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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 7-1-24


Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for July 1, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Franklin Man Charged in Columbia Kroger Fire (MauryCountySource)

Jeffrey Lee Mealer, a 55-year-old man from Franklin, Tennessee, pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison without parole for Aggravated Arson.

Mealer intentionally set fire to the building and shopping cart storage area outside the Columbia Kroger (located at 845 Nashville Highway) on June 5, 2022, while the night stock crew was working inside. He remained at the scene as Columbia Police and Columbia Fire & Rescue responded. Through security camera footage and witness statements, Mealer was identified as a suspect. He was subsequently arrested and charged with Aggravated Arson, six counts of Reckless Endangerment, and Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell.

“Arson is a severe crime, especially when it endangers lives through senseless acts,” remarked Columbia Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Donnie Knoepfel. “Columbia Fire and Rescue is committed to working with state and local authorities to ensure these crimes are investigated, prosecuted, and to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions.”

Last week, Mealer accepted a plea deal in Maury County Circuit Court that included the 15-year sentence.

“All agencies involved did a phenomenal job working together for a successful outcome in this case,” said Assistant Chief Knoepfel in response to the conviction.

This case was investigated by the Columbia Police Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Columbia Fire and Rescue.

Columbia Passes Budget (CDH)

Following Columbia's adoption of its 2024-2025 budget, as well as its latest five-year strategic plan, city leaders have detailed the latest projects and expenditures.

Earlier this month, the Columbia City Council passed upon second reading a $75.8 million budget with 5% raises for employees and multiple new staff positions. In addition, the council also adopted its latest 2024-2029 strategic plan, which lists the city's top priorities, which have been completed, will receive funding this year or remain delayed.

A few of the 2024-25 FY budget's top funding projects include hiring new city staff positions, a $3 million road paving project, efforts to improve local tourism, as well as a few new upgrades to the downtown district and local parks.

City Manager Tony Massey stated that the city's approach, as always, has been to budget its revenues conservatively. This not only allows for growth to happen, but also keeps a city safe in the event of an economic emergency, such as during the COVID pandemic.

"We are living within our means," Massey said. "It's a good budget, and we are continuing to move the needle."

A big part of the 2024-2025 budget has the city investing in its employees, with personnel costs amounting to about $30.8 million, or approximately 65.3% of Columbia's $47.2 million general fund budget.

This includes hiring one new firefighter, which will be the first of three firefighters to be funded over the next two years through a FEMA SAFER grant.

Columbia Fire & Rescue will also receive $450,000 funding for a new pump truck, with Columbia Police Department receiving $706,000 to purchase 10 new patrol vehicles. Public Works will also receive $60,000 to replenish its salt supply.

The city also seeks to hire a Geography Information System (GIS) analyst for its Development Services Department, which Massey said would enhance how the city oversees future development.

"They're the ones who do all of the mapping for zonings, that kind of thing," he said.

Massey added that the city will also rework one of its administrative assistant positions to oversee marketing and communications of Ridley Sports Complex.

"We're looking to take things up a notch out there," Massey said.

One of the largest project investments in this year's budget is a $1.5 million investment for a $3 million project to conduct street paving.

Massey said this is the second half of a previously funded $3 million project using State Street Aid dollars, or other streams like gas tax revenue.

"This is a big thing for us," Massey said. "We did the same thing for $3 million two years ago. We don't know how many streets it's going to be yet, but it'll be a pretty sizeable number."

Another roadway project will be $65,000 to install hi-definition traffic flow monitoring cameras at ten of the city's intersections to improve signal timing based on the current conditions.

"Those images will flow back to a computer with AI-based software and will make decisions for traffic signals in real time," Assistant City Manager Thad Jablonski said. "We are really stepping into the future with this new traffic technology."

Massey added the cameras are "to observe traffic flow, not to write tickets."

The city is also investing $1 million to replace a few traffic signal mast arms located around downtown Columbia which have deteriorated over time.

"This is one of the more notable things in this budget, as these were part of the original streetscape project that was done 20 years ago, and so we are going back and upgrading it to the original," Massey said. "And I'm sure if we have some extra money next year we can look into updating some of the decorative lights downtown, because they are showing some age too."

An additional $30,000 will also be funded for the city's upcoming special census, which will initially be available online for the first month, then move to door-to-door applications the second month. However, a firm launch date is yet to be determined, but Massey said he is hoping the census will be available sometime in August.

A new interactive information kiosk, budgeted at $24,500, is also being proposed at the Visit Columbia Welcome Center on North Main Street to provide visitors with new ways to learn about local businesses, landmarks and upcoming events.

The city's 2024-2029 plan encompasses more than 50 projects broken down under top priority and high priority, with about half receiving 2024-2025 funding or considered complete.

Some of the top projects completed include 5% staff pay increases, revising the city's development and zoning code, adding bicycle lanes to city streets and establishing the inaugural Fall Fest in 2023.

The top funding approvals include the upcoming street paving project, hiring staff, as well as funding for a new flood study and creating a city litter task force.

Other funding approvals include replacing the splash pad at Fairview Park and evaluating its skate park, which Massey and Jablonski said is one "great example of a strategic planning goal coming to fruition."

"When you talk about what we look for to fund in each year's budget, we use this as a real blueprint to do that. And year-in to year-out, that's really helped us guide funding decisions for what the council wants to see enacted," Jablonski said.

"For example, the splash pad or the street paving, those big-ticket items that, while it's a big expense on the one hand, it's important to the community, important to the council, and so we propose a way to fund that."

Vida Nova Coffee (WKOM Audio 2:29)

On Friday, Vita Nova Arts Coffee shop held their grand opening in the Arts District. Front Porch Radio’s Delk Kennedy attended the ribbon cutting and learned about all the great services they provide…

Johnston Begins Ads Challenging Ogles (CDH)

Kicking off the air wars in the race for Tennessee's 5th Congressional District, Metro Council member Courtney Johnston, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles in the Republican primary, released her first television ad.

In the ad she criticizes Ogles for having "accomplished nothing" during his first term in office. According to FCC filings, Johnston's campaign spent about $62,000 on TV ad buys so far.

"He chases headlines, not results," the ad states. "No more do-nothing politicians. It's time for a leader who fights and wins."

During his first term in Congress, Ogles has been a vocal critic on television and talk radio of the Biden administration's border policies and stances on social issues. He has also filed more than 100 pieces of legislation, including amendments.

Johnston, a realtor who set aside her career to focus on representing her Metro Council district, is challenging Ogles on both his integrity and his first-term record.

"I think whether you are on the local, state, or federal level, the people who are representing us ought to have character, integrity, and the ability to tell the truth," Johnston recently told the Hillsboro-Brentwood Exchange Club. "I don't think he's present in the district ― I know that he's not. He's accomplished nothing."

While on the Metro Council, Johnston has been a conservative voice in the majority progressive body, voting against a 34% property tax increase in 2020.

As evidence of her record, Johnston points to her victory on the Metro Council establishing a license plate reader program in Nashville, despite opposition in the progressive members, to work as a "force multiplier" for the police to help solve missing persons and missing property crimes. She also points to success closing a homeless encampment in her Metro Council district, rehousing individuals who previously lived there and connecting them with wraparound social services.

The race between Ogles and Johnston is expected to be a contentious one. Ogles, was recently endorsed by Americans for Prosperity Action for his fiscal conservatism.

Polk Exhibit Opening (WKOM Audio 2:09)

On Friday, the President James K. Polk Home and Museum opened their new museum room highlighting President Polk’s life and times. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended their exhibit opening and spoke to Museum Director Rachel Helvering to learn more about how the exhibit came about…

Van Sant Made Battle Creek Middle Principle (Press Release)

Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura is pleased to announce Dr. Angie Van Sant as the new principal of Battle Creek Middle School.

Dr. Van Sant brings a wealth of experience and dedication to her new role. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Lipscomb University, a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Cumberland University, an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Lipscomb University, and a Doctorate of Education from Liberty University.

With twenty-six years in education, Dr. Van Sant has served eighteen years in the classroom with Metro Nashville Public Schools and eight years as the assistant principal of Whitthorne Middle School.

Dr. Van Sant expressed her enthusiasm for the new role, stating, “I am excited about this opportunity and am very honored and thankful that Superintendent Ventura and Maury County Public Schools have instilled their confidence in me to be the new principal of Battle Creek Middle School. I look forward to serving, supporting, and leading the Battle Creek community and continuing the innovative and strong tradition of academic, artistic, and athletic excellence.”

Superintendent Ventura expressed her confidence in Dr. Van Sant, stating, “Dr. Angie Van Sant’s extensive experience, strong academic background, and dedication to fostering a vibrant and inclusive learning environment make her an outstanding choice for the principal of Battle Creek Middle School. Dr. Van Sant’s resume shows that she is a lifelong learner, and I know that she will bring that energy, enthusiasm, and love of learning to the students and community at Battle Creek Middle School. We are confident that under her leadership, Battle Creek Middle School will continue to thrive and uphold its tradition of excellence.”

Leadership Maury (Press Release)

Maury Alliance is excited to announce that applications for the Leadership Maury Class of 2024-2025 are now open!

Leadership Maury offers a unique opportunity to connect with local decision-makers, gain insights into various sectors, and explore all the great things Maury County has to offer. Whether you live, work, or volunteer here, this program is your chance to contribute to the future of our community.

Apply by July 19th and be part of a network of passionate leaders dedicated to making a difference! Learn more at

…And now, news from around the state…

Blood Assurance Supplies Vandy (MauryCountySource)

Blood Assurance is pleased to announce that it has been named the primary blood supplier for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). The nonprofit will now be the primary supplier to all four Vanderbilt hospitals. This move makes Blood Assurance the primary blood supplier for most of the hospitals in Middle Tennessee, and the secondary supplier for the remainder.

“Our commitment to providing a safe and reliable blood supply is unwavering,” said Dr. Liz Culler, President and CEO of Blood Assurance. “Partnering with VUMC, a leader in medical care and innovation, allows us to better serve the community and save more lives. Together, we can make a profound impact on patient care.”

The partnership begins on July 1st, a critical time of year. During the summer months, the number of traumatic injuries typically rises, especially around the 4th of July holiday. VUMC is the only adult and pediatric Level 1 Trauma Center in Middle Tennessee, offering the most advanced emergency care available. 

“We are honored to partner with Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” said Garry Allison, SVP of Operations for Blood Assurance. “But now more than ever, we need community organizations and businesses to step up and host blood drives. The demand for blood donations is constant, and your participation makes a significant difference in ensuring we have the supply needed to save lives.”

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is one of the leading healthcare providers in the country, renowned for its comprehensive medical services and innovative research. The partnership with Blood Assurance will enable VUMC to continue its mission of delivering exceptional patient care. 

 “Ensuring a reliable blood supply is essential to our ability to provide top-tier medical services,” said Dr. Jennifer Andrews, Medical Director of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Blood Bank. 

For the month of July, all Blood Assurance donors will receive an exclusive ‘United We Give’ t-shirt with a front and back design. It’s a great way to show support for your community and save lives at the same time.

To donate or sponsor/host a blood drive, you can visit, call 800-962-0628, or text BAGIVE to 999777, to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are also accepted. 

Tax Free Day (Tennessean)

Tennessee's sales tax holiday is rapidly approaching, meaning Tennesseans will soon be able to save on eligible items before the beginning of the school year.

While Tennessee does not have an individual income tax, the state ranks high when it comes to state and local sales tax rates. Tennessee's general state tax rate is 7%, combined with local taxes rates, that figure rises to 9.55%, making the Volunteer State the state with the second highest average combined state and local sales tax rates, according the Tax Foundation.

On Friday, July 26 through Sunday, July 28, 2024, Tennesseans will be able to save on eligible computers, school supplies and clothing both online and in-person. The general rule is that items individually priced at $100 or less are eligible, while items priced over $100 are non-eligible. Additionally, items which are sold together cannot be split up to stay beneath the $100 maximum.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

On July 29, country music’s biggest stars will come together at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for a live concert event, “Toby Keith: American Icon.” The action-packed special event will air on NBC Wednesday, August 28, from 8-10pm ET/PT. Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Ashley McBryde, Parker McCollum, Jelly Roll, Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood, Lainey Wilson, The War And Treaty, and more will gather for a once-in-a-lifetime concert celebrating the life and legacy of the proud Oklahoman and global superstar.

One of the most prolific self-directed creative forces in country music’s modern era, singer-songwriter Toby Keith amassed 42 top 10 hits, 33 No. 1s, 44 million albums sold, 100 million BMI performances, and more than 10 billion streams largely on the strength of his own songwriting and producing.

He was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame shortly before his passing in February. Among his many accomplishments, the New York based all-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame (2015), the National Medal of Arts (2021), the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (2021), and BMI Icon (2022) were his most treasured.

Tickets for “Toby Keith: American Icon” are on sale now on


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