Redistricting, tornado tie for No. 3
by By GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer and David Davis Managing Editor
Dec 30, 2012 | 1009 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Twister
Banner photos, GREG KAYLOR
JUST MONTHS AFTER nine people were killed in Bradley County, a tornado stripped trees on the landscape and damaged homes March 2. Federal Emergency Management Agency once again returned to Bradley County to provide aid. The storm generated in Harrison and traveled the White Oak Valley northeast to Charleston and beyond.
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Twister created debate on sirens

By GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer

March winds brought Bradley County another damaging storm that destroyed homes and property.

Although not comparable to the terror of April 11, 2011, the March 2 tornado still brought many residents’ attention to the weather and memories of what had happened in April. The twister landed in a two-way tie for third place among the Top 10 newsmakers in Bradley County for 2012, as voted by editors and staff writers of the Cleveland Daily Banner.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials once again set up shop in Bradley County to help residents who were struck by the storm that formed in Harrison and trekked through Bradley County, the city of Cleveland and eventually through Charleston and into Polk and surrounding counties.

Residents began to suggest warning systems such as a siren. A number of high-tech systems had already been put in place.

Ace Hardware teamed up with several companies to provide weather radios and a special day for information sharing.

With all the recent tornadoes, changes have been made in getting public service, watch and warning messages to area residents.

“To the best of my knowledge, we have never had a siren warning system in Bradley County or Cleveland,” said Troy Spence, director of Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency.

Warning sirens were first used as Civil Defense measures for possible air raids. They are also used in some of the “Tornado Alley” states as a warning system.

“It would cost approximately $9 million to install a siren system to cover the entire county and city,” said Spence, who cited a Federal Signal Corp. assessment of needs.

Bradley County is comprised of 333 square miles and sirens would have to be placed around the county to provide full coverage.

“We couldn’t just put a system in the city. I have to consider the county as a whole. We value all lives and every life is important,” Spence explained.

The down side of a mechanical and electronic warning siren system can’t be ignored, Spence said.

“A siren doesn’t give you any time information regarding an incoming watch or warning. Homes now are built to shut out noise. Windows and heavy insulation block out sound. A resident would probably have to be outside to hear a warning siren,” Spence said.

“People can see an emergency vehicle approach from a distance long before they can hear their sirens. Warning sirens for this would have to be strategically positioned to provide coverage and still may not be heard inside a home or structure,” he said.

Spence said information he received shows the current warning system sirens used by Tennessee Valley Authority have been in place for 20 years and some of the sirens fail during testing.

Maintenance of the system is continual.

Spence said $6.5 million is being spent to upgrade the TVA system.

“In Bradley County and Cleveland, we have approximately 100,000 residents. Nixle.com is free. All anyone has to do is sign up for it. It’s a personal system which delivers information to e-mail or cellphones.

“Weather radios are another good option as well as media broadcasts. Weather radios are a low-cost, 24-hour/day notification system of any impending weather event,” Spence explained.

“Verizon-cell service had issues prior to the March 2 tornado. Phone service was jammed but data wasn’t and messages to the residents who had signed up for Nixle.com got the watches and warnings within seconds of our posting. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter and the CBCEMA website are also options,” he added.

“A tornado siren system has been described as ‘Cold War’ technology,” Spence said. “Some Civil Defense agencies utilized the 120-decibel sirens to warn of danger.”

He added, “We don’t drive a dinosaur to get to work every day. Times and technology change. These new technologies cost Bradley County taxpayers zero dollars. In my opinion, we would be going backward because sirens are an antiquated system, expensive to install and to maintain.”

Spence also noted a resident may be out of town or state and will still receive the Nixle.com message from CBCEMA during a weather or other emergency event.

“Residents who may be traveling can keep up with what is going on back at home or, for example, if family members live out of state, can keep up with information of happenings as well. They can check and know what is going on in Bradley County,” Spence said.

Weather radio sales were also a big event after this year’s tornado as well as the 2011 storms.

Prior to the March 2 storm, only 800 residents had signed up to Nixle.com.

Thousands of people have now signed up for Nixle and ReadyTn.com. ReadyTn.com is a free application for Android and I-phones.

To add Nixle.com, go to www.bradleyco.net and click on the Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency link to activate e-mail or texting options.

Visit www.tennessee.gov to download the application ReadyTn.com free of charge for smart phones.

CBCEMA is also in the planning stages for a National Weather Service Weather Spotter’s Class.

According to officials, standing-room-only crowds have participated in the events since the April 2011 storms which killed nine people locally and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

Bradley County split in Top 10

By DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor

Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said in November 2001, he worked hard to unify Bradley County in the 3rd Congressional District. At that time, the county was split between the 3rd and 2nd districts, the latter being represented by Congressman Jimmy Duncan.

After 10 years of unity, Bradley County again is split on the state senate and congressional levels — and among newsroom staff as it ended in a tie for third place among the Top 10 stories in the Cleveland Daily Banner for 2012. Sharing the third-place spot among top newsmakers was the tornado that ripped through the Cleveland and Bradley County community on March 2.

State Sen. Mike Bell represents the 9th Senatorial District, which includes Cleveland, and Bradley County to the west and north, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk counties. State Sen.-elect Todd Gardenhire will represent parts of Hamilton and Bradley counties. His new 10th Senatorial District includes Lookout Mountain, downtown Chattanooga, Ridgeside, East Ridge, Apison, South Cleveland, eastern Bradley County and Charleston.

Bell said Friday morning, “Even though session has not started, Todd and I speak almost daily about issues affecting Bradley County. What the citizens need to realize is that Cleveland and Bradley County will now have two senators at the table every time a need arises. There will be two senators advocating for the transportation and economic needs of our area.”

Bell added, “Sen. Gardenhire and I are not only fellow senators but friends. From his business background and life experiences, he has strengths I don't have and those strengths will benefit our district.”

The state redistricting plans passed Jan. 13 after Sen. Jim Kyle, a Memphis Democrat, pitched the only argument during a Senate floor debate against splitting Bradley County. By the end of business, Republicans divided Bradley County between state senatorial and congressional districts. Congressional districts were carved from voting precincts down to block levels.

Kyle proposed an alternative map to the Regional Integrity Plan eventually pushed through by the Republican Party. The Democrat’s alternative proposed giving Knoxville its own senator. He said the map was an attempt to respect county and municipal boundaries. The alternative also kept as much of Chattanooga in one district as possible.

“I believe the most significant constitutional division in this plan is the changing of a district in regard to Bradley County,” Kyle said. “In response to the resolution of the Bradley County Republican Party and Bradley County Commission, we have looked to see if we could draw a district where Bradley County did not need to be divided. We didn’t do that because we’re nice guys or we’re in opposition to the senator in that area.”

The Bradley County Republican Party and Bradley County Commission openly opposed splitting the county.

The local party’s executive committee unanimously approved a resolution against splitting Bradley County into two state senate districts because it would “disrupt the cohesive, clear and unified voice” of the county in Nashville.

The executive committee urged all three Tennessee Senatorial Redistricting Regional Coordinators and current elected officials to maintain the entirety of Bradley County in a single state senatorial district.

Bradley County Republican Party Chairman David Smith said, “We have been fortunate in Bradley County to be well represented in the Tennessee State Legislature. Reps. Eric Watson, Kevin Brooks and Sen. Mike Bell have all been great assets for Bradley County. We want Sen. Bell to continue to represent all of Bradley County. Splitting our county into two separate senatorial districts greatly weakens our county. It is important for our growth and economic development to have a unified voice at the state level.”

The resolution stated Bradley County is one of the 10 stand-alone, major metropolitan areas in the state and any attempt to split the county into two separate state senatorial districts would have a detrimental effect on one of Tennessee’s largest centers of economic and cultural growth. In addition to disrupting the cohesive, clear and unified voice of all Bradley County, redistricting Bradley County into two senatorial districts “is not necessary nor needed for the creation of a new district.”

The Bradley County Commission unanimously passed a resolution opposing splitting Bradley County into two senatorial districts three days later on Jan. 4.

The resolution stated, “It is the opinion of the Bradley County Commission that the redistricting of Bradley County into two senatorial districts would dilute the unified voice and power of Bradley County citizens in the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I believe it will hurt us, long-term,” 5th District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.

He said dividing the county would dilute residents’ voice in the Tennessee Senate and feared the lack of voice could have a negative effect on state funding the county receives.

Fourth District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said those in his district had expressed their desire to stay in the current senatorial district. For him, supporting the resolution was a way to make the opinion of those in his district heard.

Kyle said dividing two counties to form one senatorial district violates the Tennessee Constitution.

“I believe this is a fatal flaw in this plan and a flaw that will cause us to come back here another day,” he said. “It is a flaw based on error in judgment on how we follow our Constitution.”

Former Bradley County Election Commissioner Milan Blake said in a letter to the editor, “Not only does the current map split Bradley County between the 3rd and the 4th [Congressional districts], it splits them at the precinct level as well!

“We’ve all read or heard about the dividing of Bradley County for the last week or so,” he added. “The Bradley County Republican Party, Bradley County Commission, as well as a number of individual voters have voiced their opposition.

“I don’t think anybody thought they would break up precincts. Those who vote at Walker Valley, the Senior Center, Oak Grove, Michigan Avenue, Blue Springs, Waterville, Blythe Bower and Black Fox have been divided. Some of the voters will remain in the 3rd Congressional District and some will be moved into the 4th. So a voter standing next to you in line on election day could be voting for a totally different set of candidates for U.S. Congress!

“Valley View is the only precinct that stays completely in the 3rd. McDonald, Prospect, Hopewell, E.L. Ross, Lee University, Community Services, Stuart and CHS are completely in the 4th.

“Why is this a big deal? First, it will cost Bradley County taxpayers more money to hold elections. The different set of candidates at a precinct requires an additional set of ballots (even with the electronic machines we use). It will cost more to audit and canvas the results. Next, even with all the due diligence and preparation in the world, the potential for a voter getting the wrong ballot just went up. Not to mention if a candidate contested the results.

“I know and fully admit, at the end of the day, it is the voter’s responsibility to know what ballot they should receive, vote on and submit. Trust me, I’ve had those conversations, but come on ... this does not have to be.”

Blake said Friday that he still stands by his letter.

This was the Republican Party’s first attempt to redraw district lines. The GOP gained control of both state houses for the first time in 2008. The historic 2008 statewide elections gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1849.

Bell said Tennessee’s past with respect to reapportionment has not been pretty.

“From 1910 to 1960, there was no redistricting in the state of Tennessee and the Democrats did that to keep their power in the rural areas,” Bell said. “You had some urban areas in the House where the districts had 70,000 or 80,000 people. You had some rural areas where they had 15,000 people. Under Democrat majorities, every redistricting plan constructed landed in court and was thrown out as unconstitutional in 1972, 1976, 1982 and 1992. Only the 2002 plan went unchallenged, and we have since been told that even that plan was constitutionally questionable.”

The overriding constitutional task is to assure citizens of equal representation. This right is rooted in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Tennessee case, Baker v. Carr, which set the “one man, one vote” standard that is used in redistricting nationwide.

Bell said, “The federal mandate is to draw districts as closely as possible to the perfect population number, while Tennessee’s Constitution in Article 2, Section 6 says we must keep counties whole. This is where the competing requirements begin. As one of my colleagues put it, ‘We have got to abide by the federal requirements to the extent we use Article 2, Section 6 in our state Constitution as a guideline in abiding by the U.S. Constitution as we are doing so. We certainly cannot abide by it to the extent we are in violation of the federal Constitution. This is a very tough task indeed.’”

Brandon Puttbrese, Tennessee Democratic Party communications director, said in mid-December 2011 there was no excuse for delaying the release of the maps when available technology and the length of time since census data had been released are taken into consideration.

But, during his debate on the Senate floor, Kyle expressed confidence the Republicans did not string the Democratic Caucus along. If a map had existed, it would have been distributed. But, for some reason, it couldn’t be done until hours before the Senate Judiciary hearing.

Shortly after the Senate voted 21-12 to pass its plan, the House of Representatives followed suit to divide the county into two senatorial districts by a vote of 60-29-1.