Manufacturing, trials, local elections are worth watching

By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published Jan. 6, 2016

Dickson County and local communities will see structures and developments materialize, massive manufacturing begin and the state’s recognition of a local radio personality; vote for new leadership, and learn the fates of two suspects accused of murder during the next 12 months.

The following are projects and/or stories the Herald’s editorial staff compiled as anticipated newsmakers in 2016.

Dal-Tile full-scale production

Workers at the new Dal-Tile plant in the Dickson County Industrial Park are expected to start full-scale production of tile early this year.

The 1.8-million-square-foot Dal-Tile facility rose from the ground in 2015. The Herald reported in July last year that full-scale tile production was scheduled to begin this month.

Murder trials

The trials for Thomas Lee “Tommy” Wortham and Mendy Powell Neal are scheduled to begin next month.

Wortham, 46, of Bon Aqua, pleaded not guilty in November to the 1998 murder of Eric Baxter. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Wortham in October.

Baxter, age 32 at the time of his death, was discovered dead with multiple gunshot wounds in his Jones Creek home.

A Dickson County Grand Jury indicted Wortham in October with charges of first-degree murder and two counts of felony murder.

In 2013, investigators with the reality TNT crime show “Cold Justice” worked with sheriff’s office Detective John Patterson, TBI Special Agent Joe Craig and the District Attorney’s Office for a grand jury indictment with Wortham as the suspect.

The “Cold Justice” episode ended with the explanation that the grand jury decided to take no action on the presentment against Wortham, “feeling further investigation is still necessary.”

Baxter – the general manager of his mother’s convenience store corporation – was gunned down at 1839 Jones Creek Road, near Montgomery Bell State Park, where he lived with his mother, the late Joy Marsh.

Marsh leased a convenience store to Wortham.

A grand jury indicted Neal, 35, of Dickson, in December 2014 with charges of aggravated arson, first-degree murder and felony murder for the 2012 death of her husband Matt Neal.

Matt Neal, age 50 at the time, died in a July 11, 2012 house fire at the Neal’s Charlotte residence at 1015 Loggins Road. The Neal’s “elementary school age” children were not home at the time of the early morning fire.

The sheriff’s office announced the day after that no foul play was involved in Neal’s death.

Mendy Neal’s attorney said the fire was accidental and no foul play was involved.

Before the murder indictment however, Mendy Neal and a former health care employee were indicted in August 2013 with several counts of prescription drug fraud, following a Dickson police investigation.

Neal’s trial for prescription drug fraud was scheduled to begin in August 2014, but District Attorney General Ray Crouch asked for a continuance pending the outcome of the arson and homicide investigation.

According to an initial release by the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office, Mendy Neal reportedly was asleep upstairs in her family’s two-story Charlotte home when she awoke to smoke early morning Wednesday, July 11, 2012.

She descended to the first floor and saw the back side of the house on fire, DCSO reported, and tried to wake her husband, who was sleeping in the living room. Then she ran out the front door and dialed 911 at 2:18 a.m.

Firefighters arrived two minutes later. A sheriff’s deputy was less than a minute’s drive from the scene and was the first to respond. The deputy attempted to enter the home, but it was fully engulfed by flames.

Luther Lake waterfowl

The Dickson City Council recently contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove all of Luther Lake’s Canada geese and feral waterfowl, along with the domestic ducks and geese, this spring.

The waterfowl removal is averred as necessary by lake residents and several petitioners who addressed the City Council in September last year; but decried as animal cruelty by several thousand online commenters and petitioners.

The City Council authorized the mayor in November to enter a cooperative service agreement with the USDA for waterfowl remove at some point between May and July 2016, during the molting season.

USDA will euthanize the birds after removal, including the domestics.

Mayor Don Weiss Jr. and City Administrator Rydell Wesson have said they and the City Council are open to alternative options for regulating the goose overpopulation.

Hall of Fame induction

The late Warren Medley will be inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in May.

During his 58-year career, Medley was consistently the iconic face and name of hometown broadcasting in Dickson County.

WDKN owner Bill Potts asked Medley to host a Saturday morning program called “Saturday Sidelights” and over the years his part-time role at the station grew to include broadcasting local high school sports, events and breaking news stories. Other programs he hosted included “The Old Timers Program,” “Friendly Neighbor Time” and “Know Your County.”

He continued to host Saturday morning programs until his retirement in January 2014.

Election Day 2016

In addition to November’s presidential race, Dickson County voters will elect new local leaders.

Municipal elections are scheduled Nov. 8 for Burns, Slayden, Vanleer and White Bluff. Local voters will elect representatives to the state House District 69 and 78 seats too.

Dickson developments

The city of Dickson will see several developments in 2016, including a new mass transit Park & Ride facility, Phase III of the Downtown Dickson Revitalization project, and a Tennsco Drive turn lane.

The City Council gave Weiss the OK in December to buy the property for the future Park & Ride site off Highway 46 near I-40.

The Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee began a Dickson-Nashville daily commuter bus route in January last year, picking up and depositing passengers at a temporary site in the Walmart parking lot on Beasley Drive.

The new Park & Ride facility will become the RTA terminal’s permanent hub.

TDOT awarded the city and county an approximately $294,000 Multimodal Access Grant for the Park & Ride facility, requiring a 5-percent matching contribution from the city and county.

The city will use those funds to purchase the 0.85-acre site at 110 Livestock Road, and share the cost of development with the county.

Wesson reported in November an engineering estimate (for grading, asphalt, etc.) of approximately $108,000 to construct the facility with approximately 90 parking spaces.

Wesson told The Herald city planners would “like to see some type of pavilion” erected on the site in a future construction phase.

As of the council’s December meeting, the city awaited the go-ahead from TDOT to purchase the property, and a contract with the county for shared expenses and responsibility of the site.

Wesson expected the development to take between 90-120 pending good weather.

As part of the state’s Traffic System Management project, Livestock Road will be realigned with Alexander Drive to create a “signalized” intersection.

A TDOT safety grant will improve the railroad crossing there too, with new crossing lights and arms to be installed.

City of Dickson staff began advertising last month for Phase III construction bids for the downtown revitalization project.

The bids are due at City Hall in two weeks. The city will have 60 days to start construction once the bids are opened.

Phase III targets West College Street from the intersection of Main Street to the intersection at Mulberry Street; and continues with the Phase I enhancements on Main Street from Murrell Street to Rickert Avenue.

The downtown project focuses on sidewalk and streetscape renovations and enhancements.

The city received an approximately $595,000 grant for Phase III.

A new turning lane from Tennsco Drive onto Highway 47 is expected to alleviate traffic congestion from workers and ball players.

The City Council approved the turn lane project in September, but construction has yet to start.

Public Works Director Jeff Lewis expected the construction timeline to last “a couple weeks” pending good weather. Lewis estimated the cost to total around $8,000, with construction handled by city staff.

White Bluff developments

White Bluff residents should see an amphitheater take shape next to the Bibb Civic Center in mid-to-late 2016.

The town solicited bids for the amphitheater project by mid-November, but the five bids received exceeded the town’s construction budget.

White Bluff received a $250,000 grant in August 2014 from the state Department of Environment and Conservation to build the ADA-compliant amphitheater and walking trail at the Bibb center.

The grant requires a 50/50 matching contribution from the town. White Bluff officials will use the center’s land value for the town’s contribution.

Public Works Director Jeff Martin pledged to work with the project architect – C&I Design Inc. – and the grant administration firm to reduce the “scale” of the project and resubmit it for bidding, in hopes of lowering the construction cost.

Martin expected to rebid the project in the spring or early summer, with construction starting in the summer.

The project completion deadline is March 2017.

White Bluff also is in the running for a 2015 Multimodal Access Grant to install sidewalks from the highways 47-70 intersection down Highway 47 and up Old Charlotte Road to the Bibb center.

White Bluff’s sidewalks project was one of two regional proposals passed on to TDOT in December for final consideration.

The grant would require a 5-percent matching contribution from the town. The project’s estimated cost is $795,500, so the town’s contribution would be $39,800