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TN Economy Said to Be Improving Despite Stagnant Jobs Climate

Although Tennessee’s unemployment rate has remained unchanged for the past three months, the state’s economic outlook is nevertheless improving, driven by growth in the Middle Tennessee region.

That was the take-home message from Dr. David Penn, director of the Middle Tennessee State University Business and Economic Research Center, who delivered remarks at MTSU’s Economic Outlook Conference on Sept. 27.

“Employment is still growing by one-point-seven percent every year. Depending on what happens with government employment, it’s conceivable Tennessee could reach recovery to pre-recession levels within about 12 to 18 months, at [the current] rate of growth,” said Penn.

The Tennessee heartland continues to show economic improvement, but growth has slowed across other parts of the state, Penn said, adding that statewide sales tax collections appear to be braking. The recovery’s sluggishness is actually due in no small part to the economic woes of Tennessee’s overseas trading partners, such as Japan, China and the European Union — and in general the state’s reliance on exports, he said.

Although the number of new unemployment claims is at its lowest level since 2007, and is continuing to slowly fall, the state’s unemployment rate has in fact slowly increased over the year, holding steady at eight-and-a-half percent for the past few months, despite a decline in the number of layoffs, Penn said.

Tennessee is still among the top 10 states for high unemployment rates, he added.

But the unemployment rate will be the last number to change as a result of former workers rejoining the labor force at a faster rate than jobs are created, and should not be considered an indicator of improvement, or the lack of it, in the economy, Penn said.

“[The] labor force [number] has hardly changed over the year,” Penn said. “What’s happening here is that folks are jumping back into the labor force after jumping out in 2010, when the participation rates dropped fairly significantly. They’re jumping back in, [and] the number of jobs is just barely growing enough to absorb them, keeping the unemployment rate almost unchanged over the year.”

Additionally, the rate of growth in real earned income has been “accelerating generally” since early 2012, and has been increasing at about the same pace as the national growth rate, Penn said.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are for the most part located in the Middle Tennessee. Several of them are about two percentage points below the state average.

Rutherford and Williamson Counties both place high on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list comparing job and wage growth in the 334 largest counties nationwide, with Rutherford ranking sixth and Williamson coming in at 15 in job growth.

However, when it comes to wage growth, Williamson far outpaces Rutherford, coming in at eighth while Rutherford lags behind at 249.

Davidson comes in at No. 86 nationally for job growth and No. 254 for wages. Knox, Hamilton and Shelby are also included on the list, coming in ranked at Nos. 260, 193 and 186, respectively, in employment, and 12, 290 and 216 for wages.

The Metro Nashville region, which includes Murfreesboro and Franklin, ranks No. 1 in private sector job growth among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States with a growth rate of four-and-a-half percent, according to BLS statistics. Private sector job growth rates for most of the counties in the Nashville area are much higher than the Tennessee state average of about two percent, with Rutherford County’s growth rate at almost eight percent, while Williamson County’s is about five percent and Davidson is at three-and-a-half percent.

“Job creation is booming for the Nashville Metro [area],” Penn said.

Haslam Appoints Stevens to 6th Circuit

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 26, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Deborah C. Stevens of Knoxville as Circuit Court Judge for the 6th Judicial District in Knox County following the retirement of Judge Wheeler A. Rosenbalm.

“I am pleased to appoint Deborah Stevens in light of her 30-year career,” Haslam said. “She has an extensive track record that will serve the district well.” Since 1998, Stevens has served as president and managing shareholder of Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, a firm with more than 60 lawyers and offices in Knoxville and Nashville.

Stevens has tried more than 100 criminal and civil cases and has been involved in mediation and settlement of hundreds of cases. She has worked throughout the Southeast and in 1996 was named by the National Law Journal as one of the Top Ten Litigators in the country.

“I am honored and humbled by this appointment,” Stevens said. “I thank the governor, and I look forward to this next chapter and serving the community. There are big shoes to fill.”

Stevens has been involved in product liability litigation and has defended professional liability claims involving attorneys, real estate agents, insurance agents and medical professionals. She has also represented major insurance companies in the prosecution and defense of insurance coverage cases. Stevens began her career in general civil and criminal practice in Knox County and Morgan County. She returned to Knoxville in 1984 and was involved in bankruptcy and banking matters for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Stevens was in the 2006 class of Leadership Knoxville and is president-elect of the Knoxville YWCA. She is a member of the Knoxville Area Urban League Board of Directors and the Executive Women’s Association of Knoxville. Stevens received a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and a law degree from the University of Tennessee in 1980.

Stevens is married to Hank Stevens and has a daughter, Katie.

ACLU Report Documents ‘Devastating Impact’ of 287(g) Jail Program

Press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; December 12, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today released a report, “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program,” documenting the serious problems with the Davidson County Sheriff’s recently-ended 287(g) jail program. The purpose of the report, which is being sent to the Knox and Rutherford County sheriffs, both of whom have submitted 287(g) applications, is to explain the devastating impact of the program and to urge them to withdraw their applications.

“We hope that the Rutherford and Knox County sheriffs will read our report and recognize that it is in the best interest of their communities to withdraw their pending 287(g) applications. These programs only damage community trust in law enforcement, increase the potential for racial profiling and waste precious law enforcement resources,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

The 287(g) program run by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency deputizes state and local police and sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law. DHS will meet on December 17 to make decisions on applications for new 287(g) agreements, including the applications submitted by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. DHS is also currently reviewing its existing 287(g) agreements with 57 law enforcement agencies in 21 states whose agreements were temporarily extended, most until the end of December 2012 (1).

Weinberg noted, “We are especially concerned about Rutherford County’s application given the area’s history of hostility toward local Muslims and immigrants, including a Sheriff’s Office training led by a known anti-Islam speaker (2) and local legislators’ sponsorship of numerous harsh, anti-immigrant bills.”

Key findings from the report, based on original quantitative data analysis led by Professor Katharine Donato of Vanderbilt University’s Sociology Department as well as interviews with community members, include the following:

  • While the 287(g) program was developed with the stated goal of responding to “immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety (3), ”the vast majority of the time, deportations through Davidson County’s 287(g) program were triggered by minor, often traffic-related offenses. 

    In 2012, misdemeanors accounted for nearly 79 percent of arrestsport on Impact of Davdof foreign-born people (4) and for those ultimately put into removal proceedings, a staggering 67 percent of their arrests were for Level 2 offenses, which was the level that included traffic violations in the data analyzed. Simultaneously, after implementation of 287(g), among the foreign-born population, arrests for the most severe Level 1 offenses actually decreased 21 percent, moving the program far from its stated goal of targeting threats to public safety.

  • Davidson County’s 287(g) program encouraged racial profiling and disparate treatment from stop to detention, based on characteristics such as appearance, ethnicity or language skills.Though under a jail model 287(g) agreement, the agency with immigration authority is not the same agency responsible for arresting people on the street, evidence from Davidson County illustrates how the program’s presence impacted the perceptions and actions of others involved in the criminal justice system, from police on patrol to other public officials, whose statements regarding the influence of language and immigration status on their decisions are included in the report.In addition, data shows that implementation of the 287(g) program in Davidson County corresponds with foreign-born people being arrested at an increasing rate for the single charge of “No Driver’s License,” which was not only the most common gateway charge for deportation in Davidson County, but also something that cannot be determined until after the individual is pulled over. If no other charge is brought, then the reason for pulling that person over is questionable at best and quite possibly a case of racial profiling. Of single charge arrests, the percentage that were for “No Driver’s License” increased 9.4 percent for the foreign-born after implementation of 287(g). The percentage of single-charge arrests for “No Driver’s License” that led to removal increased from 18 percent of arrests before implementation of 287(g) to 43 percent after, an increase of 136 percent.
  • The 287(g) program led to immigrants living in fear and distrust of law enforcement. Numerous examples in the report illustrate how, by introducing the threat of immigration enforcement into community policing, Davidson County’s 287(g) program deterred immigrants, including domestic violence survivors, from reporting crimes they experienced or witnessed, ultimately undermining public safety as a whole.

Lindsay Kee, Communications Director and author of the report, explained that “this program has been sold as an effective mechanism to deport dangerous criminals and make Nashville safer. Yet, our data indicates that of the nearly 10,000 individuals deported under 287(g), most had been arrested for minor violations. When you look at arrests of foreign-born people during 287(g)’s implementation, the percentage of arrests for the most dangerous crimes actually decreased.”

Yesterday the ACLU, along with 161 other organizations from across the country, also sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security calling for termination of the 287(g) program.

Read the full report: “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program.

(1) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/287g.htm (last visited December 6, 2012).

(2) Bob Smietana & Tony Gonzalez, Sheriff Hires Mosque Foe to Lead Terrorism Training, The Tennessean (Feb. 15, 2012), available at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-15/terrorism-training-tennessee/53102430/1.

(3) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, supra.

(4) Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, 287(g) Five-Year Report 8 (2012).

Knox County DA Letter Opposing Public Release of ex-Judge Baumgartner TBI File

Letter dated Feb. 27, 2012, from Knox County District Attorney General Randall E. Nichols to Knox County Commission Chairman Mike Hammond:

The Honorable Mike Hammond
Chairman, Knox County Commission
City­ County Building
Knoxville, TN 37902

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I read in the newspaper that Commission was considering a resolution regarding unsealing the investigative report on former Judge Richard Baumgartner. We are presently in Court arguing the validity of judgments rendered by said Judge and we are appealing the rulings heretofore made by the Courts. Judge Blackwood has sealed all but approximately 155 pages of the voluminous report and absent intercession by the Appellate Court, he is the only one who can unseal it. We are not in disagreement that the public should be allowed to know the file contents and we may very well move to unseal. Those decisions should be make known in written pleadings before the Court and we are striving to get a hearing to lítigate these issues.

The Commission resolution does not aid our efforts for a full and complete hearing on these most important issues and I am concerned with setting such a precedent when in fact the secrecy of TBI is a worthwhile tool in investigations involving allegations of public corruption.

Thank you for your consideration, and if you Wish, I will be pleased to keep you and Commission advised of the status of this critical litigation.

Sincerely,
Randall E. Nichols
District Attorney General
6th Judicial District

Williamson and Rutherford See Huge Growth, Memphis Lags in Census

New census numbers underscore a more diverse Tennessee, a struggling Memphis, and booming Williamson and Rutherford counties.

Both counties’ growth exceeded 44 percent compared with the last decennial count; Williamson’s population at the 2010 census topped 183,000; Rutherford’s, 262,000, according to census data compiled by USA Today. Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess attributed the surge in his county to a high quality of life and economic opportunity.

The figures also show a growing Hispanic population in Tennessee — 1 in 10 Davidson County residents is Hispanic, the Tennessean noted — and integration gains throughout the South, according to a measure that tracks whether blacks and whites reside in the same neighborhoods.

The Associated Press explains:

Thirty-two of the (South’s) 38 largest metro areas made such gains since 2000, according to a commonly used demographic index. The measure, known as the segregation index, tracks the degree to which racial groups are evenly spread between neighborhoods. Topping the list were rapidly diversifying metros in central Florida, as well in Georgia, Texas and Tennessee.

Missing out on the overall 11.5 percent boom in the Volunteer State was Memphis, whose population experienced only the second decline since the yellow fever outbreak of the 1870s, according to the Commercial Appeal. Memphis’ population shrank by 0.5 percent to just under 647,000 residents, even though its suburbs and the county as a whole saw population growth.

Davidson County grew 10 percent to almost 627,000 residents, Knox County grew 13 percent to a population topping 432,000, and Madison County grew 7 percent to more than 98,000 residents.

Knox Co. Gov’t Employee Who Stole $67K: ‘I just wasn’t thinking’

A Knox County official who stole $67,000 in housing funds will be on probation for three years, according to a judge who urged him to “be a productive citizen” at his Tuesday sentencing hearing. The judge seemed baffled by the theft, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel report:

“The first thing I thought when I read your (presentence) report is why on Earth didn’t you just go down to the bank and get a 90-day note or something,” Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan asked of former Knox County Housing Authority Assistant Executive Director William John Pollock.

“I just wasn’t thinking,” Pollock responded. “That would have been the prudent thing to do.”

Pollock’s defense attorney told the court that the theft was prompted by the funeral expenses incurred after his father’s death. The misdeed was exposed in a 2008 audit, which we’ve noted can be a fruitful source of information.

Read the full story here, which raises questions about another official who “kept quiet” about the theft.