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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for November 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…

Maury County to Fund Lobbyists (MSM)

The Maury County Commission met Monday, Nov. 20 to approve a number of items, including a resolution which would provide additional funding for lobbyists to support amending the 2006 County Powers Relief Act, sparking a debate over the county’s representation on the matter.

The resolution would provide an additional $25,000 for lobbying efforts for the upcoming legislative session. The commission has already approved $75,000 to go towards the hiring of one lobbyist.

The efforts are part of the fight to pass an impact fee, which would allow local commissions to decide how fees would be used to pay for growth from incoming developments.

In 2006, a bill known as the “County Powers Relief Act” was passed, allowing local governments to enact adequate facilities taxes on new developments. However, the bill limited the ability of counties or municipalities to increase impact fees via private acts of the legislature.

Earlier this year a bill seeking to remedy the problem, which was sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky, failed to pass the House Property and Planning Subcommittee.

Cepicky, who was not in attendance for the meeting, was brought up several times by commissioners who questioned his representation.

“I think we do have a representative, but that particular representative has not attended the last three meetings when we discussed this matter,” District 8 Commissioner Ray Jeter said. “Quite frankly, I feel like we are not being represented properly on this matter. Otherwise, I would not be in favor of spending this money for a lobbyist.”

District 10 Commissioner Danny Grooms shared the same sentiments.

“For two years we tried to get this passed through the legislature. For two years, it’s been shot down.,” Grooms said, asking that Rep. Kip Capley be included in the meetings. “If we don’t do something, then all we do is sit here and talk. Either we put up the money to try to get this through, to get some relief for the people of this county, or we keep going down the road that we’re going.”

However, Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt said Cepicky has been working on many other bills.

“We do have a representative, and I have been a representative, but there are other bills that our representative is working on as well,” Butt said. “He needs help to go into those offices and get this bill passed for us among other bills.

“To me, I’ve always thought you have to make an investment sometimes to make money. This is an investment for us to eventually have some kind of fees, some kind of developers pay in to help us with what we have to do to continue the growth in Maury County.”

The contract will be reviewed by County Attorney Daniel Murphy, with an out clause as part of the agreement.

The Tennessee General Assembly will reconvene on Tues, Jan. 9.

Mt. Pleasant’s Collier to Retire (MSM)

Mount Pleasant City Manager Kate Collier indicated recently to the city commissioners her intention to retire in the coming months, and the city will work with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) to open the process of searching for her successor.

The previous process to hire a city manager, including the process that ended in Collier’s hiring, has been for the commissioners to meet with candidates individually and vote during an open meeting.

That process was utilized in this case for at least two candidates, but ultimately the commission voted 3-2 in favor of asking MTAS for help to initiate a search process.

“I think we should open the search for the city manager position. For the sake of transparency and all involved, I think we need to open the position,” Mayor Bill White said. “I think we need to ask MTAS to help us establish a search for the position. In my opinion, it will help us get the best city manager for the city and is the most transparent option.”

According to city attorney Kori Jones, there have been allegations of “closed door” meetings, but she noted that, “to my knowledge there has been no group discussion with anyone.”

Any discussion as a group outside of an open meeting would be a violation of the Sunshine Law.

“Given the stuff that is being thrown around, I think the best thing would be to go with MTAS and try to do a sooner-than-later search,” Commissioner Pam Johnston said.

Jones gave the commissioners several options, including the MTAS selection process and the in-house process.

“It’s important that you have clear parameters on how the process will work. There are benefits and downfalls to each of the selection processes, however, each of them helps legitimize the process, promote transparency and – hopefully – lead to qualified applicants,” she said.

Vice-Mayor Jacqueline Grandberry, who voted against White’s motion to utilize MTAS, said she felt like the search process used beforehand was sufficient.

“I don’t know why we would go with MTAS when the city commission has always been the one to interview and hire the city manager,” she said. “If they did that poor of a job, how did we get such a good city manager that we have sitting here now?”

Commissioner Mike Davis made a motion to hire a former Columbia attorney who is currently practicing in Memphis, Rhonda Hooks. Hooks was vetted similarly to Collier prior to being hired, but the motion was defeated 3-2, with Commissioners Willie Alderson and Johnston, along with White voting against.

“I was making a motion for Ms. Rhonda Hooks because I think she knows what she’s doing and she can do the job,” he said. “I’m sorry Rhonda, I think they did you wrong.”

Collier, who was hired in 2016 as the city manager, has indicated her desire to stay on through the transition period through an email to commissioners prior to the most recent city commission meeting.

“She wants to make sure the city is left in good standing, and I appreciate what she’s done, but we should’ve had a meeting and she should’ve come to us and said she is planning on retiring and we need to go from there,” Davis said during the meeting.

Alderson said she was appreciative of the email notice given by Collier, and for her time on the commission.

“Ms. Kate, I appreciate you wanting to stick around with whoever we hire. You have done an awesome job and we have an awesome staff. You offering to stick around with whoever we hire is greatly appreciated,” Alderson said.

No matter what the process for finding a candidate, Johnston said she hopes those who apply will be somewhat local and familiar with the city and its current projects.

“We are on a really great trajectory as a city, and we’ve hired some really great people. I shared with Rhonda and I shared with Victor that it’s extremely important to me as a member of this commission that we continue that and not go through a prolonged, national search,” she said. “I would be more comfortable with someone who’s in the area and can help us. We need somebody that’s local, that knows the city and the area and is already connected. We’re too far along in so many things to bring somebody in completely cold.”

Polk Gets Grant (CDH)

The President James K. Polk Home & Museum is a recipient of a $28,000 grant for Capital Maintenance and Improvement from the State of Tennessee as administered through the Tennessee State Museum.

The grant award will be used for renovations to the Polk Home’s historic detached kitchen, according to a press release from Visit Columbia tourism bureau.

Work will include fixing an adjoining door that is rotting, removing the plaster, and replacing the original windows. Additionally, the Polk Home will install period-accurate shelving.

The Tennessee General Assembly made available $5 million in funding from the 2023-2024 Appropriations Act, “for the sole purpose of providing grants to museums with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or affiliated with a governmental entity for capital maintenance and improvements.”

It was a highly competitive process. In total, the Tennessee State Museum received 170 applications, totaling $12.5M in funding requests for the $5M appropriation. The Museum made full or partial awards to 108 museums across the state, representing 58 counties.

“The Tennessee State Museum serves the State of Tennessee through history, art, and culture,” said Ashley Howell, Tennessee State Museum Executive Director. “There is incredible work being done throughout the state by our strong network of Tennessee museums and historic homes. This grant is an extension of how we can further support their efforts and the preservation of local and state history. We thank the Tennessee General Assembly for their support for Tennessee Museums."

The Capital Improvement and Maintenance grant had a minimum request amount of $5,000 and a maximum request amount of $100,000.  All projects must be completed by June 30, 2024.

“Over the past few years, we have been utilizing the kitchen more frequently for programming,” said Rachel Helvering, the Polk Home’s Executive Director. “These renovations will help us create a more accurate experience for visitors, and complement the kitchen garden that opened in 2021.”

The President James K. Polk Home & Museum preserves the legacy of the nation’s 11th President. Guided tours of the Polk Ancestral Home on W. 7th Street are available year-round, Monday through Sunday. Visit www.jameskpolk.com.

CMYC Coat Drive (Press Release)

The Columbia Mayor's Youth Council is giving back this holiday season by hosting a Winter Coat Drive to benefit The Family Center. The Coat Drive began Monday, November 27, 2023, and will end on Monday, December 8, 2023. New coats, socks, and blankets will be accepted and can be dropped off Monday through Friday during school hours. A provided drop box will be at the following high school locations: Columbia Central High School, Columbia Academy, Mount Pleasant High School, and Culleoka Unit School. Donations will also be accepted at Columbia City Hall Lobby (700 N Garden St., Columbia, TN, 38401) from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday.

Mayor Chaz Molder stated, “I am so proud of our Columbia Mayor's Youth Council, once again serving their community, not because they have to, but because already at a young age, they have the desire to. They want to serve our community and this coat drive allows us all an opportunity to follow their lead. I say it over and over again, I am confident in our community's future because I get to see our community's future already hard at work making this community a better place.”

This is the 3rd year of the Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council, which was established in the spring of 2021. This youth council allows students to connect with other peers in their community who want to make a difference through planning community events, partnering with local organizations, raising awareness, and connecting with future generations of leaders.

“I am so excited to announce that the Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council will be hosting our first-ever Winter Coat Drive to benefit The Family Center,” stated CMYC Chair Caroline Cashion. Cashion continued, “I am so incredibly proud of how these young people continue to put Columbia first and I am thrilled to see what all we can accomplish this year.”

For further information regarding the Winter Coat Drive or the CMYC, visit www.columbiatn.com/cmyc

Shop Local (CDH)

Maury County shoppers, mark your calendars for shopping opportunities in town that keep dollars spent local.

The annual "Buy $50, get $10" local shopping promotion begins Nov. 29 through Nov. 30. Receive a $10 bonus card for every $50 you spend on Local First Gift Cards, a local shopping initiative launched by Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance.

Accepted at over 50 small businesses and restaurants across Maury County, Local First Gift Cards could just make the ideal stocking stuffer for anyone on your holiday list. Participating business include retail, eateries and services, including bed and breakfasts, breweries, wine bars, hair salons, boutiques, restaurants and more.

"Every penny" stays in the community and supports our vibrant local businesses, according to a recent Maury Alliance newsletter.

Wil Evans, president of Maury Alliance, said the program boosts local pride and fuels the local economy, keeping dollars in Maury County.

"By choosing to shop local, we are not merely engaging in a simple transaction for goods and services, we are fostering growth, creating jobs and fortifying the foundation of our community," Evans said.

"Keeping our dollars local supports the businesses run by our friends and family, by those that support our local nonprofits and by those that, in turn, buy their goods and services from other local artisans and suppliers.

The Maury Alliance Local First Gift Card program provides a similar benefit as other universal gift cards, allowing the user to choose where they would like to shop with the benefit of knowing their dollars are staying in the community, Evans said.

Kara J. Williams, director of the Maury County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is "very proud of the Local First Gift card and the growth it has had over the years."

"These gifts highlight our small local merchants and ensure dollars stay in our local economy. Our small businesses are an integral part of what makes Maury County a charming and thriving place."

Local First Gift Cards are available for purchase year-round at Maury Alliance. Visit mauryalliance.com/local-first-cards/ for more info and a listing of participating businesses.

 

Columbia Christmas Tree Lighting (CDH)

The lights will shine bright as the countdown to Christmas begins with Columbia Main Street's 37th annual Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting will be Saturday.

The event will once again take place in historic downtown Columbia from 6-8 p.m., with this year's lineup featuring a record number of 120 participants and floats, according to a City of Columbia press release.

“Kicking off the holiday season with the Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting truly warms your heart and puts a smile on your face," Columbia Main Street Manager Kelli Johnson said.

"I am thrilled for the community and businesses to be a part of this annual event because it shows how magical and unique our town truly is. I encourage all to come early and stay late for this festive event that takes place in the heart of Historic Downtown Columbia.”

Leading the parade as this year's Grand Marshal will be retired Col. Ashley Brown, whom Johnson said was the first name on this year's list of potential candidates.

Johnson said Brown was "an obvious choice not only as a civil servant, a retired U.S. Army National Guard veteran, but as someone who truly represents Columbia well."

"We are really excited to have him be a part of the parade this year," Johnson said. "We knew it was the right choice."

Brown first joined the Army at age 17, rising to the rank of Platoon Sergeant by age 20. He steadily rose through the ranks until Brown was promoted to Colonel in 1988. He is also an honorary Colonel on the staff of the Governors of Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee, and is an honorary professor of Military Science at the U.S. Army Reserve Forces School in St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1969, Brown was elected to the Maury County Court, now known as the Maury County Commission, as well as serving as chairman of the Rules and Alcohol Beverage Boards. He also served on the Budget, Hospital and Schools Committees.

"He's just one of those guys where you'd be hard pressed to find anyone to say anything bad about Ashley Brown, but you'll have a lot wanting to say something good about Ashley Brown," Mayor Chaz Molder said. "I'm proud of the decision, not only because it is well deserved, but because he is a personal friend."

As a local Kiwanian, Brown served as president of Columbia Kiwanis from 1980-1981 and remains an active member.

Brown's other civic roles include serving as a member of the Maury Regional Hospital Advisory Board, Maury County Mental Health Board, Maury County Civil Service Commission and President of UGF. He is also a Past Commander of American Legion Post 19.

Brown was awarded as Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 2002 and 2009 by Columbia Civitan and Golden K Kiwanis Clubs.

The parade will begin starting at 6 p.m., featuring several holiday-themed floats, marching bands, costumed characters, as well as local churches, businesses, nonprofits and other civic groups all making their way down West 7th Street.

Santa will then light the 40-foot Christmas tree topper at around 7:15 p.m. on the Maury County Courthouse steps.

Entertainment will be provided by DJ Amped Eric McCandless, as well as an original song performed by Marta Albarracin and trophy presentations to multiple "best of" parade winners.

"It will be a hit once Santa lights the tree and people can hang around, dance and have fun," Johnson said. "Marta is also coming back after singing in last year's parade. The song she is singing this year she wrote about last year's parade experience, and it will definitely become a Columbia Christmas Parade Classic."

With a record-setting lineup, Johnson said additional prep work was done to ensure a steady flow for participants throughout the night. There will also be a new, somewhat interactive, opportunity for the kids featured this year.

"Logistically, the parade should be better for participants who are lining up along the parade route," Johnson said. "We are also handing out around 700 'giveaways' to kids in the crowd. It's like a glow stick, but more, which will be fun to see light up among the crowd."

This year's Grand Marshal sponsor is Stan McNabb Chevrolet Columbia.

“I am so excited for this year's Columbia Main Street Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting celebration — 37 years and going strong,” Molder said. “I can't wait to welcome our residents and visitors alike in what will be a magical night in Columbia."

King’s Daughters Christmas Drive (CDH)

The King’s Daughters’ School and Heritage Bank & Trust are once again seeking help to make many Christmas wishes come true with the 23rd annual Santa's Mailbox gift drive.

The annual drive will run through Thursday, Dec. 14.

Wish letters can be picked up from Santa’s Mailbox at Heritage Bank & Trust branches in Columbia and Mt. Pleasant. The letters are from disadvantaged King’s Daughters’ students and state-custody kids who will be spending Christmas on campus.

Students have written down their Christmas wishes in letters to Santa.

"Santa’s Mailbox should be easy to spot when you walk into a Heritage Bank & Trust lobby. Each letter contains one Christmas wish item for a student," a press release states.

“We are so grateful to Heritage Bank & Trust for their support of our Santa’s Mailbox program. Many of our students cannot go home for the holidays, so the contributions of the bank, their customers, and our entire community make their Christmas wishes come true,” KDS Executive Director Shauna Pounders said.

Once gifts are returned, they will be wrapped by the King’s Daughters’ staff members and placed in Santa’s bag ready for delivery at the KDS campus Christmas Eve.

"The school and bank members thank you ahead of time for helping make Christmas special for each and every child at KDS," the press release states.

Heritage Bank & Trust is resuming hosting duties this year as a continued valued partner to KDS.

"Heritage Bank & Trust is proud to be a part of the wonderful work being done by The King's Daughters' School," says Shelli Golden, KDS Board Member and EVP, Chief Risk Officer of Heritage Bank & Trust.

"Over the years, I have served on the Board of Directors of The King's Daughters' School, and I continue to be impressed with the care and compassion given to each student to make their lives the best that it can be. Heritage is honored to partner with an organization making such a great impact on our community." Santa’s Mailboxes are located in two Maury County Heritage Bank & Trust lobbies: 217 South James Campbell Blvd., and 109 South Main St. in Mt. Pleasant.

The King’s Daughters’ School is a nonprofit residential school that has provided academic, vocational, and life-skills training to students with developmental delays for over 60 years.

…And now, news from around the state…

Lees Host Christmas at the Capitol (TheNewsTN)

Gov. Bill Lee and first lady Maria Lee celebrated Christmas at the Capitol on Monday evening with the lighting of the state's Christmas tree.

The annual event featured live performances from the 129th Army Band and the Choir Room choir, and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus himself.

The Lees read Song of the Stars to children prior to the lighting of this year's state Christmas tree, a 35-foot Norway spruce which was donated by Springfield U.S. Army veteran Dexie Goff.

“We hope that this season is a great blessing to you as we celebrate the birth of Christ, and the hope that that brings to the people of the world,” Gov. Lee said.

Representatives from Franklin-based non-profit My Friend’s House served as guests of honor, and some attendees brought donations of canned foods and baby diapers in support of Sevier County Food Ministries.

The event was not without its detractors as several people silently protested Lee's planned push to expand school vouchers, and several other protesters led a chant calling for the U.S. to support a ceasefire in besieged Palestine.

The public can also tour the Tennessee Residence from Dec. 1-3 and 7-10 where the holiday décor theme “Heaven and Nature Sing” portrays the “larger-than-life magic experienced during the holiday season, the beauty of Tennessee’s natural landscapes, and the joy of the coming of Christ and the salvation of the world.”

The tours are self-guided and free to the public but require a reservation online.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Columbia Fire & Rescue is excited to be partnering with the Christmas Store this year for a toy drive to help provide gifts for local needy families!

Columbia Fire will be setting up a firetruck in front of Walmart of Columbia every Friday and Saturday from Dec. 1st-16th from 1-6pm.

Shoppers are invited to buy a toy and help fill the fire truck up for needy kids in our community.


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