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Medical Cost-Savings App Available for Free

Healthcare Bluebook seeks to empower patients to shop around, negotiate ‘fair prices’

A Nashville-based company that specializes in researching and comparing medical-care costs and rating quality-of-care outcomes is offering its services for free to Middle Tennessee residents.

“Health care is the one industry in which people make purchases without knowing the cost in advance,” says Jeffrey Rice, CEO of the price-transparency company called Healthcare Bluebook.

Often, even within the same general area, there are “huge differences between hospitals and other health care facilities for the exact same procedure,” said Rice, who is himself a doctor.

That needn’t be the case, he said. Healthcare Bluebook’s mission and function is to advance, in the company website’s words, a “simple, yet powerful idea: create fairness in the healthcare marketplace.”

American consumers obviously know how to shop for good deals on all manner of goods and services, yet when it comes to making health-care choices and obtaining medicines, they often just take what’s given to them without shopping around, said Rice, an editorial board for the American Journal of Medical Quality.

Healthcare Bluebook’s app works by crunching pricing information and service-quality assessments from a wide set of providers in regions around the country.

“We know that most hospitals perform most services, but they are not equally good at everything,” Rice wrote in an op-ed column for The Tennessean back in April. “Bluebook offers consumers information about quality of care that allows them to see hospital outcomes for the specific service they need. We combine this health-care quality information with cost information so that they can get the quality care they need at a price they can afford.”

Cost and quality-rating information is presented to the app’s users in easily understood color-coded grading and ranking schedules, giving patients and their families the ability to locate high-quality, lower-cost alternatives for medical treatment than what they might think are otherwise available.

Healthcare Bluebook also strengthens the patient-as-customer’s ability to successfully negotiate a “fair price” after the fact, if they feel overcharged, or when discussing payment arrangements with a care-provider’s billing department.

“We really like it, and a lot of people in the area really like it to help them get an objective price on medical procedures,” said Bob Gunter, CEO of Premier Diagnostic Imaging in Cookeville and Tennessee chapter president of the national Radiology Business Management Association.

If a medical services provider isn’t willing to negotiate a billing amount that’s in line with what Healthcare Bluebook has determined is the fair price for a procedure or service, “then you should probably go someplace else,” said Gunter.

A 2016 survey by the Kaiser Foundation, a national health policy analysis center, discovered that nearly 70 percent of patients sampled across the country reported substantial difficulty trying to find useful or binding estimates on prices for medical procedures ahead of time. And more than 65 percent who attempted to negotiate a bill-reduction with a care-provider afterward said their efforts failed.

Healthcare Bluebook helps patients deal with both issues, says the company’s marketing director, Greg Stielstra.

“This works for people who are insured as well as uninsured,” he said. “People mistakenly think the problem we must solve is getting everyone insurance so they can pay for overpriced health care. But what we ought to be doing is trying to solve the pricing of health care itself, which you can greatly reduce by making it more transparent.”

The lack of transparency in health-services pricing hasn’t just resulted in people paying more than they think they should. It also causes consumers to believe that market rates for health care services are higher than they actually are.

Health care need not be outlandishly overpriced, or prohibitively expensive, said Stielstra. To the contrary, Healthcare Bluebook shows that affordable options actually exist, and they’re usually not far away, he said.

Healthcare Bluebook has been available for free to Middle Tennessee residents since February. Stielstra said they typically market the premium app services to business owners, who in turn offer it as a free benefit to their employees.

Given that Nashville is “the health care capital of the nation,” said Stielstra, company officials want to see the app as widely available as possible here. They’ve determined that’s best achieved by offering it free to whoever wants it.

As a result, Stielstra hopes Nashville and the surrounding region will become “the most transparent in the nation in terms of price and quality.”

“Transparency is transformative,” he said.

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VIDEO: Condo Fire Aftermath

A fire suspected to have been sparked by lightning-strike early Monday caused extensive damage to Building H at Highland Cove Luxury Condominiums overlooking Center Hill Lake.

Crews had mostly extinguished the flames by 8 a.m.

The fire occurred about four miles south of Center Hill Dam just off Dale Ridge Road, Highway 96.

No one was reported injured in the blaze.

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June Unemployment Lowest in TN History, says State Labor Dept.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, July 20, 2017:

Tennessee has rate of 3.6 percent for June 2017

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips today announced Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June 2017 was 3.6 percent, the lowest in Tennessee recorded history.

The June 2017 preliminary seasonally adjusted rate surpasses the previous low of 3.7 percent from March 2000. The state has not experienced an unemployment rate below 4.0 percent since it was 3.9 percent in February 2001.

“What’s truly exciting about today’s news is that this is a statewide story,” Haslam said. “Today more than ever, businesses have a choice of where to grow or expand, and because of the policies this administration has put in place working with the General Assembly, we’re seeing the job growth that comes when businesses choose Tennessee.”

June’s rate declines four-tenths of a percentage point from the May revised rate of 4.0 percent. Amid notable improvements in Tennessee’s unemployment rate, the national preliminary rate increases by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous month to 4.4 percent, lingering in the 4.0 percentile.

“When a state’s rate declines during a national uptick in unemployment, that’s something to note,” Phillips said. “Just seven years ago more than 10 percent of Tennesseans were out of work. One of Governor Haslam’s top priorities has been to make Tennessee the best state in the southeast for high quality jobs. All indications point to that priority becoming a reality.”

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TN State Parks Have an Official Beer

PRESS RELEASE from the Brewers Association of Small and Independent Craft Brewers, July 19, 2017:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2017)Tennessee Brew Works has partnered with the Tennessee State Parks by creating a new Tennessee State Parks Beer, “State Park Blonde Ale,” with a portion of sales benefiting the mission of Tennessee State Parks.

The Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Brew Works teams met almost two years ago. Sharing ideas over a common bond of craft beer with aims to better our land and community, they quickly became friends. Since then, they have been actively discussing projects and possible ways for the two organizations to optimize their synergies.

“Together we have found a way to make delicious Tennessee Brew Works craft beer and support Tennessee State Parks with our State Park Blonde Ale. We proudly support the mission of Beer StylesTennessee State Parks as they preserve and protect our natural resources,” said Christian Spears, founder and owner, Tennessee Brew Works.

Fans of Tennessee Brew Works will recognize the beer’s distinctive label artwork, created by Nashville native Bryce McCloud. The State Park Blonde Ale features the image of State Naturalist, Randy Hedgepath. Randy has served the park service for more than 30 years, working as a Ranger Naturalist at South Cumberland and Radnor Lake State Parks. He was appointed State Naturalist by the Tennessee State Parks in 2007. As a former National Park Service Interpretive Specialist, Randy is also one of the most sought after interpretive specialists in the southeastern United States.

Tennessee Brew Work’s State Park Blonde Ale is light, crisp American blonde session ale with subtle floral notes, created with high quality grains and hops. The new beer will be distributed throughout Tennessee and served on draft and in bottles at the Tennessee Brew Works Taproom, 809 Ewing Avenue in downtown Nashville and the Tennessee Brew Works kiosk at the Nashville International Airport.

“Tennessee Brew Works and Tennessee State Parks have combined our mutual appreciation for local craft brew, spectacular landscapes and the great stories of our state. Utilizing Tennessee Brew Works craft beer sales for the benefit of our Tennessee State Parks system is a perfect pairing.

A portion of the sales of the State Park Blonde Ale will be provided to the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy, our non-profit partner, and used to support efforts to preserve and protect our state’s natural and cultural assets. We look forward to the release of the State Park Blonde Ale statewide this month,” said Brock Hill, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner.

About Tennessee State Parks

From its beginning in 1937, Tennessee State Parks were established to protect and preserve the unique natural, cultural and historic resources of Tennessee. The public interest has also been served by a variety of benefits for citizens and communities produced by our state park system, promoting stronger communities and healthier citizens across the state through diverse resource-based recreation while conserving the natural environment for today and tomorrow – preserving authentic Tennessee places and spaces for future generations to enjoy. There are 56 Tennessee State Parks to explore.

About Tennessee Brew Works

Tennessee Brew Works was born from a love for craft beer. A startup which began over a home-brew session, they ultimately celebrated their first professional brew in August 2013. Tennessee Brew Works is 100% owned and operated by folks in Tennessee. They are guided by their motto: “We work hard to create high quality craft beer that makes Tennessee proud. Our culture places importance on family, friends, and community, and we hope you’ll be a part of it.”

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New Statewide ‘Trout Management Plan’ in Draft Form

Anglers’ suggestions for improving fisheries welcome

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is updating and revising the state’s comprehensive trout-management plan.

As part of the process, the agency is seeking public comments on a new draft blueprint that’s available for inspection on the department’s website.

The deadline for submitting commentary, criticisms and suggestions for agency officials to take under advisement is Aug. 4.

Authored by “a committee of TWRA’s coldwater fisheries specialists” and edited by trout biologist Jim Habera and statewide streams coordinator Brandon Simcox, the trout plan includes sections discussing the history and present-day health of the prized gamefish populations in Tennessee.

Beyond the high, free-flowing mountain streams of the Appalachians — the natural range of the state’s only native species, the eastern brook trout — Tennessee wasn’t home to wild-spawning trout prior to the last hundred years.

However, as a result of the numerous river-impoundment projects undertaken throughout the Tennessee Valley region, as well as an advancing understanding of trout-rearing and habitat-management techniques, the Volunteer State now contains a diverse selection of highly productive trout waters, both year-round and seasonal.

Some rivers, like the Caney Fork, Elk, South Holston and Watauga, consistently lure anglers from across the country and around the world seeking spectacular trout fishing against backdrops of magnificent scenery.

Hatchery stocking is typically relied upon for the maintenance of productive Tennessee trout fisheries. But some waters have, over time, become “naturalized through stocking,” and the fish now reproduce at sustainable or even above-optimal levels, as is the case with brown trout on the South Holston.

Biggest brook trout ever recorded in Tennessee caught below Center Hill Dam on April 1, 2016.

In spring of 2016, the Caney Fork produced a new state-record northern brook trout. The 4-pound, 12-ounce fish was reared at Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery. When caught on a live baitfish by Sasa Krezic of Nashville, the burly brookie measured just over 20 inches and tipped the scales at nearly a pound more than Tennessee’s previous record-setter, which was netted in 1973 on the Hiwassee River and weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces.

The three primary trout species stocked in Tennessee streams and lakes are brown, rainbow and brook. Lake trout are also released in a few select waters.

“Rainbow trout are the most abundant and widely distributed wild trout in Tennessee,” according to the TWRA plan. “Although native to Pacific drainages of the western us, rainbow trout became naturalized in many suitable Tennessee streams through the intensive stocking efforts that defined trout management during much of the twentieth century.”

Brown trout, traditionally native to Europe and Asia, are particularly suited to many Tennessee tailwaters and have thrived as a result of stocking.

“While not as widely distributed as rainbow or brook trout, brown trout can live longer (up to 12 years) and may attain larger sizes up to (25 inches or more),” the plan states. “They typically occur with rainbow trout, but are the predominant wild trout species in a few streams.”

The trout plan outlines goals, strategies, action items and public outreach objectives designed to guide TWRA’s management efforts over the coming years.

The net intention of the Trout Management Plan, as described in the 55-page document’s foreword, is to “provide guidance for the management of Tennessee’s trout fisheries given the current status of wild trout resources and hatchery trout production, as well as changing trout angler preferences and attitudes and new resource management issues.”

The basic mission of the TWRA trout program is to “provide a variety of quality trout angling opportunities that are compatible with Tennessee’s other aquatic species.”

The last time state fisheries officials updated their overall trout-management strategy was in 2006.

“There is no legal mandate or anything like that for us to do this, but we just feel there is value in looking a little further out for such a broad, high-scale planning effort,” said TWRA’s chief of state fisheries, Frank Fiss.

Although it isn’t necessarily written to address particular concerns related to specific water bodies, the statewide plan does speak to issues often on the minds of anglers who frequent trout-holding hot spots and honey holes.

Under “management goals” are sections that address habitat-protection initiatives and minimizing threats from introduced species and disease, as well as discussions on improving and, where appropriate, expanding angling opportunities.

The idea of “biosecurity” is a fundamental concern in the new plan, said Fiss.

Preventing new pathogens and invasive, destructive organisms from entering the state “has really come to the forefront,” said Fiss, a principal author of the 2006 trout plan.

“We were aware (ten years ago) of whirling disease and some of the other things that can be problematic, but at the time they were not as threatening to Tennessee as they are now,” Fiss said. “In just the last five years there’s been a heightened awareness among our staff. North Carolina had some issue with whirling disease, and we are constantly battling Asian carp and other invasive species, so we are just hyper-aware of problems that come with introduced species and pathogens. I would say that’s a new level of focus for us.”

The plan notes that TWRA and federal hatcheries that serve the region are committed to releasing only disease-free fish into the wild. The plan reiterates that trout-stocking in streams by private landowners remains illegal, unless done with TWRA’s assent.

Also discussed at length in the 2017 trout plan is how TWRA can better optimize the use of hatcheries to produce bigger and more abundant fish.

“Anglers obviously prefer to catch larger trout, thus TWRA should strive to stock fish that are at least 10 inches long,” the report says. Consistently hooking up with smallish hatchery trout “can detract from an angler’s fishing experience.”

Moreover, targeting particular streams for stocking even larger fish — like those grown to 14 inches or longer before release in the wild — could enhance angler satisfaction even more. “Catch rates may be reduced, but many anglers would prefer the opportunity to catch larger fish,” the plan’s authors suggest.

The trout plan also includes a section on expanding angling opportunities for people with physical disabilities, as well as youngsters.

“TWRA sponsors or hosts dozens of kids fishing day events across Tennessee,” the plan states. “Several are held at coldwater hatcheries (including Dale Hollow) or other locations where trout can be provided. They often provide kids with the opportunity to catch their first trout.”

Each of the management goals includes descriptions of objectives and problems that tend to confront execution of strategies.

For example, one of TWRA’s management goals is to “maintain a variety of trout fisheries.” The overarching aim, according to the plan, is balancing “a diverse public’s many different skill levels and definitions of quality.”

But a natural problem that invariably arises is “management that optimizes opportunities or satisfaction for one group may exclude or diminish satisfaction for other groups.”

Fiss said it’s helpful — especially when addressing points of contention or controversy among anglers and other stakeholders with respect to individual waters — to have a comprehensive stewardship-plan cataloging all the various aspects of trout management across Tennessee.

Numerous citizen groups and individuals are “very passionate when it comes to trout,” said Fiss. The management plan is “where people can get information so they kind of know where we are coming from,” he said.

Maintaining and improving public outreach is one strategy for attempting to address potentially discordant priorities among trout enthusiasts. The plan prescribes regular public opinion-seeking so as to hopefully “make sure TWRA’s management and trout angler preferences align as much as possible.”

The plan also provides a useful reference when dealing with federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which partners with the state on fish-stocking efforts, he said. About half the trout released in Tennessee come from federal hatcheries, and state-run hatcheries also receives federal funding, said Fiss.

According to the plan, trout production increased by 10 percent at TWRA hatcheries over the past ten years, mostly as a result of facility improvements at Erwin, Flintville and Buffalo Springs. However, agency trout managers believe that an additional 40,000 pounds of fish a year, beyond the 275,000 pounds that state-run hatcheries are currently rearing, would further enhance Tennessee’s angling outlook.

In the long run, that probably means bringing another hatchery on line. “TWRA would like to build a new facility, but this would cost about $18 million and — assuming funding becomes available — require several years to complete,” wrote the plan’s authors.

In a subsection on Tennessee’s tailwaters where trout are stocked, like below Center Hill Dam, the plan says that in past decades many rivers “were limited by poor water quality and inadequate flows.” That, in turn, compromised “trout growth and survival,” thus necessitating “higher stocking rates” just to “maintain angler catch rates.” A river’s production capacity for “quality-sized fish” is diminished by inadequate or oxygen-deficient water.

The plan commends federal dam operators for their willingness to pay closer attention to water flows and support building infrastructure improvements with an eye toward enhancing trout habitat.

“Installation of weirs and oxygen injection systems, establishment of minimum flows, and other efforts by TVA have greatly improved water quality below many of its dams particularly South Holston, Cherokee, and Norris,” the plan says. “Operational at Center Hill Dam by the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) have also greatly improved water quality on the Caney Fork, although further improvements there and at Dale Hollow (Obed River) would help improve these fisheries.”

To provide comments on the draft version of the Tennessee Trout Management Plan, email agency staff at TWRA.TroutComments@tn.gov, or write to the TWRA Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204.

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State Comptroller: Possible Conflict of Interest at McMinnville Water Dept.

PRESS RELEASE from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, July 7, 2017:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has completed an investigation detailing the appearance of a conflict of interest at the McMinnville Water and Wastewater Department after department officials alerted the Comptroller’s Office to their concerns.

During the period June 2013 through September 2015, a former employee responsible for ordering specific chemicals made purchases totaling $46,882 from a company owned by someone with whom he had a close personal relationship. The department used these chemicals to unclog and clear part of the city’s sewer system.

This personal relationship created the appearance of a conflict of interest. It was not possible for department management to ensure that either the motivation for selecting the vendor as a supplier, or the volume of purchases from that supplier, was purely in the city’s best interest.

The volume and cost of chemicals purchased by the department increased significantly during the time the former employee was purchasing from the vendor with whom he had a personal relationship.

Government officials hold a position of public trust and must strive to hold themselves and their employees to standards beyond reproach.

Officials should not engage in any action, whether or not specifically prohibited by statute, regulation or policy, which might result in or create the appearance of private gain, preferential treatment or impeding government efficiency.

“It’s vital that government officials maintain their fiduciary responsibility to their citizens and customers,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “I am pleased to see McMinnville leaders are taking steps to develop a better system for scrutinizing and evaluating vendors.”

To view the investigative report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at (800) 232-5454, or file a report online at: www.comptroller.tn.gov/hotline. Follow on Twitter: @TNCOT

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Statewide ‘Trust’ Survey from MTSU Assesses Politicians, Institutions, TV Media

Media Releasee via the Office of Consumer Research at MTSU, July 5, 2017:

A recent statewide survey of Tennesseans by MTSU’s Office of Consumer Research indicate consumers highly trust recommendations from people they know as well as other consumers, but don’t have as much confidence in information from Congress or mainstream television news media.

The current survey of 627 Tennessee consumers was conducted between June 10 and June 19 with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

In addition to its traditional questions about consumer views on the economy and finances, the latest survey also gauged the level of trust in a number of different institutions.

“As expected, levels of trust for anything or anyone politically related vary greatly by the respondent’s political affiliation,” noted Dr. Tim Graeff, director of the Office of Consumer Research in MTSU’s Jones College of Business.

For example, while 77 percent of Republicans surveyed said they “completely trust” or “somewhat trust” President Donald Trump, only 9 percent of Democrats, 33 percent of independents and 20 percent of respondents with no political affiliation expressed such trust in the president.

The full report can be viewed here. Other report highlights:

  • President Trump and Gov. Bill Haslam enjoy relatively high levels of trust among Tennesseans. Of the institutions included on the survey, the U.S. Congress garnered the lowest level of trust.
  • Tennesseans place a higher level of trust in information from marketers (advertisements for product and brands) than they do many of the well-known media outlets and the U.S. Congress.
  • Republicans have a higher level of trust in fellow Republicans in Congress (63 percent responding either “completely trust” or “somewhat trust”) than Democrats have in fellow Democrats in Congress (54 percent responding either “completely trust” or “somewhat trust”).
  • Although there are some minor variations in responses across the three regions of the state, there is relative agreement among Tennesseans in terms of whom they trust.
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TN Comptroller Appoints New Open Records Counsel

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, July 5, 2017:

Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson announced today that Lee Pope will serve as the new Open Records Counsel in the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC).

As the new Open Records Counsel, Pope will lead the OORC which serves as a resource for citizens, media and governmental entities who have questions about Tennessee’s public records and open meetings laws. The OORC also helps Tennessee citizens and governmental entities understand these laws through educational outreach and promulgating policies, best practices and guidelines. The OORC’s assistance and education efforts are crucial to ensuring transparency in government.

Pope joined the OORC in 2016 as Deputy Open Records Counsel. He played a key role in eliminating a backlog of requests for assistance and in developing a model public records policy for use by government entities which are required to adopt formal public records policies by July 1, 2017. Prior to joining the Comptroller’s Office, Pope worked as Assistant Director and General Counsel for the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, and as an Assistant Attorney General in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Comptroller Wilson also announced that Rachel Buckley is serving the OORC as Assistant Open Records Counsel. She joined the Comptroller’s Office after her previous work as an Assistant Attorney General in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, and as an Assistant General Counsel in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Buckley is a graduate of Saint Louis University and the University of Tennessee’s College of Law.

Ann Butterworth, who served as the first Open Records Counsel and since 2014 has been serving as the Open Records Counsel, will return to her primary role as Assistant to the Comptroller for Public Finance.

“For the past 10 years the Office of Open Records Counsel has provided invaluable insight and guidance for thousands of Tennesseans,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “I am pleased to announce that Lee and Rachel will now continue this important work. I also want to thank Ann Butterworth for providing excellent leadership over these last few years, and I’m pleased to have her back by my side.”

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Rep. Ryan Williams a Face of TN’s Political Future

Newly elected House GOP caucus chief in prime position to champion Upper Cumberland issues, potential

Congratulations, Cookeville. Your state representative in Nashville is arguably the most popular member of the 74-member House Republican supermajority.

He’s also now among the most powerful.

Just days after winning a landslide re-election bid on Nov. 8, incumbent state Rep. Ryan Williams won appointment to serve as chairman of the House GOP caucus for the next two years in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Williams earned selection to the position by beating Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland in the intra-party caucus elections that Republicans held in Nashville on Nov. 17.

Williams won 47 votes to Brooks’ 23.

The job of majority-party caucus chairman in either the House or the Senate is among the most politically influential roles in the Legislature.

“In the last three weeks, I’ve met more with the governor one-on-one than I did in the previous four years,” Williams said in a phone interview on Dec. 1. “That’s just the difference it makes.”

Williams said his new assignment will likely benefit not just Putnam County, where his district is located, but the entire region. Having “a voice for the Upper Cumberland” involved in setting the state’s policy agenda will ensure that issues important to citizens of the plateau and Highland Rim won’t get overlooked, he said.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, a Republican from Sparta, said he’s very pleased a regional lawmaker has assumed such a high-ranking role. “It’s wonderful news for the Upper Cumberland,” he said.

Williams’ ascension to caucus chairman bodes particularly well for farmers and forestland owners and others who live and work outside urban population hubs, said Bailey. His Senate district includes Putnam, White, Cumberland, Jackson, Overton and Bledsoe Counties.

“Ryan is someone who can definitely speak up for the rural communities of Tennessee, and especially the Upper Cumberland,” said Bailey. “He knows our values and he appreciates the challenges that we face. He will be able to take that message to Nashville.”

During the caucus elections, GOP lawmakers also tapped members for other leadership posts, including a new majority leader and a nominee to serve as speaker of the House, which will again be Beth Harwell of Nashville.

Williams won more caucus votes than any other Republican seeking a House leadership slot.

He replaces Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, who served as caucus chairman for eight of the last ten years. Casada this year sought and won the title of majority leader, beating out Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, 42-29. That position was previously held by Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, who didn’t seek it again this year.

Speaker Harwell turned away a challenge from Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City, 40-30, thus ensuring her third term presiding over the House of Representatives.

In an interview with Center Hill Sun after the caucus votes, Casada described Williams as “the face of up-and-coming leadership in the Tennessee House of Representatives.”

“I am really excited about Ryan’s tenure in the leadership,” said Casada. “He will bring in fresh ideas, fresh legs and hard work to the job.”

Likewise, Speaker Harwell praised Williams as a capable legislator whom she expects will excel in his new capacity.

“Representative Williams will be an asset on the House Republican leadership team, and I look forward to continuing to work with him,” Harwell said in an emailed statement. “The next two years we will do all we can to ensure that Tennessee is the best place in the country to live, work, raise a family, and own and operate a business. Ryan has done a great job representing Putnam County and will continue to be a strong advocate for the entire Upper Cumberland region.”

Williams, who is married and has two children, also works as a salesman for J&S Construction Company in Cookeville. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2010. He’s also a past member of the Cookeville City Council and the city’s Planning Commission.

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Military Chopper Accidentally Cuts Through TVA Cables

LANCASTER, TENN. — A U.S. Marine helicopter may have narrowly averted disaster here last weekend after severing a pair of static lines along a high-voltage TVA transmission system in the vicinity of Center Hill Dam.

The system was in fact out of service at the time and therefore not carrying a charge, according to TVA officials.

The incident occurred around mid-morning on Saturday. Residents in the area heard and observed at least one military whirlybird flying low to the terrain above wooded hills and hollows not far from the Caney Fork River, about a mile downstream from the Corps of Engineers dam in northern DeKalb County.

The aircraft was reported by a Marine Corps spokesman to be an AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopter. Its estimated value is more than $10 million.

The helicopter collided with the TVA lines along a 1400-foot span between two rugged hilltops a short distance from Highway 141. It was able to continue flying.

An investigation is ongoing, according to Marine Lt. John Roberts, a public affairs officer. He said the helicopter was, at the time of incident, returning to its base at Marine Corps Air Station New River near Jacksonville, N.C. following a training exercise.

“Why they were flying so low, that’s a valid question as part of the investigation,” said Roberts. “We will figure out exactly how they got into that situation, why they were there, if there was something else going on.”

The cost of repairing the helicopter is yet unknown, he said. “Obviously we can assume there was damage to it, but we just don’t know the extent of that damage,” said Roberts.

There are five lines linking the transmission towers. The two uppermost cables are parallel-running “nonelectrical” static wires designed to protect the system against lightning strikes.

The entire transmission line was under repair at the time, so no electricity was flowing through the system, said Jim Hopson, TVA public relations manager.

Hopson said there’s been no formal tabulation on the cost of damages, but the Marine Corps will likely get the bill ultimately.

“The way this works is that we typically do expect the agency that caused the damage to reimburse us for cost associated with repair,” he said.

marinelinecutworker

A TVA lineman works to repair static lines linking transmission towers that a Marine helicopter severed in DeKalb County on Oct. 29.

A dispatcher at DeKalb County Emergency Communications in Smithville took a call around 6 pm Saturday from a Marine captain reporting the wire strike. TVA crews began inspecting the damage Sunday night.

A Marine helicopter was observed circling the site of the incident on Monday morning.

Neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Media relations contacts for both agencies said the United States military investigates all accidents and incidents involving its own aircraft.

The helicopter may have been outfitted with with special wire-cutting devices, which helped avert a serious accident. “Wire strikes…account for about 5 percent of all civil and military helicopter accidents,” according to a 2008 FAA report on the effectiveness of wire-collision protection systems.

Matt Zuccaro, president of the Virginia-based Helicopter Association International, said wire-cutters can prevent “catastrophic results” by “eliminating the possibility that you will get tangled up in the wire.”

“There is also technology that actually detects the wires,” Zuccaro said.

However, the best course of action for pilots to keep clear of power lines is to maintain a safe altitude above them, he said.

“The primary safety protocol for avoiding wires is not to be down at the elevation of the wire environment to begin with,” said Zuccaro, who has nearly 50 years experience flying helicopters, including in Vietnam and as an Army flight instructor. “We recommend that when helicopters are in operation they be up at a satisfactory cruising level — which normally might be at least 1500 feet on an average flight.”

Zuccaro said he expects a full inquiry into the incident. “The military is very good about investigating all incidents and accidents, and they have a very good safety program,” he said.

“The primary question is — and we ask this question all the time ourselves –Why was the aircraft at the altitude it was when it encountered the wires?” he said. “It is either going to be mission-related, or it is going to be another reason that brings to question, Why was the flight operating at that altitude?”

In 2009, a Marine helicopter flying from California to North Carolina struck TVA power lines in White County near Rock Island State Park. The craft was forced to make an emergency landing after offloading 600 gallons of fuel, according to news reports.