By RICK NORTON
Looking back on 2017 brings a wealth of emotions, depending on individual perspective and personal experience.Local residents will smile, some will frown, others will smirk in frustration and utter …
Looking back on 2017 brings a wealth of emotions, depending on individual perspective and personal experience.
Local residents will smile, some will frown, others will smirk in frustration and utter “good riddance” with decided finality, and another crowd will choose simply to look ahead in hope of better days in the new year.
To borrow from a grand old cliché, “To each his own.”
Regardless of joy or angst or something in between, there’s no doubting the 365 days of 2017 brought a collection of newsy events. As evidence, the Cleveland Daily Banner on New Year’s Day completed its annual Top 10 Newsmakers listing for the year — as voted by the reporters and editors of the newsroom who covered each development with pen, pad and camera.
But because of story volume, and news impact, the Top 10 actually became a conglomerate of 17 events because five of the rankings (Nos. 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10) landed in two- or three-way ties.
And that was just part of the telling of the story of 2017. There were many other chapters, each weighing in with an impact of its own.
From Dec. 18 through the first day of 2018, the Banner news staff wrote summaries and updates about those 17. Yet, some of the vote-getters from the past year fell only a few votes shy of Top 10 status.
It is this group today that we highlight. We call them the Top 10 Newsmakers Honorable Mention. A few are mentioned below, but even these don’t do complete justice to a year of news happenings that shaped the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and brought a resounding chorus of cheers and jeers from its people.
In no specific order, these Honorable Mentions include:
Cleveland’s own NCAA II university, headed by President Dr. Paul Conn, is always a part of the news landscape, even when the news isn’t of “breaking” variety. But consider this: The downtown school, whose roots date back all the way to the old Bob Jones College and beyond, opened the doors on yet another modern, high-tech academic building when it unveiled its School of Business. Perhaps this is just a sampling of more to come as Lee enters the year of its 100th anniversary.
News events at the local public utility sometimes fly under the radar of public display. But CU’s year of news was no less impactful in 2017 thanks to the humanitarian nature of its workforce and the ongoing battle against the elements.
Over the course of the past year, a few of CU’s biggest headlines involved a pair of major power outages that knocked out the lights of thousands of local customers, both coming on the same day. On a more positive note, the local utility sent crews twice to major embattled areas: To Gatlinburg to aid in power restoration following the tragic wildfires that killed 14 people and destroyed some 2,500 homes and businesses; and to Florida to help in returning electrical power to hundreds of thousands of residents whose lives were disrupted by Hurricane Irma.
Tim Henderson, CU president and CEO, and Bart Borden, vice president of the Electric Division, have made no secret of the utility’s commitment to come to the aid of those in need … much like 33 outside utility crews did for Cleveland Utilities following the devastating tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011.
Aubrey Ector, chairman of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities, and the group's five members, remain in full support of CU's willingness to send emergency crews to outside communities.
Partial Payment Program:
For eight years, this Bradley County Trustee’s Office initiative has earned plenty of headlines because it has made a difference in the lives of 1,336 local home and property owners who are finding it tough to pay their taxes using the conventional once-a-year, lump-sum payment. In a program designed by Trustee Mike Smith and his staff — which came in response to taxpayer requests in 2010 — area residents, most of whom are elderly and how live on fixed incomes, have the option of paying their property taxes in monthly installments, or quarterly or some other frequency.
Incidentally, the second enrollment period for 2018 taxes for partial payment participation begins Wednesday and will continue through Friday, Feb. 9.
“Without the approval of the comptroller and our county commissioners, we could not have made this program available to the taxpayers who need it most,” Smith said. “I will always take this attitude: The partial payment program (also known as the monthly payment plan) is good for Bradley County and it is good for Bradley County residents.”
One of the Cleveland and Bradley County community’s most respected, and impactful, nonprofit organizations had a busy year. Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region, whose territory includes Bradley and several of its county neighbors, said goodbye to longtime leader Melanie Connatser — who accepted a nonprofit position in Chattanooga for a healthcare organization — and welcomed a new president, Jennifer Pennell-Aslinger, who accepted the post after a long career in the banking industry.
Also in 2017, JA honored Cleveland businesswoman, civic activist and volunteer Nancy Casson with its highest volunteer honor, the Ron Braam Award — which is named after one of JA’s most notable volunteers.
100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc.:
Through its mentoring, scholarship and health programs, this people-minded and youth-driven organization maintained its traditionally low profile while stepping up to meet the needs of an entire community and on behalf of local teens, and younger, who need this: Opportunity, and a big brother whose life experiences can serve as a role model.
One of the deepest humanitarian actions by “The 100” last year came after the race-inspired violence in Charlottesville, Va. After a tragic death in that community — caused by a clash of ideologies — 100 Black Men of Bradley County Jonathan Porter urged racial restraint in all communities, including Cleveland and Bradley County.
A call from Jesse Jackson:
In a two-part series, the Cleveland Daily Banner trumpeted a message by heralded civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr. Just prior to the racial conflict in Charlottesville, Jackson’s teams in Chicago and Washington, D.C., began a series of personal contacts to news media outlets throughout the South in support of peaceful protest by all entities.
One of the newspapers Jackson’s camp contacted was the Cleveland Daily Banner. Once a time was arranged, a Banner reporter and editor interviewed the civil rights legend for an hour.
In 2017, Tennova unveiled the newest in modern medicine: robotics surgery. Also in the year, the local facility celebrated its 65th anniversary as CEO Coleman Foss spoke of the hospital’s future and continuing plans for growth and medical advancements in 2018 and beyond.
Mental Health Court:
Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Freiberg spearheaded a legal milestone last year by designing, developing, implementing and announcing the launch of a Mental Health Court in this community. Front-page headlines documented the need, and the future impact, of this new arm of the judiciary in which local residents facing emotional challenges and mental illness will have their cases heard in a specialized setting.
A Humanitarian Award winner:
His is a name synonymous with helping others. He is Mitchell Cochran, store manager at Food City South who in 2017 was named recipient of the corporation’s Claude Varney Humanitarian Award. This is the highest honor Food City gives to one of its associates, and Cochran became the Cleveland community’s first honoree since the purchase of regional BI-LO stores by Food City.
Cochran’s list of favored charitable causes is indicative of his management practices at the Food City location. Dating back to the years of Red Food Store and BI-LO, and now Food City, Cochran has served the corporation more than 40 years. He joined the Red Food franchise as a young man shortly after its conversion from the former M.C. Headrick stores.
Retirements and successors:
There were many, probably more than this newspaper should try to mention in its list of Newsmaker Honorable Mentions. But here are a few.
Terry Gallaher, longtime director of Bradley County Juvenile Court, retired, and was succeeded by Vickie Towne, whose work with the operation made her a good fit to become the court’s new leader.
Tammy Johnson, formerly the resource development director for Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland and who left the operation to start her own business, returned to the popular nonprofit in 2017 as its new executive director. Johnson succeeded Chip Willis.
CASA of Bradley and Polk counties also saw a change in faces. Josiah Vacheresse, a visionary director, left the position in order to accept a new career opportunity. Holly Carroll succeeded him.
The community also said farewell to another trio of prominent retirees. They included Joe Wilson, director of Cleveland/Bradley County 911; Nancy Neal, vice president of communications for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce; and Dr. Bill Balzano, president of Tennessee Christian Preparatory School.
Cleveland State Community College:
Not only did CSCC celebrate its 50th anniversary, and featured a commencement address by Gov. Bill Haslam, President Dr. Bill Seymour also continued to lead the charge in fundraising for a future new academic building.
Some tearful goodbyes:
As any community is forced to do over the course of a year, Cleveland and Bradley County said its goodbyes to four prominent leaders whose deaths were not only heartbreaking, but in some cases not expected.
One was Mark Grissom, former owner of Grissom Funeral Home and a popular radio personality, the last of which came with WOOP-FM. Grissom anchored a morning talk show that left the community talking, and listening for more.
Other heartfelt losses to this community were Bill George, a longtime and much-admired Church of God and Cleveland historian; Tim Spires, a businessman and civic leader known most for his “Service Above Self” work as a Cleveland Rotarian; Bill Creech, a former Bradley County commissioner whose passion for community was exceeded only by his belief in fairness in government; and Jim Sharp, a well-respected developer who was known most for his modern subdivision developments, and even his leadership in an annual lighthearted “Rook” tournament featuring some of the community’s leaders, both past and present.
Vision in government:
One of the most talked-about developments in Cleveland’s municipal government was a revolutionary downtown vision plan whose design was anchored by City Manager Joe Fivas. Over the course of the year, Fivas led a series of community meetings about city needs and also spearheaded the development of a redevelopment plan that includes Historic Downtown Cleveland, as well as the repurposing of the city’s south side. Namely, this includes the old Whirlpool manufacturing site in the King Edward Avenue area, as well as the city’s continued support of the Blythe Oldfield community redevelopment.
Cleveland-Bradley State Veterans Home:
Strategic planning for a future veterans home in Bradley County continued, but mostly it was a game of wait. Local funding remains in place. State funding is committed. All that is needed now is federal funding.
Members of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council continued to lead in this initiative, and in 2017 local leaders participated in a teleconference with representatives of the U.S. Veterans Administration to admonish federal authorities for their continued delays.
Continuing to lead veterans home initiatives were prominent names like Larry McDaris and Joe Davis, leading the Bradley County Veterans Service Office; and Mark Hall and Cid Heidel, co-chairmen of the Veterans Home Council.
Davis was another retirement that came late in the year, but his support of the veterans home cause will continue into 2018, and beyond.
Empty Stocking Fund:
As Christmas approached, the annual Empty Stocking Fund community fundraiser took the community by storm. In a two-week blizzard of coverage, WCLE raised a record $80,000 to go toward making Christmas something special for local children in need.
The Empty Stocking Fund operated in its third year as a merged operation. Earlier, three entities — the Christmas Party for Children, Creating Christmas Memories and the originally named Empty Stocking Fund — combined their efforts to spread the cheer of holiday gladness.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, and his wife Sandra, launched the original Empty Stocking Fund; WCLE owner Steve Hartline has kept the Christmas Party for Children alive for years in honor of his grandfather, the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield; and Cleveland entrepreneur and philanthropist Brenda Lawson launched the original Creative Christmas Memories project.
Looking ahead to 2018:
It’s pretty simple, really. More news. And it promises to keep coming, swiftly and consistently … and not just in the New Year, but well beyond.
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