Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nashville launches Smart911for emergency calls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville emergency officials are encouraging people to provide vital information that can be delivered quickly to first responders in the event of an emergency. The city announced Friday the launch of Smart911, which allows people to submit information such as medical conditions or disabilities through a secure web site that can be accessed during an emergency call. Emergency Communications Center Director Duane Phillips said they see a growing number of calls from mobile phones and this service would help them more efficiently process emergency calls. The web site is

Hickory Hollow Mall plans special community event Aug. 3

Night Out Against Crime events planned throughout Davidson County

July 30, 2010

Hickory Hollow Mall will host a community event 5-8:30 p.m. outside of the Macy's store on Tuesday, Aug. 3.

Held in association with the annual Night Out Against Crime, the Hickory Hollow event will feature music, face painting, a children’s play area, exhibits from local businesses, mounted police horses, a variety of food, and the Cane Ridge High School cheerleaders and dance team will perform.

Ben Freeland, owner of Freeland Chevrolet and the President of THHAP (The Hickory Hollow Action Partnership) who hosts the event, expects over 1,000 people to attend.

Night Out Against Crime events will be held throughout Davidson County.

The mall is located off I-24 East at Bell Rd Exit #59

Company with no past clients hired to audit Nashville police stats

Firm will review police stats for free

By Brian Haas • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2010

Wanted: one public safety consultant firm to analyze and critique Metro police crime statistics policies.

No experience necessary.

In response to Mayor Karl Dean's request in May for an audit of police crime statistics, Metro auditors have hired a California-based company with no prior clients to help figure out if the department has been skewing local crime statistics.

The company, Elite Performance Auditing Consultants, has agreed to look at police policies and practices for free (aside from travel expenses) in return for a glowing letter of recommendation by Metro afterward. The city also hired a Vanderbilt University sociology professor for as much as $7,500 to analyze crime classification.

The arrangement allows the city to keep costs of the audit just under $10,000, but raises questions about how serious and thorough the inquiry will be.

"At face value it wouldn't seem like they're very serious about it," said Councilman Michael Craddock, who sits on the Public Safety Committee. "If that's all they're spending and they're hiring a company with no experience that's doing it free, well gee whiz."

Dean's office said the mayor has no say in the hiring or administration of audits. Metro Auditor Mark Swann is independent of the administration.

"Questions about the audit process are for Mr. Swann to answer, as his office is completely independent from the rest of Metro government," spokeswoman Janel Lacy said.

Swann defended hiring the California company on the cheap.

"They have connections to numerous police departments through the International Law Enforcement Auditors Association," he said. He added that the company's president has done two crime audits for the Los Angeles Police Department and has other law enforcement experience.

"I believe they will be an excellent resource for benchmarking reporting methodologies and general police culture concerns," Swann said.

Company officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Dean ordered the audit after questions intensified about the veracity of the city's crime statistics. Swann said he expects it to be completed by this fall.

VU lecturer hired

Swann's office also is hiring MaryAltani Karpos, a senior lecturer in Vanderbilt's sociology department, who will be paid up to $7,500 for 30 hours of work. She's expected to be tasked with making sure Metro police have been properly classifying crimes.

Karpos is known in academic circles for her work examining the disparity between police rape statistics and the number of rapes reported by victims. Earlier this year, she conducted a study for the Tennessee Department of Correction on how often convicts re-offend after being released.

Karpos said that she was unable to comment on the audit, per the contract.

"She'll be looking at crime reports and saying, 'Does the crime description fit the reported crime?' " Swann said.

There have been questions about Metro's police statistics for years. At a 2009 police budget hearing, Councilman Jim Gotto told then-Police Chief Ronal Serpas that he thought an audit might be a good idea. Serpas at the time appeared angry and accused Gotto of calling police officers liars. The department says it welcomes the upcoming audit.

On Friday, Gotto said he's pleased city auditors are making progress. He said he is confident the audit will answer his questions and he isn't concerned about the California firm. Metro will pay the company up to $2,450 for travel expenses.

"When you say that they're former LAPD auditors, then I think we're probably fine," he said. "It sounds to me like they have the credentials to be able to do the work."

Elite Performance Auditing Consultants was formed in April 2009, according to California business records, but it told Metro it had never had any clients. The company comprises mostly former Los Angeles Police Department auditors, according to employee biographies. It bid to audit the police department in Las Cruces, N.M., earlier this year but didn't get the contract.

Craddock said he wouldn't have hired a company that had no previous clients if he were serious about a full audit.

"This is a very serious situation because the people in this city need to know the true picture of crime," Craddock said.

Half of Tennessee students fail tougher state tests

Tougher standards give TN honest look at where kids stand

By Jaime Sarrio • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2010

About half of Tennessee's public school students failed to meet state academic standards this year, the result of a more rigorous curriculum, harder exams and tougher grading.

The dismal results didn't come as a surprise to state leaders, who for years have said that Tennessee schools are too easy and that the state does not accurately report academic performance.

But the new scores are a sobering look at just how far behind students in the Volunteer State trail. For example:

• Only a quarter of eighth-grade math students posted scores showing they're on track to graduate with the skills needed to do college-level work

• Fewer than half of fourth-grade test-takers read on grade level under last school year's higher standards.

• Under last year's Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, only 9 percent of students in grades 3-8 would have failed math exams. As it stands, 67 percent failed, demonstrating weaknesses in the old system and increased expectations now.

The news came Friday as the Tennessee Board of Education decided which TCAP scores should be considered passing.

Last fall, public school students were introduced to a more rigorous curriculum. In the spring, a more difficult TCAP made its debut. Now, in the third and final phase, those test results are being graded. Individual school and student reports will be available in September and October.

As hard as the new scores are to swallow, state leaders say they are proof substantial changes are being made to the education system, and parents are getting their first honest look at how kids are performing.

"We're finally telling the truth about where we are and where our kids are," said Education Commissioner Tim Webb. "We just didn't know. Our teachers didn't know. But now they do. And so we will move forward."

State asks for time

Conversations about new standards started in 2006 when a magazine called Education Next gave Tennessee the "cream puff award" for having the worst standards in the nation. For years, 80 percent to 90 percent of students have been sailing through state exams with proficient or advanced scores, while bombing national tests like the ACT college entrance exam or the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The end result? In a few years, state officials say, Tennessee's scores will improve on local and national tests, and students won't need remedial college courses.

"It's something we all need to take a great deal of pride in, where we've moved during these last several years," said B. Fielding Rolston, chairman of the state Board of Education.

Ruth Stewart, parent of a rising sophomore at Hume-Fogg Magnet High, said she doesn't expect her son's scores to drop, but regardless she'll be OK with the results if they present a more accurate view of how he's doing on a national level.

"We do need to be compared with kids nationally," she said.

"If we think our kids are doing well and they're not nationally, I want to know that. These are the kids we're going to be competing with for college placement and jobs. My view is all information, if it's accurate, is good."

In the wake of the results, the state is waiting to see how it will respond to schools that end up not meeting state standards.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state must intervene when schools fail to meet testing benchmarks, which are calculated for students of subgroups like race and income level. The longer a school fails to meet the benchmarks, the more severe the intervention required.

But because so many schools are bound to fail this year under the new system, state officials are asking the federal government for time to make the transition into the new standards without having to take drastic interventions. Instead, they want to focus state resources on training teachers.

Commissioner Webb, who sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asking for the reprieve, said preliminary conversations with federal officials have been positive.

"We've talked to them, and they materially agree with what we're saying, but we're waiting on final approval," Webb said. "I think we have some good promise."

New national standards

In another development, the board joined 32 other states in voting to adopt new national standards called the Common Core.

All total, 48 states have agreed to adopt the standards, which aren't federally mandated but are the closest thing that exists to a uniform national curriculum. That means all students in all the Common Core states will be learning the same things at the same time.

State leaders say the Common Core is an 85 percent match to the curriculum currently in place. The standards cover math and English language arts and must be integrated into schools within the next three years.

Students will be tested on the new material in 2014-15. Those exams also will tread new ground: They will be computerized.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tougher standards concern some teachers

New standards aim to catch TN students up

By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2010

Mortimer Davenport wanted to give his 14-year-old son, Martez, every advantage. For a while, he hoped that would be private school instead of Nashville's Cane Ridge High, but it was just too expensive.

So he was heartened to learn that Tennessee was going to make lessons tougher for its public school children. Even before a statewide campaign told him so, Davenport knew it had to be done for success in college and beyond.

"What I want to know is why didn't Tennessee have these standards from the very beginning?" Davenport said. "… You want them to be ready. I don't mind these standards if students are taught well and made viable for college."

Gov. Phil Bredesen, who championed tougher curriculum and testing for Tennessee students, toured the state last week touting the new standards and warning parents of the result — much lower standardized test scores coming home in September. The state will roll out an ad campaign with the same message next month. But well before parents began taking note, principals and teachers were figuring out how to move students forward in a giant leap.

The state adopted the new standards in 2008 and introduced them for the 2009-10 school year. Spring testing marked educators' first chance to see how much of a gap in student knowledge they're facing.

Angela Wilburn, a 22-year veteran of Metro Nashville Public Schools, said she has heard fifth-grade teachers quietly wondering how to teach pre-algebra concepts to students who barely do arithmetic.

Wilburn, an eighth-grade math teacher at McMurray Middle in South Nashville, said she is methodical in her lessons, going a bit slower and partnering struggling students with stronger classmates. She expects math scores to nosedive on the new testing, but with strong instruction, students will bounce back, she said.

However, what's missing from the new standards is student accountability, she said. They can pass to the next grade no matter how they score on Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests.

"My biggest fear as an educator is that there are no repercussions for students who don't do well," Wilburn said. "We can't retain students. There needs to be some standard that ties student scoring to promotion."

Meanwhile, 35 percent of teacher evaluations will be tied to student performance on Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and end-of-course tests.

Not a gradual shift
Teachers are prepared to use a tougher curriculum to move students ahead, said Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, although the union would have liked a more gradual shift instead of everything implemented in one year.

Bredesen said increasing standards was necessary for long-term gain of higher achievement on national tests, like the ACT college entrance exam, and he's asking all to stay the course.

Under Tennessee's new standards, students formerly considered "advanced" are likely to score barely proficient on last spring's Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and end-of-course testing, the state education commissioner said last week.

Comparing Tennessee students' performance on state and national tests shows how far behind the state is. The Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board recently issued a report showing that 90 percent of Tennessee fourth-graders were considered proficient in reading using state tests in 2009, but only 28 percent scored at that level on a national test.

"The whole idea is to let teachers know where students' weaknesses are and guide instruction accordingly," said Alan Richard, spokesman for the regional board. "It doesn't do you much good to have 90 percent meeting the standard."

Julie Hopkins, principal of Buena Vista Elementary in North Nashville, said she is reviewing student performance from several school assessments that help her determine their strengths and weaknesses and how to teach to those. This year, a consultant will work with teachers one-on-one since there's a lot of varying instructions for the new standards.

School started in spring

Some educators are taking bold steps to be sure students can meet the new standards. Stewarts Creek Elementary in Rutherford County was approved for a pilot program that launched students into the next grade's curriculum right after spring TCAP tests.

Rachael Ged, a Stewarts Creek Elementary parent last year, was critical of the program. She said it was likely students would forget lessons over the summer, and said parents weren't properly notified of the plan. She is confident her children, A students who are both now at Stewarts Creek Middle School, performed well on spring testing. But others probably needed time to make the transition, Ged said.

"Those already behind need a chance to catch up," she said. "There has to be progression in some way. A lot of kids are below the line and won't be able to reach that bar that's just been raised."

Ged wants to be sure teachers get plenty of funding from Race To The Top, the $500 million federal grant awarded the state this year, in part as a reward for increasing standards.

In the end, students succeed because parents at home guide them, said Daniel Phibbs, whose son, Tanner, attends Mt. Juliet Elementary School.

Phibbs moved his family to Wilson County from Colorado after he learned the school district fared better in reading and writing than neighboring counties. Phibbs said he believes Tennessee will catch up with the rest of the nation.

"It boils down to parents, schools and teachers working in concert for the bigger picture goal ... smart, well-rounded, well-adjusted productive children," he said.

Nashville will launch center to target family violence

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 29, 2010

 A Nashville will develop a center to coordinate services for victims of family violence, Mayor Karl Dean announced Wednesday.

The Nashville Family Connections Center will coordinate the work of multiple government and nonprofit agencies to try to reduce the number of children and youth exposed to family violence.

"By sharing information and working together, all of the agencies involved in addressing family violence will be able to provide more effective services," Dean said. "And we'll be able to reduce the cyclical pattern of family violence in our community."

The center was recommended by a 52-member task force that Dean appointed to develop strategies for ensuring the well-being of children and youth. The group's five working committees looked at health, safety, out-of-school time, education life cycle, and mobility and stability.

"With input from literally hundreds of young people and hundreds of adults, it puts in place 14 outcomes that all of us believe go toward helping a young person grow, thrive and become the kind of adult we all hope they can be," Metro Councilman Ronnie Steine, a co-chairman of the task force, said in an interview.

"Most of the things you will see in the report are commonsensical. But there is great power in finally writing them down with wide agreement that they're important to us."

Steine said he has started working with Dean's administration on a "children and youth budget," which will track what the city spends on children and youth. He called the idea "revolutionary to think about in terms of focusing resources."

The center will focus on family violence as a whole, including domestic violence, child abuse, delinquency prevention, intervention and family support services. It will include representatives from the police department, the district attorney's office, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, Davidson County Juvenile Court, Metro Social Services and nonprofit advocacy organizations. The center probably will be housed in existing, vacant space. Its structure will be similar to that of the Metro Student Attendance Center, a partnership between Juvenile Court, the police department and the school system to address the issue of truancy. Metro officials will spend most of the next year planning before the center opens.

The task force's report is available at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Skyline Medical Center's Warrior Wellness helps soldiers deal with effects of combat

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

PageSoldiers' battles aren't always fought on the front lines. Some happen at home, when the soldier returns from the war zone and begins to deal with the effects of combat.

With more than 1 million troops leaving active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2002 and 2009, the need to help soldiers keeps growing, and more private hospitals are tailoring their services to aid the troops.

About 18 percent of troops who return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety condition often brought on by a terrifying ordeal. Also, up to 25 percent of troops may experience depression, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

That's why Skyline Medical Center in Madison has partnered with Fort Campbell to provide mental health services to soldiers who are returning home and trying to cope.

"Most people are placed into horrific situations when they are deployed, and there are normal reactions to trauma," said Dr. Scott Wilson, director of Skyline's Warrior Wellness initiative. "We saw that soldiers weren't fully having their mental health needs met."

The number of soldiers who take their own lives has been increasing. Data from the Army shows that 245 soldiers committed suicide in 2009, up from 195 in 2008 and 115 in 2007. The Army saw more suicides in June — 32 — than it has seen in a single month since Vietnam, recently released statistics show.

Fort Campbell in Clarksville had 11 suicides in the first five months of 2009, more than any other Army post during that time. The base, which has about 35,000 soldiers, shut down operations for three days.

Brain suffers changes

Common causes of stress disorder can include seeing dead people, being shot at, being attacked or ambushed and knowing someone who was injured or killed. Other times, the soldiers' mental health issues can stem from concussions suffered during a battle or after an encounter with an improvised explosive device.

The results can be excessive fears, substance abuse and relationship difficulties, said Dr. Bret Logan, deputy commander for managed care and compliance at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and executive director of the traumatic brain injury war resiliency and recovery center at Fort Campbell. Signs of mental health issues can be lack of concentration, memory loss and aggressive or violent behavior.

"When you are overexposed to a threatening, chronic event, it produces changes in the brain," Logan said. "You have to calm the brain down."

Logan said the post also uses services for mental health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Centennial Hospital in Nashville to help soldiers, and because the Army gets one-third of its care from community health-care systems, the private sector services will continue to grow.

Since Skyline's Warrior Wellness Program started in March, the unit has been almost always full, averaging about 12 soldiers daily. The average stay of soldiers has been about 10 days.

The program emphasizes keeping the routines of military life, including discipline and physical conditioning, along with treatment. Soldiers participate in group and individual therapy and may be put on medications.

"These are the soldiers that were in the thick of things," Wilson said. "We are going to see more civilian hospitals help fill the gap in services."

Mayor's Home Ownership Fair hopes to fulfill dreams of buying or building

Free annual event answers questions about ownership issues

By Maria Giordano • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

With three kids ranging in age from 8 to 17, Angela Miller wants to move out of public housing and into her own home.

It's a dream for now, but Miller took her first steps Sunday toward making it a reality by asking plenty of questions at the third annual Mayor's Home Ownership Fair at Bridgestone Arena.

The free event featured more than 50 booths with representatives from local realty companies to title companies to lending institutions, all available to answer those burning housing questions.

"I've always wanted to move into a house," Miller said. "I just want to better myself — get something better for my kids."

Although mortgage rates are lower than they've been since the 1960s at about 4.5 percent, it's not necessarily easier for first-time homebuyers such as Miller. First, it's more difficult to qualify for a loan.

Gone are the days when all that was needed was a driver's license, Social Security card and gainful employment, said Rick Florita of Farmington Financial Group. Now, lending institutions need not only that vital information but also W-2 forms, good credit scores and tax returns, Florita said. At Farmington they check asset statements, he said.

The Nashville company is seeing fewer homebuyers, but they are seeing plenty of homeowners refinancing. Like many firms, they expected to lose business after the federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers expired.

It turns out many homeowners don't have enough equity in their homes to move, Florita said. "People are in a good position to stay in their homes," he added.

Many hurdles exist

Organizers say more than 700 people attended the fair, where many businesses said they fielded plenty of questions about the loan process and dreaded credit scores, a measure of one's debt and ability to pay bills in a timely manner.

Lisa Vogel, a mortgage originator at Old Hickory Credit Union, said poor credit scores have been a hurdle for many homebuyers. People have lost their jobs or their marital status has changed, causing defaults on credit cards and mortgage notes and sullying their ability to borrow money.

"The hardest part is getting people re-established and into a more affordable situation," Vogel said.

This won't be a problem for Antonio and Dorothy Marks of Nashville, who attended the fair to meet builders. The owners of a parcel of land near Belmont University, the couple said they are already pre-qualified for a loan and ready to build.

Unfortunately, meeting that builder has been more difficult than they had thought.

"It's been really hard because a lot of builders are dealing with flood victims," Dorothy Marks said. Of the few builders at the fair, only one was able to help them, they said. The others constructed homes in subdivisions only, they said.

In the meantime, Miller says the home-buying process does not daunt her.

"I've learned how to get a loan, how to get out of debt and the importance of inspections," Miller said. "I've learned a lot that I didn't know."

The Tennessean was a sponsor of the fair

Tennesseans say economy, jobs are state's top problem

Public spending is secondary concern

By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

Jobs and the economy proved to be the most important issue facing Tennessee today, with state spending ranking a distant second, according to a new poll by The Tennessean and other media outlets in the state.

According to the poll of 625 registered Tennessee voters, 54 percent of those surveyed said their top issue was the economy and jobs. Government spending came in second, with 22 percent naming it the most important issue facing the state today.

As the economy sank and unemployment rose the past two years, job applications have been streaming into Hendersonville-based Stokes Production Services Inc., according to company co-owner Kim Stokes, a respondent to the poll.

The video production company puts more than 150 freelancers to work every year, but Stokes said there hasn't been enough work for the increasing number of applicants

Unemployment in Tennessee stood at 10.1 percent through June, down from 10.9 percent a year ago at this time, according to the state Department of Labor.

"I have freelancers calling me constantly because they don't have anything going on," Stokes said. "Everywhere I look, people don't have work — people like some of my friends who are older and have been let go. They've never been without work before in their lives."

Stokes is one of a majority of Tennesseans who found the economy to be the issue of most concern facing the state.

Like Stokes, Lisa Chism is a Middle Tennessee small-business owner. Chism and her husband own Tradewind Industries, which manufactures acrylic bathtubs. Earlier this year, Chism said her company was forced to lay off workers because of the downturn.

Chism chose government spending as her top issue because she hasn't seen the state and federal governments take cost-cutting measures as small business owners have done.

"There are a lot of things that I know the government can cut back on," said Chism, who was among the 17 percent of voters still undecided on whom to support for governor heading into the Aug. 5 primary election. "Every household in Tennessee has had to make cutbacks, but I'm not seeing it in our state or federal government."
Thompson's Station resident Hillard Carr also selected the economy and job creation as his most important issue. Carr, a retired junior college instructor from Virginia, said he had never taken a heavy interest in politics before this year.

"Like a lot of people, I've really gotten concerned since President Obama was elected and the Democrats have taken control," Carr said. "They're doing a lot of things that I just totally oppose and have believed my whole life."

Issue could sway vote

"It's pocketbook issues on people's minds," said Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.

With the economy on her mind, Stokes said she was leaning toward supporting Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, because of his experience at the helm of Pilot Travel Centers

"He has created jobs, obviously," Stokes said. "He grew a large company, so he knows how to do that."

Health care came in a distant third, with 8 percent of the voters saying it was their top issue. Immigration was next, with 6 percent, followed by education, which was selected by 5 percent of likely voters.

"I just think (immigration) needs to be addressed, and I think Tennessee is going to need to address it just like Arizona did with its new anti-illegal-immigration law," said Wayne Dixon, a 62-year-old retired deputy with the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

Other voters found some measure of aggravation with the immigration debate.

Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a gubernatorial hopeful, campaigned for votes on a recent Saturday morning at the busy Franklin Farmers Market, and Margaret Wilburn had a question for him: Why are the candidates for governor talking so much about immigration in their television ads?

As a small-business owner, she said the issue she's focused on in the governor's race is the down economy and jobs.

"It's the economic situation — how is that going to be addressed? I'm trying to sell a business, and I can't. The tough part is finding the financing for a prospective buyer."

The Aug. 5 primary features three contenders for the Republican nomination in Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Wamp. Jackson beer distributor Mike McWherter is the only name on the ballot in the Democratic primary. According to the poll, Haslam is leading the GOP primary field, with 36 percent.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Updated neighborhood crime report for Davidson County

BlueCross stockpiles surplus cash while raising premiums

Insurers argue surpluses are needed as new health-care laws take effect

By Getahn Ward
THE TENNESSEAN • and Alison Young
USA TODAY • July 22, 2010

Nonprofit BlueCross and BlueShield health plans in several states, including Tennessee, stockpiled billions of dollars during the past decade, yet continued to hit consumers with hefty premium increases that could have been reduced in some cases, a new consumer study contends.

"Consumers are struggling to afford health coverage," said report author Sondra Roberto, who tackled the project for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. "Those funds could be used in some cases to mitigate these rate increases."

The report calls on state insurance regulators to scrutinize surpluses and set maximum limits to protect consumers from unreasonable health insurance costs.

But insurance regulators in Tennessee and BlueCross officials say rate increases here were justified, and keeping enough cash in reserve makes financial sense.

"On the day that financial reform legislation is signed in which many provisions are designed to create deeper reserves for financial institutions, it's ironic that we as health plans are being called out for having strong reserves," said Roy Vaughn, a BlueCross spokesman.

Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee covers 3 million members with 87,000 of those in individual insurance plans. Many others have group coverage through their employers.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee had $1.1 billion in surplus cash last year, an amount roughly five times what would be considered appropriate by regulators to protect insurers from insolvency, according to the Consumers Union study to be released today.

Tennessee's plan was among seven of the 10 states surveyed in which surpluses were more than three times the amounts needed, said Laurie Sobel, a senior staff attorney with Consumers Union. Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, North Carolina and Wyoming also fell into that category.

Last year, individual policyholders in Tennessee saw average rate increases of 7.7 percent, although some people saw premiums go up by as much as 14.9 percent, Blue Cross officials said. In the group market, the average rate increase was 4.6 percent in 2009 after slightly higher average rate hikes the previous two years here.

Some policyholders, especially those with complex insurance needs, were hit with much steeper increases, though.

Earlier this year, Nashville resident Dr. Alan Bachrach faced a 26 percent increase in the cost of individual coverage for himself and two diabetic children under a policy from BlueCross BlueShield with relatively high per person and family deductibles. Instead, he opted for a BlueCross catastrophic policy that cost much less but permits just two doctors' visits a year, no brand-name drugs and no psychiatric care.

"When I got that increase, I just sensed that the goal in life of the insurance plans is to charge very high premiums, or they want to … get rid of people that are going to cost them a lot of money," said Bachrach, who has a pre-existing medical condition.

Alissa Fox, a senior vice president at the BlueCross Blue Shield Association, said this is a "dangerous" time for regulators to limit health plans' surpluses because there is so much uncertainty about how insurance costs will change under the new federal health law. "It's a safety net," she said of cash in reserve.

Some rates rose 20%

Consumers Union examined nonprofit BlueCross and Blue Shield plans because they cover one out of three Americans with private health coverage.

Among other examples cited in the Consumers Union report:

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona had a $717.1 million surplus in 2009, more than seven times the regulatory minimum. The plan raised rates for individual market customers by as much as 18 percent in 2009. Company spokeswoman Regena Frieden said: "We believe the amount we have in reserves is appropriate."

Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon showed a surplus of $565.2 million in 2009, about 3.6 times the regulatory minimum. The plan raised rates on some individual plans an average of 25.3 percent in 2009 and 16 percent in 2010. Company spokeswoman Angela Hult said the company lost money on its individual policies and said the surplus is "essential to protecting our members from surges in claims costs."

"The tough question is how much surplus is too much surplus. There is no agreement on that," said administrator Teresa Miller of the Oregon Insurance Division, which limited Regence's most recent request for a rate increase by taking the surplus into account.

Vaughn, a BlueCross spokesman in Tennessee, said if the insurer's obligation to guarantee reserves of its TennCare managed care plan had been included in the magazine's analysis, the amount of excess surplus cited by Consumers Union in its report would have been nearly one-quarter lower.

Also, Tennessee's state Department of Commerce and Insurance questioned some of Consumers Union's conclusions. On average, BlueCross sought a 4.5 percent rate increase this year but got an increase of 3.75 percent from the department, said Bob Ribe, chief analyst with the state agency.

Consumers Union analyzed data from 2001 to 2009 for most states it reviewed. Some rate increases were in double-digits for several of the health plans, it said, including more than 20 percent for some of the Texas plans.

Vaughn questioned the logic of using surpluses to reduce premium increases, suggesting that helping reduce costs one year might deplete reserves for future unforeseen events.

"That's a very immediate and short-term view," he said

MTA hearings to focus on changes to routes, including Music City Circuit



The Metropolitan Transit Authority will hold five public hearings on July 26, 27 and 28 on proposed service changes for this fall.

Improvements to five routes will be discussed as well as expanding the Music City Circuit, making BusLink in Madison a fixed route, and establishing a new route near Cane Ridge High School.

Residents are encouraged to attend, but may also submit comments.

Meetings will be held at 4 p.m. Monday, July 26, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 27, and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 28 at Music City Central, 400 Charlotte Ave.; 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27 at the Inglewood Branch Library, 4312 Gallatin Road; and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 at Cumberland View Towers, 1201 Cheyenne Blvd. in Madison.

For more information or to submit comments, call Customer Care at 862-5950.



Man Shot During Home Invasion

Channel 5 News
Posted: Jul 22, 2010 5:26 AM CDT

Updated: Jul 22, 2010 7:49 AM CDT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A man was shot during a home invasion at a couple's apartment on Ocala Drive in the Tusculum area.

A gunman invaded the home around 3:30 a.m. while the couple was there.

The victim's girlfriend said her boyfriend was shot in the leg. He is at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in stable condition.

Police are searching for the gunman.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

State drops speed limit on Vietnam Veterans Boulevard

Associated Press • July 21, 2010

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is lowering the speed limit on Route 386 and has put in cable barrier following several serious crashes.

The highway, which is also known as Vietnam Veterans Boulevard, is a heavily traveled commuter route that handles traffic between Nashville and the Sumner County cities of Hendersonville and Gallatin.

On Thursday, the speed limit will be lowered from 70 mph to 65 mph from the Davidson County line to near Gallatin. The 70 mph limit will remain on the Davidson County portion.

TDOT will install new speed limit signs, beginning on Thursday, and will also post curve warning signs in two spots.

The agency has recently completed installing several miles of median cable barrier to prevent vehicles from running into oncoming lanes.

Council approves tax break for flood victims

Councilman says measure is for 'the very hardest hit'

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 21, 2010

 Davidson County property owners whose homes were severely damaged by the May flood will get a tax break under a plan the Metro Council approved Tuesday.

The council unanimously enacted its version of legislation passed by the General Assembly in May. The new law allows flood victims to apply for a prorated reduction in the assessment of each property that was damaged at least 50 percent and was not replaced or restored for at least 30 days. The application deadline is Sept. 1.

Councilman Ronnie Steine, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said the measure was designed "for those folks who were the very hardest hit."

"This is one of the things we can point to that will give folks some help," Steine said.
Councilman Phil Claiborne, whose Donelson district was hit hard, said he already had heard from a couple of residents inquiring about the option.

"I don't know why anybody wouldn't apply," he said.

The Davidson County property assessor's office has estimated the measure will cost Metro about $20 million in tax revenues. The city brings in about $650 million a year.

The council also gave preliminary approval to a plan that would waive flood victims' permit fees for home repair or rebuilding projects through Dec. 31. The council previously waived the fees through July 30. It probably will take a final vote on the extension in two weeks.

Lease change approved

In other business, the council voted unanimously to amend the city's Bridgestone Arena lease with the Nashville Predators. The lease now says the National Hockey League team must pay Metro 5 percent of the price of each ticket or $1.75 per ticket sold — whichever is lower.

The 5 percent provision, which was in the Predators' previous lease, was not included in the current agreement after lawyers for the city and the team failed to notice the omission in some 20 drafts they passed back and forth in 2007-08.

An attorney hired by Metro acknowledged the mistake last year after The Tennessean asked about apparent shortfalls in the funds the Predators were sending the city, based on the language in the contract at the time.

Contact Michael Cass at 615-259-8838 or

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sales tax holiday set for Aug. 6-8

Tennesseans who covet an iPad can take advantage of this year's sales tax holiday.

The popular computers are eligible for tax exemption while video games and consoles are not.

Dates for the fifth annual savings weekend are Friday, Aug. 6, through Sunday, Aug. 8. During those three days of savings, shoppers can save almost 10 percent on tax-free clothing, school and art supplies and computer purchases.

The holiday begins Friday, Aug. 6, at 12:01 a.m. and ends Sunday, Aug. 8, at 11:59 p.m. During the designated three-day weekend, consumers will not pay state or local sales tax on select clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item, and computers with a price of $1,500 or less.

"Last year's tax-free weekend was extremely successful in giving back to Tennesseans, providing nearly $8 million in tax savings to Tennessee families," said Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr. "We are hopeful that all Tennessee shoppers will enjoy the immediate relief of the 2010 Sales Tax Holiday."

The Sales Tax Holiday Web site is at

Tennessee's Department of Revenue can assist consumers via e-mail,, and through its toll-free statewide telephone hot line, (800) 342-1003.

In a continued effort to promote Tennessee's sales tax holiday, the Department of Revenue has launched a new dedicated facebook page at

Examples of exempt items include:


•School Supplies: Binders, book bags, calculators, tape, chalk, crayons, erasers, folders, glue, pens, pencils, lunch boxes, notebooks, paper, rulers and scissors

•Art Supplies: Clay and glazes; acrylic, tempera and oil paints; paintbrushes for artwork; sketch and drawing pads; and watercolors

•Computers: Central processing unit (CPU), along with various other components including monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables to connect components and preloaded software (Note: While the CPU may be purchased separately, other items must be part of a bundled computer package in order to be eligible.) IPad's are eligible for tax exemption; video games and consoles are not.

Tennessee lacks volunteer bragging rights

Study places state, Nashville in bottom half of 2009 rankings

By Elizabeth Johnson • THE TENNESSEAN • July 19, 2010

It's the capital of the Volunteer State, but Nashville may not be living up to the nickname.

Nashville ranks 37th among 51 large cities in the percentage of residents who volunteer, according to 2009 numbers from the Corporation for National and Community Service's Volunteering in America report.

Although the number of volunteers rose from 2008 to 2009, the city dropped two spots in the annual rankings as numbers increased heavily across the nation.

"It could be as a result of people being energized by national politics and wanting to get more involved in their community," said Jim Snell, executive director of Volunteer Tennessee. "(It) also could be the result of several large events that have happened, including hurricanes and national disasters, elsewhere in the country and in the world."

Lisa Davis Purcell, director of external affairs for Hands On Nashville, the city's volunteer center, said despite the ranking drop, it was good to see a "huge growth in the number of volunteers."

With almost a third of residents donating time to help their communities during 2009, Nashville ranked above the national average of 26.8 percent, but Snell is not satisfied.

"It's a little bit disappointing that individual cities within Tennessee are kind of at the lower end of the large cities in the country, particularly being cities within the Volunteer State," Snell said.

Tennessee's other large city, Memphis, ranked 35th. Among 75 midsize cities, Chattanooga and Knoxville came in at 42nd and 48th, respectively.

The state, as a whole, moved up six spots to 32nd among all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Although the ranking is an improvement on recent years, Snell hopes to see a larger increase in the near future.

"As the Volunteer State, we would certainly like to see Tennessee in the top 20 at least, and preferably within the top 10 nationally," Snell said.

With almost 1.4 million volunteers, nearly 30 percent of state residents took part in giving back. Volunteer Tennessee is in the early stages of a three-year plan in which it will launch a media campaign to increase the diversity of volunteers.

Nashvillians ages 25 to 54 volunteer at a higher rate than those across the nation, but the state ranks below the national average in all other age groups.

"We want to encourage people who are young and people who are old and people who may have disabilities to get out into the community and volunteer more," he said.

Like most of the nation, Nashville and Tennessee saw increased numbers in 2005 and 2006, a drop in 2007 and 2008 and now resurgence in 2009.

Snell said one reason could be the recession, which left unemployed residents with more time on their hands.

"People who have been unemployed have been more likely to volunteer than they have in the past. So they're actually giving back even in a time when they themselves are in need," he said. "(Volunteerism) really is becoming more of a practice that people who are unemployed are engaging in while they're looking for work."

Flood brings volunteers

As a result of the May floods, the number of volunteers in Nashville and around the state has risen and should have an impact on the 2010 ranking.

"We want to make sure that those volunteers don't just volunteer for this one event, and that they keep coming back and … really become long-term, committed volunteers," Snell said.

"Once you get volunteers in the door, Tennessee has a much better history of keeping those volunteers than other states around the nation."

Cindy Endsley of Hermitage, who has been volunteering through Hands On Nashville and other organizations since 2003, thinks the flood has brought more awareness about how people can get involved.

"A lot of people don't know where to go to volunteer," said Endsley, 33. "Since the flood, it's a household thing. Going forward they'll know where to volunteer, and I think Nashville will see an increase."

She also hopes new volunteers will come back after seeing the benefits of their work.

"In the past seven years that I've been volunteering, I've grown as a person. I've met so many people. It makes you feel so good about yourself," she said.

"And then, you've got a bonus — you're volunteering and helping the community."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Week ahead: Metro Council set to ease burden of flood victims

Tennessean July 18,2010

Metro government and nonprofits alike continue to find ways to help homeowners and businesses hurting financially from the May floods. Metro Council on Tuesday will begin the process of giving pro-rated property tax assessments to flood victims to ease their financial burden.

Corps to hold D.C. hearings
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has its hearings before Congress on Thursday to discuss its actions during the May floods. Numerous Nashville leaders, including Mayor Karl Dean, are scheduled to give testimony.

Nissan workers to return
Assembly workers at Nissan's Smyrna plant are scheduled to return to work on Tuesday after being idled for three days. About 3,500 workers in Smyrna were affected when Nissan suspended production Thursday because of a shortage of an electronic component used in the vehicles.

Spring Hill to vote on budget
Spring Hill city leaders expect to pass a budget on Monday that includes money for new equipment and allows the city to start building back reserves for the first time in two years. But officials are still torn about the tax rate. Mayor Michael Dinwiddie wants a 12-cent increase; Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Hull said the city can balance the budget at the current rate and worry about future needs later, in hopes the economy will improve. The meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 199 Town Center Parkway.

Summer graduation planned
Metro Nashville Public Schools will hold its summer graduation ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday at McGavock High School. The ceremony is for students who needed additional course credits, earned over the summer, to graduate. Noise-making devices are prohibited, along with banners that could obstruct others' view.

Science teachers get training
Twenty-four Middle Tennessee teachers will converge on Lipscomb University this week to learn how to make science fun to learn. The state is funding the training to help districts meet the requirement for students to have four years of science in high school. The state is also requiring engineering concepts to be taught in science courses.

21st Avenue South project to be discussed by public
A public meeting about the 21st Avenue South road improvement project will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the community center at Belmont United Methodist Church, 2007 Acklen Ave. Hillsboro Village residents and merchants are invited to hear a short presentation about the project.

Rape suspects are due in court
Two former Ravenwood High School students accused of rape are set on Tuesday either to make a plea or have their case sent to trial. Taylor Ball, 20, and Matthew Dowdy, 19, are due in court for charges related to the alleged rape of a former classmate Nov. 2, 2008, after a Ravenwood Cotillion party. Both men face three counts of aggravated rape of a girl, then a high school senior.

Teens are out of work, out of luck

Kids, seniors compete for jobs

By Derek Moy • THE TENNESSEAN • July 18, 2010

That kid who's been lounging on your couch all summer, saying he just can't find a job, is probably telling the truth.

Nearly three-quarters of teenagers who want a job haven't been able to find one, said Ellen Zinkiewicz, director of youth and community services at the Nashville Career Advancement Center.

Teen job seekers have been hit by a triple blow. The economy is still wobbly, the federal stimulus money that funded many summer jobs last year is gone, and now young people face growing competition from people old enough to be their grandparents.

For the first time on record, people 65 and older outnumber teens in the labor force, according to federal data compiled by Bloomberg News.

"Older workers need to replenish their 401(k) plans, so those who have jobs are clinging to them rather than retiring," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Teens lose out because less-educated workers and those with shorter tenure are most vulnerable during a recession, she said.

Caleb Clendening, 16, said he has been searching for a job since the middle of his freshman year at Greenbrier High School. He is an avid dirt biker and has a cast on his wrist to prove it, but he wants a job so he can get a driver's license and car.

When his first application to a grocery store led nowhere, he went to a discount tire shop to try his luck there. Clendening knows what employers are looking for but hasn't made it to the interview stage yet.

"I've been raised to work hard and do what I'm told, do what I'm asked," he said. "I haven't had an interview yet, so I haven't been able to show that."

Ryan Budden, a 19-year-old from Brentwood, was dismayed by statistics showing the number of older people competing for jobs. In the first half of this year, people 65 and older outnumbered teens 16-19 in the labor force for the first time since the government started tracking the data, in 1948.

"It shouldn't be like that. People 65 and older should be relaxing, doing what they enjoy," Budden said.

A decade ago, teens outnumbered older workers two to one. But Zinkiewicz said the job market for teens has been falling ever since.

"I think the general labor market trend for the past 10 years has been a decrease in teenagers working," she said. "That was a trend that started well before the recession. The recession kind of hurried it on."

Because of the economic woes and the older generation not retiring, teens face a terrible job market today, Zinkiewicz said.

Jobs projects lack funds

This summer has been worse than the last because of less government support, said Joseph Johnson, program director of the Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency's Youth CAN program.
Last year, the federal stimulus funded about 12,000 summer jobs for Tennessee youths, including more than 1,000 in Nashville, but that funding isn't available this year.

The Youth CAN program, which can help teens get a high school equivalency diploma or put them into technical colleges, has been completely packed this summer, Johnson said, and soon teens will be put on a waiting list in Davidson County.

Robert Wallace, 19, a Belmont University student, thinks more schools should get involved in helping their pupils gain employment.

"We need to somehow work that into the local budget, whether it's internships or anything like that," said Wallace, a member of the board of directors for the Oasis Center, a program that helps teens get jobs.

When teenagers are employed, they stimulate the local economy by spending money, Zinkiewicz said. Teenagers rarely save for retirement and will instead buy things they enjoy.

"We see the potential stimulus, but the reason we support (teen employment) is because we see the direct benefit it has for kids," she said.

"You learn to work by working. These young people are not learning to work, and they want to. We need to be more creative and out-of-the-box about how we provide work and work-like experiences for teenagers."

Taxpayers pay for political mailings

Lawmakers use newsletter budgets, transfer funds to vulnerable colleagues

By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • July 18, 2010

To read the whole story, click the link agove.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Antioch mom faces charges after filthy kids, dead dogs found at home

Police say home was unsanitary
By Nicole Young • THE TENNESSEAN • July 16, 2010

An Antioch woman is charged with aggravated child neglect and faces 26 state charges for aggravated animal cruelty after Metro police discovered her living in unsanitary conditions with her four young children Thursday.

Dorothy Kifer, 37, was trying to herd horses back onto her property at 4334 Maxwell Road at about 7 a.m. when police responded to a complaint about horses running in the street.

As she and Hermitage Precinct Officer Jeb Johnston approached her remote Davidson County home, the officer recognized the grave conditions and called for backup, Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said.

"There were vultures in the trees around this house when the doors were opened," Mumford said.

Once inside the 1,300 square foot, two-story home, police found Kifer's four children — ages 19 months, 2, 4, and 6 — covered in what appeared to be mud and animal feces, Mumford said.

The home did not have air conditioning or running water.

"The children appeared to be of normal weight, but they were listless," she said. "It was already 95 degrees when youth services detectives took temperatures from inside the home at 10 a.m."

Health inspectors donned gas masks and hazmat suits before they entered the home.

They declared it unfit for human occupancy after finding three dead dogs and sewage and wastewater on the ground. Police said it appears the animals died from dehydration.

Kifer was arrested and her children were taken to Vanderbilt children's hospital where they were evaluated and released into the custody of the Department of Children's Services.

Animal Control officers removed 15 malnourished, underweight dogs from the property. They also are providing food and water for eight horses.

Mumford said Kifer's husband, Jesse Kifer, returned to Middle Tennessee on Thursday after serving as a national guardsman in Iraq.

"We don't know if he had any idea of the living conditions," she said.

"DCS will decide if the children should stay in their custody or go to a family member."

Midsize companies fall through cracks for flood aid

Businesses are too small for state help; loans just make dent
By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 16, 2010

The Flood of 2010 put Mid-South Wire Co. in a tough position.

Too big for a small-business disaster loan that would make much of a difference, not big enough for the relief offered by the state, the low-carbon wire mill will have to borrow every dollar for a rebuilding project estimated at up to $15 million.

"If you're an ice cream shop or a barbershop, it's a godsend what FEMA can do," said John T. Johnson Jr., the company's president. "We're not that, and we're not Gaylord. We don't employ 2,000 people. We don't get that kind of attention. We're the odd man out.

"It's been a hard, expensive, frustrating road to recovery — with no help from anybody yet."

Too big for a small-business disaster loan that would make much of a difference, not big enough for the relief offered by the state, the low-carbon wire mill will have to borrow every dollar for a rebuilding project estimated at up to $15 million.

"If you're an ice cream shop or a barbershop, it's a godsend what FEMA can do," said John T. Johnson Jr., the company's president. "We're not that, and we're not Gaylord. We don't employ 2,000 people. We don't get that kind of attention. We're the odd man out.

"It's been a hard, expensive, frustrating road to recovery — with no help from anybody yet."

Too big for a small-business disaster loan that would make much of a difference, not big enough for the relief offered by the state, the low-carbon wire mill will have to borrow every dollar for a rebuilding project estimated at up to $15 million.

"If you're an ice cream shop or a barbershop, it's a godsend what FEMA can do," said John T. Johnson Jr., the company's president. "We're not that, and we're not Gaylord. We don't employ 2,000 people. We don't get that kind of attention. We're the odd man out.

"It's been a hard, expensive, frustrating road to recovery — with no help from anybody yet."

Companies such as Mid-South Wire are in what they and their advocates call "the doughnut hole." Federal aid won't cover much of their costs, and a state sales tax exemption program approved by the General Assembly only applies to companies such as Gaylord Entertainment Co. that will invest at least $50 million in rebuilding.

The legislature did agree to let any property owner get a reduction of his or her tax assessment for the entire time the property is damaged. Prorated reductions also are available for the personalty tax, which applies to equipment that must be replaced.

But an attempt to create a sales tax exemption on new equipment fell short; only the largest companies received that. A proposal offering franchise and excise tax credits also was defeated.

"Companies that are moving here get incentives," said David Stansell, president of Stansell Electric, founded in 1940. "We've been here forever. With 180 employees, that's not an insignificant player, and we've been here so long. A little break in a situation like this would be nice."

'Gaps' exist

Stansell Electric's out-of-pocket costs will exceed $1 million after insurance kicks in, Stansell said. Like Mid-South Wire, the company will turn to its bank to finance its rebuilding.

Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, said some companies are struggling mightily to bridge the gulf between insurance coverage and actual needs.

Nashville school's failure leads to closer look at charter applications

By Jaime Sarrio • THE TENNESSEAN • July 16, 2010

The collapse of a Nashville charter school is increasing attention to the way new charters are managed and triggering changes to protect the school district against bad business practices.

Nashville Global Academy closed this month after sinking $500,000 into debt, leaving its 155 students to look for other options. The school still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the district and has not produced financial reports requested by school administrators.

The debacle is making the district and new charter school providers more sensitive to what can happen when a charter is approved without proper planning.

"It reaffirms that well-intentioned people don't always make decisions that are well researched or well founded," said Marsha Edwards, head of the Martha O'Bryan Center. "It's easy to get into trouble when you're operating a complex business."

The Martha O'Bryan Center is one of two providers approved this year to open charter schools in the fall of 2011. East End Prep will serve kindergarten through fifth grade and offer longer school days and years.

A second school, STEM Prep, eventually will serve fifth though eighth grades mostly in the Glencliff and McGavock areas.

Charter schools receive about $8,100 per student in public money but are operated by an independent school board. Next year, Metro will have five charter schools serving about 1,200 students, including New Vision Academy opening this fall. By fall 2011, the district will have seven.

East End and STEM were the first applicants approved under a more rigorous process designed to prevent another jarring school closing. Now, schools are approved about 15 months before they open, rather than eight months.

Financials scrutinized
District officials are scrutinizing new schools' financial plans to ensure they don't promise services and programs — like a laptop for every child — that are financially unfeasible.

Next Page1

2Previous PageThe collapse of a Nashville charter school is increasing attention to the way new charters are managed and triggering changes to protect the school district against bad business practices.

Nashville Global Academy closed this month after sinking $500,000 into debt, leaving its 155 students to look for other options. The school still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the district and has not produced financial reports requested by school administrators.

The debacle is making the district and new charter school providers more sensitive to what can happen when a charter is approved without proper planning.

"It reaffirms that well-intentioned people don't always make decisions that are well researched or well founded," said Marsha Edwards, head of the Martha O'Bryan Center. "It's easy to get into trouble when you're operating a complex business."

RelatedCharter school's failure shows system is workingNashville officials study charter school's failureNashville charter school closes, laying financial blame on former leadersNashville school board to decide charter school's fateTroubled Nashville school is asked to surrender its charterThe Martha O'Bryan Center is one of two providers approved this year to open charter schools in the fall of 2011. East End Prep will serve kindergarten through fifth grade and offer longer school days and years.

A second school, STEM Prep, eventually will serve fifth though eighth grades mostly in the Glencliff and McGavock areas.

Charter schools receive about $8,100 per student in public money but are operated by an independent school board. Next year, Metro will have five charter schools serving about 1,200 students, including New Vision Academy opening this fall. By fall 2011, the district will have seven.

East End and STEM were the first applicants approved under a more rigorous process designed to prevent another jarring school closing. Now, schools are approved about 15 months before they open, rather than eight months.

Financials scrutinizedDistrict officials are scrutinizing new schools' financial plans to ensure they don't promise services and programs — like a laptop for every child — that are financially unfeasible.

(2 of 2)

"We've been attentive to (financial management) in the application process," said Alan Coverstone, Metro's executive director of charter schools. "We're approving groups that take that seriously and have that in place."

Also, the district currently sends monthly payments to charter schools based on a predetermined enrollment figure. The schools reimburse the district if the enrollment is smaller than anticipated and pay the district for any contracted services such as rent, transportation or food.

In Nashville Global's case, the school was overpaid for enrollment and could not repay the district. It also owed money for contracted services.

Now, the district is considering deducting money for contracted services before a school is paid for enrollment.

District financial officials are in conversation with the Tennessee Department of Education over whether this is legal.

Nashville Global opened in fall of 2009, less than a year after the Metro school board approved its charter. The school ran into financial trouble almost from the beginning.

When the application was approved, leaders didn't know where the school would be located. The spot eventually found in Whites Creek meant higher-than-anticipated student transportation costs.

In addition, fewer students enrolled at the school, meaning less revenue. And enrollment continued to sink throughout the year, meaning the revenue kept dropping.

Greg Thompson, head of Nashville's charter incubator, designed to nurture new schools, said facility costs are one of the major drains on charter schools. In addition, schools can have trouble finding the seed money for textbooks, staff and payroll, although they can apply for startup grants through the state.

"Rarely do you have a nest egg," Thompson said. "If you're starting a school, you've got to pay for all that on the front end."

Fundraisers used
Schools that are successful make modest plans, Thompson said. He pointed to Martha O'Bryan as a school with a smart plan — starting with kindergarten and growing one grade at a time — launched by an organization with experience securing donations.

The O'Bryan model aims to raise $250 for every student to supplement what taxpayers contribute. East End also will contract with the center's financial, maintenance and human resource officials for a fraction of the market costs.

"Not all schools spend the same amount per kid," Thompson said. "Your budget has to match your ability to fundraise."

Despite the bad press surrounding Nashville Global, charter school parent Ricky Lattimore said they are still a great option for underserved students. His children attend Smithson-Craighead Academy, Metro's oldest charter. All schools have problems, he said, and they should see Nashville Global as a cautionary tale.

"It's a head's-up for a lot of other schools," he said.

Early voting gets under way today at Davidson election commission


Early voting for the Aug. 5 elections starts today in Metro at the Davidson County Election Commission.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today at the election commission, which is in the Metro Office Building at 800 Second Ave. S. Voters can vote in primaries for state and federal offices and the general election for some Metro posts, such as Davidson County Juvenile Court clerk.

Starting July 26, voters also will be able to cast their ballots at eight other sites: Belle Meade United Methodist Church, 121 Davidson Road; Bellevue Community Center, 650 Colice Jeanne Road; Bordeaux Library, 4000 Clarksville Pike; Edmondson Pike Library, 5501 Edmondson Pike; Green Hills Library, 3701 Benham Ave.; Hermitage Library, 3700 James Kay Lane; Living Word Church, 5380 Hickory Hollow Parkway; and Madison Library, 610 Gallatin Pike S.

Early voting ends July 31. For a full schedule, go to:

For a full schedule, go to

Omni to buy land for convention center hotel

City talks with others, but Tower sale is 'positive step'

By Michael Cass and Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • July 16, 2010

A Nashville developer has agreed to sell land just south of the Country Music Hall of Fame to Omni Hotels, which wants to build a hotel there to serve the city's new convention center.

Tower Investments Senior Vice President Alex Marks said Thursday that his company reached a deal with Omni in the past week on Tower's 3.1-acre site at 322 Fifth Ave. S. Marks declined to elaborate, and an Omni spokeswoman, Lynda Perkins, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Metro officials said they were negotiating with Omni, Marriott and other hotel companies and were optimistic they could have a deal in place soon. While talks continue with the various parties, the Omni move seems to be an indication of its confidence in coming to terms with the city, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said.

"It seems like a positive step," he said
Riebeling said he hopes to be able to present a deal to the Metro Council by Labor Day. He said he still expects the "headquarters" hotel to have 700 to 1,000 rooms, which likely would cost $200 million to $300 million.

Metro and Tower fought last year over the city's eminent-domain claim on 5.66 acres of Tower-owned land in the footprint of the convention center. The city ultimately took possession of that land, and the $585 million Music City Center is under construction.

In December, Tower and Atlanta-based Barry Real Estate Companies said they would develop an office tower on the Fifth Avenue site, which had long been eyed by the city for a convention center hotel and could connect to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

While the relationship between city and developer grew tense, Riebeling said Tower's land is still probably the best hotel site because it's closest to the convention center ballroom and other key parts of the $585 million facility.

But the site is just one piece of the puzzle.

"It's got to be a whole deal that works for the city," Riebeling said. "I don't have that yet."

Marks said he couldn't comment on the change in the office tower plans.

Omni is owned by TRT Holdings, which was founded by Texas billionaire Rob Rowling.

Rowling also is the top shareholder in Gaylord Entertainment Co., which talked to the city earlier this year about developing the hotel.

Gaylord CEO Colin Reed said a deal would be a "win-win for the city of Nashville and for Omni."

Mayor Karl Dean's office said it was aware of the Tower-Omni agreement.

"As we've confirmed before, Omni is one of the hotel operators that have expressed interest in building the convention center headquarters hotel," Dean's spokeswoman, Janel Lacy, said in a written statement. "However, there is no agreement with Omni to announce. The mayor is committed to finding a hotel deal that is privately owned and operated and is in the best interest of Nashville taxpayers."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wooded Rapist gets 50 years for '98 case

By Harriet Vaughan • THE TENNESSEAN • July 14, 2010

 FRANKLIN — Robert Jason Burdick, also known as the Wooded Rapist, has been sentenced to 50 years for the 1998 rape of a Brentwood teenager.

He also was ordered to pay $100,000 in fines.

A Williamson County jury convicted Burdick in May of raping Elizabeth "Zea" Miller, who was 16 at the time. The Tennessean does not normally name rape victims, but Miller said during the trial that she refused to accept shame for being a victim.

Judge Timothy Easter delivered the sentence after hearing testimony from Miller, her mother, father and a Brentwood detective.

"You had no right. You still have no right. And the fact that you caused me damage, you have no right. You are not human. You don't deserve the life you've been given," Miller said, looking at Burdick.

Burdick told the judge he was not happy with his lawyers, who said they will ask to withdraw.

The sentence will begin after he serves 62 years for three rape convictions in Davidson County. He faces more rape charges in Williamson, Wilson and Davidson counties.

Burdick was accused of 13 rapes beginning in 1994. The rapes occurred on rainy nights in neighborhoods that bordered wooded areas, hence the nickname "Wooded Rapist."

Some flood victims despair as FEMA funds dry up

By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • July 14, 2010

Some area flood victims are facing even tougher financial struggles now that two months' worth of Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance checks have stopped coming.

For most, that was the first week of July. Those who applied and were approved received weekly payments based on family size, amount of damage and fair market value in the area.

FEMA paid out nearly $17 million to 6,226 homeowners and 4,667 renters in Tennessee displaced by the May 2 flood.

Awatef Hawsah lost her car, clothing and furniture and sustained damage to flooring in her home on Penn Meade Way near the flooded-out Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. She and her husband and daughter stayed for more than a month at Fiddler's Inn in the same area.

They moved in with friends in June after the motel asked them to leave to accommodate CMA Music Festival guests with reservations. They could have come back after a few days but chose not to.

"I've had friends give me clothes for my daughter," Hawsah said. "After we left that hotel, it's been bad. We are struggling. I'm being honest when I say we need some money."

After a homeowner files a claim, inspectors check to see if the home is habitable, FEMA spokesman Michael McCurdy said. They also check what is covered by homeowners' insurance policies. Flood victims do not get paid twice, McCurdy said.

McCurdy said he did not know whether flood victims should have received money if they stayed with friends or relatives.

Bobby Adkins, who lives across the street from Hawsah and also stayed at Fiddler's Inn until the festival, is a week away from leaving a friend's spare room in Murfreesboro.

"Most of the painting is done," Adkins said. "Things are getting settled now. The lights are back on when I'm driving to do some work at the home at night. That makes me feel good. It feels like home now."

His Pennington Bend neighborhood was one of the hardest hit by the flood that killed 23 people in the state. There are portable storage units sitting in the neighborhood and the constant sound of construction.

Gracie Berry moved into a Spears Road rental house near Brick Church Pike three weeks ago with the help of FEMA funds while trying to pay her mortgage on her Electric Avenue house in East Nashville. The flood moved it off its foundation. It will cost $80,000 to tear down most of it and fix the myriad of problems, she said. Her insurance won't cover it, and she was denied a government loan.

"I really don't know what to do," Berry said. "I still have to pay the mortgage. I may be forced to let it go."

After the flood, Berry was living in a Madison hotel with five children, one of her own and four nieces and nephews she is raising.

"It's good to be in a house that doesn't have a kitchen falling into the basement," Berry said

Workers' legality under scrutiny

Lawmaker doubts immigrants' status at convention center
By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • July 14, 2010

State Rep. Mike Turner said he plans to file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor in the coming days alleging that the company managing construction of the new downtown convention center is employing illegal immigrants.

Turner said he was on the site earlier this week in response to an emergency call in his capacity as a Metro firefighter and observed construction workers that he believed were illegal immigrants. Turner also said he has heard from workers on the project who have expressed concern that illegal immigrants are being hired.

"I've been on the site and I've seen people I suspect are illegal, and I've been told by some people working on the site they have illegals there," Turner said.

Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman and a long-time firefighters union member, said he approached project leaders with an array of concerns two weeks ago. Besides questioning whether illegal immigrants are receiving construction jobs, Turner also questioned the number of union jobs the project is creating.

"I'd like to see all union people on the job, but I want to see local people on the job," Turner said.

According to Turner, his complaint against Bell-Clark, the contractor managing the $585 million project, is being fine-tuned by an attorney.

Turner added that backers of the Music City Center promised the project would bring construction jobs for Nashville-area workers.

"One reason we were behind these centers, when we debated this, was they were going to put local people to work," Turner said. "All of this project is being funded with (federal) Build America bonds, which are supposed to put Americans back to work.

"This construction company is trying to get around that."

Turner said the use of illegal workers carried with it a wide-range of possible repercussions. A first offense could elicit a warning, but subsequent violations could lead to a revocation of a guilty organization's business license

Car washes, plant nurseries may get aid

Legislation calls for credits on water, sewer bills

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 14, 2010

Car washes and plant nurseries might get some financial relief from Metro to compensate them for some of the business they lost after the May flood shut down one of the city's two water treatment plants.

A group of council members introduced legislation Tuesday that would provide credits on the businesses' monthly water and sewer bills. The total amount available to all qualifying businesses would be $200,000 from city reserve funds, though that amount could change, Councilwoman Emily Evans said.

Metro ordered car washes and plant nurseries to stop operating for four weeks in May after the flood knocked out the K.R. Harrington Water Treatment Plant. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued an emergency order that the city eliminate non-essential water use "to the maximum extent practical" on May 4.

Metro lifted the water restrictions for car washes on June 1, when the treatment plant reopened. Plant nurseries got to start watering again a bit earlier, Metro Water Services spokeswoman Sonia Harvat said.

"Because water is essential for their functioning, we essentially put them out of business for a month," Evans said. "They bore an unusual burden. I'm not sure we can make them whole, but we can at least give them some relief."

About 30 car wash owners, mostly in Davidson County, formed a lobbying association after the shutdown. Shane Bowen, the association's president, said the group, which hopes to expand statewide, appreciates the council bill.

"At this point, anything is better than nothing," said Bowen, who owns three Car Wash King locations. "This is going to make things better."

Bowen said the water and sewer credits could last for six months to a year. He said there are 76 car washes in Davidson County.

Council members Charlie Tygard, Sam Coleman and Vivian Wilhoite are sponsoring the legislation along with Evans. The council will take its first look at the bill next week

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Governor's candidates stake out visions for state's future

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 13, 2010

Tennessee governor's race

The four major candidates for governor debated each other Monday for the last time before primary voting starts, offering competing visions of the state's future but finding some common ground.

Facing each other on a stage at Belmont University, the three Republicans and one Democrat tried to make their cases while on a short leash, as the WSMV-TV/Channel 4 moderators kept response times short throughout the one-hour debate. TV stations across the state broadcast the session.

The questions poured in from the moderators, from citizens participating in the town hall format, from TV viewers across the state, from Facebook users and from the candidates themselves.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga asked a fellow Republican, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, why he had given money to former Vice President Al Gore's first presidential campaign.

What about his liberal agenda did you think was worthy of your precious resources?" Wamp asked.

Haslam avoided talking about Gore but said he had supported plenty of conservatives.

"I have an incredible track record over a long period of years of financially investing in a lot of candidates who are strong conservatives from our state," he said.

When a Chattanooga viewer, shown on TV monitors, asked the candidates about removing the sales tax on food for low-income residents, Wamp and Haslam said the issue would have to wait for an economic rebound. The other Republican, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, suggested looking at cutting other taxes.

"We are a sales-tax-based state," Ramsey said.

But Mike McWherter, the lone Democrat in the race, said reducing the tax on groceries would be one of his top priorities in a push to help working families.

"Here's where there's a real distinction between the Democrat running in this race and the Republicans," said McWherter, a Jackson businessman and son of former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter.

McWherter will face the winner of the Republican primary in November. Early voting for the primaries starts Friday. Election day is Aug. 5.

The candidates also took various approaches to a question about a specific state program they would cut. Wamp talked about how "we're all going to have to tighten our belt," while Haslam said he had learned as mayor that "you don't make three or four big cuts, you make a thousand small ones." McWherter said Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen had kept the state budget "pretty tight."

Ramsey, who has talked of cutting one-third of the state's departments but hasn't said which ones, then said he was the only candidate "who actually has a plan to cut state government," though he didn't go into details.

"Either my opponents don't know how or don't have the guts to do it," he said.

Asked what they had learned from the recent floods, McWherter was more specific than the others. He said cities would have to "make surewe don't allow devel op ers to con tinue to put homes in areas that are flood-prone land."

The Republican candidates talked more generally of the heartening response they had seen from volunteers throughout the state. After Ramsey said he had learned "what a great state we live in," Wamp countered, "I didn't learn that; I already knew that."

Wamp and Ramsey have developed a tense relationship as each man has worked to grab enough conservative votes to beat Haslam, who is generally viewed as more moderate. Haslam is a multi-millionaire whose campaign has raised more than $8.7 million — a fact Ramsey and Wamp tried to attack at times during the debate.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Over-the Counter Medicine Recalled

Channel 5 News

Check your medicine cabinet. More over-the-counter medicines are being recalled.

Saturday, Johnson and Johnson announced the recall of 21 lots of the drugs after complaints of a musty or moldy odor.

The expansion recall includes certain types of Children's Tylenol as well as adult-strength Benadryl, Motrin I.B., Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Day and Night and Tylenol P.M.

Johnson and Johnson says there is no risk of serious health problems from the odor.

CoverTN insurance rolls still closed

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 11, 2010

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee's self-employed and working poor residents haven't had a state health insurance plan to fall back on since one was closed to new enrollees in November.

The residents had been able to able to buy into a limited-benefit program known as CoverTN, in which the employee, employer and state share the cost in equal parts. But when state budget shortfalls were looming in the new fiscal year, officials closed off the program to new enrollees.

CoverTN, which falls under the umbrella of CoverTennessee, launched in 2007 to help workers without access to health insurance. Individuals' share of the monthly premium ranged from about $37 to about $109, depending on age, weight and tobacco use.

The plan was also supposed to help cut down the numbers of uninsured in Tennessee, estimated at almost 1 million people.

WHAT NOW: CoverTN doesn't appear to be reopening to new enrollees any time soon.

Since the enrollment suspension took effect in November, the CoverTN budget took a 9 percent cut — as did most state departments — to fill a gap in the budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. The program's funding is $18.3 million for fiscal 2011, down from the $34 million available for CoverTN's first year in 2007.

"At this time, enrollment is still suspended and we don't have an expected date to reopen to new members," said Joe Burchfield, spokesman for CoverTennessee. As of June 30, CoverTN had an enrollment of 21,095, and all will be allowed to stay on as long as they qualify

Prescriptions often go unfilled

Program dispenses hope for patients in need

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 11, 2010

Constance Hallmark went without 11 medications for several conditions — lupus, osteoarthritis, hypertension, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia — because she couldn't work and didn't have health insurance.

She simply couldn't afford her medicine. So she went without for eight months, believing her only option was to suffer.

In fact, a chunk of Americans are going without. More than one in five prescriptions, many for chronic diseases, go unfilled, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study.

Some people are struggling to afford their medications. Other people don't have transportation to a pharmacy. Then there are people who get too busy.

But the cost of not filling prescriptions is great. It can mean long-term health consequences and more expensive treatment.

"Ten or 15 years ago, we were just writing prescriptions and expecting people to fill them," said Dr. Parminder Bolina, who practices internal medicine and is director of ancillary services for Nashville Medical Group. "The reality is different now. We realize people either can't afford to fill them or don't have time. We have to figure out ways to help them."

The Harvard study looked at more than 75,000 electronic prescriptions over a 12-month period and found that about 22 percent of prescriptions went unfilled. That number jumped to 28 percent with newly prescribed medications, the researchers found.

The unfilled prescriptions most often were to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Cost plays big roleCost is often the biggest factor for patients such as Hallmark, especially when it comes to brand-name drugs, which are getting more expensive, according to a recent AARP study.

Prices of many brand-name medications have increased by nearly 10 percent from April 2009 to March 2010, the biggest spike in eight years, the senior advocacy group reveals in its report "Rx Watchdog."

"When anyone does not take life-sustaining medication, death is the result," said Hallmark, who now gets her prescriptions through a local nonprofit medication assistance program, the Dispensary of Hope. "I don't know what I would do without the Dispensary. It gives me peace of mind."

The Dispensary of Hope partners with pharmaceutical companies to supply medications to people who cannot afford them. The organization provides more than 700 kinds of medications at 64 sites across the country, including 25 in Tennessee.

The demand for its services keeps growing, said Jason Dinger, chief executive officer for the Dispensary, founded in 2003.

"Most uninsured Americans go without their medications," Dinger said. "You get to a certain point in your income level where you have to make difficult choices."

The Dispensary is working with clinics to get onsite locations for those who need assistance.

"We are adding sites at a rate of about one per week," Dinger said. "That can help people who have to get on a bus to travel 30 minutes to get to a pharmacy."

But sometimes physicians don't even know their patients can't afford their medications, and that is why doctors need to initiate the conversation, Bolina said.

"As a physician, you have to be aware of what the person's insurance is, what their options are, whether they have to rely solely on generics," Bolina said. "I think this is something that is becoming so front and center in our minds as physicians."


Electronic prescriptions could help doctors be more aware, because the patient's medication history gets stored on computers, said Rick Sage, vice president of pharmacy clinical services for Emdeon, an e-prescribing network company based in Nashville.

"The problem with physician-written prescriptions is sometimes they never make it to the pharmacy," Sage said. "With electronic prescribing, we guarantee the transaction will make it to the pharmacy. Also, physicians can use their software to view the patient's medication history and if a medication was filled. It can reduce prescription abandonment."

But adoption of electronic prescribing has been slow over the past 10 years. About 84 percent of pharmacies are on board, but only about 25 percent of physicians nationwide have adopted it.

For people with insurance, companies such as Aetna also recognize that patients stay healthier if they maintain their medication.

Aetna has case managers who check in to see if patients are on certain medications, and if they are actually taking them, said Dr. Edmund Pezalla, national medical director of pharmacy management.

"Drug adherence has been a problem for many, many years," Pezalla said. "The human costs as well as the monetary costs are too high to go on." - Check out website and see if you Qualify.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Police write few tickets for texting behind wheel

Teens say it's easy to avoid detection By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • July 8, 2010 Tennessee's texting-while-driving ban has been on the books for a year now, but only a relative handful of drivers have been ticketed for the offense. Nashville police have issued 19 citations for texting while driving since the ban became law in July 2009. The Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued 88 citations for texting behind the wheel since January. Gallatin wrote nine tickets. La Vergne issued none. Some other communities don't even keep track. It's a small dent in what law enforcement officials say is the growing menace of distracted drivers on Tennessee roads. "Our cars have become our powder rooms, our electronic rooms, our phone rooms, our dining rooms," said Dan Davidson, an investigator for the Metro Nashville Police fatal accident division. "I've seen people with paper up on the steering wheel, writing while they drive. . . . There was a woman who killed a man and his wife because she was driving down Briley Parkway and putting on makeup." Texting tickets are few and far between, partly because the law is so new, and partly because the offense is so hard to spot — and there are loopholes in the law big enough to drive a car through. Tennessee bans texting, but talking on the phone is perfectly legal — and so is punching in a phone number. "I know a lot of people who say, 'If a cop's looking, I'll hold the phone up to my face and just act like I'm making a call. They can't tell,' " said Meagan Eaton, 17, of Murfreesboro. But from where Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Travis Plotzer is sitting — in his patrol car along the temptingly open stretches of Interstate 40 between Davidson and Humphries counties — it's pretty easy to spot the drivers who are texting. "Oftentimes they're swerving," he said. "It almost mimics drunk driving in the delayed response. You'll see excessive weaving, you'll see them looking down." Distracted drivers kill According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 80 percent of vehicle crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes were caused by distracted drivers —distracted by anything from children fighting in the back seat to an incoming text. Texting, which requires drivers to take their attention off the road while they hunt and peck around a palm-sized keyboard and then read the reply, is a relatively new category of menace. A poll last year found that 42 percent of Tennesseans admitted to texting while driving, making the state one of the worst offenders in the country. For younger drivers, used to being in constant text contact with their friends, the temptation to text behind the wheel is strong. "People get impatient with you on the other end if you don't answer right away," said Jeremy Capps of Cane Ridge. "It's almost an obligation," said James Lucas, 17, of Memphis. The two teens are part of a group of 20 high schoolers taking part in law camp, a weeklong exploration of legal careers going on at Lipscomb University. The camp exposes students to every aspect of law enforcement and legal careers, from courts to cops to prisons and judges' chambers. This year, law camp participants are exploring the Tennessee texting ban — including a role-playing exercise in which they deposed an actor playing the part of a driver whose texting caused him to slam into another vehicle, killing a mother and baby. Law meant to deter Violating the new law means risking a $50 ticket. An early proponent of the texting ban, State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the real deterrent is not the threat of a fine, but the fact that it empowers other people in the car to remind the driver that what they're doing is dangerous. "I do know that most people are grateful the ban is in place," said Harwell, who sponsored an earlier version of the texting ban that eventually passed. "Part of it's just an educational effort. . . . Now you can tell someone, 'This is against the law. Don't do it. You could harm someone else.' " The question now is whether the law is deterrent enough. "No one calls anymore. We text nonstop," said Leigh Stanfield, a 16-year-old from Soddy Daisy, who is also participating in Lipscomb's law camp. Last year, when she and her classmates were just learning to drive, she said, none of them would have dreamed of trying to multitask behind the wheel. Now, feeling confident behind the wheel, she said many of her friends text while driving.