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May 22 TN News Digest

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

TN’s new state park, Cummins Falls, has waterfall, swimming hole (Tenn./Bonner)

Tennessee dedicates 54th state park In celebration of its 75th anniversary, Tennessee State Parks will gain its newest edition — Cummins Falls State Park. More than 200 acres of land along the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River in Cookeville will officially become Tennessee’s 54th state park with a dedication ceremony at the site at noon today. This will become the first traditional state park to open since Cumberland Trail opened in 1998.

Haslam defends his moves to make records confidential (AP/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s “not easy” to strike a balance between efficiency and transparency in state government. In several cases this year, the Republican governor has sided in favor of making information confidential. Haslam has signed measures to make confidential the names of all but the three finalists for leadership positions in state colleges and universities, and to prevent parents from finding out the evaluation scores of teachers.

Review of Teacher Evaluation System Unlikely to Surprise: Huffman (WPLN-Radio)

A review of the Tennessee’s controversial new system for evaluating teachers is due out in the next couple of weeks. The state’s top education official doubts it will bring many surprises. The new evaluation system has drawn sharp criticism from teachers because it takes an above-average score just to maintain tenure. And principals have complained it eats up too much time to evaluate every teacher four times a year in 19 categories. The people reviewing the new system say they’ve gathered thousands of comments.

Tennessee names director of new Water Resources division (Tennessean/Sisk)

Sandra Dudley, executive director of the Water Authority of Dickson County, will lead the new state division overseeing Tennessee water. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation named Dudley on Monday as the first executive director of its new Division of Water Resources. The agency was created earlier this year in a shakeup that rolled together TDEC’s divisions of Water Pollution Control, Water Supply and Groundwater Protection.

Three Local Real Estate Agents Disciplined by State (Memphis Daily News)

Three Memphis real estate professionals have been disciplined by the Tennessee Real Estate Commission, according to the Department of Commerce & Insurance April 2012 Disciplinary Action Report. Harold E. Blockman of Keller Williams Realty was cited in violation of misleading or untruthful advertising. The action was a $500 civil penalty and attendance at a two-day meeting of the Commission. Blockman was also disciplined to pay a $1,000 civil penalty and attendance at a two-day meeting of the Commission for an unlicensed property management company violation.

Interstate sinkhole delays traffic in Kingsport (Bristol Herald-Courier)

A sinkhole on Interstate 26 in Kingsport likely will cause traffic delays into Tuesday. The pavement opened up this morning on westbound side of I-26 just west of the West Stone Drive exit, a Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman told 11 Connects news. No word from TDOT what caused the sink hole. Westbound traffic near Exit 1 narrows to one lane with cars diverting onto the side of the road. TDOT says to expect delays through noon Tuesday.

Haslam signs bill that could end Metro’s oversight of state fair (City Paper/Garrison)

Against the wishes of many Metro officials, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law that authorizes the state government to oversee a new commission that would operate the annual Tennessee State Fair. A Haslam aide said Monday the governor had signed House Bill 3208, a measure that could pave the way for the 104-year-old event to transfer from Metro’s hands to the state while also enabling its relocation outside Davidson County.

Anti-tax group has own ideas on Metro budget (Tennessean/Wilson)

The fiscally conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee released an alternative city budget proposal that would maintain current tax rates and give raises to Metro employees but would eliminate proposed increases for schools, a local hospital and other recipients of city funds. The budget proposed by Mayor Karl Dean includes a 53-cent property tax that would allow for a 4 percent raise for all Metro employees and more funding for education, public safety and building projects.

Commissioners weighing information before budget vote (News-Sentinel/Donila)

With just over a week left before the Knox County Commission votes on the proposed budget, members say they are taking in every bit of information they can with a particular focus on the school system’s spending plan. On Monday, officials held a public forum, and tonight they meet with the Knox County Board of Education. Next Tuesday, the commission will meet with the public, and then members expect to make a final decision on May 30.

Wharton’s budget proposes library closings, fewer fire vehicles, more tax (CA/Maki)

The Memphis City Council will consider a funding request from Memphis City Schools, a reduction of Fire Department vehicles and library closings when its budget discussions resume today. Mayor AC Wharton has requested a 47-cent increase in the property tax assessment to cover the cost of court-ordered funding for city schools. The city government’s financial woes date back to the council’s decision to slash funding to the school district in 2008.

Ads blasting tax breaks ‘irk’ Memphis Mayor A C Wharton (C. Appeal/Evanoff)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton railed Monday at local advertisements that chide the city for favoring corporate tax breaks over citizens. “It really irks me,” Wharton said about online and radio ads sponsored by local unions. Wharton said the ads run “24-7” and portray local government as squandering resources and raising costs for taxpayers. Wharton contends the ads are wrong and miss the “delicate balance” required of leaders who must both prepare for the future and deal with the current downturn.

County Commission approves $1.2 billion budget (Commercial Appeal/Connolly)

Advocates for the homeless got a big win Monday when the County Commission voted 8-1 to approve a $1.2 billion annual budget that includes $495,000 in spending for their cause. “Of course, we’re ecstatic,” said Brad Watkins with Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality, a new group affiliated with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. “We got everything that we asked for and what our constituents asked for.”

In the Balance (Memphis Daily News)

Council to hear public comments before voting on new budget Memphis City Council members hope to wrap up budget committee hearings Tuesday, May 22, including a public comment period Tuesday evening at City Hall. But with a third and final reading on budget and tax rate ordinances scheduled for the group’s first meeting in June, the council lacks a master plan for reworking the Wharton administration’s $628.3 million budget proposal.

Single-Member Redistricting Plan Picks Up Steam on Commission (M. Flyer)

On the second reading, Brent Taylor voted ‘No.’ Presumably his commitment, noted in article, to be Number 9 in the case of 8 votes applied only to the third reading. As the Shelby County Commission convenes on Monday for its regular biweekly public meeting, one of the issues which has bedeviled it for many months now will probably get a virtually free pass. This would be a resolution on behalf of redistricting plan 2-J, which would divide Shelby County into 13 single-member County Commission districts.

Sullivan Commissioners accused of bringing county to borderline bankruptcy (T-N)

Once again Monday, the Sullivan County Commission turned to the county’s “surplus” to cover shortfalls in the county’s budget. The commission approved using $144,500 to help offset higherthan-budgeted costs for operations at the sheriff’s office and jail. It’s not the $180,000 identified earlier as needed to make sure the sheriff’s office and jail can meet payroll and other expenses through June 30 — when the current 12-month budget cycle ends — but Sheriff Wayne Anderson said he and his staff would make it work.

Tennessee’s dental health among worst (Associated Press)

The dental health care for Tennesseans ranks among the worst in the nation, which has sent more patients to the emergency room and caused more adults to lose teeth to decay and disease. A Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the number of people who visited a dental clinic or a dentist dropped nearly 10 percent between 2005 and 2010. The same survey found the number of people who lost at least one permanent tooth increased to nearly 55 percent of the population in Tennessee.

States improve in dental care among low-income children (TFP/Martin)

In the last 10 years, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama have made huge strides in how many low-income children receive dental services And while the states now exceed the national average, advocates say they still have room for improvement in providing preventive services and access to dental care, noting that only about half of all low-income children receive the services. In a Pew Center study released last year, Georgia received a B, while Alabama and Tennessee each received a C for children’s dental health within certain benchmarks.

Chuck Fleischmann, Weston Wamp go head to head (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Weston Wamp questioned U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s congressional credentials during an aggressive debate Monday, attempting to define Fleischmann as an inflexible creature of Washington in the fight for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. With the Aug. 2 primary election only two months away, Fleischmann arrived at a crucial moment of his re-election effort armed with a defense of his record and a list of shots targeting Wamp’s perceived inexperience as the 25-year-old son of the congressman’s immediate predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.

Congressman Marsha Blackburn to speak at Miller-Motte commencement (L-C)

May 25 will be a special day for Miller-Motte graduates participating in their commencement ceremony. Miller-Motte Technical College is honored to announce Congressman Marsha Blackburn as their commencement speaker. Blackburn will be addressing the students and delivering words of encouragement as they look forward to changing their lives and their futures using the new skills they learned at Miller-Motte.

In Tennessee, race gap tops gender gap in presidential choice (Tennessean/Cass)

What you think of President Barack Obama’s job performance over the past 40 months might have something to do with your race, sex or beliefs. Tennessee women are more likely than men to approve of the job the 44th president is doing, a Vanderbilt University poll found. African-Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to give Obama two thumbs up. The opposite trends favor Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely opponent when he stands for re-election in November.

Gridlock eases in many metro areas (USA Today)

Traffic congestion dropped 30% last year from 2010 in the USA’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, driven largely by higher gas prices and a spotty economic recovery, according to a new study by a Washington-state firm that tracks traffic flows. That was the largest drop since the nation plunged into recession in December 2007. Of the 100 most populous metro areas, 70 saw declines in traffic congestion while just 30 had increases, says Jim Bak, co-author of the 2011 U.S. Traffic Scorecard for Kirkland, Wash.-based INRIX.

Chattanooga City Council watching over TVA tree cutting (TFP/Hightower)

Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy lashed out at TVA on Monday, saying its tree-cutting policy is completely unreasonable and could lead to a slew of lawsuits against the power provider. “I think what they are doing is lazy and defies common sense,” Murphy said. The federal utility has said it needs to cut down trees in its rights of way that are or could reach more than 15 feet tall or it could face federal fines for vegetation-related outages should the trees fall on power lines. Murphy thinks the 15-foot rule is absurd.

TVA investigating ‘hangman’s noose’ at Browns Ferry (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

TVA is investigating an incident of a “hangman’s noose” recently found at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala., one of several such incidents at TVA facilities over the last four years. TVA Police and the agency’s Office of the Inspector General were alerted and are investigating, according to a statement TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore made to employees in a newsletter. “While this appears to be an isolated incident, it is serious and will not be tolerated,” Kilgore said in the statement.

County gets economic boost from Spring Fling (Daily News Journal)

Athletes, coaches, trainers and followers converged on the Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium at MTSU on Monday for the high school girls’ pentathlon and the first day of the high school boys’ decathlon. Spring Fling, Tennessee’s annual state spring sports tournament, has returned to Rutherford County, bringing not only championship competition but also championship dollars for area businesses, including hotels, motels and restaurants. “We estimated the week is going to bring in $3.5 million,” said Mona Herring, vice president of the Convention & Visitors Bureau with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.

Erlanger’s losses dip in April (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Erlanger Health System had its second-best month in eight months in April and may break even in May, after nearly a year of dismal reports, officials said Monday evening. The mood at the monthly Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday evening was optimistic compared with last month’s meeting, when officials reported a $4 million loss. “We might make it in May,” said interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, talking about when the hospital may see its first positive numbers.

Dillard’s warehouse change will cost 125 jobs in Nashville (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Company to shift Internet sales distribution center to Arkansas site Dillard’s said it plans to close its Internet sales distribution center in Nashville this summer, leaving roughly 125 employees without jobs. The center at 444 Brick Church Park Drive is expected to close in August, with its work transferred to a newer facility in Maumelle, Ark., a Dillard’s spokeswoman said Monday. “It’s a bigger facility and we’ve equipped it with state-of-the-art distribution technology, so it made sense to consolidate everything there,” Julie Johnson Bull said.

Dillard’s Laying Off Workers at Nashville Distribution Center (WPLN-Radio Nash.)

Dillard’s is closing its distribution center in Nashville. The department store chain has notified the state that 125 workers will be let go by the end of the summer. Dillard’s has six distribution facilities and the one in Nashville has handled purchases from the online store. Spokeswoman Julie Bull says the company’s newest fulfillment center is closer to its headquarters in Little Rock. “It is a business decision. We have a facility that opened up in Central Arkansas that we took a good hard look at. It’s got a lot more capacity, and it’s working out better for our vision for Dillards.com.”

Dalphis closes, taking 75 jobs (Commercial Appeal/Risher)

A Memphis manufacturer of blinds and window treatments closed last week, putting about 75 people out of work. The closing came just over four months after Dalphis America LLC emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with backing of an Atlanta-based investor group. The private investors decided to pull the plug and liquidate the business because it wasn’t meeting expectations, said president Charles Duffley.

Memphis City Schools to lay off 70 employees (Memphis Business Journal)

Memphis City Schools is planning to lay off 70 employees by June 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s weekly WARN report. While MCS had no official comment earlier today, state officials stated the layoffs will affect 14 salaried and 56 people identified as in-school suspension assistants and clerical employees. MCS has previously identified up to 150 teachers who are being recommended for termination, based on poor performance, according to teacher evaluation results that were released early last week.

Stratford High renovations are priority for Metro budget (Tennessean/Hubbard)

More teenagers would want to learn to preserve crime scenes or interrogate suspects at Stratford High School if the building weren’t falling apart, some students, parents and city council members say. The retro 1960s-built East Nashville school is less than half full, drawing only about 150 out-of-zone applications despite its unique criminal justice program and its status as Metro’s only high school magnet for science, technology, engineering and math.

TCAP snafu has Sullivan County teachers manually figuring grades (T-N)

All Sullivan County public school elementary grade cards will go out as planned Thursday, but only after a last-minute teacher blitz of manually figuring the TCAP scores into grades for students in third, fourth and fifth grades. And it affected students 3-8 in K-8 schools. Because of the way the Tennessee Department of Education pulled student course codes, Sullivan County Assistant Director of Schools David Timbs said teachers will have to go through manually and figure Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores as 15 percent of second semester reading, math, social studies and science grades.

State employee arrested for selling laptops to undercover agent (TN/Humble)

A state contracted employee has been arrested on charges he sold two laptop computers after an investigation by the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI. Edward Lee Covington, 38, allegedly tried to sell the laptops to an undercover agent at a McDonald’s restaurant in Nashville. The origin of a third laptop possibly sold by Covington has not been confirmed. Covington has been charged with theft of property over $1,000, a class D felony.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Gov goes online with Jobs4TN (Daily News Journal)

On these editorial pages, we don’t hesitate to point out political promises broken and foolish spending of taxpayer money. But we are happiest when we can applaud a promise kept, especially when it costs little in the way of taxpayer dollars. And so, we offer kudos to Gov. Bill Haslam, who recently announced a new jobs database to help connect job seekers. Jobs4TN Online is a product of the governor’s campaign promise to develop a new jobs.

Free-Press Editorial: Doped up (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee is in the nation’s top three states leading the charge on use of prescription drugs with 18 prescriptions per resident. In 2010, the Kaiser Foundation reports that in the working-age category of 19-64 years old, the state averaged 15.3 prescriptions per person. Averaged. Does this impact our workforce? Does this impact crime? News reports have even documented real estate open houses being a target of prescription drug abusers and distributors.

Editorial: Restructure higher ed to meet job demands (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam has picked up the baton from previous governors and will try his luck at restructuring and refocusing higher education in Tennessee. While some progress has been made, much more needs to be done to help the state’s higher education institutions more closely align with the demands of business and industry. We wish the governor well in this highly political, ivy-covered arena where other governors have come up short. We believe there is a need to rethink higher education in Tennessee.

 

Charlie Daniels Political Cartoon: “I’m Underage…” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

 

Editorial: Developments in Baumgartner saga raise hope for justice (News-Sentinel)

Two disparate events occurring one week ago today altered the trajectory of the saga of disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgarter. The state Supreme Court on May 15 released an order signalling its possible willingness to review three overturned murder convictions from Baumgartner’s court stemming from a brutal double murder. Meanwhile, on the same day, Baumgarter was arrested while driving away from his East Knox County farm and then arraigned in federal court on seven counts of failing to report felonious acts.

Editorial: Push and pull on the budget (Commercial Appeal)

In balancing the budget, the City Council will have to decide what to cut to maintain certain services. The Memphis City Council resumes budget hearings today amid the push and pull of what services to cut, what services to maintain at current funding levels and what, if any, programs or projects to add or expand. Scheduled to be discussed are Fire Department realignment, closing some branch libraries and turning responsibility for school crossing guards over to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Guest columnist: TennCare PLUS may cap quality of care (Tennessean)

Thousands of patients in Tennessee qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. There is considerable inefficiency in how this population receives health-care services, which deserves to be addressed. A new pilot program under consideration gives proof to the adage that the cure can be worse than the disease. If adopted, the program threatens to unnecessarily put the health of our state’s most medically needy patients at risk.

 

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