This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam met with area business and education leaders in a roundtable discussion on business and higher education relationships on the campus of Tennessee Tech on Tuesday. The talk is the sixth in a series of meetings held across the state focusing on positive collaborations between educators and business leaders and ways to help match student skills with business needs. “We could have a lot of conversations about increasing the number of graduates, holding down tuition costs, increasing the quality of our graduates and so sort, but (this) conversation is really about how to make certain that we are providing the workforce that we need,” Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced the appointments of seven new members to Tennessee’s higher education boards. Among the seven was Jackson State Community College’s Bob Raines, who will serve as a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, according to a news release. The other six appointments were: Evan Cope and Adam Jarvis will serve as new members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; Vicky Gregg, Shalin Shah and Victoria Steinberg will serve as new members of the University of Tennessee board of trustees; and Ashley Humphrey to serve at TBR.
Graduating seniors improved their scores in ACT results released this week, and local school officials say they’re looking forward to better data this October. In Montgomery County, the 2012 composite score was 19.4 out of 36, which is up three-tenths of a point from 19.1 in 2011, according to data provided from ACT to the school system and shared with The Leaf-Chronicle. That’s a bit better than the state public schools composite of 19.2 percent, which rose from 19.0 the year before, according to the state Department of Education.
Schools with the lowest achievement scores or largest achievement gaps on the state’s standardized tests were designated as “, Haywood County, Henderson County, Humboldt, Huntingdon, Milan, McKenzie, McNairy County, Trenton and Weakley Focus” or “Priority” schools by the Tennessee Department of Education last week. Twenty-four out of 167 schools in West Tennessee earned the Focus status, which means the schools are among the 10 percent in the state with the largest achievement gaps between various subgroups of students.
Talks between Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and Speedway Motorsports haven’t led to a green flag for new state assistance at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I don’t have anything new for you. … Basically, there’s nothing new here,” Haslam administration spokesman Dave Smith said in an e-mail. After an estimated 50,000 or more seats appeared empty at BMS’ spring Sprint Cup race, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith met with Haslam to discuss potential state help for Tennessee’s largest outdoor sports venue.
Crissy Haslam, wife of Gov. Bill Haslam, and Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation President Theresa Carl said during a Shelbyville appearance on Tuesday that reading skills are crucial to a child’s education and development, and that the act of reading to a child is crucial to the development of reading skills. Haslam, during an event at Argie Cooper Public Library, said that her husband often hears about education and the need for an educated workforce from industries. Industries want an educated workforce to be available before they’ll invest in creating new jobs.
After a summer of weekend closures, construction on a section of Interstate 24 on Nashville’s east side should wrap up this weekend. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said a three-mile section of I-24 between I-40 and I-65 will be shut down at 9 p.m. on Friday and will be reopened by 5 a.m. Monday. That stretch has been closed for most weekends during the summer for major rehabilitation of two bridges over city streets. Then traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction overnights Monday through Wednesday to install reflectors that won’t interfere with snowplowing and to score the road shoulders.
A construction project that has hampered downtown interstate traffic most weekends this summer is drawing to a close. This weekend workers will wrap up the bridge overhaul on I-24, east of LP Field. Workers are done with the main task of laying down a couple hundred new concrete deck panels on the 50-year-old bridges. This weekend they’ll pave the new surface, put new concrete barriers around the edges and lay down new stripes. The transportation department’s B.J. Doughty says everything’s on track to finish as scheduled, and it looks like as budgeted.
Downtown traffic will be diverted throughout the weekend, thanks to a Tennessee Titans game and the Music City Festival and BBQ Championship. Starting Thursday morning, First Avenue N. from Demonbreun to Church Street, and Broadway between First and Second avenues, will be closed while participants in the BBQ Championship set up, according to a news release from Nashville Public Works. The festival, which includes live music and a classic car and motorcycle showcase on Second Avenue, is on Friday and Saturday.
The controversy surrounding Monday’s arrest of a former Faculty Senate chair during a meeting at Tennessee State University has spilled over into the search for a new school president. Former Faculty Senate chair and assistant professor Jane Davis, who has been critical of TSU interim president Portia Shields, was arrested after refusing to leave a Faculty Senate meeting Monday morning. She was charged with disorderly conduct. After Davis was escorted to the campus police department, the Faculty Senate voted to remove Davis from her chair position.
Two lawyers named to a state panel to decide whether Tennessee’s system for selecting judges meets constitutional muster also lead a group that lobbies against judicial elections. George H. Brown and William Muecke Barker are both listed as board members of Tennesseans for Fair and Impartial Courts, an organization that fights against “misguided individuals and groups … pushing to replace our merit based system with state-wide partisan elections.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court has reiterated that workers’ compensation lawsuits can be filed only after the state has officially declared that a formal review could not resolve the differences between employer and worker. The dispute in Walter Word v. Metro Air Services stems from the 10:22 a.m. time stamp on the lawsuit filed by Word’s attorneys in Wilson County Chancery Court on Oct. 20 of last year. That was two minutes before the time that a Tennessee Department of Labor workers’ comp specialist stamped on her report noting the impasse between the two parties.
The Hamilton County public defender is laying groundwork for possible appeals to a higher court if a local judge refuses to recuse himself from her office’s cases. In court documents filed this week, both Public Defender Ardena Garth and Assistant Public Defender Mary Ann Green wrote that Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman “has created an environment in this Court of hostility and disrespect” toward their office. The public defenders claim the judge is biased against them for future cases based on a heated Aug. 14 hearing and a previously written opinion.
State lawmakers have cleared Tennessee State University of accusations of academic fraud. The panel reviewing the case says the problem at TSU was not grade-fixing, but a failure of communication. TSU administrators had been accused of changing 270 math grades from ‘incomplete’ to C’s. Actually, the students were graded as ‘incomplete’ for not doing some side work outside the main course. Officials decided they couldn’t require that extra work, and ended up letting the students keep whatever grade they had earned.
A special panel of members of the state Republican Party’s executive committee is meeting behind closed doors to consider an election challenge in a legislative primary race. The six-member subcommittee appointed by Chairman Chris Devaney was scheduled to meet in Nashville on Thursday morning to evaluate the challenge brought by Shirley Curry, who wants to overturn her four-vote loss in the House District 71 primary. Adam Nickas, the executive director of the party, wouldn’t say why the public wouldn’t be allowed to follow the hearing and declined to elaborate on the basis for Curry’s challenge.
The Knox County Charter Review Committee on Wednesday wrapped up its final meeting by signing off on two proposed amendments, both tied to term limits. That means voters in November’s election will now have the opportunity to change the county’s governing documents in seven places, ranging from minor tweaks to closing a controversial pension plan. “I know we haven’t always agreed on everything but this body has deliberated well … and I think what we have done is a job well done,” said committee Chairman Craig Leuthold.
Shelby County Atty. Kelly Rayne was grilled about the County Commission’s outside legal bills by Commissioner Terry Roland on Wednesday. “I’m hearing this all over my district. How can they take our tax dollars and sue us with it?” said Roland, who represents suburban and unincorporated areas of the county. He said he is now hearing from Memphis residents as well. At issue is a $128,509 bill from Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz for legal fees associated with the commission’s lawsuit to block the creation of municipal schools.
Countywide school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. filed suit against the Shelby County Election Commission Wednesday, Aug. 22, in the first of what are expected to be two election challenges. Whalum is specifically contesting his loss to Kevin Woods in the District 4 countywide school board race on the Aug. 2 ballot. The 108-vote margin between Woods and Whalum was certified Monday by the election commission as it made official the results in all of the primary and general election races on the ballot.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has written U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack with concerns about Horse Protection Act enforcement which he said “cause great uncertainty for the industry and this coming ‘Celebration.'” DesJarlais, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and its subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, has asked to meet with Vilsack and his staff to discuss the issues. DesJarlais claims that USDA has intimidated those in the industry from talking to their congressmen about the issue and refers to an allegation that if the industry went over the head of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Celebration would be shut down.
A delegation from the White House and several federal agencies is in Memphis this week to see how the city is mounting its war on youth violence. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Frayser — which has high rates of crime, teen pregnancy and poverty — will be “ground zero” in the fight. Wharton spoke as the city’s five-year plan of attack was unveiled Wednesday at the Urban Child Institute, where about 75 local and federal prosecutors and law enforcement as well as Washington officials and local clergy gathered.
Northeast Tennessee residents who suffered property damage from this month’s massive flooding will not receive federal financial assistance, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge announced this morning in a news conference. The Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled that the area did not meet the criteria for aid despite significant damage to scores of homes and other properties in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties. Damage from the Aug. 5 storm that brought at least four inches of rain in an hour to the region affected many homeowners in the Dry Creek community as well as residents and businesses in the Johnson City area.
A decision is expected this fall about how to clean up spilled power plant coal ash from two East Tennessee riverbeds. An estimated 500,000 cubic yards of ash remains at the bottom of the Emory and Clinch rivers nearly four years after a spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant. An Environmental Protection Agency official told residents at a community meeting Tuesday the choices are to leave the submerged ash alone, dredge it up or cap it. EPA cleanup project manager Craig Zeller said dredging would be the most expensive option and might disturb radioactive materials at the bottom of the rivers.
What price love? A cool $100,000 in deadly weapons and four months behind bars. U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips on Wednesday set Cheryl E. Hall free after a four-month stint in jail for a history of thievery motivated, in part, by her bid to woo her married TVA policeman paramour with expensive weaponry. Phillips sentenced Hall to time served for stealing from TVA, where she worked, and lying to a bankruptcy trustee. However, she may face state charges for another string of fraudulent loans — some of which were obtained even after she confessed to the federal thievery charges, court records show.
Heater manufacturer Ceramaspeed Inc. said Wednesday it will invest $3.5 million and add 40 new jobs in Blount County. According to a news release from the Blount Partnership, Ceramaspeed has purchased the German company Isphording and will relocate it into the former Klote International Facility, a 55,000-square foot industrial building on Henry G. Lane Street in Maryville. “Business has been very, very good the past two years, said David Kidd, Ceramaspeed vice president and general manager.
With auto and truck sales well on their way to recovering from record lows during the recession, some Nashville area dealers are confident enough to invest millions of dollars in new and improved facilities. Longtime truck dealer Mike Nacarato, whose firm once held the GMC truck franchise in Nashville, next week will move his Nacarato Volvo Trucks business to a new $8 million facility along Interstate 24 in LaVergne. Nacarato Volvo Trucks spent $12 million to buy 90 acres along Interstate 24 at Waldron Road in Rutherford County about four years ago to relocate the big-truck dealership from Polk Avenue in Nashville, where it has been for the past 23 years.
With auto and truck sales well on their way to recovering from record lows during the recession, some Nashville dealers are confident enough to invest millions of dollars in new and improved facilities. Legendary NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip said Wednesday that he’s adding a Buick-GMC franchise to his Honda, Volvo and Subaru dealership group in Franklin, spending $14 million on new buildings. And longtime local truck dealer Mike Nacarato, whose firm once held the GMC truck franchise in Nashville, next week will move his Nacarato Volvo Trucks business to a new $8 million facility along Interstate 24 in LaVergne.
The Regional Medical Center at Memphis plans to acquire a shell company for $350,000 to gain access to its certificate of need. The move, if successful, will allow The Med to build a long-term acute care hospital on its campus. The Med’s board approved the measure Thursday, but the final purchase is still contingent on action by the Tennessee Health Services Development Agency. The certificate of need The Med seeks to access expires on Jan. 1, 2013; hospital management hopes to receive state approval by the THSDA’s December meeting or get an extension of their request.
A former Cheatham County principal has sued the school system for what he calls an “unlawful transfer’’ after being reassigned to a teaching position. Tim Ray, who has been employed with the district for 26 years, filed the lawsuit in Cheatham County Chancery Court after learning he would be a teacher at Cheatham Academy, the district’s alternative school. Ray was removed as principal in June by former schools director Tim Webb. He is asking to be reinstated as Cheatham Academy principal and back pay for monetary losses as a result of his transfer.
“Tennessee ACT scores scrape bottom,” the headline in Wednesday’s Tennessean cried. Yeah, that hurts. But really, does it tell us something we didn’t know? First, while we all love ranking ourselves against other states, let’s get over worrying about where we stand with other states like Mississippi (barely ahead), Kentucky (barely behind) and Louisiana (quite frankly kicking sand in our face) that also require all graduates to take the ACT college readiness tests, and start paying attention to what the ACT is telling us about our schools and children. The information we glean from the onus of requiring all our graduates, regardless of post-secondary intentions, to take the ACT is important to helping us improve our schools.
Hamilton County students who took the ACT college entrance exam in 2012 improved their scores in every subject area. That’s an exciting and welcome report. The not so positive news is that despite the documented improvement, county students still trail their peers across the state and the nation. Of equal concern is that Tennessee — despite documented statewide improvement — is tied for second-to-last in the nation in overall ACT scores. Hamilton County had an average composite score of 18.9 on the 2012 test. That’s an improvement over 18.7 in 2011. Tennessee’s average composite score for 2012 is 19.7, up from 19.5 last year. Georgia students improved as well, scoring an average of 20.7 in 2012, an increase from 20.6 the previous year. The national average, though, is 21.1.
I have been teaching for nine years with Memphis City Schools. I love what I do, and I’m good at it. That may sound egotistical, but I have the data to back it up. It is not only my students’ test scores that are strong; they are also writing on a college level, completing deep, inquiry-based research and tracking their own growth throughout the school year. For the last three years my value-added data has proven that my students have gained significantly above average growth (more than one year’s worth) on state-mandated tests. My student feedback surveys and administrators’ observations reinforce these facts.
Proponents of Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law believe it’s a small price to pay to ensure “purity of the ballot box” by keeping out fraudulent votes. For most people, it is no big deal. They simply show their driver’s license before casting a ballot so poll workers can confirm their identity. If it were only so easy. Tennessee remains a largely rural state, and about 100,000 people of voting age, primarily seniors, don’t have acceptable IDs for voting purposes. It’s not easy for them to obtain one, either, if they live in a county such as Cannon that has no driver license testing center where free photo IDs are available. In the first two elections held since the law took effect, dozens of voters across the state had their vote erased because they didn’t have an acceptable ID on election day.
In 2007, when state government was flush with revenue, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen channeled $70 million to the University of Tennessee for what was called the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative. The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of converting what was envisioned to become hundreds of thousands of acres of home-grown switchgrass into cellulosic ethanol for motor fuel processing plants throughout the state that would both boost Tennessee’s economy and help reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil. That same year, Congress enacted a Renewable Fuels Standard that called for the production of 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol nationally by 2012 as a stepping stone toward 16 billion gallons by 2022.
In the Electronic Age, Somebody Must Define ‘Public Record’ E-mail, tweets, text messages, Facebook messages… just what the hell constitutes a public record these days? Some news organizations would argue that everything is a public record. Let’s look at a few scenarios and see what you think. A county commissioner gets e-mail from constituents on a controversial issue and says the public is against it. The mayor’s office demands to see the e-mails. Since the commissioner has a county e-mail address, it is pretty straightforward and the e-mails are turned over. But what if the commissioner got the e-mails at home on a personal DSL line with a Hotmail or Yahoo address? Still a public record? Should private e-mail from a constituent to a public official even be a public record?