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Election Officials Support Legislation to Save Tax Dollars

March 10, 2011
Dennis Stanley and Walteen Parker

A couple of bills important to both voters and taxpayers cleared major hurdles in the Tennessee General Assembly this week.

A measure that would require all counties to use optical scan voting machines with paper ballots by November 2012, adopted by the legislature in 2008, has been a concern to virtually every county election commission and legislative body throughout the state due to the tremendous costs associated with the plan.

That issue was addressed Tuesday in the House State and Local Government Committee with the approval of a bill that would implement the plan only if the General Assembly includes a specific recurring appropriation in the
General Appropriations Act for the 2011-2012 fiscal year to cover all increased costs to the counties. That measure now goes to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The Senate version of the bill is still pending in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

"The legislation passed by the committee is a win-win for local property taxpayers," said DeKalb County Administrator of Elections Dennis Stanley. "If the legislature insists on counties using this type of voting system, state dollars would be used to pay for the recurring costs of printing the ballots and other expenses associated with the plan. Also, if the bill
passes, but money is not included in the state budget adopted by the General Assembly, the plan would not have to be implemented, and we would continue to use the voting machines we use now." Stanley was one of about
20 administrators in the state to attend the committee meeting to show support of the bill.

"Even if state or federal funds were used to purchase the actual machines, we estimate it would cost this county a minimum $60,000 during the 2012 calendar year to go to this type of voting system," said Election Commission Chairman Walteen Parker. "This cost would include the printing of ballots, the purchase of voting booths, educating election workers and the additional costs of transporting the machines to and from the voting precincts. The bill that cleared the committee this week would do one of two things, use state funds rather than local property tax
revenue to finance all the costs, or the plan would never be implemented. Either way, the local taxpayer wins."

"We want the public to know that, through the legislative process, we are working to save tax dollars while still providing voters with a safe, accurate voting system," Parker added.

A bill sponsored by State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver and State Senator Mae Beavers that would save small city governments money cleared the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

As passed, the bill would "eliminate the early voting period for a municipal election in a municipality having a population of 5,000 or less, if there is no opposition for any office in the election and the election is held on a date which does not coincide with the August or November general election, unless the municipality files a request with the county election commission for an early voting period to apply."

The bill now goes to the Senate Calendar Committee. The House version of the bill cleared the House State and Local Government Subcommittee this week and will be heard by the full committee next week, March 15. "We commend Senator Beavers and Rep. Weaver for looking out for the interest of taxpayers," Stanley said. "This bill would only apply if there is no opposition in a city election and only for cities that have a population of 5,000 or less."

Election Commission Issues Six Petitions So Far for Smithville Election

March 10, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Municipal Election may have several contenders this summer.

The DeKalb County Election Commission reports that the three incumbent aldermen up for re-election, Shawn Jacobs, Aaron Meeks, and W.J. (Dub) White have already picked up and returned their petitions to become qualified to run while three others, local attorney Gayla Hendrix and businessmen Cordell Walker and Danny Washer have picked up a petition but have not yet turned them back in.

The election commission is accepting qualifying petitions for the city election until noon on Thursday, March 17th. The election is Tuesday, June 21st. The term of each alderman position up for election is for two years, beginning July 1st Meanwhile, the last day to register to vote in the Smithville election is May 23rd.

DeKalb 911 Board Seeks Rate Increase

March 9, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Brad Mullinax

DeKalb County landline telephone subscribers have been paying the same rates for 911 services since 1994, but that may change this summer.

Facing ever increasing costs and declining revenues due to fewer landline telephones, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District (911 board of directors) is seeking an 85 cent per month increase for residential lines and a $1.00 increase per month for business lines. The proposed increase is expected to generate more than $88,000 per year.

In a meeting Tuesday evening at the courthouse, the local 911 board adopted a resolution seeking approval from the Tennessee Emergency Communications District (state 911 board) to increase the rate for residential lines from the current rate of 65 cents per line to $1.50 per line per month. The rate for business lines would go from $2.00 to $3.00 per month. The effective date of the proposed increase would be 60 days after the state 911 board gives its approval, should it do so.

Brad Mullinax, Director of the DeKalb County 911 Center, said the rate increase is needed "We have seen a decrease in the number of landlines over the years. That's not cell phones but the telephones you have in your house. It is and has been the basis of our funding since 1994 when 911 was first set up in DeKalb County. But over the last several years, people have been dropping their landlines and going exclusively with cell phones because its cheaper for them. The problem is it affects 911 services because that's where our funding comes from. For at least the past three years we've seen about a seven percent decrease in our funding from our landline 911 rates. Our revenue is going down but our costs keep going up."

Mullinax adds that while the local 911 operation does receive funds from cell phones, it has no control over those rates. " We do get money from cell phones and there's often times a misconception about that. You are paying a dollar surcharge on each cell phone you have. If you have three cell phones then you're paying a $3.00 911 surcharge. The problem is that the State of Tennessee keeps 75% of that money and we are allocated only 25% of that wireless money based on our population. Even though just about everybody has a cell phone, we don't get anywhere close to receiving the amount of money we need from cell phones to support us. From my understanding, it would take a change of state law to change the way the money is allocated or the fee that is charged on a cell phone."

As for budget cuts, Mullinax said 911 really can't cut anywhere without affecting services. " We staff two full time dispatchers all the time on each shift. We run twelve hour shifts. It would be a major safety concern to decrease that number to one dispatcher per shift. If someone gets sick or has to go to the restroom or something like that, we could have a major problem if we didn't have someone to answer the phones so we don't want to go below that two person minimum. We've got a few part timers that we use to fill in shifts but there's really no waste in our agency. We need two folks (dispatchers) to answer the calls all the time."

The local 911 board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, March 22nd at 6:00 p.m. in the basement courtroom of the courthouse to give the public a chance to comment or learn more about the proposal.

Members of the board are Chairman Ron Rogers, Billy Adcock , County Commissioners Wayne Cantrell, Marshall Ferrell, Elmer Ellis, Jr., and Jerry Scott, Smithville Alderman Steve White, and County Mayor Mike Foster.

The resolution states as follows:

"Whereas (state law) authorizes the State 911 Board to raise the landline 911 rates for the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District; and

Whereas, said statute has as its general purpose that any 911 district must meet financial and operational criteria established by the State 911 board to justify any increase in the landline 911 rates; and

Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires to increase its landline 911 rates from the rate of .65 cents for residential lines to $1.50 and the rate of $2.00 for Business landlines to $3.00 and

Whereas, the rate of increase proposed above would generate additional revenue in the amount of $88,160 per year. The annual increase in revenue is based upon the current number of landlines and a forecast of a 7-9% decrease in landlines for the next three years respectively; and

Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires the effective date for the rate increase to be 60 days after the State Emergency Communications Board approval; and

Whereas, the revenue generated by the landline 911 rates have historically increased in DeKalb County 1% to 2% annually, but during the 2003-2010 fiscal years landlines have declined by 19% and it is projected that landlines will continue to decrease at a level of 7-9% per year for the foreseeable future; and

Whereas, the appropriations made by DeKalb County, the City of Smithville, and the City of Alexandria to the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District have increased for the last three years, but due to budgetary constraints for the County and Cities they will not be able to increase funding to the level needed to fully fund operations of the District; and

Whereas, the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District desires to provide the ability to respond to any potential terrorist act by having the ability to receive, process, and disseminate information and to coordinate a unified response by all emergency agencies in DeKalb County, and

Whereas, by reason of the foregoing, it is the considered opinion of the Board of Directors of the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District that a resolution be passed requesting the State 911 Board to approve an increase in landline rates for DeKalb County.

Now therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Directors of the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District, in regular session duly assembled, a quorum being present, as follows:

1. That as of the date of this resolution that it is hereby requested that the State 911 Board increase the landline 911 rates from .65 cents to $1.50 for residential lines and to increase the rate of $2.00 to $3.00 for Business landlines. The effective date for said increase to be 60 days after State Emergency Communications Board approval.

2. The Board of Directors hereby recommend this increase for the purpose of improving the district's ability to provide enhanced 911 service to the citizens of DeKalb County.

3. All resolutions in conflict herewith be, and the same are hereby rescinded insofar, as such conflict exists and this resolution shall become effective upon its passage."

Rhody Attends NSBA Conference in Washington, DC.

March 9, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Kenny Rhody among those meeting with Congressional Leaders
Kenny Rhody meets with Congressman Diane Black

School board members from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. February 6th-8th for a meeting of the National School Boards Association.

Kenny Rhody, DeKalb County School Board member, attended as the Tennessee School Board Association's Federal Relations Network Upper Cumberland District Coordinator.

Members of the Tennessee FRN help school board members gain direct access to their members of Congress and federal officials to lobby for issues that are directly impacting their districts.

Rhody said it is an honor for him to have been chosen for this position. "Before the Fall TSBA meeting of the Upper Cumberland, the President of TSBA wanted me to submit my name to run for the Upper Cumberland Federal Resource Director position. I spoke of the position with our Director of Schools, Mark Willoughby and after a lengthy discussion, he urged me to apply as it could help DeKalb County by giving us a voice."

"At the TSBA Fall District Meeting of the Upper Cumberland, I was elected FRN Director of which I and other directors from across the state were schooled and brought up to speed on the laws and mandates, Race to the Top stats, and other issues that may affect the schools of Tennessee."

"The Tennessee delegation met with U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, U.S. Representatives Diane Black, Steve Cohen, Scott Desjarlais, Marsha Blackburn, and others to work hard for the education bills and funding issues that affect us locally. We are concerned about (1) the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), funding of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to federal levels of 40% of the extra costs to meet the requirements of IDEA instead of 17 1/2% as is the funding level for this year, 2010-11; (2) changing the underfunded or no funded mandates imposed on the schools; (3) providing temporary relief of sanctions from ESEA; (4) expanding support for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (STEM) and (5) funding the new Federal Child Nutrition Act."

Rhody said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke to the delegations about the nation's challenges and importance of our work. "Tennessee is improving in our nation from 45th place to number two behind Massachusetts, according to the latest reports. All the nation's eyes are on us in Tennessee and several million dollars are on the table for passage. We must work hard to bring those dollars home to Tennessee to work for our children. Now , according to Secretary Duncan, is the time to work hardest for them."

The NSBA is asking the Congress to make significant changes to the mandates and sanctions of the No Child Left Behind Act and restore maximum flexibility to local school boards in the delivery of Federal Education Programs; to increase Federal Funding for Title I grants and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help disadvantaged students and school districts close achievement gaps; and to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or provide temporary relief from sanctions. The ESEA was last reauthorized on January 8, 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act and serves as the major federal law supporting K-12 public education in America. The law, first enacted in 1965, established federal policy and authorized federal funding to assist states and local school districts to improve the academic performance of all students enrolled in public schools regardless of economic status, race, ethnicity, proficiency in English or disability. However, officials say NCLB is flawed in that it bases its assessment of school quality on a student's performance only on a single assessment and mandates a series of overbroad sanctions that have not proven to have significant impact on improving student of school performance compared to other options.

The U.S. Department of Education has released a "Blueprint for Reauthorization of ESEA" which provides a comprehensive set of initiatives by which the federal government intends to support local school districts to raise student performance and close the achievement gap for academically-struggling students in public schools. Additionally, the "Blueprint" would shift the emphasis from being more punitive to more supportive of local school districts with a renewed emphasis on students graduating from high school being college and or career-ready.

City to Accept Bids on Aerial Ladder Truck for Fire Department

March 8, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page

The Smithville Aldermen Monday night, at the request of Fire Chief Charlie Parker, voted to seek bids on the purchase of a new or demo model aerial ladder truck for the city fire department.

Last summer, the aldermen set aside $400,000 in capital outlay funds in this years budget to go toward the purchase of a used ladder truck, if a suitable one could be found. But during a workshop with the mayor and aldermen on Monday, February 28th, Chief Parker, proposed purchasing a new or demo model.

Parker said Monday night that the bid specs would be for a new truck but the city could settle for a demo model depending upon the age of the truck, as long as it meets or comes close to meeting the bid specs.

The cost of a new ladder truck is likely to be significantly more than the $400,000 the city has allocated and Mayor Taft Hendrixson expressed reservations about advertising for bids when the city does not have enough money set aside for a truck that may cost as much as $675,000. Any additional funding for a new truck would most likely have to come from the city's general fund surplus reserves.

Still, the aldermen felt like it was okay to take bids but they did not allocate any additional funding for a ladder truck at this time.

Chief Parker said if the city were to buy a new truck, it could use all or part of the $400,000 allocation as a down payment and finance the rest of the cost possibly over a three to five year period through a lease purchase arrangement.

After the vote to accept bids, Mayor Hendrixson cautioned the aldermen to be careful how they're spending the city's reserve funds. "In this year's budget, we've either spent or allocated, pushing half of our reserve funds. We have either spent, allocated, or obligated over three million dollars of our reserve funds. Gentlemen, one more year of this and we'll be out of money like most places around us. I know you are aware of this but it has been worrying me. It bothers me really bad."

In other business, the aldermen voted 4-0-1 to make a few amendments to the golf course lease, which was approved two weeks ago with Tony Poss.

At the February 21st meeting, the aldermen voted 5 to 0 to enter into a ten year lease agreement with Poss to operate the Smithville Municipal Golf and Swim Club. Poss will pay the city $100 per year in rent. After the first ten years, Poss will have an option to extend the term of the lease agreement for an additional ten years.

During a workshop Monday night, February 28th, Poss and his attorney Hilton Conger requested a few amendments to the lease.

Mayor Hendrixson, during Monday night's meeting, explained what those proposed changes would be. "Two or three things he wanted to change on it. He (Poss) wanted the lease to be for him and his wife. On the irrigation system, he (Poss) has agreed to pay the first $500 during the year (on repairs) and after that we (city) will pay the rest of the cost to keep it (irrigation system) in operation. We(city) will pay the first six months of utilities at the golf course."

Termination of the lease must be for cause with a ninety day written notice given.

All Aldermen voted for the changes to the lease except for Aaron Meeks who passed.

In other business, Alderman Steve White said he wanted "No alcoholic beverage" signs placed at all city parks including the golf course prohibiting open containers or the consumption of alcohol there. City Attorney Vester Parsley said he needed to check first to see if the city should adopt an ordinance.

Airport manager Wesley Nokes asked for the city's approval to accept a grant for the airport. " We've been awarded a grant for $55,000 for a new airport layout plan. An airport layout plan is a five year plan that outlines the development of the airport for the next five years as it's perceived by the state and by our contract engineering firm. The state and federal government wants you to keep this plan undated in order to continue to receive your grants and funding from the FAA and from the State of Tennessee Aeronautics. The grant is a 90/10 (matching grant). It's a $5,500 cost to the city. The rest will be paid by the state."

The aldermen voted to accept the grant.

Meanwhile, Mayor Hendrixson gave a report on the city's property tax collections. "On our 2010 property taxes, we have a total of $773,413 including public utility taxes and property taxes. As of last Friday, March 4th we have collected $728,117. This is 94% collections as of last Friday. I think that's wonderful."

The aldermen voted to purchase a used pick-up to replace an animal control truck which was damaged in a traffic accident last week. Mayor Hendrixson said the city has $5,000 in capital outlay funds which would be put toward this purchase although he does not want to spend all that on a truck. He said the city could probably get a good price on a used truck through state surplus.

The aldermen voted to hire Darrell Adkins and Joseph Parsley now that they have completed their sixty day probation period. Adkins was hired December 29th to work in the sanitation department at $9.65 per hour. His pay will increase to $11.03 per hour.

Parsley was hired on December 29th as a sanitation truck driver at $10.35 per hour. His pay will increase to $11.03 per hour.

Meanwhile, Mayor Hendrixson asked for and received permission from the aldermen to make the following transfers: Darrell Adkins from sanitation to sewer rehab; R.J. Bain from water maintenance to sewer rehab; and Riley Bullard from sanitation to water maintenance. Mayor Hendrixson said that some employees have retired and he wanted to make these transfers so that the city could make the best use of their services.

Alderman Steve White said he would like the city to look into adopting a policy to require that all new city employees hired in the public works department and other areas where they have to operate city vehicles to obtain a Commercial Drivers License, possibly before they become full time or get a pay raise. This would not apply to the city police or fire departments or city hall employees. No action was taken Monday night

Alderman Shawn Jacobs asked again if anyone had checked with a local bank, with whom the city does business, which had cleared checks with only one city official's signature. City Attorney Parsley said "we found out that the accounts were set up requiring one signature." Parsley added that the bank manager "gave us the signature cards which said only one signature required."

Parsley said the bank manager added that while the city could require two signatures, if a check comes through with only one signature, the bank may not catch it because these types of transactions are mostly done electronically. "Electronically, they're only looking at numbers. They only check to see if the numbers are right."

Mayor Hendrixson concluded "we're in the process of getting that changed (to require two signatures on checks). Checks will be printed that state "must have two authorized signatures".

Fire Destroys Lake Home in Austin Bottom Community

March 8, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Fire Destroys Home In Austin Bottom Community (Photo by John Matthews)
Fire Destroys Home In Austin Bottom Community (Photo by John Matthews)
Fire Destroys Vacant Trailer Home in Midway Community

A fire Monday destroyed a lake home on Askin Lane off Austin Bottom Road belonging to Martin McGill of Brentwood

Central dispatch received the call at 11:32 a.m.

Members of the Short Mountain Highway, Cookeville Highway, Austin Bottom, and Main Station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded along with mutual aid assistance from the Baxter and Putnam County Fire Departments.

Lieutenant Brad Mullinax said no one was at home when firefighters arrived but the owner, McGill showed up a short time later.

The two story structure, which also had a basement, became fully engulfed in flames by the time the fire was reported so firefighters could not save it, nor any of the home's contents. McGill told firefighters that the home had an appraised value of $850,000.

Firefighters worked to keep the blaze from spreading to four other structures in the area but radiating heat caused some minor damage to the porch of the nearest neighbor home only a few feet away.

The cause of the fire is undetermined but remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, another fire was reported at 3:48 p.m. Monday at a trailer home in the Midway community near Page Drive reportedly belonging to Johnny Cantrell. The fire destroyed the trailer. The cause is apparently undetermined. The trailer had reportedly been occupied recently by a relative of Cantrell but was apparently vacant at the time of the fire.

Members of the Midway, Blue Springs, and Keltonburg Stations of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded.

Sutton Charged with Theft of Farm Equipment

March 7, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Roger Matthew Sutton
Danny Ray Ponder

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has arrested a 42 year old man for the theft of farm equipment from a location on McMinnville Highway last Friday, March 4th

Sheriff Patrick Ray said Roger Matthew Sutton of Cookeville Highway is charged with theft of property. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court on March 17th.

According to Sheriff Ray, Sutton allegedly took two sets of cultivator arms, two sets of cultivators, two sets of cultivator bars, a three point hitch, a fertilizer distributor, ten hard land plows, and a gooseneck plate, all valued at over $1,000.

Meanwhile, 49 year old Danny Ray Ponder of Old Mill Hill Road, Dowelltown is charged with driving under the influence, possession of a schedule II drug (dilaudid) and a schedule IV controlled substance (xanax) for resale. His bond totals $52,500 and his court date is April 7th

Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, March 4th a deputy stopped to check out a vehicle which was parked in the roadway at a stop sign on Game Ridge Road. The motor was running and Ponder, who was passed out behind the steering wheel, still had his foot on the brake pedal. The deputy awoke Ponder and got him out of the vehicle. Ponder was unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred. He submitted to and performed poorly on field sobriety tasks and he had trouble staying awake. Ponder also submitted to a blood test.

During the DUI arrest of Ponder, the officer received consent to search his vehicle and found two bottles under the seat, one containing 83 xanax pills and another containing nine pills, believed to be dilaudid.

40 year old Royce Virgel Ashford, Jr. of Warren Road, Woodbury was recently issued a citation for driving on a suspended license and for failure to maintain his lane of travel. Ashford will appear in General Sessions Court on April 6th.

Sheriff Ray said that Ashford was operating a vehicle on Highway 56 north, heading south when he failed to maintain his lane of travel. After pulling over the automobile, the officer asked Ashford for his drivers license. Ashford produced it and a computer check revealed that the license was suspended for failure to satisfy a citation in Putnam County.

The Loop: A Legislative Update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

March 7, 2011
Terri Lynn Weaver

The following is a weekly legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver:

Health Freedom Act Headed to House Floor

The “Health Freedom Act” moved this week, clearing all necessary House committees, and is now scheduled for a vote on the House Floor. Many legislators have championed the proposal for two years now to counter the federal health care takeover passed by Congress. House Bill 0115 provides that every person within Tennessee is free to choose or decline any mode of health care services without penalty or punishment from the government. Additionally, it ensures that Tennessee officials will be prohibited from interfering with the health care insurance decisions of every Tennessean.

Believing that expanding government programs is rarely an effective solution to complex issues, some legislators have argued the federal government’s takeover of healthcare will only prove to balloon the cost of healthcare services to the states.

Last year, the legislation hit a snag in a House committee after thorough debate over several weeks. Other states have passed similar legislation, and many are already in the process of filing a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the healthcare overhaul. It has been an honor to sponsor this bill of Liberty called The Health Freedom Act!

House Passes Legislation Honoring Fallen Service Members

By a unanimous vote the House passed legislation Monday evening that properly honors Tennessee’s fallen service members.

House Bill 47 requires State flags to be flown at half-staff by State political subdivisions during a day of mourning as declared by the Governor. The bill covers all members of the armed services who courageously give their lives in the line of duty.

The bill sponsor stressed that the nation has been built on the sacrifice of brave service members, many of whom hail from Tennessee. The measure rightfully honors these special sailors, soldiers, and airmen who gave everything for freedom as Americans and Tennesseans.

Wrapping up…

Many of you have emailed or called my office over the last couple of weeks. I have had numerous discussions concerning the collective bargaining legislation that is being discussed here on the hill.

First and foremost, I am not against our teachers. As a legislator who has toured every one of my schools, I have seen first hand teachers going above and beyond the call in today’s classroom.

Since my last letter to the teachers in district 40 I have done some discovering on my own and found that perhaps collective bargaining made sense fifty years ago however this prototype is no longer working and in fact the process handicaps a school system’s ability to attract and keep the best and the brightest. It is proven that schools who do not have collective bargaining in their districts have higher paid teachers and higher scoring students. School systems are placed in adversarial, confrontational and unreasonable demands simply to avoid a lawsuit. This ultimately impacts the taxpayer, the very people whom the teachers, the school board members and the legislature work for. And the Tennessee taxpayers have shared their opinion as well. They expect positive results from the classroom.

The whole system needs an overhaul. Where we are today has taken years to get here. But I have to ask myself is it any wonder why we are ranked so low in education as a state?

I have done some research on the SCEA, the TEA and the NEA. These are the unions whose members, the teachers, invest their hard earned money to support. All citizens have the right to organize with groups to promote their special interests. But it is something entirely different to allow any one group a special status and access to the decision making process. Tennessee is a right to work state and does not authorize any other public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining, except the union representing educators. Collective bargaining distorts and corrupts democratic government.

Allow me to share what I found to be the 2010 NEA (national education association’s agenda at their annual conference.)
•Repeal of the right to work provision of federal labor law
•Tax supported single-payer health care plan for all residents of the U.S., it’s territories, and Puerto Rico
•Federal funding for illegal aliens in public education and student aid for illegal’s in colleges
•Federal programs to teach schoolchildren about sexual orientations
•Opposition to tuition tax credits, vouchers, and parental option or choice in education programs’
•Opposition to using draft registration as an eligibility criterion for financial aid
•Opposition to the testing of teachers as a criterion for job retention, promotion, tenure or salary increases
•Opposition to designating English as the official language of the united states
•Opposition to the use of voter id cards for voting in local, state, and national elections
•Opposition to any constitutional amendment limiting taxes or the federal budget.
Good grief, does this reflect the values of Tennesseans?

I truly believe our teachers want respect and recognition for what they do, and they deserve both. As your Legislator my concern is to promote student achievement and reward our teachers therefore making our state a better educated and better trained workforce for our children. This legislation is still in discussion. Let us all be mindful of one thing that is vital, and that is our children.

In closing, I had such a great week as all of the Farm Bureau teams from district 40 came to visit. Working on the Agriculture Committee this year my focus is to make Tennessee an even better place for our farmers to prosper and grow.

Harris says AT&T Looking to Profit Millions at Expense of Rural Telephone Cooperatives

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
John Harris, III

Local telecommunications providers including DTC Communications are protesting a proposal that would cut intrastate access fees collected from long-distance carriers that connect to their networks, a move they say could increase costs for rural customers.

Known as the "Uniform Access, Competition, and Consumer Fairness Act of 2011," the legislation is backed by a broad group of telecommunications providers including AT&T, which called the bill a "compromise" that would "modernize telecommunications policy and keep Tennessee moving forward."

Nashville attorney John Harris, III, who represents an association on behalf of seven rural Tennessee telephone cooperatives, including DTC, told WJLE Wednesday that if the proposed legislation is adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly, it could result in higher rates and or cuts in services offered by local telephone companies. "Their (phone cooperatives) concern is that this legislation that primarily AT&T is behind, because they are doing this in a number of other states, is going to be very bad for local government and for local communities that they serve for several reasons."

"The AT&T legislation really deals with a very narrow issue that has to do with how much AT&T, as a long distance carrier, has to pay a local phone cooperative, like DTC to connect an incoming long distance call to a DTC customer," said Harris. "For example, if a call originates out of Memphis, comes to Smithville and gets sent up some hollow somewhere to a rural customer, DTC wants to be paid a portion of the long distance charge because it owns the lines and has to pay for the electricity, the property taxes and it has to pay its employees to go out there and maintain the lines when a storm comes through. It has costs associated with its share of delivering that phone call. Presently, the rural phone cooperatives are charging anywhere from about four cents a minute to about ten cents a minute to connect that call statewide, depending upon the phone company. AT&T is charging its customers, in Memphis for example, as much as forty cents a minute to business customers to place those calls. AT&T is making plenty of profit on the calls," said Harris.

"What AT&T wants to do is to force the local phone cooperatives to accept approximately two cents a minute to place those calls across its network. AT&T's legislation would allow AT&T to benefit to the tune of about $16 million dollars a year in keeping those profits, those cost reductions, because the law that is proposed doesn't require AT&T to pass those cost savings on to its customers," according to Harris.

"From the perspective of the phone cooperatives, their response is that its actually costing them (cooperatives) anywhere from about five cents a minute to as much as nine cents a minute to provide that service and if the legislature is going to force them(cooperatives) to provide a service that costs nine cents a minute to provide and force them to only accept two cents a minute in compensation for that service then they (cooperatives) have to do something on their end to absorb that theft of services," said Harris. " Potentially, what they will have to do is either cut services, raise rates, or reduce the number of employees. It could mean as much as an eight dollar a month increase in cooperative customer basic monthly phone service rates to make up that loss which is really going into the pockets of AT&T," according to Harris.

"All the rural cooperatives are saying concerning this legislation is that we don't mind connecting and delivering the long distance calls. All we're (cooperatives) asking is that if it cost us, based on our calculations seven to nine cents a minute to do that (connect the calls) by the time you add in maintenance, employee salaries, and all the overhead, just pay us a reasonable amount of money to provide the service. AT&T doesn't want to do that," said Harris.

Harris added that the AT&T bill is getting a great deal of support from Republicans in the State House and Senate, except for a few including State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver who are standing with the rural telephone cooperatives in opposition to the legislation. "A real troubling thing about this is there is a perception, and I think it's a valid one, that a lot of the rural communities in Tennessee are part of the reason why the Republicans have now taken control of state government. We saw a shift in 2008 and 2010 in how rural communities are voting and that has given the Republicans the majority in the state house, state senate, and the Governor's office. But it's primarily the Republicans who are carrying AT&T's water at this point and turning on rural Tennessee with no apparent reason or concern for what it's going to do to rural Tennessee," said Harris. "We do have State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver and a lot of good Republicans and Democrats who are trying to look out for rural Tennessee. The problem is the Republican leadership like Mark Norris, who is out of Collierville near Memphis, doesn't have any rural coops in his area so he is not really concerned about rural Tennessee and he is the Senate sponsor of this bill," said Harris.

"AT&T is using it's power, it's size, and influence politically to take advantage of rural Tennessee communities and its critical that people in these rural communities contact their telephone coops and phone companies and ask what can we do to help fight this? Who do we need to call? Who do we need to email? How do we get the attention of Governor Bill Haslam and the State Senate and State House of Representatives to make sure that AT&T doesn't succeed in stealing phone services from rural cooperatives," Harris concluded.

In a prepared statement, DTC Officials have said " If AT&T and the telecom giants are successful, we estimate lost revenue to DTC will be $700,000 per year".

Smithville Police Department Crime News

March 4, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police are reporting three arrests in the latest city crime report.

Chief Randy Caplinger said that 53 year old Donna Faye Hewell of Hawkins Drive was arrested on Saturday, February 26th for possession of a schedule III controlled substance and for possession of drug paraphernalia. Officer Matt Farmer was dispatched to The Webb House Retirement Center in reference to a 911 hang up. Upon arrival he was advised that someone was in the smoke room who appeared to be intoxicated. Officer Farmer found Ms. Hewell in the smoke room and asked her to step outside. As they were walking outside, Ms. Hewell became unsteady on her feet and her speech was slurred. Ms. Hewell submitted to sobriety tasks but performed poorly. Officer Farmer asked her to empty her pockets and she pulled out a straw containing a powder residue and a schedule III drug. Bond for Hewell is $3,000 and her court date is March 17th.

31 year old Antonio Cruz of West Broad Street was arrested by Captain Steven Leffew on Saturday, February 26th for domestic assault. Captain Leffew was called to a residence on West Broad Street where Mr. Cruz was allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and threatening her with a knife. Bond for Cruz is $7,500.

31 year old Jeromie W Mashburn of Cookeville Highway was arrested by Captain Steven Leffew on Sunday, February 27th for criminal impersonation and theft. On Wednesday, February 23rd, Captain Leffew issued a citation to Samuel Murphy for theft at Save A Lot. On Sunday, February 27th, Murphy and his brother-in-law, Mashburn met Captain Leffew at the Smithville Police Department. Murphy reported that Mashburn had used his identification in regard to the theft at Save A Lot and that it was actually Mashburn who had taken the items from the store and not him. Bond for Mashburn is $5,000.

Meanwhile, anyone with information on any offense is asked to please contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the 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.

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