August 24 TN News Digest

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

Haslam joins local teachers in education roundtable (Erwin Record)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam visited Unicoi County Middle School last week and conducted a roundtable meeting with Director of Schools Denise Brown, state Rep. David Hawk and a host of teachers from all grade levels, with experience ranging from one to more than 40 years. “I honestly think the most important work that I will do as governor is to help continue the progress we’ve made in education,” Haslam told educators at last week’s meeting.

Ireland company to employ 450 at new Kingsport auto parts plant (News-Sentinel)

State officials say 450 jobs will be created over four years in Kingsport after an Ireland-based company locates a manufacturing facility in Sullivan County. C&F Group, an auto exterior trim supplier, will invest $12.5 million in the facility, its first U.S. location.

Memphis Expansion of Kruger Announced (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Shelby County officials today joined with representatives from Kruger to announce plans by the company to expand its existing Memphis mill. The company will invest $316 million to implement state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, thereby increasing its production capacity by 18 percent.

Tennessee’s first lady launches Bradley’s United Way campaign (TFP/Higgins)

Education and volunteerism make the best combination for Tennessee’s future, the state’s first lady, Crissy Haslam, said here Tuesday. Haslam, wife of Gov. Bill Haslam, was the keynote speaker for the kickoff luncheon for the 2011 campaign for United Way of Bradley County.

Plan puts Tenn. community colleges on Pathways toward degrees (CA/Morgan)

As part of a major push to increase the number of degree-holders Tennessee’s colleges produce, a plan announced this week aims to shepherd community college students into one of 50 career tracks with the promise of guaranteed admission to a four-year institution upon completion. The program, announced by the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents, is called Tennessee Transfer Pathway.

TN fights to avoid credit downgrade (Tennessean/Sisk)

Haslam, legislature face political fallout State officials are trying to convince Wall Street that Tennessee deserves to hold on to its top-notch credit rating, fighting to avoid a downgrade like the one handed down last month to the federal government. The state’s top financial officers are putting together a plan that they hope will show the New York firms that rate government bonds that Tennessee is at least as good an investment as debt issued by the United States itself.

TDOT explodes old metal-frame Red River bridge (Leaf Chronicle)

Just before midnight to the cheers of the crowd chanting “blow that bridge” the 1931 Lynnwood Tarpley Bridge over the Red River was blown up Tuesday night Over fifty people stood on the hillside overlooking the bridge watching as safety crews made the final connections and removed safety cables before the explosions lit up the bridge for the final time. This is the final phase of a Tennessee Department of Transportation construction project that began in February 2010.

PAC solicitation stirs pot among GOP insiders (Nashville Post/Whitehouse)

A solicitation for funds by a Nashville-based political action committee is raising eyebrows in GOP circles. The PAC, Leaders for Tennessee, is run by former 5th District Republican congressional candidate Jeff Hartline. Hartline, who lost in the 2010 primary, was best known for paying himself a salary from his campaign coffers.

Ramsey defends Texas governor from critique of conservativism (Times News)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is defending the man he’s supporting for president — Texas Gov. Rick Perry — from attacks that Perry is not a true conservative. In a recent opinion piece published in Politico, former GOP Colorado congressman and one-time presidential candidate Tom Tancredo accused Perry of being soft on illegal immigration. Ta n c r e d o cited Perry’s opposition to an E-Verify measure for employers to check the legal immigration status of employees.

Council wants funding backup (Cleveland Daily Banner)

In response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s warning last week of reductions in federal funding to state agencies, members of the Cleveland City Council suggested Monday the city establish contingency plans on how to deal with possible cuts to municipalities. At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said it is important to keep up with grants the city receives and establish contingency plans.

Protesters urge U.S. Rep. Diane Black to focus on jobs (Gannett)

A small crowd of pickets marched and chanted Tuesday in front of U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s office, calling for more focus on jobs and less emphasis on social spending cuts. The protest, which numbered 20-25 people shortly after 4 p.m., was initiated by Tennessee Citizen Action, a public interest and consumer rights organization, but also was attended by local Democratic Party and union members.

Groups plan Fleischmann protest (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

U.S. Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann might regret his nickname today. Two nonprofit organizations are staging “The Trial of Chucky,” playing off the legendary “Child’s Play” movie villain of the same name and “charging” the Republican congressman with “murdering jobs, impersonating the working class and endangering the economy.”

Social justice group plans “trial” protest against Fleischmann (Nooga)

For the first time, members of Chattanooga Organized for Action are staging public protest against the voting record of Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. The demonstration, billed as “The Trial of Chucky,” is scheduled to take place outside the Chattanooga Convention Center on Wednesday morning, while Fleischmann attends a keynote meeting hosted by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce that will feature a speech by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Fleischmann, DesJarlais to visit districts (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann are scheduled to make the rounds in their respective districts in the coming weeks. DesJarlais’ local stops come first, with public appearances this morning in Dunlap and Pikeville, Tenn.

Fleischmann to hold town halls across 3rd District (Nooga)

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has announced plans to hold 16 town hall meetings across the 3rd District next week, including eight in Hamilton County. The meetings, which begin on Monday, Aug. 29, will provide constituents with the chance to ask questions and discuss issues with the freshman congressman face to face.

Corker: Government Could Learn from Realtors (Memphis Daily News)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker learned early on in his construction business that as long as you’re chasing a profit, you can’t go broke. It’s the fundamental rule of accounting – for a balance sheet to balance, you can’t be spending more than you’re earning.

Rare Earthquake Stuns East Coast (Wall Street Journal)

A rare East Coast earthquake—one of the strongest to hit the region in modern history—struck Tuesday in Virginia southwest of the nation’s capital in the middle of the afternoon, rattling buildings and nerves from Florida to Maine. Overall, the earthquake appeared to have caused little in the way of serious injuries or damage though it apparently opened a crack on the top of the Washington Monument.

Earthquake Has Some Looking At New Madrid Fault (WTVF-TV Nashville)

The rare earthquake that shook the East coast on Tuesday afternoon is causing some folks in the mid-state to look twice at our own earthquake threat from the New Madrid fault. The fault has caused massive earthquakes before including four of the largest earthquakes in North America’s history.

Quake Felt In Memphis (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

From Washington D.C. up to New York, the 5.8 magnitude earthquake was felt all along the East Coast. But, the shaking continued down South, with earthquake experts taking calls here in Memphis. “It probably took 8 or 10 minutes for those land waves to get here.”

TVA to sell nuclear reactor (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner, Sohn)

For the first time in its 78-year history, TVA plans to put a nuclear power reactor on the auction block — all in hopes of raising money to complete another nuclear plant. With the plan, TVA hopes to sell the new Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, along with the new John Sevier combined cycle gas plant, to finance the $4.9 billion completion of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, a 37-year-old, half-finished reactor in Hollywood, Ala.

TVA home energy efficiency program claims success (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has logged 25,000 home energy evaluations since launching an in-home program in March 2009. TVA Vice President Bob Balzar said the steady growth in the program came because power distributors strongly supported it.

New permit at Y-12 would require mercury cleanup projects (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The state is using a new discharge permit at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant as a way to spur cleanup actions and reduce the amount of mercury — a toxic legacy of Cold War operations — that’s entering the East Fork Poplar Creek. Because Y-12 has long been out of compliance with water-quality standards for mercury and cannot realistically achieve compliance within the five-year term of the new permit, the state is requiring completion of five projects — some of which are already under way — to guarantee the Oak Ridge plant makes environmental progress.

Tennessee ranks 24th in job growth (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee has added a net of 12,800 jobs during the past year, ranking the Volunteer State No. 24 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in employment growth. Despite the net gain in jobs over the last year, the last 12 months have been a mixed bag for Tennessee.

Harper Volkswagen doubling space to carry Chatt.-built Passats (NS/Marcum)

Harper Volkswagen Inc. is planning a $1 million expansion of its West Knoxville dealership to focus on selling the Passat mid-size sedans under production at the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Once construction is completed on schedule, the dealership at 9901 Kingston Pike will have doubled its showroom space and will be selling Passats within about five months, said Shannon Harper, vice president of Harper Dealerships, a family owned automotive company founded by his father, Tom Harper.

Officials in schools merger talks cite need for secrecy (C. Appeal/McMillin)

Whether the settlement talks in the school-merger lawsuit are headed toward a deal or grinding to a halt, those involved in mediations with U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays are not saying. All parties do agree on this: The confidentiality so meticulously demanded by Mays is a necessity, even if it means one of the most important public-policy matters in Shelby County history is being hashed out in secret behind papered-over courtroom doors.

Metro students’ ACT scores abysmal — again (City Paper/Garrison)

While Tennessee’s ACT scores dipped in 2011 from the previous year’s numbers, the average ACT scores of Metro Nashville Public School students stayed the same. Still, there’s little reason to celebrate. Just like in 2010, Metro students in 2011 scored a composite average of 18.1 out of 36 on the ACT, a test used nationwide by universities to determine college readiness.

School board adopts balanced calendar, opts against July start (C. Paper/Garrison)

A balanced calendar with a shortened summer break is in store for the 2012-13 school year, but it’s not the version that called for students to attend class in July, a plan that would have required $20 million in unidentified funds. Instead, surprising many, the nine-member Metro Nashville Board of Education voted 5-4 Tuesday against a hotly debated proposal to start school July 25 before unanimously adopting a less far-reaching balanced calendar that begins school next year on Aug. 1.

Metro revamps school calendar (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Metro Nashville school board members narrowly rejected a 2012-13 calendar that would have sent students to school on July 25 and cost an additional $20 million for teachers to work more days. Instead, they unanimously approved a different version that starts Aug. 1 but won’t cost anything extra.

Enrollment surge meets school system projection (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Hamilton County Schools counted 425 more students on the 10th day of school this year when compared with the same time last year. Superintendent Rick Smith told Hamilton County school board members Tuesday evening that 10th-day figures show a systemwide head count of 42,009, up from last year’s 10th-day enrollment of 41,584.

Area farmers suffer in hot, arid summer (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Crops shrivel in difficult months Johnny Howell’s answer was succinct when asked how his 200 acres of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other produce have fared this summer. “Lost 50 percent of my crop,” said Howell, who has been farming in southwestern Davidson County for five decades.

Six arrested, charged after ‘shake-and-bake’ meth labs discovered (Times-News)

Six people were arrested Saturday night by the Erwin Police Department after the discovery of two shake-and-bake methamphetamine labs at a South Street residence, according to Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson. Five of those arrested are from Erwin: Ethan Lewis, 20, 120 Bernie Blankenship Road; Thomas Gerry, 21, 1413 Chestoa Pike; Charles Court, 42, 183 Spar Mill Road; Tracy Heaton, 37, 514 Washington Street; and Regina Robinson, 35, 511B South St. Also arrested was Jamie Baker, 38, 800 Dry Creek Road, Jonesborough.

California: As Budgets Continue to Shrink, Lines Will Grow in Civil Courts (NYT)

Lines at a courthouse are kind of like hurt feelings in a divorce: they are expected, they are unavoidable, but, hopefully, they are dealt with quickly. For the romantically estranged residents of San Francisco, however, the wait for a divorce may soon drag on longer than the life span of most Hollywood marriages, as a series of cutbacks threatens to cripple the civil courts.

Colorado: Heath tax plan picks up steam (Denver Post)

Can Rollie Heath actually pull it off? Will the Boulder state senator with the quixotic streak succeed in pushing a ballot measure over November’s finish line that would raise the Colorado income and sales tax for five years and pump $3 billion or so into state coffers during that period?

Kentucky: KY’s pension crisis: A day of reckoning lies ahead (BG Daily News)

The United States isn’t the only government that’s had its credit rating lowered. Two agencies also recently downgraded Kentucky’s bond rating. In reducing the commonwealth’s rating, Moody’s Investors Service pointed to two major problems: too much debt and underfunded public pensions.

Minnesota: Is education measuring up? (Star Tribune)

“You can’t improve what you don’t measure” is a simple truth that is proved over and over again in both the public and private sectors. Whether it’s measuring how we are doing in our jobs, the statistics of our favorite athletes or comparing the features of nearly any product we buy, measurement is a part of our daily lives.

New Mexico: License Access in New Mexico Is Heated Issue (New York Times)

New Mexico is one of just two states, the other being Washington, that allow in-state residents who are illegal immigrants to get the same driver’s licenses given to citizens, as long as they pass a written test and successfully show they can turn and stop and park. But critics, led by the newly elected governor, Susana Martinez, say that the lenient licensing law attracts illegal immigrants from far and wide who fraudulently claim they live in New Mexico in order to get identification cards that allow them to settle into American life.

North Carolina: In North Carolina, a reversal on municipal broadband (Stateline)

Several years ago, the city of Wilson, North Carolina, decided to take its digital destiny into its own hands. The city built its own broadband network and began offering service directly to businesses and citizens.

OPINION

Rich Haglund: Charters held accountable at any site (Tennessean)

What do you think of an effort to give the principal, teachers and parents at a public school more autonomy to help their students reach the district’s academic achievement goals? What do you think of letting the principal and the PTO at your child’s school have discretion over an $8 million budget instead of $50,000?

Guest columnist: Charter schools head for suburbs (Tennessean)

Charter schools have been part of the education landscape since 1991, when Minnesota became the first state to authorize them. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a charter school law in 2002 that appropriately focused attention on “low-performing” students or students in “low-performing” schools.

Times Editorial: The voter-ID card scam (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Rising public anger, concern and frustration with the state’s new voter photo-ID law was entirely predictable — and as a needless as the law itself. Voter fraud, the Republicans’ pretext for passing the law in Tennessee and a number of other newly Republican-controlled state Legislatures, is and has been exceedingly rare in Tennessee and most states.

Editorial: UT trustees should provide certainty about tuition hikes (News-Sentinel)

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees is meeting today in Murfreesboro to discuss a long-term plan to address rising tuition costs and other big-picture issues. This is a step in the right direction to get a handle on UT funding, particularly since speeding up the time a student takes to graduate has become a priority.

Frank Munger: Supercomputing’s shaking up research (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

There’s a lot of gee-whiz stuff written about the power of today’s top supercomputers. Folks like me frequently marvel at the capabilities of these machines, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Jaguar, which can perform more than 2,000 trillion calculations per second.

Guest columnist: EDGE board cuts to chase on jobs, growth (Commercial Appeal)

Streamlined agency has mission to remove the bureaucratic obstacles that have kept the Memphis community from being competitive. It has been nearly a generation since Bill Clinton won the U.S. presidency, propelled into office by the mantra “it’s the economy, stupid.”