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October 22 TN News Digest

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

 

Tennessee governor advocates education reform (Inside Vandy)

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam advocated tying university funding to graduation rates in Time Magazine last week. Haslam contributed to Time’s “8 Ideas to Improve Higher Education” feature, which solicited ideas from eight experts on education around the country. Federal government officials, university presidents and education reformers also contributed, writing about issues from student loans to government oversight. Haslam’s key point was that tying funding to enrollment, as most states do now, incentivizes state universities to admit massive numbers of students and keep them in school rather than push them on towards graduation.

Goodlettsville gets $250K parks grant (Tennessean)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today presented a Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant of $250,000 to the city of Goodlettsville for various improvements to Delmas Long Community Center. The funding will allow for HVAC improvements to the building in order to expand programs and events year-round. Other improvements will include a stage and sound system, a wellness area for group fitness classes, and new playground equipment at the Community Center.

Arts Commission seeks to strengthen communities (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Arts Commission is hosting a conference to explore how the arts can strengthen local communities. The Transforming Assets Into Opportunities conference takes place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Pickwick Landing State Park. It will bring together artists, arts administrators, arts supporters and community planners to explore how the arts can fuel community and economic development. The Arts Commission’s Sharon Ford said in a news release on the event that local communities are re-examining how the arts can contribute to their long-term economic vitality, livability and sustainable growth.

Grant funds aid college access (Jackson Sun)

Students in 16 counties in Tennessee will benefit from $15 million in funding to increase college access, provided by a grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Four of the counties awarded a grant over a seven-year period are in West Tennessee: Hardeman, Haywood, Henderson and McNairy counties.

Lawsuits hit courts after state meningitis outbreak (City Paper/Greenberg)

A batch of infected epidural shots from a pharmaceutical company in Massachusetts are thought to be the cause of more than 60 cases of fungal meningitis in Tennessee, according to the state’s Department of Health. And while the fatal mistake by New England Compounding Center has left dozens of people suffering, it also has local attorneys prepping for legal action. “I think there will be litigation, and I think it will be fairly widespread,” said attorney Beth Alexander of Lieff Cabraser.

Meningitis outbreak: Tracing steroid path in body proves difficult (Tenn/Roche)

Spinal dura may have been pierced in some fatal cases Determining the exact path of tainted steroids that already have led to 23 deaths could present challenges for physicians performing autopsies and trying to pin down exactly who is responsible for the deaths, medical experts say. On Sunday, federal officials reported only one new case of a person being diagnosed with fungal meningitis. That was in Indiana, pushing the national illness total to 285. Tennessee’s total remains at 69, with nine deaths.

‘Worried Sick’: Meningitis Risk Haunts 14,000 (New York Times)

Cathy Literski could tell something was wrong just from her mother’s voice on the telephone. Her mother had learned that a steroid drug injected into her spine for back pain might have been contaminated with a fungus that could cause meningitis. Mrs. Literski had recently had the same type of injections herself, at the same pain clinic in Brighton, Mich. For a moment, neither woman could speak. “I think we’re both terrified that the other one is going to come down with it,” Mrs. Literski, 57, said.

Sex offenders’ parole violations ignored (Tennessean/Haas)

Of all the places Floyd Leroy Craig could have called home, this was perhaps the worst. He’s a registered sex offender, convicted of murdering his first wife in the 1970s and fondling a 12-year-old girl in 2004. He refused to go to sex offender treatment programs, skipped out on paying fees and ignored orders to get a polygraph test, state records show. And on April 20, 2011, probation and parole officers found him living in a home where his current wife was operating a day care.

Local doctor pleads guilty to TennCare fraud (State Gazette)

A Dyersburg doctor was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay $42,483.93 in restitution on charges of TennCare fraud and fraudulent insurance claims. Dr. Debra McKenzie, 54, appeared before Dyer County Circuit Court Judge Lee Moore on Oct. 2 with her attorney Charles Kelly Sr. She was arrested in February of this year after a former employee made accusations against her to authorities in March of 2008. McKenzie is the sole practitioner at McKenzie Medical Clinic on Lake Road in Dyersburg where she specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, but routinely treats patients for conditions outside her specialty.

‘Life experiences’ challenger seeks seat held by youngest legislator (NS/Balloch)

At 27 years of age, Knoxville Republican Ryan Haynes is seeking a third term in the Tennesseee House of Representatives. And he is still the youngest member of that body. At 57, Jerome Miller, his Democratic challenger for the 14th District seat, is making his first ever run for public office. Haynes appears to have all of the advantages one could ask for to keep his seat. He has name recognition that goes with being an active and energetic incumbent. His party is the majority in the distritct. And he has a bigger war chest.

Facing hearing, Burchett amends campaign disclosures (News-Sentinel/Donila)

A week before he was set to explain a series of irregularities in his campaign disclosure forms, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett filed 11 amendments to the reports and supplied state election officials with an affidavit that blames his ex-wife for the mistakes. The former Allison Burchett, the mayor alleges, “engaged in a pattern of deception” by transferring thousands of dollars to various accounts for her own “personal benefit” and without his knowledge.

Memphis eyes ending tax collection contract (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The city of Memphis may end its relationship with a Texas-based delinquent tax collecting firm this year. Bobby White, chief of staff for Mayor A C Wharton, said the administration does not want to renew a contract with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which is facing a class-action lawsuit in Memphis that could cost the firm millions of dollars. “We are recommending not renewing with Linebarger,” White said in an email. “We are looking at alternative options and will discuss with the (City) Council.”

DesJarlais’ discussion of abortion stirs unease in rural 4th District (AP/Schelzig)

Democrats plan ads criticizing Rep. DesJarlais A GOP congressman’s discussion with his mistress about getting an abortion has stirred unease in his conservative, rural district, and his Democratic challenger is now trying to convert that disappointment into votes. However, some in the 4th District are sticking by freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais and dismissing the decade-old transcript of a phone conversation as a smear tactic. Early voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election began Wednesday, a week after the district learned of the transcript of DesJarlais arguing with the woman, who had also been under his care as a doctor.

Tennessee wilderness expansion proposal stalls in Congress (Associated Press)

A bill that would add nearly 20,000 acres of wilderness area in Tennessee has stalled in Congress for more than a year. The bill has support from both parties and the Forestry Service. It doesn’t cost federal money. It closes no roads, takes no private land and doesn’t deprive local communities of tax revenue. “There is no opposition to this,” Jeff Hunter, director of the Tennessee Wilderness Campaign, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The measure passed out of committee with bipartisan approval, but the full Congress hasn’t taken it up.

Psst, taxes go up in 2013 for 163 million workers (Associated Press/Ohlemacher)

President Barack Obama isn’t talking about it and neither is Mitt Romney. But come January, 163 million workers can expect to feel the pinch of a big tax increase regardless of who wins the election. A temporary reduction in Social Security payroll taxes is due to expire at the end of the year. Neither Obama nor Romney has proposed an extension. Politicians from both parties say they are concerned that it threatens the independent revenue stream that funds Social Security. They are backed by advocates for seniors, including AARP, who adamantly oppose any extension.

Y-12 adds 100K square feet of ‘cool’ roofs (Associated Press)

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge has installed almost 100,000 square feet of new heat reflective roofs to save on energy costs at the facility. According to a news release from the National Nuclear Security Administration, the new roofs can cut cooling costs by 15 percent. Cool roofs work because their light color reflects heat, rather than absorbing it. With the recent addition, cool roofs now cover 15 percent of the Y-12 facility and plans call for a majority of the current roofs to be replaced with cool roofs in the future.

Officials: Mexico pacts hurt Tennessee (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)

Local Volkswagen officials say they’re fighting within the giant automaker to win a second vehicle for the Chattanooga assembly plant. But they may be sparring with one hand tied behind their backs. A lack of free trade pacts between the United States and other nations may steer future VW production to Mexico rather than Tennessee, according to industry experts and others. Jay Baron, chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Mexico has free trade agreements with 44 countries.

Med Mart failure brings worry from Music City Center critics (City Paper/Hale)

When plans to locate a medical trade center in a retrofitted Nashville Convention Center were revealed in late 2009, Mayor Karl Dean insisted the timing of the announcement was “not directly related” to a key Metro Council vote that week on financing for the Music City Center. At the same time, he said the plan for a Nashville Medical Trade Center — otherwise known as the Med Mart — “would not be where it is if we were not going to move forward” with the Music City Center.

Battleground Unicoi: Regional hospital systems again at odds over territory (JCP)

The war of words and advertising dollars between Mountain States Health Alliance over the fate of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is just the latest skirmish in a long history of wrangling between the region’s two health care giants. Since the two systems were formed from locally owned hospitals in the 1990s, turf battles have played out on numerous occasions, especially as each system has expanded into the other system’s perceived territory. In recent months, Mountain States and Wellmont have set their sights on Unicoi County’s hospital, a small publicly-owned facility caught in the monstrous complexities of modern health care finances.

After losing $3.4M, what legal avenues does MNPS have? (CP/Zelinkski)

If Metro Nashville’s school board decides to take the state to court for withholding millions in tax dollars from the district — a punishment for denying a charter school application — they could have a case. The state’s laws on the subject are vague, and that alone may give the school board just enough of a peg to justify a lawsuit. “Frankly, I hope they do sue. I think that the issues are not as clear as the commissioner of education would appear them to be,” said Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association.

Chamber wants school board to solve funding cut without legal fight (TN/Garrison)

Injecting itself squarely into Metro’s ongoing fight with the state over Great Hearts Academies, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is calling for the Metro school board to somehow resolve its loss of $3.4 million in state education funds without pursuing legal action. In a sharply worded letter hand-delivered to school board members Friday and Saturday, the chamber expressed “deep disappointment” over the district’s deduction of state funds, a penalty Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman carried out last week following the board’s September rejection of Great Hearts’ charter school application.

Alliance of school board candidates emerges in Bartlett (Commercial Appeal/Bailey)

Five Bartlett school board candidates have formed an alliance hoping to ride a wave of unity into oversight of the suburb’s municipal school system. The partnership emerged this week as candidates prepared for early voting. Push cards with all five candidates’ names on them were distributed at Bethel Church on Stage near the city’s western border — the only Early Voting precinct within the suburb’s boundaries. The slate endorses Jeff Norris in Position 1; Erin Berry, who is unopposed, in Position 2; Shirley Jackson for Position 3; Bryan Woodruff in Position 4 and David Cook in Position 5. All five Bartlett school board races are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Wanted: ‘A natural leader’ (Jackson Sun)

Jackson-Madison County School Board members have a long list of qualities that they’re looking for in the district’s next superintendent, from a natural leader to someone who is innovative and charismatic. After the board met with selected search firm BWP & Associates last week, The Jackson Sun contacted a few board members to discuss the next steps in the search process. The search firm is in the process of recruiting as well as placing advertisements for the position. “I think we need someone who believes in strict, fair and consistent discipline with students,” said George Neely.

 

OPINION 

Guest columnist: Informed? Really? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Early voting is under way in Tennessee and other states. The ballot is not too crowded in most areas, with only a few state legislative races, congressional races and the top-of-the-ticket choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to consider. With relatively few candidates from which to select, and the seemingly tremendously consequential nature of this year’s election, it begs the question: Just how informed is the average voter? My mind was prompted by a “Saturday Night Live” spoof on a political ad acknowledging the “undecided voter” in the presidential election. A smartly dressed, skeptical-looking female opens the ad declaring that undecided voters are “not impressed by political spin or 30-second sound bites; before you get our votes, you’re gonna have to answer some questions”. “Questions like”… and the camera cuts to other “undecided voters” ticking off a few: • “When is the election?”

Editorial: The Myth of Job Creation (New York Times)

The headlines from the last presidential debate focused on President Obama challenging Mitt Romney on issue after issue. There was a less noticed, but no less remarkable, moment when Mr. Obama agreed with Mr. Romney on something — and both were entirely wrong. The exchange began with a question about the offshoring of American jobs. Part of Mr. Obama’s answer was that federal investments in education, science and research would help to ensure that companies invest and hire in the United States. Mr. Romney interrupted. “Government does not create jobs,” he said. “Government does not create jobs.” It was a decidedly crabbed response to a seemingly uncontroversial observation, and yet Mr. Obama took the bait. He said his political opponents had long harped on “this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer. That’s not what I believe.”

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