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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for September 5, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Spring Hill Water Shortage (MauryCountySource)

The City of Spring Hill is kindly requesting all residents to temporarily suspend non-essential water usage including irrigation activities until further notice. This advisory comes as a result of unforeseen mechanical issues within the municipal and regional water system, which require immediate attention and maintenance.

The city is taking proactive steps to ensure the swift resolution of these mechanical issues. By temporarily halting irrigation, the city says they can conserve water resources and expedite the repair process, minimizing the likelihood of additional restrictions to users.

Updates or changes regarding the irrigation advisory will be provided as new information becomes available.


Steele Remains Suspended (MSM)

Columbia Central principal Dr. Michael Steele remains on suspension following a meeting last Friday where Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura spoke with staff about Roy Brooks, who allegedly was an unauthorized, armed responder being at the school during a May 3 school shooting hoax.

Maury County Public Schools does not comment on personnel matters, but Steele said he was told the reason was “creating a hostile work environment,” which he believes is directly in relation to how he handled learning of the aforementioned situation.

A recording of a portion of the meeting was circulated throughout the student body and staff where Steele was told to leave. Steele referred to a meeting held on Aug. 22, 2023, that included himself, Ventura and Sonya Cathey where he learned of the incident.

Others may have been present, but have not been identified.

“Did you or did you not tell me that you felt like he was a threat and should have been arrested in May, yes or no? Because you did,” Steele asked.

Ventura replied that she told Steele not to leave the room and talk about the situation. Steele disagreed and alluded to having audio evidence to back up his claim.

Main Street Maury has obtained the audio of the near-hour long meeting, and noted only that Ventura told Steele, “We shouldn’t talk about this.”

Students at the school planned a walkout in protest of Steele’s suspension last week, but were ultimately asked to report to the school’s auditorium, rather than leave the school building. The students complied with the request.

According to the school system’s suspension policies, Steele has the right to appeal the suspension, which he indicated he plans to do.

Board policy states: “The Superintendent of Schools may dismiss or suspend for more than three days any non-tenured teacher during the contract year for incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, improper conduct, or neglect of duty after giving the non-tenured teacher, in writing, due notice of the charges.

“The Superintendent of Schools shall give the non-tenured teacher an opportunity for a full and complete hearing before an impartial hearing officer.

“The Board will appoint an impartial hearing officer to conduct such hearings. The hearing officer will hear the case and the employee shall have the right to:

1. be represented by counsel; 2. call and subpoena witnesses; 3. examine all witnesses; and 4. require that all testimony be given under oath.”

Following the hearing, either party may appeal the decision to the board of education, which would have the final decision in the matter.


Ultium Seeks Workers (CDH)

The Ultium Cells car battery plant in Spring Hill, under construction for almost two years, is close to completion and will soon anchor the electric battery manufacturer as a prime industry in Southern Middle Tennessee.

With 1,700 open jobs, the company is recruiting a "talent pipeline" at area educational institutions, creating the next generation of workers in the Middle Tennessee manufacturing market for years to come.

Plant manager Chris Desautels says the company is strategizing to attract skilled workers in the company's own backyard.

Desautels, who has recently visited a slew of local colleges and universities promoting the opportunities at Ultium, says the company seeks to serve the region by staffing a local workforce and being involved in the community for decades.

"Many ask what's going to go on in that big white building," said Desautels, who hails from the first Ultium plant in Ohio.

The white rectangle building, spanning the size of 30 football fields, will produce batteries for electric vehicles in the $2 billion-plus, 2.8 million square foot facility, which is projected to be fully operational by 2025.

Using anode and cathode technology, the plant will produce the batteries at each stage from raw material (nickel and cobalt) to end product, or a fully charged battery ready to insert into the General Motors electric Lyriq SUV.

The company is casting its recruiting net to institutions like the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses in the region, Columbia State Community College, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee campuses, Tennessee Tech, University of Memphis and Vanderbilt University to name a few.

"There is a career waiting for those interested in manufacturing," Desautels said. "Some young people don't realize that manufacturing is out there as a career. They might find a path that they never knew they could take."

He said manufacturing is not like the old assembly line model once associated with the industry.

"It's flexible and hands-on, requiring problem solving and analyzation skills as well as interfacing with machinery. Everyday is not the same," Desautels said.

Regional institutions such as Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Pulaski have bolstered their programs to accommodate the demand for manufacturing workers in the region with the advent of such companies like Ultium, JC Ford tortilla machine maker, Mersen graphite production, Documotion print company and of course long-standing General Motors. Meanwhile, BlueOval City Ford auto giant will soon offer another opportunity to enter the auto manufacturing industry in West Tennessee.

“Fortunately, Tennessee has been proactive in developing the educational infrastructure and talent Ultium Cells needs to operate,” Desautels said.

Maury County has already experienced its share of watershed moments over the past few years, establishing itself as the fastest growing county in Tennessee, according to the 2020 U.S Census and ranking No. 1 in incoming investments in the state in 2021 by think-tank SmartAsset, which stems from major manufacturers expanding to Southern Middle Tennessee. Over the past few years, Maury has exceeded past markers for growth in manufacturing, real estate, population growth and small business.

With a growing economy, investments and job opportunities, companies are looking to the region to provide a robust workforce.

Dalton Pelfrey, TCAT-Pulaski Advanced Manufacturing Education instructor, says the Advanced Manufacturing class was created several years ago as a response to the booming manufacturing industry in Middle and Southern Middle Tennessee.

"Almost all of my students go into the automotive sector because there is such a large opportunity here," Pelfrey said. "Many industries such as plastics, batteries and mechatronics all end up supporting the automotive industry."

However, Pelfrey said it's difficult for the institution to keep up with the industry's demand for workers.

"I need more students," he said.

Tonja Garrett, TCAT-Pulsaki Workforce and Community Engagement Coordinator, says the college plans to keep partnerships strong with area high schools in order to attract a steady stream of manufacturing students.

"TCAT-Pulaski understands this critical issue, and we are working to expand our program offerings on campus to meet the needs of businesses and industry along with adding more dual enrollment opportunities onsite at high schools in the region," Garrett said.

By 2026, she said the college plans to add more courses and programs to keep up with the demand for trained manufacturing and technical workers.

"Ongoing collaboration between educational institutions and employers can further support workforce needs," Garrett said.

Maury County Public Schools and Williamson County Schools, for example, offer robust mechatronics programs that include tours and internships with manufacturers in the region as well as other manufacturing-focused programs.

Amy Roberts, Maury County Public Schools Supervisor of Careers in Technology and Engineering programs, said the school district has an early role in creating the future employees for companies like Ultium.

"We recognize the rich opportunities for our students in the automotive industry in our district, especially in automotive manufacturing and technology," Roberts said. "The advanced manufacturing and STEM Engineering programs offered in many of our county schools are a great way for our students to acclimate to the work being done in our local industries.

"The skills attained in these courses will recreate an employee pipeline to not only allow our students to find work that is high skill and high wage, but also remain here in Maury County." 

The opportunities available could be life-changing for some students who are the first in their family to earn a higher degree in surrounding "transitional" or "distressed" counties in Southern Middle Tennessee.

According to 2022 data from the Economic Innovation Group, the Ultium Cells facility is within a 45-minute drive of seven “At Risk” zip codes and under one hour from two “Distressed” zip codes, as stated in a recent Ultium Cells talent acquisition strategy release. The data rates counties from "prosperous" to "distressed" based on poverty rate, income level, education, and unemployment rates.

"Ultium Cells will emphasize building long-term relationships with rural and often economically disadvantaged communities to the south, east and west of its factory," the Ultium recruitment strategy summary states.

"For communities like Centerville, Mt. Pleasant, Summertown and Lewisburg, where nearby economic and career opportunities have been scarce, the relatively short commute is a welcome development."

Pelfrey said the current career opportunities available can be a game-changer for economically disadvantaged students.

"A lot of my students' parents didn't go to college," he said. "They might be the first in their family to obtain a higher degree. Learning in-demand skills and getting a technical diploma can be life-changing."

Desautels believes Ultium Cells can help spread the opportunity of the state's thriving electric vehicle economy to economically disadvantaged parts of the state.

“We hope to employ team members wherever they are in their educational journey,” Desautels said.

He also highlighted the company's tuition reimbursement program that allows employees to pursue higher education while working at the plant.

Spring Hill is the second site of three Ultium Cells factories in the U.S. The first is located in Warren, Ohio, which started production in November 2022 and just celebrated the production of its 10 millionth battery cell. The third plant will be in Lansing, Michigan.

GM has a goal of producing all electric vehicles by 2035, according to company reports.

The Ultium Cells plants are all of similar size and structure, reflected at the $2 billion-plus Spring Hill plant.

Desautels calls the Spring Hill plant a "start-up" since the company is new to the industry being the second of three plants under parent company South Korea-based LG.

"The start-up nature of the company allows workers to start at the beginning and work their way up as they learn the industry," Desautels said.

And he says the future of the industry is bright.

"In manufacturing and the auto industry, I've never seen change like this. It's changing so quickly in EV v. gas vehicles.

"We have more power than the competition," he added.

Desautels says that partnering with the community has been a priority for the company, giving back to such nonprofits and organizations as the Boys and Girls Clubs, Keep Maury Beautiful, Maury County Fair and others. The company has also participated in First Fridays and will continue to recruit and collaborate with educational institutions.

"We want to make long-term relationships and have a long-term vision," he said. "We are excited about the future and opportunities to partner with the community."

For more information about Ultium Cells, please visit www.ultiumcell.com.


Maury County Fair (WKOM Audio 1:40)

On Friday, the Maury County Fair held their annual My Day, for special needs citizens. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy stopped by and got to speak to some of the attendees…


Power Loss Leaves Some in Dark (CDH)

A significant number of Maury County residents experienced power outages Thursday afternoon, including parts of Spring Hill and Columbia due to the failure of Tennessee Valley Authority power stations in Maury County, officials say.

"[Tennessee Valley Authority] had power failures at the south and north power stations," Columbia Fire & Rescue Chief Ty Cobb said. "The cause is currently unknown. Power outages have caused heavy traffic delays due to traffic signals not operational."

Power has since been restored to the affected areas as of 7:30 p.m., according to Cobb and Spring Hill Mayor Jim Hagaman after the widespread outage that lasted a little over an hour.

Traffic in areas like the Spring Hill Crossings and Main Street in Spring Hill were in a gridlock for almost two hours, while dozens of merchants and restaurants were forced to close to customers.

A CPWS message to affected customers stated, as of press time, outages affected at least 9,000 customers in the affected area.

"We are aware of power outages in South Columbia, North Columbia and the Spring Hill area. The South Columbia outage has been restored and we are working on restoring North Columbia and Spring Hill and investigating what caused these occurrences," Columbia Power and Water Systems posted Thursday afternoon as of 7:22 p.m.

At the time, CPWS said it was working to restore the outages.

Cobb said emergency responders assisted in traffic control in Columbia.

"We have responded to several accidents at intersections. CPWS crews are working to fix the outages," Cobb said.


New Doc at MRMG (Press Release)

Laura A. Penny, MD, a specialist in family medicine, has joined the staff at Maury Regional Medical Group (MRMG) Primary Care & Pediatrics in Columbia.

 In her undergraduate studies at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Penny obtained a Bachelor of Science in both microbiology and immunology and infectious diseases. Dr. Penny went on to receive her medical degree from Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She then completed a residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While studying medicine, Dr. Penny has participated in much research, was a health education supervisor and served as a patient navigator. Dr. Penny says she is excited to join MRMG and the growing city of Columbia.

 Services at MRMG Primary Care & Pediatrics include annual wellness exams and physicals for adults and children, treatment of illnesses, chronic disease management, adult vaccines, newborn and child immunizations, men's health and women's health.

 MRMG Primary Care & Pediatrics is in suite 108 of the Maury Regional Medical Center Medical Office Building at 1222 Trotwood Avenue in Columbia. At MRMG Primary Care & Pediatrics, Dr. Penny joins Andrew Nielson, MD, Gavin Pinkston, MD, and Brooke Miller, FNP-BC, IBCLC. For more information, call 931.380.4066 or visit MauryRegional.com/PCP. In addition to MRMG Primary Care and Pediatrics, Dr. Penny will also see patients at the MRMG pediatric practice in Lewisburg.


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

Mrs. Kristie Lea Harper Runions, 52, equipment operator for HMC Recycling and resident of Hampshire, died Saturday, September 2, 2023 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The family of Mrs. Runions will visit with friends Tuesday from 4:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.


…And now, news from around the state…

Holly Kirby New TN Supreme Court Chief Justice (TheNewsTN)

The Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously elected Holly Kirby as its chief justice, effective Friday. The term is set to last two years.

Kirby succeeds Roger Page in the position. She was appointed to the court in 2014 by then-Gov. Bill Haslam after spending nearly two decades on the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Kirby graduated from Columbia Central Highschool before attending the University of Memphis School of Law and is, according to the court, the first Memphis graduate to sit on the Supreme Court.

Kirby was the first woman partner at Burch, Porter & Johnson in Memphis and was the first woman to serve on the appeals court when then-Gov. Don Sundquist appointed her in 1995.

“I am honored to have been chosen chief justice by my colleagues on the Court,” Kirby said. “I have the highest respect for Justice Page, my predecessor as chief justice, Justice Bivins, also a former chief justice, Justice Campbell, and now Justice Tarwater.

"Tennessee has the finest judiciary in the country; our judges are dedicated public servants who serve with integrity. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with all of them to strengthen public confidence in our courts, access to justice for vulnerable citizens, and the rule of law in Tennessee.”  

A ceremonial investiture with Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled for Oct. 4.

Also effective Sept. 1 was the addition of Dwight Tarwater, former legal counsel to Haslam, to the court. He succeeds the retiring Justice Sharon Lee, 


Lawrence Deputies File Continuance (TNLookout)

Two Lawrence County officers who have been indicted on five counts of federal civil rights and obstruction charges are asking for a continuance in their case, which came after the two allegedly slammed a 61-year-old man to the ground during an October 2020 traffic stop.

Sheriff’s Investigator Zach Ferguson and Deputy Eric Caperton are scheduled to go to trial Oct. 10 after being indicted on one count for allegedly pulling the victim from his van and throwing him to the ground, causing the man’s head to strike the pavement. Two counts allege the two officers lied while filing their use of force reports after the incident, claiming  the victim was on his knees when they removed him from his van and failing to disclose that they threw him on the ground and struck him multiple times in the head.  

The final two counts allege the officers lied to criminal investigators when they said the victim’s upper body never touched the ground during the arrest and that he sustained injuries from their punches while still in his van.

If convicted, Ferguson and Caperton face a maximum of ten years in prison for the excessive force charge and up to 20 years for the obstruction charges. They face up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

Caperton and Ferguson’s  waiver of the right to a speedy trial is the latest move in an almost three-year long case.

The FBI began its investigation of the pair in 2021. Nashville NewsChannel 5  obtained court filings claiming the officers texted photos of the victim’s injuries to former Assistant District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, Emily Crafton. In April of 2022, the Pulaski Citizen reported that Crafton was fired but pleaded not guilty to charges of official misconduct.

The two Lawrence County officers were on unpaid leave at that time.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Country music’s most famous show, the Grand Ol’ Opry, is set to celebrate its 98th birthday with four nights of shows celebrating Women of Country Music October 4 – 7. Opry member Lauren Alaina and CMA/ACM reigning female vocalist winner and Opry NextStage alum Lainey Wilson are among those set to kick off the week at the Wednesday Night Opry Oct. 4. Opry star Crystal Gayle will serve as spotlight artist as Opry Country Classics celebrates Queens of Country Thurs., Oct. 5. The Opry’s birthday weekend is set to include a special performance and fan Q&A event in the Opry House’s Studio A featuring fan favorites Chapel Hart saluting their female country music heroes Saturday at 1pm. The Birthday Week will conclude with CMA/ACM award-winner Sara Evans’ official Opry induction and two shows Saturday evening.

Fans are also invited to the Opry Plaza for free live music and family-friendly activities to celebrate the Opry’s birthday on Friday evening, Oct. 6, and all-day Saturday, Oct. 7.

Tickets are on sale now for all 2023 Opry, Opry Country Classics, and Opry Country Christmas shows at opry.com.


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