Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for May 15, 2023
All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.
We start with local news…
Landfill Company Sues Maury/Marshall Solid Waste (TennesseeLookout)
A months-long battle over plans to establish a regional trash disposal facility on a federal Superfund site in Maury County that sits alongside the Duck River has now landed in court.
Remedial Holdings filed suit Wednesday against the Marshall/Maury Municipal Solid Waste Planning Region Board, which in April rejected the company’s application to expand a landfill first created in 1986 by the Monsanto Chemical Company. The contamination from Monsanto’s operations — which included manufacturing chemical warfare agents — led to the property’s Superfund designation.
Remedial Holdings is claiming that the solid waste board failed to properly review its request to expand the landfill, instead devoting a meeting to hearing dozens of public comments against it, before moving quickly to reject the plan.
The company is asking a Davidson County Chancery Court judge to reverse the board’s decision. Daniel Murphy, who represents Maury County, said Thursday that he had reviewed the lawsuit but declined to comment.
The litigation follows months of community backlash over plans announced by Trinity Business Group — Remedial Holdings’ parent company — to build a large-scale trash, recycling and incineration facility on the old Monsanto property — conflict that has unfolded on social media, in local county and city government meetings, and at the state legislature.
Gale Moore, a Maury County resident and organizer, said Thursday she is unsurprised the company has now turned to the courts, after failing to get approval from state environmental regulators, county boards and state lawmakers.
“They’ve got a lot of money invested in this property,” Moore said Thursday. “But we’re going to be relentless as well. It’s just too important.”
“It’s disappointing that Remedial Holdings and Trinity Business Group haven’t got the clear message that the people of Maury County don’t want them,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Trinity Business Group’s original plans called for a large-scale waste complex that could accept the household trash and other waste from scores of Tennessee counties, addressing a looming trash crisis in the state as existing landfills near the end of their lifespan.
The company’s initial permit requests — for a tire shredding facility, construction and municipal waste processing plants and an incinerator that would burn non-recyclable materials to generate electricity — were put on hold by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which directed the company to seek approval first from Maury County and the city of Columbia.
The company has failed to get those approvals.
Thousands of Maury County residents, concerned about the impact of such operations along the Duck River — a key source of drinking water, agricultural water supplies and recreation — then successfully pressed state lawmakers to enact more protections. A new law now designates the portion of the Duck River that winds past the old Monsanto property as a state-recognized scenic waterway, which precludes industrial development along its banks.
Should the company win their case in court on grounds the solid waste planning board didn’t follow the law in reviewing the company’s proposal, the company will still face opposition, Banbury said.
“Even if the decision of the Marshall-Maury Regional Solid Waste Board is reversed, the applicants will have to address the concerns of the communities of Maury County and the City of Columbia under the Jackson Law and the recent designation of the Duck River through Maury County as a Class II Scenic River,” he said.
What remains unclear is if the company can ultimately make a case that the decades-old landfill already at the site can be grandfathered in to escape both the scenic river designation rules and the local approval requirements.
Columbia Adopts Flag (Press Release)
The City of Columbia is proud to announce the adoption of an official Columbia flag. The winning flag was designed by local resident and business owner Bryson Leach, and was the top vote-getter selected by the community in an online flag design competition completed in April.
In January, City leaders began the process to adopt a flag for Columbia, something Mayor Chaz Molder showed an interest in since his first term in office. It wasn’t until recently when a local high school student contacted the Mayor about the flag that it sparked conversation about a design competition that would turn the flag idea into a reality.
“It is appropriate that the city is adopting an official Columbia flag,” said Columbia Mayor Molder. “It all started with an email from Nathaniel Bliss, an Eagle Scout candidate. I am grateful he initiated the conversation about the need for a Columbia flag. Without his initiative, and the research he put in on the front end, this project would not have happened,” Molder continued. “Columbia deserves to be honored with its own flag. It is a powerful symbol that represents our community and its people, our past, our present, and our future.”
Nathaniel Bliss has followed the flag competition process closely and even helped spread the word with the help of his fellow scouts. "I was inspired to have this flag contest as my Eagle Scout project because of my fascination with Vexillology. I have always found it interesting how a simple piece of fabric can have such powerful symbolism, drawing on the history, culture, and people of city,” commented Bliss. “Another reason I chose this as my project is because it will have a lasting impact on Columbia and will be a part of Columbia's history. I hope the people of our great city are as invested in this as I am. I’m glad I was able to be a part of this moment and I will be excited to see the flag waving above city hall, and wherever people choose to fly it, for the first time!"
City leaders wanted this to be a community-inspired project from design to selection. Citizens were first invited to submit their design ideas and provide a narrative explaining why they chose their particular design. Flag design guidelines were provided from the North American Vexillological Association that emphasized the importance of simple designs with minimal, but meaningful use of colors and symbols. There were 41 qualifying designs submitted, which were reviewed by the Columbia Arts Council. They narrowed the field to three finalists: Bryson Leach, Amanda Byrd and George Vrailas. Then those three designs were shared online and the community was asked to vote for their favorite with Bryson Leach’s design garnering the most votes.
“I am honored that my design was selected as the new city flag,” said Leach. “As a lifelong resident of Columbia, it’s an absolute joy that I’m able to contribute something that will be a lasting legacy and symbol of the true spirit of our citizens and this place we love.”
According to Leach, his flag design was created to symbolize Columbia’s interwoven history, diversity, and leadership, among its citizens and its place in the world. It features a two-toned field of blue over red, representing Columbia’s presidential history while paying homage to the state of Tennessee and its flag. A horizontal wave of blue and red stripes across the middle represents the Duck River, with the weaving of red and blue representing Columbia’s diversity and its place in Civil Rights history (starting in 1946). Finally, a white star in the upper left corner represents Columbia as the county seat and its place in technological, industrial, civic and community leadership.
The public will be invited to attend a flag-raising ceremony in June. The new Columbia flag will be flown at all city facilities.
Mule Day Economic Impact (MainStreetMaury)
Mule Day is easily the largest event that takes place in Maury County each year, bringing in thousands of visitors annually. The Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club has been hosting the event since 1974. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the club makes sure the event services a variety of different organizations, but most importantly takes care of horse and mule organizations.
“In our bylaws, it’s mandated that we give 25% of our profits to charity,” Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club president Ricky Strain-Smith said. “We have a section in the bylaws that tells us who our favored people are.”
In addition to those donations, money taken in from admission to the park and from vendors is also paid to office staff in the weeks ahead of and few days after the event, as well as used to pay for expenses for the current and future Mule Day events.
“There are a lot of loose ends to tie up. We have some accounting to take care of – Mule Day isn’t over until that’s done,” Strain-Smith said.
While there is a limited staff working before, during and after Mule Day, the job is never over. In fact, most of the time staff is thinking about next year before the current year’s event has even begun.
“We have roughly 50 people working at any given time on Mule Day, and most of those are volunteers,” he said. “Without the volunteers, we probably couldn’t do Mule Day.”
If Mule Day is a “13 month job” as Strain-Smith said, when do the staff and those involved ever get any sleep?
“We’ll take a little time after Mule Day and process what we did and if we did things right and correct any problems we had,” he said. “We’ll get back at it in about a month.”
After the event has ended and a few days have passed, looking back on everything, how did the staff feel like this year’s event went?
“I think we had a great year,” Louise Mills, Mule Day’s public information director, said. “We had a large crowd. If you were downtown on the parade site, you could not believe the people lined up on both sides of the street. Unless you go through the parade, you don’t ever see that.”
Each year the event happens, the club obviously reflects on the impact they have on the community. That impact is special for those who have grown up and lived in Maury County.
What exactly is that impact? The data suggests it’s an annual windfall for local businesses and the surrounding communities.
“One of our main goals is to get people (to Maury County), and of course the tourism part is very big,” Strain-Smith said. “We’ve had studies done that say the economic impact is upwards of $12 million in one year.”
But no matter the economic impact data, every year Mule Day brings excitement, joy and fun to Maury County Park, and the Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club is eager to continue serving Columbia and Maury County.
CSCC Announces New Baseball Coach (Press Release)
Columbia State Community College announced Desi Ammons as the new head baseball coach for the Chargers.
“We are excited to announce the hiring of Coach Ammons as the new baseball head coach at Columbia State,” said Katie Willingham, Columbia State director of athletics. “Desi has been a big component to the Charger program over the years and we are thrilled to see what further steps the program will take under his leadership.”
Ammons, a Hohenwald native and Columbia State alum, will be the fifth head coach in the history of the program. He spent the last six years as an assistant under former Head Coach Mike Corn and was named interim co-associate head coach for the 2022-2023 season.
“I am extremely excited and humbled by the opportunity to be the next head baseball coach at Columbia State,” stated Ammons. “I look forward to taking on the responsibility of shaping young men’s lives, not only on the field, but within the classroom setting. In doing so, this institution and its standards can continue to form prominent members of society.”
Ammons played for the Chargers from 2012-2014 and was one of the captains of the 2014 Junior College World Series team. He continued his baseball career at Belmont University where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
“Columbia State is excited to name Desi Ammons, one of its own, to take the helm of the Charger baseball team,” said Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president. “Coach Ammons is known locally for his time as a successful Charger baseball player and more recently for his return to Columbia State as an assistant/student success coach. Last fall, on very quick notice, he stepped into a co-head coach position and provided the support and coaching that led to the continued success of our Chargers.”
“Desi has a love for baseball, but more importantly, he has a love for the success of his guys both on and off the field,” Smith continued. “He is as committed to their education and personal development as he is to their performance on the field. A combination that leads to success.”
For more information about Columbia State baseball, visit www.ColumbiaState.edu/Baseball.
Mother-Daughter McDonald’s Team (CDH)
Many folks go home to their family after work in the evening, but for Karen Hunt and Nichole Jennette, there’s a special mother-daughter bond that keeps them together both on and off the clock.
Adamantly, they insist, “this ain’t about flipping burgers,” each in their own way affirming, it’s about the people. Hunt, originally a Michigan transplant who is in Maury County because of her family's work at the Saturn plant, made a home for herself in Culleoka as a single mother.
Hunt's journey up the ladder at McDonald's began at the young age of 15, when she landed her first job at the Trotwood store in Columbia. Working at McDonald's gave Hunt the perfect opportunity to earn extra cash while pursuing her high school education. After becoming a mother at a young age, Hunt had to make some adjustments to her life. However, her dedication and passion for her job never wavered, and she continued to work at McDonald's while raising her two children.
Over the years, Karen's hard work and commitment paid off, as she climbed the ranks from a crew member to a manager, general manager, and now a supervisor for the past nine years.
Jennette said she was not going to work at McDonald’s at first, but her stepsister convinced her to apply. By the age of 18, she was a shift manager at the Trotwood Avenue McDonald’s in Columbia.
For the last five years, Jennette has been on track to follow in her mom's business footsteps, having worked as general manager of the Thompson’s Station restaurant for five years.
“There is a lot of cheerleading with this job, a lot of coaching, but you have to have trust from your employees and customers,” Jennette said.
Hunt said life skills are picked up along the way.
“You learn how to be a counselor, a [work] mother, a doctor,” she said, laughing.
Today, Hunt is an area supervisor for multiple McDonald’s stores owned by Tony and Gina Wolfe, who operate the famous burger franchise under Wolfe Enterprises.
Hunt has bypassed her 30-year work anniversary and is working on her 33rd year, while Jennette is 14 years into her McDonald’s career.
“It’s a people business,” Hunt said. “That’s what kept me here.” Like her mother, Jennette agreed.
Hunt said life threw some unexpected years of turbulence her direction, but she credits God and the Wolfe family for coming behind her and supporting her family with consistent employment and room to adjust when life happened.
“God had his hand in it,” she said. “But there’s no telling where I’d be without the Wolfes being those role models for us.”
Both mother and daughter say they have worked a “tour” of all the area locations, getting a good feel of how each part of the local “McFamily,” as they call it, operates.
With six stores in the county, the work-bonded mother-daughter team have spread their leadership to others, according to co-owner, Gina Wolfe, even now working separate stores.
Just like Hunt when she was coming up in management, Jennette now commands respect and sees regular customers return, with one man who visits three times a day.
Jennette said her most appreciated qualities she’s picked up from watching her mother’s leadership has been the commitment to consistent hard work and nurturing and training her work staff.
Wolfe points out that what makes them special is what makes the best of managers: taking care of people in front of the counter and behind the counter.
“It’s been great to watch them and be part of their lives,” Gina Wolfe said. “We’ve been so blessed to witness their love, commitment and dedication for others; they’ve been the epitome of greatness for us.”
The mother and daughter enjoy family fun time in their off time and don’t have any huge plans for Mother’s Day other than to just be with family.
Hunt said this weekend they will be celebrating her son, Timothy Jennette’s 30th birthday, who – you guessed it, worked as a shift leader through high school and some of college, also under the “Golden Arches.”
And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…
Mrs. Linda Robbins Weatherly, 86, went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Funeral services for Mrs. Weatherly will be held Monday, May 15, 2023 at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home The family will visit with friends Monday from 12:00 P.M. -2:00 P.M.
Mr. Neal Fraser Blair, 90, retired accountant with Dupont/Spontex, died Saturday at St. Thomas West Hospital in Nashville. Funeral services for Mr. Blair will be conducted Wednesday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends Tuesday from 5:00 P.M. until 8:00 P.M. at the funeral home. Burial will be at Polk Memorial Gardens.
Ms. Marjorie Helen Wrye, 84, died unexpectedly on Friday at her residence in Columbia. The family of Ms. Wrye will visit with friends Tuesday, from 4:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Funeral services for Ms. Wrye will be held Thursday at 12:00 P.M. at Spring Hill Funeral Home in Madison, Tennessee. Burial will follow in Spring Hill Cemetery in Madison. The family will visit with friends from 11:00 A.M. until service time at Spring Hill Funeral Home.
…And now, news from around the state…
Cost Unknown in Rep. Campbell Case (Tennessean)
More than a month after a House ethics panel found a sitting state representative sexually harassed a 19-year-old intern, legislative officials are still refusing to release any record – or even a dollar amount – of what taxpayer money the Office of Legislative Administration appears to have spent to address the situation.
Because of strict secrecy rules officials are enforcing, it’s unclear whether state law and legislative expenditure rules were followed when spending money to relocate the intern. State law that appropriates legislative funding requires the office to obtain approval from the House or Senate speaker's office before spending money, but the House Speaker's office denies any involvement — including approving spending.
Following an ethics complaint filed against former Rep. Scotty Campbell on March 21, an intern was relocated from her apartment, housed for 22 nights in a TownPlace Suites downtown, and her belongings were sent home. Officials spent nearly $10,000 — including $935 cash given to the intern to break her lease — to quietly relocate the intern and leave Campbell undisturbed, NewsChannel 5 reported.
But officials refuse to release any record – or even acknowledge – that thousands of taxpayer dollars may have been spent to in the wake of the harassment, and have repeatedly denied requests for records and information submitted by The Tennessean seeking transparency.
The Office of Legislative Administration also declined to provide the number of ethics complaints filed by legislative staff or interns in recent years, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed, and the number of staff investigations conducted.
Officials say the legislature’s harassment policy requires strict confidentiality, prohibiting disclosure — or discussion — of anything to do with the complaint.
“We continue to decline to release any information attached to or part of any proceedings related to the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy,” Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley told The Tennessean in an email.
While the policy does prohibit identification of victims, disclosure of specific accusations in a complaint, and corrective actions taken, it does not specifically prohibit disclosure of public spending made after an ethics complaint is filed.
But because of the secrecy surrounding the incident, it’s difficult to tell whether state appropriations law was followed.
"Would the General Assembly really agree that the General Assembly can secretly spend money to clean up a wayward lawmaker's problems, and that money may be unlimited? They could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret for something like that," said Deborah Fisher, executive director at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
"I don't think the people of Tennessee think that's right, and I don't think the members of the General Assembly would think that's right. It may not be much, but if we were to think they could hide $10,000 or $15,000, they could hide $100,000 dollars."
The state law that created the Office of Legislative Administration, which handles human resources, payroll, records requests and other matters for the General Assembly, allows the office to spend money for the lawful expenses of the legislature. But the appropriations law that allocates money for the legislature's operations like lawmaker and staff pay requires the office to get approval for all expenditures from the Speaker of the House or Senate.
Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)
Dollywood’s Big Bear Mountain roller coaster, the largest single attraction investment in the park’s history, opened with much fanfare, a nod to the Great Smoky Mountains and – of course! – a visit from Dolly Parton herself. At 3,990 linear feet, the ride is three-quarters of a mile long and is notably the longest roller coaster in the history of Parton’s legendary theme park in east Tennessee.
The $25 million coaster is located within the park’s kid-friendly Wildwood Grove section, allowing even young adventurers to enjoy the ride. (It has a minimum height requirement of just 39 inches.) Featuring a top speed of 48 mph, Big Bear Mountain takes guests through three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns and tunnels, including a breathtaking pass behind a waterfall.
In addition to the opening of Big Bear Mountain, this year The Dollywood Company is also slated to open its second resort property, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort. Tucked away in a beautiful cove in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Lodge will welcome the outdoors in with high ceilings, exposed beams and natural layered textures.
For more information about Big Bear Mountain, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, and the 2023 operating season, please visit Dollywood.com.