This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Homeowners and business owners in Davidson, Cheatham, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties will be eligible to apply for low-interest loans until Oct. 25 to cover physical damage caused by the flooding. They have until May 26, 2014, to apply for loans to cover economic damage. Gov. Bill Haslam’s office said Monday that more than 190 homes and 46 businesses in Davidson County were damaged during the heavy rains on Aug. 8. The interest rates on loans to homeowners who do not have other credit will be 1.937 percent, while homeowners with credit will pay 3.875 percent.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday that the U.S. Small Business Administration has granted a disaster declaration for Metro Nashville-Davidson County and its contiguous counties, including Rutherford, for the flash flooding that occurred earlier this month. The declaration also includes Cheatham, Robertson, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, and an SBA disaster declaration makes homeowners and businesses affected by the disaster eligible for low-interest loans. Those affected have until Oct. 25 to apply for assistance for physical damage and until May 26, 2014, to apply for relief from economic injury, according to a news release.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Robert “Rob” H. Montgomery Jr. to fill an upcoming vacancy in the eastern section of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Montgomery is a former assistant district attorney general who has been a criminal judge in Sullivan Count since 2006. He will replace Joseph M. Tipton, who is retiring at the end of his current term. Montgomery, of Kingsport, earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee in 1979. Haslam last week named W. Neal McBrayer to the middle section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he will appoint Robert H. Montgomery Jr. of Kingsport to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals’ Eastern Section. Montgomery, 59, is currently a criminal court judge in the Second Judicial District. He will replace retiring Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Tipton, who plans to step down next year at the end of his term. “Rob Montgomery will be an excellent judge,” Haslam said in a news release. “His experience on the bench, as well as his experience as an assistant district attorney and an attorney in private practice will serve East Tennesseans well.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has chosen Criminal Court Judge Robert “Rob” H. Montgomery Jr. of Kingsport as a judge for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Eastern Section. Montgomery will replace Joseph M. Tipton, who will retire at the conclusion of his current term. “Rob Montgomery will be an excellent judge,” Haslam said in a prepared release. “His experience on the bench, as well as his experience as an assistant district attorney and an attorney in private practice will serve East Tennesseans well.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed W. Neal McBrayer as a judge for the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section. McBrayer will replace Presiding Judge Patricia J. Cottrell, who will not serve an additional term of office. “Neal McBrayer has a strong background as an attorney, and I am pleased to make this appointment,” Haslam said. “We are fortunate to have someone on the bench with his experience and expertise.” McBrayer, 50, is an attorney at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC in its Nashville office, concentrating on areas of commercial litigation and bankruptcy law.
Dot Foods Inc. announced Monday it will build a $24 million food distribution center in Dyersburg, Tenn., that will employ about 157 people after it begins operations in September 2014, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic Development. The new 166,500 square-foot facility in Northwest Tennessee will include frozen and refrigerated storage, a warehouse and a truck and tractor garage. It will serve Dot Foods distributor customers in West and Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. The company, based in Mt. Sterling, Ill., is the nation’s largest food products distributor.
Principal Virgina Gunn’s “data room” is jam-packed with test results that she uses to create custom lesson plans for every child in her troubled school. It’s hard to argue with her strategy, since students at her Margaret Allen Middle School made so much progress last year that the school landed on the state’s list of top achievers. But a growing number of Tennessee parents are joining their counterparts in other states in questioning the heavy use of standardized testing that forms the basis of so many education decisions.
A main Knoxville bridge will reopen several months ahead of time, in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says it didn’t expect to reopen the bridge until late February after adding repairs to the bridge’s concrete piers to the project. The bridge connects downtown Knoxville to south Knoxville across the Tennessee River by way of U.S. 441. The completed bridge will have new features, including wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes in each direction.
After nearly three years, some of the most hated barricades in South Knoxville could be coming down. The Henley Bridge could reopen to traffic in time for the Thanksgiving rush, officials said Monday. The 82-year-old bridge, which connects South Knoxville and Chapman Highway to downtown, has been closed since January 2011. Plans initially called for the bridge to reopen in June, but delays pushed the schedule back. The delays and other complications have also pushed the final cost of the bridge work from an initial price tag of $24.7 million to nearly $32 million or higher.
Tennessee officials continued Monday investigating how two women, including one from Smyrna, died during the weekend while rafting on the Ocoee River in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are leading the inquiry, but evidence collected suggests the pair of deaths were tragic accidents, TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said. Katherine Tyler Luna, 36, had been rafting with family and friends Sunday when she fell into the water, Brockman said. Luna was removed from the water and taken to a nearby hospital.
Grace Hookway kayaked the Ocoee River on Monday, but she skipped the first major rapid in the Middle Ocoee. Because it’s the same rapid — “Grumpy’s” — where two women died in separate incidents Saturday and Sunday after falling out of their professionally guided rafts. Hookway shook her head as she stood on the side of the river waiting for her kayaking buddy to make it through the stretch, which is right at the beginning of the run. “The first time I skipped it, I just thought, well it’s my first time on the river, let’s not do the hardest rapid,” she said. “But now, I’ll just avoid it. I don’t want to be the third one.”
Officials have identified two women who drowned in separate rafting incidents on the Ocoee River within nearly 24 hours of one another over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Valley Authority said initial media reports misstated that the river flow rate exceeded safe levels at the time of the first drowning Saturday.vSaturday’s victim was Marnita McGruder, 51, of Rex, Georgia, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which manages the surrounding state park.
Interim University of Memphis President Brad Martin believes good marketing and communication will help the school reach its goal of adding 2,000 students in the next two years — one of eight major initiatives announced by Martin in a message to the U of M community last week. The goal can be reached through “relationships, internships, scholarships — matching what we have and we’re really great at with (students’) needs,” Martin said in an interview Monday, the first day of the fall semester. “And going beyond our immediate area. One of my goals is to eliminate out-of-state tuition — if not for the entire university for a number of disciplines.”
Local governments can prohibit the discharge of firearms within their jurisdictions in most cases, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says in a newly released legal opinion. Cooper said such local bans are legal so long as they don’t conflict with state statutes or regulations related to permitted hunting promulgated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission. In his three-page opinion, Cooper noted state lawmakers in recent years expressly preempted local regulation of the “transfer, ownership, possession or transportation” of firearms and ammunition except for allowing cities and counties to ban handgun possession in publicly owned areas such as a public park, nature trail or greenway.
The head of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is retiring by the end of the year. Libby Sykes made the announcement this week. She has held the court position for seven years, and spent 27 years in state government. Sykes joined the AOC in 1995 and was appointed deputy director in 1999. The Tennessee Supreme Court named her administrative director in 2006. The AOC provides administrative and technical support as well as training to judges throughout the state of Tennessee.
The director of Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Elizabeth “Libby” Sykes announced Monday she plans to retire by year’s end. Sykes has served the past seven years as chief over the office, which provides administrative and technical support as well as training to judges. “It has been a privilege to serve the judiciary of Tennessee,” Sykes said in a release. “This is a truly honorable group of people that I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from over many years.” She has worked in the office for 25 years and prior to that spent two years with the Tennessee Sentencing Commission and the Department of Correction.
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s seeking the opinion of the state’s attorney general on questions posed by a Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney on the constitutionality of the state’s charter school law. “We’re in the process of that now,” she said. The Tennessean reported last week on a legal memorandum that Washington, D.C., attorney John Borkowski drafted for MNPS officials. Borkowski concluded that Tennessee’s decade-old charter law “seems to impose increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state,” which he said violates the Tennessee Constitution.
The most powerful Nashvillian in the state legislature is not sold on the Bus Rapid Transit proposal being hyped by the city’s mayor. The $174 million project is banking on the state for 20 percent of its funding. Pulling it off would be tough, if not impossible, without support from House Speaker Beth Harwell. The bus rapid transit line called the Amp would run in a dedicated lane from East Nashville to the edge of Harwell’s district along West End, where she called from a cell phone.
Lawmakers at the Tennessee capitol say they need to talk to the state’s congressional delegation – all nine of them, and on the same day. A handful of Republicans have called for an unusual joint session to discuss states’ rights. State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) says there’s a disconnect with Washington, and he gets an earful all the time. “Probably the number one topic I hear from my constituents – both parties – is the frustration we have with the federal government and the unrestrained power the federal government has taken on in the last few decades.”
With just weeks to go before the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace opens in Tennessee on Oct. 1, state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, on Monday announced plans to begin educating the community about the program. Favors and the Clergy Koinonia, a group of local clergy whose president is Bethel AME Church pastor, the Rev. Alan J. Holman, are scheduling the first of several forums this Thursday. The program is called The Affordable Care Act: A Compelling Conversation for Clergy and will be held from 9:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Olivet Baptist Church.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, and his wife, Mary, experienced the beginning of a new academic year for themselves Monday as they joined thousands of students for the first day of fall semester at the University of Tennessee at Martin. The Brookses weren’t taking classes, but they traveled across the state to see what and how students are learning in today’s college environment, according to a news release. Brooks, who represents the 19th District, traveled to Martin in his role as chairman of the House Education Committee.
The Green Party of Tennessee has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to throw out Tennessee’s voter ID law, calling it unconstitutional and unfair to minority voters. Alan Woodruff, an attorney in Gray, Tenn., who has represented the Green Party in previous lawsuits, said he filed the complaint Monday morning in the Eastern District of Tennessee. It names Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins as defendants. “There is no justification for having the photo ID requirement, as there is no such thing as voter fraud,” said Woodruff, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year as the Democratic nominee in the 1st Congressional District and might run again in 2014.
The Mt. Juliet City Commission scaled back an ordinance Monday on where on city property employees with valid handgun permits are allowed to carry their guns. The initial proposal, passed on first reading earlier this month, would have allowed those employees to bring their guns with them to work, but the new version only allows them to keep their weapons in their vehicles while on city property. The commission voted 4-1 to pass the amended ordinance and change the city’s personnel manual to match the state “guns-in-trunks” law.
A proposed 174-mile bicycle route from Kentucky to Alabama runs through Franklin City Hall. Tonight, Nashville-area bicycling advocates will ask Franklin leaders to support the creation of U.S. Bicycle Route 23, which would be Tennessee’s first officially designated north-south U.S. Bicycle Route and part of a national network envisioned by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and supported by state road officials. After years of work, volunteers have secured pledges of support for the route from government leaders, including some in Williamson County, along its path from near the Kentucky/Tennessee border to the Tennessee/Alabama border.
County Commission on Monday approved a retirement package worth at least $30,000 for outgoing internal auditor Richard Walls, and is expected next to review the role of the office. The vote came without comment from commissioners, whose appointed audit committee recommended firing Walls in July. Commissioners instead offered Walls the buyout after Chairman Tony Norman negotiated the deal. Under the package, Walls will retire Sept. 3 with a payout worth four months’ salary, and added money from accrued sick leave and remaining vacation. His county health insurance coverage will last through March 31, 2015.
Not long after appearing on two morning news shows to assert that U.S. military action in Syria is imminent, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker started his week with a list of Memphis appearances that included speaking to a lunchtime crowd on a range of subjects – everything from Middle East policy to the housing market’s incremental recovery. The midday appearance Monday, Aug. 26, by the Tennessee Republican was at an event hosted by the Memphis Area Home Builders Association and was billed as a discussion of legislation he’s put forward dealing with the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Clinics around Tennessee are divvying up more than $3 million from the federal government to recruit people into the new health insurance exchange. One priority is signing up those who are young and healthy. United Neighborhood Health Services – which operates clinics around Middle Tennessee – sees 17,000 uninsured patients a year. They won’t need much convincing to sign up for a federally-subsidized health plan, says CEO Mary Bufwack. But those who haven’t needed medical care might not seek out a plan on the exchange. “People are very suspicious,” Bufwack says.
The Treasury Department said it would hit its borrowing limit in mid-October and be unable to pay all of its bills soon after that time, narrowing the window the White House and Congress have to maneuver on budget talks. The deadline, which is sooner than many on Capitol Hill had expected, gives a sobering jolt to a number of fiscal discussions that have faltered for months. The White House and many lawmakers, as well as economists and business leaders, have warned of a possible financial crisis if the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit isn’t raised and the government can’t pay all of its bills.
State civil service rules originated a century ago to prevent incoming governors from replacing state workers with their political supporters. Now a handful of governors are working to change those rules, saying they make it difficult to hire and retain the right employees and to fire anyone — even the worst underperformers. “I’ve got a $20 billion operation I’ve got to run, and you can’t run it with your managers’ and your executives’ hands tied,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said in an interview with Stateline.
Nuclear regulators on Monday slapped another citation against the Tennessee Valley Authority for a safety violation at its Browns Ferry nuclear plant, but officials said the incident last December was of “low to moderate significance.” The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a “white” finding for an unplanned emergency shutdown at Browns Ferry due to the failure of a nuclear operator to follow proper procedures. The finding is the lowest among the four levels of the NRC’s color-coded warning system. In a meeting with the NRC in July, TVA argued against the finding based upon its statistical modeling for risk and significance for such a shutdown.
The Transform Now Plowshares protesters remain jailed in South Georgia, where they’ve been held since May to await sentencing on federal charges related to last year’s break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. While their status has been on hold, the legal wrangling in the high-profile case has continued this summer. Numerous motions and other documents have been filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, where the sentencing hearings are currently scheduled for Sept. 30.
Nashvillians need not worry: The unscripted series “Nashville Confidential” is not going to hurt the city’s reputation, says Douglas Ross, founder of Evolution Media, the show’s production company. “Nashville Confidential,” a show featuring still-unnamed players in the city’s country music scene, is produced by the same company who brought the world “The Real Housewives” series of shows known for depicting dramatic cat fights and messy divorces. Ross said the city that has embraced ABC’s “Nashville” show will also be pleased with the unscripted portrayal of the music industry.
It took three weeks into the unified school system’s first school year for Memphis Police to get a memo that they were to respond to calls at Shelby County Schools within the city of Memphis. The information bulletin from Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong went out to all officers Thursday, Aug. 22, the same day that a 5-year-old kindergarten student at Westside Elementary School walked into the Frayser school with a gun in his backpack and the gun went off in the backpack. Prior to police roll calls that day, Armstrong said a verbal order was given: “If you get a call to a school you are to respond, especially if it is an emergency call.”
Tyler Dowdy just started his third year of teaching at YES Prep West, a charter school here. He figures now is a good time to explore his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school. Mr. Dowdy is 24 years old, which might make his restlessness seem premature. But then, his principal is 28. Across YES Prep’s 13 schools, teachers have an average of two and a half years of experience. As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.
Student debt, graduation rates and a variety of other issues confront higher education today. Meanwhile, corporate governance changes are occurring, in part, because of a different economy, global markets and new legal requirements. A big issue is: Can education benefit from the administrative changes public companies experience? Corporate governance experienced major changes in this century as a result of two congressional acts, Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd/Frank. More transparency and additional responsibility to shareholders resulted in changes to corporate organizational structure, board of directors, their organizational structure and senior management.
Western Governors University Tennessee is off to a very fast start, especially in Memphis. Job providers are embracing it as one of several fresh tools to help improve their talent pools and competitiveness. I am proud to serve as WGU Tennessee’s first chancellor, and a big part of my job is to make sure as many people as possible know about us. So, since coming on board in late July (the program formally kicked off with Gov. Bill Haslam two weeks earlier), I have met with media, business, community and education leaders across the state.
On a neighborhood street corner or in a formally crafted opinion poll, few argue that they are satisfied with the quality of U.S. education. How to improve public education and on what level of government these improvements should come continue to be matters of intense debate around the nation. The latest focus of this debate is Common Core or Common Core State Standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are leading this standards effort. In all, 46 states, including Tennessee, and the District of Columbia are participating in Common Core, and its goals, according to supporters, are to create national standards for language arts and math instruction, to help students develop higher-order or critical-thinking stills and to prepare students to compete in a global economy.
Country music legend and Sevier County native Dolly Parton announced last week she plans to invest $300 million in her Dollywood theme park and a new resort. The 10-year expansion plan, which is worth more than the cumulative investment in Dollywood during its 27-year existence, will create jobs, increase tax revenues and, perhaps as important, project confidence in the continued economic growth of the tourism mecca that is Sevier County. Parton has gone from a precocious child singer in the hills of East Tennessee to an international superstar musical performer, actress and entrepreneur.