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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for April 17, 2023


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

We start with local news…

Spring Hill Man Charged (Fox17.com)

A Spring Hill man has been jailed for multiple crimes against children, including soliciting a minor to commit aggravated statutory rape and sexual exploitation of a minor.

The Spring Hill Police Department (SHPD) reports 47-year-old Daniel Diemert has been arrested for the alleged incidents which took place last spring and summer.

According to the department, Diemert is facing charges of solicitation of a minor to commit aggravated statutory rape/aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and sexual battery by an authority figure.

He also faces charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, casual exchange of narcotics to a minor, unlawful photography of a minor, invasion of privacy, and aggravated sexual battery.

His bond has been set at $200,000.


Leaked House Audio (MainStreetMaury)

A leaked audio recording shows apparent frustration on the part of State Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) with fellow Republicans who broke ranks on votes to expel three members of the Tennessee House.

In the audio posted to Twitter by the left-leaning blog The Tennessee Holler, Cepicky can be heard saying a “war” is going on for Tennessee and the country as a whole.

“If you don’t believe we’re at war for our republic, with all love and respect to you, you need a different job,” Cepicky is heard saying in the almost 10-minute audio clip.

“The left wants Tennessee so bad. Because if they get us, the Southeast falls,” Cepicky added during the conversation.

In an April 6 vote that has garnered national attention, Cepicky was among those voting to expel three Democrats – Justin Pearson of Memphis, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Jones of Nashville – for protesting on the House floor during session. Pearson and Jones, who are both Black, were expelled, while Johnson, a white woman, retained her seat by one vote. Both the expelled members were voted back into their seats by their respective county commissions just days after being expelled.

Much of the ire was directed at one Republican, Jody Barrett of Dickson. Barrett voted to expel Pearson and Jones, but not to expel Johnson. In the recording Barrett, who works as an attorney, cited what he felt were problems with the resolution and not having an opportunity to ask questions.

“You should’ve told leadership ahead of time if you had a doubt,” Cepicky is heard saying to Barrett. “And by God, if you change your mind you should be screaming in the Speaker’s ears going ‘I’m a no vote, how does that affect you guys?’”

Cepicky goes on to say he had been called “a racist, a misogynist, a white supremacist more in the last two months than I have my entire life.”

Cepicky stated that the caucus was “working on trying to find the leak source.”


Columbia City Pay Increase (CDH)

In its continued effort to support and properly compensate its employees, Columbia City Council approved the first of two readings to increase city employee salaries by 5% across the board.

The second and final reading will appear on the council's May agenda. If approved, the pay increase would take effect in June. Once approved, the raise would be part of a 22.5% cumulative increase in employee compensation rates since 2018.

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder said the increase is due to a recent study indicating that the pay rate for many staff positions was found to be under the average market value, and that it was "the right thing to do for our employees."

"One of the troubling things was where we stood as a city in terms of our employees being sort of 'under market,'" Molder said. "But the good thing in that trouble is that we are solving that problem, and we are correcting the issue, and we will go from having 73% of our employees being basically under market to having none of our employees being paid below market."

City Finance Director Thad Jablonski said the pay increase would amount to a total cost of just over $2.2 million, which he said is unprecedented in the city's history.

"We've never done $1 million in one year as far as increases in compensation," Jablonski said.

Jablonski added that much of the market research was conducted comparing Columbia to other cities and municipalities, such as Franklin, Spring Hill, as well as private sectors in the case of engineers, accountants and other comparative positions.

"As of July 1, we're going to be competitive within our market," Jablonski said. "That's where we want to be, and I'm pretty pleased to be able to say that."

In addition to the 5% pay increase, the council's May agenda will also include the first of two readings for an ordinance to establish a new employee pay scale, which Jablonski said could include additional adjustments based on today's market averages.

Molder also touched on the 22.5% cumulative increase, and that had the city not taken action sooner, the new increases likely would not have been possible.

"Had we not been doing this incrementally over the last several years, then we would find ourselves in a much more difficult position of trying to get our employees caught up to where they need to be," Molder said.

"Even though this is a significant budget item for us, I'm very thankful that it isn't more than what it is, and that's because we have had these incremental increases. Overall, I think it does send a signal to our employees that we hear them, and more importantly that we appreciate them."


Dwell Boutique (WKOM Audio 1:47)

On Friday, Dwell Boutique opened for business. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the ribbon cutting and learned more about what the new business has to offer…


Congressional Art Competition (Press Release)

Congressman Andy Ogles (TN-05) announced that his Columbia District Office is now accepting submissions for the 2023 Congressional Art Competition.

Each year, high school students across the country participate in this contest to have their artwork displayed in the nation’s Capitol for the year. One piece is selected for each congressional district. All high school students in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District are encouraged to participate!

“I am confident that the 5th District has some of the most talented young artists in our nation and I look forward to seeing each and every piece that is entered,” said Congressman Ogles in a press release.

Each entry must be original in concept, design, and execution and may not violate U.S. copyright laws. For more information on competition guidelines, please visit ogles.house.gov.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, April 21, 2023, at 5 p.m. All entries must schedule a drop-off or pickup with Amy Lewis at amy.lewis2@mail.house.gov. All teachers are encouraged to make scheduled arrangements 2-5 days before the April 21 deadline.


Kiwanis Sporting Clays (WKOM Audio 1:50)

On Saturday, the Kiwanis Club hosted its annual sporting clays fundraiser. Our own Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke with event chairperson Suzanne Ganzer…


Singing and Swinging Golf Tournament (Press Release)

Join award winning songwriters Mark Alan Springer, Mark Nessler and more for a round of golf and a fun time Singin’ & Swingin’, to benefit the Tennessee Children’s Home.

For over 20 years Tennessee Children's Home has put on a golf fundraiser successful in attaining the resources that change the lives of at-risk children and youth in Middle Tennessee. They are grateful for all the community support and love for the vulnerable and hopeless. We invite you to help make an impact on at-risk children and youth in Tennessee. Be a part of this work by being a sponsor or player for the event on June 5th!

For more information contact Chris Doughtie 931.486.2274 x218 or cdoughtie@tennesseechildrenshome.org


Spring Hill Budget Issues (CDH)

The unplanned approval of a hefty budget amendment by the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen, totaling $14 million in additional budget costs for the 2022-23 fiscal year, has raised concerns in government transparency and spending.

During its April 3 work session, the BOMA approved, 8-1, a $14 million amendment to its 2022-2023 fiscal budget, representing an overage in the originally approved budget this fiscal year. The extra funds were used from the city's general fund.

Alderman Hazel Nieves, who was the sole descending vote, was quite vocal regarding the reasons why she voted against the amendment.

One major concern was transparency from staff, particularly the lack of detailed information provided to BOMA about what the amendment entails and why it's needed, she explained. She expressed concerns over issues that have arisen over the last nine months since the previous budget's approval in 2022.

"It is very vague and assuming, a glaring lack of information to substantiate and justify increases in the budget," Nieves said. "Of all the amendments we've had over the last five years, this one has the least due diligence in my opinion."

Nieves also stated that BOMA has not received up-to-date financial reports dating back to September of last year, meaning city staff has more or less been operating blindly during its budget cycle.

The amendment included an additional $3.3 million in "miscellaneous revenue" that was added to the budget without BOMA approval prior to being sent to the state comptroller's office, Nieves claims.

In other words, the budget that was submitted to the state was not the same budget BOMA approved, according to aldermen.

The city's latest audit has also been delayed leading up to next fiscal budget, which will be up for approval in June.

City Administrator Pam Caskie said, while city staff might not have done "everything perfectly," she believes no decision made has been harmful to the city.

"The city is still on sound financial ground," Caskie said. "We are still spending money in accordance with our purchasing policy."

Alderman John Canepari also shared concerns about the increase in overall expenditures reported, especially when it amounts to $14 million from the general fund. He also admitted that he should have made a better effort to uncover the information BOMA had not received throughout the year, such as financial reports and building permit numbers.

"I'm embarrassed, publicly embarrassed in putting my trust in an amendment that I thought made sense ... and putting my trust in the financial staff and our city administrator," Canepari said.

Caskie stressed that much of the increases are due to factors like inflation, increased construction costs, supply shortages, as well as the city hiring several new employees over the last year.

Caskie added the budget "is not operating negatively," and while the additional $14 million is reported, there is an additional $300,000 "floating budget" and that there has been more revenue calculated verses expenses.

"I'm not sitting here telling you that everything in this is perfect and that we didn't wish it were different, but we've gotten through the conversion, are on a better stand and are moving on," Caskie said.

"We can beat on people all you want, but that isn't really going to accomplish anything. If I need to do my flogging in the public square so everyone will recognize I own this, I'd be happy to ... but the reality is we need to move forward."

Nieves responded saying Caskie's comments "substantiates what I've been saying for a while, that we've been operating in the blind."

"That's a lot of time where we are not able to see the details with what's going on in this budget," Nieves said. "We have to have that information to make sound decisions, and here we are now facing [up to] $16 million over the budget that we approved. And in the meantime, we keep rolling down the road with these big spends that come in."

Some of the "big spends" include approving construction on a $36 million Spring Hill Police headquarters, as well as designs for a new Spring Hill Fire station, which would include hiring 12 new firefighters, with needs for equipment, vehicles and other additional expenses.

Nieves later cited a capital cash flow analysis recently sent to the BOMA stated that after such expensive approvals like the police headquarters, there would be no money available for additional capital expenses projected until 2026, thwarting the funding of major road projects and infrastructure, expanding City Hall and relocating and/or expanding the Spring Hill Public Library.

"We've got, in my opinion, trouble everywhere," Nieves said.


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

Mr. Dennis Glenn Thurman, 62, retired employee of Tennessee Farm Bureau for 24 years and resident of Columbia, died Friday, April 14, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Funeral services for Mr. Thurman will be conducted Tuesday at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Tuesday from 12:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.

Mrs. Lois Poe Gilliam, 95, retired secretary and wife of Boyd Gilliam, died Saturday at her residence. Funeral services for Mrs. Gilliam will be conducted Thursday at 1:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM at the funeral home.


Mr. Archie “Bubba” Russell Jr., 76, retired employee of Vaught Aircraft Industries, Grand Fire Protection, and Williamson County Highway Department, died Saturday, April 15, 2023. Funeral services for Mr. Russell will be conducted Wednesday at 2:00 P.M. at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home in Franklin, Tennessee. Burial will follow in Green Cemetery in Primm Springs. The family will visit with friends Tuesday from 4:00 P.M – 8:00 P.M. at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.


Mr. William Lee Barron, 88, retired educator and a longtime resident of Columbia, died Saturday at his son’s residence in Manchester. Funeral services are incomplete and will be announced later by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Franklin Firefighter Injured (WilliamsonHomepage)

A Franklin firefighter was seriously injured after falling two stories during a training exercise Tuesday at the Franklin Fire Department Training Center on Century Court.

According to Franklin Fire Chief Glenn Johnson, while participating in an on-duty training drill, the firefighter – who was not named – climbed a ladder from the ground to the second-story roof of the training building. 

Johnson said the firefighter fell while transitioning from the ladder to the second-story roof of the building. 

He was transported by Williamson Health EMS to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for treatment. Johnson reports the firefighter remains hospitalized in stable condition.

The city of Franklin and the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) are investigating the accident to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future and improve workplace safety and health.


Winfrey to Speak at TSU Commencement (Tennessean)

Oprah Winfrey — Tennessee State University alumna and journalist turned media mogul — will join U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson as speakers at the university's 2023 spring commencement.

Winfrey will return to the historically Black college on Saturday, May 6 as the keynote speaker for the undergraduate ceremony.

A 1986 graduate of Tennessee State University, Winfrey worked at what is now known as WTVF-TV where she was the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor.

With a career spanning over three decades, Winfrey has built a media empire with a focus on philanthropy.

Through the course of the years, she has contributed more than $200 million to provide education for academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 2020, Winfrey donated more than $20 million in COVID-19 relief support to cities nationwide, including Nashville.

On July 14, 2022, Winfrey attended her father's funeral in Nashville. Vernon Winfrey was a former Metro councilmember and businessman.

Thompson is the longest-serving Black elected official in Mississippi and the longest serving Democrat in the Mississippi Congressional Delegation.

Thompson will speak May 5 at the graduate commencement ceremony.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Music City Walk of Fame has announced three new inductees: multi-platinum Country artist Eric Church; Joe & Linda Chambers, co-founders of the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum; and Butch Spyridon, who after 32 years is retiring from the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

The induction ceremony will take place on Thursday, May 4, 2023, at 11 a.m. at Music City Walk of Fame Park. Members of the public are invited to view the ceremony. Joe Chambers passed away on September 28, 2022, and will be inducted posthumously.

The induction ceremony will bestow the 98th, 99th and 100th stars on the Music City Walk of Fame. Inductees are recognized for their significant work of preserving the musical heritage of Nashville and for contributing to the world through song.

Global superstar Garth Brooks will be in attendance to induct Spyridon and the Chambers, and Church’s presenter will be announced in the weeks to come.


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