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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for May 30, 2023

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

We start with local news…

Columbia Shooting (Press Release)

On Sunday, May 28th, at approximately 2:30 pm, the Columbia Police Department responded to reports of a shooting incident on Westview Street.

As officers were responding to the scene, a 14-year-old female and a 23-year-old female arrived at Maury Regional Medical Center suffering from gunshot wounds. Both victims were flown to Vanderbilt Medical Center. The 14-year-old suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and the 23-year-old victim is in critical condition.

Initial investigation has revealed that a large crowd gathered on Westview Street, during which a physical altercation occurred between two females in the crowd. A black male with a handgun approached the women and became involved in the altercation, at which time shots were fired.

A 15-year-old male juvenile has been taken into custody and charged in connection with this incident.

This investigation is ongoing at this time.

Anyone who witnessed this incident or anyone with information to assist in this investigation is encouraged to contact Columbia Police Department at 931-388-2727.

Top 12 Students from Maury County Public Schools (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools recently announced the Top students from the Class of 2023, including those earning the distinctions of valedictorian and salutatorian among six high schools across the district.

Columbia High School

Valedictorian: Mya Nguyen

Salutatorian: Lily Parsons

Culleoka Unit School

Valedictorian: Calleway Schmidt

Salutatorian: Avery Boulton

Hampshire Unit School

Valedictorian: Samuel Ellis

Salutatorian: Jacob Amonette

Mt. Peasant High School

Valedictorian: Lulie Thomas

Salutatorian: Gracie Felty

Santa Fe Unit School

Valedictorian: Hannah Fitzgerald

Salutatorian: Madisyn Woody

Spring Hill High School

Valedictorian: Alexander Maner

Salutatorian: Daniel O’Bryant

Space Coalition Members Meet with STEM Students (CDH)

Members of the STEM Space Coalition recently met with students from Mt. Pleasant Elementary School for the second year of the Space Coalition Outreach initiative.

Students learned about the science of spacecraft, building and launching their own homemade rockets.

Among the visitors was Nicole Tibbetts, Director of the Space STEM Program, who spoke with 4th graders, and Michael Gilchrist, retired Air Force veteran and NASA engineer, who helped the students with their rockets.

The program is a partnership between the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command and the nonprofit Space STEM Outreach program.

Lane Gilchrist formerly of Columbia, created the Space STEM program. Mike Gilchrist, who is a Columbia resident, worked with his friend Jerry Sands to make the visit a reality for his son’s team in Mt. Pleasant.

The program is sponsored by the United States Air Force and Space Force, he said, in an effort to emphasize education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

AAHSMC Fundraiser (WKOM Audio 4:00)

On Saturday, the African American Heritage Society of Maury County held a fundraiser to raise money for a new museum and cultural center in Columbia. The event was sponsored by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The special guest for the day was Phoebe Roaf, Episcopal Bishop of West Tennessee. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the fundraiser and got a chance to speak with Bishop Roaf…

Child Well-Being Survey (MainStreetMaury)

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth has released its County Profiles of Child Well-Being in Tennessee for 2023. The profiles include county-level measures on 52 indicators and county ranks in important areas affecting child development: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Each profile provides an analysis of the county’s strengths and challenges and policy recommendations to improve outcomes.

Though the profiles are released annually, the 2023 County Profiles in Child Well-Being use several new indicators in the county ranks, so they are not comparable to previous years’ ranks. Newly included are child care cost burden, severe housing cost burden, chronic absenteeism, food insecurity, the percent of children in single parent families and the number of victims of abuse or neglect.

Maury County ranked No. 32 overall among Tennessee’s 95 counties in the report. Maury ranked ninth in health, 10th in family & community and 15th in economic well-being. However, the county placed 84th in education. Factors cited were third- to eighth-grade reading and math proficiency (math 25.3 percent, 73rd; reading 26.3 percent, 79th) and an 86 percent rate of youth graduating on time, which ranked 90th.

“Maury’s strongest indicator is the number of children who were victims of abuse or neglect, where the county ranks fifth. The county also ranked high in the percentage of children who are food insecure at 8.9%. The county’s biggest challenge is the percent of high school students graduating on time, where it ranks 90th. There are opportunities for improvement in the percent of students who scored “On Track” or “Mastered” in TCAP Reading as well,” the report reads in part.

Data is primarily from 2021 and 2022. Some indicators show substantial volatility year to year, especially in rural counties with fewer people where small changes in actual numbers of events can cause large changes in rates, though reducing that variability was one of the goals of changing some of the indicators

Key indicators include:

Statewide 18.4 percent of children were living in poverty in 2021. The lowest percentage was in Williamson County (3.9 percent) and the highest percentage was in Hancock County (42.6 percent).

Child care cost burden, defined as child care costs for a household with two children as a percent of median household income, is 23.9 percent in Tennessee. The county with the highest child care cost burden is Lake at 40.1 percent and the lowest is Williamson at 11.9 percent.

Across Tennessee 6.0 percent of children were uninsured in 2020, an increase from 2019. The lowest rate was 4.1 percent in Sullivan County. The highest was in Pickett County, where they experienced an increase from 6.9 percent in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020.

Tennessee’s rate of children who were victims of abuse or neglect was 10.2 per 1,000 in 2021. Clay County had the highest rate at 33.9 and Moore County had the lowest at 0.8 per 1,000.

Comparing data across counties provides a glimpse into the varying needs of each county and the considerably different experience, access to resources and supports a child may have in one county compared to another. Comparing the strongest performing counties to those facing the greatest challenges shows differences that are often more than a factor of 10. A child in the lowest performing county is half as likely to be proficient in TCAP Reading than the state average. A child in Perry County is almost 10 times as likely to be chronically absent from school than a child in Blount. In the five counties with the highest rates of abuse or neglect, we see rates of greater than 28 per 1,000.

Though some counties perform better in comparison to the others in child care cost burden, this indicator is a major challenge for all of Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable child care as 7 percent of a household’s income. With a state average of 23.9 percent, and the best performing county at 11.9 percent, affordability is a challenge for every county in Tennessee.

“As an agency, we are always working to improve the well-being of children, youth and families across the state,” said Richard Kennedy executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “These county profiles always serve as a reminder that the experience, opportunities, and access to positive outcomes can look vastly different for each child in Tennessee.”

The counties ranked in the top 10 are Williamson, Wilson, Sumner, Rutherford, Blount, Moore, Weakley, Cheatham, Smith and Decatur. The counties with the greatest opportunities for improvement are Lake, Haywood, Shelby, Hancock, Hardeman, Lauderdale, Madison, Davidson, Campbell and Grainger.

A full list of county profiles can be found online at

50% of Maury 3rd Graders Must Retake TCAP (CDH)

Maury County Public Schools, just like all school districts across the state, are scrambling to implement a new state law that requires low-performing third grade students to retake a literacy portion of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program by June 5.

Approximately 50% of Maury County third grade students will be retaking the test, MCPS Superintendent Lisa Ventura estimated this week.

Third graders who received a mark of "below" or "approaching" on the English and Language Arts portion of TCAP are mandated to retake a literacy portion of the test between May 22 and June 5, according to TDOE. Though exemptions apply to some students, including English language learners, students with disabilities and those who have been previously retained.

Ventura emphasized that the state is providing multiple options for students to advance to fourth grade.

"Because there are so many different pathways to advance, there is wiggle room," Ventura said. Those pathways include but are not limited to passing the ELA reassessment, attending summer literacy camp to achieve a better score and tutoring in fourth grade.

Amid the district's attention to underperforming third grade students, the most recent third grade averages in reading, released by the state Wednesday, show potential increases compared to last school year.

Average third grade 2023 TCAP scores released by the Tennessee Department of Education on Wednesday afternoon, show a potential increase of up to 3% in ELA reading scores among third graders, roughly compared to last school year.

Third-grade students in MCPS scored as follows, according to the TDOE:

Below proficiency: 25.95%

Approaching proficiency: 37.54%

Meets Proficiency: 27.38%

Exceeds proficiency 9.13%

Total proficiency: 36.51%

Spring Hill Grants TIF on USTA Development (MainStreetMaury)

Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously last week to approve $55 million in Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) to the Brentwood-based developer SouthStar for the development of The Crossings. 

Of the $55 million, $24 million is contingent upon the USTA regional headquarters project being built, as it is tied to a parking garage structure. The remaining amount will negate most of the costs associated with completing necessary public infrastructure in the city. The developer is expecting to come out of pocket with $12 million on the infrastructure costs.

“The first portion of this TIF is being used to develop Crossings Boulevard and to widen Kedron Road and fix some Kedron Road intersections,” City Administrator Pam Caskie said. “That is a city obligation that we should’ve done already, but instead we have a very kind developer who is going to take that on his debt load – which is great because we don’t have any more debt load to take it on with.”

Industrial Development Board member Clint McCain agreed, “A huge benefit here is the infrastructure piece. That directly benefits the residents of Spring Hill.”

Currently, the development brings in an annual property tax of around $3,000, and the city would continue to collect that amount throughout the process and 40 percent of property taxes generated above that will still be remitted to Maury County for public school use.

While a TIF may appear as if a government entity is giving away money it would otherwise collect, Betsy Knotts, counsel at Bass, Berry & Sims, reminded the Spring Hill Industrial Development Board that none of the tax revenues that will be realized are currently being collected.

“The goal of tax incremental financing is to bring a government entity in partnership with a private entity to create a self-supporting project and create a new stream of ad valorem tax revenue. Revenues that wouldn’t be there had you not brought these two entities together,” she said.

Rather than only collecting $3,000 annually on the large area of land, a study by the Younger Group, an economic development research firm, predicted the development will bring in multi-millions of dollars in annual tax revenue.

The $55 million figure is the maximum allowed by this agreement and the term would be for 20 years, though it could be sooner according to commercial real estate attorney Tom Trent. 

Alderman Trent Linville asked about the impact to Maury County schools once the buildout of 1,600 units is completed. Using a formula widely accepted nationwide and proven locally at different developments, it is estimated that the entire project will yield only around 150 students. 

The estimated monetary value over the first 20 years to the school system, however, according to Trent is $56 million. 

When completed, the 213-acre project is slated to include two hotels, the USTA regional headquarters, 535,000 square feet of retail and the 1,600 residential units built around 17 acres of parks.

“We want the ability to have outdoor food vendors, an outdoor market on a Saturday morning, or if there is an event at the USTA area you would have this pedestrian mall area without cars going up and down,” Greg Gamble of Gamble Design told the BOMA at the initial presentation. “This is large enough to have outdoor events, pop-up tents, and even an ice-skating rink during the winter. We want to create a place where people can come and really experience their community here.”

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

Mrs. Jessie Lee Harris Burt, 90, died Thursday, May 25, 2023 at her residence in Columbia. Funeral services for Mrs. Burt will be conducted Thursday at 11:00 AM, June 1, 2023 at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM and Thursday from 10:00 AM until 11:00 AM at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Cothran Calls for Speaker’s Phone Records (Tennessean)

Cade Cothren, a former top Tennessee legislative aide, wants to subpoena House Speaker Cameron Sexton's phone and communications app records, arguing the records could be instrumental to his defense in an upcoming October federal public corruption trial.

Cothren's attorney on Thursday filed the motion for the subpoena, arguing the records will show continued close communication between the two men that will contradict a core tenant of the prosecution's case. Cothren's team wants records between February 2019 and January 2020 from Verizon, Sexton's phone carrier, and a confidential messaging app.

Prosecutors argue Cothren — pushed out as former House Speaker Glen Casada's top aide in the wake of admitted drug use and a sexist and racist texting scandal — set up Phoenix Solutions to tap into taxpayer-funded mailer services available to lawmakers, as well as the lucrative political campaign mailer business. 

Cothren shielded his involvement in the firm by operating under a false identity of Matthew Phoenix while working with Casada and former Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, to allegedly engineer a kickback scheme, according to prosecutors. Smith quickly resigned from the General Assembly and pleaded guilty for her role in the scheme last year, while Casada, R-Franklin, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Their charging indictments argue the trio hid the fact that Cothren was pulling the strings of the firm because the General Assembly, under Sexton's leadership, would not have approved the company as a vendor if his involvement was publicly known.

Cothren, through his attorney, now argues he continued to be a close confidant of Sexton after his resignation, and Sexton was even trying to find him a lobbying job in 2019.

The motion states Cothren remained "heavily engaged" with Sexton after his resignation and as Sexton ascended to the speakership following Casada's downfall.

"Additionally, the requested records will show that Speaker Sexton was actively reaching out to state officials, state employees, as well as third-parties in an attempt to secure Mr. Cothren a job as a lobbyist as well as other opportunities," Cothren's motion states. "These communications are integral to Mr. Cothren’s defense in this matter because the government’s case appears to rely — heavily — on its theory that Mr. Cothren’s reputation was so tarnished after his resignation that Speaker Sexton was adamantly opposed to associating or working with him at all, even on administrative matters."

Cothren's attorneys deny that a subpoena for a year's worth of Sexton's communications records, some of which Cothren already has, would be a fishing expedition.

“Since 2019, I have been and will continue working with and assisting the FBI and Department of Justice on this investigation," Sexton said in a Friday statement. "I commend the FBI and DOJ on their hard work, dedication, and resolve in uncovering a criminal scheme that brought over 20 felony charges. It is clear from the indictments that individuals knowingly used their official capacity and connections to target General Assembly members and the Republican Caucus by using fake companies to siphon off money illegally and deceptively. Any accusations suggesting that I had any part in this criminal behavior are categorically false.”

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The 2nd Annual Columbia TN Pride Festival takes place on Sunday, June 4th from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM at Riverwalk Park (102 Riverside Drive Columbia, TN 38401).

It will be a day of celebration and love for the LGBTQIA+ community, allies, and families!

Grab a bite and/or beverage from the beer garden and food trucks. Plus, enjoy local live music at two different music stages.

You can also shop at the vendor village and visit the nonprofit information booths.

This is a FREE event for the community.

Follow ColumbiaTNPrideFestival on Facebook for more information.


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