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 ARAMARK officials and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean today announced the creation of a new ARAMARK Business Services Center in Nashville. The center will create more than 1,000 new jobs over the next three years and represents an investment of approximately $20 million in Davidson County. “We are grateful to ARAMARK for the significant number of job opportunities created by the new Business Services Center and the company’s continued investment in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
The Department of Revenue is reminding Tennesseans that the seventh annual Sales Tax Holiday is scheduled for Friday, August 2 through Sunday, August 4. During these three days Tennessee shoppers can save nearly 10 percent on tax-free clothing, school and art supplies, and computer purchases. “I want to encourage Tennessee families to take advantage of the Sales Tax Holiday because it was created with them in mind,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “The weekend provides savings for families, especially as students are starting the new school year, and the holiday can provide relief on clothing, school and art supplies and computer purchases.”
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security says the average wait time at state driver services centers has decreased so far this year compared to last year. Officials say the average wait time from Jan. 1 through June 30 at centers statewide, excluding reinstatement centers, fell from 34 minutes in 2012 to 31.5 minutes in 2013. However, there was a slight increase from the first quarter of 2013 in which the average wait time was 30.5 minutes compared to the second quarter when the wait time averaged 32 minutes.
State officials say they’ve shaved a few minutes off the average wait time to get a Tennessee driver’s license and hope to slice more once they install new equipment and software at driver services centers. But that’s not happening immediately, Department of Safety and Homeland Security officials said. Installing the equipment and software, plus a doubling in the number of handgun-carry permit applications in the first six months of 2013, is causing delays. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, average wait times at centers statewide (excluding reinstatement centers) fell from 34 minutes in 2012 to 31.5 minutes in 2013.
Almost two months after an electrical fire rendered Patten Towers temporarily uninhabitable, state housing officials say repairs are on track — but inspectors will be back. Terry Malone, program compliance liaison for the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, said after a cursory inspection Thursday that building owner PK Management has made strides upgrading windows and other improvements. But Malone said there still is much to do in the 11-story downtown Section 8 public housing project.
The U.S. Department of Education says Tennessee will receive a $9.8 million grant to continue efforts to turn around its persistently lowest achieving schools. In a Thursday news release, the Education Department said the money comes to Tennessee as part of the department’s School Improvement Grants program. Tennessee, Alabama, California and Pennsylvania are among the newest states to receive continuation awards for the third year of implementing a School Improvement Grants program model.
A new study of the state’s agritourism industry estimates that its economic impact in Tennessee more than doubled between 2006 and 2012. Researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture estimate visitors to Tennessee agritourism operations in 2012 spent more than $34.4 million directly and more than $54.2 million total. Those estimates are based on survey responses from 171 Tennessee agritourism farms. The 110 agritourism operators who reported visitor numbers on the survey estimated they hosted more than 1.75 million people on their farms in 2012.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June was 8.5 percent, up from the May revised rate of 8.3 percent, Tennessee Labor and Workforce Development Department Commissioner Burns Phillips announced today. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for June was 7.6 percent, unchanged from the number of the previous month. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased from 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent. In addition, total nonfarm employment decreased 16,500 jobs from May to June.
Unemployment rose last month in Tennessee and Georgia despite jobs gains in both states over the past year. The jobless rate rose during June by 0.2 percent in Tennessee to 8.5 percent and increased by 0.3 percent in Georgia to 8.6 percent. Both states reported higher unemployment rates last month than the U.S. average of 7.6 percent. “We’re seeing improvement in most areas of the economy and I think we’re moving in the right direction despite what the unemployment rate might suggest in the short term,” said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Karen Tolliver’s voice began to break on Thursday as she described the toll that being unemployed is taking on her life. “I can’t pay my bills, my car got repo’d, I’m two months behind on my rent and I’m currently getting assistance form CSA for utility assistance,” said Tolliver, 49. “And I had to apply for food stamps.” Daryel McElroy, 51, another job seeker at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Career Center on Poplar in Midtown, said that except for the first five months of this year, he’s been unemployed for three years.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June was 8.5 percent, according to the Tennessee Labor and Workforce Development. Unemployment in the state increased two-tenths of one percentage point from the May revised rate of 8.3 percent. The national unemployment rate for June was 7.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month. Economic Summary: Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased from 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent. Total nonfarm employment decreased 16,500 jobs from May to June.
When employee ran into problems filing reports, he simply gave up, jeopardizing millions for poor Needy families who want help paying energy bills, feeding their children or covering day care costs often have to navigate complex rules and lengthy application documents. But their access to those programs was put at risk most recently by botched paperwork of another sort — by a state employee, according to auditors who examined the Department of Human Services.
State accepts 86,000 in first half of this year Applications for Tennessee handgun carry permits increased by more than 100 percent during the first six months of this year, a period that saw the Legislature enact new laws protecting permit holders from criminal prosecution and prohibiting public release of their names. The state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which issues the permits, reported Thursday that it accepted 86,334 handgun carry permit applications at driver services centers from Jan. 1 through June 30, compared with 40,503 applications accepted during the first six months of 2012 — an increase of 113 percent.
A device that works like a juicer can help small farmers turn crops into fuel, helping the environment and making their farms more self-sufficient at the same time, experts at Tennessee State University told farmers on Thursday. Biodiesel fuel production was a key demonstration at the 2013 Small Farm Expo, presented by TSU’s College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be made from vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled restaurant grease. TSU got a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a seed press system and biodiesel processor.
The Tennessee Board of Regents, Jackson State Community College and local and state officials honored a Jackson eye doctor and his wife Thursday for their service to the community and support of students determined to follow their educational dreams. John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, presented Dr. Mark Bateman and his wife, Jennifer, with the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on the Jackson State campus. “I am pleased to be here to present this award for excellence in philanthropy to Dr. Mark and Jennifer Bateman,” Morgan said.
The tax office will keep running Felonies and criminal charges from past Knox County trustees are preventing the interim trustee from obtaining the bonding she needs to fully operate, according to officials. The Hartford, the bonding company for the Knox County Trustee’s Office, notified the county that it wouldn’t bond Kristin Phillips, the county’s acting trustee, until the county provided more information on the position. “That causes great consternation,” Tony Norman, chairman of the Knox County Commission, said.
Both of Tennessee’s senators broke with their party to approve the President’s choice for head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The bulk of the Senate’s Republicans worked to block Gina McCarthy at every stop along the nomination process, including an attempted filibuster. Only six GOP Senators voted in her favor. While he deviated from the party’s efforts, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander cited the GOP as the reason why he voted for McCarthy. In a statement, Alexander pointed out that she has worked for five Republican governors and likely has better conservative credentials than anyone else President Obama would be likely to appoint.
Deal earlier in the week ended GOP filibusters The Senate filled two more vacancies in President Barack Obama’s second-term leadership team Thursday, confirming Thomas Perez as labor secretary and Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. After months of Democratic complaints that Republicans were stalling Obama’s efforts to staff his administration and the federal courts, the spurt of movement followed a bipartisan deal reached Tuesday. Republicans agreed to allow votes on seven nominations, and Democrats in return shelved efforts to change Senate rules to weaken the minority GOP’s powers.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is well known for speaking pretty bluntly at times, but did the Tennessee Republican really use a far earthier version of the term bull manure to call down Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this week? The Capitol Hill newspaper CQ Roll Call reported that at a tense meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday, McConnell, R-Ky., told colleagues he could have done better in a deal on presidential nominations than the one negotiated by rank-and-file Republicans. Citing multiple sources, CQ Roll Call reported that McConnell’s tone implied he’d been kept in the dark about the talks by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.
Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher of West Tennessee says the federal government is still playing too large a role in the US economy. He brought up that point yesterday, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before a congressional committee. Fincher says he’s concerned about the amount of money the government has pumped into the economy since 2008. He says private business has come to depend on government intervention, and will react negatively once the Fed starts to pull back.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said Thursday that he’s “stunned and dismayed” to learn that DNA tests revealed he is not the father of a woman with whom he had an affectionate Twitter exchange this year. In February, tweets between Cohen and Victoria Brink, a 24-year-old Texas woman, attracted public attention during the president’s State of the Union address. Soon after, Cohen revealed that he was Brink’s father. He said he’d learned about the relationship three years earlier. But on Thursday, CNN reported that DNA tests showed Cohen is not her father.
Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen said Thursday he was “stunned and dismayed” to learn that the 24-year-old Texas model he acknowledged as his daughter earlier this year is in fact no relation. CNN broke its story Thursday morning after arranging to give DNA tests to Cohen, Victoria Brink and the man who raised her as his daughter, Texas oil executive John Brink. The Tennessee Democrat brought Victoria Brink to national attention in February when he tweeted a message to her during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, then immediately deleted it.
“A weird one. Never seen one like it.” That’s what Chris Cuomo said, after he and CNN co-host Kate Bolduan concluded their report Thursday morning on the surprising news — should we say, latest surprising news — regarding 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and Victoria Brink of Houston, the congressman’s erstwhile tweet-mate and, we had supposed, his daughter That supposition — held by ourselves, Ms. Brink, and most of the attending world since last February — has now been dispelled by a simple DNA test, taken by Cohen, Brink, and the man who raised her, Houston oilman John Brink.
A crisis is brewing in the federal judiciary that experts say could jeopardize fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. “I’ve worked in all three branches of government and the private sector,” said U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice. “I have never been involved in any organization either public or private in which the workload has so far exceeded the resources that are allotted to do that job.” Across-the-board budget cuts of 8 percent brought on by the sequester have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, training and travel expenses cut for what many call an already overworked portion of federal government.
A new reactor at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant remains on schedule for completion in December 2015. Work was initially scheduled for completion in late 2012 at a cost of about $2.5 billion, but last year TVA announced the work was three years behind and would cost $2 billion more than planned. On Thursday, TVA issued a progress report covering the period from February through April. It found that workers had more than 19.7 million hours without a lost-time accident during that period.
Chattanooga area business owners on Thursday endorsed a new study showing that closing the online sales tax loophole could lower overall tax rates and jump-start economic growth. Donnie Eatherly, president of the East Ridge auto parts dealer P&E Distributors, said exempting online retailers from sales taxes puts brick-and-mortar retailers who must still collect such taxes at a signifcant competitive disadvantage. “We’re working with one arm tied behind out back,” he said.
Some downtown merchants seized on the release of a new study to hold a Market Square news conference Thursday to tout the benefits of closing a sales tax loophole they said favors online businesses. The ability to sell merchandise on the Internet without collecting sales tax gives online companies an unfair advantage over traditional brick-and-mortar stores, said Scott Schimmel, co-owner of Bliss and Bliss Home, on Market Square. “We have people who come into our stores, take full advantage of having an item on display and a sales staff there to help with questions. Then they snap a picture of the item and order the same thing online to avoid paying sales tax,” Schimmel said.
The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant’s former head of manufacturing on Thursday hit the idea of unionizing the factory, saying the United Auto Workers would take employees “out of the picture.” “I’m not sure what the union can improve,” said Don Jackson, who worked at the massive factory for four years before retiring last year. Jackson, with 34 years in manufacturing with VW and Toyota, worried about what he termed “old union practices based on intimidation and threats.” “A third party drives a wedge between management and employees,” Jackson told more than 150 people who showed up at the forum at the Embassy Suites near Hamilton Place mall.
Should Volkswagen Chattanooga be unionized? If it does, what does that mean for for the company, its workers and the city? A group called Citizens for Free Market held a public forum Thursday night to talk about the consequences of unionizing. More than a hundred people came out to the meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel. They heard from speakers claiming that unionization is everyone’s business. Matt Patterson is with a group based in Washington D.C. that studies public policy.
Will Volkswagen jump on the bandwagon of unionizing? It’s a question Mark West with Citizens for Free Markets hope employees say ‘no’ to. “The employees are getting a lot of information these days and probably primarily from the other side. from the UAW. And that’s a one sided story,” said West. The united auto workers wants to represent the Chattanooga plant as a union, but speakers want to convince employees they’re not needed.
The nation’s largest diesel retailer reached a speedy settlement with some customers cheated out of rebate money, which experts say is all the better for Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, whose family owns the truck stop chain. Jimmy Haslam runs Pilot Flying J, which was founded by his father. Gov. Bill Haslam left the company to run for Knoxville mayor in 2003 and still has an ownership stake. Their prominent positions certainly give them incentive to put the scandal behind them as quickly as possible: Bill Haslam has a looming re-election campaign, and Jimmy Haslam could face sanctions from the NFL if it isn’t dealt with.
Deposition notice aims at Pilot execs A Georgia attorney wants the chance to get answers from top executives at Pilot Flying J. In a July 8 letter to attorneys for the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops, Savannah, Ga., attorney Mark Tate said he wants to take videotaped depositions of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, President Mark Hazelwood and former Vice President of Sales John Freeman. A notice also indicated a desire to take the deposition of Tom Ingram, a consultant working on behalf of Pilot.
After years of tiptoeing around what to do with teachers who fail in the classroom, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials expect to start showing some of them the door. More than 60 teachers are expected to flunk their annual teacher evaluations two years in a row, according to Director of Schools Jesse Register. In an email obtained by The City Paper, Register told members of the Metro school board, “It is possible that a large number of these (60 teachers) will be recommended for dismissal now,” and said the district is finally at a place where it can remove bad educators.
For the first time, Metro Nashville Public Schools is poised to use chronically low scores on controversial state-mandated evaluations as a reason to fire teachers. Director of Schools Jesse Register confirmed this new application of the scores, which can range from a low of 1 to a high of 5, in an interview with The Tennessean. He characterized the number of potentially affected Metro teachers as “way less than 1 percent” of the some 5,300 certificated teachers employed by the district. “We’re talking about an isolated group of people who would score on the bottom of that evaluation,” he said.
A salary pay schedule for teachers and administrators implemented two years ago by the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System has had to be revised to comply with state salary requirements. The revision has led to retroactive pay for 1,036 of the 2,100 teachers employed by CMCSS and 190 administrators, which is almost all of the administration. But it has also forced cancellation of planned step pay increases. Step increases for CMCSS employees have been the norm for decades. Classified, or support, staff will receive step increases since they are not on the teacher pay schedule.
Tennessee’s newest park is a positive development for several groups — the state, local and federal governments, of course, but also those who enjoy visiting state parks and taking advantage of the recreation available there. The acquisition of this new park — 2,036 acres in the Rocky Fork tract surrounded by the mighty Cherokee National Forest — didn’t occur miraculously or suddenly. Public recognition of the effort stemmed, in part, from the work in 2008 of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to sell specialty license plates to help purchase the Rocky Fork tract in northeastern Tennessee. That property, about 10,000 acres, at the time was owned privately and faced the possibility of ridgetop development.
It would take a very sharp knife to cut through the mood of animosity between Tennessee’s teachers and state education officials this summer. It shows up in school board meetings, in advertisements, news reports and social media, and on the opinion pages of this newspaper. The anger is clearly real, but getting to the source of it is trickier than it may seem. Without question, the vision of the future for the average teacher at a Tennessee public school in 2013 is very different from that of a Tennessee teacher in 2008, for example. Unions’ ability to represent teachers before their school boards has been diluted. The path to tenure has been made tougher. The system of evaluating teacher performance has been completely redone. A new pay scale is just getting underway.
News that the Church of God in Christ will hold its annual convocation in St. Louis through 2016 is not a surprise. Memphis just does not have a convention center facility or concentration of hotel rooms in its vicinity to handle a large convention like the convocation, and accommodate most conventioneers in one facility instead of spreading them in hotels and motels from Downtown to Hernando to Marion, Ark. Because of that Memphis will continue to be battling uphill in the competition to attract major conventions. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, in a speech Wednesday to the Metropolitan Memphis Hotel & Lodging Association, said convention center upgrades are needed to help the city compete.
It appears college students are going to get a break on student loan interest increases as congressional leaders have found enough common ground to reverse a July 1 doubling of interest on many government student loans. And there even is more good news for college students in Tennessee. The Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. announced this week a nearly 5 percent increase in proceeds for state education programs in the just-completed fiscal year. These developments will help shore up Tennessee’s push to put more college degrees in more students’ hands. As with many other pressing issues facing Congress, House and Senate members could not agree on what to do about a scheduled doubling of student government loan interest rates that went into effect on July 1.