This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with Taylor Farms officials announced today the company will expand operations at its Smyrna, Tenn. facility, resulting in a $5.9 million investment and the creation of 170 new positions in Rutherford County. “It is especially exciting when existing Tennessee businesses are growing and expanding here,” Haslam said. “I am grateful to Taylor Farms for the company’s continued investment in and commitment to Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to move quickly and select three new state appellate judges from a list of 18 candidates forwarded to him last month in the waning hours of the Judicial Nominating Commission. “Our working assumption is we will name those in the next 60 days anyway,” Haslam told reporters Monday. “The legal guys have said we can go ahead and name those and then they’re judges in waiting, I guess.” Among those selected for the expected vacancy in the Eastern Section of the Court of Criminal Appeals was Chattanooga attorney Boyd Patterson, former director of the city’s Gang Task Force and an assistant district attorney.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday reiterated his support for the state’s education commissioner, who has come under fire for changes to how teachers are paid. At least two Facebook pages have been created calling for Kevin Huffman’s ouster as well as an online petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures. The state Board of Education approved the changes last month after supporters and opponents argued for nearly two hours over the matter. The measure changes the minimum teacher salary schedule, reduces steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminates incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his top education adviser amid a petition drive calling for his ouster. Haslam told reporters Monday that he stands by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the head of the state Department of Education. Huffman has sparred repeatedly with educators, most recently over a new pay plan that replaced decades-old salary schedules that rewarded teachers solely for advanced degrees and years of service. “I’ll put it this way: If I was going out to hire an education commissioner again today, I would hire Kevin Huffman,” Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday staunchly defended his education commissioner from critics circulating an online petition aimed at pressuring the governor to fire Kevin Huffman over changes in state teacher pay schedules. “I’ll put it this way. If I was going out to hire an education commissioner again today, I’d hire Kevin Huffman,” said Haslam, who personally recruited Huffman. “If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee’s at the top of that list, and Kevin gets a lot of credit for that.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is dismissing an online petition to remove his commissioner of education. Kevin Huffman has become a target after pushing through changes to teacher pay that would end some automatic raises. Grievance number one is the plan that would keep teachers from getting paid more because they have an advanced degree. The petition goes on to list Huffman’s support of unconventional teacher training programs like Teach for America and over-emphasizing standardized tests. But Huffman’s boss – Governor Haslam – says he couldn’t be happier.
An adult online degree program called Western Governors University officially opens in Tennessee on Tuesday. Lawmakers and even some higher education administrators have had to warm up to the concept. Legislators were hesitant to spend $5 million to open an office of Western Governors University or WGU. After all, Tennessee’s existing public colleges could have started a similar program, targeting people who have some college credit and never finished a degree. But with prodding from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, it was decided WGU could do a better job.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol says traffic fatalities on state roadways have declined nearly 14% for the first six months of 2013, compared with the same period last year. THP Colonel Tracy Trott said this week that 436 people died in traffic crashes in Tennessee from Jan. 1 through June 30. He said that’s 70 fewer than the 506 vehicular fatalities that occurred during the same dates in 2012. Trott also noted a 10.7% decline in alcohol-related crashes investigated by the THP.
State traffic fatalities fell nearly 14 percent during the first six months of 2013 versus the same period in 2012, according preliminary figures released today by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Officials say tougher enforcement of DUI and mandatory seat belt laws have helped reduce the number of deaths. THP Col. Tracy Trott said 436 people died in crashes from Jan. 1 to June 30, a decrease of 70 or 13.8 percent. The figures reflect vehicular deaths reported by all law enforcement agencies across the state.
Traffic deaths in Tennessee in the first six months of 2013 were down nearly 14 percent from the same period in 2012, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol attributed the decline partly to stepped-up enforcement of drunk driving and seat-belt laws. Tennessee recorded 436 deaths in traffic crashes from Jan. 1 through June 30, compared to 506 during the same period in 2012. A total of 12,013 crashes were investigated by the THP and local law enforcement agencies statewide during the six-month period, down from 12,381 in the first half of 2012, according to new state Department of Safety figures released Monday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville reported Monday that it is working to reduce potential flooding from recently heavy rainfalls across Middle Tennessee. Parts of Wilson and Smith counties recorded more than 9 inches of rain between July 1 and Sunday, the Corps of Engineers said in a statement. More than 8 inches was recorded in Fentress County, while areas of Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner and White counties saw more than 6 inches of rainfall.
Six people had filed for the open job of Knox County trustee by the end of business hours Monday. “I’m qualified, low-profile, and would promise not to commit any felonies (or misdemeanors),” one applicant wrote in an email that accompanied a resume. The position is open after the resignation of John J. Duncan III, who pleaded guilty last Tuesday to official misconduct, a low-level felony, for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses for which he knew they did not earn.
A portable safe in the office floor of former Trustee John J. Duncan III was sealed with audit tape last week on the same he day pleaded guilty to official misconduct. Last Tuesday, while the former Knox County trustee became a felon, external auditors collected, locked and cut off his access to bank accounts, internal files and the office in the City County Building that the congressman’s son was elected to in 2010. Duncan admitted to a low-level felony — that he paid himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
Siding with Republicans on the Shelby County Commission, Commissioners James Harvey and Justin Ford, both Democrats, voted on third reading Monday against raising the county property tax rate from $4.02 to $4.38. The commission had approved a $374 million general fund budget on June 3 for the 2014 fiscal year, which was based on the tax rate increase. The vote means the tax rate issue will go back to the commission’s budget and finance committee for more discussion. Then the full commission will have to vote twice, on second and a third reading, on a proposed new rate.
Shelby County Commissioners voted down a $4.38 county property tax rate Monday, July 8, in a decision that could reopen the county’s operating budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. At the least, the commission vote means it will be mid August at the earliest before the commission sets a tax rate. But if the commission lowers the tax rate from $4.38, it would force reconsideration of a county operating budget that is based on that higher tax rate. The commission approved the budget in June. The proposed tax rate failed Monday on a 5-7 vote.
Sen. Lamar Alexander doesn’t have a declared opponent — Republican or Democrat — in his 2014 bid for a third term. But soon enough, your television or radio might give you the opposite impression. Despite a positively uncrowded field, the Tennessee Republican and former governor has decided to spend $180,000 on television and radio ads. They tout small-government rhetoric and feature a flattering comment from conservative up-and-comer Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “Nobody wants to say no to Lamar Alexander,” Paul says in the 30-second TV spot.
Landmark immigration legislation passed by the Senate would remake America’s workforce from the highest rungs to the lowest and bring many more immigrants into the economy, from elite technology companies to restaurant kitchens and rural fields. In place of the unauthorized workers now commonly found laboring in lower-skilled jobs in the agriculture or service industries, many of these workers would be legal, some of them permanent-resident green card holders or even citizens. Illegal immigration across the border with Mexico would slow, but legal immigration would increase markedly.
Soaking rains over the weekend pushed the Tennessee River up to flood stage, and TVA’s water managers are spilling as much water through dams as safely as they can, with a keen eye toward Thursday when more rain is expected. That last bit of news isn’t what some area farmers want to hear. A week of spotty showers, fierce downpours and no sun threatens produce harvests — for farmers of acres of fruits and vegetables to the backyard hobbyist who just wants enough veggies to feed a family or share with neighbors.
This time of year, TVA usually tries to hold onto every drop of water for summer recreation season, but after recent heavy rains its spilling water from a score of dams at hundreds of thousands of gallons per second. But all this water over the dam will likely mean lower power bills in coming months for customers of utilities served by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is too early to estimate the amount, but customers will likely see savings from the current rains on their September power bills, said TVA spokesman Travis Brickey.
Though it has been more than two years since the bankrupt Incentium closed its doors in North Chattanooga, the idea behind the Scenic City startup never died. Incentium, which partnered with companies to deliver gift cards and merchandise as rewards for employees’ good behavior, or as a way to retain customers, had a good idea that ultimately fell victim to mismanagement and recession, according to executives at an upstart firm that is looking to take its place. A pair of IT veterans say they’ve spent the last 18 months reimagining Incentium’s business model using a skeleton crew, open-source software and a commission-only sales force.
The secret ingredient at Kat Gordon’s East Memphis bakery is not a pinch of this or an extra stir of that. Rather, the steady flow of treats from her bakery’s bins to customers’ hands depends in large part on the set of values she drew up that guides even the smallest details at Muddy’s Bake Shop. Those values have influenced, for example, the virtuous circle she’s tried to set in motion by things like forgoing advertising and paying her employees more. Doing that, in theory, leads to a happier staff that works harder and keeps customers satisfied, which keeps business coming through the door, making it possible to keep paying workers well – and round and round it goes.
Officials with Metro Schools don’t want to send thousands of kids home on the first day again this year. Seventh graders are now required by state law to be vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Across the state, schools turned away hundreds of students without the proper records last August. In Metro, more than 3,000 students were dismissed from class. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says he wants to avoid another huge disruption. “Way too many seventh graders were sent home from school last year because they could not prove they received all the shots required by state law.”
The Wilson County Commission could appoint a replacement Monday for the county school board seat vacated when Greg Lasater resigned last month. State law requires the 25-member commission to fill the seat with a majority vote, county Attorney Mike Jennings said. County commissioner and Education Committee Chairwoman Annette Stafford said she hoped an African-American candidate would be considered. The school board now is all white. “It’s important to me to have someone who understands the school board and county commission so we can move forward,’’ Stafford said.
Officials have yet to determine whether they can repair the vocational building at Jefferson County High School after a large section of its roof collapsed under the weight of Sunday’s heavy rains. Regardless, it certainly won’t be ready for the first day of classes next month. Insurance adjusters and the state Fire Marshal’s Office made preliminary inspections of Building 8 on the school’s Dandridge campus Monday after an approximately 5,000-square-foot portion of roof failed.
With the high projected at 91 degrees and humidity as thick as cotton insulation, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools opened Monday, the closest thing the city has to year-round schools. In session for half-days from now until July 26, KIPPsters on six campuses will be reintroduced to the culture of KIPP, the soon-to-resume 10-hour school days, the daily homework and the adherence to rules large and small designed to propel them to college graduation. “We make a bold promise to our kids and parents that we are going to prepare your child to be ready to go to college,” said Anne Erickson, chief academic officer.
Some parents and teachers headed back to school early to check out Nashville’s newest Charter school. Intrepid College Prep is located along Bell Forge Lane East in Antioch, and parents said they are thrilled to have a new school in the neighborhood. “It’s right in the heart of Antioch,” said parent Shauna Malone. “It’s in a good setting, and hopefully is a sign of even more new development in the area.” At a reception Monday, parents got to tour the facility for the first time.
Recently, the American Medical Association declared that obesity is a “disease.” The AMA made this highly controversial decision in an effort to both encourage physicians to discuss an oftentimes difficult and uncomfortable issue while also urging insurers to pay for the treatment and long-term prevention of obesity. So many of us battle with this vexing problem, and yet we never discuss it openly. In fact, since the 1960s, the rate of obesity in America has skyrocketed. In 1962, only 13 percent of Americans struggled with obesity, whereas a Gallup-Healthways study in 2012 demonstrated that today, more than one in every four Americans struggles with this problem.
The top story of The Tennessean’s June 20 edition screamed, “Obesity defined as a disease,” making official via the American Medical Association a poorly kept secret that has far-reaching implications. Nearly 70 percent of adult Tennesseans are overweight, and a third of them did not participate in any physical activity last month. Much of the focus is on prevention, and rightfully so. But the good news is obvious: This disease has a cure, and it doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals. I AM The Engine is a collective of organizations and individuals focused on making health, happiness and life fulfillment a reality for everyone.
It is hard to change the culture inside a large government or business institution. When things are done basically the same way for decades, moving the cultural needle can be a difficult task. Regarding school lunch programs, fortunately, that has not been the case. The push to get students to eat healthier has expanded lunch options beyond bologna cups, soy burgers and pizza. Free or reduced-price lunch programs for students who qualify have expanded to include breakfast and, at some schools, dinners. This is a recognition that many students who live in low-income or poverty-level households do not receive nutritious meals on a regular basis.