This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Newly appointed Judge John Rambo said his humble goal is to uphold justice for the people who stand before him in the Chancery Courtroom. “The privilege of being an attorney is to serve the people you represent,” Rambo, who has practiced law for 19 years, said Saturday after his swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the century-old Jonesborough Courthouse. “The honor of being a judge is to ensure justice for all the people involved in the cases you’re deciding.” Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Rambo Tuesday to replace Chancellor G. Richard Johnson, whose resignation went into effect on June 30.
Far from its days as a J.C. Penney department store, the open space next to Hands On! Regional Museum in downtown Johnson City was temporarily transformed into a boxing arena Saturday night complete with a ring, judges, referees and spectators for the 1st annual “Jazz” Akins Memorial Box-Off during the 17th annual Umoja Festival. But before the boxers squared off in their respective bouts, Mother Nature delivered an upper cut of her own to Johnson City and the surrounding area Saturday in the form of a severe thunderstorm that left behind many flooded roads, but no reports of serious damage.
Kendall Oates spent most of his short life as a typical upper-middle-class Brentwood kid, playing hockey and his Xbox, treated to expensive birthday parties and attending the best public schools Williamson County has to offer. But a scuffle with his father landed him in the juvenile justice system, where the 17-year-old — who had never been in serious trouble before — was placed with some of the state’s most violent juvenile offenders. His mother spent more than a year trying to persuade the Department of Children’s Services to release him.
The latest installment of a Vanderbilt University research project on the long-term impact of prekindergarten classes, says state Rep. Bill Dunn, reaffirms his belief that in a cost-benefit analysis the program is “like paying $1,000 for a McDonald’s hamburger.” “It may make an initial dent on your hunger, but it doesn’t last long and you soon realize you could have done a lot more with the money spent,” the Knoxville Republican declared in a statement distributed to media last week. The state budgets about $86 million annually for a voluntary pre-K program, which paid for 935 classes with about 18,000 students in the 2012-13 school year, according to the state Department of Education.
What would Tom Ingram advise the governor to do about Tom Ingram? The question seems to make Ingram a bit uneasy. It highlights his unusual position in Tennessee politics — adviser to the governor, powerful lobbyist, spokesman for a company under federal investigation, subject of an ethics hearing of his own. “I’m agonizing about that,” Ingram said. “I’m not sure what I should tell him.” Ingram long has been seen as one of Tennessee’s most powerful figures. His and his firms’ client lists have included Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Pilot Flying J, Ryman Hospitality, HCA and Eastman Chemical.
The Shelby County Commission last month approved a property tax increase after several tumultuous weeks of budget deliberations. The 13-member commission, for the first time that anyone could remember, approved a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, but could not agree on a property tax rate to fund it. That fact was fueled by a drop in property values that would have resulted in the collection of $57 million less in property taxes, plus mandatory funding obligations regarding Juvenile Court, the Sheriff’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, and a request by county Mayor Mark Luttrell for additional funding for the new unified Shelby County Schools district.
Sen. Lamar Alexander applauded the signing of a bill by President Barack Obama Friday, which will roll back the interest rate on federally backed student loans and tie new rates to U.S. Treasury yields. Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees education policy, was a co-sponsor of a bipartisan compromise bill, which overwhelmingly cleared both House and Senate chambers. The legislation is retroactive and applies to all student loans taken out after July 1 of this year—the day rates doubled because Congress was not able to overcome infighting on a solution.
There are times when an old-fashioned verbal street fight is the only thing that makes politics interesting. But the recent back-and-forth between U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and his former trusted aide, Randy Wade, has been painful to watch. You could see it on their faces. Each man genuinely likes the other — or at least they did. But each feels betrayed by the actions of the other. So they both lashed out. And Memphians — those who care about such political breakups — are left to wonder what to make of it all. Wade, who once worked in the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, has been a well-liked and able political operative in Memphis for years.
Charles Robert Bone, a Nashville lawyer, gives generously to Democrats because donating to causes and candidates he’s passionate about is “the right thing to do.” Harold “Rusty” Siebert, a retired businessman from Brentwood who once ran Tennessee’s Medicaid managed care program, contributes only to Republicans — and only conservatives who he says keep their word. Both are part of an exclusive group of donors across the nation whose financial imprint on national politics is growing.
Carissa Culkin sees her dream of completing an MTSU pre-law degree getting out of reach after defaulting on her $30,000 student-loan debt. Culkin has a year of classes left to graduate, Middle Tennessee State University won’t let her take courses until she pays back more than $5,000 of the debt she has with MTSU. The college bought her loan from the federal government when she took a medical withdrawal after more than three years of being a good student. “I missed so much class at that time,” said Culkin, a 34-year-old mother of two who needed treatment for cervical cancer.
Nestled in a lush green valley here is what’s billed as the Volunteer State’s biggest construction project since World War II. And that’s even before the final cost of the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex is known. Estimates put the UPF’s price tag at $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion, with a more accurate figure slated to be finalized next year. The UPF, which will be the size of what one official called “a Home Depot and a half,” will replace an aging facility that helped pioneer the atomic age in the 1940s and since then has played a key role in the country’s national security.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has made a lease-purchase agreement to buy the majority share of a natural-gas fired power plant in Southaven. TVA and Seven States Power Corp., a group owned by TVA distributors, had bought the Southaven Combined Cycle Plant just south of Memphis in 2008. TVA owned 10 percent, while Seven States owned 90 percent. Seven States is selling its share to TVA for $400 million. TVA is getting the money from a group of private investors, who will in turn get lease payments from TVA for 20 years.
There was a round of applause June 27 when Chattanooga-based Erlanger Health System trustees announced their intention to lease Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe for 10 years, with two 10-year extensions. The proposed lease died quietly Friday night — the deadline for the deal to be signed. At 5 p.m., a handful of Hutcheson officials met for about an hour behind closed doors at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital. Just after midnight Saturday, Waterhouse Public Relations, which was hired by Hutcheson, issued a three-sentence news release stating that Hutcheson will seek bids from others entities to run the hospital, which is owned by Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties.
Students will be greeted with new faces, programs Change. That’s what students who attend Vine Middle Magnet Performing Arts and Sciences Academy and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy will see when they walk through the doors Monday. And a large part of that change will be the faces of many new teachers. In March, Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre announced he was implementing a reconstitution at Vine Middle — created as part of the No Child Left Behind law — which required every teacher at the school to reapply for his or her job.
The story behind the tree in the corner of teacher Erica Hudson’s classroom begins with her childhood love for reading. “When I was young, I used to climb up in a tree to read,” said Hudson, a teacher at Whiteville Elementary School. “I loved to read. I want my students to learn that they can go anywhere when they read.” Hudson created her own classroom library for her students to check out books to read in between instruction time. Hudson is one of 12 new teachers hired at Whiteville by the school’s new principal Cedric Crisp, a native of Whiteville who attended the school as a child.
State officials take tough new steps, but this is a grass-roots problem State officials charged with protecting public safety, health and children’s welfare, and monitoring the economy, know this too well. Local officials and health providers know it, too. Tennessee’s pill habit is the second-worst in the United States. In 2011, 1,062 Tennesseans died of drug overdoses. That’s more than the number of people who died in traffic accidents. This year, 432 newborns have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome — they are undergoing withdrawal from the drugs their mothers are on. There is every reason to believe that drug abuse has added to and worsened the flood of abuse and neglect cases that the state Department of Children’s Services is confronting.
Some members of the Knox County Joint Education Committee apparently think the public should not be privy to their discussions about public education. Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles and others contend the panel should not have to comply with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Following the law, they reason, would prevent commissioners who serve on the joint committee from talking about school matters with school board members who also serve on the committee. They are misguided. Their job is to serve the public — in public.
The issue of where Jackson-Madison County schools and other public school systems should be going with education technology is a hot topic these days. While the outcome for school systems is hard to predict, there are real world lessons that school officials and public education funding bodies can learn from. The issue isn’t if advanced school technology will be adopted, but when, and how far behind might students and the workforce find themselves before it is done. A good place to begin would be recent news that the Tennessee Board of Regents will spend $35 million to build a 154,000-square-foot high-tech training facility on 22 acres near the Nissan facility in Smyrna.
On its surface, it appears the Memphis City Council did something good last week to help residents who depend on the Memphis Area Transit Authority to get around town. On its surface, it appears that council members Joe Brown and Lee Harris won one for their North Memphis constituents in the Scutterfield neighborhood by persuading Fire Department Director Alvin Benson to hold off shuttering Fire Station No. 6 on Thomas just north of Chelsea. Here are a couple questions for the council, though, regarding both actions: Should the council be nitpicking the city budget and the city directors’ mandatory budget-reduction decisions after the budget has been passed? Will either action really have a sustainable impact?
That student-loan debt in the United States exceeds credit-card debt and $1 trillion is sufficient information to give policy-makers and families across the United States pause. For each national statistic about loan debt, however, is a personal story about a student who is trying to cope with all these financial forces and plan for a lifetime ahead. Although attention has focused recently on interest rates for student loans, at issue are questions about policies and philosophies that deal with post-secondary education and how to pay for it.
While full implementation of health care reform takes effect Jan. 1, people will be able to enroll in the health insurance marketplace (also known as the exchange) in just a few short weeks. Beginning on Oct. 1, more people will have more options for affordable health care services. For many, health insurance — provided through an employer, a government program such as Medicare or other means — has become a benefit that is easy to take for granted. But for Tennesseans who have been left out of health insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition, a job that doesn’t provide coverage, or difficulty affording expensive premiums, having access to health insurance is a momentous occasion.