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Wilson County grows nearly 30%

Wilson County’s population surged nearly 30% in the past decade and now totals 147,737, according to just released 2020 U.S. Census data.

“It’s exciting to know the true numbers,” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, who was mildly disappointed the county had not reached the 150,000 level. “It means more state and federal funds going to our towns and cities.”

The county added 33,744 residents between the 2010 census, which counted the population at 113,993, and last year’s census, a 29.6% increase. It remains the 10th most populous in the state.

The immediate impact, Hutto said, is that the redistricting process at the county level can begin. The county commission will elect a redistricting committee that will work with Wilson County Elections Administrator Phil Warren and the county’s geographic information systems staff to redraw districts for commissioners and other local level offices.

Statewide, while areas in and around Nashville saw a population boom over the last decade, the greater Memphis region saw low or no growth, or lost people.

The updated information sets the stage for work on new political maps in the state Legislature, where Republicans hold a 73-26 House edge over Democrats and a 27-6 margin in the Senate, both supermajorities. The state grew by 8.9% — exceeding the 7.4% national rate — and increased to 6.9 million residents in 2020 from 6.3 million reported in 2010.

Tennessee won’t gain or lose any congressional districts. The House delegation currently includes seven Republicans and two Democrats, whose districts center on Nashville and Memphis.

Tennessee’s growth was driven in large part due to Middle Tennessee, where multiple counties making up the Nashville metropolitan statistical area registered the 19th-highest collective rate among its peers nationally at 20.9%. It’s reflective of a trend in the data showing that much of the fastest growth occurred in the nation’s largest cities and their suburbs.

Nashville-Davidson County itself saw a 14.2% population boost, adding about 89,200 people through the decade and checking in at second-most populous in the state, the numbers show. Its suburbs saw a bigger percentage boost, with Williamson County increasing by 35.2%, or 64,500 people, and Rutherford County jumping up 30%, or about 78,900 people.

It remains unclear whether Republican lawmakers will try to carve Nashville into multiple congressional districts in order to try to flip the seat of Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper into the GOP column.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis and remains the most populous county, saw a small population increase of 0.2%, or 2,100 people, while multiple counties in West Tennessee saw population drops. Fayette County, which is east of Shelby, was one exception, with a 9.3% increase.

Some areas of East Tennessee, meanwhile, also outpaced the state’s average population increase. Knox County, which includes Knoxville, jumped up by 10.8%, with Loudon County increasing by 13% and Sevier County, a Smoky Mountains tourism destination, up by 9.4%. Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga, neared the state average with 8.8% growth, and nearby Bradley County grew by 9.8%.

The release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 census came more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the pandemic. The redistricting numbers states use for redrawing congressional and legislative districts show where white, Asian, Black and Hispanic communities grew over the past decade.

It also shows which areas have gotten older or younger and the number of people living in dorms, prisons and nursing homes. The data covers geographies as small as neighborhoods and as large as states. An earlier set of data released in April provided state population counts and showed the U.S. had 331 million residents last year.

Tiny Trousdale County ended up with the highest percentage growth in the state at 47.6% — new population of about 11,600 — because of a large state prison established since the 2010 census.

A spokesperson for the state Senate’s leader, GOP Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, said the public and lawmakers will have the chance to weigh in on the process and submit their own statewide redistricting proposals.

Lawmakers will form a committee on redistricting and their proposals will be taken up in the 2022 legislative session that begins in January. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has veto power over the finalized plan, but he’s not expected to put up many objections.

Legislative Democrats urged actions beyond what Republicans are promising, including public meetings around the state that are livestreamed and the release of the first drafts of proposed maps this fall.

In 2010, the congressional redistricting plan stopped short of splitting traditionally Democratic Nashville into several districts.

Lawmakers approved the new congressional and legislative plans in January 2012. The Senate seat plan was later challenged in state court, with plaintiffs arguing it unnecessarily split up too many counties — particularly around Memphis, which has the state’s largest Black population. However, the plan was eventually upheld.

Despite rain, fair's first night draws over 20,000

The Wilson County Fair — Tennessee State Fair is fully underway following opening ceremonies Thursday, and had over 20,000 visitors attending. With a full slate of upcoming shows, events, tents, and vendors, the 2021 version promises to be a fun time, but seeds were also sown that night for future fairs to come.

Ground was broken on the Made in Tennessee Building to be completed by next year, and another groundbreaking for an Agricultural Learning Center is scheduled for Wednesday.

These developments harken to what Gov. Bill Lee said in his keynote speech about how the fair showcased, “America at its best, when we put our divisiveness aside.”

With the new Made in Tennessee Building, “best in show” recipients from county fairs around the state will be able to bring in their wares to “showcase everything we find great about our state,” Lee said.

Randall Clemons, president of Wilson County Promotions and the Wilson County Fair, said that it’s about showing what all the counties in Tennessee have to offer, “no matter what assets they may specialize in.”

“Every county in our state has a Farm Bureau office, and every county has an Ag Extension office,” said Clemons, who added that he hopes by working through these agencies and other county fairs the building will be a success. “We are on a journey for the next 12 months to take it where we envision it in 2022. It will be the greatest educational tool to teach our children as we go forward.”

Acknowledging agriculture as a driving component of the state’s economic sector, Clemons added, “We need to continue to invest in our young people in agriculture.”

Participating in the symbolic tossing of the first dirt were several state and local officials including Lee, Clemons, County Commissioner Sue Vanatta, County Mayor Randall Hutto, and U.S. Rep. John Rose.

Vanatta said she thought it was a great way to kick start the fair.

“I am very appreciative that the governor was there to discuss the idea of bringing the state fair to Wilson County,” she said. “The parade was great and it was an awesome opening night.”

Leading the audience in the opening prayer was Hutto. He thanked the farmers and leaders of Tennessee for their contributions that make the fair possible, and encouraged those attending to “celebrate this week in Wilson County,” and “make many memories.”

When Lee spoke, he reminisced fondly of his youthful years backstage at fairs. He said he started showing calves in the fourth grade and added, “All my life I have loved the state fair. I’ve spent many a night in the cattle barns preparing calves for the state fair.”

The governor said, “My love for and appreciation (of fairs) is the thrill of it for me. Tonight is a night for our state’s history books, and celebrating the opening of this state fair is something that means a lot to me.”

Lee also recognized Tennessee’s 225 years of statehood. “We’re celebrating that with the theme, untold Tennessee, and asking people to submit stories of the regular everyday Tennesseans who make this state great.”

“It’s fitting that this year’s theme is honoring hometown heroes. It fits right in with untold stories.”

Two pageants were held Thursday that drew steep competition from around Wilson County. Ultimately, the 2021 Fairest of the Fair of the Wilson County Fair — Tennessee State Fair was Reed Steplowski.

Steplowski will now go on to represent Wilson County at the Tennessee Association of Fairs state competition in January.

The 2021 Miss Wilson County Fair — Tennessee State Fair winner, Kathy Smith, will join Steplowski in representing Wilson County after coming in first in the adult competition.

Thursday was the first time that the fair had opened on that day, with the Wilson County Fair historically opening on Fridays. Despite that slight change and a heavy downpour right at the time the gates opened, Clemons said attendance totaled over 20,000 people. With it being the state fair now, and many more guests coming from farther away, Lebanon hotels were experiencing at or near-capacity situations.

Front desk reception at La Quinta Inn in Lebanon said that there were no available rooms Friday night, and added that several of the guests with reservations over the next week had expressly stated intentions of coming to town to visit the fair.

One reservationist at the Holiday Inn Express in Lebanon said they had very few rooms remaining. The front desk at the Ramada by Wyndham said the same thing about room availability, adding that several vendors for the fair were staying there in addition to numerous others, even from out of state.

Traffic updateAccording to a release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the right lane at mile marker 239 on Interstate 40 will be closed tonight as well as next Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. so traffic from the fair can safely enter the highway.

The fair runs through Aug. 21. For information on schedules, tickets, parking and more, go to wilson countyfair.net.

Milele tweets lead to Mt. Juliet resolution

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners has denounced District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Milele’s social media activity, an action Milele is criticizing.

During Monday’s meeting of the board, Vice Mayor Ray Justice introduced a resolution directed at “racially motivated and divisive comments” posted by Milele on Twitter.

The resolution also opposes comments targeting individuals based on their race, sex, and religion made either on social media or in public.

The commission voted 3-1 is support of Justice’s resolution, with Milele voting “no.” District 2 Commissioner Bill Trivett did not vote after leaving the meeting early.

Justice’s resolution came after Milele’s posts from her now-suspended Twitter account in which he said took aim at Muslims, COVID-19, and George Floyd.

He presented screenshots of those posts in Monday’s meeting after receiving them from a constituent. Justice said he did so because of a “moral obligation.”

Milele disputed Justice’s characterization of her tweets.

“There is nothing racist in here, and for you to come in here and throw this on the table without an ethics investigation is just … I can tell you’ve been here a long time and you’re used to getting your way,” Milele said. “You’re used to the public not knowing what you’re doing.”

City Attorney Gino Marchetti said Mt. Juliet’s ethics policy does not specifically address the social media statements Justice brought forward to this meeting.

“Milele’s posts were so unfortunate and ill-advised,” said Justice. “Everybody needs to realize that perception is reality, know how others might look at something like this, apologize and move forward.”

In August 2018, the Wilson County Commission dealt with a similar controversy over “racially motivated and divisive comments” when 14 commissioners voted on a resolution to condemn them while 10 abstained.

That vote addressed District 1 Commissioner Robert Fields’ Facebook post over his opponent Tim Roehler’s interracial family during an election campaign.

Justice said the city commission used WCC’s resolution as a template for their own.

“Because the county commissioners handled this awkward situation as well as it could been handled, we felt it would be a path forward for us to condemn racism in any form,” said Justice.

“It is important that we send our message to people that we are a welcoming community, and that Milele’s Twitter posts is not what the city of Mt. Juliet is about,” said Mayor James Maness. “We want our board members to conduct themselves through higher standards and expect the same thing for other people who call this city home.”

In this resolution, the commission “hereby express our opposition, and do not condone, any racially motivated, divisive and reprehensible comments made by anyone, including candidates for elected positions which are designed to serve all of the people of this great city.”

It also addresses comments made “appear to be racially motivated, divisive, and reprehensible,” yet does not name or call out any individual.

The resolution also provides an option dealing with racially motivated comments by speaking out in opposition.

“I’m asking for our commission to address the social media aspects of ethical behavior in a formal manner,” said Justice. “This is the time for our city attorney and our appointed ethics committee to research and develop an amendment to anything of this nature that might be embarrassing to Mt. Juliet.”

Meanwhile, Milele continues to speak out against the resolution and Justice. In a post on her Facebook page, she wrote: “I also say what a waste of taxpayer time and money all this is, when we should be doing city business. VM (Vice Mayor Ray Justice) had no case for an ethics complaint as verified by city attorney. During my comments at the BOC meeting on August 23rd, I will show how VM is in violation of the city code of ethics. All of this personal vendetta and retaliation needs to end. We have work to do. This is not what we get elected for and the BOC meeting is no place for childish games.”

New election office renovations 'right on schedule'

The old grocery store known as the Fred’s building is currently being remodeled into a new home for the Wilson County Election Commission and according to the county’s lead election official, it’s coming along “right on time.”

Phillip Warren, the county administrator of elections, said the renovations were moving along smoothly.

The site is under construction by Nex-Gen Construction LLC, out of Clarksville. Site superintendent, Trey Lawing, has said the bones of the new interior are up but that it remains an active construction site, and also still requires painting.

Warren said that Nex-Gen Construction has been a pleasure to work with. He called the company “very responsive,” and said that they had not encountered any hiccups so far, leading to fulfillment of the original estimated opening date of October 1.

Asked if any special preparation was underway for the transition to the new building, Warrant said, there was plenty of planning going on, but added, “that’s what we do anyways, always preparing.”

In December 2019, Wilson County acquired the building across the street from the courthouse, formerly Fred’s grocery, with aspirations to one day house the entire elections office, equipment and all under one roof.

Despite an initial asking price of $1.2 million, the county negotiated a $875,000 final settlement. Additionally, it was determined that the building would need renovations estimated to be around $360,000 to bring it up to code. However, updated inspections and news estimates yielded a much larger price tag than previously expected, in the vicinity of $700,000.

The bulk of these unexpected costs stems from underestimated updates such as the HVAC system which needs new heating elements and a new internal electrical grid.

The current election office sits on the northeast corner of College Street and Main Street in downtown Lebanon. Assistant Administrator of Elections Tammy Smith said earlier this year, the building serves the county well in its current administrative capacity, but does make meeting all their needs, particularly on election day more challenging.

The equipment needed to put on an election is stored in the Wilson County School District building beside the Cumberland University football field.

Poll worker training also takes place here. Both Smith and Warren would like to see all the equipment within the same building. Smith said this isn’t about making their jobs easier for them, but about streamlining the whole process to enhance election day for the voters. “It’s always been about the voters,” she echoed, “that’s why we do what we do.”

Warren believes the expansive floor space in the Fred’s building would offer sufficient space for not just one but all of the necessary requirements needed to scale up the election commission’s ability to put on an election.

Running back Niko Duffie (right) takes off after receiving the handoff from quarterback Cade Mahoney.

Hawks take on LaVergne in final scrimmage (copy)