Commissioners OK Use Of County Land For Greenway Project

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Hundreds of Cannon County High School students are eager to see a greenway developed in Cannon County. Thanks to action taken by the Cannon County Commission Saturday, they are one step closer to their goal.

After hearing and viewing a presentation by a group of students coordinating the project, commissioners gave their approval for the use of county-owned land for the greenway during their regular quarterly meeting held at the Cannon County Courthouse.

If the project goes forward and continues to completion, the greenway would run from the Arts Center of Cannon County on John Bragg Highway to Dillon Park and then to the high school, following the path of the East Fork of the Stones River through Woodbury.

However, students said Saturday that the plan is to build the greenway in short stages, the first one being a trail from the Woodbury Lions Club building on West Adams St. to the Main Street bridge near Chilangos Restaurant, approximately one-sixth mile.

The students also asked the county for assistance in applying for state and federal grant money to go toward funding the project, and County Executive Mike Gannon said they would receive it. It is estimated over $2 million would be needed to construct the entire 2.5-mile greenway.

"We all want a greenway," Gannon said. "It would benefit this community to have one."

The students said that in addition to providing health and economic benefits to the community, a greenway wiuld also improve quality of life in Cannon County and increase property values. It would also help the county regains its status as a Three-Star Community.

In other school-related matters, commissioners also heard from Director of Schools Barbara Parker. On the subject of the impact of the H1N1 flu on Cannon County schools, Parker said there have been 55 students with confirmed cases of the virus since August, with "no more than 8-10 absences on any given day from H1N1."

Parker also told the commissioners the school system has seen a decrease in enrollment this year. "As of yesterday (Oct. 16) we have 46 fewer students than we did last year."

Breaking down the current enrollment of 2, 286 students in the school system, Parker said the number of students is up at the high school but down at the elementary level. Also, there are 200 more male students enrolled in county schools than there are female, she said.

Commissioners were also given an overview of the Tennessee Diploma Project at the meeting. The project creates more rigorous graduation requirements in state schools in an effort to align Tennessee's curriculum with those of other states.

According to leaders of the state's business community, too few high school graduates are demonstrating the knowledge and skills needed for even entry-level jobs or freshman coursework at a college or university. This lack of preparedness is costing both families and communities.

Beginning this year, the Tennessee Department of Education has implemented the Tennessee Diploma Project (TDP), a broad overhaul of standards and curriculum designed to challenge students and better prepare them for college and the workforce.

Students entering high school this Fall are beginning a new path with increased graduation requirements from 20 credits to 22, a focus on the skills needed for college and the workforce in an ever expanding global economy, and new assessments.

Gateway Exams in high school are being replaced by end-of-course exams that truly test the mastery of expectations leading to college- and work-readiness. The overall assessment system includes the ACT’s College and Readiness Test, Explore (given in the 8th grade) and the PLAN College Readiness Test given in the 10th grade.

In other business, county Administrator of Elections Stan Dobson gave the commissioners estimates on the costs involved if the county is forced to switch to an Optical Scanning System for precinct voting. Under current law, the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act is a state law that requires all 95 of Tennessee’s counties to use paper ballots with optical scan voting machines by November 2010. Several pending court cases may delay implementation of the act, however

While the state would pay the cost of purchasing the machines (estimated at &11,000 per machine, Cannon County would require nine), county governments will be responsible for other costs associated with the act, such as ballot printing, ballot storage and election worker training.

"In the current economic crisis it is necessary to keep you appraised of all aspects involved in this process," Dobson told the commissioners. "If this is put off till 2011 or 2012 this will give our county time to out budgets in place to take care of this instead of one large some now. I'm giving this to you today so that you may make necessary arrangements."

In addition to the costs associated with changing machines, a much bigger issue is the lack of availability of the equipment, according to the State Election Commission. The act requires counties to use equipment that meets the security and reliability standards adopted by the federal Election Assistance Commission in 2005. Currently, there are no vendors who sell equipment that meets those standards – in Tennessee or elsewhere in the country. Additionally, the commission’s certification process is very thorough, so it appears there is insufficient time for a vendor to complete that process and become certified before the 2010 deadline.

In the final matter of business brought before the commissioners Saturday, Fifth District Commissioner Bob Stoetzel spoke to fellow members about the county's need for a standalone judicial building.

"There is never a good time for any small local government to spend money on a new building. Ours is a small government compared to a lot of the other 94 counties in the State of Tennessee. However, it is always a good time to start planning on growth and need. Over the last couple of years I have advocated the need to separate the daily operations of the judicial system from the other courthouse functions. The court system in this building has security issues as well as lack of room to accommodate large gathering such as a jury trial and or the General Sessions court hearings." Stoetzel said.

"The office of the Circuit Court has outgrown its facilities once again. In 1982 the Clerk was in the office where Donald Preston now occupies. It moved down stairs in 1986 to be able to take care of the growing court proceedings; and now it needs to be relocated, but this time, in my opinion it needs to be away from the everyday operations of the court house.

"The need for more than one courtroom is now and has been that way for several years. There is no privacy in the courthouse. The outside noise cannot be sealed out and the din of traffic causes those inside the room the problem of hearing correctly what their fate will be. This is a major problem for them as well as their attorneys and judges.

"I am asking the commission to start the ball rolling on the judicial building. What needs to be done now is to tentatively select a location of the land that would be beneficial to the Judges, clerks, attorneys, prisoner detention as well as safety and ease of access for the citizens that have to use the justice system. The county has land in the Dallas Fox Industrial Park which would be in sight of the jail at all times. It could be put on jail property or across Alexander Drive to the left of the walking track. I am not saying that I begin to know what it would take to make the land suitable for a building and a large parking area; those were just some options to look at.

"The needs would be mostly two courtrooms, the clerk’s office, and judge’s chambers, waiting area for witnesses, area for attorney/client rooms (two) and a holding cell for each gender of prisoners. The building would be on one floor and this will eliminate the need for any lifts or elevators. A large Clerks office will be needed for the associate clerks for the Juvenile, General and Circuit Court business and records. And I suppose the Chancellors office with the Clerk and Master will also make the trip across the river.

"If you, the commission would take action today and authorizes Chairmen Mike Gannon to secure an architect to draw up a physical plan and then a cost assessment we will know how to proceed to get an answer to this issue.

"We will never know how much it will cost to build this unless we authorize the drawing. It will be to our advantage to know this information, and when we do have the schematics we will be prepared just in case we have an opportunity at outside money such as a grant. Be assured we will need this in the near future and we don’t want to be unprepared when the time comes. If the opportunity arises we need to be prepared."

After hearing from Stoetzel, the commissioners approved a motion for County Executive Gannon to draw plans for a building and obtain cost estimates.

• Commissioners also approved a request from the Mooretown Volunteer Fire Department for a loan of $7,500 to purchase air packs. Michael George of the Mooretown VFD said the department hoped to be able to repay the loan within a year.
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