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 the appointment of Dr. Carroll Van West as state historian. West replaces the late Walter T. Durham, who served 11 years in the honorary position. “Dr. West’s faithful service to his field for many years reflects a commitment to excellence that will serve the citizens of Tennessee very well,” Haslam said. “His incredible body of work speaks for itself, and we are fortunate and grateful to have him as our state historian.” West has served as director at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area since 2002.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Dr. Carroll Van West as state historian. West replaces the late Walter T. Durham, who served 11 years in the honorary position. “Dr. West’s faithful service to his field for many years reflects a commitment to excellence that will serve the citizens of Tennessee very well,” Haslam said. “His incredible body of work speaks for itself, and we are fortunate and grateful to have him as our state historian.” West has served as director at the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area since 2002.
Caroll Van West is Tennessee’s new state historian. His appointment was announced today, although Van West took over the job last week. The position is honorary, in that it doesn’t come with an office or a paycheck. The state historian is expected to research and publish books and articles about Tennessee’s past, but the title goes to people who are already eager to do just that. The previous state historian, Walter Durham, served for 11 years until his death this May. Van West directs the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Tim Gobble, deputy chief for corrections and security with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, to the Tennessee Board of Parole. Gobble’s appointment becomes effective Tuesday, July 16 and the term expires December 31, 2015. Gobble will be filling the remainder of the term left vacant by the resignation of Charles Taylor. Gobble is a former Bradley County sheriff and East Ridge city manager. Board members evaluate parole requests for all eligible state inmates serving sentences of more than two years.
A former sheriff and city manager from East Tennessee on Wednesday was named to the state Board of Parole. Gov. Bill Haslam chose Tim Gobble, an interim deputy chief in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, to fill the vacancy left when board member Charles Taylor resigned in January to take a position with the Department of Correction. Gobble’s term will begin Tuesday and run through 2015. His position on the board is full time, paying $95,136 a year. The move comes five months after Gobble was removed as the city manager of East Ridge, a Chattanooga suburb, after a tumultuous two years on the job.
Gov. Bill Haslam and his TennCare chief aren’t happy with the final federal rules on Medicaid expansion, saying they don’t provide the flexibility the governor wants on cost-sharing for enrollees. The “early read” on the 606-page set of rules, released July 5 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are “not encouraging,” but Tennessee is “still having discussions,” Haslam told reporters this week. Haslam, a Republican, doesn’t want to expand the state’s version of TennCare, as envisioned in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, to additional low-income residents.
Armed with a $5 million grant from the state and a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday the launch of WGU Tennessee, an online-based university. WGU Tennessee was created through a partnership with Western Governors University and the state. Western Governors University offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees in multiple areas, including business, teacher education, information technology and health professions.
A powerful series of storms ripped through Middle Tennessee late Wednesday, tearing off roofs, downing power lines and trees and shutting roads. Franklin and northern Williamson County were particularly hard hit, with winds reported as high as 70 mph. The high winds sent city emergency responders and crews from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. scrambling to keep up. Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey said no injuries have been reported. Downed power lines closed the Murfreesboro Road interchange with Interstate 65, and felled trees made a whole section of Moran Road between Hillsboro Pike and Old Natchez Trace impassable.
Officials reported severe flash flooding in Marion County, Tenn., Wednesday night as a strong line of storms moved across the area. At around 9:30 p.m. CDT Walmart Supercenter in Kimball, Tenn. had several inches of water in the parking lot. Store Manager Sean Bradford estimated the water was above his ankles. The Hardee’s in Jasper, Tenn., reported flooding at its state Highway 28 location as well. Hardee’s employee Laura Patterson said the many small creeks in the area began overflowing after heavy rain hit, on top of high waters from last week’s weather.
TVA already released water last month from all its reservoirs along the Tennessee River. Now, the spill gates are open at every dam on the Tennessee and half of the ones the utility operates on smaller rivers, like the Cumberland. The Army Corps of Engineers is taking similar action at the sites it operates. But where the Tennessee empties into the Ohio and Mississippi, one key dam remains mostly closed. Those rivers can’t handle any extra water. And while the dam releases should help minimize flooding, some land immediately adjacent to the Tennessee, especially low lying agricultural fields, could still end up covered.
After speaking with state Sen. Stacey Campfield, Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols said Wednesday he is asking the TBI to proceed with an investigation into whether someone broke state anti-harassment laws by sending repeated automated calls to voters asking their opinion of the lawmaker. Briggs, a Knox County commissioner, said he had nothing to do with the “robo poll” made late last month. Farmer has acted as a consultant to his campaign, he said.
State Sen. Jim Tracy’s congressional campaign said Wednesday that it raised $303,000 this spring, pushing its total to nearly $750,000. The campaign also said it ended the second quarter with $656,000 in cash. The announcement came ahead of a July 15 deadline for federal campaign finance reports. Tracy, R-Shelbyville, announced in January plans to take on two-term U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, in the 4th Congressional District primary to be held next August. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, also has entered the race.
The financial stakes are a little higher today in Tennessee’s 4th District, where state Sen. Jim Tracy had another big-money fundraising quarter and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is keeping his campaign fundraising data close to the chest. In a Wednesday news release that calls DesJarlais “the embattled incumbent,” Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, said he raised $303,000 between April and June. The announcement came several days before the deadline for federal candidates to file detailed campaign finance reports with the government.
A report released Wednesday says that cutting the state’s number of high school dropouts in half would result in annual savings of $127 million in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid health care program for many of Tennessee’s poor. In Georgia, the cost savings would be $111 million, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The group’s report, Well and Well-Off: Decreasing Medicaid and Health-Care Costs by Increasing Educational Attainment, examines Medicaid spending in all 50 states as a result of alcoholism, heart disease, obesity and smoking, then makes assumptions about Medicaid savings based on educational attainment.
Loudon County commission will vote on the $70 million 2013-2014 county budget Monday despite questions about the transfer of more than $910,000 from reserves to balance the school budget. Commissioner and budget committee chairman Don Miller said he knows that using the accumulated fund balance for recurring expenses is not a good business practice, he’s just not sure whether or not it’s legal. “I think we all agree it’s not a good idea to take money from reserves to pay for ongoing expenses,” he said.
Even as the fate of Shelby County’s schools was an inevitable and implicit backdrop to budget and tax negotiations on the Shelby County Commission (see below), six suburban municipalities were launched on their second effort to approve the separate suburban school systems that they are already collecting taxes for. The municipalities of Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington all voted in 2012 in favor of establishing separate school systems for themselves in conformity with legislation in Nashville, as well as for the half-cent sales-tax increases to pay for them.
Shelby County property taxes aren’t due until October, but the tax bills were to go out to taxpayers later this month. And that could cause some cash flow problems if a new county property tax rate isn’t set soon. Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, whose office collects, accounts for and distributes the money for Shelby County government, says the first few months after the notices go out accounted for about $32 million in collections in 2012. “Even though taxes aren’t due until October, we do have some folks who go ahead and pay in July, August and September to the tune of about $32 million last year,” Lenoir said, referring to property taxes – realty and personal.
Tennessee’s Republican Senators are voicing frustration with a failed Democratic effort to temporarily lower student loans rates. Because Congress hasn’t yet passed a student loan bill, interest rates doubled to 6.8% on July 1st. A group of Democrats tried to buy more time by restoring the previous, 3.4% rate for a year, but couldn’t get enough votes. Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander called the attempt a bad idea, while Bob Corker denounced it as blatant political maneuvering. “I mean, why would you do a one-year patch when there’s agreement about a permanent solution, it’s just silly.”
Congressman Marsha Blackburn co-sponsored an amendment to a Department of Energy funding bill that would prevent enforcement of proposed rules governing ceiling fans. Credit: Steve A Johnson via Flickr. First, Congressman Marsha Blackburn tried to rescue the incandescent light bulb from being phased out in favor of more energy efficient compact fluorescents. Now she’s trying to protect ceiling fans from new Department of Energy rules. The last DOE regulations for ceiling fans were written in 2005 and set to be reviewed every seven years.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday failed to restore lower interest rates on student loans, again coming up short and perhaps signaling that undergraduates might really face rates twice as high as the ones they enjoyed last year. The proposal from Democratic leaders would have left interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent for another year while lawmakers took up a comprehensive overhaul. The one-year stopgap measure failed to overcome a procedural hurdle as Republicans — and a few Democrats — urged colleagues to consider a plan now that would link interest rates to the financial markets and reduce Congress’ role in setting students’ borrowing rates.
North Carolina drew national attention last week when it dramatically scaled back its unemployment insurance program, ending benefits for tens of thousands and slashing the amount of time that jobless people can collect aid. But the North Carolina reductions, which drew fierce protests in Raleigh, were just the latest in a string of unprecedented and historic state cuts in unemployment aid. Even as the nation’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, other states have cut unemployment benefits to levels not seen since the 1935 Social Security Act created the program.
Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, former interim CEO of Erlanger Health System and longtime hospital executive, has not retired, not resigned, not been fired — but she is no longer employed by the hospital. While Woodard-Thompson has been formally on a leave of absence since new CEO Kevin Spiegel took the helm of the hospital in April, her last day with the hospital was June 23. Erlanger confirmed her final departure Wednesday. “The approved leave ended, and her employment ended at the same time,” Gregg Gentry, Erlanger’s chief administrative officer, said Wednesday.
Randy Topping terms his new Mahindra tractor assembly plant in Chattanooga “a big step” with plans to crank out up to 5,000 a year initially and eventually double that number.”It’s outgrowing everybody in the industry,” he said about India-based Mahindra. “The share of growth has been exponential.” To meet demand, Topping said Wednesday he plans to start work on a $4 million plant at Centre South Riverport in September, ultimately creating 55 new jobs to go with the 45 people he already employs at his existing Polymer Drive facility.
The Memphis-Shelby County Education Association and Shelby County Schools have reached an agreement that requires the district to give hiring preference to high performers when teachers are “excessed” — no longer needed in their current positions. The pact prompted union officials earlier this week to dismiss a federal court petition seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the process. It also stopped a special meeting this week of the Shelby County Board of Education.
With less than a month to the opening of the first year of the consolidated school system, much of the focus has shifted to the classroom and away from the system, the school board and even the ongoing federal court case over the merger. But the 23-member school board is less than two months from slimming down to either seven or 13 members depending on a pending court ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. The issue before Mays is whether the Shelby County Commission can appoint six new members to a board that will already include the seven members elected in 2012.
Two people are in police custody following the discovery of a methamphetamine operation at a Kingsport motel, which led to the quarantine of four rooms. Shortly before 1 p.m., Kingsport police and fire department personnel descended on West Side Inn, 1017 West Stone Dr. Officer Tom Patton, KPD spokesperson, says multiple one-pot meth labs were found at the scene. As of 1:30 p.m., four rooms had been quarantined as a result of the discovery. Kingsport police arrested John T. Wilson, 601 Mary St., Bristol, Va.; and Crystal M. Knowles, 26, 4201 Carters Valley Road, Church Hill at the scene.
Gov. Pat Quinn suspended lawmakers’ paychecks Wednesday, saying they did not deserve compensation until the state’s escalating pension crisis was solved. The move came a day after the General Assembly ignored a deadline Mr. Quinn set to pass a bill addressing the state’s $100 billion in unfunded pension liability. The governor’s line-item veto of a state budget measure withholds legislators’ $67,836 salaries, as well as additional stipends for those in leadership positions. “They must have that alarm bell ringing in their ears,” Mr. Quinn said at a news conference.
Cheers Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam The governor strongly backed his education commissioner Kevin Huffman in the wake of teachers union-led whining about his policy proposals. Critics of Huffman launched an online campaign demanding that Haslam fire the education commissioner after his recommendations changing minimum teacher salary schedules were adopted by the State Board of Education. Apparently, Huffman’s ill-informed detractors believed (incorrectly) that the policy would reduce teacher pay and limit pay increases.
Changes in Education, Privatizing—Moderation Tag Doesn’t Fit The scope of change Gov. Bill Haslam is bringing to state government and the state’s education system is really breathtaking if you think about it. Many people, including a lot of people in his own party, view him as a moderate. He was seen as the least conservative of his two opponents in the Republican primary where he defeated Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey. He is often contrasted with some out-there Republican legislators as being a moderate. He also has a personality that is not abrasive, he doesn’t get in anybody’s face, and he doesn’t beat his chest about what he is doing.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols made the right call in asking the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the multiple “robo polls” — automated phone surveys — that plagued many constituents of state Sen. Stacey Campfield. The probe is aimed at determining whether state anti-harassment laws were broken. The calls, according to 7th District residents, sought opinions about the often controversial Campfield. The Knoxville Republican said Wednesday that a possible source of the calls is a political consultant to Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, his opponent in next year’s GOP primary.
Memphis has a debt problem that is aggravated by less than adequate revenue streams. That is not our opinion, but a fact noted by the Tennessee comptroller, who wrote a blistering letter to city officials earlier this year, warning that Memphis needs to get its financial house in order. If a city is looking for a quick way to increase revenue without increasing fees, then the low-hanging fruit is going after parking ticket scofflaws. Memphis has stepped up its efforts to collect unpaid tickets, backed by new fines and fees for those who don’t pay their tickets by a certain date. It is a prudent move and rightly puts the pressure to pay up on those who violate parking regulations.
No Republican should vote for legislation that perpetuates amnesty for more than 11 million people illegally in our country, leaves our southern border open for even more illegal immigration and stifles economic growth. That is why we were two of the 68 senators who voted for the immigration bill that takes the most dramatic steps in history to secure our border, end perpetual amnesty and encourage job creation. Since there is so much emotion surrounding the immigration debate, we offer the reasoning behind our votes: 1) Securing our border: The first thing to do with the current immigration mess is to stop more people from coming here illegally.
Despite the more than three years that have passed since President Obama and congressional Democrats forced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through Congress, this law is still nowhere near ready for prime time. This is not just my opinion as a conservative congressman and longtime opponent of the budget-busting, government takeover of our health care system; the Obama administration has admitted as much by abruptly deciding to delay the law’s employer mandate by a full year.