County commission gets solar eclipse lesson

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
NASA ambassador Theo Wellington speaks to the Wilson County Commission on Monday about the total solar eclipse that will take place in August. Wilson County is along the total eclipse sight path, which Wellington said is one of the few places to see the total eclipse.

Wilson County will experience nighttime during the day for about two minutes later this year as the area will experience a total solar eclipse in August.

NASA ambassador Theo Wellington addressed the Wilson County Commission during Monday’s monthly meeting and described the eclipse, along with the crowd the event is expected to attract.

“I use to qualify it and call it the biggest astronomical event. I don’t do that anymore. This is going to be the biggest public one-day event ever in U.S. history,” Wellington said.

“You guys are right in the best part of it,” said Wellington, who said the last total solar eclipse possible to be seen in Tennessee took place in 1869.

Wellington said the eclipse is not a “science geeky” occurrence and would challenge our senses and could cause emotional reactions for some people.

“To see the Sun go out in the middle of the day is something your brain knows doesn’t happen, so it hits you at a very human level. People cry. They shout. They go silent and speechless,” she said.

Wellington said half of the U.S. population is within a one day’s drive to the total solar eclipse path, which means areas along the path, such as Wilson County, will experience an influx of visitors.

“The expectation is the population will double all the way across that path that day. I want you to think about how that impacts everything – even things you don’t think about,” Wellington said.

Wellington said the total eclipse path is important because it’s the path in which a total eclipse is visible. Other areas will only experience a partial eclipse, which doesn’t bring darkness.

“It’s a nationwide event. Everybody will see part of the sun covered up that day, but only those in the 70-mile wide path get to see the total eclipse,” said Wellington, who said the eclipse causes a night and day difference.

“You guys are snugged up right next to the very center of the path,” she said.

Wellington said the maximum amount of time the total eclipse can be viewed is 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

“The Wilson County [Fairground] is only 2 seconds off the longest time,” she said.

Wellington said the biggest event surrounding the eclipse she knows about will take place in St. Joseph, Mo., where an extra 100,000 people are expected in the city – about 30,000 more than its population.

The commission also voted to allow officers to retain their service weapon upon retirement.

The Tennessee General Assembly gave counties authorization in 2006 to permit full-time sheriffs or deputy sheriffs to retain their service weapon upon retirement as long as the county legislative body approves it by a two-thirds vote.

A sheriff or deputy who retires on disability retirement may also retain the service weapon. The move was to recognize the officers for their “many years of good and faithful service.”

According to the resolution, to receive the service weapon, the certified officer must retire in good standing after 15 years or have at least 15 years with the department at the point or retirement from injury.

Commissioners Terry Ashe and Gary Keith abstained their vote.

The commission also voted to equip the future Springdale Elementary School with a school resource officer once the school opens in August.

Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan said the $10,000 budget amendment would go toward training and SRO certification before school begins. The department currently provides an SRO for every public school in Wilson County.

Springdale Elementary School is at 5675 Central Pike.

Rezoning plans have more than 500 students who currently attend Stoner Creek Elementary School and 200 students who currently attend Elzie D. Patton Elementary School rezoned to Springdale.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Four graduate from Drug Court program

Submitted to The Democrat
Judge John Wootten Jr. speaks during the 15th Judicial District’s Drug Court program graduation ceremony April 8. The 15th Judicial District Drug Court program has served Wilson, Trousdale, Macon, Jackson, and Smith counties for the past 15 years.

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court program held its graduation ceremony April 8 with Judge John Wootten Jr. presiding. 

Four men graduated the program after participating anywhere from one to four years. 

The drug court program started in 2002, designed to combine treatment and intensive supervision for nonviolent felony offenders who have had contact with the courts and have an admitted drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Wootten said the graduation was special, not only for the four program graduates, but also because one of the graduates was a participant in the veterans’ track.  According to Wootten, the program recently added a separate track geared toward the unique needs and services of Armed Forces veterans. 

The recent graduates are all employed fulltime, have suitable long-term housing and are compliant with supervision and screening requirements. Perhaps most importantly, the participants maintained a clean and sober lifestyle change for at least the last 18-24 months. The goal of the program is to break the cycle of re-incarceration. 

Wootten contributes the program’s success to the hard work of each individual participant, as well as the Drug Court team. Drug Court members include Wootten, Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Lea, Assistant Public Defender Shelley Thompson, Cumberland Mental Health director Nathan Miller, Veterans Affairs certified peer specialist Clarke Harrison, Board of Parole probation officer Jeremiah Smith, Drug Court coordinator Jeff E. Dickson Sr., case manager Paula Langford and case manager Shelly Allison.

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court program has served Wilson, Trousdale, Macon, Jackson, and Smith counties for the past 15 years.

Staff Reports

Residents give feedback on transportation

Mt. Juliet residents had an opportunity to provide feedback on proposed multimodal transportation plans in the city during an open house meeting Tuesday evening at the Mt. Juliet Community Center.

Proposed multimodal transportation plans include routes for walking and bicycling, as well as public transportation options. The plans address growth in Mt. Juliet while maintaining the city’s small-town feel.

City officials hope to increase the use of the Music City Star, make walking throughout the city safer and increase the fun and practicality of biking within the city.

Maps and designs were placed around the meeting room at the community center, and city transportation consultants spoke with residents during the come-and-go meeting.

Among the proposed projects are bike lanes, sidewalks and trails, as well as some road improvements to ease traffic.

Transportation projects could also include improvements at Music City Star stations and bike racks placed more frequently throughout the city to encourage alternative modes of transportation. 

According to city officials, the three areas that need the most attention are Mt. Juliet Road, Providence Road and connectivity among roads in the city.

Residents said several roads within the city need to be improved, including Old Lebanon Dirt Road, Division Street and Curd Road.

According to data presented at the meeting, about 95 percent of Mt. Juliet residents primarily drive to their destinations. About 2.8 percent use transit.

Residents who would prefer to put their thoughts in writing had the option to write their comments to pass along to transportation consultants.

Maps and more information about the multimodal transportation plans are available online at gomj.info. Residents can use an interactive map to pinpoint exact locations they want to see further studies done or note places where they think road improvements or bike lanes are needed.

For more information about the multimodal transportation plans, contact Andy Barlow at abarlow@cityofmtjuliet.com.

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson County named healthier community

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Gov. Bill Haslam, center, stands with Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto last Tuesday as he recognized the county as one of nine healthier Tennessee communities. The duo is joined by Shelly Barnes, Traci Pope, Brenda Harper, Chuck Whitlock, Marisa Hunter, Tammy Grow and Lea Rowe.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness CEO Richard Johnson designated Wilson County as a Healthier Tennessee Communities last Tuesday.

“We must encourage and enable community-led efforts like the ones we’re celebrating today if we want to improve the health and quality of life of Tennesseans,” Haslam said. “I congratulate these communities on their efforts to improve the health of their citizens, and I hope more communities will strive to do the same.”

The Healthier Tennessee Communities initiative takes a local approach to improving Tennesseans’ health by engaging citizens and local leaders in cities, towns, counties and neighborhoods across the state.

To be designated, the communities established wellness councils and developed sustainable community-wide events and activities that support physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco abstinence. They then tracked and measured outputs and accomplishments of the programs.

“These communities have elevated the importance of health and wellness and are working to make it an integral part of life in their cities and counties,” Johnson said. “If we can continue to do this, community by community, we will make this a healthier Tennessee.”

In Tennessee, one in five adults smokes, and one in five high school students uses tobacco. About 34 percent of the population is classified as obese, and type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure are at near epidemic levels.

The foundation launched the Healthier Tennessee Communities initiative in March 2015. Now, 78 communities are engaged with the program and 15 have received the designation.

More information about the communities program, including a list of participating cities and counties, and other Healthier Tennessee initiatives is available at healthiertn.com.

Staff Reports

Legislators delay marriage bill

A bill that would define marriage as between one man and one woman was delayed until 2018 after a House subcommittee meeting last Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, contradicted a Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in 2015. The bill also called for the rejection of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court giving same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.

Pody opted to roll the bill, noting two pending lawsuits relative to same-sex marriage in Tennessee. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimated $9 billion in federal funding could be in jeopardy if the legislation passed.

The bill also prohibited state and local agencies and officials from giving force or effect to any court order that has the effect of violating Tennessee’s natural marriage law. It eliminated the arrest of any “person of any government official or individual who does not comply with any unlawful court order regarding natural marriage within Tennessee.”

A press conference scheduled by state legislators last month ended after protestors began shouting in opposition of the bill, as well as the controversial bathroom bill, which was previously also rolled by Pody. That bill would have required students in state high schools and colleges to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Protesters packed the conference room in the Legislative Plaza, and shortly after Pody began to speak, they started to chant, “pull the bill.” 

Pody asked if he could finish, and when the crowd continued to chant, said, “I appreciate you all coming. Thank you very much.”

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Local young leaders learn about government

Submitted to The Democrat
High school juniors from across Tennessee debate and vote on a mock bill during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit at the state capitol in Nashville.

Tanner Buchanan from Wilson Central High School and Stella London from Mt. Juliet High School were in Nashville on March 13-15 for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit.

The juniors were chosen and sponsored by Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp.

Sen. Jim Tracy greeted delegates attending the three-day leadership and government workshop March 14 and welcomed the young leaders to the Senate chamber of the Tennessee Capitol. Alan Whittington, assistant chief clerk of the Senate, explained the process required to pass legislation, and students had the opportunity to debate and vote on a mock bill.

Reps. Mike Bell and John Lee Clemmons joined Tracy for a town hall meeting with attendees. The three discussed the legislative process and answered questions posed by summit attendees. Delegates then had the opportunity to listen in on debate in House and Senate meetings in Legislative Plaza.

In addition to a hands-on look at state government, delegates to the event learned team-building and problem-solving skills and developed a better understanding of their local electric cooperatives.

“We’ve had a wonderful day full of voting and mock legislation,” said London.

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee.

“These students will soon be our community leaders – and electric cooperative member-owners,” said MTEMC community relations coordinator Jay Sanders. “We want them to share our passion for Middle Tennessee, so it is an honor for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. to help prepare them for the opportunities that are ahead. The future of our rural communities depends on a new generation of strong leaders like these.”

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. is a member-owned nonprofit electric cooperative that provides electricity to more than 216,000 residential and business members in Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford and Cannon counties.

Staff Reports

Wilson County residents attend Hermitage event

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
A number of Wilson County residents attended President Donald J. Trump’s visit to historic Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, last Wednesday. Pictured (from left) are Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Paula Hutto, state Rep. Susan Lynn, President Andrew Jackson’s great-great-great-grandson Andrew Jackson VI, Janet Jackson, state Rep. Mark Pody, Susan McDonald and Bob McDonald, CedarStone Bank president and vice regent of the board of trust of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

Upon his arrival to Nashville last week, one of President Donald J. Trump’s first stops was at President Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage.

About 400 invitees, friends and supporters of the Hermitage were on hand as the Trump paid respect to Jackson’s gravesite and toured the mansion of the seventh president of the United States.

A number of Wilson County residents attended the event as part of the 250th anniversary celebration of Jackson’s birth March 15, 1767. The Hermitage will play host to several events throughout 2017 as it celebrates the occasion. 

Those attending last week from Wilson County included Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and wife, Paula Hutto, state Rep. Susan Lynn, state Rep. Mark Pody and CedarStone Bank president Bob McDonald and his wife, Susan McDonald. Bob McDonald also serves as vice regent of the board of trust of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

The Tennessee General Assembly has, for many years, been an important and special supporter of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Legislation was passed that resulted in the Hermitage receiving financial support from the state for important maintenance issues of the historic mansion.

“The Andrew Jackson Foundation has been the beneficially for many years of financial support of the Tennessee General assembly, and our local delegation, made up of Mark Pody, Mae Beavers and Susan Lynn, have played a key role in that support as they have embraced this effort in the ongoing preservation of this historic landmark,” said Bob McDonald on behalf of the board of trust of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

Also in attendance were Andrew Jackson VI and his wife, Janet Jackson. Andrew Jackson VI is the great-great-great-grandson of President Andrew Jackson and serves as a general sessions judge in Knox County. Andres Jackson VI and his family are also great supporters of the Hermitage and are proud of their heritage. They regularly attend activities and events at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.

Staff Reports

Beavers considers run for governor

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she is in the early stages of a possible run at the state’s top position after the leading conservative candidate might be headed to the nation’s capitol.

Sen. Mark Green has emerged as a leading candidate for President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Army, which would eliminate the most conservative candidate for the Tennessee governor position.

Beavers said the idea to run for governor emerged recently after several phone calls and comments from supporters, many of which she spoke with at the recent Wilson County Republican Party Convention.

“I said on Friday I would throw out the idea and see what happens,” said Beavers, who said she has not made a definite decision on her campaign.

“Sen. Green was the most conservative candidate. A lot of people felt the need to support a candidate who shares similar views,” she said.

If Beavers decides to run, she will face the Democratic former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and conservative Randy Boyd, former state commissioner of Economic and Community Development, who have officially announced their intentions to run.

Beavers sponsors several bill this legislative session that have drew support and criticism.

The Wilson County Republican Party Executive Committee expressed support for Beavers and fellow legislator Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and their Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act and “Bathroom Bill” legislation.

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, which conflicts with the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage in 2015, failed to make it out of a House subcommittee last year.

The Bathroom Bill would require students in state high schools and colleges to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Beavers is also the Senate sponsor for a bill introduced by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, that, if approved, would require the words “non-U.S. citizen,” “alien” or a symbol to appear on state-issued temporary driver license, permit or identification of any non-U.S. citizen or someone not a lawful permanent U.S. resident. 

Beavers served as the chairwoman of the Tennessee delegation to the Republican National Convention last year and spoke with Trump and VP Mike Pence while in Cleveland.

“What impresses about Donald Trump is he is saying all of the things that have kind of been not politically correct for other politicians. I think nobody’s been addressing these problems and he’s willing to come out and talk about them and tell what all the problems are,” she said last year.

She was elected to the state Senate in 2002 and represents Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith and Wilson counties.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

911 Board votes to move toward centralized dispatch

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County Emergency Communications 911 Board unanimously voted Monday to support co-location of dispatchers from all county and municipal emergency and law enforcement agencies in a centralized dispatch location.

Although there are several options for centralized dispatch, the board made a move toward using the existing 911 facility at 1611 W. Main St. as the site for centralized dispatch by voting to authorize the 911 executive committee, emergency communications Director Karen Moore and 911 board member Terry Ashe to negotiate with a civil engineer to determine what work would need to be performed to get the existing building to a point to where all agencies could house dispatchers there, and to have questions about the process answered.

Board members discussed possibly modifying the building to house all dispatchers and equipment, then potentially adding on to the building to house administrative offices, as such offices could be less expensive to build.

Board member David Hale made motions to approve co-location with other agencies and to look into modifying the existing 911 building to be that location.

Other options would include building a new facility and finding an existing building that could be bought and repurposed. Board members determined those options would likely be more expensive.

The 911 building has 2,448 square feet of space, Moore said during the meeting Monday. To house dispatchers from every agency, which includes 911, Wilson County Emergency Management Agency, Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and police and fire departments from Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, as well as administrative space, it could take more than twice that space, Moore estimated.

Board member Larry Stone said he wanted to be sure that, as the board moves forward with co-location, every agency would be in a position to handle further growth in Wilson County.

“Wilson County has seen incredible growth in just the last 10 years, and we should be ready for more growth,” Stone said. “I don’t just want to put a Band-Aid on this thing.”

Other board members shared Stone’s sentiment, and they agreed that as they move forward with the process, they should keep further growth in mind.

The board met in a work session Friday to discuss the matter with heads of various local agencies. Several of those agencies were represented again at the Monday meeting when a vote was taken.

The board has discussed the topic in several other meetings, but Monday’s votes were the first actions the board has taken to move forward with centralized dispatch.

WEMA Director Joey Cooper, Sheriff Robert Bryan and officials from Lebanon and Mt. Juliet police departments have all voiced support for centralized dispatch.

Hale said he did not know when or about how soon dispatchers from all agencies could be in a common location.

“We’re trying to move as fast as we can,” he said. “I would say we are now officially a work in progress, and that’s something we couldn’t say before.”

In other business, Moore, in her report to the board, told them pursuit of a new computer-aided dispatch system is “on the back burner” due to a larger focus needed to be placed on moving toward co-locating dispatchers with other agencies. Emergency communications will need a new system at some point regardless, she said.

Moore also notified the board that the sheriff’s office has interest in dispatchers attending a national emergency communications conference to learn more as the agencies prepare to move forward with co-locating. The sheriff’s office will pay for plane and hotel tickets, and it will apply for a scholarship grant to cover the cost of convention attendance. Otherwise, the 911 Board may vote to help with funding. The topic will be discussed further next month.

The board also:

• authorized the purchase of a backup recording system for calls.

• voted to move expiring CD funds into a new account.

• Ashe made a motion for the board to sponsor the National Junior High Rodeo Finals in Lebanon this summer for $1,000. It failed due to a lack of a second on the motion.

• Ashe applauded Moore and her staff for their work in applying address numbers to buildings in Wilson County.

“I’ve never heard a single complaint, and I don’t think you get the recognition you deserve for that,” Ashe said.

Committee to resume domestic animal tax talks

By Xavier Smith 

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County Animal Control Committee will continue its discussion regarding the eliminated $2 domestic animal tax after an hour-long discussion Thursday raised more questions than were answered.

Committee chairman Wendell Marlowe said the discussion deserved more time and attention than an hour and said future work sessions and meetings would need to take place before a proper decision could be made.

The Wilson County Commission passed a resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Joy Bishop, last month with the intent to discuss the tax collection, which ceased in 2013.

Marlowe said feedback he’s received on the issue did not favor re-instating the $2 domestic animal tax, which went toward New Leash on Life, which was then the county’s de facto animal control agency until the county started its own animal control department in 2003.

New Leash On Life now operates as a non-profit organization.

Marlowe said the primary question he received was if the organization still met the minimum requirements set forth in the resolution that authorized the collection.

Wilson County Mayor Mike Jennings said he was not prepared to answer the question Thursday night and would need to receive more information about New Leash on Life’s procedures and policies before he could give his opinion.

Commissioner Chad Barnard said although the collection seemed like a good idea in former years, he believed a lot has changed since collection started, including the county forming its own animal control department.

He also pointed to problems regulating collections, which were done collected through the cost of pet vaccinations. The group pointed to the possible and realistic loopholes veterinarians could use in order to avoid paying the tax.

Commissioner Jerry McFarland’s motion to designate $40,000 annually to New Leash for spay and neuter procedures failed during the meeting, although the group agreed the service is needed in the county.

Angela Chapman, New Leash director, said the organization performed 1,034 spay and neuter procedures last year.

Bishop’s last attempt to reinstate the tax ended in 2015 after it did not get approval from the Animal Control Committee after the full commission voted to send it back through committee.

That push to have the commission revisit the issue came on the heels of the release of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion on the issue.

Slatery’s opinion stated the Wilson County Commission had the right in 2013 to stop a $2 domestic annual fee originally approved by voters in 1980.

Kenny Martin: Did you know? Serenity can be easy to find

By Kenny Martin

City Manager of Mt. Juliet

Does anyone remember the old commercial that made it seem like if you took a bath or soaked in this special soap, you could be taken away from all your problems and worries?

If I remember correctly, the product was called Calgon, and according the product promoter, if you bathed or soaked in it, you could be taken away to a place of serenity. The catch phrase was, ”Calgon take me away.”

Well, as a small boy, I can remember thinking that this product could do just that. Sort of like the York Peppermint Patty commercial. Huh.

Well, life isn’t quite that simple. We can’t just simply turn to a product for serenity and peace of mind. Although, it is true to a certain extent these products can give you temporary relaxation and temporary satisfaction, they probably can’t give you serenity. It’s also true that the only true serenity comes in the form of prayer and the Bible.

One of my best friends reminded me recently of the serenity prayer as a way to soothe my worries and keep my priorities in place. The serenity prayer reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. How true.

Manmade products do have a way of helping us in our day-to-day lives. However, the only true serenity comes in the form prayer and the Bible. So when things aren’t going so well in your life, and you are feeling a little down, pick up the best book in the world, the Bible, and find all the answers to your prayers and serenity.

It’s the one book that will always be on the bestseller list. It’s also the book that has the answer to all your questions.

Kenny Martin is city manager of Mt. Juliet.

Mt. Juliet wraps up winter with box project

By Sinclaire Sparkman

ssparkman@lebanondemocrat.com

Streetscapes in Mt. Juliet recently received an artsy twist thanks to a project by the city to beautify metal control boxes.

The boxes house electrical components, water system controls and various mechanical devices that are essential to the function of buildings, traffic lights and businesses. The city came up with the box wraps as part of a community beautification project, and they are not meant for marketing purposes. Funding for the wraps came from sponsors, and they may get their logo placed on the box, but the overall picture portrays themes of community wellness and quality of life.

“A lot of times they just become industrial metal boxes sitting all over the place, but if you wrap them in art or make them more scenic, they blend in and become part of the streetscape,” said Kenny Martin, city manager for Mt. Juliet.

Sinclaire Sparkman • Mt. Juliet News

The wraps are made of vinyl, which also serves to keep the boxes cool during hot weather. Martin said part of the effort is to also keep graffiti from the boxes.

The city uses Advance Signs in Lebanon to create the wraps, since there is no vinyl wrap company in Mt. Juliet and they wanted to keep the job local.

Many of the wraps have appeared at traffic lights along Mt. Juliet Road, and the library is home to a wrap as well. Charlie Daniels appears on a box at the traffic light just outside of Charlie Daniels Park. A box near Providence Marketplace displays school logos in Wilson County, including Lebanon and Watertown high schools.

Martin said it is not dangerous to go near or touch the boxes, and they are locked so no one can get inside. They are government property, and tampering with or vandalizing the boxes could lead to prosecution.

“You can take pictures with them if you want, and the only folks that have keys are the ones who run the maintenance on them,” Martin said.

Possibilities for future wraps can be seen all over the city, including along greenways, on street corners and beside businesses.

“We really appreciate all the individuals and businesses that have stepped up and made it much more popular than what we thought,” Martin said. “The sincere intent of the program is to enhance the community and make it more beautiful.”

Kenny Martin: Did you know? Important to buy Wilson County first

As with any community, the importance of its citizens spending their hard-earned tax dollars locally is vitally important to the community’s economy and its citizens.

With Wilson County’s rapid growth and new businesses literally opening daily, we’re starting to see an even greater need to spend our tax dollars locally. For example, Wilson County businesses depend upon our tax dollars for survival. They make huge investments in our local community in an attempt to provide a service or convenience and desperately need and deserve our support.

Our schools, businesses, roads and many other services depend on the local economy for survival. When a business sets up shop in Wilson County, its goal is to provide services and conveniences to local citizens. In return, the local economy gets a boost from the additional revenue generated locally, and a trickle-down effect happens.

Without local businesses providing these much-needed services, citizens are forced to call on vendors in other cities and towns. As a result, these vendors have to drive and ship their merchandise further, and that cost is passed on to the customer or consumer. Unfortunately, money spent in other cities and counties benefits that community and not ours.

Therefore, I would like for each citizen to make every effort possible to spend your tax dollars locally. I totally understand that Wilson County doesn’t currently, nor will it ever be, able to offer every available service or convenience, but I would like for everyone to please patronize the businesses and services we have. In other words, if we have a business that offers something we need, we should make every effort to patronize that business and not a business outside our community.

What is spent here benefits here. What is spent elsewhere benefits that community. For example, if you know that you need gasoline, try and plan your gas purchases locally. If you need groceries, buy them locally and so on. The more we spend locally the better off our community will be.

In a nutshell, if you can buy it at home and support our local businesses, then please do so. Current businesses, services and products not currently in Wilson County are much more likely to locate here if they see that our citizens support and patronize their local businesses. Our community and its businesses depend upon your support and patronage.

In closing, please buy and shop locally. Its money well spent and will benefit our community and us.

Kenny Martin is city manager in Mt. Juliet.

County commits to animal tax talks

The Wilson County Commission agreed to have future talks regarding a possible domestic animal tax reinstatement Monday after little discussion on the resolution.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto called the resolution a “vote of confidence” and resolution sponsor Commissioner Joy Bishop called the resolution “an instrument to allow us to know if we are joining the movement here in Wilson County for animal betterment.”

The resolution expresses the commission’s “intent for support of the collection of the $2 domestic animal tax to be re-instated at a future date after the collection procedures and areas need to be strengthened are fully identified and presented to the county commission for approval.”

The resolution passed 16-8-1, with commissioners Wendell Marlowe, Terry Muncher, Terry Scruggs, Gary Keith, Adam Bannach, Chad Barnard, Becky Siever and John Gentry voting against the move. Commissioner Mike Justice was absent from the meeting.

Marlowe made an amendment to the resolution that set a target date for a decision for June or before.

“This is just to stop the stalling. I’ve tried going through committees but they’ve been canceled and so this is just to get the ball rolling,” Bishop said last week.

Bishop’s last attempt to reinstate the tax ended in 2015 after it did not get approval from the Animal Control Committee after the full commission voted to send it back through committee.

That push to have the commission revisit the issue came on the heels of the release of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s opinion on the issue.

Slatery’s opinion stated the Wilson County Commission had the right in 2013 to stop a $2 domestic annual fee originally approved by voters in 1980.

The commission also honored Wilson County Sheriff deputy Joseph Logan Hackett, who received the Medal of Valor for his heroics in December. Hackett rescued an adult and juvenile from a vehicle that had become stuck in rising water.

Hackett responded to a distress call and found a disabled vehicle with one adult and one juvenile stranded on top of the vehicle with creek water rising around them. Hackett anchored a rope and tied it off around his waist and waded and swam to the two individuals and rescued them.

Wilson County Sheriff Department leaders said Hackett’s quick and decisive actions minimized the injuries of the individuals and may have saved their lives.

“This is another example of one of many employees that is working in the sheriff’s office and all across the county protecting the lives of everybody. It’s well deserved,” Sheriff Robert Bryan said.

Hackett, a member of the Wilson County Special Response Team, joined the department in 2011.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

City defers lawsuit settlement

The Mt. Juliet City Commission unanimously voted to defer consideration of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Wilson County Board of Education during Monday night’s regular commission meeting.

Vice Mayor James Manness made the motion to defer voting for two meetings, which would tentatively schedule voting for March 27.

The board of education filed suit against the city for unpaid taxes collected on sales of liquor by the drink. According to Mike Jennings, attorney for the board of education, the city owes an estimated $449,000 in back taxes.

Monday’s consideration of the settlement was the second reading of the ordinance to settle the lawsuit. The first reading was approved in a previous city commission meeting, and the board of education met in a special called meeting to approve changes the city made to the language of the settlement.

Mayor Ed Hagerty and Ray Justice, commissioner in District 1, had a spirited debate over the lawsuit settlement during Monday’s meeting.

Hagerty said he believed the terms of the settlement were unfavorable to the city of Mt. Juliet, and he thought there needed to be more recognition for the city waving building fees for the school system. Justice said that, in his discussions with the school board, they always kept their word and wanted to find a middle ground in the dispute.

Hagerty was stunned to hear the school board approved the terms of the settlement by a 6-1 vote.

“It completely benefits them,” he said, after asking how one person from the board of education could possibly be against it.

At the heart of the issue is the about three acres of land on Mt. Juliet Road, which the city at one time intended to use to build a fire hall.

Among the reasons that commissioners chose to defer voting was about three acres of land on Mt. Juliet Road that the city would like to use to build a fire hall. Because the school system has the land under a bond, the land cannot be given away or sold for less than fair value.

According to Justice, the school board has indicated to him that they would also be in favor of the land being used for a fire hall, though the logistics could make doing so difficult.

“They still want us to be able to use that land; it is in their benefit to put a fire hall there,” Justice said.

Hagerty asked whether the commission could amend the lawsuit settlement to include language indicating

“I don’t think we’re in a position or a timeframe to do that,” Justice said, noting that the school board would have to meet to approve any changes to the settlement.

“To me this is us waving the white flag,” Hagerty said. “We’re surrendering.”

Hagerty and the commissioners asked whether there are ways they could acquire the land. Mt. Juliet city attorney Gino Marchetti said the only way the city could use the land would be to offer some sort of asset or financial compensation equal to the value of the land.

There was some confusion over the timeline of the settlement, with Justice believing that a vote had to be made by Monday. Marchetti told the board the next date in court was March 27, and he believed the court date would be reset.

The board approved voting on first reading of an ordinance to amend the budget to appropriate funds from the emergency services fund for easements and land to potentially be used for a fire hall.

Commissioners chose to approve the first reading so it will be ready to go if there is no way to acquire land from the board of education. The item was previously deferred Feb. 13.

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson GOP backs lawmakers

The Wilson County Republican Party Executive Committee recently approved a resolution that backs a pair of controversial bills sponsored by local state legislators.

The group passed a resolution that expresses support for the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act and the resurfaced “Bathroom Bill.” Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, sponsored both resolutions.

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, which conflicts with the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage in 2015, failed to make it out of a House subcommittee last year. Pody also sponsored that bill, which could have cost the state more than $8.5 billion, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

The bill called for the rejection of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court giving same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.

The controversial transgender bathroom bill, which was pulled by its sponsor last year, would require students in state high schools and colleges to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, pulled her version of the bill last year on a day when several groups swarmed Capitol Hill to show support on both sides of the bill. More than two-dozen pastors from the Tennessee Pastors Network joined members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee to show support for the bill.

At the same time, transgender high school students Henry Seaton and Jennifer Guenst, who testified against the bill earlier last year, delivered petitions with more than 67,000 signatures from people opposed to the bill. 

Pody and Beavers faced similar opposition earlier this month when the duo abruptly ended a joint press conference regarding the bills after protestors began chanting shortly after it started.

Protesters packed the conference room in the Legislative Plaza, and shortly after Pody began to speak, they started to chant, “pull the bill.” 

Pody stopped and asked if he could finish, and when the crowd continued to chant, he said, “I appreciate you all coming. Thank you very much.”

Pody and Beavers then left the room and went to their respective offices. Protesters followed them and apparently confronted them. Law enforcement officers were on hand to escort the legislators.

Both legislators have had protestor presence outside their respective legislative offices since the press conference, which reportedly prompted Beavers to lock her office last week.

The Wilson County Republican Executive Committee also expressed desire for legislative leadership to provide adequate security and protection for legislators and staff. Talk has increased recently to reinstate certain security measures at Legislative Plaza, including identification scans and badges.

Reporter Jake Old contributed to this report.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Controversial ‘bathroom bill’ returns to legislature

The controversial transgender bathroom bill, which was pulled by its sponsor last year, has returned to the Tennessee Legislature with a pair of new sponsors.

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored the measure in their respective chambers after fellow Wilson County legislator Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored similar legislation last year.

Lynn’s bill would have required students in state public schools to use restrooms that align with their gender at birth. Also, local school systems would have been allowed to make any additional accommodations for students.

Under the new bill, students in “public institutions of higher education” would be required to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Lynn pulled her bill last year on a day when several parties swarmed to Capitol Hill to show support on both sides of the bill. More than two-dozen pastors from the Tennessee Pastors Network joined members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee to show support for the bill.

At the same time, transgender high school students Henry Seaton and Jennifer Guenst, who testified against the bill earlier last year, delivered petitions with more than 67,000 signatures from people opposed to the bill. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, nearly 6,000 of the signers self-identified as clergy or people of faith when signing.

The House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted 8-4 to pass the legislation last year after some discussion on issues surrounding the bill. 

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Gov. Bill Haslam expressed concerns about the bill on separate occasions last year. Haslam voiced concerns the bill could endanger federal funding and wanted to leave the issue up to individual school districts.

“Right now we’re handing that on a local basis, and I think they’re dealing it with on an incident-by-incident situation,” Haslam said last year. “I actually trust our teachers and local school boards to figure out how to make those accommodations in those situations.”

Barry, last year, said the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. heard from convention planners who threatened to cancel their Nashville events if the bill became law.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Governor discusses IMPROVE Act

Jake Old • Mt. Juliet News
Gov. Bill Haslam spoke at a town hall meeting Thursday night. He and state Rep. Susan Lynn, who organized the meeting, discussed the proposed IMPROVE Act, which would introduce significant tax cuts and increase the state’s gas tax.

Gov. Bill Haslam was in Wilson County on Thursday for a town hall meeting organized by state Rep. Susan Lynn regarding the proposed IMPROVE Act, which would result in tax cuts and a gas tax increase, and is designed to address issues with transportation funding.

Specifically, the IMPROVE Act would increase the road user fee or gas tax by 7 cents for a gallon of gas and 12 cents for a gallon of diesel, and increases car registration fees by $5 for the average passenger vehicle, which is expected to bring in $278 million in new money for backlogged transportation projects.

Along with the increases are proposed significant tax cuts on food and manufacturing.

According to Lynn, it could possibly include introducing an open container law into the state, which would take away a significant penalty that has to be paid by the state for not having such a law, thus opening up more funds to be distributed in different ways. 

The act also calls for expediting the elimination of the Hall income tax, which is already statutorily required to be eliminated by 2022.

The state’s gas tax was last increased in 1989. Since then, the cost to repair and maintain roads has doubled, and the tax, which is an excise tax — meaning it stays consistent no matter the price of the product — is equivalent to roughly half of what it was almost 30 years ago due to inflation.

“We’re trying to keep up with our roads, and it costs twice as much and we have half as much money now,” Haslam said.

Dozens of community members turned out to hear Haslam and Lynn explain the act. A question-and-answer session was held at the end of the event.

Several people questioned why money from a surplus could not be used rather than increasing the gas tax. Haslam said he did not want to commit surplus money to the road projects because they are too important and the surplus is not guaranteed every year.

“I can go ahead and tell you now, we’re probably not going to have a surplus this next year,” Haslam said. “I’ve spent hours and hours and hours looking at that budget.”

Haslam said he feels now is the best time to act on addressing the backlog of road projects.

“This is something that would be impossible for a new governor,” he said. “I would love to be remembered as the governor who cut all of these taxes and started Tennessee Promise, and leave it at that, but this is too important, and I can’t leave that for a new, first-term governor to try to handle.”

Under the IMPROVE Act, a total of 962 projects throughout the state would start within the next eight years, including 10 Wilson County road projects.

Among the Wilson County projects are two highly debated roadways in State Route 109 and South Mt. Juliet Road. The State Route 109 project is designated for the roadway from Highway 70 and north to the county line at Dry Fork Creek. The 7.5 miles of work is estimated to cost $18.5 million. The South Mt. Juliet Road project is estimated to cost $25.4 million to address the area between Central Pike and Providence Way.

Two Interstate 40 projects could address issues from Interstate 840 to Highway 70 and from State Route 109 to 840. The project’s estimated total is $94 million.

Other projects include Central Pike from Old Hickory Boulevard to Mt. Juliet Road, Highway 70 from Park Glen Drive to Bender’s Ferry Road, Hartsville Pike from south of Spring Creek to north of Lover’s Lane and Hartsville Pike from north of Lovers Lane to Highway 70.

A new interchange at I-40 and Central Pike is also listed under the interstate program and estimated at $14.2 million.

Another project would feature I-40 and stretches across Davidson, Dickson, Cheatham, Williamson and Wilson counties, estimated to cost $4 million.

Haslam said he is open to hearing other ideas from the Tennessee General Assembly, but he fundamentally opposes any idea in which Tennesseans are paying the brunt of a bill driven up by outsiders; by raising the gas tax, those who drive on the roads will help pay for the roads when buying gas, including commercial truck drivers who drive through the state. Truck drivers are required to buy fuel in a state proportionate to the amount of miles they drive in that state, Haslam said.

“I believe there will be other plans, and they will be talked about,” Haslam said. “I’m a governor, not a king. Just because I propose something, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can happen.”

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

Town hall meeting heats up

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, attempts to answer questions from constituents Thursday at a Mt. Juliet town hall meeting.

A Mt. Juliet town hall meeting concerning Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act featuring state legislators became heated once the floor opened up to the audience, which featured several constituents upset about sponsored bills.

Haslam’s IMPROVE Act cuts the sales tax on groceries another half percent ($55 million) to 4.5 percent, while it increases the road user fee or gas tax by 7 cents for a gallon of gas and 12 cents for a gallon of diesel and increases car registration fees by $5 for the average passenger vehicle, which is expected to bring in $278 million in new dollars for Tennessee Department of Transportation projects.

Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said most leaders agree there’s a need to help fund Tennessee Department of Transportation projects but disagree on the method.

“We’re in agreement that we have to get more money to the transportation fund. We agree it’s underfunded and we want to put more money in there,” said Pody, who said other options have been presented since Haslam’s proposal.

One plan would redirect a quarter of one percent of sales tax directly to the transportation fund, which should create about $291 million of reoccurring money every single year.

Rep. Terri Lynn Wilson, R-Lancaster, said by March 1, all plans will have been heard and committees would begin to make decisions on the appropriate action.

Rep. Mae Beavers said she believes new money would not be needed due to the state’s surplus.

“We need to live within our existing revenues that we’re bringing in right now,” she said.

The meeting became heated once Pody opened the floor up for questions when some protestors believed the group would take questions regarding several bills sponsored by Pody and Beavers.

Pody, however, said the group would only respond to questions relative to the IMPROVE Act and would answer questions regarding bills, including the controversial “bathroom bill” next week.

The meeting came less than 24 hours after Pody and Beavers introduced a bill that states students in “public institutions of higher education” would be required to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

The two also sponsor a bill that would define marriage in Tennessee as between a man and woman.

At one point, Mt. Juliet Police officers attempted to calm a demonstrator upset about the legislators’ stance on certain issues. Several marriage equality and civil rights signs and flags flocked the crowd.

Some protesters indicated since the group did not answer questions regarding sponsored bills, the group would contain more protestors in the future. Pody said all constituents would be welcome to the press conference, which he said would take place Tuesday or Wednesday next week in Nashville.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Sales tax revenues increase to end year

Sales tax revenues in Wilson County ended the year on a high note and continued a more than four-year trend of increases compared to the same time a year ago.

Figures released recently from the Tennessee Department of Revenue showed December’s collections finished around $3.9 million, an increase from November’s $3.72 million.

The figure was a decrease from October’s $4.04 million, but an increase from September’s $3.77 million and August’s $3.85 million.

December’s rate was up about $130,000 compared to the same month a year ago, which marked the 52nd-straight monthly increase in year-to-year comparisons. The last time revenues fell compared to the year prior was August 2012.

Lebanon again led the way with the highest amount of sales tax collections among Wilson County cities with $1.9 million collected in December, an increase of about of about $120,000 compared to November and about the same as a year ago.

Collections in Mt. Juliet in December totaled about $1.62 million, an increase of about $120,000 more than November. The figures also marked an increase of more than $20,000 from a year ago.

Watertown’s collections were around $28,000 in December, which is about $2,000 less than November and an increase of about $1,500 from the same month last year.

Collections in unincorporated areas of Wilson County, at around $300,000, was on par with November and the same month a year ago.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com