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The Loop: A Legislative Update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

March 7, 2011
Terri Lynn Weaver

The following is a weekly legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver:

Health Freedom Act Headed to House Floor

The “Health Freedom Act” moved this week, clearing all necessary House committees, and is now scheduled for a vote on the House Floor. Many legislators have championed the proposal for two years now to counter the federal health care takeover passed by Congress. House Bill 0115 provides that every person within Tennessee is free to choose or decline any mode of health care services without penalty or punishment from the government. Additionally, it ensures that Tennessee officials will be prohibited from interfering with the health care insurance decisions of every Tennessean.

Believing that expanding government programs is rarely an effective solution to complex issues, some legislators have argued the federal government’s takeover of healthcare will only prove to balloon the cost of healthcare services to the states.

Last year, the legislation hit a snag in a House committee after thorough debate over several weeks. Other states have passed similar legislation, and many are already in the process of filing a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the healthcare overhaul. It has been an honor to sponsor this bill of Liberty called The Health Freedom Act!

House Passes Legislation Honoring Fallen Service Members

By a unanimous vote the House passed legislation Monday evening that properly honors Tennessee’s fallen service members.

House Bill 47 requires State flags to be flown at half-staff by State political subdivisions during a day of mourning as declared by the Governor. The bill covers all members of the armed services who courageously give their lives in the line of duty.

The bill sponsor stressed that the nation has been built on the sacrifice of brave service members, many of whom hail from Tennessee. The measure rightfully honors these special sailors, soldiers, and airmen who gave everything for freedom as Americans and Tennesseans.

Wrapping up…

Many of you have emailed or called my office over the last couple of weeks. I have had numerous discussions concerning the collective bargaining legislation that is being discussed here on the hill.

First and foremost, I am not against our teachers. As a legislator who has toured every one of my schools, I have seen first hand teachers going above and beyond the call in today’s classroom.

Since my last letter to the teachers in district 40 I have done some discovering on my own and found that perhaps collective bargaining made sense fifty years ago however this prototype is no longer working and in fact the process handicaps a school system’s ability to attract and keep the best and the brightest. It is proven that schools who do not have collective bargaining in their districts have higher paid teachers and higher scoring students. School systems are placed in adversarial, confrontational and unreasonable demands simply to avoid a lawsuit. This ultimately impacts the taxpayer, the very people whom the teachers, the school board members and the legislature work for. And the Tennessee taxpayers have shared their opinion as well. They expect positive results from the classroom.

The whole system needs an overhaul. Where we are today has taken years to get here. But I have to ask myself is it any wonder why we are ranked so low in education as a state?

I have done some research on the SCEA, the TEA and the NEA. These are the unions whose members, the teachers, invest their hard earned money to support. All citizens have the right to organize with groups to promote their special interests. But it is something entirely different to allow any one group a special status and access to the decision making process. Tennessee is a right to work state and does not authorize any other public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining, except the union representing educators. Collective bargaining distorts and corrupts democratic government.

Allow me to share what I found to be the 2010 NEA (national education association’s agenda at their annual conference.)
•Repeal of the right to work provision of federal labor law
•Tax supported single-payer health care plan for all residents of the U.S., it’s territories, and Puerto Rico
•Federal funding for illegal aliens in public education and student aid for illegal’s in colleges
•Federal programs to teach schoolchildren about sexual orientations
•Opposition to tuition tax credits, vouchers, and parental option or choice in education programs’
•Opposition to using draft registration as an eligibility criterion for financial aid
•Opposition to the testing of teachers as a criterion for job retention, promotion, tenure or salary increases
•Opposition to designating English as the official language of the united states
•Opposition to the use of voter id cards for voting in local, state, and national elections
•Opposition to any constitutional amendment limiting taxes or the federal budget.
Good grief, does this reflect the values of Tennesseans?

I truly believe our teachers want respect and recognition for what they do, and they deserve both. As your Legislator my concern is to promote student achievement and reward our teachers therefore making our state a better educated and better trained workforce for our children. This legislation is still in discussion. Let us all be mindful of one thing that is vital, and that is our children.

In closing, I had such a great week as all of the Farm Bureau teams from district 40 came to visit. Working on the Agriculture Committee this year my focus is to make Tennessee an even better place for our farmers to prosper and grow.

Harris says AT&T Looking to Profit Millions at Expense of Rural Telephone Cooperatives

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
John Harris, III

Local telecommunications providers including DTC Communications are protesting a proposal that would cut intrastate access fees collected from long-distance carriers that connect to their networks, a move they say could increase costs for rural customers.

Known as the "Uniform Access, Competition, and Consumer Fairness Act of 2011," the legislation is backed by a broad group of telecommunications providers including AT&T, which called the bill a "compromise" that would "modernize telecommunications policy and keep Tennessee moving forward."

Nashville attorney John Harris, III, who represents an association on behalf of seven rural Tennessee telephone cooperatives, including DTC, told WJLE Wednesday that if the proposed legislation is adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly, it could result in higher rates and or cuts in services offered by local telephone companies. "Their (phone cooperatives) concern is that this legislation that primarily AT&T is behind, because they are doing this in a number of other states, is going to be very bad for local government and for local communities that they serve for several reasons."

"The AT&T legislation really deals with a very narrow issue that has to do with how much AT&T, as a long distance carrier, has to pay a local phone cooperative, like DTC to connect an incoming long distance call to a DTC customer," said Harris. "For example, if a call originates out of Memphis, comes to Smithville and gets sent up some hollow somewhere to a rural customer, DTC wants to be paid a portion of the long distance charge because it owns the lines and has to pay for the electricity, the property taxes and it has to pay its employees to go out there and maintain the lines when a storm comes through. It has costs associated with its share of delivering that phone call. Presently, the rural phone cooperatives are charging anywhere from about four cents a minute to about ten cents a minute to connect that call statewide, depending upon the phone company. AT&T is charging its customers, in Memphis for example, as much as forty cents a minute to business customers to place those calls. AT&T is making plenty of profit on the calls," said Harris.

"What AT&T wants to do is to force the local phone cooperatives to accept approximately two cents a minute to place those calls across its network. AT&T's legislation would allow AT&T to benefit to the tune of about $16 million dollars a year in keeping those profits, those cost reductions, because the law that is proposed doesn't require AT&T to pass those cost savings on to its customers," according to Harris.

"From the perspective of the phone cooperatives, their response is that its actually costing them (cooperatives) anywhere from about five cents a minute to as much as nine cents a minute to provide that service and if the legislature is going to force them(cooperatives) to provide a service that costs nine cents a minute to provide and force them to only accept two cents a minute in compensation for that service then they (cooperatives) have to do something on their end to absorb that theft of services," said Harris. " Potentially, what they will have to do is either cut services, raise rates, or reduce the number of employees. It could mean as much as an eight dollar a month increase in cooperative customer basic monthly phone service rates to make up that loss which is really going into the pockets of AT&T," according to Harris.

"All the rural cooperatives are saying concerning this legislation is that we don't mind connecting and delivering the long distance calls. All we're (cooperatives) asking is that if it cost us, based on our calculations seven to nine cents a minute to do that (connect the calls) by the time you add in maintenance, employee salaries, and all the overhead, just pay us a reasonable amount of money to provide the service. AT&T doesn't want to do that," said Harris.

Harris added that the AT&T bill is getting a great deal of support from Republicans in the State House and Senate, except for a few including State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver who are standing with the rural telephone cooperatives in opposition to the legislation. "A real troubling thing about this is there is a perception, and I think it's a valid one, that a lot of the rural communities in Tennessee are part of the reason why the Republicans have now taken control of state government. We saw a shift in 2008 and 2010 in how rural communities are voting and that has given the Republicans the majority in the state house, state senate, and the Governor's office. But it's primarily the Republicans who are carrying AT&T's water at this point and turning on rural Tennessee with no apparent reason or concern for what it's going to do to rural Tennessee," said Harris. "We do have State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver and a lot of good Republicans and Democrats who are trying to look out for rural Tennessee. The problem is the Republican leadership like Mark Norris, who is out of Collierville near Memphis, doesn't have any rural coops in his area so he is not really concerned about rural Tennessee and he is the Senate sponsor of this bill," said Harris.

"AT&T is using it's power, it's size, and influence politically to take advantage of rural Tennessee communities and its critical that people in these rural communities contact their telephone coops and phone companies and ask what can we do to help fight this? Who do we need to call? Who do we need to email? How do we get the attention of Governor Bill Haslam and the State Senate and State House of Representatives to make sure that AT&T doesn't succeed in stealing phone services from rural cooperatives," Harris concluded.

In a prepared statement, DTC Officials have said " If AT&T and the telecom giants are successful, we estimate lost revenue to DTC will be $700,000 per year".

Smithville Police Department Crime News

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police are reporting three arrests in the latest city crime report.

Chief Randy Caplinger said that 53 year old Donna Faye Hewell of Hawkins Drive was arrested on Saturday, February 26th for possession of a schedule III controlled substance and for possession of drug paraphernalia. Officer Matt Farmer was dispatched to The Webb House Retirement Center in reference to a 911 hang up. Upon arrival he was advised that someone was in the smoke room who appeared to be intoxicated. Officer Farmer found Ms. Hewell in the smoke room and asked her to step outside. As they were walking outside, Ms. Hewell became unsteady on her feet and her speech was slurred. Ms. Hewell submitted to sobriety tasks but performed poorly. Officer Farmer asked her to empty her pockets and she pulled out a straw containing a powder residue and a schedule III drug. Bond for Hewell is $3,000 and her court date is March 17th.

31 year old Antonio Cruz of West Broad Street was arrested by Captain Steven Leffew on Saturday, February 26th for domestic assault. Captain Leffew was called to a residence on West Broad Street where Mr. Cruz was allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and threatening her with a knife. Bond for Cruz is $7,500.

31 year old Jeromie W Mashburn of Cookeville Highway was arrested by Captain Steven Leffew on Sunday, February 27th for criminal impersonation and theft. On Wednesday, February 23rd, Captain Leffew issued a citation to Samuel Murphy for theft at Save A Lot. On Sunday, February 27th, Murphy and his brother-in-law, Mashburn met Captain Leffew at the Smithville Police Department. Murphy reported that Mashburn had used his identification in regard to the theft at Save A Lot and that it was actually Mashburn who had taken the items from the store and not him. Bond for Mashburn is $5,000.

Meanwhile, anyone with information on any offense is asked to please contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the Tip Line at 464-6046.

Any information received that will help Smithville Police solve any criminal offense will be greatly appreciated. All information is confidential.

Board of Education Members and Director of Schools Attend "Day on the Hill"

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Charles Robinson-Named to TSBA's All Tennessee School Board
Kenny Rhody- Earns TSBA's Master School Board Member

Members of the DeKalb County Board of Education and Director of Schools Mark Willoughby gathered with their counterparts from across the state in Nashville on February 22nd for a day of legislative networking at TSBA's annual "Day on the Hill" event. This year, featured program speakers included Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, and House Education Committee Chair Richard Montgomery.

"Day on the Hill" is designed for school board members and directors of schools to study pending education legislation and discuss priorities with local legislators. The event began with a breakfast at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel and was followed by visits to legislators' offices and committee hearings.

"Day on the Hill" provides a unique opportunity for school board members throughout the state to promote public education and seek assistance from the General Assembly with one collective voice", said TSBA President and Oneida Special school board member Nancy Williamson. "A quality public education system is essential to the future economic development of our state, and every citizen has a vested interest in its success. We look forward to partnering with the General Assembly to continue improving the quality of schools in Tennessee."

In addition to Director Willoughby, Charles Robinson, chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education attended along with Kenny Rhody, vice-chair, and John David Foutch, first district member.

Rhody said the "Day on the Hill" provides a great opportunity for local board members to exchange ideas with state legislators. "To sit down with your elected representatives and discuss our needs with them in detail is so important", said Rhody. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease theme is still important when dealing with funding or the lack thereof. If we don't stand up for what is right for our children, who will?. We must provide what they need for their future, and ours. To bring back federal and state dollars to our county and state is what has worked well for DeKalb County for 40 plus years and we must keep bringing our money back to work for us. The local tax base should not and cannot fund everything our kids need. That's why working with our elected representatives and senators is so important now."

In addition to serving as Chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education, Robinson is a member of the Tennessee School Board Association Board of Directors, serving as the board's TLN representative. Robinson is also a Master School Board member.

During the recent 2010 TSBA Annual Convention, Robinson was named to the All Tennessee School Board.

Each year, TSBA recognizes five to seven outstanding school board members as members of the annual All Tennessee School Board. These individuals demonstrate the dedication, professionalism, and vision needed to take public education to the highest level.

Rhody, meanwhile, recently earned the designation of Master Board Member, having reached the fifth and highest level in TSBA's Boardsmanship Program. The program is designed to recognize school board members for participation in board activities beyond the local level through a commitment to training, willingness to participate in workshops and conferences and a volunteer spirit.

To obtain Level V, board members must earn at least 250 credits in three areas, including attendance at school board academies; participation in activities such as the TSBA Annual Convention, leadership conferences and workshops; and completion of activities such as speaking to civic clubs or meeting with legislators. Candidates must complete a portfolio detailing their accomplishments.

Rhody was also recently elected to serve as the Upper Cumberland Federal Relations Network district coordinator at the TSBA Fall District Meeting. The FRN promotes communication with the Tennessee Congressional delegation to explain the impact of federal education policy on local school districts.

Local Educators to Join TEA Rally in Support of Teacher Rights

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
John Isabell (left) and Eric Sanders(right)
Local Educators went to Nashville March 5th to Rally for Teacher Rights

Several local educators are expected to join teachers from across the state during a Tennessee Education Association sponsored rally Saturday in Nashville in support of teacher rights.

Local teachers and supporters are asked to meet in the parking lot of DeKalb County High School at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The caravan will depart around 9:45 a.m. to join the rally, which will take place from noon until 3:00 p.m. at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville.

Eric Sanders, President of the DeKalb County Education Association told WJLE Thursday that local educators are concerned about several education reform bills pending in the legislature, that if approved, would affect teachers. "There's been several bills introduced in the 107th Tennessee General Assembly that attack public school educators and the TEA's basic philosophies. We believe reaching out to the legislators could help make a difference in whether those bills are passed or not."

John Isabell, DCEA building rep for DCHS said among the bills teachers are concerned about is the teacher tenure law and legislation that would affect teacher's collective bargaining rights." One of the bills we're concerned about is changing teacher tenure law, extending it from three years being a teacher before you are granted tenure to five years, perhaps even more. I think most people don't understand the tenure law and what it is. Most people feel that tenure law is something that allows teachers to, once they have achieved it, to never be removed from the teaching position when, in actuality all tenure law is, is the right for teachers to have a due process hearing should there be an attempt to remove them from the position."

"Another bill would strip teachers of the right to collectively bargain with school boards. Locally, we don't negotiate but its presence is felt. I think it helps maintain a healthy respect between school boards and the teachers. We don't want to lose this right to negotiate. It is very important to teachers. It's our primary voice within the school system," said Isabell

"There's another bill that's designed to remove the voice of TEA, who represent the majority of teachers in the state, from having representation on the state retirement fund advisory council. They want to basically remove any voice we have regarding our retirement benefits," said Isabell

Sanders added that "one bill would prohibit payroll deduction for public employees. This bill has nothing to do with education reform but it takes away the right of the teachers to have their payroll deduction and their dues for the association."

Sanders invites all teachers and supporters in the area to join the caravan Saturday morning. "Join us. We're starting a caravan at DCHS on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. We'll be leaving at 9:45 a.m. headed to the capitol in Nashville. The march is from noon until 3:00 p.m."

Isabell added "In part, we're trying to get folks a better understanding of what teachers are standing for and what the legislation seems to be wanting to do, which is to silence our voices. We are the key component within the education system and we simply want to have our voices be a part of the overall process. This rally is an opportunity for a lot of people to show their support for teachers and for other organizations as well. It's my understanding that we may have policemen groups, firemen groups, and others who will also be joining to put their voices together as a part of this support because if they take away our rights, other rights can be taken away as well."

Under Governor Bill Haslam's proposed teacher tenure reform legislation, teachers would become eligible for tenure after five years, rather than three years and they could also lose that status if they rank poorly for two consecutive years.

On the issue of collective bargaining, one bill proposed would prohibit any local board of education from negotiating with a professional employees' organization or teachers' union concerning the terms or conditions of professional service on or after the effective date of this bill.

Under present law, the Education Professional Negotiations Act gives any person employed by a local board of education (LEA) or charter school who has a position that requires a license issued by the department of education for service in public elementary and secondary schools of this state the rights to self-organization, to form, join or be assisted by professional employees' organizations, to negotiate through representatives of their own choosing and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of professional negotiations or other mutual aid or protection. The board of education and the recognized professional employees' organization must negotiate in good faith the following conditions of employment: salaries or wages; grievance procedures; insurance; fringe benefits; working conditions; leave; student discipline procedures; and payroll deductions.

This bill removes all rights and requirements under present state law regarding such professional employees, professional employees' organizations, and negotiations between such organizations and the board of education or the governing body of the charter school. However, this bill would not abridge or impair a contract or agreement governing terms and conditions of professional service entered into by a board of education and a recognized professional employees' organization under the Education Professional Negotiations Act before the effective date of this bill. Any such contract or agreement would remain in full force and effect until the expiration of the contract or agreement. Upon the expiration of a contract or agreement negotiated by a board of education and a professional employees' organization, teachers employed by such board of education would have the rights in their employment that are afforded to them under state and federal law and the personnel policy applicable to them.

Other bills teachers are concerned about include legislation that would make it illegal for labor organizations to contribute to political candidates for public office; and a bill that would prohibit public employees from having a payroll deduction to a political action committee or for dues for membership organizations that use funds for political activities.

Nashville Attorney to Represent Election Commission in Lawsuit

March 2, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
John Harris, III

Nashville lawyer John Harris, III has been employed by members of the DeKalb County Election Commission to represent them in a federal lawsuit brought in 2009 by the former administrator of elections, Lisa Peterson.

The three Republican members, Barbara Vanatta, Jim Dean, and Commission Chairman Walteen Parker voted to hire Harris during a special called meeting Monday night. The two Democrats on the commission, Nolan Turner and Kenneth Moore voted against it.

The decision comes after the county's insurance carrier recently withdrew its legal representation based on a December federal court ruling, and after the state attorney general, Robert E. Cooper, Jr., in a letter to Chairman Parker, wrote that the commission could not rely on the state to provide a defense and would have to hire its own legal counsel in the case. The cost of defending the election commissioners will have to be borne by the county.

Peterson filed the lawsuit only a few months after the Republican majority of the local election commission chose not to re-appoint her to another term. Another case involving the election commission, also filed by Peterson during the summer of 2009 in DeKalb County Chancery Court, is still pending.

Mary Ferrara, an attorney for the local government insurance carrier, had been providing the legal defense for members of the DeKalb County Election Commission but that all changed after U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr. found that the Republican election commissioners, in the counties of DeKalb, Hawkins, Weakley, and Putnam County, were not subject to liability for the monetary damages sought, in their official capacities as "state actors".

According to Harris, after the court's ruling that election commissioners were "state actors" the county's insurance carrier decided that it would no longer defend them. "When these administrators filed their lawsuits in federal court, they asserted that county election commissions and the county election commissioners were part of county government and as a result of that, in DeKalb County for example, the county's insurance carrier was providing a defense. In December 2010 the federal district judge ruled, based upon 60 year old Tennessee Supreme Court case, that the county election commissions and the county election commissioners are state officials. The court said they are state officials because they are not elected by the county voters and they are not appointed by county government, but they are, in fact, appointed by the state election commission to serve in each county so they are really an arm of state government. So what has brought us to this point is when the judge ruled that the county election commission and commissioners are actually state government officials rather than county officials, the insurance company said we only have a duty to represent the county and since these are state officials, we are withdrawing and you are on your own. The result of that was, the election commission still had an interest in the federal lawsuit. The named commissioners were still involved in the lawsuit, so it was determined that it was necessary for them to hire an attorney to continue to handle the case for both the commission and the commissioners."

However, according to Harris, had the county's insurance policy been written in such a way as to include the election commission as an insured entity of county government, just as county officials are insured, then the insurance pool most likely would not have withdrawn from the case. "That's an issue that the county commission and the county attorney may want to look at because by statute in Tennessee regarding election laws, the county is responsible for paying all of the operating expenses of the election commission with only a few exceptions which are written in the statute. The county is required by law to fund the operations of an election commission because the election commission is sort of like a school board in that they can't pass taxes, they don't have any way of collecting money, but they have to provide a service. And just like a school board the state says county, you have to fund a reasonable budget for the election commission which includes human resources issues if an employee claims I've been fired inappropriately or something of that nature. In this case, the insurance company has taken the position that the insurance only protects county government and county officials and because the trial court has found that the election commission is really apart of state government and that they are state officials, the insurance company has said we don't have to defend this case. Either one of two things has happened. Either the insurance company has sold a policy that is inadequate to cover the risks that the county might incur or they are just seeing this as an opportunity to get out, hoping that the attorney general perhaps would take it over. But the county may want to find out if they were sold an insurance policy that had a hole in it," said Harris.

Harris said the defendant election commissioners had also hoped that the state attorney general would come to their defense, but that too was not to be. "Early on, and then more recently on at least two attempts, the county election commissions have written and requested that the state attorney general, whose job it is to defend and represent state interests, undertake the defense of the election commissions and the commissioners since the federal court has found them to be state officials. The attorney general has some level of discretion in when to take on representation in a case. In this case, the attorney general, Bob Cooper, has written to each of these election commissions and declined to represent them which has caused a great deal of concern, not only to the election commissioners, but with quite a few legislators that I've talked to," said Harris.

Since the court has ruled that the election commissioners cannot be held liable for monetary damages, barring any successful appeal, Harris said the only significant remaining issue to be decided is the "injunctive relief" claim in the lawsuit. "There is a portion of the case which the trial court has not ruled on at this point and that is the issue of whether future election commissions will be allowed to take into consideration political party affiliation, if they choose to do so, in the decision to reappoint or select an administrator of elections. If the court takes up that issue and finds in favor of the plaintiff [Peterson], what the court could do is issue an injunction that says from this point forward, you do not have the discretion to take into consideration party affiliation. If the court does that, then the second prong of the potential problem for the county is that the court could order the county to pay the plaintiff's attorneys fees in the case which could easily be hundreds of thousands of dollars, in addition to paying its own defense costs since the state attorney general is not going to take it up. If the plaintiff wins on that, federal law allows the court to award attorneys fees to the prevailing plaintiff [Peterson]. It could award them to a prevailing defendant but it very seldom does so," said Harris.

Judge Wiseman's ruling on the monetary damages issue is being appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court by the plaintiffs in the case, although a challenge has been filed by the defendants as to whether the appellate court has jurisdiction.

DeKalb is among about a dozen counties in Tennessee where lawsuits have been filed by former administrators of elections asserting that they were not re-appointed to those positions because of their political party affiliation. Harris said whether or not that be the case, it doesn't necessarily give rise to a cause of action "because in Tennessee, every two years the county election commissions are reappointed and those reappointments are based on the political party affiliation of the election commissioners so that whichever party is in charge of the Tennessee General Assembly, that party gets three seats on the election commission and the minority party gets two seats on the commission. For the last 150 years, the Democrat Party has been in control of the election commissions in Tennessee, but that all changed in November 2008."

Meanwhile, legislation has been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly that if approved would require terms of county administrators of elections to expire when the commission's term expires. It would also allow county election commissions to consider political party affiliation, knowledge and experience when hiring administrators

Walteen Parker, Chairman of the DeKalb County Election Commission, issued the following statement on the developments that led to the commission's decision to hire its own attorney in this case. "The Election Commission has consistently been very astute in responding to this lawsuit. Initially, we chose to let the county's insurance carrier handle the matter, rather than seek an independent law firm. This proved to be a very wise decision. When the county's insurance attorney filed a motion to withdraw because we were deemed state agents and that motion was granted, we were required to file an appearance with the court within 30 days of February 4, 2011. Again, we agreed the next logical step was to contact Attorney General Robert Cooper and request his services. Unfortunately, AG Cooper decided not to provide legal counsel to any of the county election commissions involved in this lawsuit. After exhausting that avenue, we contacted an attorney who has the expertise in this matter, who has experience in election laws, who has a commitment to fairness and justice, and who can provide the best defense at a reasonable fee. That attorney is John Harris, III, whose references and recommendations were valid and very impressive. In procuring legal counsel, we are confident that we have been diligent in being mindful that neither the county nor the state should be responsible for the enormous legal fees of the plaintiff's attorneys. We will continue to choose the best course of action toward resolving this matter," said Chairman Parker.

Smithville Fire Department Renews Request for Aerial Ladder Truck

March 1, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Charlie Parker
City Fire Department Seeks Aerial Ladder Truck similar to vehicle shown here
City Fire Department Seeks Aerial Ladder Truck similar to vehicle shown here

Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker and members of the city fire department met with the Mayor and Aldermen Monday night in an informal workshop to discuss the purchase of an aerial ladder truck for the City of Smithville.

The aldermen set aside $400,000 in capital outlay funds in this year's budget to go toward the purchase of a used 100 foot ladder truck, if a suitable one could be found

Chief Parker, during Monday night's workshop, said after reviewing the city's five to ten year plan based on needs, the department would like to propose purchasing a new or demo model 75 foot aerial truck. "We're proposing to the city to purchase a 75 foot aerial truck for the City of Smithville. We've been looking for the last several months, doing a needs assessment for the city, searching for the vehicle we think would give us the most bang for the buck. So we've come up with a 75 foot aerial truck which would meet the needs, not just for now, but for our five year plan and also for our ten year plan. This truck would not only give us an aerial device, but it could also qualify as a ladder company which would still give us our ISO credit for pump capacity as well as for aerial capacity. It's kind of a win-win situation."

"We're looking for a little newer model now than we were before (with a proposed 100 foot used ladder truck) to cover our five year and ten year plan," said Chief Parker. At the present time, we have two fire trucks, one truck is ten years old and the other one is nineteen years old. We're hoping to replace the nineteen year old truck, within the next four to five years, so that we won't have something considered antique status as one of our first line vehicles. But we'd still like to keep that truck (to be replaced) as a reserve vehicle. We have two engines right now with no reserve at all, so this would actually provide us a reserve truck for when we have large commercial fires or if we should have to provide mutual aid assistance to one of our neighboring departments, we would still be covered in the city."

Chief Parker said if the city decides to buy an aerial truck, the newer the better. "We're still in the hunt. We're looking for a good demo truck. It's hard to find one that's real new because good quality trucks are hard to come by, but we're looking at a newer vehicle or a demo vehicle that has some wear just in showing it around. With a demo, we could still get a new vehicle warranty, but it would also help with regard to maintenance and keep from having a lot of extra expense as you would have with a used vehicle. We had considered going with a 100 foot used truck. We looked at several factors such as the sheer size of the truck, the maneuverability of the vehicle around all the city streets of Smithville, and the number of people it would take to operate that vehicle. We also considered the pump capacities and the amount of water we could put out. The 75 foot truck is a smaller vehicle but it's a better fit for our department at this time. We can get into more places and we can use it on more fires than we could with the other vehicle (100 foot ladder truck).

The cost to purchase a newer 75 foot aerial truck would be significantly more than the amount the city has allocated to purchase a used 100 foot ladder truck, but Chief Parker said a newer truck could be bought through a lease-purchase plan, without the city having to raise property taxes or dip into the general reserve fund to pay for it. " We've been looking at some demo units just a few months old and they're priced in the $600,000 to $650,000 range but there are deals on other demo units depending upon the age of the trucks If you start looking at brand new trucks ordered per specs, they'll probably be in the $700,000 to $750,000 range depending upon the equipment in the specs. One of the biggest assets of a newer vehicle is the payment options that come with it. If you look at a used vehicle, there are very little payment options. If you've got the cash, you can buy the vehicle. With the purchase of a new vehicle, there are several payment options you can look at including lease-purchase plans. The last vehicle we bought, the 2001 truck, we did that on a lease-purchase for three years. If we bought a new, or demo truck, that would give the city more flexibility on payment options and we wouldn't have to pull all of the money out of the city's reserves to do it or we could spend the money we have in capital outlay now ($400,0000) and lease the balance of that on a two, three, or five year plan. So it gives us more flexibility on buying a truck, being able to better afford it in these tough economic times, while getting more of a vehicle that we need. We're looking at doing this (making this purchase) without a tax increase, spreading out the payments, so that the city residents can get the benefits of the truck. We're hoping that with the addition of this truck, and a few more things, we can continue our ISO rating, and try to lower it to reduce some of the insurance rates for our citizens in Smithville."

According to Chief Parker the city needs an aerial or ladder truck, not only to help fight fires at large industrial buildings and two and three story structures, but also at many one story buildings in the city with facades that currently make it very difficult for firefighters to reach the roofs, in the event of a fire.

The aldermen have asked Chief Parker to come back at a future meeting with a few specific options for them to consider.

Trustee Reports DeKalb County Property Tax Collections at 86.5% as of Monday, February 28th

February 28, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sean Driver

The DeKalb County Trustee's Office was a busy place Monday as last minute taxpayers hurried to beat the deadline for payment of 2010 property taxes without penalty.

For those who didn't beat the deadline, a 1.5% per month penalty and interest will begin to accrue on 2010 taxes yet unpaid, starting March 1st.

Trustee Sean Driver said as of the close of business Monday, February 28th, collections were at 86.5%, which is almost as much as one year ago. "A lot of people came in today, even though it was a bad rainy day. We received a lot of mail today and I'm assuming more mail will come in the next two days, as far as postmarked mail and we'll be able to add to our collection percentages. As of right now, (February 28th) I finished with 86.5% in collections. That's about 1-1/2% off what it was this time last year but that can change with incoming mail tomorrow. From total tax rolls, which is $6.8 million, there's still about $950,000 that's still floating out there (yet to be collected). Of course a lot of people are out of work. We understand that. We wish we could do a whole lot more for them."

Driver said taxes may still be paid in person, or by debit or credit card either by phone, in the trustee's office or on-line at www.tennesseetrustee.com. " We are offering credit and debit card processing through the Business Information Systems for the property owners of DeKalb County. You may pay your property taxes using a VISA, MASTERCARD, or DISCOVER card. It can be handled on-line, in the Trustee's Office, or by phone."

In addition to the monthly accrued penalty and interest, Driver explained that a 2.75% convenience fee will be added to your tax bill, if you take advantage of on-line payment. However that convenience fee is collected through Business Information Systems, not the county. "If you want to do those payments on line, it is fast, easy, and secure. On-line payments may be made at www.tennesseetrustee.com. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may also pay your taxes with the accrued penalty and interest in our office at 1 public square, room 206 in the DeKalb County Courthouse. Our phone number is 615-597-5176. Office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m."

Driver said he is also looking into the possibility of implementing a plan in the future where taxpayers could make partial payments during the year until their entire tax bill is paid. "We are looking into accepting partial payments. We're trying to work with the Clerk and Master on trying to get some kind of program up on that. We do need to get caught up further on prior year taxes."

Meanwhile, property taxes from 2009 may be paid in the trustee's office through Thursday, March 31st with the accrued interest and penalty. After that, unpaid 2009 taxes will be turned over to the clerk and master's office and subject to additional fees.

County Commission Honors Eagle Scout Michael Caldwell

February 28, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Mayor Mike Foster with Eagle Scout Michael Caldwell

The DeKalb County Commission Monday night paid tribute to Eagle Scout Michael Caldwell by adopting a resolution in his honor.

County Mayor Mike Foster read the resolution which states "Whereas, it is fitting that the DeKalb County Commission and the DeKalb County Mayor should announce their pride, respect, and honor in the young people of our community who so capably fulfill their requirements and duties to reach lofty goals and levels of achievement."

"Whereas, Michael Caldwell has performed the tasks to work his way to the highest honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts of America. Michael Caldwell has worked to a level achieved by a very select few and has earned the Eagle Award."

"Whereas, the DeKalb County Commission and the DeKalb County Mayor wish to thank Michael Caldwell, his family, other scouts who helped and his leaders for the honors they have brought to themselves and DeKalb County."

"Now, therefore, be it resolved by the DeKalb County Commission that February 28th, 2011 be officially named "Eagle Scout, Michael Caldwell Day."

Be it further resolved that this accomplishment be spread across the records of this meeting and preserved as a lasting part of our appreciation to Eagle Scout Michael Caldwell"

Caldwell is the son of Rose Brown and the late Jeremy Caldwell.

Currie Charged with Public Intoxication and Criminal Impersonation

February 28, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page

39 year old Tammy Denise Currie of East Main Street, Dowelltown is charged with public intoxication and criminal impersonation. Her bond totals $3,000 and her court date is set for March 3rd.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Monday, February 21st a deputy was called to check out a person on East Main Street in Dowelltown who may have been intoxicated

Upon arrival, the officer saw the woman walking down the street. She was very unsteady on her feet. She admitted to the officer that she had taken xanax and hydrocodone pills. When he asked for her identity, she told him her name was Stephanie Mooneyham. A further investigation revealed her name to be Tammy Currie. The deputy placed Currie under arrest to keep her from walking out in front of vehicles.

53 year old Donna Faye Hewell of Hawkins Drive, Smithville was issued a citation for two counts of simple possession including one for a schedule III and the other for a schedule IV controlled substance. She was also issued a citation for failing to maintain proper lane of travel. Hewell will appear in court on March 10th.

Sheriff Ray said that a deputy stopped her vehicle on Saturday, February 26th for failing to maintain proper lane of travel. Hewell gave the officer consent to search and he found, in her purse, three blue pills believed to be Loratab, which is a schedule III controlled substance. Four small blue bills were also found, believed to be xanax, which is a schedule IV controlled substance.

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