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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 14, 2024


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


We start with local news…

Columbia Fire Chief Fired (CDH)

The City of Columbia has released the official termination letter for Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb, which was made effective at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The March 12 termination letter, which was signed and submitted by City Manager Tony Massey, references Cobb's recent 30-day suspension starting Oct. 30, which also included a year of probation.

The reason for the previous suspension, as stated in the letter, was due to "insubordinate behavior."

However during that probationary period, Massey states in the letter that Cobb participated in a "continuation of such insubordinate behavior."

"Since that time, a concerned citizen has presented to the city numerous text messages from you evidencing a continuation of such insubordinate behavior as well as an effort by you to undermine and impede the successful operation of the City of Columbia," the March 12 letter says.

The letter goes on to list examples of text messages shared by the citizen, who was not named, which include:

A message calling another city employee "dumbass"

A message falsely accusing the chief of police of being involved in an attempted break-in at the apartment of the person who sent the text

A message offering to pay for favorable news stories which would benefit your interest

"Such unacceptable activities, which have occurred while you are on probation, cannot and will not be tolerated, especially not from a department head of the City of Columbia," the letter says.

Massey could not be reached for comment, nor has there been any information regarding an interim fire chief following Cobb's termination.

Spring Hill Development Gets Pushback from County (MSM)

Maury County’s Safety and Admin Committees each fielded questions during respective March meetings regarding safety concerns on John Sharp Road in Spring Hill.

In that regard, several members of the public referenced a 200-plus unit development recently advanced by the Regional Planning Commission (RPC).

“I’m not anti-growth; what I am is I’m anti-unsafe and unsustainable growth,” said nearby resident Chris Cramer. “What we’re looking at now is 500 or more cars on a daily basis traveling on John Sharp, which is not set up for that.”

William Gruber added that many residents believed the access of first responders had not been sufficiently addressed by the Planning Commission, as well as the impact of a future high school nearby.

“We’re going to have young drivers along this (road) and no safety measures,” Gruber said.

District 10 Commissioner Tommy Wolaver asked Boshers if the road was safe, based on county standards.

“The standard of road, if we build one, is 30 feet with 24 feet of pavement and three-foot shoulder,” Boshers said. “That road is not that way, it’s a tar and chip from Old 99 all the way into Oak Lake.”

Cindy Hestla of District 6 noted she had received multiple phone calls from constituents regarding this matter. Hestla noted the county’s subdivision regulations and standards for road construction.

“If everyone is in compliance with these resolutions, why do we have citizens out here who are afraid for their safety? Why is a subdivision going up on a road that seems substandard according to these regulations?” Hestla said.

A number of commissioners and County Mayor Sheila Butt asked Superintendent of Roads Van Boshers if his office advised the Planning Commission on whether road infrastructure was adequate prior to approving a project.

“I’ve never had (any) of that,” Boshers said in response.

Hestla quoted from the county’s subdivision regulations, saying, “…where an existing publicly maintained road is inadequate, the Planning Commission can require assurances for the necessary upgrading as a condition of approval of the development project.”

Hestla further stated that per regulations, roads could be deemed inadequate by either the Planning Commission or the Highway Department.

Several members of the public also stated they had trouble reaching the members of the RPC to address their concerns prior to meetings.

One member of the public told the Admin Committee later that evening she had been told by Planning & Zoning Department officials that the contact information for members of the RPC could not be made available to the public because RPC members were not elected officials.

During the Admin Committee meeting, Commissioner Gabe Howard asked for a moratorium on subdivision development in Maury County while the subdivision regulations are being rewritten.

“I think the people of Maury County are trying to show up and have a voice, but they’re being strapped with handcuffs in that the Regional Planning Commission members are being told if it fits X, Y and Z, you cannot vote no on it,” Howard said.

Howard noted that in discussions with Planning Commission members, some of them had endorsed such a building moratorium as a temporary measure.

Commissioner Gwynne Evans, who has served on the RPC for 14 years, noted he was not at the most recent RPC meeting and would have opposed the development. However, he said not approving an item that fits the zoning requirements would almost certainly land the county in court.

“It would have failed 4-4 and the county would have been sued, spending tens of thousands of dollars. We’ve never won when we’ve been sued when we’ve gone against what it says here,” Evans said.

“The Planning Commission has to do what the County Commission passes. If you want a moratorium to stick, you’re going to have to change (the regulations).”

Evans also cited what he called deficiencies in the county’s current Land Use Plan and noted that changes had been rejected by the County Commission.

Mayor Butt stated that it would be impossible to stop projects already approved without landing the county in legal difficulties.

“Anybody who has already begun the process under the old regs, there’s nothing we can do about that. They would sue us in a minute.”

Butt said a moratorium required a good reason, adding that she had talked to two county mayors who had tried moratoriums in their counties but had failed.

“The mayors have said this is not a good move because of people who will not be building, there will be lawsuits. Everyone I have talked to says, ‘Get the rewrite done as soon as possible,’ ” she said.

Mayor Butt added that she believed much of the rewrite of the zoning regulations was complete and that the County Commission could see a final version in late summer.

Ray Jeter said he agreed with the concerns raised by commissioners and the public, but that a moratorium would be a mistake because of what he called “unintended consequences,” such as the effects on construction workers.

“I cannot get behind that because of what it will do to the hard-working men and women of this county,” Jeter said. “I think there are other avenues to fix this problem.”

County Attorney Daniel Murphy gave his opinion that a building moratorium would likely fail.

“Individuals have rights in their property,” he said. “That’s what the courts protect, is individual property rights. When people don’t like what’s going on beside them, I get it… While it may sound good, you would have to have a very limited moratorium,” Murphy said.

Comfort Inn Spring Hill Plans Approved (CDH)

Site plans for a Comfort Inn located off Kedron Parkway moved forward this week, though not without its share of concerns.

The approximate 28,300 square-foot Comfort Inn, newly rebranded from the formerly proposed Sleep Inn hotel, will include 50 rooms and 61 parking spaces.

One of the concerns, specifically by nearby residents and citizens, was that the plans show an increase in the room capacity, which was originally 37. Another was the expanded square footage, which had been 22,000 when presented in February. The parking spaces also decreased from 72 to 61.

"We will have three hotels here now, all within walking distance of about 600-700 residents," Christy Smith, a Split Rail Lane resident, said.

"If this is supposed to be part of our downtown area, which includes Old Town ... I hope that in moving forward we can get some staff to address the holes [in the Unified Development Code] so we can develop our downtown so people that live here can walk. I live next door and it's hard for me to walk anywhere, and now we've got two new daycares and three hotels. What are they going to offer me as a resident to walk, live, work and play? Not a lot right now."

The Comfort Inn site plan request was reviewed by the Spring Hill Planning Commission on Monday, where the board was presented with three options, which were to deny the request, defer it until April or approve it with a list of conditions.

The hotel will also require a review by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, particularly for the decreased parking spaces.

"We wanted to elevate this to a Comfort Inn, and in doing so we had to meet a certain room threshold, which is 50 rooms, and in order to get 50 rooms we had to decrease parking spaces," Nathan McVey of applicant T-Square Engineering said. "We are asking to stay in the planning que for now, and that the approval is also contingent on receiving that Board of Zoning Appeals parking variance."

Commissioner Jonathan Duda said he was uncertain if approving the request prior to BZA review would be in the city's best interests. He requested that, if approved, the Comfort Inn would be required to meet with the BZA in April. If not, it would need to come back before the planning commission.

Alderman Matt Fitterer ultimately motioned to approve the request, along with the BZA condition, which Duda seconded.

The item was approved unanimously.

Navy Uses Tech to Help Recruit (MSM)

Navy Outreach and Diversity leaders visited Columbia Central High School on Feb. 29 to showcase the Nimitz, a mobile state-of the-art virtual reality experience that simulates a high-speed Navy SEAL mission.

The Nimitz allows participants to navigate the mission using a cutting-edge steering wheel and throttle system which replicates the sensation of piloting a high-speed Special Warfare Combat Crewmen or SWCC boat while extracting SEALs.

Prior to the virtual experience, participants went through a video briefing before strapping on a headset and a piece of wearable technology that percusses in real time to sounds of the mission. Upon completion, participants moved on to the debriefing station, where they received feedback and a performance grade.

“We are extremely excited to spend time at Columbia Central High School, meeting with exceptional students and faculty, and discussing the great opportunities available in today’s Navy,” said Cmdr. Dominique Jackson, Commander of Navy and Diversity Outreach in Millington.

“Every year, potential recruits from coast to coast attend Navy events, wanting to learn what the Navy is about. Some of the questions we hear most often are ‘What is it like to serve in the Navy?’ or ‘What sort of things will I be doing if I join the Navy?’ So, we wanted to show, not just talk about, the Navy experience to potential recruits.”

“We showcased the Nimitz at Columbia Central High School because we are seeking high-caliber recruits who are interested in STEM careers and who want to be on the cutting edge of innovation,” Jackson added.

Navy leaders also shared information about its $180,000 ROTC Scholarship Program, which pays full college tuition for students with exceptional academic and leadership credentials.

To learn more about opportunities offered by the U.S. Navy, visit www.Navy.com.

Detention Center Admin Wants Out (MSM)

A proposal to turn over operations of Maury County’s juvenile detention facility to a different outside contractor was heard by commissioners and received preliminary approval during a March 5 meeting of the Safety Committee.

The Middle Tennessee Detention Center, located on Lawson White Drive in Columbia, has been operated by a private entity since 1996 on land owned by Maury County. The center and county entered into a 20-year lease in 1996 and renewed that lease in 2016 for another 20 years.

Matt Sexton, an attorney for the center’s operators, spoke to commissioners on the request.

“Simply put, my client wishes to exit operating responsibilities… There’s a better operator in the state, Wayne Halfway House. They do a great job and wish to restructure the operating agreement whereby Wayne Halfway would take over operating responsibilities at the center,” he said.

Wayne Halfway House currently operates facilities in Waynesboro, Dandridge and Nashville, according to its website.

Changing the agreement will require the consent of the County Commission.

Commissioner Eric Previti asked about the job status of current employees at the juvenile center and was told “the intention is that the present staff will remain the same, but we anticipate adding new employees as well.”

Previti also asked about other agreements, such as one with the Maury County Sheriff’s Department to provide meals. Sexton replied that various agreements might need to be renegotiated but that those were not part of reassigning the overall lease.

County Attorney Daniel Murphy said he saw no issues with the request, which now goes before the Budget Committee.

County Book Store Purchase Fails (MSM)

Maury County’s Building Committee voted against purchasing and demolishing Columbia’s One Stop Book Shoppe, located at 1113 S. Main Street, which would have served as additional parking spaces for the new judicial center.

The proposal, which took place during the committee’s March 4 meeting, was rejected by a 5-1 vote. Commissioners who voted against the motion were Ray Jeter, Connie Green, Brandon Nutt, Kathey Grodi and chairman Gabe Howard.

Kevin Markham, who represents District 9, was the only yes vote.

The building, which would cost upwards of $1 million to be demolished and torn down, would allow for 39 additional parking spaces.

Jamie Spencer of Hewlett Spencer, the design build company tasked with constructing the judicial center, said there are currently 173 spaces, above what is required by code.

“We are required to have 165 parking spaces,” Spencer said. “We are delivering to you 173 parking spaces, so we are above what is required by code and we have an approval on that parking number from the City of Columbia. Eighty-eight are designated for staff and 85 designated to the public.”

County Commission Chairman Eric Previti, who first brought the idea to the committee one year ago, said the commission was made the offer of $950,000, with payments being split over two years.

“I had a phone conversation with the realtor agent the other day,” Previti said. “She said the seller would have to pay the commission (fee) but she would work with him to try to get that number down. There’s not a hard number right now.”

Grodi (District 6) said she’s against the idea, citing a potential raise in property taxes to cover the cost.

“I do not feel like I could look anybody in the eye and raise their property taxes to buy a bookstore that we’re going to demolish,” she said. “The things I would like to look a constituent in the eye over, if I had to raise their property taxes is something that I believe in, and that would be fixing their roads and giving them a school.”

Others were in favor of tearing down the building, including attorney Jason Whatley, who raised the issue of aesthetics and the perception it would give of the county.

“You’re making a generational decision,” Whatley said. “Because we’ve invested the people’s money, and for the long-term, and it sort of represents our community.”

“Being conservative does not mean being cheap. I would say here, to be a true conservative, you have to look at the long-term investment. The long-term investment of this particular land, which in so many ways this building represents not only the way it functions, but the way it looks and the way it presents.”

Jeter (District 8) cited the market value of the building as his reason to vote no.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow when you can pull up, aside from me doing an appraisal on this building, you could pull up the market value of this building right now at $468,000,” Jeter said. “I can’t in good conscience spend more than $500,000 on this building for the sole purpose of tearing it down and making it parking spaces.”

Committee chairman Gabe Howard said he’s received more calls from constituents regarding the issue than he has on almost anything in the commission.

“Overwhelmingly the constituents in my district that did reach out were very specifically asking me to vote no on this. For that reason and that reason only, I will not be supporting this motion moving forward,” he said.

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

Mrs. Barbara King Norton, 86, resident of Orange Park, Florida, died Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at her residence. Funeral services for Mrs. Norton will be conducted Saturday, March 16, 2024 at 10:00 AM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Friday, March 15, 2024 from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Carol Armstrong, 77, passed away on Monday, March 11.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at First Baptist Church of Columbia on Saturday, March 16, 2024 at 4:00 pm. Family will visit with friends prior to the service from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements. Online condolences may be extended at www.oakesandnichols.com.

Carolyn Edwards Stacy, 94, lifelong resident of Columbia, died Tuesday, March 12, 2024 at Life Care Center of Columbia.

Funeral services will be conducted Sunday, March 17, 2024 at 3:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Charlie Norman officiating.  Entombment will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens Mausoleum.  The family will visit with friends Sunday from 12:00 PM until 3:00 PM at the funeral home. 

…And now, news from around the state…

TikTok Ban Debated in Congress (Tennessean)

A bill that would ban TikTok in the United States if its parent company does not sell the massively popular social media app passed the U.S. House on Wednesday.

President Joe Biden has also expressed his support for the measure. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

Wednesday's vote came amid a lobbying campaign by TikTok that urged users to call their representatives and ask them to vote against the bill. At least some users were met with a full-screen message as they launched the app this week with the same message.

Tennessee has nine representatives in the U.S. House, including eight Republicans and one Democrat. Here's how they voted on H.R. 7521, dubbed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. The measure passed in a 352-65 vote, with one representative voting as present and 14 who did not vote. Rep. Andy Ogles did not vote.

It's not clear if the U.S. Senate, which is under Democratic control, will take up the bill. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has not confirmed if the measure will be considered and said he plans to talk with chairs of senate committees.

TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing. While there is a general consensus among U.S. senators that it poses a security risk to the United States, concerns over targeting just one company and controversy over freedom of speech have become a sticking point.

While Biden has expressed his support for the bill, former President Donald Trump has stood in opposition to it.

Gas Prices (MSM)

Tennessee gas prices are continuing to trend higher and moved six cents more expensive, on average, over last week. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.07 which is 22 cents more expensive than one month ago but eight cents less than one year ago.  

“Tennessee drivers saw pump prices jump higher mid-week last week to $3.09, before trending slightly lower over the weekend to $3.07,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Strong gasoline demand and the yearly switch from winter blend to summer blend gasoline is helping contribute to a rise in pump prices – which is what we typically expect to see this time of year. Even with our weekly jump at the pump, Tennessee now has the 6th least expensive state gas price average in the country.” 

Quick Facts

37% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $3.00 

The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.83 for regular unleaded 

The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.35 for regular unleaded

Tennessee is the 6th least expensive market in the nation

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Calling all City of Columbia egg hunters! The annual Easter Egg Hunt returns to Woodland Park on Saturday, March 23rd, 2024 from 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM.

This free event is open to children of all ages and features two exciting age divisions: Novice and Advanced.

Hunt Details:

Date: Saturday, March 23rd, 2024

Time: 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM

Location: Rotary Shelter, Woodland Park 

For more information please contact Miguel at (931) 922-8381.


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