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Athens officials urge Census participation

Participation in next year’s Census is “critical” according to Athens officials.

Vice Mayor Bo Perkinson asked that discussion of the 2020 Census be added to the Council’s study session agenda last Monday. He had recently attended a Tennessee Municipal League meeting where this topic was highlighted.

“It’s a critical effort of how we go about this and we make sure every opinion is counted,” he said.

Perkinson asked City Manager C. Seth Sumner to share with the rest of the Council what preparations are underway to prepare the city for next year’s Census.

“(We need to) make sure we get this done in the most advantageous way for the City of Athens,” said Perkinson.

Sumner has assigned several city staffers to be points of contact for the Census.

“There’s a whole pile of other data other than the interviews and going door to door like we see happen every decade,” said Sumner.

The city began preparing for the Census about two years ago. Since that time, Building Inspector Gene McConkey has been compiling housing and business data for reference so he can serve as the point person for inquiries of this nature.

Sumner said city government has communicated with its McMinn County counterparts in order to form a Census committee. The committee is under the purview of Dana Ferguson with the McMinn County Economic Development Authority.

“That will be made up of various community partners that can help get the word out,” explained Sumner. “What we’re really talking about doing is a McMinn County promotion of some sort to help make sure that folks know that it’s happening and the importance of it.

“It happens in every community — folks get the knock on the door and they don’t want to answer the door or they don’t want to answer the questions,” Sumner continued. “Some of (the questions) seem to be prying. They might ask you for your salary or how many children are in the house — things that we think are personal information — but it’s important to make sure that everyone is counted so that we get the best representation we can in our federal government and especially with our federal dollars when they start looking at how our tax money is allocated back to us. So, it is of vital importance that we make sure that everybody is aware and everybody is counted.”

Sumner expects information to be distributed via traditional media, as well as various social media platforms, as materials and awareness activities are developed by the Census committee.

Director of Athens City Schools Dr. Melanie Miller said the city school system is also developing several ways to communicate the importance of Census participation, including brochures, activities and family engagement.

“We’re going to actively get every grade level involved and push out information to all the families,” she said. “It is very important.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every household in the country will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census by April 1, 2020. Once the invitation arrives, each household designee can respond online, by phone, or by mail.

In addition to helping determine how federal financial assistance is allocated, the results of the Census are used to reapportion the U.S. House of Representatives by determining how many seats each state gets. Following each Census, state officials use the information collected to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts in their states to account for shifts in the respective populations.

Evidence identified, taped interview played during Wielzen trial

New evidence was revealed and an interview with the defendant was played during the fourth day of the Joseph Wielzen murder trial Saturday.

Certain pieces of evidence became the focus of the trial, as a knife and a pair of gloves that were spotted near the body of the victim under a piece of concrete were discussed.

Faith Sisson, who was dating Wielzen at the time of victim Kelsey Burnette’s disappearance, was called to the stand to see if she could identify any of the items that were found near the victim’s body.

Sisson claimed that she knew Burnette prior to the victim’s death and that she also knew both Austin Burke and Nick Rose because of Wielzen.

Sisson stated she did not see Wielzen on the day of June 30, 2017 — when Burnette disappeared — and that it had been about three weeks since they had last seen each other.

Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Koty Wamp asked Sisson if she was aware that Wielzen was at the party on June 30.

“He told me that he was at his dad’s house that night,” said Sisson.

She also stated that the first time Wielzen told her that he was at Burke’s house was on the morning of July 1, 2017.

According to Sisson, Wielzen also told her Burnette had gone missing that morning.

“I woke up that morning and he called me and asked me if I had seen her,” said Sisson. “I told him no and I told him to call the hospital … that’s as far as the conversation went.”

Wamp asked Sisson if Wielzen had ever mentioned anything to her about the discovery of Burnette’s SIM card.

“He told me that he had found the SIM card in the toilet because he had taken a shower,” said Sisson. “He said that she left her car, she took all of the cigarettes and that she took off walking and never came back.”

She told the jury that the next time she saw Wielzen was on the Fourth of July.

“At one point from June 30 to July 4, he told me that they had found her,” said Sisson. “He said that they had tracked her phone and a police officer had taken him, Rose and Burke to Athens and the officer informed them that they had found her but they couldn’t do anything to make her come home because she was 18.”

Sisson then confirmed that Wielzen carried a knife around the time that they were dating.

Wamp presented the knife that was found near Burnette’s body to the witness and she confirmed that it appeared to be Wielzen’s.

“Yes,” said Sisson. “The writing on the blade is what I remember.”

During cross examination, Defense Attorney Andy Brown questioned Sisson as to what made her believe that it belonged to Wielzen.

“The writing on the blade and the way it closed,” said Sisson.

However, she confirmed to Brown that there was nothing else about Wielzen’s knife that stood out to her.

The next witness to be called to the stand was Faith Sisson’s father, Jess.

Jess Sisson also confirmed that he believed the knife that was being presented as evidence was the same knife that belonged to Wielzen.

He stated that he also “recognized the writing” that was on the blade of the knife and that was what stood out to him.

During the cross examination, Brown asked Sisson if he remembered being asked by police to identify the knife that was suspected to belong to Wielzen.

“I remember speaking with the detective, but I don’t remember what was said,” said Sisson.

Another witness to take the stand was Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Danny Fay, who interviewed Wielzen on the night of July 4, 2017.

The prosecution played the video and, in it, Fay spoke to Wielzen about what had transpired on the night of June 30, telling him that “You’re only as good as your word.”

Wielzen described that night as everybody gathering and drinking and spoke about how he, along with everyone else that night, had been drinking up to the point where they placed Rose into a vehicle to sleep due to getting sick and Burke went to sleep on the couch.

According to Wielzen, he and Burnette sat on the front porch after everyone had gone to sleep, where she vented to him about constantly arguing with Burke.

On the video, Wielzen also recalled the conversation he had with Rose once Burnette’s disappearance was being noticed.

“Austin was asleep on the couch and I ran into Nick in the hallway,” said Wielzen. “He looked at me and said ‘Where the hell is Kelsey?’ And I told him that she was on the porch.”

According to the interview, Wielzen said that he, Rose and Burke began searching for her. Fay then asked Wielzen how Rose’s demeanor was.

“He was standing in the hallway, (angry), yelling ‘where’s Kelsey at,’” said Wielzen.

Fay also asked Wielzen how the SIM card was found, since the defendant didn’t notice it in the toilet after he took a shower.

“Me and Austin were standing outside smoking a cigarette,” said Wielzen. “Nick came out saying ‘I found it.’”

Wielzen stated that he and the other two believed that she had run away.

“Nick said that if she was going to be doing this then we should take her car and leave,” said Wielzen on the video.

Fay informed Wielzen during the interview that he believed there were a lot of holes in his story.

“Somebody, if not everybody, is lying,” said Fay.

During the interview, Wielzen confessed to having “consensual” sex with Burnette the night she went missing.

“Kelsey cheated on Nick with me and I cheated on my girlfriend with Kelsey,” said Wielzen.

The remaining witnesses that were called to the stand were both TBI agents who specialized in biological analysis and forensic biology.

TBI Special Agent Miranda Gaddes said she collected samples of paint from the red baseball bat that was retrieved from near Burnette’s body and compared it to fragments of paint that were collected from Burnette’s skull.

Gaddes told the jury that her findings proved the paint from both the bone fragments and the bat were the same.

“The two were consistent with respect to color, texture, type, binder composition and pigment composition,” said Gaddes.

She noted that she was able to reach that conclusion by using microscopic equipment.

The next witness, TBI Special Agent Gregg Fort, said he searched through various articles of evidence for DNA.

Fort stated that he was able to collect samples of DNA that belonged to Burnette, however all of the other evidence, with the exception of one, did not have blood or DNA on them or had samples that were too small to be examined.

The piece of evidence that he received that did have DNA from other individuals was the red baseball bat, however they could not determine who the DNA belonged to, according to Fort.

The trial has been in recess since Saturday and is set to resume on Tuesday morning.

Johnny Holden receives TWU entrepreneurship award

On Thursday, Johnny Holden was awarded the Distinguished Entrepreneurship Award by Tennessee Wesleyan University’s Goodfriend School of Business at the Johnson Event Center at TWU.

“It’s very humbling for me to be here and I thank the committee who nominated me,” said Holden.

Holden is now the sixth annual recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Entrepreneurship Award. Other recipients of this award include John Thornton, Claire Tucker and Hugh Queener.

He is founder of Pioneer Credit Company and has continuous involvement in the area Boys and Girls Club.

Holden’s career began with a 14-year tenure at American Credit Corporation, reaching the role of senior vice president before branching off to start Pioneer Credit Company, where he served for 40 years as CEO, president and chairman of the board as well.

Following the merging of Pioneer Credit with Mariner Finance in 2014, Holden has served as chairman of the board and executive consultant for the company, in addition to numerous leadership positions with the American Financial Services Association, Tennessee Consumer Finance Association and more.

“We do things right and proper,” said Holden of his philosophy of work and life. “It’s a simple statement, but these words were the foundation of customer service and our business policy at Pioneer Credit, as well as words that have guided me in my life.”

For 45 years, Holden has served at the Boys and Girls Club in Cleveland.

Holden’s acceptance speech told of his trials and success in the business world throughout his life.

However, he used the opportunity throughout the rest of the speech to speak to the students of TWU’s business school on the importance of working hard in the field and maintaining the drive to move forward in their trials.

“There are not any Johnny-come-latelys in business,” said Holden. “You have to pay your dues if you want to be successful and get to where you want to be.”

Holden spoke of the importance of the current step the students have taken in their lives to further education at TWU.

“College prepared me in many ways, but what made it all work together was experience out there on the firing line,” added Holden. “Experience is a great teacher, but you have to have the background that y’all are getting now to be able to go from here. It’s most important that you do well here.”

He added that going the extra step is important to success, as well.

“Don’t just learn, experience. Don’t just read, absorb. Don’t just change, transform. Don’t just relate, advocate. Don’t just promise, prove. Don’t just criticize, encourage. Don’t just think, ponder. Don’t just take, give. Don’t just see, feel. Don’t just dream, do it. Don’t just hear, listen. Don’t just talk, act. Don’t just tell, show. Don’t just exist, live,” said Holden, quoting Roy T. Bennett.

This fall Holden joined the TWU Board of Trustees as the fifth new member of the group of trustees.

EDITOR’S NOTE: J.J. Hulet of TWU contributed to this story.

Friendly Fellow schedule for 2019 released

The Christmas season is here and the Friendly Fellow is bringing food to local families.

A community tradition for 80 years, the Friendly Fellow Club annually provides holiday food baskets at Christmastime to families in need around the area.

The Friendly Fellow Club is a 501(c)(3) organization and all contributions are tax deductible.

Monetary donations will be accepted at The Daily Post-Athenian’s office at 320 S. Jackson St., in Athens, or by mail to The DPA, Attn: Friendly Fellows, P.O. Box 340, Athens, TN 37371-0340.

Donations to the Friendly Fellow Club will be listed in The DPA as they come in throughout the holiday season.

The 2019 Friendly Fellow Club schedule is as follows:

• Monday, Dec. 2; Tuesday, Dec. 3; and Wednesday, Dec. 4: Applications for food boxes will be taken in the Blue Room of the McMinn County Courthouse from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. A household member must be present to sign up and Social Security numbers and identification will be required.

• Monday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m.: The community will gather at the National Guard Armory off Highway 30 between Etowah and Athens to pack boxes for distribution. All are invited to participate.

• Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 8:30 a.m.: Food boxes can be picked up by eligible households from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the National Guard Armory.

For more information on the Friendly Fellow Club, contact The Daily Post-Athenian at 745-5664.