This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Larry Martin the new commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration. Martin has been the interim commissioner since June 1. The 65-year-old succeeded Mark Emkes, who retired in May. Martin joined the governor’s staff last year as a special assistant to the governor and helped oversee implementation of Haslam’s civil service reform legislation. From September 2006 to December 2011, Martin served as deputy to the mayor in Knoxville for both Haslam and Mayor Daniel Brown.
Larry Martin has been named commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration, according to a news release. Martin has served as interim commissioner since June 1. Mark Emkes, the previous commissioner, announced his retirement in mid-April. Martin has been on Gov. Bill Haslam’s staff since 2012, first serving as a special assistant working alongside Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to oversee the implementation of Haslam’s civil service reform, the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act; and reviewing state employee compensation.
Tennessee has a new budget guru. Gov. Bill Haslam will stick with his interim appointee, announcing Tuesday that Larry Martin will continue in his role as the permanent commissioner of Finance and Administration. In May, Haslam announced Martin would serve as interim commissioner after previous Commissioner Mark Emkes retired from the post. Martin has been working in the position since June 1. Before being picked for the position, Martin had worked alongside Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to implement elements of Haslam’s recent civil service reform legislation.
A Clarksville native was appointed to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission board Tuesday by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam announced the appointments of eight new members and five re-appointments to Tennessee’s higher education boards as well as the selection of the chair of Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and vice chair of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), according to a state news release. Robert Fisher, a 2011 graduate of Rossview High School and Clarksville native, will serve as the student representative on THEC.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that quality workers are key in competing for projects such as a new vehicle for Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, and he lauded an innovative German-American training initiative at the factory. “Closing the skills gap is among the highest priorities in the state,” he told the first dozen graduates of the automation mechatronics program at the factory. Haslam said he’s “very optimistic” the plant can capture another assembly line to produce a second vehicle — reportedly a new-to-America, seven-seat SUV — but no decision has been made by the German automaker.
Governor Bill Haslam is defending statewide student testing to critics who say it’s overdone. A veteran teacher on the Metro school board is bringing a resolution Tuesday night to say readying for tests with “boring” lessons amounts to “stealing the love of learning from our students.” Gov. Haslam says he believes in testing, because the state has to have data to measure how its reforms are doing. “I do think it’s important for us to listen to educators, but I wouldn’t want to back up on having the emphasis on student results being how we’re measuring things.”
The 615 is about to be divided in two. The three digits most closely associated with Nashville’s rising national profile will soon become a little harder to come by after an announcement Tuesday by state regulators that they plan to split the region’s area code. The Tennessee Regulatory Authority says it is soliciting feedback on how to handle the split, but it adds that action is needed. Nashville and its suburbs will run out of phone numbers within the next two years. “It’s the inevitable outcome of growth,” said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Nashville is running out of phone numbers. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority began the process to add another area code in Middle Tennessee. The North American Numbering Plan Administrator has notified state agencies that there will be no more 615 numbers left by early 2015. Population growth is driving the scarcity. But so is the number of phones per capita, says David Foster, Tennessee’s chief of utilities. “Suddenly a household – instead of one number – has five or six or seven telephone numbers in use.”
The Nashville area is running out of available phone numbers. As a result, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority announced today that it is reviewing two options for the future of Nashville’s 615 area code. The first option is known as an overlay, which, in the words of a news release from the authority, would “permit retention of all current 615 numbers, but require 10-digit dialing for local calls within the 615 area. All new subscribers would receive the new area code.” The second option is known as a split, in which “seven-digit dialing of local calls would remain within the area code, but would require approximately half of wireless and landline customers within the current area code to change their telephone numbers.”
The state Senate Education Committee plans a hearing in October to review Tennessee’s textbook selection process for K-12 schools. Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville is the committee’s chairwoman. She announced this week that the panel will review the role and work of the state’s Textbook Commission and Tennessee laws governing textbook selection to help ensure an accurate and unbiased approach. The commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for adopting textbooks containing what they considered to be inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.
Cato Johnson, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, is the new chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Johnson was the unanimous choice of the commission after serving as vice chairman last year. The commission is the public policy coordinating body for the state’s higher education system, which includes nine universities and 13 community colleges totaling 252,000 students. Johnson has been on the commission for five years and oversees a board of 15.
Investigators with the Tennessee Department of Revenue ordered a Knoxville night club locked up Tuesday for non-payment of taxes. Agents arrived in the morning at Blackstock Exchange, 940 Blackstock Avenue, as workers were installing windows in the building. The workers were ordered to leave and a locksmith was brought in to change the locks. Agents from the tax enforcement division, based in Johnson City, posted a sign on the door saying the night club was closed for non-payment of state taxes. Blackstock Exchange was formerly known as two venues, Valarium and CiderHouse, until previous owners closed their doors in November.
Cast a vote in a competition for the most popular invention concept. A University of Tennessee project is vying for online votes. Imagine a material that could make most everything around you more energy efficient. Its development is underway at UT. Ramki Kalyanaraman, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Gerd Duscher, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, are designing an ultra-light high-efficiency solar fiber with the aim of creating fabric and clothing that would convert light into energy.
Tennessee today joined a coalition of six states, the U.S, Department of Justice and the District of Columbia in an effort to block the proposed merger between U.S. Airways and American Airlines. The coalition has filed a civil antitrust lawsuit seeking to block the merger, which would create the world’s largest airline. “Studies show that Tennessee’s four major airports in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga will experience fewer flights to certain destinations and travelers will pay more for remaining flights,” Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said.
Tennessee joined a coalition challenging a pending merger of US Airways and American Airlines that could affect service at Memphis International Airport. Tennessee Atty. Gen. Robert Cooper announced on Tuesday this his office is joining six states, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the District of Columbia in a federal court complaint opposing the merger. The proposed merger would cut the number of the larger “legacy” airlines from four to three — US Airways/American, United/Continental and Delta/Northwest — and the number of major airlines from five to four.
After a decade of rapid consolidation in the nation’s airline industry, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to block the proposed merger between American Airlines and US Airways, which would create the world’s largest airline. The move, joined by attorneys general from six states and the District of Columbia, surprised industry officials, who had expected little resistance to the deal. But it underscored a newly aggressive approach by the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which has been more closely scrutinizing proposed mergers as the economy recovers.
Airlines in recent years have thrown a lot at consumers—billions of dollars in add-on fees, plus fare increases, schedule reductions and sometimes poor service. On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department cited some of those trends as a factor in its move to block the merger of American Airlines parent AMR and US Airways. While consolidation in the airline industry has made air carriers more financially stable, it also has left consumers with fewer and more-expensive choices for travel. In the past, Justice approved mergers as necessary to stabilize an industry renowned for its frequent financial failures.
The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that the Hamilton County Sheriff Office’s Civil Service Board exceeded its statutory authority in ordering Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to equalize the pay of sergeants in the department. “Numerous provisions of the Civil Service Manual support the conclusion that the sheriff may exercise discretion in setting the rate of pay for his employees,” wrote Justice Sharon G. Lee for the Court. The court relied on several statutes, including one that grants the Hamilton County Commission authority to set the sheriff’s budget.
A special primary and general election have been scheduled to select a successor for the late Rep. Lois DeBerry. The Memphis Democrat died last month after a nearly five-year bout with pancreatic cancer. She had represented District 91 since 1972. Gov. Bill Haslam issued a writ of election this week that calls for a special primary election in the Memphis district for Oct. 8 and a special general election for Nov. 21. Candidates have until noon Aug. 29 to file qualifying petitions with the Shelby County Election Commission.
In a writ of election issued on Tuesday Governor Haslam set October 8 as the date for party-primary elections to fill the vacancy in state House District 91 created by the death last month of longtime incumbent Lois DeBerry, who served the area for 40 years. The writ further established Thursday, November 21 as the date of a general election for that office. Filing deadline for the office will be August 29, and the winner of the general election will serve until the regular election cycle for the seat in November 2014.
Voters in Memphis will go to the polls Oct. 8 and Nov. 21 for special elections to fill the seat in the House of Representatives vacated upon the death of state Rep. Lois DeBerry last month. Gov. Bill Haslam set the dates on Tuesday for the primary and general elections for the 91st House District, which stretches south of midtown Memphis as far as the Whitehaven neighborhood. DeBerry, a Democrat, had represented the district from 1972 until her death July 28 at age 68 from pancreatic cancer.
The effort by Knox County Audit Committee Chairman Joe Carcello to endorse firing the county’s internal auditor led to a committee member announcing she would leave, and other issues. On Tuesday, a Knox County commissioner publicly reacted by targeting Carcello, saying he wants him out of the seat as committee chairman. “I kind of went off on him,” Commissioner Mike Brown said, “but I meant every word I said.” In the regular Audit Committee meeting Tuesday, committee member Mary Kiser said she would resign.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker has returned to the Turkey/Syria border, to meet with members of Syria’s opposition. He’s the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and it’s his second trip to the region in nearly a year. Many Syrians have escaped fighting in their country, by fleeing to Turkey. Tweeting from a refugee camp in the town of Kilis, Corker says Syrians are frustrated that the US isn’t doing more to help bring down the government of President Bashar Al-Assad. The Obama Administration has agreed to provide military assistance to moderate factions. But Corker says those groups want the US to “tip the balance” of the civil war in their favor.
Two separate groups sponsored events Tuesday to ask U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to reconsider his views on immigration reform and climate change. A group of nearly 20 presented a “Congressional Climate Denier Award” at DesJarlais‘s office Tuesday afternoon. Organizing for Action, a non-profit social advocacy group, organized the rally and award. “He’s a medical doctor,” said Chris Polk, who is from Williamson County. “So we know he believes in science. Ninety-seven percent of the scientists in the world believe and acknowledge that climate change is real and is happening and it is mostly man made.
Congress is in recess, which means Representative Chuck Fleischmann is making the rounds through his district. The congressman was at Frontier Firearms in Kingston on Tuesday for a town meeting. He plans to hold town meetings in each of his 11 counties before returning to Washington. The congressman talked about Second Amendment rights while many of the questions asked related to the Department of Homeland Security. Those in attendance were glad he made the stop, but also said it’s his job.
Despite all the grumbling about tuition increases and student loan costs, other college expenses also are going up. The price of housing and food trumps tuition costs for students who attend two- and four-year public universities in their home states, according to a College Board survey. Even with the lower interest rates on student loans that President Barack Obama signed into law, students are eying bills that are growing on just about every line. A look at typical college students’ budgets last year and how they’re changing: Community colleges.
HarperCollins Publishers has put a 277,000-square-foot distribution center up for sale about a year after buying it as part of its purchase of Nashville-based religious publisher Thomas Nelson. The distribution center is expected to be shut down by next spring, idling 102 employees. An additional 248 employees with HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which includes Thomas Nelson, will stay at that unit’s headquarters in an adjacent building. Last fall, HarperCollins announced plans to close its last two U.S. distribution centers, including the one at 565 Royal Parkway in Nashville, to better align with its global print platform and supply chain agreement.
Two New Jersey trucking firms have joined the long list of companies filing suit against Pilot Flying J, the national truck stop chain under federal investigation on charges that it secretly reduced rebates promised to its customers. The suit, which was first filed in Superior Court in New Jersey, was transferred to U.S. District Court in New Jersey this week. It charges that Pilot engaged in racketeering when its sales executives devised and implemented the scheme to cheat truckers out of rebates.
A pair of new lawsuits has been filed against Pilot Flying J. National Retail Transportation Inc. and Keystone Freight Corp., based in Bergen County, N.J., sued the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops and several other defendants in New Jersey. That suit was recently removed to U.S. District Court in New Jersey and, according to a docket notation, has been referred to arbitration. Another suit was filed last week in Knox County Circuit Court by Cedar Creek, a trucking company based in Georgia.
Just one month into the current fiscal year, Metro officials are already looking ahead to 2014-15 as they forecast strains that would require more than $38 million in additional funding, with the cost of charter schools topping concerns. Metro school board members heard the financial forecast on Tuesday, shortly before they were surprised with a 2014-15 calendar option that none of them had seen coming. The board members, who have spent an intense few weeks gathering public opinion on three well-publicized calendar options, delayed a vote for a second time.
Shelby County Commissioners meet in special session Wednesday, Aug. 14, to set the procedure for appointing a new member to the countywide school board. And the process is much less complicated than it was before a ruling by Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. That’s not to say it is without complexity. The only item on Wednesday’s agenda is a resolution that sets a timetable for interviewing applicants for the District 6 school board seat during Aug. 28 committee sessions, with the full commission voting on a replacement at its Sept. 9 meeting.
Deoaunte Dean was among more than a half-dozen young adults squeezed on chairs and a couch at Skip Eberhardt’s Doris Street home. They came to learn academic skills needed to pass the GED test before the test changes in January 2014. GED administrators and tutors are spreading the word that the test is expected to be more difficult in the new year. Eberhardt, who tutors students for GED testing, said the new test will include trigonometry. It will be administered only on the computer and cost $120. The option students now have of paying $65 for a GED paper test will be eliminated.
Cleveland, Tenn.’s newest elementary school may be, structurally speaking, one of the safest in the nation when it opens in 2015. The school, still in the conceptual stage, will include a reinforced safe room in each classroom. The closet-type rooms will lock from the inside, providing protection from storms and intruders alike. Both natural and manmade threats at schools weighed on the nation’s consciousness during the 2012-13 academic year, when 26 innocents were gunned down in a Newtown, Conn., school and the bodies of seven children were pulled out of an Oklahoma elementary school that took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado.
Cleveland officials have started to grapple with how to pay for a multimillion-dollar elementary school to be built on Georgetown Road. In a recent meeting, a plan for the school was presented to the Cleveland City Council by Brian Templeton of the Upland Design Group. “We have met individually with teachers and administrators in the current system to develop kind of a wish list,” he said. Site development features driven by those discussions include outdoor learning spaces and community amenities that take advantage of the site’s rural setting, parking for 50 staff and 100 visitors, canopied building access and service vehicle access, said Templeton.
The Rutherford County School Board Tuesday denied a resubmitted plan for a charter school proposed to open in 2014. The board denied the initial application for The Tracey Darnell Montessori Academy in June, and the school resubmitted an application July 17, according to James Evans, community relations coordinator for county schools. Although the board noted that the resubmitted application had some improvements, a review committee appointed by Director of Schools Don Odom found it did not meet the state’s standard for a successful application.
When Pat McCrory, a Republican former mayor of Charlotte, was elected governor last year, he pledged to “bring this state together,” and to focus on bread-and-butter issues amid an ailing economy. But with Republicans controlling all branches of the state government for the first time in more than a century, the legislature pushed through a wide range of conservative change. The Republicans not only cut taxes and business regulations, as many had expected, but also allowed stricter regulations on abortion clinics, ended teacher tenure, blocked the expansion of Medicaid, cut unemployment benefits, removed obstacles to the death penalty, allowed concealed guns in bars and restaurants, and mandated the teaching of cursive writing.
You’ve seen the stories and government studies about the tough spot that young adults are in, caught between the dream of getting a college education that they cannot afford and scrabbling for a job, any job, to pay the bills in a post-recession economy. So it is encouraging to hear any good news that would open the door to better opportunities — and the announcement by Gov. Bill Haslam and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean on Monday is just that. The nashvilleAchieves public-private partnership will pay the tuition for thousands of Nashville teens to attend community college or technical school.
Prescription medication abuse is rampant in our state, as The Tennessean reminded us recently in an in-depth report on this life-destroying epidemic. Each day prosecutors see the devastation caused by this crisis on the streets, in the hospitals and in the courtrooms. It is this grim daily reminder that underscores what we know so well: Arrest and prosecution, without doing more, is not the answer. Tennessee district attorneys are committed to doing all we can to educate our youths, parents, teachers and communities about the dangers of prescription (and all illegal) drugs. As with all things, education is the first step.