Lisa Autry

Reporter/Producer

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum.  She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years.  Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville.  She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky.  Many of her stories have been heard on NPR. 

Ways to Connect

U.S. Postal Service

The building that houses the post office in downtown Bowling Green is for sale, which puts future operations at the facility in question. 

Postal Service Spokeswoman Susan Wright tells WKU Public Radio that no decisions have been made about how the move will affect service in the city.

"The postal service has a track record of transparency in any of our retail operations, and it would be premature to provide information about any real estate transaction before it's final," says Wright.

Wright adds that any changes to retail operations would be decided following public input. 

The postal service has operated out of the downtown location since 1972.  Bowling Green has one other mail-processing facility on Scottsville Road.

Western Kentucky University is seeking a declaratory judgment against the Kentucky Retirement System.  The feud relates to the pension benefits of former buildings and grounds workers.

In a budget-cutting move, WKU privatized all facilities and grounds services in August.  The school out-sourced 202 positions in a contract with Sodexo. 

After becoming Sodexo employees they were told by KRS that they would not be allowed to withdraw or roll over employee contributions the individuals made to the pension system while they were employed by WKU. 

The Kentucky Retirement System, which administers the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, views Sodexo employees as “common law employees of WKU” and should not be allowed to access the funds they contributed to the retirement system individually.  KRS also stated that WKU would be expected to pay pension contributions for Sodexo employees and those workers would also have to continue to pay the applicable employee contributions to KERS, despite their employment with Sodexo.

Lisa Autry

As Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell prepares to retire next year, the hunt for his replacement remains on schedule. 

The presidential search committee met today in closed session.  Some faculty and staff have raised concerns about the transparency of the process.  They want to know who the finalists are and be allowed to comment on the final choice.  Search Committee Chairman Phillip Bale says it’s important for the names of candidates to remain confidential.

"That being said, if we have three or four finalists that want to come to campus and it doesn't injure their career or the institutions where they may be at now, we're fine with that too, but at this point we simply don't know," Bale told WKU Public Radio.

Dr. Bale says the search has yielded “an outstanding pool of applicants.”  About 40 people have applied or been nominated for the position. 

Candidate interviews will start next month.  The university’s 10th president will be named by March 1.

Kentucky Division of Forestry

Dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures have caused a rash of wildfires across Kentucky. Nearly 30,000 acres of forest and grassland have burned in the eastern half of the state.

After an extremely dry September and October, a level one drought has been declared for 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

"We're at a time of year where, generally, we're not as vulnerable to drought because the demand for water decreases as we get into the cool season of the year," State Climatologist Stuart Foster told WKU Public Radio.  "Nonetheless, there's a possibility that this could extend through the winter months."

More than 60 counties have issued burn bans as a result of the wildfires and drought conditions. Relief is nowhere in sight in the seven-day forecast.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Erin Pettigrew

A recanvass of votes has not changed the outcome of a district judge race in Barren and Metcalfe counties. 

Gabe Pendleton will remain in the judgeship after narrowly defeating Kathryn Thomas in Tuesday’s election.  Thomas requested a recanvass after losing to Pendleton by 36 votes.

The clerks' offices in Barren and Metcalfe counties conducted the recanvass Thursday morning and reported no change in vote totals.

In March, Pendleton was appointed by Governor Matt Bevin to serve as the 43rd District judge until the election.  Based on the outcome, Pendleton will finish  former District Judge John Alexander's four-year term that began in January 2015.  Outgoing Governor Steve Beshear appointed Alexander as a circuit judge last December after Judge Phil Patton retired.

WKU Social Science Research Center

A survey from Western Kentucky University finds Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump with widespread support in the Bluegrass state.  Trump leads Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton by 17 points. 

Dr. Joel Turner, director of the Social Science Research Center at WKU which conducted the poll, says Trump leads among Kentucky’s female voters, despite several controversies over the candidate’s treatment of women.

"In this race, we're re-writing the rules of political science on a daily basis, if not an hourly basis," Turner told WKU Public Radio.  "If this is a trend that she's not going to do well with women nationwide, it's going to be really difficult for her. However, I think this is probably Kentucky conservatism more than anything else and I don't expect her to struggle nationwide with female voters."

The same poll gives Senator Rand Paul a 16-point advantage over his Democratic rival, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. 

The poll was taken October 25-30 and questioned 602 likely voters.  It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Kentuckians wanting to buy health insurance on the federal exchange will have fewer options and higher costs.

Starting Tuesday, enrollees will apply for coverage at www.healthcare.gov instead of the state-based exchange known as Kynect.  Anthem will be the only insurance provider, and the company will offer customers four plans.

Tonya Wooton works for Community Action of Southern Kentucky, and helps enrollees navigate the online application process. She says while premium increases are expected, they should be offset by subsidies.

"People also need to understand that if premiums increase and you're getting payment assistance, then you're payment assistance is also going to increase, so you may not feel it as much as you think you will," Wooton told WKU Public Radio.

Discounts and payment assistance are based on income.

Republican Governor Matt Bevin’s administration says the Affordable Care Act has caused insurers to pull out of exchange markets across the country, with those that stayed offering higher rates.

Open enrollment on the federal exchange is November 1-January 31, 2017.  Consumers must enroll in a plan by December 15 if they want coverage to begin January 1.

A southern Indiana community is experiencing a large jump in the number of fatal heroin overdoses. 

Vanderburgh County is reporting 22 deaths this year—that’s triple the number from 2015.  The victims’ ages have ranged from the early 20s to late 50s. 

Chief Deputy Coroner Steve Lockyear says more people in the Evansville region are now dying from heroin overdoses than from prescription drugs.

"I think everybody is shocked that heroin has made such a large presence in this area," Lockyear told WKU Public Radio.  "I think they've thought it to be a drug from the alleys of New York City or Chicago and not something that would strike middle America, but it has definitely come here and come here in a big way."

Many of the people who have died this year from heroin overdoses also had Fentanyl in their system.  Fentanyl is another powerful opioid often added to heroin to increase its potency.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Erin Pettigrew

Workers with Kentucky’s largest employer are being told to dress a little more appropriately. 

A new dress code for executive branch workers that went into effect this month bans flip flops, midriff shirts, large commercial logos, and offensive language. 

David Smith, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, says he supports the dress code if applied for the right reasons.

"Other the other had though, it could be they don't like the fact you bought that shirt because that brand is sold at Wal-Mart. You could potentially, as an employee, be disciplined up to and including termination, depending upon their interpretation of the policy and the severity of the violation of the policy," Smith told WKU Public Radio.  "That gives us grave concern."

The new policy that took effect this month applies to about 31,000 executive branch workers, but they may not all be affected the same.  The Personnel and Labor Cabinets have implemented more stringent dress code policies.

Lisa Autry

October is Farm to School Month in Kentucky and the state agriculture department is hoping to expand the number of schools using locally produced foods. 

Seventy-seven school districts already have programs in place to buy local foods.  Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says local chefs play an important role too.

"These chefs help train food preparers to go buy food from farmers' markets or farmers," Quarles told WKU Public Radio.  "They learn how to properly store it and manage it , and also, it makes their recipes a little more enjoyable."

A grant program allows the agriculture department to contract with nine chefs and each one is assigned to a region of the state.  The goal is to bring fresh, healthy foods to school cafeterias while opening up new markets for farmers.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Bill Rogers

A manufacturer of non-cigarette tobacco products is increasing its footprint in Owensboro. 

Swedish Match opened its new $3.5 million, 10,000-square-foot expansion Tuesday at the company’s current location.  The expansion will increase product research and testing capabilities. 

Thord Hassler, Vice President for Research and Development, says despite efforts in the U.S. to discourage smoking, the use of tobacco-related products remains consistent.

"There's been a gradual shift away from cigarettes to other products," Hassler told WKU Public Radio.  "I think all in all, in the U.S., there's a slight decline year by year, but it's very slow."

The expansion of the company’s research and development department is not expected to create jobs, but could lead to the creation of new products. The company has a current workforce of 355 in Owensboro.

Swedish Match produces chewing tobacco, cigars, and matches.

Western Kentucky University will share in a $47 million grant to improve training for principals.  WKU is one of seven schools across the country selected by The Wallace Foundation to participate in the initiative. 

Dr. Marguerita Desander, head of the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research at WKU, said good leadership is the foundation for student achievement.

"Every school is different.  Every community is different," Desander told WKU Public Radio.  "Having leaders who are adequately prepared for the things that are unique about communities is so important to ensure that our students get the best possible education they can."

Dr. Desander says many districts lack the capacity to train principals in how to take on challenges such as poverty, diversity, and curriculum. 

During the four-year initiative, WKU will bring together all 11 principal preparation programs in Kentucky and help revise curriculum by examining the changing needs of schools and their leaders.  WKU will also partner with the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.

Communities around Fort Knox have launched a capital campaign to help grow the Hardin County army post and the regional economy. 

A new partnership called the Knox Regional Development Alliance was announced Thursday in Elizabethtown.  Co-chairman Ray Springsteen said part of the goal is to bring new missions to the post and retain existing ones.

"A few years ago, we certainly had some contraction in the military, and in some cases, this is driven by that," Springsteen told WKU Public Radio.  "Instead of us reacting when there's a problem, someone is getting up every day, going out, and finding ways to protect this incredible asset."

Another goal of the alliance is to attract and retain military-related businesses to Hardin, Meade, Larue, Bullitt, and Jefferson counties.

Orchestra Kentucky

Orchestra Kentucky has hired a full-time executive director for the first time in 16 years.  Scott Watkins was introduced during a news conference Monday at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center in Bowling Green. 

Watkins credits the local orchestra with re-inventing classical music.

"In a day and age when you're losing a lot of classical music lovers, we're trying to reinvigorate and bring new people to orchestra," Watkins told WKU Public Radio.  "We bring in new ideas, new shows and new programming, which is something this orchestra does very well already."

Watkins comes to Bowling Green from El Dorado, Arkansas where he headed the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  Before that, he managed the Dallas Symphony and served in leadership roles at Symphony Arlington, Corpus Christi Symphony, and the Las Colinas Symphony.

He says he’d like to continue efforts to introduce a new breed of classical music to the public while also increasing the budget and audience for Orchestra Kentucky. 

Watkins replaces Darrell Edwards who retired in August.

WKU

The Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University is celebrating its 10th year with the largest class yet.  The academy is a residential high school for gifted juniors and seniors pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The program is preparing to increase its number of students from 160 to 190.

Only 24 percent of Gatton’s most recent graduates continued their education at WKU. Gatton Director Lynette Breedlove says most students, historically, have transferred to other universities to finish their degrees.

“About 33 percent of students historically have stayed at WKU. About 30 percent have gone to UK, about 12 percent to U of L. And the rest of the students have gone hither and yon. Probably the next largest group is about 4 percent going to Vandy,” Breedlove said.

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