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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 7-2-24

WKOM/WKRM Radio

Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for July 2, 2024


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 Robbery (MauryCountySource)

On June 28th, in the early morning hours, officers were dispatched to the Walden Creek Apartments in Spring Hill to a reported robbery.

The victim reported that he was approached in the parking lot by two men who got out of a vehicle. During this encounter, the victim was threatened with a knife and the suspects got away with some items the victim had in a backpack.

This incident is believed to have been connected to an argument that the victim had with a third party earlier in the day. This does not appear to be a random act of violence.

An 18-year-old male with an address in Columbia and an 18-year-old male with an address in Nolensville have been arrested for this crime. The two have not been further identified.


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.


50 Days After Tornado (NewsChannel5)

It's been over 50 days since an EF 3 tornado tore through Maury County, leaving one woman dead and scores of homes destroyed. Despite all of the volunteers who have been on the ground helping, the recovery has been frustratingly slow for many homeowners.

On Thursday, several residents stated that they're locked in bitter battles with their insurance companies. Until they're given guidance on how to move forward, all they can do is wait.

But just waiting around isn't a luxury most people can afford, which is where The Family Center in Columbia comes in.

"So we help people pay their rent and utilities," said Dawn Taylor, the executive director. "We have a food pantry. We help homeless find permanent housing."

For the first 30 years, the organization focused mainly on homeless outreach, but that all changed with the tornado.

"We’ve just now added disaster relief to our genre," said Taylor.

Quickly, their office became a hub. Their conference room is full of water bottles, clothing and non-perishable food items. They take everything, literally. They don't reject any donation.

"Doesn’t matter what it is, just say yes and we’ll figure it out later," said Taylor.

But now, as short-term relief turns into a long painful recovery, Taylor is making sure they're meeting those needs too.

"There are still a lot of people in hotels, so they’re racking up some debt that way. So, we do collect gift cards for food and gas," said Taylor.

The organization also helps homeowners with tree removal.

"If the tree did not touch a structure, their insurance company is not able to help them," she said. "We’re just grateful that maybe we can help piece some of that need together, take some of that hurt and worry away."

For many, the wait to begin the recovery can be agonizing, but Dawn hopes everyone knows they won't be going through it alone. "Just know we are here for you," she said.

If you'd like to make monetary donations or sign up to volunteer, Maury County has ways to do so by visiting www.maurycounty-tn.gov.

And if you'd like to directly help The Family Center, visit www.familycenter.org.

Thursday morning, Storm 5 Senior Meteorologist Lelan Statom presented a check to Taylor at The Family Center of Maury County.

They received nearly $7,000 from their viewers, who donated to the NewsChannel 5 Cares Storm Relief Fund in partnership with the Scripps Howard Fund. This particular non-profit has been serving Maury County for more than three decades and they help residents with emergency housing, utility assistance, a food pantry and much more.


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."


Columbia 101 (Press Release)

The City of Columbia is pleased to announce the launch of Columbia 101, an innovative program designed to engage residents with local government and community services. Participants in Columbia 101 will have the unique opportunity to interact closely with city officials and staff, gaining firsthand knowledge of how municipal services are delivered and learning about avenues for community involvement and advocacy.

This consecutive two-day program will be open to all City of Columbia and Maury County residents and offered twice per year, with the official kick-off occurring on September 17th and September 18th. Participants can expect to begin each day at City Hall before learning more about all 12 city departments and touring select city facilities, such as the Fire & Rescue and Public Works Departments.

Applications for Columbia 101 are available now and will close on Friday, August 9th at 4:00 pm. Learn more and apply today at https://www.columbiatn.com


Brewer Named Hampshire Principle (Press Release)

Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura is thrilled to announce Mr. Ronnie Brewer as the new principal of Hampshire Unit School.

Mr. Brewer brings 16 years of educational experience to his new role at Hampshire Unit School. For the last two school years (2022-2023 & 2023-2024), he has served as Principal of Hickman County High School in Centerville, TN. Prior to that, he was the Assistant Principal at East Hickman High School during the 2021-2022 school year. His connection to Hampshire Unit School is strong, having taught there from 2017-2021 as a high school math teacher, Athletic Director, and High School Girls Basketball Coach. Earlier in his career, Mr. Brewer worked in Lewis County from 2010-2017, teaching middle and high school math and coaching girls basketball at both levels.

A proud graduate of Lewis Co. High School in 1985, Mr. Brewer continued his education at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), earning a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with a Secondary Education Minor, a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and an Education Specialists Degree in Administration.

Mr. Brewer and his wife of 35 years, Lisa, currently reside in Hohenwald, TN, where he has lived most of his life. They are extremely blessed with 3 adult children (all married) and 5 grandchildren.

"I am extremely excited about being back at Hampshire Unit School. Some of my most enjoyable years as an educator came during my time at Hampshire. There's just something special about a unit school and the sense of family that comes with it. Leaving Hampshire back in 2021 was a difficult decision and I made the move because I was ready to move my career to the administration role. I always said that if I had the chance to return to Hampshire in an admin role that I would pursue that opportunity, and now that I've been given that opportunity, I can't wait to get started and work alongside the great staff at HUS," said Mr. Brewer.

Superintendent Lisa Ventura expressed her confidence in Mr. Brewer's leadership, stating, "Ronnie Brewer's educational background make him an exceptional choice for principal. His experience as a teacher, coach, and administrator within our school community uniquely positions him to lead with insight and dedication. We look forward to seeing the positive impact he will continue to have on our students and staff. I am confident that his love for Hampshire and the unit school community will be evident in his decision-making. I look forward to his return to Hampshire Unit School in this role."


School Board Candidate Forum (Press Release)

Maury Alliance is hosting a forum for the School Board candidates running in the August 1 elections. This event is for the public and everyone is welcome to attend. The forum will take place at Columbia State Community College - Ledbetter Auditorium, located at1665 Hampshire Pike on Tuesday Jul 9, 2024 from 5:00 PM - 6:30 PM CDT. Doors open at 5:00PM. The forum begins promptly at 5:15PM

FREE to the community! RSVPs are appreciated. You can do so by calling Maury Alliance at 931-388-2155.

Candidates who have been invited to attend include:


School Board Member District 2

     - Franklin (Frank) A. Bellamy

     - Robert Plageman


School Board Member District 4

     - Darryl Martin

     - Chandler Anderson


School Board Member District 5

     - Justin Haucke

     - David R Moore


School Board Member District 6

     - Susan Stephenson


School Board Member District 8

     - Brendan Babcock

     - Gregory D. Hanners


School Board Member District 10

     - Lesa Webster-Dawson

You will also want to remember these important election dates:


>> July 2nd is the last day to register to vote!

>> Early voting is from July 12 - July 27, 2024

>> August 1st is Election Day.


Run for The Well Outreach (Press Release)

Join The Well Outreach on July 4th at Summit High School in Spring Hill, for an action-packed day of fun in support of your local food pantry! Lace up your shoes and choose from a Timed 5K or Color Fun Run (complete with a FOAM pit!). There is a 1 mile turnaround option for those young ones who still want to get in on the fun!

 Not a runner but still want to support the Well? Opt for the Sleep In Option and still grab some awesome event merchandise!

 Plus, don’t miss the Bicycle/Stroller Parade (hosted by Spring Hill Parks and Recreation), perfect for the whole family!

Come and be part of this unforgettable event as we Run For Hunger in Middle Tennessee! Sign up today as spots will fill up fast!


SIGN UP AT: thewelloutreach.org


Your participation can make a difference to help feed families in need in Middle Tennessee!


…And now, news from around the state…

New Laws Take Effect (WPLN)

Starting July 1, more than 100 new laws took effect in Tennessee. Altogether, lawmakers passed more than 500 new laws, but some will be enacted throughout the year.

These laws reflect significant shifts in Tennessee law, impacting firearms, school and public safety, immigration and more.

Here’s a list of 10 new laws that will mean big changes to the state’s legal landscape.

Firearms: Juvenile offenders of minors cannot buy or own firearms until age 25.

Mental Incompetence: The new law prevents those deemed mentally incompetent from purchasing firearms after being found so by a court. Known as Jillian’s Law, it was named after Jillian Ludwig a Belmont student who was killed by a stray bullet.

Death Penalty: Individuals convicted of child rape face the death penalty.

Immigration Verification: Law enforcement must contact federal immigration officials to verify the driver’s immigration status during traffic stops under certain circumstances.

DUI Penalties: Minimum jail time for drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.15% increased from 2 to 7 days.

ELVIS Act: Protects artists from exploitation by artificial intelligence, enforceable as a Class A misdemeanor.

School Safety: Threats of mass violence at schools upgraded to a Class E felony.

Abortion Trafficking: Adults transporting minors for abortions face Class A misdemeanor charges.

Street Drag Racing: Elevated to a Class E felony, punishable with up to six years in prison.

Age Appropriate Materials: School libraries must adjust collections to suit students’ age and educational needs.


Tennessee Drops in Ranking (Tennessean)

U.S. News and World Reports has released its "Best States of 2024" list, which measures how well states perform for their citizens. The ranking takes into consideration multiple factors including a state's economy, public safety, education, and others.

Tennessee took the No. 27 spot, ranking in the middle of the pack, however, the Volunteer State fell behind three places from last year's ranking. In 2023, Tennessee ranked as No. 24, climbing up five spots from No. 29 in 2022. Some neighboring states fared slightly better with North Carolina coming in at No. 19, Georgia at No. 18 and Virginia coming in at No. 13.

According to U.S. News and World Reports, more weight was given to some categories than others, based on a survey of what matters most to residents, for example health care and education. Then came state economies, infrastructure, and the opportunity states offer their citizens. Fiscal stability followed closely, along with measures of crime and corrections and a state's natural environment.

According to the study, the Volunteer State performed best in fiscal stability (No. 5), economy (No. 12) and infrastructure (No. 21). On the other end of the spectrum, the state performed poorly in healthcare (No. 42), crime and corrections (No. 42) and natural environment (No. 34).


Tennessee ranked No. 22 in opportunity and No. 31 in education.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Nashville International Airport, in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, announces the launch of BNA PASSport, a new offering for non-ticketed guests to access dining and retail at the airport beyond the checkpoint. Beginning July 1, visitors can explore various activities at BNA that not only include shopping and dining but also plane-watching, art exhibits, and the opportunity to meet a loved one at the gate.

“As we continue to build a world-class airport, this new program opens the door for everyone, not just travelers, to experience BNA like a local,” said Doug Kreulen, president and CEO of BNA. “Our restaurants and shops capture the essence of Nashville, and BNA PASSport creates an exciting way to explore them. Grab a bite, browse the shops, and experience Music City, all under one roof.”

A daily allowance of 75 non-ticketed visitors can receive approval to access post-security areas from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Guests can apply – online at flynashville.com providing a minimum of 24-hour notice and up to seven days in advance. Applicants can expect to receive an email indicating approval or denial – at midnight the day of the requested visit.

All participants in the BNA PASSport program are subject to the same Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security requirements and regulations as passengers boarding an aircraft. Ticketed passengers will be given priority through the passenger screening checkpoints to board their flights.

Visitors must be at least 18 years old to take part in this free program. Individuals under this age must be accompanied by an adult.

Commercial or business use, including but not limited to news and media, as well as any other unspecified applications, is strictly prohibited.

For more details and Frequently Asked Questions, please visit www.iflynashville.com.

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