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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for April 12, 2024

WKOM/WKRM RadioSouthern Middle Tennessee TodayNews Copy for April 12, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Maury Regional Expansion (MSM)

Maury Regional Medical Center’s proposed sale of roughly 6.5 acres of property on Trotwood Avenue for a potential hotel was presented to the county’s Health & Environment Committee during its April 1 meeting.

The Maury Regional Board of Trustees presented a resolution passed at the group’s March 28 meeting indicating its desire to sell seven tracts on Trotwood for at least $2.95 million to Duke & Gobble Properties, LLC, a development group based in Lawrence County.

The proposal was approved and advanced to the Budget Committee, which was scheduled to meet on April 8.

Dr. Martin Chaney, Chief Executive Officer of Maury Regional, spoke with commissioners about the proposed sale. Per the Private Act of 1995 passed by the General Assembly, the sale of any hospital property exceeding $1 million requires the approval of two-thirds of the county commission.

“It’s been in the talks for a while… We look at all of our properties and how we can strategically use them. Are they bringing us current benefit, are they going to have future benefit?” Chaney said. “We were approached several months ago with an intriguing proposal to buy that property for the placement of at least one hotel.”

Chaney said the hospital’s leadership team and Board of Trustees had examined the proposal and endorsed it. He presented both identified pros and cons to the potential sale.

“A partnership for a hotel is good for Maury Regional. To have it that close to our hospital, we would use it a lot,” he said, noting past snow days when the hospital had to house nurses and had nowhere to put them, in addition to the ease for patient visitors.

Other identified pros to the idea included increased tourism development and assistance with the financial stewardship of the hospital.

Chaney did say if a hotel were built on the property, the hospital would have to develop a working relationship. In addition, the potential impact to traffic on Trotwood Avenue was addressed.

“There will have to be some work done… we do see this as an opportunity to potentially incorporate some turn lanes there,” Chaney said.

Commissioners seemed amenable to the proposal, with Kevin Markham saying, “I’m in favor of doing this. That property needs to be used for something productive.” 

However, Scott Sumners raised concerns over Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder having written the resolution on behalf of the hospital. Chaney noted that Molder has served as the hospital’s backup legal counsel for a number of years and that he was only used because Maury Regional’s regular attorney was on an extended vacation.

Gabe Howard also addressed traffic concerns, saying he had reviewed traffic crash data on Trotwood Avenue and that most crashes occur between Columbia Academy and Columbia Fire Station 4.

Ray Jeter asked about the current zoning of the property, with Chaney saying the property would have to be rezoned in order to put a hotel there.

Commission Chairman Eric Previti added, “This side of town, we’re not very well served. This will be a gamechanger, a boost for the restaurants.”

Chaney also spoke on the hospital’s strategic growth plan. Noting there were 61 defined growth initiatives in the five-year plan that covers 2023-28, Chaney said 60 percent of those had been accomplished or were in the process of being completed in the first year.

“We’ve met our new provider recruitment goals for the first year, issued really strong marketing plans and then our renovations and brand identity to address our increased volume is well underway,” Chaney said.

The hospital has purchased land in Lawrenceburg for an eventual 60,000-square foot health park. Part of that space will be subleased to other providers, but the park will include labs, an imaging center and eventually the hospital’s sleep lab.

“We’re hoping that within a year from now, we’ll be fully operational in this building,” Chaney said.

Of 15 projects on the main Columbia campus, 11 have begun, according to Chaney. Among the projects are remodels of operating rooms, updates to the emergency treatment areas and an ambulatory surgical center that should break ground sometime in April.

Chaney also addressed future expansion plans, saying Maury Regional was working to determine whether adding floors to its tower or building out elsewhere from the hospital was the best option from a cost standpoint.

Kiddie Academy Center (WKOM Audio 3:15)

Yesterday, the Kiddie Academy Educational Childcare Center in Spring Hill held a grand opening. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy attended the ribbon cutting and spoke to Director Autumn Oberhalzer, to learn about what the new facility offers its students…

Drake Groundbreaking (WKOM Audio 1:57)

Yesterday afternoon, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in downtown Columbia at the site of The Drake, a new six story luxury apartment and retail complex. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the ceremony and spoke to Sam Yeager of Bristol Development Group to learn more about what the facility will offer its residents and the community…

Dr. O. Rebecca Hawkins Honored at Ceremony (WKOM Audio 6:46)

Yesterday, Columbia State Community College dedicated a promenade in honor of President Emeritus, Dr. O. Rebecca Hawkins. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke to current College President Dr. Janet F. Smith to hear about Dr. Hawkins’ legacy to the college and to Dr. Hawkins herself to hear how she felt about receiving the honor...

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Wanda Norwood Rice, 80, retired Lab Technician for Maury Regional Medical Center and resident of Santa Fe, died Thursday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Funeral services for Mrs. Rice will be conducted Monday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Sunday from 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

And now, news from around the state…

Education Commissioner’s Credentials Questioned (Tennessean)

House Republicans are voicing concerns over Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds' qualifications to continue leading the state agency. One is calling her perceived lack of credentials "a slap in the face" to teachers, and calling for her resignation following a report by The Tennessean that Reynolds repeatedly signed forms misrepresenting her tenure with the state to obtain a taxpayer-funded tuition waiver.

Records obtained by The Tennessean show that twice within her first six months of employment with the state, Reynolds certified under penalty of perjury that she had worked for the state for six months or more, while seeking to waive tuition for classes at the University of Tennessee at Martin in pursuit of a teaching credential ― something state law requires education commissioners to hold. State employees are only eligible for free tuition after they have been working at least six months.

After inquiries from The Tennessean last week, the Tennessee Department of Education said the tuition was paid as the result of "an administrative error," and Reynolds has recently repaid tuition funds. The department has pointed to a recent state law and flexibility around teacher shortages as evidence Reynolds is qualified for the position.

But at least one Republican lawmaker is questioning whether Reynolds should continue to lead the department ― and one is calling for her resignation.

“She committed a crime. I’m not a lawyer – by no means – but I think it warrants the Attorney General, maybe, looking into it,” Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, told The Tennessean in an interview on Monday. “I think she should resign, and if she won’t, I think the governor should definitely ask for her resignation.”

Warner said that since The Tennessean broke the story of Reynolds’ misuse of tuition waivers, he received more than 50 calls from teachers, school administrators and school directors in his district and beyond, saying Reynolds should resign.

He says Reynolds’ lack of a teacher’s license is “a slap in the face” to educators. 

“If she’s not qualified to be a teacher in the state of Tennessee, she’s definitely not qualified to do this job,” Warner said. 

Warner called Reynolds’ pursuit of a tuition waiver for which she was not qualified “a nail in the coffin” for her service, also citing her lack of teaching credentials and school administrative experience, and concerns over her ability to answer questions on bills in committee, instead relying on colleagues and deputies to answer questions on technicalities of the voucher legislation.

“It bothers me that we go to places like California, Texas, and bring those people in here to be Commissioner of Education when we have many, many Tennesseans that are qualified and share the values of the majority of Tennesseans,” Warner said.

But Reynolds has no intention to resign, according to the department.

“The Commissioner is dedicated to serving the students of Tennessee and is excited about continuing her work on their behalf,” TDOE spokesman Brian Blackley told The Tennessean in an email Monday.

By law, agency commissioners are appointed by the governor without oversight powers from the legislature. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from openly criticizing commissioners ― and even considering "no confidence" votes on commissioners in the past.

Answers aren't likely coming from the administration anytime soon. Gov. Bill Lee's office has expressed support for the commissioner numerous times, while continuing to dodge questions about legal requirements for her qualifications, and keeping records of discussions of inquiries about Reynolds' qualifications secret.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Ready to get outside this weekend?

Now that the weather is warming up and the sun is shining, it's about time for this year's kayaking season.

Higher Pursuits, 3114 Cheeks Bend Road, will host its grand opening day of the season starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, pending this weekend's weather forecast.

Spend a relaxing day traveling down the Duck River, away from the bustle of cars, work and regular life while paddling down one of Columbia's most valued and celebrated resources.

Reserve your spot by calling (931) 840-8575. For more information on Higher Pursuits, rentals and classes, visit


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