A1 A1
Lebanon looks to limit liquor stores

Concerns about an overabundance of liquor stores in Lebanon permeated discourse at a Lebanon City Council work session Thursday at City Hall.

Ward 3 Councilor Camille Burdine said she’d heard from many of her constituents who expressed concern that the number of liquor stores in Lebanon was getting out of hand.

“Our citizens care about how many liquor stores we have now,” Burdine said. “If improving the quality of life in Lebanon is our ultimate goal, then we need to establish some standards.”

By City Attorney Andy Wright’s count, there are currently 17 liquor stores in the city. Mt. Juliet has three. Mt. Juliet’s low number is because the city limits the number of liquor stores based on population. It permits one for every 10,000 residents. No such provision exists in Lebanon.

Thanks to the work session, there may be a resolution to enact such limitations on further liquor store applications at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Burdine wasn’t the only councilor concerned about all the package stores. Ward 6 Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman also issued a statement suggesting enough is enough.

“If we have enough to meet demand, why add more,” she said.

Just how best to implement a policy that would prevent new stores from applying and opening is still up in the air. Councilors at the work session, which also included Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton and Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell, agreed they would like to see something on the agenda by next week. Wright said that if the council waited another month, then another applicant could very well submit paperwork for a new store.

One question is should Lebanon establish a population-based system like Mt. Juliet’s or if it should just establish a cap. The councilors at the work session appeared to be leaning toward establishing a cap and not letting any more into the city.

By Tennessee law, liquor stores have to renew their compliance permits every two years. For those stores already in the city, they would be effectively grandfathered in.

Another Tennessee law, recently passed, according to Wright, is that while limiting the number is permissible, restricting “reasonable access to liquor” in the state is not.

Burdine said that if nothing else, establishing a 1,000-feet minimum between stores would be something she is interested in exploring if legally possible.

The next City Council meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday at the city’s administrative building.

Celebrating like old times

For the first time since the pandemic, the Lebanon Senior Center was able to resume a monthly tradition — the collective birthday celebration with all the fixings and music to boot.

Prior to the lockdowns and restrictions of social gatherings, the senior center would recognize members each month who were having a birthday by throwing a party at its campus on Coles Ferry Pike. Lebanon Senior Center Executive Director Patti Watts said Wednesday event drew “the largest crowd since we reopened on April 1.”

Watts said members were ecstatic to be celebrating again and that membership numbers were returning to normal.

“We see someone new almost every day,” she said. “We’ve probably had five new faces today.”

What would a party be without a crowd and some good tunes? The center set up a dance floor and had two DJs providing music, so that after lunch, members could get up and boogie, with some line dancing, and a little slow dancing at times, too.

The DJs were Cheryl Bean and Joe Carter.

Watts estimated that there were about 12 July birthdays in the building, explaining it wasn’t exclusively reserved for people with birthdays this month. “You gotta have friends with you to celebrate,” she said.

One of the birthday girls, Suesann Neal, won’t actually have a birthday until July 29, when the Lebanon resident will turn 70. She said felt “thankful and blessed,” to be able to celebrate with her friends after missing out on a real birthday celebration last year.

Meanwhile, Jim Markham, of Mt. Juliet, turned 90 on July 2. Markham said, “It’s refreshing to be around friends, you better believe it.”

Markham said that last year, his children came by his house and dropped off gifts, commemorating the day in a safe manner given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, but he was happy to be back at the senior center. “This is just a wonderful place to come together.”

For the party, after the main course lunch was served, a special birthday cake and ice cream combination, donated by First Freedom Bank in Lebanon, was doled out. Watts said it really helped make it feel like a party.

First Freedom has sponsored the center’s birthday celebrations since 2006 when the bank opened. Senior Vice President Maliea Oakley said, “We felt it was a well deserved center and loved how it supported the seniors in our community, so we felt like it was a great thing for us to get involved in.”

Oakley commended the staff at the center, calling them a “pleasure to work with,” but said the real gift was knowing the members were enjoying the cake and ice cream treat.

During the pandemic, First Freedom Bank didn’t stop the program. “We would take the cake and put it in their to-go lunches, so we were really excited to hear the center would be back up and going.”

Fired vaccine leader rebuts claims point-by-point

NASHVILLE — Days after she was fired under pressure from Republican legislators, Tennessee’s former vaccinations director has issued a point-by-point rebuttal to a letter recommending her removal and to other claims by state officials about the program she ran that offers shots for children.

The July 9 letter from the state’s chief medical officer said Michelle Fiscus should be removed due to complaints about her leadership approach and her handling of a letter explaining vaccination rights of minors for COVID-19 shots, an effort that had GOP lawmakers fuming.

Fiscus has accused Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey of terminating her “to appease a handful of outraged and uninformed legislators.”

In her rebuttal, Fiscus described Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones as a “trusted friend and colleague,” who had warned her in late June that her employment was threatened. She said Jones and her supervisor, state epidemiologist John Dunn, voiced continued support for her despite the political pressure.

One complaint in the letter says Fiscus requested Health Department money for a new nonprofit she had founded, a “substantial conflict of interest.”

Fiscus counters that her job plan included creating an Immunize Tennessee coalition, which Jones praised in a document Fiscus provided, saying “Shelley has taken the initiative to start a statewide coalition which has been very successful.”

About the group, Fiscus said, “I convened stakeholders who went on to incorporate as a 501©3 non-profit organization. I am not on the board of directors, I am not on the payroll, and I serve in only an ex-officio advisory capacity to the board. ... There is no conflict of interest as I do not benefit materially from the coalition.”

Jones’ letter also accuses Fiscus of disseminating “her own interpretation” of Tennessee’s Mature Minor Doctrine, which traces back to a 1987 state Supreme Court case and allows children 14 and up to be vaccinated without a parent’s consent. During a June legislative hearing, Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky called the agency’s advocacy on teen vaccination, including online posts, “reprehensible.”

Fiscus counters that the letter she sent providers about vaccinating minors was verbatim from documents provided by the department’s chief legal counsel, Grant Mullins, “with the exception of the introductory paragraph and the final line.” Fiscus shared an email from Mullins that states, “Attached is the new summary of the doctrine that has just recently been posted to the website and is blessed by the Governor’s office on the subject. This is forward facing so feel free to distribute to anyone.”

In response to the “blessing” claim, Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s spokesperson Casey Black said, “No one speaks for the Governor but this office.”

In May, the health commissioner herself explained Fiscus’ memo on the Mature Minor Doctrine in a letter responding to a lawmaker, which was obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed Friday by Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley.

“We hope the memo informs the state’s vaccinating partners of the current state of law in Tennessee so they may each make the best decisions for their patients,” Piercey wrote to GOP Rep. Robin Smith, adding that many providers still choose to get parental consent first.

As for the letter’s complaints about her leadership style and conflicts with staff, Fiscus said, “This has been a pandemic of historic proportions and a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out that required that I, as well as members of my team, work extraordinary hours for months on end. It was stressful and, at times, there were disagreements.”

But Fiscus noted consistent praise for her job performance, including years of performance reviews deeming her work “outstanding,” most recently for October 2019 through September 2020.

She also included a recent text message she said was from the same departmental physician with whom the termination recommendation says she had a disagreement.

“What you may not know from our interactions is that I truly believe you are the greatest treasure TDH had. This is complete and utter (expletive) and I am incredibly proud of you, the work you’ve done, and your response to this situation. Stay strong and keep up the good fight!” reads the text, which Fiscus said she shared with permission.

Fiscus also responded to the governor’s office regarding her claims that the Health Department stopped outreach for vaccinating minors for all diseases, not just COVID-19, which she has backed up through departmental email records. At question is a statement from Lee’s spokesperson: “Despite misleading reporting, the Department of Health has not halted the Vaccines for Children Program that provides information and vaccine access to Tennessee parents.”

But Fiscus notes that she never said the children’s vaccines program had been halted. What has been stopped, she said, are “partnerships between local health departments and outside agencies, such as schools, to provide vaccines outside of a local health department” and “any attempts to communicate to parents that their children are in need of critical routine immunizations during this back-to-school season.”

That’s a significant change from standard department operations that “will result in decreased vaccination coverage rates, especially among poor and minority populations,” she said.

“The information I have shared is not ‘misleading,’ it is the response from the Governor’s office that both dodges the questions posed and twists the narrative away from the subject at hand,” Fiscus wrote.

On Thursday, the department pointed parents seeking information on childhood vaccines to state websites.

Lee’s office and the Health Department have declined to comment directly on Fiscus’ firing. The Health Department has provided her personnel file to media through public records requests.

Plans for new car dealership move forward

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission passed the site plan for Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet on the Board of Commissioners with a positive recommendation during its meeting Thursday.

The commission’s recommendation comes three weeks after Andrews Transportation Group introduced its plans to break ground for a new dealership. It will be located on five acres at 535 Pleasant Grove Road in the Paddocks. The 20,000-square-foot building is planned to open in the fall of 2022 with over 35 employees. The company also owns Andrews Cadillac in Brentwood.

Planning Director Jennifer Hamblen said that Civil Site Design Group, a civil engineering company and Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet’s developer, has worked closely with city staff to come up with a plan that meets the city’s design standards.

Both city staff and CSDG made a compromise on including metal façade panels to the new dealership’s design to meet commercial design standards. The two parties also compromised on omitting a portion of required buffer along adjacent RS-40 zoned property.

CSDG also recommended that the city add a left-turn lane onto a private-shared access drive between the Rockie Williams Dodge dealership and Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet. However, the commission denied the request due to Pleasant Grove Road’s minimal traffic.

Planning Commission member and District 3 Commissioner Scott Hefner said that the dealership’s main entrance already connects from the street’s left-turn lane. Commission Chairman Luke Winchester said that if Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet wants to use an access point from Pleasant Grove Road, they would have to include a fence.

CSDG also suggested on correcting some existing stormwater structure on Andrews’ property, which was also rejected by the Planning Commission, though the commission would accept the developer’s request for Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet to cross-connect with BioLife Plasma Services, a blood donation center, with a stub driveway.

Civil Site Design Group’s Joe Haddix pointed out that while BioLife has three access points to Pleasant Grove Road, the dealership will have just two. Haddix also said the developer will comply to the American Disabilities Act by replacing some of the sidewalks across the frontage of the dealership.

Commission member Darrin Cunningham was concerned whether and how Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet would use loudspeakers, given its proximity to the Pleasant Grove Estates subdivision.

Andrews Transportation Group President and CEO Nelson Andrews said the Mt. Juliet dealership will not use loudspeakers, but rather text messaging to provide services to its customers.

Andrews Cadillac Mt. Juliet will include a showroom, a service and parts department, and a car wash.

In other business, the commission approved final plat reviews for both the Cassa 2791 subdivision at South Mt. Juliet Road and the Nichols Vale subdivision at Tennypark Lane.

Cassa 2791’s first phase includes 31 single-family houses on 13 acres whereas Nichols Vale’s eighth phase includes three lots at two acres.