Local News Articles

$38,418 Federal Grant Helps Alexandria Fire Department Buy Equipment

August 12, 2006
Dwayne Page

A $38,418 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant will enable the Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department to buy new equipment, U.S. Representative Bart Gordon announced today.

\"Many communities struggle to maintain fire-protection services,\" said Gordon, a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. \"Even though demands on firefighters have increased tremendously over the years, the resources they depend on to provide their life-saving services have not.

\"That's why Congress initiated the Assistance to Firefighters Program, which is similar to the highly successful COPS Program that put more than 100,000 new police officers on the nation's streets.\"

Chief Shelie Askew said the 15-member department will use the funds to purchase new turnout gear, such as helmets, boots and any other equipment firefighters wear on call.

\"There are a lot of small towns, like this one, that can't afford new equipment, \"Askew said. \"We've been running on 20-year old equipment. Thank the good Lord they finally approved it.\"

Homeland Security awarded the grant through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, created by Congress to help underfunded fire departments better serve community residents. In addition to funding operations and firefighter safety programs, the grants can also be used to purchase firefighting vehicles.

\"Countless lives and properties have been saved through the valiant efforts of firefighters and rescue squads, \" Gordon said. \"This program is a much-needed opportunity for local fire departments to strengthen their resources and capabilities.\"

Man Suffers Burns In Monday Morning Fire

August 14, 2006
Dwayne Page

An employee of West Side Auto Salvage at 823 Dry Creek Road was taken to DeKalb Community Hospital around 9:30 a.m. this morning (Monday) after suffering burns in a fire.

Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker says the man was using an acetylene torch to cut parts off a wrecked car when the gas tank of the vehicle caught fire.

Flames caught the man's clothes on fire and he received some burns as a result.

He was taken by a private vehicle to the hospital and was later airlifted to another hospital for further treatment.

Meanwhile, Chief Parker says the fire, which also spread to another wrecked car and burned the tires off a skid steer loader, was quickly brought under control by the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department.

He says the fire was approximately 200 feet behind the main building and posed no threat to that structure.

Judge Sells Files Chancery Court Lawsuit Contesting Election Results In Her Race

August 17, 2006
Dwayne Page

The Committee to Re-elect Judge Lillie Ann Sells, in a prepared news release, announced Thursday that a suit has been filed in Chancery Court today on behalf of Judge Sells, challenging the results of the August 3rd Election for Criminal Court Judge for the 13th Judicial District (comprised of Clay, Cumberland, Dekalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam & White Counties).

Over 40,240 votes were cast in the seven counties, and the initial, uncertified margin of victory (for Independent candidate David Patterson) was only 9 votes. Among other illegal and irregular activity in this election, the complaint asserts, is that at least 24 absentee ballots were cast illegally; at least 2 felons voted illegally; and at least one voter took part in the election who did not live in the district.

The Tennessee Election Code states that its purpose is to secure \"the freedom and purity of the ballot,\" and to promote the \"maximum participation by all citizens in the electoral process.\"

Don Napier, a spokesman for Judge Sells' campaign, said, \"We want as many people as possible to participate in elections, but when the margin of victory is less than the number of illegal ballots cast, the will of the electorate is unclear and it is necessary to contest the election.\"

A Democrat, Judge Sells, has served as a Criminal Court Judge for the past eight years, and is seeking re-election to the bench. She is represented by attorney Stephen Zralek of Nashville, a partner in the law firm of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC.

WJLE obtained a copy of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon from the Putnam County Clerk and Master's office, where it was filed.

The suit names as defendants, Sell's opponent in the election, David Alan Patterson along with Nancy Bowman, Putnam County Administrator of Elections; and the Clay County, Cumberland County, DeKalb County, Overton County, Pickett County, Putnam County, and White County Election Commissions.

The introduction of the lawsuit states that \"According to the preliminary and unofficial count of the Election Commissions for the seven counties that comprise the 13th Judicial District (Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, and White Counties), Plaintiff (Sells) received 20, 097 votes and her opponent, Defendant David Alan Patterson received 20,106 votes in the Election. However, numerous irregularities occurred and numerous illegal votes were cast, calling into question the accuracy and validity of the results, in violation of the express purpose of the Tennessee Election Code to secure the freedom and purity of the ballot.

Sells alleges that she has investigated the facts to the best of her ability, given the 10 day statute of limitations for an election contest and has sought access to all relevant information from the various County Election Commissioners within the 13th Judicial District, but not all relevant information has been available, given the deadline for each county to certify the election results. Sells claims \"To the best of Plaintiff's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances, the allegations and other factual contentions herein are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery.\"

Lisa Peterson, DeKalb County Administrator of Elections, told WJLE Thursday that Sells has requested, in writing, a list of names of all people who voted on election day in each precinct; a list of all names of all people who voted via absentee mail-in ballot; all applications for absentee mail-in ballot; the permanent absentee voting register and all physician statements required for each person included thereon; all rejected applications for absentee mail-in ballots; and all ballots that at any time during the election were classified as \"provisional\". DeKalb County had one provisional ballot on August 3rd and it was thrown out.

The lawsuit alleges that \"Initial, uncertified results from the Election indicate that approximately 40,203 total votes were cast in the race for Criminal Court Judge of the 13th Judicial District, (20,097 cast for Sells and 20, 106 cast for Patterson) and that Patterson apparently won by a margin of 9 votes.\"

However Sells claims that more than 9 illegal votes were cast by persons who were not eligible to vote, or voted improperly in the Election.

Sells alleges that \"at least three votes were cast by convicted felons who had not had their privileges of voting restored. Such individuals are not qualified voters and are not entitled to be registered or to vote, as provided by state law. Specifically, Sells claims that Leon Meadows, Shannon L. Moore, and Timothy Ray Spivey all had, prior to the Election, been convicted of infamous crimes in a court of competent jurisdiction, and yet all voted on Election Day in White County.\"

The lawsuit further claims that \" at least 24 absentee ballots were cast in violation of the Tennessee Election Code, which mandates that the section governing absentee ballots be strictly construed, pursuant to state law. Specifically, at least 22 applications for absentee ballots in White County, and at least 2 applications for absentee ballots in Pickett County, were submitted without providing the applicant's social security number, as required by state law.\"

\"An initial examination of the Voting List for one county in the 13th Judicial District, conducted within the limited time allowed to file this contest, indicates that at least one voter voted in the Election, despite the fact that he is not a resident of any of the seven counties in the 13th Judicial District, in violation of state law.\"

\"Voters in the 13th Judicial District were permitted to remain in the voting booths on Election Day in excess of the time limit established in state law and the Election officers failed to order the voters removed, as required by law, thus precluding other eligible voters from voting.\"

\"Provisional ballots cast in Putnam County were counted at the precinct, rather than sealed and locked in the provisional ballot box for return to the county Election Commission at the close of the polls on Election Day, as required by state law.\"

\"The election officer in Cumberland County sought the assistance of a member of the media to assist in counting ballots, despite the fact that this individual had not been previously trained and was not an official Election worker, in violation of the Tennessee Election Code.\"

\"The voting machines in Cumberland County contained ballots that showed candidates whose names were already selected when voters first approached the machine, interfering with voters' ability to vote for the candidates of their choice.\"

Sells alleges that \"Based on the foregoing incidents of irregularities, improprieties, and illegally cast votes, she has grounds to bring this Election contest and contest Patterson's apparent victory. Sells claims she should be declared the winner of the Election or, alternatively, the Election should be declared void and another election should be ordered, with proper procedures being followed, adequate protections against election fraud being administered, and with all properly registered voters who are located within the 13th Judicial District being given proper notice.\"

Sells contends that she has \"attempted to examine all voting materials, voting records, related documents and tangible personal property related to the Election in the seven counties administered by the Defendant Election Commissions. Despite her attempts and requests, Sells claims she has not been given complete access, and has not had sufficient time to review all relevant Voting Materials, given the 10 day statute of limitations.\"

Sells claims that \"the foregoing incidents of irregularities, improprieties and illegally cast votes call into question the legality of the entire Election in all seven counties, and indicate that further illegalities and irregularities are likely to be found upon examination of all voting materials, voting records, related documents, and tangible personal property related to the Election Voting Materials.\"

In her petition for relief, Sells asks for the following:

\"That the Defendant Election Commissions in each of the seven counties comprising the 13th Judicial District be ordered to preserve all Voting Materials, so that they are safe from tampering, damage, or loss, preserved in each county's Election Commissions until all investigations and analyses have been concluded, and until this contest has been concluded (except to the extent that such items must be placed in the official custody of the Court, or as otherwise directed by the Court).\"

\"The Defendant Election Commissions in each of the seven counties of the 13th Judicial District be ordered to give Sells access to all Voting Materials and that she be permitted to copy, electronically where available, all Voting Materials.\"

\"That the Court set an expedited discovery schedule so that this matter will be prepared for trial within the time provided by law.\"

\"That Sells be declared the winner of the Election, or alternatively, that the Election be declared void and that each of the seven Defendant Election Commissions be ordered to hold a new election for the office of Criminal Court Judge for the 13th Judicial District, as provided by law.'

\"That Sells be given leave to amend, upon a sufficient review of the Voting Materials as they become available.\"

No date has yet been set for a hearing in the case.

A judge from another judicial district will most likely be appointed to hear it.

The winner of the election is due to take office, September 1st.

DTC Communications To Refund $1.2 Million To Members

August 18, 2006
Dwayne Page

The Board of Directors of DTC Communications announced Friday it will refund $1.2 million this month in capital credits to members. DTC ranks among the highest in the state in member refunds.

The capital credit refunds will be issued to current and former members who paid for service in 1997 from DTC Communications. DTC?s unique structure as a member-owned cooperative gives it the option, based on its financial strength, of offering these capital credit refunds.

?DTC Communications is pleased to be able to provide our members with such a sizeable refund,? said Leslie Greer, CEO. ?It is a tribute to our entire organization that this marks the thirteenth consecutive year DTC?s financial strength has made it possible to distribute a capital credit refund.?

Greer added, ?Members who have moved or changed their names since 1997 should contact our customer service office with the updated information. We want to make sure everyone receives their refunds in a timely manner.?

Current and former members of DTC who paid for service during 1997 should receive checks by the end of August. Members? checks will be based on what they paid that year. Therefore, the amounts will vary from member to member.

Federal guidelines for non-profit telecommunications cooperatives allow the Board of Directors to return periodically to members capital credit refunds in the form of direct payments, when financial strength permits. These accrued reserves, ownership of which is permanently retained by members, are utilized to operate the company, upgrade and expand services, and implement new technologies.

County Property Tax Rate May Increase By More Than 40 cents

August 19, 2006
Dwayne Page

Your county property taxes may be going up this fall.

Just how much hasn't been determined yet, but the county budget committee is considering recommending to the county commission that the tax rate be increased by 43 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value.

County Mayor Mike Foster met with members of the committee Thursday night and another meeting is set for Monday night to hammer out a proposal.

Foster says if the final proposal is to increase the rate by 43 cents, the distribution would most likely be as follows: General Fund- seven cents, Debt Service-20 cents, School Budget- 13 cents, and Highway Department- 3 cents.

The local road department has never received a share of the property tax rate but Foster says if three cents is allocated to roads, it would be for the purpose of offsetting a loss of state funds.

According to Foster, rising fixed costs is the reason for much of the needed new revenue. For example, in the General Fund, state retirement contributions, as mandated by the state, are up by 59.1% or $40,000; health insurance costs have increased by 14.7% or $16,000; and liability insurance premiums are up 5% or $6,000. Other county departments, including schools, have fixed costs that have also increased and costs of fuel and utilities including natural gas are up.

In addition, Foster says the proposed new budget includes small pay raises of 50 cents an hour for full time employees and 25 cents an hour for part time workers. Other extras include funds to purchase a new ambulance and two patrol cars and $75,000 to build and equip a new fire hall in the Rock Castle community.

The budget committee will finalize the proposed spending plan soon and present it to the county commission for passage, probably in September.

2006 AYP Results Show Positive Results In DeKalb County School System

August 21, 2006
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County School System met all necessary benchmarks this past year in all schools based on the latest Average Yearly Performance results, according to Supervisor of Instruction Carol Hendrix.

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools and school districts are measured on whether the students meet performance benchmarks in math, reading and attendance for grades 3-8 and math, English and graduation rate for high schools. Schools that do not meet the achievement standards for two years are deemed high priority.

DeKalb County High School remains a High Priority School based on a low graduation rate two years ago, but Hendrix says this past year the graduation rate improved. \" A school must meet the benchmark for two years before it comes off the High Priority list. This is the first year that the high school has met all the benchmarks. The year before last, DCHS didn't meet the graduation rate, but this past year the school met all the academic benchmarks as well as the graduation rate. This is the first year. If the school meets all the benchmarks including the graduation rate for a second year, it will no longer be a high priority school.\"

Hendrix says based on the local AYP results \" This is a clear indication that teachers and principals are working hard to ensure that students receive an appropriate education and are able to reach their fullest potential.\"

\"The progress of schools statewide is a clear indication that Tennessee's improvement strategies are working,\" Education Commissioner Lana Seivers said. \"I commend the hard work of the teachers and principals responsible for helping these schools meet their goals. We will continue to provide every support available to ensure all schools can improve student achievement.\"

AYP status is also calculated each year for the following student subgroups: White, Hispanic, African American, Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Economically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

New This Year:

? For the first time, student performance for grades 3-8 is included in the AYP calculations where previously the law required only three grades in K-8 to be used.

? Tennessee is one of two states permitted to apply a growth model to allow schools to demonstrate progress. Eight schools met the AYP standards using this new method.

? This is also the first year Tennessee high schools are being measured by the graduation rate for the prior school year. The one-year lag allows schools and districts to receive credit for summer graduates, which aligns with No Child Left Behind's standard of graduating in four years and a summer.

NCLB identifies schools that have missed a federal benchmark in the same category for two consecutive years. Tennessee elects to alert schools and districts that are at-risk of becoming a high priority school under NCLB. These schools receive additional support and assistance from the state in order to avoid the NCLB high priority list. Schools that have missed one or more benchmarks for one year are considered target schools. This year, 229 Tennessee schools will receive state support as target schools.

DeKalb County ACT Scores Improve

August 21, 2006
Dwayne Page

DeKalb County High School's ACT scores improved in 2006, according to Supervisor of Instruction Carol Hendrix.

\"As we look at the high school and the five year trend, all our ACT scores in every subject area are up this year. English was up 1.5 points, Math up by .9, Reading up by 1.1, and Science up by .8 so we're doing a good job throughout.\"

Ninety-three percent of Tennessee graduates took the ACT in 2006 and achieved an average cumulative score greater than their 2005 peers. Tennessee?s average ACT score in 2006 is 20.7, higher than 12 of the 14 other Southern Regional Education Board member states. Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native students in Tennessee scored higher than their peers nationwide. African American/black and Asian American/Pacific Islander students in Tennessee scored on par with their peers across the country.

?Seeing test scores rise even as the number of students tested increases is a good sign of forward progress,? Education Commissioner Lana Seivers said. ?I am particularly heartened by the strides demonstrated by minority students in Tennessee who are keeping pace with or outperforming their peers nationwide.?

More graduates earned scores considered to indicate college readiness in 2006 than in all past years. Likewise, scores earned by Tennessee 10th graders taking the PLAN, a precursor to the ACT, show continuing upward trends in performance.

Students taking core courses performed significantly higher than students taking less than minimum core requirements as defined by ACT. This core includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies. Sixty-two percent of Tennessee test takers met the minimum core subject requirements recommended by ACT.

?Clearly more students understand the benefits of taking challenging courses throughout high school,? Seivers said. ?While we need to increase the number of students demonstrating readiness for college-level work, Tennessee?s students continue to improve each year over the last.?

Tennessee is trying to provide more students access to challenging courses through the e4TN initiative, a project to develop online coursework for students whose school may not offer advanced level courses. Both the Governor?s Schools in the summer and dual enrollment courses give students an opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. Students may also pursue the Tennessee Scholars Program, which requires four credits each of English and math; three credits of science and social studies; one credit each of wellness, business/computer technology and fine arts; and 20 hours of community service.

Stribling Chevrolet To Close September 15th- Leon Stribling Announces Plans To Retire

August 21, 2006
Dwayne Page

The owner and operator of the local Chevrolet dealership has announced plans to retire.

Leon Stribling announced Monday that Friday, September 15th will be the last date for the business operation of Stribling Chevrolet.

In a prepared statement, Stribling said, \" In accordance with the terms of the Dealer Sales and Service Agreement signed by General Motors Corporation and myself as Dealer Operator, I have exercised my rights to terminate my personal services agreement with General Motors\".

The 2006 Chevrolet models will be the last Chevrolets that Stribling's company will be selling in Smithville.

A replacement dealer has not yet been named.

Stribling says \"To our many friends who have favored us with your business over the years, may we say that serving you has indeed been our pleasure.\"

Stribling and his brother Tim Stribling came to DeKalb County in 1976 to join Amonett-Nixon Chevrolet, then owned by Leon's former father-in-law, Jim Amonett and his partner, John Robert Nixon. Amonett was the dealer of record at that time. Leon Stribling says \"Being associated with these men of honesty and integrity was quite an honor\".

Stribling Chevrolet, Inc. was formed in January 1984, when Leon Stribling was named by General Motors as dealer for the Chevrolet franchise in DeKalb County. Stribing says \" At that time, my brother Tim, and I purchased the assets of Amonett-Nixon Chevrolet and for the last 22 years, Stribling Chevrolet has served our friends and neighbors\".

Though he and Tim were new to this area, Stribling says the community welcomed them with open arms. \" Tim and I were most impressed by the willingness of the community to let newcomers become involved. One or both of us has served as President of the Smithville Rotary Club, Chairman of the DeKalb County Planning Commission, President of the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, Coordinator of the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree, and member of the Industrial Development Board of the City of Smithville. Additionally, Tim has spent countless hours and days in involvement with the youth of the community in sports related activities. The community would be well served to afford the next Chevrolet dealer the same welcome extended to us 30 years ago.\"

Stribling paid tribute to his employees, both past and present, for being the strength of the company through the years and he reminisced about the retired staff members. \"Who will ever forget Joe Goodwin who would converse with you for hours and sometimes days and then sell you a car or truck; James \"Pig\" Trapp, a brilliant man who chose working on automobiles as his profession and how fortunate we all were to have known him; and Walter C. Phillips, long time body man who worked on cars when there was heavy metal steel in them. Walt wore out many a hammer for us.\"

Stribling also praised the current staff members, \" Parts Manager Ricky Nixon, our longest tenured employee with 32 plus years of service. Mr. Reliability; Melinda Willoughby, Business Manager for the past 19 plus years. My confidant and shoulder to cry on; Tommy Garrison, talented technician with 22 plus years of service; J.B. Williams and Clay Myers, Service Department personnel with 14 and 7 years of service respectively; and Kitty Thomas, Saturday office staff with 15 plus years of service. What successes have accrued to us, we credit our staff.\"

Stribling concluded by saying \"As for those who know us best will attest, Tim and I have dedicated the last 30 years to nurturing our customers, our employees, and their families. Tim and I are thankful for the opportunity the community has given us. Thanks for the memories and God bless.\"

City Judge Hilton Conger Reappointed To New Two Year Term

August 21, 2006
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
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.


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