News

Lee: State Agencies Must Improve Serving Rural Tennessee

In his first executive order issued last week, Gov. Bill Lee is requiring all 22 executive departments in the state to submit a statement by May 31 explaining how they serve rural Tennesseans. NewsChannel 5 reports that the order also asks the agencies to submit recommendations to improve that service by June 30.
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Chattanooga Council to Vote on $46.5 Million Sewage Project

The Chattanooga City Council will vote Feb. 5 on whether to award a construction contract in what will be the costliest component of its ongoing sewage treatment cleanup, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The $46.5 million project calls for three 10-million-gallon storage tanks near the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant, which has released millions of gallons of sewage into the Tennessee River. In 2013, Chattanooga leaders signed an agreement with federal and state environmental regulators to have the site — known as the West Bank Outfall — contained by July 2020 in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. The city has budgeted a total of $264 million to fix and upgrade its sewer infrastructures, which service around 400,000 customers in the area.

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TBA Weekly Legislative Update

The Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives are back in session and are referring newly introduced bills to the appropriate committees, which are primarily holding organizational meetings this week. The deadline for filing all legislation is Feb. 6, so there will be a flood of bills introduced over the next two weeks. The TBA Governmental Affairs Team will be reviewing all bills and begin the process of forwarding the legislation affecting the practice of law to the appropriate Section Executive Councils for review and feedback. Stay tuned for more info.
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Defendants Ask for Dismissal of Lawsuit Involving Stalking by Dickson Police

Defendants in a lawsuit in which two former Dickson Police Officers sued the city, alleging that they were “routinely followed and stalked” after being fired, are asking that the case be thrown out, The Tennessean reports. The dispute stems from the dismissal of Robert Peeler and Justin Walton, former officers with the department who were sacked for their handling of an altercation outside of a local restaurant and evidence tampering — for which they were ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor. The defendants, Dickson Police Assistant Chief Seth Lyles and Capt. Todd Christian, maintain that any observations of Peeler and Walton took place in public places and that no constitutional violation occurred because there was no “search,” therefore the plaintiff's claim of invasion of privacy is unsubstantiated. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and District Attorney's office in the 17th Judicial District investigated the allegations made by Peeler and Walton, and determined that there was no reason to pursue charges on the matter.
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U.S. Supreme Court Considers Case Involving Tennessee Liquor Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, considering whether states can pass laws with resident restrictions regarding the issuance of liquor licenses, Forbes reports. The dispute involves a family that owns a mom-and-pop liquor store, who moved to Tennessee from Utah and attempted to bring their business with them. Current Tennessee law requires license applicants to live in the state for at least two years. Additionally, the license expires in one year, and renewal requires residency of 10 consecutive years, effectively barring new Tennesseans from opening these types of businesses, which detractors claim stifles new business in favor of existing competitors. The Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission recommended approving the license and declined to enforce the rule, leading the association to sue. The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision sometime this spring.

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Shelby County Takes Steps to Address Disproportionate Minority Contact Issues in Juvenile Court

Shelby County leaders are spearheading an initiative to study and analyze data from its Juvenile Court regarding a disparity in contact with minority children, The Commercial Appeal reports. Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and county Mayor Lee Harris have hired a national expert from the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) to assist in determining problem areas of inequality in hopes to address and overcome these obstacles. Harris lauded the move as "another step in creating more local oversight of these very important juvenile justice issues." According to its website, the NCJJ — a research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges — is the oldest juvenile justice research group in the United States. 

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Nashville Police Officer Charged with First Degree Murder

A Nashville grand jury has indicted police officer Andrew Delke on a first-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick, the Tennessean reports. The Nashville district attorney's office announced the move this afternoon. Delke is the first Nashville officer ever to be charged after an on-duty shooting. His defense says he will plead not guilty in the death of Hambrick, who was shot three times in the back during a foot chase in July.
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Metro Council Approves Infrastructure Funding for Nashville Yards Development

The Metro Nashville Council recently voted to grant preliminary approval for $15.2 million earmarked towards road, sewer and other infrastructure needs around the Nashville Yards project which will be home to Amazon’s HQ2, The Tennessean reports. The move also approves participation, easement and license agreements between Metro and Uptown Property Holdings, the building group in charge of development. Council member Kathleen Murphy — one of only three detractors — denounced the city’s interest in the infrastructure plan, saying that it was just "another incentive" for Amazon and that the money would be better spent on other projects throughout the city. The council will make its final decision regarding the infrastructure reimbursement on Feb. 5.

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Oak Ridge Intends to Break Ground on Regional Airport Within Next Couple of Years

The much-anticipated Oak Ridge airport moves closer to reality, with city leaders hoping to break ground on the project within the next couple of years, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Since 2009, the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority has maintained the need for a general aviation airport in the city because of population growth in the area, and increased business travel needs from places like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Coqui Pharmaceuticals Corp. Though Oak Ridge has seen plans for an airport come and go over the years, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said that this plan "has legs.” It calls for a 5,000-foot runway, a partial parallel taxiway and approximately 40 hangars on the 171 acres of land acquired from the U.S. Department of Energy on the former K-25 uranium enrichment facility site.

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Proposed Rule Requires Additional Support for Ethics Complaints Against Elected Officials

A new policy proposed by Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, would require lawmakers to take an additional step when filing an ethical complaint, NPR reports. The prospective rule change makes it necessary to obtain signatures from at least two representatives — one with firsthand knowledge or evidence of the alleged violation — in order to file a complaint against another elected official. "If there’s not corroboration, if there’s not evidence that is presented, then we are working off hearsay, we are working off gossip," Hill said in a House meeting last Thursday. The rule, according to Hill, is modeled on a biblical requirement that allegations must be corroborated. 

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Hamilton County Considers New Program for Mentally Ill Offenders

A new program in Hamilton County intends to address the way courts deal with the mentally ill, offering treatment in lieu of incarceration for certain cases, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The initiative — Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE) — is a collaboration between the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, mental health and medical providers, insurers and Chattanooga's housing agency to help defendants with mental health issues find treatment for their illness or addiction and stable housing, a move that proponents believe will reduce jail populations, ultimately saving the county money. FUSE has already raised $120,000 from outside donors, and county commissioners will vote next week on whether they will accept those donations.

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Local Government Section to Host Reception at Tennessee State Museum

The TBA Local Government Section will host a reception at the newly opened Tennessee State Museum following its annual forum on April 11. Attendees of the reception will meet with museum curators and receive a staff-guided tour of the brand-new facility. This event is open to all Local Government Section members and those interested in learning more about the section; forum attendance is not required. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to learn Tennessee history while engaging with TBA leadership. You can RSVP for this event here.
 
When: Thursday, March 28, 5 p.m., CST
Where: Tennessee State Museum, 1000 Rosa Parks Blvd., Nashville
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General Assembly Re-elects Comptroller Wilson, Treasurer Lillard Jr.

The Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday re-elected Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson, and Tennessee State Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who will continue to serve in those positions for at least two more years, The Commercial Appeal reports. The legislature will resume today to elect members of the fiscal review committee, then the House will recess until Jan. 23, and the Senate until Jan. 28.

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Nashville Airbnb Host Sues Metro Government After Permit Revocation

An Airbnb host who had her permit revoked after Metro Codes found that it errantly issued more than 100 to property owners who did not meet certain requirements for short-term rentals is now suing the Metro Nashville government, The Tennessean reports. The rule in question stipulates that residential property owners in two-family units must live in one of the units and own both properties in order to operate as a short-term rental. Barbara Culligan argues that the revocation "will cause irreparable harm, damage to goodwill, and harm for which money damage cannot fully and adequately compensate." Her attorney is seeking a temporary injunction to halt the cancellation.

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UT Studies How Municipalities Address Changing Street Names that Honor Controversial Figures

Two University of Tennessee researchers are studying how local governments treat requests involving name changes for streets termed after controversial historical figures, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Geography professor Derek Alderman and geography Ph.D. candidate Jordan Brasher, using Tulsa, Okla., as a study model, found that cities "don't want to inconvenience or disrupt business," which could delay the renaming process, and contend that "cities tend to put economic development and convenience and practicality over really repairing the wounds and really trying to do justice." Alderman said he feels that more public participation when selecting street names could help alleviate some of these issues. 

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Unicoi County Man Threatens to Sue Municipality Over Ambulance Contract

A Unicoi County resident said that he will take legal action to halt the county’s contract proposal with MedicOne Medical Response regarding its bid for ambulance services in the county, the Johnson City Press reports. Johnny Day contends that although the county’s solicitation through a newspaper ad technically meets the legal requirement for bids of this nature, the advertisement was limited to just one day of publication and that several other companies were not given a fair shake in consideration. Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely told Day, along with other concerned residents, that they can present their concerns to the county’s Ambulance Committee at its next meeting, which is Thursday at 4 p.m., EST in the Unicoi County Mayor's Conference Room — Unicoi County Courthouse.

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Video Arraignments Coming Soon to Greene County

Video teleconferencing arraignments at the Greene County Detention Center could begin in late February or March, The Citizen Tribune reports. A $15,000 Court Security grant was recently approved by the state Administrative Office of the Courts and the Tennessee Supreme Court. Circuit Court Clerk Chris Shepard and a team plan to travel next week to the Jefferson County Detention Center in Dandridge to see how the video arraignment system works there. 

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Mayor Asks Shelby Commission to OK Money for Juvenile Detention Center

In his first request of the new year, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is asking the county’s commission to take the first step toward building a new juvenile detention facility, The Commercial Appeal reports. The current facility “is not a suitable place to put kids on the path to rehabilitation,” Harris said. Harris is asking for $1.3 million to be approved for design of the new facility, which is being called the Juvenile Justice and Education Center. The $1.3 million would be transferred from funds set aside for a now discontinued plan for a Shelby County sewer system.
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Homicide Case Against Nashville Police Officer Headed to Grand Jury

The case against a Nashville police officer charged with criminal homicide for an on-duty shooting will head to grand jury, The Tennessean reports. General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn said today the evidence against Officer Andrew Delke, charged with fatally shooting Daniel Hambrick during a July 26 foot chase, showed probable cause that Delke committed a crime. "The court is mindful of the fact that police work is stressful; that officers must make split-second decisions and often act in a heroic manner," Blackburn said in a two-page ruling. "This does not justify the pursuit of a man suspected of no crime following the trailing of a car not apparently involved in any criminal activity."

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Drag Queen Story Hour Draws Protesters in Cookeville

A "drag queen story hour" held at the Putnam County Library drew over 100 protesters on Saturday, the Cookeville Herald-Citizen reports. Drag Queen Story Hours are programming where drag queens read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores in an effort to familiarize children with people who do not fall into traditional gender designations and provide them with positive gay role models. Protesters arrived from two different religious groups — one audibly denouncing the story hour saying, "the Bible says if you're not obedient, you will be destroyed" and another expressing that while they did not agree with the first group’s approach, they did feel that the library should not be used for the event. This was the second Drag Queen Story Hour held at the Putnam County Library, which is not a sponsor of the event, but maintains that the group is welcome to continue using its space if the library rules are followed.

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TDEC Seeks Feedback Regarding TNH20 Water Plan

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is seeking feedback on its TNH20 water plan regarding availability and infrastructure of the state’s water supply. The plan an assessment of current water resources and recommendations to help ensure that Tennessee has an abundance of water resources to support future and economic growth. Feedback regarding the program will be accepted until Feb. 28. You can submit your comments here.

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Department of Agriculture Urges Compliance on Use of Herbicides Containing Dicamba

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is asking farmers to comply with recent changes to federal guidelines when using herbicides containing dicamba — commonly used to control weeds when growing soybean and cotton — that are approved for “over-the-top” use. “We have reviewed EPA’s new label requirements and have determined that they address and in some cases, exceed the steps we have taken in Tennessee to help farmers use these products responsibly,” said Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton. “We will not seek additional restrictions. Instead, we will focus on helping producers comply while promoting commonsense practices to further protect sensitive areas.” Use of the chemical has spurred controversy in the state, making headlines for its effect on cyprus trees around Reelfoot Lake.

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Memphis Proposes Registry for Rental Properties

The City of Memphis has plans for a real property registry intended to monitor and track rental properties, compile data and make focused decisions regarding allocation of resources to those that have a history of code violations, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The registry would require landlords to have a local, registered agent to consult regarding code violations and other matters in attempts to prevent blight and ensure accountability from property owners. This would be the first step for the city’s 3.0 comprehensive land-use plan, with prospective tax changes and other affordable housing measures on the horizon.

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Metro Council to Consider Development Incentives Proposal

A Metro Nashville Council proposal would link economic and community development incentives to investment and support for affordable housing. Councilmember Fabian Bedne has introduced a bill which would require Metro to make matching payments to the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing when awarding incentive grants to companies seeking to relocate to the city, The Nashville Post reports. According to the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, total incentive grants in the 2018 fiscal year were $1.53 million. The bill is set to be considered at next week's Metro Council meeting. 

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Shelby Contracted for Tool to Track Details of Inmate Calls

Though the county said it has not used the tool, last year Shelby County entered into a contract to provide county investigators with a high-tech surveillance tool that would track and monitor all inmate calls, including the voice prints and cellphone locations of individuals who are not incarcerated. The Commercial Appeal reports that since the contract with prison phone provider GTL was signed last year, similar services offered by other companies have come under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission.
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