Year in Review: Gun-related laws were early 2013 concern of Commission
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Jan 12, 2014 | 830 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Before having been involved in attention-getting discussions on issues like animal control in late 2013, the Bradley County Commission had begun the year by making recommendations to state legislators.

On the heels of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in December 2012, the issue of gun control had been given a renewed focus nationwide.

While it did not have the authority to make gun-related laws, the Commission recommended a resolution at its Jan. 21 meeting that stated the county’s desire “... to support any legislation that preserves the gun ownership and carry rights of the citizens of Bradley County, the State of Tennessee, and the United States.”

Commissioner Adam Lowe said when introducing the resolution that it was a way to share the views of the county.

“It’s our petition for support for representation on an issue, which in many ways tends to be enforced at a county level,” Lowe said.

Many decisions were made over the course of the year. For example, on Jan. 23, the Commission approved $2.9 million in bonds to fund the construction of three Bradley County Fire and Rescue stations. The funding came from revenue from the Bradley County Fire tax, and the stations had been built and staffed by over 30 new firefighters by the time summer had ended.

However, a handful of issues garnered a great degree of discussion during the latter part of the year.

After schools started back for the fall, the Commission debated whether or not it should pass resolutions stating the government entity’s opinions on educational issues.

During the Oct. 21 meeting, the Commission voted to ask the Bradley County Board of Education to formulate an official opinion of the Common Core State Standards and make it known to the Commission.

They also voted to approve a resolution to be sent to the Tennessee General Assembly to express the county’s opposition against tying teachers’ licensures to scores given by the Tennessee Value-Added Assesment System, which is based on student test scores, among other factors.

Before the vote, some commissioners voiced concern that the governmental body may be sending mixed messages with the resolutions because it was passing its own resolution while asking for the school board’s official opinion at the same time.

“I have been an advocate for years now not to micromanage the school board,” Commissioner Jeff Yarber said. “We need to make a decision whether we are going to be a voice or not.”

However, he said the Commission could have an official opinion that was different from the school board’s simply by nature of the fact that residents of the county were being impacted by the issues.

As of its Jan. 6 meeting, the Commission had not received a response from the school board regarding Common Core. However, the school board had already shared its thoughts on the TVAAS.

One of the issues that invited much discussion during the latter part of the year was the delay of the construction of the Cleveland Bradley County State Veterans Home.

During the Nov. 12 meeting, Commissioner Mark Hall announced that he had receives a call telling him that the donated property on which the veterans home was to be built had been suddenly disapproved after months of working to ready the site for construction.

It was a decision by the State of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management that was met with the displeasure of many Commissioners and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.

Hall, who is also co-chair of the committee working to get the home built, said the call was to advise him the donated property on which the veterans home was to be built was suddenly disapproved after months of working to ready the site for construction.

“Disappointment and shock are probably an understatement,” Hall said.

He explained that, for reasons he was not immediately aware of, everything had come to a halt.

Larry McDaris, director of veterans services for the county, said when it was his turn to speak that a lot of time and money had been devoted to the project already. Things like environmental testing had already happened, and an architect had already been asked to begin designs.

Davis said he was “very frustrated” to learn the news because he had been led to believe that everything had been going smoothly before the disapproval.

He said he was given four concerns, including the grade of the land and the cost to expand Kile Lane, as explanations of the decision.

The Commission concluded at the time that it might look into the possibility of appealing the state’s decision in the future.

Meetings related to the issue outside of the Commission’s mettings later gave state officials the chance to reassure locals that the home would become a reality.

“This property and this assessment of it has been devastating to all of us, and I include myself because I want that home in Cleveland and Bradley County just as much as you do,” said Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder in a later meeting.

In one of its last decisions of the year, the Bradley County Commission also finalized its decision to choose a nonprofit organization to run animal control services for county residents.

With an 11-3 vote, commissioners voted to allow the county mayor’s office to sign a two-year contract with the SPCA of Bradley County.

The contract will begin when the county ’s current animal control agreement with the city of Cleveland ends in March 2014.

Previously, the Commission had been considering two different nonprofit proposals — one from the SPCA and one from The Ark of Cleveland. The SPCA’s proposal said animal control services through them would cost the county $80,000 per year, compared to the Ark’s proposal of $240,000 per year.

Lowe said there would be some “tweaking to the process” along the way as SPCA begins its work, but the Commission needs to move forward with a decision that will take effect right after the current animal control agreement ends next year.

In addition to discussing the matter in its own ad hoc committee, the county had been working with the city’s animal control ad hoc committee to create a possible partnership between the two local governments and a nonprofit organization.

The Ark of Cleveland had been the city’s pick, and the organization’s proposals to both ad hoc committees had included using Cleveland animal control officers to pick up stray animals. The SPCA, on the other hand, planned to handle animal pickup on its own.

The $240,000 cost of partnering with The Ark included “a chunk of the proposal going to the city,” said Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, who chaired the county ’s ad hoc committee.

Bill Winters, one of the commissioners who had been invited to join the city’s committee, said the city did not seem willing to compromise and consider a solution that did not include using the city’s paid animal control personnel.

During the first meeting of 2014, Alford said the Commission would need to name two of its members to the board, and the final contract has not been made final yet.