Local News Articles

State AG Says Cookeville Boat Dock Must Pay County Taxes

October 1, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Cookeville Boat Dock
State AG Says Cookeville Boat Dock Must Pay County Taxes

Cookeville Boat Dock's claim in a Chancery Court delinquent tax lawsuit that it can't be forced to pay ad valorem (property) taxes on constitutional grounds is without merit and should be dismissed by the court, according to Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. (Bob) Cooper, Jr.

Cooper, in answer to the marina's counter complaint, states that "the Tennessee Constitution does not grant a property tax exemption to commercial taxpayers that operate a business on land owned by the state or local governments," as the owners of Cookeville Boat Dock claim.

In his answer filed Tuesday, September 24 in DeKalb County Chancery Court, Cooper further asserts that Cookeville Boat Dock's constitutional challenge is not properly before the court because the marina owners failed to first pursue other statutory remedies available to them.

Cookeville Boat Dock owns and operates a commercial boat dock and concession on land in DeKalb County that is leased from the federal government. The marina has been assessed ad valorem taxes on the boat dock property since 1998; however, it apparently has not paid these taxes and, thus, the boat dock property has been included in the delinquent tax proceedings of DeKalb County covering the tax years from 1998 through 2011. "It is the Attorney General's understanding that Cookeville Boat Dock has not been assessed for the underlying real estate that is owned by the federal government or for any leasehold interest in the real estate. Rather, Cookeville Boat Dock has been assessed only for the buildings and other structures that make up the boat dock property," wrote Attorney General Cooper in his answer.

From 1998 through the 2011 tax year, owners of Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. have been named as defendants in DeKalb County Chancery Court lawsuits filed against delinquent taxpayers. The amount Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. owes through 2011 in delinquent taxes comes to $156,257.12 (taxes on personal property and leased property including the base tax plus interest and penalty, attorneys fees, and court costs). Further penalties are assessed each month. Additionally for the 2012 tax year, the Trustee's Office reports that Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort Inc. owes a total of $8,504 in delinquent taxes including interest and penalty through October 1st, 2013. The Trustee's Office has just mailed a tax notice to Cookeville Boat Dock in the amount of $7,888 for the 2013 tax year, which comes due February 28, 2014.

"To the Attorney General's knowledge, Cookeville Boat Dock has not challenged the tax assessments through any of the available statutory procedures for pursuing such a challenge such as appeals to the county and state boards of equalization or a lawsuit against the collecting officer, provided the taxpayer first pays the tax under protest and files suit within six months of payment. Instead, Cookeville Boat Dock has attempted to raise this challenge as a defense to a delinquent tax proceedings", wrote AG Cooper.

The attorney for Cookeville Boat Dock, Jon E. Jones of Cookeville contends the owners of the marina are being discriminated against in that the county is trying to force them to pay ad valorem taxes on the boat dock facility which is leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (federal government property) while other properties in Tennessee leased from the state or local government entities (under Article II, Section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution) are exempt from payment of ad valorem taxes. This, he claims is a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution making the tax assessment against Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. invalid. In June, Jones filed an amended answer to the county's Chancery Court lawsuits against delinquent taxpayers including Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort along with a counter complaint seeking a declaratory judgment for his clients.

Attorney General Cooper, who was made a party to the case to defend the constitutionality of Article II, section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution, asserts in his answer that the state constitution does not grant a property tax exemption to commercial taxpayers that operate a business on land owned by the state or local government.

"The plain language of state law makes clear two points: First the same rule that applies to state and local government property also applies to federal property. Accordingly, contrary to Cookeville Boat Dock's argument in this case, Article II, Section 28 does not create a different rule for federal property than that which applies to state and local government property. In exercising its authority under Article II, Section 28, the legislature has created a rule that applies equally to the state and federal governments," wrote Cooper.

"Second, government property is exempt from taxation only if the property is used exclusively for public purposes. If government property is leased to a business that uses the property in its commercial operations, then the business owner's interest in the property is taxable. But here, no government property is being taxed at all. The assessment is for the boat dock facility itself, not the underlying real estate, regardless of who owns it. If Cookeville Boat Dock operated a commercial boat dock and concession on property owned by DeKalb County or the State of Tennessee, the law makes clear that Cookeville Boat Dock would be assessable for and required to pay taxes on its interest in the property. This is true even if the underlying real estate upon which the boat dock sits is not assessable because it belongs to the assessing county or the state. Although the underlying real estate owned by the federal government is not taxable under federal and state law, Cookeville Boat Dock's interest in the boat dock facility is taxable. The result is consistent for both state/local and federal government property. Contrary to Cookeville Boat Dock's basic premises, Article II, Section 28 does not provide a tax exemption for commercial boat docks operated on state or county property," wrote the Attorney General.

In their Trial Brief, "Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. is asking the Court to declare that DeKalb County's assessment of ad valorem taxes against boat dock facilities leased by Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc from the United States is a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because Tennessee exempts boat dock facilities from taxation when the lessor is an agency of the state."

In his answer, attorney general Cooper wrote that " the Federal Supremacy Clause does not prevent DeKalb County from assessing the property of a taxpayer that operates a commercial boat dock on land leased from the federal government".

"The United States Supreme Court has made clear that a state may impose a tax on those who deal with the federal government so long as the tax is imposed equally on the other similarly situated constituents of the state. In fact, the federal Supremacy Clause does not prevent the state from imposing a tax on a corporation using government property in connection with a business conducted for its own private gain. This principal applies to businesses that operate concessions on federal property," wrote Cooper.

In this case, "Cookeville Boat Dock has been assessed for boat dock buildings and other structures that are actually owned by Cookeville Boat Dock. If Cookeville Boat Dock did not own the boat dock structures, and the federal government instead owned the structures, the DeKalb County Assessor still could assess Cookeville Boat Dock for its leasehold interest in federally-owned property. Inasmuch as Cookeville Boat Dock actually owns the property for which it has been assessed, however, any constitutional or statutory provisions that bar the taxation of federally-owned property simply are inapplicable," according to the Attorney General.

"Cookeville Boat Dock owns the boat dock and related structures that it uses to operate a business on federal property. Neither the Supremacy Clause nor any principal of state law prevents DeKalb County from assessing Cookeville Boat Dock for its ownership interest in the boat dock property. Under Tennessee law, boat docks and marinas are assessable as real property and businesses that operate boat docks regardless of whether it is on the land of a state or local government or that of the federal government. If the taxpayer actually owns the boat dock and related structures, it is assessable for that property. Alternatively, if the taxpayer does not own the property but merely leases it from the local, state, or federal government, the taxpayer still is assessable for its leasehold interest in the property. Under these circumstances, Cookeville Boat Dock's challenge to the tax assessments is wholly without merit," wrote AG Cooper.

Cooper further asserts that Cookeville Boat Dock cannot raise this constitutional challenge within the context of a delinquent tax proceedings when it has not pursued its statutory remedies for challenging the underlying tax assessments. "Cookeville Boat Dock's challenge to Article II, Section 28, is not properly before this Court," wrote the Attorney General.

"Statutory remedies for contesting Cookeville Boat Dock's property tax assessments are provided by state law (appeals to the county and state boards of equalization) and (suit against collecting officer, provided the taxpayer first pays the tax under protest and files suit within six months of payment). Having failed to avail itself of either of these remedies, Cookeville Boat Dock may not contest the validity of the underlying property tax assessments by raising the issue in an answer or a counter-complaint to delinquent tax proceedings. Cookeville Boat Dock's failure to pursue these statutory remedies provides an additional ground for dismissing the counter-complaint in which it attempts to challenge the validity of the property tax assessments," concluded State Attorney General Cooper.

Each year the attorney for Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. has filed an answer to the delinquent tax lawsuits, claiming that the county can't "collect a tax on real estate" on federal property since the U.S. government pays in lieu of taxes to the state for the use and benefit of DeKalb County. That constitutes, in essence, double taxation, according to the answer.

Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. denies it owes any ad valorem taxes to DeKalb County and that the real property assessed is held in fee by the United States (federal government) and is leased to the marina pursuant to "lease for commercial concession purposes".

In the counter claim and request for declaratory judgment, Jones states that "DeKalb County asserts that this property is subject to ad valorem taxation. The claim of DeKalb County is based on Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee, which on its face allows for exemption of property leased by the State but not by the United States."

In their Trial Brief, "Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. asks the Court to declare that DeKalb County's assessment of ad valorem taxes against boat dock facilities leased by Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc from the United States is a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because Tennessee exempts boat dock facilities from taxation when the lessor is an agency of the state."

"Pursuant to Article II, Section 28, Tennessee discriminates against a lessee of the United States and in favor of lessees of the State of Tennessee, its counties, or its municipalities or other local governmental entities. The constitutional provision and resulting discrimination against lessees of the United States including the counter plaintiff (Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort,Inc.), violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States," according to the counter claim and request for declaratory judgment.

Concerning compensation to DeKalb County for lost Ad Valorem revenue, the trial brief states that "In 1940, Congress recognized that the taking of lands for flood control purposes would reduce the local property tax base. Congress also recognized that some of the property acquired would be developed and used for recreational purposes through concessions/leases. Congress decided that the United States should pay 75% of all monies received by the United States from leasing of lands acquired for flood control purposes to the State in which such property is situated...for the benefit of public schools and public roads of the county or counties, in which such property is situated, or for defraying any of the expenses of county government. Seventy five percent of Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc.'s annual payment substantially exceeds the taxes assessed," according to the trial brief.

The counter claim of Cookeville Boat Dock and Resort states "Unless this court declares that Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee, and the resulting discrimination against the counter plaintiff (Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc.) as a lessor from the United States are violations of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States, counter defendant (DeKalb County) will continue to illegally assess ad valorem taxes against property leased to Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. and this will encumber and confuse counter plaintiff's (Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc.) use of said property".

"Wherefore, counter plaintiff (Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc.) asks the court to declare that Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee is invalid and that the real property subject to the counter plaintiff's lease for commercial concession purposes is exempt from ad valorem taxation. The counter plaintiff asks that the Attorney General of the State of Tennessee be made a party to this litigation for purposes of defending the constitutionality of Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee".

Former Chancellor Vernon Neal recused himself from hearing the delinquent tax case against Cookeville Boat Dock & Resort, Inc. in 2002 citing a personal conflict. Former Circuit Court Judge John Turnbull was designated and appointed to hear the case to its conclusion. After Turnbull retired from the bench, the case was passed on to Judge Amy Hollars but it still has not been settled in court.

Last December, the county commission approved a motion by second district member Jack Barton to "give this priority number one in our unpaid taxes that our (tax) attorney is going after," he said.

The case was to be on the Chancery Court docket on June 20 but it was delayed due to the filing of Cookeville Boat Dock's amended answer and counter complaint for declaratory judgment. No new court date has yet been set in the case.

Vester Parsley, Jr. is the county's tax attorney.

Trustee Mails 2013 Property Tax Notices

October 1, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Trustee Sean Driver

The DeKalb County Trustee's office has mailed the 2013 property tax notices and you should be receiving yours any day, if you haven't already.

Property owners may pay their 2013 taxes without penalty from October 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014. Penalties begin accruing March 1, 2014.

According to Trustee Sean Driver, DeKalb County has property owners in nearly every state in the nation and in some foreign countries. " For 2013, the Trustee's office will be collecting on 18,080 parcels of land. We send tax bills to 47 of the 50 states. The only states not on the tax record are Idaho, South Dakota, and Delaware. We also have some mail going to Canada, Germany, and the Virgin Islands," said Driver.

DeKalb County property taxpayers may pay their taxes in person at the Trustee's office, by mail, on-line at www.tennesseetrustee.com or you can make partial payments.

The Trustee's Office began offering the partial tax payment option last year. " It became an instant success," Driver told WJLE. "We basically offer the taxpayer two options using the partial payment plan. We can take the total tax bill and divide it equally by two, three, four, five months, etc. or we can accept any amount the taxpayer wants to pay at any time during the collection period. If your tax bill is not paid in full before March 1, 2014, only the unpaid portion of taxes is subject to penalties and interest of 1.5% per month," said Driver.

Eligible taxpayers may also want to take advantage of the State of Tennessee's Property Tax Relief Program, which is administered in the Trustee's Office.

Tennessee's tax relief program is state-funded and provides a rebate of credit for all or a portion of the property taxes on residential property owned and occupied by low-income elderly, low-income disabled, and disabled veteran homeowners and their surviving spouses. " A property tax relief is based on ownership of the property, all sources of income, and in some instances his or her age. One new change for the 2013 Property Tax Relief Program is the income limit. In order to start an application for property tax relief, your income limit, using all sources of income from 2012, would have to be under $27,800. This program is very beneficial to the eligible taxpayer," said Driver.

For more information, call the Trustee's Office at 597-5176 or stop by the office at 732 Congress Boulevard Smithville, room 103.

White County Man Seriously Injured in Fall From Tree Stand

October 1, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page

A White County man was seriously injured Sunday when he fell from a tree stand while deer hunting in the Indian Creek area near Center Hill Lake.

He is 34 year old Michael Phifer of Sparta, according to Captain Dustin Johnson of the Smithville-DeKalb County Rescue Squad.

TWRA Officer Tony Cross, who did not have the hunter's name when relating the story to WJLE, said the man and his father-in-law had accessed their hunting location by boat and were about 250 yards from the water's edge in the Indian Creek area. "They had actually went scouting Sunday afternoon and found this place where they wanted to hunt. They went back down to the boat and got their climbing stand equipment and walked back up. He had just ascended and gotten to the point where he wanted to stop but he wasn't wearing a safety harness and he fell some twenty five feet from the tree stand to the ground," said Officer Cross. The man suffered multiple broken bones in the fall.

In addition to TWRA Officers, members of DeKalb EMS and the Smithville-DeKalb County Rescue Squad were called to the scene. "The ambulance came to the Indian Creek Boat Ramp. We transported the paramedics from the boat ramp to the scene, which was about a mile. We had a bunch of the Rescue Squad members come out and help us. We had to pack him out in a stokes basket (and carry him) about 250 yards over some pretty rough terrain back down to our boat. We really appreciate the help we got from our local rescue squad," said Officer Cross.

Phifer was transported by ambulance to DeKalb Community Hospital and then to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) urges hunters to use care when hunting from a tree stand.

Many deer hunters find hunting from an elevated stand to be advantageous. It is often more difficult for a deer to detect a hunter in a tree stand than one on the ground, but the TWRA is urging hunters to be cautious anytime they use a stand.

The most common cause of tree stand accidents is a fall. All of these falls could be prevented with the proper use of a safety harness attached to the tree. Many falls occur when permanent, wooden stands, which have been left out in the weather attached to a tree, decay and become unsafe. Eventually, the weight of a hunter can cause the stand to collapse.

If possible, use temporary stands that may be stored in a dry area after the deer season. If a permanent stand must be used, always check it before hunting to make certain it is safe and securely attached. Whether using a permanent or temporary stand, always use a safety harness.

Ten rules for tree stand safety are:
1.Always wear a safety harness while hunting from a tree stand, including while ascending and descending.
2.Never climb into a permanent stand you have not built yourself or carefully checked out.
3.Never hunt from tree limbs.
4.Be sure the commercial stand you have is safe. Practice with it before using it in the woods.
5.Never climb a tree that is too small or too large for your stand to fit safely.
6.Be sure your stand is level at the height you wish to hunt.
7.Always stand up slowly and be sure of your balance.
8.Be sure you are steady and braced before shooting.
9.Always use a haul line for your bow. Never climb with your equipment.
10.Never climb a dead tree or one with dead limbs above your head.

Hunters should be aware that on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) the use of wire, nails, or other metal material is prohibited in building or attaching of climbing devices or hunting stands. Portable devices or stands that do not injure trees can be used. Hunting from permanent attached stands is prohibited. Leaving any personal property on a WMA, including tree stands, unattended for more than 24 hours is prohibited without prior approval of the area manager.

(UPDATED): DeKalb USDA Service Center Closed due to Partial Federal Government Shutdown

October 1, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
DeKalb County USDA Service Center Closed due to Partial  Government Shutd
Notice of Closing Posted on front door of USDA Service Center

The partial federal government shutdown is affecting some services in DeKalb County.

The USDA Service Center on Bright Hill Road, home to the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is closed today (Tuesday).

A notice of the closing is posted on the front door of the building which states as follows:"This U.S. Department of Agriculture office is currently closed, due to the lapse in federal government funding. The office will reopen once Congress restores funding".

The notice further states that Anita Houk and Soil Conservation District activities are at the courthouse. You may call 464-5760.

Meanwhile, the Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of conducting an orderly shutdown because of a lack of appropriations. The district will reduce its manpower over time to essential personnel only. These essential personnel will continue to support critical Corps of Engineers missions such as dam safety, hydropower, and operation of the navigation locks on both the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.

The Corps is funded through multiple-year funding, which is enabling the Nashville District to conduct limited operations and construction through the course of the government shutdown. As the lapse in appropriations continues, the Corps will have more employees furloughed over time, but will maintain its mission essential personnel to ensure the operation and protection of corps facilities and property.

Nashville District recreation areas and campgrounds will remain open, as originally scheduled, using available Fiscal Year 2013 carryover funding. Existing campground and shelter reservations will be honored. The Recreation.gov website at www.recreation.gov is shutdown and the public can no longer use it to make any new reservations, and Call Agents at the Recreation Reservation Service call center (1-877-444-6777) will NOT make any new reservations until Federal funding has been restored. Nashville District’s remaining open campgrounds will continue to make new reservations for onsite registered campers on a first-come, first-serve. Walk-in campers are still welcome, but customers are asked to please contact the campground to check site availability. Camping information for Nashville District is available at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Camping.aspx.

The public will be informed as additional Nashville District operations and services are affected due to the federal government shutdown.

The U.S. government partially shut down for the first time in 17 years today (Tuesday) as a standoff between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans over healthcare reforms. Many government offices, museums, national parks, and other federally funded operations are now closed.

Federal agencies have been directed to cut back services and up to 1 million workers nationwide have been put on unpaid leave.

Republicans in the House of Representatives had tried to tie renewal of government funding to measures undermining President Obama's signature health care law, while the Democratic-controlled Senate repeatedly rejected those efforts.

Here’s a look at what stays open and what closes under the shutdown.

WHAT STAYS OPEN:
* U.S. Postal Service.
* Social Security.
* Medicare.
* Active-duty military will keep working, but will not get paid until the funds are available.
* Air-traffic control.
* Immigration.
* Border security.
* Emergency and disaster assistance.
* Federal law enforcement.
* IRS can still process electronic returns and payments only.

WHAT CLOSES:
* Any federal agency that’s subject to appropriations. Each agency has the discretion to decide who is “excepted” or “emergency”, and who is furloughed.
* All National Parks.
* All federally-funded museums, including Smithsonian and the National Zoo.
* All federal government websites.
* Research by Health and Human Services stops. So does the grant process. Depending on how long it lasts, that will also impact medical research at hospitals and universities.
* Applying for Social Security. If you’re a new retiree, your application won’t be processed.
* IRS walk-in centers. Your paper tax return will not be processed.
* Loan applications for small businesses, college tuition, or mortgages.
* All Library of Congress buildings. All public events will be cancelled and web sites will be inaccessible.
* Federal contractors will be out of work.
* Federal workers (except “excepted” or “emergency” personnel) will not be allowed to work, not even from home. No blackberry, no smartphone, no laptop. Not even allowed to check work email.

Walk Across Tennessee Contest to Kick-Off October 10

October 1, 2013
by: 
April Martin
April Martin

Being physically active is one of the best things you can do to improve and maintain your health, yet nearly two-thirds of Americans aren’t getting the activity they need. Consider taking up walking with friends or your family by participating in Walk Across Tennessee, which is an eight-week program that will spark some friendly competitions in DeKalb County. The event is being conducted by the University of Tennessee Extension office in partnership with DeKalb Community Hospital. Beginning Thursday, October 10th teams of eight will compete to see who can log the most miles walking, jogging, biking, and other forms of exercise in their community. Biking or jogging teams can have a team of four. The miles walked are not literally across the state, but reported on a map posted at the UT Extension Office, Greenbrook Park, Smithville Review and online.

Since everyone participates in a variety of sports, the Walk Across Tennessee program also has an exercise conversion chart so that participants can count aerobics, swimming, weight lifting, etc. For example, 16 minutes of high intensity aerobics would equal one mile.

The Walk Across Tennessee kickoff for DeKalb County is set for Thursday, October 10 at Greenbrook Park at 6:30 PM. “Teams will keep track of their miles, which will be posted in the Extension office, Greenbrook park, Smithville review, and online. Teams can be composed of coworkers, teachers, students, neighbors, etc. This is an excellent team competition for the workplace, neighborhoods, and families” said April Martin, DeKalb County Extension Agent. For general reporting purposes, 20 minutes will equal one mile.”

According to Martin, “There will be cash and other prizes for the winning teams and individuals. There is a small $5 registration fee for each team member. At least half of each team should be residents of DeKalb County to participate.”

Many people are unaware of the positive benefits of exercise. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 problem in the United States. The risk of heart disease could be significantly reduced by regular exercise. According to the Center for Disease Control, the positive effects of physical activity are not limited to lowering the risk of heart disease. Not only does regular exercise help relieve stress and anxiety,” physically active people outlive inactive people. Participating in Walk Across Tennessee DeKalb County is not only a great way to get involved with our community, it’s a healthy habit,” Martin stated.

To participate in Walk Across Tennessee, first get a team together. Biking and jogging teams are limited to four people. Choose a team captain and name your team. Team captains need to download up a captain’s packet, available at the UT Extension of DeKalb County website at http://dekalb.tennessee.edu., at the DeKalb County UT Extension Office or County Complex located at 722 South Congress Blvd. in Smithville.
Each team member will need to complete a registration form which is included in the team captain’s packet or online. Individual as well as team forms should be returned to the Extension office. Cash awards and prizes will be given to the individuals who walk the most miles as well as the team who walks the most miles.

“Competition kicks off on Thursday, October 10, 6:30 PM. at Greenbrook Park under pavilion one,” Martin said. “Come out and plan to have lots of fun.” For more information, call the Extension office at 597-4945 or visit the website.

All of the programs of the University of Tennessee are open to all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or disability. .

Chamber Presents Community Improvement Award to Attorney Mingy Bryant

September 30, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Chamber Presents Community Improvement Award to Attorney Mingy Bryant

The Chamber presented a well-earned Community Improvement Award to Attorney Mingy Bryant, 206 East Public Square, Smithville for the extensive renovations made to her building.

The beautiful interior and exterior enhancements to this property add to the attractiveness of our many recent downtown improvements. On behalf of the Chamber, City of Smithville and Tennessee Downtowns Program Committee, we welcome Mingy to Downtown Smithville and congratulate her on a job well done! The Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce Community Improvement Awards are sponsored by DTC Communications, DeKalb Community Bank, DeKalb Community Hospital, Liberty State Bank, Middle Tennessee Natural Gas “Project Hometown Help,” Optimus Pest Solutions, Premier Realty of Center Hill Lake, and Regions Bank.

*See attached picture

Pictured l-r:

Front: Alex Poss, Jeania Poss, Alison Poss, Attorney Mingy Bryant, Chamber Board Member Kathy Hendrixson, Chamber Board Vice-President Julia Cantrell, Chamber Director Suzanne Williams

Back: Tony Poss, Smithville Mayor Jimmy Poss, Joyce Poss, Justin Colwell, Chad Bryant, Louise Arnold, Tennessee Downtowns Program Committee Member Wade Smith

Sheriff's Department Makes Six Arrests

September 30, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
John David Anderson
Todd Mitchell Eldridge
Mary Rachel Foster
Jose Juan Reyes
Stephen Jason Moore
April Evon Warren

Six persons have been arrested by the Sheriff's Department in recent days on separate charges ranging from theft to domestic assault, possession of contraband in jail, evading arrest, and public intoxication.

Sheriff Partrick Ray said that 25 year old John David Anderson of Quail Pointe Drive, Smithville is charged with theft of property over $500. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court October 17. According to Sheriff Ray said on or about Friday, September 20 the sheriff's office received a report of a theft of a lap top computer. After an investigation, Sheriff Ray said Anderson admitted to officers that he had taken the computer and traded it for some pills. Anderson was arrested and taken to the jail for booking.

31 year old Todd Mitchell Eldridge of Buffalo Valley Road, Smithville and 29 year old Mary Rachel Foster of Baxter are charged with domestic assault. Bond for each is $1,500. Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, September 24 a deputy responded to Wolf Creek Road to check out a physical domestic call. Upon arrival, the officer spoke with Eldridge, who was covered in blood and had a cut on his chin and face. Eldridge also had a strong odor of alcohol on his person. The deputy also spoke with Foster, who had a strong odor of alcohol on her person and a cut on her right ear. Foster said she and Eldridge were in her Chevy S-10 pickup truck when they got into an altercation. Foster claims Eldridge bit her right ear. Eldridge said Foster struck him in the face with some object. Foster admitted to hitting Eldridge in the face with a mirror. Though Foster was determined to be the primary aggressor, both Foster and Eldridge were arrested and brought to the jail for booking.

30 year old Jose Juan Reyes of Old Blue Springs Road, Smithville is charged with having contraband in a penal institution. His bond is $25,000 and he will be in court on October 3. Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, September 24 a correctional officer was called to the basement cell at the jail to break up a fight. After an investigation, a mop bucket handle (metal pipe) and two shanks type objects were found in Reyes' bunk.

38 year old Stephen Jason Moore of Cookeville Highway, Smithville is charged with evading arrest. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court on October 9. Moore is now being held without bond on a violation of probation warrant out of General Sessions Court. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, September 27 two deputies went to 4990 Cookeville Highway to serve the violation of probation warrant on Moore. As the deputies arrived, Moore ran into the woods. The officers caught up with him and placed him under arrest.

35 year old April Evon Warren of Highland Street, Smithville is charged with public intoxication. Her bond is $1,500 and she will be in court October 10. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, September 27, a deputy responded to Sligo Marina to check out a possible domestic. Upon arrival the officer spoke with man who said that he and his mother had gotten into an altercation because she was intoxicated. The officer made contact with Warren, who had a strong odor of alcohol on her person and was unsteady on her feet. Several witnesses in the area said Warren was running around the parking lot causing a disturbance. For the safety of Warren and others, Warren was arrested and brought to the jail for booking.

Dentist with Local Ties Killed in Lebanon Motorcycle Accident

September 30, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Dr. Steve Taxton (photo courtesy of Lebanon Democrat)

A motorcycle accident in Lebanon Friday night claimed the life of a dentist with ties to DeKalb County.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol reports that 62 year old Dr. Steven Thaxton died after his 1994 Harley Davidson ran onto a shoulder and hit some gravel while going around a curve on Hickory Ridge Road. According to a published report in the Lebanon Democrat, troopers said Dr. Thaxton lost control of the motorcycle and ran off the right side of the road. Thaxton was traveling west at 4555 Hickory Ridge Road near the Bonnie Valley Drive intersection when the wreck happened just before 9:30 p.m. Thaxton was wearing a helmet.

Thaxton was a dentist in Lebanon for 35 years. He was an elder at First Presbyterian Church, president of the Lebanon Flying Club, an FAA-certified flight instructor and certified flight instructor of instruments. Both he and his son, Paul, were Eagle Scouts. He was also chairperson for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital bicycle rodeos and served on several other civic committees.

The family of Dr. Thaxton will be receiving friends at Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon on Monday from 4-8 p.m. The Memorial Service is 4 p.m. Tuesday at the First Presbyterian Church at 304 W. Main St. in Lebanon.

A graduate of DeKalb County High School, Dr. Thaxton is survived by his wife of 38 years, Brenda Thaxton. He is also survived by two children, Stefanie and Paul Thaxton. Biblings, Barry (Charlene) Thaxton, of Alexandria, Gay Cerney, of Portsmith Virginia and Walter Thaxton, of Lebanon.

Dr. Thaxton graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in 1975 with his doctorate in dental surgery. He served two years in the U.S. Army as a captain at Fort Polk, La. Dr. Thaxton was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for “his expertise and rare talent in child management.”

Steve was a member and master of the Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental Association, Tennessee Dental Association, Tennessee 4th District Dental Society, Officer of the Tennessee Academy of General Dentistry, the American Endodontic Society, International Dental Health Foundation, Implantology Groups, Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation, on the Tennessee Dental Board Committee on Sedation, Tennessee Dental ACE award recipient and completed his IV sedation residency at the University of Alabama Dental School.

Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon is in charge of arrangement.

Former UCDD Officials Appear in Federal Court

September 29, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page

Former UCDD officials Wendy Askins and Larry Webb appeared in federal court Friday in Nashville to formally enter not guilty pleas to charges against them stemming from the Living the Dream investigation.

Askins is represented by Nashville attorney Peter Strianse while former U.S. Attorney Ed Yarbrough is Webb's lawyer.

DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster, a former UCDD board chairman, who is also under indictment in the case, appeared without an attorney. Foster is trying to hire former U.S. Attorney, Hal Hardin, to represent him.

Askins, Webb, and Foster surrendered to U.S. marshals Friday after being indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday.

Askins, the former UCDD Executive Director, and Webb, her assistant face several federal charges, including conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering.

Foster is charged with one count of making false statements.

Yarbrough told NewsChannel 5 that Webb plans to stand by his plea of not guilty to the charges against him. "I would have to say from seeing the indictment that it's going to require a good deal on our part," Yarbrough said. "Certainly Mr. Webb intends to stand by his plea of not guilty and, if necessary, will go to trial to show that he is not guilty of these offenses."

As for Askins, Strianse said he believes "the proof is going to show in this case that there is not a penny of any government money that went into Ms. Askins pocket."

While he did not enter a formal plea, Foster said he's shocked by this indictment and really does not believe that he has done anything wrong.

No word yet on when the cases might go to trial.

Alexandria Mayor Quits Only Three Days After Taking Office

September 27, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Alexandria Mayor and Aldermen
Alexandria Mayor Jim York

Only three days after taking office and presiding over his first city council meeting, Alexandria Mayor Jim York announced his resignation Friday saying he does not have the respect or support of the aldermen.

York ran unopposed in the municipal election September 5 and received fifteen votes to become the town's new mayor, succeeding Ria Baker who had served as mayor for seven years. York was sworn in as mayor at the regular monthly city council meeting on Tuesday night, September 24.

Since his election, York claims that the aldermen have conspired to keep him from exercising his full authority as mayor. But some say that York tried to exercise too much control at city hall.

Tensions between the mayor and aldermen, at least in part, grew out of a dispute over who has the authority to sign checks. During Tuesday night's regular meeting, the council voted to give aldermen Bennett Armstrong and Tony Tarpley the authority to be a second check signer along with City recorder/Clerk Ashley Roth who is designated as the first signer. Roth has that authority until at least October 15 when she plans to end her employment with the city.

As mayor, York felt he should also have the authority to sign checks and apparently became upset with the board's decision not to include him. But while York didn't make much of an issue of it during the Tuesday night meeting, he apparently took matters into his own hands on Wednesday morning when he confronted Roth at city hall and relieved her of her check signing authority.

Alderman Tarpley, who was present and witnessed the incident, told WJLE that York acted unprofessionally . "I came into the office to see if there was anything I needed to help them with since I had a little spare time. I was talking with Ashley (Roth) when Jim (York) came in and in a very unprofessional manner I guess you would say, he chewed her rear end out. I don't know how else to put it. He said she was out of line in the (Tuesday night) meeting about (her input concerning) check signing and telling (York) every time he needed to have a motion. She was just trying to help him on the motions because he was new at this. I would be the same way. I'd be lost. She was trying to help him there but he got on her pretty heavy. I have been a supervisor in several different positions for several different companies and I never got on to one of my employees like that. Then when she asked him to tell her what she had done wrong, he got mad and stormed out of the building," said Alderman Tarpley.

In an effort to resolve differences, the aldermen met with York in a workshop Friday morning at city hall. During the discussions, York raised the check signing issue and other matters, complaining that the aldermen were conspiring to deny him his full powers as mayor, treating him as a figurehead. York argued that he should have taken office as mayor the day after the election as the city charter provides, but had to wait until the regular monthly meeting almost three weeks later. The aldermen explained that it has historically been the city's practice of swearing in newly elected officials at the first regular meeting after an election. As for who has authority to sign checks, the aldermen said city policy/charter leaves that to the discretion of the city council. At times, the discussion became personal with some alderman making certain insinuations against York. Later in the meeting, York, who was clearly frustrated, got up from his seat, pulled keys from his pocket, dropped them on the table in front of him, and left, saying he was resigning as he walked out the door.

After the meeting, the aldermen spoke with WJLE and denied York's assertions that they were conspiring against him.

Concerning the check signing matter, Alderman Addie Farley said she thought it best to have two aldermen available as a second check signer during the transitional period with a new mayoral administration. " It was my preference to have someone who was existing on the board to be check signers during the transitional period. Its permanent but at any meeting we could choose to reassign check signers. That was the basis for my decision. It had nothing to do with conspiracy. I am the financial advisor and with the (city) recorder being the first signature, it was my preference to have an alderman be a second signer," she said.

According to Alderman Farley, the primary purpose of the Friday workshop was to explain to York that the aldermen have the sole authority to designate who signs the checks. "We agreed to hold a communication workshop to explain the policies and procedures as it relates to the check signing. During the conversation on Wednesday, he (York) told her (Roth) she was no longer able to act in her full (city) recording duties and was no longer first signer on the checks. We spoke with the (city) attorney to verify that so long as she was in good standing with the city that she could remain with her full responsibilities. But because Jim (York) is her boss, she couldn't sign checks until there was an action (by the aldermen) to inform him that she could continue on signing checks until her resignation date. This workshop was to inform Jim of that and to explain why he could not be the check signer. It was because we had voted for someone else to be the check signers. He thought it was a power granted to him. This workshop was to clear up that disconnect," said Alderman Farley.

City officials admitted however that there have been occasions in the past when mayors have had the authority to sign checks. Former Mayor David Cripps, who attended the workshop, told the aldermen that while he was not taking sides on the issue, he did sign checks as mayor but that there was no city recorder at that time.

Alderman Farley said Mayor Ria Baker also had that authority toward the end of her term. " Mayor Ria was check signer for the very last few months because one of the check signers left. The mayor does have power granted to him or her if one of the existing check signers leaves. In the interim, the mayor becomes an automatic signer until the next meeting and then the board can either approve that position to remain or assign someone else. We allowed her (Mayor Baker) to stay on until the end (of her term) and that's why we were having to redo it now with the new board members and mayor coming on," she said.

After the meeting, WJLE contacted York at his business and he confirmed that he is resigning as mayor. "I will be leaving office soon. September 5 was the election and my charter reads that September 6 I should have been sworn in and given the duties of Mayor. I was not. Basically my hands were tied at that moment. It was September 24 at the first city council meeting that I was sworn in," he continued.

But York said he doesn't want the job if he can't exercise all the powers he feels he should have as mayor. "I am not going to have full control of city hall as per the city council and I am not going to continue in the office If I do not have full reign and full power," he said.

York believes he should have been granted the authority to sign checks and that issue weighed heavily in his decision to resign. " That (issue) was pretty large because that is one of the primary concerns of a mayor is how the money is disbursed. With highway paving projects and the water expansion project coming up, a lot of money is going to go through our accounts. I would have liked to have had a first hand look as those checks were signed and also have had my signature reflected on it. If not, I don't need to be in that office," he said.

As for trying to relieve City Recorder Roth of her check signing duties, York claims he was within his rights and that the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) supported his action. "I did speak with MTAS about my position on this matter and in my investigation, MTAS told me that once my recorder put in her resignation, I had every right and could have let her go immediately but I did not. I did say (to MTAS) that the recorder (her name) does appear on the check signing card and the mayor (his name) does not. MTAS said they did not feel comfortable and it was not a good business practice for that to continue. If she was leaving her job, she should not appear on checks and that was why I asked her not to (continue signing checks) because she was leaving and MTAS agreed that it should not happen any longer," said York.

Rather than stay on as mayor and try to improve relations with the city board, York said he prefers to step aside now and concentrate on his business obligations. " I don't feel I have their respect or support. It's not worth it. I'm a business owner and I need to focus on my business and not be in the middle of things that are so dramatic at this point," concluded York.

Prior to being elected mayor, York had served for a time as alderman, filling in for others who couldn't complete their terms.

(TOP PHOTO LEFT TO RIGHT: Aldermen Bennett Armstrong, Pat Jackson, Addie Farley, Mayor Jim York, and Alderman Tony Tarpley)

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