2018: year in review


May 2, 2018: Candidates for Blount County Sheriff meet at the Agri-Business Center for a public forum in preparation for the primary election June 5. From left: Ron Chastain, Kevin Price, Charlie Turner, Mark Moon, Chase Ramsey, and James Chapman. District Attorney Pamela Casey, standing at right, moderated the event.

May 2, 2018: Candidates for Blount County Sheriff meet at the Agri-Business Center for a public forum in preparation for the primary election June 5. From left: Ron Chastain, Kevin Price, Charlie Turner, Mark Moon, Chase Ramsey, and James Chapman. District Attorney Pamela Casey, standing at right, moderated the event.

Election 2018

This category of articles covered most of the year, with 27 articles beginning in January with candidate qualifying, and reaching a crescendo in May and June before the primary election/runoff, with another concentration in October before the November general election. Included were state elected offices including governor and state department heads, state and local judicial offices, state and federal legislative offices, and major county offices (probate judge, sheriff, coroner, two commission seats, and two school board positions). Coverage included sample ballots and profiles of all local candidates with opposition who appeared on the Blount County ballot.

Sheriff’s election 2018

This category included seven articles providing profiles of the six candidates running for sheriff, and included coverage of all of the candidate debates/forums leading up to the June 5 primary and the primary runoff election on July 17. The runoff featured sheriff’s deputy Mark Moon vs. former Oneonta police chief James Chapman. The election was vigorously contested at both the primary and primary runoff level. Moon emerged the victor and will be sworn in as Blount County Sheriff on Jan. 13. Chapman is now police chief of Hayden.

Feb. 28, 2018: From left: assistant bridge inspector Brad Holland, county engineer Dustin Stewart, and District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert confer over inspection data for River Road Bridge, recently rebuilt, widened to two lanes and strengthened with abutments and steel support members. Awaiting Alabama Department of Transportation approval to remove all weight restrictions.

Feb. 28, 2018: From left: assistant bridge inspector Brad Holland, county engineer Dustin Stewart, and District 3 Commissioner Dean Calvert confer over inspection data for River Road Bridge, recently rebuilt, widened to two lanes and strengthened with abutments and steel support members. Awaiting Alabama Department of Transportation approval to remove all weight restrictions.

County progress

This category includes 13 articles specifically addressing improvements/ accomplishments of the Blount County Commission, in addition to concise references to them covered in commission business meeting reports. Subjects included:

• county bridge monitoring/maintenance; case history illustrates chronic engineering dilemma of high cost to replace a structure that’s of no importance to most citizens, but urgent necessity for a few; the dilemma: pay millions to replace bridge vs. close it and create hardship for small community, vs. keep spending to maintain a functionally obsolete bridge with glaring safety concerns

 

 

• status on Moving Blount County Forward (MBCF) $14.6 million in road-paving projects scheduled over two plus years, approaching completion

• report on citizen benefits of additional recurring MBCF revenues to school systems, municpalities, and fire departments, through their various uses and projects

• status of courthouse renovation – exterior complete, security phases approaching completion, interior infrastructure refurbishment – major electrical, HVAC, water, plumbing, lighting, communications – in beginning stages of major investment – to complete in three to four years

• multi-year Palisades Park fire tower restoration completed, adding scenic tourist destination to county

• multi-year U.S. 231 bridge scenic overlook project completed adding another scenic and functional (river access) tourist destination to county

• creation of a scenic wonder – a grand stone staircase visible from satellites – as final flourish for the U.S. 231 bridge scenic overlook project

 

 

• decision to move forward with construction of 72-bed addition to the Blount County jail to accommodate non-violent inmates and provide a facility suitable to house an inmate work/release program

• decision to introduce an inmate Roadside Trash Detail to pick up trash on county roads on a permanent, ongoing basis

• building authority created to construct new county DHR headquarters building

• commission partners with Locust Fork to snag $640,000 grant from Metropolitan Planning Organization to build sidewalk uniting disparate parts of the community, providing scope for healthier lifestyle through exercise

• Low-Water Crossing – District 4 road crew challenges District 3’s grand stone staircase with a construction wonder of their own – replacing the old Low-Water Bridge (not a real bridge since water flows over the crossing during high water) with a structure that costs $145,000 – about five percent of what an actual clear-span bridge would cost – while improving availability of crossing during high water and making an esthetics statement to boot.

Phil Phillips

Phil Phillips

Oneonta property tax referendum

The Feb. 20 referendum was the subject of near-frenetic discussion for the first two months of the year as proponents and opponents squared off often and acrimoniously, generating 13 stories in the process. The proposition: a proposed 9-mill property tax hike for Oneonta citizens producing $630,000 in new annual revenue for Oneonta City Schools to support a multiyear, $10 million capital projects plan for new facilities covering academics, the arts, and athletics. Outcome: 9 mills was a bridge too far. The proposition was defeated 1,022 (68%) No to 481 (32%) Yes.

B&B Tire Landfill relocation

Beginning with an innocuous mention on Sept. 10 when the Blount County Commission received B&B’s application to relocate its operations to a site near Cleveland, the subject ballooned into an eight-story, not-in-my-back-yard controversy. It was distinguished by an unusual degree of civility for a landfill debate, mainly because of B&B owner Bud Adams’s sterling reputation as an unusually responsible businessman and by-the-book, environmentally conscientious operator. Coverage included stories on B&B’s initial public information meeting in Cleveland, the public hearing conducted by the Blount County Commission, discusssion of the town of Cleveland’s position on the matter, the meeting of the Blount County Solid Waste Authority, at which B&B’s application was formally recommended for approval to the county commission, and the surprise conclusion when Adams withdrew B&B’s application from consideration by the commission on the day, Dec. 10, when they were supposed to vote to accept or deny it. If Adams should want to reinstate his request for approval of the Cleveland site, he will have to re-apply and repeat the entire process outlined above. There may be yet another shoe to drop – or not. Meanwhile, indications are that Adams is exploring alternate locations, including sites in other counties.

Coach Mac

Coach Mac

Fate of The Blount Countian

Seven articles fell into this category, with four of them focused on the passing of the newspaper’s former owners: Molly Ryan (left) in February, and Rob Rice (right) in March, with a timely (Rob) and a belated (Molly) tribute to each. In the time between their passing, newspaper writers on assignment in the community and anyone catching the phones in the office were besieged with the constant question, “What will happen to the newspaper?” Two articles attempted to reassure those asking whether the newspaper would continue publishing, until the question of continuity was resolved. It was resolved in August with the announcement of the paper’s new owner, editor, and publisher Aimee Wilson. The Blount Countian now continues uninterrupted with its mission to provide accurate and timely information on matters of importance and interest to the community.

Oneonta development

About 10 articles constitute the body of reporting related to Oneonta’s development, several of them focused on the downtown area proper. Subjects included periodic updates on the status of the Wallace State Academic building project, begun in January and now nearing completion this spring. This project and Wallace State’s selection of Oneonta as an instructional site generally has been and continues to be a major catalyst in the city’s development. The future bodes well for expansion of both the academic preparation and technical training aspects of Wallace State’s mission. As a result of the Wallace State partnership, the city won a silver excellence award from the International Economic Development Council. Other subjects include the extension of First Avenue as a part of the city’s growth related to redirecting and redistributing traffic flow during rush hours. Two stories examined the future of downtown Oneonta, focusing on addition of amenities including an amphitheather, designing a walkable cityscape, and a long-range strategy of encouraging residential development within the core downtown area.

Near year’s end, the city accepted donation of the upscale Heritage Golf golf course and restaurant property for future strategic purposes, as yet undecided.

Oneonta history

In a major contribution to the history of Oneonta at mid-century, “pop historian” (self-styled) Blount Countian writer Jim Kilgore produced an encyclopedic multi-part series of a half-dozen-odd stories on downtown Oneonta circa 1955. Working from a vintage telephone book and the living memories of surviving residents, he reproduced – block by block and address by address – the businesses that occupied downtown, along with memories and anecdotes of Oneontans who recalled them. His avowed purpose was “to capture a snapshot of the city in time” from the approximate mid-point between its founding in 1891 and the present day. The accounts and reminiscences of the people of the time were placed within the perspective of other significant milestones of the year 1955 for the city. The series was the most comprehensive treatment of any subject in the memory of present newspaper staffers and may well have been the most widely read and enjoyed series in terms of reader interest and feedback.

Major fiscal year budgets

The fiscal year budgets of four entities – county government, the dominant city government, and the county’s two school systems – Blount County and Oneonta – fund the majority of governmental and educational activities and much of the economic activity within the county. Newspaper reporting included detailed coverage of those four budgets, along with less detail devoted to budgets of some municipalities.

Total expenditure budgets for those four major entities for fiscal year 2018-2019 are recapped here: City of Oneonta – $9.5 million; Oneonta City Schools – $13.9 million; Blount County Commission – $20.3 million; Blount County Schools – $76.5 million.

Dog law

Four articles. (Short takes from two articles) On state dog law, May 16: “County attorney says dog law ‘has real bite’” (headline). “The word that comes to mind in reading the law, its specifications, and its penalties is ‘draconian’”. The upshot is that dog owners can face heavy fines, even lengthy jail time if they fail to meet the law’s requirements, particularly concerning dangerous dogs. On county dangerous dog protocol, Sept. 19: “…if a court finds that the dog is dangerous… the court may order the dog to be euthanized, or may order the dog returned to the owner subject to the following conditions” (nine conditions, far-reaching). “If the dog above…subsequently attacks and causes serious physical injury, the dog’s owner shall be guilty of a class B felony” (carries jail sentence of up to 20 years, and up to $30,000 in fines.)

The county has published a 12-step protocol detailing formal steps to be taken by the animal control officer, victim, and owner(s) involved in a reported dog bite incident. Dog owners should read both the state dog law and the county dangerous dog protocol. Both are too long and too detailed to summarize here.

Special category: school systems

Includes board meetings, school activities, programs, academics, sports, management, financing, problems, felonies, successes, achievements, and recognition (students, teachers, staff, etc.) for two school systems. Estimated total of 100-plus articles this year (more than 20 board meeting reports). This is an ubiquitous category, in everyday life, as in the newspaper. Four examples will have to represent the multitude of subjects the paper reports each year on school-related matters. For example, this year:

• Blount County Schools Superintendent Rodney Green was voted Superintendent of the Year for School District 9 in Northeast Alabama, carrying an automatic nomination among eight other district winners for state Superintendent of the Year

• Oneonta City Schools was one of only 12 school systems statewide to receive an A grade on the state’s first, controversial A-F report card. There are 137 public school systems in Alabama.

• The Susan Moore Marching Band won the Alabama State Marching Competition Championship for 3A bands. The win brought a total of six trophies for excellence in various categories of marching band performance.

• The OHS Singers of Oneonta High School performed at Disney World in early December, chosen from a slew of applicants on the basis of a video application. They sang “Mary Did You Know,” “Silent Night,” and “Disney Dazzle.” They are representative of the city system’s ongoing struggle to strengthen emphasis on fine arts in the curriculum.

Sports

For the first time in memory, Oneonta hired one of its own to lead the Redskin football team when Phil Phillips was named head coach. Phillips, a 1984 graduate of Oneonta, went on to lead the Redskins to state semifinals in a remarkable turn around for the program.

It was a great year to be a part of Blount County softball programs as five schools advanced to softball regionals after winning their area tournaments: Appalachian, Cleveland, Hayden, Locust Fork, and Oneonta. Locust Fork advanced to state.

Former Cleveland High School basketball standout Emanuel Terry made Blount County history when he signed a training camp contract with the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Denver Nuggets. It’s believed he is the first Blount County player to have a chance to play in the NBA. In October, Terry signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers after playing in five games (one start) for the Nuggets in the 2018 summer league, averaging 7.4 points and five rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. He also appeared in one preseason contest for the Nuggets. On Oct. 13, he was added to the training camp roster for the Cavaliers’ NBA G League affiliate, the Canton Charge.

Aug. 31 was not just about a football game. It was about the experience of past and present coming together to honor all who contributed to Locust Fork football. After a long summer of construction, former and current athletes took the field to celebrate the “new” stadium. The stadium features a new press box, sound system, bleachers, concession stand, and landscaping. The bulk of the $1.5 million funding was made possible through the Blount County Board of Education, Locust Fork Athletic Booster Club, and the Moving Blount County Forward one-cent sales tax increase.

The Susan Moore Bulldogs, under the leadership of head coach Heath Lauderdale, started the 2018 football season at 5-0 for the first time 18 years. The Bulldogs went on to place second in 3A Region 7 with a playoff appearance and final record of 8-3.

In early October, the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame was re-established with a new board of directors representing all communities and schools throughout Blount County. Nomination forms will be accepted through Jan. 15 and new inductees will be recognized during the Hall of Fame banquet to be held March 7 at Anchors Church.

Blount County lost a true legend when Bruce “Coach Mac” McAfee passed away on Oct. 19. He began working at Susan Moore High School in 1968 and throughout his career there, coached football, basketball, and baseball. He also served as principal from 1994-2000. After his retirement, he served three consecutive terms with the Blount County Board of Education giving him 50 years of service to Blount County schools. In a special ceremony Oct. 4, Coach Mac was inducted into the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame. Coach Mac’s legacy will live on through his family and the many lives he touched during those 50 years.

The 2018 high school football season was a successful one for a lot of teams in Blount County. Oneonta, Cleveland, Susan Moore and J.B. Pennington all qualified for the playoffs. J.B. Pennington advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. Oneonta made a deep push all the way to the semifinals after back-to-back 3-7 seasons.