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October 16 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

New director appointed to Tennessee Regulatory Authority (Times Free-Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday announced the appointment of David Jones as the final new director on the reconfigured Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Jones, a former vice president at El Paso Corp., an energy company, is president of davidjonesgroup, a management consulting and executive coaching services company. He’s also president of Complete Holdings Group, which advises health care providers and payers on workers’ compensation revenue issues. Haslam, a Republican, as well as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, jointly appointed Jones.

Nike to invest $301 million in Memphis, add 250 jobs (Memphis Biz Journal)

Nike Inc. is seeking a 15-year PILOT to expand its North Memphis operations in a move that would mean 250 new jobs, retaining 1,662 jobs and investing $301 million. The Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County board will meet Oct. 17 at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation to hear the company’s application. The Beaverton, Ore.-based sporting goods manufacturer is looking to expand its Northridge facility by 1.8 million feet. The building at 3100 New Frayser Blvd. is currently 1.1 million square feet.

Tenn. government building fly flag at half-staff (Associated Press)

The flag of the United States is flying at half-staff over Tennessee government buildings and installations. Gov. Bill Haslam ordered the flags lowered to honor former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, in accordance with a proclamation by President Barack Obama. The flags in Tennessee were lowered to half-staff at sunset Monday and will be raised again at sunset Tuesday.

On the road again: TDOT chief makes annual tour of East TN projects (NS/Fowler)

Road trip! The last of four weeklong road trips, actually, for Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and crew. Schroer and top-ranking transportation officials are this week wrapping up his “TDOT Projects Tour” with visits to East Tennessee projects and planned roadwork in the region. “Some of these people don’t get out in the field very often,” Schroer said of the other TDOT bigwigs, “and so we’re glad to have them here.” “This was his (Schroer’s) idea to make sure he gets out in the state a lot and meets with local officials,” TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said.

As threatened, Department of Ed. withholds $3.4M from Metro schools (CP/Hale)

The Tennessee Department of Education will go ahead with its plan to withhold $3.4 million in funding from Metro Nashville Public Schools, according to an MNPS statement released Monday afternoon. “We were disappointed to learn around noon today that the Tennessee Department of Education has refused to reconsider its decision to withhold nearly $3.4 million in taxpayer funding designated for the education of more than 81,000 students in Metro Nashville Public Schools,” the statement read.

Meningitis outbreak: Even unclear answers bring some comfort (Tennessean/Bliss)

Tennessean hosts panel on outbreak Never before does Dr. David Reagan remember searching for a disease on MEDLINE and having the online biomedical literature catalog turn up zero results. But that’s what happened several weeks ago when the Tennessee Department of Health’s chief medical officer searched for Exserohilum meningitis. The disease is so rare that, before the current outbreak, there were no case reports. When that happens, Reagan said, there’s not a lot of precedent to go on: “You have to learn from the situation itself.”

TN revokes compounding pharmacist’s license (Tennessean/Rau, Wilemon)

A compounding pharmacy that federal health officials linked to 15 fungal meningitis deaths nationwide surrendered its Tennessee license Monday, nearly a month after a Vanderbilt University doctor made the first connection between her dying patient and a tainted epidural steroid. The surrender came as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked infections in two heart transplant patients to drugs from New England Compounding Center. Agency officials also said some of the compounding pharmacy’s drugs injected during eye surgery could cause infections, but they didn’t name those drugs.

NECC Surrenders Pharmacy License in Tennessee (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The New England Compounding Center – blamed for the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis – has surrendered its license to operate in Tennessee. At least four other states have already suspended the pharmacy’s license. In Monday’s special-called meeting of the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy, some of the druggists on the panel asked what took so long. The compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts issued recalls for its tainted steroids weeks ago. Attorney John R. Smith represents the state Department of Health.

Use of Compounded Drugs a ‘Business Decision’ (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State health officials say 53 people have now been diagnosed with a rare form of fungal meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are more than 200 cases nationwide. Fifteen people have now died after receiving tainted steroid injections from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The injections used by three Tennessee pain clinics were reportedly cheaper than an FDA-approved alternative. Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner was asked about it on Friday.

TN woman files lawsuit after meningitis infection (Tennessean/Allyn)

A 71-year-old Hendersonville woman who claims she was infected with fungal meningitis in August after receiving a steroid injection in a clinic at Saint Thomas Hospital is the first Tennessean to file a lawsuit against the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center. An attorney representing Janet Russell and her husband, Robert, filed a lawsuit in state court on Monday seeking $15 million for medical expenses and other types of suffering endured as a result of receiving a tainted vial of a steroid medication.

Army, Mass. compounder signed purchasing deal (Tennessean/Roche)

The U.S. Army recently signed an exclusive, five-year purchasing agreement with a Massachusetts company that has shut down in the midst of a meningitis outbreak. The sole-source purchase agreement with Ameridose LLC was issued June 29 by the U.S. Army Medical Command. The contract is to supply specialized compounded pharmaceutical products for the pediatric intensive care unit at the Army’s Tripler Medical Center in Honolulu. Ameridose voluntarily halted production last week at its Westborough, Mass., plant under an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Massachusetts Health Department.

Onus on patient to find out if drug is compounded (USA Today)

The nationwide meningitis outbreak has raised questions about the safety of “compounded” medications, or ones specially made by pharmacists. Traditionally, compounded medications have been made by small-scale community pharmacists, for individual patients. Driven partly by serious drug shortages, however, some compounding pharmacies in recent years have begun large-scale production of drugs, says Michael Carome, a doctor and deputy director of the health research group at Public Citizen, an advocacy group.

New Drugs Tied to Meningitis Outbreak (Wall Street Journal)

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that two additional drugs may be linked to the multistate fungal meningitis outbreak stemming from steroid injections made by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The FDA said that a cooling solution made by NECC called cardioplegia, used in heart surgery, and a second injected steroid called triamcinolone acetonide now may be involved in the outbreak. That finding is based on its investigation, along with inquiries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by state health departments.

Comptroller: Public funds went to home (Tennessean/Sisk)

The head of a government agency in Cookeville used public funds to support a lavish lifestyle, the state’s comptroller concluded following an audit. Wendy Askins, the executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District, misdirected tens of thousands of dollars through a $1.4 million project meant to create housing for senior citizens. The Living the Dream project included $6,000 for showers, $7,000 for fountains and a $25,000 curved staircase for a personal residence she shared with her daughter, the audit found.

TDOT postpones hearings on SR 126 (Times-News)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has again postponed public hearings on proposed improvements to State Route 126 (Memorial Boulevard) between Center Street and Interstate 81. A public notice on TDOT’s Web site last week said the agency would host two public hearings on the project Nov. 15. After a story was published in the Times-News listing that date and the meeting locations and times, the public notice was removed from TDOT’s Web site, and the agency notified the newspaper that the public hearings will be rescheduled, likely during the first half of December.

State lottery has record 1st quarter with $81M (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. has raised a record $81 million in the first quarter. That’s a 14 percent increase over the same period last fiscal year, which set the previous record with $71 million. Total lottery funding for education-related programs in Tennessee exceeds $2.47 billion since the lottery’s inception in 2004. According to data from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., lottery money has provided more than 600,000 scholarships and grants to in-state educational institutions during that time.

State House Candidate Picks Up Governor’s Endorsement (WTVF-TV Nashville)

A Tennessee House candidate who’s faced some campaign trail controversy has picked up an endorsement from the governor. Charles Williamson is running for the State House seat for District 50. His campaign announced early Monday morning that he picked up an endorsement from Governor Bill Haslam. Williamson faces Metro Council member and Democratic nominee Bo Mitchell in that race. He has also faced questions about where he lives. For the election, Williamson listed a Goodlettsville address as his home, but NewsChannel 5 found that the home had never been permitted for occupancy, which is against code.

Turner Hopes Dems Can Capitalize on GOP Rifts (TN Report)

The caucus chairman of the Democrats in Tennessee’s House of Representatives predicts three to six Democratic gains in the House, and perhaps more, if the chips fall their way. “Any gains we have we will be a victory for us,” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told TNReport. “I think we can pick off three to six people within reason, and maybe if things go our way nationally a little better we might even get a little higher than that.” One of the biggest problems Democrats in Tennessee face is at the top of the ticket: President Obama.

‘Tis the Season: Campaign Time on Taxpayer Dime (TN Report)

A Tennessee Senate staffer appears to have been doing political work while collecting a full-time state paycheck, an apparent violation of state law, public records and documents reviewed by TNReport show. Derek Hummel has been executive secretary for Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, since April of this year, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. Over the past three months, he has also been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records and Facebook postings.

Senate candidate North sues U.S. government over flood damage (CP/Greenberg)

Tennessee Senate candidate Phillip North filed a lawsuit against the federal government on Monday, seeking $360,000 in damages related to property losses from the May 2010 flood. North told The City Paper he was “following the lead of the Gaylord lawsuit,” referring to similar suits filed against the federal government earlier this year by Gaylord Entertainment Company, Gibson Guitar and Nissan, claiming negligence and mismanagement of dams caused the Cumberland River to overflow.

Senate candidate Phillip North sues feds over flood (Tennessean/Cass)

Tennessee Senate candidate Phillip North sued the federal government in U.S. District Court on Monday, alleging that negligence by the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service caused extensive flood damage to his property in Madison. North and his wife, Dale, are seeking about $360,000 in damages to compensate for what they say is a $200,000 decline in property value due to the May 2010 flood, plus damage to heating and air equipment, pool equipment and other items not covered by flood insurance.

Debate for the 37th (Daily News Journal)

The partisan divide on Obamacare showed up in a debate between state legislative candidates Dawn White, a Republican opposed to the federal law, and Robert “Bob” New, a Democrat who supports the act. The two are competing to serve in the Tennessee House of Representatives 37th District in the upcoming Nov. 6 presidential election that starts with early voting Wednesday. The two exchanged views on health care, taxes, jobs, education and other issues during a 45-minute debate organized by the League of Women Voters Murfreesboro/Rutherford County at Murfreesboro’s City Hall.

Investigation Finds Extensive Fraud in Putnam County Retirement Home (WPLN)

A new report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s office describes a tangled web of fraud, misspending and outright lies at the Upper Cumberland Development District. The agency’s director used a million-and-half dollar assisted living facility near Cookeville as her personal home and cash cow. Investigators found only four senior citizens housed in spartan quarters. Meanwhile, UCDD director Wendy Askins not only lived rent-free in the luxurious and much larger main house, but was reimbursed for things like dog food, energy drinks and 3D glasses.

County Law Department won’t release Burchett emails (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Knox County Law Department has blocked the release of six emails written earlier this year that appear to involve Mayor Tim Burchett’s problematic campaign account. The county’s Information Technology Department produced records of the emails, written in January, March and April, in response to a request by the News Sentinel. But the Law Department determined the emails themselves should not be released because they are “personal” and not subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

DesJarlais denies hypocrisy claim (Associated Press/Schelzig)

A Republican congressman from Tennessee is telling supporters he’s not a hypocrite for discussing abortion with a mistress more than a decade ago. But now he may also have to defend his medical license. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician who opposes abortion rights, said in a letter that he was “deeply sorry” that supporters had to find out about the relationship with a patient that occurred while DesJarlais was separated from his first wife. But he said he used stark language about traveling to Atlanta to get an abortion try to get the woman to acknowledge that she wasn’t pregnant.

D.C. ethics watchdog group files complaint against DesJarlais (City Paper/Hale)

A Washington, D.C.-based ethical watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. The complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington comes less than a week after revelations that the freshman congressman, who is also a doctor, had engaged in a sexual relationship with a former patient. As first reported by the Huffington Post, a transcript of a phone call between the two appeared to show DesJarlais pressuring the woman to get an abortion.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais faces ethics complaint over relationship (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee Department of Health has been asked to investigate evidence that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais had a sexual relationship with a patient, an allegation that could open the congressman to disciplinary action for violating medical ethics. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Monday that it had filed a complaint against DesJarlais following reports that he encouraged an unnamed woman to have an abortion after they had an intimate relationship. The disclosure was based on a partial transcript of a telephone conversation between the two filed during DesJarlais’ divorce proceedings a decade ago.

Washington group files complaint against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TFP/Sher)

A Washington-based group says it has filed a complaint against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a physician, for “conducting an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient in violation of the law” a dozen years ago. “Tennessee law is crystal clear,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in a statement. She said “doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients. The only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais’ blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it?”

Conservative group considers asking Scott DesJarlais to resign (TFP/Carroll, Sher)

The chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union said Monday he’s talking with other Republican-leaning groups and exploring whether to demand U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., resign from Congress. The move comes as the 4th Congressional District lawmaker and candidate finds himself under growing fire following revelations that as a physician 12 years ago he pressed a former patient with whom he had been involved sexually to get an abortion. Tennessee Conservative Union Chairman Lloyd Daugherty in an interview declined to identify the other organizations with which he has been speaking.

High Court to Take Arizona Voter Law (Wall Street Journal)

The Supreme Court entered another battle in the continuing war over voter qualifications, agreeing Monday to consider whether Arizona can require proof of citizenship when people register to vote. The rule, which was blocked by a lower court, won’t be in effect for the Nov. 6 election. Supreme Court arguments have yet to be scheduled and won’t take place until after Election Day. In June, the justices refused to lift the lower court’s order during the state’s appeal process. The suit could further define the line separating state and federal control of election procedures, a conflict that dates to the nation’s founding and continues to roil U.S. politics.

HealthSpring set to add thousands to Medicare rolls (Nashville Post)

HealthSpring will in 2013 expand its Medicare offerings in another 37 counties across a region that stretches from Texas to New Jersey, but mostly — 30 counties to be exact — in the Volunteer State. “This is all part of our corporate growth strategy, although this year’s county expansion was quite a bit more than last year,” said Graham Harrison of HealthSpring, which has been owned by Cigna since early this year. Beyond greater coverage for seniors, the good news for other folks in Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia is jobs.

Healthways contract with state to create 100 jobs (Nashville Post)

It’s been a very productive summer and fall selling season for executives at Healthways, whose latest deal has been struck very close to home. The Franklin-based company has signed a five-year agreement to provide a suite of wellness services to members of the State of Tennessee Group Insurance Program and their dependents. That group includes a total of 277,000 people and is now receiving wellness services from APS Healthcare, a division of New York-based Universal American Corp.

Healthways creating 100 jobs with new state contract (Nashville Business Journal)

Franklin-based Healthways (Nasdaq: HWAY) plans to create 100 jobs thanks to a new contract with the state. According to a news release, Healthways has received a five-year contract to manage Tennessee’s “Partners for Health” wellness initiative as part of the State of Tennessee Group Insurance Plan. Some 277,000 people are members of the plan. “Sustainably improving well-being is the principle strategy for building the long-term growth and vitality of our communities,” said Ben Leedle, Jr., president and chief executive officer of Healthways, in a news release.

Insurance agency adding 75 jobs in Oak Ridge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

Answer Financial Inc., one of the largest online auto and home insurance agencies in the U.S., plans to expand its Oak Ridge office by 75 jobs. The sales and marketing office currently employs about 240 workers. The Encino, Calif.-based company, which is part of the Allstate Corp., sells a wide range of home and auto insurance online and over the phone. It opened its Oak Ridge office in the late 1990s. “It’s a great thing for Answer Financial and a great win for Oak Ridge,” said Kim Denton president and CEO of the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership.

AA Restructuring Results in Dozens of Tennessee Layoffs (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

American Airlines has notified state labor officials of plans to lay off nearly 100 workers in Nashville and Memphis. However, company officials say the actual number of people losing their jobs will be far less. As part of American’s bankruptcy and restructuring, 59 workers in Nashville were warned that their positions were in jeopardy. Through attrition and buyouts, a company spokesman says roughly half the people will be let go, and most will be able to reapply for jobs with a third party that’s taking over ground crew and cabin cleaning duties.

American Airlines laying off 13 workers in Shelby County (Memphis Biz Journal)

American Airlines is laying off 13 Shelby County employees, mostly gate agents and fleet service workers, according to a state Department of Labor and Workforce Development report. Those employees can re-apply for their jobs on a contract basis through a regional airline subsidiary, American Eagle. American Airlines is reducing its work force as part of bankruptcy restructuring. If hired by American Eagle, the employees would be contract workers. “Through restructuring, American Airlines has worked to lower our costs through sustainable, structural changes,” company spokesman Bruce Hicks stated in an email.

Music City Center area investor plans campus to attract ‘creative class’ (TN/Ward)

A Nashville real estate investor has 7.5-acres of prime property across from the Music City Center convention hall under contract with plans for a campus that developers hope would give the city an edge in attracting and retaining members of the “creative class.” McIntyre Ventures see its planned Pantheon Park development becoming the gathering spot for performers, writers, coders, digital gamers, music and entertainment producers, videographers and artists. Its plans include performance halls, production and recording studios and an accelerator targeting entrepreneurs and developmental stage technologies.

“Parent Trigger” Not Needed for Change: Coverstone (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A Metro Schools official says the so-called “parent-trigger” law should be a moot point. Alan Coverstone told members of the Metro Council on Monday night that schools should be responsive long before anyone brings a petition for a complete overhaul. Under Tennessee’s current law, if 60 percent of parents or teachers aren’t happy with their public school, they can petition to convert it into a charter. Coverstone, who oversees charters for Metro, says such a groundswell wouldn’t come out of nowhere.

Hamilton Co. STEM school receives $100,000 donation (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

The latest corporate donation to Hamilton County’s science, technology, engineering and math high school brings the project even closer to its fundraising goal of $500,000. On Monday, local digital advertising agency Area 203 announced a $100,000 gift to the high school, which opened in August on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College. Area 203 President Doug Freeman said his company relies on STEM-skilled employees to fill marketing, creative and technology positions.

Knox County school board pleased with evaluation scores (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Thirty-four percent of Knox County teachers received a 4 under the new evaluation system that requires that every teacher be evaluated every year. While 35 percent received a 5. During its midmonth meeting, the Knox County school board looked at and discussed this year’s scores, as well as results from the school system’s first year of implementing its APEX strategic compensation. The school board adopted the initiative, of which 70 percent of is based on teacher evaluations, in 2011.

Hawaii: Teachers Halt Labor Negotiations, Escalating Conflict (Stateline)

When Nikan Arapoff took his job as a seventh grade history teacher on Maui in 2005, he studied the pay raise schedule and determined that he and his wife would finally be able to afford a modest house on the expensive Hawaiian island. Now they have two young children, his house value has tanked and he’s scrambling to make payments, supplementing his teaching income with odd jobs as a tutor and gardener. Arapoff blames a knock-down-drag-out fight with Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie that has left teachers without a contract since July 2011.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: DCS challenge is to manage the enormous volume of calls (Jackson Sun)

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks as a result of a state lawmaker inquiry that revealed 31 Children died while in state custody, or were or had been under state supervision in the first six months of the year. Additional information about DCS points to other issues facing the department and Tennessee residents. The child death statistics are alarming, especially when compared to similar incidents in surrounding states over the same period that were in the low single digits. Gov. Bill Haslam has reviewed the report with DCS officials and concluded DCS workers acted properly. The head of DCS, Kate O’Day, has been on the job since January of 2011. She has an outstanding background and reputation, and continues to have Haslam’s full support. But what O’Day faces is a daunting task.

Editorial: Innovation in job readiness (Commercial Appeal)

The idea is so simple, yet so impactful, it is a wonder it has not had more widespread application in training people for jobs. The Industrial Readiness Training course at Southwest Tennessee Community College has a representative of a prospective hirer watching students train for jobs. In some ways, the program uses a formula that may be more productive than an internship in identifying potential employees who will be able to handle a job’s specific requirements. A story Sunday by Commercial Appeal business writer Tom Bailey Jr. told how Sharlene McCain, who works in human resources for Solae, sat in back of a 22-student class watching them train for manufacturing work. Solae, which makes protein ingredients for foods, plans to hire six or seven people this year. Some of those hires could come from the training classes she and her colleagues have been monitoring.

David Cook: A Playlist for Scott DesJarlais (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

A story like this deserves a soundtrack. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is watching his re-election campaign implode. Like a boomerang that’s taken more than a decade to return home, the news of DesJarlais — a family practice doctor — having an affair with a patient at least 11 years ago and then a recorded conversation where he encourages her to have an abortion must have the pro-life freshman congressman more nervous than Paris Hilton on “Jeopardy.” The good folks of the 4th District are interested in family values and pro-life legislation. Hard to square that with infidelity and abortion. Maybe a good playlist can help. So I went to see Chad Bledsoe, who’s been selling used music (Chad’s Records on Vine Street) in Chattanooga for nearly 24 years. Black coffee and tea in hand, we thumbed through the thousands of vinyl records (kids, ask your parents) in search of the perfect DesJarlais playlist.

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