People serving on utility boards in Morgan and Roane counties could be getting a raise thanks to state Rep. Ed Butler. The Rickman Republican is the sponsor of House Bill 280, which increases the compensation for commissioners serving on the following utility district boards: Cumberland Utility District (CUD), Plateau Utility District (PUD), Roane Central Utility District (RCUD) and Watts Bar Utility District (WBUD).
“It was a constituent request,” Butler said, when asked what prompted him to file the bill.
Cumberland Utility District, Roane Central Utility District and Watts Bar Utility District are all located in Roane County. Plateau Utility District is located in Morgan County.
“The CUD, PUD, and WBUD compensate commissioners $300 per meeting,” the fiscal note on the bill states. “The proposed legislation will result in a maximum increase in per diem payments of $200 ($500 new maximum — $300 current rate) per meeting, per commissioner. RCUD’s per diem rate is $250 per meeting. The proposed legislation will result in a maximum increase in per diem payments of $250 ($500 new maximum — $250 current rate) per meeting, per commissioner.”
Butler represents House District 41, which includes Morgan, Overton and parts of Roane, Anderson and Fentress counties. He claimed the seat by defeating Independent John Mark Windle in the November election.
Butler said he’s enjoying his time in the Tennessee General Assembly so far.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to help folks that call,” he said. “I get a call or two or three everyday with somebody needing help with something. Some of them are fairly easy to resolve and some of them are very difficult.”
House Bill 280 is still working its way through the legislature. It’s one of 15 bills Butler is sponsoring in the General Assembly. His House Bill 167 would prohibit the sale or distribution of tattoo and body piercing paraphernalia to minors.
“There’s a law in place that says they can’t possess it, but they can actually purchase it,” Butler said. “If we have a law that says they can’t have it, but they can still purchase it, we need to fix the gap. That bill just kind of cleans things up.”
House Bill 165 deals with service animals.
“As introduced, authorizes an employee of a public accommodation to ask for certain information about a dog guide in training,” a summary of the bill states. “Specifies that an individual utilizing a service animal or training a service animal in training is liable for damages to the same extent that an individual whose pet causes damages to a public accommodation is; makes other related changes to service animals and service animals in training.”
Butler said he believes some people are abusing the current system when it comes to service animals.
“That bill is just to try to help the folks that have service animals because unfortunately, when people abuse those kinds of things, it hurts the people that it’s supposed to help,” he said. “That also kind of gives the businesses some protection. If someone has an animal that they’re claiming is a service animal and it does damage, then they can be held accountable.”
Butler also discussed his House Bill 166, which deals with sick leave for state employees who are members of the reserves.
“I had a constituent that fell under this,” he said. “There’s a gap in the statutes requiring the state to pay state employees that are serving in the National Guard or armed forces. This bill would allow them to collect their sick time and leave while they’re serving our country.”
The number to Butler’s Nashville office is 615-741-1260.
DEER LODGE — An organization that has helped the elderly, needy, handicapped and unemployed in Morgan and Scott counties for more than half a century is continuing to support those in need in the community.
Morgan Scott Project For Cooperative Christian Concerns is more than just a thrift store in Deer Lodge. They also help with food assistance, utility bills, education and home repairs.
They host workgroups from across the country to work on repair projects. The first such group, 15 people from Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, is set to come soon.
“Until Covid hit we were hosting 20 to 24 groups a year, and after Covid, in 2020 and 2021, I only had about three to five groups, but last year we were back up to 12,” said Crystal Tompkins, Morgan Scott Project executive director. “We’re slowly picking back up. That was really my only program that took a hit with Covid, and our donations took a hit.”
The workgroups work with Morgan Scott Project mainly on construction of wheelchair ramps at people’s houses. They have built between 20-30 ramps annually, and some years more.
The faith-based non-profit is supported by individuals and churches from a wide variety of denominations, but their main supporters are the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church. They are also make money through the thrift store, 1022 Old Deer Lodge Pike, in Deer Lodge. The store is open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“Some people just come here because it’s a thrift store and they love to go to thrifting, but some people cannot afford to go to JC Penney or Walmart to buy clothes, but they’re a quarter a piece here. We just try to be here for them, and since Covid hit, our thrift store has really increased,” Tompkins said.
Morgan Scott Project runs about 10 different programs. Their food assistance program includes Friday “Bread Day” and a monthly take-home box.
“We’ve been blessed. We’ve been getting more food than ever,” Tompkins said. “We have a monthly food box that our clients can get, and that is non-perishable food we purchase from Second Harvest, or local churches or organizations donate to that program.”
The organization was started 51 years ago by two ministers who saw a need in both counties. It has grown to support people in need in many ways, including $500 scholarships given out to every high school in both counties every year.
Their vision is helping people help themselves.
“Our poverty level is pretty high in both counties. In both counties, our demographics are about the same. Morgan County often goes on and off the distressed list, and currently this year we are probably going to be off the distressed list because our unemployment rate has dropped,” Tompkins said.
“Matthew 25:40 calls us to help others. When we help the least of thee, we also help thee. We go off that Bible verse a lot, we have it in our office. I think often people just need a helping hand. We all sometimes need a little bit of help in our lives, and it’s our goal to just be here and be Christ-like, and if they need a helping hand, to help them when we can ... My hope is that if I help you a little bit, you’re learning to give back, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give back to the Morgan Scott Project.”
More information can be found at morganscottproject.org.
CASA of the Tennessee Valley is looking for more volunteers in Morgan County to be advocates for abused or neglected children as they go through the court system.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of the Tennessee Valley works in Morgan, Roane and Loudon counties, but volunteers only work in one county.
The non-profit is a group of citizen volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children that have already been removed from their homes or are in danger of being removed from their homes.
“Our goal is kind of two-fold. We advocate for the child and make sure they have what they need, and then we also provide information to the judge so he can make the best decisions for that child,” said Kathy Dixon, Morgan County program coordinator.
All the cases are assigned by the juvenile court judge, and once the organization is assigned a case the volunteer’s role is to get to know the child so they can be a trusted adult in a child’s life during a difficult time. They get to know the child by speaking and spending time with the child and talking with others in the child’s life like parents, teachers, coaches, other relatives, or anybody that can give information about the child’s situation.
The volunteer then gives a written report to the judge and others involved in the case to advocate for what the child needs or what else may be needed in the home for the parents to be reunited with the children. Recommendations could include counseling, school help or medical attention for the child, or help with substance abuse or mental health assessments for parents.
A CASA volunteer could work with a family for a few months or even a couple of years depending on the situation and the duration of the court case.
“After that the legal relationship stops, but many of our volunteers continue to have relationships with these families and with these children for years to come. A volunteer only has one or two cases at a time, so they really get to know the child and what that child needs,” Dixon said. “We also work with DCS (Department of Children’s Services) who does the same thing, but a DCS worker might have 20 or 25 cases where the CASA worker only has one. We also work with attorneys, and again those attorneys have many cases and the CASA volunteer only has one.”
The need is great in Morgan County and every county, and Dixon said the judges trust CASA and they know the volunteers and amount of training involved. A potential volunteer has to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check. Training is 30 hours split into three hours a week for 10 weeks, with the first five weeks in-person and the second five weeks online.
When the volunteer is finished with the detailed and thorough training they know all about the court processes and how to interview and take notes. They also learn about child development, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health and other issues facing families.
“Right now in Morgan County we only have two volunteers, so we may be able to help 10 or 15 children in a year as opposed to if we had more volunteers we could certainly help a lot more children. Obviously our goal is to help every child that’s in the system, but depending on how many volunteers, that’s probably not ever going to be possible,” Dixon said.
“The child gets lost in the system during these cases because there’s so much emotion involved between the parents and the custodians; a lot of emotion and a lot of upheaval, and the child’s needs and wants often gets lost in the system.”
Among the recommendations, volunteers are trained to always tell the judge what the child wants, whether they agree or not.
More information and a non-binding application can be found at casatnvalley.org, or those interested in volunteering can call Dixon at 865-730-0303.
Volunteering with CASA takes up about 10 to 15 hours a month of a person’s time.
“It’s not very time consuming, but it’s one volunteer opportunity where you can really see the difference in every child that we work with,” Dixon said. “They are in a better place when the case is closed than when it was opened, so it’s enormously rewarding. It can be emotionally hard, but it is very rewarding.”
Joe Caldwell was the 2022 Frank A. Harvey Prosecutor of the Year award winner for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney General’s Office.
“Joe is exceptionally consistent,’ Senior Assistant District Attorney General Bob Edwards said.
Morgan, Roane, Loudon and Meigs are the counties in the Ninth Judicial District.
Caldwell is a Tennessee native and 2013 graduate of the John Duncan School of Law. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2000.
Caldwell prosecutes DUIs and other traffic related crimes for the District Attorney General’s Office.
“Everybody on all sides respects Joe,” Edwards said. “The state troopers in particular like him because of the way he handles his cases.”
Harvey was a long-time prosecutor with the District Attorney General’s Office. Caldwell also won the award in 2017.