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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for July 25, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Charter School Vote Postponed (CDH)

The Maury County School Board was unable to finalize its decision on whether to approve or deny the ongoing debate about whether to allow the establishment of an American Classical Academy charter school in Maury County.

The item, which was discussed as part of a special called meeting last week, will now reappear on another agenda for another special called meeting starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 27. The board called an additional meeting due to the board not being able to generate enough votes to approve or deny the proposal, each of which requires six votes.

Two board members, District 7 Board Member Will Sims and District 10 Board Member Wayne Lindsey, were also not present to cast their votes. Both previously denied the charter's application when the item was last considered in April, when it failed by a narrow 6-5 vote.

If the board cannot reach a decision this week, the item will approve by default July 30, 60 days following the application's May 30 resubmittal.

The ACA is overseen by umbrella company American Classical Education (ACE), which is looking to open additional charter schools in other Middle Tennessee counties, such as Williamson, Rutherford and Montgomery and Madison County in West Tennessee. Most recently, the charter was approved in Rutherford County in April, while the Clarksville-Montgomery School System voted to disapprove.

Tuesday's meeting began with 20 minutes of public debate, with citizens in favor or against the proposal each allowed 10 minutes to plead their case.

The opposing side argued multiple potential issues the charter school poses if approved, including its potential effect on local taxpayers. There were also concerns regarding the school's values regarding inclusivity, and that the school would only be welcome to a select number of children.

There were also issues regarding the organization itself, which is not operated via a nonprofit, but the ACE educational management organization (EMO.)

"The EMO is not a nonprofit, and so I'd kind of like to know where the money is going," Jackie Lightfoot Marshall, one concerned citizen, said. "The history curriculum, which I've read over, is just wrong. It's whitewashing and doesn't cover all of history."

Former Vice Mayor Christa Martin, who also opposes the charter, addressed how the school could affect taxpayers, and that there are important questions still lingering to be answered.

"The people of Maury County who are paying for Maury County schools, the taxpayers, deserve answers," Martin said. "How will we build and operate a school for 'some' students, and where will the school be built? How many buses will you have to buy and drivers you will have to hire to drive students from all across this big county to get to wherever this school is being built?"

For those in favor, they saw it as an opportunity to not only address the needs of children with special needs, such as autism, and provide the kind of care unavailable to some families currently.

"No one is saying the charter school is the right thing for every family, but charter schools offer something we all can agree on, and that's choice," Maury County Commissioner Gabe Howard said.

"The idea to introduce a new school to our education landscape is not a decision to be taken lightly. However, it's important to remember that the approval of this charter school does not in any way signify relinquishment of control. The Maury County School Board retains the power to oversee the operation of this charter school, and if necessary revoke its charter. Therefore, the risk is minimal, while the potential benefits are significant."

In the end, school board chairman Michael Fulbright noted that despite the differing views from citizens, as well as members of the board, they all share the common goal of simply wanting the best for the community's children.

"I believe every person in here, in their heart wants the best for the children and families of Maury County," Fulbright said. "We can talk about our differences and our divisions, but we are united in that belief. Undoubtedly, we all have different views on how that can be accomplished."

Once discussion returned to board members, the difference of opinion and which side to support was as divided as the citizen comments.

For some, like District 11 Board Member Jackson Carter, approving the proposed charter would be beneficial for a number of reasons. For example, the county would retain authority over the charter, rather than it becoming the responsibility of the state pending a denial.

"If we turn this down tonight, ACE has every right to appeal to the state, and I'm led to believe that they probably will," Carter said. "When that happens, there will be a hearing in Maury County ... and we will have to state objective reasons for our denial, and it can't be ideological. It has to be based in objective reasons."

Those who opposed, like District 3 Board Member Jamila Brown, argued that the charter would be a burden on the taxpayers not benefiting from its services.

"As an elected official, our job is to be there for our community, our students, the parents and teachers, and we have heard from numerous people in this community that they do not want this charter school," Brown said. "It's our job to listen to our community ... and if it goes to the state, then so what? That's how I look at it, and if it goes to the state it's going to open a can of worms that some of you all don't want to be opened."

A vote to approve was initially motioned by Carter and seconded by District 8 Board Member Austin Hooper, which resulted in a majority 5-4 vote. However, according to stipulations of the application, the vote would require six votes either in favor or denial to become official. Unable to reach a definitive conclusion, the only other option was to hold another special called meeting.

"Obviously, I didn't make it any secret that I want this thing approved, but I also don't want to play political games to make it happen," Fulbright said. "It's the right thing to do for Will, for Mr. Lindsey and everybody in the county."

The school board will revisit the ACA charter school proposal starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 27.


Local Winery Recognized (CDH)

Four Tennessee wineries received awards for their wines at the 13th annual New York International Wine Competition and the 2023 Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition. 

More than 1,400 wine submissions were submitted from over 23 countries for both competitions.

Columbia’s Farmstead Cellar was among the wineries receiving recognition.

In the 13th Annual New York International Wine Competition, Farmstead Cellar won a silver medal for its 2021 Farmstead Vigneron Reserve. It was also recognized as Tennessee's White Non-Vinifera Winery of the Year.

In the 2023 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition, Farmstead Cellar won two bronze awards for Impressions “The Farmhouse,” Norton (Cynthiana), 2021, and Vigneron Reserve, Chardonel, 2021.

“We are thrilled that these amazing Tennessee wineries and vineyards have been recognized at these prestigious competitions,” said Laura Swanson, executive director of the Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance and Tennessee Wine Trail. “We’re proud to have wines produced in our very own state highlighted on an international scale and encourage wine lovers to visit each of these wineries for tastings and bottles.” 

The Tennessee Wine Trail plays an ever-growing role in Tennessee’s tourism industry, with more than $74 million spent by visitors annually as they enjoy beautiful vineyards and destinations across the state. For more information on Tennessee Wines and the Tennessee Wine Trail, visit tennesseewines.com. 


Ultium Cells Recruitment Strategy (Press Release)

Ultium Cells, GM and LG’s joint venture EV battery manufacturing company, revealed its talent acquisition strategy for operating its 2.8 million square foot plant. Needing a total employee count of 1,700 people when fully staffed, Ultium Cells will emphasize building long-term relationships with rural and often economically disadvantaged communities to the south, east and west of its factory.

For communities like Centerville, Mt. Pleasant, Summertown and Lewisburg, where nearby economic and career opportunities have been scarce, the relatively short commute is a welcome development. According to 2022 data from the Economic Innovation Group, the Ultium Cells facility is within a 45-minute drive of seven “At Risk” zip codes and under 1-hour from two “Distressed” zip codes. “Fortunately, Tennessee has been proactive in developing the educational infrastructure and talent Ultium Cells needs to operate,” said Plant Director Chris Desautels. Citing the expansion of vocational and community college access, Desautels believes Ultium Cells can help spread the opportunity of Tennessee’s thriving EV economy to economically disadvantaged parts of the state. “We hope to employ team members wherever they are in their educational journey,” Desautels said, before referencing the company’s tuition reimbursement program that allows employees “to pursue their education while working at the plant.”

To make the strategy work, Ultium Cells has been taking an in-person approach to talent acquisition, reaching out to local Chambers of Commerce, attending community events, volunteering with local organizations, and hosting multiple job fairs. “It’s definitely more challenging to generate interest organically,” Desautels says, “but we want to be a community partner as well as an economic driver, and that requires building long-term relationships with our neighbors.” Interested job seekers can find career openings at the company’s website, ultiumcell.com.

Ultium Cells is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution that will mass-produce Ultium battery cells to advance the push for a zero-emissions, all-electric future. Ultium Cells will provide battery cell capacity to support GM's North American electric vehicle assembly capacity of more than 1 million units by mid-decade, while supporting GM plans to supply other automotive companies and other industries including rail, aerospace, heavy trucking and marine customers. For more information about Ultium Cells, please visit www.ultiumcell.com.



Wired Mastermind Group Accepting Applications (Press Release)

The WIRED Mastermind Group is now accepting applications to participate. The WIRED Mastermind Group was launched in 2021 by Maury Alliance and the Spring Hill chamber for local Entrepreneurs and CEOs.


This exclusive group is limited to 10 local Entrepreneurs and CEOs who are selected through an application process. The purpose of the group is to foster growth and development through the sharing of experiences, lessons-learned, and game-changing moments. This environment will allow each participant to showcase their expertise while also developing additional skill sets showcased by the other participants.


If you are ready to connect with like-minded individuals locally and are looking for growth opportunities by learning in a peer-to-peer environment and contributing to the growth of other businesses, then this is an opportunity you will want to take advantage of! Visit mauryalliance.com/wired for more info. The deadline to apply is July 28th.


Maury Regional NICU Welcomes Back Visitors (Press Release)

In October of 2006, the first baby was admitted to the newly opened neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Maury Regional Medical Center. Almost 17 years later, that baby — now a high schooler — and his family have an even greater connection with the hospital where he spent his first few weeks.

 On July 4, parents Bryan and Bridget Zaidan and older brother Jordan took baby Laikyn home from Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) for the first time.

 Laikyn was born June 26, five weeks premature, and she spent several days in the care of the specialists in the NICU. While a stay in the NICU can be difficult for any baby’s parents, the Zaidans had good reason to believe Laikyn was in excellent hands.

 Jordan was born on Oct. 9, 2006, at MRMC two months premature. He was the first baby ever admitted to the NICU at MRMC, which officially opened on Oct. 16, 2006.

 The care Jordan received in the NICU gave the Zaidans confidence Laikyn would have the same experience — especially considering she was under the care of the same physician, Donna Whitney, MD, a specialist in neonatology on the Maury Regional medical staff.

 “It definitely feels like déjà vu,” Bryan said. “It obviously worked out well the first time, and we had full faith this time would be the same. It’s convenient, confident care here. For us, it was relieving that we knew what was coming, and we had a level of confidence that we knew she was getting good care.”

 Being able to hold Laikyn in the NICU was a fulfilling moment for Jordan, who turns 17 this year and is a rising junior at Spring Hill High School.

 “It was exciting — she kept giving me a side-eye and funny looks,” he said. “It does give me some pride that she was born here.”

 It also was a special moment for Dr. Whitney, who’s seen the NICU at MRMC grow drastically since she cared for Jordan way back in 2006.

 “It’s always very rewarding to see patients that have graduated and been in our care doing well in the world,” Dr. Whitney said. “It really is an honor to serve our patients in this community. That was our goal in having the NICU here, so that patients can be cared for closer to home.”

 The NICU at MRMC is a Level II neonatal intensive care unit with providers certified in many clinical specialties, including neonatology physicians and neonatal nurse practitioners provided by Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Specialized care is provided to newborns with a wide variety of health conditions, such as prematurity, respiratory problems and infections.

 In the 17 years since opening the unit, the specialists in the NICU at MRMC have operated with a dedication to providing the best and most compassionate care possible. That didn’t go unnoticed by the Zaidans.

 “Dr. Whitney and all of the nurses in the NICU were all so amazing,” Bridget said. “Just knowing that every day [Laikyn] was very well taken care of and that they had answers to any questions I had made me feel better as a new mother, and we appreciate everything they did for her.”

 MRMC has been recognized with a “BEST for Babies” award from the Tennessee Hospital Association four consecutive years. It also earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Perinatal Care Certification.

 The fourth floor of the medical center is entirely dedicated to childbirth and gynecological care, offering spacious suites where mothers can experience labor, delivery and recovery in comfort and privacy. The MRMC Mother/Baby Unit also practices couplet care, allowing babies to room-in with their mothers to enhance the early bonding experience.

 For more information about the NICU and other childbirth services offered at MRMC, visit MauryRegional.com/Childbirth.


Legislative Lunch (Press Release)

Join Maury Alliance for a Legislative Lunch featuring Congressman Andy Ogles for a stimulating discussion around the current issues facing our business community and nation. This exclusive event offers the opportunity for you to engage with one of our federal representatives and gain valuable insights into current legislative matters. You may submit questions in advance by emailing them to nperry@mauryalliance.com

The event will take place on August 15th from 11:30-1:00pm at Puckett’s in downtown Columbia located at 15 Public Square. The cost is $25 for Maury Alliance Members and $30 for non-members.


CMYC Applications Coming (MauryCountySource)

The Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council consists of Maury County high school students selected by a panel who will have the opportunity to serve as a council member until graduation if they choose. Applications for the 2023-24 Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council Class will go live on August 1st.

Through the Mayor’s Youth Council, students in Columbia will grow to become the next leaders of our city, and their participation will create a foundation for expanding our population of informed high-school students.

In addition, a council of student representatives will create an ideal avenue for local politicians to interact and learn from their constituents.

Applications for the 2023-24 Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council Class will go live on August 1st.

Learn more at www.columbiatn.com.


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

Mrs. Mary Jane Galloway Moody, 80, retired employee of Travelers Insurance Company and resident of Houston, Texas died Sunday, February 12, 2023 following a brief illness.  A graveside service for Mrs. Moody will be conducted Saturday, July 29, at 10:00 a.m. at Polk Memorial Gardens to lay her to rest beside her husband. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.


…And now, news from around the state…

Rep. Johnson Challenging Sen. Blackburn (Tennessean)

Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson will challenge U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn for her Senate seat next year, with the Knoxville Democrat assembling a campaign staff ahead of an official campaign announcement expected within weeks.

Johnson, whose profile shot to national prominence after Tennessee Republican lawmakers tried and failed to expel her from the state House this spring, won't yet confirm her decision to run, though two people with knowledge of her plans confirmed to The Tennessean that campaign staff are currently being hired.

"I'm having a lot of conversations with people who are hungry for better leadership in Washington," Johnson said. "Tennesseans deserve someone who will stand up to special interests and fight to lower costs for families to build good lives. We have a senator who stands with bullies, and I have a reputation for standing up to bullies."

Johnson, a retired teacher, was first elected to the Tennessee House in 2012. After losing her seat by slim margins in subsequent cycles, she was reelected in 2018.

Republican redistricting efforts last year drew her into a Democratic colleague's district, so Johnson moved and won election in a new seat.

Johnson has long been one of the most outspoken House Democrats, both during legislative debates and on social media, often drawing the ire of Republican colleagues.

When freshman Democratic Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, mounted a gun reform protest on the House floor in April, in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting, Johnson stood beside them. Republican leadership quickly moved to punish the trio, cutting off building access to the elected officials before mounting unprecedented expulsion proceedings.

Johnson narrowly survived her expulsion vote, while Jones and Pearson, were expelled. The proceedings drew international attention, with the trio dubbed the "Tennessee Three," and earned the lawmakers a trip to the White House.

Johnson said she's mulled a potential Senate run since the beginning of the year, though the events of the spring mean she could enter the race this summer with national name recognition and increased fundraising prowess. In their short time away from the House, Pearson and Jones recorded stunning fundraising numbers in a matter of days.

Memphis environmental justice activist Marquita Bradshaw has already announced another bid for the U.S. Senate seat. Bradshaw, a newcomer to electoral politics in 2020, pulled a surprising Democratic primary win to challenge Bill Hagerty for an open Senate seat. Hagerty handily won in the general election.

If she becomes the Democratic nominee, Johnson will face an uphill battle against Blackburn, R-Tennessee. The state is overwhelmingly Republican in statewide contests. Blackburn defeated former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2018 by nearly 11 points, carrying all but three of Tennessee's 95 counties.

No Democrat has won a statewide race in Tennessee since Bredesen cruised to reelection for governor in 2006.

A poll in May by Vanderbilt University found 46% of respondents had a favorable view of Blackburn's job performance.


Gas Prices (MainStreetMaury)

Tennessee gas prices are continuing to fluctuate, moving eight cents more expensive, on average, since last Monday. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.17 which is five cents more expensive than one month ago but 77 cents less than one year ago.  

“Gas prices are still fluctuating across the state, and even though prices moved higher on the week, Tennessee still has the second cheapest state gas price average in the country,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Given the recent uptick in crude oil prices it will likely take a couple of weeks for pump prices to normalize across the state. Until then, drivers should expect to see additional fluctuations in pump pricing.”  


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

On Saturday, August 5th, the ultimate end-of-summer concert event is headed to Liberty Hall at the Factory at Franklin featuring American Idol favorites Haven Madison, Megan Danielle and Tyson Venegas! Tickets are on sale now at FranklinSummerBash.com.

Nashville-area fans will be treated to a live concert event from three Top 10 finalists from the most recent season of American Idol (Season 21) which concluded in May. Haven Madison departed the show just missing the Top 5, and Megan Danielle was runner up to this season’s champion, Iam Tongi. Also from the Top 10, fan favorite and platinum ticket holder Tyson Venegas has just been added to the event lineup. Additional surprise guests are expected to appear.

All tickets are general admission. A limited number of VIP tickets are also available, which include early admission, a meet & greet with the performers, a photo opportunity and signed event poster.

General admission tickets are $25 in advance. Due to the demand, advance purchase is highly recommended. Get them at FranklinSummerBash.com


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