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2012 The year in Warren County news

1. Rutherford raise, controversy top local story of year

McMinnville officials renewed the contract of city administrator David Rutherford this year. The action caused an outcry in the community and launched the decision into the No.1 spot on the Top Stories of 2012.
On Sept. 25, officials met in committee to discuss Rutherford’s contract. Several changes were made, including an increase of $17,000 in salary and an increase in his severance package — salary, life insurance, retirement benefits and health insurance — from 12 months to 14 months if he is terminated without cause.
The committee also changed the number of votes require by the board to terminate Rutherford’s contract from four votes to five, making the change from a majority vote to a super majority. And, added the stipulation that if he is terminated before his annual evaluation in October 2013, his severance package would increase by six months, giving him 20 months or severance.
The measure was sent to the full board that same evening, added to the agenda, and was unanimously passed by former board members mayor Dr. Norman Rone, vice mayor Everett Brock, Alderman Clair Cochran and current board members Mayor Jimmy Haley and Alderman Billy Wood.
Along with a strong reaction from the community, a complaint was lodged with Justin P. Wilson, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, about a possible violation of the state’s open meetings act. The department urged the city to confer with its attorney about the possibility of a violation.
When asked by officials if their procedure had violated the open meetings act, city attorney Tim Pirtle stated, “that is an opinion for a court.”
In order for a court to decide, a city resident has to sue the city. Pirtle says even that may not undo what was done.
“I have not read a legal opinion or a court decision where an action of a government entity was voided on facts similar to these,” he said.

2. UCDD scandal reaches home

Few government scandals have been as large and as blatant as the one which rocked the Upper Cumberland Development District in February.
UCDD is a government agency which serves a 14-county area, including Warren County, and distributed over $60 million in funding in 2011.
The corruption was revealed thanks to a News Channel 5 investigation. The government officials who were assigned to oversee the organization’s spending were asleep at the wheel and allowed UCDD executive director Wendy Askins the freedom to spend as she desired.
Warren County Executive John Pelham served as vice chairman of the UCDD Executive Committee at the time the corruption was uncovered.
There were a mountain of allegations against Askins which ultimately led to her resignation on March 20. In her resignation letter, Askins admitted “she made some mistakes.”
Askin was accused of altering official minutes to UCDD meetings, making checks to herself or to cash, and living in a mansion that was supposed to be a retirement center.
At the time her ring of corruption was revealed, she had four of her family members working for UCDD, including both of her parents. All four family members had government cars and gas cards. All four also had cellphones paid for by the government.
Adding fuel to an already flaming fire was the announcement UCDD members who allowed the corruption to take place would be on a committee assigned to investigate the wrongdoing. This included chairman Mike Foster and vice chairman Pelham.

3. Pot found growing at animal control

Warren County Animal Control ended the year the way it began – in search of good workers.
Animal Control director David Hennessee was fired Jan. 13 for allegedly violating policy for spraying a dog with a water hose during the winter.
Part-time worker Tammy Webb was named director and was subsequently fired Aug. 6 after marijuana was found growing on Animal Control property. Webb’s son, Jonathan Ewell Smith, had been arrested July 9 in the marijuana field while tending to 12 mature marijuana plants, police say.
Incriminating text messages sent from Webb’s phone to Smith’s phone, along with the fact Webb had purchased the hoses used to water the plants and the potting soil used to fertilize the plants, all led to her being charged too.
“The text message said, ‘Get out of the patch. The police are everywhere.’ That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for misinterpretation,” said County Executive John Pelham.
Both Webb and her son have denied knowing the plants were growing on county property.
Part-time worker Kim Petrey was named Animal Control director Nov. 14 and Frank Locke, who interviewed for a part-time position, was hired as a full-time worker the same day after impressing members of the county’s Health and Welfare Committee with his previous experience as director of Animal control in Denton, Texas.
However, Locke resigned from the position Dec. 8 after only three weeks on the job. That has again left a vacancy at Warren County Animal Control for the third time in 11 months.

4. Voters approve funding for Park Theatre, work begins

McMinnville voters approved a measure that will restore the historic Park Theatre at a cost of up to $2 million this year. Visual signs of restoration began on Dec. 19 when city crews removed items covering the original facade.
The work was done to allow the city’s architect to judge the extent of damage done to the building in an effort to determine how much is needed to be done to restore it.
“I thought we might find deteriorating mortar or worse,” said architect Peter Mets. “I was pleasantly surprised at the condition of the building. It was in really good shape.”
What residents voted to restore was a theatre built by Cowan Oldham and opened on Oct. 18, 1939. At a price tag of $50,000, he constructed what was considered to be the most modern building and movie theater of its time with seating for 1,000 people.
Park Theatre has been in the city’s hands since 2001. The property was leased to the Park Theatre Group for more than a decade. The group tried to generate funds necessary for renovation, but was unsuccessful.
An estimate to restore the building into a multi-function facility was set at $2 million. In comparison to Oldham’s $50,000, which in today’s money totals $819,672, officials will be investing more than twice his initial expense.
Officials estimate renovation will take one year, which does not include generating the architectural plans, waiting for fire marshal approval, bidding and awarding the project, and securing funding. Given the timeline, the doors of Park Theatre may open in 2014 — 75 years after the first grand opening in 1939.

5. Haley unseats Rone as McMinnville mayor

It was a strange 2012 for McMinnville officials. By the end of the year, faces on the board would change dramatically with the resignation of one, two changing positions, three newcomers voted in and one board appointment.
The conversion began in July when Junior Medley announced that he would be moving to Viola in August. He resigned giving enough time for the remaining two years of his four-year term to be placed on the November ballot. He would be the first alderman to resign from the board in more than 24 years. 
Already on the ballot for the upcoming year were the positions of McMinnville mayor, held by Dr. Norman Rone, and three aldermen, held by Everett Brock, Rick Barnes and Clair Cochran.
Barnes and Cochran proclaimed early that they would not run for re-election. However, with the departure of Medley, Barnes announced he would run for the two years remaining in Medley’s term. He was successful in his change of spots.
Also desiring to change his current position on the board was Alderman Jimmy Haley who announced he would run for mayor. He was also successful in making the switch when he defeated Rone by carrying a majority of the city’s ballot with 54 percent of the vote.
With Cochran choosing not to run, Barnes trading places, and incumbent Everett Brock losing his bid for re-election, three new aldermen, Ben Newman, Jimmy Bonner and Mike Neal, took their seats on the board.
The new board was sworn into office on Nov. 20, leaving two years on Haley’s four-year aldermanic term. Board members unanimously elected newcomer Ken Smith to fill the position.
Only one board member was unaffected in the 2012 balloting, that was Alderman Billy Wood, whose term does not expire until 2014.

6. Ross resigns, Locke fills judge position

Heeding the call of the beach over the call of the bench, Judge Larry Ross retired in January after 13 years as General Sessions Judge.
The announcement came as Ross was vacationing at his beach house in the Dominican Republic prompting rumors the veteran judge had gotten in trouble with the law himself. The allegations were soon proven wrong as Ross returned to town to revealed he felt it was time to retire from the bench after his long career as both general sessions and juvenile judge.
The surprise retirement six years into his second term led Warren County Commission to appoint prosecutor Bill Locke as interim judge pending a special called election. Locke defeated several other nominees. Prior to his appointment, Locke spent most of his life as a prosecutor including a term as district attorney for Warren and Van Buren counties.
That election was held in August pitting Locke against Susan Marttala, Jean Brock and Mary Little Pirtle. Locke ended up winning the election and is serving out the two years left on the Ross’ term, meaning he will have to run again in two years in order to get a full eight-year term.
As for Ross, after more R&R in the Dominican, he returned to McMinnville and has opened up a private law practice downtown. His office is located upstairs from the office of his wife, Tami Ross. He maintains a limited practice.

7. County enacts 1981 Act, adds jobs

In what was described as a “hostile takeover,” seven new county employees were hired to oversee school finances – even as cuts were made in the school system.
 The county decided to institute the County Financial Management System Act of 1981 in July. The act combined the financial departments of Warren County government, Warren County schools and the Warren County Highway Department into one new department.
The end result has been a double financial strain to county taxpayers as the school employees once charged with handing school finances have been kept on the payroll by the school system. Meanwhile, the county hired seven new people for its financial office as a result of the school finance take over.
With the shortage of education dollars, School Board members questioned the County Commission’s decision to take over school finances. Consensus among the School Board was the County Commission snatched the handling of school finances in retaliation for the school system hiring a private school bus company when the county wanted to take over the transportation system.
Still unhappy in September with the Warren County Commission’s take over of school finances, the Warren County Board of Education appealed the move to the state legislature.
In a unanimous vote, the School Board granted the go-ahead to join the Tennessee School Board Association in asking the Tennessee General Assembly to overturn the 1981 Act.
The resolution supported by the School Board would ask state lawmakers to allow local school boards to opt out of the 1981 Act. The end result here would be for the School Board to take back its financial department.
Director of Schools Bobby Cox said there have been roadblocks and frustrating moments to overcome.
“It has required a lot of hard work. There have been some roadblocks that we are not used to. We are working through those. There have been frustrating moments, but as long as we keep working together we can get through this,” said Cox.
County Executive John Pelham said the transition to one financial department has not been the cost-saving measure county commissioners believed it would be.
“At this time, it is not saving money,” he said in September. “That’s true. I won’t deny it. It will be down the road. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. I believe this will be a positive thing for our county over time.”

8. Record heat wave hits

For three days in early summer Warren County was the hottest it had ever been in recorded history.
The three days, June 29-30 and July 1, all saw highs reach 106 degrees in McMinnville while Rock Island saw the mercury hit 107. Just over the mountain in Woodbury, the highs hit 110 while Nashville recorded 109 degrees.
The mark in McMinnville tied the hottest recorded temperature which was set in 1894, meaning it was hotter in McMinnville on those three days than it had been in over a century. The unprecedented heat wave affected the entire southern portion of the United States. The state of Tennessee fell just short of the all-time high originally recorded Aug. 9, 1930 in Perryville when the mercury hit 113.
Helping make the heat worse was the fact hardly any rain fell during the month of June as only .26 inches of precipitation was recorded. That marked the least rain during the month of June since 1936.
Meteorologists noted the month of June started out normally as far as high temperatures with nothing out of the ordinary until highs started to spike late in the month culminating with the record-breaking streak. The heat wave which brought heat advisories throughout the area urging people to limit their exposure to the temperatures saw new records for high temperatures set across the state.

9. DesJarlais wins despite scandal

Voters knew U.S. Rep. Dr. Scott DesJarlais had a questionable past when they voted to return him to Congress in November. But it was after the election the full depth of DesJarlais’ deception to voters was revealed.
Before the election, several news agencies reported DesJarlais had encouraged a woman to have an abortion and that he had a sexual relationship with a patient and prescribed her painkillers. DesJarlais retorted by attacking the Chattanooga Times Free Press, saying the newspaper was “reporting a factually inaccurate story from a non-credible anonymous source who is lying.”
DesJarlais was also successful in keeping court records of his divorce sealed until after the election.
It was after those records were made public in mid-November it was revealed DesJarlais had encouraged his ex-wife to have two abortions. Before the election, DesJarlais claimed it was a girlfriend he had encouraged to have one abortion and that the abortion never took place. DesJarlais claimed to have encouraged the abortion to get the woman to admit she wasn’t pregnant.
DesJarlais, a Republican, contends to be pro-life and against abortion.
In addition, he also admitted in court records to dating at least two of his patients.
The revelations have gotten DesJarlais in trouble with members of his own party.
“I’ve never seen anything quite this bad, especially from a hypocrisy level,” said Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union.
While there have been calls for DesJarlais to resign, he has dismissed those requests. However, it appears he will be challenged by members of his own party during the Republican primary in 2014.

10. County officials sue county

Upset new county employees with the newly created Financial Management Department were earning far more than workers who have been on the county payroll for years, four elected officials filed a lawsuit against the county in August.
The lawsuit seeks to increase the pay of county employees in four departments. The lawsuit has been filed by Trustee Darlene Bryant, Clerk and Master Myra Mara, Circuit Court Clerk Bernie Morris, and County Court Clerk Lesa Scott.
The lawsuit came after several county employees were hired into the Financial Management Department earning $28,500 a year. This created controversy because the county has several longtime office employees who earn around $20,000.
“I have someone who has worked here almost four years and she is only making $18,313.50 per year,” Mara said.
Morris was upset because she cannot keep workers. Most recently, she lost a worker who left to work at the jail making more money.
“I lost a girl who had been with me over eight years to go work at the jail making $31,000,” Morris said. “I’ve lost four girls in 10 years because of the pay not being up to snuff.”
Morris said some of her valued employees earning $21,000 were stunned to hear about newly hired county employees earning $28,500.
The four offices in question filed letters of agreement stating their initial salary requests to County Executive John Pelham’s office. None of the offices could come to an agreement on salaries, even though Pelham had offered a 5 percent increase to each office’s lowest paid staff members. All county employees were also promised a $500 increase in pay for the next fiscal year.
Many county employees agree a pay scale across the board would be the most fair way to pay all employees.


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