NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessean has announced that Laura Hollingsworth has been named its new president and publisher.
According to the paper (http://tnne.ws/10vaiEP ), Hollingsworth comes to Nashville from The Des Moines Register, where she has been president and publisher since 2007.
She also serves as the Gannett Co. Inc.’s U.S. Community Publishing group president for the Central Group, overseeing 25 markets in the central region.
U.S. Community Publishing President Robert Dickey said Hollingsworth has a deep commitment to community journalism. She also is expected to expand The Tennessean’s digital capabilities.
Hollingsworth replaces Carol Hudler, who has been named as a special assistant to Dickey
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessean newspaper and a group of Tennessee news organizations have asked a judge to open records from the Department of Children’s Services, arguing that the public needs information that would reveal how the state handled cases where children they had investigated died or nearly died.
First Amendment attorney Robb Harvey argued Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court that Tennessee’s public records law requires the agency to disclose its files on 151 children who have died since 2009. The DCS had investigated the children and confirmed neglect or abuse in 47 cases.
“The public has a strong interest in knowing what has happened to these children,” Harvey said. “They were either in state custody or DCS had an investigative record on them. They are our most vulnerable citizens, and DCS is an important agency. Without these records, there is no public accountability here.”
Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter disagreed that state law requires the records to be open. She said the law requires the department to provide limited information about the deaths.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Service has been reporting to a federal court for more than a decade on how it is handling foster care, yet it faces no such scrutiny of its handling of children suffering from abuse or neglect.
The state reports that 120 children investigated by the Department of Children’s Services after reports of abuse or neglect died between 2009 and 2011. There were 31 more deaths during the first half of 2012, DCS says.
DCS refuses to divulge anything but bare details about the deaths, such as the child’s age, gender and home county. It won’t release what actions it took in the cases. DCS even keeps the names of the children who died secret.
The agency’s refusal to disclose its case records to the public is being challenged in court by a coalition of 12 news media organizations, led by The Tennessean newspaper. A hearing on the challenge is set for Tuesday.
A public records lawsuit by the coalition seeks to open the files on the children who died, arguing that “the public has a strong interest in knowing what actions DCS took — or failed to take — in order to protect them.” The group that filed the challenge includes The Associated Press and newspapers and broadcasters in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville.
Commissioner Kate O’Day has said privacy concerns about the children are the motivation for keeping details about their cases secret. The confidentiality requirements are “not to protect DCS, they’re really to protect the families,” she told The Tennessean.
Gov. Bill Haslam has said he agrees with the legal analysis by state attorneys that Tennessee isn’t required to release detailed information in the event of child deaths.
That stance is in contrast to other states, where judges, lawmakers and state officials have decided greater transparency improves child welfare agency performance or is required by public records laws.
The Tennessean, joined by a coalition of the state’s newspapers, TV stations and other media organizations, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the state Department of Children’s Services, alleging the agency is violating the law by refusing to make public the records of children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention.
From The Tennessean’s story: Filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, the lawsuit asks the court to order DCS to explain why the records were not provided. It asks that DCS immediately give those records to the court so a judge can review them and redact any confidential information, and for the records to then be opened to the public for review.
Tennessean requests over a three-month period have failed to persuade DCS to open its files on child deaths.
In the first six months of 2012, there were 31 deaths among children, ranging from newborns to teenagers.
“The public has a strong interest in knowing what actions DCS took — or failed to take — in order to protect them,” the lawsuit states. “This public interest outweighs any privacy concerns DCS has referred to in limiting its disclosure of information. The public has a right, under federal and state law, to understand how children under DCS’s supervision (or with whom DCS had prior contact) died and came close to death. DCS’s disclosure of this information may help to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
A Haslam comment, via TNReport: “This isn’t a case of us trying to withhold information,” Haslam told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol. “We have a responsibility to protect children and a lot of the way that they are wanting that information I don’t think would do that.”
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services refused to provide The Tennessean with complete records regarding child deaths on Tuesday, the newspaper reports. The newspaper repeatedly has asked for an accounting of how 31 children, who had been reported to the state’s child protection agency, died in the first six months of this year.
In the past three months, the newspaper has made multiple requests for records that would show what the $650 million child welfare agency did — or did not do — to protect those children. On Nov. 28, the newspaper’s attorney again asked for the records.
On Monday, the state’s largest newspapers and television stations were among media outlets to join The Tennessean’s formal request.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Knoxville News Sentinel and The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal all joined The Tennessean in asking DCS to open its records on child fatalities. Four of the state’s television stations have also joined the request, including WSMV-TV Channel 4 and WKRN-TV Channel 2 in Nashville, WREG-TV Channel 3 in Memphis and WBIR-TV Channel 10 in Knoxville. The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association also have joined the request to make the records public.
The Tennessean and other media outlets asked that the agency provide, by Tuesday, records for the 31 children who died this year, as well as all the child fatalities or near fatalities for children brought to the department’s attention since 2009.
In a letter sent to Tennessean attorney Robb Harvey on Tuesday evening, Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter declined the request.
“A full consideration of the legal arguments and authorities, including those discussed in your letter of November 28, supports the Department’s determination that it has produced all the documents that it can consistent with the provisions of state and federal law,” she wrote.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The embattled Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is facing more scrutiny for not providing details about 31 children it had investigated that died during the first six months of this year.
In September, the agency released information that showed the numbers after repeated requests from a Democratic lawmaker and The Tennessean.
Now, the newspaper (http://tnne.ws/TCv8k7) said DCS has denied its requests to review the files involving the child fatalities.
The newspaper contends the information it has received provides limited details. Instead of providing the actual case files, the state has provided brief summaries, according to the newspaper.
Last week, The Tennessean and its counsel sent a letter to DCS calling its disclosures “woefully inadequate” and asking the agency to make records public by Dec. 18.
“The State has provided no investigative reports, fatality reviews, or task force reports, among other materials which are covered by The Tennessean’s requests,” noted the letter from the newspaper and Tennessean attorney Robb Harvey.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville has broken with a decades-long tradition of backing Democratic candidates for president and given its endorsement to Republican Mitt Romney.
An editorial (http://tnne.ws/PcEWUV) published Thursday expressed disappointment with the campaign tone set by Romney and President Barack Obama and the lack of clarity on what either would do if elected.
It faulted Romney for straying from the positions he held as governor of Massachusetts and Obama for pursuing health care reform instead of the economy.
The editorial urged Romney, “Be the man who governed Massachusetts, and you’ll reunite America.”
Of Obama, the paper said, “it’s clear whatever shaky bridges were burned in the push for health reform only emboldened Republicans to oppose his subsequent economic proposals. That has rendered much of his presidency ineffective.”
The newspaper’s editorial page leans left and has endorsed Democratic candidates for president since 1972, when it backed George McGovern.
The paper endorsed Obama in 2008, and the Democrat won in Nashville. But John McCain won Tennessee by a landslide with 57 percent of the vote.
Note: The News Sentinel earlier broke tradition by deciding not to make an endorsement in the presidential race. Editor Jack McElroy discusses the reaction in a blog post.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2010 campaign quietly paid $434 in state sales taxes on more than $4,000 in purchases made from Amazon.com two weeks ago after The Tennessean inquired about failure to pay while researching a story that appeared Sunday.
The payment also came after Haslam’s July testimony before Congress in support of a law requiring Internet companies to collect state taxes… and after Haslam cut a deal with Amazon in 2011 on sales tax collections.
The newspaper found several state political campaigns that did not pay sales tax on Amazon purchases while reporting just one that did (Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden). After fielding questions from The Tennessean about the purchases two weeks ago, the campaign promptly paid the taxes, spokesman Dave Smith said.
“Since this issue came to our attention, the taxes have been paid,” Smith said in an email. “It was inadvertently overlooked.”
Smith declined to elaborate further.
During its most recent fiscal year that ended in June, the Department of Revenue collected about $4.7 million in revenue from “consumer use tax” — which is levied on all online, catalog and purchases of untaxed items from outside the state, said department spokesman Billy Trout.
Voluntary filings — 8,766 to be exact — accounted for just more than $3 million of that revenue. Those filings last year jumped nearly fivefold from the 1,795 returns received in the previous fiscal year.
“Quite honestly, it’s a continual issue for us,” Trout said. “We know there’s a lot of people out there who don’t understand it and don’t realize it.”
Trout said he suspected the Amazon email notices contributed to the increase. The company began sending notices in April to Tennessee residents for purchases made in 2011.
Courtney Rogers, who defeated House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart in a GOP primary, tells The Tennessean there were factors other than the National Rifle Association’s support involved in her win and that she’s not a one-issue candidate. Rogers has gladly accepted the NRA’s backing, and she says she will support gun-rights legislation in the General Assembly. But Rogers and her campaign team have worked to dispel the notion that she is a one-issue candidate. Rogers was not recruited by the NRA, nor did she make guns a central theme.
“I don’t believe it was just the NRA,” she said. “They certainly did help level the playing field for me a little, but most of my strategy involved … knocking on our citizens’ doors and getting to meet them.”
…It appears that Rogers has subtly tried to court teachers, a group that Maggart antagonized through her support of legislation that stripped them of their union negotiating rights and through her work for COMPASS, a Sumner County education organization closely affiliated with district leaders.
Rogers does not believe in restoring teachers’ negotiating rights, and she sidestepped questions about the Sumner County school board’s decision to close schools amid a budget showdown.
But Rogers says she has worked hard to listen to teachers’ concerns about the new evaluation system, which ties their pay and tenure status to classroom reviews and student test scores.
“There seems to be an inconsistency in the evaluation system,” she said. “I’ve only found one teacher that absolutely loved it, and what she told me was that it’s because the principal used it as a guideline, and not something required.”
Taking up education reform will probably bring Rogers in close contact with Maggart, who remains the head of COMPASS. Rogers says she has not spoken to Maggart since a congratulatory call on election night, but she does not believe the savage primary should keep them from working together, should Rogers win election to the General Assembly in the fall.
“To me it’s just a job,” Rogers said. “I mean, not ‘just a job,’ but it’s not personality based. So if some good can come out of COMPASS, then great.”
School counselors don’t like the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, reports the Tennessean. Counselors wonder if the bill, for example, would ban:
Posting suicide prevention posters that reference sexual orientation.
Gay teachers from displaying or discussing photos of their partners.
Discussions of sexuality with parents who ask about their children.
Thoughtful exploration of episodes in which students are targeted with homosexual epithets.
There’s also a Tennessean editorial against the bill in Monday’s paper.
…The bill also could affect training that dozens of Metro school staffers have taken part in since the start of the school year. Just Monday, about 100 staffers sat through training about sexual orientation and gender identity.
The session, part of a new training program the district put in place for counselors and social workers, was hosted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Adults were asked questions about their own knowledge and feelings about sexual orientation and were given recommendations for how to answer student questions. They also were given stickers and posters declaring “safe spaces” in schools.
Much of what they’ve learned could go by the wayside if the legislation passes, said Bagwell and GLSEN spokesman Brad Palmertree.
“I think we would be limited in our resources,” Bagwell said. “We would have to think differently about how we support those students.”
GLSEN provided a copy of its 48-page “Safe Space Kit,” which recommends that school staffers “ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion” when a student discloses sexual orientation to them.