Ballot set for March 3 voting; sales tax hike will be decided

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

The ballot is set for Wilson County’s Republican primary election, which will be held on March 3 alongside the sales tax referendum and presidential preference primary.

Voters will choose from candidates for Division II circuit court judge, Division III general sessions judge, public defender, assessor of property and the Wilson County Commission’s District 17 seat.

“In most of these elections, the winner will be running unopposed on the general election ballot,” Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren said, noting that the filing deadlines are the same for primary and general elections. “Democrats aren’t having a county primary, and nobody has filed as a Democrat for these races. We did have one candidate, Branden Bellar, file as an independent for the circuit court judgeship.”

Since every other candidate is running as a Republican, the primary has an outsize influence on the Aug. 6 general election. Here’s a closer look at the field for each primary contest:

Circuit Court Judge — Division IIMichael Collins, Javin Cripps and Shawn McBrien will compete in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division II circuit court judge.

Collins currently serves as a judge for the Smith County General Sessions court, with jurisdiction over the Smith County Juvenile Court. He was elected in August 2014.

Cripps has been the assistant district attorney for the 15th Judicial District since 2006 and previously worked in private practice in Carthage.

McBrien has worked in private practice for 34 years and is currently based in Lebanon.

The winner among the three candidates will face Trousdale County Attorney Branden Bellar in the general election. Judge John Wootten Jr. retired from the position at the start of the year, so the general will determine who fills out his term ending August 2024.

Wilson County Commission — District 17Incumbent Joe Ali will face James “Rusty” Keith for a spot on the Wilson County Commission.

Ali was appointed to the District 17 seat in October 2019 following the resignation of former commissioner Gary Keith. Before serving on the commission he was best known as the owner of Auto Village, a Lebanon car dealership.

“Rusty” Keith is the son of Gary Keith and works with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. He currently serves as the school resource officer for Gladeville Elementary School.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot deciding who fills out Gary Keith’s term, which ends in August 2022.

Wilson County Assessor of PropertyIncumbent Stephen Goodall and Charles Leeman are vying for a four-year term as assessor of property.

Goodall was elected to his first term in 2016. He had previously worked as the school resource officer at Mt. Juliet High School for six years before being promoted to sergeant and overseeing a majority of SROs in western Wilson County.

Leeman worked as an appraisal specialist for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury for several years and has continued a second career as a Lebanon-based realtor since retiring from government.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot.

15th Judicial District Public DefenderIncumbent Shelley Thompson Gardner is running unopposed in the Republican primary for public defender.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Gardner to the position in October 2018 following Comer L. Donnell’s retirement announcement.

Gardner has practiced in criminal, general sessions and juvenile courts throughout the 15th Judicial District, and worked as a longtime supervisor over all Wilson County courts.

She will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Donnell’s term ending August 2022.

General Sessions Judge — Division IIIIncumbent Ensley Hagan is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division III general sessions judge.

The Wilson County Commission appointed Hagan to the position in 2018 following the retirement of Judge John Gwin. He has jurisdiction over general sessions family court and juvenile child support court.

Hagan will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Gwin’s term ending August 2022.

Although Democrats do not have candidates in local primary elections, they can still vote in the party’s national primary contest. The referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase will appear on all ballots regardless of party affiliation.

Mt. Juliet chamber celebrates during banquet

Rima Austin

Special to the News

Will Snyder, of Under Armour, jokes with the audience while thanking the chamber for the Large Business of the Year Award on Thursday night at the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce Chamber Choice Awards Banquet held at Tucker’s Gap Event Center as newly sworn in chamber board chair Galelynn Wilson laughs.

Members of the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce were recognized with awards Thursday night at the Chamber Choice Awards Banquet held at Tucker’s Gap Event Center. Board members from 2019 welcomed in the new 2020 board and Galelynn Wilson was sworn in as the 2020 chair.

Wilson told the audience she was born and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida. She said she attended the University of Florida where she acquired a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in education.

“I am the only daughter of a race car driver and a career businesswoman,” said Wilson. “And yes, I am a Gator.”

That drew some good natured boos from the room full of University of Tennessee fans.

“I would like to thank my mom Gloria Wilson or better known as grandma on deck. All that I have earned, all that I have and all that I am she has given me,” said Wilson. “She gave me the spirit of giving in volunteering, taking care of others, hard work, the never give up attitude, serving and leading when asked and the constant seeking of knowledge and betterment.”

Several businesses and individuals were honored during the banquet.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Peter Schulert, CEO of ESC Lab Sciences at Pace Analytical Laboratories, said he was honored to receive his award and praised the community of Mt. Juliet.

“It couldn’t have happened better for us — from location to all the Mt. Juliet support,” said Schulert. “Mt. Juliet was a perfect place for us to grow our company.”

Other honorees were

Ambassador of the Year — Tina Hutsenpiller

Volunteer of the Year — Tyler Allen

Wilsonian of the Year — Tucker’s Gap Event Center

Business Man of the Year — Gerard Bullock, a realtor.

Business Woman of the Year — Julie Ruesewald, owner of Merit Insurance of Tennessee.

Small Business of the Year — Dunn Commercial Group

Large Business of the Year — Under Armour

The chamber’s top award, the Paul Bauman Award of Excellence, went to Ken Powers, owner of developer Commercial Realty Services. Powers was not at the banquet and could not be reached Friday.

Also recognized was retiring board member Samuel Short and past board chair Kevin Sanders.

Victim sustains life-threatening injuries in Mt. Juliet apartment shooting

Staff report

The Mt. Juliet Police Department is investigating a shooting in the parking lot of the Meridian at Providence apartment complex that occurred Monday.

Yellow evidence markers are placed in the parking lot of a Mt. Juliet apartment complex Monday morning while police investigate a shooting that left a woman with life-threatening injuries.

According to a social media release, the incident left a victim in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

“Our dispatch center began to receive calls of a shooting that occurred at the apartments in the parking lot this morning around 8:30 a.m.,” Capt. Tyler Chandler of the Mt. Juliet Police Department said in a video posted shortly after the release. “Officers immediately rushed to the scene and located the female victim outside, and began to render life-saving efforts to her.”

Officers placed a suspect believed to be a relative of the victim in custody, and continue to investigate. Chandler said the shooting was an isolated incident stemming from a domestic dispute, and that the victim was shot multiple times.

Planning Commission explores lifting accessory home restrictions

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

Wilson County residents could soon have the ability to build accessory homes on their properties, which could be used for purposes such as long-term rentals or housing elderly relatives.

The Wilson County Planning Commission discussed a zoning ordinance that would allow for those structures at its meeting Friday, ultimately deferring action until February.

“There have been concerted efforts over the years by our different zoning administrators to make sure people don’t have above-garage apartments and other things on the property, largely out of fear of people causing trouble with those,” Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said. “I think we’ve reached a point in our demographic and cultural progress that with the growing expense of health care, we need to have a way for people to be able to put up their mom by having an apartment garage or something to that effect, and given how the regulations are right now we’re hurting more people than helping by not allowing that.”

Under the current draft, accessory dwellings would be allowed on properties zoned as rural residential, suburban residential, agricultural or agricultural preservation districts.

“They must have adequate septic or sewer capacity to accommodate the additional one bedroom before we would allow it,” Brashear said. “They must be no more than 900 square feet in size, they must have permanent connections to all utilities and they must comply with all permanent foundation requirements put in place.”

The ordinance would also prevent those spaces from being used for purposes like short-term rentals or bed-and-breakfasts without approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

After some discussion, the commission opted to have the item rewritten to streamline the process for families. Most of the questions raised dealt with which organizations would be responsible for inspections or code enforcement.

“Let’s try to write this where it’s easier, where we can allow people to take care of their elderly parents, sick sister or brother,” commission member Terry Ashe said. “Maybe we need to go back before we vote on this, unless we’re under a time constraint, to try and clean up every question … to make sure the people that need to be taken care of, we’re taking care of the families.”

The commission also narrowly voted to deny final plat approval for a subdivision development on Hearn Hill Road in Watertown, 4-4 with one abstention. Although the property would have allowed approximately 15 lots, the commission only had authority to vote on nine of them due to their acreage.

“I will point out to folks that they have an inherent right, without coming before this board, to make five lots out of these 25 acres,” chairperson Gene Jones said. “It will not have to come before any regulatory board.”

Residents in the area had been battling the proposal for months, citing concerns that the population growth would bring dangerous levels of traffic. District 9 County Commissioner Sara Patton, who represents the area in question, also spoke out against the development at the meeting.

“You’re out there on Hearn Hill Road and you’re going to multiply that population by about four times what’s there,” she said. “You don’t have a red light, you don’t have a stop sign, all you’ve got is curves and drop-offs. Every single school child that risks on that bus … they’re risking their lives. That’s what this is about.”

The developers had meet the requirements and recommendations set forth by the planning department, and those supporting the project cited promoting growth through development.

Commissioners Randall Hutto, Margaret Dixon, Roy Major and Gary Nokes voted to deny, while commissioners Johnnie Ricketts, James Woods, Terry Ashe and John Jewell voted to approve. Commissioner Eric Thompson abstained from the vote.

The Wilson County Planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Feb. 21, at the Wilson County Courthouse located on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.

Unity march honors MLK’s life, legacy

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

Community members gather for brunch at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church on Saturday as part of the Wilson County Black History Committee’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Neither wind nor rain could stop Wilson County’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, as dozens took to the streets by motorcade for a unity march on Saturday.

Participants traveled a short route through the city ending at the historic Pickett Chapel, and joined together for brunch and a program at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church.

“I grew up in this community … I’ll never forget everything that went on during that time,” Raymond Burns, the program speaker and pastor of Baird’s Grove Missionary Baptist Church, said. “I came in at the very end of the racial injustice that was going on, and I thank God for my parents who raised us to honor and respect every race and nationality.”

Burns recalled high school summer programs that helped build relationships between students in the wake of integration, and the impact of Market Street as a hub for the black community. However, he added that the segregationist attitudes of the 1960s should not be viewed as a thing of the past.

“No matter what anyone says, don’t be fooled, because our young people need to know,” he said. “Even though we’re supposed to be in a better place, Martin Luther King did it in a way to involve change with peace. Well, if that is the case, then why when Colin Kaepernick did a peaceful protest, did it cause so much hell? It caused so much hell because we’re not as far as we think we are.”

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash, one of multiple elected officials who spoke during the program, said he was struck in adulthood by how his upbringing differed from children living in the city’s black community.

Students from Scholar Drum Academy perform at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church on Saturday during the Wilson County Black History Committee’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

“I realized there was a separate part of Lebanon that I didn’t grow up in,” he said. “I grew up in a school that had plenty of books and plenty of teachers. Other children in the same town weren’t so lucky. They had great teachers, they had great parents, but they didn’t have the finest of buildings and books and material. They grew up with what was leftover from the other side of town.”

Ash was 16 years old when King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech, and began learning more about the impact of racial discrimination while attending university.

“When I was going to Cumberland University, I took a psychology class and the teacher told us about another professor — a black woman with a doctorate in psychiatry, who taught at Cumberland,” he said. “She could not go into the department store downtown and try on a dress. Her small children could not go into a public restroom and relieve themselves.”

Ash said that although society has progressed since the days of segregation, there is still work to be done in achieving King’s vision of equality.

That sentiment carried throughout the program, which the Wilson County Black History Committee has organized alongside the march for the past eight years.

“What we’ve done is to really try and keep this focused as a community celebration of Dr. King,” Wilson County Black History Committee President Mary Harris said. “Putting it together is about communicating with everybody, and it’s a team effort.”

This year’s community partners included Neuble Monument Funeral Home, Lebanon Special School District, Lebanon Fire Department, the governments of Wilson County and Lebanon, WCOR/WANT Gospel Show, Cedars of Lebanon Baptist Church, Lebanon Sanitation Department, Scholar Drum Academy, Amazon, Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church and the Lebanon Police Department.

“Each member of the community is responsible for different parts of the event,” Harris said. “I’d like for us to get back to having a youth day as well, where kids from all the different churches can come in and have a celebration of their own.”

Program speaker Raymond Burns, the pastor of Baird’s Grove Missionary Baptist Church, discusses the importance of youth education in combatting racism and its influence on society.

Although the Wilson County Black History Committee has led the event for several years, it has roots in the MLK Task Force established by Elder Brewer Hall, the former pastor at Cedars of Lebanon Baptist Church, in 1986.

“Seeing so many people here means a lot to me,” Hall said. “This didn’t catch on when we first started, but it grew to where we didn’t have room for the meal in our church. We used to give out scholarships every year, and later on we added the march.”

The march has become a fixture of the event, and Compassionate Hands Executive Director John Grant recalls taking part for the last decade.

“I got involved through the local ministry group,” he said. “The churches in this community are very connected, and you see that here. It’s a way for us to come together and honor the legacy of a great man who fought for peace.”

The event remains the county’s only large-scale celebration of King’s life and legacy, and although Harris hopes to see more of them develop she appreciates the community’s involvement.

“I’m really grateful to see everyone here,” she said. “It’s a blessing to have this many people come out on a day like today and support this.”

Mt. Juliet delays deliberations on funding youth sports

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet commissioners voted last week to deny funding to the Mt. Juliet League, which provides the city’s youth sports, and Commissioner Art Giles feels some are treating him as an enemy of local youth sports for his stance on the issue.

In debating the finer points of what Vice Mayor James Maness called an “unorthodox” ordinance to fund new lighting for the Mt. Juliet League’s baseball and softball park, Commissioner Ray Justice sparred with Giles to an extent that exploited the backlash Giles had already incurred via social media.

“Let me just state if I may so that Facebook can light up again,” Giles said as the board neared a vote, “I am not against” Mt. Juliet League Inc.

“We presented you with a budget; you know that the money is there, and it’s obvious that we can pay it back,” Justice said. “You said, ‘OK, if you meet certain items here, this won’t be a problem. We’ll get it through.’ We’ve had obviously certain things come up tonight that are different from that, and those have been resolved, I feel like, in a decent manner. So, I mean, what you’re saying now is — like I said, I mean, it’s obvious where you’re at, and it’s obvious that you have no love for the ballpark.”

This was met with sweeping gasps from constituents in attendance at the public hearing. Giles could be heard raising his voice over them in response to Justice’s accusation.

“Ray, don’t make a statement like that!” Giles demanded. “Listen to people. I’m not gonna sit up here — no! I do have love for the ballpark. My kids played over there. I contribute to them, so don’t make a comment on what I feel on it just because I want to vote because the city said and my constituents say.”

Maness interceded to stop the spar between commissioners, quieting the board and ushering it to a vote on whether to defer until Jan. 21. The vote to defer was ultimately affirmative, allowing the board to adjourn for the evening after discussing the issue for just under an hour.

Mt. Juliet League Inc. has been vying for new lighting for over a decade now. The ordinance proposed aimed to loan the league $450,000 at 0 % interest to be paid back in 10 years. It acknowledged the city already giving the league $15,000 annually, and league representative Toni Rayburn explained that, to her knowledge, the league will need to be creative in fundraising if it receives this loan.

“We have bids that were north of $2 million, right?” Rayburn said. “So we’ve done very well of making sure that we’ve got the right contractor and the right solution for the park to make sure that we can keep those lights on. Sustaining a maintenance bill of $49,000 a year for lights and lighting is just not something we can do, right? So we’ve got to find something we can do.”

The rate of repayment discussed by commissioners was $45,000 per year. The vote to fund it would certainly have failed had they taken it that night since it required three affirmative votes as both Giles and Maness had already said they couldn’t vote in favor as is. Mayor Ed Hagerty was absent from proceedings, and Justice was legally compelled to recuse himself from the vote due to being a board member for the league.

“It’s not that I am against any kind of athletic programs for youth. My boys — both my boys — played over there,” Giles clarified. “And one of the things we talked about in our workshop was that, as you just saw, we settled a suit for $593,000. We’ve got a fire department that’s going to be built — a new one, and it’s going to take a million dollars to fund just the staff for that, and we need that. And I’ve had several people say and tell me, constituent-wise and otherwise, that we’re not in the banking business. And so, it’s very hard. It’s not that I’m not supportive of them.”

Music City Honda to celebrate opening with entertainment, drinks

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Music City Honda is endeavoring to ingratiate itself into the Mt. Juliet community with a grand opening celebration on Jan. 22.

The celebration is intended not as a means to promote sales any more than any other day but, rather, as a way to welcome the community that welcomed Honda according to General Manager Richard Schindler. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. on a Wednesday evening at the store, which is located at 88 Belinda Parkway on the northern side of Providence Mall.

The grand opening celebration is meant to be a direct yet convivial way of meeting and greeting citizens and neighbors without trying to sell them cars.

“I know we’ve spent a lot of money on advertising, but I still hear from people as they come in, ‘We didn’t know you were open; we didn’t know.’ And I think, ‘My goodness,’ ” Schindler said.

Schindler went further to explain that he can’t spend the store into a profit, and advertisement only goes so far. While they’re making an effort, he wants to be as creative as possible with how he invites the community so that he and his staff can meet people in the area and get to know them.

The celebration will have refreshments, including cookies and beverages. Schindler said they’ll be carefully serving alcoholic beverages but in an amount he described as enough to toast but not for really drinking, so to speak. Moreover, the event will feature entertainment and music as well.

Music City Honda comes from Madison, relocating to Mt. Juliet shortly after changing its name from Trickett Honda. The name change came with a rebranding effort made by Umansky Automotive Group when the company bought Trickett Honda in 2016, and the move to Mt. Juliet was already part of the rebranding strategy.

According to Schindler, the Japanese auto company, Honda, pushed the relocation partly on the basis that Madison is entering a sort of gentrification while Mt. Juliet is a rapidly growing city, previously without any nearby Honda dealerships. Umansky employed the common marketing tactic used by department stores, restaurants and gas stations by pitching tent next to another dealership.

Music City Honda sits right next to Two Rivers Ford, heretofore the sole dealership in the city. Schindler explained that Ford and Honda aren’t direct competitors, so they both benefit from the juxtaposition. Since Ford focuses more on truck models and Honda doesn’t, the two can collectively draw those who are in the market for a vehicle yet automatically divide patrons based on categories of inventory.

Music City Honda opened its doors on Belinda Parkway in late October, slightly delayed by an electrical compliance issue, and it still has yet to mount several signs soon to be installed. Nevertheless, the store brought 75 employees from its previous location in Madison, retaining them all through the approximate two-year wait, and it has already added ten of the 20 new positions they projected they would fill. In time, Schindler said he still expects to fill the rest.

Mt. Juliet artist’s work on display at Nashville International Airport

Jeff Brockett works on a piece at his Mt. Juliet studio.

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Woodturning artist Jeff Brockett spent decades becoming an expert on his craft, and his latest milestone positions 13 of his basket illusions on display at the Flying Solo Artist exhibit in the Nashville International Airport.

Beyond the security checkpoints but on the way to baggage claim, some of those leaving but especially those arriving in Nashville last month, this month or next month will notice an array of what might appear from a distance to be shallow bowls or plates embellished with eye-catching designs. These are, in fact, wooden pieces of art, deceptively turned on a lathe and burned with painstakingly precise designs.

Since 1996, the airport has held a quarterly, juried exhibition series in the most visible part of its secure terminal for some of Tennessee’s most captivating art, dubbing it the Flying Solo Exhibition Series. Brockett’s platters are the latest pieces to showcase in the series after having been judged against many other works by a panel of arbiters who opted to draw from Tennessee’s uniquely deep pool of woodturning artists.

The juried exhibit requires all artists to formally apply in order for their works to be considered, and the panel picks a single artist for the exhibit. For Brockett, a minimum of 10 pieces were needed to fill the exhibit, and he contributed 13 in total, about eight of which are for sale — the other five having already been sold prior to display. The price of a piece depends on size and design complexity, ranging anywhere from $100 to $800.

Brockett’s artwork is on display at Nashville International Airport.

Brockett’s pieces have been seen at the TEDx Studio, also called Studio 208, in downtown Nashville as well as several other juried exhibits whose processes were similar to the Flying Solo Exhibition Series. Among them were the Custom House’s Best of Tennessee Exhibit in Clarksville for which he won the Merit Award and Centennial Arts’s Best in Middle Tennessee Exhibit.

Brockett’s concentration as a woodturner is on basket illusions, a specific design pattern that woodturners sometimes employ to illustrate seemingly impossibly intricate designs. It’s based on Native American basket weaving, which involved exceptionally creative patterns. Lincoln Seltzer was the first known woodturner to imitate that creative process on wooden platters, so the history of these kinds of designs dates back hundreds of years even through Portuguese colonization.

The expertise of woodturning art is discerned based on the quality of the woodwork, the thematic imagery implied by the colors applied and how the platter feels in one’s hands. Mastery of the craft is also partly measured by the lack of errant marks and smudges, too, but Brockett further distinguishes his work a bit by deliberately endeavoring to make it as impossible as he can for even an astute observer to figure out how he the piece in question was lathed.

“I like to really look at the back of pieces,” Brockett said. “I want the person that picks that piece up to look at it and say, ‘How in the world did he put that on the lathe and turn it?’ I’ve gone from a satin finish to a gloss finish because I think gloss looks better on these pieces because they’re more art than functional.”

Woodturning is a craft that produces functional pieces with purpose like doorknobs or tool handles or lamps, but the art form associated with it is widely popular the world over. In the U.S., the American Association of Woodturners boasts of multiple

Woodturning is Brockett’s retirement hobby.

chapters in each state. In Tennessee alone, there are 12 official chapters, including the Tennessee Association of Woodturners and Duck River Woodturners, located in Brentwood and Columbia respectively. Brockett is member to both of them among other local woodturning organizations.

“There’s three or four of the top woodturners in the world that live within 15 minutes of here,” Brockett said, referring to his home in northern Mt. Juliet. “You’ve got John Jordan who lives down in Cane Ridge. If you’re going to say who’s the top 10 people in the world, he’s one of them. Then, Pat Matranga lives in Mt. Juliet not too far from here. John Lucas lives over in Baxter.”

For Brockett, woodturning art is a retirement hobby. He worked for Target most of his adult life, managing and even launching stores, and through woodturning, he channeled a natural affinity for art shared by his wife and daughter. His wife is a stained-glass artist, and his daughter teaches art at the collegiate level in Texas.

MJPD announces Guardian Shield program

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

The Mt. Juliet Police Department announced last week the institution of Guardian Shield, a new law enforcement program designed to protect the city from crime by using fixed-place automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to catch hot-listed vehicles attached to various crimes and suspects.

The Guardian Shield program has not yet been fully budgeted and could, therefore, require the mayor and city commissioners to amend the fiscal budget for a yet unknown amount. On the other hand, MJPD Capt. Tyler Chandler said the amount “would be minimal” due to the city having already budgeted $100,000 for the program.

The program will be operated by Rekor Systems Inc., a tech firm focused on the use of artificial intelligence applications for public safety solutions. The firm boasts of providing law enforcement and security solutions in more than 70 countries worldwide, and they were one of four firms whose technology was tested in the city — one of three to respond to MJPD’s request for proposals.

Mt. Juliet police worked with IT professionals during an extensive review of ALPRs from not only Rekor Systems but also Skycop, Vigilant and Flock. They concluded that Rekor’s system performed best, and the conclusion was partly based on the fact that Rekor’s product led MJPD to successfully apprehend a wanted shooter who had driven into the city from Franklin.

“Rekor’s Edge and Watchman vehicle recognition technology provided better results than its competition during our trial period,” according to Police Chief James Hambrick. “With higher accuracy than other providers, as well as the ability to affordably scale, Rekor’s solutions fit the needs of our department both now and for the future.”

The scale to which he referred starts with covering 37 undisclosed areas throughout the city with Rekor’s AI-assisted cameras, and these locations were selected in order to make for the most efficient coverage of the entire Mt. Juliet community.

MJPD has emphasized on more than one occasion that ALPRs are not for use in traffic law enforcement; rather, they’re purposed with recognizing vehicles that are either attached to a hotlist or to investigations in progress. Hotlists are made for vehicles connected to specific crimes like forcible rape, criminal homicide, kidnapping, motor vehicle theft, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, general theft or certain drug offenses.

For $89,000 per year, Rekor Systems will support these ALPR units, assuming contract negotiations are successful. According to Chandler, this “means that if we provide a mounting surface, Rekor handles the installation and maintenance of the system. If it is damaged, they fix it. If it is having technical issues, they fix it. If they upgrade their technology, they replace it.”

The contract, however, is still being finalized, so elements remain subject to change. Once the contract is completed, it will be made available to the public, pending local government approval.

“It will also have two be approved by the Board of Commissioners,” Chandler added.

Transparency is a sticking point with ALPRs since multiple cities and states like Chicago, Virginia and Texas have been led to civil suits over apparent violations of privacy laws, gathering too much information on drivers and holding it for too long. Tennessee, and much more so Mt. Juliet, has made a conscious effort to obviate such possibilities from the equation with strict measures on data retention.

The state mandates that data collected via ALPRs can only be held for 90 days whereas the city shortens this even further to only 30 days. This data includes not only still images but videos of the vehicle, but in Mt. Juliet, the technology will not be used to track drivers or passengers. Furthermore, the system doesn’t access the state’s license plate database, which means personal data and vehicle ownership are not collected through these ALPRs.

MJPD expects Rekor’s units to be deployed in March or late February.

Lego fans hit the bricks at Expo Center

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

Children search for beloved characters like Mickey Mouse hiding throughout Douglas Johnson’s Lego kingdom during the BrickUniverse LEGO Fan Convention, held at the Wilson County Expo Center on Saturday and Sunday.

Any professional Lego artist will tell you the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can create, and those who came to town Saturday were looking to build passion for the craft among children.

The BrickUniverse LEGO Fan Convention hosted its second Nashville area event at the Wilson County Expo Center on Saturday and Sunday, and hundreds of visitors stopped by to take in the displays.

“This is definitely the ultimate Lego fan experience,” event organizer Grayson Beights said. “But it’s a little more than that. We’re inspiring creativity in the next generation of architects and engineers. Lego products can be used in many ways, but they’re also a medium to teach those concepts.”

Rocco Buttliere, a Chicago native and one of the convention’s featured artists, knows that well. His love for Legos and architecture go hand-in-hand, and his collection of scale models of landmarks is a popular booth.

“My work is all on the same scale, so for example you can see Dubai and Shanghai right next to each other and look at how they stack up,” he said. “Back in 2008 I got into architecture, and I started my collection with Chicago’s Willis Tower because it’s a Lego-friendly, boxy shape.”

Today, Buttliere’s collection has grown to include more than 50 models of structures from around the world. It takes him roughly eight hours to set up the display and four to take it down when attending conventions.

“That’s part of the fun,” he said. “And it’s always really welcoming to be at BrickUniverse, and be able to talk to people who have never seen things like this before. I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”

The Tennessee Valley Lego Club partnered with BrickUniverse to fill the convention with local artists as well. TNVLC Knoxville’s Patrick Durham saw a steady flow of traffic at his Star Wars-themed display, which includes scenes from ice planet Vandor-1 on one side and volcanic planet Mustafar on the other.

“I started this by building the scene from ‘Solo’ on Vandor-1, and I had a black wall on the back to support it,” he said. “So I realized that I could build something dark on the other side and started working on Mustafar.”

Durham created an original story to go with his piece, which he enjoyed sharing with attendees over the weekend. He plans to continue building on both scenes and eventually separate them into their own structures.

“I raised my son and grandson on Lego bricks, and when the kids grew up we kept them,” he said. “I’m exclusively Star Wars, and now I own over 600 sets.”

TNVLC Nashville’s Douglas Johnson created another display that drew crowds throughout the weekend — an elaborate kingdom built from more than 200,000 bricks.

“I do this mostly for the kids,” he said. “It’s fun to see them point and find all the characters I’ve put in there. It took about a year and a half to build, and five hours to set up.”

Like most Lego enthusiasts, Johnson picked up the hobby as a child and never looked back.

“As an adult, we have more money to spend so we can build some really complex things,” he said. “Over the years I’ve gotten ideas online, from other builders at places like this and from my own imagination.”

As the convention continues finding success in the Expo Center, it may also be where the next professional Lego artist finds their spark. Building stations and competitions were set up throughout the venue to make sure those children could start bringing their visions to life before heading home.

“Last year was amazing,” Beights said. “We had such good feedback, so we made sure to come back, and we actually moved it up from March to January so it would be our first event of the year. We wanted to start strong, and these artists are the pinnacle of what you can do.”

MJ BPAC hosts its 5th annual Christmas light walk

By Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

On Dec. 23, Willoughby Station hosted Mt. Juliet’s fifth annual Christmas Light Walk as a means to unite the community.

About 75 people took advantage of great weather on the Monday before Christmas to participate in the Christmas Light Walk, organized each year by the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The purpose of the walk is not only to fitness and community but also the enjoyment of the decorations in the neighborhood.

Willoughby Station is a subdivision known for its Christmas lights in part because of annual contests that award houses that showcase the best decorations. The neighborhood boasts of a particularly high density of houses that decorate, which is why it’s been the site of each Christmas Light Walk so far, according to BPAC member Steve Armstrong.

“So much work goes into creating these beautiful displays,” said BPAC Chairman and City Commissioner Art Giles. “We have all seen Christmas lights from our cars but this is a unique opportunity to see the lights from a different perspective, up close and personal. I can’t think of anything that will get you in the holiday spirit more than looking at Christmas lights and mixing that with a little exercise and Christmas cheer.”

Participants gathered at City Hall for coffee first at 6 p.m., also enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Thereafter, everyone drove to Willoughby Station where they and others met at the neighborhood clubhouse. The walk both began and ended there, lasting close to two hours after departure from the clubhouse.

Participants were also accompanied by a police escort as well as a vehicle from the Parks Department, which was equipped with a sound system they used to play Christmas music for all walkers to enjoy as they perused the neighborhood.

“The Christmas Lights Walking Tour provides an opportunity to get a few steps in and view some of the best light displays in Mt. Juliet from a different perspective,” according to Armstrong. “It really is a fun time and it is perfect for all ages.”

The event was also enjoyable for its weather, having been rescheduled from its original date on Dec. 16, which fulfilled its forecast of heavy rain. Committee members, law enforcement and everyday citizens from both inside and outside Willoughby Station participated in the walk as a means of fitness and getting to know others in their own community while appreciating festive decorations.

In the broader sense, this is the general idea behind not just the Christmas Light Walk but all events organized by the BPAC according to Armstrong. The same committee organized, for example, a more greenway-centric walk for Independence Day this past summer as well, albeit with a smaller turnout.

“The BPAC encourages activities that promote physical activity and our mission is to help secure funding for walking, running and biking infrastructure in Mt. Juliet,” Armstrong said.

The Christmas Light Walk, however, is considered one of the BPAC’s more successful events based on attendance and longevity. Having been established five years ago, the event accrues more and more people as it gets older, so it continues to be the primary lure to the BPAC’s many other events year-round.

License plate reader nabs wanted man

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet’s use of automated license plate readers has already led to an arrest even before they could be deployed citywide, and the arrest serves as a proof-of-concept for the city.

One of the test units deployed to demonstrate how automated license plate readers can and will be used in Mt. Juliet tagged a vehicle in connection with a warrant for the arrest of an alleged shooter from Franklin. This led police to pursue and apprehend the suspect while he was in Mt. Juliet.

The 35-year-old suspect, Gabriel Jordan, was considered armed and dangerous after allegedly shooting at his estranged wife in the Cool Springs area on Dec. 21. He fled east in a black, 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, which Franklin police promptly announced with an offering for a cash reward. He entered Mt. Juliet, and his license plate was recognized by one of the test license plate readers.

The readers are essentially high-speed cameras assisted by artificial intelligence designed for pattern recognition. The AI recognizes license plates in particular — tagging plates that have certain state logos, letters and numbers in specific combinations.

“The vehicle [Jordan] was driving was the suspect vehicle associated with his wanted entry,” MJPD Capt. Tyler Chandler said. “When the tag passes under a camera, the only information we receive is that it is in a hotlist for a certain category. In this case: ‘Wanted Person.’”

A hotlist is a catalog of license plates that are all associated with either wanted persons or ongoing criminal investigations. According to Chandler, once Jordan’s plate was recognized, it was up to dispatch and officers to cross-reference Jordan’s license plate with a database in order to get personal data and other details that correlated with the vehicle.

“No personal data is transmitted or received through the system,” Chandler said. “It simply reads the public tag and checks if it is on a hotlist.”

While this confirms the efficacy of such technology to apprehend criminals, the readers have become a point of controversy in other states and cities on the basis of transparency. For that very reason, an ordinance appeared before the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners for its first reading in late August to pass both readings within the next month regarding how long law enforcement can retain information on vehicles connected to hotlists.

At the time, Vice Mayor James Maness expressed concerns about 16 different states, including Texas, that were already seeing use and arguably abuse of this technology to keep information on innocent civilians and for extended periods sometimes measured in years. Commissioners were eager to see to it that Mt. Juliet had no similar issues.

Tennessee already took steps to preempt perceived violations of privacy with license plate readers by legislating a maximum 90-day retention period for data captured by the readers, but Mt. Juliet went even further, alowwing retention for up to only 30 days.

Furthermore, “There is no data stored on any civilian,” Chandler said. He said that the system “only stores the tag and video of the traffic, which is accessed during a criminal investigation.”

Rose announces local office hours

Congressman John Rose’s staff will be in Mt. Juliet on June 4 to meet with local citizens who need assistance with federal services.

“I am thrilled to have a talented district staff serving the good folks of Tennessee’s Sixth District. We are focused on providing top-notch constituent services for all 19 counties,” said Rose. “Knowing that at times it may be difficult to travel to one of our two district offices, I have directed my district staff to periodically set up office hours in other locations throughout our 19 county-district. This will allow everyone in the Sixth District to have face-to-face access to my district staff and the services we provide.

“The next opportunity for constituents to take advantage of these remote office hours will be in Wilson County. Ray Render, my deputy district director, will be meeting with constituents at Mt. Juliet City Hall in the meeting hall lobby area on Tuesday, June 4 from 1-3 p.m. Constituents who do not need a face-to-face meeting may, of course, call the Gallatin office to discuss any questions at 615-206-8204.”

Rose represents Tennessee’s Sixth District and lives in Cookeville with his wife, Chelsea, and son, Guy.

Roadwork heats up in Wilson County

Staff Reports

Several new or ongoing Tennessee Department of Transportation road projects could cause drivers some delays in the coming days and weeks throughout Wilson County.

Lanes will be closed on Interstate 840 from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. from north of the Rutherford County line to east of Stewarts Ferry Pike to allow workers to repair bridge decks. There will also be lane closures nightly from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. to allow workers to clean bridge decks, repair them and apply epoxy in the same area of I-840.

State Route 141 widening work continues daily from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. from south of Spring Creek to north of Lovers Lane. Temporary lane closures will take place, but one lane will remain open in each direction.

Bridge repair will continue on Baddour Parkway over Sinking Creek in Lebanon. Baddour Parkway was reduced to one 10-foot lane in each direction at the bridge and will remain that way until the work is completed sometime in the fall.

Resurfacing on State Route 24 from U.S. 70 to the Smith County line will continue daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. There will be temporary lane closures in both directions to allow for paving. One lane will remain open.

Bridge repair on the Interstate 40 eastbound overpass at Sparta Pike will continue after an oversized tractor-trailer hit the bridge and damaged it recently. Permitted loads will detour onto South Hartmann Drive and Maddox-Simpson Parkway at exit 236 on I-40 eastbound until further notice. A detour sign is in place.

Paving daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on U.S. 231 from Market Street to near Forrest Ave. in Lebanon will cause temporary lane closures in both directions. One lane will remain open.

Paving daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. will cause temporary lane closures in both directions on State Route 141 from east of Stokes Street to Sugar Flat Road. One lane will remain open.

Widening on I-40 from State Route 109 to I-840 will continue daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. There will be alternating lanes closed on I-40 in both directions between mile markers 232-237 for pavement markings and construction sign installation.

Widening work will continue on State Route 109 daily from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Rolling roadblocks will be used for rock blasting and excavation. Traffic will also be reduced to one lane in both directions at the intersection of State Route 109 and Callis Road to allow workers to put in a turn lane and crossover.

State Route 10 will be reduced to one lane daily from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. to allow workers to install a gas line from Vesta Road to Flat Woods Road.

TDOT officials said drivers are encouraged to use caution and obey reduced speed limits in all TDOT work zones, regardless of lane closure activity. Most work will be weather dependent and subject to change due to inclement weather.

Two July 4 fireworks shows possible in Mt Juliet

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

There could be two separate fireworks shows on Independence Day in Mt. Juliet.

Originally, the city canceled its event, claiming there was nowhere to safely have it that would also allow spectators to view the event.

Along came Tom Needham, owner of Needham Nurseries, who said he would sponsor an event that would take place at the Providence shopping area in the city.

City Manager Kenny Martin said recently he found a place to hold the fireworks show, despite previous statements that included, “Mt. Juliet is a “dense city,” meaning there are quite a few buildings within the city limits, which, in turn, leads to no appropriate space for the fireworks to be lit.

“You have to have a proper and safe fall-out zone to properly discharge fireworks,” Martin said in March about the area needed for fireworks debris to land safely.

For a professional fireworks display, depending on the size of the shell, there has to be a certain equal distance from the fireworks shells to the audience. That will allow the debris to not fall on spectators.

Martin said in March there is no “[current] piece of land perfectly situated to do such a thing. Some have asked why we couldn’t do it off of Golden Bear [Parkway], but we simply don’t have the adequate parking to safely do something like that.”

In April, Needham said his business would hold a private fireworks show near the Providence area.

“A couple of weeks ago, [Martin] canceled the fireworks show with no explanation,” Needgam said in April. “Then, I started hearing Kenny’s explanation. No parking. No fall-out zone. No safety-zone.

“[The Providence area has] the very best parking, noting he called Dale McCullough, a representative from Jones Brothers who owns land in the area. McCullough said he’d be glad to offer his property for the show. McCullough also said Martin did not call him to ask if the city could use his property for the show.

“The next area was owned by the Boyle Group,” Needham said. “Now the Boyle Group has been a very important part of our community. They have been good to our community.”

He said the person he called with the Boyle Group said they would agree to hold the show on its land and added Martin didn’t call to ask about using the land this year.

In May, Martin there was adequate parking at local grocery stores, Charlie Daniels Park and local schools.

After Martin said the city would once again have the display, Needham questioned why the city was “spending $15,000 for [about 500 cars to park], when at you’ve spent $30,000 for tens of thousands of people. That makes no sense.”

Needham said he worked as a volunteer with the state on the Fireworks Safety Council, “helping write the safety laws. Kenny, I know you love Mt. Juliet, but safety is something you said [in originally canceling the show]. The site down below Publix is the safest place that we’ve had.”
He said “thousands and thousands of cars” could park at Providence to see the fireworks.

“Visibility,” Needham said. “You can see it from miles around. It’s the best place we’ve ever had.”

Commissioner Ray Justice said, “I have never in my life seen more fireworks over fireworks. With everything we have to consider in the city, fireworks is a little ridiculous. Once [Needham] got it in his hands [to do the fireworks show], rather than calling the city manager and having a conversation with him about other places that may be opportunities within the city, he decided to come down here and call the city manager everything but a child of God.”

Justice said there “are parking issues over there, but those parking issues are no more than any other place in the city of Mt. Juliet. There will be a traffic safety plan and a fire safety plan.”

He said the police and fire resources will be in the north end of the city, where the fireworks will be shot.

“There will be adequate plans in place to make sure it’s acceptable and safe,” Justice said.

Vice Mayor James Maness asked about the two shows.

“I have no idea,” said Justice, who noted Needham had not taken out any permits to hold his show.

Martin said, “Just like with any site, the [city’s] fireworks show has moved many, many places over the years. The city has grown tremendously over the years, and we can only use property that we can use.”

He said there are plenty of places to park for the city’s show.

“Will it be the same as Providence?” Martin asked. “Maybe not, but it’s still going to be a great show.”

Martin said the fireworks show would start at 9 p.m. at the Mt. Juliet Little League Ballpark. Impact Pyro will present the show.

Martin said various locations to park would include along Mt. Juliet Road, Lebanon Road, Charlie Daniels Park and Mt. Juliet Middle School.

“This is similar to the Providence area but a smaller scale,” Martin said Thursday. “The city was able to secure a location.”

Martin said the show would last between 20-30 minutes. He said in year’s past, the budget was $30,000, but this year’s budget will be $15,000.

As for Needham’s potential show, Martin said a permit must be granted to hold a fireworks show, and no permits were applied for as of May 16.

Wilson County’s unemployment rate hits record low

NASHVILLE – Wilson County’s unemployment rate for April dropped to a new record low, according to data released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Wilson County’s rate of 2.2 percent, which was 0.5 percent lower compared to March’s revised rate, rose one spot to fifth lowest in the state behind Williamson, Davidson, Rutherford and Cheatham counties, respectively.

Wilson County’s rate in April represented 1,640 unemployed workers compared to a 75,560-person workforce and did not include those who did not file with the labor department or no longer receive benefits. Compared to the same time last year, the jobless rate was a 0.2-percent decrease.

Lebanon’s rate for April decreased 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent compared to March and decreased 0.3 percent compared to a year ago. The city’s rate represented 400 unemployed workers, compared to a 15,860-person labor force.

Mt. Juliet’s rate for April was 2.3 percent, a 0.5-percent decrease compared to March’s revised rate. It was a 0.1-percent decrease compared to a year ago. The rate represented 450 unemployed workers compared to an 19,630-person labor force.

Unemployment rates for 94 of Tennessee’s 95 counties decreased in April. The unemployment rate in Maury County remained unchanged for the month.

Ninety-four counties had rates lower than 5 percent, and one county’s rate was higher than 5 percent.

Unemployment in Williamson County dipped below 2 percent in April. The county’s current rate of 1.9 percent marked a 0.5 percent drop from the previous month.

Davidson County’s unemployment rate hit a record low during April; it dropped by 0.5 percent and landed at 2 percent. Rutherford County followed at 2.1 percent, while Cheatham, Wilson, Moore and Sumner counties each recorded a rate of 2.2 percent in April.

Along with Davidson County, Wilson, Sumner, Smith and Hickman counties marked record-low unemployment. Rutherford County tied its all-time low rate.

“County unemployment rates continue to be extraordinarily positive,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord. “Across our state we are now seeing unemployment rates at or below 5 percent become the norm.”

Clay County had the state’s highest rate in April at 5.6 percent, which was a 0.4 percent decrease from the previous month. Hancock and Rhea counties had the next highest rates at 4.9 percent. Those rates represented a 0.9 percent drop for Hancock County and the rate was 0.8 percent lower in Rhea County when compared to the previous month.

The April rate for the Nashville-Murfreesboro metropolitan area, which includes Wilson County, decreased 0.5 percent from March to land at 2.1 percent and was 0.3 percent lower than a year ago. The rate represented 23,040 unemployed workers compared to a nearly 1.1-million-person labor force.

Statewide, unemployment remained at Tennessee’s historic low of 3.2 percent. It was the third consecutive month the rate was at the record level.

County unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted, while the state and national rates use the seasonal adjustment to eliminate outside influences on the statistics.

Wilson County honors its oldest veteran

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

Wilson County’s oldest veteran, Max Anderson, a retired World War II U.S. Navy pilot, celebrated his 100th birthday on Memorial Day in Mt. Juliet with a police and motorcycle club escort Monday afternoon down Mt. Juliet Road.

State Sen. Mark Pody, state Rep. Susan Lynn, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash and Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty awarded Anderson with several proclamations and gifts.

All three mayors proclaimed May 27 as Max Anderson Day across Wilson County as a crowd of more than 100 people gathered for the event at the Mt. Juliet train station. The event coincided with the close of the “Honoring Our American Flag” display, a display of dozens of American flags, which was organized by the local Exchange Club and American Legion.

Lynn presented Anderson with an American flag and Tennessee flag, both of which flew above the state capitol and hand-delivered a birthday certificate on behalf of Gov. Bill Lee.

“Thank you all for coming out to my birthday,” Anderson said. “On this occasion, we are here to give thanks to those who gave our lives so that our country might see freedom again, and as an airplane pilot flying over the countryside, I’ve looked down to so many pretty things – Niagara Falls half froze up, Yosemite, San Francisco – so many places that Lord you have put here for us. Now, I thank every one of you for the greetings on my birthday, and I thank the Lord for 100 years living on Earth, this beautiful planet.”

The ceremony ended as Anderson cut an American flag birthday cake and a long line of grateful people awaited their turn to meet, congratulate and thank Anderson.

Crash sends 5 teens to hospital

An early Friday morning wreck hospitalized five teenagers after the car they were in crashed into a utility pole and caught on fire near Mt. Juliet.

The single-vehicle crash at the intersection of South Mt. Juliet Road and Stewarts Ferry Pike totaled the car and trapped some of the teens. A bystander rescued some of the teens before flames engulfed the car.

That bystander was Conner DiBenedetto who said that he came up on the wreck just minutes after it happened where he pulled three people out of the car, one of whom was unconscious.
“I give it all back to God, for it was his grace that was the hero,” DiBenedetto said.

According to Wilson Emergency Management Agency director Joey Cooper, the car was fully involved in fire at about 1 a.m. when firefighters arrived.

WEMA paramedics took two teens to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with what was described as moderate injuries, and one teen had multiple unknown injuries. Paramedics also took two teens to TriStar Summit Medical Center with minor, non-life threatening injuries, Cooper said.

Their names and conditions were unavailable due to their ages. 

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers led the investigation into the crash, which remained under investigation. Mt. Juliet police and Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. workers also went to the scene.

Fire chiefs respond to mayor’s remarks

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet fire department leaders took exception to Mayor Ed Hagerty’s comments about the lack of response by the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet to a 911 call at his home earlier in May.

Fire Chief Jamie Luffman and Deputy Chief Chris Allen responded to his comments during the May 10 meeting.

During the meeting, Hagerty recounted how he called 911 to get help with a relative and only the Wilson Emergency Management Agency showed up to the call.

Hagerty is a longtime opponent to a proposed property tax increase that would earmark 39 cents to the fire department.

“I do want to comment further, because there’s been quite a bit of discussion about this,” Hagerty said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been a very vocal opponent against this. One primary reason that I have repeated often is we do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”

Hagerty then spoke about the 911 call and response.

“The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet did not come when called,” Hagerty said. “They were not on another call. I checked. Given the ranker and emotion of this tax discussion, I don’t even want to speculate why the city of Mt. Juliet [fire department] did not come when called.”

Allen said Thursday he did not appreciate the implication and was upset “politics had been brought into that conversation.”

“For someone who has been in fire services for 33 years, it’s pretty disheartening and kind of a punch to the gut,” Allen said. “Politics aside, we go to someone who needs help.”

“Things shouldn’t go that low. To be accused of personally not responding to a call, it’s disgusting. It’s ironic, because the mayor’s been a frequent critic of ours for running medical calls to begin with.”

Allen said when the fire department first entered service six years ago, “We ran every medical call. Part of it was to learn the city. Part of it was due to dispatch in the county.”

All 911 calls go to the Wilson County dispatchers before they are transferred to a particular agency.

“Probably three years ago, we stopped running low-acuity medical calls,” he said. “Low acuity is a medical term for “not a serious medical call. General complaints of pain, sprained ankle or ‘I don’t feel good, I need to go to the hospital.’”

Luffman further explained the situation and why the fire department did not respond in an email to The Democrat.

“Initial investigation information was that a mistake was made at the Wilson County 911 Center on a recent medical call in Mt. Juliet,” Luffman said. “Upon further investigation, it was found that Wilson County 911 did not make a mistake. The issue found was one of protocol and logistics, which has been reviewed and adjusted to accommodate.
“WEMA and Mt. Juliet Fire Department share a low-acuity protocol that does not require the dispatch of a rescue fire engine. Lebanon Fire Department first responds to all calls for medical service. In this instance, the ambulance that was serving the zone for this call was already out on another call.”

There are two categories dispatchers have when those types of calls come in and an engine is automatically sent, Allen said. They are, car wrecks, anything trauma, heart attack chest pains or diabetic. The second list includes “if the complaint is this. We’re not going to send an engine unless WEMA asks us to,” he said.

Luffman said it prompted two things to happen by WEMA protocol. The next closest ambulance, WEMA Medic 4 in Lakeview, was dispatched for the medical call for service, and the WEMA Engine 3 that serves this zone, was dispatched for first response. Even though the call met the low-acuity criteria, WEMA’s policy is to have the rescue engine respond.

“Since WEMA has a high medical involvement with transport, they will, in times of pulling transport from other zones to cover a call, will dispatch the fire engine for first response,” Luffman said. “The protocol for the Mt. Juliet Fire Department did not address this scenario since we do not control the dispatch locations of the WEMA ambulances and did not foresee this logistical setup, that facet has been added to our protocol. Mt. Juliet did receive the call from Wilson County 911; however, in the fact that the dispatch information received fell under a low-acuity criterion, no Mt. Juliet rescue engine was dispatched.”

Allen said, “We did not have to go on that call. What really hurts is the fire crew, the chiefs, we didn’t know about the call. When it was dispatched, the dispatchers made the decision. We had no knowledge of it.”

If given the chance, Allen said, “I wish we could keep it professional. We’ve been accused of having a ‘spending problem.’ What is frustrating is that our budgets have been approved each year by all five members of the board of commissioners. That includes the mayor. If there is a spending problem, then he’s approved it.

“We’ve not gone over budget. In fact, we’ve returned funds to emergency services every year. So, whether or not you agree that a tax increase [is needed] or not, there’s got to be some type of solution, because we desperately need a third staffed station.”

Last year, the department ran more than 2,670 calls, Allen said, with two stations. Because there is no department on the north end of the city, emergency calls often take 10 minutes when it should take five, he said.

The Lebanon Fire Department has 18 staff members working each shift, he said. Mt. Juliet has a higher population and six members split between two stations.

“They are an older city with some of the challenges that come with that,” he said. “So, we should be somewhere in between.”

Allen said Mt. Juliet encompasses 28.1 square miles, and there are 37,400 people in the city.

“There is a total of 22 full-time, two part-time and 17 volunteers within the department,” Allen said. “Their annual budget is $2.7 million. Compare that to Lebanon, which is 38.6 square miles and has a population of 32,200 people. Their department has 71 full-time and two part-time employees. Their annual budget is $6.8 million.”

Further comparisons included LaVergne, which is 25.1 square miles and has a population of 41,000. It has 46 full-time and 13 part-time employees, and its budget is $4 million.

Allen said he wished the conversation about the department and the potential tax increase, “would be kept professional. I just wish things wouldn’t have evolved to a personal level.”

Wilson County lawmakers respond to House speaker scandal

Wilson County’s state House members gave their thoughts on Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and multiple calls for him to resign amid scandals.

Casada, a former House GOP Caucus chairman and majority leader, is under fire with calls to resign from some Republicans and nearly all Democrats amid the scandal that involved text messages with a former top aide, 32-year-old Cade Cothren, who stepped down last Monday.

Cothren, who in one text discussed using cocaine in a state office building, was Casada’s press secretary until his promotion to the newly elected speaker’s chief of staff in January.

Black lawmakers are furious over some of Cothren’s racist text messages, too. The messages were leaked.

State Rep. Susan Lynn laid out her arguments for Casada to remain House speaker in a statement Wednesday to The Democrat.

“I do not rush to judgment when I hear bad news about others, because there is always more to the story that is unknown,” said Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet. “I have investigated each of the allegations and as far as I can tell, I do not believe that the Speaker should resign.

“There are basically four allegations, inappropriate text messages, an accusation of the manipulation of a date on an email by his chief of staff, listening devices in the Cordell Hull building and the white noise machines.

“In 2016, there were a small number of inappropriate texts privately shared as friends between then Tennessee House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, the House GOP press secretary Cade Cothren, and a disgruntled former employee.  Speaker Casada did not actually remember these texts because they were very trivial goings back and forth outside of work, but he has taken full responsibility for the content, and he has apologized.

“The disgruntled former employee also shared some inappropriate text messages from 2015 and 2016 that were between only himself and Cothren, which involved partying and drug use. The behavior and the messages were unknown to the speaker until [News Channel 5 reporter] Phil Williams showed him. The speaker could not even believe that Cade would ever take part in such activity. However, when confronted last week, Cothren confessed, and the speaker asked for his resignation.

“The email manipulation has since been proven false. There are no listening devices in the Cordell Hull building other than the clerks’ office video recording system for committee meetings, and the white noise machines were installed because the walls are thin.

“It should be understood that the three text messages that included the speaker in the thread are very old, long before he was speaker of the House and at a time when he was going through a divorce, and it is easy to understand that at such a time he might have leaned on the friendship of these two young staffers. We should be careful to not judge harshly when we come into one chapter in the story of someone’s life. Speaker Casada is a great leader, a very humble, kind and generous person and a loyal friend, which is very rare in the political world.”

State Rep. Clark Boyd, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for a work trip, said he would know more after a Republican Caucus meeting scheduled for Monday.

“As legislators, we are held to a higher standard and even more so are those who serve in positions of leadership,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “I am very disappointed by the actions and behavior that have recently come to light surrounding our leadership in the House of Representatives. I have spoken with our speaker on multiple occasions and have expressed to him my disappointment. I have given him my recommendation, and I will continue to pray for him as he considers my advice, as well as the advice of many other legislators. The House Republican Caucus will meet on Monday to decide what actions to take as we move forward.”

State Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said he didn’t want to comment on incidents in the House.

“I know the House has their own ethics committee, as well as their own rules on how they handle House issues,” Pody said. “As a senator, it is not something that I will be involved in. Thank you for asking.”

A seventh state Republican representative called on Casada to step down amid a scandal over lewd text messages, eavesdropping allegations and reports of a FBI investigation into the school vouchers bill vote.

“Yes, I do,” Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, of Lancaster, told The Hartsville Vidette on Friday. “The choices made by these people – including the speaker – should have consequences. That teaches a lesson to everyone.”

Weaver, a religious conservative, said, “If one’s going to step up to a place of authority – mayor, county commissioner – there is a level of representation you’ve got to bring to the table. …Bad choices bring bad consequences and bad consequences have victims. Good choices make good things happen.”

Six other GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, of Signal Mountain, previously called on Casada, a Williamson County Republican elected speaker in January, to step down.

Others include Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, of Knoxville; Rep. David Hawk, of Greeneville; Rep. Jeremy Faison, of Cosby; Majority Whip Rick Tillis, of Lewisburg; and Rep. Sam Whitson, of Franklin.

Others have raised serious doubts and concerns about Casada, 60, including Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, last week said “I believe it would be in the best interest of the legislature and the state of Tennessee for Speaker Casada to vacate his office at this time.”

McNally emphasized that it’s the House’s decision.

While stopping short of calling for Casada’s resignation, Republican Gov. Bill Lee, also of Williamson County, said if Casada were a member of his administration, he would ask him to resign.

Meanwhile, a Nashville television station reported Friday that FBI agents started talking to lawmakers asking whether any improper incentives were offered to support Lee’s school voucher bill, which narrowly passed the House on a 51-49 vote after first deadlocking 49-49 for 40 minutes.

WTVF reported FBI agents are interested in whether anything of value – such as campaign contributions – was offered to anyone in exchange for their vote.

The station said it was unclear whether those inquiries are part of a preliminary investigation or a development in an ongoing probe. Casada played a key role in pushing the measure through the chamber.

While stopping short of calling for Casada to step down, Lee made his firmest remarks yet about the speaker who faces multiple calls to resign over a scandal involving sexually explicit and misogynistic texts and other allegations.

Asked last Thursday evening if he would ask fellow Williamson County resident Casada to resign if he were a member of his administration, Lee replied, “I would.”

Lee also told reporters after a Nashville graduation ceremony for technology and trade students that “given what has unfolded in the past days, I have a responsibility in the executive branch to speak to what culture should look like, to the standard that should exist in the executive branch.”

The governor said he has “communicated that to my team, and it’s a standard of integrity, honest and transparency, values and principles that are consistent with Tennesseans.

“I think some of the events that have come to light in the last several days are not consistent with that, and if an employee in my administration acted in a way that wasn’t consistent to that they wouldn’t be in my administration.”

Still, Lee said, it’s House representatives’ call and not his on what course of action to take.

“It’s important to remember that the members of the House of Representatives have the responsibility to choose a leader, and it’s not the governor’s responsibility, and it’s important that they weigh in because it is their responsibility to do so,” Lee said.

It was an echo of similar remarks made earlier Thursday by McNally, who said that if Casada were a senator he would “probably” ask him to resign and added that “if it were me that did some of those things, I’d probably be packing my bags for Oak Ridge.”

Andy Sher with the Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.