Local News Articles

Aldermen Rule Against Richard Jennings- Police Chief Loses his Job

December 7, 2009
Dwayne Page
Murfreesboro attorney Kerry Knox (left)with Richard Jennings(right)
Faye Fuqua Speaks in Support of Richard Jennings

The Smithville board of aldermen, with four voting in the affirmative, upheld the city discipline board's decision last month to terminate Police Chief Richard Jennings for dereliction of duties/negligence following a hearing Monday night at city hall.

Aldermen W.J. (Dub) White, Steve White, Shawn Jacobs, and Aaron Meeks all voted for termination. Alderman Cecil Burger, saying he lacked enough information, did not vote.

At the beginning of the hearing, Jennings' attorney Kerry Knox of Murfreesboro, asked that Meeks recuse himself from voting since, as police commissioner, he is the one who initiated the suspension of Chief Jennings and is a member of the three man discipline board who voted to terminate Jennings. " I think it is inappropriate for Mr. Meeks to be a voting member on this decision. I think we all know Mr. Meeks was the police commissioner who affected this termination. I don't think it gives any appearance of impartiality by this board for Mr. Meeks to be a voting member on this decision. We know where he stands and it's not fair for him to stand as both accuser and judge in this case. So for that reason I would ask that Mr. Meeks recuse in this vote."

Meeks did not recuse himself from voting.

Knox wanted to question Meeks, about the allegations raised against Jennings, but Mayor Taft Hendrixson and City Attorney Vester Parsley would not permit it, saying this was not a court of law. Knox protested saying that the board would be denying his client due process by not being able to question his accuser. "I suggest that's all we can do in this case (question Meeks) because we don't know what these allegations mean, where they come from, and what the basis is for them. So without any further explanation from Mr. Meeks about what this means and how we're supposed to respond, I don't know how to do that without having Mr. Meeks explain to this board what these allegations mean and where they come from. I'm prepared to let Chief Jennings speak on these issues but I think it would be appropriate for a response from Mr. Meeks to tell us how these allegations are substantiated because the employees of the city of Smithville can only be terminated for cause. That means you have to give us a good reason why this termination is justified. We don't have to explain to you why it's unjustified."

Knox added "It is a denial of due process. We can't respond to allegations if we don't know what they are or where they come from. We'll do our best to respond but I'm putting you on notice that we consider this a denial of due process when you're looking at the subjectivity contained in this document and somehow that is supposed to rise to the level of cause."

Knox then reviewed each of the eleven allegations against Jennings and allowed him to give an answer to them. Afterwards, Knox again renewed his objection to Meeks voting on this matter and the mayor and city attorney's refusal to allow him to question Meeks. "I think it's unfortunate and candidly unconstitutional that we're forced to stand up here and tear down a paper tiger that you created without hearing from the accuser on the justification for this sundry list of reasons that Chief Jennings was terminated so for that reason I would encourage the board, if they're not going to let me question him, for the board to question him and again, I renew my objection to him (Meeks) participating in this decision because if we're going to give at least the outward appearance that this board is impartial and is going to consider these decisions on it's own it can't do so with the participation of Mr. Meeks."

Alderman Jacobs bristled at Knox's remarks. " I'd like to say I'm personally offended by the accusation that this board does not know what's going on absent Mr. Meeks. Most of these gentlemen have been on the board for several years. I'm a newbie. I think it is ludicrous to say that the board is not aware of any of these allegations beside Mr. Meeks. I think every person on this board has gone to Mr. Jennings and begged him to make certain changes in the department in regard to drug interdiction and crime investigation which has virtually been zero for sometime in this community. I personally like Mr. Jennings very much and I hate it has come to this. I can assure you that this is about policy. It is not about politics and it is most certainly not about personality because I have a great deal of affection for Mr. Jennings. I hate the situation has come to this. I have prayed and I have prayed and I have prayed that this board will make the right decision, probably to the neglect of other things I should have prayed about. This is not a rush to judgment. This is something that some members of this board have been working on for many years before the newest members have been selected. I am very much troubled and offended that anyone would accuse this board of doing anything that is less than altruistic and certainly not above board. This is a very hard job to make a decision like this. I don't want to take a vote on this either way. If it were up to me we wouldn't be voting either way but it's come to this and I hate it. I thoroughly reject some of the comments about the board that have been made tonight and about Mr. Meeks in particular."

Alderman Steve White added " I would also like to echo a lot of what Mr. Jacobs has said. I do hate that it has come to this situation and gone this far."

Aldermen Cecil Burger, who is also former city employee and mayor, briefly mentioned his long time association with Jennings." Richard and I have worked together a long time and I hope we're friends. When I was mayor I had to call him in the office different times to discuss things. We've worked together and don't start trying to tell me how he operates or what he does or when he does it. We've been together long enough that we know each other and how we operate."

Alderman W.J. (Dub) White said he too has known Jennings for many years. "I've known Richard since back in the 60's and I have worked with him at the city since the 90's. I like Richard as a person. I hate it has come to this."

Prior to the hearing, three city residents spoke in support of Jennings

Faye Fuqua said Jennings has been an effective and professional chief. "He has cultivated a staff of professional officers. He has been fair and hard working and an even handed chief. We question whether this is a justified dismissal or maybe a personal conflict between the police commissioner, Mr. Meeks and Chief Jennings. To date there has been no evidence to support such a dismissal. If there is such evidence, why has it not been presented? Tonight we are asking you, our board of aldermen to do the right thing and to right this terrible wrong. There is a petition that is being circulated (that reads) ‘Police Chief Richard Jennings has served Smithville with honor and distinction since 1986. He is respected by other officers. He enforces the law without fear or favor, never succumbing to petty political pressures. Chief Jennings has earned the overwhelming support of our community'. Many people have responded to this petition and all will have an opportunity to give him their support on this written petition."

Lloyd Black also defended Jennings, saying this was just a political move." I really think this is just old politics being renewed. It's not a good thing. We have a good chief. We have a good police department. Things are going great. I sleep well at night and I want to continue to sleep well at night. I just think this is a mistake. You need to think it over and look at it really hard because we don't want to do the wrong thing and get the wrong person in here. We've been there. I think we'd better stick with what we've got.'

Fay Cantrell added "I think you all are doing Richard Jennings bad, and I mean bad."

With the vote going against Jennings, his only recourse now may be in a court of law. Knox says he and Jennings have not yet made a decision on their next course of action.

On Thursday, November 12th Jennings was suspended without pay pending termination and Lieutenant Steven Leffew was named "Officer in Charge" of the department until the issue with the chief position is settled.

Jennings says he was called to the mayor's office at city hall that afternoon where he was given the news. Those present were Mayor Taft Hendrixson, Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks, and Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson.

Meeks signed the notice of suspension with the verbal concurrence of the mayor. Hunter Hendrixson was not involved in the decision. The reasons for the suspension were read to Jennings and he was given a written copy.

The notice of suspension read as follows "You (Jennings) are being suspended for the following reason- dereliction of duties/negligence.

1. In the past two years, as Police Chief, you have not developed a comprehensive plan to combat crime problems in the City of Smithville, as evidenced by your admission to the board at the workshop of September 14th, 2009. You have not reached out to other agencies for help in combating these problems.

2. You were given two additional officers by the previous board with your promise that you then would be able to do drug investigations. To date, this has not happened.

3. At the workshop on September 14th, 2009, you did not know how many officers you had employed in the department, as evidenced by the CD of the meeting.

4. You have 4 or 5 officers-including yourself and the investigator-on duty on the day shift. You could have used some of these officers to work drug operations.

5. Your claim that the police department's budget has been cut is not substantiated by the 2008-09 city budget. In fact, there was an increase in the police department's budget over the previous year's budget. Also, your claim that all of your overtime has been cut is not true. You are still having overtime in your department.

6. There has been little progress made toward having a better-trained Police Force in specialized areas.

7. Community relations between your office and the public have deteriorated over the last two years.

8. You have not been a "working chief" out patrolling, issuing traffic tickets, answering calls for service, and making arrests.

9. You have authorized the use of a police vehicle for the transportation of civilians out of the area of authority of the Smithville Police Department.

10. It is the responsibility of all department heads to be available for call out at all times. You advised that you turn off your city cell phone when you leave for the day.

11. You have demonstrated lack of adequate supervision of officers.

On Tuesday, November 17th, the City of Smithville's discipline board met briefly at city hall and by a vote of 2 to 1, dismissed Chief Jennings.

Members of the board, Alderman and Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks and Mayor Taft Hendrixson both voted in concurrence with the suspension and termination. Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson voted against.

After the vote, Jennings requested a hearing before the entire board of aldermen at the December 7th city council meeting to appeal the termination.

The decision Monday night by the aldermen was final. Jennings is terminated.

Meanwhile, in other business, the aldermen approved the promotion of Patrolman Randy King to Sergeant and Patrolman Travis Bryant to Corporal.

Mayor Hendrixson added that January 26th is the tentative bid opening for water plant project.

Sheriff Seeks Public Help in Solving Mailbox Vandalism

December 7, 2009
Dwayne Page
Sheriff Patrick Ray
Jason Zeen Cripps
Jack Mullican Jr
John Adrian Williams
 Gregory Hamilton Clark

Sheriff Patrick Ray is asking for your help in solving a rash of mailbox vandalism cases.

In his weekly media update on crime, Sheriff Ray says the vandalism has been occurring in several different places across the county ."In the last month we have had reports of mailboxes that have gotten vandalized in Dowelltown, Temperance Hall, Keltonburg, and the Four Seasons areas among other locations. Some of the complainants reported hearing vehicles stop by their mailboxes, but did not look to see who it was or what they were driving. We are asking the public to "be on the lookout" for this kind of activity. There have been reports of mailboxes that were hit with an unidentified object. Some of the boxes were blown up by sealed plastic water bottles that contained unknown chemicals which produced a gas inside causing the explosion.. If you hear anything outside of your home, please observe and try to get a description of the vehicle and a direction of travel and then call the central dispatch at 215-3000 so a deputy can be dispatched to your location. If you know or have heard of a person who might be involved in the mailbox vandalism incidents, please call Sheriff Ray at 597-4935 or the sheriff's department's crime tip line at 464-6400. All calls are kept confidential.

Meanwhile, in other crime news, Sheriff Ray says 31 year old Jason Zeen Cripps of Bethel Road Smithville was arrested on Saturday, November 28th for theft of property over $500. On Thanksgiving Day, detectives received a report that someone had stolen a bumper trailer from a location on Cookeville Highway. After Cripps was identified as a suspect, deputies and detectives went to the Cripps home on Bethel Road and saw the stolen trailer. Cripps was picked up and questioned. He was later charged with the crime. Bond for Cripps was set at $5,000 and he will appear in court on December 10th. More charges and arrests are pending in this and other cases.

30 year old Jack Mullican Jr. of Gay Road Smithville was arrested on Thursday, December 3rd for forgery after detectives conducted an investigation into a forgery case and identified Mullican as a suspect. On October 18th, detectives received a report from a Mullican family member who said someone had stolen blank checks and passed one of them at Kwik & Ezy Market in Smithville. After interviewing Mullican about the case, he admitted to passing the check. Mullican's bond was set at $2,500 and he will appear in court on January 28th.

Also on Thursday a deputy, while on patrol, stopped 22 year old Phil Darnell Fullilove of Lavergne Street Alexandria for driving on a revoked license. The officer had prior knowledge that Fullilove's drivers license had been revoked. This was the third time Fullilove had been caught behind the wheel of a motor vehicle without having a valid driver's license. He was charged with a 3rd offense of driving on a revoked license and his bond was set at $5,000. He will appear in court on December 16th.

Meanwhile, on Friday, December 4th a deputy, while on patrol on Sparta Highway, stopped 29 year old John Adrian Williams of Orthodox Way Liberty for a traffic violation. After the stop, officers checked William's drivers license and discovered they were revoked for failure to file insurance after an accident. The department's K-9, also at the scene, alerted on Williams' vehicle. Deputies conducted a search and found a vial of water in Williams' pocket. A hypodermic syringe was found under the driver's seat and mason jars, plastic tubing, and iodine were also in the vehicle. Williams was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and driving on a revoked license. His bond was set at $2,000 and he will appear in court on December 17th. Williams admitted to the deputies that he had injected himself with methamphetamine earlier in the day.

22 year old Gregory Hamilton Clark of Suttons Branch Road Beech Grove was arrested on Saturday, December 5th for driving under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. Clark was stopped after deputies saw him traveling 70 mph in a 55 mph zone and weaving on the roadway. After making the traffic stop, the officers noticed a smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. Clark submitted to field sobriety tasks which he failed. Clark refused to take a blood alcohol test. Under the driver's seat, deputies found a glass pipe containing marijuana residue. Bond for Clark was set at $2,000 and he was issued a citation for violation of the implied consent law. He will appear in court on December 17th.

Hit and Run Driver Rear Ends School Bus-No One Injured

December 7, 2009
Dwayne Page

Someone driving a white van rear-ended a DeKalb County school bus this morning (Monday) on Short Mountain Highway, and then left the scene. No one was injured

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and Transportation Supervisor Peggy Pursell says the incident occurred around 6:50 a.m.

According to Pursell, Walter Phillips, driving bus #3, had stopped to pick up two children in front of their home when the van came up behind the bus and rear-ended it. The driver of the van then backed up into a driveway and drove away in the opposite direction going toward town.

Pursell says neither the children boarding the bus, nor the bus driver were injured and the bus was not damaged, other than a scratch. No one else was on the bus at the time.

Another bus and driver were used to run the route this morning (Monday) while the accident was being investigated by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Pursell and other school officials were also at the scene.

Campbell Selected for Mid-State Band

December 7, 2009
Britney Campbell

For the fifth year in a row, Britney Campbell, a junior at DeKalb County High School, has been chosen to represent Middle Tennessee in its most prestigious musical ensemble, Tennessee’s Mid-State Band.

On Saturday, December 5th, Britney traveled to McGavok High School in Nashville to audition for Mid-State, which selects its musicians from the Middle Tennessee area based on the students’ level of musical ability. At the senior high level, any 10th – 12th grade student in Middle Tennessee can audition. During the audition process, each student is tested in three general areas of musicianship. Students are asked to perform a prepared piece of music, which is a song that has been rehearsed prior to the audition date. Students are also required to demonstrate their ability in playing scales, a basic pattern of musical notes. They are also tested on sight-reading skills, which displays the ability to perform a song without having to rehearse it.

Among the hundreds of Bb clarinet players in grades ten through twelve who auditioned for this event, Britney placed fourteenth chair in the Gold Band, Mid-State’s top ranking band. There were only three other juniors besides Britney who achieved such an achievement.

In January 2010, all the students who made the Mid-State Bands will rehearse in Murfreesboro. Students will only have a couple days to prepare for a concert, which will be held at Middle Tennessee State University. DeKalb County High School’s Band Director, Jonathan Wright, says, “I heard her audition through the door and she did a wonderful job. She worked really hard for this and put in a lot of hours practicing. I'm glad she did so well. She deserves it!”

Britney is the daughter of Mike Campbell and Kimberly Cox of Smithville. Britney's dad says, "It is such an honor to have such a talented daughter. I am so proud of her for using her God-given talent to its fullest. She gives everything she attempts all she has to give.”

Log on to www.mtsboa.org/ for more information regarding Tennessee’s Mid-State Bands and performances. You can also find out more information about the DeKalb County Band Program by clicking on www.dekalbband.com.

Liberty Christmas Parade Creates Holiday Excitement

December 6, 2009
Dwayne Page
Dowelltown United Methodist Church Wins Liberty Float Competition

The Town of Liberty and Liberty State Bank hosted their annual Christmas Parade Sunday and all those there shared in the fun and excitement. Some won cash and other prizes.

Meteorologist Lelan Statom of NewsChannel5 in Nashville was the Grand Marshal. The parade also featured floats, the DCHS band, horseback riders, vintage automobiles, and Santa Claus among many other attractions.

The Dowelltown United Methodist Church won the float competition and the Liberty United Methodist Church took second place.

Albert and Sue Kelly won the Antique automobile category for their 1978 Pontiac. Chris Hale received second place for his 1952 John Deere..

Among the miscellaneous entries, Justin and Eli Johnson won first place and Howard and Jared Pyles took second place.

(Click here to see more pictures of the Liberty Christmas Parade)

Smithville Christmas Parade Helps Kick Off Festive Season

December 5, 2009
Dwayne Page
First Place Float Covenant Baptist Church
Second Place Float Eagles Flag Football Team
Third Place Float Dowelltown United Methodist Church

The Smithville Christmas Parade helped put folks in a festive mood Saturday afternoon.

As always, the parade featured floats, vintage automobiles, local kings and queens, scouts, horseback riders, the DeKalb County High School Fighting Tiger Band, local law enforcement , firefighters, DeKalb EMS, Rescue Squad, among many other entries. Of course, the highlight of the parade was the appearance of Santa Claus who rode into town on a fire engine tossing candy left and right to everyone along the parade route.

The Covenant Baptist Church won first place in the float competition.

The Eagles Flag Football Team took second place and received the Spirit Award, presented by the Smithville Business and Professional Women's Club.

Third Place went to the Dowelltown United Methodist Church Float

The Smithville Parade is sponsored each year by the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department. This year's parade was conducted in tribute to the late Assistant Fire Chief Robert Eller for his 64 years of dedication and service. Mr. Eller recently passed away.

(Click here to see pictures of the Smithville Christmas Parade)

Smithville Man Victim of Robbery at his Home

December 4, 2009
Dwayne Page

A Smithville man was the victim of a robbery Friday morning at his home at 826 Anthony Avenue. Central dispatch received the call at 4:49 a.m.

Smithville Police Officer Scott Davis, in his report, states "I was dispatched to 826 Anthony Avenue in reference to a robbery. Upon my arrival, I made contact with the complainant, W.J. Page who stated that he was going to his garage when an unknown male with a mask and a camouflage coat came out from behind his truck and pointed something at him and stated "give me your money, wallet, watch" or words to that affect. Mr. Page stated that he threw his watch toward him and started running toward his house. Mr. Page stated that the suspect ran toward J.E. Evins Avenue. A search of the area by Sergeant Joey Jones and Deputy Barrett and myself (Davis) could not locate the suspect."

The suspect was described as a male, 5' 9 to 5' 10 inches tall, average build, wearing a mask, a camo jacket, and possibly armed with an unknown type of gun/knife.

Items taken were a Pulsar watch with a silver band. Total value $70.00

Anyone having any information on this or other offenses is urged to contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the Tip Line at 464-6046.

Meanwhile in other city crime news, Patrolman Travis K Bryant responded to the court room on Thursday morning regarding an intoxicated person. Upon arrival, Officer Bryant saw Jackie Sanders sitting on the front row. He fell asleep several times. The officer made contact Sanders and asked him to step out of the court room. As he was walking out, Sanders appeared to be unsteady on his feet and his speech was slurred. Sanders stated that he took some medication about 9:30 a.m. His bond was set at $1,000 and his court date is December 17th.

On Sunday, November 29th, Officer Matt Holmes responded to 416 Whaley Street where he met with Brad Johnson who reported a trailer missing. Johnson said he had been working on the house late Saturday night and was sure the trailer had been there as late as midnight. But Johnson said when he returned to the house approximately seven hours later at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, he discovered that the trailer was missing. The trailer is black, approximately twelve feet, mesh, with fold up gate and wooden floor. Johnson said the pins in the gate do not match and one of them is longer than the other. He added that when he left, the trailer was full of scrap sheet rock. Witnesses say a maroon dually truck drove by the residence on the day the trailer went missing, arousing suspicion. Johnson said he did not have a serial number belonging to the trailer but would contact police if he found it.

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

Smithville Police Department Supporting HELP Program with Holiday Food Drive

December 4, 2009
Dwayne Page
Steven Leffew and Wanda Poss

The Smithville Police Department is joining the DeKalb County HELP program in a holiday food drive for needy elderly and physically challenged persons in our community.

If you would like to donate food or make cash donations toward this effort, contact Wanda Poss, HELP program coordinator at 597-7575 or Lieutenant Steven Leffew of the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210,

Lieutenant Leffew says officers of the police department will help distribute the food to eligible recipients before Christmas.

The HELP program serves the entire county, but the Smithville Police Department will be providing assistance in the city.

Fire Damages Home on R. Arnold Road

December 4, 2009
Dwayne Page

Members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department were called to a mobile home at 529 R. Arnold Road Thursday morning.

County Fire Chief Donny Green says the woman who lives there had left home around 7:15 a.m. to take her daughter to school and discovered the fire when she returned about a half hour later. She said flames and smoke were coming out of a back bedroom window. The woman yelled for the neighbors to call for help.

The Keltonburg, Blue Springs, and Short Mountain Highway stations responded along with DeKalb EMS and the Sheriff's Department.

Chief Green says the cause of the fire is undetermined but it apparently started in a back bedroom, which was destroyed. Firefighters were able to save the rest of the home, although there was heat and smoke damage throughout.

UCHRA Serves 10,100 Individuals In DeKalb County

December 3, 2009
UCHRA Officials, County Mayor, and Smithville Mayor

“The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, DeKalb County Office has provided services to 10,100 individuals with $2.4 million being spent in the County. The UCHRA programs address the needs of all ages and have a positive impact on the residents in DeKalb County,” stated County Executive Mike Foster.

The UCHRA provides services to the residents in the fourteen county Upper Cumberland area through more than 68 programs supported by federal, state, and local dollars. The mission of the Agency is to assist individuals in moving from “dependence to independence.”

“The Agency ‘delivers hope’ to approximately 175,000 individuals, annually, and continuously strives to make each of the Upper Cumberland counties the best place possible to work, live, and retire,” said Phyllis Bennett, Executive Director, Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency.

Examples of services provided during the past year to DeKalb County residents include the following: 15,098 nutritional meals were provided through the nutrition program for older persons and other adults with disabilities; and the commodities food program distributed food to 536 eligible individuals to be used to prepare meals at home. Five UCHRA transportation vehicles provided 12,239 trips to over 531 households enabling these individuals to go to the doctor, medical facilities, grocery and drug stores, and other business locations in the County. The fourteen county UCHRA transportation program runs approximately 2,907,645 miles in a given program year with numerous miles traveled transporting DeKalb County residents to and from locations in the county.

“These services are important to the residents of the City of Smithville, especially in the difficult economic situation that we have faced during the past year. The City is fortunate to have a committed, dependable Agency like the UCHRA to provide quality services,” stated Taft Hendrixson, Mayor, City of Smithville.

“The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency appreciates the work of the City and County officials in DeKalb County, the DeKalb County Advisory Committee for the UCHRA, and the UCHRA DeKalb County office staff. This team of local leaders, interested businesses and citizens makes it possible to provide quality services to the residents of DeKalb County,” stated Phyllis Bennett.

For further information about services available through the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency please contact UCHRA’s DeKalb County office located at 527 West Main Street in Smithville.

CUTLINE: Pictured from left to right are Phyllis Bennett, UCHRA Executive Director; Mike Foster, DeKalb County Executive, Chairman of the UCHRA Child & Youth Development Committee, UCHRA DeKalb County Advisory Board Chairman & Former Chairman of the UCHRA Board of Directors; Taft Hendrixson, Mayor of Smithville & Member of the UCHRA Board of Directors; and Mitzi Bradford, UCHRA DeKalb County Coordinator.


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