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Wilson County votes for new districts

The Wilson County Commission voted on Monday evening to certify new voting districts after redrawing them to align with the latest population census.

However, it did not pass unanimously, with four commissioners dissenting.

County commissioners Sonja Robinson, Tommy Jones, Kevin Costly and Annette Stafford all voted no for the redrawn district maps. Jones and Stafford were actually members of the redistricting committee, and during the committee process, both voted in opposition to the new map. Their effort was defeated by a 3-2 vote, which resulted in the current map being proposed to the full county commission for consideration.

Every 10 years, the US conducts a census, and those numbers are used to determine population representation in local government. The map that the commissioners voted for Monday reflects those totals.

Prior to the vote, Stafford said that she wanted it on the official record that she would not vote for something that didn’t align with her constituents’ interests.

“I voted against it because my constituency was not satisfied with the way the district went out farther west,” Stafford said after the meeting. “They would have preferred it went north or south. It makes it that much farther from the voting precincts we have.”

Due to population growth concentrated in specific portions of the county, several districts in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon became significantly smaller geographically. Some of the more rural districts saw the greatest increase in physical size.

Stafford said that her constituents “felt like there was enough growth in our area to cover what we needed covered, so they weren’t satisfied with the lines being drawn.”

The commissioner acknowledged that “you can’t satisfy everybody and you don’t always get everything you wanted,” but added she felt like the process alienated some of her constituents by transferring them to another district.

Robinson’s opposition to the new districts was similar in that it drastically reshaped her constituency.

“I have represented my people,” Robinson said on Tuesday. “I love my people, and I love my home. The Glade is my home, and I lost a huge majority of my people.”

Robinson has lived in that part of Wilson County for most of her life. She goes to church with her constituents and lives just down the street from many of them. With the new lines on the map, Robinson said that she was “losing her home.”

Despite the change, Robinson said that she’s not upset with anyone and knows its just how these things go sometimes, but that she simply couldn’t vote for something she saw that ran counter to representing her home and the people who live there.

Redistricting committee member and county commissioner Jerry McFarland said on Tuesday that the committee did everything “with due diligence and according to the state rulebook, taking great care that nobody was treated badly or unfairly.”

He explained that the committee’s hands were somewhat tied when they sought to address the very geographically-specific population spikes.

“What happened is the population exploded in the western portion of Wilson County, so those districts got smaller (geographically),” said McFarland.

With the sights set on drawing districts that reflect growth trends while observing traditional voting blocks, McFarland summed up the process as “trying to strike a balance.”

When the redistricting committee set out on that task, getting the population numbers to match is not the goal. Rather, getting them within a window of deviation is. Based on the census, each district should be home to 5,909 residents. So the task was to get each district within 10% of that mark.

The new map may be within these boundaries, but it is not lessening concerns from Stafford’s constituents. The commissioner said that more than 30 people had contacted her to voice their dissatisfaction with the new map.

Stafford said that those residents expressed to her that they felt as if their representation was being reduced.

In addition to approving the commissioner districts, the county commission also voted on the school, road, and constabulary zones. Those are components of the redistricting process. Stafford said that she voted no across the board to make sure her stance on the matter was fully communicated.

Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren said that any time there is a redistricting process, not everyone is going to be satisfied with the outcome, but that doesn’t delegitimize the process.

With Warren’s role in the elections office, he is tethered to the process, although he’s not a voting member of the committee.

“No commissioner was redistricted out of the district,” said Warren. “But because the districts didn’t stay as large (geographically), some voters were lost to other districts.”

The elections administrator said that they take “one man one vote” very seriously, and that with the skewed population growth in the western part of the county, districts simply had to change.

“Change is hard, but we saw a significant increase in population and did what we had to do” Warren said.

He commended the committee for its work to get a draft submitted.

“The process this time took longer than it did in 2010, even with the new technology,” said Warren. “I’m proud of what these guys did. They looked at it from a technical standpoint and took their personal views out of it.”

Animal Rescue Corps' latest endeavor called in the calvary

After a dog breeder in Iowa racked up nearly 200 code violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the Lebanon-based Animal Rescue Corps (ARC) answered the call for help. Approximately 100 rescued dogs were recently brought to the Middle Tennessee facility for examination, documentation and relocation.

With such a high volume of animals, the organization had a high demand for volunteers to help sort through chaos. When word went out, volunteers from around the country began making their way to Lebanon to offer a hand.

One duo of volunteers, a mother and daughter from New England, decided that the opportunity lined up perfectly with the mother’s birthday wish. Jessica Guerette of Maine, and her mother Cathy Sterns of New Hampshire, wanted to do something unique for the latter’s 60th birthday.

Reversing the conventional flow of gifts, the two instead explored ways to lend a hand to their fellow man. After organizing fundraising for a Northeast organization that aids homeless and displaced people, they still had approximately $750 left to donate elsewhere.

After the call went out for volunteers, instead of just sending the ARC a check, Guerette and her mother decided to travel down to Lebanon.

Guerette said that the entire trip almost didn’t happen.

“It was so last minute,” Guerette said. “My mother was supposed to work, but she got cleared the same day she got an email from (ARC) about their need for volunteers.”

For Guerette and her mother, the trip provided a chance to continue their streak of making positive impacts while also reuniting two people who had not spent a lot of time together over the last 18 months.

“Especially with COVID, we haven’t been able to see each other quite as much,” said Guerette. “And, with my child, I just wasn’t traveling much.”

She’d even recently turned down a trip to Hawaii with her mother. So this time, she would make it work, and they did.

“Not only were we able to help out physically, but our donation also went to further fund the ARC’s operation,” Guerette said.

It was not Stearns’ first foray with the ARC. Guerette said that her mom travels for work and was close to Lebanon when she saw a story about one of the cases ARC was handling. Therefore, she changed her flight home to go volunteer.

Guerette describes herself as a cat person but said that her volunteer time with ARC really reinforced an appreciation for dogs.

“I really appreciate them more now having been with dogs in such a desperate need,” Guerette said.

Guerette said that when she and her mother had left after their volunteer day, that “we both left feeling like we had done something important.”

She urges anyone with the ability to travel and the desire to volunteer to just do it.

“When they put out a call for help, it’s urgent, so if you can just pack up and go, you can really help in a meaningful way,” Guerette said.

Stearns added, “We’re so glad we got the opportunity to come down and help. We met a lot of great people. It’s a wonderful organization, and we are leaving here feeling like we made a difference.”

This collaborative effort — which included the Animal Rescue Corps, Animal Rescue League of Iowa, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — began when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requested assistance with the removal, transport and sheltering of more than 500 dogs and puppies belonging to Daniel Gingerich, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed breeder.

The complaint against Gingerich, filed by the DOJ, detailed horrific conditions at multiple locations in Iowa where Gingerich kept dogs. The complaints included dead dogs, dogs with untreated injuries and illnesses (such as parvo and distemper), dogs with painful fur matting, dogs in cages that were too small, and moldy food.

ARC’s assistance for the planning and the rescue was requested. Animal Rescue Corps Field and Transport Teams deployed to Iowa and assisted with the removal of animals from the scene, managed the animal inventory and tracking process and supported transport efforts for the multi-day and multi-agency rescue.

ARC’s network of more than 6,000 volunteers spans across North America and includes more than 3,000 registered volunteers in Tennessee. Over the past two weeks, other volunteers have come from Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, California, and even from as far away as Ontario, Canada.

Brenda Bunn, an ARC volunteer for the past eight years, trekked down from Ontario and reunited with Patty Shenker from California at the facility this week. The two had volunteered on other ARC rescues in Canada years ago and have been friends ever since.

“Animals don’t come with passports,” said Bunn. “If I hear of any animals in need and I have the capabilities of helping, I will regardless of where they are. If it’s down the street, another city or another country, I’ll always try to help.”

The friendships that emerge from joint volunteerism is one of the more remarkable parts of what the ARC does according to the organization’s public information officer, Michael Cunningham.

“It’s magic when it happens,” said Cunningham. “People make life-long friends here by coming together and volunteering at the same place. We may change the lives of animals, but we change the lives of people too.”

Cunningham is grateful for the volunteers.

“Generally, these issues start with one or two individuals who create this massive problem,” Cunningham said. “In order to resolve these problems in a humane way, it takes a lot of people working together.

“It’s very meaningful work though, and that’s why people don’t mind traveling great distances.”

Each of these rescued animals will receive a thorough veterinary exam, appropriate vaccinations, and any necessary medical treatments until they are matched and transported to trusted shelter and rescue partner organizations, which will ultimately adopt them into homes.

For people wishing to foster or adopt, ARC will publish its list of shelter and rescue placement partners on its Facebook page once the animals are transferred to those groups. To donate or volunteer to help the dogs and puppies and other animals in need, visit animalrescuecorps.org.

Watertown to host Friendsgiving

Watertown will be celebrating Thanksgiving a little early this year with a community-based event on the city square this weekend.

For the second year, Friendsgiving, will give Watertown residents a chance to mingle and dine with those who also call the city home. It will be the second such event after a successful first run last year.

Watertown East Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Austin Floyd said that the dinner last year was “perfect.”

“Several families joined us,” Floyd said. “And we expect more to come join us this year.”

Part of the event will spotlight local businesses on and around the square, such as the Adopted Farmhouse Coffee Company, Watertown Flower Shop and Nail Street Junction. These businesses and others will be open for their usual hours during the event.

Floyd said that several local businesses and organizations were donating the food to help make the event possible.

There will be tables set up on the square for diners to relax while they enjoy their holiday meal. The best part is the fact its free to attend.

Everyone is invited to attend. The celebration will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Planning commission faces opposition from community

A request for a proposed rezoning for 29 acres in Lebanon’s Bluebird Urban Renewal subdivision has drawn opposition from neighbors who made their voices heard before the city.

During a Lebanon Planning Commission meeting on Monday, multiple individuals, including county commissioner Annette Stafford, raised concerns about rezoning 29 acres into 76 parcels. The move would rezone the area to a medium-density RS9 district. It is currently zoned R2, which is a high-density district that does not have a lot of restrictions on what can be built, in essence any kind of residential development.

RS9, on the other hand, has restrictions related to lot-size minimums. Those objecting to the move say this measure doesn’t go far enough to prevent development that is degrading to the neighborhood and want to see the rezoning move to RS12.

The difference between RS9 and RS12 primarily involves those limitations on lot-size minimum.

One of the principal objectors, Mary Harris, lives on CL Manier Street with her husband, near the proposed subdivision. When the property next to her was purchased, plans were made to subdivide the property into three parcels and build individual shotgun-style houses on each.

The Harris family and other neighbors took their concerns to the planning commission in August, to some avail. The developer downsized plans to only build two houses on the property instead.

}Mary Harris will admit that two is better than three but that the development cuts against the grain of what they and their neighbors want to see in their community.

This new zoning won’t impact Harris’ property like the construction going on next door, but that’s not why she is opposed to it.

“The damage done to me and my husband can’t be undone,” said Harris. “I’m here so that this doesn’t happen to someone else.”

Harris organized a petition for her neighborhood and was able to collect more than 70 signatures advocating opposition to the rezoning proposal. According to Harris, those who signed the petition just want to see sufficient lot sizes maintained so that single-family housing is the norm for new development.

“We just want our area to look like everybody else’s,” said Harris. “We pay our taxes, and we deserve to heard.”

The outline for Lebanon’s zoning designations states that RS12 districts should “provide suitable areas for medium-density residential development where sufficient urban services and facilities are provided or where such services can be physically and economically extended.”

It also states, “The residential development will consist of single-family detached dwellings and accessory structures and may permit home occupations.”

Lebanon Planning Director Paul Corder said that while there is not a lot of variability between an RS9 and RS12 zoning, he intends to work with the community leaders to get the zoning they want.

During the Monday meeting, Corder explained that some of the properties in the proposed rezoning area don’t meet the R12 requirements.

“Over 30 parcels in the neighborhood don’t meet the R12 requirements,” Corder told the commission.

However, he said on Tuesday that any of the lots not meeting the minimum requirements could be grandfathered in, and that with the bolstered lot sizes, it would be more difficult to subdivide lots like the one next to the Harris family lot.

The measure was ultimately tabled by the planning commission to revisit a different rezoning at its next meeting.

Lebanon, Watertown, Green Hill seek to advance to final four