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


911 Board votes to move toward centralized dispatch

By Jake Old


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 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Beavers re-attempts to tackle porn

State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, re-introduced a bill she filed last year that would declare pornography a public health hazard in Tennessee.

If legislators approve the resolution, the state would acknowledge pornography as a public health hazard that leads to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms. 

“Rather, efforts to prevent pornography exposure and addiction, to educate individuals and families concerning its harms and to develop recovery programs must be addressed systemically,” the resolution said.

Beavers’ resolution proclaims pornography is contributing to the “hyper-sexualization” of teens.

“Due to the advances in technology and the universal availability of the internet, young children are exposed to what used to be referred to as hardcore pornography at an alarming rate, with 27 percent of older millennials reporting that they first viewed pornography before puberty,” the resolution said.

Also, according to the bill, Beavers claims for teenagers pornography can lead to low self-esteem and eating disorders; increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages; and an increased desire to engage in “risky” sexual behavior.

Beavers also claims children and youth exposed to pornography often use it as their sex education, which shapes their sexual templates. She also claims since pornography treats women as objects, it teaches girls to be used and boys to be users.

The bill also states pornography normalizes violence and abuse of women and children; treats women and children as objects and often depicts rape and abuse as harmless; equates violence toward women and children with sex and pain with please, which leads to increase demands in sexual trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.

Beavers also said pornography has detrimental effects on watchers, such as emotional, mental and medical illnesses; deviant sexual arousal; difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships; brain development and functioning; problematic or harmful sexual behavior and addiction and more.

Beavers discussed the resolution last year during multiple Senate meetings. Beavers said due to the internet, mobile devices and social media, people are exposed to more sexual images, which can be hard to monitor, sometimes.

“What’s going on is alarming, especially for our children and the future of our society, and we wanted to bring this resolution to call attention to it,” Beavers said in a Senate Health Subcommittee meeting last year.

Beavers presented results of various studies and information provided by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation during a full Senate session last year, as well.

“In a study that was done, they found that there was a 17-percent increase in access to pornography versus PlayStation, 7-percent increase in access versus a Nintendo Wii and 18.9-percent increase in access versus a Nintendo 3DS. This should alarm all of us,” she said.

By Xavier Smith


Hutto highlights county successes

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto delivers his 2017 State of the County on Wednesday at the Lebanon Golf and Country Club. Hutto touched on several aspects of Wilson County and highlighted future initiatives and goals in his hour-long speech.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto delivers his 2017 State of the County on Wednesday at the Lebanon Golf and Country Club. Hutto touched on several aspects of Wilson County and highlighted future initiatives and goals in his hour-long speech.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto praised the work of county officials and employees, highlighted county successes and discussed future goals during his 2017 State of the County on Wednesday at the Lebanon Golf and County Club.

Hutto discussed some of the county’s accomplishments and bright spots, which included the Wilson County and Lebanon Special school districts, the financial work of the Wilson County Commission and the county’s improved bond rating of AA-positive, up from the AA-positive outlook.

Wilson County is one of six counties in the state with the

AA-positive rating, joining Knox, Shelby, Montgomery, Rutherford and Sumner counties. Only two counties – Williamson and Hamilton – have a AAA bond rating, which allows more flexibility in bond procedures and debt settlement.

Hutto also highlighted goals the county reached last year. The county received a level 4 Insurance Services Office rating for fire protection, passed a pay plan for county employees to help with retention, finished a teacher pay plan for educators and increased the size of the Wilson County school board, which paved the way for the first African-American member in Johnie Payton.

Hutto also praised the Wilson County Road Commission, which had a record year in 2016, which allowed the county to have all roads paved and eliminated gravel or tar and chip roads.

The mayor also discussed economic development projects taking place throughout the county, the Nashville Superspeedway, transportation and increased emergency service protection in the county, as well as cities.

Hutto also discussed several goals for the county for the future, which included a better job of communicating to all citizens about government; finding a way to reduce the tax rate; continuing to work with Tennessee Department of Transportation on several road projects; and a local government summit for all county and city governing bodies.

“It just to bring our council and our local government together,” Hutto said. “We just want to talk and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction and we’re all planning. Maybe it would be good to come up with a motto or vision for our county.”

Hutto said he believed county and city officials are on the same page currently, but the summit would allow them to only strengthen that relationship.

Hutto presented attendees with several different facts and figures about Wilson County in the hour, but ended his presentation on a more personal note. Hutto dedicated the last portion of his speech to two women who he said were special to him and just celebrated their 90th birthday – Fay Timbs and Martha Vaden.

Timbs is a former longtime Lebanon High School administrative assistant and attendance monitor. Hutto said Vaden helped him while in college at Middle Tennessee State University by allowing him to substitute teach to make money.

“What I noticed about them is all the people who came to see them on their birthday. I thought about all of this stuff we’ve talked about today, it’s important – we have to live here – but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Hutto said. These ladies, although I don’t know how much money they had, they were rich because of the people who came to see them.”

Hutto challenged the attendees to reach out to people around them – coworkers, people at the gym and neighbors.

“Check your people out beside you. Check on them physically. Check on them emotionally and check on them spiritually, because this is not the end of the story, and I hope you know that,” Hutto said.

By Xavier Smith


Lynn reappointed House subcommittee chairman

The Tennessee House of Representatives officially convened last week in Nashville, marking the beginning of the 110th General Assembly, and as part of the opening day ceremonies, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, took the oath of office and was officially sworn in for another term.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, appointed Lynn as chairman of the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee. The Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee reviews legislation dealing with consumer protection laws and all human resource and labor law regulations statewide.

Along with serving as chairman, Lynn will also continue her service as a member of the full Consumer and Human Resources Committee and the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.  

“The people have placed their trust in us because of dedicated public servants like Rep. Lynn whom they know will lead based upon the commonsense, conservative values of our state. I look forward to working with her to accomplish a great deal on behalf of all Tennesseans this year,” Harwell said.

Members generally serve on only two committees, but Harwell also saw fit to appoint Lynn to a third committee, the House Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee hears all ethics complaints against sitting legislators.

“Speaker Harwell is most generous, and I am always very proud and eager to serve this body anywhere she determines that my skills and knowledge will best contribute to the end result,” Lynn said.

Finally, Lynn was officially re-elected by her peers to the Fiscal Review Committee. Fiscal review is a committee that has oversight over all state contracts and other matters of a financial impact such as budget estimates.  

In addition to her duties, Lynn also serves on the Workforce Development Board under the state Department of Labor – a position to which she was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year – and she serves as an executive board member of the Greater Nashville Regional Council – a position to which she was elected to by her peers in 2016.  

This year, legislators are looking to build upon the success of the previous session that saw wasteful government spending cut from the budget, taxes lowered for all Tennesseans, measures passed to better fund and improve education and encourage job growth, as well as numerous other government reforms, Lynn said.

“Our community sent me here to help them – one of the many ways I do that is by supporting policies that will uphold our Constitution, strengthen our economy and produce more job opportunities, ensure our budget remains balanced and fight government waste. Today, my resolve is even stronger to continue doing just that,” said Lynn. “Let me add how truly honored I am to continue my service as chairman of the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee.”

Staff Reports

The Hermitage celebrates 202nd anniversary of Battle of New Orleans

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage celebrated the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8. Pictured (from left) are Howard Kittell, president and CEO of the Andrew Jackson Foundation, Congressman Dr. Phil Roe and Susan and Bob McDonald, who serves as vice-regent of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage celebrated the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8. Pictured (from left) are Howard Kittell, president and CEO of the Andrew Jackson Foundation, Congressman Dr. Phil Roe and Susan and Bob McDonald, who serves as vice-regent of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

HERMITAGE – Congressman Dr. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, was the keynote speaker Jan. 8 as Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage celebrated the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

The Andrew Jackson Foundation played host to the annual gathering as part of a daylong remembrance of the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812.

American troops, under the direction of then-Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, kept the British army from seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase.

Roe, co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus and a member of the Health Caucus, holds the “Andrew Jackson Seat” in Congress – Tennessee’s First District. He made reference to Jackson’s victory changing the worldview of the United States.

Linda Tripp, Tennessee president of the Daughters of 1812, also addressed the gathering.

Formal activities ended with a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of President Jackson and his wife, Rachel.

“The bravery of Gen. Jackson and his troops resulted in a monumental victory for the United States,” said foundation vice-regent Bob McDonald. “At that time, the United States was still considered to be an experiment in self-government. The Battle of New Orleans solidified Jackson as a national hero and established our young nation as a power to be reckoned with.”

“Commemorating the Battle of New Orleans and Andrew Jackson’s astounding victory over the mighty British army provides a tremendous opportunity to illustrate how against all odds determination, courage and common sense can win the day. These are lessons Americans need in the 21st Century,” said Howard Kittell, president and CEO of the Andrew Jackson Foundation.

The mission of the Andrew Jackson Foundation is to preserve the home of Andrew Jackson, create educational opportunities and inspire citizenship through learning about his life and unique impact on American history. Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Oct. 16 through March 14 and 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. from March 15 through Oct. 15. For more information, visit thehermitage.com.

Staff Reports

Unemployment rate continues to shrink in Wilson County

Wilson County’s unemployment rate decreased slightly from October to November and remained lower than the unemployment rate from the same time a year ago.

According to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, November’s jobless rate was 3.7 percent, a 0.2 percent decrease from October and a 0.7 percent decrease from the same time last year.

Rates decreased in 81 counties, increased in 10 and remained the same in four counties in November. Wilson County climbed to the fourth lowest in the state behind Williamson, Davidson and Rutherford counties, respectively.

Lake County had the highest jobless rate with 8.3 percent.

Wilson County’s rate in November represented 2,480 unemployed workers compared to a 67,120-person workforce and does not include those who did not file with the labor department or no longer receive benefits.

Lebanon’s rate for November decreased 0.3 percent from October to 4.5 percent. The city’s rate represented 640 unemployed workers, compared to a 14,070-person labor force.

Mt. Juliet’s rate for November also decreased 0.2 percent from October to 3.5 percent. The rate represented 560 unemployed workers compared to a 16,010-person labor force.

The Nashville-Murfreesboro metropolitan area, which includes Wilson County, rate decreased 0.2 percent to 3.7 from October. The rate represented 38,030 unemployed workers compared to a 1.03-million-person labor force. 

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for November came in at 4.8 percent, a 0.1 percent decrease from October. The statewide rate represented 151,900 jobless workers compared to a 3.18-million-person workforce.

The national unemployment rate for November decreased 0.1 percent to at 4.6 percent. The rate represented 7.4 million unemployed workers compared to a workforce of nearly 160 million people.

By Xavier Smith