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Rhody Attends NSBA Conference in Washington, DC.

March 9, 2011
Dwayne Page
Kenny Rhody among those meeting with Congressional Leaders
Kenny Rhody meets with Congressman Diane Black

School board members from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. February 6th-8th for a meeting of the National School Boards Association.

Kenny Rhody, DeKalb County School Board member, attended as the Tennessee School Board Association's Federal Relations Network Upper Cumberland District Coordinator.

Members of the Tennessee FRN help school board members gain direct access to their members of Congress and federal officials to lobby for issues that are directly impacting their districts.

Rhody said it is an honor for him to have been chosen for this position. "Before the Fall TSBA meeting of the Upper Cumberland, the President of TSBA wanted me to submit my name to run for the Upper Cumberland Federal Resource Director position. I spoke of the position with our Director of Schools, Mark Willoughby and after a lengthy discussion, he urged me to apply as it could help DeKalb County by giving us a voice."

"At the TSBA Fall District Meeting of the Upper Cumberland, I was elected FRN Director of which I and other directors from across the state were schooled and brought up to speed on the laws and mandates, Race to the Top stats, and other issues that may affect the schools of Tennessee."

"The Tennessee delegation met with U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, U.S. Representatives Diane Black, Steve Cohen, Scott Desjarlais, Marsha Blackburn, and others to work hard for the education bills and funding issues that affect us locally. We are concerned about (1) the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), funding of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to federal levels of 40% of the extra costs to meet the requirements of IDEA instead of 17 1/2% as is the funding level for this year, 2010-11; (2) changing the underfunded or no funded mandates imposed on the schools; (3) providing temporary relief of sanctions from ESEA; (4) expanding support for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (STEM) and (5) funding the new Federal Child Nutrition Act."

Rhody said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke to the delegations about the nation's challenges and importance of our work. "Tennessee is improving in our nation from 45th place to number two behind Massachusetts, according to the latest reports. All the nation's eyes are on us in Tennessee and several million dollars are on the table for passage. We must work hard to bring those dollars home to Tennessee to work for our children. Now , according to Secretary Duncan, is the time to work hardest for them."

The NSBA is asking the Congress to make significant changes to the mandates and sanctions of the No Child Left Behind Act and restore maximum flexibility to local school boards in the delivery of Federal Education Programs; to increase Federal Funding for Title I grants and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help disadvantaged students and school districts close achievement gaps; and to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or provide temporary relief from sanctions. The ESEA was last reauthorized on January 8, 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act and serves as the major federal law supporting K-12 public education in America. The law, first enacted in 1965, established federal policy and authorized federal funding to assist states and local school districts to improve the academic performance of all students enrolled in public schools regardless of economic status, race, ethnicity, proficiency in English or disability. However, officials say NCLB is flawed in that it bases its assessment of school quality on a student's performance only on a single assessment and mandates a series of overbroad sanctions that have not proven to have significant impact on improving student of school performance compared to other options.

The U.S. Department of Education has released a "Blueprint for Reauthorization of ESEA" which provides a comprehensive set of initiatives by which the federal government intends to support local school districts to raise student performance and close the achievement gap for academically-struggling students in public schools. Additionally, the "Blueprint" would shift the emphasis from being more punitive to more supportive of local school districts with a renewed emphasis on students graduating from high school being college and or career-ready.

City to Accept Bids on Aerial Ladder Truck for Fire Department

March 8, 2011
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Aldermen Monday night, at the request of Fire Chief Charlie Parker, voted to seek bids on the purchase of a new or demo model aerial ladder truck for the city fire department.

Last summer, the aldermen set aside $400,000 in capital outlay funds in this years budget to go toward the purchase of a used ladder truck, if a suitable one could be found. But during a workshop with the mayor and aldermen on Monday, February 28th, Chief Parker, proposed purchasing a new or demo model.

Parker said Monday night that the bid specs would be for a new truck but the city could settle for a demo model depending upon the age of the truck, as long as it meets or comes close to meeting the bid specs.

The cost of a new ladder truck is likely to be significantly more than the $400,000 the city has allocated and Mayor Taft Hendrixson expressed reservations about advertising for bids when the city does not have enough money set aside for a truck that may cost as much as $675,000. Any additional funding for a new truck would most likely have to come from the city's general fund surplus reserves.

Still, the aldermen felt like it was okay to take bids but they did not allocate any additional funding for a ladder truck at this time.

Chief Parker said if the city were to buy a new truck, it could use all or part of the $400,000 allocation as a down payment and finance the rest of the cost possibly over a three to five year period through a lease purchase arrangement.

After the vote to accept bids, Mayor Hendrixson cautioned the aldermen to be careful how they're spending the city's reserve funds. "In this year's budget, we've either spent or allocated, pushing half of our reserve funds. We have either spent, allocated, or obligated over three million dollars of our reserve funds. Gentlemen, one more year of this and we'll be out of money like most places around us. I know you are aware of this but it has been worrying me. It bothers me really bad."

In other business, the aldermen voted 4-0-1 to make a few amendments to the golf course lease, which was approved two weeks ago with Tony Poss.

At the February 21st meeting, the aldermen voted 5 to 0 to enter into a ten year lease agreement with Poss to operate the Smithville Municipal Golf and Swim Club. Poss will pay the city $100 per year in rent. After the first ten years, Poss will have an option to extend the term of the lease agreement for an additional ten years.

During a workshop Monday night, February 28th, Poss and his attorney Hilton Conger requested a few amendments to the lease.

Mayor Hendrixson, during Monday night's meeting, explained what those proposed changes would be. "Two or three things he wanted to change on it. He (Poss) wanted the lease to be for him and his wife. On the irrigation system, he (Poss) has agreed to pay the first $500 during the year (on repairs) and after that we (city) will pay the rest of the cost to keep it (irrigation system) in operation. We(city) will pay the first six months of utilities at the golf course."

Termination of the lease must be for cause with a ninety day written notice given.

All Aldermen voted for the changes to the lease except for Aaron Meeks who passed.

In other business, Alderman Steve White said he wanted "No alcoholic beverage" signs placed at all city parks including the golf course prohibiting open containers or the consumption of alcohol there. City Attorney Vester Parsley said he needed to check first to see if the city should adopt an ordinance.

Airport manager Wesley Nokes asked for the city's approval to accept a grant for the airport. " We've been awarded a grant for $55,000 for a new airport layout plan. An airport layout plan is a five year plan that outlines the development of the airport for the next five years as it's perceived by the state and by our contract engineering firm. The state and federal government wants you to keep this plan undated in order to continue to receive your grants and funding from the FAA and from the State of Tennessee Aeronautics. The grant is a 90/10 (matching grant). It's a $5,500 cost to the city. The rest will be paid by the state."

The aldermen voted to accept the grant.

Meanwhile, Mayor Hendrixson gave a report on the city's property tax collections. "On our 2010 property taxes, we have a total of $773,413 including public utility taxes and property taxes. As of last Friday, March 4th we have collected $728,117. This is 94% collections as of last Friday. I think that's wonderful."

The aldermen voted to purchase a used pick-up to replace an animal control truck which was damaged in a traffic accident last week. Mayor Hendrixson said the city has $5,000 in capital outlay funds which would be put toward this purchase although he does not want to spend all that on a truck. He said the city could probably get a good price on a used truck through state surplus.

The aldermen voted to hire Darrell Adkins and Joseph Parsley now that they have completed their sixty day probation period. Adkins was hired December 29th to work in the sanitation department at $9.65 per hour. His pay will increase to $11.03 per hour.

Parsley was hired on December 29th as a sanitation truck driver at $10.35 per hour. His pay will increase to $11.03 per hour.

Meanwhile, Mayor Hendrixson asked for and received permission from the aldermen to make the following transfers: Darrell Adkins from sanitation to sewer rehab; R.J. Bain from water maintenance to sewer rehab; and Riley Bullard from sanitation to water maintenance. Mayor Hendrixson said that some employees have retired and he wanted to make these transfers so that the city could make the best use of their services.

Alderman Steve White said he would like the city to look into adopting a policy to require that all new city employees hired in the public works department and other areas where they have to operate city vehicles to obtain a Commercial Drivers License, possibly before they become full time or get a pay raise. This would not apply to the city police or fire departments or city hall employees. No action was taken Monday night

Alderman Shawn Jacobs asked again if anyone had checked with a local bank, with whom the city does business, which had cleared checks with only one city official's signature. City Attorney Parsley said "we found out that the accounts were set up requiring one signature." Parsley added that the bank manager "gave us the signature cards which said only one signature required."

Parsley said the bank manager added that while the city could require two signatures, if a check comes through with only one signature, the bank may not catch it because these types of transactions are mostly done electronically. "Electronically, they're only looking at numbers. They only check to see if the numbers are right."

Mayor Hendrixson concluded "we're in the process of getting that changed (to require two signatures on checks). Checks will be printed that state "must have two authorized signatures".

Fire Destroys Lake Home in Austin Bottom Community

March 8, 2011
Dwayne Page
Fire Destroys Home In Austin Bottom Community (Photo by John Matthews)
Fire Destroys Home In Austin Bottom Community (Photo by John Matthews)
Fire Destroys Vacant Trailer Home in Midway Community

A fire Monday destroyed a lake home on Askin Lane off Austin Bottom Road belonging to Martin McGill of Brentwood

Central dispatch received the call at 11:32 a.m.

Members of the Short Mountain Highway, Cookeville Highway, Austin Bottom, and Main Station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded along with mutual aid assistance from the Baxter and Putnam County Fire Departments.

Lieutenant Brad Mullinax said no one was at home when firefighters arrived but the owner, McGill showed up a short time later.

The two story structure, which also had a basement, became fully engulfed in flames by the time the fire was reported so firefighters could not save it, nor any of the home's contents. McGill told firefighters that the home had an appraised value of $850,000.

Firefighters worked to keep the blaze from spreading to four other structures in the area but radiating heat caused some minor damage to the porch of the nearest neighbor home only a few feet away.

The cause of the fire is undetermined but remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, another fire was reported at 3:48 p.m. Monday at a trailer home in the Midway community near Page Drive reportedly belonging to Johnny Cantrell. The fire destroyed the trailer. The cause is apparently undetermined. The trailer had reportedly been occupied recently by a relative of Cantrell but was apparently vacant at the time of the fire.

Members of the Midway, Blue Springs, and Keltonburg Stations of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded.

Sutton Charged with Theft of Farm Equipment

March 7, 2011
Dwayne Page
Roger Matthew Sutton
Danny Ray Ponder

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has arrested a 42 year old man for the theft of farm equipment from a location on McMinnville Highway last Friday, March 4th

Sheriff Patrick Ray said Roger Matthew Sutton of Cookeville Highway is charged with theft of property. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court on March 17th.

According to Sheriff Ray, Sutton allegedly took two sets of cultivator arms, two sets of cultivators, two sets of cultivator bars, a three point hitch, a fertilizer distributor, ten hard land plows, and a gooseneck plate, all valued at over $1,000.

Meanwhile, 49 year old Danny Ray Ponder of Old Mill Hill Road, Dowelltown is charged with driving under the influence, possession of a schedule II drug (dilaudid) and a schedule IV controlled substance (xanax) for resale. His bond totals $52,500 and his court date is April 7th

Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, March 4th a deputy stopped to check out a vehicle which was parked in the roadway at a stop sign on Game Ridge Road. The motor was running and Ponder, who was passed out behind the steering wheel, still had his foot on the brake pedal. The deputy awoke Ponder and got him out of the vehicle. Ponder was unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred. He submitted to and performed poorly on field sobriety tasks and he had trouble staying awake. Ponder also submitted to a blood test.

During the DUI arrest of Ponder, the officer received consent to search his vehicle and found two bottles under the seat, one containing 83 xanax pills and another containing nine pills, believed to be dilaudid.

40 year old Royce Virgel Ashford, Jr. of Warren Road, Woodbury was recently issued a citation for driving on a suspended license and for failure to maintain his lane of travel. Ashford will appear in General Sessions Court on April 6th.

Sheriff Ray said that Ashford was operating a vehicle on Highway 56 north, heading south when he failed to maintain his lane of travel. After pulling over the automobile, the officer asked Ashford for his drivers license. Ashford produced it and a computer check revealed that the license was suspended for failure to satisfy a citation in Putnam County.

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
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
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
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
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
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.


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