Tennessee editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Aug. 11

The Bristol Herald Courier on preventing school bus crashes:

School administrators are inspecting hundreds of area buses after a spike in school bus crashes and injuries last year in the Mountain Empire. While we applaud the work that local counties do to maintain safety, more education and discussion are necessary to prevent future crashes.

Roughly 25 million children nationwide begin and end their day on a school bus, according to the National Safety Council. In Southwest Virginia, thousands of students equates to hundreds of buses. Washington County has a total of 135 buses, for example.

For all those numbers, though, remember this one: 11.

That's the number of people injured in a total of seven school bus crashes in Southwest Virginia last year, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Washington County has had 15 crashes and 18 injuries since 2016 — the most in the Mountain Empire. One of those crashes involved a bus driver following too closely behind a truck; another involved a truck driver who ran into a bus. Across the border in Bristol, Tennessee, buses were involved in four crashes last year, and Sullivan County responded to six crashes, according to information from school and sheriff's offices.

With huge numbers of routes, stops, and buses, these crashes are actually a statistical rarity. In part, that's because of the rigorous bus inspection system that exists in Virginia and Tennessee.

On either side of the border, buses are inspected regularly — even daily in some cases — according to Department of Education guidelines. That includes the current round of inspections, which involve a renewed Virginia State Inspection sticker and a modified commercial inspection in Virginia and Tennessee, respectively. In both states, drivers have to obtain a commercial driver's license with an S endorsement.

We applaud the efforts of local leaders in both states; this is clearly a rigorous series of checks for everyone's safety. In spite of all precautions, though, crashes have occurred — and the only acceptable number of crashes and injuries is zero.

Most of the checks in place for student bus safety are for mechanical issues. For example, Sgt. Nathan Hall, the Tennessee Highway Patrol public information officer, states that the biggest threat on school buses is stop-arm violations. When the lights activate, other drivers are required to slow down. In the wrong circumstance, it's the leading cause of danger-zone fatalities. School officials inspect constantly for this issue.

However, the next two largest threats are student behavior and driver training. These issues align with the kind of crashes seen in the previous school year, and they're the most difficult to counteract. Trooper Robert Wills with the THP leads an in-service training for bus drivers each year, and it's this kind of preventative education, focusing on student management and safety after a crash, that will make the biggest difference for students outside of mechanical failure.

Beyond the school system, training and education for everyone involved in school transportation is essential moving forward — and make no mistake, everyone on the road is involved. After a long summer break, some on the road may forget how to operate around school buses. Be a part of the solution to student safety and educate yourself today.

School bus safety is ultimately up to all of us — bus drivers, students, parents, administrators and everyone sharing the road. We all have a part to play in keeping students safe this year. Let's commit to a safer year.



Aug. 10

The Cleveland Daily Banner on disagreements over a county tax increase:

Now that everyone has had the last word over an approved property tax increase, it is time for the Bradley County Commission and Mayor D. Gary Davis to put aside their differences and get back to conducting the work of the people.

Besides, these elected leaders still have at least three years — and as many budgets — of sitting behind the same Courthouse dais and looking out for the good of their constituents and our community.

With the possible exception of Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber who has hinted his candidacy for the assessor of property position in 2020 against incumbent Stanley Thompson, all other commissioners and Davis will remain aboard the same government boat until 2022.

As such, they'll have two choices: Work together or don't work together. If they choose the former, Bradley County should stay afloat. If they prefer the latter, we sink.

It's really that simple.

It is not a matter of who's right. It is not a matter of who's wrong. It is a matter of individual perspectives on what is best for Bradley County's future.

Everybody wants the same destination. The difference of opinion is how to get there.

Davis, who has steered Bradley County without a tax increase for two decades, believes it can be done again this year without raising property or fire taxes. The majority of county commissioners feel otherwise: They fear the county is trending in a wrong direction, that infrastructure needs, education and government employees are falling by the wayside because of the mayor's doggedness to not raise taxes.

Unfortunately, the disagreement turned personal over the past few weeks.

Here's a synopsis of the actions and counter-actions: Mayor Davis proposed a budget with no tax increase. The commission rejected the proposal, made a counter-proposal that included the hikes and then passed it. Mayor Davis vetoed the commission's budget. The commission overturned the mayor's veto.

Like a boxing match, the budget debate became a series of punches and counter-punches. And some of the sparring turned ugly.

In his reasoning to veto the commission's budget, Davis cited: "As your mayor, I refuse to ask the taxpayers of this county to shoulder a tax increase, unless I can look them in the eye and assure them that a tax increase is the only way to fund the necessary services of this county. I, respectfully, do not believe that I can give them this assurance since I have proposed a budget that does not include a tax increase."

Stung, although not surprised by the veto, commission chair Johnny Mull had this to say on the day of the over-ride: "Although I am disappointed (about the mayor's veto), I actually pondered or questioned, 'Is the mayor's budget about the current and future needs of Bradley County or his own legacy?'"

In another excerpt, Mull stated, "The mayor has shown an inability to make difficult choices when it comes to the financial health of Bradley County's future. So today, we have taken the reins and made those decisions for him."

Miffed by Mull's choice of words, Davis countered Aug. 5 with an accusation that two of the commissioners — apparently the chairman and vice chairman — were catering to a political audience. While Yarber reportedly is eyeing the assessor of property race, some speculate Mull could become a county mayoral candidate in 2022.

In his brief statement last week, Davis tasked the commission with this: "Everyone knew your override was inevitable. So why on the (July) 26th, could you not just meet, vote to override, go home and feel wonderful? But instead, two of you saw fit to chop my head off in retaliation, slander my character and integrity, in total disregard for the pastor's prayer? Why?"

The longtime mayor called Mull's statement "pure hogwash," and spread his critique to the rest of the commission: ". The majority of the other commissioners condoned it with your silence, your clapping, your 'likes' on Facebook. And again, I ask, why?"

With hope, everyone has been heard. With luck, the last word has been said.

Bradley County's greatest need now — among its elected leaders — is a willingness to work together toward the good of all. Davis, Mull and the rest of the commission are quite capable of doing just that.

To quote from Davis' own weekly column in ... the Cleveland Daily Banner, "This is what adults do!"

To quote from Mull, at the close of his "override" speech, ". I hope that we will be able to look deeper at the many needs we are facing, and work TOGETHER to come up with solutions for how to address them."

Saying it is not doing it. Actions alone will make it so.

And every act must begin with an open mind and a listening ear.



Aug. 9

Johnson City Press on efforts to reduce the number of free-roaming cats in one county:

Many animal lovers out there might disagree, but we have a minor note about the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter's trap, neuter and return policy regarding "community cats."

The program sets out to reduce the amount of euthanization necessary in shelters overrun with kittens every year. Good goal. Finding alternatives to killing healthy animals makes perfect sense. Sterilizing cats certainly reduces the number of litters that otherwise would perpetuate the cycle.

As Senior Reporter Becky Campbell reported, ... Shelter Director Tammy Davis said since the policy started in May 2017, the staff saw a significant drop in the number of free-roaming cats arriving at the shelter. She also said euthanasia rates went down from 80% in 2012 to 15% in 2018.

That's certainly a success.

But the idea of returning cats with no homes to the streets might give some residents pause.

Campbell cited a website that described community cats as unowned felines that live outdoors. In general, they are not socialized toward people and live in colonies. Those colonies can be anywhere, including residential areas.

There's the rub. Cats — whether they are pets or in colonies — that roam free are prone to causing damage. Scratched car hoods, urine-soaked lawn furniture, shredded tarpaulins, ruined flower beds, spilled garbage cans, collapsed bird feeders and other forms of kitty vandalism are no fun for homeowners. The damage can be expensive to repair.

There are ways to keep cats away from your property, of course. Campbell's article listed a slew of tips from adding river rock to flower beds to natural propellant concoctions.

Interestingly, Johnson City has a leash law applying equally to dogs and cats. The agency tasked with enforcing the law is none other than the shelter in its animal control function. The idea of returning unleashed cats to their colonies seems contrary.

What to do? Since adult community cats have not been socialized to people, adoption does not seem likely; the animals would otherwise have to be euthanized, which no one wants to do. We're guessing that's why a benefactor stepped forward to fund the trap, neuter and return program.

Barring an unobvious alternative, the policy appears sound. So the onus seems to be on homeowners who — through no fault of their own — must often go to great lengths to protect their property.