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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for February 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…

Truck Fire (WSMV)

No injuries were reported after the Maury County Fire Department put out a vehicle fire on Saturday afternoon.

Crews with the Maury County Fire Department were called to Blue Springs Road where they found a pickup truck on fire.

The fire was extinguished without incident, according to officials.

The Maury County Fire Department added that the fire was accidental and that no one was reported as injured.

Columbia Man Guilty on Federal Charges (MauryCountySource)

On February 2, 2024, a jury in the Middle District of Tennessee found Jamal Gardner guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, announced United States Attorney Henry C. Leventis.

According to evidence presented at trial, on February 2, 2019, Gardner beat and tried to strangle the mother of his children. A little over an hour later, a Columbia Police officer initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle for reckless driving. As the officer approached the vehicle, the driver got out holding an AR-15 rifle and immediately began firing at the officer. As the officer took cover and returned fire, the driver, later identified as Jamal Gardner, fled into a nearby residence and continued firing at responding officers. Over the next two hours, Gardner fired approximately 80 rounds from at least four firearms, before escaping from the house. Gardner fled the scene and was arrested a few days later in Michigan.

“This prosecution underscores the Justice Department’s commitment to hold violent criminals accountable, especially those that are brazen enough to attack law enforcement as the defendant did in this case,” said United States Attorney Henry C. Leventis.

Gardner will be sentenced a later date by United States District Court Judge William L. Campbell, Jr. If the court finds that Gardner qualifies as an Armed Career Criminal, he will be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of fifteen years to life in federal prison.

Additional charges relating to Gardner’s attempted murder of multiple Columbia Police Department officers and his aggravated assault on his former domestic partner are pending in state court. He remains presumed innocent of those state charges.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Columbia Police Department, and the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Josh Kurtzman and Phil Wehby prosecuted the case.

City Passes Waste Water Treatment Plant (CDH)

Columbia City Council approved the next step in the city creating a new wastewater treatment plant. The $95.2 million contract was awarded to Kentucky-based Judy Construction who will serve as the contractor on the project.

The item was approved unanimously Thursday night during the council's February regular meeting, bringing this year's-long project one step closer to sustaining citizens' wastewater needs for many decades to come.

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder commented that considering how much work has been done to get to this point, it's sort of "anti-climactic" when the final decision comes down to a simple vote, but that it's one that will be historic and very much needed for many future decades.

"Tonight's meeting for this body is somewhat historic in the sense that we have an opportunity to approve a very significant capital improvement project for our city's infrastructure that will have a shelf life of 40-plus years," Molder said. "In addition to that, it is providing us an opportunity to cast a historic vote in the sense that this is the largest capital expenditure in Columbia's history. That is not lost on me, for sure."

Molder also thanked City Manager Tony Massey and the Wastewater Department's staff for their due diligence in bringing the project forward.

"Having this get to our agenda, it seems simple at this time, but it was far from simple to get us here," Molder said. "We know there is still a lot of work to do after what we pass tonight, but that's the fun work, the construction and overseeing a project where, in the end, we know is worth it, as well as decades from today."

In addition, the council approved a $1.9 million contract with JR Wauford & Company for engineering services related to the new plant.

The city's current wastewater treatment plant was initially constructed in 1978, which Wastewater Director Donnie Boshers said has "reached the end of its life cycle." There is also the need to sustain its services for the city's continued growth.

"There has been a lot of work for this project so far, with all of the designing and planning, as well as purchasing 22 acres near our existing property about two years ago for the new plant," Boshers said. "Several things won't change, such as what we call the 'head works' where the flow comes into the plant. That's going to stay where it is, but will be upgraded and everything's going to be new." Boshers added that construction is expected to start in the late spring or early summer months, mostly due to weather, with a project timeline of approximately four years.

The current facility will also be demolished once the new plant becomes operational.

"And I appreciate the support that they've had during the whole process through this, and we look forward to continuing this process with them in the future. It's a really exciting time with all of the foresight and knowledge of our city fathers helping us through this," Boshers said.

Compassus Opening (WKOM Audio 3:01)

On Friday, Compassus, a hospice and paliative care center held their grand opening. Front Porch Radio’s Delk Kennedy attended the ribbon cutting and spoke to Marketing Executive Wendy Davis to learn more about what Compassus has to offer…

New Elementary School Approved (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools approved this week plans to construct a new elementary school to address growth and population needs in northern Columbia.

The proposed North Columbia Elementary School will be located on approximately 30 acres just off Highway 31 and Carters Creek Pike, with an estimated cost of $63 million, as well as an additional $2 million for school buses. The school is expected to serve about 900 students once becoming operational.

The school was first requested by the MCPS board last year and will now go before the Maury County Commission in April to approve funding and an opportunity to go to bid, which also includes checking fire codes and final project costs.

If all goes according to plan, the goal is to open by the fall of 2025 and service kids in Pre-K to the fourth grade.

MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Eric Perryman said the drive is to provide a school mainly for students living in places like Neapolis, families off Bear Creek Pike, the Riverside community, as well as southern Spring Hill.

"This will shift kids back to Columbia proper, because many of them don't have a place to go to school because we are full in most every grade. It's the same thing in the Spring Hill elementary zone," Perryman said. "There is a lot of growth along the west side of Carters Creek Pike, as well as near Spring Hill Elementary School. And so as we see that growth again, we need to ensure we are keeping space for kids in Spring Hill. We took a lot of time making sure where this needed to be."

Perryman added that the funding would come from a capital request to the county commission, which would determine when, and if the school could open in 2025.

"Hopefully, once we get bids in and it happens to be lower than $63 million, we can take that number to the commission of what it actually costs, and that hard bid can serve as a permanent price to them because there is a contingency there," Perryman said. "That's so that if you discover that something could be changed, it's already funded and taken care of and hopefully by the end of the project you're seeing that contingency money coming back."

Perryman said the North Columbia school will not only address the growing needs currently facing existing schools, but will also serve as a template for future schools.

In other words, the school board would be able to start with a readymade design, make slight adjustments if necessary and cut back on time, as well as money, to construct a new school when the need arises.

"It will, basically, be a prototype kind of school to where the next time we need to build an elementary school, we'll take this school and move it somewhere else," Perryman said. "Basically, we want this to be the model Maury County school of the future."

It will also be designed to be energy efficient, which he said would be much more cost-effective to taxpayers, as well as provide greener and modern energy uses for the students and faculty.

Maury County Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura added that having a template to work from will also provide a greater benefit for future schools as Maury County's population continues to increase, not just in saving money on preliminary designs, but also the time it takes to build.

"This will save taxpayers on design fees and not have to go through the whole process again and again, which we've had to do in the past," Ventura said. "Having that phase done, we can go right into making small adjustments, bids for cost and then move forward."

Ventura said a big component of the design is to remain energy efficient, which will pay off, literally, over the years with LED lighting and geothermal heating.

"One of the shocking things to me was learning just how much better we can build buildings and create an ecological footprint," Ventura said. "We can have larger schools that are very efficient for teaching and learning and [accommodating students]."

Part of the school's design is to provide the utmost safety for the students attending from playground equipment to traffic to tornado shelter.

"Because of our new safety standards, you'll see that the playgrounds are encompassed into the footprint of the building so that kids never go out and away from the building, unless they are taken specifically by teachers," Perryman said.

"We've taken steps to address traffic concerns as far as how we designed the building, designed the roads getting to the building. That allows us to serve the north side of Columbia up to Spring Hill High School. It also addresses the continued Bear Creek Pike growth."

The design and color scheme is created to provide a welcoming environment for students, complete with spacious classrooms, cafeteria and anyone who visits the front lobby. The school will also serve as an emergency shelter.

"It is designed to meet the needs of a modern classroom and designed in a way to last over the next 40-50 years ... and it will also have a lot of bright colors, things of vitality and words that are important to kids in elementary schools," Perryman said.

He said the school will meet all needs for pre-K to fourth grade students in Maury County.

"It also has a full tornado shelter that is FEMA rated to hold up to 1,000 people," Perryman said. "It is to the standards of Maury County Schools, the standards we need for classrooms, for safety and materials. And the design is to allow the most usage of this building both for public and private use."

The school's daycare center for Pre-K children will open March 12 of this year, MCPS Communications Director Jack Cobb said.

Soup and Bowl (WKOM Audio 2:28)

On Saturday at the National Guard Armory, Harvest Share held their annual Soup and Bowl fundraiser. Our own Delk Kennedy stopped by and spoke to Rod Taylor about the event and what Harvest Share’s mission is to the community…

…And now, news from around the state…

VW Employees Join UAW (Tennessean)

A majority of the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga signed cards to join a union, the United Auto Workers union announced this week, part of a new push across the South in the wake of the UAW's recent wins.

The plant, which broke ground in 2009, has 4,100 union eligible workers, according to VW.

"We respect our workers' right to decide the question of union representation. And we remain committed to providing accurate information that helps inform them of their rights and choices," said VW in a statement.

The union collected those signatures over the past 60 days, although the union has been quietly organizing at the plant since a failed unionization drive in 2019.

“We’ve been there. From the last vote, we’ve never left," said Tim Smith, UAW's director for the Southern states.

Once 70% of the workers sign union cards, the UAW will ask VW to voluntarily recognized the union. If the company refuses, the union will ask for an election overseen by the National Labor Review Board.

“We want to make sure we have the numbers so that when we petition for a vote we win," Smith said.

In 2019, the majority of the workers at the VW plant voted not to join the UAW. The union accused VW of intimidating workers and interfering in the election. Politicians, including U.S. Sen Marsha Blackburn and Gov. Bill Lee, opposed the unionization effort.The union also lost an election at the Chattanooga VW plant in 2014. Likewise, in the lead up to that vote, then-U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who helped recruit VW to the city, and then-Gov. Bill Haslam also vocally opposed the UAW's effort to unionize the plant.

Last year, the UAW struck and won favorable contracts with substantial pay raises and other concessions from the big three automakers, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. In Tennessee, the UAW currently represents workers at 21 companies or facilities in various industries, including the GM plant in Spring Hill.

After that victory, the UAW turned its focus to the South, which has historically been hostile to organized labor. Auto manufacturing by the big three and foreign manufacturers like VW has been growing in the South, with many of those plants producing hybrid and electric vehicles.

The UAW is also actively working to organize workers at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama, and Mercedes plant in Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa.

Micheline Maynard, a longtime auto journalist and publisher of the Substack newsletter “Intersection: Everything That Moves," believes as the Chattanooga plant has grown and added workers, the UAW's chances for a victory have increased.

“The plants have now taken on a little bit of age," Maynard said.

In 2022 and 2023, VW hired 1,660 workers in Chattanooga for a third shift. A spokesman for VW noted that the company received roughly 14,000 applicants for those jobs.

Bill to Keep Tourism Records Secret (Tennessean)

A newly proposed bill is seeking to allow records from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to be exempt from public records laws if the tourism commissioner and attorney general deem them “sensitive.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, is modeled after a similar exemption for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development that was passed in 1988 and would keep records deemed sensitive secret for five years.

Administration officials say the bill is needed to help attract companies to Tennessee but a leading open records advocate in the state said the proposal is overly broad, lacks true accountability and could hurt transparency.

Lamberth said the bill came directly from Gov. Bill Lee's administration and the Department of Tourist Development. As House majority leader, Lamberth regularly sponsors bills part of the Lee administration's agenda.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Beach Boys announced they’ll bring their iconic Southern Californian sound to venues across the country with their “Endless Summer Gold” 2024 tour. Kicking off February 21 at the Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu, HI the tour will stop at the Ryman Auditorium on September 23rd.


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