As we begin a new decade we wanted to have a look back at the things that made news – good, bad and inspiring – from 2010-19.
It was a decade with unspeakable tragedy, politicians behaving badly, extreme weather and small towns rallying around their own in a way others cannot.
This is part two of our series and it covers local politics. The other parts in this series cover the most shocking crimes, the good news and the way the community comes together in tragedy.
What would a decade-long recap be without recapping local political moves and missteps?
First, the major moves.
In 2010, Atoka saw its first new mayor in nearly four decades when Charles Walker retired and Darryl Walker was elected.
In 2012, longtime speaker of the house Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) announced he was retiring. Later that year, Debra Moody (R-Covington) was elected and still represents the 81st district in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
In 2014, after a contentious battle, Justin Hanson defeats David Gordon and wins election as Covington’s mayor. He won re-election in 2018, beating challenger John Edwards who was an alderman for more than a decade.
The Town of Mason saw its first African-American female mayor, Gwendolyn Kilpatrick, in 2015 and first African-American male mayor, Emmett Gooden, in 2018.
In March 2019 Paul Rose (R-Covington) was elected in a special election to serve as senator for the 32nd district, finishing the unexpired term of Mark Norris who is now a federal judge.
During the December 2018 primary, Rose beat five Shelby County Republicans in a district that encompasses not only Tipton County but also Arlington, Bartlett, Eads, Lakeland and Collierville. He is the first Tipton Countian elected to the senate since Bill Jim Davis in the 1970s and is up for re-election in November.
The decade also saw many scandals involving local elected officials and municipal employees.
Charges for Brighton alderman, mayor
In 2011, Brighton alderman W.E. “Booster” was arrested for forcibly fondling teenagers he’d hired to maintain properties for his real estate business. He was later convicted and forced out of office.
In 2014, Brighton mayor and county commissioner Jeff Scott was indicted for abuse of power after using public works employees and town-owned equipment to locate and replace the water meter, but also to remove tree stumps, do landscaping, dig, prepare and pour the foundation for his son’s house.
He was later convicted and had to resign from both offices.
Million-dollar disagreement in Covington
In Covington, a long battle began in 2015 when the city announced to non-profits it would likely be decreasing funding in the upcoming budget year.
Aldermen John Edwards and Minnie Bommer didn’t agree and were vocal about their opposition to this and many other issues, such as the filling of unexpired terms on the board.
Revealing the city wasn’t in great financial shape, and was set to increase its expenses by $1.1 million over the next budget year when bond payments would begin on both the biomass gasification plant and the municipal center, Hanson maintained his position.
The city no longer allocates for non-profit donations, except for $250 special requests. There are, however, three non-profits housed in city-owned facilities rent-free.
Chaos in Mason
It’s hard to give a brief summary of what happened in Mason this decade, but, in one word, it was chaos.
After new aldermen, seated in December 2014, were denied requested financial documents from the town recorder, they turned to The Leader for help.
One records request turned into three dozen resignation letters, a new mayor and board, and an investigation by the state that led to an indictment.
It began in January 2015 with then-mayor David Smith calling residents idiots and storming out of meeting as he made a promise to resign. He was angry after the ethics behind his wife being employed with the city were questioned.
Then he said he didn’t really resign.
But then he did, eventually, resign, citing work commitments as his reason. Vice mayor Gwendolyn Kilpatrick, who’d just been elected to the board two months prior, became the mayor.
But the drama didn’t stop there.
The first half of 2015 was characterized by two things: changes in personnel, between terminations and resignations, and untangling the web of financial deceit and unethical behavior.
Some residents were upset that the public works superintendent was making a disproportionate $120,000 per year, more than any other in the county. He later resigned, as did the rest of his family (they worked for him at the public works department and they all worked together at the volunteer fire department too).
There were at least five different police chiefs and up to four different public works superintendents in five months in 2015.
No one knew how much money the city had and bills to vendors, taxes, as well as employee health insurance went unpaid.
In 2015, the city was actually shut down for a week by the state, too.
In July 2016, the public works superintendent was indicted for receiving more than $600,000 in unauthorized overtime. That month the police department was disbanded, briefly, after then-chief Roderick Moore was found to be lying about almost everything and most of its officers were not certified.
There was a lot of in-fighting on the board, it cycling through members, as well as between the mayor and various department heads.
Despite his suggestion Mason was in the shape it was in because its elected officials were all black, Egyptian-American Eddie Noeman was elected vice mayor. He and mayor Gooden remain at odds.
“You won’t believe how chaotic it is,” said Mike Whitaker, who took over as city attorney in 2015 and then resigned a few months later.
We believe it only because we had to untangle it and write about it, but we agree: it was chaos at its finest.