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GOOD MORNING MIDDLE TENNESSEE 10/26/21

Updated: 5 hours ago

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We Start With Local News…

Water Cost Increase (MainStreetMaury)

The Columbia City Council approved a 10% water rate increase to cover the debt service cost for the new water treatment plant. The request, which was approved on Oct. 14, was brought forth by Columbia Power and Water Systems. Scott Dahlstrom, the Executive Director of Columbia Power and Water Systems, said the increase is needed due to the high level of growth in the city. “There are a couple reasons why we need to do this,” said Dahlstrom. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of growth. We want our customers to have the water they want when they want.” Dahlstrom pointed out the importance of building a new water plant in case of an emergency. He listed concerns such as droughts or tornadoes. “We want to build another treatment plant in case something goes wrong. If we have a drought of any significance, we need to provide people with the water they need,” Dahlstrom stated. The plant is in the beginning stage of being built. Dahlstrom said they’re in the design process right now, construction should start next year and the plant should be completed by 2025.

Dahlstrom said he believes the rate increase is justified. “The rate increase is modest,” he said. “It’s been four years since we had a rate increase. We need to maintain the quality of what we have.” If customers have questions, they can visit Communityh2o.org.

School Board Political Positions? (The Tennessee Star)

Tennessee State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) on Thursday introduced a bill that would allow party affiliation to be designated during a school board election.

The legislation, if enacted, would alter the current election process, which allows individuals to campaign on a nonpartisan basis.

“Elections for school board members may be conducted on a partisan basis, and a person seeking a position on a board may campaign as the nominee or representative of a political party,” the bill reads.

The bill will be considered during an upcoming special legislative session, which begins on October 27. According to Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), the session “will cover a number of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overreaching health care mandates.”

If passed, the new law would go into effect in July of 2022.

Local school boards have been at the center of the debate of coronavirus mandates throughout the country, and Tennessee specifically.

Earlier this year, the Williamson County School Board held numerous contentious meetings over potential mask mandates for students and faculty members.

After the meetings, the officials decided to limit the number of speakers allowed to address the members and require proof of residence in order to speak.

“For several weeks, we have heard from Tennesseans that have significant concerns over the unconstitutional and burdensome mandates being imposed upon them,” said Speaker Sexton of the special session. “As an elected body, it is our responsibility to let the distinctive voices of our communities be heard on these issues. I look forward to working together with Lt. Gov. McNally, the House, and Senate to create solutions that preserve the individual choices, freedoms, and liberties of all Tennesseans.”


Mental Mules (WKOM Audio 2:58)

Each year, a group of men called the Mental Mules, gather to walk for 24 hours straight in an effort to raise money for local charities. Our own Delk Kennedy put on his walking shoes and caught up to a couple of the Mules…


Mt. Pleasant Adds Cameras (MainStreetMaury)

The Mount Pleasant Police will soon add traffic cameras to ensure safety in school zones. The department announced a partnership with Blue Line Solutions, a leader in photo speed enforcement, to install license plate readers and speed detection cameras on Gray Lane. Each school zone will receive a pair of speed enforcement Lidar units. “It’s strictly safety to slow people down, keep kids from getting run over,” Mount Pleasant Police Chief Michael Hay said.

Approved by the city commission in September, the program consists of three phases. Phase one consists of a five-day speed study conducted by Blue Line Solutions. Following the study, the department in conjunction with the schools will then begin a 30-day education phase. “We’re going to try to ease everybody into it. We’ve got a letter we’re going to send out to the director of schools,” Chief Hay said. “There’s going to be educational material, emails that we’ll send out. “We’re not just throwing this in there to write citations.” Warnings will be issued in that 30-day period before citations are handed out. Traffic cameras have been under scrutiny for their constitutionality, but Tennessee law allows for traffic camera enforcement specifically in school zones. The license plate readers will alert law enforcement to individuals who are passing through those zones. “We want to know who is going through our school zones. Wanted individuals, sex offenders,” Hay said. “So if any of those people that are in that area that are not supposed to be it will send us alerts.” Citations will only be issued when a vehicle is detected going more than 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit of 15, but Hay is less worried about writing tickets and more concerned with simple safety. “I wouldn’t care if this doesn’t write a single citation. I want people to slow down and I want to know who is in the school zone,” he said.


School Transportation A Problem (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools continues to struggle to keep its transportation team fully staffed.

Transportation office staff has even stepped up to help drive routes as 17 bus driver positions remain vacant, which increases time students spend on the bus and causes overtime for drivers.

Garth Pinkston, the school district's supervisor of pupil transportation, said the district has had difficulty staffing the needed positions since the coronavirus pandemic led to many employees stepping away from their part-time roles.

"Every time I get one in, it seems like two leave and that is what hurts me, and it only seems to be getting worse," Pinkston said. "It puts us in a very difficult situation every day."

As of mid-October, Pinkston said the department currently has 17 unfilled positions for drivers.

"That is an issue that ware trying to resolve," Pinkston said.

He said other support positions also remain unfilled as the department has seen its staff deplete from about 200 before the pandemic to about 170.

"I probably lost 15 drivers who were afraid of COVID-19, Pinkston said. Now, I am losing them because they are working so much overtime. Our drivers they are working a lot, and they get tired."

Pinkston said four to six buses are currently running double-routes each day of the school week.

The lack of staff also continues to take a toll on fellow, employees, educators and families.

In order to keep up with the shortage, members of the transportation department's office staff are also being called on to run routes, costing the department more than 20-hours of office work each day.

"It is very inconsistent for the parents. We end up having to run a regular route and then pay overtime to run a second route with the same driver," Pinkston said.

"It causes a lot of grief with parents who have to sometimes wait 45 minutes to an hour for their children, especially those in elementary school. Educators also have to stay with those kids an extra 35 minutes, those kids have a very long day."

In order to better serve families, Pinkston said he is working with each of the school district's 23 campuses to have a notification system in place to let families know when their child's bus is running late.

Pinkston said drivers are paid an hourly rate of $16.94 with part time positions that include four hours of daily work five days each week. That’s an annual salary between $15,000 to $17,000.

Despite being a part-time role, the school district offers full benefits for the position.

"I think an increase in pay would help," Pinkston said. "We are going to have to look at ways to be creative.”

The position also offers 20 sick days that will be paid to the driver is they are not used.

After being hired for the position, Pinkson said it takes about a month for those without a commercial driver’s license to be trained and certified to begin work.

Candidates must be 25 years of age and be able to pass a background check a drug test and a review of their motor vehicle record.

After training sessions, drivers put those lessons to the test behind the wheel.

Drivers-in-training also take a hands-on approach to education, riding along with more experienced drivers who serve as an additional chaperone if students misbehave.

Visit https://www.mauryk12.org, then click on the HR & Careers tab to apply for a position with the school district's student transportation department.


Car Seat Safety Day (Press Release)

Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death among children in the United States. When installed properly child safety seats can reduce risk of serious injury or death by up to 71%, but over half of all car seats are installed incorrectly! Columbia Fire & Rescue, the Maury Regional Healthcare Foundation, and General Motors have joined together to provide our community with a free child passenger safety inspection and installation program available to all citizens of Maury County! CFR will even offer free replacement seats at the discretion of nationally certified child passenger safety technicians. Columbia Fire and Rescue will be holding a Car Seat Check event on Saturday, October 30th from 12-5pm at Fire Station No. 1 at 1000 S Garden St. They will be handing out free reflective trick or treat bags filled with candy and other goodies at this event.

For more information contact Hannah Miller, Community Risk Reduction Manager at hmiller@columbiatn.com.


Exhibit Opening (Press Release)

Once again, this November the historic Theta General Store will house the colorful creations of visual artists in Middle Tennessee. “Down a Country Road IV” comes to Theta on Saturday, November 13 and Sunday, November 14. The show is the result of the initiative of Leipers Fork artist Anne Goetze, who is known for her artistic depictions of rural landscapes and conservation, as well as the exploration of how the Contemplative Nuns live in her painting series “Pray to Love.”

The “Down a Country Road” series was started during the pandemic as a way to showcase art while other, more usual exhibition venues were shut down. “I found strength in knowing that other people were making art,” Anne says. “I also wanted to help my fellow artists find a way to get their work in front of others.” Collaborating with the owners of the Theta General Store, Anne and her crew continue to find a way to make the experience of viewing art safe and enjoyable through COVID. Anne believes that this exhibit is her most eclectic in the series so far. She explains, ‘The artwork includes the mediums of sculpture, painting and photography, and ranges in subject matter from landscapes, to a quest for the Milky Way, to wildlife, to a view through the lens of the music business.”

The lineup for “Down a Country Road IV” includes nature photographer Robin Conover, figurative visual artist Buddy Jackson, space and sky photographer Steve Confer, reclaimed metal artist Val Adams, portraiture photographer Stacy Zaferes Alger, woodcarver Ken Means, bird photographer Nathan Collie, and Anne Goetze, who will be displaying a new series of oil paintings created during the pandemic.

A portion of the sales for this event will be donated to the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville’s Artist Relief Fund.

“Down a Country Road IV” will take place Saturday, November 13 and Sunday, November 14, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. The Theta General Store is located at 2278 Les Robinson Rd, Columbia, Tennessee. For further information about “Down a Country Road IV,” please call Theta General Store 931.797.1746


Booster Shots (Press Release)

The Tennessee Department of Health will begin offering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to certain populations, beginning Monday, October 25. For individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot at 6 months or more after they complete the initial series: • 65 years and older • Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings • Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions • Age 18+ who work or live in high-risk settings Individuals who are 18 years and older and received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a booster dose is recommended at two or more months after the initial vaccine. Eligible individuals may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose. More information on the CDC’s recommendation for a booster dose is available online at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Local health departments across the state will be administering COVID-19 booster doses. Not all types of vaccine will be available at all sites. Individuals are encouraged to check vaccines.gov to find a location that is offering their preferred COVID-19 vaccine. Information on appointment availability at local health departments can be found at https://covid19.tn.gov/covid-19-vaccines/availability/. Appointments are encouraged but not required. Booster vaccines are also widely available from pharmacies, medical clinics, and other sites.


Veterans Living History Program (Press Release)

Columbia Parks and Recreation is hosting their annual Veterans Living History and Exhibit program from November 8-10 from 9am-6pm. The program will be held at the Macedonia Recreation Center located at 501 Armstrong St. in Columbia.

This year’s theme is “The Military Oath to Protect the Constitution.” Visitors will see personal displays from local veterans, hear veterans share their military experiences, and view artifacts, uniforms, vehicles and more.

For more information, contact Bob Crigger at rcrigger @columbiatn.com.


…And now, news from around the state

UT Enrollment Increases (Press Release)

For the third consecutive year the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees is celebrating record-breaking enrollment for the UT System. The UT System boasted an all-time high enrollment of 53,983 students for 2021, representing a 2.7% increase above the previous year. Additionally, both undergraduate as well as graduate and professional enrollment grew at record levels, increasing 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. “This is encouraging news, given that college and university enrollment is declining more than 3 percent across the country,” UT Board of Trustees Chair John Compton said. “We have proven for the third consecutive year that we are far exceeding national trends. The hard work, focus and diligence of our faculty and staff—even amidst a global pandemic—is inspiring and paying tremendous dividends.” Additionally, freshmen enrollment continues to rise. Since 2017, freshmen enrollment has increased 14.7 percent, and this year UT Knoxville is celebrating the largest incoming freshman class in its history with 5,948 students (representing a 7.9 percent increase from 2020). For the UT System, four-year and six-year graduation rates also continued to increase.


Sen. Kelsey Indicted (Tennessean)

Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey has been indicted in a campaign finance conspiracy alongside a Nashville social club owner, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nashville announced Monday.

A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging Kelsey, 43, and club owner Joshua Smith, 44, with violating multiple campaign finance laws as part of a conspiracy to benefit Kelsey’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.

Smith owns The Standard, an elite Nashville club that also operates its own state political action committee. There, the investigators allege, they illegally funneled money into Kelsey’s campaign on one occasion at a private dinner on July 11, 2016 through the club's PAC.

The Tennessean first reported on the questionable campaign finance donations in 2017. After The Tennessean’s 2017 report, a watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice saying Kelsey and others may have been involved in illegal straw donations, inappropriate coordination and other possible wrongdoing.

Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Smith are accused of secretly and illegally shuffling "soft money" from Kelsey's Tennessee state Senate campaign committee to his authorized federal campaign committee.

"Soft money" includes funds that are not subject to the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act. Federal law caps campaign donations to $2,700 from any one individual or organization to a single candidate in each election.

The indictment alleges Kelsey, Smith and other unindicted co-conspirators funneled tens of thousands of dollars between February 2016 and October 2016 to Kelsey's federal campaign for the 8th Congressional District.

In a brief news conference Monday afternoon, Kelsey and his attorney Ty Howard defended the senator. Kelsey called his charges "a political witch hunt" and blamed it on President Joe Biden and Democrats.

Smith sent an email to The Standard members Monday morning. He said the PAC was dissolved in 2018 and said that $60,000 passed through the PAC and was contributed to a political organization, according to the email obtained by The Tennessean.

Kelsey has served in Tennessee General Assembly since 2009 and in 2016 ran unsuccessfully in a 10-way race for the Republican nomination for the 8th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Germantown, ultimately won the primary and went on to win the general election.

Since then, Kelsey has emerged as a leading voice in the Tennessee General Assembly on a range of conservative issues. He pushed for Gov. Bill Lee's education savings account program, a type of school voucher, and in his role as an attorney for the Liberty Justice Center even argued on for the program in court.

If Kelsey is convicted, he would no longer be qualified to serve in the state Senate.


Burn Permits Required (Williamson Homepage)

The State of Tennessee began requiring burn permits beginning Oct. 15.

The permits are required every year during fire season and burn permits will be required through May 15, 2022.

“Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” State Forester David Arnold said in a news release. “Thanks to rainfall, our wildfire numbers are low so far this fall. However, it’s always necessary to practice safe debris burning and remember that state permits are required starting next week in areas where local governments do not have established outdoor burning ordinances.”

Debris Burn Permits for leaf and brush piles are available at no charge via the MyTN mobile app or online at www.BurnSafeTN.org.

Online permits can be obtained daily from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. central, and they are required for any leaf or brush burn pile regardless of the size, and each burn pile must be extinguished by the time that the permit expires.

For larger, broadcast burning, such as forestry, agricultural, and land clearing, residents should call the Division of Forestry at 877-350-BURN (2876) Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Permits are issued based on current safe weather conditions, and residents who live inside of a town or city limit should check with their local municipality for additional restrictions before burning.

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry, burning without a permit is a class C misdemeanor and punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine.

Wildfires caused by arson are a class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.


Final Story of the Morning (Press Release)

Columbia State Community College is hosting Trunk or Treat at the Columbia Campus tonight from 5:30-7:30pm. Park in the large parking lot right off of Hampshire Pike. The event will be in front of the Pryor Administration Building.

The Center of Hope is hosting a candlelight vigil against domestic violence on Thursday, October 28 at 6pm at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Columbia.

One Generation Away is providing their food distribution on Saturday, October 30 from 9-11am, or as long as the food lasts. This will take place at Columbia State’s Columbia Campus at 1665 Hampshire Pike.

Finally, Haunting in the District will take place on Sunday, October 31st at 5:30pm. Lots of booths will be set up handing out candy for the kids on the square in Downtown Columbia.