Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer
The Macon County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday, May 9, at the County Courthouse for its monthly meeting. First item of the evening was recognition of the Franklin High School (FHS) Cheerleading Team where Coach Lynn Baker shared some of the group’s accomplishments this past season.
“We did over 250-hours of community service; our team not only competes but cheers for football, volleyball, band, basketball, wrestling, and more. Hopefully the message came across that the kids in our program are awesome and they appreciate any and all support,” said Baker.
After talking about some of the life lessons that coaches work to incorporate into the cheer team environment, Baker had a few of the team members address the Board with comments about how their lives have been positively shaped or impacted throughout their time with the program. Baker also expressed a few challenges to the program, namely lack of practice space and mats.
A public session included 11 speakers who discussed topics that included current perception on the county, its commissioners, and their roles in school-related programs; namely the so-called Highlands pre-school and FHS projects and, more specifically, the current county process to purchase the 195 Wayah Street “Higdon Property.”
One person spoke to the need for “due diligence” requirements as they apply to real estate sales and purchases. Board co-chairman, Josh Young offered a rebuttal of sorts from the board as to why it chose to move on the purchase of the Higdon property and the numerous ways it can benefit FHS.
Resident Rebecca Tipton clarified what she and some other individuals are lobbying for regarding library collection and display at the Macon County Public Library. According to Tipton, books should be placed in restrictive access locations, not banned or burned, or otherwise removed from the library. The approach she espoused was to use a method recently enacted by the Greenville, S.C., library board that utilized an existing obscenity statute in their state and incorporated the language of it into their library collection policy. The S.C. policy reads, “… material which contains the following will not be included in the young adults collection: Graphic depictions or descriptions of rape or pedophilia … graphic sexual depictions or descriptions … for the purpose of this policy, material is considered graphic if a person applying contemporary community standards relating to the depiction or description of sexual conduct would find that the portion of the material appeals to those who have an “excessive interest in sexuality.”
FHS Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator Colleen Strickland provided an update on that program. FHS football coach Josh Brooks, who is regularly involved with the CTE program at FHS, assisted Strickland with her presentation. Over the past two years, program leaders have worked to advance CTE growth. Their efforts are focused on pathways that involve two courses, which make students “concentrators,” and currently, 20 pathways are in place from which students can choose. Approximately 820 students are enrolled in at least one of the CTE pathways at FHS. Three of the newest options include aviation, healthcare professional, and emergency medical technician.
Strickland also spoke briefly to the Higdon property purchase and how it might assist with the agriculture program at FHS if incorporated into the new project. Young spoke specifically to CTE and how it applies to the effort the county is undertaking overall with the new high school. The fact that practical skills like welding, agriculture, cooking, and more are incorporated into the program should resonate positively with the community, according to Young.
County Attorney Eric Ridenour briefed the board on the Notice of Sale and Upset Bid Period for nearly four-acre, county-owned property located at 388 Bethel Church Road. Acceptance of an offer for $55,350 was approved in April and the Board agreed to move forward with the process. The bid period closed May 8. No upset bids were received, and a motion was made to proceed with the sale as currently structured. The motion was seconded and unanimously approved by the Board.
Chairman Paul Higdon led a discussion on improvements to the Macon Middle School track, for which funds are available. Groundbreaking has already occurred on the MMS locker room project, which came in under the projected cost, at $2.5 million. Contingency funds left from the locker room project can be used toward the track improvement. Starting with $365,600 left over from the contingency funds available from the locker room project, the school has also received a $109,936 grant, which leaves $255,400 and the county would need to appropriate funds in order to complete the upgrade. An eight-lane option provides opportunities to host state-level track meets at the venue. Higdon requested a scope of work be provided to the Board in order to make a better decision on voting for or against the project. The current plan is to review and then discuss/vote at the June 13 meeting.
County Planning Chairman Glenn Hedden was on hand to answer questions regarding an update to the High Impact Ordinance relating to Crypto Mining Facilities. The purpose of the ordinance, as described by county documentation is to “promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Macon County by diminishing the impacts of certain land uses which, by their nature, produce noise, odors, vibrations, fumes, light, smoke, dust, and other impacts which interfere with the quiet enjoyment of adjacent lands and disturb the peace and dignity of the County.” The proposed update nominates cryptocurrency mining and similar (computer) server-based facilities to the list of existing high impact uses. No vote was held on this change at this meeting.
Following a recent modification enacted by the Franklin Town Council, County Commissioners considered a similar measure applicable to the Greenway Ordinance that forbids camping along the Little Tennessee River Greenway. Additionally, a public hearing is scheduled for June 13, as presented by Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks. Holbrooks provided his assessment on how to best designate suitable areas for people to camp sufficiently away from the Greenway. In support of concern for those who do frequent the area for recreational use, the sheriff expressed hope that the upcoming public hearing will assist in determining the best approach.
County commissioners voted to recess until Tuesday, May 23 at 6 p.m., when the county manager will present the recommended fiscal year 2023-2024 budget and for any other business that may come before the Board.
The next regularly scheduled meeting will be held June 6, at 6 p.m. in the Commission Boardroom, on the third floor of the Macon County Courthouse.