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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for June 8, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Scam Alert (MauryCountySource)

The Columbia Police Department has received several calls from concerned citizens about an ongoing scam in the community.

Citizens are stating that they are receiving calls from an individual claiming to be an officer with Columbia Police Department and asking them for money. The caller is stating that you need to pay a sum of money or face arrest.

This is a scam and citizens of Columbia should be aware of this and use precautions when dealing with calls from scammers.

The Columbia Police Department nor any other law enforcement agency will ever demand money in lieu of arrest. Please don’t fall victim to this scam.

If you have fallen victim to this scam and have a monetary loss, please contact the Columbia Police Department or have any questions regarding the scam call 931-388-2727.


Columbia Developments (MainStreetMaury)

Two sizable proposed developments will be among the items on the agenda when Columbia’s City Council meets this week. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 8 at 5 p.m. at City Hall, located at 700 N. Garden St.

The council will have a public hearing and a second vote on a rezoning of property on and near Trotwood Ave. to PUD-R (Planned Unit Development Residential) for the future development of up to over 800 residential units and other community amenities. The property will also require annexation into the City of Columbia, which will be handled in a separate vote.

The council passed the proposed zoning changes at its May meeting by a 5-1 vote after a lengthy debate. Opponents have cited the potential for increased traffic and the size of the development in asking the council to reject the proposal.

The second proposal would rezone 30 acres on Cayce Lane from CD-2 (Rural Character District) to CD-3 (Neighborhood Character District). The concept plan reflects 104 residential lots and was recommended for approval by the city’s Planning Commission in May by a 3-2 vote. This will be a first reading and will have a second vote and public hearing in July if approved.

A proposed 5 percent increase in pay for city employees and a $3 increase in garbage fees are up for second votes and public hearings after being initially approved in May. If approved, the pay raises would add to a cumulative 22.5 percent increase in employee pay rates since 2018. The city hired Burris, Thompson and Associates to conduct a wage study, allowing the city to examine its pay rates compared to other similar jurisdictions.

The council will also examine a proposed inter-local agreement with Marshall County for recycling services. Since 2013, Columbia has partnered with Marshall County as the city’s recyclable materials are collected by Public Works and delivered to the Marshall County Solid Waste Recovery Facility.

The Marshall County Commission approved a per-ton charge of $65 to take effect on July 1, and the inter-local agreement established terms and conditions for Columbia’s recyclable materials to be delivered. The agreement also includes an automatic one-year renewal.

Food truck regulations will also be up for a second vote. Columbia established mobile vending under the Zoning Ordinance in 2018 and the proposed amendment establishes food truck court regulations. The city’s Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval at its April meeting.

The council will also vote on a roughly $4.4 million amendment to the Bear Creek Pike widening project originally approved in November 2017. The city requested additional funding for right-of-way and construction for the project, which will eventually widen Bear Creek Pike from two to three lanes from Nashville Highway to Tom Hitch Parkway, as well as add right-turn lanes on Bear Creek Pike and US Highway 43 Bypass.

The design of a splash pad for Fairview Park is also up for a vote, with an estimated cost of roughly $40,000.


Summer School (MainStreetMaury)

Roughly 350 students who just completed the third grade have signed up to participate in Maury County Public Schools’ summer learning camps in order to avoid potentially being retained in the upcoming school year.

MCPS’ summer program started June 5 and will run through June 30. Third-grade students participating in the summer program must average 90 percent attendance in order to be promoted to the fourth grade, under state law.

The summer programs are part of measures enacted to comply with a law passed by the General Assembly in 2021 that requires third graders to pass the English/Language Arts portion of annual TCAP testing in order to be promoted.

The Tennessee Department of Education released initial TCAP results in May, which indicated that approximately 63 percent of MCPS third graders did not meet the required standard. Retest opportunities were made available to students in advance of the summer programs.

“Our retake passing rate hovers at 12 percent. There is one more day of retakes, but we have retested over 90 percent of the eligible students. We have approximately 350 third graders enrolled for our summer STARS program.  We will not know until after (June 30) which students attend 90 percent of the required time and their increase in achievement until they retest post STAR program attendance,” MCPS Communications Director Jack Cobb stated.

Parents may also appeal to TDOE if their child scored “approaching” on the ELA test. The May results shows that 37.5 percent of MCPS’ nearly 1,000 third-grade students scored “approaching.” Parents have until June 30 to file an appeal and can ask the school district for assistance if needed. Per the TDOE website, appeals may be filed if the student received a score above the 40th percentile on their spring universal reading screener; or if there was “a catastrophic situation occurred during the days leading up to the TCAP test that impacted the third-grade student’s ability to perform on the test or the retake.”

“The appeal window opened late Tuesday morning and the parent must file the appeal. The LEA cannot do this for the parent. However, our school staff will assist ANY parent that needs assistance, including internet connectivity,” Cobb said.


Fire Station #4 (CDH)

As Spring Hill leaders prepares to cast their final votes on the upcoming 2023-2024 budget, one topic among discussions of what will be funded is the new Fire Station No. 4.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously 8-0 Monday on the budget's first of two readings, the second of which will appear at the board's June 20 regular meeting.

Monday's meeting began with multiple citizen comments, including Spring Hill Fire Capt. and Firefighters Association President Nick Kolesar, urging the BOMA to move forward with the proposed fire hall. Much of the concerns were based on current response times to certain areas of the city. In some situations, the extra minutes often mean the difference between life and death.

"I live about 1,000 feet from the proposed property of Station 4, and as we are going through the numbers tonight there is one I want you to keep in mind specifically, "11." That's how long it takes an emergency vehicle to get to my house, 11 minutes," Kolesar said. "That could be the distinction between life and death, brain injury from lack of oxygen. I think that our children and neighbors alike deserve better. Please consider Station 4 and making it at the top of your list."

Alderman Matt Fitterer said last year's budget set aside $3.5 million in fund balance for Fire Station 4, which he said he hopes to increase this year, given the project's estimated total cost is about $6 million. The new station will be located at Duplex and Buckner Roads, and will include a 17,300 -square-foot facility, along with 44 parking spaces.

Fitterer also commented on the public's input as to the importance of this project, and that he too has experienced excessive response times due to his home's location.

"I do certainly appreciate the public input this evening and the passion that was used to speak to Fire Station 4," Fitterer said. "I don't think there is anything you have to do to convince this board that it's a need and a priority, and that it's something that should be urgently addressed."

With that said, Fitterer added that he doesn't see the assuredness that the additional funding would make it into the budget. Though that doesn't mean they cannot secure the funds by the end of the year.

"The best news I had today was the presentation from Cumberland Securities during Budget and Finance [Advisory Committee]," Fitterer said. "There is a very clear path to a significant borrow this year without even getting close to our debt capacity rules."

This would include presenting a budget amendment in August or September to approve the borrow to secure the additional funds to construct Fire Station 4.

"I do expect Fire Station 4 to be built during this fiscal year, I just don't expect it to be included in the budget we adopt in two weeks," Fitterer said.


City Gets $4.4M for Highway (CDH)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted $4.4 million in additional funding regarding the long-awaited project to update the intersection at Bear Creek Pike and Nashville Highway.

The funding will be voted on Thursday as part of Columbia City Council's consent agenda, which includes items deemed noncontroversial bundled together in a single vote.

The project, which would include widening a portion of Bear Creek, was originally approved by TDOT in 2017, with 80% of funding to be provided using federal monies, while the remaining 20% provided by TDOT. In other words, it wouldn't cost the city a dime, but it has cost many years of waiting to break ground.

The additional $4.4 million requested, City Engineer Glen Harper said, would primarily be used to fund extra landscaping, construction, and environmental requirements.

"We found that we have some shortfalls in funding for construction, and so we request that TDOT cover an additional $4.4 million for construction funds, which they granted the request," Harper said. "There have been many changes in the requirements TDOT has, environmental studies and other things that need to be done for the project."

The changes also include altering certain easements and right-of-way to allow construction.

"I have never seen a project with such need for hurdles and environmental requirements, but it's just part of the process," Harper said.

Harper added that the original estimated start date for the project was December of 2024. However, the additional construction could set the already years-in-the-making project back.

"With this right of way requirement, it could add anything from 18-24 months," Harper said. "We're going to push it more aggressively now since we have the funding for construction. It just depends on the timing, responses from TDOT and requirements as far as studies go."

In addition, Mayor Chaz Molder asked for updates to the ongoing I-65 interchange project at Bear Creek, at which Harper said they "fell about 12 months behind, but it's moving along." Completion of that project would likely time up with the start of the Nashville Highway project, Harper said.


Landmark Ceramics Gas Contract (MainStreetMaury)

Landmark Ceramics and the City of Mount Pleasant are negotiating a new contract for the company’s gas usage after the plant adds a third kiln and its need for additional gas increases.

Mayor Bill White expressed his concern over the contract because there is no protection for catastrophic events where the company utilizes gas but is perhaps unable to pay for it. Currently, the city requires the company to be backed by a letter of credit for its gas consumption. The added gas used by the new kiln would not be subject to that protection within the contract as currently constructed.

“The ordinance requires the deposit to be 2.5 times monthly usage,” City Manager Kate Collier said. “So, as monthly usage goes up the deposits need to increase as well.

Landmark and the city are working under a fixed rate for gas per the contract for the current gas consumption that have been reviewed annually in August and October. Going forward the city will only review the rates in October.

“The tile plant desired to do this because of a real concern with the cost of natural gas dramatically increasing,” Collier said. “The ‘Forward Fixed Pricing’ permits Landmark to buy gas, years from now, at a price “fixed” at current rates allowing the company to manage their costs going forward.  

“There is some risk to the City when this is allowed per these addendums so there was a Letter of Credit (LOC) required to protect the city specifically on this fixed pricing.”

At its most recent meeting, the city commission approved the new addendum to the contract 3-2 that will be handled differently, as the city will bill the plant at whatever the gas rate may be each month, plus added costs such as transportation.

“This contract is a pay as you use with the price of gas continuing to be based on the daily traded rate plus transportation and additional fees and the price is NOT a “fixed” rate,” Collier confirmed. “This contract was approved by the commission and the city will need to determine the new deposit that will need to be in place for financial protection.”

White said he simply wanted to make sure the city was protected in the event of a catastrophic event with the corporation to make sure the city would not be liable to its gas provider if Landmark could not pay its bill.

“We need to be prepared with a secondary source of repayment,” he said. “If they shut it down, they’re not going to pay that bill and we’re going to be on the hook because we allow them to contract through the City of Mount Pleasant.

“I don’t want the city to be on the hook.”

White and Pam Johnston voted against the measure.


Howell Elementary Gets STEM Grant (Press Release)

Howell Elementary STEM School was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Nashville Predators Foundation to support the school’s outdoor nature trail project.

Teachers Ansley Mattingly, a Kindergarten teacher, Gillian McCollum, a kindergarten teacher, Megann Pawlak a second grade teacher and Haley Gallagher, a second grade teacher worked on obtaining the grant.

In addition to the nature trail, the four educators will all be working with different national parks this summer for “STEAM in the Park” (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Pawlak is going to the Great Smokey Mountains. Gallagher is headed to Mammoth Caves and McCollum is off to the Rocky Mountains.

As the teachers participate, they will be curating curriculum and lesson plans for the National Parks that can be brought back to their classrooms and the MCPS district.

"Maury County Public Schools is proud to have teachers creating national curriculum and representing their school," communications director Jack Cobb said.

“I am proud of the work we have been doing over the past seven years integrating different STEM activities for kids and teachers throughout our building," Howell Principal Michael Ford said.

"Being a STEM school is about utilizing academic standards to create more engaging and relevant experiences for students and teachers. Participating in events like STEAM in the Park is a great example of how we are doing this. Teachers can find innovative opportunities to build their expertise and bring back new learning to the school and district for kids. This is what we do as a STEM school, to impact the entire school and learning experiences for everyone.”

More information about STEAM in the Park can be found here:  https://www.expeditionsineducation.org/steaminthepark.html.


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

Mr. Clayton “Clay” Morris Neal, Sr., a joint owner and the Executive Vice President of JRN, Inc., passed away peacefully Thursday, June 1, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee. The Neal family will have visitation on Thursday, June 8 from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. A Celebration of Clay’s life will be conducted Friday, June 9th at 11:00 am at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Interment will follow at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Ashwood.


…And now, news from around the state…

Sex Defined by State Law (Tennessean)

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti this week praised a new state law to define a person's sex based on "immutable" physical and genetic characteristics at birth, and prohibiting changes in sex designation on state-issued IDs.

Previously, transgender people could change their sex designation on state issued IDs if they could provide proof of surgical transition or a court order.

Lawmakers approved the measure, sponsored by Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, and Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Franklin, along party lines, and Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law last month. 

The measure could also have implications for transgender individuals' use of sex-designated facilities such as locker rooms and changing rooms, shelters, prisons, and membership in sororities and fraternities.

“This is an issue that really matters to us. We're fighting hard. This, whether we want it to be or not, is a huge legal battle — and it looks like it will be for a while to come,” Skrmetti told a group celebrating the bill’s passage at the Hermitage Hotel on Monday.

Srkmetti argued that in other states, laws impacting transgender participation are being manipulated by redefining words “without having the popular buy-in necessary for a democracy.”

“We're working with this weird, loose, slippery situation where existing laws that were voted on at a time where everybody understood what they mean are being changed through a corruption of language so that words that meant something... are being reinterpreted to mean something different,” Skrmetti said. “As a result of that effort, people are trying to change the law without persuading people that that's the way the law should be.”

“In America, the law comes from the people... and there have been long and hard fights to get the law to where it is," he added, noting the role of Tennessee women in ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Fiscal analysts determined that the law could prompt costly civil litigation against the state and, separately, jeopardize nearly $1.3 billion in federal funding for K-12 education, food stamps, and health programs if the state is found to be in noncompliance with federal law.

Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow has called the law "an assault on LGBTQ+ Tennesseans’ ability to live their lives openly and honestly."

"Let’s be clear: the goal of this bill is to exclude the LGBTQ+ community from nondiscrimination protections in the state of Tennessee and to perpetuate a false narrative of who transgender people are," Warbelow said in a statement.

The new law was one of several passed this year that could have a direct impact on LGBTQ individuals. Republican lawmakers also approved a law prohibiting gender-affirming health care for transgender children, including surgeries or hormone treatments. Another law restricts sexually explicit adult performances, including drag shows, from being performed on public property or around minors. Both of those laws are currently under legal challenge and a federal judge in Memphis last week declared the drag law unconstitutional.

Monday's event was held at the Hermitage Hotel, in part to honor Tennessee’s history in women's suffrage, and was organized by the Independent Women’s Voice, a right-leaning political action group focused on countering progressive feminism. 

Speaking alongside Skrmetti was champion collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines, who has advocated against transgender participation in women’s sports after tying with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the women's 200-meter NCAA championships this year.

Gaines argued participation in women’s sports affords transgender athletes an unfair physical advantage, citing Thomas’ bodylength leads in races historically won by fractions of a second.

She argued that being required to compete against transgender athletes with muscular and hormonal differences reverses progress for women's athletic participation made under Title IX.

Meanwhile, she said, social pressures and athletic authorities have silenced women and girls from protesting or voicing discomfort over what, in other circumstances, would be considered indecent exposure or worse.

“We all knew this was a problem,” Gaines said of her experiences sharing a locker room with Thomas, who previously competed as a male. “I felt the extreme discomfort in the locker room when you turn around and there’s a 6 foot 4, 22-year-old man disrobing himself, fully intact and exposing male genitalia in an area where you’re undressing – and we weren’t even told this would be the arrangement.” 

“We felt like we were walking on eggshells," she added. "We [were made to feel] like we should apologize for feeling uncomfortable in that locker room.”

Gaines stated that she does not see her effort to maintain sex-exclusive facilities and competitions as a partisan issue, but an issue of safety and dignity for all women. While the bill passed along party lines in Tennessee, Gaines said she hopes to see more support from feminist democrats in the future.

“When they asked us to smile and step aside and allow these men to take our scholarships and allow these men to take our spots – that was asking us to lie,” she said.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Tenacious D – comprised of Jack Black and Kyle Gass just announced the expansion of their Spicy Meatball Tour in select cities across the United States this fall including Franklin.

The tour will stop at FirstBank Amphitheater on Thursday, September 7th. Local presales begin today from 10am to 10pm local time. General onsale begins Friday, June 9th at 10am local time. Fans can purchase tickets at www.tenaciousd.com/tour.

The tour dates come on the heels of the recently-released recorded version of Tenacious D’s viral, fan-favorite live cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

Last month, they released their first new song in five years, “Video Games,” which has been streamed over 18 million times across all platforms in less than a month. 


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