Indians Kickoff Season Friday Night

The Indians football team kicks off the 2014 season Friday night at 7:00 PM against the DeKalb Tigers in Chilhowee.  This year’s squad features a number of seasoned veterans and one unique rookie.  Last week, the Indians participated in a ‘jamboree’ in order to sharpen up for the season opener.

Senior QB Cody Grant said the team had things they could improve on, but was confident heading into the season.   Veteran leadership and experience is one edge the Indians have this season. 

The squad features four seniors from Chilhowee High.  Grant is joined by Wyatt Bell, Dustin Wharton and Jordan Lankford.  They will anchor the squad with the help of Juniors Daniel Harness, Tyler Grant and Chris Mann.   Another Junior, Kimberly Raine, will be the team’s first female member. 

The Indians should be competitive this season in the Central Rivers Conference, with home games against Norborne and Hardin-Central.  They travel to face Northwest. 

The Indians have high hopes for the 2014 season.   Join us for our own version of Friday Night Lights at 7.

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‘A Trip Down Memory Lane’

It is nearly fair time in Chilhowee. For small rural Missouri communities, those lucky enough to still put on a fair, it has been a time of friends and family, of seeing old faces and telling new stories. A fair represents the traditions each town is founded on and reminds us we have a heritage worth preserving.

The 67th Annual Chilhowee Community Fair will be held this August 28th-30th. This year’s theme is ‘A Walk Down Memory Lane’ and, for our family, it couldn’t be more appropriately named. Jackie and I know most of the people who make up this community.

We grew up here. This was our home town.

Across the state and across our country, small towns exactly like ours are facing a new reality. They are under increasing pressure with a fall in property values, and as a result, tax revenue. Rural farming communities have been among the hardest hit by the changes in our economy during the past five decades. These communities are literal outposts, out of the way places forgotten by the super-highway of the 21st Century economy. As a result, towns like Chilhowee have struggled to survive. With a lack of opportunities for real, sustainable employment, generations of Chilhowee families and their children pulled up stakes, put the wheel back on the wagon and headed for greener pastures elsewhere. That exodus has been a leading contributor to the Chilhowee condition and a vacuum was left in its wake.

Two years ago, Jackie and I visited Chilhowee on Fair Weekend. For me, it had been the first time I had visited Chilhowee in nearly twenty years. Although Jackie, to her credit, tried to prepare me, I was stunned by what I saw.

In the amount of time it takes to cook a frozen pizza in the oven, a person can cruise every block of Chilhowee. You don’t even have to speed to do it. It is a small town, a spot in the road, although Chilhowee was once projected to be the seat of Johnson County due to the thriving economy and population the community enjoyed from coal mining and the railroad’s prominence.

What I found, upon returning, was a town that was an anemic ghost of itself. Chilhowee had taken on the appearance of a meth addict.

Rotted houses disgraced the streets like crooked, abscessed teeth. Vacant lots were jungles. Other properties looked like the offspring of junkyards and landfills. Once well-kept, beautiful historical homes have been transformed into creepy places kids cross the street to avoid. Store fronts and businesses have been abandoned. Their vacant eyes stare out behind dusty cataracts. Others had the lunatic leer of madness, with motley assortments of fixtures, chairs and junk peering out onto Walnut. Chilhowee had become more Norman Bates than Norman Rockwell.

Still, there were positive signs of life in the community. The park has been maintained and expanded. Now, it boasts planting gardens, although it looks like they could use a hand from someone with a green thumb.

City Hall now has a place of its own, instead of meeting at the Community building. It serves a dual function as a public library, where almost two hundred community members are patrons.

The school building, which has long served as the center of things in Chilhowee, has good facilities that reflect the care they have received over the years. The gym has never looked better, a part of the continuing legacy of our little Indian tribe.

A community investment, of energy, time and love have preserved and improved the gym and that effort is reflected in the shiny floors and murals and on the banners hanging on the wall. There is no reason that feeling of pride can’t grow from that fertile ground to the town that surrounds it.

Pride was at the center of Mayor Jack Campbell’s recent election bid. Jack stated that he was tired of feeling ashamed of saying he was from Chilhowee. That was a sentiment that many Chilhowee residents appeared to share, as Jack won his bid.

There have been positive steps. The town has fewer eyesores than before and more lawns have been mowed. The reality of running a small town like Chilhowee is that there are never enough funds to go around. Attempting to find a way to compel some people in town to comply with requests to clean up their property is never easy. It is like having to tell a co-worker that they need to apply deodorant. It is uncomfortable and can be unpleasant. Still, it is a job that needs to be done in town. The evidence of that is staring at each and every one of us.

The decision to move to Chilhowee was a conscious one by Jackie and I. We wanted our children to grow up with small town values, the ones that have served all of us so well. We wanted them to go to a small school, where teachers, coaches and administrators share those same values. We wanted them to know the sense of community we did when we were growing up. When we put pen to paper and calculated peace of mind and quality of life, no other destination made sense for us.

Certainly there are inconveniences with small town life. You can no longer drive down to the station and get gas. You can’t enjoy early morning coffee with the farmers or sit down and grab a bite of lunch with friends at a café. There is no longer a locally owned bank, barber shop or beauty salon. There isn’t a local garage to service your vehicle. There isn’t a bar in which to laugh or rant and rave in.

What is sorely missing from the Chilhowee skyline however, isn’t a Casey’s sign. What is truly in short supply in town, based on visual evidence, is pride.

Most families who lived in town when we were kids had enough pride to keep their yards mowed. They had enough pride to put their garbage out for collection instead of chucking it in or at a collection of overflowing barrels. They cared enough about what their neighbors thought to take junk to a dump, instead of turning their yard into one. Not so long ago the homes on Pennsylvania, Walnut, Missouri and Ohio were cared for, even if in varying degrees. Abandoned houses or derelict buildings were removed and although the process was never fast enough, it was steady. The town’s business district provided Chilhowee with a communication hub and no one wanted to run afoul of any small town’s gossip network. Peer pressure and pride were the only tools needed to keep our town from looking like a pig pen. Now, without a central area for the community to gather in daily, that sense of accountability and responsibility has dwindled.

It doesn’t mean the pillars of the community aren’t still standing. The churches in town remain gathering places and the Chilhowee Store sees its fair share of traffic. School functions and athletic events draw us together.
So does the Chilhowee Community Fair.

While it is also a shadow of its former self, the fair has always brought out the best of what it means to live in Chilhowee. It is people getting together, enjoying one another’s company, showing off jelly recipes and tomatoes, pumpkins and pies, catching up with old friends. It is the very fabric of who we are and where we come from. The heart of this town and the community that surrounds it is worth preserving. ‘A Trip Down Memory Lane’ is a journey we all should take. There is no reason Chilhowee’s glory days should be distant red taillights fading into the distance down Highway 2.

There has been some progress in cleaning up properties in town, but there is still much to do. We would all like to feel a restoration of pride in the town we call home. Our traditions and values are worth defending, they are worth fighting for.

While the town may not have its best Sunday dress on during the fair, Jack and the city council are genuinely trying to at least cover her ripped fishnets. Maybe, with a little magic and a bit of help, we can all keep the carriage from turning into a pumpkin.

Chilhowee R-4 school district requires high school students to perform a specified number of community service hours before graduating. Asking the students to donate their time to help clean up the town, and accepting volunteers from the community to help with that same effort could go a long way toward achieving the Mayor’s goal. Almost certainly, when presented the opportunity to help the clean-up effort, donations of equipment like lawn mowers and weed eaters would follow. One sustained effort, on the part of the people who live in this town, could go a long way in addressing some of the town’s most glaring cosmetic problems: overgrown yards.

We don’t have to check with a lawyer to make sure we can bill an absent owner for the work. We can just do it. Because it’s almost fair time and because some of our neighbors would genuinely appreciate, and genuinely need, the help. We can just do it because it is the right thing to do. We can do it because we have pride in our neighborhoods and our streets. We can do it because it needs to be done and that’s who we are.

That, like the fair, is a Chilhowee tradition worth preserving.

We grew up here, after all. This has always been our home town.

Jackie’s family tree connects to almost every corner of Chilhowee. While my family wasn’t originally from here, my grandfather preached in the Baptist Church here. The existing auditorium was built during his time serving here. My other grandfather literally built that church, doing most of the work on it’s interior that you see today. My sister was married there. My grandmother’s funeral was there.

Our town is worth preserving, it is worth maintaining and it is worth the effort necessary to effect real change because our way of life is one worth defending, even if it means a few hours of hauling someone else’s trash, trimming sidewalks so our kids can walk to and from school and pruning a tree on a vacant lot.

Our kids are going to grow up here, after all. This is going to be their home town.

City Council Meeting Far From Uneventful

Last night’s city council meeting at the Chilhowee City Hall was well attended by the community.  Nearly two dozen residents filled the chambers, as the board of aldermen went about the business of the city.  Unspoken allegations and tensions were apparent in the room, as the board and mayor Jack Campbell worked through the agenda.

Jeff Parsons, from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, gave the police report for the town.  There were three reported incidents occurring in Chilhowee over the course of the past month, including a motor vehicle vs pedestrian incident on Highway 2, which is being investigated by the Missouri Highway Patrol. 

Tony Lerda, owner and operator of O&M Enterprises, was scheduled to give a report on the town’s water system, but was not in attendance.  Alderman Donnie Willcockson showed frustration over Lerda’s repeated absences, stating that the city ‘paid this kind of money for them not to show up at meetings’.  It was announced also that the city’s water bill was paid from the general fund, as there was a shortfall in the account designated for water payments. 

Paula Newman, of Clinton, Missouri, delivered the Treasurer’s report.

City worker time sheets were reviewed and a $100 gas reimbursement was issued to Alderman Jimmy Tawser for transporting materials. 

Dawn Wendeln discussed the Chilhowee Park’s fundraiser, scheduled for Sunday, August 17th at the Woods in Warrensburg and a new grill that had arrived for the park.  The grill is to be a permanent fixture in the park.  Ms. Wendeln also discussed the town library, announcing that the library serves 181 patrons in the community. 

Discussion surrounding the due date for water bills was tabled and Alderman Ernie Wilson proposed a mutual relationship between municipalities to collect delinquent accounts.  No action was taken regarding these issues. 

Also, an update on the sewer project from Mayor Jack Campbell revealed that it would be necessary to obtain a tract of land of 30 to 50 acres for a new wastewater treatment facility.   Lift station pump issues have made this a priority and the board agreed to help with locating a suitable piece of land for development of a new facility.

The board then went into closed session, citing Chapter 600 of Missouri state statutes, to discuss a personnel matter.  When the board emerged from closed session, it became clear that there were larger issues than a simple employee dismissal on the table for the Chilhowee City Council.

Announcements came quickly.  One city employee was terminated and it was announced that the library would be temporarily closed, pending an investigation by the Johnson County Sheriff Department.  The reason for the investigation appeared to revolve around the computer used by the city for generating water bills.  According to comments made during this brief session before the meeting adjourned, allegations of tampering with the computer contatining water bills were levied.  Statements were also made indicating that the only people with a key to where the computer is located are the Mayor, the Clerk and the Treasurer.

What is clear is that the library is temporarily closed pending an investigation.  The scheduled fundraiser on Sunday, August 17th has also been cancelled.  According to the board, the closure is a temporary measure while the investigation is conducted.  Officer Jeff Parsons said that the results of the investigation will be made public once it is completed.

Stay tuned to Smoke Signals: Chilhowee’s Community News for more on this as it develops.

Rowland Todd: Shadowy Gatekeeper Seeks Re-Election

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In the past several months, a barrage of formal complaints have been made against both the Camden County Commission and Camden County Clerk Rowland Todd for repeated violations of Chapter 610 of the Missouri State Statutes, commonly known as the Sunshine Law. Local business owner Theresa Townsend has filed many of these, although she has not been alone in these complaints. Second District Commissioner Cliff Luber has made his own formal complaint to the office of the Attorney General, as have other citizens of Camden County. While there has yet to be any action taken by Casey Lawrence, Sunshine Law Coordinator of state Attorney General Chris Koster, she has issued letters indicating that her investigations of these complaints have revealed wrongdoing on the part of local government officials. In fact, of Theresa Townsend’s first seven complaints, all were found to be credible, despite claims made by the outgoing Presiding Commissioner to the contrary. A pattern of illegal behavior has been revealed through these complaints and the subsequent investigations into the Commission and the actions of Camden County Clerk Rowland Todd.

On casual review, the written minutes provided by Todd are lazy, incomplete and, in some cases, completely inaccurate. This manipulation of the official record is illustrated time and again.

This is to say nothing of his efforts to skirt the Sunshine Law.

As of this writing, it has been 95 days since a Sunshine request was made for former Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken’s email records. That request, made by Theresa Townsend, was first made in the middle of May. In what appears to be political gamesmanship, Todd completely disregarded MO State Statute. Sunshine Law requires that any request for records be answered in three days. It does not stipulate that requested records be made available in three days, only that an answer to the request be penned in that time frame. In this case, that means that Todd had only to write an email response, indicating that the request for records had been forwarded to the correct department(s) and that the data was being collected and prepared for taxpayer review.

Todd waited a full 17 days to respond to this request.

This was not the first time that Todd has acted outside the law in regard to record reviews. Earlier this year, when another request was made to review billing from county attorney Charles McElyea, Todd illegally halted citizens from examining these records. After initially allowing this record review, Todd then stopped it, after receiving a phone call from McElyea himself. According to accounts, Todd claimed McElyea threatened a lawsuit against the county if this review was allowed to proceed.

This is a crime, as outlined clearly by Missouri State Statutes.

Rowland Todd has repeatedly and without apology, abused the public trust. He has acted not as the keeper of records, but instead as a gatekeeper between the taxpayers and the truth. Todd has consistently blocked and stymied attempts by Camden County citizens to conduct lawful and legal reviews of government records. He has acted in collusion with government officials who seem to have something to hide from the public who pays them.
Rowland Todd is up for re-election in November of this year. If his bid is successful, the citizens of Camden County can expect that he will continue to create illegal roadblocks to keep taxpayers in the dark. Todd has become the gatekeeper for those who choose to abuse the trust bestowed to those elected to office. Instead of being the gateway to transparency in government, Todd has instead proven himself to be the gatekeeper, actively working to conceal the actions of those collecting taxpayer dollars in shadows.

Todd has clearly demonstrated, through his own actions, a willingness to put special interests and personal agendas before his duty to the citizens of Camden County.