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February 22 TN News Digest

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

State Refinances $456 Million In Bonds (Associated Press)

The state of Tennessee has refinanced $456 million in general obligation bonds to save taxpayers $34 million in interest costs over some 20 years. The state comptroller’s office said the refinancing last week created $34 million of present value savings that will be realized over the life of the bonds, which mature annually through fiscal year 2028. Additionally, the state refinanced debt last fall that will produce $3.2 million in present value savings over time.

4.0 earthquake shakes 4 states, including TN (Associated Press)

Residents in Illinois and three other states have reported feeling a magnitude 4.0 earthquake that was centered in southeast Missouri. WSIU Radio in Carbondale reports that the ground shook just before 4 a.m. Tuesday. The quake was centered about 5 miles from East Prairie, Mo. That’s about 16 miles from Cairo, Ill., close to where Interstates 55 and 57 converge. The U.S. Geological Survey says residents in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky have reported feeling the quake. There are no reports of significant damage.

Nissan’s Smyrna employment to nearly double (Nashville Business Journal)

Employment at Nissan’s vehicle-production plant in Smyrna could nearly double by early next year. Monday, the first Infiniti JX crossover rolled off the Smyrna assembly line, where about 3,500 people are employed, The Tennessean reports. To help with production of the new vehicle — and a new crossover based on the Nissan Pathfinder — Nissan is adding about 1,000 jobs to the Smyrna plant over the next year.

State’s tourism future looks bright (Mountain Press)

With some crucial money set to become permanent and some big plans in the works, a state tourism expert told a gathering of local folks the future of the industry “looks really good.” Dave Jones, the East Tennessee regional manager for the Department of Tourist Development, believes Sevier County’s No. 1 business has the backing of some important people in Nashville, including Gov. Bill Haslam. With that support, adequate funding, new programs in place and some encouraging signs in travel, there’s reason to be optimistic, he said.

Closing Recruitment Records Raises Alarms, Little Resistance (WPLN-Radio)

Legislation that’s up for what could be a final vote in the General Assembly Thursday would close some records in Tennessee’s agency whose job is bringing jobs to the state. While the Department of Economic and Community Development’s push for privacy has raised some alarm bells, even open government advocates concede some need for confidentiality. Big development deals around the country already get treated like state secrets. In 2008, then-CEO of VW America Stefan Jacoby shared the stage with former Governor Phil Bredesen. Grinning ear to ear, they let the cat out of the bag that the automaker’s plant would be built in Chattanooga.

Plan for veterans nursing home on Fort Campbell Blvd. gets a green light (Gannett)

Several Montgomery County insiders converged at the Capitol Tuesday, and a delegation led by County Mayor Carolyn Bowers came home with good news about the future of a proposed veterans nursing home. The home, which has been in the planning phase for years, finally seems to be gaining headway. The State Building Commission Executive subcommittee handily approved the project and will decide on a designer in 7 to 10 days. “This was essentially the green light for the project,” said Clint Camp, the county’s director of Facilities Development.

Vets’ nursing home plans OK’d by state (Leaf Chronicle)

Several Montgomery County insiders converged at the Capitol Tuesday, and a delegation led by County Mayor Carolyn Bowers came home with good news about the future of a proposed veterans nursing home. The home, which has been trapped in the planning phase for years, finally seems to be gaining headway. The State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee handily approved the project and will decide on a designer in 7 to 10 days. “This was essentially the green light for the project,” said Clint Camp, the county’s director of Facilities Development.

Cleveland Veterans Home Project Stalled… Again (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)

The Veterans Administration has delivered a big disappointment to so many veterans and their families in our viewing area who have been dreaming of a long-term care home in Cleveland. Less than a month ago the project seemed like it was going somewhere again when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam put several million state dollars into the project. But now the V.A. has determined it’s not as much of a priority as three other projects in Virginia. “It broke a lot of our hearts,” Tennessee Army National Guard veteran Bob Evans said.

TBI Officers Receive Training In Preventing Identify Theft (WTVF-TV Nashville)

On Tuesday some of Tennessee’s top law enforcement officers trained on how to tackle one of the fastest growing crimes in the country: identify theft. Several agencies gathered at Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Headquarters in Nashville today for an “Identity Theft Summit.” Identity protection experts, “Lifelock” hosted the day-long session. They say, crooks are getting more resourceful than ever, using online records and even “skimming devices” that can capture sensitive information when someone swipes their card. There’s no fool-proof way to avoid identity theft, but a good first step is staying vigilant.

TBI investigating ‘suspicious death’ at Bearden nursing home (News-Sentinel)

State authorities are investigating a ‘suspicious death’ reported at a Bearden-area nursing home last week, according to a spokeswoman. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is heading the probe into the death at Brakebill Nursing Home, 5837 Lyons View Pike, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm has confirmed. The death was referred to state investigators last week by the state Department of Health, according to Helm. Helm declined to share specifics and no other details were available, including when the death occurred or whether the deceased was a patient at the facility. A Brakebill receptionist said tonight the nursing home had no comment.

TBI investigating suspicious death at West Knoxville nursing home (WATE-TV)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating a suspicious death at Brakebill Nursing Home in West Knoxville, officials confirmed Tuesday. The TBI opened the case last week after a referral from the state Department of Health, according to TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. She also says she can’t release any other details yet about the investigation. State inspectors did not find any deficiencies at the nursing home in November 2011 during an annual recertification survey and complaint survey. Brakebill is located at 5837 Lyons View Pike.

TBI investigating death at Brakebill Nursing Home (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into a suspicious death at a nursing home in Knoxville A TBI spokesperson says they opened the case at the end of last week. It centers around the death of a patient at the Brakebill Nursing Home on Lyons View Pike near Bearden. The Department of Health asked them to investigate. No other information is being released at this time.

Suspicious death at Brakebill Nursing Home (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

The TBI is checking out a suspicious death at Brakebill Nursing Home in West Knoxville. TBI Spokeswoman Kristin Helm tells us they opened the investigation after getting a referral from the Department of Health last week. Helm says she can’t give us any more information about the investigation at this time. Brakebill is on Lyons View Pike.

State driveway is a death trap, neighbor says (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Monday, the Channel 4 I-Team reported on a mile-long, dead-end stretch of road off of State Route 840 in Williamson County. The Tennessee Department of Transportation calls it an access road, but it functions as nothing more than a driveway to one man’s home. And there is another road, another remnant of 840, only about a mile away that the state does call a driveway. But a neighbor calls it a deathtrap. “The idea was to retire here, move here and die here,” neighbor Brad Caldwell said.

Changes Coming After Deadly December Pile-Up (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Two months after a deadly pile-up on Vietnam Veterans Boulevard, officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation authorized some major improvements to the roadway to make sure it never happens again. TDOT performed a safety audit after an early morning crash on Vietnam Veterans Boulevard near Shutes Lane triggering a string of pile-up crashes that stretched for nearly two miles and killed two people. Officials agreed that emergency responders did an excellent job at the scene, but they wanted improvements to make the road safer.

State’s top trooper survives gunshot (State Gazette)

Tennessee’s Trooper of the Year holds the award for the second straight year, while one of the runners-up — the regional winner for the Lawrenceburg district — was honored for handling an incident that started in Bedford County. Dwayne Stanford of Henderson County was cited as Trooper of the Year by the Tennessee Highway Patrol after several significant events, including the arrest of suspects involved in armed robbery, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possible terrorism, home invasions, and possession of stolen guns and stolen vehicles. Stanford initiated a traffic stop on Interstate 40 on Sept. 28, 2011, and was shot in the chest by the vehicle’s passenger after arresting the driver for an outstanding criminal warrant.

Ex-state trooper appeals termination again in fiery, fatal crash (NS/Lakin)

The ex-state trooper fired for driving past a fiery wreck has made a second bid to save his job. The Tennessee Highway Patrol booted Charles Van Morgan after internal investigators concluded he deliberately drove past the Nov. 26 wreck on Andersonville Pike in North Knox County that killed Gordon Kyle Anito, 20. Morgan had been chasing Anito after clocking him driving at 79 mph in a 40 mph zone on nearby Emory Road just before 3:30 a.m. Video from Morgan’s cruiser shows he lost sight of Anito briefly, then drove by Anito’s 2005 Subaru Impreza as it sat crumpled against a tree and smoking. Investigators determined Morgan’s cruiser slowed to almost 20 mph as he passed the wreck.

Highway patrol trooper files 2nd appeal of termination over crash death (WATE)

A Tennessee Highway patrolman has filed a second appeal after a recommendation to terminate him was upheld due to his actions in a Knox County chase death. The next hearing for Patrolman Charles Morgan has not been scheduled yet, according to the state Department of Safety. The department did an internal investigation into Morgan’s actions after the crash on November 26, 2011. The family of Gordon Kyle Anito, 20, who died after the chase and a fiery crash into a tree, are suing the THP. Safety officials said earlier in February that Morgan did an unsatisfactory job responding after the crash. Morgan was due to be terminated at the close of business on Monday.

Tennessee Human Rights Commission battling new biases (TFP/Trevizo)

Discrimination still exists in Tennessee, it just looks different than it did 30 years ago, a state official says. There no longer are signs prohibiting any racial or ethnic group from entering a business, but people are being denied access to housing and employment opportunities, said Beverly Watts, executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. On Tuesday, Watts held the first roundtable discussion in Chattanooga since the commission started an outreach initiative across the state two years ago. The goal of the program is for communities to learn and understand what the commission does and to establish partnerships, Watts told about 50 attendees representing area churches, government agencies and nonprofits.

O’Leary to continue helping Fisk after her retirement (Associated Press/Johnson)

Fisk University President Hazel O’Leary said Tuesday that she plans to continue helping the financially embattled institution after her retirement. O’Leary announced late last week that she’s retiring in December after eight years. For at least two years, she has been involved in a legal battle over whether the university can sell a $30 million stake in an art collection donated to the school by the late American artist Georgia O’Keeffe to handle its financial needs. O’Leary said Tuesday that she has “always been a generous donor to Fisk, and I intend to continue to do that.”

UT-Knoxville honored for sustainability work (Associated Press)

The University of Tennessee’s main Knoxville campus has been honored for its sustainability work. The school has received a STARS Silver Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, is a new program that measures sustainability in all aspects of higher education. UT was recognized for its recycling program, the Solar Decathlon 2011 and the campus food composting program. STARS considers environmental, social and economic factors facing schools.

Ex-guard at state facility for girls faces statutory rape charge (Tenn./Humbles)

A former guard at New Visions Youth Development Center surrendered himself Monday on a grand jury indictment charging him with statutory rape involving a 17-year-old resident. Jon Greer, 27, of Monroe Street, is alleged to have engaged in sexual contact with the victim at the center, a state facility for delinquent girls ages 13-19. Greer has been charged with two counts of statutory rape and two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, according to the Metro Police Department. The investigation began last November after other New Visions’ residents reported that they suspected there was a relationship between Greer and the victim, police said.

GOP puts off ‘Don’t Say Gay’ measure in House (Associated Press/Johnson)

Supporters of a measure to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students have put off consideration of the proposal after being told of fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s concerns. The start of the House Education Committee meeting was delayed 15 minutes on Tuesday while Republicans huddled in Speaker Beth Harwell’s office with an unidentified member of the Haslam administration. Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald later announced that he was putting off the bill for a week. He did not explain to the committee why he had made his decision, but told The Associated Press afterward that he plans to run the bill regardless of the governor’s wishes.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ amendment lets counselors field questions (Tennessean/Sisk)

Republicans agreed to scale back a bill that deals with teaching about homosexuality amid concerns about the curbs it would place on discussions between students and teachers, guidance counselors and other school personnel. An amendment in the works Tuesday to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill would still discourage formal instruction about homosexuality before ninth grade. But it would leave it to school districts to write sex education policies and ensure they are age-appropriate. It also would allow teachers to answer questions raised by students about gays and lesbians and permit school officials to counsel children about issues surrounding sexuality.

Tennessee ‘Don’t say gay’ bill delayed (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

The so-called “Don’t say gay” bill, which bans teaching about issues related to homosexuality in grades K-8, was delayed in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. Republican proponents tweaked the measure to address concerns about student bullying as well as school counselors’ efforts to provide guidance to students. But Gov. Bill Haslam, a fellow Republican, later told reporters he continues to have concerns about the legislation, saying, “I don’t think that should be a priority of the Legislature. I think there’s other things we can and should be focused on right now. I’ve been upfront about that from the beginning.”

Lawmakers lament governor’s civil service bill (Associated Press)

Lawmakers are lamenting Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to change Tennessee’s civil service law, saying it would eliminate preference given to military veterans. Currently, preference is given to veterans and spouses of veterans who are applying for jobs in Tennessee. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said the proposal would guarantee veterans receive an interview, but no preference would be given to them in the hiring process. The measure was delayed Tuesday in the House State and Local Government Committee. Republican Rep. Jim Cobb of Spring City, a member of the panel, said giving veterans an interview, but no preference, is “almost an insult to a veteran.”

Haslam’s civil service plan criticized for not helping veterans enough (TN/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s civil service reforms came under fire Tuesday from lawmakers who say they do too little to promote the hiring of veterans. Members of the House State and Local Government Committee hit Haslam’s plan — known as the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act, or TEAM Act — for stripping provisions in Tennessee law that give veterans preferential treatment when they apply for state jobs. Haslam has proposed replacing those preferences with a requirement that managers interview any veteran who applies. But his bill also gives managers the freedom to hire anyone who meets minimal standards, rather than forcing them to choose from those who get the top scores in an independent review process.

End to veteran preference in state hiring criticized (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Both Republican and Democratic legislators protested Tuesday a proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam that would eliminate the preference now given to military veterans in state government hiring. Under current law, hiring for state job positions is based in part on a point system and veterans, as well as spouses of deceased and disabled veterans, are given extra points to increase the prospects. One provision in Haslam’s bill that repeals much of the current state civil-service law system for hiring and firing state employees (HB2384) eliminates the point system and any preference for veterans or their spouses. The only special treatment for veterans is a guarantee that they will be interviewed when they apply.

Civil Service Rewrite Deferred as Governor, Employees Talk Behind Scenes (WPLN)

After walking away from talks with the governor, the Tennessee State Employee Association is apparently negotiating behind the scenes on the governor’s plan for employment practices. Senator Mark Norris of Memphis, the governor’s floor leader in the Senate, postponed action on a bill that does away with most civil service protections for the state’s 46,000 employees. Norris says the bill is still a work in progress but didn’t spell out the changes which have been agreed to.

Compromise on TN Court of the Judiciary picks up steam (Tennessean/Gee)

Lawmakers are coalescing around a compromise amendment that would eliminate Tennessee’s judicial disciplinary panel — the Court of the Judiciary — and replace it with a new “board of judicial conduct” to investigate ethical complaints against judges and determine discipline. The proposal would continue to allow judges to be punished privately in some circumstances, but it would lower the bar for when the investigation of a judge is appropriate. The proposal also would remove all appointment power from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which currently picks 10 of the Court of the Judiciary’s 16 members.

Tennessee bill to allow staff at student-led religious events advances (TFP)

Teachers and other education personnel could participate in student-led religious gatherings held on public school grounds under legislation approved Tuesday in the House Education Committee. The bill by sponsor Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, was approved on a voice vote after an amendment was added. It would cover such activities both before and after regular school hours. Johnson brought the bill after the Cheatham County School Board imposed restrictions following a 2010 out-of-court agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union over prayer programs.

Lawmaker Rewrites ‘Prayer at Flagpole’ Bill to Make It Pre-, Post-School (WPLN)

A Cheatham County lawmaker says he has reworked his “prayer at the flagpole” bill to meet school board regulations. WPLN’s Joe White reports the new version closely follows a law passed in Florida. State Representative Phillip Johnson of Cheatham County threw away his original bill to allow teachers to gather at the flagpole for religious services. The new version limits participation of school employees to events taking place before or after official school hours. “Teachers, coaches, personnel – before the school day starts, if they want to meet and participate, they should be able to.”

Bill would ban beer sales at TN self-checkout lanes (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The next time you buy a six-pack of beer, a new law could slow down your purchase. There is a plan to ban beer sales at self-checkouts. Stores already ask to see buyers’ identification, but some say there is still a way for some who are underage to get around it. “We want to make it more difficult for minors to purchase beer,” said Rep Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. That’s why he wants to ban beer sales at Tennessee self-checkout lanes. “I’ve got a 15-year-old son, and a few weeks ago he told me he watched a movie where they were doing something called ‘swipe-and-swap,'” Sanderson said.

Capitol Hill Conversation-Occupy Nashville (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

After running into resistance last week, the state Senate will take up a bill that would remove Occupy Nashville protestors from Legislative Plaza. The House already passed a similar bill, after a contentious debate on the issues of protest and free speech. The bill makes it a misdemeanor to spend the night on state property that’s not designated for camping.

Bill To Freeze Tennessee Lawmaker Expenses Delayed (Associated Press)

A proposal to freeze Tennessee lawmakers’ expense reimbursements rates has been delayed in the state Senate amid concerns about rising gas prices. The bill sponsored by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson would make lawmakers forgo future increases in their daily expense allowance and their mileage reimbursements. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville noted that freezing the federal mileage reimbursements would leave lawmakers on the hook for making up the difference amid rapidly escalating gas prices.

Lawmaker Wants ‘Career-Interest’ Tests Given to High School, College (WPLN)

A state lawmaker wants to see high school and college students tested on their career interests and abilities. He says the proposal dovetails with the new pressure on colleges to improve their graduation rates. State Rep. Jim Coley’s bill would require high school juniors and public college sophomores to take an “interest inventory” test to help them make career choices. One of the best known is the ASVAB, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, used to assign new recruits into military jobs they’d be good at. High school students can take it now, voluntarily. But Coley believes some such test should be required. He sees the need in his day job as a social studies teacher and even in his own family.

TN film advocates protest outside Capitol (WSMV-TV Nashville)

A protest outside the Tennessee Capitol had a Hollywood twist Tuesday. Actors and film workers were protesting what they say is Tennessee’s lack of support for the film industry. People we talked to say they have to go to other states to find work because they say states like Louisiana offer much higher incentives to movie industry executives. So even films about Tennessee are filmed elsewhere, they said. The protesters want Tennessee to offer deeper tax cuts to movie makers so they can stay in state.

Filmmakers Protest To Get More Incentives From State (WTVF-TV Nashville)

More than three dozen people who work in the film industry protested on the steps of Tennessee’s state capitol Tuesday afternoon. “We’re trying to convince the governor our industry is worth saving,” said film industry supporter Jan Austin. The filmmakers claim Tennessee is not doing enough to bring film production to the state, and other state’s are reaping the benefits. “Tennessee gets vetted for a lot projects at the same time Georgia’s being vetted for them and they’ll shift right on over to Georgia and shoot in Georgia,” according to David Bennett, the former executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission.

Oscar night secret: Tax breaks for films go undisclosed in many states (Stateline)

Of the nine film productions up for best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, five received financial incentives from state governments. But if you want to find out exactly how much help the films got, only some of the states will come forward with the answer. Hawaii is one that won’t — although it couldn’t be prouder of The Descendants, which was filmed on Kauai and Oahu and was based on a book written by a resident of Hawaii. In fact, Governor Neil Abercrombie has cited the film’s success as a reason to make the state’s temporary film tax credit permanent. But when Stateline asked Georja Skinner, who oversees the tax credit program, how much Hawaii gave The Descendants to film in Hawaii, she wouldn’t say.

Knox Co. Commission shoots down proposal to censure Campfield (NS/Donila)

Officials on Tuesday night voted down Knox County Commissioner Sam McKenzie’s plan to ask state senators to censure colleague Stacey Campfield over recent controversial remarks the Knoxville Republican made about gays and the origin of the AIDS epidemic. The resolution would have directed commission Chairman Mike Hammond to ask state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, to initiate proceedings against Campfield. Only McKenzie and Commissioners Amy Broyles and Tony Norman supported it during Tuesday’s work session. The other eight commissioners declined to sign off on it.

Commission votes against Campfield censure (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The Knox County Commission voted down a resolution considering a request to the state senate that they censure Sen. Stacey Campfield for remarks made about the origin of AIDS last month. Campfield defended his comments during an interview with 10News, saying the AIDS virus originated with human to monkey sexual contact. He also called it “virtually impossible” for heterosexuals to contract the disease. Some commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern that it’s not their role to ask for censure-ship of state elected officials.

Knox County Commissioner wants to send Stacey Campfield a message (WVLT-TV)

It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the name of State Senator Stacey Campfield. One Knox County Commissioner doesn’t think that’s a good thing. County Commissioner Samuel McKenzie thinks statements that Campfield made about AIDs developing after an “airline pilot had sex with a monkey and then some men” are hurting Knoxville’s image. Campfield was quoted as saying that in an interview about homosexuality – his response made national news. McKenzie asked the County Commission to send a letter to the State’s Ethics Committee to send a message to Campfield about his views hurting his hometown.

Nashville Voters Must Choose Between GOP Primary and Judicial Elections (WPLN)

Early voting is underway in Tennessee’s Presidential primary. Voters in Nashville will also get to cast a ballot for local judges, but only if they choose a Democratic ballot. There are no judicial candidates are running as Republicans in Davidson County, which has trended toward Democrats for decades. That means the race is effectively decided during the primary, says county Election Commission chairman Lynn Greer. “It’s been that way ever since I’ve been old enough to vote.” So Republicans have to choose whether to vote for a Presidential candidate or judges for General Sessions and Circuit Court in Davidson County.

Multiple Ways to Win Delegates in Tennessee (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Early voting is underway for Tennessee’s primary, which could help sway the Republican nomination for president. A total of 58 state delegates are up for grabs, and the overall winner might not take all. There are several ways Republicans win delegates in Tennessee. Voters in each Congressional district decide three delegates, which adds up to just under half the state’s total. Then the ballot statewide decides about a quarter – or 14 delegates, to be precise – and another 14 are chosen by the party’s executive committee. Finally, there are three delegates like Chris Devaney. He chairs the state GOP, and can support whoever he likes.

Council asks Arriola to resign, return wedding fees (City Paper/Garrison)

The Metro Council went on record Tuesday calling for the resignation of Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, and for the embattled elected official to return wedding-fee income he collected from couples. “We made a statement tonight,” said Councilman Robert Duvall, who led the charge to call for Arriola’s resignation. The council voted 25-5, with seven abstentions, to approve a nonbinding memorializing resolution that calls for Arriola to step down from his office, a measure the council had deferred two weeks ago. In a separate voice vote, the council approved a resolution –– also nonbinding –– that requests Arriola refund $40 fees he charged to each of nearly 3,000 couples prior to performing their wedding ceremonies.

Brady Banks shows up, then soon leaves council meeting (Tennessean/Cass)

One elected official ducked in and out of the Metro Council meeting Tuesday as the council discussed and voted on another official’s behavior in office, adding to a night of strange twists and turns. Five days after his arrest on a misdemeanor charge of patronizing prostitution at a MetroCenter hotel, Councilman Brady Banks arrived and took his seat a few minutes into the meeting. But after keeping his head down, looking at mail and joining in a standing ovation to congratulate Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors on her grandchild’s birth, he slipped back out about 15 minutes later, after the council had started discussing a call for Davidson County Clerk John Arriola to resign.

Littlefield warns Westside of waning federal funds for housing (TFP/Putman)

Federal support for public housing is dwindling, a reality people must face whether they like it or not, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told a group of Westside residents Tuesday. “Every time the federal budget comes out we’re afraid to look at it. … All we can do is look at it and say, ‘What are we going to do?'” Littlefield said. The mayor called the meeting with Westside residents to get their ideas for their community’s future and to explain declining financial federal support for housing. “Don’t walk out of here without giving us all of your thoughts,” Littlefield said at the “ReVisioning the Westside” meeting.

Knox panels may team up to discuss officer retirement plan (News-Sentinel)

Knox County pension board officials on Tuesday indicated that they, the County Commission and a committee charged with reviewing the county charter will all look at whether to change or close the Sheriff’s Office retirement plan, a program that already costs more than three times what voters were promised when they approved it five years ago. Pension board members during a two-hour meeting said they were concerned about looking into possible changes and spending money on attorneys and actuaries only to have the charter review committee bypass the work and bring it straight to the voters in November.

Collierville Development Division gets lessons in comm., listening (CA/Wolff)

It’s far from charm school. No books balanced on heads to straighten posture. No learning about forks in a formal place setting. Instead, the staff in Collierville’s Code Enforcement Department was schooled recently in the fine art of communicating. Dr. Ed Champagne, president of Command Counseling, is spending his retirement years as a consultant for businesses, governments, churches — anyone who deals with the public. He’s 74 and works one or two days a week on a subject about which he is passionate: communication and listening.

Commission Redistricting Moves to Final Vote (Memphis Daily News)

The Shelby County Commission’s overtime deliberations on redistricting have pulled in elements of other political issues. There was a move to oust Sidney Chism as chairman and scramble the commission’s already tentative party line divisions. There was the suburban versus urban dynamic and even an intra-party dispute among Republicans on the commission. But when nine commissioners voted Monday, Feb. 20, for a redistricting plan that will fundamentally reorganize the commission into 13 single-member districts it was also partially a reaction to a plan waiting in the wings.

Howard Richardson, Democratic Patriarch and Labor Figure, Dies (Memphis Flyer)

Howard Richardson, a former president of the Shelby County AFL-CIO Labor Council and a prominent longtime member of the Shelby County Democratic Party, died Sunday at the age of 81 after a lengthy illness. Richardson, a well-liked figure across factional and even party lines, was active in numerous political campaigns, and his South Memphis home was a familiar location for both political rallies and social gatherings. A former International Vice President of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Richardson had also been chairman of the NAACP Labor and Industry Committee.

Smokies’ January visit numbers strong (Associated Press)

The unusually mild winter continues to translate into improved attendance figures for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park officials said on Tuesday that nearly 266,000 people came to the park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border last month, compared with just over 214,000 in January 2011 — a 23.8 percent increase. The numbers continue a trend noted in December when visits jumped 37.7 percent, compared with the same month in 2010. The park entrance at Cherokee, N.C., led in traffic last month with a 44.7 percent increase.

A Tennessee winner? Rick Santorum’s making a run (News-Sentinel/Collins)

Leading in a number of national polls, Rick Santorum is moving quickly to put in place a formal campaign operation in Tennessee as the state prepares to take its turn in the fight for the GOP presidential nomination. In just the past couple of weeks, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has opened campaign offices in Knoxville and Johnson City and has tapped Knoxville native Jon Parker as his state field director. Last weekend, volunteers manning a phone bank in Johnson City called thousands of voters across the state to firm up support for the candidate and spread his message of conservatism and family values.

TVA shoreline fees spur fight (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

When Larry Steidle became the owner and operator of Blue Springs Marina 30 years ago, the docks had 60 homemade boat slips. Slowly, he has built the marina up until it has slips for 370 boats, and it’s 80 percent full. “I own the land,” Steidle said. “But TVA takes possession of the water and the land under the water up to a certain water level, so they own to about halfway up my parking lot. “Now with this recent land and shoreline policy change, they want a percentage of your gross income or your base fee,” Steidle said. “I doubt if my bills can withstand that.” Steidle’s marina is one of about 450 riverbank businesses in the Chattanooga region expected to be affected by a change the Tennessee Valley Authority is rolling out this year after about five years of study and negotiation.

Music City Bowl generates $22.2M in economic impact (Nashville Post)

The 2011 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl generated about $22.2 million in economic impact for Nashville, event officials announced Tuesday. The Dec. 30 game, which pitted Mississippi State vs. Wake Fores, drew about 55,208 fans, with a 3.07 national household rating delivering 4.2 million television viewers. A total of 25,805 hotel room nights were booked with about 37,000 out-of-town visitors attending the bowl. “The 2011 bowl game was another economic home run for Nashville,” Brad Lampley, bowl chairman, said in a release. “The bowl continued to exhibit the strong momentum it has shown in recent years, based on attendance, ratings and economic impact.

Music City Bowl brings $22.2M economic impact (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Proximity of teams play role in boosting income generated for local businesses The 14th annual Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl generated a $22.2 million economic impact last December, bowl officials said Tuesday. The Dec. 30 game between Mississippi State University and Wake Forest University drew 55,208 fans to LP Field and a TV audience of 4.2 million. Almost 37,000 fans came to Nashville for the game, generating 25,805 hotel room nights, an economic analysis of the event found. “The bowl continued to exhibit the strong momentum it has shown in recent years, based on attendance, ratings and economic impact,” said Brad Lampley, the bowl’s chairman.

Music City Bowl officials report $22M economic impact (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Music City Bowl organizers say the game made a $22 million impact on Nashville’s economy. Bowl officials say December’s game between Mississippi State and Wake Forest brought more than 55,000 fans to town, and close to 37,000 were from outside the area. Organizers say the 2011 bowl brought in about $2 million more to the Nashville economy than the previous year’s game.

Meth bust puts two in jail, children in Child Protective Services (Herald-Courier)

Police said the real victims are the children found living in the homes. Sheriff Ed Graybeal said his deputies arrested two people, but charges are still pending. The children’s grandmother told me all three appeared to be healthy. They were given showers and sent to the hospital for precautionary reasons. The Washington County Tennessee Sheriff’s Department said one active shake and bake bottle was found in this home on Bill Jones Rd. Graybeal said they arrested two people, and are leaving the children in the care of the Department of Children’s Services. Family members said they just want the children away from the drugs.

OPINION

Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam showing more leadership this session (News-Sentinel)

In a welcome move, Gov. Bill Haslam has started using his office to influence votes in the Legislature on bills he deems flawed for one reason or another. Using the power of the state’s highest office is one of the reasons to seek the office in the first place, but last year, his first in office, Haslam hesitated to comment on bills that lay outside his own fairly narrow agenda. This year, he pledged to take a more active role in speaking out on proposed legislation, a sign of improved leadership that should help keep lawmakers focused on the most important matters before the General Assembly.

Editorial: Do not repeal motorcycle helmet law (Tennessean)

“Let riders decide” is not a specious argument, and other arguments used to urge the repeal of Tennessee’s motorcycle helmet law that requires a federally approved helmet for drivers and passengers are of less sincerity, such as the contention that tourism revenue will increase if the law is repealed. Not relevant. Americans should not willingly surrender their freedoms, and government regulation and restriction of personal choice is, and should be, a vigorously debated subject. The back and forth of comments on The Tennessean website about helmet law repeal reflect a healthy debate, and make a good read, showing a range of thoughtful, and less so, comments about freedom, choice, consequences and social responsibility.

Guest columnist: Keep anti-immigrant rhetoric out of TN (Tennessean)

Concerned about the rising tide of anti-immigration rhetoric and punitive bills in statehouses across the country, Tennessee faith leaders have taken a number of pro-active initiatives to speak constructively about the moral obligations of our society to treat the undocumented justly. Some 300 Middle Tennessee faith leaders attended a November 2011 breakfast, where William Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, admitted that Alabama’s faith leaders “were slow to realize how nefarious” the new law was for their state. In January, 125 clergy attended a screening of the documentary Gospel Without Borders, which included a panel of Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist bishops.

Editorial: The slippery slope of secrecy (Commercial Appeal)

Once taxpayer-funded incentive deals are finalized, the public should be able to see the details. While a bill granting what critics claim is too much secrecy to private companies seeking state incentives is being retooled by legislative leaders, we hope someone will heed Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz’s comments about the issue. Speaking during Monday’s County Commission meeting, Ritz said once a deal is done, everything about it should be open to the public. His comments reflect this newspaper’s editorial stance on the issue. A bill sought by Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and his boss Gov. Bill Haslam would keep confidential certain information given to the state by businesses seeking public incentives, including the names of owners of privately held companies.

Frank Munger: When Jaguar becomes Titan, how fast will it be? (News-Sentinel)

Buddy Bland, the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Leadership Computing Facility, said the Jaguar supercomputer occupies a space that’s the size of a basketball court. Actually, Bland was more specific than that. He said the 200-cabinet computer has a footprint the size of the University of Tennessee basketball court, which — as many fans probably know — is named “The Summitt” after Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt. The Cray system is amazingly large and, at one time a couple of years ago, was the world’s fastest computer. It’s currently ranked No. 3, but it’s still probably the world’s best in terms of producing useful science.

Free-Press Editorial: Painful job cuts continue at financially strapped Erlanger (TFP)

Officials at Erlanger Health System are plainly serious when they talk about cutting costs to improve the hospital’s troubled finances. Unfortunately, they don’t have much choice but to cut. In the first seven months of this fiscal year, Erlanger lost about $12.5 million. That was largely the result of a reduced number of surgeries. The public hospital is not expected to start making money again until April. That has prompted Erlanger to take significant but regrettably necessary cost-cutting steps. In January, Erlanger announced it was cutting two-fifths of its executives to save approximately $1.5 million. Now Erlanger has said it anticipates cutting as many as 30 management jobs by the end of March.

Editorial: A Real ‘Doc Fix’ (New York Times)

In last week’s flurry of budget deals, Congress patched together yet another temporary fix for a flawed formula used to calculate the fees paid to doctors by Medicare. It will hold payments flat for the next 10 months instead of cutting them by 27 percent as the formula required, and the $18 billion to pay for it will be taken from other health care programs. But the fix only lasts until the end of the year. On Jan. 1, doctors will face another big cut unless Congress again steps in. Congress now needs to devise a real fix that would be fair to doctors and make a serious effort to slow the rise of Medicare spending. In the near term, some doctors — highly paid specialists — should be required to accept some reduction in fees.

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