Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for May 11, 2023
All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.
We start with local news…
Maury County Schools To Use Metal Detectors (MainStreetMaury)
Visitors to upcoming graduation ceremonies at any of Maury County’s public schools will have to go through a metal detector before being admitted, the district has announced.
Graduation ceremonies start this week across the county, with Hampshire holding ceremonies on May 11, Spring Hill on May 12, Columbia Central on May 15, Santa Fe on May 16, Culleoka on May 18 and Mt. Pleasant on May 19.
Maury Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ventura made the decision to require metal detectors earlier this year.
“The decision was made by Superintendent Lisa Ventura earlier this year based on incidents that occurred at graduations in other districts in May of 2022. We used safe schools’ money to purchase portable metal detectors in preparation for graduates in 2023,” Communications Director Jack Cobb wrote in the email.
The portable metal detectors cost $3,700 each and were purchased from the Garrett K-12 School Protection Program, according to Cobb, and include a handheld device.
To help get the word out, the district has put a video on its website explaining the new requirement. The video features Sonya Cathey, an assistant principal at Columbia Central.
“This year, we want all graduation attendees to feel safe and secure,” Cathey says in the video.
Attendees are advised to empty their pockets of any metal or metal-containing objects such as keys, coins or cell phones. In addition, attendees are advised not to bring knives, pepper spray or anything that could be construed as a weapon.
Zion Christian did not immediately respond to questions as to whether they would have any increased security measures at their respective graduation ceremonies. Zion’s ceremony is scheduled for May 12, while Columbia Academy’s ceremony is scheduled for May 20.
“Planning for the graduation ceremony is no different than planning for anything else; we want to make sure the graduates’ day is as special as it can be,” said Ben Jones, head of security at Columbia Academy. Jones said there would be added security on hand for CA’s ceremony but did not discuss specific measures.
“We’re continually working on our plans to make sure everything is safe and we will revise as needed,” Jones added.
Spring Hill Restaurant Harbors Undocumented Workers (Clarksville Leaf Chronicle)
Five Tennessee restaurant owners have plead guilty to an undocumented worker harboring scheme across eight mid-state Japanese restaurants, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Jaworski on Wednesday.
Court records identify the defendants as Zhongzhi “Tommy” Zhuo, 46, Jianping “Alan” Zhuo, 37, both of Hendersonville, Tenn., Jianhua “Jason” Zhuo, 35, of Gallatin, Tenn., Lili Wu, 32, of Gallatin and Xiaofen “Joyce” Zhuo, 38, of Hendersonville.
The restaurants identified in the indictment include Fuji Japanese Steakhouse, with locations in Hendersonville, Goodlettsville and White House; Bonfire Mongolian Grill, with locations in Hendersonville, Clarksville, Mount Juliet and Spring Hill; and the Koi Japanese Steakhouse in Gallatin.
“These defendants profited by exploiting and concealing the existence of vulnerable people,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jaworski said. “I commend our law enforcement partners for their tireless efforts to bring them to justice and to remove individuals from circumstances in which they were exploited.”
They were arrested in July 2022 and pleaded guilty following a nine-count indictment from a federal jury.
According to records filed with the court, the defendants participated in a scheme to harbor persons who were in the United States illegally, by providing a means of financial support through employment at the restaurants and providing them with housing and transportation and paying undocumented workers in cash to avoid paying employment taxes and to conceal the ongoing fraud.
In plea hearings this week, Tommy Zhuo, Allen Zhuo and Jason Zhuo pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens.
Tommy Zhuo also pleaded guilty to two counts of harboring aliens, and failure to pay employment taxes.
Lili Wu pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S., by failure to collect and pay employment taxes to the IRS. Joyce Zhuo pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to defraud the United States by failure to collect and pay employment taxes to the IRS.
The defendants also agreed to forfeit residences that were used to facilitate violations of these crimes and funds derived from the commission of these crimes, resulting in them forfeiting nine bank accounts totaling approximately $412,209.14; U.S. currency totaling $434,400.24; as well as real estate properties in Hendersonville, Gallatin, Clarksville, and Mount Juliet, Tenn.
The United States also alleged that this scheme caused a tax loss to the IRS of $1,259,348 and will be seeking restitution.
“These employers exploited a vulnerable population and defrauded the government for their own profit," said Special Agent in Charge Rana Saoud, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) Nashville. "The guilty pleas are a prime example of the successful outcome when local, state, and federal partners collaborate to protect workers and American businesses. Through its investigations into exploitative employers, HSI protects the U.S. labor market, workplace conditions, and the dignity of individual workers, who are often taken advantage of through dangerous work conditions, underpayment, and using those noncitizens as a business model to maximize profits.”
“Unscrupulous businesses who willfully skirt their tax and legal workforce obligations must be held to account,” IRS CI Special Agent in Charge Donald “Trey” Eakins said. “Employers who deliberately deflect these obligations undermine what is owed to the U.S. government in payroll taxes and other fees, in addition to creating an unfair economic advantage over law-abiding business owners who play by the rules.”
The defendants face between five and 20 years in prison when they are sentenced later this year. A federal district court judge will determine the length of the sentences after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Some of the restaurants are under new ownership.
County Commission Mulls 6% Pay Hike (MainStreetMaury)
The Maury County Admin Committee recommended by a 4-1 vote last Tuesday a 6% raise for all county employees, marking the first step in the process before the proposal is voted on by the full County Commission.
The approval followed two special-called budget work sessions in which department heads presented their needs to the committee, including new positions, services, supplies and other costs.
HR Director Dana Gibson, who made the request to the committee, said the raise has already been budgeted for the fiscal year due to several vacancies.
“I have 20 jobs posted right now, and I already know I have about four resignations this month,” she said, adding that the raise will help with retention. Gibson admitted the resignations were largely the result of pay.
Maury County Finance Director Doug Lukonen said he is hoping the new raises will go into effect before the start of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2024.
“If this does not move forward as presented, at that point in time the employees would have to wait until the full commission passes their budget,” Lukonen said, adding that could be as late as August.
District 8 Commissioner Ray Jeter said he hopes the commission will value what employees mean to the county.
“I hope you realize 6 percent is not enough,” he said. “I’ve worked as an assistant to a department head, and I understand the weight.”
Kathey Grodi, District 6 Commissioner, said she is having trouble locking into the 6 percent.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to pay for everything,” Grodi said, noting the 5% raise already given to elected officials. “I would rather make the payroll and have the money to pay their salaries than give them a raise and come up short.”
Lukonen assured the committee that the raise will not require a tax increase, though the budget is expected to rise with a 10.89% increase compared to last year.
“These numbers are subject to change because the commission can cut funds,” Lukonen said. “We have more revenue, but expenses are going up because of gas, materials and supply.”
The Budget Committee was to give a final review on the raise during its May 8 meeting before it is then sent to the full Commission on May 15.
In other news from the meeting, the committee announced the resignation of Maury County Public Library Board Chair Joel Friddell, whose term was set to expire in April 2024.
The library is still having trouble hiring a new director following the resignation of former director Zac Fox last October.
Due to the length of vacancy of the position, Gibson requested the committee hire above the first quartile, or up to $75,000 a year.
“It’s not much more than our first quartile,” Gibson said. “The first quartile is $71,000, so they have permission to go up to $75,000 if the right person comes along.”
Currently, there are two candidates for the position, with one from New York and the other Nashville.
The motion was ultimately pulled for later consideration at a later date.
Spring Hill Hotel Proposal (CDH)
A proposal for a new Sleep Inn hotel located off Kedron Parkway has raised concerns from nearby residents, many of which fear would create a hindrance to the area's character.
The Sleep Inn was brought before the Municipal Planning Commission this week, where the property and design of the structure was discussed. The current concept plan shows the hotel would be three stories in height and contain 48 rooms.
Prior to the discussion, multiple citizens spoke out against the proposal during the time for public comment.
Christy Smith, who lives off nearby Split Rail Lane, said she believes the plan for a hotel goes against the long-term vision of the Spring Hill Rising comprehensive plan, specifically how the development promotes the character of the area, which includes the historic Old Town and Town Centre districts.
"The applicant's plan for the hotel does not support the character, in my opinion, of the described development pattern for the downtown city center in which this property is located," Smith said. "The downtown city center is described as a place that is to embody the small town feel and culture that has been worked so diligently to protect."
Smith added that the downtown districts are described to include a mixture of residential, office space, restaurants, worship facilities, entertainment and small-scale retail. Hotels, on the other hand, are listed as being appropriate in places considered "gateway areas." She suggested a better use of the property would be something like a city market, with space for local farmers to sell their produce, small businesses and other vendors.
Judy Miller, another Split Rail resident, spoke about the potential safety hazard the hotel could pose, given that it will be located next to a future children's learning center on Kedron Parkway.
"I find it a safety factor having children so close to more traffic that'll be on Kedron, especially across from the library," Miller said. "Think about that, our children and the future of their safety."
The property is currently zoned C-4 commercial, which would allow a hotel, according to the Spring Hill planning staff report.
The applicant, T-Square Engineering, is also requesting 57 parking spaces, although city codes require 96 spaces. The proposed variance would require approval by the Spring Hill Board of Zoning Appeals.
Sean Kramer, an architect representing the applicant, said the purpose of the proposal at this time is to garner feedback from the city, as well as the public, as to how the Sleep Inn would best fit in the area, and that it is merely in the concept plan stage at this time.
"We were thinking this would be an opportunity to get some feedback on what we need to do to comply with what the city of Spring Hill is looking for," Kramer said.
Kramer added that he couldn't speak to the concerns regarding how the Sleep Inn would affect the district's character, given the development is still in the concept phase, but the applicant is open to feedback and discussions when considering the design.
"We've not really had the opportunity to look at this more 'big picture' to see how it fits in," Kramer said. "I'm becoming more aware now of the concerns being presented, and it's good to hear those. I can't speak to that since we our responsibilities are strictly as a design service, but of course we want to be aware of how it's affecting the community and those who are concerned about it."
Since the proposal was a discussion item, no votes were cast regarding the Sleep Inn concept plan.
CSCC Pins Vet Tech Grads (Press Release)
Columbia State Community College recently honored 16 veterinary technology program graduates in a pinning ceremony.
“Veterinary technologists are responsible for both quality care of animal patients and owner education,” said Dr. Kae Fleming, Columbia State dean of the Health Sciences Division and professor of radiologic technology. “These graduates have successfully completed a rigorous program and are ready for exciting careers as professional technicians.”
A veterinary technician primarily functions as professional technical support to veterinarians, biomedical researchers and other scientists. Qualified veterinary technicians are responsible for clinical pathology, radiology, surgical assisting, office and hospital management and other related duties.
“This class is the first class since I became the program director last year that I have really gotten to know,” said Dr. Julie Anderson, Columbia State program director and assistant professor of veterinary technology. “This class is made up of some really gifted and brilliant individuals. I am glad that I have been able to be a part of their journey. I am so proud of them. I know that all of them are going to do great things as veterinary technicians.”
Columbia State has one of only six vet tech programs in the state of Tennessee. This program is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association and offers students the opportunity to become a veterinary technician and receive an Associate of Applied Science degree. For additional information, visit www.ColumbiaState.edu/VetTech.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace Bed Build (CDH)
Thanks to the nonprofit, Sleep in Heavenly Peace, children are lying their heads down in a new handcrafted bed all their own, something they would not have been able to do without the work of community volunteers.
Transplants from California and co-presidents of the local chapter, Beth and Bill Morrill have taken up the cause in Columbia with a mission of “No child sleeps on the floor in our town."
The couple organizes build days in which volunteers construct bed frames and provide mattresses and linens for children without a bed of their own in the community. The group has thus far has constructed over 100 beds for children across Maury County, since its start in October 2022, for children ages 3-17.
Recently at Maury County Park under the roof of the Skillington Barn, volunteers of all ages gathered to build at least 20 beds.
“We are happy to help those who meet the criteria,” Morrill said. “Recipients get an entire bed with a new mattress, new bedding and a pillow.”
Sleep in Heavenly Peace began in Twin Falls, Idaho by Luke Mickelson and has expanded to more than 300 chapters nationwide.
The local chapter serves Spring Hill and Columbia, with donors sponsoring build days.
Once beds are built and assembled, the volunteers also deliver the beds to children without a bed.
The beds are built so that they can be stacked as bunkbeds, if need be, and must go to families who are settled in an established residence, local director Beth Morrill said.
It is Beth Morrill’s hope that bed building efforts bring in help from all kinds of groups, from company teams to church teams and helpers.
Volunteer with the core team, Jennifer Robbins brought her son, Colton Robbins to help at the recent build day.
"If you expect it to be tough, it’s not that bad and actually kind of fun,” Colton said. “And it changes the way you look at things.”
His third time helping with a build, Columbia Academy freshman Colton brought his friend, Samuel Hall, a classmate from CA. The two worked at the sanding station, cutting wood or branding the bed with the signature SHP group logo.
They also counted the day as part of their service work needed at CA.
“I hope we can help kids less fortunate have a comfortable place to sleep,” Hall said. “It feels good to try to make them comfortable.”
Colton and Samuel say they would normally enjoy playing golf on a nice Saturday instead of building beds, but they know their work is going to help others for years to come.
Mother and daughter, Becky and Reagan Clayborne enjoyed their first time helping with the bed build.
“It really struck me when hearing about this, that there is a need here in our own community,” Reagan said. “No kid should go without a bed, so I figured on a Saturday morning, it’s the least we can do is give a few hours to help.”
Reagan hopes the word can get out and that she and her mom can be a small part of what the team is doing.
Beth and Bill are hoping to keep the momentum as word spreads and the mission continues.
“How much better is a community, when every kid has a bed?” Bill said.
Beth said the most recent build was a mix of families wanting to help, but there are multiple ways others can help.
Volunteers can either join the core team or reserve a build or delivery day to help with the beds. Additionally, anyone can sponsor a build at the cost of $250 per bed, which includes the entire cost of materials. For more information, visit shpbeds.org to learn more about the organization or sign up to volunteer.
And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…
Mrs. Irene Wertz Race, 79, retired employee of Vanderbilt University, died Friday, May 5, 2023, at her home. A memorial service for Mrs. Race will be conducted Saturday, May 13, at 3:00 P.M. with visitation from 1:00-3:00 at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.
…And now, news from around the state…
Governor Signs School Safety Bill (Tennessean)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law Wednesday a bill aimed at heightening security and offering new safety resources to both public and private schools.
Filed prior to the deadly shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Lee pushed for additional funding and new security protocols and mental health resources following the tragedy.
“Nothing is more important than Tennessee students and teachers returning home from school safely each day,” Lee said in a statement Wednesday. “Every year since 2019, we’ve worked with the General Assembly to prioritize school safety, and this year, we’ve passed significant measures to fund an armed SRO for every public school, enhance mental health support and boost physical security at public and private schools across Tennessee.”
Approved by both the House and Senate in April, the new law allocates $230 million for enhanced safety, including $30 million to place school resource officers in every public school, $54 million toward security upgrades for public and private schools, $140 million to place Homeland Security agents in every county to coordinate school security responses, and $8 million to provide new school-based behavioral help staff.
It also prescribes new safety protocols for both public and private schools, requiring emergency drills and increasing security collaboration with state and local law enforcement.
The bill does not restrict access to firearms.
“Hardening security at our public and private schools is no longer just a priority, it is an imperative,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said in a statement. “The safety of our schools is of paramount importance and I am grateful we were in the financial position to quickly allocate the funds for these improvements.”
The new law, which takes effect Wednesday, requires every public school to:
Lock exterior doors while students are present, subject to penalties for repeat violations
Conduct annual incident command and bus safety drills, in addition to already-required armed intruder drills
Requires all newly built public school facilities to install classroom door locks and secure visitor entry vestibules
It requires private schools to:
Develop safety plans for emergency response and crisis management
Conduct annual armed intruder, incident command, and bus safety drills
Lock exterior doors
Require private school security guards to complete the same training that public schools complete
It requires school districts to:
Annually share safety plans, floor plans, and security systems access with state and local law enforcement
Requires districts to have a threat assessment team (they are currently allowed, not required)
Requires annual active shooter training for private security guards, and requires such training to be completed before being posted in a school
Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)
A new bench in Nashville’s Centennial Park has been dedicated to Taylor Swift. Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced the dedication last Thursday, just ahead of Swift’s three Nashville concerts.
Sharing, “Welcome home, Taylor. As of today, you now have the perfect place to read at Centennial Park. Nashville is READY for this weekend.”
Swift mentions sitting on a bench in Centennial Park in “Invisible String” from her Folklore album. In the song, it says,“Green was the color of the grass/Where I used to read at Centennial Park” – “Gold was the color of the leaves/When I showed you around Centennial Park.”
There was also a Willow tree planted in Taylor Swift’s honor. Swift added “Invisible String” to her setlist in Nashville after hearing about the bench that was dedicated to her.