Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for April 25, 2023
All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.
We start with local news…
Maury County Growth Indicators (CDH)
As the city of Columbia continues its growth and development, looking at trends heading into the next 10 years, one indicator in tracking Columbia's progress is its requests for new construction permits.
Though the numbers appear to have stabilized in the last year or two, the overall amount of building permit requests for new construction has doubled compared to five years ago, according to the latest data provided by Columbia's Department of Development Services.
The numbers, as of last week, have averaged about 900 permit requests per year. This includes requests for apartment units, which came on board in 2021.
"That trend looks to be continuing so far in 2023 compared to the same time last year," Development Services Director Paul Keltner said. "Our overall permits have grown tremendously due to the mass home improvements that have taken place over the last couple of years. Which really gets reflected in our inspection numbers, which was over 6,000 last year."
Building permit requests since 2018 (not including apartment units) are:
2018 – 420
2019 – 446
2020 – 420
2021 – 708
2022 - 653
2023 – 259 to date
Mayor Chaz Molder commented on the stabilization of the last few years, meaning the city can not only maintain the growth its already experiencing but has the ability to plan ahead for the next spike, if and when it happens.
"We have seen quite a bit of growth over the last five years, but we are also starting to see a lot of other things, and one is the stabilization," Molder said. "We also know we have thousands of jobs that have been announced over the years, of which some have already been coming online. But there are still a few that are some years out from reaching their capacity.
"And so we are at this moment of opportunity in creating housing inventory for these jobs that are not yet filled. That is the sign of a robust, thriving, but not overly-strained growth rate."
Molder added that another indicator of the last five years' growth is in the city's planning commission meetings.
"Five years ago, we were happy to have a planning commission agenda, which meant there were items seeking approval," Molder said. "And now, we are to a point where our agendas are so long, our meetings are lasting three hours. But more importantly, it's because of the position we are now in that we have more leverage in the conversation."
Although building permit requests continue to come through the city, and developments are approved, the market largely determines its completion and/or timeline. This was made true during the COVID-19 pandemic when inflation and the rise in construction costs, building materials, and demand affected construction momentum.
"Market conditions drive a lot of this, and there have been multiple projects approved by the city, but have pulled back, in part or all together, because the market has changed and become too expensive," Molder said. "That's something to also consider when looking at these numbers."
Growth is also a topic that generates a number of opinions among citizens, such as those who might have owned property for generations suddenly facing a 500-home neighborhood next door.
However, Molder stressed that city staff has put much more focus on "smart growth," and that the goal is to continue the city's development, but to do it in a way that is deliberate, thereby creating a base for the future that can thrive and create more opportunities.
Red Sand Project (CDH)
Center of Hope and the Maury County Health Department are asking local businesses and residents to join together Thursday in the fight against human trafficking.
As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, The Red Sand Project is a community-wide event in which participants are asked to pour a bag of red sand in front of their businesses or homes, take a photo and share it on social media.
Center of Hope will also be gathering participants at the Maury County Courthouse starting at 11 a.m. Thursday to join together on the pour.
"It's a wonderful project, draws attention to the problem and is just a brilliant way to raise awareness for all those people who fall through the cracks," Center of Hope Director Cindy Sims said. "There will be some of us at the courthouse and other places in town."
Sims added that Wednesday is also Denim Day, where schools, businesses and other organizations encourage people to wear denim in support for sexual assault victims.
Red Sand posts to social media are encouraged to use the hashtags #centerofhopetn, #RedSandProjectTN and #ITHasToStop.
Bags of sand may be picked up at the Maury County Health Department, 1909 Hampshire Pike through 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Sand will also be available on a first come, first serve basis.
For more information, contact Cindy Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jennifer Kinzer at email@example.com.
The Red Sand Project is an interactive art exhibition whose mission is to raise awareness of human trafficking.
Participants will spread red sand on sidewalk cracks, in front of local businesses and community gathering spots. The idea is to bring attention to those who have "fallen through the cracks" in society, according to a press release.
The project has spread to more than 70 countries around the world, with more than 1 million participants taking part.
Participants have included students, educators, businesses, nonprofit organizations, celebrities and survivors.
Sand used in the red sand project consists of a feldspathic rock, a known source for producing a natural, non-toxic material void of carcinogens like crystalline silica, quartz and tremolite asbestos.
The red coloring is made using organic pigment and resins, encapsulating each grain with only organic ingredients. The sand is also free of any nuts, gluten or wheat and is tested annually for safety.
Maury County Republicans Elect Leadership (MainStreetMaury)
Two Maury County commissioners — Gabe Howard and Aaron Miller — and a Maury County Board of Education member were among a group of men and women turned away from the Maury County Republican Party meeting on Thursday night. The group were refused a vote in the reorganization of the party due to a lack of official credentials, according to several individuals involved.
The party’s annual reorganization meeting was held at the Ridley Park 4-H Center to choose a new executive committee, including chair and vice chair. Jerry Bridenbaugh was elected as the party’s new chair against incumbent Debbie Matthews, while Lona Heins was elected vice chair.
“What a way to be treated when you’ve served your community faithfully,” said Howard, who was elected along with Miller as a Republican in the August 2022 election. “I got word at 4:30 this afternoon that there was a short list of folks that Maury County off-duty deputies were turning people away.”
The building was rented in the name of an individual who is not on the executive committee, rather than the county party, and Howard said the individual used that information to keep those on the list from entering the building. The building is owned by the University of Tennessee.
Miller said he was eventually allowed to enter the building and participate due to his active military service restricting his ability to vote.
In order to be a bona fide member of the party, one of the qualifications is to have voted in three of the four previous primaries as a Republican, while another option is to be vouched for by another bona fide member of the party. According to one person who was ousted from the meeting, vouching was not an allowed method to earn voting privileges.
Miller, Howard and Laura Nutt — all of whom were vouched for ahead of the 2022 election — were all elected as Republicans in August. Miller said a representative from the state executive committee informed him those vouches were not recognized by the party because the county executive committee did not have proper authority.
Miller stated that, in an attempt to negate his status as an elected Republican, he and others have been labeled as libertarians attempting to take over the party.
During the 5th District Congressional race, candidates Morgan Ortagus, Robby Starbuck and Baxter Lee were removed from the ballot for a similar reason, despite having been vouched for — a move Matthews claimed publicly on a number of occasions was against the party’s rules.
“For them to say I’m not a Republican is pretty rich,” Howard said. “I was one primary short of meeting their definition of being ‘bona fide.’ I spend hundreds of hours away from my four young boys serving this community with conservative values and to be treated the way I was treated today is disgusting.
“What they pulled tonight was voter suppression at its core.”
Charter School May Come to Maury (CDH)
Following controversies late last year, American Classical Academy is again taking steps to organize charter schools in Middle Tennessee, including locations in Maury, Madison, Rutherford, Montgomery and Robertson counties.
The Maury County Board of Education will soon hear details about the charter school’s proposal — dubbed Maury American Classical Academy — at a special-called meeting on April 25. According to the ACA charter school application, the date for the school board to make a final decision is May 2.
The charter’s governing body, American Classical Education affiliated with Hillsdale College, submitted in February an application to five school boards across Middle Tennessee, after previously withdrawing applications from the Jackson-Madison County School System and Clarksville and Murfreesboro school systems in September.
The charter would form a K-5 school in Maury County, with intentions to expand grade levels each year, evolving into a K-12 school.
If approved by the school board, the charter school would aim to reach an enrollment of 340 students across grades K-5, starting out, according to the 500-page application, obtained through an open records request by The Daily Herald.
On Monday, school board member Laura Nutt of Spring Hill, District 5, who serves on a five-member committee charged by Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura to review the charter application, spoke before the Maury County Commission, explaining the application review process.
She also shared her perspective that allowing for charter schools represents parents' rights.
"I've heard a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what charter schools are and why we are looking at possibly approving one," Nutt said. "This isn't about if we should have charter schools, the state has already allotted that. This is about if the specific charter school qualifies."
Nutt cited the General Assembly's passage of legislation that allows charter schools to be state funded, through Tennessee Investment through Student Achievement, or TISA, the new state funding formula for school districts. Also in 2019, the General Assembly created the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission under Lee's tutelage.
"Charter schools are public schools. They are funded by public dollars and held to the same academic standards as other public schools in Tennessee," Nutt said. "There is a myth that charter schools are taking away money from public schools, but this is not true. The fact is charter schools are public schools. In Tennessee, the funding follows the students.
"What this allows for is a parent to choose to send their child to a charter school. This is fundamentally about parents' rights."
Charter schools serve all students with no tuition fee, including students with special needs and disabilities with no selective admission requirements, which is addressed in the ACA application in Maury County.
"What we are looking at, as far as the school board, is if the specific charter that gave us an application qualifies and meets those standards," Nutt said.
Nutt vowed that the committee would do due diligence to ensure that the proposed charter meets the criteria required by state law.
"We [should] always remember that government is established to ensure the rights of the citizens and not to mandate and tell parents what they can and cannot do. As government officials, remember what our role is," Nutt said.
Ahead of Laura Nutt's comments, county commissioner Brandon Nutt, District 5, pulled from the agenda a resolution stating that the commission supports the charter school, explaining that he didn't want the resolution's intent to be misperceived.
The school board's first discussion about the charter application submission will be Tuesday.
Gov. Bill Lee’s support of school choice was exemplified in his voucher program implemented to address failing test scores among the bottom 5% of low-performing school districts in Tennessee, only including Shelby County Schools in the greater Memphis area and Metro Nashville Public Schools in Davidson County.
Lee also linked himself to Hillsdale College in his State of the State address in February, alluding to a partnership with the college to bring at least 50 charter schools to Tennessee. However, he later distanced himself from ties to the college last summer when college president Larry Arnn said at a Franklin, Tennessee event that "teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,” drawing much bipartisan and public ire.
The application states that ACA would support mastery of Tennessee’s state standards through systematic phonics instruction, Singapore math, a focus on American history, civics, government, use of the Socratic Method and the study of Latin beginning in the sixth grade, for example, as well as a focus on the arts and athletics.
The charter operator is considering the areas of North Columbia, Hampshire, or the heart of Columbia on James Campbell Parkway, as possible areas to build the proposed charter school, according to the application.
ACA representatives build a case in the application that a charter school would aid in student population growth in Maury County as more families move to Maury County, the fastest-growing county in Tennessee coupled with rising home prices, fast-paced manufacturing growth and incoming capital investments.
Middle Tennessee houses nine of the fastest-growing cities in the state.
In the past, many school boards and constituents across the state have fought against the organization of charter schools, including most recently Jackson-Madison County Schools, in favor of preserving state and federal funds for public school systems.
Public School Partners, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that supports public schools, estimates that the ACA charters across five counties, if approved, would draw more than $17 million from public school district funding in its first year.
Superintendent Ventura said the district could stand to lose public school dollars — state, federal and local —because student-teacher ratios most likely will not balance out the loss of the cost.
The per pupil expenditure in Maury County is $9,744, according to the 2021-2022 recent state report card, which is approximately the amount that would follow a student to a charter school if approved. The first wave of students at the proposed MACA would equal 320 pupils.
"For example, if all of the students [leaving] were in the same classroom, I wouldn't have to hire a teacher, so I would break even, but that's not likely," she said.
"... so Maury County Public Schools loses. The funding is the trickiest part.
Ventura also said proper oversight of charter schools is an issue that's being debated.
"There are a lot of unknowns but whenever you are taking money away from locally-run public schools, whether state, federal or local tax dollars, it's risky because, charters, although they have to adhere to state testing, they [get waivers such as for class size and enrollment procedures are different]," Ventura said.
Ventura said she is most concerned about children receiving the best and most rigorous education possible in alignment with state standards, no matter the school building.
"Tax dollars are following the child, but it is not run by any elected officials. It is run by a private board. Some school boards feel that they are losing local control," Ventura said.
"There are people in the state of Tennessee, who are very concerned that local decisions will not be honored by nonprofit charter schools."
Ventura, who does not get a vote in the matter, said she is not against school choice.
"School choice is inherent in the American Dream," Ventura said. "We are in an unfortunate position now because we have the perfect storm of growth and low academic achievement. But who am I to say 'no' to choice and competition?"
MCPS currently scores below the state average in reading (30.1% proficient or above) and math (31.8% proficient or above).
"I love that we have a vibrant homeschool community and private school community. I partner with them," Ventura said.
"Every single child should have the right of the education they need."
Nutt also said she welcomes competition.
"It can help us be better," she told the Herald after the Monday commission meeting.
CSCC Spring Concert (Press Release)
Columbia State Community College’s Department of Music will present its spring concert on April 27 at 1 p.m. in the Cherry Theater on the Columbia Campus.
“Please come and enjoy some great music,” said Holli Scholz, Columbia State music instructor. “We are doing a mix of music and styles, but we are for sure singing some folk songs and a few musicals. The students have grown so much in the last year, and they are excited to perform."
Columbia State Choir students and students from the music studios of Dr. Mark Lee, Dr. Darryl Miller, Christine Poythress and Scholz will come together to perform in the upcoming concert. There will be performances from the choir, private voice students, a flute student, the jazz ensemble and piano duets from both private piano lessons and the group piano class.
A few pieces that will be performed are numbers from musicals such as “Wicked,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Newsies,” “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man.” Folk songs such as “Aura Lee” by G. R. Poulton and “All Join Hands” arr. by E. Crocker will also be performed.
In addition, the choir will perform many pieces such as a medley from “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Weber and a folk medley called “I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy” by R. Hunter. Musicians will include Alex Laguna, Gary Kramer, Daniel Holbrook, Tyler Cochran, Serenity Neely, Kelsey Carter, Rachel Grad, Phoebe Perkins, Luke Dodd, Lance Hein, Monica Neely, Jayden Mcfatridge, Lorrel Sood, Walker Williams, Daniel Schoenholz, Amelia Greenwald and Monica Neely. The choir will be accompanied by Dr. Darryl Miller and conducted by Holli Scholz.
The concert is free and open to the public. The Cherry Theater is in the Waymon L. Hickman Building on the Columbia Campus, located at 1665 Hampshire Pike.
…And now, news from around the state…
Marlin Named to Top 75 Racers (MainStreetMaury)
Spring Hill legendary stock car racer Sterling Marlin was recently honored as one of NASCAR’s top 75 drivers of all time, as the sport will observe its 75th anniversary during the second weekend of May.
Naming the 75 Greatest Drivers is a continuation of the popular program established in 1998 recognizing the 50 Greatest Drivers for NASCAR’s golden anniversary. The 50 Greatest Drivers form the foundation of the 75 Greatest Drivers — there will be 25 new names added to the list first established 25 years ago.
Recently announced in addition to Marlin are Greg Biffle, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Randy LaJoie, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Mike Stefanik and Tony Stewart.
The remaining 15 will be revealed in the run-up to the May 12-14 Throwback Weekend in Darlington, S.C.
Marlin was especially successful on the circuit’s superspeedways, netting his first two Cup Series wins in the Daytona 500 in 1994-95.
In total, Marlin gathered 10 wins at some of stock car racing’s fastest and most historic tracks, adding two wins each at Talladega and Darlington.
He was also known for his longevity, making 748 Cup starts in 33 seasons. A neck injury sustained during a race at Kansas Speedway kept him from running the final seven events of the 2002 season, likely costing him a Cup championship.
A two-sport (football, basketball) athlete at Spring Hill High School, the 65-year-old Marlin – the son of NASCAR driver Clifton “Coo Coo” Marlin – won his 64th race in 2018 at the Nashville Fairgrounds, becoming the oldest driver to win a premier series event.
TN Three Go To White House (Tennessean)
When Tennessee Republicans voted this month to expel two Black Democratic lawmakers who protested for gun control on the House floor, they thought they were sticking it to rabble-rousers in the statehouse.
But the decision, led by Tennessee's Republican House speaker, Cameron Sexton, turned Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, and Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, into national heroes of the left.
On Monday, the three Democrats met with President Joe Biden at the White House, the culmination of their rising profiles as they've come to symbolize the push for stronger gun laws – and, to some, democracy itself – amid Republican resistance.
"You're standing up for our kids, you're standing up for our communities," Biden said, kicking off their meeting in the Oval Office, which is still ongoing. "What the Republican legislature did was shocking, it was undemocratic."
In Tennessee's Republican-supermajority legislature, Democrats are virtually powerless, relegated to play to their bases with speeches and long-shot bills, but lacking the votes to pass laws.
But the "Tennessee Three," as they are now known, are no longer backbenchers even though their push for gun reform in Tennessee hasn't succeeded.
Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)
Willie Nelson, Mark Rothbaum, Keith Wortman, Blackbird Presents and Live Nation announce an additional 16 shows scheduled for the fall of 2023 as part of the 2023 Outlaw Music Festival Tour. The tour stops at FirstBank Amphitheater on September 10th.
The largest-ever Outlaw Tour continues the celebration of Willie’s milestone 90th birthday just as Willie wants it – on the road with his friends, family and beloved fans. These new can’t miss shows feature an incredible lineup of artists including: Willie Nelson & Family, Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros. featuring The Wolfpack, The Avett Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov’t Mule, The String Cheese Incident, Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, Los Lobos, Elizabeth Cook and Particle Kid.
Tickets for the general public go on sale Friday, April 28 at 10 AM (local for each venue) at LiveNation.com.