This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will reopen for five days during the busy fall tourism season with the help of money from both Tennessee and North Carolina, officials say. The park, which straddles the border of the two states, will reopen Wednesday through Sunday. Like other national parks, it had been closed because of the partial federal government shutdown. Tennessee is giving $300,500 to open the park, while North Carolina is contributing $75,000, the governors of the two states said Tuesday. Tennessee’s $300,500 share is officially being paid by Sevier County, home of heavily visited tourist attractions like Pigeon Forge, Dollywood and Gatlinburg, though 80 percent of that amount will come from the state in the form of a tourism grant.
Tennessee officials have reached an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at least through Sunday. Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday that the country’s most-visited park would once again receive visitors at midnight, after the state and two East Tennessee counties agreed to share the cost of $60,100 a day to operate the park. The Smokies, like most national parks, closed earlier this month as part of the partial federal government shutdown. Tennessee officials have argued that the loss of tourism during peak foliage season exceeds whatever amount the state would have to spend to open it.
Hoping that the federal government shutdown will soon end, Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for reopening the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with state and county money covers just five days and does not deal with other closed national park sites in Tennessee. The governor said Tuesday that a “unique set of circumstances” applies in the Smokies, where October is a peak visitation month and local businesses are losing millions of dollars in sales to tourists because of the park closure. That means the state and local governments are also losing sales tax revenue, he noted.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tuesday the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will reopen Wednesday for five days under an agreement with the National Park Service. “The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said in a news release. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.” The park, which straddles northwest Tennessee and western North Carolina, was shut down two weeks ago as congressional Republicans battle with President Barack Obama and his fellow congressional Democrats over the budget.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced an agreement with the National Park Service Tuesday to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wednesday through Sunday of this week. The park has been closed because of the partial federal shutdown that began Oct. 1. NPS says it costs $60,100 a day to operate the sprawling park straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Sevier County, where the park’s headquarters is located, sent the NPS $300,500 to reopen for the five days, with the state paying 80 percent in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant. Sevier and Blount counties are splitting the remaining $60,100.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with normal operations under way from Wednesday through Sunday. “The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said in a release. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced on Tuesday an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with all normal operations from Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20. “The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam stated. The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reopening Wednesday morning through the weekend despite the federal government’s partial shutdown. Noting that “for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced late Tuesday afternoon that “America’s most visited national park” will stay open at least through midnight Sunday, Oct. 20. Last week the federal government agreed to let national parks reopen if individual states agreed to pay for their daily operation.
The state of Tennessee has reached a short term agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at a cost of $60,100 per day. Operations will resume Wednesday and continue at least through Sunday. Fall is prime season for tourism in the Smokies, and Governor Bill Haslam says for businesses there, every missed weekend is “irrecoverable.” “October, for the Smokies, and people around it, is like Christmas—is like December for retailers in a mall,” Haslam said Monday, before an agreement with the federal government had been reached.
Higher education should be a key component of the state’s plan to increase agricultural productivity, Gov. Bill Haslam said at the Tennessee Agriculture Leadership Forum Tuesday. “Agriculture is changing,” Haslam said during his speech at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro, and people in rural areas are far less likely to have education beyond high school than those in urban areas. Haslam said the trend that has to change for agriculture to succeed. The governor challenged the 130 farmers, investors and government officials to review his 10-year strategic plan for agricultural development.
Great Lakes Cheese is opening its first plant in the Southeast in Manchester. The Hiram, Ohio-based company said it plans to invest $100 million in the 330,000-square-foot facility and create more than 200 jobs. The cheese manufacturing and packaging plant will become the company’s ninth. The others are located in Utah, Wisconsin and New York. Hiring is expected to begin in the fall of next year and reach 200 by 2019. The company supplies grocery and warehouse stores and restaurant chains and food service distributors.
A Manchester, Tenn., sod farm turned industrial park will soon be covered in cheese. Great Lakes Cheese Co., announced plans Tuesday to build a $100 million cheese packaging plant in the Manchester Industrial Park, just a mile off of Interstate 24 about midway between Chattanooga and Nashville. The facility will be the fourth biggest among nine plants operated for the $2 billion-a-year cheese maker. It also will be the largest one-time investment ever in Coffee County. Construction of the 330,000-square-foot cheese processing plant — the size of nearly six football fields — will help Great Lakes Cheese expand its capacity and better serve the South, company officials said.
Hiram, Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese will invest $100 million to open its first Southeast manufacturing facility in Manchester, according to a news release The facility will create over 200 new jobs in Coffee County at the Manchester Industrial Park. The new 330,000-square-foot manufacturing facility will be the company’s fourth “super plant” and its ninth facility nationwide. The following are excerpts from today’s press release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development: “I want to thank Great Lakes Cheese for their valuable investment and welcome them to Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.
Great Lakes Cheese has announced plans to build what’s being described as a $100 million “super plant” in Manchester, creating 200 new jobs in Coffee County over the next six years. This would be the dairy company’s first manufacturing facility in the Southeast. The Ohio-based firm specializes in making store-brand cheeses. It will build a 330,000 square-foot plant in the Manchester Industrial Park, becoming its first tenant.
Nashville-based Asurion is adding 800 local jobs with the creation of a new support center in Antioch. According to a news release, the support center at 5720 Crossings Blvd. will open in early 2014. Asurion provides mobile phone insurance services, and has been growing rapidly. In 2012, Asurion announced plans to bring 500 jobs to downtown Nashville. In August, a permit was issued for a 31,000-square-foot Asurion office near Nashville International Airport. With the new location, Asurion will occupy 557,473 square feet in Davidson County.
Nashville-based Asurion, one of the industry’s largest cell phone insurance companies, is adding 800 support technician positions to a new Nashville facility amid growing demand for mobile devices. The company, led by CEO Steve Ellis, is opening a support solutions center at 5720 Crossings Blvd. in Antioch that will include management and operational positions, in addition to the tech support jobs. The new 122,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in early 2014. “We help millions of consumers every year solve mobile phone and consumer electronics issues,” said Sue Nokes, Asurion senior vice president of customer solutions.
A leading provider in comprehensive technology solutions and protection plans is opening a location in Nashville, bringing with it hundreds of jobs. Asurion announced Tuesday they’ll be opening their new location at 5720 Crossings Boulevard in Antioch. The new 122,000 square foot center, expected to open in early 2014, will create 800 job opportunities. The company specializes in consumer electronics issues. “Consumers are looking for a single expert source to help resolve issues with their mobile devices and to get the most out of their technology investments.
South Korea’s Hankook Tire Co. 161390.SE -0.31% plans to invest $800 million to build its first U.S. production plant here, the latest move in a battle among smaller global tire companies to gain a bigger share of the U.S. market. Hankook Chief Executive Seung Hwa Suh said the company sees an opportunity to accelerate sales to car makers—a business that rivals such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. GT -1.24% , Continental AG CON.XE -0.55% and Michelin ML.FR -0.60% are playing down as they shift to sales of more expensive, higher technology tires for luxury vehicles and the replacement-tire market.
Most of the 1,800 employees of Clarksville’s Hankook Tire facility will likely earn an average wage of $18.25 an hour once the plant begins producing the Korean-owned company’s high-performance tires. In a second-day news conference Tuesday morning involving local officials close to the deal, Mike Evans, executive director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board, said that’s the average pay rate he’s hearing. “We do also know there will be about 220-plus salaried, white-collar jobs at the facility, and the rest of the 1,800 will be hourly wage earners,” Evans said.
Gov. Bill Haslam says more than $2.7 million in workforce development grants for two Memphis colleges can help meet Tennessee’s need for qualified workers. Haslam announced the grants Monday at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Memphis. The college is receiving $1.2 million for equipment to enhance its Avionics and Aircraft Maintenance and Advanced Manufacturing programs. Haslam says every graduate of the college gets placed in a job. Southwest Tennessee Community College is getting $1.5 million for its mechatronics program.
Teachers who feel they have had no voice in the sweeping change affecting their lives and classrooms sent a loud no-confidence vote Tuesday in Kevin Huffman, state commissioner of education. “If kids don’t make certain test scores, than we are not a valued professional,” said Northside High teacher Sarah Kennedy-Harper. “That is totally ludicrous.” Kennedy-Harper was among dozens of Shelby County Schools teachers who signed a no-confidence petition that the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association will send to Nashville, hoping to capitalize on a steadily rising anger across the state directed at Huffman.
Tennessee’s public safety commissioner on Tuesday praised Nashville’s recently unveiled plan for reducing domestic violence and pledged state funds to help the city create a family justice center. Family justice centers — Knoxville and Memphis each has one — bring together in a single place services for domestic violence victims and their families. The centers typically house police, prosecutors, lawyers, social services and victim advocates. “Providing temporary shelter support is important, but we need to do more than that,” safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons told a meeting of the Lawyers Association for Women.
A former state probation officer charged with having sexual contact with a probationer now faces a civil lawsuit in federal court. Daryell Smith, 63, of Ashland City, was indicted in June after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe. Authorities said Smith had sexual contact with a woman under his supervision — a charge detailed in the victim’s 14-page federal complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Nashville. The Tennessean does not name victims of sexual assault. Smith has since resigned, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction, which also is named in the lawsuit, along with department supervisors.
Transportation authorities will wait to see how drivers react to the newly opened lanes of Henley Bridge before deciding on any lane changes on Chapman Highway. “That is the direction the city asked us to go in,” said Kristin Qualls, Tennessee Department of Transportation project supervisor for the $31 million Henley Bridge renovation. Authorities at 12:01 a.m. Thursday will open one lane in each direction on the 81-year-old structure that was named after Revolutionary War hero Col. David Henley. Qualls said TDOT officials met with people from the city engineering department to discuss changing the intersection of Moody Avenue and Chapman Highway to accommodate use of the partially opened bridge.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is being recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The agency earned second place in the association’s 2012 law enforcement challenge and won the special category for impaired driving. THP Colonel Tracy Trott is scheduled to accept the awards at the IACP annual conference in Philadelphia, Pa., next week. The THP took top honors in the impaired driving category based on its year-round efforts to detect and apprehend drunk drivers and to address the traffic safety issue through policies, officer training and public information and education.
Amid a statewide controversy over how mixed-drink tax revenue should be divvied up, plans to repay Knox County Schools money thought to be due from it are on hold. Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell said Tuesday the state Comptroller’s Office has decided to review the law regarding parceling out of the tax proceeds. There’s a growing statewide controversy over whether schools actually should garner a cut of the tax and, if so, just how far back municipalities in arrears on paying the schools must go in playing catch-up.
Senator Lamar Alexander raised $838,000 for his reelection campaign in the third quarter. Fundraising numbers for candidates across Tennessee are starting to trickle in, despite furloughs at the Federal Election Commission. Alexander has raised nearly four million dollars since the beginning of the year, but he hasn’t spend three quarters of it as he tries to beat back a primary challenge from Rutherford County State Rep. Joe Carr. Carr actually switched races in the middle of the reporting period. He raised $300,000 for a congressional campaign. All of it carries over into his Senate bid.
Republican challenger Jim Tracy remains far ahead in the money race in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary with a better than four-to-one advantage over incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais, according to quarterly campaign finance reports. Meanwhile, Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, called Desjarlais “desperate” after the congressman’s campaign fired a shot at Tracy’s pre-announcement event in Murfreesboro last December, calling it a “$100,000 pancake breakfast.” Tuesday was the deadline for congressional candidates to report their third quarter fundraising results covering the period from July 1 to Sept. 30.
A small group of protesters gathered in front of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ office Tuesday asking that he do his part to end the government shutdown and “cease and desist” efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act. Mike Actis-Grande with Tennessee Citizen Action, a grassroots group based in Nashville focused on health care issues and government ethics, said he organized the cease and desist protest to the community now that “there are people on their side” that want the shutdown to end without affecting the Affordable Care Act.
As Congress nears agreement on ending the federal shutdown, Aerospace Testing Alliance, the primary contractor at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tenn., is in the odd position of sending workers home by the hundreds while preparing to hire new workers for a heavy schedule of testing set to begin next week. Last Friday, 100 to 150 people were notified not to show up for work until the shutdown ends. Another 300 were asked to take any available vacation time this week but to be ready to return to work by Monday to start gearing up for planned testing activities, Aerospace Testing spokeswoman Kathy Gattis said.
With most IRS and USDA offices idled due to the government shutdown, home buyers trying to borrow under some government-backed lending programs are having to wait on Congress to reopen the federal government. Borrowers seeking rural development loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been unable to close on their mortgages since the new federal fiscal year began on Oct. 1 and USDA and other federal agencies largely shut down without a new budget from Congress.
Nearly 600 state workers across the state of Tennessee have been furloughed because of the partial federal shutdown. According to the Tennessee State Employees Association, 599 state employees have been sent home without pay. Because their salaries are paid with pass-through money from the federal government, 103 Department of Military employees, 111 employees from the Department of Human Services and 385 men and women with the Department of Labor and Workforce and Development are on furlough.
It’s the most visited attraction in Rutherford County, bringing in more than a quarter of a million visitors a year. But because of the government shutdown, visitors of the Stones River National Battlefield have been locked out. Chamber officials said this could cause a trickle down effect on businessesand restaurants, but they are still trying to calculate the economic impact shutdown will have on the county. U.S. Park Ranger Jim Lewis is a walking history book. “We’re the site of one of the most important and bloodiest battles of the Civil War,” Lewis said. But for two weeks, he’s kept his knowledge of the Battle of Murfreesboro bottled up inside.
Mollie Downton has tried to purchase an insurance plan through Healthcare.gov, but each attempt is thwarted by the web site. “There’s basic information out there on the site, but when it comes to actually logging in and finding out the nitty gritty, it was a blank page,” she stated. And that’s the sort of thing thousands of Tennesseans have been experiencing. At the Main Street Clinic, which is part of United Neighborhood Health Services, the only way people have been able to apply is on paper, a cumbersome and inefficient process.
About $42 million has been recovered in the past week by the Tennessee Valley Authority to help pay for more than $1 billion in expenses stemming from the cleanup at the 2008 ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant. The latest payment comes after an arbitrator ruled that one of TVA’s insurers, Bermuda-based Arch, had to pay for part of the cleanup from the collapse of a coal ash pond where TVA dumped coal residues for decades at its Kingston plant. The arbitration award is the first of three pending cases between TVA and its insurers over the Kingston ash spill.
A recent congressional study shows Tennessee’s nuclear plants had a total of 258 safety violations between 2000 and 2012. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the Government Accountability Office report that’s awaiting release. Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures cited in the report show the Sequoyah plant in Soddy-Daisy had 125 violations, of which all but two were lower-level violations. Watts Bar in Spring City had 133 violations. Only three were higher-level status.
Downtown hotels are already anticipating a boom in business from the upcoming SEC basketball tournaments during March, a month when business could normally fluctuate depending on when the Easter holiday and school breaks fall. “I think it’s great news,” said Ray Waters, president at Turnberry Hospitality Group, the majority owner and management company of the Union Station Hotel and Downtown Hilton. “Every time that we have an SEC tournament or what we anticipate the ladies Final Four will bring, it is huge for this downtown area — the hotels, restaurants and bars. Especially when Kentucky is in the playoffs. I’m convinced that half the state of Kentucky comes.”
Grabbing a beer in downtown Nashville? It will soon mean an extra penny to help Music City Center recruitment. By a 32-4 vote, the Metro Council on Tuesday easily approved a new 0.25 percent fee — a quarter of a penny for every dollar — on the price of services, food, beer and other goods sold within the downtown central business district. The fee, which equates to a penny on the price of a $4 beer, gives tourism officials a new dedicated pool of money they say is crucial to lure top-tier conventions to Nashville.
Cicely Woodard has the daunting task of helping eighth-graders understand and even enjoy math. Five days a week, she leads her students at Nashville’s Rose Park Magnet Middle School through the intricacies of graphs, formulas and equations. It’s knowledge she knows they’ll need to get into college. Even on tough days, she says, “There’s nothing in the world I would rather be doing.” Woodard thinks her mission became a little easier this school year because of the Common Core, a set of education standards that has been adopted by Tennessee, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia.
Tennessee has been at the epicenter of national education reform efforts in recent years, but there’s still debate about how much these changes have improved student learning. Test scores have been rising, according to the state Department of Education, but some teachers and administrators feel the rapid pace of change has led to low morale. Now there’s a new player in town, the Common Core standards. While many educators have embraced them, others worry that their impact won’t be clear until 2015 or later.
When Cicely Woodard was growing up in Memphis, math class was fairly straightforward. “My teachers got up there and they lectured and we took notes, and we practiced and then the next day, we came back and did it all over again,” she said. Perhaps because of that rote instruction, Woodard says she wasn’t a great math student. “It was very challenging for me,” she said. “I studied a lot.” Ultimately, Woodard did well enough to major in mathematical sciences at the University of Memphis before earning a master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University.
A state judge soon will determine whether the Hamilton County Schools system provided adequate services for a Chattanooga student with Down syndrome. Deborah Hyde has filed a due process claim with an administrative law court accusing the school system of violating federal disability law — Hamilton County’s first such claim in more than a decade. Hyde takes issue with the decision to move her son Luka, a third grader, from his neighborhood school and place him in a more specialized program at another school.
Gov. Bill Haslam believes public safety is the key to ensuring that Tennessee continues to be an attractive place for existing businesses to remain and expand, and new businesses to locate. Safer communities will help us achieve our goal of becoming the leader for high-quality jobs in the Southeast. That is why the governor created a Public Safety Subcabinet to identify and address our state’s toughest safety challenges through the development and implementation of a specific action plan. A recent article highlighted the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, which ranked Tennessee No. 1 in the nation in violent crime in 2012.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has joined forces with numerous Tennessee employers to help military veterans find jobs. The job initiative will take place Thursday across the state. In this time of economic uncertainty, Paychecks for Patriots is a great way to bring together workers with proven military backgrounds and employers looking for top quality employees. Gov. Bill Haslam has declared Oct. 17 as Paychecks for Patriots Day. This job opportunity effort is a great way to recognize the service of military veterans returning to civilian life from recent deployments, as well as those who have served our nation in the past.
Regardless of whether you agree with the notion of privately run prisons, it’s hard not to be exasperated at the disclosure that taxpayers have had to pay nearly a half million dollars over the past two years to Corrections Corporation of America, not for housing prisoners, but for a lot of empty beds. As The Tennessean reported last week, a contract arranged in 2009 between Metro and Tennessee-based CCA guarantees that the company gets paid for 90 percent capacity in the women’s section of the Metro Detention Facility, whether or not the prison is that full. And over the past two years, that has rarely been the case.