Op-Ed: Commission needs to make decision either way on merger

After Monday night’s County Commission meeting, I have another bone to pick with our elected officials.

The good news is that commissioners were much better behaved (see last week’s column and you’ll understand what I mean). The bad news is that they passed the buck for a second time on the proposed merger of the fire and EMS departments.

Speaking of last week’s column, a brief mea culpa. One of the volunteer firefighters contacted me last week and complained about being lumped in with those opposed to the merger. The gentleman I spoke with said in actuality, several firefighters support the merger but have been afraid to speak out.

Chris Gregory

I said last week that it looked like maintaining their clique was more important than serving the people of Trousdale County. As I told the man I spoke with, I wrote that because none of the volunteers have spoken out publicly one way or the other on this, so I had nothing else to go on. If the rank and file support this, they need to let it be known.

The reasoning for wanting to delay sounds good at first glance. Several commissioners expressed a desire to see some actual budget numbers on what merging the departments would cost. Citizens who spoke during a public hearing Monday said similar things.

If hard budget numbers were a must, though, why wasn’t this brought up previously? Commissioners have been talking about merging fire and EMS for close to four years. Granted, the debate has only gotten to the serious stage in recent months – but why is the budget now a concern?

What would it cost to merge the fire and EMS departments? I’m willing to wager it wouldn’t be all that different from the costs of running both now as separate services.

In the 2018-19 budget, Trousdale County anticipated spending $86,410 on the fire department and $1,019,689 on the Ambulance Service. I called the mayor’s office Tuesday morning and got those figures in less than a minute. Obviously actual expenses won’t be calculated until after the fiscal year ends in June, but in my four-plus years of observing county government, I’ve seen that most expenses tend to come in under what has been budgeted.

If there are unexpected costs of merging the departments, I would imagine they would be covered by the difference between estimated and actual expenses. I would have hoped that our commissioners, especially the more experienced ones, might have made that point.

I’ve made no secret that I support the merger, but in either case it’s past time to make a decision one way or the other. Whether it was voted up or voted down, I credit the nine commissioners who were ready to make a decision that’s already overdue and now will become even more so.

The Commission should have made a decision, yes or no, and not continue to push this back, wasting more time and energy on this matter. Like the old saying goes, “Piss or get off the pot.”

Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

County Commission delays vote on fire-EMS merger for second time

County commissioners delayed for a second time Monday a final vote on a reorganization of the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services departments.

The 11-9 vote to delay came after a public hearing and a somewhat subdued debate among the 20 commissioners. The nine opposed to pushing the measure back were Beverly Atwood, Mary Ann Baker, Ken Buckmaster, Bubba Gregory, Dwight Jewell, Linda Johnson, Richard Johnson, Amber Russell and Steve Whittaker.

“I wanted to vote on it how it was,” Baker said after the meeting. Atwood and Russell expressed similar sentiments when asked.

“I think we probably should dispose of this ordinance – either vote it up or vote it down…,” Jewell said during the meeting.

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

Commissioners said they wanted to see budget figures from the mayor’s office on what merging the departments would cost. A previous estimate from EMS Director Matt Batey cited $9,000 in additional costs, which would provide additional pay for EMS workers who are cross-trained in firefighting. That estimate also assumed that the assistant fire chief would be an unpaid volunteer position.

“One of the issues in hand is we’d like to see a written budget as to how this would look,” said vice chairman Bill Fergusson. “We’ve been informed of what we think it would cost, but I think it’s time for us to see it in writing.”

County Mayor Stephen Chambers told commissioners he expected to be able to have budget numbers available by the next meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee, currently scheduled for May 20.

“I believe it does (provide enough time to get budget numbers); if not I’ll structure it the way I want and that’s what you’ll vote on,” Chambers told commissioners.

At the request of Chambers, commissioners also voted unanimously to remove the county’s Emergency Management Agency from the planned merger. Chambers cited other counties, such as Davidson, that merged fire and EMS but left EMA as a separate agency as well as a previous ordinance passed by a previous Commission.

Five resolutions also passed Monday night:

Allowing the county to apply for a TDOT 2019 Litter Grant;

Adding American Fidelity Insurance as a supplement insurance carrier for county employees;

Allowing the mayor to sign a contract with TDOT for the extension of Highway 141 from Cedar Bluff Road to Highway 10;

Accepting a $20,000 Built Environment Grant from the state; and

Establishing a committee to set fair prices for the resale of land seized by the county for unpaid property taxes.

The 141 contract is a step in getting that project done, Chambers said in his mayor’s report, but no timeline exists for construction. TDOT released its three-year statewide estimate for projects last week and Highway 141 was not included.

The land sale committee is required by state law and will consist of the mayor, Jerry Ford, Richard Harsh, Linda Johnson and Fergusson.

Four budget amendments were approved by commissioners:

$10,000 from fund balance for the redesign of the county’s website;

$20,000 from the Built Environment Grant for a study of needed work in Hartsville City Park;

$813 in improvements to the animal shelter; and

$109,000 for the purchase of a backhoe for the Highway Department.

The last three budget amendments were internal transfers of funds already allocated.

Two appointments were made: Bryan King to the Economic Development Committee and Bubba Gregory to the Executive Committee. Gregory will give up his seat on the Purchasing Oversight Committee.

Two notaries were also approved in Ashlee Scott and Kyle Rutter.

The County Commission is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. The May meeting is typically pushed back because of Memorial Day.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Hartsville man charged with attempted first-degree murder

A Hartsville man faces multiple charges, including attempted first-degree murder, after a shooting that took place last week.

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department

Leon Wayne Berry, 64, was arrested April 15 after he allegedly went to his ex-girlfriend’s home on Taylor Avenue shortly after 6 p.m. The arrest affidavit said Berry racked a handgun and pointed it at the victim, who was there with her current boyfriend. The victim reportedly told police Berry had threatened her since they broke up in October 2018.

Berry reportedly told the pair, “Y’all [expletive] are going to die today,” and then fired a shot at the current boyfriend. The shot missed and hit the ground, and Berry allegedly yelled for her current boyfriend to come out.

A .9mm shell casing was found at the scene, according to the affidavit, and the weapon was found later that evening at a home Berry went to after he left the scene. The weapon was described as a Luger .9mm.

Berry was booked in at the Trousdale County Jail and charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated domestic assault and possession of a weapon by a felon. He remained on $100,000 bond, and a general sessions court date was scheduled for June 14.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Trousdale Medical Center completes remodel after flood damage

Trousdale Medical Center has reopened its main entrance and emergency room after flood damage limited the facility’s operations for five months.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Herman gave The Vidette a tour of the renovated hospital, which was damaged by water flowing downhill from behind the building. Water entered the building and did considerable damage.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
The remodeled nurses’ station in the emergency room at Trousdale Medical Center is shown here.

“We got new flooring, new paint and new cabinetry through half the hospital,” Herman said. “With that, we were able to improve the aesthetics of the building and improve the flow of patient care, especially in the ER.”

Herman said the drainage flow around the hospital has been addressed as part of the repairs to ensure the situation does not repeat itself.

Herman did not have an exact figure on what the repairs cost, as the hospital filed an insurance claim to cover repairs. He did estimate that the work might have totaled around $500,000.

The main entrance and emergency room, including the nurse’s station, got the biggest benefit from the repairs.

The hospital continued to operate during the renovations, moving into the undamaged portion of the building. The ER was run out of two patient rooms, and the nurses’ station and lab work were moved patient rooms as well. The hospital had just three patient rooms available during the repairs instead of its usual 11, but Herman said all rooms are now back in service for patients.

The sleep study and pulmonary rehab centers were offline during the repairs. They have not yet reopened but Herman said both are preparing to resume operation.

Some work still remains, mainly getting furniture in place for outpatient services.

“I’m extremely proud of my staff because we operated this hospital out of half a building,” Herman said. “We kept our services available to our community and ultimately didn’t have a significant impact on the care we provide.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Hartsville Fred’s location expected to close by end of May

The Hartsville location of Fred’s is among 159 stores being closed in 13 states, the retailer announced last Thursday.

In a statement, Fred’s said it expects to close all 159 stores by the end of May 2019. However, an exact closing date was not currently available and requests from The Vidette were directed to Fred’s corporate offices.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

“After a careful review, we have made the decision to rationalize our footprint by closing underperforming stores, with a particular focus on locations with shorter duration leases. Most of these stores have near-term lease expirations and limited remaining lease obligations. Decisions that impact our associates in this way are difficult, but the steps we are announcing are necessary. We will make every effort to transition impacted associates to other stores where possible,” Fred’s CEO Joseph Anto said in a statement.

Liquidation sales have reportedly already begun at the 159 stores, which also include Fred’s locations in Gallatin and Lebanon.

Fred’s sold its pharmacy patient files and pharmacy inventory to Walgreens late last year and the local pharmacy closed earlier this year.

The closures represent nearly 29 percent of Fred’s 557 stores, with Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee most heavily affected. A complete list of closing stores can be found online at finance.yahoo.com/news/fred-retains-pj-solomon-evaluate-123434145.html.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com. Contributing: Staff reports

Education Committee looks at potential budget shortfall for schools

Shoring up an expected shortfall in the county schools’ budget for the upcoming year was the focus of the Education Oversight Committee during last Thursday’s meeting.

Because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on Trousdale County’s part, the state has started providing less funding through the BEP (Basic Education Plan). In the current 2018-19 fiscal year, state funding dropped by just over $303,000.

According to Director of Schools Clint Satterfield, another similar cut is expected for the upcoming year with an additional $150,000 cut for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“They’re saying, ‘You’ve got a significant amount of revenue somewhere in your county that came in.’ We know what it was; it was the prison,” Satterfield said. “Since your ability to pay has become greater, then the BEP is going to give you less.”

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison pays over $1.5 million each year in property tax to Trousdale County. Chairman Jerry Ford pointed out that much of that money had been spent in raises for county employees and other recurring expenses.

“That’s why we’re in the position we’re in now,” Ford said. “If we had just saved some of that money.”

“No one is to blame; we’ve never had anything like this happen before,” added Johnny Kerr, a current School Board member and former county commissioner. “Fiscal capacity is a compliment to us because we’ve actually got a major industry in here… Based on the information we had at that time, we spent the way the majority approved.”

Satterfield said the state was supposed to provide a preliminary estimate of BEP funding for the upcoming year this week. That estimate had not been made available at press time.

The County Commission has over the years gone above what the state requires in terms of funding schools beyond the BEP. In 2017-18, the county funded $582,129 above state BEP funding. For 2018-19, that funding excess was reduced to $278,628.

If the county loses another $303,000 in the upcoming year, it could force some difficult decisions.

In Trousdale County, the BEP funds 85.52 teacher positions. Currently, there are 87.5 teachers in the system. BEP also funds 0.5 assistant principal positions – each school has an assistant currently. BEP also does not fund any extracurricular activities.

In a worst-case scenario without making up some of the lost BEP funding, items such as community use of facilities, school athletics and teaching positions could be cut.

Satterfield also addressed upcoming capital outlay needs, including roof work on the elementary and middle schools, the high school parking lot and a new bus route on the western end of the county where population growth is at its highest.

The school system does have a healthy fund balance, estimated at $5 million as of Dec. 31. However much of that money is restricted for certain uses and actual available cash was around $2.1 million, according to Satterfield. The school system is already going into fund balance this year for some expenses and the budget estimates an available cash balance of $1.1 million come June 30.

“Fund balance is not for reoccurring expenses like salaries and benefits; you can use it for one-time expenditures,” Satterfield said.

Commissioners discussed potential options for finding revenue for the schools. Options tossed out included increasing the local option sales tax, which would require a referendum, adjusting impact fees from new construction in the county and removing the discount for early payment of property tax.

“We’ve done an excellent job over time of extending the quality of our schools,” Satterfield said. “I hear from county commissioners about how many people are moving into our county, and a lot of them are moving in because of the quality of our schools.

“We’re going to have to have some relief to keep this momentum going.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Sheriff lays out funding requests for upcoming budget

Trousdale County Sheriff Ray Russell presented a list of budget requests, including two new dispatchers and a raise for current employees, during last Tuesday’s meeting of the Law Enforcement Committee.

Russell said an increase in calls over recent years showed a need for additional dispatchers. According to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department, Trousdale County’s dispatch office received 9,049 calls for service in 2013. In 2017, that number was 14,169. The number did decrease slightly in 2018 with 13,809 calls.

“Some of the deputies are certified dispatch,” Russell said, “but it’s gotten where… you’ve got four or five phone lines ringing. We dispatch for fire, EMS, us… Their job needs as much support as the deputies out there.”

Sheriff Ray Russell

Trousdale currently has one dispatcher per shift with assistance but Russell said he envisioned going to two per shift in the coming future.

The sheriff estimated two dispatchers would cost roughly $30,000 each, not including benefits.

With regards to raises for employees, Russell said he planned to request one equal to the one he receives from the state.

Chairman Dwight Jewell said County Mayor Stephen Chambers had indicated to him there would be no requests in the budget for raises for county employees this year, except for the Water Department. Raises for constitutional officers are determined by the General Assembly and Russell said he had been told to expect a 2.8 percent increase this year.

The Sheriff’s Department did provide raises in the current year’s budget based on time in service, costing almost $240,000.

Russell said he also wanted to budget $20,000 for cameras to cover both the interior and exterior of the Justice Center.

“That way if something does happen, we can go back and look it up,” Russell said. “I can’t believe they didn’t fit that in when they (built) this.”

Russell also said a judge had asked about a public-address system, which was not expected to be a significant expense.

Also, Jewell said the 911 Board had agreed to request some funding for radio equipment for the Pumpkin Branch Road tower. Also, a fiber-optic link will be needed between that tower and one in downtown Hartsville as the two towers are not within line of sight.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Op-Ed: County Commission debate turned into embarrassing debacle

The proposed merger between the Volunteer Fire Department and Trousdale County EMS has led to some contentious debate over the past couple of months. So I expected a few fireworks, figuratively speaking, at Monday night’s County Commission work session.

After watching that meeting, though, all I can say is “Wow.” One commissioner commented to me afterward that he was the glad the mayor was on vacation and was not there to stream the meeting via Facebook video. He was entirely correct. Monday night was an absolutely disgraceful performance from all sides of the debate and Trousdale County deserves better.

The problems started with a comment from one commissioner that, in retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t made. When a concern was raised as to whether the volunteer firefighters might quit if a merger goes through, it was said (I’m paraphrasing), “If they want to quit, we appreciate their service and they can go to hell.”

Chris Gregory

At that point, one commissioner walked out and shortly after, there was a page for all firefighters to report to the fire hall for a special called meeting. I thought being a tattletale was something most of us grew out of after childhood. Apparently some of us didn’t.

The last part of that comment was unnecessary but personally, I tend to agree. If maintaining their little clique is more important than serving the people of Trousdale County, maybe they don’t need to be there. If I walked out on my job because I didn’t like directives from higher up the corporate chain, there probably would be some sentiment of “Oh, well. We need to find someone else to do the job.” Is there much difference?

Later in the meeting, a number of firefighters showed up and criticized commissioners for that “go to hell” comment. No problem there, and to his credit, the member in question owned up to his remark. The volunteers work hard and didn’t deserve that.

But that criticism turned into an attack, with one firefighter saying, “We’re not asked once about nothing. It’s just assumed we’re going to be told.” Yes, the input of the firefighters and EMS personnel is an invaluable asset in determining how this merger should be handled and commissioners should listen to them. I find it interesting that so far at various meetings addressing this merger, no fire personnel have spoken out one way or the other.

But ultimately, the County Commission can tell the Fire Department how it will be organized. That’s one of its defined roles in the charter – making decisions about organization of county government. It’s not about screwing the Fire Department or the personnel.

Then came accusations of “stacking” the Emergency Services Committee to ensure a favorable recommendation on merging the groups. Then another commissioner was called out publicly by another for referring to county government as “corrupt” via social media.

At one point the chairman of the Commission was accused by another member of lying about his reasons for not putting that member on the Emergency Committee.

It was an embarrassment and something I’ve never witnessed in roughly 4½ years of covering county government. Personally, I think the blame starts at the top with a chairman more concerned about folks raising their hands to be recognized than with properly running the meeting and maintaining a sense of decorum. There are 20 commissioners and keeping those egos in check can’t be an easy task, but it needs to be handled a heck of a lot better than it currently is.

Even the audience got in on the act to some extent. When the county attorney and experts from the state were asked if the charter permitted such a merger, the response was that by their interpretation, yes, it does. Then one citizen asked, “So this is a way around the law?” No, citizen, it’s not. It’s saying the charter, which is the law for the county, allows this because there’s nothing in there that says it doesn’t. No case law, no precedent.

I’m not a lawyer, but the charter says, “The Commission may by ordinance establish or amend any plan of administrative organization.” Sounds plain to me that yes, the Commission can reorganize the departments and a charter amendment isn’t needed.

One audience member, thankfully, showed a better sense of professionalism and asked good questions as to why the opponents felt a merger was a bad idea and for their reasons it shouldn’t happen.

He couldn’t get a straight answer; nothing better than being afraid of what might happen. If being afraid of the future were a reason not to act, we’d never get anything done in government.

I fully support merging the fire and EMS departments, even though there are questions remaining about the process. A healthy debate over the proposal is a good thing and is how government should operate. But that debate needs to take place in public and be handled in a civil fashion, not via social media and echo chambers.

The cesspool that developed Monday night amid our county commissioners was completely unprofessional behavior. If that’s how our leadership is going to act, we need new leadership. Grow the hell up, people.

Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Trousdale students compete in Special Olympics event

Trousdale County High School sent three students to Lebanon on Tuesday to compete in the Area 27 qualifier for the Special Olympics.

Christian Murray, Andrew McKoin and Jay Gregory were accompanied by teachers and family as they competed in 50- and 100-meter runs, a 10-meter walk, standing long jump and softball throw.

The trio earned a first-place finish, three seconds and a third in their respective divisions.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
From left: Jay Gregory, Andrew McKoin, Christian Murray

Before leaving for Lebanon, students and teachers at the high school held an impromptu pep rally in the halls to cheer on their fellow students.

Kim Duke, special education teacher at TCHS, said this was the first time she recalled Trousdale County sending students to the Special Olympics, whose stated goal is to use sports to empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities.

“We’ve been asking for a couple of years for information on Special Olympics and we received an email this year with the information,” Duke said. “This is our first time with me being a teacher and a coach.”

Duke said she hoped to be able to include middle and elementary school students in the future.

The games were held on Cumberland University’s football field in Lebanon and were sponsored in part by Zaxby’s. Dr. George Walker, associate professor of physical education and athletic coaching at Cumberland, is the Special Olympics director for Area 27, which covers Wilson and Trousdale counties.

Every school in Wilson County and the Lebanon Special School District sent competitors to Tuesday’s event. Winners can participate in the state games, to be held at Lipscomb University in May.

“I’ve been working with Special Olympics in this area for probably 30 years,” Walker said. “Years ago when I was a student, I just developed a love for it. It’s a passion of mine, dealing with Special Olympics and research with people with special needs.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Local couple to celebrate 60th anniversary with reception

Submitted photo

Bill & Wilma Ballou, lifelong residents of the Green Grove community, will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on Sunday, April 14 from noon-4 p.m. at the Hartsville Community Center, 301 E. Main Street, Hartsville.

The family wishes all friends and family to join with us in celebrating 60 years of happy memories.

Light hors o’devours, cake and drinks will be served. Please bring no gifts except for your presence.

Water Department to seek 3 percent raise for employees

Members of the Water Board approved a budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year at their March 27 meeting, including a 3 percent pay raise for employees.

The raise is designed to bring the Water Department on par with other county departments that received a 6 percent raise in the 2018-19.

“This won’t require any rate increase for anything in here,” Water Department superintendent Tommy McFarland told the board. “We’re working to make sure we manage our stuff well and not be wasteful.”

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

A new water tank likely will not be in the plans until the following year’s budget, according to McFarland. State inspectors found deficiencies last year in several of the department’s tanks and the Water Board has been examining the possibility of purchasing one bigger water tank, potentially up to 1 million gallons. That would allow the problem tanks to be taken offline.

A metal building for the storage of Water Department equipment is also in the planning process and would be placed on land purchased by the Water Board behind the County Administration building on Broadway. Equipment is currently stored at the old City Hall building.

“Every time there’s a major flood, something gets wet in there,” chairman Mark Beeler told board members.

The budget estimates a profit of $148,828 in the upcoming year. As of February the department was showing a profit of just over $160,000 for the current year, not counting grant funds received of almost $450,000. That funding went toward the new sewer plant construction.

The budget must still be approved by the County Commission as part of the upcoming budget process.

Board members also approved a contract to accept and treat up to 22,400 gallons per day of leachate from the Smith County Landfill. The Water Department will charge $35 per 1,000 gallons plus $100 per day for labor and sample collections.

The Water Board had been approached with the request from Smith County in February but requested testing data to make sure the leachate would not harm Trousdale’s wastewater treatment plant. The contract can be terminated if the leachate does cause any issues at the plant.

If Trousdale receives the maximum amount daily, it would bring $4,420 per week to the Water Department.

“We want to help our neighbors, and we never know when down the road we might need (help),” Beeler said.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Hartsville man charged with rape, statutory rape

Photo courtesy of TBI

An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a Hartsville man on multiple counts of rape and aggravated statutory rape.

At the request of 15th District Attorney General Tommy Thompson, on January 31st, TBI Special Agents, along with deputies with the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department, began investigating allegations involving the rape of a minor.

During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that Ricky Presley of Hartsville was responsible for engaging in sexual contact with a minor on multiple occasions between May and June 2018.

On Wednesday, the Trousdale County Grand Jury returned indictments charging Ricky William Presley (DOB 05/17/1993) with five counts of Rape and five counts of Aggravated Statutory Rape. He was arrested Thursday and booked into the Trousdale County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

Tri-County alerts customers of scam phone calls

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Tri-County Electric members have reported receiving phone calls stating they have an unpaid bill and power will be disconnected if no payment is made within 45 minutes. They are directing customers to call 1-800-508-4310 to make the payment.

Unfortunately, some of the scammers have become sophisticated enough that Tri-County Electric will sometimes show up on your Caller ID.

No one from Tri-County Electric will ever contact you asking for payment or for any personal information and we recommend that you contact your local law enforcement agency regarding any solicitation requesting personal information.

Please be aware and alert regarding potential scams. It is ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry!  Tri-County Electric, “owned and operated by those we serve.”

Hartsville man indicted on first-degree murder charge

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department
Benjamen Carter has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

A Hartsville man is facing murder charges after a young woman’s body was discovered on Sunday afternoon at a residence on Browning Branch Road.

Benjamen Timothy Carter, 23, was indicted by the Trousdale County Grand Jury on charges of premeditated first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the death of Bailey Donoho, 21.

Donoho’s body was discovered around 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in the yard of a home in the 2100 block of Browning Branch Road, according to Trousdale County Sheriff Ray Russell. Trousdale County deputies and EMS responded to the scene, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also sent a forensic team that spent Sunday and Monday looking for evidence.

Carter had already been arrested Sunday afternoon by Trousdale County deputies after attempting to flee during a traffic stop on Brummit Lane. He was already facing charges of evading arrest on foot and resisting arrest.

Trousdale County deputies had been called after reports of a robbery in the parking lot of the Dollar General location on Highway 231 South near the Trousdale-Wilson county line.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
A TBI forensic team was called to investigate Sunday after the body of Bailey Donoho was discovered at a Hartsville residence.

According to the arrest affidavit obtained by The Vidette, the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department was notified by Wilson County officials just after 2:30 p.m. of the alleged robbery. Trousdale dispatcher also received a description of the vehicle and its occupants, a male and a female.

Russell told The Vidette that case was believed to be unrelated to Donoho’s death and was thought to be a drug deal gone bad.

Carter was transported to the Wilson County Jail and is being held without bond. A court date had not been set as of press time.

A GoFundMe page, “Justiceforbailey,” has been set up by Donoho’s family to assist with funeral expenses.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Psalmbird answers a call to coffee

Coffee fills various roles in everyday life – from a jump-start to the morning to conversation after dessert to a pick-me-up when feeling run down.

Local company Psalmbird Coffee is filling that niche in the lives of its customers in Trousdale, Wilson and Sumner counties and is looking ahead to the future.

Launched in 2015 by Hartsville residents Cory and Amber Freeland, Psalmbird offers freshly roasted organic coffee beans delivered each month, or a hot cup just when you need it. Caramelized iced coffee is also offered and flavored coffees are available depending on the time of season.

“We had a friend who roasted coffee; had all the equipment and sold it as a hobby but he passed away suddenly,” said Amber Freeland. “We ended up buying all of the equipment because we loved the coffee and the whole roasting process.

Photo courtesy of East of the City magazine
Amber Freeland stands outside the Psalmbird Coffee food truck.

“Before we knew it, calls were coming in and it steamrolled from there.”

The couple uses beans from Guatemala – a decision that was made through tasting parties with customers to find the best bean. The Guatemalan beans were the unanimous choice, she said.

“It has to be delicious, it has to be organic and it has to be fair trade,” Amber said of the criteria for their coffee beans. “That’s what we’ve done so far.”

Customers can get bags delivered on their doorsteps on the first and 15th of each month. Cory Freeland roasts the beans the day before deliveries are made, ensuring the freshest possible coffee for Psalmbird customers.

The name came about from the couple’s Christian beliefs and their desire to minister.

“We wanted the name to show our beliefs and that everything we do is like a psalm; honoring God with our lives and the freedom we have like a bird. We call our kids our little birds,” Amber said. “It’s using this to sing our psalm to the world through food and coffee.”

In addition to coffee, Psalmbird now offers breakfast options such as cinnamon buns or croissants, or sandwiches, soups and desserts for lunch.

“It’s just nice when you have a different option that day and it’s right there,” Amber said. “It’s café-style foods and giving a healthier choice.”

Psalmbird’s food truck was launched last year and was seen often on the streets of Hartsville and at various events last year, including Trousdale County football games. With spring now having arrived, the truck will be on hand often.

Psalmbird plans to celebrate the kickoff of the spring season by setting up at the County Administration Building for lunch on Monday, April 1, from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

“We always enjoyed the food part of it – cooking, baking and everything else,” Amber said. “We dreamed of having a café… but getting into a food truck we get to travel around and meet so many different people.”

Amber added that she hopes to be a more visible presence in Hartsville in 2019, and has begun collaborating with Cake & Company for desserts to go along with their lunches.

Amber, a Chicago native, first visited Hartsville as a teenager while traveling to the Bonaroo concert in 2003. She and her husband own Freeland Family Farms, a micro-farm with honeybees, chickens and what they call a “Back to Eden Garden.”

“I just knew in my heart this was where I wanted to be,” she said. “I met my husband in college at Cumberland and told him I am in love with this town. There’s something so simple and magical about here.”

To learn more about Psalmbird Coffee, visit their Facebook page at Psalmbird Coffee, email psalmbirdcoffee@gmail.com or call 615-374-1384.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com. Contributing: Lounita Howard, East of the City magazine

County Commission delays final vote on merging fire, EMS

Members of the County Commission opted Monday evening to postpone the final vote on whether to merge Trousdale County’s Volunteer Fire and EMS departments until April.

Commissioners said they wanted to allow more time for details of the proposed merger to be worked out between the mayor’s office and the departments.

“I think (delaying) is probably a good idea,” said commissioner Bill Fergusson. “I want to be very clear on what we’re doing… When you do something like this, you want to get it right.”

County Mayor Stephen Chambers said he had met Monday morning with interim Fire Chief Mark Beeler and EMS Director Matt Batey and that they had made progress.

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

“It was a very good meeting, very productive,” Chambers said. “Both of them were very willing to work together.”

Ultimately, commissioners voted 17-3 to postpone the second reading until their next meeting, scheduled for April 22. Commissioners Ken Buckmaster, Dwight Jewell and Gary Walsh voted against the delay.

Buckmaster, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter, said, “We’ve discussed this for three years. If we’re not ready to present it now, 30 days is not going to make a difference.”

Walsh added, “I think there’s been enough discussion and the points are clear.”

Commissioners also approved a pair of zoning requests on second reading in spite of questions as to whether adequate public notice had been given. Neither drew any opposition during a public hearing, however.

Those requests were to rezone property along Highway 231S from A-1 (agricultural) to C-1 (commercial) to allow for a restaurant and wedding venue, and on Windy Acres Lane from M-1 (industrial) to A-1 to accommodate the owners’ desire to build a residence on the property.

At their work session last week, commissioners had talked of delaying the two until April as well.

A rezoning of property on White Oak Street from C-1 to R-1 (residential) passed on first reading and will come back in April.

Commissioners also approved a change in the county’s health plan coverage for those who retire before age 65. Under the change, employees who retire early will not be able to remain on the county’s plan. They would instead have to obtain insurance through COBRA or on their own until reaching 65. Previously, early retirees could stay on the county’s insurance plan by paying the entire premium themselves.

Five appointments were also approved Monday: Gary Walsh to the Education Oversight Committee, Ray Russell to the Insurance Committee, Lisa King to the Board of Equalization, Janice Sloan to the Regional Library Board and Mark White to the Water Board.

Four budget amendments were approved, all of which were internal transfers:

  • $2,001.32 in insurance recovery payments to the Sheriff’s Department;
  • $21,515 in interest to the schools;
  • $11,800 in gifts & contributions to the schools; and
  • $153,690 in incentives for schools.

Two notaries were approved in April Holmes and Steven Paxton.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Congressman John Rose makes stop in Hartsville

First-term Congressman John Rose visited the Sixth District last week, including a stop in Trousdale County on March 18.

Before running for Congress, Rose formerly served as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Agriculture from 2002-03 and is currently chairman of the Tennessee State Fair Association. He currently serves on the House Financial Services Committee and is a part of three subcommittees: National Security, Oversight & Investigations and Housing, Community Development & Insurance.

Congressman Rose has offices in Cookeville (931-854-9430) and Gallatin (615-206-8204) as well as his office in Washington (202-225-4231).

While in Hartsville, Rose sat down with The Vidette for an interview.

Q: Tell us about why you wanted to serve in Congress.

A: I have a little boy, he’s now 17 months old; his name is Guy. About three years ago, back during the 2016 election, my wife and I were watching the politics of that time unfold and the issues were being discussed.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Congressman John Rose, center, poses with District Director Rebecca Foster and Deputy District Director Ray Render during a recent visit to Hartsville.

We came to the harsh conclusion that the country we’re likely to leave to the next generation, to my son Guy, is likely to be worse than the one our parents left to us. We think that if that happens, it will be the first time in the history of this country that one generation has left the country worse off to the next.

We don’t think that’s acceptable and that was really the impetus to run, in the hope that I can have an impact in turning things around and getting the country heading in a direction where we can leave it better to the next generation.

Q: What are the biggest issues you’re hoping to address up in Washington?

A: No question in my mind; the biggest issue facing the country – the thing that really sets the stage for what I talked about – is the debt, now exceeding $22 trillion. A projected deficit this year of a trillion dollars. Debt that we’re passing on to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that really saddles them with a burden that will plague them and restrict what they and this country can accomplish during their lives.

I’ve heard someone put it this way: “When you take something with no intention of paying it back or returning it, you don’t call it borrowing.” I think our generation owes it to the next to get that under control.

Obviously we inherited some debt, but just during the Obama era we doubled the national debt in eight years. That pace can’t continue and we’ve got to turn that around. Having been now in Washington for 10-11 weeks, it’s clear there’s a problem and we’re all kinda guilty of it. We all want things from the federal government and we want those things irrespective of how they’re going to be paid for. Unlike this county and the state of Tennessee that have to balance their budgets every year and figure out where the money is going to come from, at the federal level we just seem to spend and not worry about where the money’s coming from…

It’s not easy if you’re sitting in Washington where people come to you constantly from various groups, well-intended groups with good causes, but they come and say “We got this much last year and we’d like to get this much next year and we want you to help us.” You can’t argue that at some level but all those causes add up to money we don’t have. Prior Congresses and presidents have not said no, and we’ve got to start saying no more often.

Q: What do you see as the best way to address that debt and deficit?

A: I would hope that the Congress and the president could self-govern; that we could develop the backbone to say no. Recent history would not give reason to be optimistic about that, so it may come down to putting in place some hard restrictions. I would certainly support a balanced budget amendment that would put a hard restriction on the federal government to get its house in order and balance its books. That’s a pretty extreme measure and would require a constitutional amendment and that’s a tough thing to make happen. In the late 1990s we managed to get the financial picture in order.

It’s a spending problem; a lot of people want to say it’s a revenue problem and we need to raise taxes. But it’s clear that we keep spending money no matter how much the government brings in. That revenue stream’s been growing and we just grow spending faster. As an example, I would point to the recent appropriations bill that passed. Not only did it not include the funding for border security that officials said they needed. The president had asked for about $6 billion and they gave him about 25 percent of that, but it also included $56 billion in spending that the administration did not ask for. We didn’t have enough money to protect out border and enforce our immigration laws, but we had $56 billion in increases above what the administration had called for. We have to rein that in.

A lot of the things the federal government does are not the role of the federal government. I think the long-term solution to overspending is to return the responsibility to the states, where I think they’ll be dealt with more frugally and responsibly.

Q: The president’s proposed budget contains pretty substantial cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Do you support those cuts in general or do you want to look at the details?

A: Three things about the president’s budget proposal: he does ask again for adequate funding for border security and immigration enforcement. I think we have an obligation to get that under control. This country has laws on the immigration front; they should be respected and enforced. I hope the Congress will take a closer look at that this time and make the right choice.

The president’s budget also calls for a substantial increase in defense spending. Unfortunately, we have neglected our defense infrastructure over the last eight to 10 years. I think that’s the most solemn obligation the federal government has, to defend the country. We have to make sure we have an adequate defense capacity for this country and I fully support the effort to fund national defense at the appropriate level.

The budget calls for a 5 percent cut in discretionary spending and in some non-discretionary areas such as Medicare and Medicaid. I think that’s a step in the right direction. Showing we can start to rein those programs in across the breadth of the federal government is a good thing. With respect to Medicare, this is a group of people who have a certain expectation that they’re going to be cared for, that we made promises to, and in most cases they’ve paid into the Medicare trust fund to provide for that benefit when they reach retirement age. I think we have to be very careful what we do in terms of impacting the benefits they are expecting. As retirees, they’re not in good position to make adjustments. It’s one of my concerns about the Affordable Care Act, because it was largely financed on taking funding from Medicare and diverting it to supplement the funding for Obamacare. We see how that’s working out…

Medicaid was enlarged significantly with the Affordable Care Act and the costs have risen significantly. I think what we’re seeing with all of these programs is the federal government’s not very efficient at managing anything, but certainly when you turn over something as important as our health care to the government, you shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t go well.

Q: Senator Lamar Alexander wrote an opinion piece (published in last week’s Vidette) stating he didn’t support the declaring of a national emergency on immigration, mainly for the fact that set a potential precedent for a future Democratic president to act similarly on guns, climate change or other issues. Do you think declaring an emergency was the right thing to do?

A: I do think it was the right thing to do and I support the president’s declaration of this emergency. I think anyone who takes a serious look at what’s happening at our southern border; it’s hard to conclude anything other than we have an emergency there. The number of people crossing illegally has ballooned in recent months; the number of unescorted children and families that are showing up at the border and expecting to get into the United State has ballooned. We’ve seen a number of caravans now and frankly, the country is ill equipped to deal with that influx of folks.

Obviously Congress gave the president that power many years go and we’ve seen multiple presidents declare emergencies; a number of those are still in effect in some cases decades after they were declared… I share Sen. Alexander’s concern about how that power might be misused by the president or future presidents and I certainly hope they won’t do that. I think perhaps the Congress should revisit the law allowing that power to the president. That would be the appropriate way to deal with this. This issue is probably going to be heard through the courts…

Q: Has there been an adjustment to being part of the minority in the House now?

A: That’s all I know as a first-time candidate for public office. It’s a great privilege to be able to represent the people of the Sixth District of Tennessee. I hear from my Republican colleagues who have been there longer that it is quite an adjustment.

The Congress has gotten off to a slow start in terms of the legislative agenda. I think that is in part to the Democratic majority being unfamiliar with how to operate the House, having been out of power. I think it’s also due to the discord within the Democratic majority and we’ve seen that in the press.

Q: Are there areas where you’ve found you’re able to work with the other side of the aisle on?

A: Very few, really. I will say a great many of the bills pass with overwhelming majorities. So there are vast areas where there is agreement and consensus on what good policy should be. You just don’t hear about those things. You hear about the areas of disagreement and they’re significant disagreements. Unfortunately, in a lot of those areas we fail to take action and that can be frustrating.

Our Founding Fathers wanted our government to be very deliberative and created a system of checks and balances so it would move slow and be difficult to enact laws. When you see that up close it can be very frustrating… So the system they set up is working to a great degree the way they should.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Committee approves changes to pool operating hours

The Parks & Recreation Committee approved some changes to operating hours at Trousdale County’s swimming pool during its meeting Tuesday night.

Chairman Bubba Gregory acknowledged he had seen several requests from members of the public both in person and via social media about keeping the pool open later.

“They maybe want to keep it open where people can get off of work and go there in the evenings, bring their families and come swim,” Gregory said.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

Ultimately, commissioners decided to keep the pool open until 10 p.m. on Tuesdays in order to better gauge how well the community would support later hours.

Additionally, the pool will double up on parties each evening, offering two 2-hour parties with a half-hour break in between. The cost will be $150 for each 2-hour block with no limit on attendees. Three-hour parties will no longer be offered.

Public Works Director Cliff Sallee told the committee most of the parties in 2018 were 2-hour ones and that some groups had to be turned away for lack of available dates.

Commissioners said doubling up parties would hopefully allow any group that wants one to have an available time.

The pool will open on Saturday, May 18 and will close on Sunday, Aug. 4.

Admission will remain $5 and season passes will be the same price at $65 for individuals and $175 for families. A $10 discount on passes will be available on opening day.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Commissioners have testy debate over fire-EMS merger

Debate over a proposed merger between Trousdale County’s fire and EMS services became heated at times during the County Commission’s work session on Monday evening.

Commissioners met to discuss the agenda for Monday’s 7 p.m. meeting. The merger is up for a public hearing and second reading at that time.

“I really don’t understand why we are getting so upset over something that’s going to benefit the county,” said Rachel Jones.

“How is it going to affect us long term? How is it going to affect our tax dollars? How are we going to pay for it? How does it affect the ones already struggling to pay taxes?” countered Beverly Atwood.

Graphic courtesy of Municipal Technical Advisory Service

Interim Fire Chief Mark Beeler was in attendance and was asked directly whether or not he supported a merger.

“I haven’t seen all the details yet. I think there are still job descriptions and dollar amounts that have not been forthcoming. When I get those, then I’ll make an opinion,” Beeler said. “I think you ought to have all the details and know what you’re voting on.”

County Mayor Stephen Chambers said he was working to get Beeler and EMS Director Matt Batey to meet with him to hammer out the details of a merger. Chambers said a meeting had not occurred yet, but emphasized that scheduling conflicts among the three was the reason and not an unwillingness to talk things out.

“This is going to get straightened out, whether this passes or not. This is going to stop,” the mayor said. “There will be cooperation, cross-training. We are going to find where the problems are at.”

The question was also raised about whether an ordinance or charter amendment was the proper way to merge departments.

Gary Jaeckel, a representative from UT’s Metro Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), said in MTAS’ opinion, an ordinance could be used.

“Your charter allows the Commission… to make changes to various departments,” Jaeckel told commissioners. “Our attorneys agree that would be the mechanism under the language in the charter.”

Multiple commissioners expressed a desire to postpone a vote on the matter until Chambers, Beeler and Batey could meet.

“In my opinion, it needs to be tabled until the mayor can have his meeting. Hopefully they can work out many of our issues we are having,” Atwood said.

Other items on Monday’s agenda are:

Five board nominations – Mark White to the Water Board; Lisa King to the Board of Equalization; Janice Sloan to the Library Board; Gary Walsh to the Education Oversight Committee; and Ray Russell to the Insurance Committee;

One zoning request on first reading: a rezone on White Oak from C-1 to R-1.

Two requests that were scheduled to come up for second reading (on 231S from A-1 to C-1 and on Windy Acres Lane from M-1 to A-1) will be postponed until April after a question was raised about whether sufficient public notice had been given.

A change to health benefits for county employees who retire before age 65 will also be up for a vote. The option recommended by the Insurance Committee is to allow current employees to stay on county insurance if they retire early, without any contribution to premiums.

Four budget amendments, all of which deal with internal transfers of funds, are also on the agenda.

The County Commission will meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the upstairs courtroom of the courthouse. Meetings are open to the public.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Volunteers sought for Saturday cemetery cleanup

The Hartsville Civic League, charged with the upkeep of the old Hartsville Cemetery, has set this Saturday, March 23, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. as another cleanup day.

Submitted photo

Volunteers are asked to bring clippers, loppers, small brush saws, rakes and chainsaws to the old burial grounds on Cemetery Lane at the edge of town. There, the group hopes to get enough people to finish cleaning up the overgrown fence row surrounding the cemetery.

The graveyard dates back to the late 1700s when it was the private burying grounds for the Hart family – the same family for whom Hartsville is named.

However, over the last 25 years the property has been invaded by Chinese Privet, a very invasive shrub that can grow to the size of a small tree. The plant has managed to overtake graves and conceal tombstones and grave markers.

Last fall, another cleanup day was held to help rid the center of the cemetery of the shrub and other debris, such as fallen limbs, vines and ivies.

Now if the fence row can be cleaned and the brush hauled off, the group will be able to keep them from returning with a more aggressive approach to cutting and pruning in the future.

The Cemetery League will set up a tent and have water for volunteers. In the event of bad weather, the cleanup will be rescheduled for the next weekend.