BY DAVID FISHER
While the global health pandemic, COVID-19, continues to make headlines in the new year after it emerged in the area in March 2020, Weakley County saw its share of good news, as well as losses for the final six months of the year.
The local, state and federal elections saw new faces as local governments welcomed candidates making history in their cities. The county mourned the passing of agricultural advocate Terry Oliver. Mask mandates were issued in Weakley County last year as businesses, schools and families continue to be impacted by the novel coronavirus.
Stories making local headlines from July through December 2020 include the following:
Former Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Terry Oliver of Dresden Dies at 79: Former Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture and Dresden native Terry Oliver passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, July 4, 2020. Oliver was appointed Commissioner by former governor Phil Bredesen in August of 2010 and served until he retired from the position in 2011. Commissioner Oliver spent almost 25 years in public service and was an advisor and confidant of the late Governor Ned McWherter.
Sharon’s Relocation of City Hall and Police Department in Final Stages: The City of Sharon is in the end stages of fully relocating its city hall from East Main Street downtown to 5320 US Highway 45. The new location was once a medical clinic for the city and houses Sharon city hall and the Sharon police department.
City hall offers amenities to residents and city workers not available before. These include a larger parking area, handicap accessibility, a board meeting room, and extra storage for the city.
County Commissioners Say No to Tax Increase in FY 2020-2021 Budget: Weakley County Commissioners approved the tax rate and finalized the budget for FY 2020-2021 when they met on Thursday, July 30. After weeks of debate and multiple revisions to departmental budgets, Commissioners managed to develop a budget without increasing the county’s property tax rate.
Weakley County Forms Civil Rights Board: Weakley County is in the process of forming the first-ever Civil Rights Board, which is an expansion of the county’s existing Title VI board. The Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination based on race, color and national origin. A Title VI compliance plan is required of any entity that receives federal money.
Holt Discusses Time in State House, Future Plans: Knoxville native Andrew “Andy” Holt (R), who represented the 76th District in the Tennessee State House of Representatives that includes Weakley, and a portion of Carroll and Obion counties, decided earlier this year (2020) not to seek another term of office in the state legislature. He recently reflected on his time in the State House and discussed his future plans.
Dresden Slated to be First Rural Community in Nation to Establish 100-Percent Fiber Connectivity: West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative and the City of Dresden have a shared goal to provide 100-percent fiber-optic service to every location in Dresden.
School System Announces Free Meals for All Students: One of the major topics of discussion during the Thursday, September 3, 2020, meeting of the Weakley County School Board was the recent news that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is covering the cost of school lunches for all students.
According to Director of Weakley County Schools Randy Frazier, the free lunches were added to the free breakfasts already served at Weakley County Schools, regardless of income.
Unified Command Group Visits Weakley County: Members of Governor Bill Lee’s Unified Command Group visited Weakley County Friday, September 4, 2020, to discuss COVID-19 with officials from across the county. The meeting was held in UT Martin’s Watkins auditorium and included information regarding the most recent data for the state and county about COVID-19.
Chris Crocker Named Dresden Police Chief: The Dresden City Board voted unanimously to appoint Chris Crocker as Dresden’s new police chief. Chief Crocker replaced former Police Chief Steve Howe, who resigned on June 24, 2020, to accept a position with the Tennessee Office of Inspector General. Crocker served as interim Police Chief prior being selected to fill the vacant position.
County, Greenfield Receive Community Development Block Grants: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe recently approved more than $27.6 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which will assist 66 communities with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives. Among the local recipients are the Weakley County Government and the City of Greenfield, which was awarded $362,017 for sewer system improvements. Weakley County was awarded $273,828 for countywide communications improvements.
Weakley County Surpasses 1,000 COVID-19 Cases: As of Monday, September 14, 2020, Weakley County surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 cases among its residents. Of the 1,030 novel coronavirus cases reported in the county since March, only 133 or a little more than 7 percent are considered active cases.
WK&T Awarded Broadband Grant for Rural Weakley County, Dresden: West Kentucky & Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications received a state grant from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund to provide fiber broadband access to residents inside the city limits of Dresden, as well as some locations in rural Weakley County. The almost $1.025 million grant will provide immediate response to overcome obstacles created by COVID-19 and allow residents to take advantage of basic quality of life, health, education, commerce and work-at-home resources that are available to those who have access to high-speed internet.
Local National Guard Soldiers Return from Overseas Deployment in Kuwait: Local Tennessee National Guard members were among approximately 116 soldiers from the 194th Engineer Brigade based out of Jackson, to return home on September 18, 2020, after a successful deployment to the Middle East.
The 194th was activated October 2019 and spent the last 10 months as the U.S. Central Command. They served as an integral part of Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Freedom Sentinel, making this deployment especially historic.
With the COVID-19 pandemic peaking during their deployment, daily operations became trickier, but the mission was greatly successful.
UTM, Martin Community Celebrate Latimers’ Donation for Engineering and Science Building: The University of Tennessee at Martin community, along with numerous notable Tennessee officials, gathered in front of the future site of the Latimer Engineering and Science Building Friday, September 18, to honor Union City couple Bill and Carol Latimer for their $6.5 million gift to the university. This will be the first academic building to be constructed at UT Martin in more than 40 years.
Dresden Native Slugger in World Series: The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team rallied from a 3-1 National League Championship Series deficit to beat the Atlanta Braves, sweeping the playoffs Sunday evening. Among those in Arlington, Texas, for the World Series is Dodger and Dresden alumnus Matt Beaty.
Early Vote Totals Break Records in County: As the end of the early-voting period draws to a close in October, Weakley Countians have already turned out in record numbers to cast their ballots compared to previous years.
CARES Funds Cover New Computers: More than 1,300 laptop computers are loaded with appropriate software and ready to be distributed to Weakley County Schools and students in need. Received in mid-October, the Lenova Yoga 11E laptops now include Office 365, as well as testing and tracking software. The technicians for the district, along with computer-savvy students, spent nine days preparing the computers for use in the schools and updating the operating systems.
Betsi Foster, WCS Director of Federal Programs, oversaw the extensive application process. The funds cover the computer purchases, as well as the salaries for faculty and staff, who have taken on additional responsibilities due to COVID-19 precautions.
Jones First Black Female President of Kiwanis: The Kiwanis Club of Martin has elected its first African-American woman to serve as president of the non-profit organization. Dr. Annie C. Jones, Office of Career Planning and Development at the University of Tennessee at Martin, was installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Martin at the club’s October 5 Zoom meeting.
Mask Mandate Extended Through End of Year in County: After an Executive Order announcement by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Friday allowing county health departments and county executives to issue a public space mask mandate through the end of the year, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum issued the county’s Executive Order No. 4, extending the county’s public space mask mandate through December 29, 2020.
Stalter Becomes First Female Mayor in Sharon: The City of Sharon was chartered nearly 120 years ago in Weakley County. For the first time in the city’s history, voters have elected Sharon’s first female to serve at the helm as mayor of the town with a population of nearly 1,000 people.
Commissioners Approve Rural Installation of Fiber Internet Network: 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.
The complete build of a fiber Internet infrastructure network throughout the unincorporated areas of the county comes with a total price tag estimated at $26 million. Weakley County is responsible for paying $10.5 million, and West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (WK&T) is obligated to pay a matching amount and is pursue grant funding to help make up the difference.
Gleason Celebrates Dog Park Opening with Ribbon Cutting and Tree Dedication: Mid-morning sunlight and a warm breeze set the mood for the grand opening of Gleason’s Dog Park at Snyder Park Friday, November 13, when community members and dignitaries gathered to celebrate the city’s latest pet-friendly addition to Tater Town. The project is funded through a $25,000 grant provided by the Boyd Foundation, organized by UT System President Randy Boyd and his wife, Jenny, with a vision to make Tennessee one of the most pet-friendly states in the country.
Christmas Wishing Tree Making Dreams Come True: This holiday season, Sandra Taylor, president of Be The Village, is spearheading an effort to make Christmas a bit brighter for youngsters from across Weakley County, who might not otherwise receive a present on Christmas morning.
Taylor conceived the idea of setting up a Christmas Wishing Tree in Dresden, and collecting children’s wishes from all over Weakley County. Participating agencies include: the City of Dresden, Be The Village, Santa’s Helpers, Sacks Thrift Avenue of Greenfield and Hope Outreach. Each of these organizations added names to cards they placed on the tree.
Former U.S. Navy Spy Finds Message Hidden Inside Historic Dresden Home: Very few people may be aware that a retired U.S. Navy aviator, who served as mission commander on a high-altitude spy plane in the 1960s, now lives a peaceful life in a quiet, residential neighborhood in the City of Dresden. Tony Winstead flew on numerous Top Secret missions for the United States government. He retired from the Navy in 1994 and moved back to Dresden. In 1997, the 32-year veteran purchased a house and lot at 240 Linden St.
When he decided to tear it down Winstead discovered there was an 1850s era hand-hewn, timber-frame structure hidden underneath the exterior façade. He found messages rolled up inside sealed bottles hidden in the walls and beneath the flooring of the old house. One of the messages, dated July 14, 1952, was signed by then owner, Herschel Jennings Priestley (H.J.). In the message, H.J., who was principal of Jeffersontown High School in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, described the house, as well as former owners and occupants, and historical events of the day.
Gleason Board Members Sworn in During First Official Meeting: The first meeting of the newly-elected Gleason City Board took place Monday, December 7. The proceedings began with Gleason City Judge Tommy Moore swearing-in the board members, beginning with Mayor Charles Anderson. Out of the eight candidates running for office in the November 3 election, the four available alderman seats were filled by: incumbent – Keith Radford; and newcomers – Danny Browning, Wade Cook and Tommy Hodges.
CDC Offers New Guidelines for Quarantines: Director of Coordinated School Health Bethany Allen explained the new guideline says quarantine due to a close contact will only be 10 days – if no symptoms have occurred. A person who is in quarantine due to a household contact will be in quarantine for 20 days if the positive case cannot isolate and 10 if they can. If a student or staff member has been in quarantine for 7 days and takes a COVID test (rapid or PCR) and it is negative, they may return to school upon receipt of the negative test result.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum Quarantined with COVID-19: In a Facebook post, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum announced he has tested positive for COVID-19.
“On Thursday, December 10, I began not feeling so great,” Bynum said. “I had a slight fever and decided the most responsible thing to do would be to go and get tested. On Friday, I went to a local doctor’s office and got a rapid test, and tested positive for COVID.
Judge Moore’s Symptoms Improving After Being Diagnosed with COVID: General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, December 14, but says he had symptoms before then.
On Tuesday, December 22, General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore said, “I think I’m doing pretty good. I feel much better, and I’m hopefully on the mend. My taste and smell have come back, which are good signs. And I don’t feel as bad.” The judge says the virus makes him really tired, which may be a lingering issue.
Secretary Hargett Presents Grant Funding for Weakley County Archives: On Wednesday, December 16, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett was at the Weakley County Archives, located at 8250 Hwy. 22 in Dresden, for a grant presentation. The Archives staff, Weakley County commissioners Eric Owen and Gary Eddings, as well as several other elected county officials, were present to witness Secretary Hargett and District 76 State Representative Tandy Darby present an Archives Development Program Grant for $3,800.
Local Unemployment Rates Reflect Statewide Trend: Each of Tennessee’s 95 counties experienced decreased unemployment in November 2020, according to new data released by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD). Weakley County’s unemployment rate of 4.7 percent for the month of November was 1.8 percent lower than it was in October, when unemployment registered 6.5 percent. It was 2 percent lower than the national rate of 6.7 percent, and 0.6 percent less than the state average of 5.3 percent.
Weakley County House Fire Results in Death of Eight-Year-Old: For the second time in two years, members of a local Amish family are mourning the tragic death of one of their children. According to McKenzie Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jason Arnold, the fire occurred on Wednesday, December 23, at the home of David and Laura Yoder, located at 1280 Blaylock Store Rd., which is in the Weakley County portion of McKenzie. The Yoder’s eight-year-old son, Ivan, received significant injuries in the blaze and later died. In 2018, the family’s seven-year-old son, Eli, was struck by lightning and killed.
Holt to Join State Department of Agriculture: Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. announced the addition of Andy Holt to the Business Development Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA). Holt will serve as Director of Business Development in support of economic development initiatives, as well as agriculture and forestry industry expansion.
Mask Mandate Extended in County: On Monday, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum issued Executive Order 5, which extends the face-covering mandate through February 2021.