Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P Wilson, July 25, 2018:

Mayor Hired Son as a City Employee without Board Approval

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has resulted in the indictment of Smithville Mayor Jimmy Poss and his son Anthony “Tony” Poss.

Investigators found that Mayor Poss created a part time salaried position and hired his son to work for the City of Smithville for $300 a week in August 2017. Tony Poss was paid $8,100 over the next six months.

Mayor Poss failed to follow city policy and the city’s charter by not obtaining approval from the Board of Mayor and Alderman before creating the new job and hiring his son.

The mayor did not advertise the position nor seek applications for it. He also did not have his son complete a job application as required by city policy.

Furthermore, Mayor Poss violated the city’s nepotism policy by hiring and then supervising his son. The policy prohibits city leaders from hiring family members unless a “clear business reason exists.” The policy also prohibits supervising immediate family members.

Tony Poss’ job responsibilities included ensuring irrigation boxes at the city’s golf course were maintained and the city’s pool was kept at an adequate water level. Both of these tasks were already being performed by the public works department and a city contractor. Tony Poss did not maintain time and attendance records for the work he performed.

On July 23, 2018, Mayor Jimmy Poss and his son Tony Poss were each indicted by the DeKalb County Grand Jury. Mayor Poss is charged with theft over $2,500 and official misconduct. Tony Poss is charged with theft over $2,500.

[To read the investigative report, go here, or see below]

INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
City of Smithville

The Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation, investigated allegations of malfeasance related to the City of Smithville’s
employment of the mayor’s relative.

INVESTIGATIVE RESULTS

Mayor hired his son without board approval

Without the knowledge or approval of the board of aldermen, in August 2017, Mayor Jimmy Poss created a part-time salaried position and hired his son, Anthony (Tony) Poss, to fill that part-time position at a weekly salary of $300. The city paid $8,100 to the mayor’s son over the next six months.

Mayor failed to ensure compliance with city policy

City documents showed that Mayor Poss assigned the newly created position to the parks department, and neither advertised nor sought applications for the position. The mayor did not require his son to complete a standard application form for employment.

The Smithville City Code, Section 4-204, states: “All people seeking appointment or employment with the city shall complete a standard application form as provided by the municipal government. Employment applications shall be submitted to the treasurer’s office during regular office hours only.”

Mayor failed to seek required board approval

Mayor Poss failed to obtain board approval prior to creating the new job and prior to hiring his son to fill that position, as required by city policy and city charter. The mayor asserted to investigators that he was not required to bring part-time positions before the board for approval. A review of the city policy and city charter revealed that no such exception existed.

The City of Smithville Personnel Policy, Section J, states:

“Pursuant to the City charter, the Mayor has the authority to hire, promote, demote, transfer, suspend, and remove all officers and employees of the City of Smithville with proper Board of Mayor and Alderman approval.”

The Charter for the City of Smithville, Section 3.08, states:

“The Mayor, or the CityAdministrator, if established by the Board, may, with approval of a majority of the Board, make appointments, promotions, transfers, demotions, suspensions, and removal of all employees.”

Mayor violated city nepotism policy

The mayor violated the city nepotism policy by hiring and then supervising his son. Both the city administrator and the public works director were in positions that operationally should have placed them in a supervisory role over the employee in the new position.

Both individuals told investigators, however, that Mayor Poss never instructed them to supervise his son and that they did not supervise his son.

The City of Smithville Personnel Policy, Section E, states:

City of Smithville shall not show favoritism in the recruitment or employment of municipal employees nor in supervision. Immediate family members of City officials, Mayor, and Department Heads shall not be employed by the City unless a clear business reason exists and the hire is approved by the Mayor.… no member of the same immediate family may work in the same department if one of the employees is in a supervisory or management position.

Lack of justification for or accountability of the position

According to the Mayor Poss, his son’s job was to ensure that irrigation boxes at the city golf course were maintained to prevent water lines from freezing. His son was also to ensure the city’s pool was kept at an adequate water level.

The investigation revealed that both tasks described by the mayor were already being performed by the public works department and a city contractor. Also, although the mayor supervised his son’s employment with the city, he did not require his son to maintain time and attendance records for the work he performed.

The mayor advised investigators that he did not keep up with the hours his son spent each week performing the tasks. He further advised that his son was paid for the job, not a set number of hours. Tony Poss declined to meet with investigators about this matter. These issues were referred to then local district attorney general.

On July 23, 2018, the Dekalb County Grand Jury indicted Jimmy Poss on one count of Theft over $2,500 and one count of Official Misconduct, and Anthony Poss on one count of Theft over $2,500.

Press Release from the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, July 2018:

2018 STATE OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT SURVEY REVEALS AMERICANS CONSIDER FAKE NEWS MORE OBJECTIONABLE THAN HATE SPEECH

Every year the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute conducts the State of the First Amendment survey, which examines Americans’ views on freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, and samples their opinions on contemporary First Amendment issues. The survey, conducted in partnership with Fors Marsh Group, an applied research company, has been published annually since 1997, reflecting Americans’ changing attitudes toward their core freedoms.

This year’s survey revealed that Americans consider fake news more objectionable than hate speech on social media, though both are opposed by large majorities. The survey showed that 83 percent of respondents agreed that social media companies should remove false information, compared to 72 percent who agreed such companies should remove hate speech.

The good news for First Amendment advocates is that, even with those high levels of concern and desire for action, a majority of Americans do not support the government in having the power to require social media companies to remove objectionable content.

In other good news, three out of four Americans (77%) are supportive of the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees. Unfortunately, most Americans are generally unaware of what those freedoms are. More than one-third of the survey respondents (40%) could not name a single freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, and another third of the respondents (36%) were only able to name one. Only one respondent out of the 1,009 people surveyed was able to correctly name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Many more respondents (9%) thought that the First Amendment guaranteed the right to bear arms (a right that is actually guaranteed by the Second Amendment).

In the past year, President Trump has railed against many news media outlets for their critical coverage of his administration, but results show that an increasing number of Americans believe that the media should play such a role: 74 percent of Americans, compared to 68 percent last year, think that it is important for the media to serve as a watchdog on the government. A majority of Americans (70%) don’t think that the president should have the authority to deny press credentials to any news outlets he chooses. Americans also hold journalists to high ethical standards, with most (68%) agreeing that it is necessary for journalists to disclose conflicts of interest to be credible.

Issues involving the freedom of religion remain incredibly divisive. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case was limited in scope and did not settle the underlying conflict between religious beliefs and nondiscrimination laws. Survey results (gathered before the decision came out) indicated the American public is still very divided about this unresolved issue: 54.5 percent of Americans believed that the baker in the case should not be legally obligated to create a cake for a gay wedding, while 42 percent thought that the baker should be.

While last year’s survey found that 43 percent of Americans felt that colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers, the 2018 survey delved deeper into this issue, asking respondents about different scenarios where it might or might not be appropriate for a public college to retract an invitation to a controversial speaker. A majority (70%) agreed that a college should be able to retract an invitation to a speaker whose remarks would incite violence or threaten public safety (70%). There was less consensus about what to do with a speaker whose remarks would provoke large-scale protests from students. A little more than half (51%) thought that a college should be able to retract an invitation to such a speaker. Females were more likely to think so than males (57%, compared to 45%), and people who identified as black were more likely to think so than people who identified as white (66%, compared to 46%). When presented with the example of a speaker who would be likely to offend groups or individuals, 42 percent thought that a college should be able to retract their invitation — and interestingly, Southerners were more likely to think so than people from the Northeast or Western United States.

Overall, the results of the 2018 survey showed that even though most Americans can’t name all the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, they have strong opinions about the specific First Amendment issues that pop up in their lives — in the news, on campus and online.

Survey conducted and supported by Fors Marsh Group

READ THE FULL REPORT: https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018_FFI_SOFA_Report.pdf

Cool respite from stuffy summer doldrums; Backwoods-style river adventures inside McMinnville city limits

Set amidst a remarkable panorama of thickset woods, rolling pasturelands, rugged mountain slopes and soaring yonder plateau scarps, McMinnville has for two centuries served as a regional hub of commerce, culture and active leisure.

Writing for the intro to the 2009 “Images of America Series” photography book celebrating the town’s bicentennial, authors Monty Clell Wanamaker and Chris Keathley described how “the sheer exceptional beauty of the ancient and mystical mountains and forests with their spiritual attributes” mesmerized early 19th Century travelers and settlers in what is now Warren County.

So too did “the numerous rivers and streams overflowing with fresh water” that twisted down valleys and cut through the land.

“It was that beauty and grandeur of the region that enthralled the area’s first white settlers,” wrote Keathley and Wanamaker, who passed away at the age of 79 in January. “It would draw to its wilderness many anxious, industrious and learned men who had come to build their homes and lives. And so it was that McMinnville came into being.”

You could say the area has always attracted people who appreciate exploration and seek adventure.

Mickey Heath at Smooth Rapids

So in 2012 when four hometown buddies who grew up together decided to start up a kayak-rental and shuttle service to help introduce visitors and locals alike to the aesthetically fertile Barren Fork and Collins Rivers, they were actually on pretty solid ground historically.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boathouse

Early on, they really didn’t envision their enterprise evolving into a full-service launchpad and laid-back landing zone for paddle sport river recreation. It started off just a side hustle from the back of a pickup.

“We bought some boats and were renting them out of our truck — when we’d make a little money we would invest it back in the company,” said Mickey Heath, who along with Michael Lockhart and brothers Jimmy and Todd Barker founded the company that came to be Smooth Rapids.

Located just a few blocks from Main Street McMinnville and the town square on a formerly rundown piece of backstreet river-bottom residential property, today Smooth Rapids is a buzzing restaurant, campground and outdoor music venue.

These days, renting 100-150 boats makes for a pretty good weekend, Heath said, adding, “If you were to tell me that six years ago, I would have said you were crazy.”

Smooth Rapids Outfitters sits on the banks of the Barren Fork River, which gathers from a web of runoff veins in western Warren County. It flows eastward for 23 or so serpentine miles before meeting the Collins River, a tributary of the Caney Fork, just east of McMinnville. The Barren Fork’s lower eight miles shape a lovely and languid course through and then around the edge of town.

Smooth Rapids is aptly named. The lower Barren Fork’s mostly unhurried currents make for typically mellow paddling, requiring only elementary navigation maneuvers.

“This is not whitewater kayaking. It’s more lazy river floating — that’s what the rivers around here are like,” said Heath.

The beauty is hypnotic, though, somehow enhanced by the knowledge you’re floating near a population center, which is often easy to forget as scenes of secluded sylvan riverscape float placidly by.

Learning to Love to Float

Because of the Barren Fork’s gentle descent grade, beginners of all ages can get the hang of handling a kayak in short and safe order.

Smooth Rapids puts a special emphasis on hosting and organizing floats for kids. Getting youngsters out on the water, piloting their own boat, can be a highly enjoyable confidence-building experience they’ll long remember and draw on.

Heath said all the Smooth Rapids crew tend to “love pretty much everything to do with the outdoors.” So introducing kids to the river who may never have had an opportunity to paddle before is exceptionally rewarding, he said, especially if they’re from more urbanized areas or at-risk backgrounds and maybe don’t often get the opportunity to get out and genuinely encounter nature.

As for the food-serving side of the business, Heath said the river “feeds our restaurant.”

Their decision to open a restaurant was based on straightforward and consistent observations made though firsthand market analysis. “When people get off the water, they are typically hungry. When they get here, they are ready to eat,” Heath said.

The moving-waters theme is apparent on the Smooth Rapids restaurant menu, where you can dive into a fleet of appetizers and craft brews. The entrée list contains a boatload of chicken baskets and sandwiches with names like the River Monster, the Riviera, the Daytripper and the Barren Fork Burger.

Confluence of Commerce and Recreation

In addition to their aim of luring people into a lifelong paddling habit, Smooth Rapids is seeking to promote greater visitation to the region by hosting festive outdoor events like the Aug. 3-5 reggae festival and the Sept. 22 McMinnville Mountain Crawl, an annual endurance-testing “adventure race” consisting of caving, biking, and kayaking around the vicinity.

Heath said he’s big believer in the idea that the rising tide of Warren County tourism commerce will ultimately lift more than just Smooth Rapids’ boats. All McMinnville profits from raising the area’s profile for dynamic outdoor-recreation potential, so it behooves local businesses to work together to make everybody’s visit a memorable one, he said.

“We really consider ourselves partners with the other restaurants in town — we don’t look at them as competition,” he said. “We all work together, because if somebody is going to come into town, maybe like to take in a show at Cumberland Caverns, then they may go to Collins River BBQ on Friday night and then come eat with us on Saturday night and then go to another restaurant on Sunday afternoon. This is what you want, everybody working together to keep that out-of-town traffic in the community having fun and spending money.”

To get in touch with Smooth Rapids, call 931-452-9251 or visit online at smoothrapids.com.

State aiming for August demolition

The public has gotten a first glance at what the proposed new hotel at Fall Creek Falls State Park is supposed to look like when it’s completed.

Architectural renderings of the new facility were released this summer by the agency that oversees state parks management.

The new inn is intended to summon a more hospitable ambience than the old, which was built back in the early 1970s in a sullen, concrete-gray style known as “Brutalism.” Reminiscent of mid-20th Century Soviet-bloc architecture, the old hotel emitted a distinctly drab spirit. A recurring observation was that it more resembled something like a psychiatric hospital or penal institution than a congenial lakeside retreat befitting the sublime character of Tennessee’s most popular state park.

Lodged Where?

The design drawings for the new inn envisage the new structure integrated more harmoniously into the wooded, water’s edge habitat on the gently sloping banks of Fall Creek Lake.

The facades on the new 95,000-square foot inn will consist of “timber framing, stonework details and extended height windows,” which will complement “the natural setting of the park,” according to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation press release from June 21.

The finished lodge will have three floors and contain “various indoor and outdoor gathering areas including larger meeting and conference space.” The grounds will include “paths connecting the facility to existing recreational trails.”

Construction is anticipated to begin later this year and finish by the summer of 2020.

The new restaurant will serve up an expansive vista of Fall Creek Lake, and guests can dine on a scenic terrace overlooking the water if they chose. The building will also include a bar and lounge area, as well as banquet spaces to facilitate conferences and group retreats.

“The inn is designed to provide spacious views of the lake and of the park’s natural forest that will evoke long-lasting memories for visitors,” said an executive from Earl Swensson Associates, a Nashville-based firm overseeing the project.

But first there’s the matter of demolishing the old building, which although it closed for good on April 1, is still standing as of this writing.

“Right now the schedule calls for demolition to begin August 15, and to be complete by October 31,” David Roberson, spokesman for Tennessee’s Department of General Services, said in a July 10 email.

“The Fall Creek Falls project, which includes demolition of the existing inn, has been in the planning and design phase since May,” he wrote. “A contract for the project is now being finalized, and once it is signed the general contractor will hire various subcontractors, which will include a subcontractor to handle the demolition.”

“Since the contract is not complete yet, we don’t know final cost, nor the cost of the various elements of the contract, such as the demolition,” Roberson added.

Costs Climbing

The total estimated price tag of the demolition-and-rebuild project is now $29.4 million. However, that number has been trending upwards over the past couple years since the Haslam administration first announced plans to tear down and replace the old hotel.

Initial projections called for spending $20-$22 million on the project. Last year the figure was revised to $25 million. The latest, nearly $30 million price tag, was put forward by TDEC in the spring.

“The estimated overall cost of the inn project, which has been in the works for nearly three years, has varied over the course of that time based on a variety of circumstances and variables,” TDEC communications director Eric Ward wrote in an email to Center Hill Sun.

The Haslam administration’s initial proposal was to outsource the new facility’s operations to an outside concessionaire, an idea that drew vocal opposition both locally and in the Tennessee Legislature. But the idea only fell fully flat when in 2017 not a single company offered a bid on running the new hotel and conference center.

Gone for now are both the outsourcing proposal and any expectation that the state will get help footing front-end design and development costs on the new facility.

Ward said “the project was originally part of a potential concessionaire agreement, where a private concessionaire would have theoretically shouldered some of the cost, thereby reducing the cost to the taxpayer.”

“Other factors that have influenced the estimated cost over time include inflation and the cost of demolition and construction materials,” the TDEC spokesman added.

Local Economic Benefits Anticipated

The state has forecast the new inn, restaurant and conference center will generate $278,000 annually in local taxes, which is $90,000 a year more than the old facility.

“In the short term, construction activity will bring an estimated $14.7 million in construction-related taxable spending to the area along with more than 100 construction jobs,” according to TDEC’s June 21 news release.

The 26,000-acre Fall Creek Falls park straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe Counties, both of which are considered economically “distressed” by state and federal agencies.

TDEC officials say the old hotel was running occupancy rates below 40 percent. The average hotel occupancy-rate nationally was 65.9 percent in 2017, according to industry estimates used by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. In the Southeastern United States, the 2016 average was 61.4 percent and in Tennessee it was 64.5 percent.