Local News Articles

School Board Makes Cuts in Tentative Budget

May 15, 2013
Dwayne Page

In order to meet a state deadline for getting a budget in the hands of the county commission by May 15th, the DeKalb County Board of Education spent close to two hours Tuesday night before adopting a proposed tentative spending plan for the 2013-14 school year.

The plan includes spending to fund a few new positions, but it does not include a proposal suggested by Director of Schools Mark Willoughby that would have provided single health insurance coverage for all full time eligible employees, certified and support staff. Under the federal affordable health care act, employers must offer an affordable plan to eligible employees or pay a penalty.

The board also cut from the proposed budget $50,000 in new money to fund a full time athletic director and $90,000 for two extra positions which might be needed during the school year.

Even without the costly extra insurance benefit and other cuts, the school system looks to dig deep into its piggy bank by possibly up to $1.7 million to balance the new budget without a tax increase, unless the county commission meets the school board's request to appropriate more money from the replenishing local option sales tax or sinking fund for school operation. Had they asked for it, the school board may have needed as much as a sixty cent property tax hike to support this proposed budget.

The vote was 4 to 1 to adopt the tentative budget with the cuts. Board members John David Foutch, Kenny Rhody, W.J. (Dub) Evins, III, and Billy Miller voted for it. Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted against it. Board member Doug Stephens was absent and Board member Charles Robinson who was present for most of the meeting, apparently had to leave before the budget issue was decided.

The school system currently pays a portion of employee's health insurance coverage under plans made available through the state. Total costs comes to $1.5 million each year. Certified employees who have either a single or a family plan pay 36% and the school system picks up 64%. Support staff pay 49% of their coverage and the school system pays a 51% matching portion. While the school system apparently meets the affordable health care requirements for certified personnel, it would be subject to penalties unless it does more for support staff. Under the new federal law, "if an employer does offer health coverage but it is not affordable or it is not minimum value and a low income full time employee enrolls in health coverage on the exchange and obtains premium credit, the employer must pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each full time employee except for the first thirty employees," said Director Willoughby. "To this day, we don't know all the guidelines. I don't know how the affordable health care act is going to work out. It may be October before we know. It may be later than that. I do think it is a good opportunity to offer our employees insurance (single coverage paid at 100%). I'd much rather pay our employees' insurance as to pay the penalty back to the government," said Willoughby.

Had the school board kept in the budget full single health insurance coverage for all eligible employees, the cost to the system would have increased by about a million dollars to $2.5 million a year.

Board members seemed uncomfortable with the spending plan. Chairman Lattimore said he could not support it, even with the proposed cuts. Lattimore said the budget still has too much fat. "I believe with all my heart that there is fat in this budget," said Lattimore. "There are things in here that we don't have to have to survive next year. We send a budget across the street (to county commission) that we know we don't have to have and we're asking the county commission to do our job. When we have sent budgets across the street in the past and we have felt like they have tried to line item things out of our budget, it has infuriated this board. And now we're asking them to do the exact thing that has infuriated us before. It's our job to trim out the fat in this budget," said Chairman Lattimore.

"As a school board member, we're in a very particular situation. We've got to do what's in the best interest of the children above everything and we've got to do what's in the best interest of the employees of the school system but we've also got to do what's in the best interest of the taxpayers of DeKalb County. When you send a budget across the street (to the county commission) and you are asking for a fifty or fifty four cent tax increase, you're asking the little old lady that's on her social security check that's having to pay her property taxes on payments because she can't afford to pay it all at one time, you're asking her to pay more. For the people with the million dollar lake homes, they won't have a problem paying that. They think we have the lowest property tax rate they ever saw in their life. But the little old lady who is just barely making it, how is she going to pay an extra fifty four cent tax increase when she can barely make it now? What medicine does she quit taking next year to pay this?," asked Lattimore.

The proposed budget does include the following new positions:

One full time assistant band director: $45,000

Two new teacher positions at DeKalb Middle School: $90,000

One new P.E. teacher at Northside Elementary School: $45,000

One federal teacher position moving to general purpose schools (local budget): $45,000

One new Middle School Soccer Coach: $2,785

One new baseball coach: $2,785

One new assistant soccer coach at DCHS: $2,785

Stipend for teachers attending inservice: $35,000

Textbooks: $120,000

Under the Gifted Education Program:

One new gifted position: $45,000

One federal teacher moving to general purpose schools (local budget): $45,000

Under Special Education Program:

A half time psychological personnel: $27,000

Fiscal services:

A part time clerical employee working hours if needed for scanning records: $5,000

The Transportation Supervisor's salary would increase by $12,440

The purchase of two new school buses is also included in the proposed budget along with a state approved 1.5% pay raise in the state funded portion of the salary of certified personnel.

The proposed budget now goes to County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission's budget committee. If it does not meet with their approval, the proposed budget will come back to the school board for further revisions. All county budgets must be approved and sent to the state by August 15.

Booth Structure Updated for the 2013 Jamboree

May 14, 2013
Fiddlers Jamboree Coordinator Jack Barton

The Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree is making some changes for the 2013 festival in terms of food booth as well as exhibitor booth regulations. This year, three options are available for anyone operating a food booth. 1) A nonprofit organization may operate a booth entirely on its own for a booth fee of $350. 2) A nonprofit organization may contract with a commercial vendor to operate all or a portion of its booth provided that some representatives of the organization are present at the front of the booth. Booths with this arrangement are available for a $700 booth fee. 3) A commercial vendor with no nonprofit ties may procure booth space for a fee of $1,200. Fourteen booth spaces are available during the event. Food booth space is available to nonprofit organizations first, and if the spaces fill up with nonprofit booths, no independent commercial vendors will be allowed. However, if food booth space is still available after Monday, May 20, spaces will open to independent commercial vendors. To find out more about this three-tiered structure, rules and regulations, or to reserve a booth space, email jbarton@smithvillejamboree.com or call 615-597-8500.

Exhibitor booths will also be available on a three-tiered basis and some incentives for first time and multiple booth vendors. First time vendors will be allowed a first year rate of $75 for one booth and if that first time vendors wants multiple booths the additional one would be $50 each. For any vendor who has attended before but wants multiple booths, the additional booths beyond the first will be $75 each. Our new standard rates are as follows and apply for vendors who are returning. 1) Government/non-profit/education or information-only booths are available for $100 per booth. 2) The traditional handmade arts and crafts booth is still available for $125 per booth. In addition, agricultural and homemade edible goods may be sold at these booths as of this year. The homemade edible items may not be packaged for on-site consumption in an effort not to compete with food booths. Also, vendors must be licensed within Tennessee or their home states to be eligible to sell homemade edible items such as canned goods, jams and jellies, or baked goods. Examples of agricultural items that may be sold are honey, cider, or plants. Any booth at this tier is $125. 3) Booths selling unique cultural or regional non-handmade items approved by the Jamboree board will be available for a booth fee of $200. These booths will be separate from the handmade arts and crafts booths and will be ineligible for any booth awards. For more specific rules, deadlines and recommendations for exhibitor booths, visit www.smithvillejamboree.com or e-mail eadkins@smithvillejamboree.com.

Prisoner's Recorded Phone Conversation From Jail Leads Sheriff's Dept to his Meth Lab

May 14, 2013
Dwayne Page
 Matthew Allen Baker
Crystal Michelle Baker

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department found a meth lab at the residence of a prisoner after hearing him talking about it with his wife in a recorded telephone conversation between the two of them from the jail last week.

31 year old Matthew Allen Baker and his wife 30 year old Crystal Michelle Baker of Pine Orchard Road are each charged in the case and will appear in General Sessions Court on Thursday, May 16.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said Matthew Baker was picked up at his home on Thursday, May 9 on an outstanding state warrant against him for a violation of probation. Baker was found in his bedroom along with a bowl which contained a powdery substance believed to be meth and a plate with a powdery substance thought to be hydrocodone. Three straws, two knives, and aluminum foil containing a residue from a powdery substance were also recovered.

Meanwhile on Friday, May 10, authorities listened to a recorded telephone conversation from the jail between Matthew and Crystal Baker and heard them talking about having hidden meth lab components in their house and barn. A drug detective later received consent from Crystal Baker to search her home and there he found drain cleaner, muriatic acid, Coleman fuel, acitone, propane tanks, coffee filters, cold packs, ammonium nitrate, and several other items used in the manufacture of methamphetamine along with some finished product. Inside a child's bedroom, the detective found about a half gram of methamphetamine in a child's coat pocket. Crystal Baker admitted to knowing the items were on the property and that she tried to hide them. Matthew Baker told investigators that these items belonged to him.

Matthew Baker is charged with promotion of methamphetamine. He was also issued two citations for simple possession of a schedule II drug and another for possession of drug paraphernalia. Crystal Baker is charged with possession of a schedule II drug for resale and promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine.

35 year old Grady Murphy of Andrew Street, Smithville is charged with theft of property over $1,000. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court Thursday, May 16. Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, April 30 Murphy allegedly took several steel pipes and several feet of barn lumber, valued at more than $1,000, from property on Indian Creek Road. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the sheriff's department.

39 year old Chrissy Michelle Evans of West Main Street, Dowelltown is charged with domestic assault. Her bond is $2,500 and she will be in court on Thursday, May 16. Sheriff Ray said that on Monday, May 6 Evans allegedly got into a confrontation with her husband at their residence. According to Sheriff Ray, Evans allegedly got physical with him, scratching his face causing him to bleed. She also allegedly grabbed and tore his shirt. Evans was arrested and brought to the jail for booking.

41 year old Tania Pegeen Sewell of Hurricane Ridge Road, Smithville is charged with domestic assault. Her bond is $1,500 and she will be in court Thursday, May 16. Sheriff Ray said that on Thursday, May 9, Sewell allegedly assaulted her 19 year old daughter by pushing her down, leaving red marks on the right side of her back. Sewell was transported to the sheriff's department for booking.

44 year old Everette Charles South, Jr. is charged with criminal trespassing. His bond is $1,500 and he will be in court on Thursday, May 16. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, May 10, a correctional officer at the jail saw South come onto the jail property and throw a pack of cigarettes over a fence where inmates were exercising.

Woman Dies After Apparently Driving Chevy Blazer into Center Hill Lake

May 13, 2013
Dwayne Page

A 40 year old Putnam County woman lost her life after she allegedly drove her Chevy Blazer down a boat ramp and into the lake at Johnson Chapel Monday afternoon.

Dead is Nancy Randolph.

Two others were in the Blazer with Randolph, reportedly her daughter Sara and her daughter's boyfriend Houston Bussell, but they made it out safely.

Family members allege that Randolph intentionally drove the SUV into the water.

Nancy's daughter Sara was in the front seat and Sara's boyfriend Houston Bussell was a backseat passenger, according to reports. After they got out, Bussell allegedly went back to get Nancy out but she pushed him away.

(Video below shows TWRA Officers and Darrell Gill of DeKalb Tire and Service hooking the submerged Chevy Blazer to a roll back tow truck. Victims were already out of the Blazer by this time)

Investigators have not confirmed those details.

In a prepared statement, Sheriff Patrick Ray said the incident was reported at 12:25 p.m. at the Johnson Chapel Boat Ramp. According to Sheriff Ray, The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to the boat ramp where a car had run off into the lake. A sheriff's deputy who was close to the area arrived on the scene within seven minutes and spoke to two adults who said that the vehicle they were in had run into the lake and that the driver, a female, was still inside the automobile. Deputy Brian Williams and Detectives Mike Billings and Jeremy Taylor of the sheriff's department went into the water and pulled the body of the woman from the submerged vehicle. The water was believed to be ten to fifteen feet deep. DeKalb EMS was on the scene and started CPR on the woman. She was then taken to DeKalb Community Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The other two adults were treated at the scene but refused further medical treatment.

Sheriff Ray commended Deputy Williams and Detectives Billings and Taylor saying "They went into the cold water and risked their own lives" to try and save Randolph

The investigation is ongoing by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department. No other information will be released at this time, according to Sheriff Ray.

Smithville Resident Selected to Participate in Advanced Placement Program Reading

May 13, 2013
William Freddy Curtis

Mr. William Freddy Curtis – AP US Government & Politics Teacher at Cannon County High School was selected to participate in the College Board’s Annual AP Reading in Advanced Placement US Government & Politics. Each June, AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather in the United States to evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams.

AP Readers are high school and college educators who represent many of the finest academic institutions in the world. The AP Reading is a unique forum in which an academic dialogue between educators is both fostered and encouraged. “The Reading draws upon the talents of some of the finest teachers and professors that the world has to offer,” said Trevor Packer, Senior Vice President, AP and College Readiness at the College Board. “It fosters professionalism, allows for the exchange of ideas, and strengthens the commitment to students and to teaching. We are very grateful for the contributions of talented educators like Mr. Curtis.”

The Advanced Placement Program®(AP®) enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies – with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both – while still in high school. Through AP courses in 34 subjects, each culminating in a rigorous exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue – skills that prepare them for college and beyond. Research indicates that students who score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically experience greater academic success in college and are more likely to earn a college degree than non-AP students. In 2012, more than 11,000 AP Readers evaluated more than 3.7 million AP Exams.

Mr. Curtis is a 27 year veteran of the Cannon County School System serving as a teacher and principal at West Side Elementary School from 1986 to 2008, and currently serving as US Government, Sociology, and AP US Government & Politics Teacher at Cannon County High School. He is married to Trena Braswell Curtis – 2nd Grade Teacher at Smithville Elementary School and has four sons – Matt, Trent, Casey, and Evan Curtis.

Alexander Tells Corps He Won’t Approve Funding Requests if Corps Won’t Listen to the Senate on Fishing Beneath Cumberland River Dams

May 12, 2013
Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told a top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official at a budget hearing on Wednesday, May 8 that he would restrict the Corps’ ability to transfer new funds to projects if it doesn’t abandon “unreasonable” fishing restrictions that amount to “thumbing your nose at elected officials,” saying, “It sounds to me like we have a life jacket problem – not a water problem.” (Video HERE.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is beginning to implement permanent full-time water access restrictions around Center Hill Dam and the other nine dams on the Cumberland River and their tributaries.

The restricted areas will be the minimum area allowed per Corps regulations upstream and downstream of locks, dams, and power plant facilities. All forms of water access within the restricted areas will be prohibited including boating, swimming and wading. The Corps continues to promote bank fishing in all areas that were previously approved, including areas adjacent to some restricted areas.

The Restricted Area Boundary Lengths around Center Hill Dam will be:

Upstream Restricted Area Length.....400 feet

Downstream Restricted Area Length.....750 feet

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman whose approval the Corps would also need, called Alexander reasonable “99.9 percent of the time” and told the Corps officials, “My strong advice would be to try to work something out with him.”

“We don’t need Big Brother in Washington holding our hands while we’re fishing down in Tennessee or Kentucky or any other place,” Alexander said to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy. “If you’re not going to pay attention to the elected representatives of Tennessee and Kentucky and other states, I’m not going to pay attention to your judgment. You have nine major accounts, 918 project accounts, and in order to move that, you need the permission of the chairman and me to . … You’re going to find it very hard to get my approval for any reprogramming request – anywhere in the country – until I get the Corps’ attention, and if that doesn’t get your attention, I’m going to work with my colleagues to reduce the reprogramming requests to $1,000 so that any reprogramming you want to do, you’ll have to come back to me and Senator Feinstein and the chairman and ranking member in the House.”

Referring to the order in which the legislative and executive branch duties are laid out in the Constitution – Article I and Article II, respectively – Alexander said, “We’re Article I, you’re Article II – you ought to be paying attention to our judgment on this, especially when so many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have made themselves clear on this. We don’t need a government that’s big enough to interfere with us when we have enough sense to … get out of the water the 20 percent of the time when it’s spilling through the dam.”

Alexander, the lead Republican or Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development that was holding the hearing, has introduced the “Freedom to Fish Act” to prohibit the Corps from restricting fishing beneath 10 dams on the Cumberland River. On March 23, the U.S. Senate unanimously supported his amendment to the Senate budget resolution allowing Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Corps plans.

On April 30, the Corps announced that it would move forward with full-time, permanently restricted access to tailwaters areas below the dams, through buoys and signage. Today, Alexander said the Corps would “find it very hard” to get the approval it needs from him as Ranking Member of the subcommittee for “reprogramming” required to move money among the Corps’ more than 900 project accounts.

Alexander pointed to the Corps’ own statistics showing that water only spills through the dams 20 percent of the time, on average. Alexander said, “Closing off the tailwaters 100 percent of the time would be like putting the gate down over the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time – the tracks aren’t dangerous when the train’s not coming, and the water isn’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”

Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin, an appointee of President Obama who until stepping down recently would have been responsible for defending the Corps in court, has said the Corps’ restrictions are unreasonable “in light of the tremendous protection from liability enjoyed by the Corps.” The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has also said it will not enforce the Corps’ restrictions, and Alexander has repeatedly encouraged the Corps to work out a compromise with state agencies to address safety concerns.

Community Showers Relay for Life with Love and Support

May 11, 2013
Dwayne Page

Folks flocked to Greenbrook Park Friday evening to show their love and support for cancer survivors and to join the fight against the disease during the 16th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

Rains, called for in the weather forecast , eventually came but held off during the first few hours of the event as young and old alike gathered to enjoy the food, games, music, and fellowship.

The program from the stage featured singers and church groups, along with crowd favorite David Turner and Friends, a popular local ventriloquist. The opening ceremony included presentation of the Colors by Boy Scout Troop #347, the National Anthem performed by Suzanne Slager, welcoming remarks by Renea Cantrell and a song in honor of cancer survivors by Shelley Cross and Bonnie Rigsby.

Cancer survivors, introduced and presented with a medallion, took the first lap around the walking trail in the park.

Teams joined together to raise money to aid in the battle against cancer. A male beauty contest was also held again this year, featuring several men dressed as women, using their attributes to bring in as much money as possible

The walking track was also lined with luminaria in honor or remembrance of those who have battled cancer.

Relay For Life is a unique opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember those lost, and fight back against the disease. Many of the participants are cancer survivors themselves.

"Backporch Friends" Share Tales During 8th Annual Storytelling

May 10, 2013
Susan Hinton
Frank Buck
Crowd Gathers to Hear Storytellers

The 8th annual storytelling event, "Backporch Friends," was held at the new DeKalb County Community Center on Saturday, May 4. Susan Hinton and Dot Tittsworth hosted the event sponsored by the Smithville Study Club. Despite the rainy weather, sixteen hometown storytellers spun their unique stories, both fiction and non-fiction including original poems, mythology, and folklore. The crowd of fifty plus responded enthusiastically and with heart-felt laughter, promising to attend next year' storytelling day and bring friends.

This event is held each year to perpetuate the tales of our town that will soon be forgotten if not passed down from generation to generation. The event drew an audience of all ages. Smiles and laughter were enjoyed by all who attended. Donations were made to support DeKalb's Imagination Library, which places books in the hands of children from one year of age until they start school. This program was started by Dolly Parton to develop life-long readers and educate our future leaders. What a great match to celebrate literacy and contribute to a worthy cause while being entertained by the joy of storytelling. If you were unable to come to this year's event, please stop by your local Justin Potter Library and make a donation to Imagination Library. Donations are accepted any time and the money will stay in our community. Thanks for your support in this great cause, and if you missed the storytelling day this year, it is always held on the first Saturday of May.

Smithville Elementary School Community Field Trip

May 9, 2013
Smithville Elementary School Students

The Smithville Elementary School's Community Field Trip was held on the Smithville Public Square. Eleven classes with over 200 students visited the DeKalb Courthouse, Justin Potter Library, Smithville Fire Hall, and Regions Bank.

County Mayor Mike Foster handed out "Go Green" backpacks sponsored by the TDOT Litter Grant and spoke to the children about the importance of not littering.

The DeKalb County Clean Up Day will be held on Saturday, May 18th. Everyone is encouraged to participate. For more info, call the Chamber at 597-4163.

New State Veterans Cemetery Proposed in the Upper Cumberland Region

May 9, 2013
Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder

Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder announced the initiative to establish a new State Veterans Cemetery in the Upper Cumberland region. TDVA has submitted a pre-application grant to the National Cemetery Administration for federal funding of the architectural design, engineer support and construction costs. However, funding for land acquisition must be raised through donations as well as city, county and state funding.

The cemetery would be located in the Upper Cumberland Region to serve Veterans and their eligible dependents in Clay, Cumberland, Dekalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren and White counties

TDVA Assistant Commissioner Don Smith hosted a community meeting on Thursday, April 25 to form a steering committee to proceed with the land acquisition process. Volunteers for the community member committee were finalized on Wednesday, May 1. Two community members from 12 counties have volunteered to participate in the Upper Cumberland State Veterans Cemetery Steering Committee. Clay and Dekalb Counties will not participate in the committee efforts. The Upper Cumberland State Veterans Cemetery Steering Committee will review available properties in the region and narrow the list to three recommendations which will be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs for consideration.

Chairman Jim Amerson of White County will be a non-voting member. Remaining committee members include Co-Chairman Daven Oppenheim of Fentress County, Secretary Ron Goode of Overton County as well as committee members Mark Pfaffenroth and Bill Ward of Cumberland County, E.J. Hancock and Keith Kennedy of Fentress County, Everette Vanhooser and Dale Smith of Jackson County, Mike Scott and Pat McJury of Macon County, John Alcorn of Overton County, Glenn Williams and Brian Raef of Pickett County, Frank Favia and Jim Loftis of Putnam County, Bob Baker and Scott Penfield of Smith County, Dan Belcher and William “Buddy” Hughes of Trousdale County, Vern Curry and Les Conway of Van Buren County, Angie Higgins of Warren County as well as George Schneider and Ralph Griffith of White County.

“Veterans and family members in the Upper Cumberland region currently have to drive to State Veterans Cemeteries in Nashville or Knoxville for services,” Grinder said. “It is our goal to establish a new State Veterans Cemetery within 75 miles from the Veterans and dependents we serve in the Upper Cumberland region.”

The next full steering committee meeting will be held on Friday, May 17 at the White County Courthouse, Second Floor, 1 East Brockman Way in Sparta at 10 a.m. (CDT).

For more information about the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs and existing State Veterans Cemeteries, visit the department’s website at www.tn.gov/veteran, facebook.com/myTDVA or stay up to date by following the department on twitter @TNDVA.


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