Local News Articles

USDA Rural Development Approves Loan/Grant Funding for Proposed DUD Water Plant

May 3, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
DUD Board Chairman Roger Turney of Auburntown
DUD Board members Roger Turney, Joe Foutch, Jimmy Womack, Hugh Washer
City Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson Addresses DUD Board

USDA Rural Development has approved loan and grant funding for DeKalb Utility District's proposed water treatment plant.

During a DUD board meeting Thursday, Chairman Roger Turney announced that Congressman Diane Black has confirmed that the water utility will receive a $5,000,000 loan and a grant of $1,250,000. The terms of the loan are forty years at 2.75% interest. The remaining $4,250,000 needed to build the $10.5 million facility will be funded through a bond issue.

Buddy Koonce, Jr. of Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood, the DUD's utility engineer said that plans are being drawn up and will be sent to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Once funding is all in place and the state approves the plans, bids can be let on the project. That could come as early as this summer.

But as the DUD board moves forward with its plans, officials of the City of Smithville and others want more answers as to why another plant is needed for the county.

Hunter Hendrixson, Secretary-Treasurer for the City of Smithville, addressed the DUD board Thursday asking why they felt a water plant was needed when the city can sell them all the water they need at cost. "From the city's standpoint, our plant is a four million gallon a day plant, and with DUD as a customer we're at fifty percent capacity and have been for many years," said Hendrixson. "Our contract with you (DUD) doesn't expire until December 31, 2013. The city would have been open to renegotiating the contract. I just wish the DUD and the city could have had a little better communications.I think the city sells water to you very cheap. I'd say its basically a break even. We're not making a fortune off of it. I'd just like to ask the question, why build a plant?"

Turney said the county would be better served by having another water plant. "One of the reasons is to be able to control our own destiny. To determine where we can go and where we can't go," said Turney. "Over the last several years, several things have happened worldwide that has made it imperative that whenever possible, it makes good sense for areas to have backup water supply systems. If you say, well nothing has happened in years, look what happened in Nashville just a few years ago. They were flooded by a one hundred year flood. They came so close. If there had not been interconnections between other utility districts around them, Tennessee would have had a disaster unmanageable. We think its beneficial for the whole county, Smithville, our customers, and everyone to have a second treatment plant in a day and world we live in today because who knows what could happen. Something might happen to both of us. Its entirely possible," he said.

According to Turney, other cities would like to have access to Center Hill Lake for their water supply and if the DUD doesn't take advantage of this opportunity, some other utility may. "Center Hill Lake, I think, is the best water supply in the State of Tennessee. The Corps of Engineers, over the years, is getting more and more restrictive because a lot of people are drawing out of that lake. Cookeville and other areas want more and more water all the time. We looked that over and decided if we don't get in line and get our piece of the pie in reserve, it may be gone. If we don't do this now, ten years from now we may say we want to build a plant, and the Corps of Engineers could say I'm sorry there's no water allocated for you and you can't do it. That could well happen," said Turney.

"This is an historical period in our history," said Turney. "Interest rates are at the lowest people have ever remembered. We've got loans committed to us. Just today we received from Congressman Diane Black's office confirmation of our $5 million loan and a $1.25 million grant to help fund this project. We are honestly not doing this to try to punish Smithville and we're not dumb. We realize its going to cost a little bit and our customers will have to pay a little bit more because of this initially. But we've had at least three different organizations look at our finances and look at the projections for what's going to happen over the next few years with the assumption that the (water) rates of Smithville continue to increase (to the DUD) about five cents (per thousand gallons) every year. Everything that's come back to us has said that financially in terms of our customers, in the long run they will benefit financially. Their (DUD customer) rates will be lower, because we will have more control," he said..

"We know that most industries like to have backups because if something happens to the water treatment plant that supplies them water, if they shut down, they lose. They love to have a backup. That would be a benefit," said Turney.

"We've been dealing with this for years now and we just think it's the time to go. Everything is in place at the right time. I honestly believe that DeKalb County, the City of Smithville, and everybody involved will be glad that this project was undertaken. We hope with the economic conditions we have now that we'll get some excellent bids because people are wanting jobs right now. That's kind of our rationale. That's not everything but that's some of the high points we looked at in determining whether or not to go on. We're trying to decide what's best for our customers and the whole county. And not just DeKalb County, but all the counties that we serve," said Turney.

Hendrixson asked Turney if the DUD had plans of expanding its reach into other areas.

Turney didn't rule it out. "With another water supply, if we had the water supply available, I know Rutherford County would give anything in this world if they could tie into Center Hill Lake," he said. "We're less than a half a mile from their water lines. The City of Woodbury, their water supply source is dwindling, going away. We're positioning, that if we had a water supply for them, they could tie on. Alexandria, we've wanted to serve Alexandria for years. We could tie them on. It may be a long time down the road, but I could see Dowelltown and Liberty. Eventually, they may want to tie on. I think there is potential for growth," said Turney.

Local resident Billy Hale expressed concerns about rate increases.

Turney responded that while rate increases would be necessary, they would not be as high as some have speculated. "There's been a tremendous amount of misinformation given out here recently," he said. "No where along the line have we talked about going up fifty percent on our rates. We had to justify and show to the state the potential income to pay for these loans and grants. They don't just give you the money on your word. You have to verify it with documents. At our last board meeting, we projected a seven percent increase this year, next year, and the next year. Three years running. That seven percent will be enough to pay for the water treatment plant. Our minimum bill now is $17.50. It will go up to $19.00. It will then go up to $20.30 and then to $21.75 over the next three years. We also figured our average customer's bill is now about $44.00. That will go up to $47.75. The following year, it will go up to $51.08 and then the following year to $54.55. On the minimum bill, that's $4.25 over four years. That's not even one cell phone call. That's insignificant in the times that we're living in. We're not talking about major income hardships on anyone," said Turney.

Tracy Foutch, owner of Foutch Industries, asked if the DUD and the City of Smithville could share their water supply to keep rates down. "Is it possible to share the water, since you both have a limited number of customers, where both the city and county could still supply the same customers and dilute the water rates for both and feed the same water towers from both ends?"

" I don't know of anywhere in the world, where that is done. That doesn't seem like something that would work," said Turney.

Rural Development funds will be used to construct a new Raw Water Intake, Raw Water Transmission Line, Water Treatment Plant and distribution system improvements. The proposed plant will be constructed near Holmes Creek Road and will have a capacity of three million gallons per day. The intake will be on Center Hill Lake, the Transmission Line along Holmes Creek Road and distribution lines will be along Allen's Chapel, Game Ridge, Turner, South Tittsworth, and Big Rock Roads, and Wheeler Lane.

The DeKalb Utility District serves parts of a four county area, DeKalb, Cannon, Smith, and Wilson.

Members of the DUD board are Roger Turney, Chairman, from Auburntown; Joe Foutch, Jimmy Womack, and Hugh Washer all from DeKalb County, and Danny Bass from Smith County.

Meanwhile, the Calvert Street Group, a public relations firm hired by the City of Smithville, has launched a campaign trying to convince DUD customers through telephone calls, on-line petitions, and other means that a new water plant is a bad idea and that it will result in large increases in water rates. The group seeks to rally vocal public opposition to DUD's plans.

Donna Emmons Named DeKalb County Teacher of the Year

May 3, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Donna Emmons Named DeKalb County Teacher of the Year
Teachers of the Year from each school

An educator from DeKalb County High School was named "DeKalb County Teacher of the Year" Thursday night during the fifth annual Teacher of the Year banquet at the Elizabeth Chapel Baptist Church.

Donna Emmons received the honor and a check for $150 from Liberty State Bank, the sponsor of the banquet. The presentation was made by Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and Roy Nelson Pugh of Liberty State Bank.

Emmons was among five local educators who were recognized during the banquet for being chosen by peers as "Teacher of the Year" at their schools. The others were Beth Cantrell from Smithville Elementary School, Karen Pelham from DeKalb Middle School, Jane Watson from DeKalb West School, and Bethany Rigsby from Northside Elementary School.

Three of the educators, earlier this year, were selected "Teachers of the Year" locally and competed for regional honors in the Tennessee Teacher of the Year Program.

Michelle Burklow, Supervisor of Instruction for Pre-K through sixth grade, explained how the Teachers of the Year are selected. "Every year DeKalb County participates in the Tennessee Teacher of the Year program. Each school picks a Teacher of the Year from their school. That teacher is sent to the county level and we also participate in the regional by picking a teacher in Pre-K through 4th grade, a teacher in the 5th through 8th grade, and a 9th through 12th grade teacher. This year we sent nominations over (for regional competition) and we also sent the names of all five teachers of the year where a committee made up of several supervisors from the Upper Cumberland scored our county applicants based on the Rubric scoring guide," said Burklow. The overall Teacher of the Year from DeKalb County was chosen by this committee.

Emmons teaches English I, Journalism, and advises the student media program, Tiger Media. She has been a teacher in the freshman academy since its inception (now in its 6th year). Cantrell is a kindergarten teacher at Smithville Elementary School; Rigsby, a third grade teacher at Northside Elementary School; Pelham, an eighth grade teacher at DeKalb Middle School; and Watson is a fifth grade teacher at DeKalb West School.

Each principal introduced the Teacher of the Year at his or her school and remarked on how they deserved the honor.

The guest speaker for the banquet was Dr. John Carpenter, Pastor of the Smithville First United Methodist and Bright Hill United Methodist Churches.

(Top Photo: Roy N. Pugh of Liberty State Bank and Director of Schools Mark Willoughby with DeKalb County Teacher of the Year Donna Emmons of DCHS)

(Bottom Photo: Roy N. Pugh of Liberty State Bank (left) and Director of Schools Mark Willloughby (right) with Teachers of the Year: Karen Pelham, Beth Cantrell, Jane Watson, Donna Emmons, and Bethany Rigsby)

Beer Permit Returned to VFW Club

May 3, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Beer License Returned to VFW Club
DeKalb County Beer Board Members

The VFW Club will soon be serving beer again.

In a brief meeting at the courthouse Thursday night, the DeKalb County Beer Board gave the okay for Quartermaster Thomas Skelenka to pick up the permit at the County Clerk's Office.

County Attorney Hilton Conger said since the license had never been revoked, the beer board could simply give it back.

The VFW Club had to surrender its permit in March following an undercover investigation into allegations of illegal sales of liquor. Agents of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the club on the Sparta Highway March 15 seizing gambling machines, a raffle prize, and cash.

Operators of the VFW Club allegedly kept selling liquor, even after letting their liquor license expire.

During the April beer board meeting, Sheriff Patrick Ray said he was instructed by former beer board chairman Mack Harney to take the VFW's beer permit after operators of the club were issued citations for selling liquor without a license and for possession of gambling devices. Sheriff Ray said he retrieved the permit and surrendered it to the county clerk, pending a final decision by the beer board.

Last month, Skelenka told the beer board that the club could not survive financially without a beer permit. He said membership participation had dropped off and unless business picked up and new members could be recruited, the VFW, which has been in operation since 1946, could go bankrupt and have to close its doors.

Beer Board members last month voted to have county attorney Hilton Conger attend the May 3rd meeting to render a legal opinion on how to handle the situation with the VFW since the allegations had to do with liquor and gambling, something the beer board has no control over. The question beer board members wanted to know is whether the actions of the VFW constituted a violation of their beer permit and whether the beer board should impose further sanctions or civil penalties.

As a result of the investigation, bartender Brian Foye was cited for unlawful sale of alcohol and quartermaster Thomas Skelenka was issued citations for storage of alcohol for sale and possession of gambling devices. All are misdemeanor offenses.

Foye appeared in General Sessions Court on Thursday, April 12 and received a six month sentence but was placed on good behavior probation. He was fined fifty dollars and court costs.

Skelenka's case has been continued until May 17th

Meanwhile two other businesses were granted an on and off premises permit to sell beer, the Company Store on Dale Ridge Road near Cove Hollow and the Sharp Lodge on the Cookeville Highway near Silver Point. The Company Store already had an on premises permit, but with this approval, can now sell beer for consumption off the premises as well.

The board also accepted an application for an on and off premises permit from Pablo Gonzales, the new owner of the former Stop Market , LLC at 3794 Short Mountain Highway, Smithville. Final action will come at the next meeting on June 7 at 7:00 p.m. at the courthouse.

(Top Photo: Beer Board Chairman Edward Frazier (right) tells VFW Quartermaster Thomas Skelenka (left) that he can pick up the VFW Beer Permit at the County Clerk's Office)

Bottom Photo: Members of the DeKalb County Beer Board- LEFT TO RIGHT: Jim Stagi, Robert Rowe, Edward Frazier, Leonard Dickens, Johnny King, Bazel Dick Knowles, and Frank Thomas)

County Budget Committee Okays Funding for Fire Truck

May 3, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Budget Committee

The DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department may soon get a newer pumper for the Midway station.

The county budget committee met Tuesday night and approved a budget amendment appropriation of up to $180,000 from the capital projects fund for a fire truck. The recommendation will go to the county commission for final approval. Bids will soon be advertised for the truck.

As WJLE first reported last month, County Fire Chief Donny Green addressed the county commission during an all committees meeting April 19, renewing a request he made last summer with the county budget committee.

Chief Green, last year, asked that $180,000 be budgeted to purchase a fire pumper to replace the Midway engine which is a 1979 model. By doing this, Green said "we can take the 1975 model truck out of service at the Austin Bottom station and place the 1979 Midway truck at Austin Bottom. This station (Austin Bottom), he said has a low call volume and the 1979 truck should be adequate to "hold them over for a few more years". Green said the county is looking at major expenses if it continues to keep the 1975 truck at the Austin Bottom Station.

Green's funding request last summer was not included in the budget this year but he was told that the issue could be revisited later. Chief Green urged the county commission to follow a regular replacement schedule on fire department vehicles, or risk several of them having to be replaced at once.

St. Thomas Health, Capella Healthcare Finalize Partnership with DeKalb Community Hospital

May 1, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
St. Thomas Health, Capella Healthcare Finalize Partnership with DeKalb Community
New Cross and Star Hospital Logo signifies the new partnership

Capella Healthcare and Saint Thomas Health have finalized an innovative partnership resulting in the joint ownership of four Middle Tennessee Hospitals including DeKalb Community Hospital.

The local partnership announcement was made Tuesday during a brief program held at the hospital here.

The partnership is meant to improve healthcare throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, officials announced Tuesday. Based in Nashville, Saint Thomas Health includes five hospitals affiliated with Ascension Health Ministry, the largest Catholic system and the largest non-profit in the United States. Capella Healthcare, based in Franklin, operates 13 hospitals in seven states, including five in Tennessee.

(The following video features remarks by Wes Littrell, President and CEO of St. Thomas Affiliates and Chief Strategic Officer; Bill Little, Administrator of DeKalb Community Hospital; Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations for Capella Healthcare; Dan Slipkovich, Capella Healthcare CEO; Hospital Board Chairman Bill Robertson; and Board member Dr. Melvin Blevins)

Effective May 1, the partnership results in the joint ownership and operation of Capella's four Middle Tennessee hospitals and potentially additional healthcare facilities in a 60-county area of Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. Capella hospitals included in the joint venture are River Park Hospital in McMinnville, White County Community Hospital in Sparta, DeKalb Community Hospital in Smithville and Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, all in Tennessee. These hospitals will operate as part of the Saint Thomas Health Network, which will hold an equity interest. In addition, Saint Thomas Health will become the tertiary care partner for the hospitals within the new venture.

(The following video features Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations for Capella Healthcare)

"This is a landmark partnership for us and the communities we serve," said Mike Schatzlein, M.D. Saint Thomas Health president and chief executive officer. "Our partnership with Capella Healthcare and their Middle Tennessee hospitals will expand services in the communities we both serve. We look forward to working collaboratively to enhance support for the expansion of cardiac, neurosciences and other specialty services, as well as on strategies for the use of innovative technology and clinical integration."

Capella is the managing member and the majority partner in the new venture, and under the agreement, Capella will be the exclusive development partner for Saint Thomas Health across Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.

Capella Healthcare CEO Dan Slipkovich stated, "Partnering with Saint Thomas Health, which is nationally recognized for its quality of care and innovative strategy, positions our Middle Tennessee hospitals for greater success as we expand services. This venture also provides a significant opportunity for Capella and Saint Thomas Health to jointly partner with additional hospitals that recognize the value of these kinds of partnerships, especially as accountable care and health reform continue to evolve. Our two organizations share a commitment to providing the highest quality of care for the individuals and communities we serve, and look forward to leveraging our strengths to expand our services."

Mark Medley is President of Hospital Operations for Capella Healthcare: "Our focus moving forward is to collaborate in expanding and enhancing the care that's available in middle Tennessee at the four hospitals who are now part of this new partnership. For one facility, our expansion of services means a name change and a million dollar investment to renovate the facility. On Tuesday, May 1, White County Community Hospital becomes Highlands Medical Center and we launch a construction project that will renovate the interior and exterior of the facility, with a primary focus on all patient care areas. The new name and renovation project will enable the staff to better serve its growing patient base as well as better reflect the broadening population it is serving and anticipated growth in services."

Additional benefits of the partnership include:

•A new Standard of Quality and Service. Helping to lead the way will be Dr. Bill Thompson, Chief Quality Officer for Saint Thomas Health, who will play a key role.

•Enhanced Cardiac Care: A new investment in expanded cardiac service lines at all four hospitals. While River Park Hospital already has a nationally accredited Chest Pain Center, development of similar recognized centers at the other three hospitals will be a priority, as well as dedicated cardiologist coverage.

•A New System, working together. A re-branding of the four facilities to reflect the new partnership will launch on May 1 with special celebrations at each hospital.

About Capella Healthcare
Capella Healthcare partners with communities to build strong local healthcare systems that are known for quality patient care. Based in Franklin, Tenn., Capella owns and/or operates 13 general acute-care hospitals in seven states. With the philosophy that all healthcare is local, Capella collaborates with each hospital's medical staff, board and community leadership to take care to the next level. The company has access to significant leadership and financial resources, reinvesting in its family of hospitals to strengthen and expand services and facilities. For more information, visit www.CapellaHealthcare.com

About Saint Thomas Health
Saint Thomas Health is the market share leader in Middle Tennessee with 6,500 associates serving the region. Saint Thomas Health's regional health system consists of five hospitals – Baptist and Saint Thomas Hospitals and The Hospital for Spinal Surgery in Nashville, Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro and Hickman Community Hospital in Centerville – and a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures in diagnostics, cardiac services and ambulatory surgery as well as medical practices, clinic and rehabilitation facilities. Saint Thomas Health is a member of Ascension Health, a Catholic organization that is the largest not-for-profit health system in the United States. For more information, visit www.sths.com.

(Pictured above starting left to right: Bill Little, Administrator of DeKalb Community Hospital, Suzanne Williams, Hospital Board Vice Chairman, Brother Bill Robertson, Hospital Board Chairman, Tom Blankenship, VP Business Development Saint Thomas Healthcare, Dr. Melvin Blevins, Wes Littrell, CEO, Saint Thomas Affiliates and Chief Strategy Officer, Dan Slipkovich, Capella Healthcare CEO, Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations for Capella Healthcare, Mike Wiechart, Senior VP, COO Capella Healthcare)

New Voter Cards Sent to Those Affected by State Redistricting

May 1, 2012
Dennis Stanley

Nearly 3,000 local voters recently received new voter cards due to the recent state redistricting plan, which resulted in DeKalb County having two state house members.

Dennis Stanley, DeKalb County Administrator of Elections, said new cards were mailed to those whose State Representative District changed from District 40 to District 46. Those whose district remained the same were
not issued new voter cards.

"This was a very tedious process, especially inside the Smithville city limits and for roads that were split, but we feel like the process is basically finished," Stanley said. "Voters are encouraged to check their new cards carefully and if they feel a correction needs to be made, we have time before the August Election early voting period, which begins in
mid-July."

This is the second time in the past eight months some voters have received a new card. Last fall voters impacted by the county's redistricting plan received new cards. "The reason we had to do this twice is the fact the legislature did not pass the state redistricting plan until late January and we had county races on the March ballot," Stanley continued. "We had to know which county district a candidate and a voter were located before we could count petition signatures and have an official local ballot."

Just like the first time around, many of the voter cards came back to the election office as "undeliverable as addressed."

"We've had well over 200 cards come back to us because the voter moved or the mailing address changed and he/she did not inform us of the new address," Stanley said. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is for voters to keep the election office up to date on address changes. Certainly it benefits our office and saves wasted postage, but it also
makes the voting experience go a lot smoother for the voter when he or she shows up at the polling place if the correct address is on file."

Meanwhile, the next election will be the Smithville Municipal Election in which voters will choose a mayor and two aldermen, as well as decide if they want to allow "the legal sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption
on the premises" inside the corporate limits.

The last day to register to vote for that election is May 21 and the last day to request an absentee ballot is June 12. Early voting for the Smithville Election will be held from May 30 through June 14. The hours will be announced later.

County Property Tax Collections Up Over This Time Last Year

May 1, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Trustee Sean Driver

DeKalb County's 2011 property tax collection rate through April 30 was slightly better than the previous year according to Trustee Sean Driver.

"At this certain date, as far as collections on 2011 taxes we're at 93.75%, through April 30," said Driver. " We do have two more months before the budget year ends. I think this year the county budgeted 94.15% (anticipated collections) with a 5.85% delinquency rate (anticipated). We're close to that figure right now as far as meeting budget. I think that's great for that 2011 year based on the way the economy is right now," he said.

Trustee Driver said collections are up by about one percent, compared to the same time period last year. "Our base for collection is $7,437,000 and today (April 30) we're at $6,973,000. That comes to 93.75%. I looked back on the same day (last year) as far as collections and we were right at 92.75% so we're at about one percent better than 2010 taxes (collected).

If you did not pay your 2011 taxes by the February 29 deadline, they may be paid at the trustee's office now, but theres a penalty and interest of 4.5 percent. "We are confident in collecting some more taxes," said Driver. "I have mailed out delinquent notices as a courtesy. I've had a lot of good feedback on that. People have thanked us for mailing those out to let them know what that figure is (amount owed). I fixed those delinquent forms for April, May, and June. We put in all three amounts (owed) just in case you couldn't pay one month, we gave you the amount for the next month," said Driver.

Driver said he has turned over unpaid 2010 property taxes to the clerk and master's office. "We collected approximately 98% of 2010 taxes and turned over $113,000 still left to be collected," he said. Clerk and Master Deborah Malone said those 2010 taxes may be paid in her office along with a 22.2% interest plus court costs and attorneys fees.

Driver said he would like to offer a partial payment service for taxpayers in the future. "I sent out a census to all counties in Tennessee to find out how many are taking partial payments. This has been on my heart for two years now. I'm getting a lot of good feedback on the programs they (other counties) have set up in their offices. I am really looking into accepting partial payments in the Trustee's office. I think that would benefit that taxpayer, rather than them having to come up with the full payment during the tax season. Maybe they could spread that payment out a little bit and better manage their money," said Driver.

More people are also taking advantage of on-line payment of taxes, according to Driver. "Taxes may be mailed in, paid in person, or by debit or credit card either in the trustee's office or on-line at www.tennesseetrustee.com," said Driver. " We are still offering credit and debit card processing through the Business Information Systems for the property owners of DeKalb County. You may pay your property taxes using a VISA, MASTERCARD, or DISCOVER card. It can be handled on-line, in the Trustee's Office, or by phone."

Driver explained that a 2.75% convenience fee will be added to your tax bill, if you take advantage of on-line payment with a debit or credit card or 1.5% by e-check, but the county does not collect it (additional fee). "It worked out great this time," said Driver. "More and more people have found out about it and they're beginning to use it more. We're using a vendor (Business Information Systems) that sixty five of the ninety five trustees in the state use to record those on-line payments," said Driver.

Capitol Hill Weekly

May 1, 2012
State Senator Mae Beavers

The Tennessee General Assembly debated the state budget and major legislation this past week attacking prescription and synthetic drug abuse as the legislature prepares to close the 2012 legislative session. The legislation to curb drug abuse in Tennessee was among a list of key bills passed by the General Assembly this year.

Legislation to curb drug abuse lead list of major bills in 2012 session

Synthetic Drugs – Two key bills attacking the growing problem of synthetic or “designer” drug abuse are now on their way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after passage by State Senators this week. Senate Bill 3018, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers, takes another approach to attack synthetic drug abuse by defining it to capture any analogues, which are chemical compounds having a similar structure to the banned drug. This legislation creates a new Class D felony offense for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, dispense or sell a controlled substance analogue. The proposal elevates penalties upon a second or subsequent violation to a Class C felony. If the violation involves the delivery, dispensing or sale of a controlled substance analogue to a minor, the offender will be punished one classification higher than the punishment for delivering, dispensing or selling to an adult. The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor offense for a person knowingly to possess or casually exchange under a gram of a controlled substance analogue.

“We are very hopeful that the new definition will give clarity regarding what constitutes the illegal drug, while strengthening penalties will make certain that these substances are out of reach of Tennessee’s youth,” said Senator Beavers.

Likewise, Senate Bill 2280 makes it a Class E felony to possess, use or sell synthetic substances intended to imitate controlled substances.

Synthetic drug products are sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” but are comprised of a class of chemicals perceived as mimics of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine. The effects of synthetic drugs include impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violent episodes. Although the General Assembly has passed laws previously to ban the chemical compound used in synthetic drugs, unscrupulous chemists continue to modify molecules in the organic compound to avoid prosecution. Law enforcement officials have testified that by the time a new synthetic drug is discovered and banned, another altered form of the compound has taken its place.

Prescription Drug Abuse / Hospital Employees – The State Senate approved a House amendment and sent to the Governor legislation to authorize the Controlled Substance Database Committee to provide a hospital or mental health facility an employee’s prescribing information. Under current law, a hospital’s Quality Improvement Committee exists to evaluate the safety and quality of care provided to patients as well as qualifications and competency of healthcare providers in a confidential and privileged environment. Senate Bill 2407 would give hospitals more information about any potential for prescription abuse by their own employees.

Drug Test / Welfare Recipients – In similar action to prevent drug abuse, the Senate passed legislation which calls for drug testing for welfare applicants. The bill would apply to testing for illegal use of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and opiates such as morphine, with the possibility that other drugs could be added later by rules set forth under the bill. Senate Bill 2580 applies to adult recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

The drug testing plan includes a referral process for any applicant who tests positive to be referred to an appropriate treatment resource for drug abuse. If the applicant is otherwise eligible during the treatment period, he or she can receive TANF benefits during the treatment period for up to six months. If the applicant refuses treatment, he or she would be disqualified. After six months of disqualification, the applicant can reapply, but upon testing positive again he or she would become ineligible for one year.

Under the federal Welfare Reform Act passed in 1996, states were authorized to conduct drug testing for TANF recipients. The implementation would occur in phases over a two-year period under the bill. The Department of Human Services would develop appropriate screening techniques and processes to establish reasonable cause that an applicant for TANF is using a drug illegally. The applicant could then be required to undergo a urine-based drug test to be conducted by a drug testing agency. If the applicant tests positive, the drug test would have to be verified by a confirmation test before TANF benefits could be denied. No drug for which an applicant has a current valid prescription could be used as a basis for denial of benefits.

Issues in Brief

Womens' Health – Legislation was passed this week to create a safer medical climate for women after an abortion by requiring that physicians performing them must have hospital admitting privileges in the same or adjoining county of the locality in which it was conducted. The bill would help women who have complications following an abortion to receive better post-abortion care if they have an emergency and need to be hospitalized. This bill would ensure the physician responsible and knowledgeable of the woman’s specific condition and health history can attend her after she is admitted to the hospital.

Senate Bill 3323, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers, follows expert testimony that patients have been left to fend for themselves for emergency follow-up care following complications. Experts maintain that complications of any procedure are best managed by those providers with the most experience in the particular field.

Embryo / Fetal Homicide – A bill has been approved to broaden the offenses for assault and criminal homicide committed against pregnant women to include an embryo. The embryo would be in addition to a fetus which was included as a separate offense and passed in 2011. Senate Bill 3412, sponsored by Senator Beavers, ensures that perpetrators are punished, regardless of the viability of the victim.

Severe Child Abuse / Parents – State Senators voted in favor of Senate Bill 2741 that would allow a parent to file a petition with the court to terminate the parental rights of the other parent if he/she has been found by a criminal court to have committed severe abuse of a child. Currently, a child’s parent is not allowed to petition for termination of parental rights under any circumstances. This legislation would provide a new ground that in the case of commission of incest, aggravated sexual exploitation or severe or aggravated child sexual abuse, rape, or sexual battery that termination of parental rights can be initiated.

Domestic Violence / 911 – Legislation which strengthens penalties against those convicted of domestic violence was approved, sending the bill to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The “Repeat Domestic Violence Offender” bill creates a new offense for repeat domestic violence offenders and prescribes mandatory jail time and enhanced fines for those who have committed serious bodily injury. Senate Bill 2251 provides at least 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to $3,500 for those convicted of a second offense for domestic violence when bodily injury occurs. Upon a third or a subsequent conviction, the mandatory jail time would increase to 90 days and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. In counting prior convictions, the bill provides for a ten-year look back provision for domestic violence due to serious bodily injury similar to the one used in the state’s drunk driving law.

Also, legislation passed this week that would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense for an individual to interfere with or prevent another person from placing a telephone call to 911 to request emergency assistance. Senate Bill 2836 aims to help victims of domestic violence who try to receive emergency assistance but are blocked in those efforts. The measure applies to those who block a person from requesting assistance from law enforcement, medical facilities, or other agencies or entities that provide assistance to that individual. It also makes it a Class A misdemeanor to intentionally render unusable a telephone that would be used for the purposes of obtaining aid.

Storm Victims – Legislation which would help storm victims who received damage due to the March storms was approved by the State Senate on final consideration. Senate Bill 2701 allows for citizens who suffered damages between March 23, 2011, and May 12, 2012 and who qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance to apply for tax rebates on household appliances and furnishings of up to $3,200 per item and on building materials up to $500 per item. The rebates are capped at $2,500 per household.

Resolutions / Appellate Judges – The State Senate voted to approve on third and final reading a resolution that would allow Tennesseans to vote on whether or not they want to use a merit-based appointment system for selecting the state’s Supreme Court and intermediate appellate judges, followed by a retention vote of the people. Senate Joint Resolution 710 calls for appointment of state appellate judges in a manner similar to the federal model by allowing Tennessee’s Governor to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and state appellate courts, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly, for eight year terms. The resolution must be approved by a simple majority of the legislature this year after three readings and must receive a two-thirds majority of both chambers in the following General Assembly. Then it would go to a vote of the people in 2014.

Unemployment Insurance / Seasonal Workers – The Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012, Senate Bill 3658, strengthens the definition of employee misconduct to ensure that those who have been fired for cause no longer receive benefits. The act also enacts new work search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries. Those collecting unemployment benefits must provide detailed information regarding contact with at least three employers per week or must access services at a career center. The act also provides for random audits to ensure the integrity of beneficiaries’ job searches.

Similarly, Senators approved Senate Bill 3657, which establishes qualifications and criteria for determining benefit amounts paid to seasonal employees. The bill allows an employer to qualify as a “seasonal employer” for purposes of unemployment insurance benefits and establishes the benefits an employee of a seasonal employer will receive beginning in 2016.

Tennessee Game and Fish Commission – Legislation that keeps in place a citizen board to ensures the state’s natural habitat is protected through sound management practices has been approved by the General Assembly. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission is the board which sets policy for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). The Commission is currently in “wind down” after sunset legislation to continue it failed in the House Government Operations Committee. Without action by the legislature, the Commission will expire on July 1, leaving management of the state’s natural resources in limbo. Senate Bill 3590 establishes the Tennessee Game & Fish Commission to carry on the commission’s duties after it expires.

Oklahoma Fugitive from Justice Wanted for Embezzlement Arrested Here

April 30, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Rodney Scott Anderson
Sean William Cavanaugh
Royce Avon Foster
Billy Dewayne Elliott
Christopher Lloyd Stanford

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has picked up a fugitive from justice wanted in Oklahoma for embezzlement.

44 year old Rodney Scott Anderson of West Elm Street in Duncan City, Oklahoma is charged with being a fugitive from justice. His bond is $50,000 and he will be in court May 3. Sheriff Patrick Ray reports that on Friday, April 27 Anderson was a passenger of an automobile stopped by a deputy on Highway 70. A check through the National Crime Information Center revealed that Anderson is wanted in Jefferson County, Oklahoma for embezzlement.

Meanwhile, Sean William Cavanaugh of Oak Drive, Smithville is charged with public intoxication, assault, and criminal trespassing. His bond is $4,500 and he will be in court June 7. Sheriff Ray reports that on Monday, April 23, Cavanaugh came to the residence of a man and woman on Oak Drive. Cavanaugh tried to fight the man in the yard. The man and his wife asked Cavanaugh several times to leave the property but he refused. The man took Cavanaugh to the ground and held him there until law enforcement officers arrived. Cavanaugh had left his vehicle in the street, blocking the roadway to keep anyone from leaving. The arresting officer found Cavanaugh to be very intoxicated with a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person. He was very unsteady on his feet.

26 year old Michael Andrew Snyders of West Main Street, Smithville is charged with a second offense of driving on a revoked license and felony evading arrest. He was also issued citations for speeding, going 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone; reckless driving; and improper passing, driving on both sides of the roadway and passing cars on double yellow lines. His bond is $7,500 and he will be in court on May 3. Sheriff Ray said that on Monday, April 23 an officer tried to stop Snyders on Highway 70 for speeding. Snyders pulled over to the side of the road as if he were stopping, but he accelerated and turned down West Main Street in Liberty then to Highway 53 where the pursuit was terminated. A bystander told the officer that Snyders went down Green Hill Road in Liberty. The officer turned down Green Hill Road, met Snyders, and stopped him. A computer check revealed his license to be revoked for driving under the influence on March 10, 2006 in DeKalb County.

50 year old Earl Joseph Yost of Brooke Lane, Sparta is charged with public intoxication. His bond is $1,500 and he will be in court on May 10. Sheriff Ray reports that on Friday, April 27, Yost was walking in the roadway on Highway 70. A deputy stopped to make a welfare check of Yost and found him to be very unsteady on his feet. He had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person. Yost was arrested for his own safety.

41 year old Jerry Eugene Kirby of Buffalo Valley Road, Baxter is charged with public intoxication. His bond is $1,500 and he will be in court June 7. Sheriff Ray reports that on Friday, April 27, a deputy answered a domestic violence call at a business on Highway 70. Upon arrival, the officer found Kirby trying to get into a vehicle. He had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person and he was unsteady on his feet. His speech was also very slurred.

42 year old Royce Avon Foster of Jacobs Pillar Road is charged with theft of services. His bond is $3,500 and he will be in court on May 3. Sheriff Ray reports that on Friday, April 27, Foster allegedly obtained electricity services through Caney Fork Electric Cooperative in the amount of $505 without paying for it. He had allegedly illegally connected an electric service box to his home.

32 year old Jamie Edward Carroll of Gentry Avenue, Smithville is charged with three counts of a fourth offense of driving on a revoked license. Carroll, in court on Thursday, April 26, was released on an OR (On Recognizance) bond. Later that night, a DeKalb County Sheriff's Department Drug Detective stopped Carroll on Old Mill Hill Road and issued him a citation for a fourth offense of driving on a revoked license. Two days later, on Saturday, April 28 Carroll was stopped on College Street in Smithville for failure to maintain lane of travel. A computer check revealed this his license were revoked for driving on a revoked license on February 3, 2009. He has three other cases of driving on a revoked license pending against him in court. His bond is $10,000 and he will be in court on May 10.

28 year old Billy Dewayne Elliott of South College Street, Smithville is charged with domestic assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and simple possession of a schedule IV drug. His bond is $10,000 and he will be in court on June 21. Sheriff Ray said that on Saturday, April 28 Elliott allegedly assaulted a female at Redneck Beach on Holmes Creek Road by picking her up and slamming her to the ground while she was trying to break up a fight between Elliott and a family member. A man who had come to the defense of the woman suffered bruises and cuts after being hit in the face by Elliott, who was intoxicated. Elliot is also accused of driving recklessly on the beach during this time, ramming his vehicle into his brother's truck with someone inside, putting campers and their children in danger. After Elliott was placed under arrest, an officer conducted a pat down search and found in Elliot's front pocket a plastic bag containing four whole pills and ten half pills of xanax.

32 year old Christopher Lloyd Stanford of Toad Road, Dowelltown is charged with domestic assault. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court on May 17. Sheriff Ray said that on Sunday, April 29, Stanford allegedly assaulted a female by hitting her in the mouth with his fist, causing her mouth to bleed. He also allegedly grabbed her throat and choked her. Another female got a red mark on her arm trying to intervene.

Fire Destroys Home on Magness Road

April 30, 2012
by: 
Dwayne Page
Photo provided by David and Dama Agee

A fire Sunday afternoon destroyed a home at 379 Magness Road

Central dispatch received the call at 3:19 p.m.

County Fire Chief Donny Green said that firefighters found the blaze coming through the roof and heavy smoke from the structure upon their arrival. They were unable to save the home.

According to Chief Green, no one lived there and the cause of the fire is undetermined but is under investigation by the sheriff's department.

Members of the Blue Springs, Short Mountain Highway, and Keltonburg stations responded along with tanker truck #1, DeKalb EMS, deputies of the Sheriff's Department, and Constable Johnny King.

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