Local News Articles

City Judge Hilton Conger Reappointed To New Two Year Term

August 21, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Board of Aldermen Monday night appointed Incumbent City Judge Hilton Conger to a new two year term, effective September 1st.

Conger's current eight year term as an elected City Judge expires August 31st.

Conger's salary as City Judge will also be reduced from $1,600 per month to $1,000 per month, because of the lesser responsibilities of the office.

The Municipal Court, up until 2002, had the same jurisdiction in city criminal cases as the General Sessions Court, and the City Judge held court several times each month with the City Attorney serving as Prosecutor.

After changes were made in the City Charter, the City Court's jurisdiction was reduced to mostly minor traffic offenses and city ordinance violations. The court now convenes only once per month, usually for about one to two hours at a time.

The City Judge is also no longer elected by city voters to an eight year term, but serves at the pleasure of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, appointed to a two year term.

Since Conger was last elected as City Judge in 1998, city officials either could not or chose not to reduce his salary during the term, even though the powers of the city court changed midway through the term.

The changes in the City Charter, regarding the City Court, came following a State Attorney General's opinion in the fall of 2001 that only the District Attorney General and his staff had the responsibility of prosecuting state criminal action in municipal courts.

Meanwhile, City Attorney Sarah Cripps, uneasy that the city fathers have voted to pay the City Judge $1,000 for two hours work per month, is now asking them to consider giving her a pay raise.

Cripps is complaining that her monthly retainer fee of $1,250 has not been increased since she was hired by the city in 1998.

Cripps' request will be placed on the agenda for consideration at the next meeting on September 18th.

Three Resignations In Alexandria Police Department Could Leave The Town Without City Law Enforcement

August 21, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Town of Alexandria may be left without police protection by the end of the week.

Interim Mayor David Cripps told WJLE Monday night that Alexandria Police Chief Jim Baker has tendered his resignation effective at the end of his shift on Thursday, August 24th.

Baker is returning to the Smithville Police Department as an officer.

Meanwhile, Cripps says Sergeant Tim Hearn and Officer Josh King have also resigned, effective at the end of their shifts on Thursday and Friday, August 24th and 25th respectively.

Mayor Cripps says all three men are top notch police officers and are apparently leaving despite his request that they reconsider their decisions.

If all three officers leave, Mayor Cripps says the town will be without a police force.

When asked why all three officers plan to resign in the same week, Mayor Cripps declined to respond, saying only that the officers should speak for themselves.

The officers are upset about budget cuts and a reduction in their hours which has left the town without police protection during parts of the day.

The Alexandria Mayor and Board of Aldermen will meet in regular monthly session Tuesday night, August 22nd at 7:00 p.m. but Cripps says until the positions are advertised as open, the city may not be able to fill those jobs anytime soon.

Defendants Arraigned In Criminal Court

August 23, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

Defendants indicted by the DeKalb County Grand Jury this month appeared for arraignment Monday in DeKalb County Criminal Court.

After entering not guilty pleas to their charges, defendants in most cases were ordered to return to court on October 27th or November 10th, by which time they must be prepared to settle their cases or have them set for trial.

Among those appearing were former county deputy David Sharp, indicted on two counts of rape and official misconduct, and one count of sexual battery and official oppression.

Sharp entered a not guilty plea and will be back in court October 27th.

Ceylon Eugene Taylor, Senior charged in a sealed indictment with aggravated rape of a child, was also arraigned. He is accused of sexually penetrating a four year old girl between November 2005 and March 2006.

Three others charged in sealed indictments, Marty Ray Jones, Troy Lynn Woodlee, and Richard Lee Fleisher, were arraigned on a charge of theft over $60,000. They are accused of obtaining or exercising control over property, including, but not limited to welding, wire, mufflers, and converters valued at over $60,000 belonging to Tenneco, with intent to deprive the owner.

Meanwhile, in another case, 46 year old Shirley Smith Zimmerman pleaded guilty to sale of a schedule III controlled substance. She was granted judicial diversion for a period of three years. Under terms of her probation, she must perform 100 hours of community service, pay a $2,000 fine and $45 restitution to the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, and undergo an alcohol and drug assessment.

Bond for 26 year old Tina Rose Bain, indicted in April on charges of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, felony murder, and theft over $1,000, was reduced from $2-million dollars to $1-million dollars following a hearing in criminal court.

A co-defendant ,33 year old Michael E. Johnson of Sparta, recently entered a guilty plea to first degree murder. Judge Leon Burns, Jr. gave him a life prison sentence under a negotiated settlement with state prosecutors.

Johnson and Bain were charged in the shooting death of 21 year old David Anthony Welch of Sparta and the wounding of 23 year old Heather Trapp of Smithville. Both Welch and Trapp were shot at Trapp's home during the pre-dawn hours of January 6th on Webb Lane.

Trapp testified during the hearing Monday that Bain is the person who shot her.

Bain's case is set for trial in December unless a settlement is reached before then.

Town of Alexandria Seeks Police Officers

August 23, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Alexandria Mayor and Board of Aldermen is pledging to keep the Police Department operating as soon as new employees are hired.

The council met Tuesday night and formally accepted the resignations of Police Chief Jim Baker, Sergeant Tim Hearn, and Officer Josh King, who will be leaving this week.

When Alderman James Keyes asked Chief Baker why the entire three member department is resigning at the same time, he responded by saying, \"I can't speak for the others, but I promised this town I'd do the best job I can, but it's come to the point to where I can't do it anymore. Part of it is because of the budget and not being able to run the department myself without micro-management.\"

The Chief, officers, and some residents and business persons of the town are apparently upset that the city, because of budget constraints, has eliminated the day shift and assigned the officers to work nights.

Alderman Charles Griffith, during Tuesday night's meeting, said \"We can't afford a day shift and a night shift because of the budget. I think we need more coverage at night.\"

Griffith says most of the crime threat, such as burglaries, vandalism's, etc, is greater at night than the day time, and the town could rely more on county deputies to come to the city's aid during the day, if needed.

However a couple of pharmacy and bank employees, who attended Tuesday night's meeting, expressed their concerns that if they should need a law enforcement officer during the day time, they may have to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a county deputy to arrive, if there is no city officer on duty.

Renee Hale, an employee of F.Z.Webb & Sons Pharmacy in Alexandria, addressed the council. \"If we have a forged prescription come in, we have to wait for the county (deputies) or if we were to be robbed, we'd have to wait. It's real comforting to know that we have somebody down here (city officers) that could back us up at our own back door.\"

Both Mayor David Cripps and Alderman Sarah Walker agreed that day shift officers are needed, if the city can afford them, but Walker says thanks to the overspending of a prior administration, the city was left in a deep financial hole.\"When we came in here (took office), we had to cut the employees back to four days a week. The prior administration (prior to September 2005) had spent $244,000 on payroll in one year and with matching funds it was about $260,000. So we had to cut in order to survive. We're trying to survive. That's all we're trying to do. We're not trying to be mean to anyone.\"

In the meantime, Mayor Cripps says city officials will be trying to resolve the problem. \" We're going to try our best to get this worked out. I'll agree we need police protection 100% more in the day time than at night. We'll be interviewing people. We'll try to have a police force back as soon as possible and we're going to try to have the best one we can have. We're a small town, we've got a small budget, and we're going to do the best we can do. We'll get this matter resolved as soon as possible.\"

In other business, the council appointed Cripps as Mayor until the next city election in September, 2007. At that time, someone will be elected mayor to fill the remainder of former Mayor Clara Lee Vantrease's unexpired term, which ends in 2009. Vantrease recently resigned

Alderman Roy Scott recently resigned and Cripps, by taking on the mayor position, had to give up his seat as alderman. To fill those two vacancies, the council Tuesday night appointed Jim York and former Alderman Jimmy Mullinax.

Student Enrollment Up In DeKalb County School System

August 23, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

Student Enrollment in the DeKalb County School System is up by 53 students compared to this same time last year, largely because of a sizeable kindergarten class and a new pre-K class at Smithville Elementary School.

Clay Farler, Attendance Supervisor, told WJLE Wednesday that system-wide, DeKalb County has an enrollment to date of 2,901, compared to 2,848 in late August 2005.

Enrollment is up by 63 students at Smithville Elementary School and 24 students at DeKalb Middle School. However the numbers are down by 15 students at DeKalb West School, 13 students at Northside Elementary, and 6 students at DeKalb County High School.

The enrollment numbers for August 2006 and 2005 at each school are as follows:

DeKalb County High School-
Year 2006- 834
Year 2005- 840

DeKalb Middle School-
Year 2006- 520
Year 2005-496

Northside Elementary-
Year 2006-514
Year 2005-527

Smithville Elementary School-
Year 2006-636
Year 2005-573

DeKalb West School-
Year 2006-397
Year 2005-412

Student Enrollment Up In DeKalb County School System

August 23, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

Student Enrollment in the DeKalb County School System is up by 53 students compared to this same time last year, largely because of a sizeable kindergarten class and a new pre-K class at Smithville Elementary School.

Clay Farler, Attendance Supervisor, told WJLE Wednesday that system-wide, DeKalb County has an enrollment to date of 2,901, compared to 2,848.

Enrollment is up by 63 students at Smithville Elementary School and 24 students at DeKalb Middle School. However the numbers are down by 15 students at DeKalb West School, 13 students at Northside Elementary, and 6 students at DeKalb County High School.

The enrollment numbers for August 2006 and 2005 at each school are as follows:

DeKalb County High School-
Year 2006- 834
Year 2005- 840

DeKalb Middle School-
Year 2006- 520
Year 2005-496

Northside Elementary-
Year 2006-514
Year 2005-527

Smithville Elementary School-
Year 2006-636
Year 2005-573

DeKalb West School-
Year 2006-397
Year 2005-412

Fire Fighters Battle Cabin Fires at Edgar Evins State Park.

August 24, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

DeKalb County and Putnam County Volunteer Firefighters are on the scene of a fire at Edgar Evins State Park.

Officials say at least two and possibly a third cabin is on fire in the park.

Members of the Cookeville Highway and Short Mountain Highway Fire Stations are on the scene along with the equipment and tanker truck. The county is also receiving mutual aid back up support from a Putnam County Fire Station.

DeKalb EMS is also on the scene as a precaution.

The fire was reported at 4:56 a.m. today (Thursday).

Meanwhile a storage trailer behind Basement Sales caught fire Wednesday night. It was reported at 10:46 p.m. Firefighters were sent to the scene.

Smithville Police Chief Clemente Resigns- Makes Accusations Against City Administration

August 24, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

Less than six months after being named Smithville Police Chief, Agustin Clemente, Jr. has resigned, citing differences with the City Administration.

Clemente has also leveled certain allegations against both Mayor Taft Hendrixson and Secretary-Treasurer Burnace Vandergriff, which they both have denied.

Before turning in his badge Wednesday afternoon, witnesses say Chief Clemente vented his frustrations directly toward Vandergriff in a verbal display of anger, shouting obscenities and allegedly threatening physical harm to Vandergriff.

As Clemente was cleaning out his office, city officers and a county deputy were summoned to city hall as a security precaution, but there was no further incident.

In a letter addressed to Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks on Wednesday, Clemente wrote that \"with much regret, I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately as the Senior Law Enforcement Officer for the City of Smithville.\"

Clemente makes specific allegations, in the letter, accusing both Mayor Hendrixson and Vandergriff of \"inappropriately and constantly using their positions to interfere with police operations\".

However, several Smithville Police Officers, including Sergeant Steven Leffew, say Clemente became difficult to work for; that he was verbally abusive and degrading to city officers, constantly shouting and cursing at them over little things, sometimes in the presence of the public; and that he was paranoid and suspicious that others were out to get him.

Mayor Hendrixson says based on officers complaints, he met with Clemente about two to three weeks ago and warned him to stop the verbal assaults against his staff.

Officers were apparently told by Clemente that he was their supervisor, and that they should not take their concerns to either Vandergriff or to Mayor Hendrixson, and any time Clemente saw the officers talking to either of the two men, he would often become angry and would verbally reprimand them.

Such was the case on Wednesday when Clemente saw Sergeant Leffew coming out of Vandergriff's office at city hall.

According to Vandergriff, when Leffew stepped out of his office, an angry Clemente entered and began screaming and shouting at Vandergriff.

Vandergriff says he asked Clemente to calm down, but Clemente kept getting louder, until Vandergriff escorted him out of his office and into the hall.

Later that afternoon as Vandergriff was getting in his truck to leave for the day, Clemente, who was standing near the side entrance to city hall by the police station, again began shouting and cursing at Vandergriff, and allegedly threatened to whip him.

Vandergriff, who claims he had pretty much kept his cool during his previous confrontation with Clemente , decided he had heard enough and challenged Clemente to go ahead and follow through on his threat. Vandergriff says after a barrage of shouts, obscenities, and threats, Clemente instead turned and walked away.

Clemente was unavailable for comment on the incidents.

Among the allegations cited in his letter, Clemente says \" On two recent occasions, the Mayor, who also works as a 911 Dispatcher, has placed calls from the dispatch center while working there to officers on the scene of a traffic stop or investigation in an attempt to sway the officers into not ticketing a violator due to the Mayor's personal affiliation with the subject or family.\"

Mayor Hendrixson says there is no truth to Clemente's assertion. \"I have not asked any officer to do anything about a ticket and won't\".

Clemente, in his letter, writes that \" a large number of qualified police applicants have submitted their resumes to my office indicating their immediate availability for employment. I have advised the Mayor and Secretary about these qualified personnel only to have these individuals harshly rejected due to their family affiliations and religious beliefs. Recently, I was ordered by the Mayor to hire two individuals that had been fired or demoted by the Smithville Police Department and or board of alderman in the past.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies that allegation. \"I certainly have never ordered him to hire or not to hire anyone. The officers are leaving here as fast as they are coming in and they say it's because of him.\"

Clemente, who is a Cuban-American, charges that \"the Secretary-Treasurer has continually and publicly ridiculed me using racial slurs about my heritage to other individuals. The most recent comment is that ?I am going to buy that Cuban a boat and send him back to where he came from'. While I was deeply troubled over these racially prejudiced comments, I felt my new position would be in jeopardy if I were to say anything. I have been in the presence of the Mayor when he has made similar remarks about other Smithville employees.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies making any racial slurs about Clemente or any city employee, and Vandergriff says both he and Clemente would often engage in some good natured joking back and forth when Clemente first became chief, but that he never, and would never, intentionally humiliate him about his race.

Clemente alleges that there is \"ongoing misappropriations of drug fund finances currently being managed by the Treasurers Office\".

According to Vandergriff, all city drug funds are properly spent and accounted for. \"Money from the drug fund is supposed to be divided with the General Fund, but since there has been so little money in the drug fund, I have been leaving 100% of the money in the drug fund and there has been no misappropriation of it whatsoever. I welcome anyone to examine the records. All monies have been properly deposited and receipted.\"

In fact, Vandergriff says, most of the money spent from the drug fund lately has been at Clemente's request to purchase a certified drug dog, a truck and cage to haul it in, and for the training of an officer.\"

With Clemente's departure, the city is faced with having to name a new Police Chief, which would be it's fifth in the last three years.

Former Chief Richard Jennings, who held the position for nine years, was replaced by Jim Baker in November 2003. Nine months later in August, 2004, Baker was replaced by Sam Dunbar. In January, 2006, Dunbar resigned amid a cloud of controversy, and was replaced in March by Clemente.

Jennings, now a Lieutenant, remains with the police department and Baker, who has just resigned his position as Police Chief in Alexandria, has rejoined the Smithville Department as an officer.

No word yet on when a new Chief will be named by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Two People Rescued After Being Injured In Separate Weekend Accidents

September 4, 2006
by: 
Dwayne Page

A 42 year old woman suffered an apparent broken ankle while hiking with family and a friend on nature trail Sunday afternoon at Edgar Evins State Park.

Charlie Parker, DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, says the woman was with her two teenage children and a friend when she apparently slipped on some rocks and twisted her ankle while hiking on the John C. Clayborn trail.

Parker says the woman used a cell phone to call 911, but she was so far out in the woods, about two to three miles, it was difficult to get her out. Emergency workers kept in contact with her by cell phone and used GPS coordinates to pinpoint her exact location.

Parker says the woman, who could not walk, was placed in a basket and taken down to the lake, where TWRA officers transferred her by boat to a nearby boat ramp. From there, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Cookeville.

Among those participating in the three hour rescue operation, in addition to Parker, were Park Rangers and maintenance employees at Edgar Evins State Park, DeKalb EMS, members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Team, DeKalb County Rescue Squad, DeKalb County Volunteer Firefighters, TWRA Officers, DeKalb County deputies, and the Putnam County Rescue Squad.

Meanwhile, a 17 year old Nashville youth was seriously injured late Saturday night after he fell some 40 to 45 feet into a gorge at New Frontiers on the Old Snow Hill Road.

Sheriff Patrick Ray says he and other officers responded to the 911 call along with DeKalb EMS.

The boy was removed from the gorge and taken by ambulance to Lebanon where he was airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.

The boy, apparently visiting New Frontiers on a retreat, suffered a serious head injury.

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