Top 10 stories of 2008

-A A +A
By The Staff

The year of 2008 was an eventful one in Marion County, to say the least. From the lengthy and heated recallable nickel debate to the unexpected and thrilling visit from a Presidential candidate and former First Lady, there were many news stories that graced the front page of The Lebanon Enterprise that will have a lasting effect on this community. However, the editorial staff at The Lebanon Enterprise had to narrow the long list of top news stories to 10. The following stories are ones that we believe were the most significant in 2008.

We have highlighted the year not only in print, but also in pictures. Please see our top 10 photos of the year on page A14 in our print edition.

Farewell 2008. Bring it on 2009! Happy New Year!   1. Recallable nickel

Marion County voters waited more than a year to have their say on whether the recallable nickel would be added to the tax rate for Marion County Public Schools. On Tuesday, Nov. 4, the voters' answer was a resounding no. Nearly six out of every 10 voters cast ballots against the recallable nickel.

And while the decision was ultimately made during the General Election, the recallable nickel debate began in August of 2007 when the Marion County Board of Education voted to approve the nickel. Any money generated by the nickel would have been used to renovate existing buildings or for new construction.

After the board approved the nickel, a group of citizens filed a petition in September requesting that the nickel appear on the ballot. Because of when the petition was filed and because the school board decided against holding a special election, the decision on the nickel was delayed until Nov. 4, 2008.

School officials were pursuing the recallable nickel as a way to pay for renovation needs, specifically at Calvary Elementary School, Lebanon Elementary School, the Marion County Area Technology Center and Marion County High School. The school board made it clear that it saw Calvary Elementary and the tech center as the most pressing concerns. Overcrowding has been an issue at Calvary Elementary School for years. The tech center was built in 1966, and it still has much of the original wiring and plumbing, which can't handle the modern equipment used in classes today. And overcrowding has  become an issue at the tech center as well.

Opponents of the nickel were not convinced that the school district's facility needs were as critical. "Citizens Not in Favor of Nickel Tax Increase" said the nickel tax was unfair to the taxpayers because the state legislature was failing to meet its education requirements under the state Constitution.

"The General Assembly must provide every child in Kentucky the same education opportunities and cannot permit our school district to suffer by denying necessary funds for school improvement," the Citizens Not in Favor of Nickel Tax Increase wrote in a written statement. "The General Assembly should not be permitted to transfer its Constitutional duty to the local taxpayers."

No matter what side voters were on, this past general election was the district's last sure chance to receive state equalization for the recallable nickel. State Sen. Dan Kelly, the Senate majority leader in the Kentucky General Assembly, included language in the state budget to make sure Marion County would receive state equalization for the recallable nickel if it won approval. Nothing is guaranteed after this year, however.

After the recallable nickel was defeated at the polls, the school board unanimously voted in favor of making the tech center the focus of its next renovation project.

2. Hillary Clinton visits Marion County

It's rare for a Presidential candidate or a former First Lady to visit Marion County. But both occurred May 17, 2008, when Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton made an appearance at Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto.

More than 1,000 Clinton supporters came from all over the county and from nearby counties to hear her speak and in hopes of having a more personal encounter.

Maker's Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. said Clinton was the first Presidential candidate to visit the distillery. He and Master Distiller Kevin Smith gave Clinton a personal tour of the distillery before she spoke.

Sen. Clinton reminded the audience that many political analysts had been calling for her to withdraw from the race for the Democratic nomination, and some of them had said the race was already over.

"Every time they say it, the voters come back and say, 'Oh no, it's not. We're not ready for it to be over,'" she told the crowd.

Clinton added that she was raised with the same kinds of values that the people of Kentucky believe in.

"You don't quit on people, and you don't quit until you finish what you started," she said. "And you don't quit on America."

Clinton  decisively won the Democratic primary in Marion County and Kentucky, but Sen. Barack Obama ultimately won the nomination and defeated Sen. John McCain to become the next President of the United States. He will be inaugurated Jan. 20.

3. Animal ordinance

Man's best friend was the topic of much discussion during 2008, when the City of Lebanon continued a discussion that started in 2007 and eventually passed an animal control ordinance.

The staff at the Marion County Animal Shelter made great strides in increasing the adoption rate, but thousands of animals still have to be euthanized because of overcrowding issues, which is primarily due to pet owners who did not spay or neuter their cats and dogs. In February, the Lebanon City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance with Councilman Dennis George casting the only opposing vote. One of his biggest concerns was whether the city could enforce the ordinance.

The city approved the second reading of the animal control ordinance March 10, but the draft of the ordinance that the council approved at that meeting was not the correct one. As a result, the city decided to delay publishing the ordinance until all of the correct revisions had been made.

Pam Rogers of the Humane Society of the United States appeared before the city council May 10 and suggested several changes, including how many animals a household may own and how those animals should be cared for.

The final passage was delayed again while the city worked out a memorandum of agreement with the Marion County Fiscal Court regarding the ordinance. During the city's discussions about the ordinance, magistrates became concerned that the ordinance might put an extra burden on the county's finances and the county's animal control officer. The county feared that it would be paying for Jeff Wooldridge to enforce the city's ordinance outside of regular hours, which would include him driving a county vehicle and paying him overtime.

The ordinance was finally approved and published in September, over the opposition of George and Councilwoman Denise Fogle.

4. Sunday alcohol sales approved

In one of its last acts of the year, a majority of the Lebanon City Council opened the door to Sunday alcohol sales by the drink at local restaurants.

Monday, Dec. 22, the Lebanon City Council voted 4-2 to approve the second reading of a Sunday sales ordinance. Council members Denise Fogle, Dennis George, Bill Pickerill and Darin Spalding voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Elizabeth Ann Osbourne and Jim Richardson voted against it.

The full ordinance can be seen on page B3 of this week's Enterprise.

Prior to the final vote, proponents and opponents of Sunday alcohol sales had their say.

Proponents argued that Sunday sales were needed to help local restaurants stay in business and to help attract tourists to the community. Opponents said they were concerned about the message the ordinance would send to the youth of the community and that Sunday sales at restaurants will lead to Sunday sales at package stores.

According to the ordinance, before a restaurant can serve alcohol on Sunday, it must receive licenses from both the city and the state. The ordinance will allow restaurants to serve alcohol by the drink between noon and 10 p.m. on Sundays if those restaurants receive 50 percent of their income from food sales and meet the requirements of KRS 242.185(3). That subsection of the Kentucky Revised Statues requires restaurants to have dining facilities for at least 100 people.

Private clubs are eligible to sell alcohol by the drink if they are a non-profit organization with at least 200 members, have indoor dining capacity for at least 100 people and have existed for at least two years prior to applying for a license. 

5. Bypass opens

After years of planning, the Lebanon bypass (the Marion County Veterans Memorial Highway) opened for public use in July, but it was a source of controversy even before it opened.

Hundreds of citizens signed a petition requesting stop lights be added at intersections with Loretto Highway and St. Rose Road. According to a letter that accompanied the petition, the bypass creates a danger for people who travel KY 49 and 429.

"Everyone realizes this is a dangerous situation and needs to be corrected with a traffic light before someone has to pay with his or her life to draw attention to the problem," the letter read.

Multiple accidents have occurred on the bypass, but to date, none of them have been fatal.

According to state transportation officials, at the time the bypass project was approved, only two intersections, US 68 and KY 55, had enough traffic to warrant a traffic light. The Marion County Fiscal Court approved a resolution in support of stoplights at those intersections, while the Lebanon City Council approved a resolution in favor of a caution light at the intersection of the bypass and Loretto Road. The St. Rose Road intersection is not in city limits.

In August, officials with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet conducted a 12-hour traffic study of the Marion County Veterans Memorial Highway at its intersections with Loretto Highway (KY 49) and St. Rose Road (KY 429). Based on their findings, highway officials maintain that more traffic lights are not needed.

Patty Dunaway, the chief engineer for District 4 of the Department of Highways, wrote a letter Aug. 25 to State Rep. Jimmy Higdon and Marion County Judge-Executive John G. Mattingly summarizing the findings of the study. Based on that study "neither intersection meets the required warrants" for traffic signals, Dunaway wrote.

At this time, the city and county are working to install street lights at the Loretto Road and St. Rose Road intersections.

6. School is grieving, on alert

The unexpected suicide of a Marion County High School student was complicated when rumors spread through the community via text messages, cell phone calls and online message boards. The situation created confusion and a range of emotions for students, staff and parents throughout the community.

An investigation ensued regarding threats that were allegedly made against students and staff at the school. More than 20 state, city and county law enforcement officers were stationed at Marion County High School for a week after the incident. Nothing was discovered during the officers' searches of the school or during interviews with students and staff. A rumor of a school shooting plot was determined to have been perpetuated by rumors and innuendo. No evidence was found to substantiate rumors of satanic cults, kids being held hostage or hit lists.

However, the rumors made many students stay home from school. The Monday following the incident, the school's attendance plummeted from its usual 95 percent to 55 percent.

As a result of that incident, the Marion County Board of Education has been asked to install metal detectors at the front and back entrances to Marion County High School. The board is creating a committee to discuss what steps may be needed to improve security at the high school.

7. Extension agent accused of neglect

Complaints of horse neglect led the Marion County Sheriff's Department to execute a search warrant on Marion County Agriculture Extension Agent Ed Lanham's property on March 21. What was found that day led to a felony indictment against Lanham.

According to Donnie Brockman, a Campbellsville veterinarian who evaluated the animals at the request of the sheriff's department, 32 of Lanham's horses were in "poor" condition,

In May, Lanham was indicted in Marion Circuit Court for tampering with physical evidence (a felony) and second-degree cruelty to animals. Lanham pled not guilty to the charges, but did resign from his position as extension agent in July.

The felony charge brought against Lanham has been dismissed, and a hearing is pending questioning the legality of the searches at his farm that led to the initial indictment.

8. Chicken plant to locate in Lebanon

In a year that hasn't featured much good economic news, a new chicken processing plant announced in July that it will be opening a $43 million facility in Lebanon. Rancho Poultry could eventually employ up to 400 employees. The plant will have two processing lines that will be built as part of the initial construction phases and will be capable of cooking, battering and breading 60 million pounds of chicken products. No chickens will be killed at the Lebanon plant, however. Instead, chicken parts will arrive from another facility that does butchering.

In the beginning, the plant will prepare chicken for McDonald's, but company officials plan to expand to grocery stores and other food providers in the future.

Rancho Poultry's announcement, combined with the announcement that Total Fuel Systems will open a facility in Lebanon, could mean a real boost to the local economy. Fuel Total Systems, a Japanese-owned automotive supplier, announced that it was going to locate in Lebanon bringing with it 100 new full-time jobs. 

9. Social host ordinance approved

The Marion County Fiscal Court began discussing a social host ordinance in 2007, but months of discussion and lobbying by local organizations (including the Marion County High School's Youth Advisory Council) led to the eventual passage of the ordinance.

The court approved the first reading of the ordinance May 15 after a lengthy discussion and with the understanding that the ordinance could be amended.

The heart of the ordinance lies in section two, which reads, "No person shall knowingly permit or allow a party, gathering or event at his or her place of residence or other private property, place or premises under his or her control where a minor or minors are present and alcoholic beverages are being consumed by any minor."

The ordinance does not prohibit the use of alcohol when only a minor and family members are present, nor does it prohibit the use of alcohol as part of a religious ceremony (such as Communion at a Roman Catholic Church).

A person found guilty of violating this ordinance will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

If another violation occurs within a five-year period, the second or subsequent violation would be considered a Class A misdemeanor.

According to section 520.020 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, a Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail.

To date, no one has been charged with violating the ordinance.

10. Arena discussions fade

The Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission has been pushing for an arena for years, but when a presentation was made to the Lebanon City Council and the Marion County Fiscal Court, the commission found words of support, but little money.

The proposed $5 million arena could host horse and other animal shows, as well as other events, such as concerts. The proposal included building the arena at the Marion County Fairgrounds.

The fiscal court and the city council expressed support for a multi-purpose arena, but neither body committed any money toward making the project a reality.

However, the tourism commission remained supportive of the project and submitted a request for line item funding to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Ron Lewis to help fund the arena project. 

Honorable mentions:   'Tower of intellect' Terry Ward dies

Terry Ward, an "intellectual giant" who loved learning and used his knowledge to help others, passed away Aug. 1. Ward was 63.

According to those who knew him well, Ward had an insatiable thirst for information. He could speak knowledgeably on anything from politics to religion, from accounting to the arts, and he had an affinity for history, particularly local history, often speaking to civic organizations and to the Leadership Lebanon-Marion County group about significant events in local history.

His love of the community also led him to volunteer his time and talents in numerous activities and organizations.

Murray man dead after plane crash

On June 18, a plane crashed at the Lebanon-Springfield Airport, killing Murray businessman Dan Hutson II.

Hutson, the pilot, had flown his wife, Cindy, to Lexington, where their oldest daughter was giving birth. Hutson was planning to return to Murray for business after he dropped off his wife, and shortly after 1 p.m. he reported to air traffic controllers that his plane was losing engine oil pressure. He was advised that the Lebanon-Springfield Airport was the nearest airport. Soon after Hutson's distress call, his plane crashed at the Lebanon-Springfield Airport. Emergency personnel from Marion and Washington counties raced to the scene. Firefighters fought the flames and rescue and EMS personnel were ready if needed. Unfortunately for Hutson it was too late.

He was declared dead on the scene by the Washington County coroner's office.