Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Opinion

June 21, 2014

The events of 2014 have set a brisk pace

Athens — This will be my last column before the year 2014 reaches its midway point, and I’ve got to say it’s been a challenge to keep up with everything going on in the county.

It always is, of course. Henderson County has almost 80,000 people, two major lakes,  and if I counted right, 18 incorporated cities and town. Athens, is a small city, but three major highways cut through it. It’s the seat of county government and the site of three district courts.

The Henderson County Fair Park Complex and Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center usually have something special going. Likewise Trinity Valley Community College. Every where you turn, something is happening.

But 2014 has been unusual because of the number of news stories that have arisen that aren’t part of the regular events calendar.

When the year began, the dispute between the City of Athens and the Athens Municipal Water Authority was already underway. The disagreement led to an unusually hard-fought city election, and ultimately the seating of three new council members.

Sad news came on Jan. 2, with the death of H.B. “Slick” Alfred, who commanded the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years. Alfred logged 42 years in law enforcement, before his passing at age 80.

The March Republican Primary sent two county incumbents into runoffs. County Commissioner, Precinct 4 Ken Geeslin won his runoff race in May, while Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Dale Blaylock was unseated.

The County Courthouse was the scene of a big birthday bash on May 17, and the building itself  was the guest of honor. A large crowd came out on a Saturday for speeches, music and a re-enactment by the Masons of the laying of the cornerstone in 1914.

Former District Court Judge Jack Holland told of the beauty of the original courthouse, making us latecomers wish we had been able to see the balcony and the ornate design of the original building.

On May 29, as the end of the school year neared, and the city was anticipating the arrival of Fiddler’s Day, a fire erupted at Ag Services on Larkin Street. The presence of tons of ammonium nitrate in the old building led to the evacuation of a 5-block downtown area.

The Athens Fire Department stood by as the old structure burned down, aware of the protocol for containing a fire involving the hazardous material. Athens Police patrolled the downtown area, keeping citizens away from the endangered area.

The next few hours brought a swarm of officials from agencies like the State Fire Marshal’s Office to the city. The fire also brought a circus of media from Tyler and Dallas, swirling about the area like autumn leaves. With Their television cameras pointed and microphones mounted, they questioned the local response to the emergency.

Mayor Jerry Don Vaught and Fire Chief John McQueary fielded the questions in a manner that led to the city council approving a proclamation that recognized the first responders for “their profound sacrifices and dedication.”

Cleanup of the Ag Services site is ongoing. A report from the State Fire Marshal’s is expected soon.            

The way I see it, the news business is like a river. Sometimes, we’re in the rapids, and sometimes things slow to a trickle. A change could be just around the bend.

Rich Flowers is News Editor of the  Athens Daily Review.

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