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December 17 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Employment growth good; effort still necessary (Daily News Journal)

While Gov. Bill Haslam may have been engaging in a little politicking when he described Rutherford County as the job-creation center for the state in a recent visit, he is correct that job-creation news for the county has been positive in 2013. Job-creation announcements have come from Nissan, Calsonic Kansei and Amazon, and the city of Murfreesboro finally has been able to land the corporate headquarters that it has been pursuing. Schwan Cosmetics is bringing corporate jobs and production jobs to the city as Murfreesboro becomes the headquarters for its U.S. operations.

Corker spokeswoman leaving to work for Haslam (Associated Press)

Laura Herzog is leaving her position as spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Washington to become deputy director of communications for Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville. Herzog worked for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for four years before joining Corker’s successful campaign for the Senate in 2006. Starting in mid-January, Herzog will serve as deputy to Communications Director Alexia Poe in the governor’s office. Poe also worked on Corker’s 2006 race. Herzog’s successor in Corker’s office has not yet been named.

Corker comms director takes gig with governor (Nashville Post)

Sen. Bob Corker’s communications director will soon be the new deputy director of communications for Gov. Bill Haslam. In an email to members of the media Monday, Laura Herzog, who has worked in Corker’s office since he was elected in 2006, said she will begin her new job in January. Prior to working for Corker, Herzog worked for four years in Lamar Alexander’s office. “Working for Senator Alexander and Senator Corker — objectively speaking, two of the great statesmen of our time — on behalf of the fine people of the Volunteer State has been humbling, challenging and inspiring,” she wrote.

Corker communications director to take job with Gov. Haslam (TFP/Sher)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s communications director, Laura Lefler Herzog, is leaving Washington to take up a new job as deputy communications director for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Herzog spent nearly 11 years in Washington, working first for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., for four years before going to work for fellow Republican Corker. In an email to state news media, Herzog said she and her husband, who have a nearly 2-year-old son, “have been feeling the urge to be closer to family in and around Tennessee.” Herzog is from Loudon County. She begins her new job Jan. 13 at a salary of $98,500, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said in an email.

State, organizations secure conservation easement in Grundy Co. (N-S/Simmons)

A multiyear effort to protect 3,282 acres next to a nationally ranked hiking trail in Middle Tennessee has reached a successful conclusion. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry, in partnership with The Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund, has acquired a conservation easement on the forested tract that allows the property to remain privately owned and managed for timber production. The land adjoins a section of the Fiery Gizzard Trail, a 17-mile footpath in Grundy County that has been rated one of the top 25 backpacking trails in the U.S. by Backpacker Magazine. The Fiery Gizzard Trail is part of the South Cumberland State Park complex that covers more than 24,550 acres at the south end of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

Metro teachers’ personal data illegally emailed by state worker (TN/Garrison, Sisk)

A state employee who resigned last week told investigators that he downloaded data on 6,300 Nashville teachers so he could work from home, despite having been warned to keep his computer secure. Steven T. Hunter, a 24-year-old former information technology worker for the state Department of Treasury, told the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that he emailed information from a state computer system using a personal account “to perform his duties at home,” TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Monday. But a personnel file released Monday shows that Hunter had been reprimanded, in November, for leaving a state laptop on his desk after work, violating rules meant to protect state computers and data.

Pediatricians to pay $540K in billing settlement (Associated Press)

A Memphis pediatric group has agreed to pay the state more than $540,000 to settle allegations that the group was overcharging on TennCare billings. According to a news release from the attorney general’s office, the state alleged that Segal, Parker, Kronenberg, Tsiu and Eiseman, and three of its affiliated pediatricians billed for doctor’s visits using the wrong codes. That allowed them to be paid more than what they were entitled to. The Tennessee Medicaid False Claims Act allows the state to recover penalties and triple damages against health care providers who bill TennCare with reckless disregard as to the truth of their billings.

Memphis pediatric group settles over allegations of overcharging (M. Biz Journal)

A Memphis pediatric group will pay the state of Tennessee more than $540,000 over five years to settle allegations that the group was overcharging TennCare billings, Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. announced today. The state alleged that Segal, Parker, Kronenberg, Tsiu & Eiseman LLC and three of its affiliated pediatricians engaged in “upcoding,” meaning it billed for doctors’ visits using codes denoting a higher level of service than was actually provided. Such upcoding results in physicians being paid at higher rates than those to which they are entitled.

More TennCare Fraud – Again? (WGNS-Radio Murfreesboro)

After being on the run for almost a year, a Cannon County woman has been arrested a second time for TennCare fraud involving doctor shopping, or using TennCare to go to multiple doctors to obtain controlled substances. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), with assistance from the Cannon County Sheriff’s Office arrested Kimberly Besner, 39, of Woodbury. She is charged in an indictment issued in January of this year with three counts of fraudulently obtaining controlled substances by doctor shopping for prescriptions for the painkiller Hydrocodone, using TennCare healthcare insurance benefits as payment.

Bridge Over Broad bid lowered by $632K (Daily News Journal)

The latest low bid to build Bridge Over Broad came in about $632,000 less than the previous rejected low bid, a state web page shows. The Tennessee Department of Transportation opened bids on the project Dec. 6 with Bell & Associates Construction L.P. coming in the lowest at $17.62 million to build an overpass of Broad that links Memorial Boulevard on the east side with Old Fort Parkway on the west side. The second lowest bid came from Rogers Group Inc. at about $17.74 million, which is $116,760 higher than the lowest bid. “We are still examining those bids, and we anticipate awarding them hopefully in sometime in the next few weeks,” TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said during a phone interview today.

State lawmaker wants to block police from cell phone tracking (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A recent study by USA Today and Gannett found that found 1 in 4 state and local police agencies are using new technologies to tap into cell phone data. At this point, we’ve not been able to determine that any agencies in Knoxville, Knox County, or Nashville are doing this, but a state lawmaker wants to make sure they don’t. The investigation found at least 25 police agencies use tower dumps, a way for them to get thousands of phone records from cell phone towers near crime scenes. Police have also used a Stingray, a portable device that fools cell phones into thinking it is a real cell tower.

Accused ex-aide will live with parents, wear monitoring device (NS/Collins)

A judge released U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s former chief of staff from jail Monday and into the custody of his parents while he awaits prosecution on charges of possessing and attempting to distribute child pornography. Jesse Ryan Loskarn, 35, must wear an ankle bracelet for electronic supervision and cannot have access to the Internet while he lives at his parents’ home in Maryland, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola said. Facciola did not set bond as a condition for Loskarn’s release. Loskarn, who goes by Ryan, appeared at Monday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and did not speak except to answer questions from the judge.

Protecting Student Privacy in the Data Age (Stateline)

In Kentucky, parents, educators and policy makers can track how many students from a high school go to college, and once they are there, how many require remedial classes. Massachusetts is one of several states with an early warning indicator system, which flags school officials when students appear to be at risk for dropping out of high school. And in Georgia, teachers can easily access years of test scores, class grades and attendance rates for any student. Student data evangelizers argue that used correctly, data, including student attendance, test scores and demographics, can enrich education.

Classroom Coding (Memphis Daily News)

A movement is afoot to ensure the classroom of the future adds new science and technology-based pillars – like writing code – to traditional standbys like reading, writing and arithmetic. That movement manifests itself in things like Hour of Code, a national movement that in recent days gave students in thousands of sessions around the country – including in Memphis – hands-on introductions to computer programming. Hour of Code, which was promoted by big names like President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, coincided with the end of Computer Science Education Week, with the Memphis event happening Dec. 13 at the University of Memphis.

John Aitken approved as Collierville’s superintendent (C. Appeal/Bailey, Garlington)

Collierville’s longtime resident, John “Mr. A.” Aitken, will lead the town’s municipal school system with roughly 7,000-plus students as its first superintendent. The Collierville school board voted unanimously on the 3½-year contract Monday afternoon at Town Hall. The former Shelby County School superintendent will make $185,000 a year plus a potential annual bonus of up to $15,000. Meanwhile, Monday night in Bartlett, that city’s school board began interviews with the first of three finalists as David Hill appeared before the group.

Shelby Co. Commission rejects school board pay raise on first reading (CA/Moore)

Shelby County School board members may not get a raise come September. On Monday, the County Commission voted 7-6 on first reading against an ordinance that would raise the part-time school board’s pay from $4,200 to $25,000. The ordinance requires three readings and a two-thirds majority to pass. Voting yes were commissioners Walter Bailey, Henri Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Sidney Chism, Justin Ford, Steve Mulroy and Mike Ritz. Voting no were commissioners Steve Basar, Wyatt Bunker, James Harvey, Terry Roland, Heidi Shafer and Chris Thomas.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: UT residence hall building project deserves support (News-Sentinel)

University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is fond of saying he is rebuilding the Volunteers’ program “brick by brick.” UT administrators propose doing the same thing for the Knoxville campus. Recently announced construction projects will change the face of the campus as well as pump money into the local construction industry. The university plans to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to replace six residence halls — the most expensive construction project in school history. If approved by the board of trustees and the State Building Commission, the $234 million project will replace 1960s-era high-rise dormitories surrounding Presidential Court with three- and four-story residence halls.

Editorial: Tennessee has an interest in seeing cities thrive (Commercial Appeal)

The Tennessee General Assembly will be asked in January to extend for a year a moratorium on municipal annexations of residential and agricultural property without the approval of voters in the affected area. That’s not a bad thing for cities. It’s not what happens over the next year that matters. All indications are that Memphis, for one, has no red-hot annexation plans ready to leap off the table, anyway. But what Tennessee cities will be able to do in the long run matters to Tennesseans — of both urban and rural persuasions. The recommendation by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) is to extend the moratorium to 2015 while an in-depth study of annexation law continues.

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