Tennessee legislators often are torn by heartbreaking choices between the demanding duties of Nashville and their emotional ties to home and community.
The Bradley County legislative delegation found itself facing this dilemma last Friday. State lawmakers normally have returned home by week’s end, but faced with wrapping up the work of the 107th General Assembly and saving taxpayer dollars, the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives worked into Friday evening and through the weekend in order to finish the legislative session early this week by approving Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget.
Doing so kept local legislators away from the series of events in Cleveland and Bradley County held in observance of the one-year anniversary of the tragedies that befell our community, and our people, on April 27, 2011.
Given the choice, all three — State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville representing the 9th Senatorial District; State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District; and State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District — assuredly would have preferred being with their families, their friends and their communities for these heartfelt memorials.
Yet they could not.
Missed were Friday’s volunteer luncheon hosted by the Long-Term Recovery Organization, the Yarber family home dedication, the Recovery 2012 community memorial and the candlelight vigil held at Waterville Community Elementary School on behalf of the storm’s nine victims.
But home was never far from heart as all three communicated their prayers and messages of support to our local residents and to the impacted families, including the nine who lost loved ones to those merciless storms. Each did it through our newspaper, one of several stories published last week and in Sunday’s edition in observance of our community’s first year of recovery.
We quote excerpts from each of their brief interviews:
“Even though we might not be able to see the scars on the people of our area, we know those scars are still there,” Bell told us. “I hope as the people of Tennessee gather this Sunday (April 29) to worship, they will continue to remember the families who lost loved ones last year.”
Bell told of his own family’s experiences and his fear for their well-being as he worked helplessly in Nashville during the April 27 tornadoes. “I had no idea of the extent of the devastation the people of Southeast Tennessee had suffered until the next morning.”
Brooks said his emotions were bittersweet. He was understandably disappointed at missing the one-year observances, but he looks to the future with gratitude toward those who are leading Bradley County’s recovery.
“Our hearts are heavy for those who lost family members, friends and neighbors on April 27, 2011,” Brooks said. “At the same time, as we recall the events of April 27, my heart is filled with gratitude for the hundreds of first responders, friends, neighbors, even strangers who responded with haste and help to anyone in need in Bradley County.”
He added, “It was overwhelming to see so many rush to the aid of those in need in our community. Although we still have more work yet before us, we have come a long way since last April.”
Watson joined Bell and Brooks in offering his support.
“A year has come and gone, and in time there is healing, but this kind of pain requires a gradual process,” he told us. “No one can overcome this kind of shock, and loss, overnight and especially not our Bradley County families who paid the ultimate price — the loss of loved ones.”
He added, “We have come a long way in a year’s time. We yet have far to go. But we’ll get there, as long as we work together and provided we continue an ongoing Bradley County motto of ‘neighbor helping neighbor.’ Of that happening, I have no doubt.”
Such allegiances between Nashville and Cleveland often lead to difficult decisions. But these are decisions that must be made.
Our legislative team remained in the state capitol to complete the work of all Tennessee residents. They made the right decision, but their thoughts never strayed from their community at this critical time.