This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Deputy to the Governor Claude Ramsey will retire at the end of August to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren in Chattanooga. Ramsey has been integral to Haslam on several key initiatives, including civil service reform, economic development efforts, workforce development training and improved operation of state government.
Gov. Bill Haslam says chief deputy Claude Ramsey is retiring at the end of August to spend more time with his family in Chattanooga. The Republican governor said in a news release on Wednesday that the 70-year-old Ramsey has been integral to his administration on key initiatives that include civil service reform, economic development efforts, workforce development training and improved operation of state government. Ramsey was elected to the General Assembly in 1972 where he served four years in the House.
Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey is stepping down from one of the governor’s top administrative posts this summer, making him the fourth high-ranking official in five months to announce a departure. Ramsey, formerly a 16-year Hamilton County mayor, was one of the first people Gov. Bill Haslam announced he’d hire to the administration in the weeks following his 2010 election. “Claude’s experience at the state and local levels of government and his common sense approach have been invaluable assets to our administration, and I am incredibly grateful to him and his wife, Jan, for their time in Nashville and commitment to the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Claude Ramsey, deputy to Gov. Bill Haslam, will retire this summer, Haslam announced Wednesday. Ramsey, 70, was Hamilton County’s mayor for 16 years before joining the Republican governor at the start of his administration in 2011. He has played a key role in civil service reform, economic development efforts, workforce development training and improving the operations of state government, the administration said in a news release.
Claude Ramsey will retire Aug. 31 as deputy to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to spend more time with his family. Haslam, a Republican, said the 70-year-old former Hamilton County mayor had played an “integral” role on several of his key initiatives, including a civil service overhaul, economic development efforts and workforce development training.
Recognition could influence funding and treatment Nashville pastor Cynthia Andrews-Looper has faced obesity — and she would definitely consider it a disease. The nation’s largest physician organization agreed on Tuesday, declaring that obesity is a serious medical condition that requires intense help. The American Medical Association’s decision could make a difference in the treatment of about 1.5 million Tennessee adults and a growing number of children who are obese. Insurance companies, policymakers and researchers will pay attention, health experts said.
Obesity is a disease, the American Medical Association decided this week, and that new label could change the way doctors and insurers handle obese patients, local bariatric experts said. The new classification could encourage doctors to create serious treatment plans for extremely overweight patients and put pressure on insurance providers to expand bariatric coverage. “You have another organization of really smart people who are saying this is a disease and we should treat it just like any other disease,” said Chris Sanborn, director of metabolic and bariatric surgery at Erlanger hospital.
Tennessee teachers began the second day of training today on the state’s new Common Core Standards and are talking about the changes they will need to make in their own classrooms. The voluntary training is being held in 17 different locations over the course of six weeks and will include more than 30,000 teachers. Math training is this month June, and English language arts and literacy training is scheduled for July. Teachers from Trousdale and Cheatham counties joined others in Sumner County today for the training and talked about math standards that will require a lot of conversations with students about how they arrived at the correct answers.
Three Northeast Tennessee public school system superintendents are among eight statewide who have launched a new education advocacy group. Founding members of the Leading Innovation for Tennessee Education (LIFT) group include Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie, Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie and Greene County Director of Schools Vicki Kirk. The new group is similar to the national Chiefs for Change organization, except focused on the state level.
Tullahoma native William Milton Duncan now has his high school diploma. Duncan had worked for a few years in the 1940s to help his family and was preparing to enter high school when he was drafted for the Korean War. He was honorably discharged at the rank of corporal and went to work in manufacturing, retiring two years ago at the age of 82. Duncan now lives in Nashville. He received his diploma Wednesday from Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Sen. Douglas Henry.
“It has been a dream for me for a long time,” William Duncan said shyly as he clutched a blue folder with an official seal on the outside. Today, Tennessee officials awarded the 84-year-old with an honorary high school diploma. A little known state benefit made Duncan’s dream a reality. A 2010 Tennessee law allows honorably discharged veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to request the diplomas. Duncan never attended high school. Instead, as one of fourteen children, he got a job at the General Shoe Company, later known as Genesco.
A Korean War veteran received his high school diploma Wednesday, more than 60 years after he got a letter from the draft board telling him to report for his physical. State officials bestowed William M. Duncan, 84, with his diploma at the first ceremony of its kind in order to raise awareness about a relatively new program. “I just want all veterans to know there is a way to get your high school diploma if you had to forgo your education to serve the greatest nation in the world,” Duncan said. “It has been a dream for me for a long time, and this diploma is an important part of my history that I will treasure the rest of my days.”
There’s a battle brewing between Tennessee’s teachers and the state department of education over a plan the teachers believe will cost them thousands of dollars over the course of their careers. The state plans to change the way it pays teachers, and while some say it will help reward the best teachers, others say it’s a pay freeze. “Over the term of their career, it could mean thousands of dollars,” said Mitchell Johnson, with the Tennessee Education Association. “Our concern is that it diminishes the earning power of teachers over the long term of their career.”
Allen Nichols did not become a teacher 13 years ago for the money. “I love teaching, it’s great. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. However, money is on his mind after hearing the new proposals. “I have lost sleep over this issue. It worries me, how am I going to make ends meet.” On Friday, the State Board of Education will consider changing the minimum salary requirements for teachers. “It basically establishes a floor in which teachers are going to be paid over a course of time,” Mitchell Johnson, Interim Director of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) explained.
Redactions in records appear random, contradictory Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that prevent the public from learning in some cases how children died, a Tennessean review has found. One DCS file describes a 17-month-old girl found not breathing and blue after her afternoon nap. Her family had a “vast history” of DCS interventions that stretched back eight years. But lengthy redactions conceal doctors’ conclusions about whether the toddler had suffered abuse or neglect before her death.
A professor at Columbia State Community College wanted to teach her students a lesson about diversity. Instead, she’s being accused of religious intolerance. At issue is an assignment in a class taught this spring by psychology professor Linda Brunton. Students claim they were required to wear a rainbow ribbon and make public statements in support of gay rights. They were then assigned to write a paper about the reactions they got from other people. Lawyers from the Phoenix-based Alliance Defending Liberty, a Christian legal group, said they received complaints from Christian students in Brunton’s class who oppose gay rights.
Some students at a Maury County college claim a psychology professor told them it’s her job “to educate the ignorant and uneducated elements of society” and to correct “hateful and closed-minded views” concerning homosexuality. The Columbia State Community College students say professor Dr. Linda Brunton gave them an assignment where they had to say they supported gay rights even if they didn’t. Word then quickly spread across campus. “When you try to force these students to take the same side as you on a subject such as homosexually, that’s a sensitive subject to some people,” said Columbia State student Andrew Grayson.
Columbia State Community College said they’re investigating claims of First Amendment violations. The Alliance Defending Freedom stated that Professor Linda Brunton required her students to wear rainbow coalition ribbons in support of gay rights as part of a class assignment that examined discrimination against homosexuals. When some of the students voiced their complaints about the assignment, Professor Brunton allegedly called them “ignorant” and “uneducated.” The Alliance Defending Freedom claimed the action violated the students’ First Amendment rights, and advocated a position, instead of encouraging tolerance.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students may have to pay 6 percent more for tuition this fall. The University of Tennessee System Board of Trustees will vote in Knoxville today on the 2014 fiscal year budget, which includes the tuition hike for students at UTC, UT Knoxville and UT Martin. The tuition bump applies to all students, whether they come from Tennessee or out of state, and whether they are undergraduates or pursuing advanced degrees. For an in-state undergraduate student taking at least 12 credit hours, the annual tuition would increase from $5,722 to $6,065 beginning this fall.
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro could see $20,050 added to his base salary, if approved by UT trustees at their meeting Thursday. That bump, a 4.5 percent increase that includes the state’s 1.5 percent raise for all employees, would take his pay to $465,618.12. On Wednesday, the trustees’ executive and compensation committee preliminarily approved the raise for DiPietro, who became the university’s president in 2010. His raise is based on his annual performance review, which includes a self-assessment and individual interviews with the four campus chancellors and 12 other members of the senior administrative staff.
A new study of domestic violence in Tennessee last year found women were nearly two times more likely to be victimized than men and children were the victims in 16 percent of all family violence cases. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation put out a report this week analyzing crime statistics from law enforcement agencies across the state. Their findings show that nearly 15 percent of all crimes reported were domestic in nature. The study looked at the relationships between victims and offenders as well as the influence of drugs and alcohol on family violence.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a report on family violence Wednesday and immediately drew fire from a domestic violence group astounded that the report did not address unmarried and same-sex couples. The report analyzed more than 40,000 incidents of domestic violence involving spouses, children, grandparents or extended family in 2012. The report found that simple assaults accounted for two out of every three domestic violence incidents, women were twice as likely to be victims and that nearly two out of every 10 incidents involved drugs or alcohol. But the report omitted another 40,000 or so incidents involving unmarried and same-sex couples, which led a top victims’ advocate to question the report’s worth.
The Tennessee Department of Labor & WorkforceDevelopment has released a report of Tennessee jobs predicted to be in demand for the next seven years. The department uses Bureau of Labor Statistics information to compile the occupations as a tool for those who are entering the workforce or are changing careers. “This is the statewide report, and in the coming weeks we will release the information on the local workforce areas as well,” said Employment Security Administrator Linda Davis in a release.
Ten West Tennessee lawyers, including two Memphis judges, have applied for a seat on the Tennessee Court of Appeals’ Western Section that won’t be vacant until August 2014 with the retirement of Judge Alan E. Highers. The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission is scheduled to meet June 29 in Jackson, where it will interview the applicants, hold a public hearing and then select two slates of three nominees each to send to Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor will choose from among the six and appoint one as judge on the 12-member court for a term that begins Sept. 1, 2014.
The panel charged with selecting textbooks Tennessee school districts can adopt is officially on notice. State lawmakers say they could restructure the State Textbook Commission, after several parents complained today of bias against “Judeo-Christian values,” as well as capitalism. Laurie Cardoza-Moore was one of several speakers from Williamson County who railed against textbook bias. Among other things, she argued books explaining Muslim terrorism in a political context glosses over what she sees as a broader militant agenda.
Amid questions brewing for months over bias and accuracy in student textbooks in Williamson County, state lawmakers are beginning to mull whether they should tweak how a state panel reviews textbooks. The Tennessee Textbook Commission is now overwhelmed with the volume of the task at hand, and lawmakers are hoping to hold hearings in the fall to consider how to address the problem. “Am I concerned about what I think is bias in the textbooks and factual errors in the textbooks? Yes,” said Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), the chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.
They were mad. Dozens of city employees — cops, firefighters, sanitation workers — stood before tired-looking Memphis City Council members and told them they should be ashamed of themselves, or that they were disgusted, that they’d remember them come election time, that they’d have to get a second job now because of the council’s budget-cutting votes. Each speech was punctuated with applause, booing, laughter or cheers from a crowd of frustrated fellow Memphis city employees who had come to see how an impersonal city budget meeting would affect their very personal finances.
The numbers at play so far in the Memphis City Council’s long budget season are big. Council members tallied $24.4 million in city operating budget cuts Tuesday, June 18, in a marathon seven-hour session before an overflow crowd of angry city employees. The actions they took in the amendments to an incomplete operating budget affect 400 city employees who would lose their jobs and another 50 funded but vacant city positions that would be eliminated.And when the council resumes its budget deliberations at a special meeting June 25, another 400 funded but vacant public safety positions will be under consideration for further cuts.
Even as the Memphis City Council, now in Hail Mary mode, scrambled this week to choose from several budget alternatives, including a brand-new austerity proposal from budget chairman Jim Strickland, state comptroller Justin Wilson in Nashville was, resolutely if a bit apologetically, pointing out the bottom line. In a strong letter last week to council chairman Edmond Ford Jr., Wilson wrote that if the council could not successfully conclude a workable budget within acceptable financial guidelines, “someone else may end up doing this.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., this week voted to restrict abortions in his first crack at high-profile abortion legislation since news outlets revealed he encouraged his future wife’s two abortions in the 1990s. Current law generally bans abortion starting around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Tuesday’s bill, the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would ban termination of pregnancies after 22 weeks. It passed the House 228-196 on a mostly party-line vote. With pro-choice Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, the measure has no chance of becoming law.
With Oct. 1 less than four months away, the countdown for enrollment on the public health exchanges has officially started, including in Nashville, where a series of education events to drive enrollment on Tennessee’s federally run exchange is slated to kick-off this week. The events, held in private homes across the city and surrounding suburbs, are sponsored by Enroll America, a national coalition that aims to increase participation in the Affordable Care Act.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that implementation of the health care reform law won’t be smooth sailing between now and Oct. 1, when enrollment on public exchanges, including Tennessee’s federally operated exchange, is set to begin. “[Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] recently completed risk assessments and plans for mitigating risks associated with the data hub, and is also working on strategies to address state preparedness contingencies,” the federal investigators write.
The announcement last month that Coursera, which offers free college classes online, had signed agreements with state universities enrolling more than a million students made it plain that such courses, virtually unheard-of two years ago, are now part of the higher education mainstream. But along the way, a rancorous debate has emerged over whether such courses will lead to better learning, lower costs and higher graduation rates — or to the dismantling of public universities, downgraded or eliminated faculty jobs, and a second-class education for most students.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing a $70,000 fine against the Tennessee Valley Authority for violations related to one of its East Tennessee nuclear plants. According to a NRC news release on Wednesday, the violations have to do with the commercial grade dedication program during the construction of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2, about 60 miles southwest of Knoxville. The NRC requires certain components in a nuclear plant to meet strict nuclear quality assurance standards.
Federal regulators Wednesday slapped the Tennessee Valley Authority with a $70,000 fine for not adequately verifying the quality of safety equipment installed at its newest nuclear reactor. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed the civil penalty against TVA for using equipment without proper nuclear safety certification in the Unit 2 reactor under construction at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn. NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said regulators require certain components in a nuclear plant to meet strict nuclear quality assurance standards that go beyond commercial-grade quality.
Memphis impact likely substantial FedEx is trimming fewer U.S. employees than most analysts believed, while creating more savings than the company previously expected. A voluntary buyout program attracted 3,600 participants nationwide, same as the last such program in 2004, but is expected to save “well over $600 million” a year going forward, FedEx officials said Wednesday. The buyouts, along with fleet and technology upgrades, are part of a push to boost FedEx Corp. profits by $1.7 billion a year by May 31, 2016.
Last week, teachers and administrators in Shelby County Schools were in danger of losing a paycheck. This week, assistant principals and financial secretaries in Memphis City Schools have a problem. As a result of the merger, assistant principals’ contracts are being reduced two weeks to match the 10 1/2-month year worked by assistant principals in the county. Assistant principals scheduled to return to work July 1 will now report to school July 22, a week before school starts. Financial secretaries, who often cover the front office during the summer, will work their last day June 28 and be off until July 22, potentially leaving them without pay for a month.
Sometimes it seems to be such a small world inhabited by state government figures and business leaders. For example, in 2011, Gov. Bill Haslam’s first year in office, a Chicago-based real estate company, Jones Lang LaSalle, joined four other firms to compete for a consulting contract reviewing major properties owned by the state of Tennessee. As it happens, Haslam owned a stake in Jones Lang LaSalle before becoming governor in January 2011. Actually, he yet may: Since nearly all of the governor’s investments are held in a blind trust, we don’t know and the governor doesn’t know, according to his spokesman.
They say timing is everything. Such is the case with the attention recently focused on evaluating teacher quality and the teacher education programs at our Tennessee Board of Regents universities. On the positive side is a renewed emphasis on the importance of teachers and the programs that train them. On the negative, however, are quality ratings based on old data that do not reflect a bold new initiative of the TBR that is expected to transform education programs across the state this fall. Over the past few years, universities and community colleges in the TBR system have been rewriting course curricula, developing mentorships with local school systems and rethinking the way teachers have traditionally been taught and trained in school.
Bradley County seems to be preparing to become one of the first school systems in Tennessee to allow some teachers to arm themselves in the classroom. That’s a frightening thought. Just weeks ago, a Lafayette, Ga., school resource officer turned his taser on a girl who was in a hair-pulling fight with another girl. The scene was caught on video by a student who later posted it online — something unheard of until cell phones made everyone a photographer, videographer and town crier. So in Bradley County, will a teacher lose his or her head and pull a gun on students? Or mistake a fake gun for a real one?
I have always opposed taking away the people’s right to vote and have long advocated that Tennessee elect more people to office—a state attorney general and school superintendents, for example. I still think it is a good idea to elect the department heads down at the courthouse—the so-called fee offices like trustee, county clerk, register of deeds. But it’s getting harder and harder to defend. Stories have abounded over the years about these officeholders hiring their buddies, people holding ghost jobs, employees being told to get out and campaign for the boss or else. The abuses have been widespread and well documented.
President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday in Berlin contained so many elements that commentators were calling it a “smorgasbord,” but before the speech was delivered, White House aides were drawing reporters’ attention to his call for nuclear reductions, according to The Associated Press, “calling it the centerpiece of his address.” In his speech, the president called for negotiations with Moscow for a one-third reduction in deployed nuclear weapons. Any reduction would have to be mutual because a unilateral reduction is a nonstarter politically with Congress.