement gives way under its heavy vehicles, Caywood said.
The first time students disrespect a teacher at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences, they’re on the way down the hall to see Mr. Curtis Weathers, the giant of man who played in the NFL and is the head of schools. He has a paddle in his office; every MAHS student knows it, and a good number have seen it applied. “Kids are smart, savvy. The truth is if they know all they are going to get is a talking-to, then that’s not enough of a deterrent,” said Weathers, who has administered a good whacking to every child who has needed it since MAHS, founded by 100 Black Men of Memphis, opened in 2003.
This is an uncertain time for Tennesseans who value Tennessee’s verdant public lands. Tension has ratcheted up between environmental protection groups and companies who continually seek new and more productive reserves of fossil fuels and have their eye on our parks, wildlife preserves and research forests. It needn’t be this contentious, however, if the state government will begin to do the job that it should: Balance competing interests and be good stewards of Tennessee’s natural resources. Right now, the government is nowhere close, because it lacks a comprehensive policy for natural resource management.
Enhancing criminal penalties has long been a favored pursuit of lawmakers, the major restraint on this inclination being the cost to taxpayers of locking up the wrongdoers and provisions of state law and legislative rules that say the enhanced spending must be covered in the state budget. An interesting debate back in the 2013 legislative session, worthy of more attention than it received as us media types focused on stuff deemed more interesting in the fast-action session, concerned what may be seen an evolution of compromise in this inherent conflict. That is, enhance the punishment, but only when the victim is a member of a chosen profession.
Knox County’s finances are in pretty good shape, thanks to an improving economy, prudent budgeting by the administration of Mayor Tim Burchett and restraint on the part of county commissioners. In fact, Finance Director Chris Caldwell said the county could see a surplus of up to $12 million when the books are closed on the fiscal year in September. County officials should not celebrate by going on a spending spree, however. They should keep their priorities in order and remember that the time to get the county’s fiscal house in order is when revenues are sufficient to cover costs.
The city’s financial house is burning, and arguing over who struck the match is not going to help extinguish the blaze. That analogy is fitting for what is happening between the Memphis City Council and Mayor A C Wharton as both sides struggle to come up with a budget and a tax rate to fund it. Fueling the flames is the latest scathing letter from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson warning that if the Memphis City Council doesn’t get its financial priorities in order “someone else will.” That someone is the state of Tennessee. That is the burning fire.
One of the few positives about the imminent merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools is the chance to take the best practices from both districts and meld them into one workable unit. That sounds good in theory. But when you have 23 cooks in the kitchen — as is the case with the unified county school board — melding doesn’t always come easily. Take last Tuesday’s board meeting, for example. Board members were sailing along, getting important things done in advance of the official merger July 1. Things such as approving the expenditure of $12 million in reserve funds to close the gap on a $1.18 billion budget for 2013-14.
A dozen years ago, a Knoxville music promotion company got together with a few New Orleans-based concert coordinators to scout a location for an outdoor music event. The place they settled on was a quiet, 700-acre farm in Coffee County, Tennessee. The group then got to work booking acts and selling tickets. Relying on nothing more than email blasts and word of mouth, the small band of entrepreneurs amazed themselves by selling all of their 70,000 tickets in just 11 days. With that, Bonnaroo was born. The 12th installment of Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, winds up today.