#5 Warren County to build a morgue
Warren County officials have spent the second half of 2014 on the design plans for a morgue after River Park Hospital announced in June it would stop accepting dead bodies.
“Serving in this capacity has been an ongoing concern for us because it involves procedures unfamiliar to hospital staff,” said River Park CEO Tim McGill. “The sensitivity of the process is best managed by those who specialize in the arrangement of funeral rights and the respectful disposition of the body of a loved one. We have full confidence that our county’s leaders will determine a better solution for the future, and we are committed to working with them throughout this transition.”
Hospital officials originally gave the county until July 7 to make other arrangements and offered to donate its side-opening morgue refrigerator.
Given approximately one month’s notice, county Safety Committee members discussed moving the cooler to Manchester Funeral Home, the facility the county uses to cremate unclaimed bodies, and discussed negotiating a long-term deal with the funeral home for storing bodies.
While the main drawback surrounding the idea was the fact families would have to travel out of the county to identify loved ones, the decision also wasn’t acceptable to a local businessman. While he stressed a desire to remain anonymous, he donated $20,000 to help establish a morgue in Warren County. That $20,000 check, by Financial Management Committee vote, was returned.
After two extensions, the hospital is giving the county until July 1, 2015 before it stops taking deceased individuals.
The county has hired Upland Design Group as its architect. The estimated cost for a new morgue is $143,500 and includes a 12x14 walk-in cooler that will hold four rolling carts, a family viewing area, and an 8x10 ADA-approved restroom. Instead of a metal building that was originally under consideration, it will be a block building with brick facing to match nearby county buildings.
The facility will be built on Omni Drive.
#4 Kevin Dunlap elected to house in close race
Kevin Dunlap was elected to the 43rd District Representative’s seat in November and will be sworn in Jan. 13. It marks the first time a Warren County resident has held that seat in 47 years.
“I’ve always had an interest in the political process,” said Dunlap, who has been a student of politics all his life. “It’s something that always interested me, even as a child.”
Dunlap served as Warren County High School student body president and was elected to the helm of the freshman council at the University of Tennessee.
He went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee with a degree in political science and a minor in business. He showed his passion for the history of Tennessee government when he did his honors thesis on former Gov. Frank G. Clement and Congressman Estes Kefauver. He also did a fellowship in England, working for three months with Adrian Saunders, who is a member of Parliament serving with the House of Commons.
Dunlap continued his public service after he joined Warren County Middle School where he still works as a history teacher. During his term in the General Assembly, Dunlap plans to take off the spring semester from school while lawmakers are in session. He still plans to work as a teacher during the fall semester.
When the General Assembly begins its session in 2015, Dunlap plans to focus on education.
“I want to help the schools of Tennessee move forward while understanding the reality of a classroom teacher,” Dunlap said. “We need to stress the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, but we don’t want to do excessive testing.”
Dunlap noted nonstop educational reform has not made for happy classroom teachers as they are constantly having to adapt to a new teaching strategy seemingly every year. Even though Tennessee students are making some of the highest gains in the nation, and Tennessee has climbed to No. 31 in reading for fourth- and eighth-graders, the atmosphere at schools is not necessarily positive.
Dunlap said he intends to commute back and forth to Nashville during General Assembly since he is raising a young family here in Warren County.
#3 High School junior caught with gun at school
A Warren County High School junior who caused a campus lock down shortly after the school year got under way in August was sentenced to detention with the Department of Children’s Services.
The 16-year-old student, whose name was never released by authorities, was found delinquent to the act of possessing a firearm on school property and sentenced by Juvenile Court Judge Bill Locke the week after the incident. He was sentenced to an indefinite term of detention and should be eligible for release once counselors feel he is ready to return home. He will face expulsion from the school should he decide to return to class under the school’s zero tolerance policy.
The high school junior was taken in for questioning by authorities after a pair of students reported seeing him in possession of the gun on the campus of Warren County High School. He admitted to bringing the gun to school during questioning and lawmen were able to recover the gun from a locker where he had hid it. The gun was a loaded, 22-caliber handgun he reportedly took from his step-grandfather’s collection. The campus was placed on lockdown for a couple of hours while officers searched the school for any other weapons. None were found.
It still remains a mystery as to why he brought the gun to school. Authorities say he gave them a couple of reasons during questioning but they did not put much stock in his claims. Given the fact his case was resolved with his plea, lawmen doubt they will ever find the real reason he brought the gun to school.
#2 City divided over beer controversy
In 2014, McMinnville officials attempted to remove a 300-foot distance requirement between churches, schools and places that sell beer. The effort pitted churches and schools against city government.
In September, Alderman Rick Barnes made a motion to strike a sentence from the city’s existing policy. That sentence is, “No sale or distribution of beer shall be made at places within 300 feet of any school, public or private, kindergarten or churches.”
The motion passed 4-3 on first read. Voting in favor of removing the distance restriction were Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman, and Aldermen Billy Wood and Barnes. Voting against removal were Aldermen Jimmy Bonner, Ken Smith and Mike Neal.
While opponents stated removing the restriction could be considered a hindrance to churches, supporters argued the restriction could be a hindrance to some property owners.
“I think this has to do with property,” said Haley. “I’ve had some folks come to me because their property has been disabled. If they want to put a restaurant in and if they want to serve alcohol or wine, they are prohibited because of their proximity to a church.”
Numerous representatives from local churches would speak out against the change, as well as the Warren County Board of Education when it unanimously voted against the measure and drafted a letter of protest to be presented to city officials.
A united front by the four board members lasted until the end of October.
“Life is a lot about choices in life,” said Haley, at the beginning of the meeting. “We make choices each and every day. We choose to shop at grocery stores and buy gas, attend professional ball games, attend concerts and eat at restaurants, many of which sell alcohol. Choices teach responsibility and that’s how we learn lessons in life.”
Despite making comments that pointed to his vote remaining unchanged, Haley floundered at the last minute and changed his vote. The measure failed 4-3.
Haley stated, “It was not pressure from your part that caused me to vote no. In fact, I was planning on voting yes. You have got to realize that alcohol can go there anyway. This ordinance on 300 feet is really moot for the most part. It’s not going to be effective. It hasn’t changed anything at all. Some of you have said ugly things to me, but you have said some ugly things tonight as well. If 300 feet is going to save your child, then why isn’t it already happening?”
Haley, who asked for time to compose himself, took several deep breaths and continued with the meeting. He later made a failed attempt to change his vote to favor removing the 300-foot distance restriction.
#1 New Nashville Highway opens
After some 40 years of discussion and eight years of construction, the scenic four-lane highway to Woodbury opened just in time for the holidays.
The $20 million road project reached virtual completion Nov. 24 when the barriers were removed from both ends, allowing traffic to travel the 12.9-mile stretch of highway for the first time. That portion of the road joined a 1.1-mile stretch that runs through Newtown from Angel’s Bridge to Spring Valley Road. The Newtown part of the construction was conducted from 2006-08 and included sidewalks and underground utilities.
Finishing touches on the new highway will continue into 2015 as workers completed tie-ins with the old highway and transitions between the highway and the numerous county roads that cross the four-lane.
The highway is just a portion of what was first envisioned to be a four-lane that would have connected McMinnville with the four-lane on the opposite side of Woodbury. Budget concerns led state officials to scrap the original 21.1-mile highway that would have included a bypass around Woodbury and a four-lane down the mountain, trimming it to its present size.
The present New Nashville Highway almost hit the cutting board during the recession after the Newtown portion was completed. However, funds were found in 2009 and work was started on the 12.9-mile stretch.
The massive highway project may be the last for Warren County as plans for a four-lane linking McMinnville to Smithville were nixed by the state as 2014 drew to a close. State planners now want to widen Smithville Highway but leave it two lanes, saving the state over $10 million in construction costs.