This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has been announced the winner of an annual “food fight” between him and Governor Bill Haslam. The competition, which ran from November 6 through Friday, pitched the two officials’ staffs against each other for who can donate the most food to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville. In all, more than 122,000 pounds of food was raised during the fifth annual food drive, which is enough to provide 101,721 meals for Davidson County families. The Mayor’s Office donated 385 pounds per person of food to win the “food fight.”
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has won his “food fight” with Gov. Bill Haslam for the second year in a row. The competition, which ran from Nov. 6 through Friday, pitches the two offices against each other for who can donate the most food to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville. The mayor’s office gathered 385 pounds of food per person, while Haslam staffers donated 345 pounds each. Metro Nashville government workers collected a total of 122,000 pounds of food, which is enough to provide nearly 102,000 meals.
Quietly and swiftly, the 569-acre site of Hankook Tire gained Regional Planning Commission approval Tuesday afternoon, further paving the way for a 1.5 million-square-foot plant that will directly employ 1,800 people in the next few years. The Hankook project was one of a few projects that came before planners in their monthly meeting. Also approved were site plans for a new Jenkins & Wynne car dealership on 41 acres at 2655 Trenton Road. “Basically, the engineers have taken a look at the Hankook site and have agreed on the elevation and how storm water on the property will be managed and directed into the retention areas in the industrial park,” local Industrial Development Board Executive Director Mike Evans told The Leaf-Chronicle after Tuesday’s meeting.
Tennessee is said to be on relatively solid financial footing as a result of having no highway-construction debt. But federal budget bickering is causing uncertainty for state Department of Transportation officials trying to map out spending on projects down the road. New transportation projects may have to be shelved until more cash gets routed to the state through Washington, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said this week. The possible shortfall comes as a result of the most recent transportation bill passed by Congress, MAP21 –- Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century – which went into effect Oct. 1, 2012, and is only currently funded through October of 2014, he said.
Dortch Oldham Jr. considers the 146-acre old Tennessee State Prison site off Centennial Boulevard as the ideal location for Pantheon Park, the education, entertainment, technology campus and museum that he and business partner Tom Baldridge have long envisioned. But for now, taking possession of that property that was shuttered as a prison two decades ago — and most recently served as the setting for The Green Mile and other Hollywood movies — remains a dream. Six months ago, the entity Baldridge and Oldham created to pursue Pantheon Park offered $5 million for the site, but the state’s correction commissioner recently told them that officials plan to relocate his department’s central operations office to the old prison site.
It is proving to be a restless fall at the University of Memphis as interim President Brad Martin pulls into focus several short-term goals that will have a long-term impact on the future of the city’s largest institution of higher learning. Martin has said his goal is to grow a campus whose enrollment has dropped in recent years as its completion rate, the gauge by which state funding is determined, is about 10 percentage points below the national average. And an increase in tuition could have an impact on both of those goals. “We are operating with a great deal of intensity,” Martin said last month as he spoke at the Memphis Rotary Club.
Grants for protecting Civil War and Underground Railroad sites in Tennessee will be made available starting Sunday. The $483,000 program created under a state law enacted this year will help pay for acquiring or preserving land associated with 38 Civil War sites determined to be the most historically significant in Tennessee. The matching grants will also help fund Underground Railroad sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or for being designated a National Historic Landmark.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott on Monday joined state and federal officials to announce the “Interstate 40 Challenge: The Drive toward Zero Fatalities” traffic enforcement campaign during the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday period, according to a news release. The challenge was issued to seven other state police or highway patrol agencies and consists of increased patrols along the I-40 corridor over two 12 hour periods on today and Sunday – the busiest travel days during the Thanksgiving period – to help achieve the safest possible holiday travel, the release said.
State officials returned Tuesday to the scene of a Grainger County house fire that killed a woman and a child late Monday morning. Kate Abernathy, spokeswoman with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said the bodies of the two victims had been taken to the East Tennessee Regional Forensic Center in Knoxville for autopsies to confirm identities. “Our special agents are back on the scene investigating,” she said. Bean Station Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched at 10:07 a.m. Monday to 218 Brantley Acres, according to a Grainger County Sheriff’s Office news release.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander have asked the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration not to lift restrictions that prevent fliers from talking on mobile phones. They say allowing cellphone conversations would make flights worse for fellow passengers. “Imagine 2 million passengers, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said. “The Transportation Security Administration would have to hire three times as many air marshals to deal with the fistfights.” Earlier this year, federal officials eased a ban on the use of tablet computers, DVD players and other electronics during takeoff and landing.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said today he will introduce legislation, if it comes to it, to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from allowing cell phone conversations on airplanes. And the Tennessee Republican gave a very detailed account of what he expects would happen if we were allowed to talk on the phone at 30,000 feet. Alexander said in a news release to “stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into a microphone: babbling about last night’s love life, bathroom plans, next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, arguments with spouses.”
Not just retailers and shop-till-you-drop gift buyers are looking forward to Black Friday and the bustling holiday shopping season. State tax collectors are hoping for a big haul from taxes on those sales. About 10 percent of annual state sales taxes come in to state coffers in January from holiday season sales, topping most other months in which about 7 percent or 8 percent of the taxes are collected, according to an estimate by Ron Alt, senior research associate at the Federation of Tax Administrators. Remittances in January 2013 were 12 percent higher than they would have been if the holiday sales were excluded, said Alt.
After paying $356 to reconnect gas service to heat her home this winter, Stacie Thomas says she doesn’t have enough money this month to feed her family. So the disabled Highland Park resident got up early Tuesday and waited with dozens of others in the freezing rain for assistance from Metropolitan Ministries to help her buy some food. “All of my money goes to pay my bills — I have nothing for me,” Thomas said As the first subfreezing temperatures of winter hit Chattanooga this week, residents like Thomas are having to divert more of their income to heat their homes.
Just in time for all of those Black Friday sales, the Tennessee Valley Authority will pay out $127 million today in performance bonuses to most of its 12,612 employees. For most full-time TVA workers, the annual incentive equals about 5 percent of their pay, or more than $3,600 for the average TVA worker earning the utility’s median base pay of about $73,000 a year. The incentive pay is down nearly 20 percent from the record high paid a year ago, primarily because such payments are based upon ever higher performance standards each year, TVA President Bill Johnson said.
The Shelby County Board of Education unanimously approved agreements setting the stage for the development of municipal school districts in Millington, Collierville and Bartlett Tuesday night. That leaves the more complicated proposed deal with Germantown for schools within its boundaries as the only remaining obstacle to a final resolution of the municipal school district saga. The board last week voted unanimously to approve deals with Arlington and Lakeland. The arrangement with Bartlett calls for the new municipal district to pay Shelby County Schools $7,298,316 in 12 annual installments of $608,193 each.
With the approval Tuesday night of agreements allowing three more suburban municipalities — Millington, Collierville, and Bartlett — to acquire school buildings and proceed with establishing their independent school districts, the unified Shelby County Schools board needed only to reach some sort of understanding with Germantown, still aggrieved over the unified system’s intent to keep three flagship schools. But, though SCS board member David Pickler, who represents Germantown, still holds out hope of retaining the schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — sentiment seems to be building on the newly elected Germantown school board to bite the bullet and accept some version of SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s terms.
Shelby County Schools board members approved agreements Tuesday, Nov. 26, for Bartlett, Collierville and Millington municipal school districts as well as quit claim deeds for the transfer of all but one of the school buildings within the borders of the three suburban cities. The exception was Lucy Elementary School in Millington which Shelby County Schools will continue to operate under terms of the specific Millington agreement approved by the board Tuesday. Millington agrees to pay $2.7 million over 12 years to Shelby County Schools.
For those having trouble understanding what is at stake in negotiations between Shelby County Schools and Germantown over where children who do not live in the suburb will attend school, recent community meetings in south Cordova bring the issue into clearer focus. About 580 children in that part of the county are assigned to schools in Germantown, which plans to have its own school district ready to begin classes next summer. However, based on previous statements by Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and e-mail documents, SCS administrators and some county school board members are skeptical about Germantown’s commitment to educating those students over the long term.
Most Tennesseans would be delighted to see our U.S. senators take leading roles in the national debate regarding the increasingly unpopular “Obamacare” debacle and the profligate overspending of this administration. However, it is more than distasteful to observe the spectacle of Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander signing on to a Democratic Party campaign to smear the few conservative Republicans willing to take a stand against the destructive Beltway status quo. When Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently asserted that the Affordable Care Act was predicated on a series of lies advanced by the administration, passed over the objections of most Americans and unworthy of funding by Congress, Democrats howled mightily.
It shows the high regard in which the Senate holds itself that it calls a relatively minor change in a rule, one that was invoked only sparingly for the country’s first 200 years or so, “the nuclear option.” Under the rules change, presidential appointments to any office but the Supreme Court may be approved by a simple majority. That clears the way for approval of three Obama nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. The D.C. court is the most powerful of the appeals court, with certain cases involving government such as regulatory matters reserved for its exclusive jurisdiction, and it is a favored source of Supreme Court nominees.
Most folks probably remember that the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was on the verge of furloughing thousands of workers in mid-October when a temporary budget agreement was finally reached, allowing government operations — and appropriations — to resume. Indeed, Y-12 had already shut down operations and put nuclear materials in safe storage to meet the security guidelines before about 3,800 employees were to be sent home without pay. The shutdown and restart of operations still cost a pretty penny, but Y-12 wasn’t the only Oak Ridge plant that teetered near disaster.
More than a year after it upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court has set the stage for a showdown over the law’s requirement that employer health plans cover birth control. It agreed on Tuesday to hear two cases challenging the mandate, each brought by a secular, profit-making company seeking an exemption on religious grounds. They are among a slew of lawsuits seeking similar exemptions. Lower federal appellate courts have split on the question, creating a need for a decisive ruling from the Supreme Court that rejects the specious religious liberty claims. The thoughtfully balanced law exempts houses of worship and accommodates nonprofit religious and church-affiliated organizations, like hospitals and universities.
Note: The news-clips will resume Saturday, November 30.