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Local News Articles

DeKalb County Records Three Traffic Fatalities in 2010

December 22, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page

Three people have lost their lives as a result of traffic accidents on DeKalb County roads this year and local and state authorities will be working through the holidays to make sure that number does not increase. There were seven fatalities in DeKalb County last year.

On Sunday, January 10th, 47 year old Lisa A. Hallmon of Avant Circle, Alexandria died when her 1988 Cadillac struck a DeKalb County garbage truck on Highway 70 near Sligo bridge.

On Wednesday, September 15th, 44 year old Priscilla Judkins was a passenger of a Dodge Caravan that crashed on East Broad Street in Smithville. She later died at Vanderbilt Hospital. The driver of the vehicle was Donald Henson. Smithville Police said Henson rear-ended an eastbound 1994 Toyota pickup truck that was stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Broad Street and South Mountain Street. After crashing into the truck, Henson left the scene and turned into the parking lot of Curves where he came to a stop after trying to the drive the vehicle up an embankment.

On Monday, November 29th, 63 year old Wanda K. Harrison of Dowelltown was involved in a head-on crash on West Broad Street near DCHS. Harrison was in a 2009 Honda SUV traveling west when her vehicle veered into a 1994 Chevy pickup. Harrison died later at Vanderbilt Hospital.

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department will be conducting sobriety checkpoints and saturated patrols at various times through January 2nd targeting drunk drivers on State Highway 146, U.S. 70 east and west, State Highway 56 north and south, State Highway 53 in Liberty and Alexandria, and State Highway 96 on Dale Ridge.

Meanwhile in conjunction with the National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, the Tennessee Highway Patrol will be cranking up its enforcement effort throughout the upcoming Christmas and New Year's Day celebrations to find and remove impaired drivers from Tennessee roadways. State Troopers will be conducting more than 100 sobriety and driver license checkpoints with a clear message to motorists – "Don't Wreck the Holidays."

The Tennessee Highway Patrol will be conducting sobriety checkpoints in DeKalb County on Friday, December 31st on State Route 53 north .2 miles north of the 4 mile marker and on Highway 56 south at DeKalb Memorial Gardens.

THP is also participating in the national campaign, Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest. "The Highway Patrol will be working with law enforcement officers from hundreds of agencies across the state and country to remove impaired drivers from the road," Department of Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell said. "It is our duty to ensure the public's safety through education, regulation and especially enforcement; we take this responsibility seriously on holidays and all throughout the year."

The 2010 Christmas holiday period begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 23, and runs through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, December 26, while this year's New Year's holiday period will commence at 6 p.m., Thursday, December 30, and will conclude at 11:59 p.m., Sunday, January 2, 2011.

The holiday season is one of the deadliest and most dangerous times of the year due to an increase in impaired driving. In 2009, 303 people died in Tennessee traffic crashes involving a driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. That's a one percent decline from the 306 impaired driving deaths in 2008, and a 19.6% decline from the 377 impaired driving deaths in 2007. Nationwide, impaired driving fatalities dropped from 11,711 in 2008 to 10,839 in 2009, a 7.4 percent decline.

"While the number of impaired driving fatalities has declined both nationwide and in Tennessee, that's not enough," said THP Colonel Tracy Trott. "We will not rest…we will not stop working until drunk driving fatalities become non-existent. Our Troopers will spare no expense to keep drunk drivers off the road en route to saving lives this holiday season. If we catch you, we will arrest you."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that in December 2009, 753 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. That was down from 888 people killed in similar impaired driving crashes in 2008.

During the 2009 Christmas holiday period, six people were killed in traffic crashes on Tennessee roadways. This represents one death every 17 hours. Alcohol was involved in 33 percent of those crashes and one of the five vehicle occupants killed was not wearing a safety restraint.

Thirteen people were killed during last year's New Year's holiday period 2009-10 and 23 percent of the fatalities occurred in alcohol-related crashes.

In 2009, there were 989 traffic fatalities in Tennessee, down just over five percent from 1,043 fatalities in 2008. As of December 16, preliminary statistics indicate that 996 people have died on Tennessee roadways this year, an increase of 48 deaths (9 percent) compared to 948 fatalities at this same time a year ago.

If you are planning to drink alcohol with family and friends, there are several simple steps to help avoid a tragic crash or trauma and the financial costs associated with an impaired driving arrest.

·Plan ahead: Whenever you plan on consuming alcohol, designate your sober driver before going out and give that person your keys.

·If you're impaired, call a taxi, use mass transit or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely.

·Wearing your seat belt or using protective gear when on your motorcycle is your best defense against an impaired driver.

·And remember, "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk". If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

·Violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver's license, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses from attorney fees, other fines and court costs, towing and repairs, lost time at work, etc.

For more information, please visit www.StopImpairedDriving.org .

Tennessee Schools are Improving, Not Failing

December 22, 2010

The 2009-2010 school year introduced a world of change in how Tennessee gauges the performance of our school systems, educators, and students. As a result of these changes, there will be numerous headlines in newspapers over the next several days that will indicate that our schools are failing our students. However, a quick glance at the facts paints a much different, more optimistic picture.

Prior to the changes, Tennessee faced two problems: the content of our statewide tests and the expectations of our students. Tennessee students were graduating from high school and entering college, career training, or the workforce. However, many of our graduates were not prepared for any of these difficult endeavors. After consultation with professors, industry leaders, and technical professionals, Tennessee realized that regardless of a student's post-graduation plans, the same skills were needed in order to be competitive in today's world. As a result, this year Tennessee increased the rigor of its curricula and assessments. All of the students in Tennessee will now earn a high school diploma that reflects both their hard work as well as their readiness to enter the world.

In addition to the content, Tennessee had to address expectations. In 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report which examined the assessments and performance of each state's public educational system. This report was very revealing as to Tennessee's inadequacies. Our great state was annually reporting a proficiency rate of 80% - 90% for 3rd - 8th graders in reading/language arts and math. When this report looked at the performance of our students on a national standard, though, only 20% - 30% of students were "proficient." This discrepancy had to be addressed.
Prior to this year, Tennessee defined a proficient student as one who was minimally prepared for the next level of study. With the changes, a proficient student is now one who demonstrates mastery in academic performance, thinking abilities, and application of understandings that reflect the knowledge and skills specified by the grade/course level content standards. This new definition is a drastic change in the expectations of students and recognition that students were receiving false senses of accomplishment with the tag "proficient."

With the new, more rigorous assessments and with the mark of proficiency moving from minimal to mastery, we are going to initially see lower results than in years past. However, our students are improving and performing, and as parents, educators, and communities, we must be steadfast and supportive. We must insist that the new standards remain while ensuring the resources needed are available. No one is denying that we are expecting much more from everyone involved. These increased expectations, though, will lead to economic development and jobs for our communities and an overall better quality of life for our students.

Imagine there was an archer who routinely hit the bull's eye, and everyone around him was proud. One day, the archer was told to take 10 steps back and aim at a much smaller target. Everyone questioned the changes and the archer had difficulty with the transition. Ultimately, though, with the diligent efforts of the archer and those around him, he greatly improved his skill and once again hit that bull's eye.

Our target in Tennessee has definitely moved, but our archers will once again hit that bull's eye.

Hendrixson Gets 10 Year Suspended Sentence

December 22, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page
Zachary Ross Hendrixson

A 24 year old man, who allegedly used somebody else's 2006 Mastercraft X45 ski boat several times over the summer without the owner's permission to entertain friends on the lake, was sentenced Monday in DeKalb County Criminal Court.

Judge Leon Burns, Jr. presided.

Zachary Ross Hendrixson received a ten year suspended sentence after entering a guilty plea under a negotiated settlement to charges of vandalism over $10,000 and burglary of a boat. Under terms of the sentence, Hendrixson received six years for the vandalism and four years on the burglary charge, all suspended. The sentences are to run consecutively for a total of ten years. Hendrixson was given jail credit of 150 days. He must also make restitution of $1,000 to a victim in the case.

Hendrixson was indicted by the DeKalb County Grand Jury on Monday, November 29th for vandalism over $10,000 and joyriding. He was also indicted in a separate case, charging him with burglary and theft over $1,000.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said Hendrixson was arrested on Monday, July 19th after the owner of the boat took warrants against him. The boat, which was docked at the time at Hurricane Marina, apparently received some damage to the interior and exterior while Hendrixson was using it. The boat is valued at approximately $100,000.

According to Sheriff Ray, Hendrixson took the boat out on the lake several times. " He has been going down there since Memorial Day, taking people out on that boat, falsely claiming it belonged to his family. He even published pictures of the outings on his Face Book account."

When the owner discovered that Hendrixson had been using the boat, he had him charged in the case.

After a further investigation, Sheriff Ray said Hendrixson was also charged with theft of property over $1,000 for allegedly taking items off another boat."We started an investigation and found that he had stolen a surf board, a wake board, and life jackets from a boat at Cove Hollow Marina, valued at $1,180."

Meanwhile in other cases, 32 year old James Summers pleaded guilty to promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine and sale of a schedule III controlled substance. He received a two year sentence to serve in each case and was fined $2,000. The sentences are to run consecutively with each other for a total of four years and concurrently with a violation of probation he is now serving. Summers was given jail credit from April 7th to December 20th.

42 year old William A. Cantrell pleaded guilty to a third offense of driving on a revoked license. He received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days to serve. He was also fined $50. The sentence is to run concurrently with two other cases against him.

25 year old Michael Snyders pleaded guilty to sale of a schedule II controlled substance and received a three year sentence, all suspended to supervised probation. He was given credit for sixty days of time served. Snyders was fined $2,000.

27 year old Christopher Pinegar pleaded guilty to theft over $10,000, burglary, and vandalism over $1,000. He received a total sentence of four years including three years in the theft case and two years for burglary and two years for vandalism, all suspended to supervised probation, except for 193 days to serve. He was given jail credit for 193 days. The burglary and vandalism cases are to run consecutively for a total of four years and concurrently with the theft sentence. Pinegar must make restitution of $8,000 in the vandalism case.

26 year old Sabrina Leighann Branham pleaded guilty to a first offense of driving under the influence and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on probation, except for 48 hours to serve. She was fined $360 and her license will be revoked for one year.

21 year old Cody Murphy pleaded guilty to theft under $500 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on probation. He must make a $75 contribution to the economic crime fund.

30 year old Felicia Murphy pleaded guilty to a first offense of driving under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. She received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on probation in each case to run concurrently with each other and a violation of probation against her. Murphy was fined $360 and she must undergo an alcohol and drug assessment. She will also lose her license for one year.

22 year old Timothy W. Patrick pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and three counts of sale of a schedule II controlled substance. He received a three year sentence in each of the drug cases to run consecutively with each other for a total of nine years. Patrick also received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days probation in the DUI case to run concurrently with the nine year term. Patrick will be on probation by community corrections. In the DUI sentence, Patrick must attend school, pay a fine of $360 and his license will be revoked for one year. He also pleaded guilty in a worthless check case, which will be dismissed upon his making restitution.

Poole Pleased with Findings in City Audit Report

December 21, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page

The City of Smithville apparently gets good marks in it's latest audit report.

John Poole, Hendersonville CPA, who performed the annual audit for the city, addressed the mayor and aldermen Monday night.

Poole said there were no major deficiencies. "We didn't see any unusual expenditures during the year. We review a vast majority of the city's expenditures and there were no unusual items purchased. All items seemed appropriate for city business. The city does a pretty good job in the way that it pays it's bills. In my opinion, the city of Smithville and this board and boards that have served before you, have always been good stewards of the people's money. The city has very good reserves. If catastrophic things were to happen, the city has really good reserves that it could use to do the things it wanted to do. Not only do we have adequate reserves, but as far as the debt, the city literally has only two loans, one for some vehicles that we leased/loaned which the state considers a loan; and the other is the last year of a bond on the water system. All of these loans will basically be paid off next year so the city will almost be debt free. That is a great place to be in."

Poole said while the city showed a deficit in the water and sewer fund, the problem should be resolved next year, now that the city has raised water and sewer rates. "The area where most cities are having difficulties now in this economic slowdown we're in is in the utilities fund and that is no different here in the city of Smithville. This board is aware that the state has a requirement that at least every other year, you have to show a profit. In other words, you can't show a deficit two years in a row. So for the year ending June 30th, 2010, you can see we had a deficit of $81,000 (water and sewer fund). That has been very unusual for the city. The city, generally speaking, has shown surpluses. But it's just one of those things (that happened) because we haven't had a rate increase in a long time and we've seen all major areas of expenses go up including the cost of electricity, which went up 20% last year or eighteen months ago. Employee benefit costs, health insurance, we've seen increases in those. So that's really gotten us to this point. But I know this board has already taken action (to increase water and sewer rates) so that in 2011 that will not be a concern. You are to be commended. It's a tough thing to do (raise rates) but the state requires it and as this board is aware if you didn't do it, the state would have stepped in next year and done it for you and they would have set a much higher rate increase than what you would have because from their standpoint, they (state) don't want to see you back for the next ten years. In my opinion this board did exactly what it needed to do and you did it in a timely manner and I don't expect it to be a concern next year."

Poole said the city will also have to keep an eye on it's rate of water loss, which is currently at 19%. "There's something new this year. The state is concerned with utility operations, especially those that have water, in what they call unaccounted for water or water loss. The state has been gathering information for a couple of years and this is the first year that we have a standard that this board will have to be very concerned about going forward and that is unaccounted for water. Your rate of unaccounted for water is 19% which is very good. The state standard is 35%. In other words, if you're in excess of 35% you are a concern to them (state). But needless to say, being at 19% that is really good news. If you were over that percentage (35%) the state would ask you to start spending money to try and reduce that percentage. You should take great pride because 19% is an exceptional number and that is one of the things that I would be holding my water and sewer departments responsible for and if that number starts to creep up near 30% we would want to know what's going on and try to take action to reduce that but at 19% it's of no concern whatsoever."

In other business, the aldermen set the dates for all regular meetings of the city council for the calendar year 2011. The meetings will be held on the first and third Monday nights of each month at 7:00 p.m. on the top floor of the city hall building. The only exceptions are for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day in January; the fourth of July; and for Labor Day. No meetings will be held on those dates.

Public Works Director Kevin Robinson gave a brief update. "Within the next two weeks we're going to have the water tanks serviced and check the water level indicators on the tank. The one on Miller Road is not working correctly so we're going to have all those checked. We also fixed part of the street in front of the post office where the vehicles are rutting the pavement out. We've fixed that with concrete. And holiday garbage pickup. We're off on December 24th and 27th so garbage will be picked up on December 28th. We're also off on December 31st and that garbage pickup will be on January 3rd."

Gary Durham, city resident and taxpayer, addressed the mayor and aldermen asking that he be placed on the agenda at the next meeting to try and convince them to start working on a new 20 year plan. Durham said the city should establish a 20 year plan which would put the city in a better position to prepare for future needs regarding maintenance and or expansion of city services. The city had a long range plan covering the period 1984-2004 but Durham said it seems that nothing has been done in recent years to update or follow it.

Man Charged with Aggravated Assault for Stabbing his Brother

December 20, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page
Heladio Nunez Gutierrez
Phillip Edward Miranda
John Michael Turner
Chris Michael Pack

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has charged a 34 year old Smithville man with aggravated assault after he allegedly stabbed his brother three times with a knife

Sheriff Patrick Ray said 34 year old Heladio Nunez Gutierrez of Campbell Road is under a $10,000 bond and his court date is February 3rd.

Gutierrez was arrested Friday, December 17th at a residence on Blue Springs Road, accused of assaulting his brother Ricardo Gutierrez by stabbing him in the side with a knife. After the first attack the victim began running, trying to get away, but Gutierrez chased after him and stabbed him twice again. Ricardo Gutierrez was taken to the hospital for treatment. His injuries were apparently not life threatening. Gutierrez, the assailant, admitted to the assault.

Meanwhile, in another case, Sheriff Ray said a man, scheduled to serve a weekend sentence for driving under the influence, showed up at the jail drunk on Sunday and was charged with public intoxication.

Sheriff Ray said 32 year old Phillip Edward Miranda of Four Seasons Road, Smithville is under a $1,000 bond and he will be in court on December 22nd.

According to Sheriff Ray, Miranda came into the jail to serve a sentence for driving under the influence. Upon his arrival, the correctional officers saw Miranda throw an empty beer bottle in a garbage can outside of the jail. Miranda admitted to the correctional officer that he was drunk. He had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person.

41 year old John Michael Turner of Short Mountain Highway, Smithville is charged with public intoxication and possession of a prohibited weapon.

According to Sheriff Ray, Central dispatch received an anonymous call on December 16th requesting an officer on Short Mountain Road. Upon arrival, the officer made contact with Turner who was very irate and he had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person. Turner was punching his truck with his fist and he made verbal threats against another officer, who was not present during this incident. Turner was apparently upset that the officer he named had arrested a family member in a previous case and might be the officer who would arrest him. Turner was charged with public intoxication.

During the arrest, Turner placed his hands in his pockets. According to the arrest warrant, "When the officer asked him to remove his hands (from the pockets), Turner threw a knife onto the ground and the officer saw a silver object in his other pocket. Turner turned away from the officer and grabbed for it. The officer took the object from him and found it to be an expandable baton."

Turner is under a $2,500 bond and he will be in court on January 20th

29 year old Chris Michael Pack of Cookeville is charged with aggravated burglary and theft of property over $10,000. Pack was arrested on Monday, December 19th and he will be in court on December 22nd.

Sheriff Ray said on December 8th, Pack entered a residence on Antioch Road by kicking the back door open. He then allegedly took two jewelry boxes containing a gold waterfall ring, a four leaf clover diamond pin, a gold necklace with a red, white, and blue charm, along with several other pieces of jewelry valued at more than $10,000.

DeKalb County Fire Department Gets Fire Equipment Grant

December 17, 2010
County Fire Chief Donny Green

Donny Green, DeKalb County Fire Chief, announces that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have awarded a $118,091 Assistance to Firefighters Grant to the DeKalb County Fire Department. Chief Green says that the Federal share is 95 percent and the local share is 5 percent.

The award will be used to purchase personal protective equipment for the department’s 73 volunteer firefighters. The grant will help meet the needs of DeKalb County's growing, rural fire department. The Department has eleven stations responsible for protecting 305 square miles and responds to an average of 325 fire-related calls per year. DeKalb County Fire Department is one of the few county-wide departments in Tennessee.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program is designed as an opportunity for the United States Congress to work with DHS to enhance basic fire service delivery across the United States.

Chief Green says that DeKalb County is fortunate to receive federal funding to help offset the high cost of these equipment purchases. “Without such grants, DeKalb County taxpayers would be shouldering the entire cost of purchasing this necessary firefighting equipment”, says Chief Green. DeKalb County Fire Department also expresses its appreciation to County Mayor Mike Foster and the DeKalb County Commission for supporting the department by allowing the application for such grants.

Renovation Begins on County Owned Shopping Center Building

December 16, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page
Mike Foster
Town and Country Shopping Center Building
Town and Country Shopping Center Building

Construction on the renovation of the former Town and Country Shopping Center has begun and what will become an office complex and recreation center is expected to be completed by late summer of next year.

County Mayor Mike Foster said the project was bid in two phases and Cambridge Constructors of McMinnville was the low bidder at $1.6 million on the first phase and $726,000 on the other for a total of $2.3 million. Under terms of the agreement, Foster said at least 40% of the labor must be from DeKalb County and 25% of the materials must be purchased locally. "The county commission unanimously voted to recommend to the purchasing committee that Cambridge be awarded the contract. We had four bidders including Cambridge, Lee Adcock Construction, J&S, and another company out of Cookeville. Cambridge was $407-thousand dollars cheaper than the others. We compared all the equipment and everything in the specs and they awarded the contract to them (Cambridge). The first thing we were concerned about was the roof. So this will include a new roof on the entire building, a new roof and insulation, an all new central heat and air system for the entire building, and a new facade on the front of the building."

"The project was bid in two phases because we didn't know what the estimate was going to be. We set it up so we could winterize and weatherize the entire building, get the heating and air done, get the facade done and get the southern portion of the building from the old food store all the way down to and including where the old Pizza Inn was located. All of that was in one part of the bid. The other part of the bid was for where the senior citizens and recreation area will be. It (bid) came in under the amount we were expecting. The first part (bid) was for $1,611,000 and that's for an all new roof, all new central air and heat, facade, painting the exterior building, and doing all the interior walls from food center down to Pizza Inn. The other part (bid) was $726,000. It will include all the remodeling for the entire building, including adding desks and work stations for the four offices that are being moved from the courthouse."

According to Foster, the county can afford this project without having to raise property taxes. In fact, he said the county's debt service payments will actually be less than they are now, due to a better bond rating and a re-structuring of the county's debt."We (county) had some notes. Some of them had been here a long time, some were short term and some for a longer term but the payments on them were $465,000 a year. By re-doing the structure and by getting a new bond rating of A plus from Standard & Poors, even adding this new building, the payments are now $406,000 a year. That's nearly $60,000 a year less. Plus we're renting two parts of the building that's going to bring in about $57,000 a year so our debt service is going from $465,000 to $349,000. That's a tremendous savings, enough to do the utilities and everything on the entire building."

Again Foster said the work has begun on the building and it should be ready for use by next summer. "By contract, they have to be done by eight months or they start paying a penalty. The part where UCHRA is moving into, they have to have it done within four months."

Foster said when completed, the building will offer public use for a variety of purposes. "We all know that we want to have something for our young people to do and there are a lot of things incorporated into this building. There's absolutely no new costs to any taxpayer. We're going to be moving four offices out of the courthouse. We'll have a drive-thru window for the county clerk. You'll be able to drive up and get your car tags and never have to leave your car. That will be a good thing for people who have trouble negotiating the steps at the courthouse. So the county clerk, trustee, property assessor, and register of deeds which are all interconnected will be moving there (shopping center), moving to the south end of the building. Plus we've built in two storage areas, several hundred feet each, where we can have archives."

"Adjoining that (courthouse offices) will be the UCHRA. They will be leasing approximately 4,700 square feet. They will be moving their facility in there. Motlow Junior College and Tennessee Tech will be having some extended classes there so they (students) don't have to drive to Motlow or Cookeville for extended classes. We'll have six classrooms for that, one of which will be set up as a training center for computer literacy. A lot of industries are needing that. Other people also need it. It's to help create jobs and increase the productivity of people with jobs and give them a better opportunity for employment and maybe allow them to get a better job than what they have right now. We'll also have another meeting room in that area (of the building)."

"Second Harvest Food Bank will have an area in the back (of the building) where they can store their food and distribute it in a much better way. In the (food center) store part, there's about 3,500 square feet for senior citizens. Adjoining that area is an exercise room of about 2,000 square feet and then there's a museum area for things that are pertinent to the county. Adjoining that will be a game room, and then an auditorium with a stage area which will also include an overhead projector which could be used by industries for training. It could also be used as a mini-theater, seating about 230 people. We'll have a scaled down gym with basketball goals where kids can go and play along with two other exercise areas."

"We already have some grants and we've applied for others where we can get things we really need without it being an additional cost to the county."

In October, 2009, the county commission voted to purchase the 62,000 square foot complex for about $750,000. The property covers 5.21 acres and includes a large paved parking lot.

Sheriff's Department to Cease "Flagging" Operations at Hurricane Bridge as of January 1st

December 16, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Funded Flagging Operation to Cease as of January 1st
Solar powered road sign near Hurricane Bridge
Solar powered road sign near Hurricane Bridge

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department will cease "flagging" operations at Hurricane Bridge beginning January 1st due to a new TDOT requirement.

Since April 15th, the sheriff's department has posted a "flagger" on each end of the bridge to monitor traffic across the bridge, which has state posted weight limits. The county commission authorized the "flaggers" last January and appropriated the funds to pay for it with the understanding that the county would apply for state grant funds to help recoup the costs.

At the time, County Mayor Mike Foster said posting "flaggers" at the bridge would help school buses, fire trucks, and industries with heavy loads get across the bridge without violating the state's posted weight limits of 10 tons for a straight truck and 18 tons for a semi. Flaggers were to be posted there Mondays through Fridays from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

On November 29th, the county received a notice from TDOT commissioner Gerald Nicely about a new training requirement for TDOT, the result of the Federal Highway Administration's updated regulations for work zone safety.

According to Sheriff Patrick Ray, the new requirement states that all uniformed law enforcement officers who work on a TDOT project shall have training from a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified police training academy within the state of Tennessee. Furthermore, these officers must have an additional four hours of FHWA approved work zone training by December 31st, 2010. The "flaggers" being used by the sheriff's department at Hurricane bridge are part- time employees, who are not POST certified. "This is not something that the county commission, the county mayor, or myself has done", said Sheriff Ray. "This is a requirement from Nashville from the Tennessee Department of Transportation."

"TDOT has revised it's requirements for the use of law enforcement in the highway safety work zones. This will become effective on December 31st. This is a new requirement that is a result of the federal highway administration's work zone safety. What we have to do is, if we have officers down there, they have to be full time law enforcement officers that has the training from the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in Nashville. Without that training they will not be able to do any of the flagging work at the bridge. If we use our regular deputies or certified deputies that are on shifts, those deputies would have to be taken off the road in order to go down there and do that (flagging) or the county would have to pay overtime fees to those deputies for doing that so I don't think that would be cost efficient for the county or us. So on January 1st, 2011 the weight restrictions on the bridge will go back to what they are and there will be nobody there to flag traffic. We will not be able to send officers down there to stop traffic on the bridge or let any kind of semi- truck, including loaded school buses, to go across the bridge. Any vehicle that's overweight will have to take an alternate route."

Sheriff Ray said since April the "flaggers" have been working at the bridge, but there have been occasions when they could not work due to poor weather conditions or times when the state's solar powered flashing road signs could not function. "Some of the requirements at the bridge that we have had to adhere to are if the weather is bad, such as during heavy rain or ice and snow, then we're prohibited by the state from flagging during those times. Also within the last thirty days we've had trouble with the solar powered signs. If the sun is not shining then the signs will not power up so we're having to get our local TDOT people to go to Cookeville to get a generator that's big enough to come back and charge those batteries. This week, there's not been anybody there (flaggers at the bridge) because of either the weather or the signs. We're still having problems with the signs. We'll get back to it (flagging) just as quick as TDOT can get to us. They've been busy with the road work trying to get it done."

Construction is expected to begin soon on Hurricane bridge.

TDOT opened bids on the project October 29th and the low bidder was OCCI, Incorporated of Fulton, Missouri with a bid of $26.9 million. The contract was officially awarded to OCCI.

TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn said last month that "it's not yet known when construction will begin but OCCI has until October 31st, 2013 to complete the project. "It will take about a month to get all the paper work done. As soon as that happens, then the contractor will hold the pre-construction conference where representatives from the contractor's office and TDOT representatives from the construction field office, the regional construction office, and any utilities that might be involved on the project, will meet at a pre-construction conference and determine how the work is going to be done and how they will approach the job. As soon as that is done, they can get to work on the project. The completion date for this project is on or before October 31st, 2013. "

Willoughby Says Ole Man Winter Could Interfere with End of Course Assessments

December 15, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page
Mark Willoughby

With the winter break set to start after an abbreviated day Friday and the possibility that DeKalb County Schools might be closed again Thursday, school officials say state mandated end of course assessments may not be administered until January.

Mark Willoughby, Director of Schools, said the state requires students to take those tests on their first day back in the classroom. Willoughby said if schools are back in session Thursday, the exams will be given then. If not, it'll have to be after the holidays "The end of course tests are not school decisions. On our first day back in school, the state says we have to give end of course tests. We have English IX and Algebra II left to give so that means if we're in school tomorrow (Thursday), those students need to come to school ready to take those two tests. Also there'll have to be a makeup day for anybody that misses those tests."

According to Willoughby, the state will not require the tests to be given on Friday, the abbreviated day, should schools be back open then. "We talked with the state Tuesday and they will not make us give those tests on the abbreviated day on Friday. But if we show up Thursday for a full day or two hours late or whatever, we have to give those end of course tests. Assuming the worst and we can't go at all this week, we will have to consult with the state and hopefully we will not have to give those tests on the first day back in January. We would hope they would be a little lenient on that and give us a few days after we get back."

As far as the regular final exams, Willoughby said a decision on those is left up to the schools." The finals that our schools have scheduled, those can be a school decision on what they're going to do about finals. One option is to take the first nine weeks grades and the second nine weeks grades and average them together to get the final grades, but that's a school decision."

Meanwhile with the unexpected December winter weather, the allotted snow days in the school calendar is already beginning to dwindle. Willoughby said DeKalb County Schools have already been closed three days this week with seven snow days remaining and two stockpiled days. "We have ten days built into the calendar and three stock piled days. We have already used up one stock piled day (November 2nd) with two of those remaining, January 3rd and March 18th. If we did not have any stock piled days then we would have thirteen snow days."

Willoughby explained that on stockpiled days, students are out of school but teachers attend for staff development. "Several years ago, school systems, including DeKalb County, started extending the school day in order to build up to thirteen additional days, which could be taken off for inclement weather. Most school systems chose to do that, therefore they wouldn't have to make up those days at the end of the year. By choosing to do that, school systems could take a stockpile day as one of those thirteen days for staff development where we work with teachers on new teaching strategies, training, and things like that. We scheduled three stock piled days this school year."

Medigap law change Eligibility has expanded for TennCare disenrollees

December 15, 2010
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) wants Tennessee insurance consumers to be aware of changes in the law relating to the regulation of the sale of Medicare Supplement insurance products ("Medigap") in this state. This week it has posted a bulletin addressing eligibility expansions for the State-required offer of Medigap policies to persons under 65 eligible for Medicare due to disability or end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

“Beginning January 1, 2011, as a result of an amendment to State law,” says TDCI Commissioner Leslie A. Newman, “insurance carriers who offer Medigap plans to individuals 65 and older must also offer those same plans to eligible individuals under 65. “An individual under 65 must be eligible for Medicare due to a disability or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) to enjoy this expanded mandated offering of coverage,” she says.

Pursuant to the 2010 Tennessee Public Acts, Chapter 978, the following persons are eligible for a six-month open enrollment period under the new law:

•A person who has been enrolled in Medicare Part B since before January 1, 2011, will have until June 30, 2011 to purchase a policy;

•A person who becomes enrolled in Medicare Part B after January 1, 2011, will have six months from the date of enrollment to purchase a policy;

•A person who becomes retroactively enrolled in Medicare Part B due to a retroactive eligibility decision made by the Social Security Administration will have six months from the date of the notice of retroactive enrollment to purchase a policy;

•A person who loses access to alternative forms of health insurance coverage such as accident and sickness policies, employer-sponsored group health coverage or Medicare Advantage plans due to termination or cancellation of such coverage because of the individual's employment status, or due to an action by a health insurer or employer that is unrelated to the individual's status, conduct, or failure to pay premiums will have six months from the date of loss of that coverage to purchase a policy; or

•A person who is involuntarily disenrolled from Title XIX (Medicaid) or Title XXI (State Children's Health Insurance Program) of the Social Security Act will have six months from the date of disenrollment to purchase a policy.

The bulletin can be found on the Insurance Division web page at http://tennessee.gov/
commerce/insurance/documents/120110.pdf. Consumers with questions should contact the TDCI Insurance Division at 615-741-2176, www.tn.gov/commerce/insurance/ or by mailing correspondence to:

TDCI Insurance Division, Fourth Floor
Davy Crockett Tower, Fourth Floor,
500 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243

The Department of Commerce and Insurance works to protect consumers while ensuring fair competition for industries and professionals who do business in Tennessee. www.tn.gov/commerce/

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