Local News Articles

Hurricane Bridge Nearing Completion

January 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Paul Degges (Standing left) addresses county mayor and commission
Construction Crew at work on Hurricane Bridge Monday January 28

The Hurricane Bridge construction project is nearing completion.

Paul Degges, Chief Engineer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, in a meeting with County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission Thursday night, said the project is ahead of schedule and could be finished by May. "We are running considerably ahead of schedule on that project," said Degges. "We anticipate being able to open that to traffic probably by the first of May. If we have good weather this winter we might even beat that. You might recall our original completion estimate was October of this year so we are significantly ahead of schedule," said Degges.

During an interview with WJLE in August, Degges described the work being done on Hurricane Bridge."That bridge was built during World War II and it had some pretty lite structural members. One of the things we've been going through on the project is to make sure it can handle traffic for the next fifty years or so. We're going in and looking at every single member of the truss. Some of those metal components underneath the deck are in tension and some are in compression. So we're doing an analysis on all those to make sure that we replace the ones that need to be replaced. This is an older bridge. It has a lite weight construction so we're also using a lite weight concrete on it. The concrete deck on this bridge weighs about twenty percent less than concrete we use in typical applications. I think motorists will notice that the bridge rail on the bridge looks a little different. It's metal instead of concrete. It's just as strong but it's a little bit lighter than concrete. We're going to take about two feet off the shoulders. While we'll still have the same width twelve foot travel lanes, the shoulders are going to be a little bit narrower than they were before the project. What we're trying to do is be able to put this bridge back in service and get another fifty years out of it," said Degges.

In October, 2010 TDOT awarded the bid to OCCI Incorporated at $26.9 million. The contractor has until October 31st, 2013 to complete the project. Modjeski and Masters is the consulting firm.

New Sligo Bridge to be Under Construction By Summer

January 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sligo Bridge

After months of delay, the new Sligo bridge is expected to be under construction by this summer.

During a meeting with County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission Thursday night, Paul Degges, Chief Engineer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said bids will likely be opened in April or May with construction to begin soon after.
(PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF TDOT CHIEF ENGINEER PAUL DEGGES)

Before TDOT could begin with the project, it had to work out a deal on right of way acquisition with the only landowner in the area, being the federal government, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The problem was that owners of Sligo Marina, who have a lease with the Corps were concerned that the bridge construction would adversely affect their business. The marina owners wanted the state to pay for potential loss of business to them during the construction of the bridge. But Degges, in previous forums, had said that the state cannot legally pay for those types of damages. Over time, TDOT re-designed plans for the bridge hoping to address concerns to the satisfaction of Sligo Marina, but to no avail. So, the state came up with another alternative. To build the bridge from the river. Barges will be assembled on the river for the cranes and other equipment needed in construction. "Our original design had some pretty significant impacts to the parking lot of the marina," said Degges. " In working with the Corps of Engineers and the marina, we tried to come up with a design that we felt was a good design that worked for us and worked for the marina. The marina (owners) ultimately were not satisfied with our design so we went back again and tried to re-design the project to come up with a different type of design that would work. Ultimately, we never really could satisfy the marina so we backed up and looked at it again. We brought in a lot of contractors and did a constructability review so now we have come up with a way to build the bridge from the water and from the roadway so we're not going to have to be off our reservation so to speak with the bridge," said Degges.

The project will be more costly to build the bridge from the river, according to Degges but the marina will not be impacted in this manner. The project will let for bids this spring and be under construction by summer and should be finished within twenty four to thirty months. "For the most part we're going to be building the bridge from the river. It is going to run our costs up but we believe we have the resources available to deliver it," said Degges. "We're still finalizing our real estate agreement with the Corps of Engineers that allows us to get all of our permits but we anticipate being able to open bids probably in the April to May time frame and be under construction this summer. It will probably be twenty four to thirty months of construction to get the new bridge in place but the existing roads will be open to traffic during that time. Certainly there will be some construction delays through there but we won't have a traffic signal. As far as construction impacts, there will still be access to the marina during construction and there will still be access across the bridge. It will be posted. Its at 22 tons right now and we hope to be able to keep it at that weight posting. I don't see anything happening that's going to have us change that," he said.

Degges said it is important that the TDOT proceed with no further delays because of the deterioration of the bridge. "Old bridges deteriorate a lot faster than newer bridges. The condition goes along pretty uniform for a number of years but when that condition (of the bridge) drops, it plummets pretty fast so that's why we made the decision to go ahead and move forward with this project," he said.

"The real issue for this project is constructability," said Degges. "The first issue here is that the water is over one hundred feet deep. These piers coming up out of the bottom of the river will be about two hundred feet tall. Building the foundation underwater in one hundred feet of water is difficult work. The steepness of the ravine going down to the river makes it very difficult as well. We have a 335 foot main span but the real issue is getting the sub-structures in place and being able to get the cranes in to be able to hang the beams, he said.

The new bridge will be built next to the existing one. Once the new bridge is completed, the existing bridge will be removed. "We're going to build what we call a steel plate girder bridge with a concrete deck," said Degges. "Right now, the bridge is a truss.The bridge is somewhat narrow. The new bridge we're going to put in here will have twelve foot lanes and ten foot shoulders. It will be what most people would consider a traditional bridge in that the beams of this bridge will be under the deck," he said.

The project is expected to cost over $30 million dollars. It will be funded under TDOT's Better Bridges, a four year program approved in 2009 by the Tennessee General Assembly that utilizes bonds to pay for the repair or replacement of more than 200 structurally deficient bridges in the state including Sligo. "We were able to come up with a new funding mechanism which we call our Better Bridges Program that allows us to utilize dollars available so we don't have to borrow money. It is a way that we use bond authorizations that allow us to let bigger projects and pay for them as they're being constructed. It keeps us from having to borrow any money but it allows us to advance pretty expensive projects," said Degges.

State Representatives Terri Lynn Weaver and Mark Pody and other TDOT officials joined Degges at the meeting Thursday night with the county commission.

Former Smithville Mayor Cecil Burger Passes Away

January 24, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Cecil Burger

Former Smithville Mayor and alderman Cecil Ray Burger passed away Wednesday night at NHC Healthcare Center. He was 89 years old.

Mr. Burger served the City of Smithville for more than forty five years, including sixteen years as mayor and six years as alderman

In twenty two years, Mr. Burger never lost an election, having first been elected mayor in 1990. He served eight terms, sixteen years in that office until 2006 when he chose instead to run for alderman. He ended his long career with the city on June 30 last year when his third term as alderman came to an end. Because of his health, Mr. Burger had chosen not to seek re-election to a fourth term.

Mr. Burger began his career with the city in 1966 as secretary-treasurer, which also meant overseeing the city's public works operation and city employees. He served as city judge for the first couple of years as well. Burger retired from the secretary-treasurer position in 1989 but came out of retirement fifteen months later after being elected mayor in 1990.

During his time with the city as an employee and alderman Burger served under or with ten mayors starting with Othel Smith, John Bill Evins, Charles Gentry, Edward Frazier, Gary (Gus) Johnson, Hilton Conger, Waniford Cantrell, Dewey Love, Bruce Medley, and Taft Hendrixson.

The fifty two aldermen he served under or with as a city employee, mayor, and alderman from 1966 through 2012 include Jim O. Amonett, W.H. Smith, Sr., Eugene Webb, Freddy Colvert, Hobert Hendrixson, John Bill Evins, Bass Estes, Floyd Brown, Sr., Edward Frazier, Robert Alexander, Carter Braswell, Paschal Cantrell, Donnie Lewis, Alfred Parker, T.C. Atnip, Ray Johnson, Bob Smithson, Gary (Gus) Johnson, Tom Keith, Hilton Conger, Dr. Kenneth Twilla, Bill Maffett, Marsha Darah, Cordell Walker, Charles Trapp, Paul Hendrixson, Dr. Melvin Blevins, Elmus Johnson, David Redmon, Jim Eddins, Dewey Love, Bruce Medley, Elzie McBride, Charles Burchfield, Larry Wright, Jack Cantrell, Jerry Taylor, W.J. (Dub) White, Charles Olson, Bert Driver, Steve White, Paul Young, Brad Mullinax, Mark Loring, Jackie Rigsby, Aaron Meeks, Willie Thomas, Tonya Sullivan, Jerry Hutchins, Sr., Shawn Jacobs, Danny Washer, and Gayla Hendrix.

In an interview with WJLE last year, Mr. Burger said he appreciated all the support he had received during his career with the city. "The people have been good to me and I appreciate it very much. They supported me well," said Burger.

"We (city) grew a right smart while I was mayor and we tried to serve the whole city. I don't know of anything special (we did) only trying to do our work with everybody. I had a lot of good help. I appreciate my friends who have helped me out all these years. They helped me when I was mayor. I have plenty of friends. I've tried to treat them like I wanted to be treated," said Burger.

Mr. Burger was a member of the Smithville First United Methodist Church and a construction worker.

The funeral will be Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at DeKalb Funeral Chapel. Dr. John Carpenter will officiate. Entombment will be at DeKalb Memorial Gardens Mausoleum. Visitation will be Friday from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until the service at 3:00 p.m.

He was preceded in death by his parents, James and Willie Sowells Burger and his wife, Wilma Jo Burger.

Survivors include four children, David and wife Kyoko Burger of Japan, Gereda Burger of Massachusetts, Pamela and husband Danny Poss of Smithville, and Anthony and wife Tammie Burger of Smithville.

Five grandchildren, Nancy Burger, Simon and wife, Emi Burger, Erica Burger, Nicole Burger, and Zach Poss. A great grandson, Braxton. A sister, Sudie Vickers of Liberty. A sister-in-law, Mildred and husband Howard Harrell of Murfreesboro.

DeKalb Funeral Chapel is in charge of the arrangements. The family asks that donations be made to the Smithville First United Methodist Church, in lieu of flowers.

Three Mexican Restaurants Seek On Premises Consumption Beer Permits

January 23, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Los Lobos Mexican Restaurant

Patrons of three Smithville Mexican restaurants may soon be able to have beer with their meals.

El Rancho of 1101 West Broad Streeet, Mercadito Chabelita Restaurant of 408 Broad Street, and Los Lobos of 106 East Broad Street are the first to apply for an on-premises consumption permit

The Smithville Beer Board will meet on Thursday, January 31 at 6:00 p.m. on the second floor of city hall to consider granting the permit applications.

The Smithville aldermen last month changed the city's beer laws to allow eligible restaurants to have an on-premises permit.

Local Sales for Guns and Ammo Skyrocket

January 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Phillip Adcock of Belk Grocery and Sporting Goods
Tracy Caplinger and Phil Tollett at L&C Sporting Goods

The demand for firearms and ammunition has skyrocketed in recent weeks making it hard for stores to keep inventories stocked.

"I've never seen anything like it. Not in my 40 years of being in business," said Phillip Adcock, owner of Belk Grocery and Sporting Goods, who spoke with WJLE Tuesday morning. " They (customers) have overwhelmed us. I thought I was prepared for it. I'm being allocated on basically everything. We don't order now. They (manufacturers) call us and tell us what they've got and when they do you had better buy it," he said.

President Barack Obama last week called for a new and stronger assault weapons ban as well as a 10 round cap on magazines and universal background checks. The move comes in the wake of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut which has renewed interest by some in seeking a stricter crackdown on weapons that do the most damage.

But many gun owners, fearing that legislation may go too far, are stocking up leaving retailers trying to keep up with the high demand. "We've had a mad dash for the last six or seven weeks," said Adcock. "There are probably three reasons for it. We had an anti-gun President re-elected. We had a shooting (Newtown, Connecticut) and we had Christmas all rolled into a close proximity of time. I think it just overwhelmed the market. Everybody sort of panicked. I guess due to the Christmas break the manufacturers just got overwhelmed. Its going to take a while for them to catch up," he said

Usually, customers are in the hunt for handguns this time of year, according to Adcock. But this year, they're looking for more. "I think because people are a little bit concerned because they might not be able to buy something a little later we're trying to find a lot of long guns right now for people. They are difficult to find as well. Normally in January and February people go back to handguns pretty strong but it seems like this year its just a combination of all of it. Availability of anything right now is really scarce. Even stuff that you would think normally is easy to get is real difficult right now. Its just not out there," he said.

Still, the requests for orders keep coming, even for the so called "assault rifles". "I've got a list right there by the phone. I've actually got so many requests right now we've quit writing down names and phone numbers. Probably for a week there we had one full time person answering the phone for requests for AR-15's simply because they (customers) were afraid they would not be able to get them after the (Connecticut) shooting. That demand is really overwhelming as much as anything else. If you could get a truck load today you could probably have them sold in a week's time," said Adcock.

Although prices have not really increased that much, Adcock fears some gun retailers may be taking advantage of the high demand. "There's always usually a small price increase the first of the year but a lot of the prices people are seeing now are being raised intentionally. We're seeing a lot of exaggerated prices out there. People have even put their own personal guns on the Internet and doubled the prices. They are selling just as fast as they can put them on there. Really people need to settle down because hopefully it will level off in a few weeks and we'll go back to normal," he said.

Adcock is also convinced that the voting public will hold Congress accountable on whatever gun control measures are considered. "Its still up in the air what they're going to do in Washington over this deal. We've got Congressmen and Senators that's got to come back home and be re-elected by the people. If people get the chance to speak they'll show their support for gun rights and the second amendment and what it all means. We may have a little up and down the next four years but we'll get through that and something better will happen," said Adcock.

Tracy Caplinger of L&C Sporting Goods, who is also an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor told WJLE Tuesday that the interest among people wanting to obtain a handgun carry permit has also dramatically increased. "Gun classes are really up right now. People are really wanting to get their gun permits. I'm booked for several weeks in a row right now. Its gone from one to two a month to probably up to seven classes a month. That's as high as it's ever been since I've been teaching," said Caplinger.

And like other retailers, Caplinger said L&C Sporting Goods has found guns and ammo hard to come by recently. "Everything is really hard to get right now. When it comes in its going right out. We've been here twenty years and this is by far the busiest we've ever been. Its just crazy right now. If it has anything to do with a gun they're looking for it. Pistols, long guns, ammunition, you name it. I'm getting several calls a day. You really can't find any of it right now anyway. There's a lot of talk right now (about what the government might do). Everybody is scared and buying anything they can get their hands on. I really think it will slow down before too long. If all these shootings will slow down I think it will level back out," said Caplinger.

Lester Charged in More Burglaries and Thefts

January 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Allen Robert Lester
Lonnie Wheeler
James Lee Adcock

A 24 year old man, who was recently charged by the sheriff's department in a rash of burglaries in the Dowelltown and Dry Creek Road area is now in trouble with Smithville Police.

Allen Robert Lester was arrested on Tuesday, January 15 and charged with three counts of burglary and three counts of theft. Chief Randy Caplinger said that on December 4 and January 2 Smithville Police received reports of vehicles having been broken into and items taken from them on Hayes Street, West Main Street, and Spring Street. Upon an investigation, it was determined that Lester had committed the crimes. His bond is $45,000 and he will be in court on January 31.

Smithville Police arrested a 21 year old woman on Tuesday, January 22 who is wanted by Chattanooga authorities for auto theft. Trinity Wildbur is charged by Chattanooga Police with driving on a revoked or suspended license, auto theft (theft of property over $1,000), and another traffic violation.

Chief Caplinger told WJLE that the Smithville Police Department received a tip of a possible stolen vehicle here. Officers checked for the vehicle and found it at Brookview Apartments. A check with the Chattanooga Police Department confirmed that they did have a suspect, Wildbur and that she had active warrants against her. Wildbur was found at an apartment at Brookview. She was taken into custody and is being held at the sheriff's department for the Chattanooga Police Department.

36 year old Lonnie Wheeler is accused of stealing a 1992 Honda Accord from the Walmart parking lot on Monday, January 21. He is charged with theft of property over $1,000 and resisting arrest, Wheeler is under a $15,000 bond and he will be in court on January 31.

Chief Caplinger said Smithville Police received a call of a stolen vehicle taken from the Walmart parking lot. Officers went there to check the video footage, which showed a person, identified as Wheeler, stealing the vehicle. The car, which belonged to a Walmart employee, was later recovered near the Warren County line.

19 year old Cleveland Johnson is charged with evading arrest and carrying a prohibited weapon. His bond is $4,500 and he will be in court on February 7.

Chief Caplinger said that on Saturday, January 19 an officer was called to a location on East Bryant street where five males were seen chasing a vehicle attempting to attack the occupants. Upon arrival, the officer saw several people walking away from the area. He activated his emergency lights to detain them. Johnson attempted to flee on foot. After being caught, Johnson. told the officer that he knew police were trying to stop him. Johnson was arrested for evading arrest. He had on his person a prohibited weapon, brass knuckles in his front left pocket.

32 year old Jared Atnip is charged with public intoxication and simple possession of a schedule II and IV controlled substance. Chief Caplinger said that on Wednesday, January 16, an officer was called to Rite Aid Pharmacy on a complaint of a suspicious person who appeared to be intoxicated. The officer said that man, Atnip, appeared to be leaning awkwardly in an aisle with his eyes closed. Atnip's speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet. He could barely keep his eyes open. Atnip was arrested for public intoxication. When he emptied his pockets, Atnip produced a pill bottle which contained schedule II and IV pills for which he had no prescription. His bond is $8,000 and he will be in court on January 31.

44 year old James Lee Adcock is charged with sale and delivery of a schedule II controlled substance. He was arrested on Wednesday, January 16. Chief Caplinger said Smithville Police conducted a controlled drug buy where a confidential source allegedly purchased methamphetamine from Adcock . His bond is $25,000 and he will be in court on January 31.

Meanwhile, anyone with information on any criminal activity is asked to please contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the crime tip line at 464-6046.

Any information received that will help Smithville Police solve any criminal offense will be greatly appreciated. All information is confidential.

Manchester Man Charged with Stealing Pickup from Car Lot

January 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Brady Gordon Cunningham
Joshua Kevin Vickers
Joshua Samuel Garrett
Austin Lee Rudolph

A Manchester man has been arrested for allegedly stealing a truck from a local car lot.

35 year old Brady Gordon Cunningham is charged with theft of property over $10,000. He was arrested on January 17. His bond is $18,500 and he will be in court January 31.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Monday, January 14 Cunningham took a 2006 black Chevrolet pickup truck from Jason's Auto Sales on Nashville Highway. The value of the truck is $11,500. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the sheriff's department.

Meanwhile, 30 year old Joshua Kevin Vickers is charged with burglary and theft of property over $1,000. He was arrested on January 11. His bond totals $10,000. He will be in court on January 31.

Sheriff Ray said that on October 12 , Vickers allegedly broke into an outbuilding on Green Hill Road in Liberty by kicking in the front door.He allegedly took a chainsaw, leaf blower, a cordless screwdriver set, battery charger and various other items including a 1997 Honda four wheeler all valued at over $1,000. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the sheriff's department.

21 year old Joshua Samuel Garrett of Coon Branch Road, Alexandria is charged with domestic assault. He was arrested on January 18. His bond is $3,000 and he will be in court on February 7.

Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, January 18 a sheriff's department deputy responded to DeKalb County High School to investigate a complaint of a domestic assault which occurred at Garrett's residence. The officer spoke to a 17 year old girl who had a busted lip and bruising on her right hand and arm. She said that her brother, Joshua had assaulted her because she did not feel good and had nothing to wear to school. The deputy went to Garrett's home and spoke to him. He determined that Garrett was the primary aggressor.

20 year old Austin Lee Rudolph of Mount Juliet is charged with public intoxication. He was also issued a citation for underage consumption. His bond is $1,000 and he will be in court January 31.

Sheriff Ray said that on Saturday, January 19 a sheriff's department deputy responded to a complaint of a loud party on Oak Drive. Upon arrival, the officer spoke to a man, Rudolph who was very belligerent and unsteady on his feet. His speech was slurred and he had a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person. Rudolph, while trying to flee on foot, fell down a hill. Due to his level of intoxication and for his own safety, Rudolph was placed under arrest.

Alexandria Restaurant Heavily Damaged by Fire

January 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Fire at Genesis Diner

The Genesis Diner on Highway 70 in Alexandria, was heavily damaged by fire late Monday night.

Central dispatch received the call at 10:50 p.m.

The restaurant was apparently closed at the time and no one was there.

The Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department quickly responded with mutual aid support from the Liberty station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department and the Watertown fire department.

There were apparently no injuries.

(Pictured are captain John Partridge and firefighter Rebecca partridge of the Alexandria Fire Department)

Woodland Fire Causes Minor Damage to Home near Casey Cove Road

January 21, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page

A woodland fire off Casey Cove Road Monday evening caused minor damage to a residence in Buckeye Hollow.

Central dispatch received the call at 5:01 p.m.

(PLAY VIDEO BELOW)

Captain Brad Mullinax of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department told WJLE that the fire started in the woods off Casey Cove Road and moved down the hill toward Buckeye Hollow Road covering about three acres. The fire spread to an unoccupied rental home, belonging to James Meyers of Michigan, causing minor damage to the deck, exterior siding, and a portion of the home's interior.

Members of the Liberty Station, Main Station and other manpower of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded along with the Brush Truck, members of the Tennessee Forestry Division, and the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department.

The fire was brought under control within a couple of hours and no one was injured.

.

Willoughby and Foster Ask State Representatives to Oppose School Voucher Program

January 21, 2013
Pody and Weaver hear from Mark Willoughby on School Vouchers

Governor Bill Haslam's embrace of a limited school voucher program is not sitting well with DeKalb County Director of Schools Mark Willoughby.

In an open meeting with State Representatives Mark Pody and Terri Lynn Weaver Friday, Willoughby said he doesn't like the idea of the state taking money from the DeKalb County public school system and giving it in the form of vouchers so parents can send children to other schools. "I'm against vouchers that the governor is wanting," said Willoughby. "From what I've read, vouchers would be $9200 per child. In our county, we get a little over $8,000 per child (state and local funds). I don't see why a child getting a voucher should get more that we get per child," said Willoughby.

(PLAY VIDEO BELOW OF TERRI LYNN WEAVER AND MARK PODY ON SCHOOL VOUCHERS)

A voucher program, which supporters call the "opportunity scholarship program" would divert state and local funding to private schools.

"As near as I can tell, they've (those in support) got the votes to do some sort of vouchers," said Representative Pody. " There's a group that says give us 100% and there's a group that says don't give any (vouchers) because it will gut the public schools. Is there a number in the middle? Is there a compromise? What would happen if there was a voucher available for $3,000 or $3500 or $4,000," asked Pody.

"Lets just say for DeKalb County it's $8,000 (that we get in state and local funding per child) and I think its more than that," said Willoughby. " If you have ten students that go to a charter school, that's $80,000. That's not quite two cents but its close to two cents of the property tax for DeKalb County that we would be losing and $100,000 for DeKalb County to lose in our education budget is a lot of money," said Willoughby. "Lets say if you're in DeKalb County and you're driving to Lebanon to work and you want your children to go to Friendship Christian. You could get a voucher for $9,200 and you can just drop them (children) off there or there could be a private school set up that won't have anything to do with churches or God and they'll take that (voucher) money away from our school system," said Willoughby.

Once the voucher program is in place, Willoughby fears it will expand creating an even heavier financial burden on the public school system. "I think the voucher system would get just like the charter school system where it would be expanded. The state started charter schools and I look at vouchers as a crack in the wall. If there's a crack in the wall I can put my knife in there and get a little bit more out of it. Later on I can put a crowbar in there and pry it open a little more," said Willoughby. Charter schools are for profit but the average charter school is not any better than your regular (public) school. I think data proves that," he said

County Mayor Mike Foster, who was also at the open meeting, agreed with Willoughby. "I agree with Mark. I don't think it's a good idea to fragment the public schools. The people you're going to be taking out of the schools, traditionally are going to be from upper class people. If you remove them from the classroom and put them in private school, you remove their mama's and daddy's support for that school and their involvement in that school. I think that's the wrong message. I think that it is so harmful to the public schools. I think if we have a problem with public schools we need to be addressing them and fixing that problem if there is a problem rather than sending kids to a private school who are probably going to go anyway. When you start doing vouchers, you're probably going to take the wealthiest four or five percent of the people out of the county and their kids out of the school and their parents out of the involvement of the school," said Foster.

Representative Pody said he has not yet made up his mind about vouchers. "There are a lot of people who want the vouchers and they want 100% of that money to go wherever their student goes and they want to be able to take it out of their public schools," said Pody. "There's a lot of people who say that would gut the public schools and their funding. I am not going to take a side here. I've got to find out more information about it. I don't agree that 100% of that money should be taken out of the public schools. I think the public schools have to educate everybody and if we withdraw all that money I think that will have a detrimental affect on those who couldn't leave that system for whatever reason. We need to fix our public schools if they need fixing. Taking the money out isn't going to do it. However, if there is somebody who wants to take their child out and move him to another school and that education dollar that is part of that could follow the child, I would see some reason in doing that. Having it go to a public school and moving to a private school, I think we would have serious concerns about that. If an individual wants to have their child go to a private school and they are willing to pay for that, its fine. I'm all supportive of that. But using public money to support private schools, I would be hesitant about doing something like that," said Representative Pody.

Representative Weaver said she too has some concerns. "I've got quite a few concerns about it (voucher program). I have not made a decision on it. That's the wonderful thing about committees, debates, and discussions. There still has to be a lot to help me make that decision," said Representative Weaver.

Willoughby is also troubled that the state may create a statewide charter authorizer to take authority to establish charter schools away from local school boards. "When the state started (charter schools) there were good regulations on that and there are some good charter schools but then we saw last year where that the Governor and the Commissioner of Education saw "Great Hearts" and they wanted "Great Hearts" (an Arizona-based charter operation) in Nashville Metro schools. But "Great Hearts" did not meet the requirements for charter schools as were set up so after it was voted down (by Metro schools) the commissioner took $3.2 million dollars away from Metro schools, which I think is illegal. I don't think the commissioner has a right to do that. Its like they now want state control over who grants charter schools so that if a local board doesn't grant a charter school and it can be appealed to the state its going to make them (state) rubber stamp it. Its sort of like saying we (state officials) want local control on some things. When we (state officials) run for office we say we want local control but yet when we don't get our way we're going to say that we (state officials) want control. I think that's what's happened with charter schools," said Willoughby.

Representative Pody said he is in agreement with Willoughby and plans to submit a bill to reign in the authority of the commissioner of education who has the power to override statutory law." It cuts the commissioner's authority. Right now he can override statutory law. But we are submitting a bill specifically to stop him from doing something like this, specifically on charter schools. We are in agreement that this has to be reigned in," said Pody.

Governor Haslam said recently that he plans to push a limited education voucher bill in the Legislature this year. The poorest children in Tennessee's worst-performing schools would be eligible, the governor said. He expects to release details in about two weeks.

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