This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday launched the Tri-Cities leg of “Healthier Tennessee,” an initiative to encourage Tennesseans to exercise, eat nutritious foods and not use tobacco products. “One of the things we have to recognize about Tennessee is we’re not as healthy,” Haslam, a Republican, said at the launch event held at the Eastman Employee Center. “…A lot of the things where we’re at the wrong end of the spectrum are behavioral issues, things like hypertension, Type II diabetes and obesity.” Tennessee was ranked 39th in overall health last year, up from 41st in 2011, according to americashealthrankings.org.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Robert E. Oglesby to become the new commissioner of the state Department of General Services. Oglesby, who currently serves as state architect, will replace Steve Cates, who is leaving the Cabinet on Aug. 20 to return to private business. The state architect heads the staff of the State Building Commission and is responsible for supervising development projects for public building and land. Oglesby was previously the president of Nashville-based EOA Architects.
Gov. Bill Haslam today announced state architect Robert E. Oglesby has been named commissioner of the Tennessee Department of General Services. Oglesby (pictured) replaces Steve Cates, who recently announced he is leaving the administration on Aug. 20 to return to the private business sector. Cates has faced criticism during his 2.5 years as commissioner, first for his role in evicting Occupy Nashville protesters and more recently for overseeing a plan to outsource management of most state offices.
Gov. Bill Haslam named Robert Oglesby as the new commissioner of the Tennessee Department of General Services on Thursday. Oglesby, currently the state’s architect, is set to take over Aug. 20, when Steve Cates steps down to return to his Nashville development business. “Bob has done a great job as our state architect, and his experience will be uniquely valuable as we continue the important work of effectively managing our assets and leveraging the state’s buying power to save taxpayer dollars,” Haslam said in a prepared statement.
The Haslam administration plans to go before a state agency on Aug. 19 with recommendations on which Chattanooga landlord should win a contract to lease office space to the state. Peter Heimbach, a General Services Department official, said today that officials hope to have a recommendation ready for State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee members to consider by then. “That’s the plan,” Heimback said. “That’s what’s outlined in the schedule.” His comments came following a meeting of the full State Building Commission in which members approved decommissioning five state-owned buildings statewide.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says emergency officials are closely monitoring the weather following unexpected flash flooding in northern Davidson County. Rescue workers received 211 calls for help early Thursday, including many from people stranded in their vehicles and homes by rising water. Television crews filmed cars swamped windshield-deep in some low spots and flooded ground-floor apartments. They also showed Nashville firefighters wading in waist-deep water to rescue residents, including a 5-month old baby.
Middle Tennessee families traumatized twice in three years by devastating floodwaters are looking nervously to the skies again, a foreboding forecast of two days of rain threatening more loss. Thursday’s flooding overtook at least 100 homes and businesses in Nashville and an untold number in Wilson County — which hasn’t completed its disaster totals — in a frightening reminder of May 2010 flooding.Flash flood patterns were so sporadic that some families lost everything, while neighbors a mile away were unaware a disaster was happening.
By mid-afternoon, Metro authorities had responded to 211 calls for water related incidents, after heavy rain and flash flooding in parts of northern Davidson County left, Metro officials said. Most of the calls came in before 10 a.m. and were largely for people stranded in vehicles or homes with rising water. During a two-hour time frame, approximately 1,800 emergency and non-emergency calls were received. Only one injury has been reported. Mayor Karl Dean said that Dry Creek and Whites Creek, two waterways that contributed to flash flooding have begun to recede, and added that the Cumberland River “is not at any risk of flooding at this point.”
The water receded almost as quickly as at fell, but torrential downpours in the Nashville area submerged homes and drove residents to higher ground. Some of those homes had stayed dry in the flood of 2010. Along Brick Church Pike in North Nashville, James Martin’s home backs up to a relatively tame creek bed. When it rains, the water will rise. “It’s always kinda gotten up in the back yard, but it’s never gotten up close to the house. This is the first year it’s gotten in the house. Nothing you can do except rebuild.” The muddy brown rapids washed away his above-ground pool, bent his fences to the ground and submerged a car and several riding lawn mowers.
Thursday morning brought heavy rains to parts of middle Tennessee. Areas of Nashville, along with parts of Wilson County saw up to seven inches of rain in a short period of time. Even more rain is expected into the weekend. More than 100 homes and businesses were damaged by the flash flooding. Metro Police responded to more than 200 water-related calls throughout the morning. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at Mt. Zion Church near Interstate 24 and Old Hickory Boulevard in Bordeaux. A second shelter was set up at the Hadley Park community center on 28th Avenue North, but later closed due to no one showing up.
Your next drivers license photo will travel across the country before it arrives in your mailbox. “This new system, central issuance, is replacing an outdated system that is more than 30 years old,” Dalya J. Qualls, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said via email. “We will begin using facial verification technology to help reduce fraudulent issuance of driver’s licenses and cut down on identity crimes cases.” she wrote. In January the state installed 30 self-service kiosks across the state, including a AAA branch office in West Knoxville. Tennessee now has 40 kiosks.
More technology than ever is under the hood of the average car. With that in mind, the Tennessee Board of Regents is scheduled to open a $35 million, 154,000-square-foot facility on about 22 acres off of Nissan Drive by Jan. 1, 2015, TBR Vice Chancellor James D. King said at Smyrna Rotary on Thursday. The facility will serve several hundred Tennessee College of Applied Technology students going through an 18-month program as well as Nissan employees who need additional training. “We’re moving quickly because the governor wants this building up and running,” he said.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has a public meeting scheduled about a river bridge in Dandridge. The purpose of the meeting next Thursday is to present TDOT’s recommended alternative to replacement of the Route 92 bridge over the French Broad River. Public input will be gathered on the project design. There will also be a question-and-answer session following the presentation at the Town of Dandridge Activity Center. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is working to improve safety around two Sullivan County schools. Over the summer, it improved access at Central Heights Elementary in Blountville and is considering a similar project at East High School near Bristol. County Mayor Steve Godsey said county officials and the Board of Education contacted TDOT about safety concerns. “I received several calls from parents at Central Heights [Elementary] and East [High School],” Godsey said. A turning lane and flashing lights were installed on U.S. Highway 11W at Central Heights Elementary.
Repairs were completed on the Longs Bend Road bridge in Surgoinsville Thursday, and Hawkins County officials are now waiting for permission from the state to reopen the bridge. The old bridge is the main access for Hawkins County residents who live on the south side of the Holston River in the Surgoinsville area to get to their jobs, schools and stores. Since the bridge was closed July 18 on the order of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, those residents have been enduring a detour of 30 to 45 minutes to cross the closest open bridges.
Two parking garages were opened at MTSU on Thursday that will provide almost 1,000 additional spaces for students, completing five years of planning and construction, officials said. University administrators and previous leaders of the Students Government Association cooperatively drafted plans for additional parking, said Andrew Oppmann, vice president and spokesman for marketing and communications at MTSU. The SGA leaders’ foresight is especially responsible for the garages, Oppman said, because many of them graduated before the project was complete.
House Speaker Beth Harwell wants the state to hold the line on current funding for the state’s pre-K program for low-income children, although the latest study results show student gains in the program diminish over time. “Pre-K education is not bad, but it doesn’t give us the long term results that we would like for it to,” Harwell told reporters Thursday. Despite the results, she said she would stand by Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to maintain current funding for the program for the time being while he awaits the conclusion of the study next year. Vanderbilt University released the latest update to its multiyear study this month showing initial gains made by pre-K students over their peers who did not attend had diminished by the end of their kindergarten year or first grade.
Mark Clayton, the out-of-nowhere candidate who won the 2012 U.S. Senate Democratic primary election and was promptly disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party, has sued the party and dozens of its officials a year later. In a lawsuit filed this week, Clayton says party leaders, including then-Chairman Chip Forrester, “constructively voided his primary victory by publicly stating that they disavowed him as the nominee, that he was not really the party nominee and that he was not really a Democrat and generally treating his nomination as if it did not happen.”
Committee setup limits topics of chats Even Knox County commissioners have to talk about their kids’ schools with school board members. But whether certain commissioners serving on the Joint Education Committee can talk with school board members also on the committee — outside of those meetings — may be an issue. On Thursday, the committee pushed the conversation on open meetings rules back a month, a discussion that began in May and has pulled in opinions from attorneys in Knox County.
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will co-chair the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Tennessee state advisory committee. The panel intends to raise awareness of the important role U.S. foreign policy plays in Tennessee’s economic growth and security. Tennessee is a national leader in foreign investment, and in 2011 alone the state exported $30 billion in goods and services. The USGLC will also host a luncheon event with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Nashville on Aug. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel.
The Y-12 National Security Complex is planning an emergency management exercise next week that will include sirens and simulated response by federal, state and local officials. The Aug. 14 exercise is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Energy to test the readiness of emergency personnel at the Oak Ridge facility. Security at the nuclear weapons plant was called into question after an octogenarian nun and two fellow protesters intruded into the complex last year and defaced the walls of a uranium processing plant. The trio were convicted in May of interfering with national security and damaging federal property.
Tennessee’s merchandise exports increased to $16 billion in the first half of the year, according to the International Trade Administration, a record high for the state. Tennessee’s exports are up 1 percent compared to a year ago. “This new export data from the first half of 2013 show states across the country have more businesses marketing their products abroad and creating thousands of new jobs in their local communities. This data confirms that our efforts to help American businesses compete globally are having an impact right here in Tennessee,” said Francisco Sánchez, under secretary of commerce for international trade, in a news release.
Tennessee exports have set a record this year — thanks to Memphis. Figures from the International Trade Administration released on Thursday show that Tennessee’s merchandise exports for the first six months of this year totaled $16 billion, compared to $15.7 billion last year. Figures for metropolitan areas will be released late this year, although Greater Memphis is expected to lead the state in exports in 2013, just as it did in 2012. Last year, metropolitan Memphis was the 28th largest export market in the United States with total merchandise shipments of $11.4 billion.
Keeping Clarksville-Montgomery County on a long-term path of economic prosperity by targeting specific goals is the focus of a “strategic blueprint” that’s now in the final stages of drafting and implementation. The city-county Economic Development Council, working with a team of consultants from Austin, Texas, has identified four targets to keep the community on track toward creating more and better-paying jobs and ensuring an enhanced quality of life here. The top target involves placing increased emphasis on economic transformation in “Central Clarksville,” essentially the area encompassing the riverfront, downtown and stretching to Austin Peay State University.
A panel of federal judges has rejected a request to consolidate multiple lawsuits filed against Pilot Flying J, the travel center chain enmeshed in a federal investigation into charges that it skimmed diesel fuel rebates promised to dozens of truckers across the country. In a two-page decision issued Thursday, a panel of judges appointed specifically to sort out whether cases should be consolidated concluded that it would be best to allow an Arkansas court to keep deliberating on a proposed settlement involving eight of the trucking firms. That settlement already has won initial approval from a federal district judge in Little Rock.
Pilot Flying J won a round in court Thursday, as a federal panel sided with the company regarding the consolidation of civil lawsuits. The Knoxville-based chain of truck stops is facing multiple suits in connection with an alleged fuel rebate fraud scheme, and it had previously reached a settlement with eight plaintiffs. Other plaintiffs have not joined the settlement, though, and they were pushing to consolidate the cases in a different location. Pilot and the settling plaintiffs sought to defer a consolidation until after Nov. 25, when an Arkansas judge is slated to hold a fairness hearing on the proposed settlement.
Middle Tennessee is home to two of the five school districts that were praised this week for student performance on the standardized state tests used to measure progress. The school systems in rural Stewart and Perry counties were named to the state’s elite list of only five “exemplary” school systems after the number of kids scoring well increased, and the gap between different groups of students decreased. Everyone involved is “on cloud nine,” said Phillip Wallace, director of Stewart schools. Stewart County had no trouble with the scores that knocked most school systems out of the running for exemplary status — closing the achievement gap between students with disabilities and their peers.
As Metro schools adjust to an assortment of changes in how they teach, measure and evaluate education, the school district is taking on another controversial reform: how it grades students. Beginning this year, teachers at Metro Nashville Public Schools will bring into play a new rubric that cuts out the bottom half of the grading scale. Students will no longer come home with scores below 50 percent on anything — whether it’s an exam, a quiz or missing homework. The policy — which district middle school teachers have used for the past year — is stirring up concern among parents and teachers who argue the shift will coddle students by inflating their grades.
Directors Mike Looney of Williamson County Schools and David Snowden of the Franklin Special School District say the Tennessee Department of Education was not treating districts across the state fairly when it allowed Metro Nashville Public Schools to correct demographic coding errors on standardized tests but denied other districts a chance to do so. The action allowed Metro to move from a “needs improvement” rating to an “intermediate” status in its accountability standards for a particular subgroup of students who took the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exam, or TCAP tests, the directors say.
School officials think food poisoning is to blame for sickening 86 school employees in the Greenbrier area this week, while a family nurse practitioner thinks it’s a stomach virus. Either way, the wave of illnesses has caused havoc in Robertson County schools, forcing the system to bring in academic coaches from across the county today to fill in for sick teachers at Greenbrier’s elementary, middle and high schools and Watauga Elementary. “It’s been a heck of a week,” said Robertson County Director of Schools Mike Davis.
Shelby County Schools released the salaries of interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson and 11 current and former members of his cabinet this week in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by The Commercial Appeal. Pay for high-ranking public school employees has been a long-standing bone of contention for critics of Memphis City Schools, which merged with SCS on July 1 to create a new countywide school district with an estimated student population of 145,000.
Customers seeking relief from runny noses and headaches will have to take an extra step before buying pseudoephedrine-based cold medicine after Manchester, Tenn., officials passed an ordinance this week requiring a doctor’s prescription for the medication. Despite the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service’s doubts about the ordinance’s validity, Manchester aldermen voted 4-2 in favor. The targeted medicines — such as Sudafed-Congestion, Advil Cold & Sinus, Tylenol Cold Severe Congestion, Mucinex-D and other brands — contain the main ingredient used by methamphetamine cooks to produce the illicit drug.
Seven people were arrested Wednesday afternoon after Anderson County deputies discovered an active meth lab during a drug investigation, authorities said. One of those arrested, Michael Edward Weiss, 30, of Oliver Springs Highway, Clinton, has an extensive arrest record that includes other meth charges. Two other people nabbed Wednesday are listed as residents of the same address given for Weiss: Daniel Glenn Lewis, 41, and 40-year-old Jean Ann Lewis. Also arrested and with prior arrests were: Jamie Lynn Fleisch, 30, of Clinton, Gary Lynn Gregory Goodman, 27, of Caryville, and Timothy Dale Leinart, 40, of Clinton.
Americans’ bad habits are notoriously hard to break. The teetotalers tried to cut out alcohol but gave up after 13 years of Prohibition. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent efforts to get New Yorkers to cut down on oversize, sugary soft drinks were met with widespread ridicule. But the campaigns to promote car seat-belt use and to discourage tobacco consumption made a difference. Now there’s evidence of a national decline in childhood obesity, reversing a long-term trend. That’s good news for kids — and it forestalls many health problems in adulthood.
Americans’ bad habits are notoriously hard to break. The teetotalers tried to cut out alcohol, but gave up after 13 years of Prohibition. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent efforts to get New Yorkers to cut down on oversize, sugary soft drinks were met with widespread ridicule. But the campaigns to promote use of seatbelts in cars and to discourage tobacco consumption made a difference. Now there’s evidence of a national decline in the rate of childhood obesity, reversing a long-term trend. That’s good news for kids that could also forestall many health problems in adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that obesity rates among low-income children between the ages of 2 and 4 in 19 states have dropped. However, in three states — Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — obesity rates have increased. The CDC isn’t sure but believes the reductions in obesity “might reflect a combination of contributing factors, such as local and state initiatives that focus on the implementation of nutrition and physical activity standards for early care and education programs and efforts to improve healthier food options and physical activity offerings in communities.”
I am one of the lead researchers on the Vanderbilt study of the effectiveness of Tennessee’s prekindergarten program (TN-VPK) currently underway. But I am not an advocate for pre-K; I am an advocate for children. For 40 years, I have been focused on the terrible problem in the United States of young children growing up in poverty. Stress associated with economic deprivation takes its greatest toll on the youngest. Poverty experienced before age 6 is known to be associated with differences in brain function and stress regulation well into adolescence. The same degree of poverty experienced later in life has fewer effects.
Try this experiment — set your alarm clock for 3 a.m. Get up, dress, travel, and report ready for work at top performance level at 5 a.m. Does this sound inviting? Will I see your best personality on display? While this request may seem a bit unusual, it represents the equivalent of what we demand from our teenagers who operate under early-school start times. Their typical day begins at 4:30 a.m.- 5 a.m. with travel by bus at 6 a.m. First bell sounds shortly after 7 a.m. Lunch follows at 10:30 a.m. with school dismissal shortly after 2 p.m. Sound familiar? It amounts to a recipe for disaster on several fronts, yet we sit silently in the grandstand and watch our educational leaders conduct business as usual without challenge in terms of whose interests are really being served?
The past three weeks have not been the brightest in Nashville’s newspaper history. With this issue The City Paper will cease — a victim of a difficult media environment, its destruction fomented by a changing culture that perceives news as a good that should be freely available and aided by a business model that never quite figured out a revenue-generation system that created profitability in said environment. Across the street, The Tennessean axed good reporters — eliminating its courts reporting when it was set to have no competition for the beat and halving its Titans coverage just days before the first preseason game.
By the time you read this, the staff of The City Paper will have likely disbanded, our last issue printed and our website updated for the last time. We don’t say this to be morose. The media landscape is changing, and our particular model — a free print newspaper with a corresponding free Internet home — did not produce enough revenue to survive. And while we’re not happy about this, we understand that these are the risks that come with being a journalist in the 21st century. But enough about us. Let’s talk about you. You live in a city that has had competitive newspapers for much of the past two centuries. Those rivalries have been good to you.