This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has chosen Robert (Rob) H. Montgomery Jr. 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. “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.” Montgomery, 59, has been a criminal court judge in the Second Judicial District since 2006.
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. He is replacing Patricia J. Cottrell, who isn’t seeking another term.
Gov. Bill Haslam selected Shelby County Chancery Court Judge Arnold B. Goldin on Tuesday to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Appeals’ western section that will occur a year from now when Judge Alan E. Highers retires. Goldin, 64, was appointed chancellor in 2002 by then-governor Don Sundquist, elected in 2004 and elected to a full eight-year term in 2008. He was previously in private law practice in Memphis since 1974 when he graduated from the University of Memphis law school. He is a 1971 graduate of the University of Virginia.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Shelby County chancellor Arnold B. Goldin to fill an upcoming vacancy in the western section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/15gZNYy ) reports that Goldin will succeed Judge Alan E. Highers, who is retiring at the end of August 2014. Haslam’s appointments to fill vacancies are being made unusually early because lawmakers allowed the Judicial Nominating Commission to expire. The panel tasked with proposing three nominees for the governor to choose from nevertheless made its suggestions before disbanding on June 30.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Charles Traughber, who recently retired as chairman of the state Board of Paroles, to a seat on the Tennessee Ethics Commission, which will hear a complaint filed against Haslam in October. “I think Charles has been around a while and there’s nobody who would question his ethics,” Haslam said. Former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, who filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission over Haslam’s failure to disclose personal payments to lobbyist and political operative Tom Ingram, certainly did not do so.
Starting next fall, new high school graduates in Davidson County can learn to weld, work on a car or manage collision repair — without paying a penny in tuition — and make impressive salaries within a year of finishing high school. “After an eight-week truck driving program, for example, program graduates can be earning upwards of $35,000,” said Mark Lenze, director of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology on White Bridge Road. Or, new high school graduates can attend neighboring Nashville State Community College for a two-year associate’s degree, tuition-free.
Several Hamilton County high schools will pilot new advanced manufacturing and IT courses next school year as part of a regional effort to better prepare students for the workforce. County and school leaders from Hamilton, Bradley, McMinn and Rhea counties gathered Tuesday to celebrate the Southeast Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity effort. Through the program, officials said, schools and businesses would work together to create a new series of courses for students headed into jobs or higher education in IT and advanced manufacturing.
Legislation enacted by the General Assembly this year ensuring Tennessee’s financial integrity was recognized recently at a ceremonial signing event in Nashville. The bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named the Hawkins-Wilson Act, in recognition of Tennessee’s 22nd Governor, the late Alvin Hawkins, and Justin Wilson, who is currently serving his third term as the state’s Comptroller. Hawkins served as Governor from 1881 to 1883. He favored full repayment of the state debt which was in default after the Reconstruction Era building of roads and bridges.
State business development officials say clothing retailer Gap Inc. plans to expand operations at its distribution center in Gallatin, creating about 90 jobs in the process. Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty says the expansion amounts to an investment of about $35 million in Sumner County. The Gallatin facility provides service to the South for Gap brands, including Gap and Gap Outlet, Banana Republic and Banana Republic Factory stores, and Old Navy. H
Gap Inc. is investing $35 million to expand its Gallatin distribution center, company and government officials announced today. The expansion will create 90 jobs. Gap currently has about 550 full-time employees in Sumner County, making it the sixth-largest employer in the county, according to Nashville Business Journal research. “Gap Inc. is a valued corporate citizen, providing about 2,500 Tennesseans with high-quality jobs in 2012 alone,” Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said in a news release.
The Gap Inc. distribution center in Gallatin has announced a $35 million expansion, which will add 90 jobs. The Gallatin campus is one of Gap’s largest distribution centers and currently provides service to the southern region of the United States for Gap Inc. brands, including Gap and Gap Outlet, Banana Republic and Banana Republic Factory Stores and Old Navy. The center has been in operation for 15 years in Gallatin, and ranks as one of Sumner County’s largest employers. Company officials didn’t immediately respond to interview requests.
Tennessee nursing homes have dramatically decreased the use of antipsychotic drug use for residents living with dementia. According to the state Health Department, antipsychotic drugs cost hundreds of millions of Medicare and Medicaid dollars and increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, falls with fractures, hospitalizations and other complications. Lowering the use of unnecessary antipsychotic medications improves residents’ quality of life and reduces health care costs. Tennessee led the nation for antipsychotic use in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2011.
More than 100 rafters were waiting on the shore for their chance on the river when Marnita McGruder fell out of her raft and died on the Ocoee River on Saturday. The guides knew what was happening. The guests didn’t. Just yards away on the ramp, Noah Perdue, a guide, tried to distract his guests as he waited to take them out, and he watched the rescue attempt. No one panicked. “It was more like helplessness, because you’re just watching people,” he said. “There’s nothing anyone can do. If you put in, you’re putting yourself at risk.”
Williamson County hasn’t seen an outbreak of pertussis — better known as whooping cough — but the local health department, schools and physicians are still warning parents of the seriousness of the illness. Across the state, 131 cases of pertussis have been reported this year as of Aug. 24, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Twenty-six of those cases were in the department’s Mid-Cumberland Region, which includes Williamson County and 11 other counties, and seven were in the Nashville-Davidson County Region.
Hundreds of Tennessee educators converged on Nashville last week for a two-day summit on improvement ideas. SCORE, or the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, hosted about 600 participants at Music City Center for sessions ranging from teacher pay to using technology in the classroom. Speakers included administrators and others from school districts in Tennessee, staff from the Tennessee Department of Education and experts from other states. Among the topics discussed on the first day was placing effective teachers and principals in high-need schools.
It’s a day one art lesson: Combining blue and yellow makes “green.” Bretske Hall, UTC’s former cafeteria and lab space, has been transformed into an environmentally sound art space. After a $2.14 million renovation, the brick box is now the university’s prototype for campus sustainability. “UTC has made a commitment to be environmentally aware, to lower our campus footprint and provide a healthy environment for our faculty and staff,” Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Darger said. Bretske is the first UTC building to be LEED-certified, or verified that the facility meets national third-party sustainability standards like air quality and cost efficiency.
Elizabeth Sykes, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, has announced she will retire late this year, capping a 27-year career in state government. Sykes, a resident of Clarksville who earned her law degree from the University of Memphis, joined the AOC in 1995 after working at the Tennessee Department of Corrections and being the executive director of the Sentencing Commission. She was promoted to deputy director in 1999 and named administrative director in 2006. The Tennessee Supreme Court will appoint her successor. “Libby Sykes has enjoyed a remarkable career in her service to the State of Tennessee, especially during her tenure as administrative director of the Courts,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade.
A week after the release of a poll that suggests Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander would be vulnerable to a “credible conservative” in the GOP primary next year, the Alexander campaign says its own new poll shows the Tennessee lawmaker is in a “very strong position” to fend off GOP rivals. The Alexander campaign’s survey of 600 likely Republican primary voters, conducted Aug. 19-22, showed the senator’s job approval at 69 percent with 24 percent disapproval. It also shows Alexander leading announced GOP primary challenger Joe Carr, a state representative, by 64 to 22 percent.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander enjoys almost a 3-to-1 lead over prospective rivals in next year’s Republican primary, according to a poll commissioned by the incumbent’s campaign. A memo distributed to media by the campaign shows Alexander leading Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who says he’s considering the race, by 62 percent to 23 percent. State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas, who recently announced as a candidate, trailed Alexander a bit more, 64 percent to 22 percent.
The Federal Reserve and how it “facilitates” the growth of government and spending was the topic of a speech given by retired Texas Congressman Ron Paul at a conference in Nashville Friday. The libertarian-leaning Republican who ran in the party’s presidential primaries in 2008 1nd 2012 was speaking at a conference titled “A Night of Clarity.” The event at the Nashville Sheraton featured lectures from libertarians and free-market economists on the history of U.S. monetary policy. Paul’s speech, titled “My History with Austrian Economics and Fighting the Fed,” covered a range of topics from how he discovered the so-called “Austrian School” of economics and got involved in politics to how the Federal Reserve encourages federal government expansion.
Wyoming and 30 other states won a battle against the federal government this week over more than $80 million in royalty payments the states were owed, but didn’t immediately receive due to the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as the sequester. The federal Office of Natural Resources Revenue had been keeping the money, which is mostly derived from oil and gas production on federal lands, and normally is divided between the federal government and the states. But on Monday, the agency told state officials that it determined the states, by law, are entitled to receive their share of the withdrawn funds a year later.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new Biomass Steam Plant, which began operations a year ago amid much hype and celebration, is supposed to save more than $260 million over the next two decades. However, according to a new audit report by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, the wood-chip-burning facility is still costing more than it should — perhaps incurring as much as $67 million in unnecessary costs over its lifetime. Federal auditors looked at two biomass facilities — one at ORNL, the other at DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina — that were built using so-called Energy Savings Performance Contracts, which involve private companies developing and financing projects on the front end in exchange for a share of the savings later on.
A Chattanooga truck dealership is shifting gears and moving from an inner city location to a high profile site off Interstate 75 as it builds a new $5 million facility. “We’re in a growth mode,” said Bobby Bethune, branch manager of MHC Kenworth, which has broken ground on a nine-acre tract on Lee Highway north of Bonny Oaks Drive. He said the dealership will more than double its footprint to 60,000 square feet as well as bolster its workforce by nearly 30 employees. “We’ll probably get up to 60 to 70 [employees] pretty quick,” Bethune said.
Metro Nashville school board members once again failed to come up with a 2014-15 school calendar Tuesday night, but they did agree on one thing. They’d be better off if they didn’t have to do this every year. The board sent staff members back to the board with a new idea, one that would forestall the need to come up with a calendar every year. Adopting a calendar every year, board Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes said, is “extra stress nobody needs.” Board members were scheduled to discuss a compromise plan that tried to split the difference between the current calendar and one with longer summer breaks and a later start date.
Nashville’s public schools are setting very specific goals to reach by 2018. They include becoming the top urban school system in the country. Superintendent Jesse Register was praised Tuesday night for aiming high in a new strategic plan. (refer back to the 2014 plan created in 2007 here) It’s unclear exactly who is currently the highest-performing big-city school system, but board member Michael Hayes says he appreciates shooting for number one. “In probably the better part of a decade following the district and three years sitting at this table, we haven’t said that out loud, aggressively.”
The Shelby County Board of Education approved by a vote of 16-4 Tuesday night a resolution recognizing a half dozen unions as the representatives of district employees in discussions with administrators. The resolution was offered by Dr. Jeff Warren and also drew the support of Chris Caldwell, Snowden Carruthers, Joe Clayton, Diane George, Tomeka Hart, Martavius Jones, Teresa Jones, Sara Lewis, Oscar Love, Patrice Robinson, Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr., Dr. Freda Williams, Mike Wissman, Kevin Woods and chairman Billy Orgel.
Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Verna Ruffin said cutting funds from instruction in order to implement a strong literacy plan is necessary, but the cuts aren’t easy. “When we looked at our finances this year, we realized there was no money set aside for a literacy program,” said Ruffin during Tuesday evening’s budget committee meeting. “On the elementary level, we have to have a program to help children become better readers at an early age and there’s no funding for that. We don’t (currently) have a successful intervention for our middle school students. We must have something that’s going to help move them along because we have some students that are two or more years behind.”
One Rutherford County parent said the day after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was the scariest day she’s ever had to drop her kids off at school. But with the new Raptor program that began in Rutherford County schools this year, she may be able to rest a little easier during the day. “We’ve been at this school for two years, and we’ve always had to sign in,” said parent MaryBethHagan. “But after the shooting (in Connecticut), it’s nice to know there are extra precautions.” Hagan comes in to Homer Pittard Campus School at least once a week to have lunch with one of her children — one is in first grade and one is in third grade.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday responded to a federal court order to significantly reduce the state’s prison population by proposing a $315 million plan to send inmates to private prisons in California and other states and empty county jail cells. The cost could reach $700 million over two years, with much of the money likely to come from a $1 billion reserve fund in the state budget. California has already released some 46,000 inmates to comply with the court’s orders. The judges have ordered the state to release an additional 9,600 inmates by the end of the year to improve medical and mental health treatment in prisons.
The fierce struggle among Republicans over whether to make Medicaid available to more low-income people played out in Michigan on Tuesday as the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, narrowly succeeded in swaying enough conservative senators in the State Legislature to accept the expansion, which was part of President Obama’s health care law. Mr. Snyder’s preferred bill — one he had lobbied for intensely for months — initially fell short by one vote, but the governor salvaged a deal hours later. The vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was 20 to 18, with only 8 Republicans in favor.
Last Thursday, Chip Forrester, former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, filed an ethics complaint against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The complaint charges Haslam with “fail(ing) to disclose a campaign expenditure, the services of political advisor Tom Ingram, which is required by state law.” In short, Gov. Haslam did not reveal (and refused to reveal when questioned by the media) how much he was personally paying Ingram, who was also doing campaign work for Haslam. Unfortunately, this incident represents only the tip of the iceberg for malfeasance in the Haslam administration, which has been marked by a web of inside deals, conflicts of interest and preferential treatment of former business partners.
In four short months it will have been five years since the Kingston Ash Spill became a household phrase in the Southeast after an earthen dike broke and unleashed 50 years of wet coal ash slime on a sleepy community along the Emory River in Harriman, Tenn. When we say 50 years of coal ash slime, we mean the toxic remains of waste from burning coal to make electricity. Even before the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed, scientists knew the dangers of breathing air polluted with coal-fired smoke and ash particles. The wet treatment of coal waste — scrubbed from the burners, moistened and tossed into a pit-turned-60-foot-landfill — was a stopgap way to keep more silica, mercury, selenium, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants out the air and water.
My morning commute to Gay Street was teaching time from 1985 until 1997, my radio tuned to famous (in conservative circles) Bible teachers like Chuck Swindoll or Adrian Rogers or Charles Stanley. But by the time I nudged my way north from Sevier County on Chapman Highway into the South Knoxville rush-hour slog, I occasionally, ahem, lost my religion. Were I still making the same weekday pilgrimage, surely TDOT’s recently released Modified Green Alternative for the James White Parkway Extension would elicit some “Hallelujahs!” TDOT’s plan bypasses the bottleneck that gets bigger for northbound Chapman commuters as they come closer to downtown Knoxville.