By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes seriously the concerns of environmentalists that two East Tennessee mines are a threat to endangered fish, a spokesman says.
The Sierra Club and several other groups claim in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Fish and Wildlife did not use the most up-to-date science when it agreed to allow surface mining at Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek. They say two endangered fish are threatened by the mining work because the runoff water from the sites is high in dissolved salts, making nearby streams too salty for the blackside dace and Cumberland darter to survive.
“We take very seriously our duty to protect endangered species, and we will look at all aspects of this lawsuit to ensure the best protection for the species involved,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom MacKenzie said in a phone interview from his Atlanta office. He said the service’s legal advisers will prepare an appropriate response to the suit.
Roane County Tea Party (in the News Sentinel)
Gary Johnston thought the questions the Internal Revenue Service was asking seemed overly intrusive, even for an agency known for being irritatingly meticulous.
When he showed the federal tax agency’s demands to an accountant, her response confirmed his suspicions. “Her first question was, ‘Who did you make angry?'” Johnston recalled. “She said, ‘There is something wrong here. A lot of these questions are illegal.'”
Johnston feels absolutely certain that his organization, the Roane County Tea Party, was one of dozens of conservative groups the IRS has admitted to singling out for extra scrutiny when reviewing their applications for tax-exempt status. Today and Friday, he will be in Washington with other tea party officials from across the country to draw attention to their tangles with the tax agency.
Johnston said it took the Roane County Tea Party roughly 37 months to be granted non-profit, tax-exempt status — a process that normally should have taken about four months.
A few months after he submitted the paperwork in 2009, Johnston, the group’s co-chairman, got a package from the IRS demanding answers to roughly 80 questions.
Full story, HERE.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees over child death record-keeping.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/10Ucayd ) cited internal memos in reporting the demotion of team coordinator Lisa Lund, who appealed the penalty and was reinstated with a two-day unpaid suspension. The documents also noted the two-day suspension of Director of Child Safety Marjahna Hart, who is Lund’s supervisor. Also disciplined was Carla Aaron the executive director of child safety, who oversees both Hart and Lund. Aaron received a written warning.
The Tennessean and other news organizations, including The Associated Press, sued the department to obtain records of children who died after agency contact with them.
The three employees are on the Child Fatality Review Team, which fell behind and failed to follow department policies, leading to court-ordered reforms.
Disciplinary records cited by The Tennessean show Lund was responsible for the fatality’s team’s meeting minutes, but some had errors or were incomplete and not fully reflective of the team’s discussions. Lund tried to bring the records up to date months after media and the children’s advocacy group Children’s Rights requested them.
Aaron later found Lund left out “significant portions” of the team’s minutes before they were made public. Passages left out of the first batch of documents contain key details about how DCS caseworkers made decisions about child abuse investigations.
Lund was collecting child fatality information, putting details into a digital spreadsheet as early as January 2011. However, a timeline written by Aaron shows the accuracy of the document was questioned as early as May 2012.
A memo from Department of Children’s Services Interim Commissioner Jim Henry to Lund noted the early miscounts led to “significant negative publicity in statewide media outlets (print, television and radio), as well as additional scrutiny by . the federal court.”
In arguing her appeal, Lund wrote to Henry that the department’s reliance on a spreadsheet was “flawed.”
“The spreadsheet has not been an accurate and effective means for capturing data,” she wrote.
Henry rescinded Lund’s demotion.
Lund and Aaron declined comment for the newspaper’s report.
DSC has created a new process for tracking child fatalities, to be in place by August. It requires the department to keep thorough meeting minutes and publish an annual report of fatality review findings.
News release from Secretary of State’s Office:
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office has received inquiries about an official-looking notice from Corporate Records Service. It appears that these notices began arriving in mailboxes around January 22, 2013 and Tennesseans are continuing to receive them. Corporate Records Service is not registered, affiliated, or associated with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
The mailer is causing confusion for Tennessee corporations due to its appearance as an official document. Tennessee corporations are required to file annual reports with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Most corporations have also recently received annual report notices from the Secretary of State.
Corporate Records Services is requesting a $125 fee. The standard fee to file a corporation annual report in Tennessee is only $20.
“We can confirm that Corporate Records Service is not a business entity on file with our office,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I strongly advise corporations to exercise caution before providing their private and confidential information or credit card information to this or any company that is representing itself in this manner.”
About 93,000 low-income Tennesseans would pay $3.50 per month more for basic landline phone service with passage of legislation moving quickly through the Legislature with support of AT&T, a company now losing money under the present system.
“It ends a mandate to fund social programs without being reimbursed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, in the only reference to the provision within SB1180 during a Senate committee hearing.
The measure — known as “the AT&T bill,” though Norris pointed out that it impacts other telecommunications companies as well — was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote this evening. A House committee, meanwhile, approved the companion bill last week — sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, unanimously without any discussion.
The provision on “Lifeline” service, intended to assure the poor have access to basic phone service, is part of a package to eliminate what McCormick called in brief remarks to the House committee “obsolete language” and “regulatory underbrush” that could “hinder investment in Tennessee.”
Gov. Bill Haslam picked a longtime adviser from his days as Knoxville mayor to examine repeated problems within the Department of Children’s Services, reports The Tennessean. In an emailed announcement Thursday evening, Haslam named his former deputy Larry Martin — currently serving as special adviser in the governor’s office — to conduct a “thorough analysis” of the $650 million child protection agency.
“I’ve told Larry that he has the full weight and resources of this office as he carries out this mission,” Haslam said in the prepared statement.
DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. Her department has been criticized for withholding details on children’s deaths, failing to notify state lawmakers about deaths in their districts as required by law and allowing calls to a child abuse hotline to go unanswered.
The Dickson County sheriff and children’s advocates also accused the agency of mishandling reports of severe child abuse. The agency’s computer system has failed to track children, and its youth detention centers have experienced spikes in violence.
…Between 2006 and 2011, Martin, 65, served as deputy to Haslam and to Haslam’s successor, Mayor Daniel Brown. Under Haslam, Martin worked as the city’s senior finance director.
He rejoined Haslam last May to serve as a special assistant overseeing the implementation of one of the governor’s signature pieces of legislation — the Tennessee Excellence and Accountability Management Act, or TEAM Act, which overhauled many of Tennessee’s civil service rules.
Before working for government, Martin worked for more than three decades in banking. His last position was chief operating officer for First Tennessee Financial Services. He joined the Knoxville mayor’s office after his retirement from banking.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Department of Safety will open eight driver service centers Saturday to help voters who need photo identification cards before the Tuesday general election.
Centers will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Chattanooga, Cookeville, Dresden, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. Services that day will be limited to issuing free photo IDs to registered voters and converting non-photo driver’s licenses to a version with a picture.
A release from the Safety Department said the centers were chosen based on population and response to Saturday openings before the August primary election.
As of Monday, Tennessee had issued more than 24,000 photo IDs to voters, who this year are required to show photo identification at polling places.
Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security: http://www.tn.gov/safety
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has completed its purchase of a large undeveloped tract of land in the Appalachians.
The tract, known as Rocky Fork, is nearly 10,000 acres and lies in Unicoi and Greene counties in East Tennessee. The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/WvsG15) reported $5 million in funding from the USDA helped it finalized the purchase of 1,200 acres — the last section that was privately owned.
Preserving as much of Rocky Fork as possible became a priority of the U.S. Forest Service when it acquired the first parcel of it in 2008 as the land went up for sale.
In all, the Forest Service has spent $40 million to keep 7,667 acres open for public use. The Conservation Fund owns about 2,000 acres of the tract.
“This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts,” District Ranger Terry Bowerman said in a statement about the purchase. “It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee will now provide translation services to non-English speaking crime victims during court proceedings.
The move comes after a federal mandate ordering states to provide free translation services to plaintiffs and defendants during court or risk losing federal aid. While considering how to go about providing services, the Tennessee Supreme Court asked for input and heard from a group that the federal government hasn’t mentioned: victims.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/L61Ntq) reports that after hearing from victims’ advocates and a Nashville prosecutor who talked about victims not understanding court proceedings, the justices opted to expand translation services. The change took effect July 1.
“It is important that not only those charged with a crime, but also crime victims, divorcing parents and all those who find themselves before the courts are able to communicate effectively,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said in a statement. “We are one of the first states to take this much-needed initiative that will benefit the many diverse people that interact with our courts.”
Nashville victims’ advocate Verna Wyatt said the move would improve the criminal justice system.
“I’m happy to see that victims of crime were included in that. For so many years, victims of crimes weren’t even thought of, much less a second thought,” she said. “I think it’s going to help the victims, I think it’s going to help the prosecutors.”
Until now, the state officials had paid only to translate for indigent defendants and witnesses while they testified at a cost of $25 to $50 an hour.
Nashville Assistant District Attorney General Rob McGuire said he thinks it is an important tool for victims to have.
“It’s daunting for someone who speaks English, who has maybe more of a cultural connection to the American criminal justice system,” McGuire said of most court proceedings. “But imagine if you didn’t have any of those things? Just the basic ‘What’s going on?’ question you’d have a hard time getting answered.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday signed his plan to overhaul state civil service rules that make it easier for executive branch employees to be hired and fired, and allow merit raises for high-performing workers and pay decreases for poor ones.
The Republican governor put his name to the legislation in a ceremony across from the state Capitol. He was joined by state employees, legislators and members of his cabinet.
The bill will also require written performance standards and annual evaluations, set a minimum of three candidates to be interviewed for openings, and reduce the minimum layoff notice from three months to 30 days.
Veterans and their spouses will also receive preference if there are two candidates with equal qualifications and one is a veteran.
Haslam said the legislation is necessary because over the next five years nearly 40 percent of state employees will be eligible for retirement.
“In facing this challenge, it is our responsibility to build a top notch workforce for the future,” said Haslam, who lauded the team effort among state employees and lawmakers in making the legislation possible.
“I think we started with some things we thought were really important, but in the process there were a lot of voices that added to it and made the bill one that could pass and will work well when implemented,” he said. Note: News releases from the governor and TSEA below.