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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for December 29, 2023

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

We start with local news…

Missing Teen (MauryCountySource)

The Columbia Police Department is trying to locate a 16-year-old runaway juvenile, Avyanna Thompson.

Avyanna was last seen on December 18th, 2023, in the area of Beech Street in Columbia, wearing a gray hoodie and black jogging pants. Avyanna is 4’9” tall and weighs 130 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.

Any person with additional information that may assist in this or any other investigation is encouraged to contact Columbia Police Department Dispatch (24 hours) at 931-388-2727, Maury County Crime stoppers at 931-381-4900, or Columbia Police SAFE Tip Email to SafeTips@ColumbiaTN.Com

Dotted Lime Fire (CDH)

The former Dotted Lime location at 1806 S. Main St. caught fire Dec. 8, with responders arriving at the scene at approximately 3:52 p.m.

Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb said the blaze remains under investigation, but that it occurred mid-afternoon, with the fire and smoke mostly attacking the rear of the building.

"It was mostly smoke damage at the room and contents of the rear of the building. We don't have a cause yet, and insurance is doing an investigation just like we do, but as of now it is still undetermined," Cobb said.

Dotted Lime Owners Paul and Chrissy Jensen commented on the tragic end to their beloved bakery.

"We are up in Montana right now, and so to be dealing with this from so far away, and not really getting any information from anybody, is frustrating," Paul Jensen said.

The couple recently moved to Big Sky, Montana, where Chrissy Jensen will serve as head baker at a ski resort, while husband Paul works as executive chef at a local hotel.

In addition to The Dotted Lime, the Jensens also operated many other popular businesses over the past several years, including the Cranky Yankee soul food and Lime & Loaf culinary specialty shop, both of which have closed. They also ran a catering business.

Paul Jensen said the move to Montana was "a once in a lifetime opportunity" for the family.

"Chrissy and I met in culinary school, and she had aspirations of being a pastry chef, and through starting and growing our family that was put on hold. Then this beautiful resort up here in Montana offered her an executive pastry position. So, it was a very cool thing to see happen for my wife, and so naturally me and lots of the kids followed her up here."

Jensen said the outpouring of community support has kept the family steady.

"The texts and the messages we've gotten from people offering help and support has been amazing," Jensen said. "The Columbia community has just been incredible. We've made so many good relationships in Columbia, letting us start our businesses and being part of the growth."

Maury County Schools Grade (MSM)

The Tennessee Department of Education released on Thursday, Dec. 21 its first-ever letter grades for each public school in the state, including the 21 public schools operating within the Maury County Public Schools district.

The 2022-23 letter grades are meant to provide a snapshot of how each school is doing in meeting the state’s expectations for learning, according to the TDOE. The calculation used to generate grades for schools include four indicators: student achievement, student academic growth, growth of the highest-need students and college and career readiness measure for high schools. Schools receive an indicator score for each of the indicators, ranging from levels 1-5. Each indicator score is multiplied by a weight based off the grade band to create a total score which determines the school’s letter grade.

Within the MCPS system, the two schools to receive an “A” grade were Spring Hill Middle and Santa Fe Unit School. E.A. Cox Middle and Whitthorne Middle scored the lowest with an “F” grade. Nine schools received a “C” letter grade, five received a “B” and three received a “D.”

In a statement, Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ventura said the information is used to analyze, review and utilize to guide instruction.

“The letter grade designation is one piece of the performance data that has been used to measure school,” Ventura said. “School performance data represents a wide range of both success and opportunity across our school system, and each school is working on individualized goals and plans to continually improve and meet the needs of their students and families.

“We are proud of the work being done by the leaders, teachers and support staff in the Maury County Public School system to promote positive school culture, to provide high-quality instruction, and to prepare our graduates for college and career.”

State Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), who is the chair of the Education Instruction Subcommittee, spoke on the newly released letter grades, which he said will be used to come up with a plan for the worst performing schools.

“What you’re seeing in Maury County, there are some schools performing at a very high level,” Cepicky said. “If you’re an A school in Maury County, that means your proficiency grades are very high and your growth scores are very high. If you’re a C school, that could mean one of two things. Either your proficiency is very high and your growth is very low, which wouldn’t make sense. Or your growth is very high and your proficiency is very poor,” he said.

“Most of these schools that are Cs is because their growth scores are very high, but the kids don’t know because they’re not on grade level and they’re failing the test.”

Cepicky predicted that legislation will be brought forth when the General Assembly goes back in session next month.

“I think you’ll see legislation this year that will give all options to the Commissioner of Education about how to bring about those changes at the local level,” he said, not ruling out a possible district takeover.

“We owe it to these kids to make sure they’re getting the best education possible so they can become the future Tennesseans that will continue to drive our state forward.”

To view how your student’s school did, visit

Process for Hiring New City Manager Underway (MSM)

The Mount Pleasant Commission approved last Tuesday, Dec. 19 a resolution outlining the selection process for a new city manager.

Current Mount Pleasant City Manager Kate Collier previously indicated to city commissioners that she will be retiring, with the commission voting last month to open the position and seek assistance from the state’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS).

Now, the commission has unanimously voted to approve the hiring process for a new city manager, with each step taking place in the form of a public meeting.

“The first thing to do is to decide what city manager you want and what are the qualifications,” City Attorney Kori Jones said.

MTAS will then send commissioners a survey for them to complete which would be returned to an MTAS representative.

“They will use that information and put it together to present a job announcement, which will outline the consensus for that job criteria,” Jones said.

Commissioners would then gather to vote on the announcement, which would include pay scale and minimum requirements, among others. Commissioners would also decide on how long the position stays open, with a minimum of 30 days recommended, or keeping it open until the position is filled.

During the next meeting, the board would decide on who they want to interview before beginning the interview process.

“MTAS will prepare the questions and they conduct the interview and you would listen to the responses,” Jones said.

Finally, commissioners would make a decision on how to move forward.

“At that meeting you would either decide if we want to move forward negotiating a contract with them, or you would say we’d like to do a second interview with this person. After that, a contract would be negotiated,” she said.

Collier said her biggest concern is ensuring her successor has a background in utilities.

“The biggest concern when you look at other cities, is most cities do not have three utilities. Many cities do not have any utilities,” she said. “That’s a separate entity, so that’s a really big deal here that we make sure someone has some real utility background because that’s a big part of my day every day.”

Commissioner Mike Davis, who was not in attendance at last week’s meeting, stated last month that he wished Collier came to commissioners first about her retirement.

“She wants to make sure the city is left in good standing, and I appreciate what she’s done, but we should’ve had a meeting and she should’ve come to us and said she is planning on retiring and we need to go from there,” Davis said.

In other news, the commission also approved a resolution for the purchase of land, located on Hidden Acres, and the sale agreement, per the terms set out in the contract. Last month, the city authorized the city manager to negotiate the property, located next to the city park, up to $120,000.

“Pursuant to that authority, Kate did negotiate a purchase of the property for $120,000 and she entered into a land purchase and sale agreement for that property,” Jones said.

The two conditions set forth in the contract included approval and that the city is satisfied with access to the property.

“There’s a contingency in the contract that says we don’t have to close and it’s not a default from the contract if we’re not satisfied with the access,” Jones said. “The road goes up to the property that’s going to be purchased and it’s a city road up until that point, but then once it crosses this property that the city is buying, it’s just an easement. So that means if you buy this property, you’re buying it subject to that easement which means you could use it to access the property, but you can’t move it or abolish it.”

Collier said the city is unsure what exactly to do with the greenspace, which could be paid for by a USDA grant.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do next. The way I look at it is you’re protecting your greenspace. You’re protecting the part you already have.”

Spring Hill Denies Road Connection (MSM)

Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen denied 7-1 a development agreement last week that would have seen improvements made to an intersection of Kedron Road and Port Royal Road. 

The Kedron Korner Development is currently seeking preliminary approval from Maury County for 360 homes and was asking the city to connect Kedron Road to provide access to the proposed development. 

“I don’t believe approving or denying this is going to stop the development of a by-right project; I think it’s possibly going to delay it for a while,” Alderman Matt Fitterer said. “I think the net result is we still end up with the same number of cars on Port Royal.”

Despite agreeing with Fitterer on that point, Alderman Trent Linville listed several reasons he felt the agreement was not ideal for the city, including the fact the development is not in the city limits. 

“If they want to connect to Spring Hill city infrastructure, they have the opportunity to request annexation, go through the rezone process and then connect to the road,” he said. 

Linville added safety concerns, as well as brought up budgetary concerns. 

While the developer would agree to pay $1,939,000 toward the improvements, the cost analysis put the project above $5 million currently. 

“With the contribution to the intersection improvements, it leaves us with a large influx of traffic, but a $5.3 million project that we don’t currently have budgeted and don’t have visibility on how we’re going to budget it,” Linville said. 

Mayor Jim Hagaman agreed, “In my short experience here, what I have seen historically happen is the dangling of a carrot. $1.9M is a lot of money, but when you compare that to what the project actually costs, it’s a drop in the bucket. Whatever the cost is today, the more you delay it, the costs go up.”

City Administrator Pam Caskie said the money contributed by the developer would go into an account that would accrue interest and any future developers would also be required to contribute funds to the project. 

There was, however, no timeline on when the project would commence. 

“The agreement we have with the developer is that the dollars that would be provided by the developer would be set aside dedicated to the improvement of the intersection. We made it clear to them that it didn’t guarantee when it was going to be done,” she said. “Any future developers come on that would impact that intersection, we would require the same of them. I’m working on a formula for that. 

“Those dollars would not be available for any other roadwork, it would be for the intersection itself.”

Alderman Vincent Fuqua noted the road is already in need of repairs, and adding construction traffic to the road would add to the issues facing the road improvement project.

“The work that’s been done on a partnership is great, however, looking at the condition of the roadway from I-65 until you get to Saturn Parkway is decreasing in quality,” he said. “Specifically, Port Royal down to the interstate. Any money granted to us would go immediately to paving and improving the sideline of that road.

“I’m not sure there would be many dollars that could go to the improvement of the intersection with the current road condition.”

The lone vote in favor of the project was from Alderman William Pomeroy, who said the city needs to improve the intersection with or without the development. A point Fitterer made earlier in the discussion.

“I think this property is one parcel away from being able to access Bates or Silverado or other access that feed out onto Clara Mathis. Should the developer acquire one of these properties, they get the second entrance out – they’re allowed to build their by-right project anyway and Spring Hill is left with the same impact at Kedron and Port Royal Road without their financial contribution,” Fitterer said. 

Bad Idea and Ollie & Finn’s Combine (CDH)

Two popular Columbia food and drink businesses are coming together in one big, not to mention tasty, partnership on North Garden Street.

For Bad Idea Brewing and Ollie and Finns Counter, locally brewed beer and creative sandwiches are the right ingredients for their new restaurant concept in downtown Columbia.

The two former Columbia Arts Building establishments recently reopened this month right off Highway 31 at the New South Business Park at 510 N. Garden St., facing the main artery into the heart of Columbia.

After months of moving, planning, renovating and everything that goes into a new business venture, the two hosted a soft opening earlier this month, opening officially last weekend and ready to serve up gourmet sandwiches, soups and Bad Idea's ever-changing menu of creative craft beer.

"We started looking for another space last summer, kind of keeping our eyes and ears open for the right spot for both of us that wouldn't require too much buildout," Ollie and Finn's co-founder Anna Eilerman said. "We love this spot because of that, and the visibility is right here where you can see it driving in."

It's also a step forward for yet another business that started in the CAB and now has its own brick and mortar facility. The CAB has served many businesses as somewhat of an incubator for local small businesses, many of whom have relocated to the North Garden business park.

"It's funny because businesses like Bloomstall, Needle & Grain, The Little Juice Co. all started at the Columbia Arts Building," Eilerman said.

The response to the pair's reopening was an immediate hit, with customers lining up throughout the night eager to sink their teeth into the menu, which includes a wide range of sandwich types such as the Cuban-inspired Madre de Aguas, the roast beef American Werewolf in Columbia, the turkey and ham Coyote Club and more.

Mostly, it was a reopening which bred the next step for both businesses, and another gathering place for longtime customers, as well as new patrons. It also helps being located just off the city's main highway.

"We loved being at the arts building, but in some way, we were still kind of hidden, even after four years of operating. Being at South Garden there's no doubt people know we're here," Bad Idea founder Zac Fox said.

"We almost want to put out a sign that says, 'Tired of traffic? Come in and have a beer.'"

The partnership also spawned simply from working in the same building, guiding customers to enjoy their sandwiches with a cold Bad Idea beer.

"Everything just kind of fell into place, because we knew we needed a place for food at the arts building," Eilerman said.

Business hours will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with Saturdays being 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., though Eilerman said that could change in the near future.

"We are just so pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who became followers, and how our regulars would start to grow," Eilerman said. "It's been crazy, being open at the CAB for almost two years. And we have adjusted the menu, providing wider options, and we'll add things as we go. Right now we are thinking of Bavarian pretzels with a beer cheese from Bad Idea."

Fox added that, above all, it's a great opportunity to share a space with friends, fellow business owners and see what the future brings, one beer and one sandwich at a time.

"We want to bring the same, fun environment that we had at the CAB, but both do it all under one roof," Fox said. "Offering a unified food and beverage experience is really the model for breweries right now too. The majority of the ones who have stayed open have tied in the food aspect, and we are in bed with one of the really good ones."

…And now, news from around the state…

Distracted Driving About to Get Tougher (

Drivers in Tennessee will soon face a harsher penalty if they're caught texting and driving.

A new law that goes into effect on January 1 will increase the number of points charged for distracted driving citations.

"Statistically speaking we do see it mostly in ages 16 to 30," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Sergeant Matt Blankenship. "But they are more focused with this law on juvenile drivers because as we said before there is an uptick in the juvenile rate of distracted driving."

The new law also called the Eddie Conrad Act, was named after a middle Tennessee businessman who was killed after being hit by a distracted driver in 2020.

"No text, no call, no video to watch is worthy of your life or the life of someone else or the life of someone in your car," said Sgt. Blankenship. "We just want to stress the importance of that phone call can wait, that Instagram post can wait, Facebook can wait. Just focus on getting where you want to be safe because you matter to someone more than yourself."

The new law will impact young drivers the most. People under the age of 18 will get seven points for a second offense which is enough to have their license suspended for up to a year.

Anyone 18 or older will get four points for a first or second offense and five points for a third offense.

Adult distracted drivers can also face a class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $50.

Sgt. Blankenship said at the THP Fall Branch District, officers have written 75 distracted driving citations in their 14 county district in less than a month.

"You're seen with your phone in your hand or talking, holding your phone up to your face, talking with your phone, you can be pulled over just for that. You don't have to be pulled over for something else, it's not secondary, it's a primary offense."

The new law also includes stricter punishments for holding, reading on, or reaching for an electronic device while driving.

Lotz House Receives Gift (Tennessean)

Williamson County's Lotz House Museum was recently gifted with a rare Civil War-era artifact for public display.

The piece, donated by two Lotz House Foundation members, is a commemorative box that was presented to a Confederate soldier who fought and survived during the Battle of Franklin more than 159 years ago.

The Lotz House sits at the epicenter of where the Battle was fought, historians say.

The commemorative box was originally given to Sergeant James Richard Savage by his wife, Mary, upon his return home. On the outside are his initials, J-R-S, and on the inside, it reads, “To My Hero Husband,” over a wreath of flowers and a hand-sewn battle flag.

“A memorial created by a loving wife like this is, in this condition, is incredibly and extraordinarily rare,” Civil War expert Larry Hicklen said, noting that because the box had been tightly closed for more than 100 years, the colors on the flag remain vivid, with the piece still considered in mint condition.

Savage was born in 1838 in Davidson County and enlisted in the 11th Tennessee Infantry. He fought in the battles of Stone’s River, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville and surrendered as a sergeant in Greensboro, North Carolina in May of 1865.

His family's artifact is considered to be priceless since it is handmade and a one-of-a-kind collectable.

Savage died in Nashville in 1916 and the memorial box was passed down to his grandson, Charles Buford Gotto, who gave it to Lotz House Foundation Members Jean and Joe Ed Gaddes in the early 1980s before he died.

The artifact display is just one way the Lotz House Museum is honoring the past.

Recently, the museum, in partnership with Illumination, celebrated the 159th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin with a candle lighting ceremony to honor the 10,000 lives lost there.

Lotz House Executive Director and Historian Thomas Y. Cartwright said the ceremony and commemorative box display are both important ways to preserve the history of the local community.

The Savage box, in particular, helps museum visitors learn more about life during this time period and the sacrifices many made, he said.

“It is one of the most poignant objects given to a soldier returning home from his family I have ever seen. It shows a family respect, honor and love,” Cartwright said.

The donation is currently on display for all visitors at the museum, 1111 Columbia Avenue in Franklin. The house is open for tours from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Tennessee was just ranked first as the Best State for Remote Getaways by Window Gnome. The ranking was based on the analysis of four metrics gathered about all 50 states: Access to remote accommodations, quality of the accommodations, cost of the accommodations and the “friendliness” of the area. Scores were made on a scale of 1 to 100 and then a weight was assigned to each factor based on its importance. 

Beating the second-place competition, North Carolina, by more than five points and third place Texas by almost 12 points, Tennessee comes in second on access, second on quality, 21 on cost and 19 on friendliness. Access is ranked on the number of accommodations available.

Tennessee has more than 8,000 remote accommodations, and of those more than 700 are top rated.

To learn more, visit


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