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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 8, 2024

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

We start with local news…

BOA Extends Ventura’s Contract (CDH)

The Maury County School Board voted this week to extend current Superintendent Lisa Ventura's contract another four years to Feb. 28, 2028.

The board met Tuesday prior to Super Tuesday's primary election, which included multiple school board races, some of which were unopposed. Though no discussion was had of the races, or how they might affect Tuesday's vote with the current board.

District 10 board member Wayne Lindsey had requested Ventura's contract extension be added to Tuesday's agenda, saying "it's the right time" based on the superintendent's recent annual evaluation and feedback.

"We completed her yearly evaluation a few months ago, and looking at the results of that evaluation, Mrs. Ventura is very favorable," Lindsey said. "And feedback I get back from the district, from employees and parents is that morale is high in our district and we are on an upward trajectory, even though we have lots and lots of work still to do, but we are on a good path."

Ventura received an overall evaluation score of 3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday's meeting also included proposals for a salary increase for Ventura, first motioned by District 2 member Bettye Kinser, which would have extended Ventura's buyout, as stated in her contract, from six months to 12 months, as well as a 3% cost of living raise.

"Since Mrs. Ventura has been superintendent, we've had a 10% raise and a 7%, which is probably all total of the seven years since I've been on the board combined," Kinser said. "She did not get any of those raises and actually makes less money than we paid the last two superintendents."

The motion, however, failed when brought to a vote. A second motion was made by District 11 member Jackson Carter, who supported the raise, but wanted to maintain the six-month buyout, per Ventura's contract.

Carter's motion, while not granting an automatic raise, makes Ventura eligible for one if a raise is approved for MCPS certified staff in the future. That motion passed.

School Board Chair Will Sims said after looking at the recent superintendent annual evaluation, he agreed that the majority were very complimentary of Ventura's work thus far as superintendent, but that there is "much more work to do" as a district.

"I do think that this extension is worthy at this time. We want to keep you around for four more years," Sims told Ventura at Tuesday's meeting, which was followed by an applause by board members and spectators in attendance.

After the vote, Ventura said she appreciated the contract extension and the continued work of the school board, with high hopes for the next four years moving forward.

"Thank you to the board for putting your trust in me. I am humbled and honored every day to lead the 13,000 kids and the 2,000 employees that we are blessed to have in Maury County Public Schools," Ventura said. "Again, I have been humbled by the support and the continued cheering on at Maury County Public Schools. I appreciate you more than words can say."

SRS Building Products (WKOM Audio 2:19)

Yesterday, SRS Building Products held their grand opening and ribbon cutting. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy attended the event and spoke to managers Brody Burress and Evan White to learn more about what the new Spring Hill business offers its customers…

Habitat House Opens (CDH)

Despite grey skies and damp roads, friends, family and community members recently gathered on Alexander Street in Columbia to celebrate the town's newest homeowners.

D’Angelo and Tierra Bettis always dreamed of owning a home but they didn’t qualify for any traditional mortgages, they said, noting that their prior living situation was unsafe and overcrowded.

The couple's three daughters, Gabriella, 7, Arianna, 5, and Mar’riana, 3, had all shared one bedroom. The Williamson-Maury Habitat for Humanity organization stepped in to help, making sure the Bettis family's dream of owning a house is no longer just a dream. It's now a reality.

Funding and volunteer labor for the family's new home was a Westhaven community effort. Since September, more than 160 Westhaven volunteers have spent their weekends building the house. They've logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours.

Including time and donations from local partners, including The Westhaven Foundation, Southern Land Company and California Closets, there has been about $70,000 given towards project, officials said.  

“We just wanted to say thank you to everyone,” Tierra Bettis said during the Saturday dedication of the new house. “Thank you for building our home.”

The dedication ceremony also marked the couple's completion of the Homeownership Program, which included 200 hours of sweat equity, budget coaching and homebuyer education. While Habitat for Humanity helps to build homes, they aren’t given away for free, organizers said. Each family has to show they can pay an affordable mortgage, which for the Bettis family is a 30-year mortgage, officials said.

On Saturday, all the work seemed to be worth it as the smiles and keys were exchanged.

The children were ready for bedrooms of their own. And the couple seemed eager to enjoy their new space.

More information on the Habitat for Humanity’s work in Williamson-Maury counties can be found at

Maury County Junior Cotillion (WKOM Audio 4:39)

Last night, Graymere Country Club held the spring ball for the Maury County Junior Cotillion. WKOM/WKRM’s Mary Susan Kennedy stopped by to learn more about what Junior Cotillion does for the youth in the community.

Tilted Mule Open Mic for Vets (CDH)

For many veterans, coming home after their time of service can often be the hardest of times, but many also find there are opportunities to find a healing voice, quite literally.

The Tilted Mule, 102 Depot St., in Columbia's Arts District has hosted a monthly "Stop 22 Veterans Open Mic Night", which is now approaching its one year anniversary. The event has been a place where vets, as well as supporters, can grab a guitar, sing a few songs and tell stories about how service life has had an impact on them.

The Stop 22 nonprofit, founded by Stephen Cochran of Murfreesboro, was started as a mission to address and prevent the average suicide rate of veterans, which is reportedly 22 per day on average, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Former U.S. Army vet Malachias Gaskin, founder of the Columbia open-mic night, began the event in April last year. To him, it's one of many outlets he believes help benefit veterans adjusting to life, while creating a community of support that is purely organic, not to mention a lot of fun.

"All the money we raise from this goes to support local veterans in Maury County," Gaskin said. "And we've had great people come up to play every month. Like last month, we had Sal Gonzales play and he was on 'America's Got Talent,' and of course Stephen has played here with me.

"The important thing is that we are all veterans or have some ties to veterans."

Gaskin added that veterans are constantly struggling in many ways when returning back from combat life, whether they are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, finding work or shelter, which made up much of his experience.

"In 2006 I was homeless, but now I was able to purchase a farm here in Columbia," Gaskin said. "I wear six bracelets on my arm every day for friends I lost while serving. And I have dealt with suicide since I've retired from the Army, and with music and my gardening, along with my wife and my kids, it's why I'm still standing today."

Tilted Mule co-founder Kevin Pierce, a U.S. Air Force vet, said he loves the opportunity to host monthly open mics. Not only does it provide a space for veterans to gather, share stories and hear good music, but also inspire others to join in.

"It kind of started off quiet, but has definitely grown over the last year," Pierce said. "It's great hearing them tell their stories, or about why they come here. It's good for us, but great for them."

In addition to the open mic nights, Gaskin has also been a devoted supporter of vets coming home in many other ways. He is a published author of the book "Warrior's Garden," which he founded as a nonprofit in 2016 and played a big role in another Columbia project last year.

In May of 2023, Gaskin founded Columbia's own Warrior's Garden, a community garden for veterans to raise crops and cultivate produce, using their hands and working together.

After nearly one year, Gaskin says the garden has grown, quite literally, and produced many plantings that have been donated to local food pantries and other veteran-centric nonprofits and hopes to see more opportunities "crop up" in the future.

"We're closed for the winter, but so far we've donated close to 300 pounds to Harvest Share food bank, had over 25 families come out and get donated to," Gaskin said. "So, it went well for a first year."

As a musician, Gaskin said events like the veterans' open mic are another form of therapy, much like the community garden, where soldiers can not only share their talents with an audience but provides a space to channel their experiences into art, much like cultivating a garden.

The Tilted Mule's monthly open mic, while focused on veterans, is not exclusive to anyone who has suited up and been sent on a mission overseas, but anyone with a love and passion for those defending the country.

Mickey Womack and Bob Virgin, known as Womack and Virgin, regularly perform at the open mic. And while not being servicemen themselves, they have a deep gratitude for anyone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

"It's a good thing for the community," Womack said. "We weren't in the military, but our people were, all my brothers, uncles and grandfathers. We can't thank them enough."

Maury County has many organizations, nonprofits, as well as the Veterans Service Office for local soldiers, providing anything from funding, food drives, therapy and in this case, a platform to perform.

Many of Maury County's local veterans service nonprofits often preach the importance of camaraderie, togetherness and finding hobbies that can bring fellow soldiers together. It can be saddling up for a few beers at Asgard Brewing Co. & Taproom during its weekly Wednesday Vet 2 Vet nights, strapping into an off-road vehicle with On Mission Motorsports or through the art of music on a night with friends and fellow supporters.

The next Veterans Open Mic event is scheduled Thursday, March 21.

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

James Robert Tucker, a lifelong farmer from Shady Grove, passed away on March 1, 2024 at the age of 76. 

There will be a celebration of life on Saturday, March 16, 2024 at 11 AM at Edgewood Baptist Church in Duck River, TN. A gathering of friends and family will precede the service starting at 9 AM.

…And now, news from around the state…

Fort Campbell Soldier Indicted for Espionage (Tennessean)

A U.S. Army soldier from Fort Campbell was indicted on charges of selling national defense secrets to China, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Henry C. Leventis announced Thursday.

Korbein Schultz was an Army intelligence analyst with the First Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment at Fort Campbell, Leventis said. He was arrested earlier Thursday.

"He traded our national defense information for cash," Leventis said. He received $42,000, Leventis said.

The indictment charges Schultz with six counts, including conspiracy to unlawfully communicate defense information, unlawful export of defense articles to China and bribery of a public official, Leventis said.

The indictment alleges that starting in June 2022, Schultz collected and shared with a co-conspirator in China information about U.S. military operations, including advanced fighter aircraft, advanced military helicopters, intercontinental ballistic missiles, high-mobility artillery rocket systems, defensive missile systems and Chinese military tactics, Leventis said.

Leventis made the announcement at 3 p.m. CT Thursday in the Fred D. Thompson U.S. Courthouse in downtown Nashville. He was joined by FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas DePodesta.

President Joe Biden nominated Henry C. Leventis as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in July 2022, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him in December 2022.

The incident follows shortly after a civilian U.S. Air Force employee in Nebraska was arrested for allegedly sharing classified information on a foreign dating website with a person claiming to be a Ukrainian woman.

David Franklin Slater, 63, was arrested on March 2 on charges of conspiring to transmit and transmitting classified information about Russia’s war in Ukraine over a three-month period in early 2022, at the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

This weekend invites lovers of good craft brews to join together for Columbia's annual Winterfest Beer Blast.

The yearly beer fest, which starts at 6 p.m. Friday, will feature many local breweries, regional distributers and even a few home brewers all set up for samples and tastings, with all proceeds benefiting Columbia CARES.

Columbia CARES is a nonprofit which offers care to those living with HIV and AIDS, not only serving Columbia, but patients within the Mid-South Tennessee region.

Tickets are $35 per person, and is 21-and-up, taking place at The Factory at Columbia, 101 N. James M. Campbell Blvd.

For more information, call (615) 499-1292.


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