This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed McKamey Animal Center Executive Director Karen Walsh to the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. For the next five years, Walsh, who also serves as the regional director for the Animal Control Association and as treasurer for the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, will serve as a representative of the licensed veterinary medical technicians on the board.
Tax free weekend is underway and Knox shoppers are taking advantage of major back-to-school bargains. Families across the city braved the traffic and crowds to cash in on tax free savings. “We have to take advantage of the tax free weekend,” said Mikki Jacobs, a mother of two. The Jacobs family joined the crowds at Target at Turkey Creek to save money on their long list of school supplies. “We normally spend about $100 per kid on school supplies so that will be about $9 (in savings),” Jacobs said.
Sales tax holiday weekend is here. Friday’s bargain-hunting shoppers were out in force, saving big and small — with the most dramatic savings on electronics like computers and tablets, and smaller, but still significant, savings on clothing, school supplies and other basics. The statewide tax-free shopping, which saves you 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent on the included categories, continues until midnight Sunday.
Office Depot was humming with activity. Cars were pulling in and out of the lot, shoppers were browsing through the aisles and the employees running the cash register were doing their best to keep the lines of people moving. The annual sales tax holiday in Tennessee started with a bang. The sales tax holiday has been going on since 2006, and saves shoppers an estimated $8 million to $10 million over the weekend. The holiday ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
Uniforms were a popular item on shopping lists at Jackson businesses, including Kmart and J.C. Penney, which welcomed back-to-school shoppers to their stores Friday morning for the first day of Tennessee’s tax-free shopping weekend. Ricky Stewart, assistant manager at Kmart, said employees have been working for a few weeks to clear school supplies and uniform pieces out of the stockroom. He said the store opened for business at 10 a.m. and was much busier than it was during the tax-free weekend in 2011.
Tax-Free Weekend kicked off Friday, giving shoppers discounts on clothing, school supplies and computers. Tiffany Sanders was shopping Friday afternoon at J. C. Penny’s to get her kids ready to go back to school. “They have got good deals, and I’ve got three kids,” Sanders said, “It’s good, so we got good deals and tax free so it works out for everybody. It saves a bunch of money, a lot. Tambre Abbot traveled all the way from Paris to shop for back to school items at Penny’s.
Tennessee residents expressed their concerns about health conditions that need to be covered by the state’s essential health benefits plan during an outreach meeting conducted by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance on Friday in Jackson. The department also will continue to accept comments from the public by mail or e-mail until next Friday on the state’s health care issues. About 40 people attended the forum on essential health benefits, which was led by Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak and held at Jackson State Community College on Friday afternoon.
The years-long court battle over Fisk University’s right to sell a stake in its art collection is officially over. The final order was entered yesterday, setting up how Fisk and the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas will share the famous Stieglitz Collection. According to attorneys representing Fisk, the university will hold on to the 101 pieces of art until Fall of 2013, when they will make their first of many trips to Bentonville, Arkansas. The collection will reside at the museum of Wal-mart heiress Alice Walton for two years and then return.
Sometime next fall, the Alfred Stieglitz collection, Fisk University’s renowned art exhibit, will be packed up into crates and trundled off to Arkansas. It will stay there for two years as part of a sharing agreement that, until recently, was caught up in what appeared to be an unyielding battle between ownership rights and financial distress. The university, which has long run a $2 million annual deficit, agreed to sell half ownership rights of its $74 million Alfred Stieglitz collection for $30 million to a museum opened last fall in Bentonville, Ark., controlled by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, according to an agreement filed in Davidson County Chancery Court.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing the death of an inmate found Wednesday in a Monroe County transport van. The inmate was being taken from Florida to Ohio on warrants and is believed to have died in Georgia, according to TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. An autopsy will determine the cause of death. The inmate’s name is not being released until the family is notified. The district attorney general asked the TBI to investigate the death. Helm said when it’s complete, TBI will turn the case file over to the DA for review.
University of Memphis President Shirley Raines has called for an investigation into allegations that the decision to cut funding for the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, was based on disapproval of its content. Instead of its usual $75,000, the paper is set to receive only $50,000 from the university for the 2012-2013 academic year. The decision to reduce the Helmsman’s budget by 33 percent was made by the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee, a committee made up of three students and four faculty members tasked with disbursing just over $1.5 million dollars to various student organizations.
Judge Betty Adams Green announced her retirement today, closing a 14-year stretch on the Davidson County Juvenile bench. “After 47 years, it’s just the right time,” Green said, adding that she’s looking forward to spending time with her eight grandchildren. “And I’ll even have some time to some volunteer work, which I haven’t had the time to do in years.” Green, 66, started her career as a teacher at an all-girls correction school in Tullahoma, Tenn., and over the following four decades, she worked with disadvantaged and at-risk youth in a range of capacities.
State Rep. Debra Maggart’s challenge from Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers — a relative unknown with major backing from the National Rifle Association — was perhaps the closest watched race in the business community. One operative called it “ground zero” in the fight to show that business interests can guard allies against assaults from other interest groups. As such, the aftermath also is critical.
But lawmaker’s defeat may not help bills’ chances While passion about gun rights contributed to the defeat of state Rep. and House Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart on Thursday, her ouster may not dramatically change how the legislature addresses Second Amendment rights — at least not in the near future. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the legislature and its leaders will try to respect the rights of property and gun owners when they consider this type of legislation next spring.
Tennessee House District 32 will have a new representative in Nashville. Rep. Julia Hurley lost Thursday’s Republican primary after serving one term. Former Roane County Commissioner Kent Calfee took 55% of the vote, while Hurley garnered 45%. Hurley and Calfee say they have not spoken to one another since the results came in and don’t intend to either. They’re each trying to look to the future instead. Kent Calfee says he had a feeling Thursday night’s numbers would come out in his favor.
Someone new will be serving in Tennessee’s District Three House seat next year, Representative Scotty Campbell is retiring. Timothy Hill beat Kevin Parsons, Karen Morrell and Thomas White in last night for the Republican nomination. 11 Connects sat down with Hill today and asked him about his brother: District 7 State Representative, Matthew Hill. Timothy Hill says his brother inspired him to be in politics but it’s not the sole reason.
Thursday’s primary election upsets within the Republican-run Tennessee Legislature signal a new day is coming in the House of Representatives next year. As many as seven GOP incumbents took it on the chin in their district contests, including the House majority-party’s third-in-command, caucus chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville. Maggart, backed by the state Republican Party’s heaviest hitters, was convincingly defeated at the hands of a political novice, Courtney Rogers.
Slightly less than 127,000 Shelby County residents – or 21.6 percent of 584,443 registered voters – cast ballots in the Aug. 2 elections. The turnout in early voting and election day combined was a higher percentage than the 15 percent turnout four years ago in the same election cycle, but it was well below the 44-year high of 39.4 percent set in the August 1992 elections. The three countywide general election races were a return of incumbents – two who were appointed to their offices and a third seeking a second term – two Democrats and one Republican.
Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes had the total voter turnout more than covered late Thursday as the final one-third of the county’s precincts began to report and the local sales tax referendum that would have helped fund schools appeared likely to fail. Dykes somberly said it looked like less than 20 percent of voters would turn out for the state primary/county general election. In fact, only 15.4 percent of the county’s 74,255 registered voters bothered to vote, that’s all early, absentee and election day voters — 11,446 of them to be exact.
Voting machines in the 29 voting precincts were set, and the 350 Election Commission workers were trained and ready to assist voters during the August election. But voters simply did not show up, and voting machines were barely used. Vicki Koelman, administrator of elections, said Thursday was the worst voter turnout in 10 years for an August election. Only 2,897 people went to the polls in Montgomery County Thursday. Absentee voting and early voting totaled 3,947 people, making the turnout 6,844 people – just over 7 percent of registered voters.
By all appearances, Grayce Cabage is a lady who believes in playing by the rules. Her son, Bill Cabage, a science writer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, can attest to that after she made him show her a photo ID before she would allow him to vote Thursday afternoon. At age 92, Grayce Cabage has “worked every election forever,” her son said. Bill Cabage said that he had left work a little early Thursday to get to the polls and arrived at his precinct, the Maryville Municipal Building, “right at 5 o’clock.”
Historic election paves way for six new municipal school districts The unofficial vote totals are in from Thursday’s county general and state and federal primary elections in Shelby County, but no one involved believed the last cartridge read at the Shelby County Election Commission would be the last word on the results. Even with that certainty, there were some surprises. Voters in each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County approved establishing municipal school districts in the unofficial results of the Thursday, Aug. 2, county general and state and federal primary elections.
The Greene County School board has set back the start of the school year by a week after a wheel tax referendum failed. The Greeneville Sun reported the school board voted at a specially called meeting Friday morning to begin classes Aug. 15. The board vote was 5-2. Voters rejected the wheel tax proposal Thursday by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin. School board secretary Melissa Batson said registration is still Aug. 6, but classes won’t begin until Aug. 15. That will be after a scheduled Greene County Commission meeting on Monday.
Greene County school students will get an extra week of summer vacation while the school system works to fill a $1.2 million hole in the budget. Last night voters in Greene County resoundingly defeated a proposed wheel tax designed to address that shortfall. This morning the Greene County Board of Education struggled with remaining options. Some of the alternatives — cuts to teacher benefits, no salary increases, elimination of sports programs and the possible closure of Glenwood Elementary.
Voter rejection of the proposed wheel tax to fund school projects left education officials looking for a plan B on Friday.”I totally understand not wanting a tax,” said Martin Ringstaff, city schools director. He also thanked those who voted for the $32 tax. “The growth of the city is not going away,” he said. “Our next step is to meet as a school board, discuss our options and talk to the City Council.
Final inspection expected Tuesday The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque passed every inspection but one Friday, and that final water pump test will take place early next week, ICM Board Chairman Essam Fathy said. “We passed all the inspections the county had,” said Fathy, a founding member of a 30-year congregation that has faced fierce opposition, vandalism, threats and lawsuits over construction of the mosque. He expects the congregation will obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy for the building on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike following Tuesday’s water pump test.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro did not get final approval to move into its new building today as members had hoped. Officials with the mosque say a problem with the sprinkler system held up an inspection, but they’re still optimistic about opening the doors soon. The mosque has faced numerous setbacks over the last two years, including vandalism and arson at the construction site, and a lengthy court fight. Last month a federal judge ruled the approval process shouldn’t hold off any longer.
The NAACP is looking for patterns of racial discrimination in Coopertown before deciding whether to ask prosecutors to launch an investigation into a reserve police officer’s racial slurs against a black motorist, an organization official said Friday. Walter Searcy, chairman of the Tennessee NAACP’s legal redress committee, said it probably will be a few days before the organization decides how to proceed. He said the NAACP is taking the incident seriously and is researching all of its options.
The Tennessee Democratic Party is disavowing the nomination of Mark Clayton to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, saying the little-known candidate belongs to a hate group. Clayton, a floor installer, received twice the votes of his nearest competitor in a seven-candidate Democratic primary Thursday. The party said in a statement Friday that Clayton is associated with a known hate group in Washington, D.C., and the party “disavows his candidacy.”
Mark Clayton defended his work for anti-gay group The party of Cordell Hull, Estes Kefauver, and Al Gore Sr. and Jr. won’t have a standard-bearer — or at least not one it can stomach — in Tennessee’s next U.S. Senate race. Less than 24 hours after a man espousing conservative and libertarian views surprised the state’s political scene by winning the Democratic nomination, the Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed him, saying he’s part of an anti-gay hate group.
One day after an anti-gay activist unexpectedly captured state Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination, embarrassed Tennessee Democratic Party officials denounced their new nominee for being “associated with a known hate group.”Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Friday urged Democrats to wage a write-in campaign “for a candidate of their choice” in the Nov. 6 general election.
Democrats are disavowing the candidate who became the party’s nominee to face Sen. Bob Corker. Mark Clayton received the most votes, despite running virtually no campaign. The Tennessee Democratic Party is admitting that none of its candidates were able to “gain statewide visibility” running against Corker, who is widely popular. Clayton happened to be at the top of the alphabetical list. According to the Tennessee Secretary of State, Clayton had twice as many votes as anyone else in the field.
The Hamilton County Election Commission found 25 more votes for Todd Gardenhire in Tennessee’s Senate District 10 race Friday, and now his competitor, Greg Vital, wants a total recount. The votes, products of an electronic uploading error from voting machines, brought Gardenhire’s lead to 40 votes in the district. Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden said the uploading error from a machine in the Eastdale precinct didn’t count the votes for five candidates there, including Gardenhire.
Friday afternoon, Scottie Mayfield conceded in the 3rd district Congressional race to incumbent Chuck Fleischmann. Thursday night, Mayfield refused to concede on the advice of campaign staffers who thought there might have been a voting problem in Hamilton County.But Friday, Mayfield called to congratulate Fleischmann. Congressman Fleischmann got 39 percent of the vote. Mayfield received 31 percent. Challenger Weston Wamp had 28 percent.
Scottie Mayfield gave up the fight Friday and conceded the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. “Tomorrow I’m going to get on my tractor for the first time in four months,” the runner-up said Friday. “I’m ready to get back to the old normalcy as opposed to the more recent normalcy.” The dairy executive’s concession clears the way for Fleischmann to run against Democratic nominee Mary Headrick. Independent candidate and Army veteran Matthew Deniston also will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Businessman Brad Staats declared victory in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District on Friday after a count of provisional ballots showed there was no way for his main rival to overcome a 44-vote deficit in Thursday’s tallies. Vote totals compiled by the state showed Staats received 5,459 votes to 5,415 for Bob Ries as they and three others fought for the right to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in November.
A new veterans clinic in Sevierville will open in a little more than a month, and there is still room for more veterans to sign up for service. The new VA clinic will feature wellness and mental health care. The new facility that has dozens of observation rooms along with space for doctors and nurses. Public Affairs Officer Judy Fowler-Argo said the Sevier County clinic has been in the works for years and that an agreement between the VA and Sevier County helped make it possible.
Nation’s unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent in July Another lackluster jobs report for the nation promises Memphis and the Mid-South will continue to sputter along. Economic fortunes here tend to rise and fall with the country’s, but the U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 8.3 percent in July from 8.2 percent in June, government analysts said Friday. About 163,000 new jobs emerged nationwide in July, the most in three months, but far shy of the 300,000 to 400,000 new positions per month common during the 1990s’ economic roll.
Executives at the Tennessee Valley Authority say they haven’t planned to raise power rates anytime soon. That’s because natural gas and coal prices remain low., but TVA’s Chief Financial Officer says warm weather has wreaked havoc on the utility’s bottom line. This summer’s heatwave means TVA is selling more electricity to power companies. In the last three months, the public utility racked up nearly 2.8 billion dollars in sales.
A strong third quarter, helped by increased revenue from power sales, was not enough for the Tennessee Valley Authority to overcome two weak quarters driven by mild weather and a sluggish economy. TVA on Friday released its financial results for the quarter ended June 30, reporting a net loss of $290 million for the first nine months of fiscal 2012, compared with a net loss of $35 million in the same period last year. However, third quarter operating revenues were $2.8 billion compared to $2.7 billion the previous year — a 5 percent increase.
A huge security shake-up is under way at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, underscored Friday evening with a statement from Energy Secretary Steven Chu regarding the “unacceptable and deeply troubling breach” that occurred last weekend when antiwar protesters infiltrated the Oak Ridge plant’s high-security core. Chu said security guards involved in the incident have been suspended and three members of the leadership team at the government’s security contractor — WSI-Oak Ridge — have been removed from their positions, including General Manager Lee Brooks.
Two of three protesters who sneaked into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant last weekend and defaced the exterior of the Oak Ridge plant’s bomb-grade uranium storehouse with anti-war messages are free tonight. Sister Megan Rice, 82, of Las Vegas, Nev. and Michael Walli, 63, of Washington, D.C., were set free from the Blount County Jail with a federal magistrate’s approval. Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, of Duluth, Minn., remained in custody. The trio face new charges of felony destruction of property filed by the federal government.
Two of a trio of protestors in an incident at the Y-12 National Security Complex were ordered released from custody Friday. Michael Walli, 63, Sister Megan Rice, 92, and Gregory Boertje-Obed, 57, were back in federal court in Knoxville for a hearing on their detainment. They were charged with trespassing at Y-12 and defacing a building on July 28. Federal prosecutors had maintained the activists were a threat to the community and should be considered a flight risk.
Three nuclear weapons protestors accused of breaking into Y-12 and vandalizing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge now face a criminal complaint that calls for felony charges. On July 28 at around 3:00 a.m., 63-year-old Michael Walli, 57-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, and 82-year-old nun Meegan Rice were arrested outside the Highly Enriched Uranium Material Facility (HEUMF) at Y-12 in Oak Ridge. The trio are supporters of the “Transform Now Plowshares” peace movement that opposes nuclear weapons.
Erlanger has signed a contract to pay a search firm up to $195,000, plus expenses, to find a new CEO for the hospital. Dr. Phylis Miller, the Erlanger Health System trustee who is heading the search committee, said the group hopes to hire the new CEO within a few months. “We haven’t given them a certain timeframe but hope to make a final selection in four to six months,” Miller said.
A collaboration used in Tennessee hospitals to improve surgical outcomes is gaining national recognition for its effectiveness as the group more than doubles the number of hospitals involved. “[Tennessee] is absolutely a standout,” said Clifford Ko, the director of the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program and professor of surgery at the University of California. “It is not always so easy to get a group together to work on this issue. Tennessee has been able to do that.”
Invista may cut up to 80 jobs, about 20 percent of its workforce, at its Chattanooga plant in coming months, citing market conditions and reduced military contracts for one of its products. But the fiber and polymer manufacturer said it’s investing more than $10 million at the North Access Road site as it installs new boilers as a fuel source for production. The company also said in a news release that Michel Lebrun is the new site manager at the plant, which originally was built and owned by DuPont.
Donna Perkins’ classroom is stocked with whiteboards, desks and computers, but little else. It will take a massive amount of work to make her room as bright and welcoming as those of other teachers at Clifton Hills Elementary School, but the first-year fourth-grade teacher finds one consolation in the task ahead. “The positive thing about having nothing is I can make it my own,” she said while looking up and down her bare walls. By Thursday, Perkins already had spent more than $400 out of her own wallet to buy storage items for her room and supplies for her students because she wasn’t sure how many would show up with supplies of their own.
They look like the real thing, even up close. Phony drivers’ licenses from overseas have swamped bars and clubs around the University of Tennessee campus — so many some bars now ask for two kinds of identification. For teenagers, they’re a license to drink and to party. For police and for bar owners, they’re a neverending headache. “I’ve seen trained law enforcement officers look at them and not spot the difference,” said Trevor Hill, owner of The Hill bar on Forest Avenue in Fort Sanders.
When the music business and the world of politics collide, it usually makes a pretty loud noise. Most remember the jab the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines made toward President George Bush on the eve of the second war in Iraq (“We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas”). Lipton Tea pulled its sponsorship, and most fans pulled their support. Nashville singer-songwriter John Rich awkwardly waded into the gay marriage discussion (“I think if you legalize that, you’ll need to legalize some other things that are pretty unsavory”) and later issued an apology — all of which reportedly created heartburn at his label, Warner Bros. But the newest example is playing out right now, and right here in Middle Tennessee.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann didn’t hesitate Thursday night to call his triumph in the Republican primary “a great victory.” His political embellishment aside, it was anything but that. And it certainly was no mandate to continue the dismal performance and the stale political positions he displayed over the past 20 months of his first term. Fleischmann virtually foundered Thursday in his home county — the 3rd Congressional District’s most populous county, and the source of 48 percent of the total primary vote in the 3rd District. Though he lives in Ooltewah, he couldn’t win a majority of the vote here. His 14,208 votes — a number surpassed by Weston Wamp — constituted just 38.84 percent of the 36,573 votes tallied in this county’s GOP primary.
The July 27 op-ed, “Weakened Lacey Act would hurt state,” by Donna Millard of McMinnville Manufacturing, a maker of hardwood flooring, expresses strong opposition to any attempt to modify the Lacey Act. Enacted in 1900 to protect endangered species, the Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to require extensive reporting of all non-domesticated plant and animal components imported into the United States. The amendments were attached to an omnibus farm bill, and as a result received far less scrutiny and debate than if it had been a free-standing piece of legislation. The amendments were designed to protect the environment, in part by stopping the import of illegally harvested wood.
Memorial Hospital’s chief executives predictably view their stalemated talks for a new insurance contract on reimbursements differently than do Blue Cross Blue Shield officials. Blue Cross leaders say they are working to keep down hospital charges and reimbursements, and that Memorial is demanding excessive charges that flout the public interest in cost control. Memorial’s leaders contend the hospital deserves an 8.5 percent increase in reimbursements because health care industry costs continue to rise, and because their hospital — and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, a Denver-based 76-hospital chain — need to keep its profit margins healthy, and bring them up to corporate expectations.