Local News Articles

Representative Weaver Sponsoring Student Self-Defense Legislation

March 4, 2013
Dwayne Page

A bill proposed by state Representative Terri Lynn Weaver would allow Tennessee students to fight back against bullying in schools without fear of punishment.

The Student Self-Defense bill would amend current zero-tolerance policies for fighting in schools that generally punishes any student involved in a fight no matter who initiated the confrontation. The rule calls for all parties involved in a fight to be punished equally.


During her "Coffee and Conversations" town hall meeting Friday, Weaver said the bill will give principals more discretion, rather than having to suspend all parties involved. "Throughout the state, not necessarily in District 40, but there has been numerous cases where a child is being beat to heck by a bully and he will not defend himself because he's either a football player or he is in some event in school and doesn't want to be suspended. Some of these cases are pretty brutal. In one case, there was this (fight) going on in a hallway (between two students) and a third (student) was standing by the locker. One of the kids in the fight wouldn't defend himself so the third student went over and started defending this kid. All three of them got suspended. I don't see justice in that," said Weaver. The current law states there is zero tolerance in our schools for this kind of activity," said Weaver.

Weaver said her bill doesn't promote violence but rather allows students to stand up for themselves without retribution. Sometimes bullies are enabled by zero-tolerance policies knowing the punishment will be the same for victims she said. "Am I promoting fighting? No. I just want the principals to be empowered to make a common sense decision because most of these principals know who these agitators are. This bill would allow principals to suspend that kid or that troublemaker and not suspend the kid who didn't want to do anything. Some of these kids have walked away (from a fight) and they are still being beat up," said Weaver.

Man Airlifted After Sunday Crash on South Congress Boulevard

March 3, 2013
Dwayne Page
Man Airlifted After Sunday Crash (Photo by Ken Underhill)

A 36 year old McMinnville man was airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital after a two vehicle crash Sunday afternoon on South Congress Boulevard in front of Jewel's Market.

Central dispatch received the call at 3:11 p.m.

Corporal Travis Bryant of the Smithville Police Department told WJLE that 39 year old Carol Ann Tipton of McMinnville was driving south in a 1999 Chevy Cavalier when she turned left into the path of a northbound Jeep Cherokee, driven by 19 year old Jason Michael Petre of McMinnville. Tipton was attempting to pull into the parking lot of Jewel's Market. The impact forced Tipton's car into a wooden fence by the highway.

A passenger of Tipton's car, 36 year old Christopher Daniel Gibbs of McMinnville, was trapped and had to be extricated by members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department. A Life Force helicopter ambulance landed in the highway near the scene to airlift Gibbs.

Petre was not injured but Tipton was taken by DeKalb EMS to the hospital.

According to Corporal Bryant, Tipton was cited for improper turn and violation of the financial responsibility law (no insurance)

Corporal Bryant was assisted at the scene by Captain Steven Leffew of the Smithville Police Department and Constable Johnny King.

Legal Community Urges State Lawmakers to Oppose Judicial Redistricting

March 2, 2013
Dwayne Page

Local attorneys, judges, court clerks and others who work in the judicial system Friday morning met with State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver and State Senator Mae Beavers during a town hall meeting urging them to vote against a proposed judicial redistricting plan that would make DeKalb County part of a new eight county district.

"We don't think there is a problem," said General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook, II who is president of the DeKalb County Bar.

(Play Videos Below)

The proposal to move DeKalb County from the current makeup of the 13th Judicial District to a new district is among options being considered by the Republican leadership in the Tennessee General Assembly, particularly Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey. But both State Representative Weaver and State Senator Beavers said they don't know yet what the final proposal will be for lawmakers to consider. "I've not heard from Mr. Ramsey yet. I've asked for an appointment but I haven't gotten one yet," said Representative Weaver. "I'm still pursing that. But as soon as I sit down and listen to the story then I will consider both sides and get back with you and give you my decision. But right now I'm not for it," she said.

"I'm very concerned about access to justice," said Representative Weaver. "I am also concerned about the children of this state. I'm concerned about what happens to kids in child cases and if
redistricting is going to destroy those relationships. That's my priority. Because for some kids these caseworkers is all they have," said Representative Weaver.

Judge Cook said while judicial redistricting has not occurred in nearly thirty years, judgeships have been created across the state to meet needs in specific areas. "I just got back this week from our General Sessions Judges Conference in Nashville where Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court Gary Wade explained that under the current system and the way we do it now based on weighted caseload, if there is a particular area that needs a new judge then that's where the judge goes. He said since 1984 there has been 31 new judgeships created to fill those spots across the state that need it without having to go in and start carving up districts. That has worked well. Plus, the legislature paid about $250,000 to get a study done just four years ago that says the way we're doing it now is working fine," said Judge Cook.

In addition to the fact that it is not needed, Judge Cook said redistricting could create more hardship in terms of travel for litigants. The proposed new district would stretch from Macon County to Coffee County. "The farthest we have to drive right now is Livingston. I can be there in 55 minutes. " I hardly ever have to though because the judges come to DeKalb County often enough that we don't have to go there. But look at the litigants who would have to drive from Macon or Trousdale County almost all the way to Alabama and there is no easy way to get there," said Judge Cook.

Representative Weaver said a judge from another district recently expressed to her support for redistricting suggesting it might get more prisoners through the system quicker and save the state money. Judge David Patterson disputed that claim. "Public defenders, judges, and district attorneys move cases along as quickly as they can. It cannot be done any quicker by redistricting. It will not make things happen faster," he said.

"One of the things that has concerned all of us is the way this has been handled," said attorney Hilton Conger. "Nobody heard about it. I think it was leaked out about three months ago. You (Weaver) have not even seen a fiscal note on it," said Conger.

Since the proposal was revealed, Lieutenant Governor Ramsey has requested input from others on alternative redistricting plans, but Conger asked why submit a plan when none is needed? "When he says we want to see what your plan is, our plan is leave it just like it is. The Lieutenant Governor had said I want input by today (March 1). Now he has moved it up to next Friday. He says send me a proposal. Our concern is if we don't propose something, it may be taken as acquiescence in his plan. We don't think there is a problem so the message we need from you as our representative to get to him (Lieutenant Governor) is just because you haven't heard from these folks presenting some plan doesn't mean they are in favor of your plan because we are not," said Conger.

Representative Weaver and Senator Beavers said they understand the concerns of the legal community and will express them to the Lieutenant Governor and the sponsors of the Judicial redistricting legislation. "We have to look at the big picture. We haven't really seen the bill yet. We haven't heard all the pros and cons. We've heard some pros and cons from the locals here in DeKalb County today. We will take everything into consideration before we vote to make sure we cast our vote the right way," said Senator Beavers.

DA Says DTC's Craig Gates Not Under Investigation for Extortion

March 1, 2013
Dwayne Page
Randy York
Craig Gates

The District Attorney General's Office is not conducting an extortion investigation in connection with allegations made by two former employees of DTC Communications who have brought a wrongful termination federal lawsuit against the company and it's CEO Craig Gates.

In an interview with WJLE Friday, Randy York, District Attorney General for the 13th Judicial District, said that "an attorney for one of the plaintiff's had contacted the district attorney general's office and asked that we open an investigation. He had some material he wanted me to look at. I reviewed the material and I did not see a violation of our criminal statutes and did not authorize an investigation," said York.

As WJLE reported earlier this week, Claiming they were the victims of a scheme to get rid of them and others, James A Vaden of Carthage and Kevin C. Young of Smithville, the two former DTC employees, filed a federal court lawsuit against DTC Communications and Craig Gates in November claiming they were the victims of extortion and wrongful termination. Vaden and Young contend that the defendants, DTC and Gates, wrongfully interfered with their employee benefits and improperly denied them their severance benefits.

Attorneys for Vaden and Young included in the lawsuit that "As of the date of filing this Complaint, investigators in the 13th and 15th Judicial Districts are exploring criminal charges of extortion against Gates based on his actions leading up to Vaden's and Young's termination, focusing in particular on the specifics of the Agreement of Suspension".

Again, York said neither Gates nor DTC Communications is under investigation for extortion by his office.
The dismissal of both Vaden and Young apparently was the result of a probe into allegations that a group of DTC employees had participated in a scheme to sell copper cable owned by the company for their own benefit. Vaden and Young claim they did not participate in such a scheme.

Gates and DTC Communications have answered the lawsuit, denying the allegations made by Vaden and Young.

Dewaine Jennings Receives Trooper of Year Honor in Cookeville District

March 1, 2013
Dewaine Jennings Receives Trooper of Year Honor in Cookeville District

Trooper Dewaine Jennings of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, for the second time in four years, has been named Trooper of the Year for the Cookeville District.

Jennings, a resident of Smithville, was among twelve members of the THP who were honored as Troopers of the Year for their individual districts during a special ceremony held Thursday evening in Murfreesboro.

The overall 2012 Trooper of the Year for the state is Trooper Nathan W. Hall in the Fall Branch District that includes Sullivan County. In addition to Trooper Hall's statewide recognition, State Troopers in each of the THP's districts received district Trooper of the Year honors. Awards were also given to the Investigator of the Year and Interdiction Trooper of the Year, while 10 troopers were recognized for their DUI enforcement.

"Each award recipient has shown their dedication to public service and to the safety and security of the state of Tennessee by their extraordinary accomplishments," Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said. "It's an honor to recognize them for their service tonight and to honor their sacrifice year-round." Trooper Hall earned the honor after preventing a possible suicide attempt by a juvenile last December in Sullivan County.

"Trooper Hall is a great example of what is expected of a Tennessee State Trooper. He's professional, courageous, works hard and has a positive attitude. His actions on the night of December 16, 2012 were nothing short of heroic. Trooper Hall is an outstanding representative of our agency and deserves the Trooper of the Year recognition," Colonel Tracy Trott said.

Trooper Jennings was named the 2012 Trooper of the Year in the THP's Cookeville District after looking beyond the ticket on a traffic stop made on August 25, 2012. Trooper Jennings stopped a vehicle for speeding and upon contact with the two occupants noticed suspicious behavior. He then ran a validation check on the 19-year old driver and discovered he had an outstanding warrant for statutory rape. Trooper Jennings detained the driver and began questioning his female passenger. It was discovered that the female passenger was 13-years old and was the girlfriend of the male driver. Trooper Jennings contacted the girls' mother and transported the two to the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office for further investigation. It was later revealed that the 13-year old female had been raped by an older adult and the mother had been advised to keep her away from older men. The boyfriend admitted to a sexual relationship with the female juvenile, and her mother admitted to being aware of the relationship. Both the 19-year old male and the juvenile's mother were arrested. Trooper Jennings thorough investigation in this case resulted in the discovery of a crime. Additionally, his trooper activity ranks second in the district with 23 DUI arrests and second in total citations with 837.

Trooper Nathan W. Hall earned the Trooper of the Year honor after responding to an alleged suicide attempt by a 15-year old female in Sullivan County on December 16, 2012. Trooper Hall responded to Interstate 26 near the Meadowview Convention Center following a request for assistance from the Kingsport Police Department. After searching the area for nearly one hour, Trooper Hall located the juvenile on a rock cliff approximately 60 – 70 feet high. Trooper Hall scaled the cliff, while talking to the young female in attempt to keep her calm. Once he reached the juvenile, he handcuffed himself to her for her safety. With the help of the Kingsport Fire Department's truck ladder, Trooper Hall then escorted the juvenile down to safety. Trooper Hall's quick and decisive actions led to a safe conclusion.

Trooper Eric Miller received the THP Knoxville District's Trooper of the Year honors. His responsibilities as a road trooper in Loudon County include serving as a member of the district's Strike Team and Honor Guard, as well as the Executive Security Detail. He also handles security for the University of Tennessee Football Coach and security assignments for both home and away games. Due to his work as a Field Training Officer, he has been asked to assist the THP Training Center with the upcoming trooper cadet class. In 2012, Trooper Miller had made 54 DUI arrests and 64 physical arrests, conducted 64 commercial vehicle inspections, and issued 638 citations.

Trooper Charles "Tommy" Lyles earned Trooper of the Year honors for the THP Chattanooga District after leading the district in DUI enforcement. He has arrested 95 individuals on suspicion of driving under the influence and made 106 other arrests. Trooper Lyles, who is stationed in Franklin County, has issued 1,028 citations and conducted 69 commercial vehicle inspections. He is a five-year veteran of the THP, during which time he has earned the respect and admiration of his peers and supervisors. Trooper Lyles has a tremendous work ethic and is a valuable asset to the THP.

The Nashville District presented Co-Trooper of the Year awards to Trooper Vincent Turocy and Trooper John Grinder. Trooper Turocy has set an agency record with 227 DUI arrests for 2012. The 14-year veteran also issued 1,674 total traffic citations for the year, the second highest in the district. Trooper Turocy's work-ethic is unmatched. He has consistently led the district in both DUI arrests and overall traffic enforcement. Trooper Grinder joined the THP in 2005 and is currently assigned to Robertson County. Trooper Grinder is runner-up in DUI arrests across the state with 134 cases. His DUI arrest totals are especially impressive because he works in a rural county with approximately 50,000 licensed drivers. He also has 349 commercial vehicle inspections, with an overall out of service rate of 29 percent. Additionally, his persistent investigative skills in a recent fatal crash case led to a vehicular homicide indictment, when the crash was initially deemed non-criminal by other investigators. Together, Trooper Turocy and Trooper Grinder have saved countless lives due to their combined DUI arrests and are deserving of this recognition.

Sergeant Jamie Jarrett of the Memphis District received that district's Trooper of the Year nod. On August 30, 2012, the Memphis Police Department advised THP dispatch to issue a "be on the lookout" for a Chevrolet SUV traveling eastbound on Interstate 40. The driver of the vehicle was wanted in connection with an alleged homicide that occurred earlier that day. Sgt. Jarrett was near the Haywood Scales Complex, where he is assigned, when he observed the suspect vehicle. Sgt. Jarrett had dispatch run the vehicle registration and confirmed it was the suspect wanted by MPD. He then requested backup before activating his emergency equipment to initiate a traffic stop. The suspect failed to stop and a pursuit ensued, continuing across the division line into the Jackson District. A Jackson Trooper deployed spike strips and the suspect crashed at the 76 mile marker with no other vehicles involved. The suspect was apprehended and later released to the Memphis Police Department. Sgt. Jarrett's actions kept citizens from harm, as he utilized the training he has received over his 12-year career as a State Trooper.

The Lawrenceburg District Trooper of the Year was awarded to Trooper Jon Judge. On August 20, 2012, Trooper Judge stopped a vehicle on US Route 431 in Marshall County for speeding. The male driver did not have a driver's license in his possession and gave conflicting information. Upon further investigation and several failed attempts to verify the driver's status, Trooper Judge attempted to arrest the driver for no driver's license. The suspect then fled on foot towards his own vehicle, but Trooper Judge thwarted his attempt to flee. Trooper Judge gave verbal commands, however, the suspect failed to comply and charged Trooper Judge. During the confrontation, the suspect re-entered his vehicle. Trooper Judge attempted to subdue him, but the suspect ignored the commands and drove away, dragging Trooper Judge down the roadway. Trooper Judge was able to fire his weapon and struck the driver in the left arm. Trooper Judge was freed from the vehicle and a pursuit followed. Trooper Judge apprehended the suspect in Lincoln County. It was later revealed that the suspect was wanted in Indiana on escape warrants and in Alabama on robbery charges. He also had a lengthy criminal history out of six different states. Trooper Judge's actions reflect his dedication of duty and service to the state of Tennessee.

Trooper Jason Kirk earned the Trooper of the Year award for the THP Jackson District. After graduating from the Trooper Cadet School in March of 2011, Trooper Kirk has served as a road trooper in Hardin County.
During 2012, he had 12 drug-related cases and led the district in all four quarters in DUI arrests (68). Trooper Kirk investigated 116 crashes during the year and made 104 other arrests. Additionally, he completed 69 commercial vehicle inspections and issued 1,570 citations. He has shown consistent activity to reduce crime and make roadways safe in Tennessee. Trooper Kirk is also a member of the District 8 Strike Team.

The THP's Investigative Trooper of the Year was awarded to Trooper Jeffrey Boyd. Trooper Boyd recovered significant amounts of illegal drug proceeds from two investigations. The first was on several warrants served by Trooper Boyd in April 2012 in the Lawrenceburg District. This investigation led to the seizure of vehicles, boats, and campers paid for with illegal drug money. Trooper Boyd worked with the Nashville Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) throughout this investigation. In December 2012, Trooper Boyd completed a more than two-year investigation that resulted in 22 arrests (19-TN; 3-TX), and the seizure of 41 kilos of cocaine and illegal drug proceeds.

Trooper Jeffrey Buchanan was named Trooper of the Year for the THP's Administrative District (9). On November 2, 2012, THP Special Operations/Aviation Unit were requested to help a stranded hiker on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains. The hiker had suddenly encountered four to five foot snow drifts due to Hurricane Sandy traveling inland and was unable to continue the journey. Park Rangers had attempted to locate the hiker, however, chest deep snow and the hiker's location enabled them from proceeding with the search. The THP Huey helicopter launched into action and after almost an hour of searching, spotted tracks in the snow and followed them for approximately a mile and a half before observing the hiker's camp. Trooper Buchanan was lowered to the ground, where the snow was chest deep. He then made his way to the hiker, evaluated his condition, outfitted him with a harness, and gave the signal for him to be hoisted from the ground. Trooper Buchanan remained on the ground to collect the hiker's gear and supplies, before being raised to safety. It was determined the hiker would not have survived another night in the harsh weather conditions. Trooper Buchanan's commitment during the rescue mission likely saved the hiker's life.

Sergeant Wayne Dunkleman earned the Interdiction Trooper of the Year honors after his own success and leadership of the THP West Bureau Interdiction Plus Team. Sgt. Dunkleman made 15 felony arrests, eight DUI arrests and assisted in seizing more than 330 pounds of marijuana in 2012. He also conducted 76 motor vehicle inspections during the year. Most notably, Sgt. Dunkleman made a drug arrest that was adopted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This case involved a narcotics trafficking ring covering three states, including Tennessee, Texas and Alabama. It led to the arrest of seven individuals and the seizure of illegal drug proceeds. Sgt. Dunkleman leads by example and always goes the extra mile to make the Interdiction Plus program a success

Tonya Hattaway Named THP Dispatcher of the Year

March 1, 2013
Tonya Hattaway of Smithville Named THP 2012 Dispatcher of the Year

The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) named Tonya Hattaway of Smithville as the 2012 Dispatcher of the Year at a special award ceremony held Thursday evening in Murfreesboro. Hattaway, who is assigned to the THP’s Cookeville District, earned the honor for an incident last February in which she helped find a woman who was thought to be harmful to herself and sent a trooper to the woman’s aide.

“Hattaway always goes the extra mile for the safety of her colleagues and the public. She strives to go above and beyond in every situation and lives have been saved because of it,” Colonel Tracy Trott said.

Tonya Hattaway earned the THP Dispatcher of the Year honor for preventing a possible suicide attempt in February 2012 after she received a call from a distressed woman who believed a loved one was traveling by car to Crossville with intentions of taking her own life. Hattaway requested the troubled woman’s cell phone number and contacted her several times to establish her location. Hattaway spent three hours trying to locate the woman. Once she did, Hattaway dispatched a trooper to her location; the trooper made contact and transported the woman to a hospital where she could receive help. Hattaway was also instrumental in the arrest of a child predator in Dekalb County. Hattaway and the trooper she was assisting looked beyond a “normal traffic stop” and determined the driver, who had a teenage girl with him, was wanted for child molestation in another county.

In addition to Hattaway’s statewide recognition, dispatchers in each of the THP’s districts received district Dispatcher of the Year honors.

“The THP dispatchers are unsung heroes, the ones who keep in constant contact with all troopers to help ensure their safety and the safety of the public,” Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said. “They are an absolute vital part of the Highway Patrol and share the title of ‘Tennessee’s Finest,’” Gibbons added.

Trina Hinchey is the Dispatcher of the Year from the THP’s Knoxville District. Hinchey was on duty last year when a man from Michigan, who was on his way to Atlanta for cancer treatment, was involved in an accident on Interstate-75 in Knox County. The man’s dog ran from the crash scene after the accident. Hinchey took it upon herself to get and send out information on the lost dog. Hinchey continued to keep in touch with the man throughout the day, even going to visit him at a local hotel and brought him food and money. While she was visiting the man, he was reunited with his dog after a citizen found and returned it. Hinchey was also on duty March 13,2012 when a crash occurred on I-75 in which a truck driver was burned inside. Her supervisors say she displayed professionalism, sent extra personnel and TDOT workers to the scene to detour traffic. This occurred on the same day as a rockslide in the area, and the same day that a state trooper was involved in a serious injury accident. Despite the busy day, Hinchey’s supervisors say she “handled it all in a calm, professional, and efficient manner.”

The Dispatcher of the Year from THP’s Chattanooga District is David Josh Winters. He is described as “an example of what we would like all employees to be.” Winters serves his colleagues and the public in a an efficient and professional manner each day. Winters has been the key to improving the training program in the Chattanooga District and is one of the primary certified training officers there. His dedication to training new employees shows in the daily performance of the personnel in the communications center. That dedication to making the THP a better organization has set Winters apart from others and has earned him this honor.

In THP’s Nashville District, Darlene Hauskins is the Dispatcher of the Year. Hauskins performed her duties in 2012 with a zero percentage error rate. Her supervisors stress that she demonstrates her dedication to her job as a dispatcher and making sure her job is done right. Her on-the-job mentality has been described as “results, not excuses.” Hauskins spent many hours in 2012 training four new dispatchers hired that year. She stepped up and gave them extra time and effort that they needed to complete the program and be successful dispatchers. Hauskins was essential in training and maintaining qualified dispatchers to ensure the safety of the troopers and the public.

Tequilla N. Daniels is the Dispatcher of the Year from the THP’s Memphis District. Daniels was contacted by the Memphis Police Department last August about a homicide suspect who was thought to be travelling on Interstate-40 in the district. Shortly after an advisory was issued, a trooper observed a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle. Daniels confirmed this was the suspect wanted for allegedly murdering his wife, and dispatched another THP unit to assist. A 15-mile pursuit of the suspect ended after the vehicle hit deployed spike strips and crashed. During the course of the pursuit, Daniels remained calm and provided pertinent information, directions, and updates to the troopers involved. Upon learning that the suspect had planned to commit “suicide by cop,” Daniels understood the heightened risk and broadcasted the information immediately. Daniels’ ability to stay focused and remain calm may well have thwarted a potentially deadly situation.

The Dispatcher of the Year from the THP’s Fall Branch District is Rebecca Casey. Described as dependable and efficient, Casey is credited with improving and streamlining the various job tasks that are required in the radio room. Casey also serves as one of the radio operators for the Tennessee Highway Patrol at the Bristol Speedway. Each year, the district office receives compliments from the other agencies involved on how well Casey performs her duties to keep the public safe during this event. Casey’s supervisors say she is “truly an asset” to the THP.

Cynthia Krause is the Dispatcher of the Year for the THP’s Lawrenceburg District. Krause is credited for going above and beyond the call of duty to help a trooper in need. Last August, Krause was assisting a trooper who was attempting to arrest a man during a traffic stop for not having a license. An altercation occurred between the subject and the trooper. The trooper shot the subject, who got back in his vehicle and pursuit ensued. Krause handled the incident with the utmost professionalism. She was methodical in her approach and was extremely supportive of the trooper. Krause used her dispatch knowledge, experience, and talent to attempt to find any information on the subject. After a lengthy search, she found that the subject had a warrant issued out of Indiana, his driver license had been suspended, and he had a long criminal history in several states. Krause was a tremendous asset in finding the identity of the subject and located information on him when no one else could. The subject was ultimately apprehended and arrested.

The THP Jackson District has named Adam Forsythe as the 2012 Dispatcher of the Year. Forsythe is known as a dedicated and loyal employee. He has been instrumental in establishing the original dispatcher training program for the Jackson District. Forsythe has also provided valuable input and assistance during the design and remodel of the radio room at the Jackson Headquarters. His supervisors say that Forsythe cheerfully assists with computer projects and with the daily operations in the radio room. He is described as displaying “the attributes that any dispatcher should strive to attain.”

Lawsuit Against Election Commissions Expected to be Dismissed

February 28, 2013
Dwayne Page
John Harris, III

A federal judge is expected to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the DeKalb County Election Commission and several others in Tennessee brought by former administrators of elections in 2009 who claim they did not get to keep their jobs for political reasons.

In an order filed last week, U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp found that "the position of county administrator of elections is a political position, subject to patronage dismissal."

The case now goes to Magistrate Judge Joe Brown for further review in light of the court's ruling. "The judge's ruling is limited to this party affiliation issue and he has sent the case back to the Magistrate Judge, it appears to decide whether or not there is anything else that needs to be addressed. If not, we expect to see a final order dismissing the case in favor of the election commissions and when that happens the plaintiffs will have a window of time to appeal the court's ruling or portions of it to the sixth circuit court of appeals" said Nashville Attorney John Harris, III, who represents the DeKalb County Election Commission in this case.

Former DeKalb County Election Administrator Lisa Peterson and the other former administrators filed the lawsuit in July 2009 against the defendant county election commissions, claiming that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when they were removed from their jobs because of their actual, or perceived, political party association. The former administrators asked the court to order their reinstatement, or in the alternative, order that they receive front pay for a reasonable amount of time. They wanted full back pay and a judgment for compensatory damages and punitive damages and an award for reasonable attorneys fees. Locally, the lawsuit named as defendants the three Republicans on the DeKalb County Election Commission James Dean, Walteen Parker, and Barbara Vanatta.

"The main thrust of the case was that these democratic administrators of elections who were replaced or thought they were being replaced in 2009 all sued claiming that they could not be terminated because of party affiliation being democrats," said Harris in a telephone interview with WJLE. "But this month the federal district judge who has the case issued a ruling that the position of administrator of elections under Tennessee law is one that has sufficient political discretion so that federal law would allow individuals holding that office to be terminated based on no reason other than political party affiliation," said Harris. "We're not saying that's necessarily what happened to Mrs. Peterson, but the court has found that even if that's why she was not reappointed that this would be allowable under federal law because of the political involvement of that specific office in making decisions," said Harris. "According to the court, because of the political discretion of that office it would be permissible for an election commission to either refuse to hire or to refuse to appoint or even to terminate someone based on nothing more than party affiliation," according to Harris.

The defendants' first legal victory in the case came in December, 2010 when U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman found that the Republican election commissioners named in the lawsuit in DeKalb and other counties were not subject to liability for monetary damages sought, in either their official or individual capacities as "state actors" or state officials. After Wiseman's ruling, attorneys for the former administrators or plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals but the appeal was later dismissed as premature, meaning that more proceedings must have been held at the trial court level before an appeal could be considered at the appellate level.

A Chancery Court lawsuit against the Republicans on the local election commission, filed by Peterson in 2009 prior to the federal lawsuit, was also recently dismissed according to Harris. "This was a case alleging that back in 2009 the election commission violated the Open Meetings Act. But after we got through the discovery phase, taking depositions Mrs. Peterson's attorney voluntarily dismissed that claim," he said.

In the Chancery Court action, Peterson contended that the Republican controlled election commission had violated the Open Meetings Act, State law, and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee "by a majority of its members' meeting, communicating, and deliberating in private, secretly deciding and agreeing to terminate her employment, and secretly deciding and agreeing to appoint a Republican to the position of administrator of elections prior to the April 24th, 2009 public meeting of the commission."

For decades, the local election commission had been controlled by Democrats. But when Republicans came to power in the state legislature in 2009, they also took control of the Tennessee election commission as well as county election commissions across the state

On April 24, 2009, the five member DeKalb County Election Commission, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats met to re-organize and to appoint an administrator of elections. Peterson, a Democrat who had been administrator for DeKalb County since 1998, did not receive enough votes to get reappointed. The vote was 2 to 2 along party lines with the Republican Chairman Walteen Parker opting not to vote. The commission then voted 3 to 2 along party lines to appoint Dennis Stanley, a Republican, to the position.

Chairman Parker explained during the April 2009 meeting that since the administrator position was "open" with a new election commission, Peterson was not being fired, just not re-hired. She added that the administrator serves at the pleasure of the election commission. " I don't look at this as a dismissal, but simply as not a re-hire. The position was open with the new commission and therefore the commission has spoken for Mr. (Dennis) Stanley," said Chairman Parker.

She also denied assertions, during the meeting, that the Republican majority violated the open meetings law. "I would like to go on record as saying there have not been any secret meetings among anybody about what is going on," said Chairman Parker.

Peterson and the other former administrators who filed the federal lawsuit have been represented by attorneys, W. Gary Blackburn and John Ray Clemmons of Blackburn & McCune, PPLC in Nashville.

DeKalb County Habitat For Humanity Names Officers and Board Members

February 28, 2013
2013 DeKalb County Habitat for Humanity Board

The DeKalb County Habitat for Humanity held their annual meeting at Evins Mill in Smithville in January

The newly elected Officers for 2013 are: President, Nolan Turner; Vice President, Chad Driver; Secretary, Gayla Hendrix; and Treasurer, Brenda Hooper.

Joining the Board as new members for a two year term are: Michael Barry, Chad Driver, and Joy Parker.

Other Board Members are: John Carpenter, Pam Restrepo, Arthur Primrose, Larry Steffee, Mary Nell Summers, Cindy Webb, Lisa Garrison, Larry Green, Rob Willingham, and Hearon Puckett.

Former Board members who continue to serve as committee chairs are: Sharon Evans, Tecia Puckett Pryor, Tom Janney, Glenda Davis, Gary Johnson, John Quintero, Kay Quintero, Kim Wheeler, Laura Stone, Nancy Lewis, and Marie Blair.

Leaving the Board as retiring members this year are: Jerry Scott, who has served since 2011, Laura Stone, who has served since 2007, and Nancy Lewis, who has served since 2003, and has served as Secretary for many years.

The DeKalb County Habitat for Humanity is nearing the completion of their fourth partner family house, which is located on Hays Street in Smithville. Plans for 2013 include: the completion of the fourth house; raising money to begin work on a fifth house; selecting and purchasing lots for future houses; and beginning the selection process of a partner family and an alternate partner family.

Funding for these projects comes from grants, fundraising projects, which include our annual fundraising events, The Fiddler 5K and the Chili Cook-Off.

The Fiddler 5K, takes place this year on July 6, 2013, (the Saturday morning of the Jamboree). Registration is currently available on the website at www.fiddler5k.com. The Annual Chili Cook-Off takes place in the fall (date to be announced), at the 303 Building on the square in Smithville.

Everyone is encouraged to continue supporting the DeKalb County Habitat through volunteering and fundraising events, to ensure continued success. If anyone would like to know more about how to volunteer, please contact any of the board members.

(2013 DeKalb County Habitat for Humanity Board Photo- Front Row (left to right) – Arthur Primrose, Michael Barry, Cindy Webb, Nolan Turner, Mary Nell Summers, and Lisa Garrison.

Back Row (left to right) – John Carpenter, Larry Green, Rob Willingham, Chad Driver, Gayla Hendrix, Joy Parker, and Brenda Hooper.

Not Pictured: Hearon Puckett, Pam Restrepo, and Larry Steffee)

Weaver and Pody Support Bill to Reduce Size of UCDD and UCHRA Boards

February 28, 2013
Dwayne Page
Ryan Williams
Terri Lynn Weaver
Mark Pody

A state lawmaker from Cookeville is proposing legislation to create a sunset provision for the Upper Cumberland Development District and Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency and to reduce the number of members who serve on those boards.

The legislation, sponsored by State Representative Ryan Williams, would apply to all development districts and human resource agencies throughout the state. State Representatives Terri Lynn Weaver and Mark Pody, who represent DeKalb County, and Cameron Sexton of Crossville are co-sponsors of the legislation. State Senator Charlotte Burks is sponsoring the bill in the Senate although she is waiting for more public input before moving forward with the legislation.

Representative Williams said the purpose of the legislation is to make the boards smaller and more accountable while still providing services to the poor. Adding the sunsetting provision, he said would give the state comptroller the power to cut off funding to these agencies and shut them down if he feels they are not running efficiently. By sunsetting the agencies, the comptroller's office would look at them every three years by requesting audits from the past three years, according to Williams. Human Resource Agencies are already in the sunset cycle. Williams said the legislation could still be amended to address issues not covered by the bill.

The legislation would place the following agencies in the governmental entity review cycle, with a June 30, 2015, termination date: East Tennessee development district; First Tennessee development district; Greater Nashville regional council; Memphis area association of governments; Northwest Tennessee development district; South central Tennessee development district; Southeast Tennessee development district; Southwest Tennessee development district; and the Upper Cumberland development district.

Under present law, the membership of development district boards consist of the county mayor of each county within the district, the mayor of each municipality within the district, the chief executive officer of any metropolitan government within the district, one representative from a local agency in each county dealing with problems of industrial development or promotion appointed by the county mayor, and one (state senator and one state representative whose senatorial or representative districts lie wholly or in part in the development district.

This bill revises the board membership to be the county mayor of each county within the district, or an appointee of the county mayor of each county with knowledge of problems concerning industrial development or promotion; the chief executive officer of any metropolitan government within the district; and one state senator and one state representative whose senatorial or representative districts lie wholly or in part in the development district.

Similarly, the membership of the governing board under the Human Resource Agency Act consists of the county mayor of each county within the district, the mayor of each municipality within the district, the chief executive officer of any metropolitan government within the district, one representative from a local agency in each county knowledgeable of and dealing with the problems concerning human resource agencies appointed by the county mayor or chair, and one state senator and one state representative whose senatorial or representative districts lie wholly or in part within the development district.

This bill revises the membership of the governing board to be: the county mayor of each county within the district, or an appointee of the county mayor of each county with knowledge of problems concerning human resource agencies; the chief executive officer of any metropolitan government within the district; and one state senator and one state representative whose senatorial or representative districts lie wholly or in part within the development district.

Currently, the executive committee of the UCDD is made up of 32 members: 14 county mayors, 14 city mayors, two state representatives, and two industrial representatives. The agency's board of directors is made up of the 14 county mayors, 30 city mayors, an industrial representative from
each county, a legislator and a state representative. The board of directors only meet once a year.

UCHRA's board is made up of the same members, except there are consumer representatives instead of industrial representatives.

Drug Offenders and Others Sentenced in Criminal Court

February 28, 2013
Dwayne Page
Judge Leon Burns, Jr.

Sentences were handed down against thirteen people in DeKalb County Criminal Court last Friday, February 22. Most of the defendants entered pleas to various drug charges. Others pled to assault, DUI or other offenses.

Judge Leon Burns, Jr. presided.

21 year old Matthew Murphy and 20 year old Holly Ann Cikalo pleaded guilty to attempted initiation of methamphetamine and each received a six year sentence, suspended to time served. Each was fined $2,000. Murphy was given jail credit of 254 days. Murphy and Cikalo were arrested last summer in a meth lab investigation by the Smithville Police Department.

According to Chief Randy Caplinger, police were called to a residence on Woodlawn Street on Thursday, June 14, 2012 where Murphy had reportedly hidden components used to make methamphetamine in the back yard. Officers searched the premises and found muratic acid, drain cleaner, lighter fluid, ice compress, lithium batteries, and claritin D. Murphy, during questioning, admitted to the officers that these items belonged to him and that he intended to use them to make methamphetamine.

Cikalo, who was also at the residence with a young child, allegedly admitted to buying the lighter fluid and cold packs knowing that Murphy was planning to make meth with these items. The Department of Children Services was notified and the child was removed from the home.

Two women charged in an Alexandria meth lab discovery last summer pleaded guilty to their charges. 26 year old Kara L. Funk entered a plea to attempted initiation of methamphetamine. She received a three year sentence to be served. Funk was also fined $2,000. The case is to run concurrently with another sentence she is serving. A co-defendant in the case, 27 year old Jessica Renee Bogle pleaded guilty to promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine. She received a three year sentence, suspended to 105 days of time served. In the first year of her sentence, Bogle will be in a residential long term drug treatment program. The sentence is to run concurrently with another case against her. Bogle will be on supervised probation and she must pay a $2,000 fine.

According to Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins, while investigating reported suspicious activity in the area of Shady Lane in June 2012, officers found Funk and Bogle, and another person in the woods along with components used to manufacture methamphetamine. The case against the third person in the case, Christopher B. Pack is apparently still pending in court. The Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force responded to the scene to assist with the disposal of the components .

29 year old Brandon Tallent pleaded guilty to sale and delivery of a schedule II controlled substance and criminal exposure to Hepatitis. He received a three year sentence in the drug case and 11 months and 29 days in the criminal exposure case all suspended to probation. The sentences are to run concurrently. Tallent was fined $2,000. Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger reports that Tallent allegedly sold two pills believed to be dilaudid to an undercover operative on Tuesday, March 13, 2012.

33 year old Kenny Bly pleaded guilty to initiation of a process to manufacture methamphetamine and received a six year sentence to serve 30% before parole eligibility. He must undergo an alcohol and drug assessment. Bly was fined $2,000. The sentence is to run concurrently with another case against him for theft of merchandise or shoplifting. He was given jail credit from July 24, 2012 to February 22, 2013.

46 year old Teresa Mayo pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days all suspended to supervised probation. She was fined $150.

28 year old Benjamin Caldwell, Jr. pleaded guilty to possession of a schedule II and IV drug for sale. He received a three year sentence in one case and two years in the other but both sentences are to run concurrently as one three year term. The case is also to run concurrently with another sentence against him in Wilson County. He is to serve at least 30% of the sentence before parole eligibility. Caldwell was given jail credit of 183 days

28 year old Roxanna Landis pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and possession of drug paraphernalia. She received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days in the drug paraphernalia case. She will be on supervised probation but must undergo an alcohol and drug assessment and follow the recommendations. She was fined $150. Landis received a thirty day suspended sentence for leaving the scene and must make restitution. The sentences are to run concurrent with each other and with her state probation.

44 year old Victor Gingerich pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and possession of a schedule VI drug. He received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days in each case to run concurrently with each other. He must serve ten days and pay a fine of $610.

27 year old Clent Shehane pleaded guilty to assault for offensive touching and received a six month sentence, suspended to good behavior probation.

30 year old Joseph Edge pleaded guilty to assault and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days, suspended to supervised probation. He is under a restraining order to keep away from the victim. The sentence is to run together with his current probation.

43 year old Robert Roy (Bobby) Atnip, Jr. pleaded guilty to a second offense of driving under the influence. He received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days to serve seventeen days and then be in rehab for twenty eight days with the balance of the sentence on supervised probation. His drivers license is suspended for two years. He was fined $600 and he must undergo an alcohol and drug assessment and follow the recommendations. Atnip must also take part in an alcohol education program.


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