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Local courts deal with repercussions of COVID-19 closure

Trousdale County’s court system is back in business after weeks of postponed cases and delayed court dates in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It has not been business as usual though, as guidelines from the state have limited the number of participants at any one time.

On March 13, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order suspending in-person judicial proceedings in all but a few instances.

“For a month, we basically had no cases heard in the criminal session,” said Assistant District Attorney Ian Bratton. “We were pretty much seeing only arraignments or if there was hearing on a jailed inmate.”

Photos by Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Courtrooms sat empty for over a month across the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts have resumed operation locally but with some restrictions in place.

The Court issued an April 24 order that allowed judicial districts to expand in-person proceedings if the judicial district submitted and received approval for a plan addressing such issues as social distancing, limiting access to the courtroom and other strategies designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Criminal Court Judge Brody Kane of the 15th Judicial District, which covers Trousdale County in addition to Macon, Smith, Jackson and Wilson counties, submitted such a plan on April 30 and received the Supreme Court’s approval.

“(I) had to prepare a plan for all the courts in the five counties in the district,” Kane said. “That’s traffic courts, general sessions, juvenile, chancery and circuit – everything.”

Kane said he met with all the judges in the district, who offered their input on how the plan should look.

Kane said during the suspension of proceedings, appearances were generally limited to jail dockets with civil cases put off until further notice. Under the Court’s order, jury trials were delayed until at least July 3.

“I have continued on business as normal but just limited to those in jail,” Kane said. “On the civil side, Chancellor (C.K.) Smith and Judge (Clara) Byrd have really been limited. They’ve done some stuff if it was one of the emergencies in the Supreme Court’s order.”

On May 27, the state court issued an order to allow jury trials to begin after July 3 with strict protocols; allows eviction cases to be heard beginning June 1; ends deadline extensions; and allows local judicial districts to continue operating under their approved plans for expanded in-person proceedings.

“The point of extending deadlines was to give judges, attorneys, and litigants time to adjust to this new normal and weather this storm a bit,” Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins said in a press release. “But, extensions cannot go on indefinitely. Judges, of course, can extend deadlines on an individual basis when permissible.”

 

Appearing in court

Those having to appear in court in Trousdale County are required to check in and receive an assigned number. Based on that number, cases will be heard no more than 10 in an hour until the docket has been completed. Parties are allowed to leave until their designated time.

Under the plan only plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, clerks, court officers and court personnel are permitted inside the Justice Center. Witnesses, if required for a case, must receive court approval before being allowed inside a courtroom. Transports from Tennessee Department of Corrections facilities are currently on hold as well.

Courtrooms are routinely sanitized and social distancing remains practiced inside the courtroom as well. Masks are not mandatory under the 15th Judicial District’s plan.

“The main goal is to limit people coming into the courthouse as much as possible,” said Bratton. “We’re only allowing small groups at a time and trying to stagger those so we don’t have a large crowd in front of the courthouse itself.”

Benches in Trousdale County’s courtrooms have been marked to encourage social distancing.

Trousdale County’s general sessions court reopened in early May with the same provisions.

“We set the cases early, the ones we knew there would be a plea deal or dismissed on costs,” said Kenny Linville, Trousdale’s general sessions judge.

Linville said the limiting of people in the courtroom was not having much of an effect on the appearance rate. The court clerk is sending certified letters to those who fail to appear, resetting their court date. A second failure to appear will lead to a bench warrant being issued.

“It worked real well… we’re trying to work through the backlog,” Linville added. “We have to remember when we’re holding cases how many people can be in the courtroom at one time.”

“Everything worked smoothly,” added Circuit Court Clerk Kim Taylor, adding that there was not much difference in the timeframe to complete the docket.

Stronger measures are being taken in other counties. In Wilson County, people seeking to enter the courthouse are to have their temperature taken before being allowed inside, according to the plan. Screening questions such as “Do you have a cough?” are being asked in Smith County before anyone enters the courtroom.

Courts have also used online meeting software such as Zoom to allow appearances as necessary. Kane said he was “very pleased” with how online court appearances have worked and said he hoped they were able to continue.

“It saves attorneys from travelling, some folks can testify from their homes,” the judge said. “I think that’s something that’s going to stick with us for good… I know I will continue to use it if it’s called for.”

Media outlets have raised concerns about a lack of provision in most judicial districts’ plans for public access. While the 15th Judicial District’s plan has no provision for media access, Kane said those requests would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Deborah Fisher, executive director for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the high court should take steps to ensure the public’s right to access both video and in-person proceedings.

“Access to the courts is a fundamental right,” she told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “There needs to be some kind of accommodation where it’s easy and clear … We know there might be restrictions, but there should be access. They need to find a way beyond barring the public.”

According to Supreme Court Rule 30, members of the media must receive permission to use television, radio, photographic or recording equipment in a courtroom.

 

Backlog of cases

All personnel interviewed by The Vidette agreed that there was a backlog of cases but said the system would adjust as needed to keep things rolling smoothly.

“These steps, we’re trying to do the best we can to flatten the curve,” Kane said. “There’s going to be a backlog once this goes back to normal.”

Both Kane and Linville said they were also holding more court sessions than would normally have been the case in order to tackle the number of delayed cases.

“I’m trying to be more frequent in my appearances so we can keep the docket smaller,” said Kane, who typically would be in Hartsville three times a year.

Only a limited number of people are being allowed inside the Justice Center at any one time because of COVID-19 restrictions.

For example, two disposition dockets and one arraignment docket have been added in Trousdale County during June, according to a schedule order obtained by The Vidette.

“I may be in court five days a week for a while to get rid of the backlog,” Linville said. “Our county’s not in as bad shape as some of the bigger counties.”

Linville added that he expected more preliminary hearings, and the Trousdale County Grand Jury is scheduled to meet in June.

Bratton said there was “a bit of a backlog” in the court system with so many cases delayed during the closure of courts.

“Anyone who was out of jail, for whatever reason, their case was pushed until we could possibly see them again. We have about a month’s worth of cases that are just now being seen.”

The Supreme Court also advised that judicial districts look at the jail populations to see if certain non-violent offenders could be released.

Local jails have done so, with the Trousdale County Jail seeing its population reduced almost by half during the pandemic. Sheriff Ray Russell said his staff was using the opportunity to make repairs to the facility that had been prevented by the overcrowding situation.

“Some of the cells we haven’t been able to paint in four years, some plumbing work, some LED lights,” Russell said of work done at the jail.

Arrests have been down locally for a number of reasons, according to personnel. Misdemeanor probation violations have not been a priority for law enforcement during the pandemic and a number of arrests that might normally have required bond have instead led to the individual being released on their own recognizance.

“Across the state, a lot of (departments) aren’t picking up – especially on misdemeanor violations,” Russell said. “We’re citing into court, or giving a lighter bond.”

“We have been trying to be as favorable to the defendant as possible unless there is a risk of harm… just to keep the jail numbers down,” Bratton said. “People who were either dangerous or a flight risk; we weren’t letting them out.”

Russell added that Trousdale County had for a time virtually stopped doing transports from other counties, as there was no way to guarantee an inmate being transported did not have coronavirus.

Bratton noted that crime rates and calls to the sheriff’s office were down substantially over the last two months. Russell concurred with that assessment.

“Call volume has slowed down,” Russell said. “Property crimes are down; people are at home. All our crimes have gone down.”

“Our citizens didn’t use this as an opportunity to go out and cause trouble… We had fewer calls for domestic violence, fewer break-ins,” Bratton added.

Keeping COVID-19 out of the county jails has been a priority both for the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department, especially after the outbreak of coronavirus at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center gained national attention.

Russell said his department was using holding cells at the Justice Center to separate inmates as needed and test for COVID-19.

“We don’t have anyone coming the jail expect for workers, judicial commissioners and bondsmen,” the sheriff said. “So far, we’re doing well with what we’re doing.”

“As far as county jails in our district, we haven’t really had a problem,” Kane added.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Hartsville Little League says ‘Play Ball!’

Baseball season is returning to Hartsville – just a little later than originally planned.

The Hartsville Little League announced last week that it would begin practices on June 1 with the season expected to begin June 15.

Gov. Bill Lee’s Economic Recovery Group issued guidance last week for youth sporting events and Executive Order 38 clarified some of that guidance.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Softball players practice their throws on the first night of Little League practice on June 1.

Teams took the field Monday evening and players seemed excited to be able to play ball.

“We’re glad to be able to have some sort of season, even if it’s a shortened one,” said Joe Cornwell, president of the Hartsville Little League.

Coaches held a meeting with league officials last week to go over the guidelines and procedures for resuming play. Those guidelines were also posted on the league’s Facebook page and include:

  • During team practices, kids must spread out along the fences to hang their bags instead of storing in the dugout.
  • No sharing of equipment between players. The league has purchased extra catchers’ gear for two players per team.
  • There will not be an umpire behind home plate. Instead umpires’ on-field positions will be worked out between the umpire coordinator and umpires.
  • No handshakes will be allowed after games.
  • Team coolers will not be allowed.
  • Bathrooms and concessions will be open but people are asked to maintain social distancing.

“We do realize these things can be a burden from what we are used to doing,” the league said in a statement. “For now, we must do our very best to abide by these guidelines so the kids can enjoy this season.”

Cornwell said the season would run through the end of July if all goes as planned, with eight to 12 games per team. Hartsville Little League will also coordinate its game and practice schedules with the youth football league, which also expects to begin in late July, to allow for children who play both sports.

“We don’t want the kids who want to play both to have to choose, so we’ve already worked out the schedule with them,” he said.

The league guidelines also state that spectators will not be allowed in the bleachers, which will instead be used by the teams instead of dugouts. Spectators will be asked to sit along the fences while maintaining social distancing. Cornwell said that could change though.

“Hopefully going forward more restrictions will be lifted and we can get back to normal. Please do your part to help us have a safe and successful season and be flexible, as we know things will change,” the league said via Facebook.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Branden Bellar makes non-partisan bid for circuit judge

Branden Bellar has announced his intention to run as a non-partisan candidate for Circuit Court Judge for the 15th Judicial District.

Bellar currently serves as the county attorney for both Trousdale and Smith counties and as the city attorney for Red Boiling Springs.

Bellar told The Vidette he felt running as an independent showed the importance of a judge interpreting and following the laws without the outside influence of a party label.

Submitted photo

“I’m not affiliated with a political party… They serve their purpose with it comes to legislative enactments and the executive branch policy,” Bellar said. “I do not feel that someone running under a political party can be as effective carrying out the judicial duties of being fair and impartial, simply because if you have someone from the opposite party in your courtroom… what’s the first thing they’re going to cry? Politics.

“We’ve never had that before in the 15th Judicial District. It’s always been independent across the board… I would rather have people look at me for my qualifications and my character versus what political party I belong to.”

Bellar will face Republican nominee Michael Collins of Carthage for the opportunity to replace Judge John Wootten, who retired in January.

A lifelong resident of Tennessee, Bellar touted his 25 years of experience as a practicing attorney in both civil and criminal matters.

“I have tried an enormous amount of jury trials; I’ve argued cases in the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals and I’ve been fortunate enough to have cases before the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee,” Bellar said. “I’ve got a good track record of mot of the areas of law that are adjudicated in the circuit court.”

Bellar and his wife, Kara, reside in Gordonsville. The couple has two sons and own/operate the firm Bellar & Bellar in Carthage. Bellar is a 1991 graduate of the University of Tennessee and a 1995 graduate of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.

Bellar said he would make the following commitments to the people of the 15th Judicial District if elected:

  • To require civility and maintain proper order in his Court;
  • To decide cases based on the sworn truth and evidence properly presented;
  • To fairly administer the law and show no partiality or favoritism to any;
  • To render justice with integrity and enforce the decisions made by the court; and
  • To fulfill the duties and the responsibilities of the office in an efficient and competent manner.

“I believe any public office involves a public trust,” Bellar said. “My experience, almost 25 years practicing law, I’ve been surrounded by the legal system all my life.”

Election Day will be Aug. 6. To learn more about Bellar’s campaign, visit brandenbellarforjudge.com.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected] Contributing: Staff reports

County Commission rejects fire chief appointment by 10-9 vote

The process of hiring a permanent fire chief for Hartsville’s Volunteer Fire Department will begin all over again after the County Commission narrowly rejected the appointment of Ken Buckmaster during Monday night’s meeting.

Commissioners voted 10-9 to reject the mayor’s selection of Buckmaster after a lengthy debate that included comments from several members of the community.

Those voting no were Gary Claridy, Coy Dickey, Bill Fergusson, Jerry Ford, Landon Gulley, Richard Harsh, Rachel Jones, David Nollner, Amber Russell and Gary Walsh.

Buckmaster abstained from the vote and told The Vidette after the meeting that he would not reapply for the position.

Some commissioners expressed concerns over the hiring process, especially after it came to light that two of the interviewers had been listed as personal references on Buckmaster’s application. The interview panel was chosen by the state’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

“I think (MTAS) did a great job on the interview process,” said Commissioner Gary Walsh. “I think there should have been a bunch more into the process.”

“The process was flawed; that’s the problem,” added Bill Fergusson.

Five citizens spoke to commissioners on the nomination, with three against and two supporting.

Larry Miller cited what he called a “very disturbing” video of a house fire back in December. That video was from the body cam of a sheriff’s deputy.

“Watching the video I saw absolutely no evidence of any leadership, or anyone being in command, in my opinion,” he said. “The citizens of this county deserve better than what we have right now.”

Bryan King criticized the hiring process itself, saying, “The minimum qualifications put forth for the applicants was, in my mind, a bar set too low.”

King also critiqued not using the résumés in the interview process, adding, “That to me is a failure in the process.”

Bill Hunt said the fire chief was among the “five most important people in this county to its citizens” but called the fire department “deficient” in its training and leadership.

“We deserve the most highly trained and qualified individual to be our fire chief,” Hunt said.

Scott Olds, who is a current volunteer firefighter, and former fire chief Jimmy Anthony each spoke in favor of Buckmaster.

“He cares about citizens, cares about safety of property, cares about getting us home safe,” Olds said.

“We have an applicant that has the best interests of the community at heart… is knowledgeable… He is the fire department’s choice to be chief,” said Anthony, who served as fire chief for 28 years before retiring two years ago.

 

Other votes

Commissioners also passed the county’s budget and tax levies on first reading after one change.

Commissioner Gulley asked that the money for a 2.5 percent raise for county employees be pooled and divided equally among those employees. According to the mayor’s office, that would be roughly $110,000 divided among 118 employees, or roughly a $932 raise per employee.

The request came after some Public Works employees raised concerns at last week’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting regarding what they considered as low pay.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers said he had met with some of those employees and was willing to reexamine the idea of raising pay later in the year, once tax revenue figures were a bit clearer.

“I understand… and agree with what we’re trying to do. I’m afraid we’re too far into the budget process to do this,” said Commission Chairman Dwight Jewell. “We’ve told the employees they’re getting a 2.5 percent raise. Now we’re going to tell some that you’re not getting 2.5 percent…”

The amendment passed on a show of hands by an 11-9 margin. The tax levies were set at $2.4388 in the county and $0.8753 in the Urban Services District. Both are unchanged from last year.

Second and third votes on the budget will be held at the Commission’s June meeting.

Commissioners approved two zoning changes to properties on Hawkins Branch Road and Hilltop Drive on second reading, and on first reading a change on a home on Broadway to residential.

An amended zoning ordinance requiring a buffer strip between commercial/industrial construction and neighboring properties was also approved on first reading and will come back in June for a public hearing.

A capital outlay note of $1,049,170 for a new roof at Jim Satterfield Middle School was approved, as were four budget amendments, all interfund transfers:

  • $53,982 in cleanup entries in the general fund;
  • $47,000 for a workhouse truck for the sheriff’s department;
  • $8,674 in cleanup entries at Solid Waste; and
  • $30,850 in cleanup entries at the Highway Department.

Jewell was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Zoning Appeals, and six notaries were approved: Jacquelyn Hooge, Dondra Bray, Bennie Oldham, Shelby Lee, Joanne Turnbow and Stephanie Dennis.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

TCHS seniors ‘miss out on fun’ of final year

Aside from graduation day, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused members of Trousdale County’s Class of 2020 to miss out on a number of milestones that would typically mark their final year in the school system.

Prom was canceled. Spring sports came to a screeching halt. Many of the fun activities that celebrate the end of another school year didn’t come to pass.

The Vidette spoke with two of Trousdale County’s graduating seniors about the effects the closure of school and the cancellation of activities had upon them.

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Schools

“We were at the end of the senior year. Supposed to be some really good times ahead of us but that was all cut short,” said Ben Chumley. “I know my class really looked forward to class tournaments. Our class had won the volleyball tournament three years in a row and was going for four years straight.”

“It’s definitely been different; I feel like we’ve had to miss on the fun part of senior year,” added Hailey Givens, who is graduating fourth in her class. “We got through all the hard stuff – the classes and the tests – and now it was coming around to all the fun stuff.”

Both graduates said they were disappointed to miss their senior prom – one of the highlights of a student’s year.

“Prom, of course, is always fun for everyone. All your friends getting dressed up together is awesome,” Chumley said. “Some of my best memories came from prom. I had attended prom every year and was hoping to make this one the best but that was not able to happen.”

Some activities were able to take place before the school closure, such as senior pictures, and some were able to continue in a limited fashion, such as the yearbook. Honors and Scholars pictures were taken before school closure as well. Of the 83 members of the Class of 2020, 16 are Honors graduates and 39 are Scholar graduates.

To be a Scholar graduate, a student must complete or be on track to complete 14 of the core curriculum courses and three of the identified elective courses. To reach Honors level, students must meet the Scholars criteria and all ACT readiness benchmarks.

The annual Senior Day was unable to take place, in which seniors would have received various awards and scholarship announcements. To take the place of that, TCHS Principal Teresa Dickerson and Assistant Principal Ben Johnson created a Youtube video making those announcements that was released on May 22.

Chumley, who played baseball and football as a member of the Yellow Jackets, said missing out on his final year of baseball was perhaps the hardest thing. The TCHS baseball team had four senior starters and had been projected as among the favorites to claim the district championship.

“Losing baseball to me was really tough. I have put more time into baseball than most people can even think of; I have played travel baseball ever since I was 10 years old…

“Coming into this season we knew we were going to be tough… We brought in a guy from Cumberland University, Jared Schmidt, and he was able to help us with a lot of things. Coach (Hayden) Williams and Jared Schmidt were able to prepare us very well. We definitely had high expectations.”

Givens and Chumley said the pandemic had some effect on preparation for their future plans. Givens plans to attend Cumberland University while Chumley plans to attend lineman school.

“They’ve never done virtual registration for incoming freshmen,” Givens said of Cumberland. “They are saying that we will be on campus this fall.”

Chumley said he had hoped to play college baseball, but losing his senior season meant a missed opportunity to showcase his talents.

“If I would have decided to play baseball in college I would had to have walked on somewhere, because at the time I had no offers to play anywhere. This is true for seniors all over. A lot of kids needed this senior year to show colleges what they have. Unfortunately they were not able to do that.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Senate candidate Dr. Manny Sethi visits Hartsville

One of the Republican candidates for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2020 paid a visit to Hartsville last week as part of a tour of all 95 of the state’s counties.

Dr. Manny Sethi came into town on a bright orange bus to promote his campaign for the Senate. While in town, he met with County Mayor Stephen Chambers and other officials, and also spoke with The Vidette about why is seeking elected office.

“It all starts with my parents, who were legal immigrants back in the 1970s,” he said. “They came from India, both became doctors and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps…

“They came to Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I was born. When I was four, we moved to Coffee County in Tennessee.”

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Dr. Manny Sethi, who is running for U.S. Senate, stands outside his bus during his visit to Hartsville.

After getting his undergraduate degree at Brown University and his medical degree at Harvard, Sethi came back to the Volunteer State where he founded Healthy Tennessee. The nonprofit organization promotes preventative health care that has treated thousands of patients across the state.

“My dad always told me, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s it your bank account, what matters is the difference you make.’ ”

For the last 10 years, Sethi, has been an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. In addition to his medical practice, he has testified before the U.S. Senate on challenges faced in obtaining and maintaining health insurance and has President Donald Trump to discuss Healthy Tennessee and its impact.

“I think this U.S. Senate seat is a generational opportunity to make a difference,” Sethi said. “The time has come when we don’t need a Washington insider or a Mitt Romney 2.0. We need someone who comes from outside government and cares about everyday folks.”

Sethi said the key issues he wants to focus on as a senator are illegal immigration, health care and the economy.

Last year, Sethi released a three-point plan on immigration that consists of building the border wall across the southern border of the U.S., and returning to a merit-based immigration system and ending birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“Right now people come over – low-skilled immigrants – and they can’t survive and so end up on benefits,” he said. “We need people who make meaningful contributions to society.”

Health care and the opioid crisis are other areas of focus for Sethi’s campaign.

“The problem is the federal government has a one-size-fits-all plan for tackling the opioid crisis,” Sethi said. “We need to empower our local officials, mayors, sheriffs, folks who know more about these issues.”

Sethi said he wants to promote faith-based recovery programs for those facing addictions. He became a Christian after the death of his father and said his own faith guides every decision he makes. He, along with his wife Maya and two children, attends McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville.

The candidate also said he wants to empower small businesses, which he called “the engine of our economy.

“All these big companies, they’re getting bailed out and CARES Act money… But the folks who aren’t connected, they don’t have that. That’s who I care about; those are my people.”

Sethi believes strongly that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shows the need to bring manufacturing back to America. He said 70 percent of gowns, gloves and masks used by medical personnel are made in China, as well as 20 of the most commonly used medications in the U.S.

“All these Washington insiders, career politicians, have sold American jobs down the drain to save a buck,” he said. “It’s not just the healthcare supply chain; it’s so many others that we rely on.

“We need to have a second Industrial Revolution in this country and bring these jobs back here.”

Sethi is promoting himself as the outsider candidate, much like Gov. Bill Lee did in his 2018 campaign. Fifteen Republicans are seeking the party’s nomination to succeed Lamar Alexander, with the biggest name among those being Bill Hagerty, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and former commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

“I’m someone who comes from completely outside government and I’ve lived my whole life to help people make a difference,” Sethi said. “I’m not someone who’s bought and paid for by the Republican establishment.

“If people wants someone who carries their rural Tennessee values, who’s a Christian conservative and not an outsider, I think I’m your pick.”

Those interested in learning more about Sethi’s campaign can visit his website at www.drmannyforsenate.com.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Lebanon man charged in boating incident

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department

A Lebanon man is facing charges after allegedly pulling a gun on a group of boaters on the Cumberland River over the weekend.

Justin Tyler Potts, 30, was charged with four counts of aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony.

According to the arrest affidavit, the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department responded to the Pine Cove boat dock just after 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 24. Four boaters reportedly said while they were on Whitely’s Island in the Cumberland River when Potts approached them, pulled a gun and demanded they get off his island. The boaters tried to tell Potts the island was not his, at which point he reportedly pulled a pistol from his waistband. The boaters left and then contacted law enforcement.

Potts was booked into the Trousdale County Jail and was released on $5,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in general sessions court on Friday, June 12.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

 

Trousdale banks provide over $5 million in PPP loans

Trousdale County’s banks have approved over $5 million in loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in efforts to support local businesses.

The PPP is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and is designed to help small businesses keep their workers on the payroll amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Vidette spoke with officials at both Citizens Bank and Wilson Bank & Trust about their experiences with the program.

Citizens Bank said in a press release that it had approved over 60 loans totaling just under $4 million since applications began on April 3. Seth Thurman, office manager at WBT, said the Hartsville branch had approved 30 loans totaling just over $1.3 million.

Todd Austin

“Being a community bank, it’s in our DNA to serve as a trusted partner for local businesses when they seek access to financial resources,” said Todd Austin, President and CEO of Citizens Bank, in a press release. “Citizens Bank employees have been working around the clock to help small business owners in the community secure PPP loans.”

Tennessee banks reportedly wrote about $6.5 billion in loans out of $349 billion nationally that was the original funding for PPP. Congress approved an additional $310 billion on April 27 and since then Tennessee banks have processed loans of around $2.4 billion, according to media reports.

Thurman said Wilson Bank & Trust had processed nearly $80 million in loans to around 1,300 businesses through all its branches, with most of those going to Wilson County.

Citizens Bank reported that the majority of its PPP loans were for small- to medium-sized businesses.

“We’re a smaller bank so we try to focus on helping those smaller business customers,” said Anthony McMurtry, Vice President at Citizens Bank.

PPP loans are designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. To be eligible for loan forgiveness, 75 percent of the loan amount must be used on payroll. On Monday, the SBA issued the application for loan forgiveness and instructions for how to apply.

Media outlets across the country reported on problems when the program began, as there was a lack of guidance regarding the issuing of loans.

“They passed all this legislation and we were in limbo as to how we get this money out,” Thurman said. “Then it was having to go through the process and that was not easy for everybody.

Seth Thurman

“At one point they completely changed the application. So we had to go back through, find the old applications and make sure they were updated to the new one.”

“The first round kicked off and the SBA was scrambling to provide guidance,” McMurtry added. “With the second round… it’s gone much smoother.”

Both banks set up methods to streamline the application process. Citizens Bank parterned with a technology company, Abrigo, to be able to submit PPP applications in bulk.

“This functionality has been critical to ensure that Citizens Bank applicants have the best chance possible to access critical PPP funds,” the bank stated in its press release.

Wilson Bank designated a group of employees to learn the process of PPP applications and be able to provide guidance. Thurman said he spent time with that group, working evenings in Lebanon to get the process down.

Thurman said most of the applications filed through WB&T were approved in less than a week, with just a few taking longer. The average size of loans in Hartsville was around $41,000 with a high of just over $100,000, he said.

“The majority of them have been in the $25,000 or less range,” Thurman said.

McMurtry concurred, saying Citizens had been able to process loans in a matter of days, especially during the second round of funding.

Both banks stated that money still remains available for small businesses through the PPP program and they will continue taking applications. As of Monday, there was reportedly more than $100 billion still left available for PPP nationally.

“If you need a PPP loan, we’re encouraging people to come see us and we’ll walk you through the process,” Thurman said. “We will be taking applications until the money runs out.”

“I was very happy to see quite a but of money coming into Trousdale County through this. You hear a lot about how people have not had an easy time and businesses have shut down… I’m glad people are getting this money.”

“We are proud to have been able to help these businesses keep hundreds of workers on their payrolls during this difficult time, and as always, we are so grateful for the opportunity to serve our communities,” added Austin.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected] Contributing: Staff reports

Trousdale schools extend feeding program into June

Trousdale County Schools will take a short break from its emergency feeding program and then resume in June, school officials announced Monday.

In his weekly video message, Director of Schools Clint Satterfield announced an Emergency Summer Feeding Program that will run from June 1-30. The current feeding program expired on Wednesday, May 20.

The summer program will consist of “grab & go” lunches at Trousdale County High School from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday, exactly as is done now. There will not be the five walk-up sites that have been available in recent weeks.

File photo

Satterfield said volunteers would be needed to help make the summer program work. The school system has been paying its staff to work as part of the current feeding program, but those funds expired with the end of the scheduled school year.

“Up until now, employees have helped to do those sites and they were getting paid,” added Coordinated School Health Supervisor Kathy Atwood. “The actual budget year for non-certified staff ends Wednesday (May 20).”

Anyone wishing to volunteer is asked to contact Atwood by email at [email protected]

“Anyone in the community of faculty who is interested in volunteering… the idea is that we would serve through the month of June,” Satterfield said.

Atwood said the summer program would operate under the same rules as currently, thanks to waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Children can get lunch and breakfast for the following day and will not have to be present to get food.

The menu will change slightly from what has been offered and will incorporate sandwiches and meal kits “similar to a Lunchable” in addition to hot meals, Atwood added.

“We’re still meeting all health requirements; there will still be fruit and that kind of thing,” she said.

School registration: Satterfield said teachers would provide free summer enrichment materials on their respective websites for grades K-4 beginning June 1.

He also reiterated the importance of student registration for the upcoming school year at the high school. Satterfield said each high school grade was missing around 40 students thus far. High school students can email [email protected] to register.

“This is something we’ve got to get done,” he said. “If you’re in high school, you need to get in touch with Mrs. Cunningham.”

Kindergarten registration began Monday and will run through June 30. Applications are available online at tcschools.org. Paper applications are available by contacting Trousdale Elementary.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

School Board sets June 26 as graduation date

Trousdale County’s School Board set Friday, June 26, 2020 as the makeup date for graduation during its May 14 meeting.

Graduation plans had been up in the air since schools closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduation had originally been scheduled for May 22.

At the beginning of May, the school system sent a text message to parents of the Class of 2020 with three possible makeup dates: May 29, June 26 and July 10. Parents were asked to choose which date they preferred.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

“We’ve chosen the football stadium as the football location, and June 26 as the date. About 75 percent of the surveys chose that date,” said Director of Schools Clint Satterfield. “In case of inclement weather we will use the following Saturday, June 27, as a backup.”

“Dr. Satterfield and Mrs. Dickerson have put a lot of work into this,” said board chairman Regina Waller. “We want to make sure our seniors get recognized.”

The graduation ceremony will take place at 8 p.m. on June 26. Each of the 83 graduating seniors will receive four tickets, which will designate a gate entrance to the football stadium. Guests will have to enter and leave at their designated gate. The concession stand will be open to provide water to guests.

Satterfield said the school system was working to be able to livestream the ceremony online for those not able to attend.

“We have decided to recommend masks but they are not required,” Satterfield said. “We will use all three gates to help promote social distancing. We will dismiss by gates as well.”

Parents will not be allowed on the field for pictures, but are encouraged to take photos at home before the ceremony. Mark Griffith Photography, the school system’s designated photographer, will have pictures available for parents.

“We will have to discourage people congregating to take pictures under the present health conditions,” Satterfield said. “This took a lot of time and work.”

In his director’s report, Satterfield told board members the system had received no guidance yet regarding the opening of schools for the 2020-21 academic year.

“I posed four different scenarios to our teachers and administrators that we are trying to think about,” he said.

Those scenarios include returning as normally scheduled on July 30, delaying the opening of school, providing only distance learning opportunities similar to what was done during April and May, and a blended plan providing both staggered schedules to enable social distancing at school buildings and remote learning opportunities.

 

Other actions

Board members also approved the salary schedule for certified teachers in Trousdale County and the school system’s $12.161 million projected budget. The budget still requires approval from the County Commission.

The board approved four teachers for tenure: Gena Cothron, Kristin Kirkland, Ryan Sleeper and Heather Smith.

“All four of these teachers have completed five years of experience and evaluations,” Satterfield said. “From the recommendations from their principals, they come highly recommended.”

In order to be eligible for tenure, a teacher must have five years of service in Trousdale County schools and receive evaluations of either “above expectations” (score of 4 on a 5-point scale) or “significantly above expectations” (5 score) in each of the last two years. The state board of education sets the guidelines for teacher evaluations.

“This is the best part of our job, and we’re excited to be able to do that (grant tenure),” Waller added.

Board members were also presented with a plan to rebuild the football stadium to repair the bleachers and make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’ve received a lot of complaints about the safety and accessibility of the bleachers,” Satterfield told board members.

The complete estimate came in at $636,203.25 and includes demolition costs, which were not included on a previous estimate. Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund provided a payment schedule at five and 10 years. At five years, the payment would be roughly $136,650 annually at 2.77 percent. At 10 years, the payment would be roughly $74,000 at 2.98 percent.

Satterfield noted that a sales tax referendum scheduled for the August general election in Trousdale County would in theory, if passed, provide the school system with enough funding to move forward on stadium repairs.

The plan will be presented to the Education Committee at its May 21 meeting, after board members said they wanted commissioners’ guidance before taking any action.

“Let’s talk to them, tell them our plan and see how it’s received there,” Waller said.

The board also approved a present for employees that will be mailed out, in lieu of the annual Employee Appreciation banquet.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Hartsville Rehab honors resident’s 72-year nursing career

May 12, 2020 marked the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Nightingale is respected by nurses around the world for transforming nursing to a profession.

Hartsville Health and Rehabilitation Center recently honored 92-year-old resident Dorothy Newbern for her 72 years of being a Registered Nurse.

Submitted photo
Hartsville Health and Rehabilitation Center Director of Nurses Christine Murray presents resident Dorothy Newbern with a poster of HHR nurses, which includes Ms. Newbern’s name and photo.

Ms. Newbern graduated in 1948 with her RN from the now-closed St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing, which was in Memphis. Ms. Newbern’s younger sister, Jean Quinn, shared that her older sister originally wanted to be an airline stewardess, which required being a nurse.

Marriage and the birth of three daughters changed her career choice and she used her skills and knowledge to work as a nurse in the hospital. Her first job after graduation was at the historical U.S. Marine Hospital in Memphis. When the hospital closed in 1965, she went to work at the Memphis Veteran’s Affairs Hospital.

Quinn reflected on how her older sister inspired her to become a registered nurse in 1957. While in nursing school, Quinn was approached by a physician and was told, “You better hope to be as good of a nurse as your sister!” Quinn said this was such a compliment to her sister’s nursing practice.

Newbern practiced nursing through the Korean and Vietnam wars. She has lived through the 1957 Asian Flu, the 1968 H3N2, the 2009 H1N1 pandemics and is now living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked what to do to keep from getting sick she replied, “Wash your hands.”

In fact, Hartsville Health and Rehab currently has no cases of COVID-19.

Chamber of Commerce starts ‘Yard of Month’ contest

The Hartsville/Trousdale Chamber of Commerce is launching a “Hartsville Yard of the Month” award to recognize the hard work and pride exhibited by residents who maintain and beautify their yard.

“The award is intended to inspire others to take pride in their yard and to improve the overall quality of life in Hartsville,” said Chamber Director Natalie Knudsen. “You hear about the properties that aren’t kept up; we want to promote the ones that are.”

Monthly winners will receive a $25 gift certificate, a posting on the Chamber’s Facebook page and a “Yard of the Month” sign to display. Winners will also be recognized at the monthly Chamber of Commerce meetings and will receive a free lunch.

Submitted photo

Homeowners can submit entries by calling 615-374-9243 and leaving a message. Also, homeowners may nominate their own property. Entries must be submitted by the 25th of the month and will be judged on the last day of the month.

The contest begins June 1 and the rules are as follows:

Properties may win once every six months;

July, October, November and December will be judged on themed decorations;

Properties should be well-groomed properties with grass mowed;

Properties should be attractive and pleasing to the eye;

Buildings, fences, porches and patios on the property must be in good repair;

Properties must be free of litter, junk and debris;

Properties must have no appliances or indoor furniture on porches or patios;

Properties must be free of junked or inoperable vehicles;

Properties must have no parking on the lawn;

Properties must have house number displayed attractively;

Properties that utilize a lawn care service are eligible.

“It was an idea by our Improving Our Community’s Appearance group,” Knudsen said. “It’s just the front yard, not the back.”

The Chamber is also promoting sponsorships for the contest and already has commitments from Wilson Bank & Trust, Citizens Bank and G&L Garden Center. Any business interested in sponsoring can contact the Chamber at 615-374-9243.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected] Contributing: Staff reports

‘Adopt A Senior’ honors Trousdale Class of 2020

The Class of 2020 has had to miss out of several of the milestones that would normally mark their final few weeks at Trousdale County High School, from prom to pictures and even their graduation ceremony.

Many communities have been finding ways to celebrate their seniors, including parades, posters and gifts. The Trousdale school system has been posting daily Senior Salutes with each student’s formal photo, cap & gown photo and information about their future plans.

Locally, Kayla Mungle and Olive Drab have helped spearhead one way to honor the soon-to-be alumni via the “TCS Adopt A Senior” Facebook page.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

“What really made me decide to do this is seeing how hard it’s affected my brother,” said Mungle, “and after seeing the Wilson County page it was just heavy on my heart to do this for our community.

“I just noticed that Trousdale County didn’t have one yet and just felt like it was something our community needed as well.”

Mungle’s brother attends Lebanon High School and a similar program has been ongoing in Wilson County and other communities across Middle Tennessee.

Drab said the group is also hoping to put on a prom in July for the students who had to miss out on one of the highlights of their senior year.

“We want to give a makeup prom just for the seniors,” she said. “A lot of the girls already bought their dresses and had plans.”

Participants can choose to “adopt” one of the seniors who posts their information on the page and provide gifts, congratulations and well-wishes. Out of 83 members of the TCHS Class of 2020, 71 had been adopted as of May 11.

“That poster is supposed to contact whoever adopts them and give ideas – their favorite snacks, candy, something they may need for college – anything like that,” Mungle said.

Seniors who have been adopted have expressed their gratitude for the support being shown by the Trousdale County community.

“I think it’s a cool thing for us seniors,” said Ben Chumley. “It shows that people in the community care for us and shows that they are sad for us not being able to finish our senior year.”

“The community has been really supportive and really trying to help the seniors out,” said Hailey Givens. “It’s made it a lot better to know people are behind you during this time. It gives you a sense of happiness beyond what you would get at school.”

The response has in fact been so strong that most of the seniors have been “adopted” four different times.

“We’ve been trying to keep it fair and make sure no one gets overlooked,” Mungle said. “Everyone who has already posted on the page about their senior, they’ve been adopted.

“Right now we’re encouraging all senior parents to go on there and post their child.”

The Facebook page is titled TCS Adopt A Senior for anyone seeking more information.

“Our seniors have been through a lot and it’s something to put a smile on their faces,” said Mungle.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Trousdale swimming pool to remain closed for the summer

Trousdale County’s Parks & Recreation Committee voted Tuesday night to keep the park’s swimming pool closed for the 2020 season amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers told commissioners that there had been no guidance yet from the state regarding swimming pools, which were not covered in Phase 1 of Tennessee’s reopening plan.

“I was on a call May 6 with the head of the governor’s economic recovery group and a mayor specifically asked about opening city pools,” Chambers said. “The problem is with crowds inside the facility you can’t get social distancing.”

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

In addition, the county has been unable to send lifeguards who would have worked the pool for required training as Lebanon’s Jimmy Floyd Center, where that training takes place locally, remains closed.

In addition, the state announced Tuesday that public swimming pools at Tennessee State Parks would be closed for 2020 in the interest of public health and staff safety.

Commissioners were disappointed to have to make that decision but recognized they seemed to have little choice given the circumstances.

“I feel like under the circumstances it’s prudent… We know we’re not going to be able to meet the scheduled open date. When you push it back beyond that very much, there’s not enough to make it worthwhile,” said commissioner Dwight Jewell.

“I hate it bad for the kids,” added commissioner Shane Burton.

Commissioners indicated they could reevaluate the situation in the next month or so if circumstances change for the better.

The mayor also noted that the playground area in Hartsville City Park remains closed and cited the inability to enforce social distancing. The basketball and tennis courts also remain closed.

“That follows direction from the governor’s office and follows what other counties are doing,” Chambers said of the playground.

The skate park is also closed, but Chambers noted that it is not fenced off and there is no way to keep people out. The walking trail and the open grass areas of the park are open.

Committee chair Bubba Gregory said he had been told Public Works wanted to replace light poles at the ballfields over the summer, some of which are in bad shape.

The Little League fields remain closed and there has been no indication of whether youth leagues will be able to play this summer.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Planning Commission gives site approval to meat processing plant

Construction of a meat-processing plant in Hartsville could begin as soon as next week after the Planning Commission gave site approval for plans during Monday night’s meeting.

VIEW SITE PLAN: Meat Plant

Steve Anderson of Carthage purchased the property at the intersection of Halltown Road and Industrial Park Drive from the Industrial Development Board earlier this year. Anderson had announced last year his intention to build a USDA-certified meat processing plant on the property.

The property sale was delayed when it was found that Trousdale County still held deed to the property and had never transferred the title to the Industrial Board.

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

“We’ll be pushing dirt; we’re ready to go,” Anderson told The Vidette. “We’re hoping to be open by January 2021.”

Anderson purchased just over nine acres of property, but the facility will be a small one – 8,790 square feet according to the site plan presented. There will also be a covered loading and drop-off area in the back of the facility.

There is a 240-foot buffer to Halltown Road and a landscaping buffer will also be required.

“I hope the community realizes more than ever what an asset it would be to have a meat-processing facility in their town,” Anderson said. “I want to be a good neighbor and I’ve done everything I can do to build a facility that’s state of the art.”

Anderson said his facility would have a USDA inspector on site full time. He has previously said the plant will be limited in capacity to around 10 head of cattle per day.

The Planning Commission also gave site plan approval for a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 231 and 25 on the property that once was a military surplus store.

Scott Hunter of Horizon Construction told The Vidette that groundbreaking on the property would probably take place in July.

“It’s going to have regular gas on the front and diesel pumps on the side, like a mini truck stop,” Hunter said. “We should hopefully see groundbreaking in July and we’ve got an eight-month trajectory of completion.”

The board also voted to recommend a rezoning of property at 312 Broadway from C-2 (commercial) to R-1 (residential). The request came from Lance Howell, whose family is trying to sell the house located there.

Howell said there was a contract on the house but that the buyer’s financing required the zoning to meet the usage.

Commissioners noted that multiple properties across Trousdale County have had to be similarly rezoned in recent months because of similar issues.

That rezoning will go to the County Commission for a first reading at its May 26 meeting. If approved, a second reading and public hearing would take place in June.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Hartsville salons reopen for waiting customers

Hartsville’s salons were back open Wednesday and business was booming.

After Gov. Bill Lee mandated on April 28 that barbershops and hair salons be among the entities that would remain closed until May 29, he did an about-face one day later, amending his executive order to allow businesses or organizations that perform close-contact personal services – such as hair salons, barbershops, massage therapists and nail technicians – to reopen this week.

Connie Harris, one of the beauticians at Southern Shears Salon, was working on her first customer of the day at 7 a.m.

Photos by Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Hannah Brooke Ellis, left, and Cayla Anderson work on clients Wednesday morning at Southern Shears Salon.

“Twelve hours a day, six days a week… till the end of my life,” she joked about her schedule. “Because we can only do one client at a time, it’s going to be different. They have to wait in their car and you don’t know if they’re going to be five minutes early or 10 minutes late.”

Cayla Anderson, owner of Southern Shears, said they would adjust their hours somewhat to be able to see more clients.

“Some of us will be coming in early and staying late, especially since we can only see one client at a time,” Anderson said. “We want to try to get those people in who have been waiting for weeks.”

Dana Landreth, owner of Nails by Dana, was also seeing her first client of the day bright and early at 7.

“I sure am ready to be back to work,” she said.

Over at Total Image Salon, owner Regina White said she was “excited” to be able to start seeing clients.

“I’ve never imagined seeing anything like this,” White said. “It’s been a hard time being off this long.”

The reopening does come with numerous safety requirements.

Dana Landreth works on a client’s nails.

Under Gov. Lee’s order, there won’t be anyone allowed to wait for his/her appointment in the shops. Only 50 percent of the number of workstations can be utilized. Clean or disposable capes and linens must be provided for each client, and areas that are used must be cleaned and sanitized between each client.

Stylists must wear facemasks, and both stylists and clients must wash their hands before the service is provided.

“We’re cleaning our chairs between every client, washing our hands between every client, sanitizing,” Anderson said. “Normally we could be coloring one and cut while the other waits, but we’re doing one customer at a time to limit the people coming in the building.”

Regardless of the safety precautions, all are ready to be back in business.

“It has been rough,” Harris added. “I feel bad for the younger hairdressers who can’t work and haven’t had time to save up money.”

Everyone said they had stayed busy with various projects, such as building a porch, cooking, housecleaning and more.

“I certainly haven’t been bored!” Harris said.

According to the ladies at Southern Shears, the federal CARES Act was not helpful during the closure, even though state and federal governments eased the restrictions on self-employed individuals.

“I applied (for PPE small business loan) but never got anything,” Harris said. “I’m on a hairdressers’ page on Facebook. A lot of those people applied but never got any money either.”

“I only got $26 a week,” added Hannah Brooke Ellis.

“Financially, it’s been an adjustment,” Anderson said. “I didn’t file for unemployment because I talked to so many who went through the process and found they didn’t qualify.

“Luckily I have a husband who is still working and is considered essential!”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

No property tax hike in 2020-21 Trousdale budget

Trousdale County taxpayers can expect to see no increase in property taxes as part of the 2020-21 budget.

That statement came during the first of three hearings on the county budget on Monday evening. Members of the Budget & Finance Committee met in the upstairs courtroom of the old courthouse to allow for social distancing. It was the first time commissioners had met in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers presented what he called a conservative budget, saying, “We’re not sure what the economic landscape is going to be here in a few months.”

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

What a penny of property tax will bring in has not yet been finalized, Chambers said, though it is expected to rise slightly from last year, when that figure was $24,989. The budget was based on an estimate of $25,315, but the official number will be released sometime in May.

Current property tax rates are $2.4388 in the county and $0.8753 in the Urban Services District.

The budget calls for a 2.5 percent raise for county employees, including non-certified school employees, such as janitors and kitchen staff. Teachers are already set to receive a 2 percent raise from the state.

It was also noted that 2020-21 will have 27 pay periods rather than the typical 26, meaning there is a one-time increase in payroll costs. That situation comes up every 11 years, according to the mayor.

Chambers’ budget does not incorporate $585,000 that the county is eligible for through the governor’s COVID-19 relief plan. He noted that those funds have specific instances in which they can be used and that no decision had been made yet on where to use those.

“Where that will go will be based upon what projects we decide to fund with it,” the mayor said of the relief funds.

The mayor noted that the current fiscal year’s projections have Trousdale County with a general fund surplus of around $722,000 and a projected fund balance of roughly $4.6 million on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Commission Chairman Dwight Jewell did note that Trousdale County might be in better position to weather a financial hit, as tourism and hotel tax receipts do not play a large role in local finances.

“We’re probably in better shape than most,” he said.

Commissioners are scheduled to examine the sheriff’s budget and that of the school system at the second night of hearings on May 7.

JSMS roof: Commissioners voted 8-2 to recommend to the full Commission that they take out a 10-year bond to fund replacing the roof at Jim Satterfield Middle School. Gary Claridy and Gary Walsh cast the votes against the proposal.

The School Board accepted at its April meeting a bid of $989,473 for replacing the roof. That bid contains a 10 percent contingency, which would be used to cover unexpected costs.

The county received a proposed interest rate of 2.92 percent, meaning over 10 years the full cost would be roughly $1,149 million if the contingency were used.

In budget negotiations last year, commissioners agreed to fund the roof replacement with the school system picking up the first year’s payment of roughly $114,000.

The County Commission will have to approve the funding at its May 26 meeting.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]

Trousdale Turner inmate dies in hospital after COVID-19 diagnosis

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Corrections reported Tuesday the first death of a state inmate who tested positive for the coronavirus.

TDOC said that the 67-year-old man was an inmate at CoreCivic’s Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. The department said the inmate was taken to the hospital on April 25, tested positive there and died Monday.

The exact cause of death is awaiting a determination from the medical examiner.

TDOC and CoreCivic announced last Friday that 1,299 inmates and 50 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. TDOC’s report at that time stated that 98 percent of those testing positive were asymptomatic.

We are deeply saddened to report that an inmate who had been hospitalized from our Trousdale Turner Correctional Center passed away Monday, May 4. The individual had been transported to a nearby hospital nine days prior to his death (April 25) for medical review and reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 while hospitalized. The cause of death is pending at this time, and an autopsy has been requested,” said Ryan Gustin, Public Affairs Manager for CoreCivic in a statement.

We had been in close contact with our government partner, the Tennessee Department of Correction, about the health of the inmate and immediately notified them of the individual’s passing. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to this individual’s loved ones.”

CoreCivic had reported last week that just two of the inmates who tested positive at the prison showed symptoms and were both hospitalized.

1,349 COVID-19 cases confirmed at Trousdale Turner

TDOC confirmed 1,349 COVID-19 positive cases, out of 2,725 total tests, among staff and inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Trousdale County, following a targeted testing event at the facility that began on April 28.

In a CoreCivic press release, the company said there were 1,299 positive inmate tests and 50 staff who had tested positive.

“The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic,” said Keith Ivens, M.D., CoreCivic’s Chief Medical Officer. “This commitment is shared by our partners at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), and we have worked closely together with TDOC and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities.”

Effective immediately, CoreCivic will launch a 24-hour COVID-19 information hotline for family members of incarcerated individuals. The hotline will operate 24/7 and be monitored by a live operator.  The hotline can be reached at(615-263-3200. 

“We’ve been in close coordination with TDOC as it began targeted COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff in early April,” said UCG Director Stuart McWhorter. “Given the increases in positive cases at the Bledsoe County and Trousdale Turner correctional facilities, despite the vast majority being asymptomatic, we are going to take the next steps in partnership with TDOC, Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), and Tennessee National Guard to support a broader testing strategy to promote the health and safety of staff and inmates. We will also coordinate plans with our local jails to assist them in safeguarding the health of their populations in the coming days.”

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

TDOC and TDH analysis of the test results confirm 98 percent of those who tested positive are asymptomatic.

TDOC is now working with its healthcare services provider and contract prison provider, Centurion Managed Care and CoreCivic, to begin COVID-19 testing next week of all staff and inmates at 10 other TDOC correctional facilities in the state.

“Knowing the extent of the virus’s spread within our correctional facilities is critical as incarcerated individuals remain one of the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Thanks to our increased capacity, we’ll test all inmates and staff statewide in order to take appropriate actions to safeguard the health of these vulnerable individuals.”

While CoreCivic will be responsible for testing all inmates and staff in its managed facilities, UCG will coordinate with the Tennessee National Guard to augment testing capacity for staff at state-run facilities, where Centurion will be testing only inmates.

“The Department of Correction is taking a proactive approach to ensure all staff and the entire inmate population is tested for COVID-19,” said TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker. “Our sixth round of mass testing will begin early next week with the remaining 10 facilities conducting testing. With the support and leadership of Governor Lee, Tennessee is leading the nation in our approach to widespread mass testing.”

“The Department of Military has been working closely with TDOC for weeks on preparedness for various courses of action as situations develop,” said Tennessee’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes. “This plan is entering an implementation phase and we are prepared to support this mission.”

Hartsville restaurants take cautious approach to reopening

Most of Hartsville’s restaurants are taking a cautious approach despite Gov. Bill Lee allowing them to reopen under certain conditions this week.

Restaurants in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties were allowed to reopen under certain conditions, such as keeping diners six feet apart and only seating 50 percent of capacity. Retail establishments were to be allowed to reopen Wednesday under similar conditions.

Thus far, only Harper’s Early Bird Café and Highway Food Mart (formerly Oldham’s) have chosen to reopen their dining room areas. Keller’s is scheduled to open on Friday, May 1, but the bar will remain closed.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Harper’s Early Bird Cafe reopened for business Monday morning with social distancing guidelines in place.

Lilla Brewington, the owner of Early Bird, told The Vidette business was steady Monday morning, even with the restrictions. She has adjusted the hours somewhat, opening at 8 a.m. for the time being, she said.

Most restaurants are sticking with the drive-thru or takeout only options for now and stated their intentions via social media.

“We have decided that we will stay on Take out and delivery orders only for a little while longer until we think of the best way to keep everybody, employees and customers, safe,” stated Hartsville Taco Co. on its Facebook page.

The Mexican Grilled Cheese echoed similar thoughts, stating, “We have decided to wait a little bit longer before we re-open our dining rooms to ensure the safety of our employees and costumers.”

Dillehay’s Café said it would continue to operate out of its food trailer, which has been set up from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday along McMurry Blvd. next to Walgreens.

Pig Pen Barbeque also stated it would remain drive-thru only for a while longer.

Gov. Bill Lee emphasized the need at his Monday press briefing for businesses to take the “Tennessee Pledge” as he begins to reopen the state’s economy.

The pledge asks businesses to provide safe working conditions that protect their employees and customers. According to the state, the plan also “asks employees to commit to protecting themselves, their co-workers and the customers they serve. Finally, we encourage every Tennessee resident to be on the same team with our businesses: act responsibly by following recommended guidelines for social distancing, hygiene and wearing protective equipment when appropriate.”

Lee also announced that hospitals and physicians would be allowed to resume screenings and elective procedures this week.

On Tuesday, the state released guidance for gyms and exercise facilities, which will be allowed to reopen May 1. Among the guidelines are limiting occupancy to 50 percent and disinfecting high-touch surfaces every two hours.

Guidelines for churches were expected to be released later this week.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected] Contributing: Staff reports