August 6 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam tours Middle East, visits with Tennessee soldiers (State Gazette)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called home twice this week from his tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. Haslam joined Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on the trip to visit units from their home states deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trip was sponsored and paid for by the U.S. Department of Defense. Haslam said the large ratio of Tennessee soldiers serving in the Middle East was one of the reasons he was chosen for the trip.

Tennessee ranks No. 1 in auto-manufacturing strength (Memphis Biz Journal)

For the second year in a row, Tennessee took the top spot in Business Facilities’ annual ranking of automotive manufacturing strength. “With new (Volkswagens) rolling off the assembly line at a world-class, energy-efficient manufacturing facility and top-tier suppliers lining up to set up operations in the Chattanooga area, Tennessee has cemented its position as the top automotive powerhouse in the U.S.,” Business Facilities Editor-in-Chief Jack Rogers said. Volkswagen announced last month the hiring of its 2,000th employee at the Chattanooga plant and expects 2,300 employees by the fall.

Tennessee claims top auto ranking (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)

Tennessee was picked as the top automotive powerhouse in the country by a national magazine that cited key investments by both Volkswagen and Nissan. “Major parts producers are making plans to locate or expand in the Chattanooga area to supply the VW plant,” said Jack Rogers, editor-in-chief of Business Facilities magazine.

Tennessee takes top ranking in auto manufacturing (Business Clarksville)

Business Facilities, a national economic development publication, has issued its annual 2011 State Rankings Report, and Tennessee has been named the No. 1 state in the nation for Automotive Manufacturing Strength for a second consecutive year. Tennessee also earned high honors for Transportation Infrastructure, Economic Growth Potential and Business Climate.

Business Publication Ranks Tennessee #1 in Auto Making (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

Business Facilities, a national economic development publication, has issued its annual 2011 State Rankings Report, and Tennessee has been named the No. 1 state in the nation for Automotive Manufacturing Strength for a second consecutive year. Tennessee also earned high honors for Transportation Infrastructure, Economic Growth Potential and Business Climate.

The Second Coming of Schools Reform (Memphis Daily News)

Depending on what happens in Memphis federal court this could be either the last or the next to last school year for the Memphis City Schools system as we know it. And it has been a busy one even before the first day of classes – even without what is expected to be a landmark court ruling setting the terms for a consolidation of city and county schools systems.

Shopper and businesses take advantage of tax free holiday (WATE-TV Knoxville)

Tax free weekend is underway in Tennessee and shoppers are scooping up the savings on clothes, school supplies and computers. Every year consumers save millions of dollars, but not just on the items that are tax free.

Back To School Shoppers Still Counting on Sales Tax Holiday (WDEF-TV Chatt.)

The idea was simple. Parents are shopping for their kids just before school resumes. So why not give them a tax break on selected items they need.

Shoppers Taking Advantage of Tax-Free Holiday (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

This will be a big weekend for bargain hunters as back-to-school shoppers hit the stores. And they’re getting an extra boost by the tax-free holiday. By 9 a.m. Friday, at least 90 customers were waiting in lines at the Mac Authority Store at Chattanooga’s Hamilton Place Mall.

Shoppers Take Advantage Of Sales Tax Holiday (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Pencils, paper, all the back to school essentials. This weekend, Tennesseans can stock up and save a buck at the same time thanks to the state’s sales tax holiday. From Friday through Sunday, there will be no sales tax applied to items less than $100, including clothing, school and art supplies, and on computers up to $1,500.

Sales tax-free shopping weekend underway (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The average family spends $600 on back-to-school items, so here in Davidson County, the upcoming sales tax-free weekend could save that average family $55 in sales taxes. Pam Lovvorn says she loves tax-free weekend enough to wish it went on a little longer.

Ring up savings as TN waives sales taxes on many purchases (CA/Sells)

There aren’t any Tennessee sales tax holiday carols yet, but the ringing cash registers it brings are music to the ears of the state’s retailers. Tennessee shoppers won’t pay sales taxes on clothes, computers or school supplies (with some restrictions, of course) this weekend during the state’s sixth sales tax “holiday.”

Back to School (Memphis Daily News)

August brings shot in the arm to economy as students return to class Back-to-school shoppers will spend about the same dollar amount this year as last year, but they plan to wait until the 11th hour to do it. Families with children in grades K-12 will spend this year an average of $603.63 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Back-to-School survey.

Tennesseans can shop tax free this weekend (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Tennessee shoppers can shop tax free this week during the state’s annual sales tax holiday. The Tennessee Tax Free Holiday began at 12:01 a.m.

Tax free weekend is big news for small businesses (Bristol Herald-Courier)

By now everyone knows that it’s a tax-free holiday this weekend in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, and small businesses in our region are happy to see the increase in customers. Small retailers like “As We Grow” in Johnson City say this is their biggest weekend of the year.

Shoppers flock to stores for sales tax holiday (Johnson City Press)

Tammy Wolfe has never taken advantage of the many back-to-school deals offered during tax-free weekend. That changed this year when the Bristol mom decided to bring her two daughters to Johnson City in order to get what they needed to start the new school year.

Tax holiday yields gif of back-to-school savings (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Just in time to give students and their parents a little break in the cost of back-to-school shopping, the Tennessee General Assembly has scheduled an annual sales tax holiday. During this holiday, shoppers can save nearly 10 percent on many back to school purchases as they are excused from paying sales tax on selected items including clothing, school and art supplies, and computer purchases.

Education Often About Funding, Like It or Not (Memphis Daily News)

Education moves the needle of the local economy to the tune of $600 per student spent by their parents to buy the supplies and clothing necessary to make it through a school year. That fact from our cover story is another indication of how closely education is linked with money.

U.S. 27 widening to close 2 ramps (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Walton)

When the contract to widen U.S. Highway 27 from north of the Olgiati Bridge to Signal Mountain Boulevard goes out in October, it will contain a few surprises. Commuters and business people who use the road daily have waited years for extra lanes and broader exits.

University of Memphis classes at Lambuth to start in fall semester (CA/Bailey)

Lease deal allows schools to merge The University of Memphis strengthened its bond with Jackson, Tenn., on Friday, announcing it will hold fall semester classes at Lambuth University under what will initially be a $1, one-year lease. The announcement at a press conference on the Jackson campus followed the state Building Commission’s approval earlier in the day of the lease agreement between the two schools.

University of Memphis to Start Classes at Lambuth Aug. 27 (Memphis Daily News)

After several days of formal actions by several state boards, University of Memphis officials Friday announced they will begin offering classes at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., later this month. The fall semester begins Aug. 27 with Lambuth making the transition from a private United Methodist Church-affiliated institution to a public university – the first public four-year university in Jackson.

Last stakeholder OKs its share of Lambuth deal (Jackson Sun)

The Madison County Commission and Industrial Development Board approved their portions of the $7.9 million purchase of Lambuth University’s campus during two separate meetings held on Thursday. The commission approved the measure in a 19-5 vote with one commissioner absent.

State driver’s license system restored after outage (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Tennessee’s system that issues driver’s licenses was back up and running Friday afternoon after a statewide outage, according to Department of Safety Public Information Officer Dalya J. Qualls. For a few hours, no stations in the state were able to issue licenses. Qualls said in a written statement that all stations are up and running again.

 

All state buildings re-opened after power outage (WSMV-TV Nashville)

State buildings that were closed Thursday after a power outage are back in business Friday on their regular schedule. A power outage occurred around noon Thursday at several downtown buildings, including the State Capitol, Tennessee Tower and Legislative Plaza.

TEAM Centers to close Aug. 12 (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

The state’s last-minute offer to reinstate a $774,000 grant for a program at Chattanooga’s TEAM Centers has come too late to prevent the service’s planned Aug. 12 closure, the clinic’s director says. Too many employees already have accepted jobs elsewhere, interim Executive Director Peter Charman said Friday evening. But he said he and the board will work to reassemble a new staff to run the program that provides diagnostic and other services for developmentally and intellectually disabled children and adults. “We will begin a recruiting effort immediately to look for new clinical staff,” Charman said, reading from a statement prepared by the board of directors. “Also, I’m talking to other agencies and clinical practices in the community to look for ways to deliver these important services to our patients.” Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on July 13 decided against continuing the grant following a “top to bottom review” of spending and programs. Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered all agencies to conduct such reviews to streamline services and save money.

 

Mayor’s gambling, bribes, debts at heart of inquiry, affidavit says (CA/Bailey)

Millington Mayor Richard Hodges used the power of his office for bribes, routinely gambled at a car repair shop and owed more than $10,000 in interest-free IOU’s to a Millington businessman, a state investigator’s affidavit indicates. “Based on the interviews and recorded conversations …, I believe that evidence of official misconduct, bribery, and gambling will be found at Millington City Hall (Mayor’s Office) and the Transmission Doctors in Millington,” TBI Special Agent David Harmon states in the search-warrant affidavit released Friday.

Affidavit: Millington Mayor Took Part in Illegal Gambling (Memphis Daily News)

Millington Mayor Richard Hodges was into an illegal gambling operation for more than $10,000 and the town’s police chief, Ray Douglas, watched the gambling but didn’t participate, according to an affidavit by a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent filed Friday, Aug. 5, with the Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk’s office. Agent David Harmon cites one source as an unnamed confidential informant who is identified as the owner of the transmission shop where the gambling took place.

TBI investigates killing of 89-year-old Alamo woman (Jackson Sun)

An 89-year-old Crockett County woman was killed late Thursday night when someone shot her through the front door of her home, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Lila Lilley, who lived at 1183 Joe Vaughn Road in Maury City, was shot sometime before midnight.

THP encouraging back to school safety (Daily News Journal)

The Tennessee Highway Patrol will assist local law enforcement efforts with a “Back to School” enforcement and education campaign of their own, focusing on traffic safety in and around the school zones. Troopers will target traffic violators, specifically those who speed in school zones and pass stopped school buses, as well as raise awareness on school safety in Tennessee.

Nashville’s trial court judges tepid to auditor’s findings (Tennessean/Gee)

Judges agree to financial policies, reject other advice Nashville’s trial court system will improve its management of money and employees, but judges will largely ignore other recommendations contained in a recently completed audit of Davidson County’s Circuit, Criminal and Chancery courts. The trial court administrator said he is happy to address several areas in which the courts have not adhered to Metro financial policies.

Amazon sales tax debate ongoing (Nooga)

Members of Congress introduce legislation that would impact Amazon Discussions are ongoing between Amazon and state officials, and state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Thursday that “believe it or not” the online retailer wants to collect sales tax. “They want to do it in a way that doesn’t put them at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.

Mints sales boom after embargo (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Armstrong’s likeness graces can mock-up In Knoxville, hundreds of calls and email have flooded into the University of Tennessee bookstore. In Brooklyn, N.Y., the company behind the satirical mints has sold out until the end of the month.

Cause and effect? Gas prices up, Smokies visits down (News-Sentinel/Blackerby)

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has proven to be the perfect gathering place for Pat and Tina Kitchen’s yearly family reunion and vacation. That’s in spite of the acute gas pump sticker shock.

Panel wants answers to TVA deal (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)

Settlement would shutter three plants A group of lawmakers is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to provide more information about a settlement that would shutter units at three of TVA’s fossil-power plants. Six members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — including Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. — signed the letter, which said the settlement appears to be the largest of its kind in EPA history.

Senate Democrats give in to end impasse over FAA (Associated Press/Lowy)

With tens of thousands of jobs, more than $1 billion and their reputations on the line, Senate Democrats gave way Friday to a power play by House Republicans in order to end a partial two-week shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. With lawmakers scattered for Congress’ August recess, the consent of only two senators was required to pass a bill restoring the FAA’s operating authority through Sept. 16. President Barack Obama signed it into law hours later.

FAA shutdown stalls grant for TCRA taxiway (Times-News)

Congress’ inability to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration has been holding up the biggest federal grant ever to be awarded to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson says. The U.S. Senate on Friday approved a short-term bill to resolve a protracted dispute between Democrats and Republicans over FAA reauthorization, which had passed in the House last month.

Power bills stir confusion for some Middle TN customers (Tennessean/Paine)

Fuel charge is now spelled out as other factors raise costs Some residential electric bills in the state make it look like the Tennessee Valley Authority’s fuel costs have skyrocketed. The amount has been trending up since December, but any large jump customers might notice on a part of their bill that is designated as “fuel costs” results from a change in how the charges are presented.

Dozens of new jobs could come to Cumberland Co. (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Dozens of new jobs could soon be coming to Cumberland County. A Swedish company is looking to built a new plant in Crossville. Bekzon LTD makes air filtration systems for sewage treatment plants.

Memphis Schools Gets $12 Million From City (Associated Press)

Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash says the district has received a $12 million payment from the city that was part of a budget deal that ensured classes would start on time Monday. Cash tells The Associated Press that the money was wired to the school district Friday morning.

Memphis City Schools gets $12 million payment from city (C. Appeal/Roberts)

Memphis City Schools received a $12 million payment from the city Friday, the first in a 10-month series of payments the city promised to make after the school board said it couldn’t open school on time without the funds. The next payment to schools is $33.5 million, due Sept. 7. Mayor A C Wharton and school board president Martavius Jones negotiated a deal for the city’s payments to be based on an average of what the city paid the schools monthly between 2000 and 2008.

Superintendent Cash says MCS ready for Monday start (WMC-TV Memphis)

Memphis City Schools students will get back to class next Monday. Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash remembered the exact time the district received the millions of dollars from the city of Memphis Friday. “8:03 a.m.,” said Cash.

Some outraged after MCS employees get pay raise (WMC-TV Memphis)

Now that the city of Memphis has been court ordered to pay their share of the city school budget, Memphis City School administrators will be getting a raise. A 1.6 percent raise for teachers was mandated by the state.

Student snacks shift to fruits, vegetables (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Hardy)

A federal program aimed at getting students to munch on produce rather than sugary snacks is sprouting in Hamilton County Schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $3.15 million Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program will allocate about $135,000 to provide two to three fresh produce snacks a week to students in selected Hamilton County schools.

Knox schools chief backs Burchett’s plan on Carter school (NS/Boehnke, Donilia)

Despite his previous stance that renovations alone would be sufficient for the historic Carter Elementary, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre is now recommending board members sign off on a plan to rebuild the school entirely. In a five-page memo to the board posted with the agenda for next week’s meeting, McIntyre wrote that if the system can get a new school for the price of a renovation, it should take the money.

New teachers meet challenge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Williams)

Small fire forces change of scenery More than 300 new Knox County teachers got a warm welcome Friday morning, when a small fire broke out on the roof of the Bearden High School auditorium shortly before their orientation session began. Although it was quickly contained, the fire forced the meeting participants to move to the cafeteria for a short time.

New Knox County teachers not worried about teaching profession changes (WATE)

Teachers across Tennessee are entering a new school year with new job requirements, and new rules about how they’ll be graded. During new teacher training on Friday, 300 first-year Knox County teachers learned what the historic education reform means for them.

Knox Co. teachers take part in annual orientation (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Friday, Knox County’s newest teachers had the chance to get to know each other and the school system at the annual new teacher orientation. The teachers are not the only ones excited about starting a new school year. “We’re delighted to have, what I would say, is really an excellent slate of new teachers who are coming in.

Handful of teacher openings remain as school year starts (Daily News Journal)

About 249 teachers hired over summer When nearly 46,000 Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City schools students head back to class Monday, most will know who their teachers are. But each district also has a handful of positions open for classroom teachers that will be filled after the first day of school.

Rutherford high schools cleared in payments to coaches (Gannett)

Booster clubs’ supplements to coaches not a violation, official says Rutherford County Schools Director Harry Gill Jr. said Friday that TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress notified him that five high schools committed no violations regarding booster club supplements paid to coaches. Gill self-reported potential violations to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association in a memo Wednesday, saying that booster clubs at Oakland, Riverdale, Blackman, Siegel and Smyrna paid supplements directly to coaches dating to 2008-09.

Burglars Make Meth Inside House For Sale (WTVF-TV Nashville)

It’s tough selling a house in this market, but a mid-state family never dreamed they’d face another obstacle. Burglars moved in and turned a nearly $300,000 home into a meth lab. Putnam County Sheriff Deputy Roy Phipps has seen his share of meth labs, but the location of Thursday’s discovery is a first.

OPINION

Ron Ramsey: Teachers get a true voice in their destiny (Commercial Appeal)

Because I am used to the criticism leveled at Tennesseans like me who challenge the status quo, I don’t always refute the negative attacks on the positive reforms that are sweeping state government under Republican leadership. But I must respond to one of the more unfair and unsavory examples of the tactics of the status quo that took place this year during the General Assembly’s debate over the Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011.

Times Editorial: Really in the dark in Nashville (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Many Tennessee residents — usually infuriated by what they perceive to be the slow pace of governmental bureacracy or angered by some action approved by elected officials — often wonder if workers in the state capital and Capitol operate “in the dark.” The questions in those instances, one hopes, are facetious.

Free-Press Editorial: Where the jobs are and aren’t (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Most of us must depend on our jobs to support ourselves and our families. So it is troubling that U.S. unemployment is stubbornly high. The July figure was 9.1 percent, only slightly down from June’s 9.2 percent.

Editorial: FAA on track, for now (Commercial Appeal)

U.S. Senate leaders came to the correct conclusion Friday — rather belatedly — that it would not be in the best interests of the U.S. Treasury to give up $30 million a day in uncollected airline taxes. At least temporarily, the Federal Aviation Administration was restored to business as usual.