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Saturday, December 31, 2016

YEAR IN REVIEW Part 1: In local politics, 2016 was the year of the sign...

(Editor's note: 2016 was one of the strangest years politically in this reporters over 30 years of covering Crossville. A popular city manager was removed, a popular police chief resigned, two council members were caught on video in an altercation leading to charges that were eventually dismissed. In addition, a city department head was charged with theft of property while reportedly on city time and the stolen items recovered from the city airport. This city employee reportedly received no reprimand for his action. While new members of city council may make the council meetings less volatile, there are leftovers from 2016 that the city will have to deal with into 2017.)

In Crossville, 2016 will go down as the year of the sign. This was especially true in the matters of city politics. Political signs made news numerous times during the year and lead to anger and even criminal charges and threatened criminal charges.

Signs promoting the recall efforts against Crossville city council members Danny Wyatt and Pamala Harris began to pop up along city streets in late April and early May. Some of those signs contained caricatures of both Wyatt and Harris being given the hook as they danced on a stage. In April, Harris described the signs as disturbing to see at first, but after looking at them she had to laugh as the signs really seemed pretty silly.

Signs posted by those seeking recall of city council members Wyatt and Harris

A new set of signs began to show up at the May regular city council meeting when a local resident named J. R. Blankenship set up a sign in the back of his pickup truck concerning actions by councilman Jesse Kerley. Blankenship was unhappy at what he felt was an effort by councilman Kerley against him personally that led to charges for distributing “unsigned fliers” in Crossville and Kerley efforts to have him arrested for other charges.  After Blankenship appealed the fine on the fliers the charges and fines were dropped.  More details on that in The Year in Review Part 2.

A different sign showed up at council meetings for a number of months. In addition, a series of signs were put up in front of the house on Mockingbird Drive where Blankenship and his mother lived. The political signs ultimately led to more problems including eventual theft charges against Jesse Kerley's father Jerry Kerley and William Harwell who spoke up at one council meeting against the political signs including the ones on Mocking bird land. Both Jerry Kerley and Harwell took pre-trial diversion on the charges and were to serve 6 months probation.

One of the biggest stories of 2016 apparently had its roots in political signs. The alleged altercation between two council members following a work session meeting that was caught on tape included references to councilman Souza's alleged work on Blankenship's signs. Both Souza and Blankenship said they did not collaborate on the signs and that the signs were entirely done by Mr. Blankenship.

Eventually the assault charges filed against Mr. Kerley by Mr. Souza from the incident went to trial and the charges were dismissed in general session court.

In mid June the recall efforts against council members Wyatt and Harris were withdrawn.

There were a few positive signs during the year including the one posted in late July by a local church indicating they were praying for the Mayor and the city of Crossville.

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