Higher Education Leader Robert Pearigen Elected Vice-Chancellor and President of The University of the South

Robert Wesley Pearigen, Ph.D, C’76, the president of Millsaps College known for his commitment to academic excellence, community partnerships and diversity, and a highly regarded former leader at the University of the South, has been named the university’s 18th vice-chancellor and president.

The Board of Trustees elected Dr. Pearigen unanimously Thursday, Jan. 26, following a national search that began in March 2022. Pearigen, who previously served Sewanee in several executive and academic positions, including leading university relations from 2005-2010 before assuming the Millsaps’ presidency, will take office as vice-chancellor on July 1, 2023.

“It will be my great privilege and pleasure to serve the University that has played such a formative role in my life and career and that of my family,” Pearigen said. “Though this is, in many ways, a homecoming of sorts, I am grateful to be returning to a place that has grown and evolved in vital ways over the past decade. I admire the progress Sewanee has made during the past 13 years and I look forward to helping lead its advancement in the years ahead.

“To ‘dwell together in unity’ is our motto and in our DNA; we have the opportunity and responsibility now to manifest what is best about relationships, community, and humanity, and to live fully into all that Sewanee is and can be in the future,” Pearigen continued. “I am thrilled to be leading the University into its next chapter.”

Board of Regents Chair James D. Folds Jr., C’86, observed, “We are excited and fortunate to be able to hire a sitting president with over a decade of experience leading through incredibly challenging times and who also has extensive knowledge of our community. Rob is well-prepared to engage with the entire community to drive our future priorities and propel the University to achieve its tremendous potential.”

Pearigen has had a distinguished tenure as Millsaps’ president. Located in Jackson, Miss., the private liberal arts college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is consistently ranked as one of the best values in higher education and is one of Loren Pope’s 40 Colleges that Change Lives.

Notable achievements at Millsaps during Pearigen’s tenure include: a comprehensive strategic plan and redesign of the curriculum; a significant increase in diversity of the student population, with students of color now comprising 40 percent of the population; expansion of the college’s partnerships with the local community; tripling of annual fund donations to the college and expansion of alumni engagement; completion of $25 million in capital projects, all fully funded in private donations; and development of plans and $2.5 million raised to create a campus solution to Jackson’s water crisis.

Pearigen succeeds Reuben E. Brigety II, who stepped down as vice-chancellor and president in December 2021 to be nominated by President Joe Biden as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, a role to which he was subsequently confirmed. The Board of Regents elected Provost Nancy Berner acting vice-chancellor and president in January 2022, and she will continue to serve in this role until Pearigen takes office.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees, I extend gratitude and appreciation to Nancy for her continued leadership and service during this time of transition,” Folds said. “She and her team are ensuring the University’s steady progress and have positioned the University well for the next era.”

Board of Regents member Mary Claire Murphy, C’82, and Board of Trustees member Rev. Katie Pearson, C’89, T’17, co-chaired the Vice-Chancellor Search Committee. More than 1,000 members of the Sewanee community participated in the search process, which attracted candidates from across the country.

“Rob Pearigen brings to us a deep love for and understanding of Sewanee, years of experience in higher education, a passion for student success, over a decade of presidential leadership in the liberal arts, and a vision for continuing to move Sewanee through the 21st century,” Pearson said. “Add to that Rob’s warmth, humility, and humor, and it is clear that Sewanee is poised for great things in the coming years.”

Pearigen’s family connections to Sewanee run deep. His wife, Phoebe, served for years as an adjunct professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and made significant contributions to dance programs in the community, including founding the Sewanee Conservatory and initiating the student-led dance organization Perpetual Motion. The couple’s two children, Carolyn, C’14, and Wes, C’17, are both actively engaged alumni.

“Dr. Pearigen’s proven leadership and his intimate knowledge of and deep abiding love for Sewanee will be invaluable in leading the university as it examines its past and looks to its future,” said Dr. Renia Dotson, C’88, a member of the Board of Regents and of the Search Committee. “Rob’s commitment to a liberal arts education and his profound understanding that the cherished relationships developed while on the Mountain are what makes Sewanee unique will serve him well as he guides the University during this very transformative time in its history.”

Pearigen graduated from Sewanee Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts in political science. At Sewanee, he was a proctor and president of the university’s academic honor society, the Order of the Gown. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Duke University. In his postgraduate research, he focused on constitutional law, judicial process, and political theory, particularly the work of Plato and Aristotle.

Pearigen returned to Sewanee in 1987 as dean of men and as a member of the political science faculty. Over the next 23 years, he served as dean of students and then as vice president for university relations. In that role, he led the institution’s largest fundraising effort ever at that time, a $200 million comprehensive campaign that exceeded its goal. He also led a campaign to raise funds to acquire the 3,000-acre Lost Cove tract.

Throughout his career as a leader and administrator, Pearigen also has continued to teach, including courses in constitutional law, civil rights and liberties, jurisprudence, and political theory. He plans to continue to teach upon his return to Sewanee.

Pearigen is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Distinguished Faculty Award from the University’s Associated Alumni in 2001. Also, in recognition of his dedication to the academic success and social well-being of students as Dean of Students, the University’s Student Life Cabinet established the Pearigen Commitment to Community Award which is awarded to students who demonstrate exemplary service and leadership to the Sewanee community.

SUD: Holiday Water Loss, Commissioner Election, Grant

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 24 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, SUD manager Ben Beavers reported on excessive water loss caused by the subzero temperatures during the Christmas holiday. In other business, the board counted the commissioner election votes and passed a resolution affirming the requested amount and required match for a $2.13 million American Recovery Plan (ARP) grant administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

During the Christmas holiday, the water plant ran from 20-22 hours a day for three days to keep up with the water lost from burst pipes, Beavers said. Records showed 640,000 gallons of water produced one day and more than 500,000 gallons on another day, when average daily usage was 240,000 gallons. “We probably lost a million gallons of water in four days,” Beavers estimated.

SUD will not be compensated for unmetered water loss from burst sprinkler lines in dorms and fraternity houses. When the fire lines were installed, metering was not required according to Beavers, although that has since changed. All renovated and new fire lines must be metered. Commissioner Donnie McBee observed reducing heat in the unoccupied buildings to save energy proved costly.

The vote count in the Marion County commissioner election showed Clay Yeatman the winner in a near tie race. Yeatman bested Ellis Mayfield with a vote of 21 to 19.

SUD slightly revised its ARP grant application to account for being allocated approximately $458,000 more money than they initially anticipated and for being required to pay for some administrative costs, Beavers said. The $2.13 million grant will be used primarily to reduce Inflow and Infiltration of ground water into sewer lines which increases SUD’s costs at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. SUD will “TV” inspect sewer lines and rehabilitate manholes to remedy I&I, Beavers explained. The grant money will also be used for three other projects: to set up a computerized asset management program, required of all water utilities; to detect leaks in water service lines with zone meters and link zone meter data to the computerized asset management system to identify what zone the leak is in; and to inventory service lines for lead components to comply with federal regulations by the 2024 deadline.

SUD’s 15 percent match for the $2.13 million grant will cost the utility $319,287.97. Commissioner Doug Cameron stressed the I&I reduction and leak detection will significantly reduce SUD’s costs in the long run.

The SUD Board of Commissioners will meet next at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 14, a week earlier than the regular meeting date.

Sewanee Council: Bike Lane, Parking Solutions Proposed

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Revisiting the Sewanee Community Council October discussion about danger to cyclists on University Avenue, especially children, due to cars parked in the bike lanes, at the Jan. 23 meeting Sara McIntyre offered a solution that addressed both cyclist safety and the parking shortage. The council also discussed the need for sidewalks, concerns about light pollution from streetlights and insufficient lighting, and heard updates on housing and the April 29 community cleanup.

McIntyre, University Sustainability Coordinator, proposed doing away with the bike lane on the chapel side of University Avenue and constructing a two-way bike lane on the Sewanee Elementary School side with a curb “barricade” to prevent parking. To accommodate parking needs for “extreme cases,” McIntyre suggested turning the grass area next to the sidewalk into parking on the chapel side. Looking at the bigger picture, McIntyre recommended increasing parking permit cost, reducing the number of parking permits, eliminating parking privileges for freshman, and having student parking lots away from central campus, a strategy McIntyre said would create 600-700 more parking places for events. County Road Commissioner Johnny Hughes expressed “pro” sentiments to the two-bike lane idea, according to McIntyre, and many colleges and universities had distance parking for students. Her plan did not call for eliminating any parking in the downtown area.

Towing cars parked in bike lanes, the other solution proposed, gave “the wrong message” about Sewanee, some council members argued, and would be difficult to carry out since Sewanee has no tow trucks. Council members Ben Beavers and John Solomon favored the two-way bike lane idea, but suggested, until the plan could be implemented, removing the bike lanes due to the danger. Council member Phil White observed inadequate University parking conveyed the message to non-campus Plateau residents, “the University doesn’t want us there for events.” White suggested widening University Avenue by 12 feet. Acting Vice-Chancellor Nancy Berner concurred, “it should be part of the discussion.” Berner said plans called for a student campaign to deter students from parking on University Avenue, highlighting community wellbeing and safety. Law enforcement intends to step up patrol during times elementary school children are travelling to and from school.

Revisiting the need for a walking path on Breakfield Road, Solomon cited a discussion with acting Provost Scott Wilson who pointed out it would be unfair to favor one section of town over another and the master plan being created addressed the need for more sidewalks. Other areas identified as desperately needing sidewalks included Roarks Cove Road, Kentucky Avenue, and the area of the University Child Care Center.

Residents expressing concerns about streetlights cited health risks from LED lights in the blue color spectrum, including macular degeneration, headaches, and damage to children’s eyes; they recommended LEDs in the orange color spectrum. Others complained light pollution threatened wildlife, especially birds, treefrogs and fireflies, and said Sewanee’s “night sky” was no longer visible; they recommended fixtures directing light downwards. Still others complained of dangerous “dark” sections of town with inadequate street lighting. Superintendent of Leases Sallie Green explained as streetlights aged, they became dimmer. Duck River Electric had been replacing failing lights with LEDs of the same illumination value. The LEDs appeared brighter compared to the aging lights replaced. Green said residents with objections to the new lights should contact Duck River and the direction of the lights could be altered, but the lights could not be removed. Green also asked residents to notify her when a streetlight burned out.

Council member Laura Willis, who formerly served on the Duck River board, said while Duck River could respond to problems on a case-by-case basis, the community needed to ask itself, “Does Sewanee as a community want to be serious about light pollution? It’s going to take the community saying to Duck River, ‘We want this type of light. We want this type of fixture.’”

Updating the council on the Sewanee Village Venture housing initiative, University Vice President for Economic Development and Community Relations David Shipps said six houses were under construction for employees to purchase. The houses ranged from $300,000-$340,000 in cost and 1,400-1,800 square feet in size.

White announced those wanting to participate in the two-hour community cleanup Saturday, April 29 should meet at the Mountain Goat Trailhead at 9 a.m. Participants will be given a sack and assigned an area to tidy up. Snacks will be provided.

The council welcomed new members Ben Tarhan (District 1), Ben Beavers (District 2), Michael Payne (District 3), Rhea Bowden and Laura Willis (at-large members), and returning member Marilyn Phelps (District 4, reelected for a full term). The council also welcomed appointed members Robert Benton and Nysha Wallace. The council elected Willis to serve on the agenda committee which reviews what will be brought before the council for discussion.

Babson Center Welcomes Edward Henley III Lunch Lecture on Feb. 2

Edward Henley III, founding principal and project executive at Pillars Development, LLC, will be the Babson Center’s Bryan Viewpoints Speaker for the 2023 Easter semester. Pillars Development is a land use planning, management, and community development firm in Nashville.

While on campus, Henley will deliver a presentation titled, “Place-making & Place-keeping - What a Way to Make a Living,” at noon, Thursday, Feb. 2, at Convocation Hall. This lunch lecture is in partnership with the NAACP Chapter of Sewanee and the Black Student Union of Sewanee and will be attended by a diverse group of students.

With more than 10 years of experience in real estate development, Henley has become an expert in land use consulting, community planning, market assessments, civic engagement, and diversity program monitoring. He enjoys the challenge of projects that include mixed-use and mixed-income developments, including affordable housing, walkable communities, public spaces, and suitable businesses. Whether working on large-scale, big budget projects or small developments, Henley is passionate about bringing communities together to plan, design, and manage their social and cultural resources, place-making, and then maintaining and preserving these spaces, place-keeping.

Prior to founding Pillars Development in 2013, Henley was associate project manager and project analyst for Music City Center, Nashville’s largest civic center. Originally from Nashville, Henley holds a BS degree in finance and enterprise management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is acting president for Rebuilding Together Nashville, a board member of Nashville Tree Foundation and Civic Design Center in Nashville, and co-leads Nashville’s Affordable Housing Task Force.

Last year, Sewanee was fortunate to have Henley visit with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a research and education organization supported by its members who are experts from around the world in real estate and land use. Members of ULI performed a study for the university to help determine our future residential and strategic investments. https://new.sewanee.edu/offices/university-offices/leases-and-community-relations/;

The Bryan Viewpoints Speaker Series is sponsored by the Babson Center for Global Commerce and is made possible by a generous gift from Peggy and J.F. Bryan IV, C’65. For more information about the Babson Center for Global Commerce and our events, please visit: <www.babsoncgc.sewanee.edu>.

Trails and Trilliums: Call for Vendors

The 19th annual Trails and Trilliums Festival will be April 21–23, at the Beersheba Springs Assembly in Beersheba Springs. This is a project of the Friends of South Cumberland State Park (FSC) and a benefit for the State Park.

South Cumberland and Savage Gulf State Parks are host to some of the most beautiful and interesting landscapes in the region. This is a weekend celebrating and exploring this unique natural world through educational and adventurous activities. Among the people attracted to this festival are families, individuals, nature enthusiasts, citizen scientists, local historians, artists, and naturalists.

We focus on vendors of native plants and items related to gardening, hiking and the great outdoors such as bird houses, outdoor sculpture, deck furniture, walking sticks, botanical prints and notecards, and local produce and honey.

There is no booth fee. Vendors will donate 20 percent of their proceeds to the Friends of South Cumberland. Non-profit groups will donate 10 percent.

Vendors are invited to participate on Saturday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, April 23, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Vendors who can come both days are preferred. If you are interested in being a vendor, please send a description of your merchandise, a price range, and two photographs. Include your website, if available.

We will contact you soon to let you know if we think you are a good match for our event. If you were a vendor with us last year, you just need to let us know that you will attend again this year.

The Beersheba Springs Assembly is located at 58 Hege Ave. If you are interested in staying there during the festival, call (931) 692-3669 to make those arrangements. Beersheba Springs is located about 40 minutes from Monteagle.

Please call or email Carol Paris (301)904-6210, <caparis52@hotmail.com> or email Chris Lotti at <howardlotti@gmail.com> for more information.

Community Chest Spotlight: Blue Monarch

The 2022-23 Sewanee Community Chest (SCC) Fund Drive is underway. Sponsored by the Sewanee Civic Association, the SCC raises money yearly for local charitable organizations serving the area. This year’s goal of $106,425 will help 17 organizations that have requested basic needs funding for quality of life, community aid, children’s programs, and those who are beyond Sewanee but still serve our entire community.

This week we shine the spotlight on Blue Monarch.

Blue Monarch’s mission is to provide a long-term, residential and therapeutic Christian community for women and their children to break adverse cycles and rebuild their families. Blue Monarch assists women and their children who are dealing with addiction, domestic violence, and economic hardship to transform in mind, body, and spirit. Blue Monarch provides a nurturing and therapeutic environment for individuals and families to achieve sobriety, enhance mother and child relationships, and develop improved life skills. Blue Monarch provides one-on-one as well as family counseling for all the residents and children.

The CORE residential program spans 18-24 months and the WINGS transitional program offers an additional 12 months of recovery under the Blue Monarch umbrella. Since opening in 2003, Blue Monarch has served more than 885 women and children, and more than 325 children have re-established a relationship with their mother. Blue Monarch accepts residents from all over the United States, but most of the population comes from Middle Tennessee, which would include Sewanee residents.

Blue Monarch is requesting $4,000. With the addition of a new eight family home, the core resident population has increased by 45 percent. At full capacity, Blue Monarch is now responsible for transporting 48-64 individuals at one time. Blue Monarch is looking to purchase a larger vehicle, most likely a coach or charter bus. This new vehicle will transport children to daycare, transport children and residents to church, to the grocery store, to school activities, and to community service and volunteer opportunities.

Since 1908, the goal of the Sewanee Community Chest has been to help citizens by funding the community. With Community Chest donations, local organizations provide for basic needs such as books, food, animal care, housing, scholarships, recreational spaces, elder care, children’s educational needs and more. The Sewanee Community Chest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible. Send your donation to Sewanee Community Chest, P.O. Box 99, Sewanee, TN 37375. Go to <http://sewaneecivic.org; for more information or to donate online.

Community Chest Spotlight: Little Bellas

The 2022-23 Sewanee Community Chest (SCC) Fund Drive is underway. Sponsored by the Sewanee Civic Association, the SCC raises money yearly for local charitable organizations serving the area. This year’s goal of $106,425 will help 17 organizations that have requested basic needs funding for quality of life, community aid, children’s programs, and those who are beyond Sewanee but still serve our entire community.

This week we shine the spotlight on Little Bellas.

Little Bellas is a national organization, with an active chapter in Sewanee. Little Bellas is a mentoring-on-mountain bikes program that is open to girls of all abilities. The goal is to create an environment where learning mountain biking skills, building confidence, and growing the camaraderie among young girls is centered around having fun. The focus is getting families out into nature and onto the trails.

Little Bellas will receive $250 from the Sewanee Community Chest for program/project-based support in the children’s program funding area. This grant will be used to help with tuition assistance and loaner equipment for girls to go to summer camp. The camp will work with 12 to 20 girls between the age of 7-13. Four women in the community will be volunteering to mentor the girls during the camp. The camp will offer games, working on biking skills, riding the trails, and having fun.

Since 1908, the goal of the Sewanee Community Chest has been to help citizens by funding the community. With Community Chest donations, local organizations provide for basic needs such as books, food, animal care, housing, scholarships, recreational spaces, elder care, children’s educational needs and more. The Sewanee Community Chest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible. Send your donation to Sewanee Community Chest, P.O. Box 99, Sewanee, TN 37375. Go to <http://sewaneecivic.org>; for more information or to donate online.

Shenanigans Makes a ‘Hard Pivot’ to Remain Open

As temperatures plummeted during Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 to negative numbers, water pipes froze and then burst across the Plateau. Many homes, schools, offices and businesses all got an unwelcome surprise.

With inclement weather forecasted for Christmas Eve, the staff at Shenanigans closed early, at 4 p.m., to go enjoy the holiday. When the staff came back to the beloved Sewanee restaurant to open for a busy Dec. 26 service, they were greeted with water pouring from the ceiling and approximately 3 inches of water downstairs on the floor from the front door to the side door. General manager Haleigh McKnight called owner Bill Elder with the news.

“Our first priority was to shut off the water at the main,” said Elder. “The next was to ascertain how dire the situation was for the restaurant and the building.” At least two upstairs water pipes had burst.

Elder reached out to his insurance company to let them know of the situation. His next step was to find a restoration company. David Boyd Williams, owner of Lumiere Sewanee, recommended Allied Contractors in Manchester. “I called them, and they moved mountains to get us into their already overloaded list from the freeze. They arrived at Shenanigans that day, ten minutes after I arrived from Nashville.” said Elder. “Sue Taylor took charge of the situation. I can highly recommend them.”

Saving the old wood floors downstairs, getting the water out and drying everything properly was the main concern.

“As temperatures began to rise, another upstairs pipe opened up and started gushing more water. The ceiling in the main dining room downstairs was saturated. All our electronic equipment from our point of sale systems, house audio system, deli cases, to coolers were shot,” said Elder.

To see how bad the damage was to the ceiling, part of it was removed. “More water gushed out. We had to take the whole ceiling out, remove the standing water, and dry everything out again,” said Elder. The ceiling is currently down to the rafters. A structural engineer was called in to assess the damage.

The Shenanigans’ staff helped with the cleanup and began moving tables and chairs to the upstairs. Everything that was not immediately needed such as catering equipment, was moved to a storage space in Midway to help get everything as clean and dry as possible. Treasured heirlooms were also carefully stored, and some were placed on the walls upstairs.

“One of the first things I went in and saved were the index card boxes with decades of recipes from previous owners. They are water stained, but I am scanning them into an app to preserve them,” Elder said.

Normally, the restaurant is an order at the counter and pickup at the counter establishment. Elder said they did a “hard pivot” and began to offer table service with a limited menu and limited hours upstairs. “Right now, we are offering burgers, grilled cheese, all the veggie burgers and fried items,” said Elder, plus a full bar and soft drinks. They plan to add pizza back to the menu next week.

“We do not know how long it is going to take to get back to normal operations,” said Elder. Elder said the restoration company is waiting on the report from the structural engineer. Then, it might take several weeks for Allied Contractors to complete the ceiling renovation. “When the ceiling reconstruction is completed, we might open the downstairs in some capacity sooner. All the front-of-house equipment must be replaced, plus we are dealing with the various insurance companies as well, which takes time” said Elder.

There are some positives from all these negatives Elder said. “One, is that we want Sewanee and all our customers to fall in love with the upstairs. It’s really an awesome space, and now we get to use it as our main dining space, in addition to its already known uses as music venue, bar and event space. We plan to host all the NFL playoff and other future games up there with the big 10-foot screen and bar food and drink specials. Second, the food truck will be back up and running to offer menu items we can’t currently do out of the kitchen. Third, we were able to spruce up the back room to make it a more intimate hangout. We also have had a lot of support from the community.”

Most importantly, “Our dedicated employees are getting paid,” said Elder. “They are employed and busy working together and coming up with ideas for us to navigate this crazy challenge. That’s been a beautiful part of this experience to witness — the dedication of our staff and how much they truly care about Shenanigans. That’s a rare thing and I’m so grateful to them.”

Elder said Shenanigans is open and will offer food and drinks upstairs and from the food truck, as they can, during the downstairs renovation. “There will be daily changes,” he said, and encouraged everyone to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for the day-to-day operating hours. Plus, a sign will be on the doors to let people know of hours of operation. “We also hope to start offering live music upstairs starting Feb. 23.”

Many have offered to set up GoFundMe fundraising pages to help this Sewanee institution. Elder said “Although I’m really honored by this outpouring of support and thankful for everyone’s spirit in that, we don’t want to go that route at this point. There’s so many GoFundMe’s out there and there are several other ways people can help.”

“What people could do right now is to support us when we are open and be understanding of our limited menu and hours. They can buy Shenanigans’ merchandise from our new online store <http://www.shenanigans1974.com/shenanimerch;. They can purchase gift certificates over the phone. I think a major way to help right now is for people and groups to book their upcoming events with us now. Greek formals, upcoming weddings, birthdays, grad parties, whatever—if we can get our events calendar filled up now through June, that would give us a ton of breathing room. People can inquire on our website <http://www.shenanigans1974.com/new-page-2; about booking graduation and other events or parties. Sports teams coming through and other large groups wanting to pre-order can get in touch with us there too. All that kind of stuff would just be huge. The upstairs saved us during COVID, and it’s going have to save us here again” Elder said.

“As the steward of the oldest building and the oldest restaurant in Sewanee, I am committed to seeing Shenanigans reopen to its fullest potential. She is not going down on my watch,” Elder said. — reported by K.G. Beavers

Monteagle Planning: Site Plan, Subdivision Plat Deadlines

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 17 Monteagle Planning Commission special called workshop, town planner Annya Shalun presented an overview of planning commission responsibilities and review processes to orient new commissioners, and to provide a framework for addressing difficult questions confronting the commission. Shalun also made recommendations for changing site plan and subdivision plat application-review deadlines.

“The goal of planning is to maximize the health, safety, and economic well-being for all residents,” Shalun stressed. The commission had jurisdiction over property inside the city limits, as well as property outside the city limits situated within the Urban Growth Boundary, Shalun explained. For property inside the city limits, the commission’s regulatory tools included site plans, zoning ordinances and the zoning map. “Monteagle deals with rezoning more than any other community I work with. It means you’re developing very quickly,” Shalun said. Outside the city limits, subdivision regulations were the commission’s only regulatory tool.

Commissioner Katie Trahan asked if the commission could require the Hideaway developers to improve Wrens Nest Avenue. “Yes,” Shalun said, “If you have a good case for the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens.” But Shalun went on to say, the commission could not deny the project to save sewer capacity for future developers. The commission could, however, approve or deny the developer’s request for a variance to address road visibility issues to avoid changing the “topography” of the land.

Shalun advised caution in granting variances, since when the commission granted a variance, they needed to consider granting variances for similar issues in the future. Variances for site plans that did not meet ordinance requirement could be granted for “narrowness, shallowness, shape” and other topographical features of a site, Shalun said, but variances could not be granted for financial hardship reasons. She gave the example of the restaurant-retail business that requested a landscaping variation to avoid decreasing the building size, a financial consideration. If the commission kept encountering the same type of variance request, they could consider recommending changes to the zoning ordinance governing the issue. Shalun advised the commission the restaurant-retail business would suggest a zoning ordinance change.

Taking up the deadline for submitting a site plan for review, Shalun recommended requiring the site plan be submitted 30 days before a meeting, instead of the current 14-day requirement, to allow her time to carefully address the site plan specification “checklist.” The commission discussed whether site plans not fully in compliance should even come before the commission. The change to the application submission deadline will require a zoning ordinance change, meaning the commission must recommend the change to the council, a public hearing must be held, and the council must approve the change on first and second reading.

Shalun also recommended requiring major subdivision plats be submitted for review 30 days before a meeting, instead of the current 7-day requirement, and to allow the commission 60 days to deliver a decision, instead of just 30 days. Commissioner Alec Moseley recommended the commission have 75 days to review the data so they would have two meetings to discuss it. The subdivision regulation timeline changes will require a public hearing announced 30 days in advance.

The commission will vote on the changes discussed at the Tuesday, Feb. 7 meeting. The commission will hold a special called meeting at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15, to address the proposed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUS) ordinance and where to allow self-storage units. Cooley’s Rift residents questioned stipulating ADUs not be allowed in front of the main residence, since most lots in Cooley’s Rift would not accommodate building an ADU behind or next to the main residence. Also undecided is whether ADUs will need to have a separate water meter. Where to allow self-storage units presents problems since C-2 and Industrial zoning allows self-storage units, but not C-3. Monteagle has no Industrial zoning and C-2 zoning occurs primarily in the downtown business corridor, not a desirable location for self-storage facilities.

Tracy City Free Clinic: Visionaries Realize a Dream

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

On Nov. 1, the Tracy City Free Clinic opened for business at the Littell-Partin Center, the former Grundy County High School. The clinic, which serves the uninsured, manifests the vision of Dr. Tom Phelps of Sewanee and Grundy County High School graduate Emily Partin who dedicated her retirement to turning the old high school into a Mecca for community services.

“I’m doing what I always wanted to do, practice medicine,” said Phelps. “I retired because I was tired of fighting for patients with the insurance companies and losing.” For Partin, “the concept of a free clinic was part of the original vision” when she undertook refurbishing the old high school. Last April, Phelps and Partin found common ground at a collaborative-resources seminar sponsored by the South Cumberland Community Fund.

“I’ve wanted to open a free clinic a long time, but I didn’t think I had the resources,” said Phelps. Grundy County has some of the highest poor-health indicators in the country. Phelps points to the lack of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee in 2015. Fifteen rural hospitals have closed due to the high cost of providing emergency room care to uninsured non-paying clients.

The most critical unserved health care categories in Grundy County, according to Phelps, are women’s health care and health care for young men. No mobile or free clinics offer women’s health care or provide contraceptives, except for the understaffed, overextended county health department. And formerly incarcerated young men who cannot find work do not qualify for Affordable Care Act insurance premium assistance or Medicaid. Another hurdle for uninsured Plateau residents is the long distance to the Beersheba free clinic and the county health department in Altamont. Many have no transportation, and free transportation by SETHRA must be booked a month in advance, Phelps said.

After retiring from a career in sleep therapy and family medicine, Phelps began volunteering at Christian’s Celebrating God’s Bounty (CCGB) clinic in Winchester, a 501(c)(3) offering free health care. When the idea for a free clinic in Tracy City began to gather momentum, Phelps’ CCGB connection brought the organization on board as the sponsoring nonprofit. Partin persuaded other tenants in the Littell-Partin Center to share office space. The clinic pays only $50 per month rent. Partin drew on her relationship with Volunteer Behavioral Health (VBH) for a donation of almost all the necessary equipment. VBH had opened a combined medical-mental health care facility in Cookeville which lost funding. “We loaded my trailer to the gills,” said Phelps, who drove to Cookeville with volunteers to pick up the equipment.

“People came out of the woodwork offering to help,” Phelps said. The South Cumberland Community Fund provided a $15,000 grant which pays for lab work and X-rays. The clinic also received financial assistance from Southern Tennessee Regional Health Services, Carol and Bill Titus, and Lucette S. Richards. Phelps’ colleagues see clients free of charge or on a sliding scale when a specialist is needed.

Joining Phelps at the all-volunteer clinic are nurse practitioner Beth Sperry, who has devoted her entire career to women’s health, and two Tracy City natives: Sue Chase, the receptionist, and Maggie White Parmley, an AmeriCorps volunteer and University graduate.

“Generally, the people we see are really, really sick,” Phelps acknowledged. A man with life-threatening blood pressure levels had not seen a doctor in three years. Another client had been suffering from bleeding bowels for six months. Since opening, the clinic has diagnosed and begun treating five young men, formerly incarcerated drug users, for hepatitis C, preventing spread of the highly infectious disease in the community.

“Every patient we treat is one less person going to the emergency room,” Phelps observed. In addition to the uninsured, the clinic also sees the underinsured with excessive maximum out-of-pocket costs. Office hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Phone (931) 592-4000 for an appointment.

“For practitioners to sit with a client who doesn’t have insurance and hasn’t seen a doctor in a long, long time, and to understand what has happened over the years, is so beneficial in the diagnosis,” Partin insisted, “and to overcoming the barriers treatment can pose.”

Educating the FC School Committee

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

On Jan.10, the Franklin County School Board met with the Franklin County Commission School Committee. “I’d heard there was all this fluff in the school budget” conceded School Committee Chair William Anderson, acknowledging his misconception. Meeting discussion highlighted misunderstandings about the reserve fund balance and the desperate need for teacher and hourly employee wage increases.

County Finance Director Andrea Smith explained sales tax, property tax, and BEP money from the state funded the schools. In the past two years, Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money enabled the school district to return money to the fund balance. However, of the $13.4 million anticipated ending fund balance for the current fiscal year, $4.3 million consisted of restricted funds assigned to specific allocation categories. In addition, $3.9 million had been set aside for the Trane energy efficiency upgrades. That left $5.2 million in the fund balance. In addition, the school district needed to keep $3 million available to make monthly payroll in July and August before BEP money and property tax revenue began coming in, Smith said.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean concurred, “Five million [in the fund balance] is a healthy amount.” He pointed out returning money to the fund balance had enabled the school district to take on the Trane project which will save money in the long run. “We didn’t ask for any new money this past year, the first time in a long time,” Bean said, but he went on to stress, “We don’t want to cut teachers’ wages. Teachers are underpaid already.” The low teacher wage had compromised the school district’s ability to hire teachers, Bean insisted. The low wage compared to neighboring districts was the cumulative effective of many years of low or no teacher raises. Neighboring Coffee County recently raised property taxes 1-2 percent to increase teacher wages, Bean said. The school district’s budget goal for the coming year was to increase the wage by 8.75 percent, the Social Security cost of living adjustment amount.

The school district anticipates receiving an additional $4 million from the new state funding formula TISA, according to Bean, although he noted, other expenses must come from the TISA money as well.

Anderson favored an 8.75 percent raise for all employees. He asked if the $4 million would be sufficient to give across the board raises without a property tax increase. Bean replied, “It will be real close. We don’t want a property tax increase any more than anyone else.”

Anderson also asked if an 8.75 percent teacher raise would be sufficient to make Franklin County schools competitive with neighboring districts. School Board Chair Cleijo Walker explained it was difficult to predict, “You’re playing catch up all the time. You think you’re doing something really good, and they [other districts] do more.”

Board member Sarah Marhevsky said the state goal for starting teacher salaries was $45,000 by 2025. She suggested a 11 percent teacher wage increase. “If we do 11 percent now, that will put us at $45,066 before they make us do it.”

Bean observed a 10 percent increase in the starting salary, $40,600, would get the district close to $45,000.

Williams suggested eliminating unfilled positions to decrease budget expense. “We cut positions when we have the opportunity,” Bean said. Smith explained the budget included $150,000 for adding new teachers to meet the mandated student-teacher ratio if enrollment increased.

County Mayor Chris Guess agreed, acknowledging the need to plan for increased enrollment. He praised the schools for careful management of finances which enabled them to have fund balance money available for the Trane project and building maintenance and repair.

Going forward the school board and county school committee will meet on the second Tuesday of the month. Anderson asked for budget information detailing “what your needs are” at the next meeting. County commissioner Carolyn Wiseman asked for a teacher pay-scale comparison to other counties.

Community Chest Spotlight: Community Action Committee

The 2022-23 Sewanee Community Chest (SCC) Fund Drive is underway. Sponsored by the Sewanee Civic Association, the SCC raises money yearly for local charitable organizations serving the area. This year’s goal of $106,425 will help 17 organizations that have requested basic needs funding for quality of life, community aid, children’s programs, and those who are beyond Sewanee but still serve our entire community.

This week, we shine the spotlight on the Community Action Committee.

The mission statement of the Community Action Committee (CAC) is to provide assistance for persons in crisis, to provide services related to basic human needs, to identify ways to break the cycles of poverty, and to present the love of Jesus Christ to the community.

The primary programs of CAC include a year-round food bank, open to anyone five days a week, and financial grants for those who might need assistance with utilities, medical/dental, housing, education, and/or transportation expenses.

The CAC, with help from the Sewanee Community Chest, also offers two innovative programs to address food insecurity. The CAC is requesting $5,000.

In partnership with Sewanee Dining Services, CAC manages the Kitchen2Table (K2T) program. Financial assistance from the Sewanee Community Chest helps with the supplies needed for bringing food from McClurg Dining Hall to CAC for repurposing. These unused portions of food are sorted, assembled, and sealed into trays as packaged meals for those in need. The meals are frozen for distribution. CAC is responsible for purchasing the trays and film used to seal the meals as well as the distribution. The K2T program averages 200 meals a week.

In partnership with Rooted Here, CAC manages the Farm2Table (F2T) program. Financial assistance from the Sewanee Community Chest helps with the cost of fresh produce that is purchased to compliment the staple dry goods provided in the CAC food pantry. Each week, fresh produce is delivered to the CAC. This produce is divvied up into bags and distributed. This program averages 25 full bags of fresh produce per week.

Since 1908, the goal of the Sewanee Community Chest has been to help citizens by funding the community. With Community Chest donations, local organizations provide for basic needs such as books, food, recreational spaces, elder care, children’s educational needs and more. The Sewanee Community Chest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible. Send your donation to Sewanee Community Chest, P.O. Box 99, Sewanee, TN 37375. Payroll deductions and the PayPal Giving Fund are also options. Go to http://sewaneecivic.org/ for more information.

Grundy Food Banks Moves into New Home

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

The Grundy County Food Bank hosted its first distribution of the year on Jan. 3 at its new home in Coalmont. “We’re there,” said county Mayor Michael Brady triumphantly. “It’s been challenging.”

Just days before Food Bank Director Tim Glover and volunteers moved products from the Tracy City site where the food bank previously operated. Although rent free, the building had long outlived its usefulness. Buckets and trashcans caught water from the leaking roof that had plagued the facility for years.

“There’s no short list of things Grundy County needs,” said Brady. “We have to rely on grants. And the wheels of government turn slow.” In the fall of 2020, after months of waiting, Brady received word the grant request for funds to build a new food bank had been denied. Despondent, he spoke with Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee who on a recent visit had promised to help Grundy County and urged the county grant writer to resubmit the application requesting Imminent Threat status. Days later the county received word the request for funding had been granted.

An Imminent Threat Grant meant “quicker” funding, Brady said. But supply chain delays compounded the long, slow process of seeking bids on equipment and building kits. In the fall of 2021, the supplier promised Brady building kit delivery in eight months. Brady estimated another two or three months for construction, projecting the food bank would be in its new home well before Christmas 2022.

Then, another stumbling block reared its head. Delayed delivery of the coolers and freezers set things further behind and when they did finally arrive it took nearly two months for the assembly and installation.

“I put the fire under them three weeks ago,” Brady said. “Cold weather was coming, and we couldn’t be heating two buildings.” Elaborating on the challenge, Glover said, “The coolers and freezers come in a box in pieces. You’ve got to put them together. You’ve got to get an electrician, and you need to have the installation inspected. Everybody has schedules, and you’re on a waiting list. You have to wait.” The grandsons of Food Bank Board President Theresia Campbell helped Glover move most of the heavy pallets of food. Glover moved the meat himself, an all-day project, just a few days before opening.

But, despite the hard work, Tim Glover is a happy man. “The new building is clean, the roof doesn’t leak, and I love the larger new cooler.” Glover said. Another cooler is on the way.

“Not everyone is excited by something that benefits only a few,” Brady said. “But with the food bank grant, we were able to accomplish something for everyone.” The food bank occupies only half the climate-controlled facility. The other half is dedicated to storage of county documents, meaning no rent for record storage. “That frees up capital for other uses,” Brady stressed. “It’s a win-win.”

Glover said a few clients went to the Tracy City location on Jan. 3. He welcomes help spreading the word about the new, central location just past the Highway 56/Highway 108 intersection in Coalmont, on 114 South Industrial Park Rd. Food distribution is every Tuesday, 8–10 a.m. Plans call for a dedication ceremony at a later date. There is much to celebrate.

Noted Author and Historian to Lecture Jan. 19

The Roberson Project on Slavery, Race and Reconciliation and the Center for Southern Studies will host a three-part colloquium of scholars, writers, musicians, and activists whose work engages the significance of unfree labor in the development of the U.S. South after emancipation. Earl Lewis will deliver the keynote address on Jan. 19, which is open to the public and will be webcast live. Direct participation in the colloquium will be limited to the invited participants, but others with interest in the subject may pre-register to listen in and contribute questions – in person or virtually – as audience members. For more information go to <https://new.sewanee.edu/southernstudies/;.

At 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, in Convocation Hall, award-winning author and historian Earl Lewis, Thomas G. Holt Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, will deliver a talk titled “Our Violent Past: Unfree Labor, Terrorism, and the Search for Repair.” Lewis has enjoyed not one but three remarkable careers in and around the American academy. As a historian he is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, including “Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White,” “In Their Own Interests: Race, Class and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk, Virginia,” and “To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans.” As an academic administrator he has served as Provost for Academic Affairs at Emory University and is currently the founding director of the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions. As a philanthropic leader he served from 2013 to 2018 as the sixth President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In all these roles Lewis has worked to strengthen humanistic education and to diversify the academy in the United States.

Lewis’ talk, sponsored by the Roberson Project, the Center for Southern Studies, and the University Lectures Committee, is free and is open to all.

Franklin County School Board Legislative Action Recommendations

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 9 meeting, the Franklin County School Board voted to adopt as a resolution four recommendations for state legislative action proposed by board member Sarah Marhevsky. The board also revisited the mid-year wage increase question and heard updates on Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) spending.

“I put this [legislative agenda] together based on what other districts are doing and things that have been important to us,” Marhevsky said. Repealing or pausing the third-grade retention law topped Marhevsky’s list. She pointed out third graders who missed half their kindergarten year were most impacted by COVID. She suggested, if a retention law must remain in place, the practice would better be implemented in second grade when “students are learning to read and not reading to learn.”

On student testing, the recommendations noted no county in the state met the 70 percent proficiency goal. Marhevsky recommended instead setting benchmarks for proficiency and tracking groups of students to access progress. The recommendations also called for more funding for universal PreK, especially if the retention law remained in place; more money for employee wages; and more money for teacher education, especially “grow your own” programs. The recommendations denounced use of public-school funding for vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, and other programs that took funding away from the “truly public schools.”

Board members Sara Leichty and Linda Jones praised the document. “We need to adopt it and send it to the state legislature,” said Jones. Board chair Cleijo Walker suggested formalizing the document as a resolution.

Revisiting the December special-called meeting discussion on mid-year raises, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said he still had not received data on the amount of increased funding the county could expect from TISA (Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement) and that based on talks with county commissioners, if the school district gave a 3 percent raise midyear, the commission would not support the 8.75 percent target wage increase at budget time in the spring. Bean recommended, “waiting for spring and asking for what we want to ask for, even if it’s up to nine percent. Whatever TISA does not cover, we ask the county commission to supplement the rest of it.”

Marhevsky asked about proceeding with the mid-year raise for cafeteria workers, who earned only $11.25 per hour. Data presented at the December meeting, showed that cafeteria workers could receive a raise since the cafeteria budget had excess funds and operated separately from the general school fund budget. “I don’t feel comfortable with a cafeteria raise midyear either,” Bean insisted, suggesting the wage increase come in the spring for cafeteria workers, as well.

Updating the board on ESSER 2 spending, Bean said four schools would receive new roofs and work was underway. Bids for windows at Franklin County High School came in slightly high, according to Bean, $150,000 above the $450,000 projected. He suspected an error due to a “mix up” in the bidding process which will be reviewed. Of the $450,000 cost, $300,000 will come from ESSER 3 and the remainder will come from $339,000 in unused middle-school capital outlay funds which were returned to the reserve fund balance and remain dedicated to capital improvements.

Human Resources Supervisor Linda Foster announced an unfilled grade-six teacher position, two educational assistant positions, and several custodial positions. She urged qualified applicants to apply.

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