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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 31, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Mule Day Has Arrived (CDH)

The mules have arrived in Columbia, signaling the official start of this year's Mule Day festivities.

Several riders, drivers, campers and vendors began to show up in anticipation for Columbia's biggest week, with crowds of spectators showing up Wednesday to watch the Mule Day Wagon Train make its way down Hampshire Pike and into Maury County Park.

Mule Day's traditions date back nearly 200 years, when Columbia was known as the top mule trading post in the world. The festival was later revived in 1974 after taking several years off due to World War II.

Though Thursday marked the start of this year's events and competitions, Maury County Park was abuzz with activity Wednesday, from campers setting up their sites for the week to organizers making any of the necessary final touches.

Mule Day's first few days are also marked with the opportunity for visitors new and old to reunite, share stories of Mule Days past and what it is they are looking forward to this year. It was also a time for some of Mule Day's original founders of the festival's 1974 revival to reflect on those early years, and just how far Mule Day has come in nearly 50 years.

"The first year was very difficult, because none of us really knew what we were doing," Harvey Spann, one of the original organizers, said. "We had some good people to help, really energetic people that wanted to help. Anytime you start a new endeavor, there's going to be a learning phase, and that's what we all had to do."

Spann added that although Mule Day has experienced its share of ups and downs over the years, returning for the second year since the COVID-19 pandemic is very exciting, and he looks forward to seeing returning faces, catching up with old friends, and possibly making a few new ones.

"We've had some green years, some of which we're still working to recover financially," Spann said. "What's great is that there is a family atmosphere with the people you meet at Mule Day. You won't see them for a year, and so it's always nice to see them again, like visiting with family you haven't seen in a long time."

Mule Day is also the type of event to attract visitors from all over the world, from places like Georgia, California, Alabama and other countries.

John Kougher of Ohio said he has been bringing his family to Mule Day for 10 years. As someone who raises multiple mules, Kougher said coming to Mule Day is a celebration of how reliable and tough the animal is on the farm, but like many, he loves the atmosphere and seeing the people most.

"We have about 18 mules back at the house and we do mule races, and I used to pull mules," Kougher said. "I've quit pulling, but we still come down here to do everything. This is a great, family-oriented thing, and we just love messing with the mules. It's why we keep coming."

Other first arrivals spent the afternoon either on horseback or riding in old-fashioned covered wagons, getting the lay of the land with their animals, watching vendors and RVs set up their sites for the week, as well as wait in anticipation for the Wagon Train's arrival.

Phillip Brasfield of Lynnville, who has been coming to Mule Day for more than 30 years, lead his two mules, Kate and Nail, through the park's grounds. Like most other Mule Day veterans, one of the big highlights is seeing old friends, saddling up the mules and having a week of fun times and celebration.

This is especially true when he gets the chance to welcome friends to Mule Day for the first time.

"A lot of my friends come every year, and I've got a few friends that are coming here Thursday and Friday to ride," Brasfield said. "That's basically what we do these days. And they've never been here before, but have heard about it."

And as with most years, sometimes the biggest surprises lie in the weather, which can often be completely different from day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour.

"Sometimes it'll be raining, or too cold, and I hear there might be some flooding Friday evening that could roll over into Saturday," Brasfield said. "I like for it to be pretty like today, because that's when a lot of people like to go out and watch everything."

Weather has been a factor in planning this year. In anticipation of some storms coming through this evening, the Chris Jansen/Shane Profitt show at the Mulehouse backlot has been postpone from tonight to Sunday evening. Gates will now open at 6pm on Sunday evening.


More on Mule Day (WKOM Audio 1:45)

Continuing with our Mule Day coverage, our own Delk Kennedy went out to the Maury County Park to see some of the activities and talk to some of the Mule Day revelers…


Impact Fee Dead (MainStreetMaury)

The fight for Tennessee counties to be able to levy impact fees on incoming developments failed to pass a House committee vote last week, dealing a crushing blow to Maury County taxpayers and the County Commission. 

The bill would have allowed local county commissions to decide how fees would be set up and used to pay for growth from developments moving to the county and increasing the need for more public services.

The bill failed by a 5-3 vote in the Property & Planning Subcommittee after a proposed amendment that would have limited the impact to Maury and Rutherford counties also was defeated. Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), Jay Reedy (R-Erin) and Dwayne Thompson (D-Cordova) voted yes, while no votes were cast by John Crawford (R-Bristol/Kingsport), Greg Martin (R-Hamilton County), Kevin Raper (R-Cleveland), Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Dave Wright (R-Corryton).

During the committee’s debate, Rudd criticized Culleoka Rep. Scott Cepicky, the bill’s sponsor, for not informing the Rutherford County delegation he planned to introduce the bill.

Known as the Property Taxpayer Protection Act, House Bill 1206 was heavily lobbied by residents and government officials in both Maury and Rutherford counties, which are two of the fastest growing counties in the country. Schools and public infrastructure are struggling to keep up, officials said.

“We raised property taxes 31 cents last year, which really hurt some of the people in our county on fixed incomes and many of our farmers,” Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt said. “They’re not the ones using the new schools, but are being forced to pay for them.”

During the debate, Charles Curtiss, a former state representative and now the executive director of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association, asked the committee to help fix a problem he helped create. In 2006, Curtiss sponsored a bill that limited the ability of municipalities to increase impact fees via private acts of the legislature.

“I’m the one who carried the bill that created this fiasco,” Curtiss said. “At that time, you could build a high school for $25 or $30 million. Today it costs $100 million+ to build a high school. It’s not adequate anymore.”

A statement to Sam Stockard of the Tennessee Lookout from Sher Powers, president of the Tennessee Realtors, essentially said the proposed wording of the bill is an “incredible expansion of taxes” on housing in the state and would hurt the “dream of homeownership.”

“Tennesseans are already experiencing hardships in finding affordable housing in today’s market between higher interest rates and the increased price of building supplies,” the statement reads. “An addition of an impact fee or development tax will only compound the problem.”

Cities such as Spring Hill, however, have an impact fee associated with development, and it was among the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Williamson County and several cities in Rutherford County also levy impact fees to help divert infrastructure costs, none of which have slowed growth. 

According to former county Budget Committee chair Scott Sumners, there were 994 building permits issued during the first six months of 2022. Assume an average of a 2,500-square foot home and charge a $3/sq. ft. impact fee: the revenue generated is $7.5 million.

“I’ve seen firsthand the opportunities and challenges that the extreme growth in Maury County has created. It’s no secret, but property taxes alone will not support the essential needs of a high-growth county like Maury County,” Sumners said. “The growth caught up with us in a big way last year. Maury Countians are seeing the largest property tax increase in recent history.”

This latest setback is a massive one, as the bill passed the State Senate in 2022 but failed to pass the House. Failing to get out of committee likely killed the bill for this legislative session as well.

“It is a very disappointing day for the people of Maury County regarding this bill,” District 8 Commissioner Gabe Howard wrote on his Facebook page.

“We are asking for the same tools that other Tennessee counties and cities already have,” said Doug Lukonen, Maury County’s finance director. “I hope they will reconsider the bill. Charles Schneider (CEO of Home Builders Association of Tennessee) stated he has some solutions to raise revenue to help us out. My office is open and I’m all ears.”


CSCC 8th Grade Career Fair (Press Release)

Columbia State Community College recently hosted a career fair in the Webster Gymnasium for eighth graders in Maury County. 

“Some students may know what they want to be, but many either have yet to think about it or have limited knowledge of what types of careers are available,” Yolanda Ogilvie, Columbia State enrollment recruiter said. “Our goal was to expose students to different career options in a number of work fields, as well as the education and skills required for that career.”

Columbia State hosted the event in partnership with Maury County schools. Approximately 1,000 Maury County eighth grade students were in attendance. Students met with and discussed career options with over 30 professionals from a host of fields that included healthcare, law enforcement, business, hospitality, logistics, technology and much more.

Kiara Simerly, a senior at Columbia Central High School, and James Webb, a junior, manned a table for DECA, a club preparing students for careers in marketing.

“Today we’re here for the marketing program and DECA at Columbia Central High School,” said Simerly. “I hope these students take away something that they’re excited about for high school and even after high school to pursue in their life.”

“This event shows the students what to expect in high school, different programs and different colleges,” said Webb. “It’s always good to have an open mind because they may not know what they want to do. Having the best options in front of you is the best way to go about planning for your future.”

Students also had the opportunity to have interactive conversations with representatives from different career fields, as well as discover the education and skills that are required.



Columbia Tree Replacement (Press Release)

The City of Columbia will begin a downtown tree replacement project on Monday, April 3rd, 2023 to remove and replace 58 trees within the downtown area. After a thorough bid process, Tree Worx was awarded the contract to complete the work. The City of Columbia is committed to maintaining a vibrant, healthy tree canopy in the city and this project will help to achieve that goal.


“I am excited to see the implementation of the tree replacement project in the downtown district,” stated Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder. “This project has been a long time coming and is the result of collaboration and communication with interested partners. Another example of moving forward with input from our residents, and solving an issue that has become more pressing over the last few years, while maintaining the beauty and integrity of our historic downtown.”


The City of Columbia Public Works Department will be first on the scene to remove the existing trees each day during the morning hours, working in small sections. Tree Worx will follow Public Works, planting the new trees. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic will remain open during the work process, but parking areas will be temporarily blocked in the sections where work is taking place.


Work will begin on West 7th Street, moving east to the Public Square, continuing down South Main Street and back to the Public Square. Work will continue around the Public Square to North Main Street and back, ending on the northwest quadrant of the Public Square.


A mix of three urban-tolerant species of trees will be planted. These trees are well-suited to the urban environment and will provide shade, beauty, and environmental benefits. The dedication plaques that are currently in place beside some of the existing trees will be secured in their same place with the newly-planted trees. The replacement project is estimated to be completed in 7-9 days.


The City of Columbia would like to thank the residents and downtown businesses for their patience and understanding during this project. The new trees will be a beautiful addition to downtown and will provide many benefits for years to come. Questions can be emailed to development@columbiatn.com



Senior Salute Day (Press Release)

Maury County Public Schools invites area industries and businesses to their Senior Salute Day and Strive to Drive giveaway on Thursday, April 20, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Columbia Central High School Football Stadium at Maury County Park. During this event, one lucky senior will win a 2023 Jeep Compass from Columbia Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat!


In addition to the Jeep Compass giveaway, this event will showcase seniors from every MCPS high school and allow area businesses to meet over 800 students and share with them what your business has to offer.


If you are interested in participating in the Senior Salute Day career fair event, you can email askmcps@mauryk12.org.




CSCC Summer Camps (Press Release)

Columbia State Community College is excited to announce summer camps at each of its campuses for 2023.

 

The Columbia Campus is hosting a 3D Printing Makerspace camp. This is a five-day camp designed to help students learn how to design and manufacture a product in addition to learning about marketing and selling a product. At the end of the camp, students will make a presentation to showcase their experience. Students do not need to have knowledge of AutoCAD or web design, but do need to feel comfortable using computers. During this camp, students will have fun while learning to work as a team.

Also hosted by the Columbia Campus is the Music from Around the World: A Choir Extravaganza camp. In this four-day camp, students will experience drumming, comprehend new piano skills, enjoy music games and take part in choral singing all while learning music from around the world.

The Clifton and Lawrence Campuses are hosting a Charger Science Camp. Students will participate in a week of science exploration. Each day they will explore a different field of science with hands-on learning and fun. Activities to explore include orienteering, ecology, dissection, ubiquity, fermentation, microscopy, forensics, physiology, body systems, as well as wildlife/animal science, life science and soil science.

The Williamson and Lawrence Campuses are hosting a Raspberry Pi Makerspace camp. Campers will learn basics for code in Python and use LED lights, buttons, sensors and motors to complete exciting projects. Students do not need prior coding experience. This camp is designed for beginners, and Columbia State will provide all the necessary instruction and support. Over the course of the camp, campers will work in groups to learn basic skills and practices with the Raspberry Pi. The groups will then be tasked with building a project for showcase by the end of the camp. Students will learn valuable coding and circuit skills while having fun.

The Lewisburg and Williamson campuses are hosting a Battle Bots Robotics Camp. This is a four and a half day Youth Robotic Camp for middle school students. The primary goal is to promote excitement for science, technology, engineering and math. Goals of the camp are learning concepts of programming, engineering practices, and teamwork. LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Education Kits and program development environment will be used for hands-on building and programming activities. Participants will build several robots during the camp, modifying and programming one for a BattleBot competition. The first four days will be allocated to learning basic LEGO robot build techniques and programming commands for movement, turning, sensing and decision-making, along with combining the commands into sequences for solving problems. For the fifth day, participants will run a robot of their own design and build in the competition. Parents are encouraged to attend the competition on the final day.

Also hosted by the Williamson Campus is a From Script to Screen camp. This three-week conservatory camp will provide students with hands-on experience with professional film and video production equipment and processes. Topics will include pre-production process (writing, planning, etc.), the production process, (grip & electric, lighting, camera operation, sound, etc.) and post-production (media management, editing, color grading and delivery). In addition, the camp participants will produce, film and edit a 10-minute documentary on the first feature film to be produced in Tennessee. This year is the 100th anniversary of the first feature made in Tennessee, The Human Mill, which was filmed in Franklin. The camp will produce a documentary on the film, which will be shown at the Tennessee International Indie Film Festival in August of 2023.

For more information and to sign up, visit www.campusce.net/columbiastate/category/category.aspx.


…And now, news from around the state…

Gun Bills Not Going to be Heard (TennesseeLookout)

On the heels of a mass shooting at a Nashville private school, Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Gardenire said Wednesday that gun-related bills will not be taken during up the rest of this legislative session.

Gardenhire called Gov. Bill Lee’s words “appropriate” in the wake of the shooting and noted he is “embarrassed” that some lawmakers are trying to make the Covenant School incident “a political issue and take advantage of a complete tragedy.” The Chattanooga Republican explained that lawmakers don’t know the shooter’s motive or whether a hate crime is involved.

“We will not hear any gun bills, anything related to gun bills this year. If they want to take them up next year, that’ll be fine,” Gardenhire said. “This committee is not gonna be turned into a circus by people with other agendas. The agenda on the table now is respecting the privacy of the victims’ families that were gunned down and let that healing process start.”

Gov. Lee released a video statement Tuesday saying one of the victims, Cindy Peak, was a friend of his wife, Maria, and was supposed to have dinner with her after filling in as a substitute at Covenant. He noted school director Katherine Koonce also was a longtime friend. 

But Lee shied away from calling for legislative action.

“We are enduring a very difficult moment. I understand there is pain. I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy,” Lee said. “There will come a time to ask how a person could do this. There will come a time to discuss and debate policy.”

The shooting event is catching the world’s attention, including that of Pope Francis, who issued a statement of condolence for the victims and families “affected by this senseless act of violence.”

But even as Democrats clamor for policy change in the wake of the shooting, with the clock running out on the first year of the 113th General Assembly, no new policy matters dealing with the school shooting are likely to be considered.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which already passed legislation to lower the gun-carry age to 18 in Tennessee, will hold its final meeting next week, Gardenhire said. He noted Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti reached an agreement with a California group to drop the age to 18 from 21 after determining he couldn’t defend the state in court. An East Tennessee U.S. District Court judge signed the order Monday, the same day three students and three staff members at The Covenant School were gunned down.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Mule Day week has officially begun, with lots of events, live music and plenty of opportunities to shop local.

This weekend's major highlight will of course be the return of the widely-popular and celebrated Mule Day Parade.

This year's parade, which kicks off at 11 a.m. will once again take the traditional route along West 7th Street, led by this year's grand marshal Mike Wolfe.

A concert at David and Lori Phelps' historic barn is always a wonderful occasion, and is usually always a sellout show.

While their annual Christmas concerts are always a great tradition, this year the Phelps are hosting a special Mule Day show starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Dove Award-winning singer will present a concert celebrating Americana, with special guests Vocal Spectrum and Down River Collective joining in on the fun.

Also be sure to visit the Barn & Bale concession stand for refreshments and merchandise.

Tickets range from $55-$95 and are available at www.DavidPhelps.com.


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