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County approves new districts

Loudon County Commission blessed a new county legislative district map Monday.

Commissioners Adam Waller and Gary Whitfield motioned and seconded, respectively, to approve “Plan C” by the Loudon County Redistricting Committee, which was largely comprised of commissioners. The vote passed 8-1, with Commissioner Julia Hurley opposing. Commissioner Matthew Tinker was absent.

The biggest change moves about 900 people west of Highway 444 from District 7 to District 1.

“I think it impacted the least amount of people,” Waller said. “I mean there were other options that impacted a lot of people. The whole goal in my mind was to move the fewest number of people possible because it’s a lot of work for the election office to let those people know they’ve been redistricted. The fewer number of people impacted the better.”

“Now, of course, the election commission office can do their work to send out notices to anyone who’s had a change in precinct or a change in district,” Van Shaver, commissioner, added. “That takes quite a while. A lot of mailings have to go out, so (Susan Harrison, county elections administrator) needs a lot of time to do that. Then the next deadline is petitions go out mid-December for the 2022 election, so everybody’s going to want to be sure to know where their district lines are before they get out and start campaigning for the next election.”

Before the vote, Shaver and Waller motioned and seconded, respectively, to amend the map to move a piece of land between Adesa Boulevard and Interstate 75 from District 5 to District 2. That amendment passed 9-0.

“It’s essentially a little sliver of land with nothing in it, up behind Shoney’s right there,” Shaver said. “Shoney’s and all those hotels were already in the second (district). It’s just a little square cutout that should have been in the second — I think it already was on, but on that map it wasn’t.”

Hurley said she opposed the redistricting vote to remain consistent with her opposition to the redistricting map during the committee vote in September.

“We didn’t have any other option put on the table and absolutely any other option wasn’t even bothered to be discussed,” Hurley said. “So while we appreciate the efforts of the election commission coming to the table today with a ‘cleanup line,’ which is exactly what I said last month when I got yelled at by Commissioner Shaver who said, ‘That’s not what redistricting is for.’ Funny how after his plan was approved and no other plan was discussed, that’s exactly what just happened.”

Redistricting happens every 10 years after the U.S. census. The aim is for each commissioner to get a relatively equal portion of the county population.

“Each commissioner’s got to have 5,468 or thereabouts, so what it did was put us in compliance and the only way to do it was move some in the seven, one, four, two and five (districts),” Henry Cullen, commissioner, said. “It’s the least amount of movement in the county.”

A focus on records

Commissioners agreed to send a letter to Loudon County Trustee Chip Miller and Loudon County Clerk and Master Lisa Niles urging them to finish inventorying old records moved from the Loudon County Courthouse following the April 2019 fire.

Hurley and Commissioner Kelly Littleton-Brewster motioned and seconded, respectively, to draft the letter asking for inventorying to be complete by the end of February. The vote passed 8-1, with Shaver abstaining.

“I felt the public records commission and the officials would work it without county commission involvement,” Shaver said.

Cullen hopes Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw will soon draft the letter. Bradshaw was absent from Monday’s meeting.

“Chip said he’s done it, chairman (Pat) Hunter of the public election commission said not, so hopefully this letter will let Chip say, ‘I’m done. Here’s the inventory’,” Waller said. “Let’s move on. It needs to be done.”

“You can’t just say, ‘Well, throw them all out.’ It has to be inventoried,” Cullen added.

In other news, Loudon County Commission:

• Amended the county zoning resolution, article 7, administration and enforcement, section 7.090.

• Tabled a decision on an electronic voting system.

• Tabled discussion of funds for records storage building drawings.

• Heard Loudon County Economic Development Agency Executive Director Jack Qualls discuss plans for an economic impact study for Loudon County.

• Approved acceptance of an amendment to increase a DGA grant by $3,600 with no matching funds required.

• Approved the application and acceptance of a $5,000 grant from the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability for Loudon County Senior Center.

• Amended County General Fund 101, Highway Department Fund 131, General Purpose School Fund 141, School Federal Projects Fund 142, General Capital Projects Fund 171 and Education Capital Projects Fund 177.

North families like high school idea
  • Updated

Results from a recent survey of North Middle School parents show families are interested in a new high school on the north end of Loudon County.

Loudon County Director of Schools Mike Garren sent the survey last month to parents with children in grades 5-8. Results had to be back by Oct. 22.

Of the 499 families who responded, 64% said “yes” and 6% were “maybe” to a new school.

“I feel like the survey is very encouraging,” Garren said. “It shows that the board is moving in the right direction with what the community wants. I anticipated about 70% and that’s where we’re at because North is comprised of about 80% county students and 20% city students, so there’s an 80-20 split there. ... I figured that some county students because their parents had gone to Lenoir City High School and things of that nature and that the city students would probably want to go to Lenoir City high School and then a portion of the county students that their parents are their legacy Lenoir City Panthers that they would probably would still want to as well.”

Matthew Tinker, county high school supervisor and career and technical education director, said he was pleased with the results, especially since there are so many unknowns right now about the possible project.

“I think that the further you go down in the grade levels the more you see interest because the kids are younger, the parents are younger and right now the seventh- and eighth-graders are worried a lot about going to high school so that they can go wherever their friends are going,” Tinker said. “... It’s not yet built, it doesn’t have a reputation, we don’t know who the principal is and where it’s going to be located and what kind of athletics it’s going to have, so there are a lot of factors that go into it.”

Of those who favored the new school, 102 responses came from parents of fifth-graders.

When asked if families would be interested in bus transportation to Loudon High School, 83 said “yes,” 155 checked “maybe,” 243 were “no” and 18 didn’t respond.

Among eighth-graders, 23 families favored transportation and 52 said “maybe,” which fell in line with what Garren said could justify a route.

“Our magic number was about 25 to be able to break even cost-wise, so I’ll share those numbers with the board,” Garren said. “Because we had them put their addresses, my transportation director will look at the addresses to see if it’s possible to get all of those families in one round as far as where they live location-wise. We’ll have to map that out to see if we can do a route. ... We wanted to get a good survey sample, and plus with the transportation piece, I wanted to see if there was interest beyond the eighth-graders because once we start that route we’d need to sustain it. Is there going to be interest to sustain that route throughout those other grade levels and they all seemed to be about 20 or so.”

“The further it goes grade level down the more interest there seemed to be,” Tinker added.

Garren hopes to present survey results to the Loudon County Board of Education at Thursday’s workshop. He said the next move will be up to the board.

“I’m going to have the transportation director plot out to see,” he said. “If she plots it out and says, ‘Well, it’s going to take two routes,’ then that will impact their decision. I won’t ask them to vote on that until probably January on the buses because she won’t be able to get all that. I haven’t even sent her the addresses yet, so there’s no way she can get that done before the workshop (this) week.”

Garren also plans to discuss a contract with Cope Architecture for site analysis on the northern end of the county for a potential school for grades 7-12, along with a facility assessment for an addition at Philadelphia Elementary School.

“This is the initial phases of discussions on this planning so there will be lots of variations and changes I’m sure as we move through and respond to different ideas, different suggestions from the board, but I believe we’ve got a good solid start based upon the directions that they gave me last month on what information they wanted to see to help them make a best-informed decision,” Garren said.

As a county commissioner, Tinker believes it’s prudent for the district to plan for growth.

“Tennessee is the third-best place that people are moving to from around the country, and even if we’re kind of heading into a time when our economics in the country might not be good, here in Loudon County and Lenoir City our economics are still good and the people are wanting to leave areas, bigger cities they’re being more impacted by higher taxes and poor economic conditions to come here,” Tinker said. “Even if we have a country-wide housing decline, I don’t think that’s going to happen here and so we are just trying to plan for the future, the growth that we are having and the growth that we foresee coming in the next couple of years. We don’t want to wait until it’s here and then have to throw something together at the last minute.”

Community honors Joe Spence

Longtime local historian and educator Joe Spence was recognized Saturday for contributions to the community and Lenoir City Museum.

The gathering at the Southern Belle in downtown Lenoir City also featured a $10,000 donation to the museum by former Spence student Anthony Howard.

Members of the Lenoir City Cotton Mill Association, which oversees the museum, hope the money will go a long way toward taking care of the facility.

Howard talked with Spence in the summer about a possible donation. Although the Loudon County Education Foundation was initially considered — especially since Spence spent nearly four decades at Lenoir City High School as an American Studies teacher — but the two men decided the money should go to the museum.

“Joe was approached by an individual who wanted to establish some sort of endowment in Joe’s name,” Matt Brookshire, Cotton Mill Association president, said. “The endowment to the Cotton Mill Association is the result of that. Currently, the Cotton Mill Association is looking at the best way to establish the endowment so that it will continue to grow over the years to support hopefully the continuation of the museum.”

Howard said donating money in Spence’s honor made sense because he influenced Howard’s life and made more of an impact than even professors at the University of Tennessee.

“Joe developed a very rigorous, difficult curriculum full of not just textbook studies but a number of novels that he required we read during the course of the year and all kinds of field trips that we would go on to Nashville and Rocky Mountain up near Jonesborough and Greeneville, here around Loudon County to all the National Register of Historic sites, as well as Blount Mansion in Knoxville,” Howard said. “These weren’t just free days off from school, but there were projects and homework attached to these trips as well.

“There was always a major project that everyone in American Studies had to do during the course of the year,” he added. “When you look at the curriculum he put together and the body of knowledge of American Studies that he required us to study and to learn, again, there were very few professors that I could think of at UT that rose to that level of professionalism.”

Spence has taught countless students. Several were present Saturday, including Howard, Brookshire and Paul Gentry.

“He was a very good history teacher, so we certainly learned to appreciate history from that,” Gentry said. “These are my boys playing here and we actually ran back into Joe a few weeks ago when the Children of the American Revolution group met at the museum and Joe gave a tour and they did some yard work to clean up and all. We’re involved in historical reenactments and things like that, so certainly being taught in high school from a teacher who’s obviously interested in history and still interested in it even though he’s retired is certainly impactful on anyone.”

Gentry’s sons John, Luke and Andrew played music during the ceremony.

“At this point, we just want to be able to establish a fund that can ensure the future of the museum, whether that is through providing funding for displays,” Brookshire said. “... That’s the goal at this point is to put this money in place to where it can grow, generate revenues that we can then use to maintain the museum long term.”

“This is a good step in the right direction for the future of the museum,” Spence added.

With a laugh, Spence said seeing a crowd Saturday meant “a lot.”

“Every once in a while (my former students will) say, ‘I might not have liked history when I was in your class, but love it now.’ That’s the most common remark I hear from people who come back to the museum,” Spence said. “... My legacy is I guess the students that are in the community that are former students of mine and I think they got a sense of history and government and they have participated and I think made Lenoir City a better place. Something like this is sort of a special event, and Anthony and I have argued back and forth as we planned this. Anthony’s said, ‘No, it’s your day. I’m honoring you for all these years you’ve taught.’ And I said, ‘Well, but I want to honor you for giving to the museum in my honor.’ It’s a two-way street.”

Ruth McQueen has known Spence for 30 years in connection with the Loudon County Historical Society. She considered him a “very valuable community person particularly at the museum.”

“I’m positive (the money) will be to benefit the community and be for a good purpose,” McQueen said. “The fact that it has Joe’s name on it, it’s recognition of a very influential individual in the Lenoir City community. He has given unselfishly of his time for education, historical projects for the museum, so it’s fitting that there be a Joe Spence day and that he be recognized. This is something that will carry on his name for decades to come, and that’s good.”

Good Sam preps for Thanksgiving
  • Updated

Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County is getting ready for the nonprofit’s annual Thanksgiving turkey basket distribution that is less than three weeks away.

This year’s food distribution is 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 20 at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Lenoir City.

The “bottom line is everybody deserves a nice Thanksgiving meal,” Cindy Black, Good Sam executive director, said. “They deserve to have that opportunity and so it’s just a nice thing to do for those who might be struggling just to make ends meet on a daily basis. For them to have this opportunity to be able to provide your family with something like that is something everybody deserves.”

Black said Good Sam has prepared 500 vouchers that will be available for needy families through Nov. 19.

Last year, 405 of 500 vouchers were returned for meals.

“If we happen to need more, we can print more,” Black said. “That’s the number we’ll shoot for in terms of how many boxes.”

Black asks clients to be patient and not feel like they have to visit Good Sam immediately. To help with the first-week rush, she said three additional volunteers will be up front daily helping clients.

Evelyn Edwards, Good Sam pantry manager, said she will have six volunteers packing and two volunteers organizing boxes. She hopes packing will be done by Nov. 18.

“She has brought in all the food,” Black said. “We’ve started putting some of the boxes together but we’ve got to start filling them before we can put too many other boxes together, so there’s only much she can do. ... She’s got everything situated and ready for the packers to pack.”

Families can stop by Good Sam 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Friday.

“I tell my people, ‘This is a good mind game,’ because they’ll get two cans of everything and then the cans go in one box and then we have another box of all boxes and bags and so forth that will go in another — pie crust — and that goes in another,” Edwards said. “It’s a memory game, so for them, even though it might be posted, I tell them try to make it into a game where they can use their mind.

“... We rent our truck right down the street from the U-Haul rental, and they know the truck we need and so forth, and we get that truck and we load everything up,” she added. “Then we take our van and we load that up also. We’ll have three stations (for the Nov. 20 distribution). We have the gift certificate station, we’ll have the paper box station, that’ll be the second station, and the third station is all the cans.”

For more information, call Good Sam at 865-986-1777.

“You have to have a voucher before you come to (the distribution) because you can’t just drive up and say, ‘Hey, I want one’,” Black said.