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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for August 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…

American Classical Makes Appeal to State (TNLookout)

American Classical Education, a Hillsdale-College-affiliated charter school chain, continued its blistering critique of Madison and Maury counties’ school systems in its appeal to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, filed last week.

In letters attached to the appeal applications, American Classical board member Dolores Gresham — a former state senator — called the Maury charter approval process “illegitimate” and criticized the Madison board for a “lack of integrity in the review process.”

Both letters contain similar language and phrasing. There is also a spelling error where the school uses its Madison County proposed school abbreviation on its Maury school’s application. On a previous application, American Classical used Montgomery County in places it meant to put Madison County.

Gresham’s letters follow an escalation in American Classical’s rhetoric toward the local charter school approval process. Following denials in July, American Classical’s public relations firm Rotunda Public Affairs and Gresham sent press releases criticizing each school system’s academic testing numbers.

The nine-member charter commission appointed by Gov. Bill Lee will have to hold at least one public hearing on each school before deciding whether to overturn the local school boards. The charter commission often, but does not always, overturn local denials.

Based on past precedent, the charter commission will hold those hearings in September or October and decide later in the year.

Last year, Madison, Montgomery and Rutherford counties school boards denied American Classical’s charter applications. The decisions came after a video surfaced showing Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn saying teachers were trained in the “dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges” while on a stage with Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee linked Hillsdale College and American Classical Education during his 2022 State of State speech when he announced the charter network was coming to Tennessee.

In 2022, American Classical initially appealed the local denials but backed out of the process before the charter commission could make a ruling.

American Classical applied for charters in Madison, Maury, Montgomery, Robertson and Rutherford counties this year. The Rutherford school board was the only county to approve the school at the local level.

American Classical decided not to appeal the denials in Montgomery and Robertson.

Legislative Lunch (CDH)

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tennessee, 5th Congressional District, participated Tuesday in the first question and answer session in his home base of Maury County since being elected after a contentious primary and November election.

Addressing key issues facing Congress, Ogles discussed frankly his views on Southern border policies, China's position in the world market, electrification funding and former President Donald Trump's recent indictment, to name a few.

Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance hosted the talk at Puckett's Restaurant in downtown Columbia with a question and answer session led by Wil Evans, Maury Alliance president, drawing over 100 business leaders.

First, Ogles addressed controversy head-on by acknowledging the early criticism he received as a freshman Congressman when he didn't join the majority and readily vote for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, to be U.S. House speaker. He defended his action.

"It was about the rules of the House of Representatives. All spending was on autopilot. Any member of Congress can offer an amendment on the House floor," Ogles said. "We need to go back to the basics when John Quincy Adams called the House 'the people's House.'"

Ogles first term launched with a rocky start when he was criticized by Republican peers over McCarthy, and was again lambasted by some media outlets for not accurately disclosing education degrees he had earned, mistakenly calling himself an "economist."

When asked to name the most pressing challenge the country will face, Ogles rated first policies regarding the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico, citing that between 100,0000 to 200,000-plus illegal immigrants attempt to cross the border each month into the U.S., according to recent data by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He also said 250 individuals, who are on the terror-watch list, have also been caught at the U.S. southern border.

As of July, 1.5 million law enforcement encounters had been made at the Southwest land border by the CBP, according to recent CBP data collected on apprehensions, inadmissible volumes and expulsions. The number reflects a 200% to 420%-plus increase since 2020.

Ogles also cited the $32.5 trillion national debt as an area of concern.

"We have a horizon of about 10 years to fix the trajectory of this economy ... to avoid a catastrophic outcome," he said, comparing it to the Titanic. "It's a big ship; it turns slowly."

Ogles predicted "heated" debate over budget appropriations in coming months with a "tug-of-war" between the parties, with possible talks of the government shutting down in a similar fashion to other recent years.

He added he is "not afraid of a government shut-down."

"If government shuts down, they aren't spending your money," Ogles said. "We've got to get back [going back to John Quincy Adams' fervent belief in debate on the House floor] to the basics. We've got to fight. We've got to debate. We've got to come up with the best outcomes."

"The economy is going to be fine," he said, highlighting other countries' high investments in the U.S. dollar. "We are the global currency. That is how energy is traded," Ogles said.

Sticking to conservative Republican ideals, Ogles lauded less government, less federal spending and protecting gun rights. However, he said there is work to do for Republicans.

"I believe a sovereign nation has a strong military, secure borders and open and transparent elections, and right now, we don't click all three boxes," he said.

Ogles said he is a "big fan" of the federal block grant system to disseminate funding for state and county projects to bolster infrastructure, for example, predicting that electrification systems will need to be strengthened in the near future.

"When you look at Blue Oval coming online ... that will be transformative for West Tennessee in the same way the Saturn plant was for southern middle Tennessee, but think back to the winter," he said. "We had brown-outs in Middle Tennessee in the TVA region, and TVA is known for being a good, reliable producer of electricity and yet even today we don't have enough electricity for demand.

"So what you will see as we move forward is the need for infrastructure projects for our electrical grid."

Ogles said he believes the Chinese Communist Party is the biggest threat to America.

"They think in terms of dynasty. That's not rhetoric, that's not conspiracy theory," he said, explaining that the party consistently tries to "hack" the U.S.'s electrical grid.

He explained that the U.S.'s dependence on China's investments in the supply chain could present issues down the road.

"Who found it hard to find toilet paper during the pandemic," he said, also citing the long delays in getting certain products presently.

He also supports "getting rid of" "alphabet-letter" federal departments such as the U.S. Department of Education in order to return educational decisions to states as well as do away with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"The CFPB can require banks to have more money on hand, and it can affect you and your ability to get a mortgage," Ogles said, also stating its data-reporting to Congress is infrequent.

"The federal one-size-fits-all stamp on everything is not working."

He briefly commented on Trump's recent indictment, saying he was targeted by "woke" district attorneys.

Ogles was endorsed by Trump for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives and is encouraging all Republicans to back Trump in the 2024 election.

"The idea that political differences will be settled in jail by district attorneys is frightening," he said.

Ogles praised the conservative values of Maury County, calling it a representation of America, while describing Washington D.C. in stark contrast.

"When you go to the swamp, it is everything you think it is and worse," he said. "It's mayhem in that city. The rats have taken over. That is the culture in D.C. It's disconnected from the rest of the world. That's why I ran to take a little piece of America to Washington."

KKK Member Charged (CDH)

The suspect charged in relation to the posting of KKK recruitment flyers on historically Black churches has pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance.

Daniel Walls appeared before Judge Bobby Sands on Monday, Aug. 14 at the Maury County Courthouse, where he was officially charged with four counts of Civil Rights intimidation, one count of vandalism and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Walls was arrested July 13 following the distribution of “bias-based rhetoric” flyers, which were posted on historically Black churches and one business in Columbia. The flyers sent a warning to mixed-race couples, communists and homosexuals that the “Klan is back again and here to stay,” and those groups should “make amends or stay away.”

During his court appearance, Walls acknowledged the charges brought against him while stating he will be represented by a public defender.

The 38-year-old, who was released from custody last month after posting bail on a $43,000 bond, said he is unable to afford an attorney.

Walls said his mother posted bond for him but is unable to help with the cost of retaining an attorney.

“That was about all she had to get me off,” he told the judge.

In addition to the cost, Walls also said he’s had a hard time finding an attorney to represent him.

“One of them actually said if they took my case they would be recognized as representing a racist and therefore no one wants to represent me,” Walls said following his appearance.

When questioned about the flyers, Walls reiterated his claim that they were for recruitment purposes only.

“I wasn’t targeting any races,” he said, describing his group as separatists who are all Christians.

“We’re not racist to anyone, we’re separatists. We believe marrying and having children with your own race and saying stuff God teaches in the Bible. It’s not the 1920s or 1800s Klan targeting someone because of their skin color. It’s not that way anymore.”

Walls, who calls himself the “Imperial Wizard” of the group, also spoke on images posted to his Twitter account which show the burning of crosses.

“A lot of people do not understand the meaning of that,” he said.

“When we light the cross, back in the old days they did it as a threat, but when we get together and do that as an organization it means to shed the light of Christ because he was sacrificed and crucified on the cross for us.”

In addition to Walls, a 17-year-old juvenile was also arrested at the time on related charges.

Walls’ next court date is scheduled for Sept. 27 at 8:30 a.m.

Muletown Coffee Opens New Location (CDH)

Columbia's top place for grabbing a cup of joe has opened their new store on Public Square, though you won't have to go too far — just one door down from its former location — and you'll have more options, and space, to enjoy on your next visit.

On Tuesday, Muletown Coffee Roasters celebrated its latest expansion in downtown Columbia, located at 21 Public Square, and was greeted with a warm welcome from customers, both new and old.

To owners Matt Johnson, one of the business' original founders, and Chris Coyne, opening the new spot was almost two years in the making and a natural transition for the 10-year-old coffee shop that has remained a downtown Columbia staple.

Muletown has been in need of a larger space for its growing customer base, which expands year after year.

The newly renovated space with an exposed brick wall, arches and wainscoting offers triple seating, accommodating at least 50 customers, whereas the former space had just 16 seats.

"It has surpassed our expectations," Johnson said. "It's been such a long process, and seeing people here is so amazing."

Customers buzzed as the duo beamed at the turnout with many seats taken and a line at the register.

"When we first opened, the community wasn't sure if this would work, and even now on our opening day, we were wondering how we are going to handle that. But people have been flooding in since we've been open," Coyne said. "It's been really great.

"I think we've served everyone in Columbia today."

As for the former location, Coyne said Muletown will not be retaining it, but hopes to see another business fill the spot and enjoy the same opportunity for success.

The new location features an open-space layout, with both traditional seating and lounge space, as well as walls adorned with photographs and other pieces of Columbia history. Decor includes a photograph of 40,000 citizens gathered downtown during the first Mule Day, following a five-year hiatus due to the U.S. involvement in World War II.

"This is a great example of how when you invest in your community, your community takes care of you," Maury County Chamber of Commerce President Kara Williams said. "And it's one of those places that's certainly made a name for itself locally, but people are coming in from all around that have heard of it. They have a great reputation outside of Maury County."

Coyne and Johnson said they hope to expand the business to provide not just more space, but options for customers. This includes incorporating a food menu and other "lunch-ish" items.

"We really wanted this to be an upgrade, but we also want people to feel that same Muletown Coffee vibe, and so there is that idea that we want to keep doing something super cool and fun, but raise it up a notch," Coyne said. "This is something that Matt and I created from the ground up. We wanted to keep that small town feel for our loyal customers, but we also wanted that 'wow factor' and I feel like we've done that. I feel really blessed and humble."

One of Muletown's biggest goals as a business is also to remain a well-loved part of the community, while also providing a good product to customers.

After 10 years of success, and now a bright future ahead, Coyne and Johnson are more than exited about the days to come, building what'll be the next chapter of the Muletown Coffee Roasters' story, one cup at a time.

"When we came in 10 years ago, Columbia was so different. There's been so much growth, and we've grown with the city. The fact that this is happening at the 10-year mark makes us feel ready for another 10 years," Anderson said. "There's something about it, because when this place opened I never thought that it would happen, but it did."

Customer Todd Edwards enjoyed a quick stop in the new shop to enjoy a coworkers' birthday drink. He said that the new place feels fresh and modern.

"When I walked in, it felt like a new kind of Columbia. It's updated and modern, but the history is still present on the walls. It shows who we've been and now where we are going."

Muletown Coffee Roasters' regular business hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

AAHSMC Hosts Smithsonian Exhibition (Press Release)

The African American Heritage Society of Maury County is excited to have been one of six organizations statewide selected to host the Smithsonian exhibit, “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America.” The exhibit is a part of Museum on Main Street program, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Humanities Tennessee. Voices and Votes is based on a major exhibition currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History called American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith.

This traveling exhibit, presents a visual and interactive history of democracy. Across generations, visitors will see diverse and inspiring Americans who faced challenges and were determined to have their voices heard. Our democracy demands action, reaction, vision, and revision…every one in every community is part of this ever-evolving story. “While the Smithsonian exhibit will focus on the national stories of democracy in America, a companion exhibit, Voices of Maury County, developed by the Society will focus on some of the citizens who fought for democracy in this county,” said Jo Ann McClellan, the Society’s president

“Since the Society does not, yet, have a museum space, we are very excited to host this exhibit at the Maury County Public Library,” said McClellan. The exhibit will open August 19 and close on October 1, 2023. This will be free and open to the public.

About the African American Heritage Society of Maury County

Founded in 2012, the African American Heritage Society of Maury County is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. It is a membership-based organization and is open to anyone interested in learning about the history of African Americans in Maury County.

Learn more about the African American Heritage Society of Maury County by visiting

CMYC Applications Coming (MauryCountySource)

Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council (CMYC) applications for the 2023-24 school year are now open. The CMYC is open to all high school students located within Maury County, public, private, and home-schooled. The 2023-24 term will begin in September 2023 and conclude in May 2024.

Mayor Chaz Molder stated, “The Mayor's Youth Council has quicky established itself as one of the more important initiatives we have at City Hall. Not only does it bring youth inside our buildings to learn about important city issues, but I've seen it first-hand plant a seed in these students of love and pride for their community. I look forward to welcoming the upcoming class and would encourage all high school students to apply for what promises to be our best year yet!”

The CMYC’s goal is to foster leadership and community involvement among Columbia’s diverse high-school population and to encourage students to become further interested in local government. The CMYC is composed of Maury County high school students who value academic excellence, community involvement, and leadership. Selected students will have an opportunity to actively participate in various activities and programs, including team building, working with the Mayor and other City officials, addressing issues affecting youth and the community, leading and volunteering in community projects, and learning about City departments and local businesses.

The CMYC members will be selected based on an application process that is made available to all Maury County high school students. The application process will close on August 25th. Applicants will be notified of acceptance by September 1st. CMYC meetings will be held monthly, in addition to community and volunteer projects.

CMYC applications can be found at

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

Mr. Boyd “Jay” Stewart, 79, Veteran and retired MODOT Employee, died Saturday, August 12, 2023. Funeral services for Mr. Stewart will be conducted Thursday at 12:00 P.M. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 10:00 A.M. until service time at the church. Burial will be held at Middle Tennessee State Veteran’s Cemetery at Pegram. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

Mr. Clifford Eugene Johnson, Jr., 72, employee of Kemper Insurance in Jackson, Tennessee, died Tuesday, August 15, 2023 at the residence of his daughter, Regan (Brian) Hartley. Funeral services for Mr. Johnson will be conducted Saturday at 3:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Jones Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Friday from 4:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. at the funeral home

…And now, news from around the state…

Manning Joins UT Staff (MainStreetMaury)

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, College of Communication and Information has appointed former UT and NFL player Peyton Manning a professor of practice starting in the fall 2023 term.

Manning is a nationally recognized media personality, entrepreneur, and sports commentator. As part of his appointment, Manning will join select classes during the academic year as a featured expert, bringing significant industry experience to the classroom and working alongside the college’s nationally recognized faculty to provide transformative learning experiences for CCI students, according to a university news release.

“There is no other ambassador for our college and university like Peyton Manning, and we are proud to welcome him to the college’s faculty,” Joseph Mazer, dean of the College of Communication and Information, said in the news release. “Peyton is a true Volunteer, and I look forward to our students gaining invaluable knowledge from him as we continue to prepare the next generation of communication and information leaders.”

Manning graduated from UT in 1997 with a degree in speech communication after leading the Vols to an SEC football championship. He went on to a storied NFL career, launched the entertainment company Omaha Productions and has remained steadfast in his dedication to the Volunteer community.

“My time as a student in the College of Communication and Information was a foundational experience during which I learned critical skills and messaging techniques that I continue to put to use almost daily,” Manning said in the news release. “I look forward to working with the college’s talented faculty and directly with students in an effort to ensure they are well prepared for their future careers.”

Manning will partner with CCI faculty and teach a variety of topics that align with the college’s curriculum including sports reporting, video production and performance, leadership and communication, and public speaking.

Southwest Expanding at BNA (Tennessean)

Southwest Airlines has announced the addition of a crew base at Nashville International Airport next year that will more than double the number of airline staff based locally.

The base will be Southwest's 12th U.S. crew hub, which will increase the number of local staff to include up to 600 pilots and 700 flight attendants by mid-2024.

"Hundreds of Southwest employees who work in the air and on the ground already consider their hometown to be in Middle Tennessee, with our presence in Nashville remaining a key factor to our success, future growth and the reliability of our network," said Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson. "Given our love for Nashville and the critical importance it plays in our network, it's a natural choice to make further investments by adding a crew base and doubling down on our commitment to Music City."

Southwest is in the process of relocating its ticket counters and improving "overall winter preparedness" at BNA as part of the airport's reconstruction to accommodate rapid growth, officials said. Southwest will add four more gates with an extension of Concourse D later this year, bringing its total to 20 gates.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Singer, songwriter Rory Feek will host a new series called ‘Songs or Stories’ this fall at Homestead Hall at Hardison Mill.

On Fridays, Rory will share an evening of songs and music, and on Saturdays, he’ll spend the evening with the audience sharing intimate stories, thoughts, and observations from his life.

Mark your calendars for September 8 + 9, October 20 + 21, November 17 + 18, and December 14 + 15.

“These weekends will give me the opportunity to share two parts of storytelling that I love: the songwriter/singer side of me… and also the author/writer part, which I’ve never had the chance to share live before. Although different, they complement each other and I think for the folks who decide to come for both nights, I think will be a unique, life-giving experience for all of us,” writes Feek.

Homestead Hall is located at 4544 US-431, Columbia, TN 38401.

Purchase tickets at


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