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Hartselle's Top 10 stories for 2004

By Staff
Staff Reports, Hartselle Enquirer
Municipal election brings changes – Hartselle voters exercised their option to start over with their city government by giving the boot to all incumbents in the Municipal Election on Aug. 23 and the run-off election Sept. 13.
Incumbent mayor Clif Knight lost his bid for a second term in a hard-fought race with retired businessman Dwight Tankersley. In races for council seats, incumbent Tom Chappell was defeated by Kenny Thompson, incumbent Alvin Abercrombie lost to Bill Smelser, incumbent Frank Jones fell to Mark Mizell, incumbent Don Hall was edged by Samie Wiley and Dick Carter was outpolled by Bill Drake.
The changeover not only put new faces in elected municipal offices but also ushered in a new form of government. The mayor is no longer a voting member of the city council. Instead, he has veto power. Council meetings are conducted by a council president. That position went to Thompson.
School chief search –
The search for a replacement for Dr. Lee Hartsell, superintendent of Hartselle City Schools, was initiated in April with the appointment of a 10-member ad hoc committee. The move was made after Dr. Hartsell announced his retirement, effective March 1, 2005, after serving in the position for 20 years.
The committee was make up of leaders in education, business and government. It was formally organized in October with Frank Parker, principal of Hartselle Junior High School, as chairman.
Subsequently, it screened and evaluated 14 application packages. They included two candidates from within the Hartselle school system, Joe Walters, principal of Crestline Elementary School and William Booth, head baseball coach, a math teacher at Hartselle High School and director of transportation. The applications were ranked in order and placed in the hands of school board members for personal interviews on Nov.19.
Proposed property tax
The city council launched an effort in January to beef up general fund revenues with a proposal to increase property taxes. The catch was that in order to get such a proposal before the voters it would have to be approved by the state legislature. And, in order to meet the Morgan County Legislative Delegation's guidelines, it would have to have unanimous approval of the council. The effort died when two council members voted against the proposal.
Later, it was discovered that state law provides municipalities the opportunity to levy up to12.5 mills of property tax for their general funds without having to go through the legislature. Such a tax would have to be earmarked and approved by a majority of voters.
Subsequently, the council voted to conduct a referendum on a proposed 7.5 mill tax increase. It was earmarked 2.5 mills for the general fund, 2.5 mills for road improvements and 2.5 mills for a capital improvement plan.
The referendum was conducted in the Municipal Election Aug. 24. It was defeated by voters 1,987 to 990 votes.
4. Commercial development incentive plan
Hartselle became the first city in Alabama to gain the power to sell bonds for commercial development projects when a local referendum was approved by a majority of voters in Hartselle and Morgan County on June 29.
The commercial development incentive plan allows the city to purchase, develop, own or lease economic development projects as a means of generating additional sales tax for the general fund. Likewise, it can issue limited obligation bonds to finance commercial development projects. Repayment of bonds would be made from sales taxes generated by the development.
The incentive plan is viewed by city leaders as a major step in efforts to recruit market gap businesses and promote the development of the I-65 corridor.
5. GOP switch
Hartselle and Morgan County voters turned out in record numbers to give Republican candidates a near sweep in political races up for election Nov. 2. Seventy-three percent (6,277) of Hartselle's 8,500 registered voters cast ballots. The largest previous vote was 5,444 ballots cast in a wet-dry referendum in 2003.
President Bush led the GOP ticket with 62 percent of the vote. Local Republicans elected included John Glasscock, Morgan County Commission chairman, Stacey George, district 4 commissioner, Kevin Murphy, district 3 commissioner, and Bob Burrell, district attorney.
The turnaround in county government leaves the commission with only one Democrat office holder, district one commissioner Jeff Clark.
Burrell switched parties in January 2004. Since that time, two other county office holders have indicated they are no longer affiliated with the Democratic party and will run for re-election in 2006 as Republican candidates. They are Sheriff Greg Bartlett and Coroner Russ Beard.
6. Adair resigns HU post
George Adair gave up his position as general manager of Hartselle Utilities in November after accepting a similar position with the city of Lake Worth, Fla.
During his five-year tenure, HU made significant improvements in electric, water, gas and wastewater infrastructure. The electric department was upgraded with the construction of two new substations at a cost of $3.3 million and the reconductoring of main transmission lines; and the rehabilitation of gas and wastewater mains.
A nationwide search for Adair's replacement was launched by HU's board of directors.
Adair said the main challenges facing his successor will be to keep rates down in the face of increased costs and to fund necessary capital improvements.
7. Fire chief, police chief retire
Hartselle lost two of its veteran public servants in November and December with the retirement announcements of Fire Chief Rickey Joe Smith and Police Chief Ron Merkh.
Smith stepped down after serving as fire chief for 16 years. He became the owner and operator of an established local wrecker business. Merkh opted for retirement after a 28-year law enforcement career. He joined the HPD in 1978 and was appointed chief in 2001. He was reappointed to that position by the new city council in October.
Searches are under way to fill both positions.
8. New motel opens
The opening of a new motel-Country Hearth Inn-in August brought renewed optimism for the future commercial development of the I-65 and Highway 36 interchange. The motel features 42 guest rooms, group meeting accommodations and a swimming pool.
The business was recruited in 2002 as a joint project of property owners John and Jean Burgkart, city officials and business leaders. To accommodate the motel and promote future development in the area the city constructed a service road complete with water, sewer and gas infrastructure.
9. Purple Heart memorial
Hartselle is now the home of a Purple Heart memorial, thanks to the Finis J. Self chapter of the order of the Purple Heart and the generous contributions of several sponsors.
Plans for the project were announced in January and the memorial was opened to the public in August.
"There's nothing in Alabama like it," according to George Mann, commander of the sponsoring organization.
The memorial is located in John Sparkman Park. It features a center stone of Georgia granite, which is inscribed, with the names of Purple Heart recipients. Surrounding it are stones of red Montana granite, which are inscribed with the names of all American wars. A walkway surrounding the memorial contains the names of American veterans. Flags are featured in the background. They include the American flag and others representing each branch of the military service.
A program was held Aug. 7 to honor deceased medal recipients.
10. Cheerleader sponsors resign
Hartselle High School cheerleader sponsors Martha Cooper and Sonie Wilson resigned in February after questions were raised about the way cheerleaders was being selected. They were questioned about serving as judges during cheerleader tryouts, especially since Wilson is the owner/operator of a gymnastics school, which is attended by many cheerleader hopefuls.
Their resignations were submitted after a Feb. 23 school board meeting. At that meeting, the sponsors explained to the board and an audience of about 100 people the cheerleader selection process, with attention given to Wilson's gymnastics school and its effect on the election process. The sponsors received the support of school officials, cheerleaders and their parents.