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Free smoke detectors offered by Englewood Fire Department

As the weather begins to cool and people seek to warm their houses, the chances of a house fire increase.

With this in mind, the Englewood Rural Fire Department is offering free smoke detectors and free installation to anyone in the department’s fire district.

“We just want people to have smoke detectors,” Englewood Fire Chief Billy Roach said. “Tennessee ranks pretty high in fire deaths.”

Roach noted that the department has put up about 500 detectors over the past couple of years and, during the first round of the program about 10 years ago, put up more than 1,800.

The program that supplies the smoke detectors is sponsored by the State Fire Marshal’s Office and there is typically a steady supply of detectors throughout the year.

“We try to keep them all year,” Roach said. “Sometimes we have to wait until they get them to us from Nashville.”

He said the upcoming seasons are when the department really tries to make sure people are aware of the program, though.

“We try to get out as many as we can in the fall and winter seasons,” he said. “Fires are more prevalent in the fall and winter — people with drop cords, wall and space heaters and furnaces catching on fire.”

Roach noted that there are no restrictions on who can get a free detector, except that they cannot be installed in businesses.

“Anybody who calls gets one,” Roach explained. “It’s a good program.”

He noted that the department gets about 100 at a time and they currently have “several” remaining at this time.

For anyone interested in acquiring a free smoke detector, Roach said they should call Lt. Austin Smith at 423-435-2880 or the fire hall at 423-887-7509.

If there’s no answer, Roach advised leaving a message with your phone number and “we’ll try to call back within a couple of days.”

For people outside the Englewood fire district, Roach said there are several other departments that take part in the program as well.

Officials seeking community involvement in elections

Finding new ways to engage the community is a recent focus of the McMinn County Election Commission.

The local Election Commission office is actively collaborating with the county’s two public high schools and will be attending a number of community events this fall to broaden familiarity with the voting process.

Last year, the Election Commission oversaw the Homecoming vote for Central High School. This year, it will not only return to Central on Sept. 20, but also help McMinn County High School facilitate its Homecoming Court and Class Officers elections on Sept. 12.

The Election Commission office will be closed on Sept. 12 in order to be present at McMinn.

TeAnna McKinney, administrator of McMinn County Election Commission, spoke about how she believes coordinating the elections at McMinn will help acclimate students to the idea of voting as adults.

“It was received very well by students and faculty at McMinn County High School,” McKinney said of the idea to host the school election. “I’ve been talking to the Assistant Principal Marla Cobb and she said several of the students are very excited that they will be voting on the voting equipment and several of the parents are very excited as well.”

McKinney noted she is excited to help make the elections more formal.

“They’re getting to vote on official equipment, so it’s really a more official election,” she said. “It will be the same process as a real election. The votes will be tabulated at the end and sealed in an envelope. It will be an all-secret vote and tabulated officially instead of it being hand-counted.”

McKinney hopes the Election Commission’s involvement will help prime about 1,500 students participating with a voter-friendly mindset.

“It gets them used to going to an official place and voting on official equipment,” she said. “They’re voting on the same equipment that is normally voted on in any election.”

McKinney noted the class officer results will be released on the following Friday morning after the election and the king and queen results will be unveiled during Homecoming Court.

Following the event at McMinn, election officials will also be present at booth five at the Fried Green Tomato Festival in Niota on Saturday, Sept. 15.

“We’re going to be setting up at the fall festivals — the Fried Green Tomato Festival, two days at the Etowah Fall Festival and Pumpkintown,” McKinney said.

At the festivals, folks can change or update their addresses with the Election Commission representatives and receive election information for the upcoming year.

“Even if they’re not local to McMinn County, but they’re a resident of Tennessee — we can still send their information to the county where it belongs,” McKinney said. “Even if you’re a registered voter, come see us — we may have some new information they might be interested in.”

Encouraging people to come visit the booths, McKinney noted they will have goody bags available for children and provide educational resources for adults.

Overall, she hopes to amplify the Election Commission’s civic involvement.

“We just feel like being out in the community maybe will make people more aware of their election process,” McKinney said. “Everyone has a stake in the community they live in. Sometimes people are not aware of the election process and where to vote and we want to be a place they can get the information they need.”

Former Athens resident to recount his 'inspirational' story

A former resident of Athens will visit this month to share his testimony of living as an ambulatory quadriplegic.

Author of “Get Back Up,” Rod Cate, 53, currently lives in Spanish Ford, Alabama and works as a malpractice defense attorney. Cate, who attended Ingleside Elementary School for a couple years, had his life forever changed when he was 15 years old from a paralyzing football injury.

“Get Back Up” was written as a motivational book sharing Cate’s memoir of not only how he learned to walk again in high school, but continues to live each day as a husband, father and lawyer — despite the longterm effects of his disability.

On Sept. 26, Cate will be the keynote speaker at White Street Market in Athens and, the following day, he will join the Kiwanis Club of Athens at noon as the guest speaker. In addition to speaking, Cate will have his book available for purchase.

His mother, Nancy Cate, has lived in Athens for over 20 years. She explained he initially began writing “as a catharsis” and that eventually turned into the book.

“This book is about what happened to him, about some of his reactions and then as an attorney — some of the cases he has tried and the importance of those,” Nancy Cate said. “At the end of the book, I think it’s very poignant about what you need to do to be happy in life. Things are going to happen, so you need to be prepared for it and get back up — that’s the whole emphasis.”

His mother shared how proud she is for his progression through life.

“When I first saw him lying on the football field, it was just pure terror,” she said. “I just didn’t have any idea what a broken neck even meant, but to see him progress like he did. … He’s married, he has three children, he was valedictorian of his high school class.”

For Nancy Cate — the experience further deepened the bond they share.

“We do have a sweet bond because, after the accident, after he broke his neck, he was in the hospital for a good month before he went to the rehab center,” she said. “His accident was in August and we didn’t come home until Thanksgiving, so I was with him every day.”

She continued, “I can remember the first time he was able to move his toe and then he was able to get back on his feet — but this was months and months of healing and working.”

Lisa Mayfield, a co-owner of White Street Market and cousin of Rod Cate, explained wanting to host an event on his behalf to encourage the community to embrace life.

“We felt like people may want to get a book or chat with him, even if they can’t hear him speak,” Mayfield said. “I’d love to encourage our high school athletes to come, but not just athletes … I think it’s an inspirational time for anybody at any age — but you know, young people never think anything is going to happen to them.”

Mayfield said her cousin’s grateful outlook is truly contagious.

“You just realize how he so appreciates every day,” she said. “I think sometimes there are a lot of people that have anything and everything you could possibly want for — and they don’t have a good attitude about being grateful for each day.”

Gratitude, Mayfield emphasized, is an underestimated perspective with universal benefit.

“I think if your attitude is being thankful to get up and get going every day — I don’t think you could ask for anything in life that’s better than to just be thankful for each day,” she said. “I think society tells us one thing and sometimes some of those things are what I don’t think make you appreciate and be happy about each day.”

His mother also believes his presence makes a positive impact on people.

“When he visits, it is just the most joyous time,” Nancy Cate said. “You can’t be down when you are around Rod, because he’s always up. Everyone just loves to be around him because you can’t be depressed around him.”

Today, she said her son walks with a cane and has his struggles with certain tasks, especially those involving his extremities. Still, she hopes locals will either come reconnect with him or meet him for the first time to witness his optimistic attitude.

“I would love for folks to come out and meet him and gain a little insight of what it takes to overcome some tragedies in life,” said Nancy Cate. “You can do it and be very happy, live a very fulfilled life, you don’t have to be weighed down with problems — just appreciate and be thankful for every day.”

The event at White Street Market on Sept. 26 will begin with a reception and refreshments at 5:30 p.m. and he will speak at 6:15 p.m.

White Street Market is located at 216 N. White Street in Athens.

School consolidation talks continue

Athens officials are continuing to advance toward the consolidation of the city’s four elementary schools.

City voters decided in a public referendum on Aug. 20 that Athens should increase its local option sales tax rate from 2% to 2.75%.

The Athens City Council has committed at least $1 million of the new annual revenue toward funding the construction of a single consolidated elementary school on the campus currently occupied by City Park Elementary. This would reduce the number of city elementary schools from four to one as a long-term cost saving measure. Proceeds from the new revenue would also fund renovations at Athens City Middle School.

The sales tax increase is part of what has been referred to as the “three-legged stool” approach to funding the consolidation project. The second “leg” is an increase in the city’s property tax rate. The third “leg” would be an annual contribution of about $700,000 from the school system as a result of savings from personnel reduction and lower maintenance and utility costs.

At Monday night’s Council study session, the “next steps” in the process were discussed by Athens City Manager C. Seth Sumner and Director of Athens City Schools Dr. Melanie Miller.

Sumner said he and Miller have already met with representatives from the USDA to explore funding options made available by the agency. Sumner and Athens Finance Director Mike Keith have also met with a municipal advisor to become better informed about potential bond issuances.

According to Sumner, the municipal advisor said it was “untrue” to characterize the interest rates of several years ago as “the best rates we’re ever going to see.”

“There are 20-year bonds that are sub-2%; there are 25-30 bonds that are sub-3% today,” said Sumner.

Sumner has also discussed with Attorney Chris Trew the possibility of pursuing outside legal counsel to assist in drafting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and school system. The agreement would make official the School Board’s commitment to remit $700,000 of annual savings to the city to supplement the annual loan payment for the project.

“(Trew) agreed that may be a wise venture,” said Sumner. “The School Board also agrees that may be a good step.”

Trew serves as the attorney for both the city and the school system.

“There’s no conflict; shouldn’t be a conflict, but to avoid the appearance of any kind of impropriety — I’ll use that word — I shouldn’t be involved in developing an MOU between the City of Athens and the City School Board,” explained Trew.

Council members appeared to reach consensus during the study session that enlisting outside counsel is a proper step.

Discussions between Sumner and Miller have led to the formation of a finance committee for the consolidation project comprised of Sumner, Miller, Keith and ACS Supervisor of Finance Traci Bryant.

“(We will) begin meeting with some form of regularity — maybe bi-weekly or whatever works for our schedules — to be able to begin discussing more of the financial aspects and looking at the different tools that are available to us and then be able to report back to the elected bodies as is appropriate for decision making,” said Sumner.

Miller suggested that the finance committee should eventually add a representative from both the School Board and Council as they move toward working with the project architect to finalize design plans.

“It seems like it’s become very hard for both bodies (School Board and Council) to find dates to come together and work together, so maybe this would be a more efficient way to get down to the nitty gritty of what all the next steps are and then take that back to the bodies,” said Miller.