This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s highest elected leader plans to spend time this weekend gabbing with other governors about how best to proceed with President Obama’s sweeping health care law. “To be honest with you, I’m sure that will be the topic du jour,” Gov. Bill Haslam said of the 104th Annual Meeting of the National Governors Association, scheduled for July 12 through 15 in Williamsburg, Va. The governor is scheduled to travel there on Friday. Haslam has said his administration is still wading through last month’s ruling from a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court.
Tennessee’s governor has signed an executive order, allowing farmers to haul larger loads of hay, as they try to feed their livestock during the drought. “What started out as a very promising year has quickly turned devastating for many farmers, who are facing a short supply of hay due to the drought,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “This order will help ensure that hay can be shipped safely and without delay across the state as needed.” The order allows for an increase in gross vehicle weight to 95,000 pounds, not exceeding 20,000 pounds per axle load, for semi-truck/trailers.
Governor Bill Haslam will visit Perry County tomorrow, Thursday, July 12, to make an announcement related to a Tennessee Department of Transportation-administered program. The public is invited to the 3:30 p.m. event at the Perry County Courthouse. The Governor’s announcement will be made on the courthouse lawn, said TDOT spokesperson Deanna Lambert, or moved inside in case of rain. No other information was available from state or local officials concerning the exact nature of the visit.
In a roomful of state education and business leaders that met at the Governor’s mansion this week, the discussion about higher education reform was nautical-themed. Economists talked about Tennessee “treading water” while other states and countries zoom by with improving education. Gov. Bill Haslam referred to reforming higher education as an “everyone in the boat” process. One speaker said it would take “all hands on deck” to repair the gap between higher education and the workforce.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam kicked off a series of discussions on education reform Tuesday by noting the need for a new way of measuring the state’s higher-education efforts, Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The first priority, Haslam told a crowd of academic and business officials, is asking what businesses are not getting out of college graduates. Before deciding whether to propose a package of legislation for the next session of the General Assembly, Haslam said he will host seven regional round-table discussions about education reform, according to the News Sentinel.
Tennessee’s state tax revenues are up over half a billion dollars above original estimates for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, state finance officials reported Wednesday. Total fiscal year-to-date revenue collections were $554 million more than the budgeted estimates state officials made last December in the middle of the fiscal year. The state’s general fund, which pays for most state operations other than transportation, is up more than $540 million above estimates and $331 million above spending levels set for the revised state budget for fiscal year 2011-12.
State officials have awarded a $69.3 million contract to build a new, four-lane bridge over the Tennessee River at the Fort Loudoun Dam and widen a section of U.S. Highway 321. Two companies submitted bids for the project that includes three bridges and straightening U.S. Highway 321 that now goes over the dam on the J. Carmichael Greer Bridge. Those bids were opened June 15. On June 28, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation regional spokesman Mark Nagi, state officials opted to award the job to Charles Blalock and Sons of Sevierville.
The last three inmates at Taft Youth Development Center left the 95-year-old facility under a cloudy dawn sky Wednesday, signifying the end of an era. For nearly 10 decades, Taft has been the state’s primary facility for its most troubled youth, but over the years, officials say, it also became the most expensive to operate. Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day proposed the closure of the Pikeville center last November after Gov. Bill Haslam called for across-the-board departmental budget cuts.
More attorneys in Tennessee are performing free, or pro bono, work for clients. That’s according to new data from the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which show that more than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing pro bono work for deserving clients. The percentage is up 6 percent from last year. Not only that – it’s the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report their pro bono work in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year.
More than a year after the issue was first raised, state inspectors are still warning the county it could be sued if someone is injured in the Rutherford County jail while its towers aren’t properly staffed. This year, an inspector from the Tennessee Corrections Institute used even stronger language referencing the issue at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, specifically mentioning that “liability” on the county “may be increasing” as the problem lingers without resolution.
Republicans hope to maintain their hold on the 18th Senate District, but they will have to contend with a redistricting plan that has removed the office’s current holder from consideration and left the seat up for grabs. Redistricting removed Robertson County, swapping it out for smaller Trousdale County and portions of the Hermitage neighborhood in Nashville. The realignment removes incumbent Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, from the race and raises the importance of Sumner County, home to about 80 percent of the district’s residents and all five of its candidates.
While early voting for the August elections begins Friday, the big money is on the November state races, with one candidate holding close to a quarter-million dollars in campaign donations. Mark Green, the Republican candidate for the state Senate District 22 seat, raised $134,575 in the second quarter and now has $224,922. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes by contrast came into the quarter with only $29,312 and raised $63,354. His total is now $80,341. Barnes told The Leaf-Chronicle that state law barred him from raising funds while the the Legislature was in session from January through April.
Republican Greg Vital swept second-quarter fundraising in the state’s 10th Senate District GOP primary, reaping $120,425 versus $17,850 for rival Todd Gardenhire, state filings show. Tennessee Registry of Election Finance reports, filed Tuesday, also show Democratic 10th District hopeful Andraé McGary raised $10,797 during the April 1-June 30 reporting period. “We’ve been having to prove to people that we’re in this, that this isn’t a throwaway race,” McGary said. Neither of the two other Democrats running in the Aug. 2 primary, Quenston Coleman and David Testerman, filed financial disclosures by Tuesday’s deadline.
State Senate Republican candidate Greg Vital apologized Wednesday for “misleading” people into thinking he’s a college graduate, but that didn’t stop his rivals from questioning his credibility on everything else. “There’s been too many opportunities for him to correct this mistake in the past,” said Todd Gardenhire, Vital’s opponent in Tennessee’s 10th Senate District Republican primary. “The issue is that, one way or another, my opponent misled everybody until he was pinned down.”
Early voting begins Friday in Aug. 2 primary election Voters will begin casting ballots Friday as the early voting period for the Aug. 2 election gets under way. In Williamson County a three-way battle for a new Tennessee House of Representatives seat is likely to intensify as polling begins. The 65th District, created as a result of the growth revealed in the 2010 Census, is likely to send a new Williamson County Republican to Nashville, making this primary an important battle between the three GOP candidates: Jeremy Durham, Dennis Kiser and Kenny Young.
An event held week before last in Cordova emphasized not only the current fact of Republican domination of suburban Shelby County but of the never-say-die attitude of core Democrats in that neck of the woods. A fund-raiser for County Commission District 1, Position 3 candidate Steve Ross at the home of David and Diane Cambron morphed into a show-and-tell for Ross and two other long-odds Democratic hopefuls — Tim Dixon, a candidate in the Democratic primary for Congress in the 8th District; and Candis Schoenberger, who is seeking something even chancier: her party’s nomination as a write-in candidate to oppose incumbent state representative Curry Todd in District 95 (East Shelby County).
All three sitting State House members for the Clarksville/Montgomery County area are unopposed for the Aug. 2 state primary. The three area representatives are Rep. Joe Pitts (D), Rep. Curtis Johnson (R) and Rep. John Tidwell (D). All three have said that they have a good working relationship with one another and have allied on key issues for the city, county and post. Only Tidwell is expected to face opposition for the Nov. 6 General Election, from either councilman Nick Steward or Lauri Day.
Voters should be getting new voter registration cards this week with information about what districts they reside in, which they will need to know when casting their vote. Election Administrator Nicole Lester and her staff mailed out the first 25,000 cards Tuesday with hopes of getting the rest out by today in advance of Friday’s start of early voting. Some “131,000 registered voters will be getting a new card,” Lester said. Voters who don’t receive their new cards in time can still vote by showing up at one of the early voting sites with a federal or state government-issued photo ID.
During the next several years, officials in Brentwood expect water crews to be able to read every water meter in the city with the push of a button. The same system also would help find leaky pipes and even notify property owners if there’s a spike in the amount of water they’re using.The technology will cost $2.5 million, and though Assistant City Manager Kirk Bednar says he isn’t sure how much money it might save taxpayers, he says the service would be incredible. In Gallatin, overall investment in technology has flat-lined, according to Matt Foley, an information technology technician for the city.
Three East Tennessee drug task forces are cited in a new state report for, among other things, accounting deficiencies, using federal Recovery Act money inappropriately and misusing a fuel card. According to the annual report from State Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, the 3rd Judicial District group, which consists of Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties, failed to keep proper track of monies, failed to properly record and manage seized property and failed to maintain adequate documentation to support some confidential informant expenditures.
A judge has stepped aside from deciding whether the Knoxville News Sentinel must comply with a subpoena from the Knox County mayor for records of visitors to the newspaper office. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is seeking the records as part of his divorce case. The newspaper filed a petition to have the subpoena dismissed. The subpoena asks for paper logs and surveillance video of News Sentinel visitors between May 15 and June 24. A June 24 story reported questionable spending in the mayor’s campaign account, including payments of more than $15,000 to his wife, Allison.
A community meeting designed to answer questions for the freshly annexed residents of South Cordova devolved into a shouting match, with angry residents hurling questions — and often invective — at Memphis officials. “Nobody ever promised me a rose garden in politics,” said Mayor A C Wharton following the Wednesday evening meeting at the Bert Ferguson Community Center. “This comes with the territory. I respect them fully and I know why they are concerned. It’s just another showing of democracy and I understand it.”
The Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council meets today to discuss how and when local money will be needed to break ground for a proposed 108-bed living facility in Bradley County. Work on the veterans home, which has waited more than three years to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, may start sooner than many officials anticipated. “All of a sudden, things are moving faster than we expected,” said Larry McDaris, director of veterans services for Bradley County.
Federal Reserve officials sent new signals they are seriously considering more actions to bolster the economic recovery but disappointed many investors by not indicating they are committed to taking action. A few Fed officials were ready to move aggressively when the Fed met in June and several others said they might want to take new measures if the recovery loses momentum or their growth and employment forecasts are cut once again. That is according to minutes of the central bank’s June 19-20 meeting, which were released Wednesday with their usual three-week lag.
The white house on the hill seemed almost perfect when Lewis Williams and his wife bought it two years ago. A grove of tall trees encircle the swimming pool in the Forest Hills backyard. The trees provide plenty of shade for his young children and a natural wall blocking the view of a nearby Tennessee Valley Authority transmission tower. But Williams fears someday soon his trees will be just a memory. TVA already has cut down his neighbors’ trees that stand in the right of way of the towers owned by the power giant.
Tennessee has lost a healthy chunk of its manufacturing employment base since the recession began but at least it wasn’t alone in its losses. In fact, every U.S. state lost manufacturing jobs from May 2007 to May 2012, according to a new On Numbers analysis. Tennessee ranked 39th for its raw job loss of 68,000. The state had 311,400 manufacturing jobs in May compared to 379,400 in May 2007. In percentage terms, the Volunteer State also ranked 39th for losing about 17.92 percent of its manufacturing jobs.
The state Board of Education will consider the controversial proposal from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy to bring five K-12 charter schools to Nashville at an appeals hearing on Tuesday. The appeals hearing will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education meeting room at the administration headquarters on Bransford Avenue. The board will hear from district officials who will offer justification for why the Nashville school board twice voted to reject Great Hearts’ proposal.
A federal judge in Memphis is expected to rule on whether voters in six Shelby County municipalities should be allowed to decide if they want their own school districts. U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Mays scheduled a Thursday hearing about a planned Aug. 2 referendum in the Shelby County suburbs of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. The six municipalities are seeking voter approval to form their own public school districts and avoid becoming part of the merger between the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, which are set to combine in 2013.
Among the hundreds of pages U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays received late Wednesday arguing over the validity of municipal school referendums are speculative but intriguing assertions by the City of Memphis and its City Council. Although it is among the secondary reasons why the city wants Mays to conclude a hearing Thursday morning with an order stopping the referendums, Memphis is claiming it wants to retain its right to create its own municipal school district, even after voting to dissolve its special school district last year.
When U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Hardy Mays gets to the motion to stop the municipal school districts referendums Thursday, July 12, he should have a thicker file and something close to 20 attorneys on his side of the bar. Motions and memoranda from the 15 parties in the case, the newest being the Shelby County Election Commission, were due in the federal court clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Wednesday. In short order at Monday’s status conference, Mays continued his courtroom custom of having only one attorney speak for each side even when several might represent the same client.
Officials with Washington County schools have cut more than $2 million from the proposed 2012-13 school year budget, reducing it to $62 million. Included in the cuts were 25 additional instructional assistants at a combined cost of $500,000, $100,000 in regular instruction costs, two additional school resource officers at a cost of $50,000, $200,000 in fuel costs and additional groundskeeping positions totaling $35,000. In June, the Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee rejected the proposed $64 million budget presented by the school system and told it not to exceed $61 million in next year’s budget.
Haywood County Schools Superintendent Marlon King informed the School Board during a meeting Tuesday night that he will resign from his position to take a job with the state. King has served as the school system’s superintendent for three years and was hired after working in Fayette County, said board Chairman Harold Garrett. Last month, the board was considering a raise for King that would have made his salary $108,209, Garrett said. The measure was not taken up for vote. “We’re grateful for his service,” Garrett said Wednesday.
Retire Tennessee is an ongoing program of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development that could benefit communities in the Jackson area. But to date, only Hardin County has chosen to participate. Other West Tennessee counties near Jackson would be smart to take advantage of the program. The state is trying to attract retirees. Tennessee has much to offer the nation’s growing supply of baby boomers looking for a good place to spend their golden years. Raising Tennessee’s profile and attractiveness to retires and those who are planning for retirement is the goal of Retire Tennessee.
Mid-South residents should be outraged at the news that current or former teachers in some area schools may have cheated to obtain their teaching licenses. That possibility was revealed Tuesday when U.S. Atty. Ed Stanton announced a 45-count federal indictment against Clarence Mumford, charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, document fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Mumford, a former assistant principal at Humes Junior High School and now a guidance counselor with the Hughes, Ark., school district, is charged with acting as a broker for dozens of teachers and aspiring teachers in Memphis, Arkansas and Mississippi who allegedly paid Mumford $1,500 to $3,000 to arrange for others to take their licensing exams.
On the late June day when the University of Tennessee’s board of trustees was meeting in tranquility, all hell was breaking loose at the University of Virginia over the firing of its president, who was immensely popular with faculty and students. While U.Va.’s board has since reinstated President Teresa Sullivan, the concerns that prompted her dismissal haven’t gone away. A now-public exchange of e-mails between key members of the board reveals that foremost of these concerns was the pace at which the university was pursuing the development of online courses—or rather the lack of same.
On Sunday, The Daily News Journal published a story that outlined the variety in religious architecture in Rutherford County. The diversity in architecture highlighted for us the diversity in faith that is so evident here. The article reflected several different approaches to Christian church architecture as well as architecture of Rutherford’s houses of worship for Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. The Hindu altar. The gong at the Lao Buddhist Temple. The dome at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The stained glass at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. These architectural details are symbolic of the religious diversity that is part of the collective strength of Rutherford County’s religious community.
How different would conditions be today economically and politically if unemployment were 7 percent instead of its current 8.2 percent? For one thing, some two million unemployed workers would have jobs, and the rate of economic growth would be comfortably above 2 percent, instead of below that pace. This scenario could have been possible if federal aid to states had been bolstered, saving hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs. Mr. Obama can make a convincing case that his policies — especially the stimulus and auto industry rescue — helped cushioned the effects of the recession he inherited, which pushed the jobless rate from an already elevated 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 10 percent by October 2009.