This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau announced today more than $318,000 in grants to support solid waste management activities in communities across Tennessee. The Tennessee General Assembly established development districts in 1966 to do general and comprehensive planning and conduct development and administration activities for local governments, and eight of the state’s nine development districts will receive grants totaling $318,578 in fiscal year 2012-2013.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of 165 Tennesseans to 62 state boards and commissions. Earlier this year, the legislature passed Haslam’s recommended reforms to many of the state’s boards and commissions, and most of those changes take effect between July and October. The governor continues his review of the state’s complete range of boards and commissions to determine other potential reforms that might be made to improve efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.
Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, speaker pro tempore before resigning last year to become the chief executive of a statewide education reform organization, has been appointed to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission for a six-year term representing the 5th Congressional District in Middle Tennessee. Woodson, president and CEO of State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, confirmed Friday by email that her official address now is in Lebanon, Tenn., although she said she is maintaining her West Knox County home.
After Katrina Piatt graduated from high school almost 20 years ago, she went to college a couple of times, but always dropped out. “I’ve made a lot of bad life choices,” she said, without saying more. But several years ago she decided she had to turn things around. “It was the realization that I wasn’t getting younger,” she said. “I was always going to have the same kinds of jobs, always be in the same economic level, and I wanted to change that for myself.”
A state agency that doles out millions in taxpayer dollars to businesses promising to make work for struggling Tennesseans is formulating procedures to take money back from companies that don’t deliver the good jobs. The Department of Economic and Community Development is working out details of a “clawback” provision it plans to insert into FastTrack grant agreements, according to the agency’s communications director, Clint Brewer. “It’s not the issue that businesses haven’t done what they said they’re going to do. The issue is we want to be following the best practices we can,” said Brewer, assistant ECD commissioner.
For Charlie Toney and his fiancee, Jessica Little, Hendersonville had its appeals. More house for the money. Close to family and church. The drive from Green Hills, where they lived, to Hendersonville for weekend house-hunting trips was no problem. But after the move came the commute to work. For him, it is to HCA’s headquarters in downtown Nashville. For her, Maryland Farms in Brentwood. Fifteen minutes turned into 45. “It was a huge shock for us,” Toney said. The reason? Interstate 65.
On a Thursday afternoon, Robert Almond ventured into his daughter Leesa’s bedroom, took her pet bird Peanut in hand and smiled, remembering how his daughter used to play with the bird before her death. “I want to stay busy all the time,” said Almond, 80. “Even before she died, I couldn’t just sit still, but now it’s worse. I miss her coming home from work every day. She was a little good girl.” Leesa Almond, 39, took care of her father before she was killed in an Interstate 24 traffic accident on May 14.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will be chipping in for half of the costs for an expensive utility relocation. Following a series of meetings with TDOT officials, city manager Jay Johnson told the city council that an amendment to their original contract with TDOT would result in the state paying 50 percent of the costs of the utility relocation for the ongoing State Industrial Access (SIA) program on Railroad Avenue. $190K apiece Estimated cost of the relocation is currently at $382,352, with the state chipping in around $191,000 for their half.
The Tennessee Right to Life’s political action committee has endorsed 75 candidates in state legislative contests on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, according to the group’s website. Among them is Republican Todd Gardenhire, who is running in the open 10th Senate District race in Hamilton and Bradley counties. He faces fellow Republican Greg Vital in the Aug. 2 GOP primary. Other area endorsements include Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who faces Basil Marceaux, of Soddy-Daisy, in the GOP primary.
The new Memphis public library photo card will not be accepted as a valid form of identification at the voting booth, Shelby County and state Election Commission officials say. The city of Memphis this week introduced the new library card, and city officials contend that the card meetsstate requirements as a photo ID for voters. The card is available to citizens 18 and older at all branches of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. Mayor A C Wharton said the card would double as a valid photo ID for voting and other business requirements.
Annexation, one of Tennessee’s oldest and most common methods of dealing with the problems of urban and metropolitan growth, is a subject some people living near Johnson City say they downright fear. On the other hand, state law (Section 3 of Public Acts 1998, Chapter 1101) expressly recognizes annexation as a legitimate municipal growth tool. It authorizes Johnson City to annex by ordinance if the property is within its Urban Growth Boundary. The city’s Suncrest Annexation, and another proposed annexation in Gray that failed after a tie vote Thursday, both met that qualification.
At this time two years ago, Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher was working hard to raise money in an expensive primary that would develop into an even more expensive general election race — one of the most hotly contested in the country. Comparatively, this year must feel like a breeze. Republican Annette Justice will face Fincher in the Aug. 2 primary, and three Democrats — Wes Bradley, Timothy Dixon and Christa Stoscheck — will vie for the chance to face him in November. Independent candidates Mark Rawles and James Hart are competing for the same chance.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, says he works well with Republicans in Congress but that most of the federal funding and help he has secured for the city comes from the Democratic-controlled White House. During an editorial board session last week with The Daily News, Cohen responded to criticism in a similar editorial board session from countywide school board member Tomeka Hart, who is challenging him in the Aug. 2 Democratic congressional primary.
An organization calling itself the Common Sense Coalition on Friday unleashed a series of accusations against City Councilman Nick Steward, who is running for the Republican nomination to the State House. Among the claims are that Steward has misrepresented his place of residence in order to run for City Council, and again to run for House District 74. Steward is running against Lauri Day of Humpheys County for the GOP nomination for that seat, with early voting starting Friday, July 13.
Some cash-strapped states have seized on a section of the Supreme Court’s health-law decision to pare their existing Medicaid programs, saying the ruling lifts the March 2010 law’s ban on such cuts. The court, which upheld most of the law, struck down penalties for states choosing not to expand Medicaid. A few states are also trying to go farther, arguing that the ruling justifies cuts to their existing programs. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 28, lawyers in the Maine attorney general’s office began preparing a legal argument to allow health officials to strike more than 20,000 Medicaid recipients from the state’s rolls—including 19- and 20-year-olds—beginning in October to save $10 million by next July.
TVA has garnered another safety flag from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency — the fourth in just over a year. The newest — a “white” finding — comes at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala., which already has been under a “red” safety finding since May 2011. An NRC letter to TVA dated June 22 says the reactor operators at Browns Ferry do not understand and know how to implement 5-month-old NRC and TVA procedures for responding to a plant fire. And their TVA trainers didn’t know how, either.
A downtown garage under consideration by TVA and the city may include more than parking. According to TVA, the two parties have entered a conditional memorandum of understanding regarding the proposal, and the federal agency has begun accepting comments on it. TVA is preparing an environmental assessment and is seeking comments about what factors the review should consider. The proposal calls for a six- to seven-story garage with 800 to 1,000 spaces, located between Locust and Walnut streets, along Summer Place.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is moving forward with a two-year project to demonstrate capabilities to produce and process plutonium-238 for the space program. Ron Crone, the reactor chief at ORNL, and Jeff Binder, the acting associate director for nuclear science and engineering, confirmed plans to load the first targets into the High Flux Isotope Reactor during its next fuel cycle. That cycle begins July 30 following a maintenance and refueling outage in late July. About 17 small targets of neptunium-237 will be introduced into the reactor’s core, where irradiation over a period of time will convert some of the material into plutonium-238.
A federal judge in Memphis has signaled his intent for the court to decide whether suburban Shelby County cities can form their own school systems. The Commercial Appeal reported U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued an order Thursday, granting the Shelby County Commission’s request to challenge the constitutionality of municipal school districts. Mays also ordered an expedited hearing on whether he will issue a temporary restraining order, halting ballot issues in six city elections Aug. 2.
The attorneys who crafted what proved to be a temporary cease-fire in the fight over the structure of Shelby County’s public schools will get back together again in federal court Monday to hear instructions on the rules of engagement for the next battle. And this time they will have company, with attorneys from suburban municipalities prepared to argue against the Shelby County Commission’s request that U.S. Dist. Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issue an injunction to stop Aug. 2 referendums over whether to create new municipal districts.
All sides in the schools consolidation lawsuit gather again Monday, July 9, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee just about a month short of one year from Judge Hardy Mays’ ruling in the lawsuit. That was followed by a settlement among the parties of the points not covered in his ruling. Both set the ground rules for consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems. But neither addressed the formation of separate municipal school districts in the suburbs – the other part of state laws on such a schools merger.
Metro Schools will rely on adjunct instructors this year to teach subjects ranging from algebra to bluegrass and mariachi. It’s the district’s foray into hiring on a course-by-course basis. A Knoxville-based non-profit called Distinguished Professionals Education Institute is working with schools in Nashville and trying to fill 33 classes with experts. They either have to be retired teachers or have a degree and experience in the appropriate field. More than half the courses are in music as part of a wider effort led by Mayor Karl Dean to beef up music education.
School system officials said Friday that their website will likely launch next week after almost a month of being unavailable due to a security breach. The website, along with several other technologies, was taken down after a hacker released personal data for thousands of past and present employees and students in June. The school system’s technologies will hopefully be fully restored in the next week, said Clarksville-Montgomery County School System’s Chief Communications Officer Elise Shelton.
Two-thirds of Tennessee is now in severe drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , following the second-driest June on record and state farmers are scrambling to salvage crops they can. Utility districts and cities are discussing possible actions to take, according to The Tennessean, which could include banning nonessential water uses. Middle Tennessee farmers have seen droughts before, but this one started earlier than normal. Dairy farmer Roy Major was harvesting his corn two months early Thursday, predicting about 20 percent of the yield he would normally get in a year to feed his 165 cattle.
The ongoing heat wave is forcing people to stay indoors and drink plenty of fluids, but it’s also having an impact on what reaches the kitchen table. The weekly National Drought Summary released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center indicates that most of Tennessee is in a severe drought. That means crop and pasture losses are likely, water shortages are common and water use restrictions are being imposed. The rain that came through the area Wednesday and Thursday night accounted for about half an inch, leaving a deficit of about eight inches so far this year.
As heat and drought ravage Middle Tennessee, utility departments say customers and their habits are forcing them to begin enacting voluntary water restrictions. Despite record-low water levels at sources such as Percy Priest Lake, there are no significant water shortages. An unusually dry June has put most of Tennessee into a severe drought during what was supposed to be one of the rainier months. Coupled with record-breaking heat, the dry conditions have pushed water demand close to the limit for the number of gallons many water utility districts can pump in one day.
Dry conditions across Rutherford County and the rest of the Midstate have local water districts pleading with customers to voluntarily cut water usage until area rivers and lakes can be replenished. The four districts — Consolidated Utility and those operated by Murfreesboro, Smyrna and La Vergne governments — all draw their water from the Percy Priest Lake. Murfreesboro also uses the Stones River for its water. “We really want to get people thinking about the way they use water. I don’t think we’ve ever had a restriction in place that I remember,” said Smyrna Town Manager Mark O’Neal, adding the town’s emergency policy dictates adopting a restriction when the lake reaches 486 feet.
Employment statistics. Stock market gyrations. Debates on stimulus packages. All of these fill headlines in challenging economic times. Remember, there is more to life. Civic leaders and politicians get so caught up in economics and jobs they forget this larger picture. In our own lives we don’t forget. A memorable concert, an outstanding arts festival, a great movie all are examples of how most of us seek out some kind of artistic expression to give our lives deeper moments of joy and introspection. The arts can be as simple as a grandchild’s scribbles or a touching moment on nighttime television.
Judge Don Ash was appointed this week by the Tennessee Supreme Court as a senior judge. Ash, who always balanced rock solid ethics with his ability to carefully preside over high-profile cases, was a clear choice. In his 18 years of banging the gavel in Circuit Court, Ash has been strict but fair. He’ll step down from the 16th Judicial District effective Sept. 1, but will continue to serve in Circuit Court until Gov. Bill Haslam appoints someone to fill his spot until the 2014 election. Even people who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of court system will likely know Ash for his handling of some of the biggest trials in the county.