Year-In-Review: Top Stories of 2020

During a November 9, 2020, meeting of the Weakley County Fiber Research Committee, local farmer David Parham addressed the board, stressing the need for a countywide fiber internet infrastructure. Parham said internet is a necessity for his chicken barns and soybean operation after he recently invested $1.8 million for a chicken barn operation in the county. He said the barns rely on internet to connect with one another.

BY DAVID FISHER

david@dresdenenterprise.com

WEAKLEY COUNTY (January 6) — Our Year-In-Review highlights some of the top stories reported in the Dresden Enterprise during 2020. It recounts crime news, accident and fire reports, community celebrations, school news, special recognitions, and other noteworthy events. These stories are grouped in chronological order as they were published, beginning with the month of January and continuing through June, in the first of a two-part series.

There were several events during 2020 that captured the public’s attention. The three biggest stories centered on the COVID-19 pandemic, Weakley County Government’s decision to install countywide fiber internet cable, and the 2020 presidential election.

A major story during 2020, which is expected to continue to be of great concern during 2021, is the global COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines are being distributed and once a much larger number of American citizens have been immunized, it is hoped medical professionals will be able to get the pandemic under control. In the meantime, reports on the number of cases and deaths will continue to stay in the news. Local restrictions and safety measures are announced regularly and the Enterprise will continue to update its readers concerning these issues in each week’s edition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted the federal government to issue stimulus checks to assist Americans, who are out of work because of business closings. Additionally, state, county and municipal governments have also received funding to help offset the costs incurred by the implementation of COVID-19 safety measures. This includes masks, sanitizer, cleaning supplies and other items to help guard against contracting the dreaded virus.

Schools provided boxed meals for children 18 and younger, whether they are a student of Weakley County Schools or not. Weekend meals were also provided. The meals were handed out as vehicles drove by the schools at certain times and dates throughout the spring and summer months.

Local charities have also assisted families in need by providing groceries.

With school shutdowns, it became necessary to implement at-home learning, but many students did not have computers or internet access. Through government funding, schools purchased computers for students who had none so they can participate in virtual classrooms. But computers in those areas of Weakley County that have no internet service are useless, as far as participating in a virtual classroom is concerned. This generated public support for installing fiber internet cable for citizens of the rural portions of the county. This leads into our third major topic of discussion regarding 2020 – high-speed internet service.

After five years of planning, engineering studies and spirited debate, the Weakley County Commission finally took the long-awaited step of committing the funds necessary to make fiber internet service available to all rural citizens of the county.

Following a highly-charged verbal exchange between Commissioners, during their November 16, 2020, meeting, the proposed project, dubbed Phase II, was approved by a vote of 17 to 1, with District 9 Commissioner Donnie Essary casting the sole “no” vote.

The cost to Weakley County taxpayers is a maximum of $10.5 million. West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (WK&T) is obligated to pay a matching amount and is pursuing grant funding to help make up the difference. The total cost of the project is estimated at $26 million.

Phase I, costing the county $2 million, was approved and construction is under way. This will bring fiber internet to limited rural areas, while Phase II will cover all remaining rural areas.

During discussion, some Commissioners voiced objections to committing the funds called for in the resolution, saying the project is too expensive and not cost effective.

However, others argued fiber internet service has become a necessary infrastructure requirement, just as electrical power and roads have in the past.

Commissioners approved the resolution, after hearing from their constituents concerning the urgency of having the service available to all citizens. This will allow students to participate in at-home learning in virtual classroom settings when in-person attendance is not possible, such as during a shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; when they are in quarantine; or for other reasons.

Fiber internet cable will also improve public safety in rural areas of the county, where there is currently no cell phone, landline phone or internet service. It will provide a means of emergency communications to those unserved rural areas, which can make the difference between life and death. Examples of this are automobile accidents, medical emergencies or fires.

Fiber internet will also provide major businesses with the processing speed they need to operate. As mentioned in past articles, some industries and businesses have opted to bypass Weakley County because it lacks the high-speed internet service they require. Proponents of high-speed internet argue, in order to be competitive with other counties which have fiber cable service, Weakley County needs it. Lost industry means lost jobs and lost tax revenue.

The presidential election highlighted the drastic differences between the attitudes of those dwelling in the conservative states, sometimes referred to as “Middle America” or the “Flyover States,” and the liberal eastern and western coastal states.

During the campaign, the pronouncements Democrats and Republicans leveled against their political opposites revealed their contempt for one another. The politicalization of every conceivable issue, and attempt to blame their political opponents for these problems, demonstrates how politicians and their spokespersons attempted to “spin” (propagandize) these events in their favor.

The platforms of the nation’s two major political parties tend to be at the extreme ends of the spectrum, with little room for compromise.

Many political prognosticators on both sides of the aisle agree that, our country has not been this divided since the Civil War.

– January 2020 –

Weakley Schools Receive $5,000 TVA Grant: The Tennessee Valley Authority, in partnership with Bicentennial Volunteers Incorporated, a TVA retiree organization, awarded Weakley County Schools with a $5,000 grant to develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education projects. The grant money will be matched with funds from Weakley County Schools’ Career Technical Education budget to cover the $10,000 expenditure of providing mobile STEM labs for each of the county’s middle schools.

Dresden Condemnation Board Sharpens Focus on Mission: Dresden Condemnation Board members stressed the need to differentiate between houses that need to be condemned and those that simply need to be cleaned up and maintained.

High Winds Leaves Path of Destruction Across Portions of Weakley County: A weekend thunderstorm, accompanied by strong winds and copious amounts of rain, left a path of destruction across Weakley County that had property owners scrambling to cover the roofs of their homes and out buildings, to prevent water damage to these structures and their belongings stored inside. According to Weakley County Emergency Management Director Ray Wiggington, “No injuries were reported as a result of the storm. However, there was quite a bit of wind damage, including: missing shingles from roofs, outbuildings blown onto adjacent properties, and utility lines downed by fallen trees.” After surveying the storm damage in Weakley County, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Memphis determined the damage was caused by an EFO tornado with wind speeds up to 85 miles per hour.

Citizens for Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties Organizing Locally to Protect Gun Rights: During January’s Greenfield Board meeting, Michael Stout of Martin, originally from Greenfield, stated there is swelling support for Weakley County to join the newly-formed grassroots organization, Citizens for Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties. “We’re working on resolutions to get through the smaller governmental bodies such as cities, counties and every governing body in the state,” Stout said. “We’re trying to make it in our sanctuary counties where the government or the powers that be cannot come in and (take away) our Second Amendment rights. Roger Matheny is the head of the organization in Weakley County.”

Everett-Stewart Regional Airport Receives $736,000 TDOT Grant: Everett-Stewart Regional Airport near Union City, which serves Obion and Weakley Counties, received a grant for $736,477 from the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Economic Development Fund. The money will be used to construct an 80 feet-by-80 feet corporate hanger and ramp at Everett-Stewart. The grant will also fund the construction of an access driveway and parking for a maintenance facility at the airport.

Weakley County Commission Appoints Beth VanCleave to serve as interim commissioner: The Weakley County Commission appointed District 7 Commissioner Roger VanCleave’s widow, Beth, as interim Commissioner until the August 6, 2020 General Election.

-February 2020 –

Three-Vehicle Collision Caused by Cellphone Use: A three-vehicle crash that occurred on Highway 431 (Main Street) in Martin was apparently caused by cellphone distraction, according to official reports. On January 27, Martin police were notified that a three-vehicle accident had just occurred near the intersection of Main Street and Panola Drive.

Tennessee’s Cellphone Laws Designed to Eliminate Distracted Driving Crashes: Under Tennessee law, drivers are prohibited from holding or physically supporting a phone while driving. Hands-free devices are allowed, including dashboard mounts, earpieces, headphones or a device worn on a wrist to conduct voice-based communications.

Kentucky Man Sentenced in Crash that Killed Weakley County Woman: A Fulton County man received a sentence of more than 15 years in prison, during a sentencing hearing in Fulton County Circuit Court. The hearing involved an alcohol-related four-vehicle crash in 2017 that claimed the life of a Sharon woman and resulted in her husband being seriously injured. The defendant, Darren Shane Henderson, 52, of the Cayce community in Kentucky, was sentenced to 10 years for first-degree manslaughter, five years for second-degree assault, 12 months for wanton endangerment and criminal mischief, and a 30-day sentence for aggravated driving under the influence.

Circuit Court Judge Tim Langford handed down the sentence, after Henderson entered a guilty plea.

– March 2020 –

Evergreen Street CSX Railroad Tunnel Being Demolished: A landmark for many in Dresden is now in the process of being demolished. A private contractor is taking down the Evergreen Street CSX Railroad tunnel in Dresden, which was constructed in 1907.

Sharon to Have Indoor Tennis Court: The Sharon Board of Mayor and Alderman discussed a new indoor tennis facility opening soon. Larry Stone, an assistant tennis coach in Greenfield, is renovating the old theatre located in Sharon. This will make tennis practice possible during days when practicing outdoors is difficult. Bethel University and UT Martin have already expressed interest in using an indoor tennis court in Sharon during the winter months.

Second Amendment Resolution Supporting Gun Rights Passes Greenfield Board: During the March 10 meeting of the Greenfield Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the majority of members showed their support for gun rights, as outlined in the Second Amendment, by approving a resolution in support of the organization Citizens for Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties.

Weakley County Health Providers Respond to Coronavirus: Local health care providers are taking steps to minimize the risk to their patients and staff of contracting the coronavirus. The main strategy to battle the disease is prevention and containment. Dr. Kumar Yogesh, who practices at Dresden Family Clinic, states common sense precautions such as washing one’s hands regularly, is an excellent preventative measure. According to Dr. Yogesh, the symptoms to look out for include a dry cough, fever and body aches, which are the first signs that one may have contracted the coronavirus.

Local Businesses Adapt to Coronavirus Safety Concerns: Area businesses are adapting to new rules established by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order 17, calling for businesses across the state to utilize alternative business models to minimize the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Although restaurants, gyms and bars were specifically targeted by the order, other retail businesses are seeking to keep people as safe as possible by offering alternative ways of shopping.

Weakley County Schools Serving Meals to Children 0-18 Years: Meal distributions are underway as Weakley County Schools respond to COVID-19 and school closure needs. Breakfasts and lunches are distributed via a “drive-through” system customized for each venue. The food distribution is for any child through 18 years whether they are a student of Weakley County Schools or not; however, according to state regulations, they must be present to receive the food. Weekend meals are also being provided.

– April 2020 –

Financial Aid Available for Certain Families That Lost Employment Due to COVID-19: Emergency cash assistance applications are being accepted online for qualifying families that lost a job as a result of the pandemic state of emergency. The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) is making essential financial resources available to families that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.

Local Board Meetings Made Available to the Public by Electronic Means: Due to COVID-19 concerns, municipal leaders across Weakley County are making preparations to transmit city board meetings over the internet by various electronic means.

– May 2020 –

Greenfield City Board Receives $75,000 Grant for Street Improvements: During the May meeting of the Greenfield City Board of Mayor and Aldermen, members discussed a $75,000 grant each county and municipality in Tennessee is receiving, which may be used for street and sewer repairs. “We’re either going to be spending it on streets or sewer lines,” Mayor McAdams said.

COVID-19 Impacts Incidents of Criminal Activity, Police Procedures: The reduction of crime since the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was issued has been noticeable, according to local law enforcement officers. Additionally, police procedures have been altered to help prevent spread of the highly-contagious virus.

Local Barbers and Hairdressers to Reopen May 6th: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued an order allowing certain close contact businesses to reopen in a limited capacity, while maintaining safety measures to reduce the chance of workers or customers becoming infected with COVID-19. On Wednesday, May 6, those in the hair and beauty industry will have the option of reopening.

Local Gym Reopens Under COVID-19 Guidelines: Under state guidelines, physical fitness facilities were given the green light to reopen their doors to the public on May 1. Dynamix Physical Therapy, located at 405 North Front St. in Greenfield, reopened, after being closed due to the coronavirus.

Weakley County Schools Graduation Now Scheduled for Weekend of June 12: Weakley County Director of Schools Randy Frazier announced Friday that the graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 will now occur on the weekend of June 12. Postponing the planned May 15 event came about after consulting with local health officials.

Dresden’s Budget for FY 2020-2021 Contains No Tax or Fee Increases: Following a public hearing held minutes before May’s regular monthly meeting of the Dresden Board of Mayor and Aldermen, members approved the second and final reading of an ordinance adopting the City of Dresden’s annual operating and capital budget, as well as the tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021.

Ricky Cobb Assumes Role of Weakley County Veterans Service Officer: Weakley County’s new Veterans Service Officer started work on Monday, after his predecessor left the position last week.

Randi Storye, Administrative Assistant at the Weakley County Veterans Service Office, said “The Weakley County Veterans Affairs office would like to announce Ricky Cobb as the new County Service Officer, starting today, Monday, May 18th. He replaces Rick McKenzie, who retired from the position on Friday, May 15th.”

She noted Cobb is an 18-year veteran of the Army/TN Army National Guard. “He was deployed to Iraq as a Sergeant in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Storye said.

Traditional Memorial Day Services Canceled: The Memorial Day program at the Weakley County War Memorial, located on the south lawn of the Weakley County Courthouse, has been canceled due to COVID-19.

Although there won’t be an in-person Memorial Day program this year, there will be a short video posted on their Facebook page to remember those who paid the ultimate price. Go to facebook.com/wctnva

UTM Receives $500,000 Donation for Phase II Renovation of the Fine Arts Building: The University of Tennessee at Martin received a $500,000 donation from Bill Blankenship, 1955 UT Martin alumnus and noted university donor, to continue Phase II of the Fine Arts Performance Center project.

The facility will be used by the Fine and Performing Arts programs at UT Martin, as well as host guest performers, academic speakers, fundraising events, conferences and regional competitions.

The construction of Phase I of the Fine Arts Building was finished in 2013, completing the first half of the project. Construction for Phase II will cost $40 million overall and requires a six percent match, or $2.4 million, to receive state funding.

Weakley County Courthouse Reopens with Restrictions: Sheriff’s deputies are stationed at the south entrance of the Weakley County Courthouse to allow local citizens to enter the building a few at a time. Everyone entering the courthouse is required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing to help prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus.

– June 2020 –

Trio Pleads Guilty in Connection with Dresden Burglary: Three Dresden suspects pled guilty to assorted charges for their involvement in a local burglary, after allegedly unlawfully entering a Dresden residence and taking merchandise from the home.

Carl Lewis Mitchell, 47, is charged with aggravated burglary and theft of property; Tasha Lynn Edge, 36, is charged with criminal trespass and theft of property; and Austin Nathaniel Snyder, 18, faces charges of criminal trespass and theft of property.

This is a summary of headlines during the first half of 2020. The next six months of headlines will be spotlighted in the Wednesday, January 13, 2021 edition of The Enterprise.

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