This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has concluded a series of seven candid conversations he held across the state with employers and educators to better link post-secondary education to high-quality jobs. “It is our responsibility to produce a quality workforce that meets the needs of Tennessee employers and is attractive to companies interested in doing business here,” Haslam said. “While there are examples of productive programs and partnerships already in place, we need to do a better job of connecting employers and educators to prepare our graduates for the jobs of the future.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today announced 169 schools as the 2011-12 Reward Schools, the top 5 percent of schools in the state for annual growth and the top 5 percent for academic achievement. The Reward Schools are spread across 70 districts, located in major cities as well as rural areas, and 102 of the recognized schools serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations. A list of the schools can be found on the department’s website, at www.tn.gov/education/accountability.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says voters’ choice in this fall’s presidential contest are “really clear” between incumbent Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. “I think it’s a choice between a government that’s going to make more decisions for you … [and] is going to prescribe more things versus a government that’s going to take advantage of the things that have made the country great, which is primarily a free enterprise system,” Haslam said Monday.
Gov. Bill Haslam may be clearly in Mitt Romney’s camp, but he doesn’t expect to make many more public appearances for him outside Tennessee leading up to election day. Haslam said he expects to go no farther than North Carolina. “I’ve already been to North Carolina once or twice and probably will do that again. That’s probably the closest neighbor of ours which is really in play,” Haslam told reporters in Brentwood Monday. “I think that this election is really, really important. So if I can help in one of those states that is at a tipping point, I’m more than excited to do that,” he said.
Job growth, Southern charm and an attractive quality of life landed Williamson County and Franklin on two new CNN/Money Magazine lists. Williamson County’s job increase rate of 40.3 percent from 2000 to 2011 was enough to land the county at No. 10 out of 25 counties on the magazine’s “Where The Jobs Are” list. Separately, the magazine ranked Franklin as No. 52 on the top 100 best small U.S. cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000. Back in 2010, when the magazine last compiled its small cities list, Franklin was ranked No. 66.
Primary ballots come under scrutiny State election officials plan to look at the histories of voters who participated in the Republican primary in Davidson County this month to help determine if voters were routinely given the GOP ballot by default. Mark Goins, the state’s elections coordinator, said Tuesday that he wants to figure out if Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall’s experience was isolated or common. Advocacy group Tennessee Citizen Action announced publicly Monday what Goins had known for 11 days: that Hall, an elected Democrat, had voted in the Republican primary after poll officials failed to give him a choice.
Tennessee’s coordinator of elections says voters in Nashville who ended up casting a ballot in the wrong primary will have a way to at least scrub their records. A few have complained of getting a Republican ballot even though they wanted to vote as a Democrat. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall voted in the wrong primary and has since asked for a way to change his publicly accessible voter history. Mark Goins, who is over Tennessee elections, says voters like Hall can’t take back their ballot, but they can erase any record of it. By signing a form, documents will reflect an error.
Tennessee’s safety department is creating a new unit to investigate identity theft crimes that local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to target. Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons announced on Tuesday that the 14-member unit would be made up of personnel from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the state Office of Homeland Security and the Driver Services division. The unit also will work with the U.S. Secret Service in Memphis and Nashville, the federal Homeland Security Investigations department and the FBI’s Memphis division.
Tennessee is dedicating more than a dozen law enforcement officers to investigating identity crimes. The Department of Safety and Homeland Security has created a new unit of mostly Highway Patrolmen. The Safety Department is given specific authority in state law to investigate identity theft. Commissioner Bill Gibbons says the agency has taken on some cases, but not enough. “One, our federal partners are just snowed under with this. And two, it was a recognition on our part that local law enforcement agencies by and large do not have the expertise to investigate these cases.” Nationwide, identity theft is on the rise.
University of Tennessee leaders narrowed their focus Tuesday to two priorities that could change how students are taught in the future: online learning and summer school. UT Board of Trustees members and administrators in a workshop brainstormed leasing dorms to students for 12 months, requiring those who are struggling academically to take summer courses and working across campuses to offer one online course for all students in the system. “Access and institutional cost can be favorably affected by innovation, but quality always surfaces as the risk,” said Trustee Spruell Driver.
The University of Memphis has received a five-year $111,490 grant from the National Science Foundation to design custom devices for people with mobility issues. The grant will be overseen by Joel Bumgardner, professor of biomedical engineering at the university, and will help fund research in the biomedical, mechanical and electrical engineering fields. Students will work to design custom devices for people with mobility issues, specifically people who may not be able to afford those devices. In addition to Bumgardner, Amy Curry, John Williams and Warren Haggard worked to obtain the grant, and will be involved in the project.
A suspension on new admissions at an Erwin nursing home ordered earlier this month has been lifted by the state’s Department of Health. In a letter submitted to Erwin’s Center on Aging and Health on Monday, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner wrote that deficient practices and conditions “detrimental to the health, safety or welfare” of the nursing home’s residents had been corrected and the facility has returned to substantial compliance.
A Monroe County woman was charged with TennCare fraud in Loudon County for allegedly selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the arrest of Amanda Lynn Brown, 36, of Vonore, after a joint investigation with the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. She is charged with TennCare fraud and sale and delivery of a Schedule II controlled substance. Charges say Brown filled a prescription for the painkiller Oxycodone, which was paid for by TennCare, then sold a portion of the pills.
A Vonore woman is charged with TennCare fraud in Loudon County for allegedly selling a prescription painkiller paid for by the program. Amanda Lynn Brown, 36, is charged with the sale and delivery of oxycodone. She’s accused of filling a prescription paid for by TennCare, then selling a portion of the pills. Brown was arrested after a joint investigation of the Office of Inspector General and the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. If Brown is convicted, she could be sentenced to two years in prison.
Paul Summers, a former Tennessee attorney general and appellate judge, has been named to lead the investigation into allegations of misconduct in the 10th Judicial District. Wally Kirby, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, said he asked Summers on Monday to serve as attorney general pro tem after 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb requested one. The investigation will examine information from a six-day series in the Chattanooga Times Free Press that alleged financial and professional misconduct by 10th District prosecutors; unchecked spending by the former chief of the district’s drug task force; and questionable procedures that allowed motorists’ cars and cash to be seized without their being charged with crimes.
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, denied telling a reporter that he agreed with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s theory that victims of “legitimate rape” seldom carry pregnancies to term, but he stood by his position that Akin should not be pressured to leave the Missouri Senate race. The Memphis Flyer reported Tuesday that Carr told its correspondent to the Republican National Convention that he believes pregnancies terminate automatically after a rape, a medical fiction sometimes advanced by opponents of abortion.
State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas on Tuesday denied a comment he reportedly made on rape and abortion at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week, where he said GOP leaders moved too quickly in demanding embattled Senate candidate Todd Akin drop his campaign. Akin was criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike in regard to his views of abortion after he reportedly said women have the ability to avoid pregnancy in some cases of “legitimate rape.”
Commission settles on 7-cent property tax increase, instead of recommended 22-cent hike The Wilson County Commission settled on a 7-cent property tax increase Monday night just after cutting one department, seemingly without warning. The increase was approved 14-10, rejecting the budget committee’s recommended 22-cent hike. During the emotional peak of the meeting, Commissioner Kenny Reich made the motion to cut the Wilson County Convention & Visitors Bureau on the floor.
Property taxes are going up after votes in one East Tennessee county and one Middle Tennessee County. According to the Citizen Tribune, (http://bit.ly/SNVEtG ) it took eight votes for the Cocke County Legislative Body to settle on a budget with a 35-cent property tax increase that will bring in $2 million. Officials trimmed a proposed 45-cent increase but faced pressure to act because the landfill fund was nearly depleted. It took two votes for commissioners in Wilson County to agree this week to raise the tax rate by 7 cents, whittled down from a proposed 22-cent increase.
They’re needed in democracy, some say A handful of Occupy Nashville protesters gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Nashville Thursday to show their support for whistle-blowers Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. Assange is founder of WikiLeaks, a website that leaked secret U.S. documents regarding the Iraq and Afghan wars in 2010. Manning is accused of supplying Assange with the documents. Rowland Huddleston, an East Nashville resident and one of the demonstrators at the courthouse, said he heard about the protest and decided to support the cause.
Young adults make up 21.15 percent of Shelby County’s population, beating the national average but not by much. Twenty- to 34-year-olds constitute 20.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to a new study by MBJ affiliate On Numbers. Shelby County ranks 427th in the nation — and ninth in Tennessee — for its percentage of young adults. Across Tennessee, Davidson County registered the highest number of adults in the 20-34 age group with 26.79 percent. By contrast, the Nashville metropolitan area’s other primary county, Williamson, registered the state’s second-lowest percentage at 13.63 percent.
The suburban cities and towns that raised their local sales tax rates in August will adapt with little trouble if the rest of Shelby County approves a countywide sales tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot. The comment from Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner came before the Monday, Aug. 27, vote by the Shelby County Commission to override the veto of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. “It doesn’t change anything,” Joyner said last week anticipating the veto override. “Each one of the municipalities are different.” And, he added, approval of the countywide sales tax hike by voters in November is going to be an uphill political battle.
Mayor A C Wharton plans to ask the Memphis City Council to fund new technology for police cars that could help prevent accidents like the one Sunday that left two people dead. Wharton made the announcement in a press conference Tuesday, where he also said he’s asked the Tennessee Highway Patrol to conduct an independent investigation into the accident that killed Delores Epps, 54, and Makayla Ross, 13. They were visiting from Senatobia, Miss., for a birthday party.
The city of Memphis has dropped its lawsuit challenging the state photo voter identification law. The voluntary dismissal is without prejudice, meaning it could be re-filed at some point. The challenge of the 2012 state law requiring voters to have a state- or federal-issued photo identification to vote began as a move by the city of Memphis to include the use of photo library cards as legal identification for voting. The lawsuit, filed in Nashville federal court against the state, then became a direct challenge of the constitutionality of the law under terms of both the Tennessee Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
Dorothy Cooper, the 96-year-old Chattanooga woman who gained national attention as the face of the photo ID voting issue, has gone nationwide again. Or at least her story has. HBO’s critically acclaimed series “The Newsroom,” wrote Cooper and her story into its finale, which aired Sunday night. The fictional show is based on a network news program. Cooper is identified by name by fictional anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels on the show. He tells his television audience that Dorothy Cooper is a woman from Tennessee who cannot vote because she doesn’t have a valid ID.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn received what could be the brightest moment in the spotlight for a Tennessean at the Republican National Convention when she presented the party’s official platform. Blackburn spoke to the convention for about three minutes not long after 3:30 p.m. Most of her remarks were praise of the platform and the work of the Platform Committee, though she threw in one sound bite by suggesting a new meaning for the Grand Old Party’s initials. “From this day forward, the GOP will be known as the Great Opportunity Party,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee says the Republican Party Platform she helped shepherd to completion as a co-chairman is one the delegates should be proud of. In a 328-word speech to the Republican National Committee Tuesday afternoon, she urged them to read it. Blackburn spoke to the GOP convention in 2008 in St. Paul, Minn., endorsing the previous day’s selection of Sarah Palin for vice president. In Tuesday’s speech, she told the throng that the platform would show how the party will be known as the “Great Opportunity Party.”
About 280 Tennesseans — elected officials, delegates, alternate delegates and guests — are in Tampa this week as Republicans elevate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to the top of their ticket. It was a mix of old political hands and fresh faces Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, where Volunteer State delegates unanimously nominated Romney and Ryan, assisted political surrogates and did everything they could to sell a conservative message to a national audience.
Jimmy Duncan meant it as a prank, but so credible did the announcement seem, the joke took on a life of its own. Attending the Republican National Convention in 1976, with rumors swirling that Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker was on the short list for the vice presidential nomination, Duncan and a friend printed up official-looking bulletins that Baker would soon make an announcement to the delegation. Then they posted it up in prominent locations all around the hotel where the Tennessee delegation was staying. “Well, we started something because after a while, we started seeing all these trucks pull up that said ‘ABC Color,’ ‘NBC Color,’ ” he said.
Two of Mitt Romney’s sons shared personal stories about their father today with Tennessee delegates to the Republican National Convention. Ben and Craig Romney described their father as a dedicated family man who worked a lot, but left his job at the office at the end of the day. “My dad loves his work. He did great things with his work,” Ben Romney said during a breakfast meeting for the Tennessee delegation. “But he was also a great family man. When he came through the door home from work, you knew his heart was 100 percent there with you.”
Returning to the gold standard, an idea largely reserved for the fringe of conservative politics for three decades, has gained favor from mainstream Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood. Today at the National Republican Committee Convention in Tampa, Fla., the GOP is expected to call for a commission to study restoring the link between the dollar and gold as part of the party’s platform. The push isn’t simply to make nice with Republican Rep. Ron Paul — a long-time proponent of the gold standard — and his delegates, according to Blackburn, co-chair of the party’s platform committee.
Veterans Affairs officials in the states are going after scams that charge veterans for help to obtain benefits. It’s illegal to charge a veteran for help filing a claim for disability or pension benefits. Authorities say so-called financial planners and veterans’ counselors have found a loophole by calling their services “consultations” and charging fees of up to $700. The Montana Veterans Affairs Division found some long-term care facilities seeking to fill beds were involved with the counseling scheme.
The remnants of Hurricane Isaac could bring welcome rain to some states in the Mississippi River valley this week, but experts say it’s unlikely to break the drought gripping the Midwest. Along with the deluge of rain expected along the Gulf Coast when Isaac makes landfall, the National Weather Service predicts 2 to 6 inches of rain will fall by Sunday morning in eastern Arkansas and southeast Missouri, much of Illinois and Indiana and parts of Ohio. Those areas are among those hard hit by the drought that stretches from the West Coast east into Kentucky and Ohio, with pockets in Georgia and Alabama.
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana on Tuesday night, and West Tennessee could receive two to five inches of rainfall starting Thursday after a long period of drought. Madison County’s Emergency Management Agency Director Marty Clements said people need to be aware of the possibility of flooding in the area. Clements said floodwaters can shift the debris on roads, including tree limbs. “My concern is that if we get over two to three inches, our terrain will not be able to handle it because we haven’t had rain in so long,” he said.
Banned from tightening Medicaid eligibility in recent years, many states have instead slashed optional benefits for millions of poor adults in the program. Teeth have suffered disproportionately. Republican- and Democratic-controlled states alike have reduced or largely eliminated dental coverage for adults on Medicaid, the shared state and federal health insurance program for poor people. The situation is not likely to improve under President Obama’s health care overhaul: it requires dental coverage for children only.
In his novel David Copperfield, Charles Dickens describes the difficulty of learning “the noble art and mystery of stenography.” Dickens wrote from experience: Before becoming a novelist, he worked as a court stenographer. People have practiced the “noble art” for millennia, from the Ancient Greeks to the actor Harvey Keitel, who worked as a court reporter before launching his acting career. But 162 years after Dickens published his classic novel, a shrinking number of U.S. courts rely solely on human beings to record legal proceedings.
When Volkswagen turns on its solar park late this year, the site will generate enough electricity to power about 1,200 Chattanooga homes, according to the automaker. But VW will use the power to help run its Enterprise South industrial park factory and produce 12.5 percent of its energy needs, officials said Tuesday as workers installed the first of 33,600 solar panels. The 65-acre solar park, estimated to cost about $30 million, will be the state’s biggest at 9.58 megawatts. Tennessee’s largest solar park currently is a 5 megawatt facility in West Tennessee.
A month after their negotiations failed, Memorial Health Care System and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced Tuesday they have reached a new five-year agreement. The contract allows BlueCross members to use in-network services at Memorial Hospital, Memorial Hospital Hixson and the Mary Ellen Locher Breast Center using Network P and Medicare Advantage programs, according to a joint news release. The contract does not include BlueCross’ lower-cost Network S plan. BlueCross officials said the S plan will be available in the future.
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board addressed the Tennessee Department of Education’s recognition of two CMCSS schools for top performance and two others listed as focus schools at Tuesday night’s executive session. Much of the focus was on the Moore Magnet Elementary and St. Bethlehem Elementary schools, which were designated as focus schools. Sean Impeartrice, the chief academic officer for CMCSS, said the Department of Education determines focus schools by graduation rate, subgroup accomplishments, such as minorities and the disabled, and a lower than 5 percent achievement rate.
An out-of-state charter operator at odds with the Metro school board is hoping it can soon win approval to expand into Nashville. Tonight the board swears in several newly elected members, who might sign off on Great Hearts Academies after a summer of legal maneuvering. Great Hearts sent a letter to top officials (PDF) affirming it has taken the Metro board’s concerns into account. Critics have worried the charter wouldn’t do enough to help minorities attend the school. In the letter Great Hearts suggests a double standard, because Metro doesn’t run buses to every magnet-school student.
Countywide school board members voted down a resolution Tuesday, Aug. 28, that would have put Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken in charge of the move toward a merged school system in less than a year. The resolution by school board member Betty Mallott lost on a 10-8 votes in which it did not get the required 12-vote majority. Mallott’s resolution would have left Kriner Cash as Memphis City Schools superintendent but required Cash to leave all transition decisions not involving the school board to Aitken.
Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash is among three finalists for the superintendent’s job in Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla. The school board there narrowed the list late Tuesday after spending most of the day interviewing five candidates. The other two finalists are Dale Robbins, retired administrator from Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, and Nikolai Vitti, chief academic officer in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Among the concerns of members of the Duval board about Cash is a letter of reprimand on file with the Florida Department of Education for “insensitive racial remarks” he made.
A Davidson County grand jury handed down an indictment last Friday against 22 individuals accused of operating a widespread drug ring. Seventeen of the 22 suspects are charged with possessing more than 300 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the retail price of one gram of pure meth can cost more than $300. Most of the transactions took place in the latter half of 2011 and allegedly involved Christopher Darnell, 34, who police believe transported the drugs from Atlanta back to Nashville.
Some California sheriffs are pushing back against a proposed state law that would bar law enforcement officers from detaining illegal immigrants for deportation if they have not been charged with serious or violent crimes. The bill, which the Legislature sent on Friday to Gov. Jerry Brown, would create what opponents have called a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants statewide. It sets up a new fight over immigration enforcement that comes as Republicans vow at their national convention in Florida to impose sanctions on states, cities and counties that adopt similar measures.
It’s a sad irony on the state of justice in Tennessee that it takes a dedicated newspaper reporter to dig up and document myriad instances of apparent misconduct and abuse of office by a district attorney general and his minions in four counties before the state’s higher officials can raise themselves to launch their own investigation. Still, it’s gratifying that the troubling findings by this paper’s Judy Walton have been acknowledged and will now be the subject of an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Attorney General Robert Cooper’s office and the state Comptroller. At issue is the conduct and oversight of District Attorney General Steve Bebb, head of Tennessee’s 10th Judicial District, which covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
Tropical Storm Isaac could not dampen the enthusiasm of two Republican National Convention-goers from Tennessee’s 8th Senate District, which includes Blount and Sevier counties. At her seventh convention, Peggy Lambert of Maryville is as fired up and feisty as at her first. “I was here when Lincoln formed the (Republican) Party,” Lambert said with a laugh. The national committeewoman for the state of Tennessee attended her first convention in 1980, when Ronald Reagan got the GOP nod. “I come for the spirit and the excitement and to meet new people,” Lambert said. “It’s all part of our great democratic process.” Lambert exudes optimism.
Perhaps the Republicans gathered in Tampa, Fla., are hoping to repeat the magic of 1896, when Republican William McKinley, who supported the gold standard, defeated the candidate of the incumbent Democratic Party, William Jennings “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold” Bryan, who did not. At the Republican National Convention, the platform committee has called on Congress to establish a “gold commission” to examine restoring the country to the gold standard. The Federal Reserve would only be able to issue as many dollars as it had gold reserves to back them, effectively taking monetary policy out of the Fed’s hands.
Fly ash from the disastrous 2008 spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston power plant still lines the beds of the Clinch and Emory rivers. TVA is considering three options to deal with the contamination — dredge it out, cap it or leave it in place. A fourth option, suggested by a Roane County Environmental Review Board member, would use a combination of all approaches and should be added to the mix. TVA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are seeking public comment on the third and final phase of the ash spill cleanup through Sept. 10. At a meeting Aug. 20 in Kingston, officials went over the options for the river ash.