A year in review

Published 9:31 am Thursday, January 3, 2019

Revisiting the top headlines of 2018

From staff reports

From protests to school threats, open meeting concerns to a groundbreaking election season, new parks and talks of improvement to county facilities, it was a busy year in Jessamine County.

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The threat that shook the county

In a situation which Nicholasville Police called “a perfect example of how the public and police came together to gather the evidence needed to make an arrest,” an innocent Jessamine County teen was allegedly framed by two older males his father said were his friends.

After an investigation which lasted all night, Tristan H. Kelly, 19, and Cody T. Ritchey, 18, both of Nicholasville, were arrested Feb. 18 for second-degree terroristic threatening after investigations revealed Danny Cross Jr., was not,the one who had posted pictures of himself on SnapChat holding a gun and threatening Jessamine County Schools when students returned the following Monday.

Those posts were discovered to have been allegedly made by Kelly and Ritchey and traveled as far as Ennis County, Texas, where the same picture was used in a different school shooting threat where a girl at Ennis County High School was also arrested and charged with terroristic threatening.

In June, Kelly and Ritchey pleaded guilty to cyberstalking.

The teens admitted June 15 to posing as someone else in order to send messages via Snapchat threatening local schools and causing emotional distress to another person, referred to in court documents as “D.C.”

Ritchey and Kelly face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, although the actual sentence may be less. U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves is scheduled for final sentencing Sept. 28 in Lexington.

Educators protest, express concerns over SB 151

Teachers and concerned educators gathered at the Jessamine County courthouse late one April afternoon in response to the Kentucky legislature’s approval of Senate Bill 151.

Shouting “You vote now, we vote later,” protestors held signs which included demands for Gov. Matt Bevin to be voted out of office.

“It is shameful that the underhanded politics that took place last night are going to ruin public education in the state of Kentucky,” Missie Heady, counselor for West Jessamine High School, said. Heady is also a former Jessamine County Education Association member and served on the Kentucky Education Association board of directors.

“We understand there is a problem,” she said. “We are asking for tax reform and additional revenue to fix this problem instead of putting it on the backs of new teachers. Our children and our grandchildren will not have futures because it is going to demolish our public education.”

Illegal private quorum allegedly held at fiscal court

Resident’s gathered at a Jessamine County Fiscal Court meeting in May to hear allegations against Jessamine County magistrates who were rumored to have held an illegal private quorum earlier in the month.

Voting not to reappoint a member of the board of adjustments amid rumors smearing his personal character, a vote took place overturning the decision previously made May 1.

John Slugantz served on the board of adjustments for the past three years after taking over an unexpired term in 2015. He has 34 years experience as a civil engineer, designer and technician and 18 years experience as a land surveyor.

Molly Slugantz, John’s daughter, told the court how saddened she was members allegedly believed the rumors and voted against her father instead of investigating the accusations further.

“Not only does this harm your credibility as leaders of my community but it harms your characters as well,” Molly said. “We are here because we will not tolerate this kind of immaturity within our county. I am aware that one of you had the courage to apologize to my father, and for that I thank you. I wish that your peers were as accountable for their actions as you were. Not only has this situation opened my eyes to how corrupt a county government can be, but it has also harmed the integrity of the court in front of me.”

Organization joins forces with county to build first all-inclusive playground

In June, Jessamine County announced it was well on its way to offering the community its first ever all-inclusive playground for children and adults of all abilities.

What started as a vision nearly six months prior by members of the local All Abilities Drama Camp was approved by the county and was well on its way in fundraising to build an additional playground at the City/County Park.

The cost of building the playground was estimated at $300,000. Already having received a grant, as well as several other donations, the new playground was already 10 percent funded towards its goal.

The playground was announced to be 100 percent ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible and plans included a double-bay wheelchair swing, an all accessible merry-go-round and different types of all-inclusive swings for those who are not in a wheelchair although require some support.

Despite the gloomy weather, residents and city officials gathered in November at the City County Park for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new Kendyl and Friends All Inclusive Playground.

“If you have ever watched the movie Field of Dreams where they say, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If you build it they will come folks, and this is the result right here,” City Commissioner Doug Blackford said. “I want to thank two special organizations that we can hold responsible for this, All Abilities and Kendyl and friends. They had a vision back in June that they brought into the parks and recreation board. They laid this out for us and said, ‘would you consider this,’ and it was easy. We went to work immediately with them leading the way and here we stand today in November to open up this great park for everybody.”

Large crowd gathers as JCS dedicates new diesel mechanics transportation center

A large crowd turned out one Monday night in September as Jessamine County Schools dedicated the new Eugene S. Peel Diesel Mechanics Center.

“It is great to see the number of people here, this is a bigger number of people than we even anticipated,” Jessamine County Supt. Matt Moore said. “We are so excited to have you here at the dedication… Thank you everyone for coming and joining us today.”

The previous building was constructed in 1982 and was light years ahead of its time, Moore said, and contained a lift, an additional bay, office space and served the district through 36 years.

The new building is more than double the size of the previous building and includes the addition of another bus bay, in-ground lift, a wash bay, restrooms, an upgraded fuel system, new office space and additional bus and vehicle parking.

‘A story the whole nation can appreciate’

In early November, hundreds gathered at Camp Nelson, one of the largest Union Army recruitment and training centers in the nation for African-American soldiers during the Civil War, for the announcement of its designation as the first national monument in the state of Kentucky.

“This has been a project for our office for five years, this is not something new,” U.S. Rep. Andy Barr said. “This is something that we have been working consistently on for a long period of time and in fact we initiated this process before this cycle. This has nothing to do with politics this has to do with the people here and it is about the story of Camp Nelson and making it a story that the whole nation can appreciate.”

Receiving designation through the Antiquities Act, President Donald Trump was declared the park a national monument.

Over the course of three years, the national government will now work to create a budget and gradually add more funds towards its ownership of Camp Nelson, making the Jessamine County Fiscal Court budget for Camp Nelson smaller.

NPD takes on a growing city with limited help

For the Nicholasville Police Department, one of its constant battles over the past two decades has been taking on a growing city with limited officers.

“It is like a revolving door here,” Nicholasville Police Chief Todd Justice said. “We hired 20 plus officers in the last year and a half. With academy time and FTO, we can’t turn them out faster than we are losing them… We lose three to four a year to better pay or retirement.”

For a city that has grown from roughly 20,000 to 35,000 people, Nicholasville Police Sargent Kevin Grimes said in 20 years, the starting pay for an NPD officer has only increased by roughly $8 an hour.

“They do their training here,” Grimes said. “They are three years under contract and then they go somewhere else. If you can’t pay them, then they will go find someone else who will – and that is what is going on here.”

Davis asks for a recount after draw decides final seat for Nicholasville City Commission

After a draw decided the final vote between Patty Teater and Bethany Davis during November’s general election, Davis filed for a recount.

“I think that if we are going to do anything we should at least do it correctly and make sure that the vote stands,” Davis said via her Facebook page.

In mid-November, Davis filed for a recanvass for not only peace of mind but to show her supporters she did not give up.

“I have no ill will toward Patty and I have so much respect for her as a person,” Davis said. “I think we both handled it very well. The recount process speaks nothing on her character, it is simply the fact of trying to see this through so that I know at the end of the day if I won, lost or draw.”

Davis said she decided to ask for a recanvassing of the machines after she tied the vote with Patty Teater at 3,756 votes, because she wanted to do her due diligence and at, the end of day, know she exhausted all efforts and did so with dignity and grace.

In late November, after being served a court date and posting a bond for $5,000, Davis decided to dismiss her case late after estimated costs for the recount exceeded $10,000.

An unfeasible amount, Davis said she made the decision after counseling with her family and multiple phone calls to the company in charge of the recount, Harp, to see if anything could be done about their rates.

“I tried hard to fight to make sure every vote was tabulated correctly, but at the end of the day I couldn’t make it happen,” Davis said. “It shouldn’t cost that much for a recount. Throughout the process, I have learned a lot. Although, I feel like there’s been something left unfinished. I know I gave it my all in every task and hurdle I jumped through.”

Jail bid sent to committee for review

The Jessamine County Fiscal Court heard a final jail bid in early December, which after some brief discussion was voted to be sent to the jail committee for review and recommendation before the bid whole date of Dec. 17.

The motion was made by Magistrate Terry Meckstorth and seconded by Tim Vaughn. The motion passed with Justin Ray and Gary Morgan both voting in favor. Paul Floyd voted against the motion, with Magistrate April Rose Prather not present for the meeting.

“The fiscal court needs to make a decision,” Jessamine County Jailer Jon Sallee said. “The information has been put in front of them, but we will put it in front of the committee again so they can make a well informed decision. As of the 18th the time is up to go with the current bid amount. After that, the project will have to be re-bid costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Plans for a new or renovated Jessamine County Jail were put on hold later in the December as the fiscal court remained divided on the need for a new facility and how to pay for it.

The court voted in mid-December not to accept the bid from Codell Construction for Jessamine County’s jail project after much discussion about the need to review options for additional revenue to pay for the facility.

Jessamine County Jailer Jon Sallee addressed the court as well, stating when he took over for Hubbard building a facility with the same amount of beds was going to cost the county $9 million.

Making the decision to push the project out has only resulted in costing the taxpayers in Jessamine County more money, he said.

“We put it off another year Terry and it is going to be $16 million or $17 million,” Sallee said. “That is a decision that you all have made for the taxpayers that cost them more money for the same thing that they could have got five years ago.”

Ray told the court additional options were needed from Caulkins and he would like to see them on the agenda moving forward.