Discovery park tops stories in 2007
It was mostly good news for Obion County in 2007.
Philanthropists Robert Kirkland and Bill Latimer, both of Union City, were spreading their wealth. Kirkland’s announcement that he plans to build a “discovery center” along the future Interstate 69 tops this past year’s stories, while Latimer’s $4 million gift to the Middle Tennessee Council Boy Scouts of America tied for No. 10.
Goodyear associates’ starting back to work at the beginning of the year after a three-month long strike came in as the second top story of 2007.
Industrial news was good, too. The ethanol plant in Obion broke ground. Union City sold its spec building at the Northwest Tennessee Regional Industrial Center and started a second building. Troy also leased its empty spec building and plans are under way for another spec building. Lennox announced its plan for expansion.
Both the Union City and Obion County school systems approved dress codes and hired new principals.
South Fulton searched for a new city manager and the county settled with Obion County Nursing Home administrator Marietta Hardy after a lengthy battle.
On a sad note, Sgt. John Mele of Union City was killed in Iraq.
To round out the top stories of 2007, as chosen by The Messenger’s news staff, improvements on the spillway and at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport tied with Latimer’s donation as the No. 10 stories.
Discovery Park of America
The Messenger’s No. 1 story of the year concerned a multi-million dollar gift with three strings attached by the local donors:
• Discovery Park of America must educate the children and youth — in particular — who come to explore it.
• It must entertain everyone who steps on to the 50-acre site to see whether it lives up to its name.
• It must be marketed and managed so as to attract a booming tourist base that would otherwise have no reason to exit the new I-69 superhighway from Canada to Mexico for a mid-point stop in Union City.
Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland announced their dream-gift in October and immediately selected and provided marching orders for the local planning committees who would help carefully chosen award-winning architect Douglas Cardinal and his team from Ottawa, Ontario, design and build Discovery Park of America.
The Kirklands’ story already involves more than 200 area citizens who have dedicated many hours to planning sessions during the three visits the architects have made to Obion County since October, plus additional time devoted to researching, planning and sketching in words and pictures their “outside the box” ideas for the project. That project will include not only a museum whose appearance alone should elevate it to a “must-see” proposition, but also a working Pioneer Village, an arboretum, a city-financed convention center capable of entertaining 800-1,000 guests and — hopefully — a first-class visitors’ center tied to the construction of I-69, which will have a pair of local exits travelers can use to access Discovery Park of America.
In December, the architectural team returned to Union City and unveiled their working concept for the museum. Its unique style was the subject of more Messenger stories.
The tales that beg to be told have not only been front page Messenger news multiple times, they have also broken new ground on The Messenger’s on-line presence, nwtntoday.com. Kirkland was the subject of that site’s first reporter-directed interview session. That interview has attracted more than 1,300 visitors, to date.
Attention from the Associated Press, Canadian newspapers interested in the project drawing their renowned architects southward, writers gathering material for books about I-69 and newspapers in adjoining states and communities that stand to benefit from Discovery Park of America’s construction have all been part of the stir created in The Messenger’s office by the stories.
And if the project — scheduled to break ground in March 2008 on a site just west of Union City Second Baptist Church — lives up to expectations, Discovery stories will most likely lead the 2008, 2009 and subsequent years’ lists of top stories for The Messenger as well.
Discovery promises to be the gift that keeps on giving for the reporters who keep on reporting and the readers who keep on reading — not to mention those who will delight in the reality.
Goodyear strike ends
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. workers returned to work in January 2007 after a three-month strike — the first for the local tire plant since 1997.
Workers at 12 plants in 10 states ended their strike by approving a three-year agreement covering 14,000 employees that included plans to close a Texas tire factory and created a health care fund for retirees. The contract was approved by all 12 locals, including Local 878L in Union City, and by the overall membership by a two-to-one margin.
Goodyear ultimately agreed to put $1 billion into a health care fund for retired union workers’ medical benefits, higher than the company’s previous $660 million offer but less than the union’s call for roughly double that amount.
Shortly after the strike ended, Todd Turner, production director in Americana, Brazil, was named the newest Goodyear plant manager in Union City. Turner had previously served four years as plant manager at Goodyear’s Engineered Products facility in Lincoln, Neb.
Yet another change for the North American tire company came in March when Goodyear announced Richard J. Kramer had been appointed president. Kramer joined Goodyear in March 2000 and was elected an officer of the company as vice president, corporate finance. He became vice president of finance for the North American Tire business in July 2002 and was promoted to senior vice president, strategic planning and restructuring in August 2003. In May 2004, Kramer became chief financial officer.
The local plant suffered a great loss in February when Jason Conley died from injuries he sustained in an accident at the plant. He had been a bias cutter machine operator. The plant joined four other local industries for the June National Safety Month program, “Celebrating Our Safe Communities.”
Three associates at the plant received minor injuries in a fire in the banberry area in May. Union City firefighters were told there was an electrical fire by the control room. Firefighters used fire extinguishers to put out the fire, but then there was an explosion, it was reported. At least one firefighter complained of problems with his ears after the incident. In October, Union City Fire Department personnel visited the Union City Goodyear plant to tour the facility in an effort to become better equipped to respond to fire service calls. The visits were part of the plant’s National Fire Protection Month activities.
In May, the local plant announced it was going back to 12-hour continuous shifts in September. At the time, Willis Hicks, recording secretary for Local 878, said it would be good news for Goodyear associates who had been laid off and had yet to receive a call back because more associates would be required. The company recently held a job fair in Union City.
In December, Goodyear announced the company will be working with NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC) to develop non-pneumatic tires for use first on the moon and eventually on Mars.
The Union City plant also reported it is no longer transporting waste to the local landfill. Measures are in place throughout the plant to reduce or recycle all waste streams. Several major steps were taken with the packaging of milling waste and shipment of the plant’s first container of to-be-recycled milling waste to a company in northern Ohio.
Ethanol plant groundbreaking
On Sept. 1, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker toured the construction site of a new ethanol plant near Obion. Ethanol Grain Processors (EGP) chief executive officer Jim Patterson said construction activity will intensify in January. “We are on schedule, as far as construction goes. There’ll be about 400 workers on site some time during January. There might be a housing crunch, what with their trying to find housing,” Patterson said. Construction cost is estimated at $170 million. The plant is scheduled to be operational on Sept. 1, 2008. It will be produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year and other products.
Industry was on the move in the last year in Obion County.
It was announced in early March that Mi-Jack Products Inc., through its affiliated company Greenfield Products Inc., would move and expand part of its engineering and manufacturing operations to Obion County, creating up to 85 new jobs over the next three years.
The company purchased the city’s spec building at the Northwest Tennessee Regional Industrial Center on Everett Boulevard. Union City’s city council also agreed to authorize applications for a grant and state funds for infrastructure improvements at the industrial park.
In April, Troy officials announced that Würth Snider Bolt & Screw Inc. had decided to lease the town’s spec building. They also announced that proceeds from the building would be used to build a third building, similar to proceeds from the first building being used to pay off the one Snider Bolt & Screw would lease.
It was announced in early September that if all went well, Union City would have its second spec building constructed at the Northwest Tennessee Regional Industrial Park by mid-December. The Union City Council voted to guarantee a $3 million loan from Obion County for the building project.
Lennox announced a local expansion in early October, when Lennox International Inc. announced plans to close its hearth products plant in Lynwood, Calif., and consolidate its fireplace manufacturing operations in its Union City plant. The move was expected to add between 100 and 150 new jobs over the next 12 months, according to company officials.
School dress codes
What to wear to school was a hot topic in 2007 around the county, with standard dress codes adopted by both the Obion County and Union City school boards.
It started May 7 when the Obion County School Board heard the first reading of a proposed policy regarding standard dress and dress codes.
Meanwhile, on May 14, students in Union City and their families were asked for input as the Union City School Board considered standard or basic dress for students for the coming school year. A public meeting was held May 24 to hear ideas and concerns.
The dress code policy became more heated for the Obion County School Board than for its Union City counterpart, with students and parents expressing their opinions during a two-hour public hearing held in late May at Obion County Central High School. Very little support was expressed by speakers from among a crowd of about 225 people.
On June 4, a scheduled second and final reading of Obion County’s new dress code policy didn’t happen. Instead, the second reading of the original policy died and school board members undertook efforts to reach middle ground. They passed a new standard dress policy on its first reading, with a second and final reading approved with little fanfare June 28.
The Union City School Board passed its new standard dress code on June 11. Comment made at the public hearing and in its aftermath were reviewed by the board and several of the suggestions were incorporated into the original plan.
New school principals
There were an abundance of new principals and assistant principals in both the Obion County and Union City school systems during 2007.
In April, Sheila Stone was named principal of Black Oak Elementary in Hornbeak following announcement of the retirement of Tommy Carpenter. It was later revealed that Mary Coleman would be assistant principal.
Significant changes in administration at the county’s two high schools — Obion County Central and South Fulton — came in May. Obion County Central High School principal Ray Wilson submitted his resignation, while Hillcrest Elementary School principal Adam Stephens was named the new principal of South Fulton Middle/High School, succeeding Keith Frazier, who became an assistant principal and athletic director.
Also in May, Obion County School System alternative school director Russ Davis was chosen as assistant principal of the Career Technology Center.
In Union City, it was also announced in May that Michael Paul Miller had been named the new principal at Union City Elementary School, where he had been an assistant principal. He succeeded Teresa Johnson, who retired.
June brought the announcement that Linda Short had been named principal of OCCHS and Melinda McCullough had been tapped as principal of Hillcrest Elementary. Tommy Victory and Craig Rogers were subsequently named assistant principals at OCCHS, while OCCHS assistant principal Regina Patterson was moved to Lake Road Elementary to serve as an assistant principal there.
In July, Barry Duncan was named the new principal at Union City High School, succeeding Donnie Cox, who retired. John Easley and Jacob Cross were chosen as new assistant principals at the high school.
Finally, in September, local educator Elise Braswell was named principal of South Fulton Elementary School, succeeding Dale Hollowell, who became attendance supervisor at the county school system’s central office.
city manager search
After more than three months of searching, the South Fulton City Commission eventually came home in its search for a new city manager to succeed Kathy Dillon.
Ms. Dillon submitted her resignation Aug. 17 in order to accept a position as director of administration and accounting for the City of Union City beginning Oct. 1.
A month later, on Sept. 17, the commission narrowed the several applicants to a short list of candidates and began conducting interviews in its search for Ms. Dillon’s successor. After many weeks of interviews and much discussion, the commission unanimously voted Oct. 31 to offer the position to Ralph Wise of Kansas City, Kan., who has prior city manager experience. A week later, the commission made decisions regarding salary, moving expenses and other issues in its hiring of Wise as new city manager.
Within days, though, the commission received word that Wise had decided not to accept the position for personal reasons and the search for a new city manager resumed in mid-November.
At a called meeting Dec. 3, the commission voted 3-2 to offer the job to South Fulton resident Jeff Vowell, who grew up in the Twin Cities area and who has a background in banking and production. Several residents were on hand to show their support for him.
Vowell, 35, informed the commission a couple of days later that he would accept the city manager’s position, which he began Dec. 20.
Nursing home lawsuit settled
On July 13, on the third day of a jury trial in the $2 million lawsuit brought by former Obion County Nursing Home administrator Marietta Hardy against the county, Circuit Judge Bill Acree Jr. announced that both sides had agreed to a settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed. Ms. Hardy, who began her service at the county-owned facility in 1988, sued the county for alleged breach of contract. She was fired by the nursing home board of directors in March 2005. Scott Ewing and David Slayton served as interim directors until May 2005, when the board hired Tom Reddick of Martin.
Union City soldier killed
On Sept. 13, while on his third tour of duty in Iraq, Sgt. (E5) John William Mele III was killed by the blast of a roadside bomb. Mele, 25 at the time, was the son of Linda and Michael Mele of Union City. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
No. 10 (tie)
Latimer funds camp
Philanthropist Bill Latimer of Union City gave the Middle Tennessee Council Boy Scouts of America $4 million in 2007 for a new 1,500-acre high adventure reservation.
The entire $4 million grant from Latimer is earmarked for the council’s property on the border of White and Van Buren counties. The location will be known as the Latimer High Adventure Reservation.
The gift is the largest contribution to the Middle Tennessee Council in the organization’s 87-year history of providing young men and women with moral values and life-skill training through Scouting.
The property includes natural areas for caving, rappelling, canoeing, rafting, mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, camping and other activities. The reservation will be open to all Tennessee Scouts, Explorers and Venturers, as well as other collaborative non-profit and state government organizations, in late 2008.
Latimer and his wife, Carol, along with Kathleen Elam of Union City, previously gave substantial donations to make the Obion County Public Library on East Reelfoot Avenue a reality.
No. 10 (tie)
On Oct. 5, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation approved a water quality permit for the Tennessee Department of Transportation to proceed with building a new spillway and bridge complex at Reelfoot Lake. Meanwhile, TDOT had contracted with a private firm to install a retaining wall on the lake side of the old structure to impede leakage through the foundation of the old structure which was built in the 1930s and still serves as both a spillway and two-lane bridge on Highway 21. Construction of that $3 million repair project began last spring and was finished on Sept. 28.
No. 10 (tie)
Everett-Stewart Regional Airport improvements
On Nov. 1, construction began on a new 15,000-square-foot hangar at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport. The new hangar will house up to 10 planes. The airport, previously known as Everett-Stewart Airport, received its new regional designation in December 2006 when officials of Obion and Weakley counties inked an agreement to jointly operate the airport in the interests of local economic development. Another addition is JoAnne Speer, who was named airport manager. She succeeds longtime airport manager Al Howell, who retired in February.
Published in The Messenger 1.1.08