Monthly Archives: June 2017

Shelby school board authorizes lawsuit against state-run Achievement School District

The Shelby County School Board has authorized a lawsuit against the Achievement School District, operated by the Tennessee Department of Education, for accepting students in middle school grades when state law authorizes only those at the elementary school level, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The board voted 7-0 with two members abstaining, for a resolution that instructs its general counsel, Rodney Moore, to “research and pursue any and all appropriate legal and judicial remedies including but not limited to legal action” to stop the Achievement School District  from operating grades it wasn’t authorized to operate.

.. The vote, which included minimal discussion, authorizes Moore to pursue legal action against the ASD, the state department of education and Aspire Public Schools charter network.

The resolution is the latest, and arguably most significant, episode in a five-year struggle between the state-run district and SCS. While the two compete for students and thus funding, and SCS has resisted the role of the ASD in Memphis, the inter-district squabbling has never resulted in a lawsuit.

Two campuses, run by Aspire and Memphis Scholars, are further mentioned in the resolution. Those two operators had added middle school grades to schools that previously served only elementary students under SCS before the state absorbed them into the ASD and outsourced their operation to charter networks.

Three opinions by the Tennessee Attorney General in the last several months, however, say ASD schools, which aim to turn around struggling schools, were never given the legal authority to add grades the school did not previously serve.

Nashville ‘sanctuary city’ ordinance shelved amid new legal opinion, Republican howls of protest

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry urged city council members Tuesday to reconsider their support for an ordinance that critics – including most of the state’s Republican politicians, it seems – contend would make the state’s capitol a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

The council members sponsoring the ordinance, meanwhile, announced they are scrapping plans for a final vote on the proposal July 6. They didn’t say when, or if, it will be rescheduled.

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Alexander, Corker praise punt of Obamacare repeal vote

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker say the delaying of this week’s scheduled Senate vote on legislation to repeal and replace most of Obamacare is a good thing, reports Michael Collins.

Alexander, who was part of the working group that helped craft the legislation, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the right call in postponing a vote on the bill.

“Senator McConnell made a wise decision today to delay voting on the Senate health care bill and give senators time to reach an agreement, because senators are actually closer to an agreement than it might appear,” said Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“There are some differences remaining,” Alexander said, “but this issue is important enough to the country that if we need another few days to get it right, we ought to do that.”

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Judge rules records of failed Fall Creek Falls privatization effort must be made public

The Tennessee Department of General Services must release records related to the failed privatization effort at Fall Creek Falls State Park, Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post.

From the Scene’s report:

The case was unique because the state received no bids on a proposal to demolish and rebuild the Inn at Fall Creek Falls, despite amending the original request for proposals several times. A May 1 final deadline passed with no bids. The Scene asked for the records that would normally be available for public inspection at the end of any bid evaluation process.

The state claimed that because no bids had been evaluated, TDGS was not required to release the records associated with the process. The Scene filed suit on May 31.

Chancellor Young disagreed, noting that the state’s public records law instructs that it “shall be broadly construed so as to give the fullest possible public access to public records.” He ordered the records to be made available, ruling that any documents or communications that the state claims are protected by attorney-client privilege must be submitted to the court for evaluation. 

“It’s a good day for transparency in Tennessee,” says Chris Ferrell, CEO of Southcomm, the parent company of the Scene and Nashville Post. “While I’m sorry we had file suit in order to get the state to comply, it’s reassuring that the courts recognize that the state can’t decide to hide things from the public in such an arbitrary way.”

Young instructed Scene attorney John Williams and lawyers for the state to agree to and submit an order to the court by early July. Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter said in court that the state may ask for a stay of Young’s ruling, pending an appeal.

Judge OKs public release of withheld records on Sevier County wildfire

State officials kept secret for weeks a judge’s ruling that government records on the handling of the deadly Sevier County wildfire could be released to the public, reports the News Sentinel, which obtained a copy by asking the judge and court clerk.

The order by Juvenile and General Sessions Judge Jeff Rader, filed June 5, came in response to the state attorney general’s request for clarification on what records the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency could release about the fire that killed 14 people.

…The judge, who will hear the case of the two teenagers accused of setting the blaze, said a gag order issued in the case applied only to prosecutors, defense lawyers and court officials – and to no one else.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and various other agencies have cited the case for months in refusing to release records of the response to the wildfire. TEMA spokesman Dean Flener indicated the agency will comply with the ruling. He offered no timetable.

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Corker wades into Qatar controversy

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker on Monday said he would block future U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and four other Gulf nations until a regional conflict is resolved, reports Politico.

The Tennessee Republican announced his plans in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Monday as the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council remains wracked by internal disputes over anti-terrorism efforts and a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

Corker’s gavel grants him advance approval of significant arms sales to foreign governments before Congress is notified, authority also held by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

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Threatened with state takeover, Hawkins County approves $40 wheel tax

The Hawkins County Commission approved a $40 wheel tax increase on Monday to avoid a threatened takeover of the county’s financial affairs by the state comptroller’s office, reports the Kingsport Times-News. But that doesn’t necessarily resolve the county’s budgeting troubles.

Now the Hawkins County Commission must wait 30 days to see if 1,095 registered Hawkins County voters, which is 10 percent of the Hawkins County voters who cast a ballot in the last gubernatorial election in 2014, sign a petition to require a special election referendum to let the county’s voters decide the fate of the wheel tax increase.

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Memphis Veterans Affairs whistleblower fired day before signing of VA whistlebower protection law

Just a day before President Donald Trump signed into law protections for whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country, a whistleblower at the Memphis VA facility was handed a termination letter, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The June 22 letter says Sean Higgins had showed “disruptive behavior” and used profanity in the workplace. Higgins said the move is the product of retaliation from upper-level administrators whom he had accused of unethical behavior. He said he used profanity in a one-on-one meeting.

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Two announce as candidates in House District 54 (being vacated by Rep. Brenda Gilmore)

Metro Councilman Scott Davis announced Monday he will run for the House District 54 seat now held by Democratic Rep. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, who is running for the state Senate instead next year, reports the Nashville Post, and Whitney Pastorek, Davidson County Democratic Party social media strategist, declared shortly afterwards that she’s running, too.

Pastorek has butted heads with Davis over development in her East Hill neighborhood since moving there from Los Angeles three years ago, successfully fighting with neighborhood advocates to kill a high-density development on Elvira Avenue. Davis recently moved into the neighborhood.

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On new TN laws effective July 1 (gas tax increase and 134 others)

Of the 524 bills and resolutions approved during the 2017 legislative session and signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, 135 or so are new laws that take effect on July 1. Most notably, there’s an four-cents-per-gallon increase in fuel taxes and a $5 increase in the annual state vehicle registration fee, part of the governor’s tax package called the IMPROVE Act.

The Johnson City Press has a package of three articles on the legislative actions that provides a pretty good sampler:

First, there’s general list of some new non-IMPROVE laws deemed interesting with a July 1 effective date, ranging from a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks to “an obscure law requiring that steps leading into a public building have detectable ‘nosings’.” (A strip of yellow paint to increase visibility.)

Second, there’s a list of new “public safety” laws. First two on the list: A law extending the state’s “Move Over” law to cover any vehicle parked on the shoulder of a road, not just those of law enforcement officers and emergency vehicles, and a measure that repeals the current state prohibition on firearm silencers.

Finally, Press writer has picked a dozen “congratulatory and memorializing resolutions” – these aren’t bills, just statements honoring people or events  and were effective when passed and signed, not July 1 – of note.

First listed is congratulations extended to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and his bride, who “will now face the world together as one, basking in the glow of their love for each other during both life’s joys and sorrows.” The second honors the Moon Pie, “a delicious snack that for 100 years has gratified the taste buds of the American South while making Chattanooga famous internationally.”

If you want to wade through all 135 new laws with a July 1 effective date, the list is HERE.