York resigns, Smith re-appointed to election post
The Tennessee State Election Commission made and approved appointment by the state to the Cumberland County Election Commission for the 2011—2013 term. Democratic party representatives Bob Austin and Lisa Phillips were reappointed; and Republican party representatives Jim A. Petty, Linda Baehr-Caldwell and Tim Claflin were newly appointed.
Petty, Claflin and Baehr-Caldwell replaced Calvin Smart, Thomas Henderson and Denver Cole, who served for one term from 2009—2011.
Just prior to the first meeting of the newly appointed election commission members, Cumberland County Administrator of Elections Sharon York resigned her position with the county election commission as of 4 p.m. Thursday, April 14.
The Cumberland County Election Commission met for a special-called meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday and received York's resignation by a letter that was hand delivered by Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey. Carey delivered the letter to the election commission about five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin.
Nearly two-weeks later the election commission rehired past county election administrator Suzanne Smith to her former post. Smith had served for more than 30 years in the position.
The action came two years after Smith was unceremoniously replaced in a movement orchestrated by state Republican officials and despite the objections of all of the locally elected Republican office holders.
Supreme Court reverses Smith Mountain ruling
In December, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals and Chancellor Ronald Thurman in the case of Dave Brundage, Black Cat Lodge and several other residents of Smith Mountain versus Cumberland County and Smith Mountain Solutions, LLC.
The ruling means that the case filed against the county is back to square one and will be heard by Chancellor Thurman as it was supposed to in the beginning.
The original suit seeks a judicial review by writ of statutory certiorari by Chancellor Thurman regarding resolution 0609-12 adopted June 15, 2009 by the Cumberland County Commission and/or Cumberland County. The approved resolution allowed Smith Mountain Solutions, LLC to construct a coal ash landfill on Smith Mountain.
Thurman ruled in November 2009 in favor of a motion to dismiss the suit because those who filed the suit did not file their petitions within the allotted time period. The basis for Thurman's decision was that a verified petition was not filed by the plaintiffs within a 60-day time period as required in Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 27-9-102.
The case was appealed up to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in February of 2011. The case was heard in June of this year by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruling states, "... The fact that the residents' petition did not satisfy the formal requirements for a writ of certiorari does not necessarily mean that the petition must be dismissed. In other land use planning cases, the courts have consistently been lenient with regard to their construction of the petition ... "
Two prior cases are then given as examples and the ruling continues, stating, "the body of the petition reflects unmistakably that the residents were seeking judicial review of the Cumberland County Commission's decision under the Jackson Law to authorize Smith Mountain Solutions, LLC to construct a coal ash landfill on Smith Mountain."
A new trial date has not yet been scheduled.
Hewlett Spencer suit settled
Cumberland County commissioners approved paying a $125,000 legal settlement payment during a special-called meeting in November.
The agreement was made between the county and Hewlett Spencer for preliminary work that was done on the Cumberland County Justice Center expansion project during a mediation meeting that was held Nov. 15.
According to the settlement approved by the county commission, the county will pay Hewlett Spencer, LLC $125,000 and the civil breach of contract lawsuit that was filed against the county in 2008 will be dropped.
Cumberland County attorney Randal Boston said the case has been under negotiation for about three years.
The suit was filed by Hewlett Spencer, LLC of Nashville on Dec. 19, 2008, for breach of contract involving the expansion project of the Justice Center and Cumberland County Jail and sought a judgment against the county and payment in the amount of $304,352.09 for Steve Hewlett's time and expense spent on the project. Before filing suit, Hewlett submitted a bill to the county for the same amount shortly after commissioners decided to rebid the complete Justice Center project and accepted a bid proposal which was significantly less than Hewlett Spencer's guaranteed maximum price. The project would come at a guaranteed maximum price of $18,735,388, according to Hewlett. He submitted the guaranteed maximum price to commissioners during the September 2007 Cumberland County Commission meeting. Commissioners voted against accepting the maximum price submitted by Hewlett in September 2007 and decided to hard bid the project over again. In January 2008 commissioners decided to go ahead with the full project and accepted the lowest bid price, which was submitted by Mid-State Construction, at a rate of just over $14 million.
County completes redistricting process
With the 2010 Census complete, the Cumberland County Commission tackled the task of redistricting the county to allow for equal representation.
The county is required by law to have the redistricting boundaries done by the end of the year, and redistricting is based on Census blocks from the 2010 Census. A committee of commissioners reviewed the current civil districts and established boundaries in order to represent equal populations of the county, with the benchmark being a 10 percent deviation in population.
The 9th Civil District had the highest population deviation at 14 percent with 7,084 people, while the 6th District was the lowest at 11 percent under with 5,545 people. District boundaries were adjusted to bring the county into compliance and meet that benchmark.
The committee agreed to keep nine civil districts, though they could have voted to reduce the number to eight.
David Hassler, 3rd District commissioner, said at a meeting in September, "We had an option that looked at going down to eight districts, but it would have changed everything so much we didn't consider that ... and the committee had already voted to keep nine districts."
Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, said, "I thought the committee did a good job, but in looking at a 10-year plan, I think they could have done a better job. They could have looked at reducing it down to eight districts, less two commissioners, but didn't and I kind of feel like they took the easy way out."
The redistricting plan also applies to the Cumberland County Board of Education, which will remain at nine members.
The approved redistricting plan moves roughly 700 people from the 9th Civil District into the 6th Civil District and roughly 400 people from the 4th Civil District to the 1st Civil District. A block of 60 voters in the 7th District will also be swapped with a group of 32 voters from the 4th District in order to prevent them from having to drive miles out of the way when a precinct is located just down the street.
The redistricting plan will go into effect after the March 2012 general election and once the state redistricting plan is adopted.
Lantana Road work extended into 2012
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced in October the time frame for completing the Lantana Rd. expansion project would be extended to May 31, 2012.
The contractor on the project, Rogers Group, Inc., of Nashville, encountered significant delays due to utility relocation. Some of the plans submitted were inaccurate and had to be changed after work began on the 3.37-mile project to expand Lantana Rd. to a four-lane highway from Miller Ave. to the area of Dunbar Rd.
Must of the road improvements took place on a new alignment and earlier in the year, traffic was rerouted to the northbound lanes of the new alignment from Pigeon Ridge Rd. to Fox Fire Rd. to allow for grading work. Two lanes of traffic were also moved to the new alignment from Dorton Road to Miller Ave.
The project has an estimated budget of $21.9 million, funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Road improvements were first announced in 2003 as a top priority for the state. Work began in July 2009.
CO murder goes from a 'whodunit' to suicide
The discovery of the body of a nude Knoxville woman behind the Crab Orchard BP in October had all the makings of a "whodunit" for investigators. Some 72 hours later, hard work and a little bit of luck resulted in the arrest of a suspect. The case suddenly ended Dec. 17 when the suspect waiting for trial hanged himself in his jail cell.
Allen Stacy Rogers, 32, of Spruce Hill, NC, was arrested as he returned from an over-night truck driving job by North Carolina and Tennessee state police and Cumberland County sheriff's deputies after being indicted by a hastily called grand jury on the charge of first-degree murder.
He was accused of the brutal killing of Summer Nicole Nelms, 35, of Knoxville. An autopsy showed she died from blunt force trauma and had been stabbed and run over by a tractor trailer rig.
The resulting intensive investigation by the sheriff's department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney's Office resulted in the quick apprehension of the suspect.
As a result of his work on the case, TBI Special Agent Dan Friel of Crossville was named the TBI's Employee of the Year for the Criminal Investigation Division.
Budget proposal would eliminate Taft Youth Center
As state departments began preparing their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year, state Rep. Cameron Sexton noticed something missing. The Department of Children's Services, led by Commissioner Kathryn O'Day, proposed closing Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County as a cost-cutting measure.
Sexton said in a statement to the Chronicle, My colleagues and I are in disagreement with the commissioner on the proposed closing and believe other cost-saving measures and cuts could be implemented before taking such drastic action."
Sexton was joined by Rep. Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap), Reb. Jim Cobb, (R-Spring City), Sen. Eric Steward (D-Belvidere), and Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) in voicing opposition to the proposed closing.
Taft Youth Center serves 156 male students ages 16 through 19. These youth typically have adult sentences, serious offenses, are serving their third commitment or have exhibited severe behavior problems at one of the other regional youth development centers. There are four other centers across the state.
Sexton pointed out Taft's success rate is 84 percent, according to the Department of Children's Services budget for fiscal year 2010-'11, while others had success rates of 82.8 percent, 69.3 percent, 81.5 percent and 74.8 percent.
The facility also has an economic impact on the region, employing more than 170 people from the Cumberland Plateau and Sequatchie Valley.
Sexton asked the commissioner to provide more detailed information on the cost savings, seeking an itemized list outlining the $37 million in improvements mentioned by the department for the facility, and more detailed budget information on all youth development centers in the state.
"It is vitally important to have the most detailed and accurate information made available to the legislators before such a severe action is taken, especially in a rural community whose unemployment rate is already higher than the state's and the nation's," Sexton said.
Sexton said the department indicated it would have that information compiled prior to the legislative session set to begin in January.
At it's December meeting, the Cumberland County Commission approved a resolution urging the state not to close the facility. The resolution states, "the closing of Taft Youth Development Center would be extremely detrimental to, first and foremost, the rehabilitation of Tennessee's most severe troubled youth and the advancement of educational and developmental programs provided to those individuals in which no other resources are available in the state of Tennessee."
POA files suit against sewer district; community challenges permit
Controversy surrounding the Tansi Sewer Utility District continued this year when the Lake Tansi Propery Owners Association filed suit for nonpayment of more than $1.3 million in loans to Tansi Waste Management and community members asked the state to restrict the district's operating permit to only those customers currently being served.
In September, the Tansi POA filed suit in Cumberland County Chancery Court, seeking payment of the funds it loaned TWMI, TSUD's predecessor, for construction of a sewer system in Lake Tansi to serve POA amenities, businesses and homes. Of the more than $1.3 million loaned with "due on demand promissory notes," only $187,438.15 had been paid to the POA. Interest continues to accrue.
TWMI transferred its assets, the sewer treatment facility and collection system, to TSUD and the suit asked that action be voided and TWMI ordered to pay the outstanding balances.
In December, the TSUD board voted to begin talks with the POA to see if a settlement could be reached. See related story in this edition.
The district's NPDES permit also came up for renewal in October, and community members requested the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control hold a public hearing on the issue. The permits is required for operation of the wastewater treatment facility and authorized the district to treat up to 300,000 gallons each day with discharge into Lake Hiawatha for use as golf course irrigation.
Members of the community asked the state restrict that permit to 50,000 gallons, the current capacity of the wastewater treatment plant, and limit service to the POA amenities, RCI and the homes currently hooked up to the system.
Mary Aggers said at the hearing, "They have a permit for 300,000 gallons. Do you know how much water that is in that little lake? The next part of this 300,000 gallons of effluent per day, that permit states they can put a million gallons of water per day on your golf course. At that rate, you're going to have a paddle boat out there because you're not going to have a golf course."
Wade Murpy, permit writer with the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control, explained the permit allowed for only limited discharge into a stream that feeds Lake Mohawk and could then be discharged into an unnamed tributary of Byrd Creek, which flows into Cumberland Mountain State Park. Discharges are allowed during winter months, November through March, and in the summer in case of a significant rain event.
"It works great for the amenities because they generate the most water during the summer and it's used on the golf course," Murphy said. "But, we told them, because there was always an interest by someone at the POA to tie houses on, we said we're not going to do it as long as you're a POA."
Murphy said the current system could not serve every lot in Lake Tansi without a downstream discharge.
"Whoever operates the sewer, the mission before them in the future is to figure out how to reuse that water so that it's not going to downstream water," Murphy said. "We have to do that to uphold the state anti-degredation provisions. That is a limiting factor in itself on how much this sewer can grow."
As of Dec. 20, the state reported no decision had been made regarding the reissuance of the permit, and a final permit has not been issued to TSUD. State personnel continue to work through the numerous concerns raised during the public comment process.
Committee members resign positions
Four of five members who volunteered their service on the Health and Safety Standards Board committee resigned their positions. The members resigned after several county commissioners attended the meeting and at least three of them questioned committee members regarding operations, cases they were discussing and the procedures of the committee. They resigned after commissioners got in a heated debate over the committee.
John Kinnunen, who served as chairman of the Health and Safety Standards Board said, " ... We just decided that they were so adamant in their feelings that there was no reason for us to continue due to the lack of support from those commissioners. It was obvious they would continue criticizing whatever we do as a board in the future, so we resigned."
Other members of the committee included William Ness; Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner; Jack Jamieson; and Fred Robison.
Hyder did not resign. A few months later the county appointed new members to the committee after it approved Resolution 11-2011-9 — a resolution appointing Randy Elmore, Nancy Hyder, Darrell Comer, Brian Jones and Nick Hedgecoth to the Cumberland County Health and Safety Standards Board. It was unanimously approved.
The HSSB is authorized to deal only with vacant and dilapidated properties posing a health and/or safety hazard to the community. In order to come under the jurisdiction of the HSSB board, a home must be dilapidated, abandoned and a complaint must be filed and signed by three surrounding property owners within 150 yards of the home.
The Cumberland County Commission established the HSSB in December 2005. The new committee is scheduled to meet Jan. 10, 2012, at 3:30 p.m. in the Cumberland County Courthouse in the small meeting room.
County welcomes steel from World Trade Center
Cumberland County has approved a site to build a memorial for a donated piece of steel that came from the World Trade Center in New York. The piece arrived in Cumberland County in August, with more than 100 people gathering to witness the procession.
Vehicles from all emergency response agencies were represented in the escort, as well as the Patriot Guard Riders. Flags held by veterans and veteran agency representatives lined Livingston Rd. and were waved as the procession pulled into the Cumberland County Community Complex Aug. 16.
Cumberland County Fire Chief and EMS Director Jeff Dodson said, "All of you are here for your own reasons or one reason or another, but there is a connection — this steel belongs to America. It's great we have it here and were able to bring it home."
The seven-foot piece of steel is now rust-covered. It was steel cut away from debris at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center site in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Dodson said the piece is one of 15 that had also been used to have crosses cut out for police and fire rescue mementoes given to various rescue agencies involved in the recovery efforts after Sept. 11. TVA and other communities also received some steel and artifacts from the World Trade Center.
The Cumberland County Commission approved a site to build a memorial in October. The site will be between Fair Park Senior Center and the Cumberland County Fire Department main station on Livingston Rd., near the Community Complex. Numerous donors have come forward to donate time, work and funds for the project, including Upland Design Group, which donated their time designing the memorial for a permanent display.
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Chronicle Editor Michael R. Moser, Assistant Editor Heather Mullinix and Senior Staffwriter Gary Nelson compiled this report.