September 22 TN News Digest

by TN Press Release Center on September 22, 2012

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

Haslam Names 3 New Subs to Special Supreme Court (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed three new attorneys to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves. The new special appointees join two previous appointees to make up a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state. The governor’s new appointees are: J. Robert Carter, Jr. is a criminal court judge in Shelby County, elected Judge of Division III in August 2010 after serving as an assistant district attorney general for 26 years before his election.

Haslam appoints three new judges in judicial elections case (Nashville Biz Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed three new panelists to hear a case over whether Tennessee’s system for selecting judges — a key issue for businesses opposing judicial elections — is constitutional.The Republican governor announced today that he will appoint attorneys J. Robert Carter Jr., James R. Dedrick and Monica N. Wharton. This comes after three judges recused themselves following pressure by John Jay Hooker, a long-time opponent of the Tennessee Plan, who is also disputing Haslam’s other two original picks.

Haslam appoints three more to Special Supreme Court (City Paper)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday announced three new appointments to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves. The Special Supreme Court will decide an appeal of Hooker et al. v. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by Haslam. The new special appointees are: J. Robert Carter Jr. is a criminal court judge in Shelby County who served as an assistant district attorney general for 26 years before his election.

3 named to court that will hear judicial selection suit (Tennessean/Sisk)

A criminal court judge, a former U.S. attorney and a hospital lawyer have been appointed to a special court that will hear a suit about judicial selection, replacing three special justices who recused themselves before the case could be heard. On Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam named J. Robert Carter Jr., a criminal court judge in Shelby County; James R. Dedrick, a retired U.S. attorney in East Tennessee; and Monica N. Wharton, chief legal counsel for the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, to the court that will hear John Jay Hooker’s suit against the state.

Gov. Haslam reviews 31 child deaths (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Gov. Bill Haslam has begun his own review of Department of Children’s Services data that indicate that in the first six months of the year 31 Tennessee children died who were either in state custody or who had been brought to the attention of child welfare workers before their deaths.c“The death of one child in Tennessee is too many,” Haslam said in an emailed statement. “I am currently reviewing the data to better understand how we rank with other states when you compare apples to apples in how we’re collecting and accounting for the information. I’m also reviewing historical data for Tennessee.”

State goal: ‘Unprecedented’ tourism return (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tourism’s untapped potential in the state was touted Friday at the 2012 Tennessee Tourism Governor’s Conference. Gov. Bill Haslam and Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed told an audience of about 500 people that all Tennessee’s already burgeoning tourism industry needs is a cohesive Memphis-to-Mountain City initiative to ratchet it up even another level. “If the tourism industry works together in a way that has never happened before and we coordinate our efforts and message, I think we can see an unprecedented return,” said Haslam.

GOP Leaders Still Undecided on Obamacare (TN Report)

Top Tennessee state leaders are more undecided than ever about how to approach two major decisions tied to the federal health care overhaul. Gov. Bill Haslam met with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell in Ramsey’s legislative office Thursday morning to discuss the pros and cons of embracing key pillars of the health care law. The policy decision is also a political one, with GOP leaders contemplating how closely they should attach the deep red state to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Celebration to cap 840 construction (Tennessean)

State Route 840 is finally complete, and the governor and other local officials plan to celebrate with a day of bike rides, food and music. Governor Bill Haslam is scheduled to attend the Oct. 13 celebration, branded “Enjoy the Ride!” State Route 840 connects Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, Williamson, Hickman and Dickson counties, and provides access to Interstate 40 both east and west of Nashville, Interstate 65 and Interstate 24. A 14-mile section in Williamson County marks the completion of the scenic 78-mile route, according to a news release.

Amazon using career centers to fill 250 jobs (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Career Centers will be used by Amazon to fill the more than 250 full-time warehouse slots at its Chattanooga facility. Job-seekers in East Tennessee can begin applying Monday, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Amazon is working with the centers to conduct initial screenings. Interviews will begin right away, so applicants are encouraged to apply immediately. The hourly starting pay is $11 an hour, plus shift differential, variable compensation pay, company stock, and comprehensive benefits.

No Breakthrough at State, Metro Schools Meeting: Mayes (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

“No change in status.” That’s the word from the Metro school board chair, after meeting this afternoon with Tennessee’s top education official. The meeting came as the state is set to withhold millions of dollars from Metro, as punishment for ignoring a state order. The state told Nashville’s school board to approve the charter applicant Great Hearts Academies after an appeal. The school board repeatedly refused, despite warnings from its own lawyer. State officials say they couldn’t allow Metro to flout the law, and will withhold $3.4 million from the school system next month, potentially forcing layoffs.

TN Banking Commish: Examiners call it as they see it (Nashville Business Journal)

The state’s banking commissioner is well known for trying to find “balance” in the complex, contentious and monumentally important world of bank regulation. But he also says that doesn’t come at the cost of being blunt. “I’ve told our examiners, I just want you to call it like it is, don’t worry about anything else,” Commissioner Greg Gonzales of the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions said this week. He reiterated that message to the state’s more than 40 bank examiners — who enter banks to make sure lenders are recognizing risk and abiding by a cadre of regulations — as he visited them around the state recently.

TN Commerce battled feds out of view (Nashville Business Journal)

On May 27, 2010, executives with Tennessee Commerce Bank did something that seemed like a regular order of business during the Great Recession. Announcing to investors that the bank was courting $50 million in new capital, its parent company also warned that the bank could soon come under a memorandum of understanding. This type of informal regulatory action was becoming common in the bad economy. But Tennessee Commerce’s persistent jockeying with regulators was getting more unusual, and more dangerous, all the time. Unfortunately for the bank, as one person familiar with the situation put it: “The regulators never lose.”

New Tazewell woman charged with selling TennCare drugs (WATE-TV Knoxville)

A New Tazewell woman is charged with TennCare fraud for allegedly selling prescription drugs paid for by the program. Amy Elaine Burgess, 48, is charged with TennCare fraud, sale of a Schedule III controlled substance in a drug free zone, and delivery of a Schedule III controlled substance in a drug free zone. She’s accused of getting hydrocodone with TennCare benefits, while planning to sell at least a portion of the prescription. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony that carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Corryton woman charged with TennCare fraud in Grainger County (WATE-TV Knox)

A Corryton woman is charged in Grainger County with TennCare fraud. Louvita L. Dalton, 33, was indicted in Grainger County on charges of TennCare fraud and prescription fraud. TennCare fraud is a Class E felony that carries a sentence of up to two years in prison. Obtaining a controlled substance by fraud is a Class D felony that’s punishable by two to four years in prison.

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds crematory verdict (Times Free-Press)

The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a verdict Friday against a Georgia crematory worker who dumped at least 230 bodies instead of cremating them. Brent Marsh was working at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., in 2002 when authorities discovered he was dumping or burying bodies across the property instead of cremating them. Rondal Akers Jr. and Lucinda Akers, who sent their son’s body to the Tri-State Crematory for cremation, sued Marsh for intentional infliction of emotional distress and claims under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.

Overbey meets with TDOT to make upgrades to Chapman Highway (NS/Coleman)

Often tragedy leads to action, and one state lawmaker said that is the case with improvements he hopes the Tennessee Department of Transportation will expedite following the deaths of a youth pastor and a teenage girl when their church van was struck head-on Sunday on Chapman Highway. State Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) said Friday after meeting with officials of the Tennessee Department of Transportation that he has their commitment for immediate improvements to the safety of the Chapman Highway Corridor in Sevier County.

House candidate Charles Williamson ends effort to list barn as residence (TN/Cass)

House District 50 candidate Charles Williamson has told Metro Codes that he’s dropping his attempt to use a Goodlettsville barn as a qualification for his residence in the district after city officials told him he couldn’t legally live there without making major changes. In a letter dated Sept. 19 and obtained by The Tennessean through a public records request, Williamson said he has moved from the barn property, at 2360 Baker Road, and doesn’t “have any intention to use this building as my residence.”

Mailer pulls Gateway into state Senate race (Leaf Chronicle)

The gloves are off in the race for Tennessee Senate District 22. In a direct mailer sent this week, Sen. Tim Barnes attacked Dr. Mark Green and his record with Gateway Medical Center. The glossy, paid for by the Tennessee Democratic Party, claims that under Green’s management Gateway was the lowest-ranked hospital in the state and that Green was caught directing doctors to “cherry-pick” healthier patients to boost hospital profits. But the claims in the mailer are based on out-of-date data and are not fair to the hospital, according to members of the hospital staff.

GOP legislators raise $400K from congressmen, lobbyists, others (NS/Humphrey)

Republican state legislators raised almost $400,000 just from those on a major donor list during a Nashville fundraiser for their fall campaigns. The event, held at the War Memorial Auditorium adjoining the Legislative Plaza, had 10 organizations or individuals designated as “sponsors” for contributing $25,000 or more and 13 on a “host” list that required a contribution of $10,000. Assuming each listed donor gave the minimum amount, that would mean at least $380,000.

Hamilton County tops Knox County in tourism (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Pare)

Dan Bettinger said Friday he’d heard about Chattanooga during his two years in Knoxville and finally got a chance to see the Scenic City this week. “My co-workers talk about it all the time,” he said outside the Tennessee Aquarium. “I’ve seen the commercials. They make it look neat.” Spending by tourists such as Bettinger and his wife and daughter is up in Hamilton County. For the first time ever, tourism spending in Hamilton has moved ahead of Knox County’s, according to new figures.

Consultants call state office building in Downtown Memphis ‘obsolete’ (CA/Locker)

A consulting firm under state contract has labeled the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis as “obsolete,” and state officials say they expect to decide by year’s end whether to spend $9.2 million to upgrade it or find some other use for it. The building, which shares Civic Center Plaza with City Hall, the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building and the Vasco A. Smith Jr. County Administration Building, is only 44 years old. But the consultants listed it as one of four major state-owned office buildings that are obsolete, out of 33 buildings they assessed statewide.

Memo reveals reasons for disciplinary action against official (CA/McKenzie)

A Shelby County Election Commission personnel memo shows management missteps, including those marring August elections in Collierville and Millington, led to a suspension and probation for administrator of elections Richard Holden. But the commission’s decision to discipline Holden apparently was made at an executive session, closed to the public, after an Aug. 28 special meeting, and would appear to violate the state’s open meetings law. Holden on Friday had a one-word response to the questions about whether he believes the commission’s actions were just: “No.”

Just one Haslam billionaire (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

During the 2010 governor’s race, Bill Haslam rejected assertions by GOP primary rival Zach Wamp that he was a billionaire, but Haslam wouldn’t say what his net worth was nor share his income tax returns with voters. Well, it turns out there’s at least one billionaire in the Haslam family, which founded Pilot Travel Centers, a privately held company that later merged with Flying J truck stop centers. The governor’s brother, Jimmy Haslam, made Forbes Magazine’s latest annual list of the 400 richest Americans this week.

Cooper Receives Non-Partisan Award for Budget ‘Courage’ (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Rep. Jim Cooper received an award from the non-partisan Concord Coalition Thursday night for proposing the only budget plan to gain bi-partisan support in the current Congress. The Nashville Democrat co-sponsored a budget based on recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission with Republican Steve LaTourette of Ohio. While bi-partisan, the plan received only 38 votes in the U.S. House. The duo appeared on MSNBC Thursday saying they will re-introduce their budget bill after the November election.

Rep. Cooper receives non-partisan award for budget plan (Nashville Biz Journal)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, received an award from the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group, Thursday for proposing the only budget plan that has gained bi-partisan support in Congress, WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Cooper co-sponsored a budget that drew on recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction committee. Though the legislation’s support was bipartisan, it wasn’t widespread, as it received 38 votes in the U.S. House. As we reported in April, however, Cooper said the effort was worth it. “

Airport to Get $31.8 Million in Federal Grants (Memphis Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Memphis International Airport officials will announce Monday, Sept. 24, that the airport is getting $31.8 million in infrastructure grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. Some FAA grants come through the Airport Improvement Program, which awards $3.35 billion in annual funding for airport improvement projects. Earlier this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose office oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, announced a series of Airport Improvement Program grants for airports from Puerto Rico to Alaska to Texas.

Pension Crisis Looms Despite Cuts (Wall Street Journal)

Almost every state in the U.S. has made cuts to its public-employee pensions, seeking to dig out from the economic downturn, but so far the measures have fallen well short of bridging a nearly $1 trillion funding gap. Since 2009, 45 states have rolled back pension benefits for teachers, police, firefighters and other public workers, including cuts by Michigan and California this month. Next week, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign legislation requiring, for example, that certain teachers work longer and pay more toward their pensions.

Push to Let College Students Carry Guns Picks Up Steam (Wall Street Journal)

At more college campuses across the country, students are winning the right to pack a gun. Many colleges have long been allowed to make their own decisions about whether students can carry firearms on campus, and most still forbid it. But gun-rights advocates working through the courts and state legislatures have managed to secure a significant expansion of gun rights at public universities. Students are now permitted by law to carry guns on public campuses in five states—four more than two years ago.

Medicare Bills Rise as Records Turn Electronic (New York Times)

When the federal government began providing billions of dollars in incentives to push hospitals and physicians to use electronic medical and billing records, the goal was not only to improve efficiency and patient safety, but also to reduce health care costs. But, in reality, the move to electronic health records may be contributing to billions of dollars in higher costs for Medicare, private insurers and patients by making it easier for hospitals and physicians to bill more for their services, whether or not they provide additional care.

Hiring Fails to Improve in Many Swing States (Wall Street Journal)

Employers cut jobs last month in seven of 10 battleground states that could play a key role in the presidential election, leaving unemployment high as the campaigns head into the final stretch. In August, payrolls fell in Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to Labor Department data released Friday. Hiring picked up in Florida and North Carolina in August, while Colorado’s job count was unchanged during the month. The jobless rate rose or held steady in every state in the group except Colorado, where it fell because the labor force shrank.

Memphian, three others get TVA nods (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

President Barack Obama has nominated a Memphis accountant to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nine-member governing board, which requires U.S. Senate approval, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., announced Friday. D.V. Lynn Evans, a certified public accountant, will fill the position held by Bishop William Graves, of Memphis. “I recommended V. Lynn Evans to President Obama because she is a superb accountant with extensive public and private sector experience,” Cohen said in a statement.

Mike McWherter nominated to serve on TVA board (Jackson Sun)

President Barack Obama has nominated Jackson businessman Mike McWherter to serve on the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. McWherter is one of four nominees who will have to be approved by the U.S. Senate. In a written statement, McWherter on Friday said he looks forward to serving on the board and to TVA maintaining its role as a leader in energy development. “I am honored by the nomination and would like to thank President Obama and his staff for their confidence in my serving as a director of this important institution,” McWherter said in the statement.

From space to STEM: Former astronaut pays visit to ORNL (N-S/Fowler)

Former astronaut lobbies for science, technology studies On the verge of becoming the first black to walk in space, Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr. said he looked down at Earth 250 miles below as the space shuttle Discovery whizzed along at 17,500 miles an hour. He said he thought this: “Holy Cow! Am I really doing this?” Just before he stepped out into his greatest adventure, decked out in a special suit that weighs 350 pounds on Earth but nothing in space, “I thought I was going to be sucked out of the (shuttle’s) air lock,” he said.

Hamilton County Commission, schools plan ‘informal’ meetings (TFP/Harrison)

Hamilton County school board members this week embraced a suggestion by County Commission Chairman Larry Henry for “informal” meetings between the two groups, meetings small enough that they won’t be “hampered and hamstrung” by the state Sunshine Law, he said. The law mandates public transparency in the public’s business. It states that two or more members of an elected body may not meet privately and deliberate toward a decision on a public issue. Henry suggested the get-togethers at a commission meeting this week.

District to begin community discussion on rezoning (Knox. News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Lonnie Glenn hopes he won’t have to uproot his fourth-grader next year from Hardin Valley Elementary if Knox County includes the school when it rezones the elementary schools in the southwest corner of the county. “My son is ingrained at Hardin Valley right now,” the father of three said. “That disruption would effect him.” Hardin Valley Elementary is one of seven schools that could potentially be affected as the district begins its conversation about rezoning due the building of a new elementary school.

School board sends budget change back to commission (Times-Gazette)

A school budget amendment rejected by the county commissioners earlier this month will be resubmitted, Bedford County Board of Education members decided Tuesday. The commission had questions about the reason for hiring teachers and regarding the dismissal of teacher aides and temporary teachers who had been hired earlier in the year. The amendment moves money from a line item in transportation to one which may apply to teacher salaries.

Washington Co. house fire leads to meth, child abuse charges against 3 (JCP)

Washington County deputies arrested three people early Friday in connection to a meth lab, including a woman who runs a day care in a house in front of the location of the lab, according to court documents. Carla A. Tapp, 27, 112 Bitner Rd., Limestone, William M. Deadrick, 27, 153 Cloyd Rd., Jonesborough and Michael L. Ledford, 27, 1368 Charity Hill Rd., Elizabeth all face charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect, violation of a drug-free school zone, violation of Schedule I and Schedule IV drug laws and initiation of manufacturing methamphetamine.

 

OPINION

 

John Jay Hooker: Let’s end illegal selection of judges (Tennessean)

In 1973, in the case of Higgins v. Dunn, the Tennessee Supreme Court unlawfully held that the retention election statute, whereby appellate judges are chosen by the governor and not the qualified voters of Tennessee, is constitutional. The constitutionality of the statute was not properly brought before the court due to the fact that Gov. Winfield Dunn had made no appointment under the statute; nor was there any election conducted. Under the facts of the case, the statute was not “applicable.” Therefore, the court had no power to rule on the constitutional issue. As a result of that unlawful decision, the “Big Lie” was born and lives today. However, the “Big Lie” is perpetuated by the decision in the case of Hooker v. Thompson in 1996.

Editorial: Election commissioners share blame for mistakes (Commercial Appeal)

The Shelby County Election Commission has suspended elections administrator Richard Holden for not doing his job properly, but his failures also are the commissioners’ failures. And it stinks that the commissioners believed the disciplinary action was not something the public needed to know about. Holden was notified Aug. 29 that he would be suspended for three days without pay from Oct. 1-3; he was also placed on probation for six months from Aug. 29 through Feb. 28, 2013. The disciplinary action resulted from ballot errors in the Aug. 2 elections in Millington and Collierville. The election commissioners said the mistakes could have been prevented if Holden and his staff had been more proactive in dealing with issues they knew could cause problems.

Georgiana Vines: Dems want broader publicity about voting precinct changes (NS)

The Knox County Democratic Executive Committee has directed its chairman to ask the Republican-dominated Knox County Election Commission to do more to publicize precinct changes made as a result of redistricting and other issues, such as handicap accessibility, so voters will be better informed for the Nov. 6 election. “We’re still getting confusion,” Gloria Johnson, Democratic Party chair, said Friday. She said she needed to do some homework herself before the letter could be written. Johnson is a candidate in a competitive legislative race with Republican Gary Loe to represent the 13th House District. Independent Nick H. Cazana also is in the race.

Editorial: Voter Harassment, Circa 2012 (New York Times)

This is how voter intimidation worked in 1966: White teenagers in Americus, Ga., harassed black citizens in line to vote, and the police refused to intervene. Black plantation workers in Mississippi had to vote in plantation stores, overseen by their bosses. Black voters in Choctaw County, Ala., had to hand their ballots directly to white election officials for inspection. This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout. The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud.

Guest columnist: Expanding Medicaid good for TN health (Tennessean)

I remember one of the first times I voted. It was 2009, and I was proud that Nashville rejected a law that would have made it the only major metropolitan city to have an “English-only” law. The media reported a diverse convergence among university academics, religious groups, the Chamber of Commerce and even the Green Party united to defeat a measure in a nation so divided. Voters did what was for the greater good of Nashville and Tennessee. They were possibly fueled by abstract concepts such as social justice or Southern hospitality. I think they realized that for Nashville to grow and thrive, Nashville needed to be an open and cosmopolitan city. Unfortunately, regarding health reform, we are often divided, but now there is an opportunity for us to come together.

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