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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for January 11, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Brooks’ Suit Terminated (MSM)

The wrongful termination suit filed by Roy Brooks against the City of Columbia has been dismissed after both parties jointly filed for dismissal of the case. 

Brooks was suing the city in federal court, claiming he was unjustly terminated following multiple reports to his superiors about several alleged safety issues within the department. Brooks’ claims include staffing issues and false information being given to the Insurance Services Office (ISO), as well as employees conducting work without the proper credentials. 

Following those alleged reports, Brooks was reprimanded for allegedly failing to check personal equipment. 

One month later, Brooks claims he spoke with his superiors about out-of-date rope equipment, but was ignored on the matter. Brooks claimed this event led to a sexual harassment complaint and an accusation of not following the city’s COVID-19 policy. 

Following that meeting, Brooks was demoted from his position as Captain and was transferred to a different fire station. 

“As a result of the City of Columbia’s retaliatory behavior towards Plaintiff and adverse employment actions taken against him, (Brooks) began to suffer from anxiety and no longer trusted his superiors. (Brooks’) anxiety and distrust became so severe that he requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act on or about April 18, 2022,” case documents read. 

City attorneys contend Brooks was terminated after numerous policy violations that include the aforementioned issues with personal equipment and sexual harassment, but also failing to complete mandatory inspections of fire hydrants and continuing to work at Columbia State Community College while on leave. 

Brooks’ termination was upheld by a civil service board made up of citizens following an appeal.

While Brooks’ civil case has been dismissed, a criminal case in which he is the defendant is set for trial in May. Brooks is accused of carrying a firearm on school property, stemming from his 2023 response to Columbia Central High School during what turned out to be a hoax school shooting call. 

Brooks faces two years in jail if convicted of the offense.

Shelter Director Under Fire (MSM)

Allegations of abuse and negligence at the Maury County Animal Shelter were brought before the Maury County Health and Environment Committee at its most recent meeting on Jan. 2, but county leadership maintained progress is being made in those areas.

Heather Amagrande said she worked at the shelter for just 17 days, but in her time of employment she was concerned about the treatment of animals and the cleanliness of the shelter.

“I worked there for 17 days and in 17 days I saw the most disgusting, horrific conditions that I have ever seen in an animal shelter or rescue,” she told the committee. “I want to be a witness for the neglect, abuse and mistreatment of animals in the shelter. I sent pictures of the kennels of how they are filled with feces and urine for up to 20 hours a day.”

Shelter director Kaitlyn Stewart was elevated to her position in December 2022 after serving as a part-time employee and then office director previously. She has been employed at the shelter since 2015.

County Mayor Sheila Butt said she is standing behind Stewart at this time because she has been in the job for a short period of time and feels like she and the staff are working to improve conditions.

“We are doing leadership training, we are doing customer service training, we’re going to work with the volunteers,” she said during the meeting. “I think we have to give it some time to work through these issues. Then, if it doesn’t work, we have something to deal with. As long as I can stand behind my department heads, I will do that, and I will try to support them to do that job. That’s when I’ll make a decision whether they’re doing that job or not.”

Commissioner Jerry Strahan said he would like to see some movement toward a resolution in the matter quickly, and hoped his fellow commissioners agreed.

“I’m really getting kind of sick of this mess. I spoke with a volunteer when I was out there one day. This volunteer kept looking over her shoulder when I spoke to her, saying she was going to get in trouble for talking to you. Something is badly broken if that’s the situation,” he said. “I’m a commissioner. I have the responsibility to fix it, and I would ask this commission to help me fix it and fix it pretty quick – whatever that might be.”

The commission is only the funding body for the shelter, however, and has no jurisdiction over the department or the department head, Commission Chairman Eric Previti reminded his peers.

Strahan added he believes there is a personnel issue that needs to be addressed, which would fall under the commission’s purview once that decision has been made.

Currently, part-time employees and volunteers make up the vast majority of the shelter’s personnel, along with Maury County Jail inmates up until the end of the year in 2023. Trustee inmates are expected to return to the shelter once ankle monitors are able to be obtained by the sheriff’s office.

Volunteers, however, have felt mistreated at times as well. Volunteer coordinator Kim Raffauf told commissioners she would prefer the relationship between the staff and volunteers be mended, if possible.

“The volunteers are willing to work with the shelter, we want it to be a good place. We don’t come there to cause trouble,” she said. “We’re there to make it better for the animals; sometimes we’re met with a lot of opposition. I’ve never been able to figure out why – it’s always miscommunication gaps and things that can be easily solved.

“This isn’t a dictatorship. The second that people ask a question about something, they’re going to be asked to leave and not be a volunteer.”

Amagrande said while she worked in the facility, she felt staff believed they were above accountability.

“These people have been there for years . . . they have this mentality that they’re untouchable and this is how things have always worked,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, the things I’ve seen in the shelter are horrific. This is a disgrace to the community – we should be horrified at what is going on here at this animal shelter.”

Additionally, she raised a concern that stray animals and those available for rescue are treated drastically different.

“The strays barely have any food, any water – they never see the light of day. They don’t get out of their kennels,” she claimed.

Stewart confirmed that stray animals – prior to any surgery they may require – are not walked or let out of their kennels.

“Since we had a distemper outbreak back in August, we’ve stopped moving them around as much, and we’ve seen a decrease in the number of respiratory infections in the shelter,” she told commissioners. “Most of the time, that is no more than two weeks, but like I said we do have some long-timers that are waiting for rescue to pull them.”

One of the animals has been awaiting rescue since Oct. 31, 2023.

Mayor Butt maintained the shelter is improving under Stewart’s leadership and staff is being trained to improve, and until she feels it is otherwise necessary, she will remain committed to Stewart and her staff.

“Work has been going on in the background for three months on this. It’s not like we’re just sitting here and saying it’s happening and we’re just going to let it happen – it does not work that way,” she said. “But I’m also not going to throw people under the bus when they’re trying to do their job, trying to do it better.

“There is a time where we say we’ve done everything we can do.”

Connect Columbia Updates Plan (MSM)

Columbia’s City Council will hold a first vote on proposed changes to the city’s “Connect Columbia” plan this week at its regularly scheduled meeting. The council is scheduled to meet on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 5:30 p.m.

As stated in the planning documents, “The primary function of Connect Columbia is to provide a policy framework. The City Council, Planning Commission, and other boards and commissions with a role in growth management utilize the plan to inform their decisions.”

“Connect Columbia” was created in 2017 and work on the updates began in early 2023 with the creation of a 15-member steering committee. Committee members hosted two public forums during 2023 and utilized input from the community in creating the updated plan. That update was sent to the Municipal Planning Commission and was recommended for approval in November.

“The 2023 update of Connect Columbia establishes an active and continuous long-range planning program. The goals and objectives of the framework plan are implemented through prioritized proposed actions,” the document states in part.

The plan is broken down into three sections for implementation: Immediate (0-2 years), Mid-Range (2-3 years) and Long-Range (4-5 years). Immediate actions include establishing a regular cycle of annual reports from the Planning Commission to the City Council on implementation, a regular annual cycle of revisions to the city’s Zoning Ordinance, developing a five-year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) for city projects, developing an affordable housing strategy and updating the Parks & Greenways element of the Comprehensive Plan during the first quarter of 2024.

Mid-Range actions include requiring new developments to meet or exceed the minimum level of service for parks and greenways, creating a citywide public art plan through the Columbia Arts Council and identifying locations in established residential neighborhoods which can be utilized for small-scale neighborhood commercial retail.

Long-Range actions include enacting policies which support retail development in nodes and commercial corridors, supporting expansion of operations for Columbia State Community College and Maury Regional Medical Center, pursuing state and federal economic development grants and identifying opportunities to expand recreational

access to the Duck River.

The City Council will also hold a public hearing and second reading on changes to the city’s 2023-24 budget with relations to capital projects. The $2.892 million increase incorporates a $200,000 Tourism Enhancement Grant and a $45,000 Historic Preservation Grant, and also includes $882,000 for improvements to Fire Station No. 1.

A proposed rezoning of 30 acres on Cayce Lane will also be up for a first reading. The applicant is requesting to rezone the 30-acre tract for future development of a residential neighborhood, with the concept plan reflecting 61 lots. The Planning Commission reviewed the request at its December 2023 meeting and recommended approval by a 4-0 vote with two abstentions.

HWY 31 Widening (CDH)

A long-awaited roadway project could be making headway with the widening of State Route 6, or more commonly known as U.S. Highway 31, in Spring Hill.

In December, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced its first fiscally constrained 10-year plan for road projects, two of which were candidates in Maury County.

The first was the widening and upgrades to Bear Creek Pike in Columbia, which was not included in the list. However, the proposed Highway 31 widening project in Spring Hill did receive approval.

According to the Dec. 18 TDOT report, the 10-year plan seeks to provide $15 billion in state and federal funds to surface transportation development. In addition to the 10-year plan, TDOT programs nearly $600 million in federal and state funds annually.

The Highway 31 project has been on the books for many years. In 2019, the project was included as part of TDOT's three-year plan, but funding was later removed.

Now, the project is set to take shape by the end of the decade, according to the report.

"This commitment by TDOT is a major win for the residents of Spring Hill and wouldn't have become reality without the dedicated work of the BOMA and City employees," said Spring Hill Mayor Jim Hagaman. "The widening of Highway 31 has been a priority for our city for years, and we are delighted to finally have this project scheduled and funded."

The project, according to the 10-year plan, will be divided across two concurrent projects.

The southern portion of the project will include preliminary engineering work scheduled to begin in 2028, with right-of-way acquisition starting in 2030.

Engineering for the northern portion will likely begin in 2030, with right-of-way acquisition starting in 2032. Construction is estimated to begin in 2033.

The Highway 31 project's total cost is estimated at $299.8 million.

"As mentioned in the 10-Year Project Plan, TDOT will be working with local communities to further describe the needs of the projects featured. As more information about this project becomes available, the City of Spring Hill will provide updates," the report states.

Butch Eley, TDOT's Deputy Governor and Commissioner, said the state's 10-year plan "will be able to serve Tennessee with greater accountability and communication. The 10 Year Project Plan also supports jobs for Tennesseans and creates a long-term view, helping the industry develop and train the workforce needed to get the jobs done."

The plan provides a roadmap for $15 billion in state and federal funds over the next decade for surface transportation development. However, the outstanding need, in current dollars, is over $30 billion, the plan states.

First Farmers Names CAO (Press Release)

First Farmers and Merchants Corporation (OTC Pink: FFMH), the holding company for First Farmers and Merchants Bank, today announced that Robert E. (“Bobby”) Krimmel was named to the newly created position as Chief Administrative Officer in addition to continuing as the Chief Financial Officer of First Farmers and Merchants Corporation.

“Bobby Krimmel joined First Farmers in 2015 as Chief Financial Officer and his strong skills in financial management had an immediate and positive impact on our operations,” stated Brian K. Williams, First Farmers’ Chairman and CEO. “Since that time, he has successfully managed our financial reporting, treasury activities, tax, financial strategy and forecasting. In the newly created role as Chief Administrative Officer, Bobby will be responsible for most of the Banks’ major support functions including Accounting, Treasury, Information Technology, Project Management, Internal Controls, Information Security, Fraud, Risk Management, Facilities Management, Management Reporting Systems, Corporate Communications and Shareholder Services.

“I am very pleased to name Bobby Krimmel to this important position. He will be working closely with me in strategic planning and goal setting to expand the future growth opportunities for First Farmers. In his new role, he will also provide executive leadership to the Internal Audit and the Regulatory Compliance functions of the Bank and will be the Bank’s primary liaison with all regulatory authorities and external auditors. He will also maintain significant influence over business planning, policy development, efficiency enhancement, process improvement, resource allocation, budgeting and issue resolution,” concluded Williams.

Prior to joining First Farmers, Krimmel served as Senior Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer for HeritageBank of the South in Albany, Georgia. While at HeritageBank, he managed the accounting, treasury, tax, accounts payable, loss-share accounting and reconciliation departments. He also directed HeritageBank’s investment portfolio, managed the interest rate risk analysis, and was responsible for Security and Exchange Commission and regulatory reporting. Before joining HeritageBank, Krimmel was Vice President and Controller at GreenBank in Greenville, Tennessee.

Krimmel is a Certified Public Accountant and has completed the Graduate School of Bank Investments and Financial Management and the Financial Managers School. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and holds Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Accountancy degrees from East Tennessee State University. He serves on the Boys and Girls Club of South Central Tennessee Board of Directors and contributes to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Decision Maker Panel. He is the past Vice Chairman of Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury and Treasurer for Cub Scout Pack 369.

Fire Station 1 Renovations Begun (MauryCountySource)

Columbia Fire & Rescue announced that the Station 1 remodel has begun!

The Administrative Office has temporarily moved to Fire Station 3 at 705 Firefighters Drive where it will remain until the Station 1 remodel project is complete!

If you require a fire report, burn permit, or any other administrative assistance, please head to Station 3 until further notice.

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

Mrs. Ann McCormack Reddick, 91, a resident of Columbia, TN, passed away Sunday at The Bridge. Funeral services for Mrs. Reddick will be conducted Friday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 5:00 P.M. till 8:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Mr. Price Keller, 85, retired from Aramark and a resident of Columbia, died Monday at Maury Regional Medical Center. A funeral mass will be conducted Friday at 3:00 PM at St. Catherine Catholic Church. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Mr. James Allison “Jim” Cook, Jr., 88, retired banker died Tuesday at his residence. Funeral services for Mr. Cook will be conducted Saturday at 12:00 noon at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 10:00 AM until 12:00 noon at the funeral home.

Mrs. Juanita Ann Overbey Taylor, 93, resident of Columbia, passed away Saturday, January 6, 2024 at NHC Columbia. Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, January 13, 2024 at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends from 12:00 P.M. till the time of service at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

State House Passes Rules (Tennessean)

After nearly two hours of debate, the Tennessee House of Representatives formally adopted new rules Wednesday banning members from using papers and visual aids to explain legislation and implementing a 5-minute time limit on bill presentations in committee.

The controversial rules package also includes a measure allowing the House to silence members found to be out of order during a House session. Members voted 70 to 19, overcoming stringent objections from Democrats, to adopt the rules, first recommended by the House Rules Committee on Monday.

"There has been much conversation about limiting the voices of the people and even representatives in the people's House ― and actually, Mr. Speaker, I agree," Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, said during debate. "Voices have been silenced, Mr. Speaker. There are many in this body that monopolize the time that silences the voices of the vast majority of district across the state."

Zachary brought a list of the total times spent speaking on the House floor for every member during the last regular session from January to April, compiled by the House clerk.

"Who has spoken the most on this House floor? Who has monopolized debate on this house floor?" Zachary asked, before beginning to read the list.

Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis ― one of the newest members of the House ― has spoken on the House floor more than any other member, with comments totaling 3 hours and 43 minutes, according to the tally Zachary release. House Minority Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville was second, with a total of 2 hours and 16 minutes of speaking time. Rep. Justin Jones was third, with 2 hours and 12 minutes.

"The top nine speakers on the House floor over the last year are all from the minority party," Zachary said. "There is not a Republican on this list that shows up until number 10."

Pearson and Jones had considerable speaking time as House Republicans expelled the two in April. They were quickly reappointed and won election again last year.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, came in 10th place, with 40 minutes and 44 seconds of debate time in the last year.

As Zachary spoke, Jones and Pearson, along with a few spectators in the gallery, broke out in applause.

"The trajectory, that changed over the last year and a half because of those that come here to promote their own agenda, push themselves, represent themselves, and lift themselves up, versus being concerned about what goes on in the rest of the state," Zachary said. "Members' voices are being silenced. We need these rules to ensure everybody in this House has the opportunity to speak and that those who are here to monopolize don't have the opportunity to do that any longer."

Zachary sat down to thundering applause from his colleagues in the majority.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Charlotte takes the top spot on the list of most popular names for baby girls born in Tennessee in 2023. Liam holds on to the number one spot as the most popular name chosen for baby boys in Tennessee for the 2nd straight year.

Charlotte, number 2 last year, replaces Oliva which held the top spot for baby girl in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Evelyn has remained steady in the number 7 position for the last 5 years. Lainey, Sadie, and Lillian are new additions to the top 25 names this year.

William drops to number 4, after holding the number 1 position for baby boys in 2019 and 2021 and the number 2 position in 2020 and 2022. Henry has held the number 7 position the last 4 years. Cooper is the new addition to the top 25 baby boy names this year.

The top 25 names Tennessee parents chose for their new babies born in 2023 are:

Rank    Girls   Boys

1.      Charlotte   Liam

2.      Olivia  Oliver

3.      Amelia  James

4.      Emma    William

5.      Ava      Noah

6.      Evelyn  Elijah

7.      Harper  Henry

8.      Isabella      John

9.      Eleanor      Waylon

10.     Elizabeth   Hudson

11.     Sophia  Asher

12.     Willow  Levi

13.     Ellie    Theodore

14.     Mia      Samuel

15.     Luna    Jackson

16.     Nova    Jack

17.     Lily    Ezra

18.     Ivy      Maverick

19.     Hazel    Grayson

20.     Lainey  Benjamin

21.     Sadie    Cooper

22.     Scarlett    Walker

23.     Ella    Wyatt

24.     Lillian Mason

25.     Caroline    Lucas


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