This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam are visiting Tokyo, Japan this week, exploring new business opportunities for Shelby County as well as the entire state of Tennessee. The governor and mayor were joined by members of the Greater Memphis Chamber and 60 other state and local business officials. “It’s been an exciting week,” said Mayor Luttrell. “We’ve met with the CEOs of Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi Chemical, Brother Industries, Sharp and other businesses. Our goal is to establish new relationships and encourage more companies to locate in our community,” he added. In 2011, Mitsubishi broke ground on a new transformer manufacturing plant in Memphis, which should create approximately 300 full-time jobs. The plant will also create opportunities for subcontractors. The Southeast U.S. – Japan Association has hosted annual trade meetings since 1975, alternating between Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Several Memphians are in Japan this week for the SEUS-JAPAN (Southeast United States) Conference, including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Greater Memphis Chamber leaders Mark Herbison and Ernest Strickland. Through a series of guest blogs, they will share trip highlights as they visit with headquarters of Japanese companies with Memphis divisions. The growing demand for jobs has made economic development increasingly more competitive. Advances in technology and the ability to communicate worldwide in a matter of minutes have provided us with opportunities to grow our local economy in ways unimagined 20 years ago. Shelby County’s involvement in the Southeast U.S./Japan Association has provided us the opportunity to compete on the global stage for the job opportunities available in the far eastern region of the world. Approximately 60 political and business leaders from across Tennessee joined Gov. Bill Haslam at the recent association conference in Tokyo Sept. 13-15.
Several Memphians are in Japan this week for the SEUS-JAPAN (Southeast United States) Conference, including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Greater Memphis Chamber leaders Mark Herbison and Ernest Strickland. Through a series of guest blogs, they will share trip highlights as they visit with headquarters of Japanese companies with Memphis divisions. Today we had the honor to be hosted by the executive team at Mitsubishi Chemical in Tokyo. Mitsubishi Chemical owns the Lucite brand and has one of their largest rayon manufacturing facilities in the world in Memphis. In addition, another subsidiary of Mitsubishi Chemical, MC Ionic Solutions, recently built a new plant in Memphis to produce components for lithium ion batteries to be used in electric cars, cell phones, iPads and laptop computers that will begin operation very soon. The company also has an administrative office in Memphis.
Tennessee’s tax collections have fallen short of projections in the first month of the budget year. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said in a release Friday that the weak revenues reflect a slow economic recovery on the national level. The state’s total general fund collections for August were $660 million, or about $6 million less than budgeted. The August collections reflect economic activity in the previous month. Sales taxes grew by just 1.1 percent during the month to $569 million, or nearly $16 million below expectations. But corporate franchise and excise taxes beat projections by $5 million. Sales tax collections posted a 6.6 percent annual growth rate in the budget year that ended June 30, while corporate taxes grew by 22 percent.
Tennessee’s tax collections fell short of budget estimates in August, the first month of the state’s fiscal year, according to the Department of Finance and Administration. Overall August revenue was $814.8 million, 1.01 percent about collection in August 2011. Last month’s revenue was $13.8 million shy of the state’s budgeted estimate. “We’ve been concerned about the very slow recovery on the national economic level, and August collections in Tennessee unfortunately confirm those fears,” Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes said in a news release. “Sales tax collections for the last two consecutive months were somewhat weak, but corporate tax collections continued to record respectable growth, all of which kept us above the budgeted estimate before August. “In light of what the leading indicators are suggesting and federal budget uncertainties, we will continue monitoring the state’s spending and revenue patterns as we begin preparations for the 2014 budget.”
Chattanooga engineer John Germ has been cited for “misconduct” by a state professional panel and fined $1,200. Germ, who heads Campbell & Associates, was cited after he surrendered his license in Oklahoma related to allegations he did work for his firm there even though the business wasn’t licensed in that state, according to the Tennessee Board of Examiners for Architects and Engineers. Germ also surrendered his license in Ohio, Louisiana, and North Carolina related to Oklahoma situation, the board said. Germ said Friday that Oklahoma requires not just an individual to be licensed but the firm as well. He said the company wasn’t doing much work there and a decision was made to not get re-licensed in that state.
In Anderson County on Monday, be alert for a possible temporary overnight lane closure on I-75 South at mile marker 119.6, starting at 8 p.m. Crews will be repairing cable barriers. On Monday in Knox County, watch for a lane closure on I-40 West near mile marker 394.2, starting at 8 p.m., as crews install interstate reference markers. Th en, on Tuesday night, crews will be installing the markers on I-40 West near mile marker 382.4. Planning a commute? Go to www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway or call 511 from any land line or cell phone.
Speaker Beth Harwell says she feels little pressure to settle a heated debate over the so-called guns-in-lots bill by next year. The legislation died this spring after lawmakers could not agree on whether to allow gun owners to stow firearms in their vehicle at their place of work. “We either can come to the table and work something out that satisfies both interests, or we can’t. And if we can’t, we’ll be back to where we were last session,” Harwell told TNReport Thursday. “But I have high hopes we’ll be able to work something out,” she added. The debate over the bill revealed divisions within the GOP-led Legislature and prompted the gun lobby to invest more than $100,000 into unseating a key Republican leader who worked against the bill. “If we learned anything from last session, we learned that everyone needs to sit down at the table and work together,” said Harwell. “No one can bully. Neither side can push down their agenda at the cost of other agendas and other people’s interests,” she said.
Last month, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny considered challenging Speaker Beth Harwell for the speakership, complaining that issues he cares about were getting ignored by the GOP “status quo.” Matheny, a Tullahoma Republican, dropped the idea earlier this month, with most observers saying Harwell’s position within the 64-member GOP caucus is secure. But now it appears Matheny exposed one of his flanks and could face his own caucus challenge when running for re-election as speaker pro tem. Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, confirmed Friday that he is considering running for pro tem. The speaker pro tem presides over the House when the speaker is absent and is a voting member of all House committees. Johnson said some members approached him about the pro tem slot after it looked like Matheny might take on Harwell. “But right now my primary focus is trying to get Republican members elected to the House,” he said. “After the general election we’ll take a look at it.”
State Rep. Curry Todd will be working to cut a deal with prosecutors in his DUI and weapons charge arrests, his attorney said Friday. Attorney Worrick Robinson appeared in Criminal Court Friday on Todd’s behalf to plead not guilty to charges of DUI, violating the state’s implied consent law and possession of a weapon while under the influence, stemming from an October arrest. Todd did not appear in court. Robinson declined to comment about the specifics of the case but said that he plans to try to resolve it before trial. “I’ll be speaking with the district attorney’s office,” he said. “We’ll be seeing if there’s any way we can find some common ground to see if we can settle this matter. On Oct. 11, Todd, R-Collierville, was stopped by Metro police officers near 21st Avenue South and Blair Boulevard. Officers said they smelled alcohol on him. According to court records, Todd was unsteady on his feet, slurred his speech and flunked roadside sobriety tests. Police say that after being arrested, Todd refused to take a breath test. An officer also found a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 special in a holster stowed between Todd’s driver seat and the center console.
Mayor Karl Dean says Nashville is still a welcoming place for charter schools, even after this week’s denial of Great Hearts Academies. Dean endorsed the charter operator from Arizona, and encouraged the school board to approve its application. The elected board ultimately defied an order from the state and denied Great Hearts over concerns that the school would cater to affluent families. Dean says Nashville “missed a great opportunity.” “The danger is that national charters which are non-profits which are public schools are in a position where they’re going to look at Nashville and think its hostile.” An email is circulating among parents who initially signed a petition trying to bring Great Hearts to Nashville. It suggests they send a form-message to Governor Bill Haslam, asking him to step in and to punish the Metro school board. Below is text of the form email that parents are asked to send to Haslam, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Mark Cate, who is Haslam’s chief of staff.
Charter school advocates say the repeated denial of Great Hearts Academies shows a need for a state-level authority to approve charter applicants. The current process still requires the local school board to sign off. Metro’s top attorney told the school board this week it had no choice but to approve the application after Arizona-based Great Hearts appealed to the state. Yet Metro denied the charter, again, saying the school was too focused on catering to affluent families and had yet to meet diversity-related contingencies. Great Hearts says the state needs an “impartial authorizer” before it will come back to Tennessee. Matt Throckmorton agrees. He directs the Tennessee Charter Schools Association and accuses the Metro school board of looking for any way to reject Great Hearts, even though it met all the qualifications. “But if there is the statewide authorizer and they realize they can’t say no all along. If they do, it will end up being approved anyway.” Throckmorton says local boards might be more cooperative if they knew a charter could just go over their heads.
A proposal to save money by having Nashville’s mayoral, vice mayoral and Metro Council elections at the same time as other elections is raising concerns among council members who might not support it enough to give voters a say in the matter. Tuesday’s council agenda includes a proposal to have a countywide referendum in November on a Metro Charter amendment that would put the next elections in August 2016 — a year later than they are scheduled — and every four years after that. That would align the city races, which typically stand alone on the ballot every fourth summer, with state and congressional primaries during presidential election years. Councilman Charlie Tygard, who introduced the legislation in June, said Friday that he hoped to revise it to stipulate that the elections would instead take place alongside other local races, such as those for sheriff and county clerk, starting in May 2018. But Jon Cooper, the council’s attorney, said it’s too late to make that change. Tygard said he would withdraw the resolution and bring it back at a later date. He said the plan could save $1 million every four years, based on the typical $500,000 cost for a countywide general election and $500,000 for a countywide runoff, which is almost always necessary.
A new message encouraging local residents to “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” is slated to go up on a South Church Street billboard by the end of the month. The message is being placed on a billboard at 1015 S. Church St. by a self-described Washington, D.C.-based Christian advocacy and education organization called Sojourners, according to the group’s communications director, Tim King. King said the organization decided on Murfreesboro as a location after several residents living within a 100-mile radius of the city took notice of the group’s message on a billboard in Joplin, Mo., and began calling for one to be placed here. The billboard on which Sojourners placed its message in Joplin was just three blocks from where six people were shot dead outside a Sikh gurudwara. King said the people who contacted the organization from the Murfreesboro area told Sojourners of the controversy that surrounded the building of a mosque here. “I think the people from your area just saw the conflict and controversy and they wanted to put out a very different message,” King said, adding that the message is that “Jesus said the greatest commandment is to ‘love thy neighbor.’
There’s a billboard going up in Murfreesboro that says “Love your Muslim neighbor.” A progressive Christian organization has been putting up similar signs around the country. The first billboard went up in Joplin, Missouri near a mosque that burned down, possibly at the hands of an arsonist. The next appeared in Oak Creek, Wisconsin after a shooting at a Sikh temple. The Murfreesboro billboard is meant to rebut the hostility – much of it from Christians – that’s been shown toward a newly-finished mosque. Timothy King is spokesman for Sojourners based in Washington. “It’s a lot more sensational when something burns down or there’s graffiti or a lawsuit. Those voices end up sounding really loud. But I don’t think that’s where a majority of Christians are.” With the deadly attacks at the U.S. Embassy in Libya this week, King says Christians are even more in need of a reminder to love their Muslim neighbor. HYPERLINK “http://wpln.org/?p=41071”
Rutherford County officials this week discussed whether their public notice was good enough to inform people about neighborhood meetings, as well as adjustments to a Buddhist Temple. The Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission on Monday heard complaints from two Springhouse subdivision residents that they didn’t get invited to a neighborhood meeting held at a Bob Parks Realty office about development changes that will allow smaller homes to be built nearby in the proposed Nature Walk subdivision. “I myself and a neighbor were not notified,” said Jim Tate, who joined fellow Springhouse resident Clyde Alexander to speak up during a public hearing before the planners. “I didn’t know about this until 10 minutes ago. I was not notified by the planning commission.” Both neighbors are worried about the developers’ plans to build 1,600-foot homes. “These new houses you are proposing are half the size (of the ones in Springhouse),” said Tate, who is worried about the value of his home when smaller and less expensive houses are built nearby. In response to the neighbors’ concerns and questions, Planning Commissioner Will Jordan persuaded fellow planners to defer a vote until the developers can meet with the neighbors and report back when the planning commissioners meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 8 in the second-floor courtroom of the County Courthouse.
Memphis has supported a number of grass-roots movements over the years, from the struggle to save Overton Park from an interstate highway, to pushes for bike lanes and a new development code. Now, a local group that supports bicyclists and pedestrians is working with a City Council member to increase fines for motor vehicle, pedestrian and bicycling violations. Livable Memphis and Councilman Lee Harris say they would like to hike the fines to promote safer streets. The group would like some or all of the fines collected to fund bicycle and pedestrian safety education. “It will be everything from jaywalking to bicyclists ignoring traffic signals to motorists who park in bike lanes,” Harris said. “It’s all about making Memphis streets safer.” On Saturday, Livable Memphis will host an event to show how low Memphis fines associated with motorist, pedestrian and bicycle violations are. The event starts at 10 a.m. at the Briggs Student Center at Rhodes College. After the 10 a.m. meet-up, volunteers will fan out in surrounding neighborhoods to take pictures of violations.
Nashville’s Music City Circuit bus fleet is going electric. Federal transit officials and Mayor Karl Dean announced Friday Metro has landed a $3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to purchase new zero-emissions electric buses to replace four hybrid buses used by the Music City Circuit, Metro’s free bus service that circulates among various stops downtown. Dollars will also go toward a new electric charging station at Riverfront Station near First Avenue and Broadway. “By converting the downtown circuit vehicles to new electric buses, our city is without doubt moving another step in the right direction,” Dean said, as he reminded reporters about his goal to make Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast.” Metro Transit Authority CEO Paul Ballard called the announcement a “game changer” in the city’s transit operations. Armed with the funds, Ballard said MTA would soon be issuing a request for proposals in search of an electric bus manufacturer. It is unclear when Metro officials will make the electric transition for Music City Circuit, which involves three different routes — the green, blue and purple circuits — that run on intervals of either 15 or 30 minutes.
Riders of Nashville’s Music City Circuit could soon be traveling around downtown in the quiet confines of all-electric buses. The Federal Transit Administration awarded Nashville a $3 million grant Friday to replace four hybrid buses with a zero-emissions electric fleet for its free bus service. The Metropolitan Transit Authority operates the Music City Circuit, which connects the central business district to destinations such as the Gulch, state Capitol and the Nashville Farmers Market. “These buses are going to be the first clean-fuel buses to serve the Nashville MTA,” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said during a news conference at Riverfront Station. “This is really the next generation. This is the cutting edge, and this is going to be a model for midsize cities and larger cities all across the country.” Nashville officials welcomed the announcement and said it will boost efforts to make the city more environmentally friendly. The four all-electric buses will reduce diesel consumption by about 34,100 gallons a year, according to the Nashville MTA.
The Metro Transit Authority has landed a federal grant to help purchase electric buses. Friday’s announcement attracted the country’s top overseer of mass transit. The $3 million being awarded to Nashville is one of 27 grants announced nationwide for projects involving so-called “clean fuels.” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff traveled to Nashville and says the city’s plan for all-electric bus service downtown is relatively significant. “Leapfrogging over all the other clean fuel technologies to go immediately to a zero emissions bus is a national event in the view of the Federal Transit Administration.” Nashville MTA plans to buy four battery-powered buses and install chargers at the riverfront train station. The electric system will replace the green-colored buses that are free to ride around the city’s core.
Health care providers nationwide could see a sweeping $11 billion cut to Medicare reimbursements beginning next year, according to a report released Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It’s a total that doesn’t surprise Tennessee Hospital Association President Craig Becker, but coupled with potential cuts to other federal health care programs could bring serious pain to providers in Tennessee. “It’s devastating. I don’t see how we survive, I really don’t,” Becker said. Medicare cuts would equate to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for hospitals in Tennessee — but potentially billions more for the scores of for-profit hospital systems based here. The cuts also could mean the loss of some 17,423 health care related jobs in Tennessee by 2021, according to a report prepared by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will begin its new fiscal year with another rate increase due to higher fuel expenses. Despite the decision last month by the TVA board not to raise base rates, the federal utility is raising the fuel portion of its electricity charges again in October. For the typical Chattanooga household, EPB said the higher fuel cost adjustment will raise bills by nearly 1.1 percent, or $1.61 for the average residential customer. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the lack of rain in parts of the Valley cut TVA’s hydroelectric generation by 25 percent this summer, cutting TVA’s supply of its cheapest power.
In the aftermath of a months-long charter school battle centered on whether the student body would be diverse, the Metro Nashville school board decided Friday to create a diversity plan that will focus on more than just race. For Nashville, diversity is no longer black and white, but about all the shades in between, and also about groups that have never been considered before. Students for whom English is a second language, the disabled, those at varying achievement levels and income levels must all be considered in a diversity plan, consultant Leonard Stevens told the board Friday during the second day of a two-day retreat. “You have left the era of integration and entered the era of diversity management,” Stevens said. “Recognize it and put your arms around it.” Stevens, who met Metro officials when he was called to be an expert witness in a desegregation lawsuit ultimately won by the school system, said the system is “a true melting pot.” Metro schools have six racial groups that are measurable and there is even diversity within each of those groups, Stevens said.
Local school administrators are asking the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for up to $10 million more to extend the teacher effectiveness agenda to perhaps as many as 3,200 county teachers by the time the systems merge next fall The 95-page proposal Memphis and Shelby County school leaders submitted to Gates on Aug. 31 highlights how teacher pay will go from a seniority-based system to one tied to student achievement, starting with new hires in the fall of 2013. The proposal also shows that the best teachers in the unified district will have the option of taking on an array of coaching and administrative responsibilities, including helping principals with classroom observations, with pay to match their skill level. While the coach model comes directly from Shelby County Schools, the proposal incorporates strengths from both systems, including that teachers in the unified district will be evaluated on the Memphis model, which includes student feedback. Shelby will test the student component this year, which consists of having students in grades 1-12 complete age-tailored surveys on their teacher’s effectiveness.
The countywide school board could start getting information from search firms this week and probably vote on a process for picking a merger superintendent by the end of October. A committee of countywide school board members and community leaders is recommending that the school board hire a search firm and conduct a national search for the superintendent of the merged school system. The group also voted Thursday, Sept. 13, to begin as soon as possible through the staffs of both school systems to get the qualifications of search firms in a request for qualifications process. Committee chairman Chris Caldwell said he will see how much of that can get started without the approval of the full board. The full board could discuss that part of the process as early as the Tuesday, Sept. 18, school board work session. The recommendations of the ad hoc committee on the search process go to the full school board for its approval and then the selection process would begin.
The U.S. labor market is currently experiencing a paradox. While unemployment remains above 8 percent, companies throughout the nation cannot find enough machinists, robotics specialists and other highly skilled workers to maintain their factory operations. So even as millions of Americans search for work, it is estimated that 600,000 skilled jobs remain unfilled. Adding even more cause for concern is that 40 percent of the skilled workforce is projected to retire within the next five years. This is a serious problem for manufacturers, and there will not be a quick fix. The solution will come from many sources, most of which will focus on the training, and in many cases, retraining of America’s workforce. One source that has proven to be successful is the German dual-system concept, seen mostly in examples such as vocational schools and apprenticeship programs. These types of programs have a long history in Europe, and are seen as effective education models to transfer knowledge and skills to the next generation of practitioners in all industries. One major component of this model allows novices to build their career skills while working for an expert craftsman or professional organization. Creating such an employment relationship often can result in permanent job opportunities.