Local News Articles

Willoughby Gets New Three Year Contract

March 1, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
School Board Chairman Johnny Lattimore and Director Mark Willoughby

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby has been offered a new three year contract by the Board of Education. He is expected to sign it.

The school board met in special session Friday night and voted 4-3 to enter into a new agreement with Willoughby, which will be from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Board members John David Foutch, Charles Robinson, Kenny Rhody, and Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted in favor. Members Billy Miller, Doug Stephens, and W.J. (Dub) Evins, III voted against it, preferring a one year contract instead.

The agreement establishes Willoughby's base salary to be $97,675 per year plus benefits and any additional increases in pay he may be due if state and or local governments should grant future raises.

Other terms are essentially the same as the old contract except for a few changes. The new deal broadens the provision for which the director may be terminated for cause. It drops a section under which the director would have had to repay the school board for the costs of conducting a search for a new director up to $10,000, if he should resign within the first year of his contract. And it waives the authority of the board to be able to transfer the director to another position in the school system, if the board should want to replace him as director.

"I think it needs to be a one year contract," said Board member Miller. "We have five members on this board that may not be here next year that are up for re-election. If he is doing a fine job, he doesn't have to worry about a job," he said.

Before the three year contract was adopted, Miller made a motion to offer Willoughby a one year deal. Board member Stephens seconded the motion but it failed on a 4-3 vote. Evins was the only other member to vote with them.

"The reason I am voting "yes" (for a one year contract) is because I was elected by the people and they know I am very conservative in my actions. I have nothing against Mr. Willoughby and I think he could spend ten years here doing the job that he is doing right now. But my vote is "yes", said Stephens.

"My vote is "no" (for a one year contract)," said Board member Foutch. "I am not going to be sitting in this seat another year. (Foutch is not running for re-election) I feel like the person that sits in this seat needs some time to understand the functions of this board, to get their feet on the ground and to see what is going on. A year (director) contract won't give that person (new board member) the depth (understanding) that they need. For that reason I have to vote "no", he said.

Second district member Robinson voted "no" on a one year contract saying he thought Willoughby has earned another three years. "When you look at the state report card, you can see that we are progressively moving forward at a good pace but maybe not as fast as we probably need to. But our overall school system is going in the right direction under the guidance of Mr. Willoughby," he said.

Third district member Rhody then made a motion for the three year contract. Foutch seconded the motion and Board members Robinson and Lattimore joined them in voting its approval. The other three members voted against it.

Miller was concerned that some members of the board were voting on the contract when they may not have completely read it. Although a majority of the board members participated in recent workshops in coming to terms with Willloughby on a new contract, the final draft was not presented to the board until the meeting Friday night. Director Willoughby said he had not made any changes in the proposal but he had sent it to Chuck Cagle for review. Cagle is an attorney for the School Boards Association who usually represents the local school system in legal matters.

Shortly after the meeting was gaveled to order, Chairman Lattimore called for a ten minute recess to give the board more time to look over the new contract. Miller found that at least one provision was left out of the final draft that he had requested be put in during previous workshops.

Specifically, Miller wanted to add a clause that would require Willoughby to repay the school system for the cost of conducting a new search for a director, if he should resign at any time during his employment contract. Under the existing agreement, Willoughby was responsible for this cost only if he were to leave during the first year of his contract.

Director Willoughby said Cagle told him that this provision was not legally enforceable and should not be included in the new agreement.

Miller also wanted a clause carried over from the existing contract that would give the board the authority to transfer the director to another position within the school system, if the members should ever want to replace him as director. If he should refuse to be transferred, the director's contract could be terminated. The new contract waives the board's authority to transfer the director.

Willoughby said Cagle also recommended making this change. He said a transfer provision is not needed since the Board has the right in the contract to terminate the Director at any time for cause.

Miller moved that both the "repayment" and "transfer" provisions be added back to the new contract saying he felt it was the board's fiduciary responsibility to protect its own interests and those of the taxpayers and not just provide the best deal for Mr. Willoughby. Miller's motion died on a 4-3 vote.

UPDATED: City Must Reduce Water Rate to DUD, Chancellor Grants Motion for Temporary Injunction

February 28, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Chancellor Ronald Thurman

The City of Smithville has been ordered by the Chancery Court to immediately reduce its water rate to the DeKalb Utility District from $5.00 to $2.67 per thousand gallons, which a water study last year found to be the city's actual cost to produce water.

(CLICK PDF TO READ DUD MOTION FOR TEMPORARY INJUNCTION)

Motion for Temporary Injunction re City filed 2 21 14.pdf (3.11 MB)

(CLICK PDF TO READ CITY'S RESPONSE TO DUD MOTION FOR TEMPORARY INJUNCTION)

Response.pdf (1.2 MB)

Following a two hour hearing Friday in Cookeville, Chancellor Ronald Thurman granted a DUD motion for a temporary injunction barring the city from continuing to impose its $5.00 rate until the city gives proper notice to DUD and justification for raising the rate above $2.67 per thousand gallons. The ruling was only on the motion for a temporary injunction. The lawsuit brought against the city by the DUD is yet to be litigated. The city has agreed not to disconnect water service to the DUD while it is pending.

As part of the ruling, the Chancellor required the DUD to post an injunction bond (as required per Rule 65.05 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure) of $75,000 to be held by the Court pending the final outcome of this case as security for any damages that might result. This action indemnifies the city against loss in case it is later decided that the injunction should not have been granted.

As a result of Friday's ruling, DUD will immediately reduce rates charged to its customers who receive water that the District purchases from the City of Smithville. As an example, the minimum bill will be reduced from $28.93 for 2,000 gallons purchased to the rate of $22.15. The average District customer purchases 6,000 gallons per month and that rate will go down from $76.88 to the sum of $56.54, a decrease of $20.34.

During Friday's hearing, the Court found that the city violated Section 18-502 of the Smithville City Code, which requires the City of Smithville to give the DeKalb Utility District 30 days' notice in advance of a rate change. The City of Smithville gave the DUD only 16 days' actual notice in advance of the rate change, effective January 1st. The Chancellor also found that the city had not given proper justification for arriving at the $5.00 rate.

The primary reason given by the city for raising the DUD rate from $2.05 to $5.00 per thousand gallons was that this is the rate city customers are paying for water.

Chancellor Thurman further agreed with DUD's argument that the higher rate has caused irreparable harm to the DUD and its customers. As evidence, attorneys for DUD said sixteen DUD customers have already canceled service and they cited one customer's claim that she must now make adjustments in her family budget to pay the higher water bills. Attorneys also claim that DUD's reputation with many of it's customers has been damaged, due to the higher water rate imposed by the city.

Attorneys for the city said the Chancery Court does not have the authority to change the water rate. "It is not within the province of this court to set water rates, even temporarily, for the sale of water by the city to the DUD. This court should refrain from vacating a decision of the city board and substituting its judgment for the broad discretionary authority afforded by the City Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Moreover, even if this Court had the authority to set a temporary water rate as requested, DUD has not met its burden of proof on the required elements for a temporary injunction" wrote the attorneys in their response to the DUD's motion for a temporary injunction against the city.

"The Plaintiff (DUD) seems to be assuming that this court has the legal authority to play the oversight role over the city which the Utility Management Review Board exercises over Utility Boards and that this court will engage in an extensive fact-finding process to determine what the "reasonable" rate should be, but there is no legal basis for the court to do this. Instead, the court's proper role is limited to a review of whether the city's action on December 12, 2013 (setting the $5.00 per thousand gallon rate) was illegal, arbitrary, or capricious, and the Plaintiff (DUD) has alleged no fact indicating that high standard has been met," the city attorneys wrote.

They also argued that despite the ordinance requiring a 30 day notification, the DUD was fully aware that the city had intended to change the water rate, effective January 1st because that is the date when the DUD's ten year water purchase agreement was set to expire. On November 13, the city sent DUD proposals for a new contract and served notice that if the options were rejected, the city would begin charging the DUD the same rate as outside city customers, effective January 1st. The DUD subsequently rejected the city's offers primarily because they required minimum purchase amounts of water.

The city's lawyers further claim that the $2.67 rate determined by Warren and Associates to be the city's cost of producing water was based on the assumption that the city would continue selling roughly the same amount of water that it is currently selling to DUD as its major customer so that the city could recover its capital costs of upgrading the water treatment plant by approximately $3 million dollars over 20 years. "In light of the fact that two-thirds of the city's water business will "dry up" when DUD builds its own facility within two years, the $2.67 per thousand gallon figure set forth in the Warren study becomes inapplicable. DUD has publicly indicated that it wants to continue to have access to the city's water supply and water treatment facilities without an obligation to pay its fair share of the city's capital costs to maintain and improve those facilities. The DUD effectively wants a rate based on capital costs spread over 20 years without committing to purchase its water from the city over those 20 years," wrote attorneys for the city in their response.

"The DUD's failure either to negotiate a contract renewal with the city or to obtain an alternate source of supply in advance of the expiration of the contract, with the predictable result that the city began charging the same rate it charges other customers in the area, reflects nothing more than poor business planning on the part of the DUD. Thus, any damages to DUD are self-inflicted and in no way constitute an "irreparable injury" sufficient to justify a temporary injunction," concluded attorneys for the city.

Attorneys for DUD contend the city's rate of $5.00 per thousand gallons to the DUD represents a 144% increase and is unreasonable and in conflict with a provision of state law which requires that "Municipal utility systems shall charge rates that reflect the actual cost of providing the services rendered and shall not operate for gain or profit or as a source of revenue to a governmental entity".

The city's Warren Study last year determined the city's actual cost of producing water to be $2.67 per thousand gallons. However during the UMRB hearing last April, Jerry Warren of Warren and Associates testified that because there is no transportation costs for providing water to the DUD, the rate could be reduced by as much as 42 cents to $2.25 per thousand gallons.

In their motion for a temporary injunction, DUD attorneys wrote "Based upon the contractual rate of $2.05 per thousand gallons, the DUD paid approximately $632,880 for the water purchased from the city in 2013. By way of comparison, if the DUD purchases the same amount of water from the city in 2014 as it did in 2013, at the rate of $5.00 per thousand, the cost will soar to $1,543,610, an increase of $910,000".

Even at the $2.05 per thousand rate, DUD attorneys claim the city made money off the DUD. Cash reserves were used to pay for the renovation of the Smithville water treatment plant a few years ago and the city water and sewer fund still has zero debt with cash reserves of almost three million dollars and liabilities of less than $234,000.

After the city raised the rate to $5.00 per thousand gallons on January 1st, DUD gave notice to its customers that a rate increase would be necessary for them to help absorb the cost, since state law prohibits a water utility from operating at a loss.

DUD attorneys contend that the city has engaged in a money grab in that they know their largest water customer will be going away after the DUD water plant is in operation and they want to get as much revenue from DUD while they can in order to keep from having to raise water rates to their own customers.

They claim the actions of the city have been arbitrary and capricious and that the Chancery Court does have the authority to intervene in order to stop it.

DUD was represented Friday by attorneys Dewey Branstetter, Jr. of Nashville and Keith Blair. The City's attorneys were Kristin E. Berexa of Nashville and Vester Parsley.

Alexandria Runaway Child Found Unharmed

February 28, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins

A ten year old child, who went missing from his home in Alexandria Thursday night, was found unharmed some four hours later around midnight.

Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins told WJLE that the boy, who lives with his mother and three siblings on Avant Circle, left home around eight p.m.. He was found by Chief Collins and Alexandria Police Sergeant Chris Russell around 11:57 p.m. hiding behind a central heat and air unit at a building on Edgewood Street about a quarter of a mile from his residence. The boy was wrapped in a comforter that he had brought from home. The child was also wearing a jacket and a back pack.

Because of the extremely cold weather, officials knew it was imperative to locate the boy as soon as possible once he was reported missing by his mother.

A search began involving members of the Alexandria Police and Fire Departments, DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, Smithville-DeKalb County Rescue Squad, DeKalb EMS, and a four member team of the Tennessee Highway Patrol Special Operations who brought in tracking dogs. Officials had also called for a THP helicopter to fly over with its fleer system heat sensing device but the child was found before it arrived.

Although he appeared to be okay, the boy was taken by DeKalb EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital to be checked out.

This is the second time within a week that the boy has run away from home. According to Chief Collins, the child ran away last Saturday night but was found a couple of hours later at an abandoned structure on Industrial Road.

Chief Collins wishes to thank everyone who joined in the effort to find the child Thursday night.

Governor Cites State's Achievements and Goals at Reagan Day Dinner (VIEW VIDEO OF GOVERNOR'S SPEECH HERE)

February 27, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Governor Bill Haslam, State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver, and Election Commission Chair Walteen Parker
Local GOP Party Chair Jennifer Winfree presents plaque to Barbara Vanatta in memory of her late husband Kennith Vanatta, former party chairman

Vowing to continue working to make Tennessee a better place to live, work and raise a family, Governor Bill Haslam addressed a gathering at the DeKalb County Republican Party's Reagan Day Dinner Thursday evening at the county complex auditorium.

The Governor commended state legislators for joining him in efforts to more wisely manage the taxpayers money, cut taxes, improve education so that high school graduates are more ready for college or a career, and create a business friendly climate in the state to attract more jobs.

"In Tennessee, we have the lowest debt per person of any of the fifty states," said Governor Haslam. When you go to bed at night, you probably should sleep with one eye open worried about how much debt we have out of Washington but at least as a Tennessean you should know that for years we in Tennessee have been responsible about how we manage your money. We have one of the two or three lowest tax systems in the country. We have a state where our savings account, what governments call rainy day funds, has doubled since we've been in office. We've lowered taxes. We've cut the tax on groceries. We eliminated the gift and inheritance tax. And we're cutting the Hall Income Tax for senior citizens. We're cutting taxes. We also owe less money than we did before. Hardly any other government anywhere can say that. I think that's what conservative government looks like. We run our budgets the way that you do and because of that we've been named one of the three best managed states in the country," the Governor continued.

As for education, Governor Haslam said the state has a primary responsibility to see that students in Tennessee are better prepared for the future. "In about three months we will be having high school graduations all across the state. One of our primary responsibilities is to make certain that when those students walk across the stage and shake the principal's hand and get a diploma that they are prepared when they walk off that stage either to go on to school, to college or that they are prepared for a job. In Tennessee we haven't always done a good job on that. About four or five years ago, Tennessee was given an F minus for truth in advertising because we were saying that ninety percent plus of our kids were proficient at their grade level. But seventy percent of those kids needed remedial work when they got to community college. Now we're raising expectations, making certain that student are prepared for the work that is out there. We do that for two reasons. One is so that our kids will have every opportunity in a very competitive world. But the second reason is because businesses want more depth of talent. They have told us we should produce more of those skill sets that are needed so we're working hard to do that, making certain that our students are prepared for this. At the end of the day, those of us in government struggle hard to make critical choices and we don't take it lightly. We know that the things we do really have impact and we want to make certain that we're preparing students and that we're making this a place where businesses want to locate," said Governor Haslam.

"Businesses are deciding where to locate by the kind of government that exists in that place. About three months ago CEO magazine polled 500 CEO's of all sized businesses from all across the country. They ranked all the states one to fifty in order of the state's you'd like to do business in. Tennessee ranked fourth. Of the top twenty states ranked by the CEO's, seventeen of them were led by Republican Governors. Of the top ten, nine were led by Republican Governors and of the top five all of them were. What that says is, we set the climate and people are choosing our states to do business," he said.

"My pledge to you is to do everything we can to make this the kind of state you're proud of and where you want to raise your family and grow your business," concluded Governor Haslam.

Following the Governor's remarks, Jennifer Winfree, local GOP Party Chair presented a plaque to Barbara Vanatta, whose late husband Kennith Vanatta served as party chairman from 2002 to 2008.

The plaque reads " Presented in memory of Kennith Vanatta, Chairman 2002-2008. For his many years of dedicated and loyal service to the party. It is people like him who have made this party strong. DeKalb County Republican Party"

Barbara Vanatta is a member of the DeKalb County Election Commission.

Governor Greeted with Protests over Education Standards in Tennessee (VIEW VIDEOS HERE)

February 27, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Local Teachers Protest Governor's Stand on Education Standards
Local Educators Suzanne Gash and Suzette Barnes Carry Signs in Protest
Educator January Agee with a message to Governor Bill Haslam
Students Joined in the Protests

A group of local educators, students, and others opposed to Tennessee Common Core standards greeted Governor Bill Haslam with protest signs and chants as he arrived in Smithville Thursday evening to speak at the local Republican Party's Reagan Day Dinner. The event was held at the county complex auditorium.

The Governor did not acknowledge the protestors as he emerged from his automobile and entered the building where friends and supporters were waiting to welcome him.

Many educators say they are fed up with the pressures put upon them in the classroom and they want the Governor, a supporter of Common Core, to hear their voices. "We're sick and tired of being sick and tired with the way teachers and kids are being treated in education," said Bill Conger, President of the DeKalb County Education Association. "We're over testing and putting too much on the kids. The Common Core and the standards they're trying to set for us are too high, too fast and they're putting pressure on teachers making it difficult for them to do their job every day," said Conger.

"It's difficult for the teachers to live up to all the mandates," said Bryan Jones, an eighth grade science teacher. "We just can't teach school because of all the paperwork. We have so many things going on we have to do to comply with the state. It's also very difficult for the kids. Common Core is something we need to reject as a county and state," added Jones.

Lisa Mabe, a third grade teacher at Northside Elementary, said the evaluations and merit pay system are most unfair to teachers. "We teach our hearts out every day. We want our students to do well but we are judged on an evaluation system that isn't fair. We're scored one through five and we're rarely given five's because we're not perfect. Yet we do everything that is expected of us. We love our kids and we want them to learn. We only ask that they treat us fairly. The merit pay isn't fair. They want to give us raises based on our job performance and our test scores but our classes aren't divided equally. If you want us to have merit pay, you've got to base all our classrooms equally and give all teachers a chance to achieve those standards but it's not set up that way. It never has been. I've been teaching for nineteen years and I've had more evaluations this year than I had my first year of teaching. You are welcome in our classroom anytime. I want to be accountable. I am accountable but do it fairly," said Mabe.

The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency to hold March for Meals Campaign

February 27, 2014

The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s Nutrition Program announced today that it will be participating in the national 2014 March for Meals campaign. UCHRA’s Nutrition Program Community Champions week is March 17 – 21, 2014.

“In this tough economy, the food and human contact we provide to seniors in this community is needed more than ever,” said Kelly Dishman, Nutrition Director of the Upper Cumberland Nutrition Program “We need the community to come out and support our March for Meals events. Our clients are counting on us. We can’t let them down.”

March for Meals is a national campaign held during the month of March, initiated and sponsored by the Meals On Wheels Association of America to raise awareness of senior hunger and to encourage action on the part of local communities. Hundreds of Senior Nutrition Programs across the United States, like UCHRA’s Nutrition Program, promote March for Meals through public events, partnerships with local businesses, volunteer recruitment and fundraising initiatives.

“Our Meals On Wheels programs are on the front lines every day in the battle against senior hunger,” said Meals On Wheels Association of American President and CEO Ellie Hollander. “March for Meals is a time when communities can come together to stand with their local Meals On Wheels program and support our mission to end senior hunger in America.”

The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s Nutrition Program served 93,630 Congregate Meals in FY ’13 and 191,349 Home-Delivered Meals. If you are interested in participating in the March for Meal's campaign by helping to prepare and/or deliver meals to our homebound senior clients during our Community Champions Week March 17 – 21, 2014, please contact your local UCHRA office for more details or check out the website at www.uchra.com.

Federal Mogul Copper Thieves Sentenced in Criminal Court

February 26, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Billy Joe Rigsby
Corey Dickens

Two men accused of stealing more than $100,000 worth of copper and brass from Federal Mogul in Smithville last year were sentenced Friday in DeKalb County Criminal Court.

Judge David Patterson presided.

56 year old Billy Joe Rigsby pleaded guilty to theft over $60,000 while 29 year old Corey Dickens entered a plea to theft over $10,000. Rigsby received a ten year sentence to serve at least 30% as a range one offender before parole eligibility. He was given jail credit of almost six months from August 13, 2013 to February 21, 2014. Rigsby also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of delivery of a schedule II drug and received a three year sentence in that case to run concurrently with the theft offense. He received a drug fine of $2,000.

Dickens received a five year sentence in the Tennessee Department of Corrections. He was given jail credit of almost six months from August 1, 2013 to February 21, 2014. Dickens and Rigsby are to make restitution jointly and severally to Federal Mogul in the amount of $109,771.

The case against a third defendant, 46 year old Martin Riley, III is still pending.

According to Smithville Police, the thefts occurred multiple times from December 2012 to August 2013 during the middle of the night after the second shift when no one else was at the plant. The intruders went under and over a fence, entered through an unlocked door at the receiving area behind the building, and loaded carts with 50 pound bags of almost pure grain copper, which is used in the manufacture of brake pads at the facility. In some cases, pieces of EDM brass were also stolen.

According to Lieutenant Matt Holmes, the investigation began after police first received a tip and then a formal complaint by an official of Federal Mogul. "We spoke to a representative of Federal Mogul who advised us that they had been suspecting some copper was being stolen. They placed a hidden camera out there. He (Federal Mogul official) provided us with some video. When we watched the video and through investigation, we were able to identify the two subjects on the video as Martin Riley and Billy Joe Rigsby," he said.

"They way they were doing it was after hours they were entering the building, loading up carts while no one else was there, and wheeling the carts out the back door. They would go during the times they (plant) were closed during the middle of the night and take anywhere from 10 to 25 to 30 bags at a time or however many they could get loaded and feasibly get out of there with. They went under the fence and loaded their truck," said Lieutenant Holmes.

After committing the thefts, the men allegedly sold the copper and brass at the Southern Central business in McMinnville. "He (Federal Mogul official) initially didn't know how much copper had been taken but they were working on doing an inventory so we started calling around, trying to locate the copper. We learned the copper had been sold to Southern Central in McMinnville," he said. "They would take the copper and brass to the scrap yard. In some cases, they transferred the copper from the bags they came in to totes to transport it to the scrap yard," said Lieutenant Holmes.

The investigation revealed that Rigsby and Dickens were allegedly partners in the crimes from December, 2012 to March, 2013, until Dickens was arrested on a separate charge. Rigsby then allegedly continued with the thefts from the plant and was allegedly joined by Riley, on at least one occasion, through August 4, 2013.

The case was investigated by Chief Randy Caplinger and Lieutenant Holmes.

In other cases, 31 year old Joseph Huff Ray pleaded guilty Friday to theft over $1,000. He received a three year sentence to serve at 30% before his release eligibility date. The term is to run concurrently with another sentence against him. He was given jail credit from June 27, 2013 to February 21, 2014. Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Thursday, June 27 Ray allegedly took a 1988 Ford Ranger pickup valued at $5,000 from a residence on Game Ridge Road. He allegedly wrote a statement admitting to taking the truck. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the sheriff's department.

26 year old Molly Lawrence pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over $1,000. She received a four year suspended sentence in each case to run concurrently with each other. She must make restitution of $2,500 to one victim and $2,908 to another. Her payment is $250 per month as a condition of probation.

30 year old Ryan Lee Walden pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated burglary and one count of theft over $1,000. He received a five year sentence for the aggravated burglary, all suspended to supervised probation except for one year to serve. Walden also received a three year sentence in the theft case, all suspended to supervised probation. The two sentences are to run concurrently with each other. Walden must pay restitution of $60 to one victim and $5,649 to the other. He was given jail credit from August 16, 2013 to February 21, 2014. Sheriff Ray said that on Wednesday, July 31 the victim, who resides on Allen Ferry Road, reported that sets of Bone China plates, cups, and bowls had gone missing from the home. Walden was found to have sold these items to an auction house in DeKalb County. The value of the stolen items was more than $1,000.

21 year old Terry Jones, III pleaded guilty by information to two counts of burglary. He received a three year sentence in one case and two years in the other. The terms are to run consecutively with each other for a total of five years but concurrently with another case. He was given jail credit from January 25 to February 21, 2014. According to Sheriff Ray, Jones allegedly broke into a residence on Dale Ridge Road on Friday, January 17 and stole several items including a 2003 Red Honda 250 Recon ATV, a Remington Model 870 Shotgun, Insulated Carhartt Jacket, Trail Cameras, a full box of 12 gauge shotgun shells, eight bottles of whiskey, and one Igloo cooler. Six days later, on Thursday January 23, Jones allegedly broke into a garage on Johnson Ridge Road and took a Yamaha Kodiak 400 four wheeler, valued at $4,000. The case was investigated by a deputy of the Sheriff's Department.

31 year old Jonathan McCormick pleaded guilty to burglary and theft over $1,000. He received a three year sentence in each case. The two sentences are to run concurrently with each other but consecutively with a three year sentence he received after pleading guilty to sale of a schedule II controlled substance. His total sentence is six years but it has all been suspended to supervised probation except for 120 days to serve. He was fined $2,000 and given jail credit from January 15 to February 21, 2014. Sheriff Ray said that on Saturday, June 8 McCormick allegedly entered an outbuilding on Lee Braswell Road and took from the property a John Deere riding mower and an air compressor. The total estimated value is $6,829. The case was investigated by criminal detectives of the sheriff's department. McCormick was also among those named in sealed indictments by the Grand Jury last month after a three month undercover drug investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

25 year old Brandon Wayne Hutchings and 25 year old Jessica Anne Jenkins each pleaded guilty to promotion of meth manufacture and auto burglary. Each received a three year sentence on the meth charge and two years for the auto burglary. The two sentences for Hutchings are to run consecutively with each other for a total of five years. The terms for Jenkins are to run concurrently with each other for total of three years. She has been granted judicial diversion probation. Hutchings was given jail credit from August 7, 2013 to February 21, 2014. Smithville Police Sergeant Bradley Tatrow stopped Jenkins' vehicle on July 21, 2013 for a traffic violation. Sergeant Tatrow noticed that the driver, Hutchings, had slurred speech and he was unsteady on his feet. When Hutchings was asked to empty his pockets, a pill believed to be morphine was discovered. Police asked Jenkins for permission to search her vehicle but she refused. K-9 Officer Cornelius was then called for assistance. Jenkins' vehicle was searched after K-9 LEO was deployed and alerted on the automobile. Several items were found during the search known to be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. On the same day, July 21, 2013 Sheriff Ray said that Hutchings and Jenkins were charged with breaking into and taking a purse from a vehicle parked at Sligo bridge. Entry was gained by breaking out a rear window on the passenger side causing $300 in damage. The purse contained a wallet, pants, tank top, and a belt, all valued at less than $500. Hutchings and Jenkins were arrested some two hours later. Found on Hutchings was the victim's identification.

35 year old Jenadiah Barnes pleaded guilty to one count of forgery and received a two year sentence to serve. The term is to run concurrently with another TDOC sentence against him. He must make restitution of $980. Barnes was given jail credit from December 2012 to February 21, 2014. Sheriff Ray said that Barnes allegedly passed six forged checks at Prichard's Foods in Alexandria in the amounts of $135 and $100 on June 22, 2011; $135 and $160 on June 24, 2011; and $225 and $225 on June 29, 2011 The name of the victim was forged on the checks without authorization.

Nashville Chancellor Rules in Favor of DUD

February 25, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

A ruling handed down today (Tuesday) by a Davidson County Chancellor may have cleared the way for the DeKalb Utility District to build its own water treatment plant.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has dismissed a petition for a judicial review by DUD ratepayers and the City of Smithville who were seeking to overturn a decision by the Utility Management Review Board, who last April ruled against the petitioners in their quest to halt DUD's plans for construction of a water plant. In her ruling Tuesday, Chancellor Lyle affirmed the UMRB decision.

(CLICK PDF LINK BELOW TO READ CHANCELLOR LYLE'S RULING)

hppscan343.pdf (6.67 MB)

Specifically, the petitioners (DUD ratepayers/City of Smithville) asked the court to review the following issues:

1. "Did the UMRB err by failing to consider, pursuant to state law, the appropriateness of the DUD expanding its "services provided" to include the construction of a separate, duplicative unnecessary water treatment facility and thereby violate a statute and/or follow an unlawful procedure?"

2. "Did the UMRB err because its ruling is not supported by material evidence in the record?"

3. "Did the UMRB follow an unlawful procedure by failing to let the affected ratepayers in attendance at the contested hearing in Smithville be heard in a public hearing?"

"After considering the record, argument of counsel and the law, the court dismisses the Petition for Judicial Review. The Court determines that the UMRB performed its duty correctly and provided the review required by the statute; the UMRB's decision is not unsupported by substantial and material evidence; and the UMRB did not engage in unlawful procedure," wrote Chancellor Lyle.

"Having ruled against the Petitioners on each of the issues presented for judicial review, it is ordered that the Final Order of the Utility Management Review Board is affirmed, and the petition for Judicial Review is dismissed with prejudice with court costs taxed to the petitioners," concluded Chancellor Lyle.

Last April, the Utility Management Review Board held a hearing in Smithville to review the rates to customers charged by the DeKalb Utility District at that time and rates to be charged associated with the construction of a new water treatment plant. Ratepayers and the City of Smithville, referred to as the petitioners, also wanted the UMRB to block the DUD's decision to build a water treatment plant. They contended that the City has plentiful availability of water to supply the DUD's customer base now and into the future. This redundancy, the petitioners asserted, should be halted. DUD officials contend it is in the best interest for DUD to have its own water plant and that the result would be lower rates to DUD customers and millions of dollars in savings to the DUD in the years ahead.

The UMRB, at the April hearing, found DUD's rates at the time to be reasonable and refused to intervene in DUD's business decision to build the water plant. By not reviewing "services provided" as well as "rates charged" as requested, the petitioners contend that the UMRB violated statutory provisions and or followed an illegal procedure in arriving at its decision. Attorneys for the UMRB and DUD said the Utility Management Review Board had no authority to stop the water plant project nor to force the DUD into a contractual relationship with the city to continue purchasing water.

The petitioners later filed an appeal to the Davidson County Chancery Court for a judicial review of the UMRB's decision, hoping to win a reversal. Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle held a hearing last month in Nashville with all the parties involved and said she would issue her decision within thirty days. That ruling came down Tuesday, February 25.

Attorneys for the DUD and the State Attorney General's Office for the UMRB essentially made the same arguments for the UMRB's decision to be upheld.

DUD's attorney Dewey Branstetter, Jr. wrote in his court brief that "The UMRB correctly dismissed the petition created through the efforts of the City of Smithville and filed by the Ratepayers of the DeKalb Utility District. The petitioners have not and cannot meet the burden required for this court to overturn the decision of the UMRB, to remand this case back to the UMRB, or to do anything except affirm the UMRB Order."

"The UMRB correctly decided to limit its review to the rates charged by the DUD and not to examine the business decision of the DUD to construct its own water treatment plant. While there was significant testimony about the water treatment plant, and even though the proof was overwhelming that the decision by the DUD to build its own plant was in the best interest of the customers of the DUD, the UMRB correctly decided that it was not its duty to examine that decision."

The petitioners also contend that the UMRB failed to consider the capital expenditures associated with the new water treatment plant and how that would affect future rates. The UMRB's ruling that DUD rates were reasonable was not supported by the material evidence presented at the hearing, according to the Petitioners.

In his court brief, Branstetter wrote that "the decision of the UMRB was supported by material evidence in the record. The transcript from the hearing and the exhibits introduced at the hearing show that the rates charged by the DUD are reasonable and that the rates proposed to be charged if the water treatment plant is built will also be reasonable. There was no proof introduced by the petitioners that would support a decision that the rates of DUD are not reasonable."

Lastly, the petitioners argue that the UMRB did not conduct an "Open Hearing" to allow anyone an opportunity to speak and that the case should be remanded to the UMRB to hold another hearing to consider testimony and opinions of the ratepayers that desire to give public comment as part of the proceedings. Although the forum was open for the public to attend, it was conducted like a court hearing, with witnesses called to testify and be cross examined.

Branstetter wrote that this argument by the Petitioners is also without merit. "The UMRB proceeding was a contested case hearing under the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Hearing Contested Cases before State Administrative Agencies. It was not an open hearing under the Rules of the Comptroller of the Treasury for the Utility Management Review Board. As such, the Petitioners cannot legitimately argue that because the UMRB didn't have "open microphone night" that the case should be remanded back to the UMRB for unfettered public comment."

In the brief, Branstetter wrote that the ratepayers and the City of Smithville were represented by counsel. If their counsel had chosen to call any additional ratepayers to testify, they certainly had the right to do so. Any of the ratepayers in attendance who desired to give testimony could have been called by the counsel representing their interest, but the Petitioners failed to even attempt to call any ratepayer witnesses other than the two designate representatives, Randy Rhody and Hunter Hendrixson. The Petitioners should not now be allowed to complain that they were not given an opportunity to have an open forum when their counsel had the full ability to call any witnesses they so desired. If counsel for the Petitioners failed to call any witnesses and now assert that they were somehow prejudiced by not doing so, then it is their own fault for not calling other individuals to testify".

DUD Petition for Temporary Injunction Against City to be Heard Friday

February 25, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Chancellor Ronald Thurman

A Chancery Court hearing is scheduled for Friday, February 28 on the DeKalb Utility District's petition for a temporary injunction to keep the City of Smithville from imposing it's higher water rate to the DUD pending a final ruling on the utility's lawsuit against the city.

Chancellor Ronald Thurman will have that hearing Friday, February 28 at 1:00 p.m. in Cookeville. That's where Chancellor Thurman is holding court that day.

Officials of the DeKalb Utility District are turning to the Chancery Court for relief from what they call an unreasonable water rate imposed on the utility by the City of Smithville.

In the lawsuit, the DUD is asking the Chancellor to find that the city's new water rate to the utility of $5.00 per thousand gallons, which went into effect January 1st, is unreasonable; that the rate be set at $2.25 per thousand gallons, which the DUD believes is the actual cost of providing water services; that the city be enjoined (prohibited) from charging any rate to the DUD in excess of $2.67 per thousand while this litigation is pending; and that the city be enjoined (prohibited) from disconnecting the DUD from its water system while this lawsuit is pending. The DUD also wants the court to order a speedy hearing on this action for a declaratory judgment and to advance it on the court's calendar.

In the hearing Friday, the Court is being asked by the DUD to enter a temporary injunction while this litigation is pending. "The rate of $5.00 per thousand gallons charged by the City to the DUD effective January 1, 2014 has caused and will continue to result in immediate and irreparable injury, loss, and damage to the DUD and its customers. The issuance of the temporary injunction will not cause undue inconvenience or loss to the City of Smithville, but will prevent irreparable injury to the DUD," according to the lawsuit.

Arnold Sentenced to Eight Years on Aggravated Kidnapping/Drug Charges

February 25, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Savanah Arnold

A 19 year old woman, charged with three others in an aggravated kidnapping last fall, pleaded guilty in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday.

Judge David Patterson presided.

Savanah Arnold received a six year sentence to serve for the aggravated kidnapping plus a two year sentence on a separate charge of delivery of a schedule III drug (Suboxone Strips). The two terms are to run consecutively for a total of eight years to serve at 30% before parole eligibility as a standard range one offender. Other charges against her are to be dismissed but she is to pay a $2,000 drug fine. Arnold was given jail credit of eighty five days.

Arnold and three others were named in Grand Jury sealed indictments in December, 2013 for allegedly kidnapping and raping a woman they thought stole money and Suboxone strips from them in October. The cases against her co-defendants, Abigail Vogel and Johnny Devault are still pending in court. The fourth defendant, another woman, has not been arrested. Last month, Arnold was among sixty four persons named in sealed indictments by the Grand Jury as a result of a three month undercover drug investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

In the aggravated kidnapping case, Smithville Police said the four defendants held the victim against her will at Arnold's home on October 24. Arnold and the other woman then allegedly strip searched the victim, penetrated her body cavity looking for the money or drugs, and stole her clothes. The next day, October 25, Arnold allegedly dressed in the victim's clothes, went to a local industry where the victim was employed and tried unsuccessfully to pick up the victim's paycheck.

The victim came to the police department the day after the assault, October 25 to report the kidnapping, rape, and theft.

Lieutenant Matt Holmes related the story to WJLE on Wednesday, December 18 at the police department. "The victim said that on October 24, she went to Savanah Arnold's house to watch the kids of some friends. While there, Arnold, Vogel, Devault, and the other woman showed up allegedly intoxicated on drugs and accused her of stealing from Arnold $575 and 60 suboxone strips. The victim denied it".

According to Lieutenant Holmes, Arnold and the other woman took the victim to a back room and strip searched her. "One of the suspects placed a trash bag on her hand and penetrated the victim, searching for the money or drugs. She did not find anything. The victim resisted the assault and asked if she could leave. They refused to let her leave and took her cell phone so she couldn't call anyone. Johnny Devault allegedly threatened to assault the victim if she continued to resist. They stole the victim's clothes, placed her in a car half dressed, drove off and then dumped her out on the side of the road," he said.

The next day, October 25 Arnold dressed in the victim's clothes and went to the victim's place of employment. She entered the industry, walked up to the counter wearing the victim's ID and asked for her paycheck, representing herself as the victim. An industry official noticed that Arnold was not the victim and asked why she was there. Arnold then changed her story stating falsely that she was there to pick up the paycheck for the victim who was in a Nashville hospital. When the industry official told her the victim would have to come and get the check herself, Arnold left. The industry later received a call from a female, falsely identifying herself as the victim, saying it was okay for them to give her paycheck to whoever came to pick it up.

Industry officials alerted Smithville Police to a possible identity theft. Lieutenant Holmes and Officer James Cornelius responded to the call. Arnold was taken into custody at the industry and charged with identify theft.

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