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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 15, 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.

Sumners Returning to Commission (MSM)

A familiar face is set to resume his former role on the Maury County Commission later this month.

During the March 5 meeting of the Admin Committee, Scott Sumners was presented as the choice to fill the vacancy in District 5 left by the January resignation of Vincent Fuqua.

Fellow District 5 Commissioner Brandon Nutt presented Sumners to the committee members.

“We will miss Mr. Fuqua and his experience in local politics, his intelligence and insight… I believe Scott will serve the people well and I look forward to the opportunity of working alongside him,” Nutt said.

Sumners served on the County Commission from 2014-22 but opted not to seek re-election two years ago. During his tenure, he served as chairman of the county’s Budget Committee.

“I believe my service to my constituents and to the county as a whole speak for itself. Circumstances have changed in my life to allow me to be able to do this again and I would appreciate your support,” Sumners said.

Sumners’ nomination was unanimously advanced by the Admin Committee to the full Commission, which will vote on the matter at its March meeting.

Mule Day Approaches (CDH)

A Columbia staple dating back nearly 200 years will be marking its 1974 revival's 50th anniversary, an event steeped in local tradition, which continues to draw hundreds of thousands to "Mule Town" each year.

Mule Day is set to kick off the week of April 1-7, bringing back all of the usual favorites starting with the Mule Day Wagon Train rolling into town, capped off with the annual Mule Day Parade in downtown Columbia.

This year marks 50 years since the annual festival experienced its 20th century revival, drawing in thousands of locals, farmers, and out-of-town tourists year after year, only being canceled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

"Mule Day is a fantastic event in Maury County, and we are very fortunate to have it here," Louise Mills, who has been an organizer of the festival since 1986, said. "A lot of planning has gone into it for so many years, because we started this in 1974, and it's still going on. It's really going strong, and for me it's been fun."

Mule Day Office organizers are currently hard at work making final plans for this year's festivities, announcing this week that country artist and local resident Clay Walker will lead the parade as the 2024 Mule Day Grand Marshal.

"He's a local, and we like to celebrate our local people anytime we can," Mandy Mills, another key organizer for this year's Mule Day said.

This year's Mule Day will also pay tribute to late and longtime Mule Day organizer Dave Skillington, who passed away Dec. 9, 2023. Skillington was given the distinction of this year's honorary grand marshal for his many years of service as a key player in Mule Day's longevity. His family is scheduled to ride in the parade in his honor.

"He did a lot for Mule Day, and his family was here at some of the first, and he worked hard to get Mule Day off the ground," Mills said.

This year's Mule Man, a new title introduced last year, is Bernis White, another longtime Mule Day supporter. Mills said what makes the Mule Man honor so special is that they aren't nominated by the Mule Day Board, but by the public.

"We take nominations, and he's been really involved in Mule Day and the mule community," Mills said. "He brings his own wagon train in, camps and participates in the parade."

Last month, Anissa Grimes of Columbia State Community College was crowned as this year's Mule Day Queen.

As part of her role in this year's events, Grimes suggested adding an additional member to her court, honorary Mule Day Queen Carly McGee.

"This was Anissa's idea, and she will be riding in the parade behind the queen's float," Mills said. "She's been battling cancer for over a year, and this just feels right."

Another new feature this year geared toward students is Mule Day's first $7,500 Mule Day Work scholarship giveaway for students studying in CTE training.

For more information or to register for the Mule Day Work scholarship, as well as the full schedule and other Mule Day features, visit Mule Day's main website at www.MuleDay.com.

"That's something we are really excited about this year," Mills said. "We're going to do three $2,500 scholarships, and of course we are hoping to increase that and be able to help all kids in Maury County. It's open to Maury County students or students in the Maury County Bridle & Saddle Club. We always give back to the community, and it's really important people know about this, because we want to invest in the future."

Spring Hill Citizen’s Academy (MSM)

Looking to get more involved in local government in Spring Hill? Want to see how the city operates? Now is your chance — sign up for the 2024 Spring Hill Citizens’ Academy!

This eight-week course will give you the opportunity to interact with your elected leaders and senior city staff while you explore municipal government through presentations, hands-on experiences, and open discussions.

The 2024 City of Spring Hill Citizens’ Academy is open to Spring Hill residents and will meet each Thursday beginning April 4, 2024, from 6-8 p.m. at City Hall. The classes will be taught by your elected leaders and senior city staff. Topics include Legislation, Fire Department, Utilities, Budgeting, Public Works, Capital Improvement Projects, Police, Development Services, Parks & Recreation and Library.

Participants will have the opportunity to speak directly with city officials and ask questions, as well as tour key facilities to gain a new perspective on the inner workings of their local government.

Graduates of the program will receive a certificate and will be introduced at a public meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Registration is required and class size is limited. You must be at least 18 years old and a Spring Hill resident to participate.

Fill out your information at www.springhilltn.org/FormCenter/Communications-13/2024-Citizens-Academy-Application-115. If your application is accepted, you will be contacted by City Staff.

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.

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.

Visit Columbia Art Exhibit (Press Release)

Visit Columbia's Welcome Center invites guests to experience its latest monthly art exhibit, featuring the works of three local artists while also tying into Mule Day and Women's History Month.

The new exhibit, which will be on display at the 713 N. Main St. Welcome Center throughout March, includes works produced under multiple mediums, including photography, paint and portrait art.

It is also all created by local artists and displays the growing variety of creative minds in the community, Columbia Main Street Director Kelli Johnson said.

"All of them are very different, and that's what I love about art. It's that you have so many different platforms you can show and exhibit, and they are all beautiful in their own way," Johnson said. "It's fun to have new artists come in, and they are all appreciated."

The artists featured this month include painters Jennifer Turpin and Kristin Seibold, as well as photography by Ron E. Marks.

"We have two women artists on the wall, and we picked them specifically for being National Women's History Month, one being Jennifer Turpin, and then we also wanted the Mule Day aspect. Having Kristin was an easy highlight for that, and made artwork specifically for us here," Johnson said. "And Ron E. Marks, the final artist, is another way to get people excited for Mule Day with his 'gentleman's photography' showcasing past Mule Days."

Not only can guests view and admire these original works, but they are also available for purchase.

"It's another way of getting the community to understand the love of arts, which I don't think the community talks about enough," Johnson said. "It's nice to have tidbits like this as a way for people to continue to learn and develop a love for the arts and local artists."

Jennifer Turpin, who currently resides in Spring Hill, finds her artistic inspiration from many forms.

Her specialty is creating vibrant acrylic paintings which focus on a variety of subjects, including people, pets, plants, etc.

"Jennifer's artistic focus lies in capturing the true essence of the individual, often through joyful expressions and playful gestures," a City of Columbia press release states. "This fascination with diversity fuels her passion, as her art not only reflects the richness of different cultures but also celebrates the unique spirit residing within each person she portrays."

Turpin's online gallery can be viewed at www.JenniferTurpinArt.com.

Tennessee native Kristin Seibold discovered her passion for painting at a young age.

Now living in Spring Hill with her husband and three children, her artistic passion is creating acrylic paintings using old rustic items, things that would often be discarded, and often featuring mules with unique designs and facial expressions.

Seibold's other artistic specialty is in mural restoration, as well as creating large custom murals for businesses and private clients.

Seibold's work can be viewed via Instagram by following @paintedmuleart.

New York City native Ron Marks has been a Columbia resident since 2016.

Beginning a career as a working musician, Marks cut his artistic chops with a guitar, playing with multiple bands and as a studio musician since 1986.

Marks' love of photography began in full force in 2006 with a desire to document cross-country motorcycle rides, working almost exclusively in black-and-white film, while also sporting his trademark bib and overalls.

Much of Marks' work can be viewed on Instagram at his Ron: The Film Guy profile by following @skram_nor.

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…

Impact Fees (TN Lookout)

For years, county mayors have come to Tennessee’s Capitol asking for the right to enact a tax on development to cover cost influxes due to population growth, only to be rebuffed by lawmakers lobbied by powerful and well-funded business groups. 

The fight over impact fees, or one-time costs paid by developers when building new housing or commercial projects and often based on project size, pits the Tennessee Association of Realtors and Home Builder Association of Tennessee against county mayors. 

Joe Carr, a former state House Republican now serving his first term as mayor of Rutherford County, and Republican Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt spent the past two years lobbying for their local delegations to introduce bills for the authority to set an impact fee. 

Both counties had risen in population, turning them from rural to suburban communities and prompting a need for increased public services like police and fire departments, sidewalks, and schools. They had recently raised property taxes but were searching for another way to generate government revenue.

“The legislature has rightfully entrusted these cities, as well as other counties, with the local authority to find alternative methods to pay for growth other than constantly raising property taxes,” Carr said in a statement to the Lookout. “Even though Rutherford County has an AAA bond rating — one of only three counties within the state to have such — the general assembly refuses to allow Rutherford to have the same local authority as the municipalities within the county.”

For most of Tennessee’s history, cities and counties have had the right to implement an impact fee without state approval. But that changed with the 2006 County Powers Relief Act, which barred counties that didn’t already have an impact fee from implementing a new one. 

Only four counties met that criteria, including Wilson and Williamson counties, which, like Rutherford and Maury, have experienced significant population increases as the suburbs of Nashville continue to expand. 

Since the act’s enactment no locality has been able to persuade the state to grant the authority to implement an impact fee.

Lawmakers don’t just block the bills from passage but often spike them in subcommittees before a debate on the legislation can even begin because stopping them is a high priority of some of Tennessee’s largest political spenders. 

Since 2009, the Tennessee Association of Realtors has spent $6.4 million on campaign contributions, lobbying and independent expenditures to influence Tennessee politics, according to a campaign finance and lobbying database maintained by the Lookout. The Home Builders Association of Tennessee has spent $3.7 million. 

Both organizations have been among the largest political spenders in the state over the past 15 years and the most prominent opponents of impact fees. The groups’ opposition carries significant weight, with Tennessee Association of Realtors ranking as the state’s number one campaign contributor in the 2016, 2020 and 2022 election cycles. 

Rutherford and Maury counties have both registered as lobbying organizations starting in 2024. Their expenditures will not be available until the reporting deadline later this year.

Both realtors associations’ opposition to legislation appears tied to the potential for an impact fee to increase the cost of building homes. This could cut into construction profits and lead to a lower supply of homes for realtors to sell.

The research on impact fees is mixed. Think tanks on both sides of the political spectrum agree these fees can be poorly designed and increase the cost of housing for low-income and first-time home buyers.

But they also agree it could be beneficial if the impact fee isn’t a flat rate but rather charged based on project value and if the new revenue goes directly toward improving infrastructure.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Everybody's a little Irish this weekend as Columbia celebrates St. Patrick's Day all weekend with food, music and more.

McCreary's Irish Pub & Eatery, 814 S. Main St., will be celebrating all Sunday long starting at 11 a.m., with happy hour running from noon to 3 p.m.

Johnny Jameson & The Empty Pints will perform from 4-7 p.m. and will auction off a custom cigar box banjo. There will also be other giveaways, Irish-themed cocktails, as well as traditional cuisine like corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash and The Fat Irishman Burger.


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