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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for January 2, 2024

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


Parks retires as MRMC Board of Trustees chair (Press Release)

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) Board of Trustees Chair Houston Parks will retire effective Jan. 1 following 15 years of service, the past six as board chair.

The Columbia native is a longtime local attorney who most recently has been in private practice at the law firm Parks, Bryant and Snyder, PLLC.

“It’s been a pleasure serving this community and organization as a member of the MRMC Board of Trustees,” Parks said. “This health system is a tremendous benefit to the communities we serve, and I’m proud of how it’s grown and the vision that’s in place for the future.”

Under Parks’ leadership, Maury Regional Health (MRH) has accomplished many endeavors, including:

Expansion of MRMC’s surgical services to include:

Two daVinci robotic platforms for general, gynecologic, urologic and thoracic surgery

Stryker’s Mako robotic system for joint replacements

The 7D Surgical Flash Navigation System for spinal and cranial surgery

The opening of a state-of-the-art Cancer Center at Columbia Mall

Installation of advanced imaging systems, including 128-slice CTs, PET and 3D mammography

In addition, the health system has received numerous awards and accreditations as a reflection of its commitment to clinical excellence and patient safety.

“Houston’s experience, legal expertise and business acumen have been instrumental in our success, and I am immensely grateful for his service,” said MRH CEO Martin Chaney, MD.

The MRMC Board of Trustees will elect a new chair and announce other board appointments at its Jan. 25, 2024, meeting.

Mule Drop benefits Center of Hope (MS Maury)

Maury County rang in the new year Sunday by lowering the metal mule head from high above the courthouse square in Columbia, thanks again to the work put in by Center of Hope.

Two-time Main Street Maury Hometown Hero award winner, Cindy Sims, has been working tirelessly following the opening of a new shelter for Center of Hope to make sure the 2024 Mule Drop is another successful event.

Beginning at 8 p.m. on the square with live music, the free event will be open to the public throughout the night into early Monday morning, but Sims said the event has something for every family dynamic.

“If you have young children and you just want to go and enjoy some things, countdown and go home, you can,” she said, as there will be a countdown at every hour. “The big countdown is at midnight with fireworks from the roof of the courthouse.”

The fireworks in 2024 will be special.

“We’re really excited about the fireworks this year because there is something new,” she said, without divulging the surprise.

The Emerald Empire Band will play throughout the night. As a cover band, event-goers can expect a variety of music and genres from the 10-piece ensemble.

“If you enjoyed the music last year, you’ll certainly enjoy this year’s,” Sims said.

The event is a fundraiser for the Center of Hope shelter, which supports victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.

“We are the local domestic violence and sexual assault center. We have been serving Maury County for the last 34 years, and in 2018 we picked up Lawrence, Giles and Wayne counties,” Sims added. “Domestic violence and sexual assault knows no barriers. It can happen to the wealthiest and the poorest of people and any race or belief system.”

Each year, sponsors and vendors help support their mission through this event.

“We will have ax throwing and a cigar lounge to go along with the food trucks and other vendors,” Sims said. “We have the greatest community in the world, and we couldn’t do it without our sponsors and BMC Metalworks, who created the apparatus that is dropped by Industrial Contractors.”

2024’s Burning Questions (MS Maury)

Spring Hill:

Will the June Lake interchange open on time?

After numerous changes in deadlines, the Tennessee Department of Transportation says the June Lake interchange will, indeed, open in either late spring or early summer in 2024.

The project has been moved three separate times, including a move of the estimated completion date to an earlier-than-expected timeline, but was subsequently delayed and then delayed again to the most recent timeline.

The contractor, Bell Construction, is incurring financial penalties for each day the project isn’t completed. While TDOT will recoup much of their costs incurred by keeping staff on site during the extension, Spring Hill mayor Jim Hagaman was not confident the city would be repaid for having similar staff on site during that time.

City Administrator Pam Caskie requested that TDOT consider reimbursing the city during a public meeting in November, but representatives did not acknowledge any such intention.

Which of the multi-use developments will be in use before the end of the year?

By our count, there are six mixed-use projects underway in Spring Hill – either approved at some level by the planning commission or already going vertical.

Which of these projects are most likely to see some commercial property development before the end of the year? Both Spring Hill Town Crossing off Jim Warren Road and June Lake will begin to see some commercial build outs in 2024. Grocery chain Publix is slated for the former, while Hy-Vee announced its intention to build in June Lake.

Kedron Square has begun building, but currently only residential buildings are being constructed, while Legacy Point (at The Crossings), Port Royal Commercial Park (between Derryberry Lane and Longhunter Chase Drive) and Clear Blue (along Wall Street) are still in the initial stages of development.

How many people live in Spring Hill?

The city authorized a special census during the November 20th meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that will cost the city $50,000 to complete. The city will begin collecting data on January 1, 2024, and are expected to complete the process by March 1, 2024. The city does have an online portal where citizens can submit their information to avoid a visit from census takers at their door.

In 2020, the national census counted 50,005 residents, but city leaders believe the population to be much greater. The state of Tennessee distributes shared revenues based on population at $169.29 per capita.

Mt. Pleasant:

Will downtown construction actually start?

After a tumultuous bid process over the last two years, Mount Pleasant has received bids for their downtown revitalization project once again, and Mayor Bill White said he expects the bid to be awarded in the first quarter of 2024.

TDOT awarded the city $1.25 million in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant funds in 2018 for the pedestrian improvements. As part of the grant agreement, the city must provide a minimum match of 20 percent to receive those funds. In an effort to do a comprehensive project, the city has worked with the Water and Sewer Department to conduct water and sewer rehabilitation simultaneously.

Mount Pleasant Power is also assisting the city in funding the lighting and traffic signalization portion of the project. In total, the project construction is expected to cost about $2.5 million.

Who will be the next city manager?

Mount Pleasant City Manager Kate Collier indicated recently to the city commissioners her intention to retire in the coming months, and the city will work with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) to open the process of searching for her successor.

Who will that be and when will they take over? White hopes the new city manager will be in place prior to the budgeting season so they can be familiar with the city’s finances before the next fiscal year begins.

Bicentennial Celebration

Less of a question, but more a celebration as the city is planning a major party downtown to celebrate 200 years of incorporation this October.

White and his staff have worked diligently to begin the preparation and planning stages for the event, which promises to be one of the biggest in the county for 2024.

Maury County:

Will the House pass the Property Taxpayer Protection Act?

The bill, which would allow local county commissioners to decide how fees should be used to pay for incoming developments, failed to pass the General Assembly for the second year in a row.

In response, the commission formed an ad-hoc growth committee consisting of five members to oversee negotiations with the home builders and realtors association.

In November, the commission approved additional funding for lobbyists for the upcoming legislative session. The 113th General Assembly will reconvene on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

How often will commissioners travel to the State Capitol? How do they plan on working alongside the home builders and realtors association? Will an inter-local agreement be passed between the cities of Columbia, Spring Hill and Mount Pleasant?

Will the proposed math intervention bill be signed into law?

In October, State Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), announced a new bill aimed at increasing math scores for K-8 students is scheduled to be introduced into the state legislature.

Cepicky, who is the chair of the Education Instruction Subcommittee, also carried the third-grade retention law. Passed in 2021, the law requires third-grade students repeat the grade or receive additional interventions if they are deemed not to be proficient in the ELA section of the TCAP.

The math intervention bill would require summer school or tutoring for K-8 students who do not perform well on their TCAP test or universal screener. However, the bill is not similar to the third-grade retention law in that students will not be retained.

Is the new Judicial Center still on track to open in October?

Maury County Commission Chairman Eric Previti said the new judicial center, which was approved last August at an amended GMP of $33.9 million, is on track to open in October.

“I actually hope it can be sooner than that,” he said, adding that he believes something should be done to the bookstore located next to the center, which could be used for parking purposes. “I wish we had been able to purchase that with the last commission. I don’t know if this commission will do it or not,” he said.

Located on the grounds of the former Daily Herald building, the long-awaited judicial center has been an effort on the part of both current and former commissioners. The construction will come at no cost to taxpayers. Instead, funds will be used from the American Rescue Plan Act, with the remaining costs coming from litigation, court fees and adequate facilities taxes.

In addition to the judicial center, Previti also noted the progress being made on the archives expansion building and the agricultural extension building.

The Commission will hold their first meeting of the new year on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Blood and platelet donors needed ahead of Blood Donor Month (Press Release)

As Blood Assurance prepares for the new year, the community blood center is asking residents to donate the gift of life to close out this season of giving.

Entering Friday morning, the nonprofit was in critical need of all blood types, especially O-positive, and O-negative. Additionally, platelet donations were urgently needed.

“December and January are always detrimental for community blood centers due to holiday travel, frigid weather, and illnesses, such as the flu,” according to J.B. Gaskins, CEO of Blood Assurance. “Blood Assurance has faced some enormous challenges in the weeks leading up to the new year, including supplying a large quantity of additional blood units to hospitals in Middle Tennessee, treating patients with injuries sustained during the deadly tornadoes.”

The call for donations comes on the heels of National Blood Donor Month. The month of January marks the 54th anniversary of National Blood Donor Month. Enacted in January 1970 by President Richard Nixon, the proclamation pays tribute to voluntary blood donors, while encouraging new donors to give the gift of life.

“Our non-profit is still experiencing one of the largest shortages we’ve seen in five decades,” said Gaskins. “We hope our community understands the importance of donating before, during and after National Blood Donor Month, by recognizing that blood isn’t something that can be manufactured. A single blood donation can save three lives.”

Donors can give back by scheduling an appointment at www.bloodassurance.org/schedule, calling 800-962-0628, or texting BAGIVE to 999777. Beginning Friday, all O-negative, O-positive, and platelet donors will receive a $20 e-gift card as a token of appreciation for donating. The incentive runs through January 2.

To be eligible to donate blood, donors must be at least 17 years old (16 years old with parental consent), weigh 110 pounds or more and be in good health. Donors are asked to drink plenty of fluids — avoiding caffeine — and eat a meal that is rich in iron prior to donating.

Wilson County legislators Mark Pody, Susan Lynn to sponsor bills for school security system (Wilson Post)

Teachers throughout the state would have access to body-worn cameras with emergency buttons if legislation originating in Wilson County is passed at the 2024 General Assembly.

Wilson County state legislators Sen. Mark Pody and Rep. Susan Lynn announced plans last Thursday to introduce the school safety legislation.

“I look at this bill as an important update to classroom safety technology. It’s high time that technology reaches the classroom when it comes to school safety items like this,” Lynn said.

The technology would mirror body-worn cameras frequently used by law enforcement personnel, but would include three buttons for an alert system.

Pody said one button would be used for disciplinary issues, the second one would be used for medical emergencies and the third one would be used for active shooter situations.

When teachers push the disciplinary button, the system will stream footage to the school’s principal and school resource officer, if there’s one at the school.

When the medical emergency button is pushed, an alert is sent to the school resource officer and local 911 agency.

The active shooter button will alert local law enforcement and the device’s GPS system will allow responders to accurately locate the threat.

Pody said he worked on the legislation for more than a year after he started representing a portion of Davidson County and spoke with Metro Nashville school board members, teachers and parents and learned that some teachers had been assaulted by students.

“It’s like having a Ring doorbell on teachers’ lanyards, and when they press that button they know help is coming,” Pody said.

He said the lack of proof in some of the cases spurred the push for the technology, which was expedited by the Covenant school shooting last March.

“It changed a lot of us as legislators how we’re looking at school safety in a way we’ve never done before,” said Pody, who said he spoke with Covenant parents regarding the legislation.

Pody said he also spoke with Gov. Bill Lee and state finance personnel and said the state would fund up to $300 per device, which districts could access through a grant process.

Pody said local districts would have their choice of using the technology and vendors, but any device costing more than $300 would have to be covered by the district. He said he also didn’t favor mandating the technology for districts and hoped district leaders would follow the wishes of teachers and parents.

Pody and Lynn noted the technology was being used in Florida and Texas. They said the 2024-2025 school year would be the earliest the technology would appear in schools if approved during the next legislative session.

First Lady pays Christmas visit to Soldiers at Fort Campbell (MS Clarksville)

First Lady Jill Biden, as part of her Joining Forces initiative and continued support for the military-connected community, traveled to Fort Campbell on Dec. 23 to celebrate the holidays and meet with military families impacted by the Dec. 9 tornado.

On the day of the event, 68 families remained displaced by the tornado. At its peak that number was 354. Dozens of affected families, volunteers and community leaders were in attendance..

The First Lady's plane, temporarily renamed Sleigh Force 1, touched down at 1 p.m. and Biden, along with special guest, Santa Claus, stepped out to greet everyone on the tarmac. The pair were quickly ushered to the event, where Major General Brett Sylvia welcomed them.

“During these last two weeks, we have seen tremendous acts of heroism, and of selfless service,” MG Sylvia said. “Tragedy is tragedy, but sometimes it brings out the best in people and that is exactly what we've seen.

“We just had the opportunity to recognize some people who literally went into damaged structures, pulled people out, and saved lives. We also met with a group of community leaders who brought together a host of gifts and supplies, and we want to recognize them because it has been nothing short of amazing.

“Thoughts and prayers are great. We always appreciate that, but it's even better when we see it turned into real action and activity, and that is what has happened over the course of the last two weeks.”

MG Sylvia went on, referring to the tornado as, “a life-changing event. Today is about us acknowledging you. The Command Sergeant Major and I have been truly inspired by you all. You have picked up the pieces and demonstrated incredible resiliency.”

Major Kevin Quiros was next to speak. He and his family sheltered in their laundry room as their home was devastated on Dec. 9. They have since been relocated to a home at Fort Campbell. He expressed his gratitude for all the first responders, and all the support that he and his family have received. He then introduced the First Lady.

“So many in this room shared their homes, clothes and groceries, and helped their neighbors dig precious memories out of the rubble,” she began. “Being there for those who lost everything, even when you had lost so much yourself.

“I want to thank AF YMCA, Toys for Tots, and Mission BBQ for all your hard work. As Americans across the country gather this week for the holidays, our family wanted to come here. We wanted to be here with all of you to let you know that you are not alone. In our family we have a saying, if you have to ask, it's too late. Military families live by that saying, too. In moments of hardship, you're the ones who step up. You're the ones who put your lives in harm's way. You're the ones who reach out a hand to carry others through.

“I know these last two weeks have really tested your strength, but even in this moment of grief and heartache there is so much love and support around you. It's that Screaming Eagles spirit that Major Quiros described. I know it can be hard to ask for help when you are usually the ones answering the call, but I hope that you let others share the weight of your burden.

“The Bidens are a military family, and military families look out for one another. We take care of our own. On behalf of the President, and Americans everywhere, you're in our hearts, and we are so grateful for your service. May God bless and protect our troops and their families.”

After the brief speech, Biden invited everyone to come up and meet Santa Claus. She and Santa then posed for pictures with the families. When the families returned to their tables, they were greeted by Marines carrying stacks of toys that were presented to the children.

Ollie & Finn’s opens in Columbia (MS Maury)

The brand was created and the following was built inside the Columbia Arts District, but now Ollie & Finn’s Counter has turned the page to a new chapter in its story.

Ethan and Anna Eilermann opened the sandwich shop inside the Columbia Arts Building just over two years ago, and began serving the community craft and artisanal sandwiches. Their take on sandwiches was an instant hit, and the foundation built there has allowed them to expand to a new location inside the New South Shopping Center on Carmack Boulevard.

“It was imperative to get our start in a location like that. It was the perfect location to get going because it wasn’t too crazy busy or visible, so for first timers, it was a great way to get started and build our following,” Anna said.

Ethan added, “We live in the Arts District, it’s a great place. If this amount of space and visibility were over there right now, we wouldn’t have left. It was time to do something bigger and really see what we’re made of.”

The former Lime & Loaf location was the perfect place for their next adventure, but the size of the building created somewhat of a void for a sandwich shop, so they paired up with another CAB business – Bad Idea Brewing.

Together, the two have created the only brewpub sandwich shop in the city.

“We’re not a pub – we’re a sandwich shop – but we are together and it’s the only place of its kind here in Columbia,” Anna said. “We are a sandwich shop, but we’re attached to Bad Idea Brewing, so we’re just throwing a bunch of classic ideas under one roof.

“This is us trying to bring that community aspect from the Arts District to this part of town.”

Ollie & Finn’s sandwiches aren’t your run-of-the-mill deli meat on white or wheat with some cheese, although they will make that for it if that’s what you want. They would rather their customers take a leap of faith in a classically-trained chef’s creations.

“You’re going to like it. We create it ourselves with the consumer in mind – it’s not gross. The things we put together make sense and go together,” Ethan said. “We wanted to make recipes that we grew up loving and incorporating techniques we’ve learned on our journey to today and making it fun and accessible to everyone.”

If you don’t like it, that’s OK they say, they’ll make you whatever you want.

“If you can get out of your comfort zone and try something, we promise you’re going to like it. If you don’t, we’ll make you whatever you want. Just try it and push out of your comfort zone,” Anna added.

With the new space where customers can actually sit inside the restaurant — as opposed to their small space in the CAB – there are newfound opportunities for patrons.

“We want you to come in, watch cartoons, play video games and yell at us about not having football on,” Ethan said, adding the shop will have football on the TV on Sundays. “We want you to have an experience here, and we want you to have that for $20 rather than $50. We make everything from scratch, using the best ingredients we can.”

Their hours and menu are available at ollieandfinns.com.

“It’s time for us to do this for a while and then go conquer the world,” Ethan said.



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