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October 2 TN News Digest

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

Expansions, relocations added 20K jobs to Nashville area last year (Tennessean)
Company expansions and relocations last fiscal year were responsible for nearly 20,000 new jobs across the region, the highest total in more than a decade, according to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The growth was largest for existing companies looking to expand: About 70 percent of the new jobs came from companies already in Middle Tennessee. The relocations covered a number of industries, including music (Rounder Records), health care (Experian) and accounting (Dixon Hughes Goodman). One of the most high-profile relocations was Beretta, one of the world’s leading gun makers. Over the next several years, Beretta will move manufacturing and research and development operations to Gallatin, creating 300 jobs.

Haslam announces $28M in community grants (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced more than $28 million in community development grants to help improve infrastructure, health and safety projects and downtown improvements. Seventy cities and counties around the state received the block grants under Wednesday’s announcement. Haslam said the improvements help communities attract investment and jobs. The state grants ranged from $88,000 to $525,000, with local governments matching some of that total. The largest combined projects are a $1 million waterline extension in Bradley County, $950,000 in water system improvements in Townsend and another $825,000 waterline extension in Sumner County.

Herbert Slatery sworn in as Tennessee’s 27th AG (Associated Press)
Herbert Slatery has been sworn in as Tennessee’s 27th attorney general, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam administered the oath to Slatery at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Tennessee is the only state where the Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. The five justices on Sept. 15 named Slatery to an eight-year term. Slatery is a former chairman of the Knoxville law firm Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis, where he specialized in private business transactions and local government organizations.

Herbert Slatery sworn in as new state attorney general (WSMV-TV Nashville)
For the first time since Reconstruction, a Republican was sworn in as Tennessee’s attorney general Wednesday. Herbert Slatery, III took the oath as the 27th attorney general of Tennessee with Gov. Bill Haslam at his side. Slatery worked as Haslam’s chief counsel for almost four years. The two have been friends for decades. “I can assure you, Herbert will be a man of integrity,” Haslam said. “And I’m not saying that because he’s my friend.” Slatery replaces Democrat Robert Cooper, Jr., who applied for the job again. The state Supreme Court justices appointed Slatery instead. “Herbert was outstanding. He was our unanimous choice,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee said.

New Attorney General Sworn In With A Surprisingly Emotional Ceremony (WPLN)
Tennessee has its first Republican Attorney General in nearly 150 years. And he happens to be a dear friend of Governor Bill Haslam, which turned Herbert Slatery’s oath of office into a surprisingly emotional ceremony on Wednesday. “28 years ago in Knoxville, a lawyer, a retailer, a salesman, a banker and wholesaler formed a group,” said Greg Adams, the state’s chief of operations and a former IBM executive. The men met every Friday morning for two years to pray together. Adams said three of them have worked together for the last two years. “The salesman is telling this story, and the retailer is the governor. And he is swearing in the lawyer as the Attorney General of the state of Tennessee,” Adams said, choking up at one point. As Haslam lauded Slatery’s character, he also had to compose himself.

Slatery sworn in as Tennessee attorney general (Tennessean/Haas)
Herbert Slatery III was sworn in Wednesday as Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general since Reconstruction. Slatery, 62, will step into that role after spending more than three years as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief counsel, advising him and other state agencies on legal matters. He was one of eight Tennessee attorneys who applied for the eight-year position, an applicant pool that also included then-Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. He will supervise about 300 people in his office, which includes 175 attorneys. Cooper was in attendance Wednesday as hundreds watched Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee swear Slatery into office. Before swearing him in, Lee said that he was the court’s “unanimous choice” after a public hearing and series of behind-the-scenes interviews with candidates.

Herbert Slatery takes oath as Tennessee’s new attorney general (TFP/Sher)
Herbert Slatery was sworn in as state government’s top lawyer on Wednesday, giving Tennessee its first Republican attorney general since 1870. The Knoxville native, who until Wednesday worked as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel, was sworn in by Haslam, a longtime friend, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee, a Democrat. “I appreciate the gravity of the office and the responsibility that I have to those working in it and to the citizens of the state of Tennessee,” Slatery, 62, told family and supporters who packed the old state Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol. He thanked Lee and the four other Supreme Court justices who appointed him to the eight-year term. He replaces Bob Cooper, a Democrat and Chattanooga native who unsuccessfully sought reappointment.

Slatery sworn in as Tennessee’s 27th state attorney general (News-Sentinel/Locker)
Herbert H. Slatery III was sworn into office Wednesday as Tennessee’s 27th attorney general and the first from Knoxville in 60 years. Slatery, 62, was appointed to an eight-year term as the state’s chief legal officer Sept. 15 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Tennessee is the only state whose attorney general is selected by a court rather than by popular election or by appointment by governors. Slatery was legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam since 2011 when the governor took office. He previously was in private practice in Knoxville with the law firm Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis for 30 years, including its president from 1998 to 2007 and chairman from 2008 to 2011.

New attorney general likely to stay member in predominantly white club (WKRN)
Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general in 144 years was sworn into office Wednesday as some have raised questions about his membership in what has historically been an all white country club. The oath of office for Herbert Slatery III was administered by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Governor Bill Haslam, who has been a long time friend of the new attorney general. Slatery was appointed unanimously to the position last month by the five members of State Supreme Court after serving as the Governor’s chief legal counsel. Questions about Slatery’s membership in Knoxville’s Cherokee Country Club were first raised in anonymous emails sent to reporters after the justices started interviewing the eight candidates who had applied to become attorney general.

Haslam Plans Mass Vetting Of Common Core (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Governor Bill Haslam denies that his support for Common Core is softening. The questions arise because he’s spent more time in recent months defending “higher standards,” rather than Common Core specifically. While nothing has been announced, Haslam says his administration is trying to figure out a way to conduct public discussions about the controversial classroom standards. “We’re going to give everybody a chance to say what are the standards, for every different thing it covers, and what do we like and what do we not like,” Haslam says. “We’re going to give a lot of people a chance to give feedback. What we’re not going to back up on in Tennessee is having higher standards.”

Tennessee’s charter movement ranked ninth out of 26 states (Tenn/Garrison)
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools on Wednesday named Tennessee ninth in the nation when it comes to the “health” of its charter school movement in a newly released report. Atop the leaderboard is Washington, D.C., Louisiana and Michigan. Tennessee finished directly ahead of Rhode Island, Florida and Colorado. Rankings are out of 26 states and the District of Columbia. While only 4 percent of Tennessee’s schools were charters last year, they boasted a growth rate of 27.4 percent over the previous year. Charter schools have grown significantly in Davidson County, where 26 will operate by next fall. The report downgraded Tennessee for having a law in which local school boards, primarily in Memphis in Nashville, are the primary means for approval.

Commissioner Rethinking Handling of Older Teens (Associated Press/Johnson)
The head of the state Department of Children’s Services is considering whether older teens should be moved from the department’s custody into the adult correctional system after a third major escape attempt from one of its juvenile detention centers in less than a month. Eighteen-year-olds were involved in at least two of the three attempts. DCS Commissioner Jim Henry told WKRN-TV earlier this week that 38 percent of the 306 delinquents in the department’s custody are 17 or 18, and they cause about 70 percent of the problems. DCS spokesman Rob Johnson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Henry is considering whether those teens should be placed in an adult system.

Criminal probe underway at Halls Middle School (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Jacobs)
State and local authorities are investigating an incident at Halls Middle School involving an adult and a student, but few details have been released. “We do have a criminal investigation going on,” Knox County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said Wednesday. “That’s about all I can say about a confidential investigation.” Knox County Schools spokeswoman Melissa Ogden said she could say nothing about the allegations because of the ongoing probe. “I can confirm an employee from Halls MS resigned,” Ogden said Wednesday in an email response to questions. “Beyond that, we have been asked not to share details because of an ongoing investigation by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.”

Tenn. city fined for dumping raw sewage in river (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has fined a northeast Tennessee city nearly $101,000 for dumping raw sewage in the Clinch River. The Kingsport Times News cited a TDEC order this month in reporting that the Sneedville sewer treatment plant had “excessive” sewer plant bypasses of treatment between January and May. Sneedville Mayor Dean Rhea said the sewer plant operator resigned in May and the city contracted in June with a Kentucky company called Wastewater Specialists, which is providing a certified plant operator and making repairs to the system. Rhea said he hopes the state might waive part of the city’s fine in light of the recent repairs. Sneedville is the seat of Hancock County, which the newspaper says is the poorest county in Tennessee.

Tennessee faces dire predictions about web security (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee’s highest-ranking technology official sounded an alarm Wednesday about what has become an uphill struggle to protect sensitive data. “We’ve become entrenched in an ever-escalating battle to secure our systems from a determined and increasingly capable enemy,” Mark Bengel, state chief information officer, told hundreds of experts gathered in Nashville. Bengel’s dire comments weren’t alone during the annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “We will get attacked,” said Phyllis Schneck, deputy under secretary for cybersecurity and communications within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Cyberattacks on State Databases Escalate (Stateline)
State governments are facing a daily barrage of cyberattacks from increasingly sophisticated computer hackers. The hackers’ rapidly changing tactics threaten the exposure of personal information of millions of citizens and can cost taxpayers millions of dollars to fix. “We see attacks on Texas’ system to the tune of millions a month,” said Karen Robinson, Texas’ state chief information officer. Although breaches of Texas’ state computers are rare, Robinson said, the risks are high. They can result in the theft of citizens’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and even personal and business financial information.

Misconduct hearing begins for Shelby County judge (Commercial Appeal/Bryson)
A Shelby County judge traded his bench for a much lower seat Wednesday, the first day of a misconduct trial stemming from allegations that he retaliated against an attorney who filed a complaint against him in 2011. General Sessions Judge John A. Donald faces the possibility of censure, suspension or removal from the bench if a six-member hearing panel finds him guilty violating two judicial canons requiring integrity and the avoidance of appearance of impropriety. Pockets of verbal sparring during the proceedings were particularly pointed, in part because nearly everyone in the room — from the jurors to the witnesses, even most of the gallery — was either a judge or an attorney. But the arguments quickly dissolved into familiar, first-name basis banter during the breaks.

GOP says Johnson copied work from Dems (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)
A Tennessee Republican party memo claims that portions of Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson’s website are “plagiarized,” an action she dismissed as a political stunt. Republican Eddie Smith, who is challenging incumbent Johnson in the 13th House District covering North Knoxville, questioned her credibility. “If you have to copy and paste your ideas and beliefs from somewhere else, how can we trust you?” Smith said. Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee GOP, said, “As a teacher, she knows better than to plagiarize someone else’s work.” Responding to accusations of plagiarizing, Johnson said she collaborates freely across the General Assembly and beyond.

Abortion 1 debate heats up as Election Day approaches (WSMV-TV Nashville)
The Amendment 1 debate on abortion regulations is heating up as each side fights to gain supporters for and against changes to the state Constitution’s abortion amendment. Wednesday, the “Vote No Tennessee” campaign rolled out its first TV commercial against the amendment. In the 30-second ad, a doctor tells the story of her patient who learned of her pregnancy and cancer diagnosis at the same. “She continued the pregnancy and fought the cancer,” the ad said. “The child lived but she died. It was her decision and no one else’s.” The ad is just one part of a big push for votes against the amendment just one month ahead of the election. Supporters of the amendment, like state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said there needs to be tougher regulations on abortions in Tennessee.

Bredesen: More must be done for health care (Times Free-Press/Belz)
As former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen took the stage at The Chattanoogan hotel to address a room full of doctors Wednesday night, he began by saying that since the time mankind lived in caves, healers have been among the most honored people in society. “I want to say that at the outset,” said Bredesen, “because you are about to hear me be very critical of some of things in the health care system we have today.” Bredesen, who before his governorship was the founder of health care management company HealthAmerica Corp., spoke at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga’s Internal Medicine Update. Held on the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the evening’s talks focused on evolving health care policy. Bredesen said the new law does not get to the root of the unwieldy problems of the American health care system, which, he charged, is the most expensive in the world while its quality remains average or inferior to other comparable nations. Instead, the law “doubles down” on a massively wasteful system that needs substantial overhaul.

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant shows it can perform under pressure (TFP/Flessner)
Four decades after workers began construction of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, TVA successfully passed a critical test this week toward finally completing a second reactor at the Spring City, Tenn., power plant. TVA workers and contractors on Tuesday successfully completed a cold hydro-static pressure test to ensure that key reactor equipment and systems did not leak or fail under pressure in the Unit 2 reactor under construction at Watts Bar. “This is a significant milestone and success for Watts Bar yesterday to ensure that the workmanship used to construct the reactor coolant system and other associated systems were constructed in the right manner,” said Mike Skaggs, a TVA senior vice president overseeing the ongoing Watts Bar project.

Superintendent Rick Smith gives ‘state of schools’ speech to PTA (TFP/Omarzu)
When the 1,100-student East Brainerd Elementary School opens in August, it will already be bursting at the seams. “It will open approaching capacity,” Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said Wednesday during a “State of the Schools” speech to about 80 people at the Hamilton County Council of PTAs general meeting. So, Smith said, eastern Hamilton County will likely need another elementary school and a middle school — especially after Volkswagen hires 2,000 additional workers to build a new sport-utility vehicle at its Chattanooga assembly plant. “We’re going to be talking about additional schools in that part of the county,” Smith said.

 

 

OPINION

Editorial: DCS must change its Woodland Hills policies (Tennessean)
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has lately been claiming responsibility at the top for its mistakes, but it appears some employees are the focal point of the latest breakout at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center. On Monday, DCS officials, evidently reeling from reaction to a third major security breach in a month at the facility in the Bordeaux neighborhood of Nashville, decided to blame the guards. These staffers, they say, failed to follow policies and procedures Friday night. A guard came too close to a door where a group of teens was on the other side, enabling the kids to burst through and overpower him. Thirteen teens were able to escape after taking the guard’s keys and radio. On Sept. 1, 32 teens escaped from Woodland Hills by kicking out wall panels in the dormitory walls and slipping under a weak spot in the fence. Two days after that, teens at the facility started a riot. After this litany of problems, DCS officials need to think further than a simple lapse in guard procedures.

Editorial: Ramsey and Harwell can do better than this (Jackson Sun)
Here’s one of the more interesting pieces of news to come out of Nashville lately: A grand jury recommended last week that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell be indicted on criminal charges. The grand jury said they should be indicted because they have failed to appoint an adequate number of women and minorities to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which has a large say in whether the state’s Appeals Court and Supreme Court judges keep their jobs when their terms expire. Those judges are appointed by the governor, and the commission evaluates them at the end of their terms. A positive recommendation from the commission means the judge faces a simple retention vote across the state without an opponent. A negative decision from the commission means the judge can have an election opponent. The commission is supposed to reflect the diversity of the state, including women and minorities.

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