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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for September 18, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Ultium Offers Raises (CDH)

Ultium Cells in Spring Hill announced Friday an increase in the hourly wage offered to employees as the electric vehicle battery manufacturer seeks to hire an additional 300 employees by the end of the year.

In a media release, the manufacturer, which is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, says the increase is a move to attract top talent in the Middle Tennessee market.

Plant manager Chris Desautels and recruiting staff have been visiting Middle Tennessee colleges, training schools and universities to build its next local work force.

“Our early stage team members are crucial to our success, and we want our wages to reflect that importance,” Desautels said. “Attracting the best talent in the area also allows us to identify, train, and promote those applicants into leadership positions early on.”

The pay increase comes on the heels of the United Auto Workers strike in three states, affecting the General Motors Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri.

UAW workers at the Spring Hill GM plant have not yet entered the strike, but they stand at the ready, according to local leadership.

The Spring Hill GM assembly plant builds the GMC Acadia and three types of Cadillac SUVs, including the Lyriq SUV, which will be powered by Ultium Cells batteries, to "advance the push for a zero-emissions, all-electric future."

The United Auto Workers initiated the strike after one month of negotiations failed late Thursday night with GM, Ford and Stellantis. Workers at three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri walked out, according to reports.

The GM Spring Hill plant employs more than 3,700 workers.

Although GM and Ultium operate separately, Ultium management said it wants to offer a competitive package for new workers.

"Ultium Cells is making a starting wage change based upon area labor market conditions," Ultium communications spokesperson Austin Kelly said when asked about the recent strike. "Ultium Cells wants to provide a top value proposition for total compensation."

The manufacturer also recognized workers' right to unionize.

"Ultium Cells respects workers’ right to unionize and the efforts of the UAW or any other union to organize battery-cell manufacturing workers at our manufacturing sites," the company statement said.

The manufacturing plant is partially completed, will start production by the end of 2023 and is expected to be fully operational by 2025.

Ultium Cells has increased its starting wage for all hourly positions, according to the release.

Raises have been earmarked for:

Production Operators: Starting at $20/hour

Production Crew Lead: Starting at $22/hour

Quality Inspector: Starting at $20/hour

Quality Crew Lead: Starting at $22/hour

Process Maintenance Tech: $27-$35/ hour based on experience

Facility Maintenance Tech: $29-$36/ hour based on experience

"Ultium Cells will identify early team members for quick promotion and career advancement track," the release says.

Ultium Cells will employ a total of 1,700 people at its 2.8 million square foot facility, which is approximately the size of 30 football fields.

Interested job seekers can find career openings at the company’s website, ultiumcell.com.

Ultium Cells will provide battery cell capacity to support GM's North American electric vehicle assembly capacity of more than 1 million units by mid-decade, while supporting GM plans to supply other automotive companies and other industries including rail, aerospace, heavy trucking and marine customers.


Principal Reinstated (CDH)

Columbia Central High School Principal Michael Steele was reinstated last week after being suspended without pay for two weeks, due to a school district investigation that led to an “official reprimand.”

In a Sept. 8 letter obtained by an open records request, Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura issued a reprimand of Steele, while also reinstating him as principal the same day after a district investigation.

The investigation determined that Steele exhibited “insubordination and unprofessional conduct at Central High School” with four policy violations.

The policies listed in violation include those related to Crisis Management, Line & Staff Relations, Staff Rights and Responsibilities, and Ethics.

According to district documents, Steele was suspended on Aug. 25 without pay during the district’s investigation, pursuant to school board policy.

“This action serves as a formal notification to you that Maury County Public Schools expects the highest level of professionalism from district leadership in accordance with Policy … ,” the Sept. 8 letter says.

“I trust that you will consider the potential ramifications of these incidents, and you are hereby advised that failure to remediate the action or behaviors referenced herein may result in further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

Steele signed the letter of official reprimand, which does not imply agreement, the letter states.

Documentation does not give further explanation about the details of the reprimand.

Documents from the open records request also reveal that Steele was previously reprimanded on May 30 for an incident deemed as exhibiting “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct” at CCHS. District documentation states that Steele addressed a teacher in an unprofessional manner. Though Steele explicitly states in a response letter that he does not concur with the investigation’s outcome.

In the letter, Steele called the investigation “haphazard and biased,” arguing that he followed the direction of Human Resources in addressing the matter.  

Also in August, the high school drew attention when a Mt. Pleasant man, Roy Brooks, was indicted Aug. 17 for purportedly carrying an AR-15 on campus without authorization on May 3 in response to what was believed to be an active shooter on campus. The active shooter report was discovered to be a hoax by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, an action that affected many high schools around the state, which received robo-call about a possible active shooter on campuses.

Brooks' court date is Oct. 2 at the Columbia courthouse.

When a police employee notified Ventura that an unauthorized man had been on campus “a week later,” Ventura said she notified the sheriff's office to determine whether a crime had been committed.

“I have tremendous respect for law enforcement, and they are to be applauded. The way they responded to the incident on campus was a thing of beauty,” Ventura said.

Speculation flew among elected officials and community members when Steele was suspended after the indictment came to light.

Maury County Commissioner Gabe Howard, along with some parents, posted to social media that he backed Steele, despite the suspension, and criticized Ventura.

Ventura and the district did not give further information about the events leading up to the August suspension aside from the existing letter of reprimand for multiple policy violations.

“I do not comment on personnel issues,” Ventura said. “It was [the outcome] of a week’s course of events.”

Ventura confirmed that she spoke to the CCHS faculty in August about the indictment to relay "facts" about the incident "rather than the rumors they had heard."

Last Friday, Steele said he was reinstated at 2 p.m. as he stood on the sidelines, cheering on the CCHS Lions during a football game.

“I think we have ironed out our differences,” Steele said regarding Ventura. "And I am looking forward to moving forward in a positive manner ... My focus is always students and staff. I just want to make Columbia Central the best high school in the country. We have an amazing staff, students and community and I’m thankful for all of them.”

Ventura also commented on the reinstatement.

“I don’t want this to be misconstrued that I don’t believe in Dr. Steele,” Ventura said. "I believe in his leadership."


Nashville Tea Company (WKOM Audio 3:41)

On Friday, the Nashville Tea Company, located in the Factory at Columbia celebrated an expansion of their facility. WKOM/WKRM’s Mary Susan Kennedy attended the event and spoke with the owner and event coordinator to learn more about the business…


Elected Officials Appreciation Picnic (Press Release)

Join Maury Alliance for a BBQ picnic at the Woodland Park Rotary Shelter on Monday, September 25th at 5pm! Maury Alliance, with support from TVA, is hosting a picnic to show appreciation for the time and effort elected officials dedicate to making our community the best place to live and work. This event is also an opportunity for Maury Alliance members to come together in a casual environment and visit with Maury County's Elected Officials.



This event is free, but please RSVP if you plan to attend!

To RSVP and learn more, visit www.mauryalliance.com




Maury Hills Food Drive (WKOM Audio 2:51)

On Saturday morning, Maury County Coop, Maury County Farm Bureau and Maury County Farm Credit, working alongside Harvest Share, sponsored a food giveaway at Maury Hills Church in Columbia. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy stopped by to learn more about the event and spoke to Ryan Pilkinton, one of the event coordinators…

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

Miss Mary Louise Litton, 100, a longtime resident of the Carter’s Creek and Neapolis communities, died Friday at NHC Maury Regional Transitional Care. Funeral services for Miss Litton will be Tuesday at 1:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 12:00 noon until time of the services at the funeral home. Burial will follow at Greenbrier Cemetery in Williamson County.


Mr. Jerry Lee Bell, 77, former resident of Columbia and former inspector for Union Carbide, died Friday at Savannah Health Care & Rehab Center in Savannah, Tennessee.

Funeral services will be conducted Thursday at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.


And now, back to local news…


A’Museum Food Truck Festival (WKOM Audio 2:00)

On Saturday evening in downtown Columbia, the annual Food Truck Festival, benefitting a’Museum Children’s Museum was held. Our own Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke to museum director Megan Wall to learn more about the museum and the festival…


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

A pudding cook-off, pudding eating along the Puddin’ Path, a craft village and live music are just a few of the activities that are sure to keep everyone entertained and their sweet tooth sated during the 14th annual National Banana Pudding Competition in Centerville, Tennessee at the Hickman County Ag Pavilion on October 7 and 8, 2023. The event will start at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday on Mable’s Front Porch Stage. Last year almost 10,000 visited the event, coming from more than 30 states and four countries.

Contestants from around the country will go head to head to decide who makes the best banana pudding.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids five to 12, $10 for the Pudding Path, and $7 for “Puddin’ to Go” boxes. Additional information is available at phone (931) 994-6273, or by email at info@bananapuddingfest.org.


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