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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for January 31, 2024


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


We start with local news…

Spring Hill Drug Bust (MauryCountySource)

A joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has resulted in the arrest of three individuals for possessing with intent to distribute approximately 32 kilograms of cocaine in Spring Hill, Tennessee, announced United States Attorney Henry C. Leventis.

The complaint charges Karla Lissette Hernandez, 41, Karla L. Ayala Hernandez, 18, and Ronald Giovanni Flores, 37, all from Houston, Texas, with possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

On January 17, 2024, the three were traveling in a truck which a Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputy determined was speeding and following another vehicle too closely in snowy and icy conditions. None of the occupants had a valid driver’s license. A K9 indicated the possible presence of narcotics in the vehicle.

A subsequent search of the vehicle led to the recovery of 32 kilograms of cocaine wrapped in black electrical tape, 30 of which were concealed inside the door panels of the truck.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel M. Stephens is prosecuting the case.

UAW Workers to Receive Profit Sharing Checks (CDH)

General Motors' Spring Hill workers, along with 45,000 others, who are part of the United Auto Workers Union will receive a profit-sharing check come February, according to the automaker on Tuesday.

The Spring Hill GM plant has more than 3,000 members of the UAW employed at the 11 million square foot plant. They could receive up to $12,250.

For 2023, GM's North America pretax profits were $12.3 billion, down 5% from $12.9 billion a year ago. The amount of the profit-sharing checks is based on $1,000 per every $1 billion in annual earnings before interest and taxes, or pretax profits for North America, the Detroit Free Press reported. The checks are paid out in increments of $250, which is why it is $12,250 and not $12,300, GM spokesman David Caldwell said.

But to make the full payout, an hourly employee must have accrued 1,850 or more compensated hours during 2023. 

The $12,250 that GM's UAW-represented workers will receive is not as much as their 2022 payout of $12,750 the highest since 2016 when it was at $12,000 per employee.

The payout was not just for full-time permanent employees either. For the first time, GM's union-represented temporary employees and those at GM's battery facilities are now eligible for profit-sharing under the new national agreement the union has with GM, a UAW source confirmed.

On Oct. 28, the plant at Spring Hill, GM's largest assembly facility in the country, walked off the assembly line and joined the strike.

“The members have spoken. After years of cutbacks, months of our Stand Up campaign, and weeks on the picket line, we have turned the tide for the American autoworker,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “The Stand Up Strike was just the beginning."

Just a few days later the strike was suspended.

The strikes began on Sept 14 and continued for more than two months. The strike forced contract negotiations with

Raises from at least 33% to over 160% - After COLA and compounded wage increases, members received raises of at least 33% with some of the lowest-paid workers receiving raises of up to 160%. Tens of thousands of autoworkers saw immediate raises of over 40% upon ratification.

Faster progression to top pay - Workers no longer need to wait eight years before seeing wage progression, the union was able to secure a three-year wage progression to the top pay rate.

Blazing the path to a just EV transition - The UAW won commitments at all three automakers that will bring thousands of electric vehicle (EV) and battery jobs.

Improvements in retirement security for all active and retired members - For the first time in 15 years current retirees will receive annual bonuses, a $1.25 billion boost in their benefits. Across all three companies, workers hired before 2007 won an increase to their pension multiplier.

401K contribution increases - Although workers hired after 2007 did not win defined benefit pensions, the employer contribution to their 401(k)s increased by 10%, which will double many members’ annual 401(k) contributions over the life of the contract.

Maury County Seeks County Powers Relief Amendment (CDH)

The Maury County Commission is requesting support from the state to ensure greater financial revenue attached to continued rapid population growth.

The commission approved unanimously last week a resolution for state leaders to amend the state's County Powers Relief Act of 2006, which provides adequate facility taxes to communities experiencing rapid growth. With growth comes the increasing need for enhance infrastructure and services like utility services and new schools.

The commission is seeking alternative ways to create revenue to avoid increasing county property taxes to pay for the extra people and services new development brings.

The current Act forbids county government from enacting an impact fee on new developments, though it is not restricted from individual municipalities. The commission's request is that state leaders amend the current law to allow the county the same opportunity.

"Property taxes have been increased more recently in our high-growth counties, happened in Sumner, here, and it's happened in Williamson and Rutherford County," James Dunn, lobbyist in the Tennessee General Assembly, said. "In the future, if you do not wish to increase property taxes and want to protect our existing Maury Countians from any further increase, we've got to figure out how to pay for this growth."

According to the 2020 Census, Maury County is the fastest growing county in Tennessee, while Rutherford ranks among one of the most populated counties.

Dunn added that the deadline to file bills in the State House is Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 in the Senate, which on average can be up to 4,000 bills annually.

Maury County's adequate facilities taxes on new development currently caps off at 50 cents per square foot for residential construction and 30 cents per square foot for commercial property, an amount the commission calls "woefully inadequate" in meeting the demands for additional services the County has experienced. By opting into the County Powers Relief Act, the adequate facilities tax would be forfeited, as the law currently states.

"We've got a bill that would allow you to retain your ability to tax non-residential development that is already in place," Dunn said. "That's future buildouts so we don't put the burden on existing Maury County taxpayers."

The Maury County commission is asking the legislative delegation to support any bills presented to repeal or amend the County Powers Relief Act to allow Maury County "to be placed on a level playing field" with municipalities to have the authority to collect impact fees on new development.

Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, said there are a lot of options currently being discussed at the state level to provide funding assistance for rapidly growing counties, and that while this request could provide relief, it's going to take multiple solutions to make a lasting impact.

"I think it would be disingenuous for anybody to say this whole thing is going to solve the growth problems," Cepicky said. "There is no silver bullet for this, but there are tools we can put in the toolbox to lessen the impact of growth.”

Commissioner Ray Jeter commented saying this is the third attempt at amending the Act, and he hopes this request would act as the start of a "long-term relationship" with state lobbyists fighting on behalf of the local taxpayers, and that this would make a "big difference" to the nearly 100,000 Maury County citizens.

"We definitely need somebody who can fight those battles for us in the trenches," Jeter said. "This commission is a fighting commission, and we'll load up every one of us and go to Nashville to fight in the trenches with you when that times come. We just ask that we be kept in the loop on when those opportunities might be, even if that means four or five times loading up to Nashville. We'll be there."

Commissioner Gabe Howard added that utilizing the help of lobbyists in a growing county is important because the legislation isn't necessarily tied to one partisanship, but is intended for everybody.

"It's legislation that matters for growing communities like ours," Howard said.

Ferguson Hall May be Purchased by Spring Hill (CDH)

Spring Hill city leaders are discussing possibly purchasing the historic Martin Cheairs House, or Ferguson Hall, in Spring Hill in an effort to maintain its lasting historic preservation.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Municipal Planning Commission met this week in a joint meeting, where talks of a potential grant application to purchase the historic property were discussed. The item was presented by city alderman Vincent Fuqua, who said there is an opportunity to secure federal funding for the purchase.

"I have spoken with a development group, very high level, on whether they would be interested in selling Ferguson Hall to Spring Hill," Fuqua said. "The next step would be to hear about the grant opportunity ... followed by maybe directing staff to do a letter of intent to that group so we can get an appraiser, evaluate some of those costs on what that looks like and move forward."

The property dates back to the early 1800s and has served not only as a residential home, but also as multiple schoolhouses, as well as the Church of Christ Tennessee Orphan Home and later as part of the Tennessee Children's Home.

Alderman Matt Fitterer, on discussing the grant, said the city would only be able to apply for it once there is a purchase agreement in place.

"It basically covers the assessed value, and anything between the assessed value and purchase cost for the city to make up," Fitterer said. "Using made up numbers, if the assessed value is $1 million and we have a contract to purchase it for $1.5 million, we would get $1 million from the grant and then come up with the other half million."

Alicia Fitts, Spring Hill resident and chairperson of the Spring Hill Historic Commission, said the purchase would be a great opportunity to not only preserve the structure, but also the landscape and surrounding property, as well as a beacon for the city's Old Town district.

"If we have an opportunity, please let us count on the city to take the lead on that," Fitts said. "This particular property is valuable to the city not only for the Civil War stories and what happened around the Civil War. It's actually been the heart and soul of Old Town for years."

Fitts added that preserving Ferguson Hall would also present a "sense of belonging" that is lacking in Spring Hill.

"For a city that's gone from one square mile with 1,200 people to 30 square miles and 60,000 people in 30 years, taking a proactive effort to recognize the places where we started is really important," Fitts said.

Vice Mayor William Pomeroy said he would be in favor of pursuing the purchase and that in addition to federal funding, there are other options for state grants the city could also explore.

"It lets us tie into the Cheairs story, the Gen. [Earl] Van Dorn story and others at Rippavilla as well," Pomeroy said. "You've got a thumbs up from me."

As far as the next step, City Attorney Patrick Carter said issuing a term sheet or letter of intent to the seller would be the right way to go. The city should also fund the property's appraisal, he said.

"If we're buying property, the appraisal part is a small deal," Carter said. "I think we should do that, and if we do, we should also do a phase one to make sure we don't have any environmental issues we wouldn't want to inherit over there."

August Sage Opens in Factory (CDH)

Thanks to a sweetheart team-up, Columbia has a vibrant new café option for locally-sourced, house-made menu items at August Sage Café & Lounge, one of the newest restaurants to join a burgeoning collection of eateries at The Factory at Columbia.

Fixed front and center at the entrance of The Factory, August Sage is the brainchild of Columbia couple Sara and Andrew Carlton, focused on offering brunch, lunch, anytime shareables and an array of coffee and mixed drinks to customers looking for a unique range of flavors.

The cafe's grand opening is Feb. 1.

They say they have some practice as “moderately” seasoned restaurateurs with a passion for food and drink. Sara once served as manager of another popular eatery Buck and Board in downtown Columbia, where she learned about the restaurant business.

“As we were contemplating this new idea, we passed through The Factory and saw a 'For Lease' sign outside of what is now our café,” Sara Carlton said. “We started exploring the idea … and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“So we just went for it, and we couldn’t be happier!”

Customers have remarked about the careful attention spent on the build and renovation of the location from the interior décor and warm appeal to furniture, custom concrete extra-long bar top and craftsman shelving.

Sara proudly credits the interior work to husband Andrew, a professional woodworker, mentioning his open-door process, while they were building out and decorating the space. A carpenter with his own business, Andrew Carlton built most every piece for the new restaurant, making it truly a combined labor of love for the couple.

“We left the doors and windows uncovered so that anyone who walked through The Factory could see our space and the progress being made every day,” Sara said.

Praising her husband’s build of the tables, benches, tile bar, concrete countertop, behind-bar built-ins, the window wall and bench seating, she said even the charcuterie platters are custom fixtures of the café.

Decking the café out to the hilt with custom builds for the location, the public watched as the new space came together over the past several months.

“We were in there working every day,” she said. “People got to see Andrew working and constantly stopped in to express their excitement.”

A soft opening on Dec. 19 built a lot of interest and anticipation since first mention of their new venture.

Now the café is in full-swing, seeing new customers everyday, attracting a new crowd of brunch-seekers throughout the week and on Sundays.

“It’s really been neat to see the amount of people walk through and how genuinely impressed and complimentary they are by the appearance of our space, the food that we offer, and the amount of locally-sourced items we carry,” Sara Carlton said.

Sauces, dressings, spreads, breads, pastries, and more are house-made or locally sourced at August Sage, as the couple likes being able to promote local business through their operations.

“Our mission is to have delicious, unique, and house-made items you aren’t able to find anywhere else in the area, and to use local sources when possible,” Sara said.

Discussing the menu with customers, tends to generate excitement for the experience of trying something new and different, she said.

“We offer Columbia a unique space to eat, drink and relax,” Sara said. “We want to be a space where anyone can order anything from our menu and find a new food or drink item that they love, and then come back to try the rest of our menu.”

The restaurant offers featured menu items for morning or evening with a beer, wine and cocktail list.

Currently, their Facebook page prompts visitors with mouth-watering photos of new breakfast flatbreads, blackberry crunch toast and more.

Top menu favorites for customers thus far have been the B.L.A.T., or bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato on sourdough baked in-house by Kings Baking owner; Croffle, a creative croissant waffle topped with mascarpone cheese and fresh fruit, and the Croque Monsieur, or ham and gruyere on sourdough topped with baked bechamel, appealing to a wide variety of tastes.

Croissants are provided by Savarino's Bakery in Columbia.

“We do not really have a style of food that we are confined to," Sara Carlton said. “We have items on our menu that are inspired by French cuisine, Italian cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, and more. As well as ideas that are completely our own. 

"We gravitate towards lighter-fare, with plenty of healthy options, all served in smaller portions and a la carte to encourage customers to order an assortment of different items and share amongst the table.”

Those needing a reprieve from the grind of “the Mondays” can find all-day happy hour specials like $5 craft beer in addition to specials on wine and cocktails.

The restaurant has also made waves with local professionals by hosting the Maury Alliance Women in Business Mixer, offering a charcuterie board catering spread.

With in-house dining and catering underway, Carlton said the café also offers rentable event space at their location.

August Sage Café & Lounge is located at 101 N. James Campbell Blvd., Ste. 6 at The Factory at Columbia. For more information, visit the restaurant’s social media listings on Facebook and Instagram.

Hours of operation:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m.

Thursday and Sunday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Closed on Tuesdays

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

Mr. Randy Ervin Davidson, 71, retired Machine Operator for Union Carbide and resident of Culleoka, died Saturday, January 27, 2024, at Maury Regional Medical Center. Funeral services for Mr. Davidson will be conducted Friday, February 2, 2024, at 1:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Thursday, February 1, 2024, from 4:00 P.M.-8:00 P.M. at the funeral home.

Mr. William D. “Buddy” Smith, 76, resident of Columbia, and retired owner and operator of Columbia Fire Equipment, passed away Tuesday at Maury Regional Medical Center. A family graveside service will be conducted Saturday, February 3, 2024 at 11:00 A.M. at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Friday, February 2, 2024 from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Miss Susan Gail Benderman, 69, former counselor with Centerstone, died Thursday, January 25th at Maury Regional Medical Center. Memorial services will be conducted Saturday, February 3rd at 2:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends Saturday, February 3rd from 12 noon until the time of the services at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

…And now, news from around the state…

New Bill Allows For Community Content Regulation (Tennessean)

Two years after Tennessee lawmakers passed the controversial Age Appropriate Materials Act — creating restrictions and enforcement of materials accessible to children in public school libraries — a House Republican has proposed a bill that looks to create an easier path for residents to remove content they deem inappropriate from all public libraries.

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, filed HB 1661, legislation that seeks to set up a petition process for residents to remove content from anywhere accessible to minors in public or school libraries if the content is considered contrary to “contemporary community standards”— whether online or in person.

 The bill lists a number of things considered contrary to “contemporary community standards,” such as “nudity,” “excess violence,” “sexual conduct,” and content that is “patently offensive” or of “a prurient interest,” among other limitations.

While most of these standards are already in current law regulating obscene content, Ragan said the creation of the petition process would help protect libraries from state enforcement by allowing residents to remove content from potential access by minors before a library runs afoul of the law.

“Given that this is an extension of the obscenity laws, this is actually to protect the library from being charged with criminal offenses,” Ragan said. “By erring on the side of removing the offensive content from minors’ access, they are protecting them from being prosecuted for violation of (Tennessee obscenity laws).”

Content in libraries found to go against “contemporary community standards” would be eligible to receive petitions from residents in the same district demanding immediate removal of the content from potential minors’ access.

If filed, the petition would go to the districts’ respective election commission, where it would be validated and then sent to each library in the district, demanding that they immediately not display, distribute or make accessible to minors the content in question.

Petitions could only be validated if they are signed by legal, adult residents numbering at least 2% of the total number of legal voters who voted in the district’s last gubernatorial election.

Ragan’s bill does note that the Secretary of State shall establish a process for libraries to appeal any petitions via a contested case, and that libraries can appeal a removal to chancery court. The appeal, however, can only occur after the content has been removed.

If the appeal fails, the bill states libraries and equivalent governing boards cannot take action to circumvent or change the results of the petition.

But some library experts and First Amendment advocates worry that the bill could make censorship easier. Experts from the American Library Association say there are already laws in place protecting minors from inappropriate content.

“A decision regarding whether a book is inappropriate is usually done by the court of law, considering evidence presented by a prosecutor,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“This essentially hands that process over to any 2% of the number of people who voted in that jurisdiction. And in large cities, that would be a large number, but in small communities, it could be a very small number. Essentially, you're giving the 2% of the community the ability to decide what's available to both young readers and adult leaders in that community. Because if you read the law carefully, they can't make the book even potentially accessible to a minor.”

Caldwell-Stone referenced a court case from 2000 — Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas — that dealt with a similar petition process established by a city council to restrict access to books intended for children.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled the petition resolution process violated federal and state constitutional “rights to receive information.”

“The Resolution and the Book removals burden fully-protected speech on the basis of content and viewpoint and they therefore cannot stand,” the ruling read. “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution, indisputably protect the right to receive information.”

Caldwell-Stone said limiting information is antithetical to the very fabric of a library’s mission.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Two iconic bands, Train and REO Speedwagon announced a tour titled Summer Road Trip 2024.

The 44 city tour kicks off in July and will stop in Franklin at FirstBank Amphitheater on August 18th. Joining Train and REO Speedwagon on the road as direct support on all dates is very special guest Yacht Rock Revue.

Fans can gain first access to the artist presales beginning Wednesday, January 31st at 10am local time until Thursday, February 1 at 10pm local time. Additional presales will run throughout the week ahead of the general onsale beginning Friday, February 2 at 10am local time at REOSpeedwagon.com.


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