Martindale nominated for adult Governor’s Volunteer Stars award

Mary Martindale was nominated for adult Wilson County Governor’s Volunteer Stars award, and Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto honored her recently.

Martindale received three separate nominations, including one from Cynthia Sharp, who nominated Martindale for the honor for the volunteer work she does at Rutland Elementary School.

“Mary is a person who constantly looks for new ways to help in whatever situation she finds herself in,” Sharp said. “She quickly began to find more and more ways to contribute to the students and teachers at Rutland. 

“In Rutland’s two libraries, Mary comes at least two to three days a week to shelve books. But she also helps classes take reading tests and helps both students and teachers find books. She has been my most reliable volunteer at our book fairs, helping raise money to fund our library. Not only that, but she donates her own money to students who don’t have quite enough to buy the book they want. In addition, she is my go-to volunteer for all of our reading promotion events in the library.

“People have told Mary that she should sign up as a substitute teacher and get paid, since she is always at school. But, she says she wants to give back, and that is why she is doing all she does. When Mary isn’t volunteering at Rutland, you’ll find her volunteering at the Nashville Zoo, the Animal Rescue Corps Emergency Shelter in Lebanon or at the women’s group at Del Webb in Mt. Juliet.

“I have never worked with such a dedicated and passionate volunteer. She loves our students. She teaches, organizes, encourages, finds resources, gives gifts and does whatever needs to be done to benefit both the students and teachers at Rutland.  Students and teachers alike know they are believed in by Mary Martindale.”

Sandi Gaddes said, “Mary volunteers three to five days a week, donating not only hours of her time but purchasing and donating items for school, teachers, office or students. She tirelessly helps anywhere she is asked and needed and does whatever is asked of her with a smile on her face. She even makes lesson plans to help with special education students and takes working with them seriously. Her exuberance, selflessness and smile are infectious, and she truly has a giving spirit.”

Jennifer Boyles said, “In addition to the time she spends in my classroom, Mary also works with a second-grade teacher running one of her small guided reading groups. She spends countless hours planning the lessons herself. Mary simply loves to work with children, support teachers and does so with energy, kindness and love for all of us at Rutland.”

Hutto said, “Congratulations Mary. Thank you so much for everything that you do for the students and teachers of Rutland Elementary School. You are an inspiration to everyone. Keep up the great work.”

Each year, in conjunction with the Governor’s Volunteer Stars award program, one youth and one adult in each of Tennessee’s participating counties are selected to attend the governor’s banquet and be honored for their volunteer work.

In Wilson County, all nominees are recognized. For 2018, 10 nominations of six youth and four adults were received.

“We were fortunate enough to have Wilson Bank & Trust sponsor our award plaques again this year,” Hutto said. “They also sponsored a ticket to the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet, where our nominees and winners were honored for their volunteer work.”

Imagination Dinner celebrates literacy

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson County Books from Birth held its 13th-annual Imagination Dinner fundraiser Thursday night at the Wilson County Expo Center, and it featured a star-studded room of characters.

Wilson County Books from Birth is the local affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a literacy program that gives new age-appropriate books to children each month to every participating child less than 5 years old.

This year’s dinner featured a record-breaking 52 tables, which attendees bought and then created themes such as Where’s Waldo, the Titanic or the Wild West.

Wilson Books from Birth executive director Peggy Simpson said the growth and continued success of the program is due to the overwhelming support from the community.

“For 13 years, it’s grown,” Simpson said. “We started out over at the East-West Building, and we moved over here the year before last. We have 10 more tables this year, and every year we add more tables. They believe in us, and the school systems particularly put their arms around it, and the community does, too. They believe in Wilson Books from Birth and the Imagination Library, not only in Wilson County.”

Attendees raised money for the program through donations, participation in a silent auction and donations tied to unique challenges for other groups, such as making them do a silly dance in front of the crowd of several hundred attendees.

One of the groups, Leadership Wilson, offered up a unique challenge for everyone in attendance.

“We are challenging everyone in the room to do an act of kindness for someone tomorrow and then video it and put it on the WilCo Sparks of Kindness Facebook page,” said Dorie Mitchell, executive director of Leadership Wilson.

Prizes were also raffled off, and the imagination and detail of the team costumes and table themes were judged. The Carroll Oakland Elementary School team took home the best decorated trophy.

More information about Wilson County Books from Birth and the Imagination Library may be found at wilsonbooksfrombirth.com.

WilCo Sparks of Kindness to Stuff the Bus

The Leadership Wilson Kindness Team plans to begin its second phase of the kindness mission, Stuff the Bus.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash, Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty and Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings recently declared May 8 as Kindness Day throughout Wilson County, and WilCo Sparks of Kindness reached more than 11,000 people and had more than 4,000 post engagements since that time. 

Wilson County residents will continue to spark kindness with donations of food items for the summer backpack programs. 

“There are hundreds of students who face food insecurity and hunger in the summer when they do not have access to school meals. This program provides food that the students can eat with little to no prep,” said Betty Williams, a Leadership Wilson member. The Stuff The Bus program is designed to gather food and distribute it to qualified students who attend Lebanon Special School District and Wilson County Schools.”

CedarStone Bank’s Lebanon and Mt Juliet locations are drop-off points for food items to Stuff the Bus during Kindness Day on May 8. 

“We are so excited to be a part of this great kindness revolution in Wilson County,” said Bob McDonald, president of CedarStone Bank. “What better way to be kind than to make sure our students have access to food this summer. We look forward to seeing our community rise up once again to demonstrate great kindness.”

Foods items needed include pop-top ravioli and spaghetti, individual macaroni and cheese bowls and packets, beef jerky, cheese and crackers, chips, individual cookie packets, breakfast bars, Pop Tarts, fruit snacks, juice bars or similar items. 

“These are items we have found work best for our students,” Williams said. “Both school systems want to make sure children have food for the summer. Help us meet our goal. Prior to May 8, take your donation to CedarStone Bank. If you want to be part of the big celebration day, bring your food items to Don Fox Park on May 8, where we will literally stuff the bus.”

To join the kindness revolution, visit WilCo Sparks of Kindness on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Budget panel OKs medical examiner’s rate hike

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

An increase in salary for the Wilson County medical examiner was a controversial issue for years, but the Wilson County Budget Committee brought it up again Thursday night.

State law mandates each county have at least one medical examiner, according to county finance director Aaron Maynard. The medical examiner is required to be a medical doctor.

“In 2017, we had 277 [fatalities,] and last year, we had 236,” said medical examiner Dr. Scott Giles. “It’s becoming harder and harder for myself and [co-worker Jacob Cook], who are the primary investigators at this time, to have time to set aside.”

He said he has a couple of investigators who are interested in helping, but they have jobs. Giles requested the amount per day for an investigator to be on a 24-hour call be raised to $200 a day. For a call that involved a death, they would not be paid extra, Giles said.

“[The $200 a day] comes out less than $10 an hour,” Giles said. “If the investigator gets one call or five, they’re paid the same. I think this is the most equitable way to go about it.”

The total additional funding was $50,000, Maynard said.

“We basically had a salary line for the county coroner which was incorrect because he’s really not on our payroll. We basically shuffled the other line items around to contracted services,” said Maynard.

The medical examiner’s office has not had an increase in budget in years, Maynard said.

“We’ve debated this three times,” he said. “Dr. Giles has brought three different proposals.

Autopsies have increased in cost, but there has been no increase in salary.”

Commissioner William Glover said the budget was increased each year.

“Unless we computed one-and-a-half percent when we did the budget, they haven’t had a budget increase,” Maynard said.

Giles said the amount hasn’t increased, but because the number of deaths has increased, the funding was increased.

“I just saw that three years ago. It went up quite a bit,” Glover said. “Two years ago and last year, it was adjusted.”

Maynard said the autopsy budget line item was increased because “We never had enough money for autopsies.

“I don’t recall us raising any of the lines when it comes to actual cost of the medical examiner,” Maynard said.

Giles said the funding started out at “$75 a body, and as the volume increased, we asked for $125 a body. It’s been that way for at least 10 or more years.”

Commissioner Kenny Reich said, “I know people who work at the hospital that don’t get that kind of money.”

The total cost would be $73,000, which would be $200 a day,for 365 days a year. If they were paid per death, they would get $125 per body.

“If we go to a four-fatality wreck on the interstate, that’s $500,” Giles said. “I have investigators who are interested, but they say, ‘I’m sitting at home and not getting paid. Why am I doing this?’ I want to add two more investigators.”

Glover said he believes, “We ought to look at the numbers and see what other counties are doing. We need you, but that’s a lot of money to add on.”

Giles said he does not charge to sign death certificates or cremation permits. Other medical examiners in other counties charge for that, he said.

The commissioners approved the request, but Glover voted against it.

County fixes two items in audit report

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The state comptroller of the treasury recently conducted an audit of Wilson County’s finances and budget for the prior fiscal year and found two minor accounting issues.

The state office performs the audit each year, according to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.

“There were two findings this year,” Hutto said. “They have to do with the finance department. The first one was the finance department didn’t file a report on debt obligation with the comptroller’s office. Anytime you have debt, you have to let them know.”

The issue stems from a lease-purchase of school-related items. The total was $66,840, and the contract started in September 2017.

“After 45 days, the county must provide the information with the comptroller’s office,” Hutto said. “We didn’t consider it since we were paying it over three years. We didn’t consider it debt obligation. Once it was pointed out, we went back to the county commission, presented the information, and we took care of it.”

The second finding was that the finance department had accounting deficiencies, which stemmed from the prior year’s balances that were not cleared from the budgeting ledger.

“It looked like another payment,” Hutto said. “There was rural debt service that was $7,885, general fund that was $5,229 and highway public funds in the amount of $35,000. Those should have been cleared out. It looked like we had more money than we actually had.”

Hutto said the next step is to have the state auditors go before the Wilson County Audit Committee and explain the audit.

“We’ve already filed our letter of intent to correct,” Hutto said. “We have so many days to correct it, and we have to state how we corrected the findings. We’ve already briefed the commission at the last commission meeting. We’ll talk to them at a committee meeting after the audit committee hears the explanation.”

Hutto said with a $300 million budget, “the findings were small increments. But we don’t want any findings, and we’ll always continue to work toward that. The findings have been noted and corrected. We’ll do our best to not have any next year. [Finance director] Aaron Maynard and assistant finance director Sharon Lackey do a tremendous job of juggling the finances when we work day to day and live off tax receipts. They don’t always come in on time.”

Hutto said the county improved its bond rating to an AA+ and strive for an AAA bond rating.

“We passed a resolution to make sure the county’s fund balance does not go before $8 million unless there’s a two-thirds majority vote of the county commission,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We’ve made lots of strides in the different areas of the finance department. Our department heads and elected officials turn money back to the general fund each year. It’s about $2 million they turn back. We work hard at saving money and not spending everything we get.”

County honors former Judge John Gwin

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A highlight of Monday night’s Wilson County Commission meeting was a proclamation to honor former Wilson County Judge John T. Gwin, who retired at the end of 2018.

In the proclamation, sponsored by commissioners Bobby Franklin and Justin Smith, Gwin’s background as a private family law attorney and position as Wilson County’s first family court judge was highlighted.

“For the past 10 years, he has capably and compassionately presided over Wilson County general sessions court Division III with domestic relations, probate, juvenile and mental health jurisdiction,” the proclamation said. “He also served with distinction as Mt. Juliet municipal judge for 15 years prior to being elected to the general sessions court.

“Firmly committed to giving back to his community, Judge Gwin embodies and personifies the term ‘public servant.’”

The full commission endorsed the proclamation, and a copy was given to Gwin and his wife, Pat.

The commission held a 30-minute meeting Monday. The meeting was short due to a lack of resolutions, as well as no old or new business to discuss.

In other business, commissioners voted to set the speed limit on Crossroads Drive from Saundersville Ferry Road to the dead end at 25 mph.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he reappointed Larry Bowers to the LaGuardo Utility District board of commissioners. The appointment did not need to be voted on by the commission, but it was announced because the appointment needed to be noted in the meeting minutes, Hutto said.

Various committee reports were approved during the meeting, including the sheriff’s office report given by Deputy Chief Mike Owen; the schools report given by Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright; and the Wilson Emergency Management Agency report given by WEMA director Joey Cooper.

Wilson County Veterans Services opens its doors

By Quinten Brashear

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Wilson County Veterans Services office held an open house recently to give local veterans the chance to tour the facility and see what services are offered.

The event also included tours of the Wilson County Veterans Museum, and veterans got the chance to meet the office staff and learn about veterans’ benefits.

The outreach event helped veterans and their families receive the benefits they deserve, as well as help bring normalcy to their everyday lives. From VA enrollment to suicide prevention, the services provided are all dedicated to fulfill their needs.

“The whole thing is a comprehensive approach to the VA health care system,” said Michael McPherson, director of Wilson County Veterans Services.

McPherson, a 21-year Army veteran, has worked for the Veteran’s Service office for two years.

“We’ve got to have a voice for these veterans, and this office does it,” said McPherson.

McPherson worked closely with Witt Cook with the Nashville Vet Center to bring the many veteran services under one roof.

“Bringing resources to the community is a wonderful thing,” said Cook, who served in the U.S. Navy for eight years.

Some of the vendors included a caregiver support program for veterans’ spouses and family members, women’s health program, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, community care providers that include foster homes for veterans and the Tennessee Valley Whole Health Initiative that wants to curb the opioid crisis with alternate pain relief such as acupuncture and massage therapy.

When veterans come to the service office, they fill out an assessment that lets the office know what their needs are, and the office stays true to its mission to serve them with dignity and compassion.

“Depending on what they present during that needs assessment…we’ve got the right people here who can meet those needs,” said Cook. “And it’s really wonderful, because it keeps them from having to go ‘over there’ to see ‘that guy’ or ‘over there’ to see ‘that guy.’ Everyone is in one place.”

“We really strive to help veterans transition back into public life,” said McPherson. “Some of these people have been serving half their life. They get out and, all of the sudden, things have changed. You haven’t done a resume in 20 years. There’s a lot of things you have to be prepared for, but for us, it’s bringing normalcy to the veterans who are transitioning out and need assistance, and they come here for that.”

Peggy Bloechl spoke about the significance of the Veterans Crisis Hotline. She said about 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

The Wilson County Veterans Museum includes artifacts from every major military event in American history. In addition, there’s a Huey helicopter that was flown in Vietnam by Wilson County veterans.

“All those artifacts in there come from Wilsonians,” McPherson said. “That brick and mortar is built on stories and tales from moms and dads who were veterans. Everything you see in there is somehow someway tied to a Wilson County vet.”

Cook agreed with McPherson about the museum’s significance.

“It really shows people who are not veterans that our neighbors – this wasn’t something just seen on the news – people from Wilson County occupied those uniforms and wore those medals,” Cook said.

Rescued animals spend Christmas with volunteers

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Lebanon’s Animal Rescue Corps shelter houses more than 100 rescued animals, and the organization’s volunteers spent Christmas caring and loving for their furry family members.

The animals, all of which were rescued in Carroll County as part of Operation Noah’s Ark, have called a warehouse in Lebanon home since April, as the criminal case against the animal owners continues.

The cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets have received nutrition, shelter, medical treatment, exercise and most importantly love due to the work of the staff and volunteers of Animal Rescue Corps, a national animal rescue nonprofit that facilitates animal care in large-scale abuse cases.

Like any other day, the animals were in need of care on Christmas, a day where volunteers wanted to be with the animals to give the care that everyone – regardless of how many legs they stand on – deserves.

“We had over 20 people here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” said Animal Rescue Corps public information officer Michael Cunningham. “We have two shifts a day. We have a 9 to 1 and a 1 to 5, and we had people who came and stayed all day. We cleared off all the desks and set up big tables and all sat down and had a meal together. We serve vegan meals or vegetarian meals here. We never serve meat in the building, and people brought food. We bought food; we made food; we barbequed and had a great time together.

“I was expecting that we would have a real light crew over the holidays, because people want to spend it with their families, but we were literally telling people that we were full, which is just amazing. This is a place that people want to be. We have fun.”

The ongoing rescue operation is done free of charge with the help of volunteers and donations. Everything from cat litter, dog food, toys and animal bedding comes in daily through donations on the rescue’s Amazon wish list.

“There are thousands of rescue groups that can take on five animals, seven animals, 10 animals. What there isn’t is a resource for law enforcement to address situations of large-scale animal cruelty,” Cunningham said

He said ARC actually collects the evidence for prosecution.

“We build the case. We collect all the evidence, all the forensics and everything – dead bodies, every nail we trim, every tick we pull off these animals, all of that is maintained as evidence and turned over to law enforcement for the criminal case,” Cunningham said.

“It’s not that the sheriff doesn’t know that something is going on in their town. It’s that they don’t have a really good option when it comes to it. They could euthanize all the animals in the shelter to make room for new animals if there’s enough room. They could euthanize all the animals on the property, because there is no place to put them, or they could do nothing, and that’s what they do. They do nothing, because the other two options are so terrible that they just don’t have that resource to address it. So that’s what we are.

“We are a free resource for law enforcement, and we will come in and handle all the animals. We will do all of the extractions. We will emergency house them. We will get them medically sound, and then we will move them onto our placement partners, and they will find the homes for them once they have full legal custody.”

Cunningham started ARC with his husband, Tim Woodward, who serves as ARC’s chief operations officer, eight years ago and completed their first rescue in McMinville. Cunningham and Woodward both have a Silicon Valley background where they founded and sold startups, a far cry from the large-scale animal rescue operations they do currently, but something they both wouldn’t have any other way.

Cunningham said while the job can be emotionally taxing, it’s worth it just to change the lives of even one animal, many of which have serious medical conditions due to abuse and neglect such as ammonia poisoning, eye ulcers and internal parasites.

“‘No more bad days’ – that’s what I say. When we show up, I say, ‘There’s no more bad days, guys,’ and they’re gone from that,” Cunningham said.

Mary Biggers, a volunteer with ARC said the connection made with the animals is special, something she and many of the volunteers think about each day when they go home.

“We just fall in love with them, because we’re their only family right now,” Biggers said.

Director of operations Amy Haverstick said the best thing the public can do to help animals is to know if they are capable of caring for an animal, something that is a long-term relationship with another living being.

“You have to be financially capable of owning an animal, of being that pet’s guardian, and if you don’t have that in your budget, you shouldn’t get an animal for that animal’s sake,” Haverstick said. “It’s a lifetime commitment.”

ARC is always in need of volunteers and donations. Volunteers may contact ARC by email at volunteer@animalrescuecorps.org. Cases may be reported at reportcruelty@animalrescuecorps.org, and general information may be found at info@animalrescuecorps.org or at animalrescuecorps.org.

County receives its new bond rating

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County’s bond rating remains at a strong AA+, Wilson County finance director Aaron Maynard told the newly seated Wilson County Commission on Sept. 17 at its meeting. 

Standard and Poor’s looked at the county when they began the recent bond sale and determined they are “very strong,” in relationship to their debt service and general fund, Maynard said.

There are only six counties in Tennessee with AA+ bond ratings. That is the second highest rating possible, Maynard said. Only two counties – Williamson and Hamilton – have a higher rating at AAA+.

“We’ve taken great strides to remain AA+,” Maynard said. “When I first came here, we have an ending general fund balance of $100,000. Now it’s at $10 million and is stable. We pay off our debit on time and have strong reserves. Standard and Poor’s recognized that and reaffirmed our bond rating.”

The only voting business the commission had Monday was when it passed a resolution to request unclaimed funds from the state. The funds are then put into the general debt fund, according to Maynard.

Maynard told the commission he was tasked by Hutto to prepare a Powerpoint presentation to detail the need for, and benefits of, a countywide sales tax increase referendum. The referendum would be on the Nov. 6 ballot and would, if passed, increase the county’s sales tax from 9.25 percent to the state maximum of 9.75 percent. The funding would strictly be used for education purposes such as education debt services or new schools.

The alternative to the sales tax referendum is a property tax increase, Maynard said. That does not have to be approved by the public’s vote. 

Maynard and Hutto said they would be available for presentations to various groups, businesses and other interested parties. The county may also send out mailers and hire an independent public relations firm to help spread the word about the need for the half-cent sales tax increase.

New commissioners, who met for the first time since the Aug. 2 election, took no time to elect committee members.

Hutto was elected the commission’s chairperson, and Commissioner Wendell Marlowe was chosen as commission chairperson pro-tem.

Four members were elected to the Budget Committee. Annette Stafford, Gary Keith, William Glover and Marlowe were chosen by paper ballot. Also chosen by paper ballot were members of the Finance Committee. Diane Weathers, Bobby Franklin, John Gentry and Dan Walker were elected.

Sue Vanatta, Terry Ashe, Gary Keith, John Gentry and Jerry McFarland were chosen by commissioners to serve on the Insurance Committee. Hutto appointed residents Nancy Andrews and Chris McAteer, along with Marlowe, Sonja Robinson and McFarland, to serve on the Animal Control Committee.

The Ethics Committee will consist of Terry Ashe, Cyndi Bannach, Chris Dowell, Mike Kurtz and citizen Earl Ray. Diane Weathers was appointed to the Planning Commission.

The road commissioner for Zone 2 will be Chad Barnard, and Robinson will be the road commissioner for Zone 4.

Don Chambers was reappointed to the Water and Wastewater Board, while John Lavender was reappointed as a parks and recreation advisory board member.

Twenty-five commissioners and their families will help build a Habitat for Humanity home Oct. 13 in Wilson County. Their work will take place during the one day, Hutto said.

Community grieves loss of teen who drowned

By Jared Felkins

Keon Dotson

jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com

WATERTOWN – A tight-knit community continued Monday to mourn the loss of a 17-year-old boy who drowned Saturday while swimming at Old Hickory Lake.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency divers found the body of Elijah Keon Dotson, of Watertown, on Saturday evening after about a three-hour underwater search at Cedar Creek Boat Ramp in Mt. Juliet. 

Dotson was a senior at Watertown High School. He previously played football and was a member of the track and field team. According to Watertown High School principal Jeff Luttrell, counselors were made available Monday to students who needed support. 

“We are so saddened as a school and community at the loss of our student, Keon Dotson,” Luttrell said. “He possessed a powerful smile and a personality that drew people to want to know him. We will take every step possible to ensure we assist our students as they grieve the loss of a friend and classmate.”

A community prayer service was held Sunday evening in the library at Watertown Middle School, organized by the Bridge’s parents of teens life group and the church’s youth group. All community members and students were invited to participate. 

According to social media posts, students and faculty wore red Monday to school in honor of Dotson. According to a tweet by a member of the football team, the Purple Tigers dedicated their season to Dotson, and the student section plans to have a “red out” during Friday night’s game against Westmoreland. 

Wilson County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Moore said the incident on Old Hickory Lake happened Saturday at about 2:30 p.m., and divers found the Dotson’s body at about 6 p.m. He said Dotson tried to swim to a buoy beyond the swim area, and there was a change in water depth where he went under and was unable to surface. 

Wilson County sheriff’s boat patrol and Wilson Emergency Management Agency water rescue crews searched for Dotson on Saturday afternoon in Mt. Juliet. 

WEMA director Joey Cooper said divers were called to the boat ramp to search for the teen. Moore said it’s believed no foul play was involved. 

Cedar Creek Boat Ramp is at 9264 Saundersville Road in Mt. Juliet. Old Hickory Lake is part of the Cumberland River.

Guilty plea ends 7-year sexual exploitation case

By Jared Felkins

Dennis Lee Arnold

jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com

A Mt. Juliet man pleaded guilty Monday to felony soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor in a case that took seven years to reach a conclusion. 

Dennis Lee Arnold, 54, pleaded guilty to three counts of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor in Wilson County criminal court a day before he was scheduled to stand trial on 18 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means and simple assault.

Judge Brody Kane sentenced Arnold to serve two years on each of the three counts included in a plea deal to run consecutive to each other for a total six-year prison sentence. The six-year sentence will run consecutive to a 27-year sentence Arnold received in Davidson County.

Arnold was arrested in August 2011, originally charged with two counts of solicitation of a minor and assault. He was held in the Wilson County Jail on $252,500 bond until February 2015. 

In 2011, Wilson County sheriff’s detectives investigated the case, and the investigation revealed Arnold committed crimes against the same victim, an adopted family member, in Davidson County where the family lived when she was younger, according to Assistant District Attorney Tom Swink. He said the family later moved to Wilson County. 

Swink said Arnold was convicted in Nashville in July 2013 of two counts of felony aggravated sexual battery and one count of solicitation and sentenced to 27 years in prison, which is why it took seven years to go to trial in Wilson County. 

“He was convicted in Davidson County and had a 27-year sentence, so there was no prejudice to the defendant by the delay,” Swink said. “His sentence was upheld on appeal.” 

In the Wilson County case, Swink said Arnold would intentionally expose himself in front of the family member and her friend. 

“In our case, both victims would testify about him exposing himself to them,” Swink said. “Detective [B.J.] Stafford interviewed the defendant back in 2011, and the defendant made admissions corroborating victims’ disclosures.”

Corn maze to open at fairgrounds

By Matt Masters

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
The Farmers’ Corn Maze will open Saturday and remain open weekends through Nov. 5 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon.

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Sunshine and Justin Gregory with Farmer’s Produce in Castilian Springs planted the maze with the help of the James E. Ward Agricultural Center and Wilson County Expo Center staff.

Sunshine Gregory said they have transitioned from growing tobacco into produce and agri-tourism and saw the Wilson County Fairgrounds and the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the perfect place to have the attraction.

“The maze is actually not corn. It’s sorghum sudangrass. We did that because corn wouldn’t grow tall enough in the ground, and it’s about 4 acres,” Sunshine Gregory said. “We are celebrating 25 years of Lelan Statom this year, and we will have pumpkin painting, face painting, pumpkin bowling, duck races and other activities. Everyone knows about the Wilson County Fairgrounds, so we couldn’t think of a better place to have this celebration.” 

The maze spells out “Celebrate 25 years with Lelan” with the likeness of Statom cut into the maze. 

Charity Toombs, director of marketing and events for the Wilson County Expo Center, said that the maze is just one way the fairgrounds and Expo Center plans to offer new attractions to the people of Wilson County.

“When the county purchased this land, it was solely for the fact of promoting and having a place for agriculture, and so we’ve continued to take that mission and improve upon it. So with the new director, Quinton Smith, and myself and our staff, it has been our mission that the ag grounds become a place where people can literally be a part of agriculture and to get their hands dirty. And so it’s our passion to have these events where they can experience agriculture directly,” Toombs said.

The maze will be open  weekends from Saturday through Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is $8 per person, and children 3 years old and younger will get in free. 

Sales tax increase placed on November ballot

By Angie Mayes

Special to the Democrat

Angie Mayes • Mt. Juliet News
Thirty-five-year military officer Rita Wilson, a Wilson County resident, explains what the Pledge of Allegiance means. She broke down the words and explained what each section meant for Wilson County commissioners Monday night at their meeting.

To raise funds for educational projects, Wilson County placed a sales tax increase in the form of a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. 

It will be on the ballot for voters to decide instead of the Wilson County Commission’s consideration of a property tax increase, according to county finance director Aaron Maynard.

If voters approve it, the sales tax would increase from 9.25 percent to the state maximum of 9.75 percent. The .50 percent equals a half-cent increase, Maynard said.

“On $100, the increase would be 50 cents,” Maynard said. “By law, the sales tax increase has to go on a referendum. Half of the amount raised in sales tax has to go to education. It depends on where the sale took place. The state gets 7.50 percent of the money. The cities and the counties get 2.25 percent, depending on where the sale takes place.”

For example, if the sale is in Mt. Juliet, the city gets the money. If the sale is in the county, Wilson County gets the sales tax money.

In most recent statistics available, Lebanon received $11 million in sales tax revenues per month, while Mt. Juliet had $10.3 million in sales tax revenues, Maynard said.

In addition to Wilson County Schools, Lebanon Special School District gets money from the sales tax referendum, as well, he said. 

“It is based on the average daily attendance,” Maynard said. “This year, they received $886,000 that didn’t come to the county.”

The county received $5.2 million from the sales tax coffers during the previous fiscal year.

Maynard said the “driving force behind the sales tax referendum is infrastructure. We can manage operating co

sts through growth. That could be hiring teachers, deputies and paramedics. It’s hard to manage through population.”

In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were 113,993 people in Wilson County. In 2017, the estimate was 136,442. That’s the approximate number of people the census bureau had originally estimated would be in the county in 2019.

“Over the past seven years, we added 22,449 people,” Maynard said. “We’re expected to add 21,389 in the next six years. In 2023, we are expected to have 157,930 people. The census bureau does come in on the low side, so we could have more.”

Maynard said the only option other than a sales tax increase, is to raise the property tax, which will hurt homeowners and businesses.

“The sales tax option affects everyone who spends money in Wilson County,” Maynard said. “It will be spent by residents who shop here, tourists or even people who just drive through and stop.”

Maynard said 49 of the 95 counties in Tennessee already have their sales tax rate at 9.75 percent and 11 counties are at 9.5 percent. 

“That means that more than 63 percent of the counties in Tennessee have a rate of 9.5 percent or higher,” he said. “Williamson County just raised theirs to 9.75 percent. Rutherford County is at 9.75 percent. Montgomery County is at 9.5 percent, and Sumner County is at 9.25 percent.”

Maynard said the county supports school renovations and construction. In the past few years, Wilson County Schools expanded Carroll-Oakland School, Gladeville Elementary School, Rutland Elementary School, Southside School, Tuckers Crossroads School, Watertown Elementary School, West Elementary School and West Wilson Middle School. Lebanon High School and Watertown High School were built within the past seven years. Gladeville Middle School is scheduled to open next fall. The new Green Hill High School is expected to be ready to open in two years.

Maynard said a property tax hike does not go before the citizens. The state allows a county to raise its rate by commission vote.

He admitted there were three referendums to increase the sales tax since 1994, and all three failed. He hopes it will be different this year.

“We’ve been asked by property owners why we increase the property tax,” Maynard said. “We don’t want to penalize the property owners, but that’s what we will have to do if this doesn’t pass. This is our bottom line. Hopefully people will turn out to vote for this. This is an opportunity for people to choose what kind of tax they want.”

Wilson County honors POWs, MIAs

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Matt Masters • Mt. Juliet News
A POW/MIA memorial service concludes with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Veterans, active-duty servicemen, former prisoners of war and their civilian supporters gathered Friday morning at the Wilson County Veteran’s Plaza and Museum to remember America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash gave the keynote speech and issued a proclamation to honor the day in recognition of POWs and MIAs. Ash also said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto also issued a proclamation.

“To those that are still missing, we will not rest until you or your remains are returned home. To all those former POWs, we will never forget your service and sacrifice that you and your families have given to this country and for us individually,” Ash said.

Ash also invoked the memory of possibly the United States’ most famous POW, Arizona Sen. John McCain who died Aug. 25. McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and held as a POW for five and a half years.

“There is a continuous effort by the United States government and activist groups like Rolling Thunder, who we heard from today and others, to bring these soldiers home, but it takes all of us to keep the pressure on until every last soldier has been accounted for,” Ash said.

Linda Yates, president of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1004, said education and recognition of the sacrifices is key to keep the history and memory of POWs and MIAs alive.

“There’s way too many POWs and MIAs unaccounted for. As we heard, there’s over 90,000 between all the different conflicts and wars, so it’s important that we remember them and work toward bringing them home,” Yates said. “This is one of the under recognized ceremony days and we wanted to make sure that it’s memorialized because of the connections to our community right here in Lebanon.

“The other part that we wanted to do today is to educate the younger generation and we are fortunate also that they publicized it in some of the schools, particularly Tuckers Crossroads, which actually did a program with their children, and we showed them the [POW/MIA] flag and explained to them the significance behind it. It’s important because it’s being forgotten. You have Bill Leslie, who in his 80s, his story is very important and those stories could be lost.”

Wilson Central JROTC cadets laid a uniformed cap on the Missing Man Table to remember those who await their honorable return home. State Rep. Clark Boyd and Dennis Guillette with the Vietnam Veterans of America participated in the roll call ceremony to remind the crowd just how many people never made it home from each of America’s engagements.

Bill Burkhart, whose father was shot down in Vietnam, spoke about the hardships of growing up not knowing if his father was alive and the challenges to find his final resting place. Burkhart said in the past year, advances were made to locate his father’s crash site, and work is ongoing to try and make more discoveries in the hope to bring his remains home.

Bill Leslie shared a unique story as a civilian POW as a child during World War II when he and several thousand people were held in a concentration camp by the Japanese while living in Manila, were they faced starvation and disease among other horrors.

Burkhart and Leslie laid a wreath in memory of those lost, provided by the American Legion Post 15.

Paul Williams with Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 1 in Middle Tennessee, an advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for the country’s POW/MIA service members, said it’s important to support those who have sacrificed so much, especially those who did not make it home through their sacrifice.

“The main tenant of Rolling Thunder is the POW/MIA issue. We want to help keep it in the forefront so that we can get as full an account as possible for all of our missing servicemen and women. Today is the National POW/MIA recognition day, and we also do things to help current active-duty servicemen and women and our veterans, including providing a motorcycle escort for anyone who asks for it during a veteran’s funeral,” 

The service concluded with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Ten local schools named Reward schools

By Jared Felkins

jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com

The state Department of Education named 10 local schools, seven in Wilson County Schools and three Lebanon Special School District schools, as Reward schools, which is the highest honor given annually to individual schools.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Friday the 2018 Reward and Priority schools, which are two key designations under Tennessee’s school accountability system. It was the first year Tennessee implemented its new school accountability model, which was developed with educators and stakeholders across the state and which looks at multiple measures of success.  

Wilson County schools named Reward schools were Mt. Juliet High School, Watertown High School, West Wilson Middle School, Elzie D. Patton Elementary School, Stoner Creek Elementary School, West Elementary School and W.A. Wright Elementary School. No Wilson County schools were named priority schools. 

“By any standard, the start of this school year has been exceptional,” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright. “Last month, we learned that the district has now achieved a Level 5 status for the academic growth of our students. Nine of our schools – almost half – received the highest ranking possible. Today, we’ve learned that seven of our schools have also achieved Reward School status. I can’t say enough about the hard work and dedication that’s been exerted by our students, teachers and administrators.”

For the second year in a row, the Lebanon Special School District earned exemplary status, which indicated the district exceeded state growth expectations in all indicators. Half of Lebanon schools achieved Reward status. Byars Dowdy Elementary School, Sam Houston Elementary School and Walter J. Baird Middle School were named Reward schools. No Lebanon schools were named Priority schools.

“Our administrators, teachers and students across the system work so hard,” said Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson. “It is a major accomplishment to have half of the schools in the system recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as Reward schools and for the system overall to be classified as exemplary for the second year in a row. We were celebrating our Level 5 status when the additional accolades were announced. I am extremely proud of everyone involved. We will continue to focus on areas of improvement and, at the same time, celebrate success with our students and teachers.” 

Reward schools improved overall student academic achievement and student growth for all students and for student groups, and they are identified annually. In 2018, 318 schools in 85 school districts – about 20 percent of schools in the state – earned Reward status.  

Priority schools are identified at least every three years, and they are schools most in need of support and improvement. Priority schools fall into the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state test scores in the past three years and have low graduation rates. Following legislation passed last spring, 2017-18 TNReady data was not used to identify Priority schools. The 2018 Priority list included 82 schools across eight districts, and these schools will be eligible for additional funding and will be supported by the department, in coordination with their districts, to develop a plan to improve.  

“In this first year with our new system, it is incredibly encouraging to see more than 300 of our schools are earning Reward status for how they are supporting our students’ academic achievement and growth,” McQueen said. “At the same time, we see a number of places where we need to improve. Our new school improvement model takes a student-focused, evidence-based approach to tailor interventions for our Priority schools, and we will be working closely with these schools and their districts over the coming year to improve academic outcomes and strengthen whole-child services that support student success.”    

Tennessee’s new school accountability system was developed through a 16-month process of gathering feedback and hearing input from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. Tennessee has designated Reward and Priority schools since 2012, but this was the first year with an updated methodology as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. As part of federal requirements, the plan was submitted to and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.  

The new accountability framework is based on principles that all schools can be successful and all Tennessee students must be served well. It includes a variety of measures, including chronic absenteeism and discipline, ACT performance, and TNReady scores, to make a determination. All schools are rated both on how they serve the full student population and how they are specifically serving student groups that have historically been underserved: students with disabilities, English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and black, Hispanic, and Native American students. This fall, the department will publish more information about how all schools perform on these measures as part of a new school dashboard that will be posted online to offer additional information to parents, educators, elected officials, and community leaders.  

As part of Tennessee’s new accountability plan, all Priority schools will move into an evidence-based school improvement model, ranging from district-led plans to intervention by the state’s Achievement School District. To better support Tennessee’s lowest performing schools, the state has invested $20 million into school improvement over the last two years. This funding is specifically devoted for Priority schools.  

Schools appoints committee to name new high school

Staff Reports

With construction underway on Wilson County’s fifth high school, it’s time to start thinking about a name for the new school.  

In conjunction with school board policy, Director of Schools Donna Wright appointed 12 people to the naming committee, including a combination of school board members, community leaders, parents and a recent graduate, who once served as a student board member.  

The committee members are Zone 1 board member Wayne McNeese, Zone 2 board member Linda Armistead, Lakeview Elementary School principal Tracy Burge, W.A. Wright Elementary School principal Bryan Adams, community member Tommy Hibbitt, former Wilson County Commissioner Terry Muncher, former Commissioner Becky Siever, Mt. Juliet planning director Jennifer Stewart, Parents of Wilson County Schools Facebook group administrator Angela Butler, Mt. Juliet High School Parent-Teacher Organization president Julie Ruesewald, community volunteer Britt Linville and Wilson County High School alumnus Preston George. 

School board policy requires all schools be named for:

• the area or community in which the school is located.

• a street, or bordering street, where the school is located.

• a local leader who has made an outstanding contribution to education.

Wilson County Schools officials also seek input from the community. Anyone who has an idea about a potential name for the school may submit it to the school district’s Facebook page on a post to solicit ideas or email ideas to the district via Let’s Talk at wcschools.com.

Volunteers needed for long-term care program

Staff Reports

The Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program seeks volunteers in Wilson County to provide advocacy for residents in long-term care facilities. 

The facilities include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and homes for the elderly. 

“There are more than 160 long-term care facilities in our 13-county district, and we rely very heavily on volunteers,” said Cindy Rudolph, volunteer administrative assistant with the District 5 long-term care program in Wilson County. “We need volunteers in Wilson County.”

Rudolph said Wilson County currently has three volunteers, and that includes her. The program works in Wilson and 12 other counties in Middle Tennessee and is a partner agency with the United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. 

The ombudsman staff consists of three district ombudsmen and an ombudsman assistant, along with 35 trained volunteers. 

Trained, certified ombudsman volunteers pay regular visits to the facilities where they spend time with residents, monitor conditions, investigate complaints, educate regarding abuse and neglect and protect residents’ rights. The program offers mediation, complaint resolution and public education for residents and their families.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is actively recruiting for volunteers in the Wilson County area. Volunteer applicants must pass a background check and attend 16 hours of in-house training. 

The next training session will be Nov. 7-8 in Nashville. Those interested in becoming a volunteer have until Oct. 15 to contact the program by sending an email to crudolph@mchra.com or calling 615-850-3918.

Ex-commissioner files ethics complaint

By Angie Mayes

Frank Bush

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Wilson County Ethics Committee received an official misconduct ethics complaint against Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and county attorney Mike Jennings regarding funding of the new high school.

The complaint, filed by former commissioner Frank Bush, alleges that the two subverted rule 17, which states all resolutions must appear before the appropriate committees before they are submitted to the full commission.

Bush said the complaint “stands on its own” and alleges Hutto and Jennings approved the resolution be considered and voted on by the full commission, without it coming before the education or budget committees.

“The mayor, with the advice of the county attorney, chose to ignore what I believe to be a clear interpretation of rule 17,” Bush said. “This is the largest financial transaction in Wilson County’s history. If that is what the commission wanted, then they needed to do it properly. It might have been delayed a month, but it should have been considered by the committees.”

Jennings said Wednesday in an email he disagreed with Bush.

“This ethics complaint is totally unfounded,” Jennings said. “It is filed by a former county commissioner who was unsuccessful in his battle to stop construction of the new high school. The vote to proceed was 18-6. Neither Mayor Hutto nor I did anything unethical. We followed the rules of order. Mr. Bush was unsuccessful.” 

Hutto agreed with Jennings. 

“The question was from the floor, that Chairman Bush said that we didn’t follow rule, and the paperwork had not gone through committee,” Hutto said. “I asked [Jennings] his opinion.”

Hutto said Jennings told him the issue had been through the committees and discussed for a year.

“The resolution itself was the loan document,” Hutto said. “The real resolution [was about the] building [of] the school and how you’re going to fund it. The third resolution was to approve the [bond] document. Those two relate to the third one. That’s why [Jennings] said it had been sent through committee.”

Hutto said rule 17 exists “for [issues such as if] someone who says they want to buy three pickup trucks, and the issue had not been through committee for discussion.”

Bush said without the paper resolution before the committee’s members, it would be impossible to render a decision.

“First of all, we deal in documents,” he said. “Because the resolution was never presented to any committee, they were never able to properly discuss the issue. They never were able to consider the points that some of us were making [about the cost of the school].”

Bush said if Budget Committee chair Mike Justice was presented with the document, “and he chose to pass it on, then that’s OK,” Bush said. “It was not done that way. There have been any number of cases that the county mayor and county attorney have sent back to committee.”

Former Commissioner Jeff Joines said the Education Committee, which is one of the committees the information was submitted to, did see paperwork about the school and the cost. He said the Education Committee did consider it and passed it, along with a favorable resolution, to the Budget Committee. 

Joines said resolutions do not come to committees. Rather, information is given to the commissioners, and they recommend or don’t recommend a project based on that information.

Education Committee chair Annette Stafford said in an email Wednesday she wants Commissioner Terry Ashe to recuse himself from the complaint.
The email was sent to commissioners, school board officials, school administrators and the media.

“I strongly [request] that Commissioner Terry Ashe recuse himself entirely from this ethics complaint due to the fact, that Commissioner Ashe [has] voted against this resolution in the past, as this is a conflict of interest or lack of impartial opinion based on his votes he made in the past,” Stafford said. 

“If Chairman Ashe [does] not see that he should recuse himself, I would like my request to be forwarded directly to District Attorney Tommy Thompson for his review and opinion, to see if any ethic violations had occurred during the August 2018 county commission meeting regarding the funding of the new high school.”

Bush said he disagreed with the way the funding measure for the new Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet was presented to the commission. The approved bid for the cost of the project was $107 million, and Bush said he believes the school could be built for less than $80 million. He pointed out recently built schools were constructed for less than $80 million.

According to the Wilson County Schools website, Lebanon High School was built for $47 million, “but that project began in 2010, during a severe economic downturn, when construction costs were at rock bottom,” the site said.

Watertown High School cost $38 million, “but that project was bid in 2012, and the school is approximately half the size of the one being considered in Mt. Juliet,” the site said.

None of the commissioners on the Budget Committee were available for comment. Hutto also sits on the committee.

Complaint against mayor dismissed

By Angie Mayes

Ed Hagerty

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Tennessee Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty filed by his 2016 mayoral election competitor, Jim Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, who lost the election, 7,000-5,621, filed the complaint April 6 that alleged Hagerty, violated the conflict of interest disclosure statutes for six years.

The complaint said Hagerty has rental property, which resulted in more income than Hagerty listed on his financial disclosure statements. He was required by state law to report any private income greater than $1,000.

Hagerty owns 10 rental properties, which Bradshaw alleged could generate possible rental income, according to the complaint. In Hagerty’s disclosure, he reported income from his wife’s job was the only income the family had.

Hagerty, in response to the complaint, submitted disclosure reports from 2013-2018 to the attorney general. On April 20, he submitted an amended financial disclosure statement that listed the rental properties.

On April 26, the complaint was forwarded to the Tennessee attorney general to conduct a preliminary investigation. The attorney general’s investigation was purely a fact-finding mission and did not determine an outcome for recommendation as to whether there was a violation of the rule.

Assistant Attorney General Anna Waller interviewed Bradshaw on May 9, 2018. 

“Bradshaw stated that, prior to the 2016 election, he learned from a few constituents that Ed Hagerty owned investment rental properties, which he did not disclose, as sources of income on his statements,” according to the paperwork associated with the investigation.

“Bradshaw stated that he did not want to initially disclose the information but decided to file the complaint after he learned that Hagerty had not disclosed the sources of income on his 2018 statement.”

Waller interviewed Hagerty on May 11. During the interview, he affirmed he did have rental properties in Mt. Juliet and Sevier County. He listed the nine residences, plus an additional one in Sevier County. In addition to those properties, Hagerty owns his home in Mt. Juliet.

Hagerty appeared before the attorney general on April 20, 2018 and stated that he did not list the rental properties, “he did not disclose the rental income on the statements because he did not earn substantial income on the properties during 2013-2018, after factoring in expenses associated with taxes and upkeep of the properties,” the report stated.

According to the report by the attorney general, “Hagerty stated that he uses money received as rental income to pay for taxes, upkeep, and maintenance of the investment properties. Mr. Hagerty stated that these costs include carpet replacement, interior painting, HV AC repairs, roof repairs, plumbing repairs, and other expenses when tenants vacate. He further stated that some of his rental properties have been vacant at times between 2013 and 2018.”

The complaint was then forwarded to the Department of Ethics and Finance on July 12. That board met July 25, and the case was dismissed. The information from the Tennessee Election Commission stated that Bradshaw had the right to “seek reconsideration of this order and/or judicial review.”
Bradshaw would have 60 days – until Sept. 23 – to request a judicial review, according to the Tennessee Election Commission. He said he will not file a grievance because, “I would have to pay [Hagerty’s] attorney fees. This has been a lot of pressure on me and has taken a lot of time.”

Bradshaw said he is not mad about the results.

“I am very disappointed with the result,” he said. “The commission, except for one person who was not there, voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.”

He said despite what some people may say, he’s not upset about losing the race. In fact, he said he has run three times, against Hagerty, fire Chief Jamie Luffman and Linda Elam.

“I’m not upset, and this is nothing against Ed, but I think he should follow the same rules as everyone else. If he had omitted the information one year, that would be something. But he left it out from 2013 to 2018. That’s more than just a mistake.”
Bradshaw is running for District 4 city commissioner this year. Because he lost the other races, he said “I’m used to losing. There are 6,000 registered voters in District 4. There are also a lot of things to vote for, so I’m hoping more people will come out and vote.”

Hagerty said, “the decision speaks for itself” and had no further comment.

Auditions for character party business taking place

By Angie Mayes

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Ella Rollins interacts with Kamryn Boyd as Beauty, one of many characters that will be a part of By Royal Invitation, a new character party company in Wilson County.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A new business in Wilson County is expected to be popular among young children thanks to the stars of the show – princesses currently and superheroes in the future.

The company, By Royal Invitation, is owned by Middle Tennessee actress, director and vocal coach Katharine Boettcher.

“I have been wanting to create something like this for the past three years,” Boettcher said. “I played Ursula a few years ago in a production of the Little Mermaid and had an amazing time. Seeing the kids react to the characters on stage just made me smile. I know how giddy I get when I visit characters in the Orlando parks, I can only imagine the excitement is 100 times more in a little one.”

She said as a child, she “hand sewed all of my Halloween costumes and had a blast creating some of my favorite Broadway characters come to life.”

The characters in By Royal Invitation are “based on classic fairy tales and villains. As the company grows, there will be superheroes and heroines and who knows where else our imagination will take us.”

There’s no limit to the number of characters that will be available for shows, parties and the like.

“We will have a small roster to begin with, but as we grow, we will continually expand and bring in new characters,” she said.  Among them will be “the Snow Queen, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Mother Goethel, Cruella De Ville and more.”

Not affiliated with Disney, the use of the names is allowed due to the characters taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and stories from Hans Christian Anderson. 

“It is not our intent to infringe on copyright,” Boettcher said. “Our fairy tale characters are based on the Grimm Brothers and other historic fairy tale characters. Our costuming is of the highest quality. They are designed by [me], and many are built from scratch by a costumer in Nashville. Our characters have unique names and personalities.”

She said the company will offer “some Jedi knights, and we are hoping to cast a couple of superheroes during the audition process.”

The audition process is currently taking place.

“We currently have a casting call out for face actors and are taking submissions for all characters,” Boettcher said. “Once submissions are gathered, I will pull and have one-on-one auditions.”

Anyone interested in submitting materials must be 16 years old, have reliable transportation, send in a resume with height clearly marked, headshot and full-body shot. The information must be emailed to byroyalinvitation@gmail.com. At the time of hire, eligible talent will have passed a background check and be eligible to work in the United States before a contract will be offered. 

“There is no weight or ethnic requirement,” she said. “I am looking for diversity. Something that will distinguish By Royal Invitation is the fact that a character is not limited by their ethnicity or weight.  I do want to keep true to some height requirements as there are expectations of how tall characters are when they are meeting guests. 

The actors’ auditions, resume and personality will have a lot to do with the hiring process, she said.

“I am looking for people who are fast on their feet,” Boettcher said. “Children can ask a variety of questions, and our characters need to be able to stay in character and answer as the characters.  Our characters are going to be entertaining so they must be able to sing and act, as well as interact with our guests to make their day an extra-special occasion.”

All actors must sing and be able to tell their characters story as if it is their own, she said.  

“We have several options for what our characters will perform-do at a variety of occasions,” Boettcher said. “[That includes] photo opportunities and, of course, corporate and community events. I’m hoping to hold a couple of character nights at some of Wilson County’s local restaurants that have kids’ nights. 

All face characters are paid per event, she said. Each character is accompanied by a paid attendant to assist with children and the character’s needs during the event. All characters are also attendants when not in character.  

“We are hoping to have several special events for kick offs, as well as for charity events,” she said. “My heart is with Make-a-Wish Foundation, and I hope to build a relationship with them. And I am hoping to have a Halloween bash with some fun villains and bad guys, too.”

For more information, contact Boettcher through the company’s Facebook page, By Royal Invitation, or via email byroyalinvitation@gmail.com. Boettcher will launch a website when the full cast of characters is finalized.   

Boettcher said her company is “the first of our kind in Wilson County, and [we] are very proud that we have some amazing Wilson County talent already on our roster of characters. Character parties are huge. So many folks love to have this one-on-one experience with these iconic characters. And if you can’t get to the magic down in Florida, we hope to bring a little fairy tale magic to Middle Tennessee.”