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County panel tackles redistricting

A 17-person redistricting committee in Loudon County could have work completed by Nov. 1 to start preparing for primary elections next year.

The committee has had two meetings so far to consider potential changes to legislative maps of the county’s seven districts. A third meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Loudon County Courthouse Annex in downtown Loudon.

In the first two meetings held Aug. 11 and Sept. 22, the Loudon County Redistricting Committee has agreed to keep seven districts and 10 commissioners.

Changes being considered include moving some residents to District 1 from District 7. District 4 could see significant changes and District 5 could have minor changes, committee members said.

Redistricting takes place every 10 years after the completion of the U.S. census. The most recent census was in 2020. The goal of redistricting is to have relatively equal populations and representation in each district.

“Redistricting helps ensure legislative bodies are meeting the one-person, one-vote principle of representative government after the completion of a new census,” according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

Loudon County currently has three districts with two commissioners and four districts with one commissioner. The districts with two commissioners have about double the population — more than 10,000 residents compared to roughly 5,000.

The 17-member committee includes the 10 county commissioners, County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Elections Administrator Susan Harrison, Property Assessor Mike Campbell, Planner Greg Montooth, Codes Enforcement Officer Jim Jenkins, Mapping and Addressing employees Ryan Janikula and Jim Brewster. County commissioners and the mayor are voting members.

Commissioner Henry Cullen was elected chair at the first meeting, according to meeting minutes. Commissioner David Meers was voted vice chair, while Harrison serves as secretary.

Also at the first meeting, Commissioner Van Shaver made a motion to keep seven districts that was seconded by Commissioner Bill Satterfield. Voting in favor were Shaver, Satterfield, Cullen, Meers, Harold Duff, Kelly Littleton-Brewster and Gary Whitfield.

Voting against were Bradshaw and Loudon County Commissioner Julia Hurley.

Shaver said the current system of seven districts and 10 commissioners has been in place for a long time.

“It’s the system we have and it’s been in place for decades if not for a century,” he said.

He said there would be costs and disruptions associated with changing the districts.

“The goal is always to move and disrupt as few people as possible,” Shaver said. “People just tend to like and are comfortable with where they’re at.”

Cullen said he also thinks the 10-commissioner, seven-district approach works well. He is optimistic the committee could conclude work soon, possibly this week.

Responding to a resident concern, Bradshaw said he wanted to at least discuss the current system of three districts with two commissioners and four with one.

“I guess people are kind of used to it,” he said. “We’ve been seven districts for so long now.”

Bradshaw said he appreciates the concern raised by Philadelphia resident Greg Windle about some voters having two commissioners represent them and others having only one.

“I think this committee needs to at least discuss it,” Bradshaw said. “I understand that concern. I think it will come up for discussion before it’s all said and done.”

The county’s official population after the 2020 census is 54,662, according to committee meeting minutes. The county’s population has grown from 48,556 residents in the 2010 census, a 13% increase.

Under the current map, districts with one commissioner would ideally be drawn so that they have a population of 5,489 people. Districts with two commissioners would have 10,977 residents.

District 7, which includes Tellico Village, has the highest deviation from the ideal population and the highest projected growth rate.

Redistricting plans must be presented to and voted on by Loudon County Commission. Redistricting plans for all 95 counties must be adopted by Jan. 1.

Big turnout for downtown festival
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With hardly a cloud in the sky, live music echoed Saturday through downtown Lenoir City as crowds perused classic cars and vendor booths set up on Broadway Street.

From 10 a.m.-2 p.m., visitors walked between Kingston and C streets to see what the annual Downtown Street Festival had to offer.

“It is an awesome turnout. We could not have asked for better,” Mary Bright, Historic Downtown Lenoir City Merchants Association president, said. “We have more cars and more cars than has ever been down here and I mean it’s just now, what, 10:50 (a.m.) and it’s jammed.”

Bright said 42 vendors were on hand, with some taking multiple spots.

Festival organizers said partnerships make the event run smoothly. Lenoir City Parks and Recreation Department helped with food and the kid’s zone, the downtown merchants association provided vendors and Lenoir City Civitan Club arranged for classic vehicles. The club made a return after canceling due to COVID-19 concerns.

Civitan Club Past President Tim Finnegan estimated 250-300 vehicles were on hand either down Broadway or along side streets.

“As a car show you’ve got involvement with the city and you have us and ... this year will be the first year all three participated, you had the Historic Downtown Merchants Association, so the three of us have worked really well,” Finnegan said. “It has created an increased number of vendors, and when you do that you end up creating more interest out there. There’s more touches on social media, there’s more communication. ... The Tellico Lake Amateur Radio Club provided some logistical support with radios and helping to park cars. That was a huge help from a logistics standpoint.”

The festival has been a staple at least 10 years in Lenoir City, Zack Cusick, city parks and recreation director, said.

“Even going back a couple of years, the crowd seems a little bigger,” Cusick said. “I think it’s been the trend this year is as long as you have good weather I think people are just ready to get out and get back more closer to normal and just enjoy the great weather and enjoy a great festival. ... I just think it’s just the great community partnerships. We partner with Civitan so they can get sponsorships and raise money for their club and for any kind of community service they do. If they get more cars and more sponsorships, then they raise more money. They’re out working hard to raise some money.

“We partnered this year with the downtown merchants and we gave them the vendors so they could raise money for future events that they want to do down here and it just seemed like a natural partnership, too, when we have a big street festival downtown that downtown merchants want to get involved and want to be able to help out,” he added. “... They did hard work and got everything that they could out and had a great turnout for all their vendors as well.”

Finnegan said the festival, which is the club’s largest fundraiser, typically brings in about $5,000 for Civitan.

He said this year’s funds will go to Kids First Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District, Boys & Girls Club, Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County and Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding.

“Our focus is on kids and adults with disabilities, and so we’ll tailor it toward that, listen to speakers, hear what’s going on in the community and then we’ll take a vote as a club,” Finnegan said.

In addition to cars and vendors, visitors also saw performances from Pale Root, Outta the Blue and Academy of Dance Arts.

“We’re really excited about how different groups — Lenoir City, Civitan, Historic Downtown Merchants (Association), amateur radio, all of the vendors, all of the cars, how everybody came together and it just worked,” Finnegan said. “You just love to see that. I know I say that every year, but I just love to see different groups coming together to make something happen for a bigger cause.”

LES raises money for Waverly
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Loudon Elementary School students and staff recently worked together to assist an educator in need across the state.

A concession stand popcorn and snow cone fundraiser was held Sept. 17 to help Waverly Jr. High School fourth-grade teacher Candace Harbison get back on her feet following devastating floods in that community in August.

“Someone had decided to create this program called Adopt a Teacher with Waverly Wishes, and so just a way to try to help some of the teachers who lost everything,” Christie Amburn, LES principal, said. “As I’m sure you know, they lost essentially their entire elementary and junior highs, the board of education building, 17 buses, all their books, band equipment, PE equipment, technology, everything was lost.

“Even knowing that insurance is going to I’m sure pick up and cover, we realize as educators that these teachers have immediate needs and that they want to get back to teaching as normally as possible as quickly as possible, and so when Mr. (Director of Schools Mike) Garren sent that out we decided as a school to adopt a teacher,” she added.

Amburn contacted the program and within days heard the school’s match was Harbison.

The concession stand is provided “more or less” as a treat for students occasionally through the year, with money typically going toward inflatables for students about every nine weeks, Amburn said.

This time collected more than usual — about $840 — that went toward Harbison’s Amazon wish list of items for her classroom.

“It worked out better than we expected,” Amburn said. “I think because some parents knew that it was for a good cause ... (and) it was for someone in true need. We had several parents who sent in enough money, they’d say, ‘I want to cover any kid in the class that doesn’t have money for popcorn today.’ We raised probably more than we would in the past.”

Money went toward items such as speakers, a printer, crates, posters and a mobile white board.

“She actually told me, probably this morning the last time that we emailed back and forth, that she’s going to be teaching mobile,” Amburn said. “She doesn’t have a permanent room and may not get one all year.”

Harbison has been relocated to other schools in Humphreys County for the remainder of the school year.

“I will not have a classroom at my new location,” Harbison said in an email correspondence. “I will use a rolling cart to travel to other classrooms to teach. The support from Loudon Elementary has been amazing. I have been teaching 24 years in Humphreys County and lost a lot of classroom materials in the flood. Their support has enabled me to replace things I lost and also to help me acquire things that will help me be able to teach in my new temporary location. Aug. 21 was a nightmare for our community. It will take a long time to recover from something like this. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate the support of Loudon Elementary. It’s truly humbling.”

Amburn hopes the fundraiser provided students a little insight in helping others.

“I think that our big focus for our kids was even if you just give a little, when we put it all together it’s a lot,” Amburn said. “We weren’t asking anybody for more than a dollar essentially to buy a bag of popcorn. When we add all those dollars up it adds up to a great amount of money for her. We were essentially able to buy everything on her wish list from Amazon that she had so far, the things that she felt like were the most immediate needs.”

Hurley residency hearing scheduled

The lawsuit questioning Loudon County Commissioner Julia Hurley’s residency finally made the court calendar.

A hearing is set for Dec. 21 in Loudon County with Chancellor Frank V. Williams III.

“We are looking forward to finally getting this case to trial given the COVID delay with the shutdown of courts, the lack of a courthouse that has caused delay in having to work around makeshift ‘courtrooms’ and the appeal that Hurley’s attorney filed, on which we prevailed,” Russell Johnson, 9th Judicial District attorney general, said in an email correspondence. “As with any case delay, it usually works in the defendant’s favor, so there is almost always an incentive for defendants to delay cases. We hope that will not happen any further and we hope the COVID issues do not cause the Supreme Court to shut us down again.”

Johnson said he believes the hearing should only last a day.

The issue dates back to June 2019 when County Commissioner Van Shaver first questioned Hurley’s residency after learning on social media of a move from her elected second district into the fifth district.

Johnson then in March 2020 filed a petition in chancery court.

Hurley’s attorney, T. Scott Jones, followed with a motion to dismiss in April 2020, stating Loudon County Commission Chairman Henry Cullen cannot act as a principal and surety, which Williams denied in July 2020. Williams ordered another person to sign the bond.

Both sides spoke before the Tennessee Court of Appeals in May, which a month later dismissed the appeal Jones filed.

“I mean, I think we should have won to begin with but we respect the court’s decision, and I would point out we did not lose the court of appeals,” Jones said. “The court appeals just effectively said that the issue was premature, the state chose not to cure it and we feel like that at a full hearing of the event — I mean it’s going to be hard to deny where she lays her head every night, and that’s in her district, and then when you look at the (County Technical Assistance Service) guidelines, she’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to do.”

Jones said he was “extraordinarily” confident in the upcoming hearing.

“We are looking forward to our day in court and a further reflection of what Ms. Hurley has claimed all along that the home that she purchased was for investment purposes and that she is safely ensconced back in the home in her district, I believe it’s 5th avenue,” Jones said. “It’s effectively the absolute what we said was before. In addition, we think it’s extraordinarily interesting that they have actually propagated plans — not by her, she had nothing to do with it — to actually rezone the other home in her district. ... There’s a set of plans out there going on to that and, of course, Van Shaver makes the specific statement that he’s not going to do it or won’t let that see the light of day because he’s suing Julia.”

Shaver fired back by saying neither he nor Loudon County Commission is suing Hurley.

“The district attorney office is the one who’s taking the case against Julia Hurley, which I have not one thing to do with,” Shaver said.