This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN) announced Thursday The TENN program to identify and assist the top 10 start-up companies graduating from the state’s regional accelerators. The program kicks off with a statewide demo day on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Bridge Building on the Cumberland River’s East Bank, during which The TENN will be chosen. The Blackstone Foundation is sponsoring The TENN. “Focusing on innovation and attracting and encouraging entrepreneurs are key economic development strategies in Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in release.
The state is launching a new program to find Tennessee’s top 10 startups. Companies that have graduated from one of Tennessee’s nine regional business accelerators in the past year can apply to be one of The Tenn, a new program announced today by Launch Tennessee. Winning companies, selected by a panel of investors, will fly to California and the East Coast to network with venture capitalists and angel investors. Winners also will be provided office space or subsidies for office space.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he didn’t break campaign finance laws by paying general consultant Tom Ingram from his personal bank account. State e-mails released by News Channel 5 Investigates show Ingram took part in campaign-related planning retreat while being paid off the books. Because state law requires campaign expenses to be reported publicly, Haslam’s out of pocket payments to Ingram have raised questions about their legality. When asked why he did not openly disclose Ingram’s compensation, the governor said there was a personal line that didn’t need to be crossed.
Payments to continue through year-end Faced with the possible cutoff of an estimated $122 million in federally funded benefits for 22,000 unemployed residents, Tennessee labor officials have delayed a planned cut in special benefits for the unemployed who have dependent children until next year. The cutoff of benefits for dependents of the unemployed had been scheduled to go into effect July 1 but was delayed at the last minute when state officials said they first learned such a move would trigger a cutoff of aid to the 22,000 getting federally funded supplemental benefits.
It’s been three days since floodwaters rushed through the streets of South Pittsburg, stripping front yards bare, crumbling pavement and swallowing bridges whole. City leaders still do not know the full extent of the damage — how many houses soaked, how many lives altered. But the city does know one thing: When it comes to help from the federal government, don’t be optimistic. South Pittsburg and Marion County officials met Friday with Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director James Brassham, among others, to discuss the damage they have discovered so far and what they should do going forward.
State officials are evaluating six sealed bids on office space for housing nearly 400 state employees who are moving out of the State Office Building and James R. Mapp Building in Chattanooga. Bidders include Tallan Holdings Co., Henry G. Luken III, Osborne Building Corp., TallanBeltline@ Howell Mill LLC, Pointe Property Group Inc. and East Nooga LLC. State officials decided to move employees out of the buildings based on recommendations by Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate firm, which says they are too costly to operate.
Lurking in waterways with its long, slimy body and beady eyes, the hellbender is Tennessee’s largest salamander, not to mention a survivor of ancient times. For at least the last two decades, though, as water quality in many parts of the country has declined, the hellbender’s population has dwindled, threatening its very existence, wildlife advocates say. Recently, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washingtonagainst the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect hellbenders under the Endangered Species Act.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam is stopped by the Tri-Cities with a special challenge for local children. Inside Sycamore Shoals’ State Park’s new exhibit Mrs. Haslam read aloud a book on the American Revolution to about 30 children. It’s part of the first lady’s ‘Read20 Family Book Club’ where a book is selected every month for a family to read together for 20 minutes every day. Mrs. Haslam said this challenge could help improve literacy rates across the state of Tennessee.
House Speaker Beth Harwell’s recent appointment of Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, to replace Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, on the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations is stirring up speculation in some quarters. Harwell, a Republican, had named Hill to TACIR in April. But with the state and local policy group studying annexation issues, prompted by Carter’s legislation, the local lawmaker was put on the panel and was arguing his points at TACIR’s meeting last month.
A Cleveland, Tenn., businessman says city officials crossed a line when they tore down protest signs he posted outside his business Thursday during a visit by Gov. Bill Haslam. “There needs to be a public apology,” said Dan Rawls, owner of Cleveland Performance Center, for what he says is trespass and violation of his right to free speech. “I think they need to take a course in the Constitution to learn not only that you can’t violate private property rights, you can’t violate First Amendment rights.” But City Councilman George Poe said Rawls is the one who crossed the line by planting the handmade signs on city right of way near the South Cleveland Community Center, where Haslam announced $570,000 in grants for the center and the Mouse Creek greenway.
More than a thousand Tennessee Republicans gathered in Nashville’s new Music City Center for the annual GOP Statesman’s Dinner. The event brought in almost half a million dollars for the party, which controls both chambers of the state legislature, both of Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seats, and seven of the state’s nine Congressional districts, as well as the governor’s office.
Cory Wigal was a young Belmont University student when the city of Nashville decided to shut down a small ministry he helped start in the Church Street Park to help the homeless. “This seems like a First Amendment infringement,” Wigal recalled telling a Metro official. “That was when he invited us to challenge it with lawyers.” Wigal did just that, and he won. More and more people in Tennessee have been aggressively asserting their First Amendment rights. Whether it’s a Belmont student willing to take on Metro, a fiery street preacher suing his way back onto college campuses or even residents of a small community unfazed by the threat that their complaints about water quality could be tantamount to terrorism, people are fighting back on attempts to curb their speech.
Wis. group sought invocation halt Knoxville City Council will keep praying before meetings, despite a request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to stop invocations. On Tuesday, Councilman Nick Della Volpe gave a quick public invocation, as he and others have many times in Council meetings. “You’re trying to get people to put aside their petty, everyday thoughts and think about the big picture,” Della Volpe said. “It’s not an acid test that if you don’t stand and bow your head, you can’t speak. We hear everyone’s petition.”
The clock appears to be ticking on the rundown riverfront barge across from the Tennessee Aquarium. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given the barge owner 90 days to shape up. Lee Roberts, a spokesman for the corps, said its officials met with barge owner Allen Casey on June 18 and gave him 90 days to complete corrective actions to bring his barge permit into compliance. “Upon completion of the 90-day period, the Corps will make a decision whether to reinstate, modify or revoke the permit,” Roberts said in an email.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park says visits are up since a major road has been reopened. Still, year-to-date tourism was off 5.3 percent for the first half of 2013. Park officials announced Friday that June visits were up 5.2 percent, compared with June 2012. A total of 1,264,490 people came into the park last month. June marks the beginning of the summer travel season and is usually when the number of visitors begins to exceed a million per month. Park officials say visitation has returned to traditional levels since Newfound Gap Road was reopened in April.
News of the Congressional debate over how to fund federal food assistance hadn’t yet reached Elaine Hugo, who had just finished using food stamps to buy lunch for her children and grandchildren Friday at a convenience store in northeast Memphis. She did know this: Without the extra $200 a month she gets from the government to buy food, “we’d be living off beans,” Hugo said. “I don’t know what we would do.” For the first time in 40 years, federal lawmakers opted to pass a Farm Bill on Thursday that does not include funding for food stamps, leaving the fate of a program that feeds more than 260,000 people in Shelby County hanging in the balance.
TVA nuclear chief Preston Swafford will be paid an extra $552,488 as severance for leaving the federal utility by October. In a Securities and Exchange filing Friday, the Tennessee Valley Authority said Swafford’s resignation is considered “an approved termination” and he will also be eligible for executive bonuses and incentive awards paid to top managers this year. Swafford, 53, announced this week he will retire from TVA by October. He is being replaced by Joseph P. Grimes, an executive with Exelon Nuclear.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has approved more than 250 renewable energy projects for the year 2013 across the multi-state region it covers. But some solar providers in Tennessee are chafing at the limits TVA has set as it attempts to balance large solar farm installations with more smaller home rooftop solar installations. It buys power from both sources with a premium paid for energy from the residential rooftops. Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is the authority’s largest customer and solar installations in the Memphis area are dominated by the large solar installation at Agricenter International and the solar farm in rural West Tennessee along Interstate 40.
The government has confirmed that, based on the latest estimates, the Uranium Processing Facility won’t become operational until 2025 — and that’s just the first phase of what’s now become a three-phase project. Just a few years ago, the entire project at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was supposed to be completed around 2020. According to information contained in the U.S. Department of Energy’s newest Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, which was submitted to Congress last month, the fully equipped UPF won’t be available until 2038.
Peace activists have once again asked a federal judge to order the government to take down a fence at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, claiming it violates their rights to free speech and assembly. Members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance filed a complaint Friday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, asking for a preliminary injunction to force the U.S. Department of Energy to remove a temporary fence that was erected in April along the plant’s boundary on Scarboro Road.
There’s a lot of change happening in Antioch, including a proposed community ice rink and a new community college campus. The driving force behind Antioch’s transition is Metro Nashville, which is making big investments in the fast-growing area “The city is investing in this area because this is where the growth is,” said Mayor Karl Dean this week at a discussion about the future of South Nashville hosted by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The next step for the community’s rebound is for the private sector to get more involved, Dean said.
Speculation continues to grow over whether the soon-to-be new owner of Oreck Corp. will keep the company’s manufacturing plant in Cookeville, Tenn., or close it and send production of the vacuum cleaners abroad. Some of Oreck’s independent dealers have heard that not only will the new owner, Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co., continue to make Oreck vacuums in Cookeville, but that the company also would move production of its own Royal brand cleaners to the Tennessee plant from China.
Pilgrim’s Pride will cut 200 jobs in Chattanooga, building on a previous wave of 400 layoffs in 2012. The company employed more than 1,500 workers at its Broad Street and Market Street facilities at the beginning of 2012, but today employs closer to 900. According to the company, its cook and cold-storage facilities, which are in its Market Street building, will shut down within the next two weeks. There are no changes at Pilgrim’s “kill” operation on Broad Street, nor to its deboning operation on Market Street, the company said.
He didn’t commit a crime in his cozy relationship with a Knox County Schools security vendor, but former school Security Chief Steve Griffin put the issue of the safety of children “in a negative light” at a time when safety concerns were at the forefront of parents’ minds. That’s what Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols concluded after reviewing the results of a probe of Griffin’s relationship with Mike Walker, president of Professional Security Design Consultants.
Anyone who still is not convinced that some of the best-paying jobs now and in the future will require workers who have a combination of academic and technical skills is hiding his or her head in the sand. That fact was impressed upon state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, during a visit to BMW’s corporate headquarters last fall. There Norris learned about the automaker’s apprenticeship program, which retains more than 90 percent of its recruits for careers at the company. After discussions with Gov. Bill Haslam and education and business leaders, Norris drafted and, with the help of other legislators, pushed through the legislature the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) earlier this year.
There is something wrong with what passes for an economic development strategy in Memphis and Shelby County. We argue about PILOTs and whether the highest property tax rate in the state contributes to an exodus from Memphis or whether it is the inability of city and county government to provide more government jobs with benefits that last a lifetime. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, there are repeated success stories like the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park in Marshall County with three major manufacturing and distribution tenants. Those plants will almost certainly hire Memphians along with workers from Fayette and Marshall counties, all of whom need the jobs.
Voters in Shelby County’s six suburban municipalities on Tuesday will put their stamp on the third most important vote since 2011 to determine the direction of public education in Memphis and Shelby County. Stymied by a federal court ruling last year, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington are making a second try at establishing their own school districts. Given the overwhelming support voters gave similar referendums last year, it appears likely Tuesday’s referendums will be approved, allowing the cities to have their districts up and running for the 2014-2015 school year.