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December 28, 2012

County’s biggest stories for 2012

Tumultuous year comes to quiet close

Athens — After a sometimes tumultuous 12 months, 2012 came to a quiet close in Henderson County.

In January, the Commissioners Court voted to fund the new Southside Fire Department. The new firefighting entity was formed to serve the area that was once protected by the Shady Oaks Fire Department, which became insolvent in November, 2010.

Also in January, confusion reigned, as Republican and Democratic Party officials watched the Federal courts as they considered redistricting litigation. On Jan. 18, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a 3-judge panel in San Antonio to look at disputed maps.

In February, Commissioners heard from County Election Administrator Denise Hernandez concerning an upcoming election to close the open range in the county. The law, that had been in effect for more than a century, did not require landowners to fence-in livestock. In November, the county voters opted to end the open-range era.

The controversy over the Nativity scene on the County Courthouse lawn grew as it was reported nationwide in December. In March, the county took a look at its property-use policy to remove any doubt as to who was in control over how the county properties are used. Ultimately, the manger scene returned to the courthouse lawn in December, but County Judge Richard Sanders denied a request from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to place a sign among the Christmas decorations.

Election Day finally came May 29. Incumbent State Rep. Lance Gooden defeated Athens doctor Stuart Spitzer in the Republican Primary. A crowded race for County Commissioner Precinct 1 set up a Republican runoff between Scotty Thomas and Ken Hayes for a spot on the November ballot.

In June, County Judge Richard Sanders began work on the 2013 budget. Early indications were that revenues would fall below the amount needed to run the county in the coming year without making cuts. More bad news came in July, when Auditor Ann Marie Lee told the court that tax collections are coming at about 93 percent, slower than the projected rate of 94.45 percent.

The primary election season finally ended on July 31, with runoffs in several races. Scotty Thomas won the Republican runoff in the Precinct 1 Commissioners race, while incumbent David Grubbs overcame a stiff challenge for Precinct 3 Constable.

August brought dry weather and a burn ban for the county. Fire Marshal Darrell Furrh announced Aug. 7 that 90 percent of the county was extremely dry.

On Sept. 18, after several weeks of trimming, Commissioners approved a budget for 2013. After hearing from citizens who’d come to object to cuts, which included eliminating some positions, the document passed. The final result was a budget about 5-percent lower than one passed in 2011.

In October, Commissioners approved a resolution supporting legislation that allows the county to intervene on behalf of its rural water-rate payers, who complained of being gouged by large water companies. Customers of Monarch Water Company and Agua Texas attended the meeting in protest of 67-percent rate increases.

Also in October, the county was shocked by the death of Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Henry Ashford. Interviews for the open position began in November, and resulted in the choice of Athens Mayor Randy Daniel as Ashford’s replacement.

November brought the General Election. Henderson County went against the grain and voted for Republican Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, who was, indeed, elected to another four years in office. Among the county winners were Sheriff Ray Nutt, County Tax Assessor/Collector Milburn Chaney and Republican Precinct 1 Commissioner Candidate Scotty Thomas.

On Dec. 18, Commissioners met for the last time in 2012. Judge Richard Sanders thanked outgoing Commissioner Joe Hall for his 12 years on the court, and 16 years in total service to the county.

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