This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is working with Tennessee congressmen to assess the feasibility of using state government resources to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and three other areas closed by the partial federal government shutdown, a spokesman said Wednesday. “Our office is working with the congressional delegation to gather more information about this,” said David Smith in an email response to an inquiry. “One of the many factors to consider is that the four large national areas in our state straddle Tennessee’s border with a neighboring state,” he said.
Thursday it will allow some shuttered national parks to reopen — as long as states use their own money to pay for park operations. Governors in at least four states have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government will consider offers to use state money to resume park operations but will not surrender control of national parks or monuments to the states. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said he has been in touch with Tennessee’s congressional delegation to learn more about the idea.
A South Korean tire company has chosen Middle Tennessee for a new plant, according to media reports, and there are key similarities in those reports to a prospect under discussion for Clarksville. Senior officials of Hankook Tire, the world’s seventh-largest tire maker by sales, plan to visit Tennessee next week to sign a memorandum of understanding with U.S. officials on building the plant near Nashville, a senior U.S. auto industry official told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made.
South Korea-based Hankook Tire Co. could be the industrial prospect that Clarksville officials reported in August was considering building a $700 million plant that would employ up to 1,000 people. The Korea Times, a South Korean newspaper, reports that the tire company is in final negotiations to build its first U.S. plant “near Nashville,” and it would be able to produce about 10 million tires a year. The newspaper said Hankook officials would visit Tennessee next week to “sign a memorandum of understanding with U.S. officials on building the plant near Nashville,” quoting an unnamed “senior U.S. auto industry official” on Wednesday.
A study published by the Tennessee Consortium of Research, Evaluation and Development at Vanderbilt University found that while most teachers still don’t like the increased principal observations required in their evaluations, the number who approve of the new format dramatically increased since last year’s study. Of the 27,000 educators who responded to the survey, 20 percent more approved of the process as a whole than last year. “Usually in surveys like this one, we don’t see these types of swings,” said Matthew Pepper, one of the study’s authors.
State Treasurer David Lillard is being honored by his peers. He received the Jesse M. Uhruh Award this week at the National Association of State Treasurers annual conference in Asheville, N.C. The award is given each year to a state treasurer who has demonstrated outstanding service to the association, the profession and his or her state. Members of the association’s executive committee select the winner. NAST is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes best financial practices, sound public fiscal policy and education for state treasurers across the country.
Days after it called back hundreds of contractors, the state Department of the Military says it now needs to furlough another 103 workers whose salaries are paid by the federal government. The department that oversees the Tennessee National Guard said Thursday it has put some some workers at its bases in Nashville, Smyrna, Memphis and Knoxville on leave. The furloughed workers are employed by the state, but all or part of their salaries and benefits are underwritten through reimbursements from the federal government.
Academic Affairs is absorbing the largest share of $20.9 million in spending cuts to balance the University of Memphis budget for the current fiscal year. In a “Dear Colleagues” memo to faculty and staff members, provost Dr. M. David Rudd said Academic Affairs “carry forward” funds totaling $7.6 million — money that was left over in departmental budgets at the end of the last fiscal year — is being recovered. Not filling special project requests across all units is producing $5.7 million in savings, Rudd said.
Tennessee is one of a group of states that has won a $30 million settlement against a marketing company the state says used confusing and deceptive business practices. According to the state attorney general’s office, Affinion and its subsidiaries offer a variety of services, including credit monitoring, roadside assistance and discount travel. Consumers complained that Affinion charged them for services without their authorization. Some also reported that they had trouble canceling or getting a refund.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield said Thursday that he will change the location of a planned Oct. 22 fundraiser in Nashville at the request of the owner of the pizzeria where it was originally scheduled. Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he spoke with Scott DeSano, owner of DeSano Pizza Bakery, after a Tennessean report that customers of the restaurant complained, declaring they would never dine there again if the Campfield fundraiser is held. The senator said DeSano told him some people were more harsh than that in objecting to the restaurant being the location of a fundraiser, hosted by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, for the controversial senator.
Taxpayers paid nearly a half-million dollars over the past two years for empty beds at Metro’s private prison. A 2009 contract between Metro Government and Corrections Corporation of America guarantees that the private prison company will be paid for 90-percent capacity in the women’s section of its Metro Detention Facility. But records show that the private-run prison has rarely been that full, putting taxpayers on the hook for $487,917.27 worth of empty beds since 2011, when it first began booking female prisoners. Such quota systems are commonplace across the nation but prompt criticism, in Nashville and elsewhere, that the arrangements are better for private corporations than taxpayers.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney is accusing the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee of using “scare tactics” to “intimidate” public schools into abandoning prayer at high school football games. In a letter sent Thursday to school superintendents statewide, Devaney says that “with a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization.”
The federal government shutdown has cost South Pittsburg $410,000 for flood prevention repair work. The National Conservation Resource Service awarded the money last month after Marion County agreed to lend the city $102,000 needed to match the grant. Overnight on July 10 and 11, heavy rains caused a fast-moving mudslide from South Pittsburg Mountain to tear through town, blasting through homes and businesses and leaving behind a layer of mud and tons of stone that business owners and residents spent weeks clearing away.
In the 10 days since Zion National Park closed its gates, the community on its doorstep has become a shutdown ghost town. Hotel rooms are dark, and housecleaners are working half-shifts. Herds of campers and sightseers have streamed away along the only highway out of town, and canceled reservations from New Zealand, California and Germany are piling up every day. “The phone’s still ringing, unfortunately,” said Dean Cook, manager of the Zion Park Inn, which lost about $19,000 in business during the first week of the federal government shutdown. “We thought of not answering it for a while.”
An estimated 7 million people have been shut out at 12 of the busiest and biggest U.S. national parks, costing parks and nearby communities about $76 million in lost visitor spending for each day the partial government shutdown drags on. That’s according to a report just out from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which derived its estimates from actual National Park Service visitation numbers from last October and an independent analysis of park economic impacts conducted by the nonpartisan group Headwaters Economics.
This week more than 11,000 U.S. Muslims are expected to join millions of other pilgrims in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. When the Americans return home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments will be watching for any sign of the MERS virus that has caused severe acute respiratory illness in 140 people since 2012, killing about half of them. But because of the shutdown of the federal government, about 9,000 of the CDC’s 15,000 workers have been furloughed.
After years of hefty tuition increases, a few colleges are cutting prices and trying to wean families from discounts. More than a half-dozen schools have slashed their sticker prices starting this fall or next as part of simplifying the college-financing process, which has become a patchwork of aid deals and discounts for families. Administrators say the price cuts could actually make schools money by attracting more new students and helping retain cost-conscious ones. Published tuition rates have soared in the last decade, but only a small percentage of families actually pays full freight.
With electricity sales lagging, the staff of America’s biggest government utility and Chattanooga’s biggest federal employer is getting smaller. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which is cutting 700 jobs this year at nuclear and coal plants being phased out or delayed, is developing plans for other ways to cut more contractors or employees as it tries to trim another $350 million in operating expenses this year and next. Bill Johnson, the former Progress Energy CEO hired a year ago to head TVA, is convinced such cuts can and should be made.
An out-of-town development group is pursuing plans to build a Westin hotel on roughly an acre across from the new Music City Center. Plans call for a 30-story luxury hotel with 400-plus rooms on the site that includes the office building at 304 Ninth Ave. S. now occupied by Carpenter Wright Engineers and Bullock Smith & Partners architects. The development group has that property and the adjacent vacant building under contract, plus an agreement to take over the former Cokesbury bookstore and parking lot behind it.
The town of Farragut and Knox County have unwittingly run up a more than $1 million tab in tax revenue with the school system, officials with all three agencies learned last week. Farragut could owe the school system at least $1.1 million dating back to 1998, according to Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell. That figure could be double that, however, as officials are only now investigating just how long the revenue has been unpaid. Knox County estimates it may owe as much as $350,000.
It was an encouraging sign last week to see Bill Frist, former Senate majority leader, prominent physician and education reform proponent, lean toward universal prekindergarten. His message was delivered to a national audience in a column posted on the Huffington Post website, but the Tennessee Republican may find a lukewarm response from leaders of his home state. The column, co-authored by former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., picks up on recent and continuing research into the effects of pre-K on child development and educational attainment — and gives enthusiastic support.
Did you know that earlier this week you could have been fined $1,000 for discussing your experiences with the health care coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act exchanges with your own family members? That was until Oct. 7, when U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell issued a temporary restraining order to stop this possibility. In mid-September, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance issued emergency regulations requiring that any person assisting with enrollment in a health plan offered through an exchange register with the state and submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check or be fined up to $1,000.