Local News Articles

State Comptroller Report Finds Former UCDD Director Used Public Funds to Support Lavish Lifestyle

October 15, 2012
Wendy Askins

The Upper Cumberland Development District’s (UCDD) former executive director Wendy Askins called an independent living facility for seniors “one of the sweetest projects in the history of [her] career.” However, only a small handful of seniors lived in the facility after it was completed. And their accommodations were significantly less luxurious than those Askins and her daughter enjoyed after they moved into the publicly-funded facility’s main living quarters.

A report released today by the State Comptroller’s Division of Investigations identified numerous UCDD transactions that did not appear to serve a public or governmental purpose. The report concluded that the volume and type of inappropriate transactions identified indicates that the UCDD board of directors failed to uphold its duty to follow sound business and accounting practices, to ensure that all disbursements were appropriate, and to act in the best interests of the district and its goals.

Development districts are created to promote economic growth and development and to serve those in need within each district’s boundaries. The vast majority of funding for the Upper Cumberland Development District and its programs comes from taxpayer dollars from state and federal government.

The Living the Dream Project was designed and planned by Askins while she served as executive director of the UCDD. The Comptroller’s investigators questioned numerous transactions Askins ordered which did not appear to be in the development district’s best interests. The investigators pursued a trail of improper spending on a project that appeared to primarily benefit Askins and certain members of her family.

Askins personally selected tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades for the main area of the home which she and her daughter occupied by themselves. Askins paid more than $6,000 for steam showers for both her and her daughter’s bathrooms, more than $1,500 for a double-sided fireplace in the home’s main living area, nearly $1,000 for a fireplace in her own master bedroom, and more than $7,000 for decorative fountains. Askins also spent more than $25,000 on a curved staircase for the home which led to her daughter’s upstairs living area.

By last February, the project had a price tag of nearly $1.4 million, the Comptroller’s report revealed.

Among the many unnecessary purchases for the Living the Dream home, Askins and various family members received more than $24,000 in direct personal benefits from transactions she orchestrated with the development district. Askins used nearly $10,000 in district funds to purchase used furniture, televisions and exercise equipment from herself for use in her Living the Dream home and more than $14,000 to purchase other used furniture and items from her immediate family. She also submitted a false reimbursement request and received nearly $3,000 from UCDD for catering expenses related to a political campaign event not associated with the development district. Additionally, Askins reimbursed herself $1,229 for other personal expenses such as fuel for her personal out-of-state travel and her personal credit card fees.

In 2011, Askins spent $2,000 in UCDD funds to purchase a 3-D capable computer and $99 for 3-D glasses, and incurred over $600 in costs for ring-back tones, premium texts and music downloads on her district cell phone, according to investigators.

The Comptroller’s report further details that at its 2010 annual meeting, the UCDD treated board members and approximately 80 other guests to food and entertainment at a local winery. This meeting alone cost the agency more than $6,200 and appear to further no public or governmental purposes.

Investigators attribute the magnitude of such waste and abuse to the fact that Askins and her deputy director had unfettered discretion to spend public funds on a far-too-wide range of items and that board members were not providing adequate oversight to protect the public’s interests.

“Even though the board may not be directly to blame for such rampant misuses of public funds, it was inherent in their fiduciary responsibilities to supervise Wendy Askins, the Living the Dream project, and to ensure that all development district funds were spent entirely for the benefit of those who are served by the district,” said L. Rene Brison, Assistant Director of Investigations for the Comptroller’s office.

“These types of abuses of the public trust are likely to outrage many citizens who live within the Upper Cumberland Development District boundaries – and rightfully so,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Every public dollar that’s spent for the personal benefit of a government official is one less dollar that can be spent to benefit the people who need government services. I hope and trust that the Upper Cumberland Development District will put safeguards in place to guard against this type of waste and abuse in the future.”

To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/ia/20121015UCCDaudit.pdf

To view photos of the contrasting accommodations of the UCDD’s executive director and the senior citizens who lived in the Living the Dream facility, go to:


Chamber Presents Community Improvement Award to Parsley

October 13, 2012

The Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce recently presented a Community Improvement Award to Attorney Vester Parsley, 111 W. Main St., Smithville for the exterior improvements made to his building including new paint, colorful plants, and beautiful signs.

The purpose of the Community Improvement Award is to encourage and recognize improvements giving DeKalb County an enhanced and value added appearance as well as increasing service and organizational offerings to its citizens. If you would like to make a nomination, please contact the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce at (615)597-4163.

Forest Fire Season Starts Monday

October 13, 2012
Older Photo

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry and the Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Division of Fire Prevention are observing National Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 7-13), by reminding homeowners to follow simple safety practices to prevent forest fires. The official start of forest fire season in Tennessee is Oct. 15.

“Burning vegetative material that has accumulated around the yard or using fire to clear an old field can be an efficient way to get rid of debris,” said John Kirksey, Fire Chief for the Division of Forestry. “However, this activity needs to be done safely. The division’s burn permitting system focuses attention on the safe use of fire for debris burning.”

Activities requiring a burning permit include unconfined outdoor burning of brush and leaves, untreated wood waste and burning to clear land. Burning permits are free of charge. Citizens can apply for burning permits online or by calling their local Division of Forestry office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The DeKalb County Forestry office phone number is 615-597-4015. Forestry offices are listed in your local phone directory under state government, or can be found by visiting www.burnsafetn.org. The website also includes tips for safe debris burning and provides access to the online permitting system. Permit holders should also check for other restrictions in their locale.

Online permits will only be available for small scale burning of leaf and/or brush piles measuring less than 8 feet by 8 feet in dimensions. These permits can be obtained on days that burn permits are being issued, including after-work hours and through the weekend, by going to www.burnsafetn.org.

“It only takes a couple of minutes to get a burn permit, whether one is obtained by calling in or online” said Kirksey. “Either way it’s important for citizens to know when, where and how it’s safe to conduct a debris burn, and the burn permitting system is our way of getting that information to them.”

Homeowners living in forested communities can take steps to protect themselves and their property. Keeping gutters and rooftops free of debris, maintaining at least two to five feet of none flammable material next to the foundation of the home and clearing away flammable brush at least 30 feet from the house are just a few simple examples of what homeowners can do.

Wildfires are occasionally started by out of control house fires. The state Fire Marshal’s Office is warning citizens to also be aware of fire hazards in their home.

“For many years, Tennessee has occupied an undesirable ranking in the country for fire deaths. Falling asleep while smoking in bed or in a comfortable chair remains a significant cause of fire deaths in Tennessee,” says Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “Always make sure your home’s smoke detectors are functioning properly.”

Escaped debris burns are the leading cause of wildfires. Burning without a permit is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $50. Wildfires caused by arson are a class C felony punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 fines. Anyone with information about suspected arson activity should call the state Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at 1-800-762-3017.

For more information, visit www.burnsafetn.org.

Tourism Expenditures Continue to Grow in DeKalb County

October 12, 2012
Suzanne Williams

According to recently released figures from the U.S. Travel Association’s Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties Report, tourism and travel-related expenditures in DeKalb County are continuing to grow at a good pace. The latest report shows DeKalb County is up 4.6% and ranks 3rd in terms of travel-related expenditures in the 14-county Upper Cumberland Region.

Travel-related expenditures for DeKalb County rose to $36.32 million dollars. The study reflects the 2011 estimates of the impact of traveler spending in DeKalb County, as well as the employment, payroll income, and tax revenue directly generated by this spending.

Chamber Director Suzanne Williams says she is excited and encouraged by the news. “We are very appreciative of all the efforts and benefits that our local businesses and event organizers are providing for our visitors as shown by the increase in tourism dollars coming to our area. We look forward to more opportunities as the new downtown Evins Park Open-Air Stage becomes available for our 2013 tourist season. We are also excited about the downtown Smithville revitalization efforts which will encourage more tourism and local shopping to our downtown area,” says Williams.

School Board Sets Graduation Date for Class of 2013

October 12, 2012
Dwayne Page
Class of 2012

The Class of 2013 at DeKalb County High School will graduate on Friday, May 24.

The Board of Education set the date for the graduation during Thursday night's monthly meeting.
Meanwhile, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby presented his monthly report on personnel. Those employed since the last meeting are as follows

Substitute Teachers:
Ellen Ammons, Guylene Atnip, Jennifer Braswell, Carolyn Caldwell, Matthew Carpenter, Brenda Colwell, Julie Cook, Marcia Davey, Donna Davis, Linda Dean, Suzanne Dunn, Debbie France, Ann Frazier, Holly Frazier, Katie Frazier, Robbie Joann Frazier, Wayne Fuson, Sherrie Giles, Johnna Goff, Natalie Green, Chelsea Grissom, Vicki Haggard, Glenda Hall, Charlene Hallum, Jimmy Hendrixson, Betty Hickey, Ester Holder, Michelle Hoyle, Kelly Huling, Shirley Ingram, Milinda League, Linda Luna, Deliah McGhee, Sharon Moffett, Stephen Moore, Eden Nokes, Angela Osment, Paul Parker, Bruce Parsley, Jessica Patrick, Angelia Pedigo, Elaine Perricone, Jessica Rackley, Ivadell Randolph, Holley Reffue, Virginia Rose, Jessica Sims, Michelle Snipes, Melissa Vantrease, Vickey Vickers, Wander Vickers, Mack White, Rena Willoughby, Kimberly Young, Jessica Antoniak, Matthew Antoniak, Justin Brown, Michelle Critser, Betsy Driver, Danny Fish, Bobbie Hale, Chad Hendrixson, Connie Johnson, LaTonya Kleparek, Mary Sanders, Robert Smith, Brad Trapp, Cassie Tripp, Stephanie Turner, and Natasha Vaughn

Bus Driver: Myron Rhody

Leave of Absence: Barbara Hibdon, DeKalb Middle School Cafeteria worker and Penny Smitty, DeKalb Middle School Teacher.

The board adopted a resolution of appreciation for custodians.

The resolution is as follows:

"Whereas, custodians frequently go to infinity and beyond the call of duty to help keep schools free of dirt and germs that can cause illnesses; and

Whereas, the custodians in the DeKalb County School System perform a long list of behind the scenes jobs that are very important but often go unnoticed; and

Wheras, the custodians are required to do many tasks at the school that are unappealing and cringe-worthy and they do them with style; and

Whereas, custodians arrive at school long before anyone else and leave after everyone; and

Whereas, DeKalb County Schools could not function properly without our outstanding custodial staff.

Therefore, be it hereby resolved, that the DeKalb County School Board expresses appreciation to the custodians who are constantly going to infinity and beyond to keep our schools clean, safe, and free of germs.

Be it further resolved that October 25, 2012 is declared Custodian Appreciation Day and that each school is encouraged to get students, employees, and parents involved in the 2012 Custodian Appreciation Day Event.

Tennessee Gets Ready for Medicare Enrollment

October 11, 2012

With Medicare’s open enrollment period starting October 15, there are over 1.2 million Medicare Beneficiaries in Tennessee that may be impacted not only by the open enrollment period but by changes that are being made to their Medicare benefits.

People with Medicare will see some significant changes to the enrollment rules this fall. If they miss the opportunity to make adjustments to their plans during the open enrollment period, most people will have to wait to make changes until the next open enrollment period.

The following will change:

· Medicare’s Annual Coordinated Election Period (AEP) will take place October 15-December 7, 2012. Both Part D and Medicare Advantage plan members must make plan changes at this time.

· Medicare’s Annual Disenrollment Period (ADP) will take place from January 1-February 14, 2013. People with Medicare Advantage (MA) plans will only be able to return to Original Medicare and join a stand-alone prescription drug (Part D) plan. In the past it was possible to switch Medicare Advantage plans from January 1-March 31.

Also, due to recent changes in Medicare requirements and payments, insurers may opt to change plan benefits, provider networks, and cost.

Plans might respond to the upcoming shifts in Medicare by:

·Raising beneficiaries’ premiums and/or cost-sharing

·Reducing their network of providers

·Reducing extra benefits

·Making quality improvements to obtain bonuses

·Withdrawing from the marketplace entirely

Others may not make dramatic changes. Beneficiaries should always check their coverage carefully each year to ensure they are enrolled in a plan that will continue to meet their health needs and budget.

TN SHIP (State Health Insurance and Assistance Program) counselors will be available to assist people with assessing their Medicare coverage options during this enrollment season. Medicare beneficiaries are encouraged to contact the local TN SHIP office as soon as possible to set up a counseling appointment. The number for beneficiaries to call is 1-877-801-0044.

The TN SHIP program receives grant funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide direct, local assistance to Medicare beneficiaries through one-on-one, counseling sessions (both in-person and over the phone), presentations, and public education programs. The national SHIP network includes over 1,300 local sponsoring organizations supporting over 12,000 counselors (mostly volunteers) and staff. Last year, SHIPs served over 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries nationwide.

TN SHIP counselors can help Medicare beneficiaries:

Review current coverage
Check qualification for low-income programs
Compare plans with all available options
Search for specific plans online that meet specific prescription and medical needs
Give easy-to-understand answers to questions about Medicare
Help enroll in a plan online

Open enrollment this year lasts until December 7.

Mallory Sullivan Competes in State Golf Tournament

October 11, 2012
Dwayne Page

Mallory Sullivan finished tied for 14th in the girls Class A/AA state golf tournament at Willowbrook in Manchester Wednesday.

The DCHS Junior shot 84 on Tuesday and 86 on Wednesday for a total score of 170. It was her third straight state tournament appearance. Sullivan finished in second place last year.

"She did have a great year," said Coach Joe Pat Cope. She had the low score at district and second low score at region and got a trip back to the state. After coming in second place last year in the state, we had some pretty lofty goals this year. I know she (Mallory) is disappointed but I don't want to take anything away from her season. She's had three state tournament appearances. She's received a lot of recognition from college coaches. Its been another great season. But I know the type of kid she is and her work ethic. She's not going to be happy for a while but she will look back and realize how good it was. She was awfully disappointed today coming in 14th but that is still great because there were fifty five golfers there and I'm tickled to death with her and happy with the season,"he said.

Coach Cope said he is also proud of what his boys team accomplished this season. "Our boys ended up undefeated again winning their ninth straight district championship but came up a little short in the region to Signal Mountain," he said.

"I'm looking forward to next year. Mallory will be back for her senior season. Ethan Roller will also be coming back. He was at the state tournament as a sophomore last year. He came up a little bit short this year but he will be back near as well," said Coach Cope.

Willoughby Advises School Backpack Recipients to Be Aware of FDA Recall

October 10, 2012
Dwayne Page
Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has initiated a voluntary recall of select packages of Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size Original and Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite Size because of possible metal mesh fragments from a faulty manufacturing part, according to the FDA.

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said parents of students receiving food through the school system's Backpack Program should especially be aware of this recall. "We suggest you follow the guidelines and discard any packages of Frosted Mini-Wheats that you might still have," said Director Willoughby.

Recalled products include the letters KB, AP or FK before or after the Best If Used Before date.

Products impacted are:
Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size Original cereal
· UPC 3800031829 - 18-ounce carton with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 01 2013 KB - SEP 21 2013 KB
· UPC 3800073444 - 18-ounce carton with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 01 2013 KB - SEP 21 2013 KB
· UPC 3800031834 - 24-ounce carton with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 01 2013 KB - SEP 21 2013 KB
· UPC 3800046954 - 30-ounce carton with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 01 2013 KB - SEP 21 2013 KB
· UPC 3800031921 - 70-ounce club store carton with Better if Used Before Dates APR 01 2013 KB - JUL 29 2013 KB
· UPC 3800004961 - single-serve bowl with Better if Used Before Dates between 04013 KB - 09213 KB
· UPC 3800021993 - single-serve carton with Better if Used Before Dates between AP 04013 - AP 09213 or FK 04013 - FK 09213

Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite Size cereal
· UPC 3800021983 - single serve carton with Better if Used Before Dates between FK 04013 - FK 09213
· UPC 3800035982 -18-ounce carton with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 01 2013 KB - SEP 21 2013 KB

People with the recalled product or who have questions should choose "Contact Us" on Kellogg's website or call 800-962-1413 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday.

Christian Film "Unconditional" Produced by Local Couple Now Showing In Theaters

October 9, 2012
Dwayne Page
Unconditional Now In Theaters
Jason and Shannon Atkins

The new independent Christian film "Unconditional" produced by local residents Jason and Shannon Atkins, opened in theaters last month and can now be seen in this area.

Unconditional, written and directed by Brent McCorkle, was inspired by true events. It is the first film by Harbinger Media Partners, founded by Jason and Shannon Atkins, which aims to "produce high quality theatrical films that honor God and inspire viewers to pursue Him and serve

The film is based on the actual story of Joe Bradford, who grew up in a rural area of Tennessee. When he developed kidney disease, Joe and his wife Denise were forced to move to a low-income area of Nashville.When they arrived, they were confronted by the needs of the underprivileged children in their neighborhood. Joe and Denise began to reach out to them and also started directing a choir of inner-city children. Many of the fatherless children embraced Joe, who became known as "Papa Joe." Together with his wife, he founded Elijah's Heart, a non-profit organization, in 2005 to help children in need.


"Unconditional" Teaser Trailer from Harbinger Media Partners on Vimeo.
In the film, Samantha Crawford is living a storybook life: she's happily married, she lives on a ranch where she keeps her beloved horse, and the stories she's told and illustrated since childhood have become published books.

When her husband Billy is killed in a senseless act of violence, Sam loses her faith and her will to live. But a death-defying encounter with two children leads to a reunion with Joe, her oldest friend. Inspired by true events, UNCONDITIONAL stars Michael Ealy (Think Like A Man) and Lynn Collins (John Carter).

As Sam watches "Papa" Joe care for and love the kids in his under-resourced neighborhood, she begins to realize that no matter life's circumstances, the love of God is always reaching out to us.

Jason and Shannon Atkins founded Harbinger Media Partners in Nashville in 2009 to produce inspirational films. Prior to founding Harbinger Media Partners, Jason served as general partner and portfolio manager of a hedge fund, managing resources for prestigious groups. He made his mark as an investor who identified coming waves of change. His visionary skills led to the establishment of a foundation that impacts humanitarian organizations across continents. Recognizing the influence of art on the ideals and pursuits of man, Jason founded The Doorpost Film Project in 2007. This passion would lead Jason to closing his investment fund and forming Harbinger Media Partners LLC in 2009. UNCONDITIONAL is Harbinger's first film.

The Atkins' own a local farm and they attend the Smithville Cumberland Presbyterian Church.


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