Local News Articles

Sheriff's Department Makes Six Arrests

September 30, 2013
Dwayne Page
John David Anderson
Todd Mitchell Eldridge
Mary Rachel Foster
Jose Juan Reyes
Stephen Jason Moore
April Evon Warren

Six persons have been arrested by the Sheriff's Department in recent days on separate charges ranging from theft to domestic assault, possession of contraband in jail, evading arrest, and public intoxication.

Sheriff Partrick Ray said that 25 year old John David Anderson of Quail Pointe Drive, Smithville is charged with theft of property over $500. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court October 17. According to Sheriff Ray said on or about Friday, September 20 the sheriff's office received a report of a theft of a lap top computer. After an investigation, Sheriff Ray said Anderson admitted to officers that he had taken the computer and traded it for some pills. Anderson was arrested and taken to the jail for booking.

31 year old Todd Mitchell Eldridge of Buffalo Valley Road, Smithville and 29 year old Mary Rachel Foster of Baxter are charged with domestic assault. Bond for each is $1,500. Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, September 24 a deputy responded to Wolf Creek Road to check out a physical domestic call. Upon arrival, the officer spoke with Eldridge, who was covered in blood and had a cut on his chin and face. Eldridge also had a strong odor of alcohol on his person. The deputy also spoke with Foster, who had a strong odor of alcohol on her person and a cut on her right ear. Foster said she and Eldridge were in her Chevy S-10 pickup truck when they got into an altercation. Foster claims Eldridge bit her right ear. Eldridge said Foster struck him in the face with some object. Foster admitted to hitting Eldridge in the face with a mirror. Though Foster was determined to be the primary aggressor, both Foster and Eldridge were arrested and brought to the jail for booking.

30 year old Jose Juan Reyes of Old Blue Springs Road, Smithville is charged with having contraband in a penal institution. His bond is $25,000 and he will be in court on October 3. Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, September 24 a correctional officer was called to the basement cell at the jail to break up a fight. After an investigation, a mop bucket handle (metal pipe) and two shanks type objects were found in Reyes' bunk.

38 year old Stephen Jason Moore of Cookeville Highway, Smithville is charged with evading arrest. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court on October 9. Moore is now being held without bond on a violation of probation warrant out of General Sessions Court. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, September 27 two deputies went to 4990 Cookeville Highway to serve the violation of probation warrant on Moore. As the deputies arrived, Moore ran into the woods. The officers caught up with him and placed him under arrest.

35 year old April Evon Warren of Highland Street, Smithville is charged with public intoxication. Her bond is $1,500 and she will be in court October 10. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, September 27, a deputy responded to Sligo Marina to check out a possible domestic. Upon arrival the officer spoke with man who said that he and his mother had gotten into an altercation because she was intoxicated. The officer made contact with Warren, who had a strong odor of alcohol on her person and was unsteady on her feet. Several witnesses in the area said Warren was running around the parking lot causing a disturbance. For the safety of Warren and others, Warren was arrested and brought to the jail for booking.

Dentist with Local Ties Killed in Lebanon Motorcycle Accident

September 30, 2013
Dwayne Page
Dr. Steve Taxton (photo courtesy of Lebanon Democrat)

A motorcycle accident in Lebanon Friday night claimed the life of a dentist with ties to DeKalb County.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol reports that 62 year old Dr. Steven Thaxton died after his 1994 Harley Davidson ran onto a shoulder and hit some gravel while going around a curve on Hickory Ridge Road. According to a published report in the Lebanon Democrat, troopers said Dr. Thaxton lost control of the motorcycle and ran off the right side of the road. Thaxton was traveling west at 4555 Hickory Ridge Road near the Bonnie Valley Drive intersection when the wreck happened just before 9:30 p.m. Thaxton was wearing a helmet.

Thaxton was a dentist in Lebanon for 35 years. He was an elder at First Presbyterian Church, president of the Lebanon Flying Club, an FAA-certified flight instructor and certified flight instructor of instruments. Both he and his son, Paul, were Eagle Scouts. He was also chairperson for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital bicycle rodeos and served on several other civic committees.

The family of Dr. Thaxton will be receiving friends at Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon on Monday from 4-8 p.m. The Memorial Service is 4 p.m. Tuesday at the First Presbyterian Church at 304 W. Main St. in Lebanon.

A graduate of DeKalb County High School, Dr. Thaxton is survived by his wife of 38 years, Brenda Thaxton. He is also survived by two children, Stefanie and Paul Thaxton. Biblings, Barry (Charlene) Thaxton, of Alexandria, Gay Cerney, of Portsmith Virginia and Walter Thaxton, of Lebanon.

Dr. Thaxton graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in 1975 with his doctorate in dental surgery. He served two years in the U.S. Army as a captain at Fort Polk, La. Dr. Thaxton was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for “his expertise and rare talent in child management.”

Steve was a member and master of the Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental Association, Tennessee Dental Association, Tennessee 4th District Dental Society, Officer of the Tennessee Academy of General Dentistry, the American Endodontic Society, International Dental Health Foundation, Implantology Groups, Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation, on the Tennessee Dental Board Committee on Sedation, Tennessee Dental ACE award recipient and completed his IV sedation residency at the University of Alabama Dental School.

Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon is in charge of arrangement.

Former UCDD Officials Appear in Federal Court

September 29, 2013
Dwayne Page

Former UCDD officials Wendy Askins and Larry Webb appeared in federal court Friday in Nashville to formally enter not guilty pleas to charges against them stemming from the Living the Dream investigation.

Askins is represented by Nashville attorney Peter Strianse while former U.S. Attorney Ed Yarbrough is Webb's lawyer.

DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster, a former UCDD board chairman, who is also under indictment in the case, appeared without an attorney. Foster is trying to hire former U.S. Attorney, Hal Hardin, to represent him.

Askins, Webb, and Foster surrendered to U.S. marshals Friday after being indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday.

Askins, the former UCDD Executive Director, and Webb, her assistant face several federal charges, including conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering.

Foster is charged with one count of making false statements.

Yarbrough told NewsChannel 5 that Webb plans to stand by his plea of not guilty to the charges against him. "I would have to say from seeing the indictment that it's going to require a good deal on our part," Yarbrough said. "Certainly Mr. Webb intends to stand by his plea of not guilty and, if necessary, will go to trial to show that he is not guilty of these offenses."

As for Askins, Strianse said he believes "the proof is going to show in this case that there is not a penny of any government money that went into Ms. Askins pocket."

While he did not enter a formal plea, Foster said he's shocked by this indictment and really does not believe that he has done anything wrong.

No word yet on when the cases might go to trial.

Alexandria Mayor Quits Only Three Days After Taking Office

September 27, 2013
Dwayne Page
Alexandria Mayor and Aldermen
Alexandria Mayor Jim York

Only three days after taking office and presiding over his first city council meeting, Alexandria Mayor Jim York announced his resignation Friday saying he does not have the respect or support of the aldermen.

York ran unopposed in the municipal election September 5 and received fifteen votes to become the town's new mayor, succeeding Ria Baker who had served as mayor for seven years. York was sworn in as mayor at the regular monthly city council meeting on Tuesday night, September 24.

Since his election, York claims that the aldermen have conspired to keep him from exercising his full authority as mayor. But some say that York tried to exercise too much control at city hall.

Tensions between the mayor and aldermen, at least in part, grew out of a dispute over who has the authority to sign checks. During Tuesday night's regular meeting, the council voted to give aldermen Bennett Armstrong and Tony Tarpley the authority to be a second check signer along with City recorder/Clerk Ashley Roth who is designated as the first signer. Roth has that authority until at least October 15 when she plans to end her employment with the city.

As mayor, York felt he should also have the authority to sign checks and apparently became upset with the board's decision not to include him. But while York didn't make much of an issue of it during the Tuesday night meeting, he apparently took matters into his own hands on Wednesday morning when he confronted Roth at city hall and relieved her of her check signing authority.

Alderman Tarpley, who was present and witnessed the incident, told WJLE that York acted unprofessionally . "I came into the office to see if there was anything I needed to help them with since I had a little spare time. I was talking with Ashley (Roth) when Jim (York) came in and in a very unprofessional manner I guess you would say, he chewed her rear end out. I don't know how else to put it. He said she was out of line in the (Tuesday night) meeting about (her input concerning) check signing and telling (York) every time he needed to have a motion. She was just trying to help him on the motions because he was new at this. I would be the same way. I'd be lost. She was trying to help him there but he got on her pretty heavy. I have been a supervisor in several different positions for several different companies and I never got on to one of my employees like that. Then when she asked him to tell her what she had done wrong, he got mad and stormed out of the building," said Alderman Tarpley.

In an effort to resolve differences, the aldermen met with York in a workshop Friday morning at city hall. During the discussions, York raised the check signing issue and other matters, complaining that the aldermen were conspiring to deny him his full powers as mayor, treating him as a figurehead. York argued that he should have taken office as mayor the day after the election as the city charter provides, but had to wait until the regular monthly meeting almost three weeks later. The aldermen explained that it has historically been the city's practice of swearing in newly elected officials at the first regular meeting after an election. As for who has authority to sign checks, the aldermen said city policy/charter leaves that to the discretion of the city council. At times, the discussion became personal with some alderman making certain insinuations against York. Later in the meeting, York, who was clearly frustrated, got up from his seat, pulled keys from his pocket, dropped them on the table in front of him, and left, saying he was resigning as he walked out the door.

After the meeting, the aldermen spoke with WJLE and denied York's assertions that they were conspiring against him.

Concerning the check signing matter, Alderman Addie Farley said she thought it best to have two aldermen available as a second check signer during the transitional period with a new mayoral administration. " It was my preference to have someone who was existing on the board to be check signers during the transitional period. Its permanent but at any meeting we could choose to reassign check signers. That was the basis for my decision. It had nothing to do with conspiracy. I am the financial advisor and with the (city) recorder being the first signature, it was my preference to have an alderman be a second signer," she said.

According to Alderman Farley, the primary purpose of the Friday workshop was to explain to York that the aldermen have the sole authority to designate who signs the checks. "We agreed to hold a communication workshop to explain the policies and procedures as it relates to the check signing. During the conversation on Wednesday, he (York) told her (Roth) she was no longer able to act in her full (city) recording duties and was no longer first signer on the checks. We spoke with the (city) attorney to verify that so long as she was in good standing with the city that she could remain with her full responsibilities. But because Jim (York) is her boss, she couldn't sign checks until there was an action (by the aldermen) to inform him that she could continue on signing checks until her resignation date. This workshop was to inform Jim of that and to explain why he could not be the check signer. It was because we had voted for someone else to be the check signers. He thought it was a power granted to him. This workshop was to clear up that disconnect," said Alderman Farley.

City officials admitted however that there have been occasions in the past when mayors have had the authority to sign checks. Former Mayor David Cripps, who attended the workshop, told the aldermen that while he was not taking sides on the issue, he did sign checks as mayor but that there was no city recorder at that time.

Alderman Farley said Mayor Ria Baker also had that authority toward the end of her term. " Mayor Ria was check signer for the very last few months because one of the check signers left. The mayor does have power granted to him or her if one of the existing check signers leaves. In the interim, the mayor becomes an automatic signer until the next meeting and then the board can either approve that position to remain or assign someone else. We allowed her (Mayor Baker) to stay on until the end (of her term) and that's why we were having to redo it now with the new board members and mayor coming on," she said.

After the meeting, WJLE contacted York at his business and he confirmed that he is resigning as mayor. "I will be leaving office soon. September 5 was the election and my charter reads that September 6 I should have been sworn in and given the duties of Mayor. I was not. Basically my hands were tied at that moment. It was September 24 at the first city council meeting that I was sworn in," he continued.

But York said he doesn't want the job if he can't exercise all the powers he feels he should have as mayor. "I am not going to have full control of city hall as per the city council and I am not going to continue in the office If I do not have full reign and full power," he said.

York believes he should have been granted the authority to sign checks and that issue weighed heavily in his decision to resign. " That (issue) was pretty large because that is one of the primary concerns of a mayor is how the money is disbursed. With highway paving projects and the water expansion project coming up, a lot of money is going to go through our accounts. I would have liked to have had a first hand look as those checks were signed and also have had my signature reflected on it. If not, I don't need to be in that office," he said.

As for trying to relieve City Recorder Roth of her check signing duties, York claims he was within his rights and that the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) supported his action. "I did speak with MTAS about my position on this matter and in my investigation, MTAS told me that once my recorder put in her resignation, I had every right and could have let her go immediately but I did not. I did say (to MTAS) that the recorder (her name) does appear on the check signing card and the mayor (his name) does not. MTAS said they did not feel comfortable and it was not a good business practice for that to continue. If she was leaving her job, she should not appear on checks and that was why I asked her not to (continue signing checks) because she was leaving and MTAS agreed that it should not happen any longer," said York.

Rather than stay on as mayor and try to improve relations with the city board, York said he prefers to step aside now and concentrate on his business obligations. " I don't feel I have their respect or support. It's not worth it. I'm a business owner and I need to focus on my business and not be in the middle of things that are so dramatic at this point," concluded York.

Prior to being elected mayor, York had served for a time as alderman, filling in for others who couldn't complete their terms.

(TOP PHOTO LEFT TO RIGHT: Aldermen Bennett Armstrong, Pat Jackson, Addie Farley, Mayor Jim York, and Alderman Tony Tarpley)

Mitchell Rowland Honored for 38 Years of Service With US Postal Service

September 27, 2013
Dwayne Page
Mitchell Rowland, Sharon George, Charles Robinson
Mitchell Rowland poses with certificates & mementoes

Friends and family of Mitchell Rowland turned out for a reception in his honor Friday afternoon at the Liberty Post Office where he has retired after 38 years with the US Postal Service.

Rowland began his career with the Postal Service as a substitute rural mail carrier at the Liberty Post Office in March 1975. At that time Hoyte Cook was the Post Master. Gordon Jennings ran Route 1 and Truitt Robinson ran Route 2. Rowland was Jennings' substitute.

In April 1982, Robinson transferred to the Watertown Post Office and Rowland took over Route 2 full time. At that time the route was considered a 34 hour per six day a week route, and was approximately 90 miles.

In July 2013, Rowland's route became a 42 hour per six day week route and was approximately 98 miles.

Rowland's substitute was Resha Self. Sharon George worked in the post office. Charlie Robinson ran Route 1 with Jack Campbell being his substitute. There have been approximately five Post Masters while Rowland has been employed at the Liberty Post Office. George is now the Officer in Charge. Rowland always delivered his own mail as well as his sisters' Genrose and Terry Bess.

Self took over Rowland's route when he officially retired on July 31, 2013.

Alexandria Based Norvell LLC Breaks Ground On Impressive New Facility

September 27, 2013
Dwayne Page
Norvell LLC Breaks Ground On Impressive New Facility

A happy collection of owners, founders, staff and community leaders cheered on bulldozers Wednesday afternoon, September 11 at the ground breaking ceremony for a brand new 15,000 square foot facility in Alexandria, for the ever expanding sunless tanning leader Norvell.

Donning hard hats and holding gold shovels for the event, was company President Rick Norvell, Vice President Greg Norvell, their mother Joy Norvell Martin who founded Norvell more than 30 years ago, John Bradshaw of First Freedom Bank, State Senator Mae Beavers, Alexandria Mayor Ria Baker, DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster, Tennessee EDC member Cody Huddelston, Jeff McMillian from the DeKalb County Registrar of Deeds, Chamber Director Suzanne Williams and many other distinguished guests.

The new location will offer increased warehouse space with room for over 1000 more palettes, additional lab capacity for Norvell’s growing manufacturing/development, a new product filling area, a dynamic soundstage with audio/visual, a classroom for on-site trainings for Norvell University (the division of the brand which has trained thousands of industry techs nationwide), a new employee break room and additional offices for the graphic arts department.

“This groundbreaking is a meaningful milestone for Norvell as a company,” explained Rick Norvell, “but it also signifies something greater -- the promise of future jobs for our community and economic strength for our city and state. We are so pleased to celebrate this event with three generations of the Norvell family, and our employees who are our extended family.”



For three decades, the family-owned, Tennessee-based Norvell has set the standard for professional advanced sunless tanning color technology, products and equipment, and provided the vision that has driven and defined an entire industry. Top salons and spas across the country entrust their sunless business to this U.S.A.-born and bred brand, knowing their clients will walk down the aisle, stroll the red carpet, or hit the dance floor with a flawless “just off the beach” glow, every time.

That beautiful, healthy Norvell look has always been instantly recognizable. Today, so is the name itself. Beauty shoppers can now find Norvell retail products in ULTA stores across the country as well as tanning salons, allowing them to get a quality UV-free tan at home. The products are exclusively formulated for do-it-yourself sunless success, and feature the same premium ingredients as Norvell’s professional offerings.

Among countless other Norvell professional innovations are the introduction of a sophisticated spray system that offers faster, more refined tanning than the traditional airbrush, as well as a spray tan that develops much faster, allowing the client to shower just one hour after application. The company also offers cutting edge training that makes salon technicians the best in class in their respective markets.

Norvell is a “true manufacturer.” All of its professional and consumer products are conceived, researched, developed, produced, filled and shipped at the company’s 60,000 square foot facility in Alexandria, Tennessee.

U.S. Attorney's Office Comments on Indictments of UCDD Officials

September 26, 2013
Dwayne Page
David Rivera, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The United States Attorney General's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has issued a statement on Wednesday's indictments of former UCDD Board Chairman Mike Foster, former UCDD Executive Director Wendy Askins, and former UCDD Deputy Director Larry Webb.

According to the statement, 53 year old Wendy Askins of Cookeville, 64 year old Larry Webb of Smithville and 66 year old Mike Foster of Smithville were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury and charged with various federal offenses related to theft and fraud from the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD), announced David Rivera, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. UCDD is a quasi-governmental economic development resource for the fourteen counties in the Upper Cumberland Region that was established by the Tennessee General Assembly and was funded in part by state and federal grants.


ucdd-indictments.pdf (1 MB)

Askins and Webb were charged with conspiring to commit various federal offenses as well as six counts of theft and conversion of government property in excess of $1,000; four counts of bank fraud; three counts of money laundering; and a single count of concealing a material fact within the jurisdiction of the United States. Additionally, Askins and Foster were charged with a single count of making a false statement regarding a matter within the jurisdiction of the United States.

“Once again, we will reiterate that those who seek to profit by defrauding the taxpaying public and misusing government funds will be held accountable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David Rivera. “The personal gain and lavish lifestyles gained by fraudulent schemes will eventually come to an end. Public corruption remains a top priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partner law enforcement agencies.”

According to the indictment, Askins, who was the Executive Director of the UCDD, and Webb, who was the Deputy Director of UCDD, perpetrated a scheme from February 2010 through February 2012 to convert over $670,000 of government funds intended for UCDD and its related agencies to the use of the “Living the Dream” property, which was owned by Askins and Webb. Askins and Webb incorporated Living the Dream in their own names and caused money to be transferred from UCDD to Living the Dream without seeking the approval of the UCDD Board of Directors. Askins and Webb also obtained bank loans and lines of credit in excess of $1,000,000 to renovate the Living the Dream property by using UCDD bank accounts and property as collateral for the loans.

In order to cover up the illegal activity, Askins and Webb directed other individuals to alter the official minutes of the UCDD board meeting that occurred on February 16, 2010, and to delete audio recordings of all UCDD meetings. Askins prepared a false statement, which was read by Foster, who at the time was the chairman of the UCDD Executive Committee and Board of Directors, at a UCDD board meeting on January 19, 2012. Foster knew the statement was false when he read it.

“This indictment should send a signal to those who would seek to take advantage of a position of trust for personal gain,“ said A. Todd McCall, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners place a priority on investigating these crimes, and will continue to work to ensure that those who violate the law are held accountable.”

Christopher A. Henry, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Nashville Field Office, said, “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who defraud state and federal grant programs and sending a clear message that these violations are serious crimes against the American public. Our special agents provide the financial expertise in following the money.”

“This is a prime example of a combined investigative effort, successfully exposing grant fraud and protecting taxpayer monies,” said Todd Zinser, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Commerce- OIG.

If convicted, Askins faces up to two hundred and twenty-five years in prison and a $6,750,000 fine as well as forfeiture of property derived from or used in the bank fraud and money laundering offenses charged. Webb faces up to two hundred and twenty years in prison and a $6,500,000 fine, as well as forfeiture of property derived from or used in the bank fraud and money laundering offenses charged, and Foster faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General, the IRS- Criminal Investigations and the FBI, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development- Office of Inspector General. The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Darryl Stewart and Scarlett Singleton.

An indictment is merely an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Wendy Askins, Mike Foster, Larry Webb Indicted by Federal Grand Jury

September 26, 2013
Dwayne Page
Wendy Askins
Larry Webb
Mike Foster

A federal grand jury has indicted three former officials from the Upper Cumberland Development District, including DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster in an alleged conspiracy into the misappropriation of federal funds stemming from the Living the Dream project.


ucdd-indictments.pdf (679.76 KB)

Former UCDD executive director Wendy Askins and former assistant director Larry Webb of DeKalb County are charged with conspiracy, embezzlement, bank fraud, unlawful monetary transactions and making false statements.
Foster, who formerly served as chair of the UCDD board, was also indicted along with Askins for making false statements to the agency's board of directors.

According to the sixteen count indictment, Askins and Webb and others "conspired and perpetrated a scheme to convert over $670,000 of government funds intended for the Upper Cumberland Development District, the Cumberland Regional Development District, and Cumberland Area Investment Corporation to the use of Living the Dream, which was owned by Askins and Webb," according to the indictment.

Askins was the Executive Director of UCDD and was responsible for the day to day operations and management of UCDD, CRDC, and CAIC. Webb was the Deputy Director of UCDD and was responsible for assisting Askins.

Living the Dream consisted of three Tennessee Corporations, Living the Dream/Independent Living for Seniors, Inc (a non-profit), Living the Dream/Retirement Living for Seniors, Inc. (a non-profit), and Living the Dream/Independent Living for Seniors, Inc. (A for-profit), which were incorporated either solely by Webb or by Webb and Askins. In general, the stated purpose of Living the Dream was to provide affordable housing. In this regard, Living the Dream (LTD) was empowered to acquire, rehabilitate, own, operate, maintain, manage, lease, sell, mortgage, and otherwise dispose of such housing facilities, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that "Askins and Webb incorporated LTD as either a non-profit or profit entity and caused funds from UCDD and CRDC to be transferred to LTD, without seeking the approval of the UCDD or CRDC Board of Directors."

"Askins and Webb caused LTD to purchase property using funds that were transferred from UCDD's bank account without the prior approval of the UCDD, CRDC, or LTD Board of Directors and sought and obtained bank loans and lines of credit to renovate tghe property by using property and bank accounts of UCDD as collateral for the loans. The loan proceeds were then transferred to LTD without prior approval of the CRDC Board of Directors," according to the indictment.

"In order to hide, conceal, and cover up the illegal activity, Askins and Webb directed other individuals to alter official minutes of UCDD meetings and to delete audio recordings of meetings. Askins then lied about the alterations and deletions. Askins advised Webb and another that they should get their stories straight before a UCDD Board meeting and prepared a false statement which was read to the meeting by Mike Foster," as alleged in the indictment.

"On January 19,2012, during a specially called UCDD Executive Committee Board meeting, Foster read a prepared statement regarding the LTD project and the Board's approval of the transfer of $300,000 from UCDD to CRDC on February 16, 2010. Foster recommended the retroactive approval of the altered February 16, 2010 minutes and the Executive Committee voted to retroactively approve the minutes," according to the indictment.

The indictment against Foster alleges that "On or about January 19, 2012 Askins and Foster aided and abetted by each other, did willfully and knowingly make and cause to be made materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations to wit: Askins and Foster stated and represented to the UCDD Executive Committee of the Board of Directors that the UCDD Executive Committee had discussed and intended to approve the transfer of UCDD funds to CRDC for the purpose of the LTD project at the February 16, 2010 UCDD Executive Committee Board meeting. Whereas, in truth and in fact, Askins and Foster then and there knew well and believed, the UCDD Executive Committee had not discussed nor intended to approve the transfer of UCDD money to CRDC for the LTD project on February 16, 2010."

Askins and Webb were placed on administrative leave in February 2012, pending an internal investigation.

Two months later, as that internal investigation was being finalized, both submitted their resignations.

If convicted, Askins faces up to 225 years in federal prison and $6.75 million in fines on all charges. Webb faces 220 years and $6.5 million in fines.

Foster faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the one count.
ucdd-indictments.pdf (1 MB)

DeKalb Household Hazardous Waste Collection Set for Saturday

September 26, 2013
Dwayne Page
Mike Foster

The State of Tennessee has set the Hazardous Waste Collection Day for Saturday, September 28 for DeKalb and surrounding counties. This collection will take place at the lot between DeKalb Farmers Coop and the Smithville Church of God on West Broad Street from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Typical items for disposal include cleaning fluids, pesticides, mercury thermometers and thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, lithium and button batteries, aerosols, adhesives, medications, brake fluid, swimming pool chemicals and paint thinner. Business waste from conditionally exempt small quantity generators is now acceptable for a fee and by appointment. To request a price quote and schedule an appointment, please contact 615-643-3180. Items not accepted include ammunition, explosives, alkaline batteries, paint, electronics and medical waste.

"We'll take computers, computer components, televisions, batteries, herbicides, insecticides and those kinds of things. If you have some medicines you want to get rid of, bring those and we'll properly dispose of them," said County Mayor Mike Foster.

"We're going to have some people there from the landfill too so if you have a question about anything that you think might not be hazardous household waste, bring it anyway. We'll have a can there," he said.

When transporting materials to the site, it is important to place containers in sturdy boxes lined with newspaper to prevent spills and cross-contamination in the trunk of a car or back of a truck. Be sure to keep materials away from children and pets. Materials should be kept in the original container whenever possible. If not, place the waste in a plastic jug with a secure lid and label its contents.

Waste collected at the Hazardous Waste Day is disposed of according to State of Tennessee recommendations. Lead-acid batteries and mercury are recycled. Paints, kerosene, contaminated motor oil, gasoline, solvents and other flammable or combustible liquids are blended to make a fuel for industrial kilns and boilers. Liquids such as antifreeze and cleaners are treated to make them less hazardous. Most pesticides, herbicides, aerosol cans, cleaners, waxes and flammable materials (not suitable for fuel use) are burned in special high temperature incinerators equipped with monitoring instruments and air pollution control devices. In the rare case that materials collected are not suitable for other disposal methods, they will be placed in a secure chemical landfill. This is also used for residues produced by other treatment methods.

“Disposing of hazardous waste by burning, dumping onto the ground or down the sink, or putting in the trash can or directly into the landfill is unacceptable because those methods can cause irreversible environmental damage to the air and groundwater,” Foster said.

Willoughby Says State Education Commissioner "Out of Touch"

September 25, 2013
Dwayne Page
Mark Willoughby
Kevin Huffman

Saying State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is out of touch with educators, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby has joined dozens of other Superintendents across the state in signing a petition that has been sent to Governor Bill Haslam.

The petition originated with Dan Lawson, director of the Tullahoma City Schools but Willoughby wholeheartedly supports it.

The petition alleges that Huffman's office "has no interest in a dialogue" with local officials and the superintendents' efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level.

In a recent indepth interview, Director Willoughy and members of his central office staff went into more detail with WJLE about issues of concern not completely covered in the letter to the governor.

"We would like for the Commissioner of Education to have a dialogue with the people in the trenches. The people who are doing the work. We would like for him to listen to us and take in what we're saying and just not give a canned speech back to us. That's what we feel is happening," Willoughby said. "When we do have an opportunity to tell him our concerns, which in my opinion are very few times, he says he listens but in my opinion it goes in one ear and out the other. The majority of the people in the field of education have been in it for years and years and have a lot to offer and a lot of experience. They should be heard," he said.

According to Director Willoughby, educators are concerned that the commissioner is trying to implement too many changes too quickly, not giving local school systems time to adjust. In some cases, educators are outright opposed to changes being proposed. "What the letter (petition) is basically saying is that we would like for the Commissioner to slow down on everything he is trying to implement. "Teacher evaluations, curriculum and content, and test changes. All of this is happening at once. Teachers and kids can't keep up," he said.

"When the teacher evaluation system started it created a hardship especially for school systems like ours that didn't have assistant principals (to help with the evaluations). " I don't think our Commissioner realized there were schools in Tennessee that did not have assistant principals. During the training process for the evaluation, administrators went to the training. Teachers saw a 45 minute video and then after the next couple of weeks, administrators were in their classrooms evaluating them (teachers). I don't think that's a proper way to implement something. It was basically shoved down everybody's throat. If he (Commissioner) would come and be in the schools and actually see what our children and teachers are doing in the classroom, maybe he would appreciate that more," Willoughby said.

"Our goal as administrators is to help teachers become the best they can be," said Director Willoughby. "We have some teachers who are fantastic when they start out teaching and they do wonderful. Others improve with time. This administration seems to think when you start you had better be close to on top," he said. But instead of being attentive to the needs of educators, state officials have created a climate of uncertainty for many, tying teacher licenses to student test data, according to Gina Arnold, Special Education Supervisor. " We were trained with a new teacher evaluation model, which was a national training model. But Tennessee redesigned it and tweaked it to be a way to link how a teacher is doing with punishment repercussions for not scoring a certain score or doing a certain thing. No other state has used it in this way. Tennessee now uses it as a punishment," said Arnold.

Under the proposed changes to teacher licensure, which will be implemented July 1, 2015, the three most recent years of performance data will be reviewed at the time for professional license renewal. In order to renew a professional license, an educator must have earned a 2 or better on the overall evaluation and individual growth score (if applicable) for at least two of the last three years. If the teacher has not met performance expectations, the professional license will be extended for one year under review status. If the teacher has not met performance expectations through the TEAM evaluation model at the end of the review status period, the license may not be renewed.

This type of evaluation isn't fair to anyone, according to Willoughby but especially to special education teachers. "When you're asking them (special education students) to learn and grow at the same rate as others and you're going to withhold their (teachers) license (if they don't), it doesn't seem like it's right to me. In certain cases, you (teachers) would be able to appeal that or go back to college. But, for example, if a teacher in Metro Nashville lost their license because of test scores, they could not come to another county and apply to teach because they wouldn't have a license," said Director Willoughby.

"In our training they said for this (evaluation) to be valuable for teachers, it has to be used in a way for them to be able to strengthen an area that they may be weak in and not feel like they're not going to be rehired because of it or lose their license. In no other profession can you lose your license in this manner. You shouldn't lose a license based on a score on one test . When you're measuring overall quality, that is just one piece," added Arnold.

Teachers' groups have also criticized Commissioner Huffman for calling for changes to the minimum teacher salary schedule for new teachers, reducing steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminating incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master's training.

" He (Commissioner) would like a new teacher to start at a certain salary and not get an increase until their sixth year and the next increase would not come until their eleventh year which would be top out. In my opinion that would be the wrong thing to do.," said Willoughby. "Young teachers who have just graduated from school and have debt. You (commissioner ) are not going to give them a pay raise for six years and you're expecting us to recruit more people into the teaching field? This Commissioner of Education is out of touch," said Willoughby.

"Under the current pay scale there are gradual step increases over twenty one years of service. The proposal is to bring it down to four levels," said Arnold. "Right now if you have a bachelor's degree, that's one scale. If you have a Master's degree, that's another. If you have an EDS, an educational specialist or doctorate, there is a scale for that. Currently, the level of pay increases each time you improve your degree," she said. "Under the proposed new scale, someone with a Master's degree would get the same increase as someone who has a Doctorate degree. People are not going to advance their degrees (under proposed new pay plan). They're not going to go back and get additional training because it will not benefit them financially to do so," said Arnold.

Director Willoughby said he and other educators also don't like the idea as some have proposed of using public tax dollars to help fund private and charter schools through vouchers and other means. " I don't have anything against private schools. If anyone wants their child to go to a private school, that's fine but I do not think it is proper to take public money and fund private schools or charter schools. That takes money away from our public schools. Charter schools are not public schools and the states does not hold private and charter schools to the same accountability standards as public schools," he said.

Willoughby also takes issue with whether Commissioner Huffman should have the authority to override decisions of local school boards who don't want charter schools in their districts. "In Metro-Davidson County last year, a charter school had requested to be approved through the board of education. The board turned it down. When the board turned that down, the Commissioner of Education withdrew $3.2 million from Metro-Davidson County. That doesn't seem to be the right thing to do. Metro has many charter schools and they were only asking that this charter school follow the same regulations that the other charter schools follow," said Willoughby.

Arnold said she would like to see the state shift its focus more toward funding better resources for classrooms. "A lot of money has been put into creating more rigorous assessments but I would like to see more funding filtered to classrooms where teachers could have the resources they need to have more books, computers and enough technology for the kids," said Arnold.

"We're asking our teachers and children to compete with schools that have tools that we're not going to be able to afford (in DeKalb County). "A child will read off an IPAD when they don't read as much out of a book. Technology has changed so much and we need the resources to change with it. In 2015 we're supposed to give all-online tests. I sure hope that happens. I don't know how every child will be able to take all of their assessments (if it doesn't happen). If the state is going to demand that we do something by passing these policies and making these changes, then they need to fund it," Willoughby said.

"Our teachers and administrators are working extremely hard. Harder than they ever have. They're held more accountable than they have ever been held accountable. I think they are also less appreciated by the state than they have ever been appreciated," said Director Willoughby.

Despite concerns, Willoughby admits progress has been made in education but he would like state education officials to give credit for that where it is due, to teachers. "I regret that when our Commissioner talks about progress that has been made, it comes across that he is taking credit for that. The credit should be given to the teachers and the administrators that are in the schools. I feel that he does not recognize the hard work teachers are doing because he hasn't been in the schools to see the hard work they are doing," Willoughby concluded.

The petition letter to the Governor states as follows:

"The superintendents who have chosen to sign this document have enjoyed hundreds of years of experience and have led schools in the state of Tennessee to accomplish tremendous outcomes. Each signee aspires to accomplish more and utilize state and community resources to continue with the challenging task of comprehensive and sustained school improvement. The schools we are working to improve are in the communities where we live and serve our children".

"As leaders, we have participated in some of the most comprehensive reform efforts in our nation. Our participation has been intentional with a goal of providing a brighter future for the children in our charge while improving increased economic, educational and social opportunities in our state."

"During the last year, the signees have developed a belief that the office of the Commissioner of Education in this administration has no interest in a dialogue with those of us providing leadership for school systems. We have begun to feel that the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education considers school teachers, principals and superintendents impediments to school improvement rather than partners. While no superintendent will have all the answers, we are confident that many of the efforts underway by our state would be enhanced by our active voice and genuine participation in the decision development process."

"Superintendents have attempted to accomplish participation in the decision making process through the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, through the Superintendents Study Council and through more informal measures. Instead of a receptive ear, our overtures have been met with scripted messages and little interest in accomplishing great change by changing culture."

"It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile. We have been patient, professional and focused on the needs of each of our communities but the expertise we have and the passion we feel must become a part of the efforts to improve Tennessee education."

"The superintendents signed hereto have been willing to take this extraordinary step not as an act of resistance rather as a plea out of a sense of responsibility for each of the communities we serve. Today we feel that we are not respected or valued and that the unique culture of our state is not valued. Today, we feel that we are unable to lead many improvement efforts due to our change of attempting to address morale issues of many of our employees who feel voiceless and powerless."

"We are not content with the current leadership and feel that we are not best serving our state in this manner. We request that Governor Haslam and members of the Tennessee General Assembly consider carefully and prayerfully the future of free public education in our state and address our concerns and the concerns of many of our parents, teachers, and principals," the letter concluded.


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