This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was in Trenton on Tuesday to award $2.2 million in grant money to six towns in Gibson County. The Gibson County Community Development Block Grant is part of a series of grants that focuses on the infrastructure needs of the towns and communities around the state. The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Tennessee $25.6 million for improvements, and the local communities make applications for improvements. “This is actually a very competitive process,” Haslam said.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $595,461 transportation alternative grant to the City of Dickson for Phase III of the Downtown Revitalization Project. The project will add improvements to sections of West College Street and Main Street, and is a continuation of the overall downtown revitalization that began in 2008. Phase III includes sidewalks with brick pavers, new pavement, new crosswalks, and ADA compliant sidewalk ramps, parking areas and signage.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Tuesday a $589,000 workforce development grant for Dyersburg State Community College to help meet the advanced manufacturing needs of the area. An array of state and local political figures, business people, educators, and students joined Haslam in the Learning Resource Center at Dyersburg State Community College for the announcement. This $589,022 grant will help the college establish two advanced manufacturing labs — in Dyersburg and Tipton County — and move forward with its proposed Associate of Applied Science degree in Advanced Manufacturing.
Armed with a $16.5 million fund approved by the General Assembly, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has lots of West Tennessee stops this week as he awards grants that will provide workforce training equipment to state schools certifying workers or training them for associate degrees. And Haslam kicked off the set of announcements Monday, Sept. 16, with checks totaling $2.7 million in the hangar of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Avionics School near Memphis International Airport.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he was disappointed to hear of a petition signed by nearly half of the states’ school superintendents that raised serious concerns about Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. The Republican governor in a letter to superintendents released Tuesday stood by Huffman and the initiatives he has championed, saying that the commissioner has brought a “new perspective and dynamic energy to education reform in Tennessee.” The petition originated with Dan Lawson, director of the Tullahoma City Schools, alleges that Huffman’s office “has no interest in a dialogue” with local officials and the superintendents’ efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam took a flattering and conciliatory tone with irritated schoolleaders this week, but still told them to back off public criticism of beleaguered Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. In a letter sent by email Monday, Haslam told school superintendents that he appreciates the hard work they have done to implement education changes in their own districts and is grateful for their help. However, he told them to find new ways to communicate and collaborate with Huffman. “The bottom line is that we are at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms that I believe will lead to continued progress in education, and this work is simply too important to get sidetracked,” Haslam wrote.
Gov. Bill Haslam says in a letter to school superintendents that he’s “disappointed” by their open criticism of his education chief Kevin Huffman and wants them to take a “fresh approach to communications” with the commissioner. “The bottom line is that we are at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms that I believe will lead to continued progress in education, and this work is simply too important to get sidetracked,” Haslam says in the letter, dated Monday. He adds, “That’s why I hope you’ll join me in taking a fresh approach to communication between the state and school districts and work together as partners as we seek to build on the momentum that’s been generated.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has written the state’s school superintendents to declare he’s “disappointed” with open criticism of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman by some of them and saying they should not “get sidetracked” from implementing education reforms. The Haslam letter, dated Monday and released to media Tuesday, comes with Tullahoma City Schools Superintendent Dan Lawson circulating a letter calling on the governor to “re-evaluate the leadership” at the state Department of Education. The Lawson letter says the state Department of Education “has no interest in a dialogue” with superintendents, adding, “We feel that we are not respected or valued and that the unique culture of our state is not valued.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has written Tennessee’s local school superintendents a letter defending his state education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, the target of a petition signed by about half of them. The petition criticizes Huffman for what they say is his unwillingness to listen to their concerns about the rapid pace of change in state education policies. In the letter, Haslam said he’s “very grateful for … Huffman’s vision and leadership. He has brought a new perspective and dynamic energy to education reform in Tennessee, and while you may not always agree with some of our administration’s specific initiatives, there is no doubt that we’re improving the future for more Tennessee children.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam finds himself in a political crossfire over Common Core. He says this week’s legislative hearing on the new education standards will show both liberals and conservatives are upset, for their own reasons. Speaking at an education event in Washington organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Haslam was asked how he’d help other governors stay the course on Common Core. Tennessee has moved ahead while some states have gotten cold feet. But Haslam suggests he still has plenty of work to do in Tennessee, where the Senate Education Committee holds a hearing to listen to critics on Thursday and Friday.
Swiss financial services giant UBS will receive up to $500,000 a year for five years as a taxpayer incentive for bringing up to 1,000 new jobs to downtown Nashville under a deal the Metro Council approved Tuesday. The arrangement, negotiated by Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, calls for UBS to receive a $500 annual grant for each new operations support job it creates. UBS can decide when the grant starts as long as it does so within three years of moving into the 98,000 square feet of space it plans to occupy in the Regions Center building, which will be renamed UBS Tower. The council supported the mayor’s plan by a 34-2 vote.
Merchant House International Group announced Tuesday it will move production of a line of footwear from China to Jefferson City, creating 109 jobs. The Footwear Division of the company has bought a 40,000 square-foot building in Jefferson City Industrial Park and will start making a line of men’s leather boots and shoes. The operation, known as Footwear Industries of Tennessee Inc., represents a $5.4 million investment and is to begin production in March. “We understand this is probably going to mean 109 jobs or more and those are dearly welcomed into our community,” said Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri.
Middle Tennessee State University has the largest class of new freshmen and the largest population of new transfer students among the six universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents system, according to preliminary counts released Monday. MTSU’s new freshman population increased by almost 2 percent over last year, growing to 3,179 as of the 14th day of classes, the date TBR uses as the system’s enrollment snapshot. The university welcomed 1,907 new transfers, the most of any TBR school. “We are pleased that our number of new freshmen has increased,” said Deb Sells, vice president for student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services, in a news release.
Early voting opens Wednesday, Sept. 18, in the Democratic primary special election for State House District 91. From Wednesday through Sept. 26, early voting is limited to the Shelby County Election Commission office at 157 Poplar Ave. From Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, voters in the Memphis district can also vote early on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at any of three satellite locations: Glenview Community Center, 1141 S. Barksdale St.; Greater Middle Baptist Church, 4982 Knight Arnold Road; and Riverside Baptist Church, 3560 S. Third St.
In 2007, the state gave the University of Tennessee $70 million to pioneer a way to turn switchgrass crops into biofuel for cars. Now the exact payoff could rest in the hands of oil companies. The state chipped in $40 million before the recession to build a plant-based ‘bio-refinery,’ and tens of millions more for things like farmers growing thousands of acres of tall switchgrass. With that money now spent, a committee of lawmakers asked Tuesday what the state has to show for it. They made clear they’re not impressed with pure research.
When President Barack Obama floated the idea of selling the Tennessee Valley Authority to private hands as part of his budget proposal in April, the idea earned a swift rebuke from Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander. He called the proposal “one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas.” It was only days later a chorus of fellow Republicans joined Alexander in decrying the idea of taking the government-owned TVA into the private sector. Alexander even invoked the spectre of national security in his opposition to the proposal.
Volkswagen AG says its factory in Tennessee is the front-runner to build a new SUV. Marc Trahan, executive vice president of quality for Volkswagen in the U.S., said Tuesday that Volkswagen will decide by the end of this year where to build the seven-passenger SUV, which the company believes it needs in the U.S. market. Trahan would not discuss efforts by the United Auto Workers to organize workers at the plant, or say whether those efforts are part of the discussion about where to build the new SUV. The UAW said last week that a majority of workers in Chattanooga have signed cards seeking union representation.
The United Auto Workers chief organizer in the region says the union’s effort at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant has been as low key and low budget as he has seen. “This is a home-grown deal,” said Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director based in Lebanon, Tenn., who said there’s been just two or three organizers on the ground in Chattanooga. Senior managers for VW in Germany this spring engaged in talks with the UAW and met with UAW President Bob King and other union officials last month in Germany. Officials said those discussions are ongoing.
In 1967, the old “Corn House” at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Bridge Street was torn down and a gas station was built. Preserving local landmarks wasn’t always a top-of-mind concern in Franklin. But losing that historic home was a wake-up call to a small group of people in this town that has since become nationally known for historic preservation. “They saw that we were losing our heritage,” said Rick Warwick, who now uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Williamson County’s past as a historian for the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County.
Oak Ridge City Council grudgingly transferred $250,000 to the school system in a called session Tuesday, ending worries of a state move to withhold a hefty chunk of its funding and a possible school shutdown on Oct. 1. With the transfer — and expected approval in back-to-back meetings Monday of the Board of Education — the schools will comply with the state-required maintenance of effort funding. State officials had earlier indicated some $1.87 million a month in funding would be withheld unless the state requirement to meet last fiscal year’s funding level is met.
Supt. Dorsey Hopson will earn $269,000 a year for running Shelby County Schools, $15,000 less than Kriner Cash was making when he left last winter after running a district with 40,000 fewer students. The board approved a three-year contract Tuesday night that also includes a $500,000 life insurance policy, 20 days of vacation and a district car for personal use. The contract does not include provisions for bonus pay as Cash requested when he arrived in 2008. Instead, Hopson will receive the same pay increase other staff get presuming he earns satisfactory marks in his annual evaluation.
Countywide school board members approved a three-year contract Tuesday, Sept. 17, that makes Dorsey Hopson the superintendent of Shelby County schools through Sept. 2, 2016 at a starting base pay of $269,000 a year. The draft contract with Hopson, who had been general counsel to Memphis City Schools and then became interim superintendent of the two legacy school systems into their merger, was approved by the seven-member board less than two weeks after the board voted to pursue contract negotiations with Hopson.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bill Haslam revealed his “Drive to 55” initiative. It’s a plan to get more Tennesseans educated and trained beyond a high school degree. The number of people in the state who’ve earned associate degrees or higher was at 32 percent when Haslam announced his plan; he wants to raise that number to 55 percent by 2025. It’s a smart goal designed to make the state’s workforce more attractive to potential businesses, and it’s a goal we fully support. That’s why we are so pleased to see Smyrna High School becoming part of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. AVID is a college-readiness program designed to prepare first-generation students for post-secondary education and the workplace.
U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. is waffling on whether he’ll support the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require Internet retailers to collect sales taxes just as bricks-and-mortar retailers must. In his “Washington Report,” Duncan says he originally supported the bill because he thought it was “unfair to give large out-of-state companies selling on the Internet nationwide an advantage over local small businesses.” More recently, though, he says he has grown concerned that “people feel they are taxed too much already.” No doubt it’s tempting to make political hay out of the tax issue. A poll of Republican voters showed 66 percent are opposed to changing the way Internet sales taxes are collected.
Don’t mistake a fight over a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee with the great episodes of labor history. The Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936 it’s not. The only sit-down relevant to VW’s Chattanooga plant took place in Germany on Aug. 30, in a secret meeting between the United Auto Workers union and German labor representatives on Volkswagen’s supervisory board. Chattanooga is VW’s only major plant without a German-style works council, in which workers and management consult on plant-related matters. The UAW had come to deliver a convenient red herring. It would be illegal under U.S. law, advised the UAW, which has no role in the Chattanooga plant or formal tie to its workers, to establish a works council at the factory without the UAW first being installed as the collective bargaining agent for the plant’s workforce.
If you want to purchase a gun in Tennessee, you have lots of options. You can visit your neighborhood gun store, stop by the hunting department at your local Wal-Mart, go to a weekend gun show or simply buy one on the Internet. Tennesseans trust that licensed gun retailers will use quick background checks to help prevent guns from ending up in the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. But unfortunately, under current federal law, all gun retailers are not created equal, and the requirement to complete a quick background check before commercially buying a gun is not applied across the board. But it should be.
The American labor market is recovering from a painful recession. But the recovery is geographically uneven. While some parts of the country are booming, others are still stuck in a deep recession. Two groups of localities have been doing particularly well over the past two years. Both are supported by fast-paced technological progress, but one has by far the bigger jobs-multiplier effect. The first group includes cities endowed with a large number of highly educated workers and innovative employers—places like San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis. The recession had less impact on these areas, and job growth has been brisk since the recovery began, thanks to sectors like the Internet, software, digital entertainment and biotech.