Local News Articles

Haslam Announces Disaster Aid For 10 Counties Including DeKalb

March 17, 2012
Bill Haslam

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the federal government will provide Individual Assistance in Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton and Polk Counties under a disaster declaration for the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding of Feb. 29 to March 2, 2012, with a federal designation of DR-4060.

“My goal is always to make sure we get the needed assistance to as many families as possible,” Haslam said of the disaster assistance he requested. “I’m very pleased the federal government has taken this step to provide needed relief to those individuals and families impacted by these storms.”

INDIVIDUAL ASSISTANCE

Individuals in Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton, and Polk Counties are now eligible for federal assistance, and residents who sustained losses in these counties can begin applying for assistance immediately through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), by registering online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

More information on FEMA's Individual Assistance program is available at www.fema.gov/assistance/index.shtm.

For more updates regarding the state’s response, visit the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s website at www.tnema.org.

A look at the Tennessee Legislature

March 17, 2012
by: 
State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver
State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

Greetings! Lottery scholarship requirements will not change as long as lottery proceeds of at least $10 million sustains through 2015. Today students can obtain a scholarship worth $4,000 for each four years as long as they make a 3.0 grade average in High School or score 21 on the ACT college entrance exam. The original bill, HB2649, called to reduce the scholarships by 50 percent for students who do not meet both requirements. In order for the bill to have moved forward into full committee, an amendment was made that would be contingent upon those lottery revenues to be no less than $10 million. As long as we have the money, we will continue to fund the scholarships. With record sales of $130 million in February, proceeds dropping below $10 million would not appear to take place anytime soon. The Hope Scholarship has helped many students achieve their goal of a quality education.

HB 2337 continues a program that has helped many foster children transition into adulthood. This legislation will provide much needed help to foster children as they grow out of the state system. Country music singer Jimmy Wayne, who was a foster child himself, was on hand to witness the passage of the bill and also did a fabulous job of singing our national anthem on the House Floor. The Administration, which favors this bill, included the cost in the state’s annual budget.

HB3283--a law needed after a local news investigation discovered that many sex offenders in Middle Tennessee had avoided the registry. It seems their offenses were dropped to lesser charges; just because they have been granted “diversion,” which basically means good behavior, they can have their records wiped clean. This law will further strengthen the state’s sexual offender laws.

Many emails are coming to me concerning HB3606. Please remember, bills are in the metamorphosis stage while in committees. Job-killing bills and/or tax-increasing bills, I will not support. That being said, I will continue to keep watch on this bill. Thanks for addressing it, and thanks for your emails.

I want to thank the many constituents who came to the capitol this past week. Leadership DeKalb brought a great group this year. I so enjoy the lunch together and the Q&A we conduct around the conference table in the Senate Room. Your engagement and input?...priceless! Tennessee Electric Cooperatives were here in full strength; the 40th district was represented well. What a pleasure it was to talk with you and to assure you of my full support on legislation respecting the principle that a landowner is entitled to free enjoyment of their land. Also, it was Rural Health Association week and many of the Critical Access Hospitals in my district were here, as well. Hospitals will be prohibited from increasing charges to their patients as a result of the Hospital Coverage Assessment which, by the way, prevents $870 million dollars in cuts from taking effect.

WOW! A big week and more to come as we see the pace pick up tremendously. I want to remind you to keep the emails coming concerning support for the elimination of the Death and Gift Tax. Folks, this tax needs to die. Your emails to the Administration are paramount! Always a pleasure to work with and to serve the Folks of the Fortieth! Blessings!

Cecil Burger's Long Career with the City of Smithville Coming to an End

March 16, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Cecil Burger

After forty five years of service to the City of Smithville, including sixteen years as mayor and six years as alderman, Cecil Burger has decided to call it quits once his term expires June 30.

Mainly because of his health, Burger will not be seeking re-election as aldermen this summer. "I've got a little health problem and I've decided that I might not be able to do the job I should", said Burger.

In twenty two years, Burger never lost an election, having first been elected mayor in 1990. He served eight terms, sixteen years in that office until 2006 when he chose instead to run for alderman. Burger will be completing his third term as alderman this year.

He began his career with the city in 1966 as secretary-treasurer, which also meant overseeing the city's public works operation and city employees. He served as city judge for the first couple of years as well. Burger retired from the secretary-treasurer position in 1989 but came out of retirement fifteen months later after being elected mayor in 1990.

During his time with the city as an employee, Burger served under dozens of aldermen and nine mayors starting with Othel Smith, John Bill Evins, Charles Gentry, Edward Frazier, Gary Gus Johnson, Hilton Conger, Waniford Cantrell, Dewey Love, and Bruce Medley.

In an interview with WJLE, Burger said he appreciates all the support he has received during his career with the city. "The people have been good to me and I appreciate it very much. They supported me well and I'd still help them if I could," said Burger.

"We (city) grew a right smart while I was mayor and we tried to serve the whole city. I don't know of anything special (we did) only trying to do our work with everybody. I had a lot of good help. I appreciate my friends who have helped me out all these years. They helped me when I was mayor and still do. I have plenty of friends. I've tried to treat them like I wanted to be treated," said Burger.

Gassaway Charged in Federal Indictment with Bank Fraud

March 16, 2012

A former local banker has been arrested on a federal indictment charging him with bank fraud while he worked as an officer at the Progressive Savings Bank in Cookeville.

Kelly Gassaway is accused of defrauding the bank by diverting funds from customers' accounts and using the proceeds to pay his own bills in an alleged scheme which occurred from April to November, 2009. A federal grand jury issued a nine count indictment against Gassaway last week.

According to a report in the Herald Citizen, Gassaway allegedly made false entries in bank books, reports, and statements in order to use various types of accounts belonging to seven bank customers to pay his own creditors, the indictment alleges. Some of the checks were for amounts over $1,000 and some for several hundred dollars.

Gassaway was arrested by federal agents on Tuesday, March 13 and was taken to federal court in Nashville. He was later released on his own recognizance pending trial in the case.

FBI Agent Derrel Martin of the Cookeville office investigated the case.

Beavers pleased Governor Haslam has requested aid for DeKalb County

March 15, 2012
State Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) said today she is pleased that Governor Haslam has requested aid for the February 29 – March 2 tornadoes, straight line winds and severe storms that ravaged 10 counties, including DeKalb County which she represents. The request also specifically asks for Individual Assistance, including the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling, Small Business Administration Disaster Recovery Loans and Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Hamilton, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton and Polk Counties.

“DeKalb was one of the worst areas hit,” said Senator Beavers. “A declaration would help those who suffered damage recover from these storms.”

Beavers said Governor Haslam requested President Obama declare a disaster under Tennessee’s Emergency Management Plan in accordance with the Stafford Act. Preliminary assessments indicated the most severe impacts were to individuals, households and businesses. The disaster caused the sheltering of more than 350 families, as well as 2 deaths in Cumberland County, 1 death in Dekalb County, 33 patients seen in local Emergency Rooms in three counties and over $18 million dollars in damage to homes. Business damages have also caused numerous workers to suffer the loss of their jobs.

Total expenditures statewide are expected to exceed $36.1 million.

“Those who suffered damages need this assistance to help them get back on their feet,” she concluded.

Smithville Municipal Election to be Contested

March 15, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Taft Hendrixson
Jimmy W. Poss
Scott Davis
Jason Judd Murphy
Tim Stribling
Steve White

Smithville Mayor Taft Hendrixson will be challenged for re-election again this year.

Hendrixson, who is seeking his fourth term, will face opposition from Jimmy W. Poss, who currently serves as a seventh district county commissioner in the city election on Tuesday, June 19th.

Hendrixson was first elected mayor in 2006 and he was re-elected in 2008 and 2010.

Poss will be making his first attempt at an elected city public office.

Meanwhile, Incumbent Alderman Stephen White is seeking re-election. Also in the race for alderman are Scott Davis, Jason Judd Murphy, and Tim Stribling.

White was first elected in 2000 and will be looking for his seventh term as alderman.

Davis, Murphy, and Stribling are making their first runs for elected public office.

A mayor and two aldermen will be elected on June 19th. Each term is for two years. The terms of office for those elected will begin on July 1st.

Noon today (Thursday, March 15th) was the qualifying deadline.

Incumbent Alderman Cecil Burger is not seeking re-election. Burger will be ending his career as a city public official, completing his third term as alderman this summer. He was first elected to that office in 2006. Prior to that, Burger served as Mayor from 1990 to 2006, a total of eight terms. He also formerly worked for the city, having served 23 years as the city secretary-treasurer and at one time, city judge.

Early voting for the Smithville Municipal Election will be May 30 through June 14. Meanwhile, May 21 is the voter registration deadline for the Smithville City Election.

Voters who don't live in Smithville but own property in the city may vote in the municipal election under certain conditions.

The Smithville Charter allows Property Rights Voting. The property must be a minimum of
7500 square feet and the person owning the property must reside in DeKalb County. Proof of ownership and residence must be shown by the following means: (1) A certified copy of the deed and the execution of an affidavit that the person still owns this property and (2) A copy of the most recent DeKalb County real property tax notice, and (3) Proof of residence in DeKalb County. Property rights registrants are entitled to vote but not to hold any municipal office or serve on any municipal board or commission. Proof of ownership and registration form must be provided to the Election Commission office by the May 21 registration deadline.

Meanwhile, Administrator of Elections Dennis Stanley reminds voters who have moved since registering to vote that the election commission office needs your current address on file.

"Updating the record is a simple process. All the voter needs to do is fill out a change of address form, which is available at the election commission office," said Stanley. To see if you need to update your record, simply check the address on your voter registration card. If it is different than your current address, you need to update the information with the election commission."

"Updating the address will make your voting experience go much easier and quicker." Stanley said," and will not slow down the line at the polling place during early voting or election day."

Smithville Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Phony Military Documents

March 14, 2012

65 year old Robert E. Neener of Smithville, Tennessee, pleaded guilty on March 12, 2012, to possessing and selling federal agency seals, and pretending to be a federal officer or employee, announced Jerry E. Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. The guilty plea is pursuant to a plea agreement which includes a three year prison sentence and the payment of restitution to defrauded victims.

As part of the plea agreement, Neener admits that from January 2007 through December 2008 he operated a document vending business from his residence in Smithville, Tenn. which he advertised via the Internet. In these advertisements, Neener falsely represented that he could provide customers with "authentic" military replacement documents which were "exact reproductions" of those originally issued, and that he had contracts with military branches of the government.

Neener received more than $200,000 from customers who ordered thousands of documents, which included honorable discharges and various military awards. Neener had no authorization from any federal agency to either make or sell these documents. Neener also used the official seals of various federal agencies on most of these documents, including the U.S. Air Force; the Army; the Navy; the Department of Defense; Homeland Security; the Department of Justice; Veterans Affairs; the DEA; the Coast Guard; and the U.S. Marine Corps, without authorization to do so.

Neener also signed or copied signatures of various federal officials on these documents, which made it appear that the various awards or certificates were endorsed and authorized by such officials. On some documents, Neener fabricated the names and official positions of federal officials and on others, he forged the signatures of real persons, identifying them by the federal positions they actually occupied, including a former Secretary of the Navy and a former President of the United States.

"Using the Internet to fraudulently sell counterfeit documents is unlawful and triggers serious concerns when those documents falsely purport to be issued by federal agencies, particularly military agencies," said U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin. "Federal prosecutors in this district will continue to focus attention on anyone who sells phony replacement awards to veterans who have earned such awards, as well as those who sell phony awards to individuals who have not earned them. We will continue to seek significant prison sentences for anyone convicted of such crimes."

"The Office of Inspector General aggressively investigates unauthorized uses of the official VA seal, and unauthorized creation of documents by anyone pretending to act under the VA's official authority will not be tolerated," said Quentin G. Aucoin, Special Agent in Charge of the VA Office of Inspector General.

Neener will be sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell on July 13, 2012.

The case was jointly investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with assistance from the U.S. Secret Service, the Tennessee Highway Patrol- Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI. The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Hester.

Fire Department Proposes Lease Purchase Option For Ladder Truck

March 14, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Fire Chief Charlie Parker (2011 photo)
Waniford Cantrell (2011 photo)
Aerial Ladder Truck

Members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department unveiled their recommendation for purchasing a 75 foot ladder truck during a public forum Tuesday night at city hall.

Chief Charlie Parker said the department is suggesting that the mayor and aldermen include funds in the budget to make a down payment and enter into a five year lease purchase agreement. "Our recommendation is a 75 foot ladder truck with a 1,750 gallon a minute pump which gives us a 1,500 gallon a minute water way. It also has a 300 gallon tank and it carries hose and other equipment so we can use it as a first line engine also. We can count it as an engine and a ladder truck. I think we need to make a conscious effort to keep some of our (city reserve funds). We purchased our last fire truck in 2001. We did a lease purchase on that. We had the money in the bank to pay for it all then. At that particular time we got cheaper money to lease it and draw money off of the bank. That's probably not going to be the case this time. Interest does not draw very much. But, you don't have to spend all our capital outlay in one year. Our recommendation is to put a down payment down and do a lease purchase. We're looking at a five year lease purchase. This is a year to year lease. Once you make a substantial deposit, it is on a year to year lease so if you decide you don't want it in two years then you can give it back to them. That's not very smart on our end of it because you'll already have two years into it. We think the lease purchase is probably the best way to keep some money in the bank and still accomplish what we need," said Chief Parker.

Asked about the price of such a truck, Chief Parker said the costs vary but the price on the demo truck that the department tested recently was around $680,000.

Demo trucks, he said, are available for purchase. "We were at a weekend training class in Sevierville the weekend before last and up there we saw some demo trucks that are still available. Talking with some truck manufacturers, they are expecting raw price increases coming in the next month or two. The 2001 truck that we bought was a demo unit and we got it at a pretty substantial price difference (cheaper) than what we had actually bid (planned for in bid specs). It was already made. It had probably 99% of the specs that we had already specked out except for a few minor things they had to change. That's one way there could be a cheaper price for a truck. We can put it in the budget for next year or we could continue to wait. Its up to the citizens. Its up to the board. Our goal for the Smithville Fire Department is the protection of our citizens," said Chief Parker.

So why the need for a ladder truck?. "The Smithville Firefighters want to be able to extinguish these larger fires," said Chief Parker. We currently have the knowledge, personnel, and training to fight these larger fires, but we do not have the equipment to do so. There have been several of these fires in the past in Smithville from apartment fires to factory fires and we feel that an aerial (ladder truck) can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on an emergency scene and increase the safety of our firefighters by having the equipment to use to do it with. We need it (ladder truck) to access the roof of a one or two story building in our downtown district. We need it to access windows of two or three story apartment buildings or homes around Smithville. We need it to be able to put water above ground level where we need it. If we need to put it (water) in a second story window, we can't do that off of a ground ladder. We can, but in a small amount. With a ladder truck, we can operate the nozzle that's mounted on the end of the ladder, or we can do it remotely from the base. That nozzle can put 1,500 gallons of water a minute onto that fire. When we get there in the first crucial minutes of a fire, if we don't get to it really quick it'll get bigger really quick and that makes it harder for us to fight. It makes it more dangerous for us to fight. This is one thing we're really pushing for. To be able to get the water above ground where we need it, when we need it, and how much. With the nozzle locked back, we can use the ladder in rescue mode, picking people out of windows or off of roofs," said Chief Parker.

Chief Parker said if the city were to purchase a ladder truck, the department would also have the 2001 truck and would like to keep the 1992 truck, to be used as a reserve unit.

Resident and former Mayor Waniford Cantrell said he is sold on the idea that the city needs a ladder truck and the plan proposed is "the best deal around", he said. "As far as I'm concerned, time's a wasting. We need to go ahead and get serious about buying this. I see no problem for us looking for a demonstrator and if we go with a down payment and a five year lease program, you're not going to get a much better deal than that. I guarantee, I can find enough money in this budget if you need any help, finding that down payment money. I'd like to see the council get serious and let Charlie (Parker) get some definite money figures and go ahead and purchase one of these things on a purchase lease plan and spread that cost out. This is going to be the best deal in town," said Cantrell

Aside from members of the fire department and aldermen, the meeting was attended by only a few citizens. No one spoke out in opposition to the proposal.

Prescription Drug Manufacturer Pfizer Comes to the Aid of Sabrina Brown

March 13, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page

Almost a week after someone stole the medications she needs to survive, Sabrina Brown got some good news Monday.

The prescription drug manufacturer, Pfizer has announced that it will help Brown obtain the Zyvox medication free of charge through Pfizer's RSVP program, which is designed to help qualified patients access the Pfizer specialty medicines they need.
PLAY WJLE VIDEO OF SABRINA BROWN HERE

The announcement by Pfizer comes after Nashville media publicity about the case.

Brown, who lives on Earl Avenue with her husband and step mother, told WJLE last Friday that someone broke into her home last Tuesday, March 6th between 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. while they were away. When Brown returned, she discovered that someone had emptied out her purse and stolen cash and some expensive medication she was taking for a life threatening bacterial blood infection. Smithville Police were called to investigate. There was no sign of forced entry. Brown told police she wasn't certain whether the doors to the home were locked while they were gone.

Police report the following list of items stolen and their approximate value: Zyvox, $7,515; Zofran, $1,796; Cipro $67.99; Phenergan $19.49; TN ID $20; and $150 in cash. The purse was found in the basement.

Brown, a patient at Vanderbilt, said the hospital gave her the medications but they wouldn't replace what had been stolen and she can't afford to buy more. Brown said she might have died had she not been able to replace the medication she needs for her condition. Brown made an appeal to whoever stole the medications to return them to her, but no response has come so far.

Brown said she is thankful for the words of encouragement and letters of support she has received over the past week.

Smithville Gets Approval for $1.5 Million Airport Grant Project

March 13, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Grant funds to repair cracks and repave airport runway
Saw cuts to be made in airport runway as part of the process to repair cracks
Cracks such as this appear in many places along airport runway

The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Monday that state aeronautics grants totaling $16,751,893 have been approved for seventeen Tennessee airports including the Smithville Municipal Airport.

PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF AIRPORT MANAGER WESLEY NOKES DESCRIBING THE PROJECT

The City of Smithville has been approved for a $1.5 million project for runway overlay and apron expansion. State grant funding totals $1,350,000 and the local matching obligation is $150,000. The funds will be used to re-pave the airport runway and to pave and expand the aircraft parking area.

Wesley Nokes, Airport Manager, said cracks in the runway will have to be fixed first. "We're going to be doing a complete airfield overlay but before that can be done several cracks in the runway have to be fixed. The process by which they do that, they'll saw cut the cracks six inches on either side of it (cracks), completely remove that section of asphalt, take it down to the core, and remove all the old. They'll come back and fill all that in and pave back over top of it and bring it up to grade with the rest of the runaway. All the cracks have to be fixed before we can start the (overlay) process," said Nokes.

The apron will also be doubled in size, according to Nokes "The apron which is our parking area for our aircraft, its pretty much been unchanged since the airport was built in the early 70's. This is the original asphalt that was put here. We're going to extend this (aircraft parking area) to twice the size that it is right now. Its going to give us twice the original parking area and that will really help us on crowded days," said Nokes.

The city also recently received a $166,667 grant for apron expansion design with a local matching share of $16,667.

VIDEO BELOW IS WESLEY NOKES DESCRIBING PLANS FOR EXPANSION OF AIRCRAFT PARKING AREA

The grants are made available through the Tennessee Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Division.

The Division administers federal and state funding to assist in the location, design, construction and maintenance of Tennessee's diverse public aviation system.

Except for routine expenditures, grant applications are reviewed by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission (TAC), which is a five member board charged with policy planning and with regulating changes in the state Airport System Plan. The board carefully reviews all applications for grants to ensure that the proper state and local matching funds are in place and that the grants will be used for needed improvements.

The TDOT Aeronautics Division has the responsibility of inspecting and licensing the state's 126 heliports and 75 public/general aviation airports.

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