As 2017 approaches, many people are looking toward the future – making plans, setting goals and gearing up to ring in the new year in style. The Franklin County Times, however, wants to take a moment to look back, to reflect on everything that has happened in the local communities in the last year – the good as well as the bad.

Although these stories provide only a taste of the busy year Franklin County has had, they are hopefully representative of 2016 and provide an overview of this year’s goings-on.




Solid Waste Manager arrested, fired

Jan. 14, Franklin County Solid Waste Manager Phillip Wilson was arrested and charged with one count of trafficking a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime, according to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

The Franklin County Drug Task Force, comprising one FCSO officer and one RPD officer, conducted the investigation that implicated Wilson in a controlled substance crime involving myriad prescription pills.

Following an executive session at the county commission’s work session Jan. 11, Wilson was put on administrative leave with pay. At the commission’s monthly meeting Tuesday, Wilson’s employment with the county was terminated.


Belgreen native returns to Redneck Island

T.V. star or redneck cowboy? Belgreen native Lucas Albert is both.

The fifth season of CMT’s Redneck Island premiered in January, and it was the second season to feature Albert, a 27-year-old 2007 Belgreen High School graduate, as one of the contestants.

“I loved it,” said Albert of his first year on the show, which he discovered through Facebook. After all, the main idea was to “get paid to drink beer and try to win $100,000.”

Albert, who now lives in Oxford, Miss., was invited back for a new season, “Redneck Island: Battle at the Lake,” in which 12 newcomers and 12 veteran fan favorites will battle it out in a series of competitions on Redneck Island.

“During the game it’s all seriousness,” Albert said. “You want to not have to go to the elimination round.”

Albert said episode two is his favorite.

Albert’s parents, Joe and Shelaine Albert, live in Belgreen. His sister Cassidy, her husband Jason and their two boys, Noah and Jackson, live in Phil Campbell.



With a new year comes a renewed focus on a long-term project: the redevelopment of downtown Russellville. “This is something we’ve been talking about for some time,” said Mayor David Grissom, who is spearheading the downtown revitalization. It’s been a goal, he said, ever since he came into office.

The city has contracted with NACOLG, and Grissom said the first thing NACOLG’s Nathan Willingham recommended was that Russellville put together a downtown redevelopment committee. That committee is now a reality and includes Heather Willis, Cassie Medley, Chase Sparks, Tim Purdue, Charles Canida, Jamie Harris and Matt Cooper.

“This is going to be a lengthy process. It’s not something that’s going to be done overnight,” Grissom said. The idea, Grissom said, is to create a uniform look throughout to create great aesthetic for downtown. “I’d just like to see it flourish again,” Grissom said. “It makes the entire community better … If we don’t do something, it’s going to continue to decline. We don’t want that to happen.”


Judge orders injunction for PBAS

A series of hearings lasting one year nearly to the day resulted in an injunction against Pleasant Bay Ambulance Service in January.

Judge Terry Dempsey granted the injunction requested jointly by the City of Russellville, City of Red Bay and Franklin County, which ordered Pleasant Bay Ambulance not to operate at all within the city limits of Russellville and Red Bay, as well as not to answer 9-1-1 calls in the county. Pleasant Bay Ambulance Service is permitted to answer private pay calls in the county.

Roger Bedford, attorney for Red Bay and Franklin County, said he was “very pleased” with the results. “We won on all accounts,” Bedford said. “We got 100 percent of what we were asking for.”

Attorney Billy Underwood, who represented Elzie Malone and Pleasant Bay Ambulance Service, said they were initially told Malone could not answer even private calls. As they were initially fighting to be allowed to pick up private calls, Underwood said he considered it a great victory that Dempsey did not enjoin Pleasant Bay from answering private pay calls in the county.




Ozbirn named president of Tennessee Valley Historical Society

To her knowledge, she’s the first woman president and the first Franklin County president for the Tennessee Valley Historical Society, in a role she was voted into Jan. 24: Chris Ozbirn.

“Dr. Kenneth Johnson, who was acting as the interim president, called me and asked me if I would think about (accepting the office of president). Of course I told him, ‘Dr. Johnson, my plate is full.’” Ozbirn explained to Johnson that she was committed to prioritizing the Franklin County Archives. “I worked too long and hard to get the archives to put it to the side.”

But Johnson was persistent. He explained to Ozbirn that having a president from Franklin County would mean more exposure for the county and its history. It took some serious soul-searching, but Ozbirn finally agreed. “I’ll do my best,” Ozbirn said. “I’ve never taken on a project where I didn’t do my best.”


Russellville mayor proclaims Leila Norris Day in honor of hundredth birthday

Leila Norris’ eyes shone, and a wide smile never left her face, during a special ceremony at Russellville City Hall Monday – her hundredth birthday. “In celebration of her contributions to the city of Russellville,” Mayor David Grissom presented Norris with a proclamation naming Feb. 8, 2016, Leila Norris Day in the City of Russellville. He also presented Norris a Key to the City – an honor bestowed only once before by Grissom, to the governor of Alabama. “You’re right up there with the governor,” Grissom said.

Norris’ advice for living a good life boils down to one thing: “stay with the Bible.” “It’s nothing I’ve done that has let me live this long,” Norris said. “They were good years, I’ll tell ya … I had a good husband, and I tried to be a good wife. What could you add to that? I don’t know.”

Norris has nine grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.


Russellville man federally indicted

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal grand jury indicted a Russellville man for a string of bank robberies and attempted bank robberies in north Alabama in fall 2015.

U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger C. Stanton released the details, namely, that a six-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Kerry Dewayne Harbin, 45, with four counts of bank robbery and two counts of attempted bank robbery between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15, 2015. The indictment charges Harbin with robbing the BBVA Compass Bank on State Farm Parkway in Homewood Sept. 1; the Union State Bank on Lorna Road in Hoover Sept. 10; the Wells Fargo Bank on West Valley Avenue in Homewood Sept. 17; and the Cullman Savings Banks on Second Avenue in Cullman Oct. 14.

The indictment also charges Harbin with attempted bank robbery at the BB&T Bank on Red Lane Road in Birmingham Sept. 9 and the BBVA Compass Bank on Green Springs Highway in Homewood Sept. 10.




And the winners are …

Tuesday’s primary narrowed down a number of local races for the General Election in November, with citizens casting their votes for County Commission Districts 2 and 4, Franklin County Board of Education District 4 and Franklin County superintendent.

County Commission District 2

The winner of the County Commission District 2 race was, by a vote of 1,378 to 1,222, Wyman Pounders, who beat opponent Terry Bolton with 53 percent of the vote.

County Commission District 4

In the primary race for County Commission District 4, both Republican and Democratic voters had a choice to make.

In the Democratic race, a runoff will ensue between Don Hastings and Norris Lewey. Hastings pulled 931 votes to Norris Lewey’s 977 votes – 36.73 percent and 38.54 percent, respectively. Opponent Anthony Bentley received 627 votes.

Whoever wins the runoff April 12 will run for the position against William David Hester in November, who received 70.62 percent of the vote as compared to opponent Wade Inmon’s 29.38 percent of the vote.

Franklin County BOE Place 4

Shannon Oliver received the Democratic nomination for the Franklin County Board of Education Place 4, receiving 61.36 percent of the vote (316) compared to opponent Eddie Britton’s 38.64 percent of the vote (199).

Franklin County Superintendent

The Democratic nominee for superintendent, running against Republican Bart Moss in November, will be Donald Borden, who claimed 59.39 percent of the vote (1,281). Opponent Johnny Cleveland received 40.61 percent of the vote (876).

In the local referendum, yes votes totaled 4,763 to 1,844 no votes – 72.09 to 27.91 percent, meaning a continued 1 percent tax to benefit local schools and county ATRIP matches.


Mrs. America heads to China

It’s been five months since Russellville native Madeline Mitchell Gwin donned the Mrs. America crown. This week, she takes the next step – competing for Mrs. World in China.

The competition, Gwin said, is similar to the Mrs. America pageant – interviews, evening gown, swimsuit and on-stage interview. “This is the absolute farthest you can go as a Mrs. Contestant. Mrs. World is the final and most prestigious pageant of all,” Gwin said.

Gwin flew out Monday, destination Dongguan, China. The pageant continues March 1-12.


RCS to implement tuition policy

For current Russellville students who reside outside the school district limits, the coming academic year will see an end to bus transportation and, for many of them, a tuition requirement to continue attendance.

In a unanimous vote at Thursday’s Russellville City Schools Board of Education meeting, a policy was approved to allow the implementation of enrollment criteria that will have the likely impact of decreasing the number of out-of-district students in Russellville City Schools.

“It was a challenging decision but also makes absolute sense,” said Superintendent Heath Grimes. “Right now we’re transporting about 400 students on our buses from outside the district … We’re probably the only school system in the state that transports students outside our district.”

The new policy will help to address overcrowding in the school system as well as budgetary concerns.


Traffic stop leads to drug arrests

A routine traffic stop Tuesday night resulted in a not-so-routine arrest.

Matthew Lee King, 27, of Russellville, was arrested for possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance after FCSO Deputy Jordan Seahorn pulled him over for not having a tag displayed late Tuesday evening.

Seahorn, assisted by K9 Chill and another deputy, discovered quantities of meth, illegal prescription pills, synthetic drugs, scales, a gun and US currency totaling about $5K in King’s vehicle.

Sheriff Shannon Oliver said the evidence might show that King, a convicted felon with prior drug arrests on his record, might be a dealer rather than simply a user.

Also arrested was Elizabeth Marie Vandiver, 32, of Phil Campbell, for possession of controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.


Wake up for waffles

Construction is in progress at the Franklin Shopping Center on Highway 43 in Russellville. Right now the work site is little more than a hole in the ground, but within three months it will be the home of 24-hour syrupy, buttery waffles, along with other diner favorites.

Presenting: Waffle House.

“We’re really excited to have them here,” said Mayor David Grissom, who confirmed the Waffle House last week. He said the restaurant is set to open at the beginning of June.


County archives director receives state award

During a luncheon last week, Franklin County Archives Director Chris Ozbirn received another plaque to add to a growing collection of awards and recognitions: she won the Alabama Historic Preservation Recognition Award through the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Ozbirn was nominated by Jeanie B. McNees, Historic Preservation Chairman and Registrar for the Chief Colbert Chapter of the NSDAR. McNees’ eloquent nomination letter detailed many of Ozbirn’s accomplishments and explain why she deserved the award.

“I don’t do what I do for awards and plaques and all that hoopla,” Ozbirn said. “But to have somebody do something like this for me – I was overwhelmed. I really was.”

“I’m really proud these ladies thought that much of me,” said Ozbirn, who has dedicated untold hours helping many members of the DAR locating the documentation they needed to be eligible for membership. “That’s amazing for this old mill hill girl … I feel like my purpose is helping people. I really do.”


‘One of the worst murders ever’

A mother and boyfriend were taken into custody following the death of a 22-month-old.

Authorities indicated the woman, Hailey Renfroe, is being charged with aggravated child abuse, while the man, Shannon Gargis, is being charged with capital murder.

March 22 at 3 a.m., 9-1-1 received a call that the child wasn’t breathing. Responders “noticed there was some visible trauma to the child,” according to Sheriff Shannon Oliver. Twenty-two-month-old Serenity was found dead with obvious signs of abuse.

In April, after preliminary hearings for Renfroe, 20, of Phil Campbell, and Gargis, 28, of Spruce Pine, the court found sufficient evidence to have both cases bound over to the grand jury.



Governor visits Russellville

Healthcare and broadband – and the challenges faced by rural areas attempting to provide such services – were the topics of the day for Gov. Robert Bentley, who spent the morning in Russellville Wednesday.

Bentley met with the Franklin County Broadband Taskforce at the Franklin County Courthouse, and taskforce director Katernia Cole-Coffey laid out a timeline of efforts by the group to bring reliable broadband Internet to the county. She outlined the roadblocks the group has faced – primarily, issues of funding.

“If we’re going to help rural Alabama, rural Alabama needs to be connected to the rest of the world,” Bentley said. “We have looked at ways to bring broadband to the entire state of Alabama.”

The governor also spent several hours at Russellville Hospital, visiting with administrators and local medical professionals.


Pilati seeks return to law

A disbarred former Franklin County district attorney is poised to make his return to the law – provided his petition for reinstatement is granted by the Alabama State Bar.

John Pilati was disbarred Jan. 8, 2013, by the state bar’s disciplinary board, a decision he consented to after being found guilty of five counts of “deprivation of civil rights while acting under the color of law,” as explained by a public notice of the disbarment.

Pilati’s name was recently removed from the sex offender registry. According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Pilati brought documentation in early 2016 notifying them that he had been pardoned through the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency sent a letter, dated Jan. 5, 2015, confirming this information, stating, “The Agency has determined that the (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act) no longer applies to John Pilati.” The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles confirmed that Pilati was granted a partial pardon effective Dec. 8, 2015.

Pilati said his efforts to return to law have been “an ongoing process with no specific timeline.”




Budget Inn owner, manager arrested

Numerous code violations led to the arrest of Russellville’s Budget Inn’s owner and manager last week.

Sachindra Ram Jibhai Bhagat, the owner of Budget Inn on Highway 43, and Harivadanbhat Madhavbhai Patel, manager, are both charged with reckless of endangerment and violation of the duty of a hotel owner and operator, as part of an inspection and compliance process that began nearly a year and a half ago.

In November 2014, fire marshal Justin Green found numerous fire safety code violations at the Budget Inn on Highway 43 in Russellville. Although at first many of the issues were brought up to code, improvements did not continue, and in October 2015, complaints had made their way to the state fire marshal’s office.

“If they get complaints down there, they have to come look at it,” Green said. And when Green accompanied the state fire marshal’s office to the inn, he found conditions that had deteriorated. When he returned with the state fire marshal’s office in April, six months later, things had gone from bad to worse.

That’s when Paulk issued arrest warrants for Bhagat and Patel. Green said the two were not charged for each count of violation but only as a blanket charge.

Both bonded out of the Franklin County Jail the next day. Green said he is currently working with Bhagat, the state fire marshal’s office and an architect to bring the Budget Inn back into compliance so Bhagat – who closed the inn voluntarily – can reopen.


Ronnie McDowell performs for 25th year

Ronnie McDowell has missed only one year since he began performing annual in Russellville in 1990. For this year’s concert to benefit the Roxy Theatre, a number of special presentations marked the auspicious occasion. Arguably the most special moment of the evening was the revealing of a marble tile in McDowell’s honor that was installed in the sidewalk in front of the theatre.

The tile, which McDowell said is “one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten,” was the result of a brainstorm among Franklin County Arts and Humanities Council members Chase Sparks and Wanda Myrick along with Mayor David Grissom, as well as others. The lasting memorial is designed to recognize McDowell’s efforts in raising money for the continued renovation of the theatre.


Reflecting on recovery

The EF-5 tornado of April 27, 2011, is impossible to forget. It changed Franklin County forever.

Each person has his or her own story about how the storm changed the world that day. The familiar sights of home were damaged and destroyed. Lives were taken. The storm that ripped through Franklin County’s streets and landscapes also ripped through the hearts and minds of its people, creating painful memories that will forever mark April 27 – scars that will fade with time but might never fully heal.

Roy Gober remembers the day as clearly as anyone. EMA director at the time, Gober was on the front lines of mobilizing response teams. He remembers watching the storms as they swept through Mississippi and closed in on Alabama.

“We knew they weren’t going to stop when they got to the state line,” Gober said. “We prayed they would go south of us or north of us, but we knew Alabama was going to get kicked. As it turned out, Franklin County got kicked.”

It was four days before Gober, other local authorities and emergency response teams had a thorough sense of the extent of the damage caused in the county. “It exceeded anything we’ve ever seen in Franklin County,” Gober said. “I don’t care how prepared you are. When you have an EF-5 tornado come in and clean your clock, whatever you do isn’t enough. It’s just not.”

There is no way to go back in time and take back the impact of the EF-5 tornado, but Franklin County has continued to push forward – remembering that terrible day and holding tightly to the memory of those lost, but latching on to the hope of a future in which the bonds created will continue to unite and fortify this community, making it strong enough to face any challenge.


Mayor Steve Bell reflects on tornado recovery  

Mayor Steve Bell wasn’t yet mayor of Phil Campbell when that deadly tornado of April 27, 2011 changed his town forever, but he was as impacted as anyone by the storm, on April 27 and in the days and weeks that followed.

“It was overwhelming for everyone, myself included,” Bell said. “It’s amazing how everybody came together … The people who come in when they see a need – it’s a little overwhelming how much help we got.”

Bell was elected to the mayor’s office a year and a half later, in the thick of recovery efforts. In this role, he has seen Phil Campbell’s conditions continue to improve over time.

Since the tornado, Phil Campbell has benefited from $8.4 million in grants over time for various improvements, through ADECA, the EDA and federal and state groups – not counting FEMA money. Of course, despite that continuing investment, Bell said there is no way to put an amount on what it cost all individual homeowners to rebuild – not to mention the impossibility of putting a price on the lives lost that day.

“There’s still a lot of people who, it’s just too hard for them this time of year,” Bell said. That’s something he had other organizers kept in mind when planning this year’s five-year tornado memorial. Although Bell said even organizers want to memorialize those lost and honor their families, they don’t want to make the day hard for anyone – any harder than it already will be.

Though the loss is immeasurable, Bell said he hopes this year’s memorial, “Recovery, Celebration & Remembrance,” set for this evening at Phil Campbell High School, can be an important part of the healing process. He plans, as part of the memorial, to announce future plans and highlight the progress already made in Phil Campbell.




Mitch Mays to leave FCDA

Since 2005, Mitch Mays has led economic development in Franklin County. Now, however, Mays has taken on a new endeavor.

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority has hired Mays as its administrator.

As administrator of the waterway authority, Mays will also serve as president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council, a not-for-profit trade association the authority established in 1985 to represent the myriad interests in the waterway and its potential benefits.

Mays said the decision to leave Franklin County was necessary but not easy.

“It was a hard decision to make, but at the same time, when a new opportunity comes along, sometimes you just have to move on,” Mays said.


Morrow signs impeachment petition

By this time the news of Gov. Robert Bentley’s reported indiscretions is known far and wide, and the rumblings of impeachment have continued to grow. Now, that impeachment is in motion, with the required 21 signatures collected to bring the articles of impeachment before the Judiciary Committee.

The 21st signature? Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow.

Morrow said he became committed to seeing action against Bentley as details continued to unfold about Bentley’s relationship with adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who many have accused of acting as the de facto governor.

“I think the situation we find ourselves in in Montgomery right now is very dysfunctional – it’s almost out of control. I’m very concerned about the future of our state,” Morrow said. “Gov. Bentley might not deserve to be impeached – the investigation of course will reveal that – but I definitely feel Alabama needs an investigation.”


Rocket team finishes Top 10 in nation

It was another moment of success for the RCS Engineering rocket students when this year’s TARC winners were announced. The team ranked in the Top 10 in the nation, coming in at No. 9, and also received an award for Best Outreach Program, recognizing the countless hours the teams have spent sharing their experience and helping to build rocket programs at other schools.


One sentenced as sex offender

Freddy Hovater pleaded guilty to child abuse, a felony offense, and assault third degree with sexual motivation Feb. 25. Monday, sentencing was handed down.

Hovater, 74, 110 Iris Lane, Spruce Pine, was sentenced to a 10-year split sentence. He will serve 18 months in the county jail, followed by five years of probation, and will be required to register as a sex offender at the highest level.

Hovater, a minister, was arrested in October 2012 after sexual actions were determined to have taken place with his neighbor’s child, who was 8 years old at the time.

“It was the oldest case on the docket that had gotten continued multiple times,” district attorney Joey Rushing said.


Local doctor’s license suspended

Russellville Dr. Leonides V. Santos has recently had his controlled substance certificate suspended.

According to documents filed with the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and Medical Licensure Commission, an order was entered suspending the Alabama Controlled Substances Certificate Santos, effective April 26, 2016.

The board reported finding “imminent danger to the public health and safety” in regards to Santos’ improper prescription and distribution of controlled substances. Santos is accused of having “excessively dispensed controlled substances for many of his patients,” “dispensed controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose,” and dispensed controlled substances in amounts not reasonably related to the proper medical management of his patients’ illnesses or conditions.”

“I am disappointed the state chose to take this action,” Santos said. “This is a perfect example of why many practices refuse to prescribe pain medications at all, rather than risk getting caught in a government dragnet.”


FCSO busts massive marijuana operation

Manuel de Jesus Diaz Alvarez, 54, was charged with drug trafficking last Tuesday after Franklin County Sheriff’s Office investigators discovered 280 pounds of marijuana being grown at his property on Highway 20 in Spruce Pine.

Sheriff Shannon Oliver said deputies had been giving reports to the drug task force about smelling a strong odor of marijuana while they were sitting in the Spruce Pine Baptist Church parking lot on night shift.

After investigation revealed the operation, Alvarez laid claim to all marijuana in production – investigators said he seemed proud of his operation, which investigators described as a “professional” set-up – 248 plants, with advanced ventilation, lighting and CO2 canisters for best production. The mature plants in the basement alone represented half a million dollars – more than $1 million, counting the plants that were still in early growing stages.


Farmers Home Furniture brings distribution center to Russellville

Russellville Mayor David Grissom got the chance to utter one of his favorite phrases Monday: “It’s a great day in the City of Russellville.”

In front of a standing-room only crowd at Russellville City Hall, the city, the county and the Franklin County Development Authority welcomed Farmers Home Furniture, which will be bringing a distribution center to Russellville Industrial Park, representing a promise of 80 new jobs and a $10 million investment.

Farmers purchased a 325,000 square foot building previously occupied by Style Crest, following several months of discussions and negotiations among Style Crest, the FCDA, the state economic development office and Farmers.

Company Chairman and CEO Phillip Faircloth said Farmers Home Furniture is “tickled to death” to locate a distribution center in Russellville, with factors like proximity to its growing retail presence across the Southeast along with availability of a suitable site and skilled workforce making the decision to locate in Russellville an easy one.

Faircloth said the distribution center is set to begin operations in January 2017.


State bar denies Pilati petition

Although disbarred former Franklin County district attorney John Pilati recently petitioned for reinstatement to the Alabama State Bar, he won’t be making his return to law.

Pilati’s petition for reinstatement was denied following a May 19 hearing on the matter, according to the Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Office.




County Commissioner Wyman Pounders passes away

One chair stood empty at the Franklin County Commission meeting Monday. A wreath of white flowers adorned the spot where one commissioner was missing.

Franklin County Commissioner Wyman Pounders, who recently had been dealing with several health issues, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning.

Pounders had been a Franklin County commissioner for the past four years and was in the midst of his re-election campaign. He was passionate about serving the people of this county.

A retired police officer and retired school resource officer, Pounders was active in the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Courthouse Security Board and the County Cattleman’s Association are areas of civic involvement for Pounders. He was also a member of the First Baptist Church and enjoyed running his cattle and poultry farm.




Pharmacy owner pleads guilty to obstructing Medicare audit

The owner of two northwest Alabama pharmacies has agreed to plead guilty to obstructing a Medicare audit and to pay a $2.5 million penalty to the government.

According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Rodney Dalton Logan, 63, of Muscle Shoals was charged with one count of obstructing a 2012 federal audit of Medicare claims submitted by a pharmacy he owned. Logan, a registered pharmacist, owned Leighton Pharmacy Inc., which did business as Sheffield Pharmacy and Homecare in Sheffield, and Russellville Pharmacy in Russellville.

Today, the pharmacy is operating under the ownership of Wes Mayfield, who also serves as pharmacist, and is no longer connected to Logan. Mayfield purchased the business in 2014 and rebranded as Russellville Drugs.

“Our goal is to provide excellent customer service and to treat people how they would want to be treated,” Mayfield said. Russellville Drugs’ focus, he said, is on efficient service. “Our goal is to give everyone the fastest possible service while also being friendly, professional and courteous.”


Governor honors Gilbert

“Kerry Don Gilbert, having been deemed of meritorious character, is hereby commissioned an Honorary Colonel in the Militia of the State of Alabama.”

So proclaims an official recognition from Gov. Robert Bentley for local star Gilbert. The proclamation was presented to him at the KGB’s monthly show at the Historic Roxy Theatre.




FCBOE approves funds for Tharptown cafeteria

It wasn’t lunchtime, but nearly every seat in the Tharptown cafeteria was filled. Faculty, staff, students, parents and community members of Tharptown packed in for the Franklin County Board of Education’s called meeting to vote on a single agenda action item.

With four school board members in favor and one abstention, the wheels can keep rolling toward Tharptown’s new cafeteria.

With significant enrollment growth this school year, due in large part to Russellville City Schools’ new tuition requirements for students outside the city limits, the school’s already-packed cafeteria is now busting at the seams. A mobile unit is being utilized to serve the overflow of students. Additionally, the cafeteria is a long walk across campus for the high school grades.

The new cafeteria, which is projected to be completed by the start of next school year according to Superintendent Gary Williams, will house 115 additional students – enough to meet the needs of the school at this time, Franklin County Board of Education members determined. It will be located between the elementary and high school facilities.

The board voted in favor of leveraging $175,000 of capital outlay money to obtain more than $2.4 million for both the construction of the new cafeteria as well as the conversion of the old cafeteria into four new classrooms for the elementary school – a process that will begin upon the completion of the new cafeteria.


Hodges elects Terry Petree as mayor

In Hodges, only one race was contested in Tuesday’s election, but it was the race many would consider the biggest: the race for mayor.

Hodges selected Terry Petree as its next mayor. He won over Danny Avery and Wendell Williford, by 58 votes to Avery’s 35 and Williford’s 9.

“We’re going to try to do the best we can,” Petree said. He said he appreciated everyone voting for him. “I just want to see our town grow and do better for the community and stuff. I’ve always liked helping people. I felt like we need somebody who cares for the town and wants to do good things for the town. I hope our town grows.”


Elected to lead

If you’ve never seen grown men group hug, you weren’t at Russellville City Hall on election night.

When the dust had settled in Russellville on election night, incumbents had come out on top among the city’s choices for mayor and councilmembers – with two races left up to a run-off – in unofficial election results.

For the mayor’s race, Mayor David Grissom, Donnie Horton and Randy Bray went head to head, but it was Grissom who won the day with 1,189 votes to Horton’s 305 and Bray’s 101.

In District 1, David Palmer and John Thorn faced off, with Palmer amassing 406 votes to Thorn’s 135.

In District 2, Judy Miller, Roney Murphy and William Nale. In races with three candidates, a run-off is likely, and that will be the case for Miller (103 votes) and Nale (98). Candidate Roney Murphy claimed 69 votes.

Roy Cornelison, Gary Cummings and Dwight Jackson opposed one another for District 3, but Cummings will keep his post, earning 184 votes to Cornelison’s 18 and Jackson’s 76. Arthur Elliott (101 votes) and Lanny Hubbard (75 votes will also face a run-off for District 4. They ran against Billy Patterson (27 votes). District 5 incumbent Jamie Harris came out on top versus Brent Caldwell, 228 votes to 75.


Stand-off ends in death of suspect

A stand-off at Tim Street and Wilson Avenue in Russellville ended in the death of the 27-year-old subject last week.

According to Police Chief Chris Hargett, what started out as an emergency call about a theft Thursday morning became a domestic incident before dissolving into a standoff. The person in question, 27-year-old male Matt Grissom, refused to have any dialogue with the officers or Florence SWAT team and remained barricaded, armed, in a house that belongs to his grandfather until late in the afternoon.

Hargett said although negotiators attempted to converse with the suspect, he would not engage.

“Shortly after that, officers noticed smoke coming out of the eaves of the house,” Hargett said. “Within minutes, flames were visible in the house.” As the Russellville Fire Department, which was already on scene, began to battle the flames, “the SWAT guys went in with them because at that time we still didn’t know which room the suspect was in.” RFD fire marshal Justin Green said two teams were active in the house – one working to locate and rescue Grissom, and one working to suppress the fire.

“It was determined a little bit later – they did find the suspect in a room, and he was deceased,” Hargett said.

Hargett said Grissom’s wound appeared to be self-inflicted. He lamented the loss of life in an incident everyone hoped would have had a more peaceful and positive conclusion. “It’s not the outcome we wanted. The outcome we want is for everyone to be safe and go home at the end of the day.”




EMS Committee votes to recommend rebid of ambulance contract

A change in ambulance service provider is on the horizon for Franklin County.

In a unanimous vote, EMS committee members voted to recommend the county commission rebid the ambulance contract in early September, and the county voted to follow the committee’s recommendation.

Concerns have continued to circulate and grow in regards to Shoals Ambulance’s service. Shoals Ambulance received the county contract in September 2014 and a renewal September 2015. EMS Committee Chair Brandon James said the service is not consistently operating the contracted number of ambulances for Franklin County, which threatens the certainty of having an ambulance available when an emergency arises.

In October, the county would go on to contract with Keller EMS.


Sex abuse sentence is 60 years

At sentencing, Matthew Trapp was sentenced to three 20-year prison terms to be served consecutively, following his conviction of three-counts of sexual abuse of a child under 12.

Trapp, 30, Phil Campbell was indicted May 2015 after the victim accused him of the abuse, which took place in 2008-2010. He was convicted following a two-day jury trial in August 2016.

“It was situation where a former relative of his accused him of touching her inappropriately on three separate occasions when she was between the ages of 6-8 years old,” explained district attorney Joey Rushing. “She came forward in 2013.”

Rushing said his office had requested the maximum allowable sentence of 20 years for each count, to be served consecutively, which was the sentence imposed by the judge. Trapp will have no parole possibility but can appeal the conviction. Rushing said the judge set an appeal bond of $750,000; Trapp will remain in jail or prison unless he posts that appeal bond, pending the appeal, and will serve his complete sentence if the conviction stands.




Body found in Phil Campbell

The Phil Campbell Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in October investigated following the discovery of a body on the side of the road in Phil Campbell Sunday evening.

According to PC Chief Merrell Potter, 9-1-1 received a call about 6 p.m. Sunday.

“A resident in that area was riding a 4-wheeler and came upon it,” Potter said.

The body of April Welch Hamm, 39, of Phil Campbell, was discovered at the intersection of Highway 237 and Woodard Road. Phil Campbell Police Department contacted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department for assistance in the case.

The body has been sent for autopsy.

A person of interest was held in custody for a time as part of the investigation, believed to be the last person to see the victim alive, but he was not charged and released.

Potter said law enforcement is waiting the forensic report and autopsy results to be sent back, to “shine a little more light” on the circumstances surrounding Welch’s death.


Fancher elected as Red Bay mayor

“I’m on top of the world. Joy unspeakable. It’s been a hard three months … It’s been quite a challenge.”

Such were the thoughts of newly-elected Red Bay Mayor Charlene Fancher, just after her 14-vote win over Mike Shewbart. In run-off election results, Fancher took 498 votes to Shewbart’s 484 in a voter turnout that poll workers said was even higher than the August election – unusual, for a one-race run-off.

“There’s always a winner, and there’s always a loser. It hurts to lose,” Shewbart said. “We’re very humbled by the vote we got. Fourteen votes is close. We’re going to still support Red Bay and try to do what we can to bring things to Red Bay.”

In Russellville, citizens voted in two run-offs for council positions.

In District 2, a familiar face will remain at the helm. In the run-off between incumbent William Nale and Judy Miller, Nale received 142 votes to Miller’s 130 votes.

District 4 will have new blood. In the run-off between incumbent Lanny Hubbard and Arthur Elliott, Elliott received 124 votes to Hubbard’s 65 votes – leaving the newest council representative heaving a sigh of relief and eager to get to work and “make Russellville better.”


Industry locates in Russellville

MS Industries, a research and mining development company and a direct mining source for its customers, is the newest industry to call Russellville home.

According to MSI’s chief operating officer John Christmas, “MSI has been researching the mineral resources in Northwest Alabama for five years and is currently constructing a silica processing and rail-loading facility at the old Vulcan Materials site on Walnut Gate Road in Russellville.” Although MSI at one time researched the feasibility of mining and processing what is known as Hartselle Oil Sands, the company concluded after extensive research that those activities were not feasible. Christmas said the facility planned for Russellville “has nothing to do with oil sands or petroleum and is entirely non-fuel in nature.”

MSI founder and chief executive officer Steven Smith said “many factors” led his company to build a production facility in Russellville. In the end, Smith said, “the City of Russellville fully embraced us and made the decision to locate here a very easy one.”

The investment includes $15 million in site preparation, infrastructure, equipment and machinery for the new silica production facility, as well as “a new rail spur that will connect the site to Norfolk Southern’s main line,” according to Smith. “We fully expect the plant to be complete and operational by the end of first quarter 2017,” Smith added. “Once the plant is complete, we expect to hire 50 skilled and semi-skilled workers over three years to run and maintain the facility.”

Russellville’s industrial community isn’t the only place MS Industries will make its mark. The company will also become a fixture in the downtown business community, where Smith said they plan to locate company offices. The company’s downtown footprint might expand beyond the Bank Independent building the future, as well, with Smith eyeing putting a new eatery downtown.


Coming soon: Dollar General

One Franklin County man has been trying to get a Dollar General into the Belgreen community for years. In Spring 2017, his efforts will come to fruition.

A Dollar General location is currently under construction on Highway 24 in Belgreen, on property that formerly belonged to Eddie Britton. Dollar General communications coordinator Nolan Miles said a number of factors went into the location and timing for this new DG location.

“When choosing store locations, meeting customers’ needs is Dollar General’s top priority,” Miles said. “The company looks for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice. We know convenience is a major factor in our customers’ shopping decisions as we generally serve customers within a three- to five-mile radius, or ten-minute drive. We also take demographic trends, competitive factors, traffic patterns and community concerns into consideration.”

The new store, Miles said, is targeted to open in Spring 2017, although weather and other circumstance can impact that target. The store will provide jobs for six to ten employees and provide “a convenient location to purchase products that are frequently used and replenished, such as food, snacks, health and beauty aids, cleaning supplies, basic apparel, housewares and seasonal items at low everyday prices,” according to Miles.


Red Bay Tiffin driver is shooting victim in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, according to news reports, is in a flurry of action in a manhunt for Michael Vance, 38, who went into a shooting rampage across Oklahoma, shooting police officers and people determined to be relatives. This story hits close to home, as Vance is also believed to be the shooter in an incident involving a Tiffin Motorhomes driver Monday morning.

According to Red Bay Mayor David Tiffin, information provided by Tiffin Motorhomes, driver Randy Frost had pulled into the Sayre, Okla., Flying J rest stop – a common stop for Tiffin drivers who are making deliveries to the west coast – about 2:30 a.m. Monday and had pulled the nightshade over the window before being accosted by a man he identified as Vance, who met him at the door with a gun.

Tiffin said the man “just demands that Randy is going to take him out of there … Randy said, ‘I’m not going to take you anywhere.’”

The man, the identity of whom the OSBI is still trying to ascertain as to whether was or was not Vance, aimed his gun at Frost. Frost grabbed the barrel, and the shot went through the roof just above the windshield, Tiffin said. In the scuffle for the gun that followed, Frost was shot in the leg, the bullet shooting straight through.

Tiffin said Frost was admitted to a small hospital in Elk City before being transferred to a larger facility in Oklahoma City.




RCS plans expansion for RMS

At an expected cost of $1.5 million, the Russellville Middle School will soon gain eight new classrooms, including new bathrooms, two special education classrooms and a science lab.

Superintendent Heath Grimes announced that RCS has contracted with an architect to draw up the plans for the addition to the middle school and bid out the construction, with the total project estimated at $1.5-2 million of reserve funds. The expansion is necessitated by the large fifth grade class that will rise to the middle school next year – when compared against the rising eight grade class, RMS will have a net increase of 50 students.

Dr. Karen Thorn, RMS principal, said she is elated that progress is moving forward on the middle school addition. “I’m thrilled. We have been out of space since I’ve been at Russellville, really,” she said.


Hamilton, Welborn, Hester, Massey, Miller, Wallace celebrate wins in election bids in Franklin County

After months of campaigning – of sharing vision and goals, of knocking doors and attending community events, of spending nearly every waking hour in pursuit of a goal – for candidates for office in Franklin County, it all came down to what happened at the polls Nov. 8. The votes are in, and the people have spoken.

Greg Hamilton will take the reins as superintendent of the Franklin County Board of Education. He claimed 3,215 votes, 36 percent, to opponents Bart Moss’ 2,779 votes (31 percent) and Donald Borden’s 2,842 votes (32 percent).

One position on the school board was up for a vote, and Terry Welborn will keep his seat, defeating challenger Curtis Baker. Welborn received 1,122 votes to Baker’s 529 votes.

For the Franklin County Commission, Chris Wallace, Jason Miller, Rayburn Massey and David Hester were elected to Districts 1-4 respectively.

Incumbent Wallace, received 6,827 votes to opponent Chris Fretwell’s 4,391 votes.

Miller, who has been serving as interim commissioner for the past couple of months following the death of Wyman Pounders, achieved 6,774 votes to Terry Bolton’s 4,585 votes.

Massey, who was running for re-election, received 6,706 votes to Justin Boyles’ 4,649 votes.

In Hester’s case, he ultimately claimed 7,567 votes to Norris Lewey’s 3,693.

A unique feature on this year’s ballot was for those who had the opportunity to vote for or against a volunteer fire department fee. Nine districts held votes for the fee – East Franklin, Blue Springs, Tharptown, Gravel Hill, Frankfort, Hodges, Burnout, Vina and Pleasant Site. Each district received majority yes votes.


Shewbart faces ethics complaint

Red Bay’s Mike Shewbart will be facing an ethics complaint if it is pursued by the state Ethics Commission.

According to a complaint being filed by Judy Bullen, of Red Bay, Shewbart took 88 days of sick leave from city employment during the time he campaigned for Mayor of Red Bay. Bullen’s complaint goes on to enumerate the authorized uses for sick leave in the City of Red Bay Employee Handbook, which indicate that sick leave is “intended solely to provide income protection for the events described in this policy and may not be used for any other absence.”

Shewbart said he was taken aback by the complaint.

“When I started to run for office, it was made known that I would have to take a leave of absence,” Shewbart said. After asking whether he could use comp time and sick time, Shewbart said, he was told that was permissible and in fact was a customary course of action by the city clerk and Mayor David Tiffin. He submitted time sheets and was paid according to those timesheets, out of time accumulated as part of the standard employment benefits package.

“I have nothing to hide,” Shewbart said.


Seven arrested for meth

Seven people were arrested Thursday afternoon after the Franklin County Drug Task Force served a search warrant on a Red Bay home.

Drug Task Force investigators, along with Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputies and investigators, as well as a District Attorney investigator, served a search warrant at 1142 Highway 11 South, Red Bay, at around 2 p.m. Thursday, according to the FCSO report. Seven people were arrested and charged with manufacturing a controlled substance second degree, possession of controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, those being: Kayla McDonald, 25, Christen Garrison, 22, Cassie Joseph, 29, Felicia Willcutt aka Nicole Pendergraph, 36, Matthew Schmikel, 35, Dion Joseph, 40, and Christopher Grimes, 30.

According to the report, there was evidence of drug abuse throughout the house, and a small child was also present in the house. It was believed the child was present when the drugs – methamphetamine – were being used.


Director resigns; future of RBCEP in question

Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park Director Mike Franklin is no longer with the Hodges park, and the future of the establishment is in the balance.

The Town of Hodges called a special meeting Dec. 1 “to discuss the status of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Trail.” Petree said Franklin resigned; others claim he was forced out by the series of events that preceded his resignation.

Nov. 7 the new council had voted to rework Franklin’s current salary into hourly pay, to avoid the expected national threshold increase for salaried workers. Following a heated discussion, in which Franklin laid out for the council the many ways in which he has funded the park out of his own pocket and gone, what many would consider “above and beyond” his job description, the council at that time approved a rate of $18 an hour. In the days that followed, Franklin had many of his job duties stripped from him, according to discussion in the Dec. 1 meeting.

Upon Franklin’s resignation, the town lost access to the canyon from which the equestrian park takes its name. The ability to use the canyon, which is owned by Franklin’s sister and brother-in-law, Danny and Deborah Avery, was contingent upon Franklin’s connection with the park, according to the original contract.

But after a Dec. 12 council meeting, Petree would go on to affirm that things in Hodges will go on just like they have been – even with the undeniable, irreversible changes in the loss of access to Rock Bridge Canyon, the loss of Mike Franklin as director, and the controversy and bad feelings that have abounded. Petree said he is focused on setting the past aside and moving forward. “I feel like we have to be positive toward what we’ve got. That’s all you can do, is be positive, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

According to Petree, the town is preparing to move forward with two recently-acquired grants: a $100K ADECA grant and an $80K TVA grant that will fund a certified builder, required environmental study, a top for the RBCEP arena and development of new trails that will connect to the lower end of the trails that are already in place.


Citizen of the Year

Honored. That’s how William Stone felt to be named Citizen of the Year at Monday’s Farm-City Awards Banquet, presented by the Franklin County Extension System.

“I have lived here all my life, and I know most of these people,” said Stone, gesturing to a roomful at the A.W. Todd Centre. “For them to give me an award like that – you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Stone was among seven adults to be recognized Monday, along with more than a dozen children who entered the Farm-City coloring, poster and essay contests. Along with Stone, the following were recognized for their achievements and contributions to Franklin County: Victor Porter, Cooperator of the Year; Pilgrim’s Pride, Community Development Award; Jackie Richardson, Youth Development Award; Gannon and Kristin Nunley, Farm Family of the Year; Kelly Champion, Education Development in Agriculture Award; and Charles Ezzell, Farmer of the Year and Agricultural Lifetime Achievement Award.




County wishes Williams well

For many, retirement is the type of ultimate goal that inspires visions of long vacations and time for passion projects. But for Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams, the prospect is bittersweet.

“I’m sad today,” Williams said at his retirement reception. After 35.5 years in education, “it’s going to be hard to quit.”

Williams said he will miss interaction with FCS employees and students. “I love my job and always have. In 35.5 years, I’ve never dreaded getting up in the morning and going to work,” he said. “It’s going to be hard.”

Williams said his most challenging time as superintendent was facing the April 27, 2011 tornado. His voice broke as he spoke of it. “Twenty-eight people lost their lives,” he said. “That was the hardest thing – students and teachers we lost. And then we had to fight to fund the new school because our insurance company depreciated those buildings 40 percent … It was an awful time, really, but I’m glad I was a part of it.”


The hand of God

Where some would see only destruction and ruin, Adeline Scott saw the comfort and protection of the hand of God.

Last Tuesday night, on the shore of Cedar Creek Lake, Scott was hunkered down in her 160-year-old log cabin was the winds picked up outside. Scott, 78, had already lost power in the two-bedroom house built by great-grandfather Robert Wiley Richardson in 1859, where she lives alone. She was in the kitchen lighting candles when the tornado struck.

“This is a sad circumstance, but we’re going to save it,” said cousin Jackie Richardson. His father and Scott’s father were brothers, two of 14 children. Richardson, director of Rustic Youth Camp on Cedar Creek Lake, immediately mobilized into action when he found out about the damage to Scott’s house. One of the first steps was setting up the Adeline Scott Building Fund at CB&S Bank. Richardson said any help people can offer toward the restoration of the old home will be appreciated.

Through turmoil, Scott has found the sun shining on the other side of the storm.

“You realize how far-reaching God’s hand is when something like this happens to you,” said Scott. “God was with me. He had to be. I try to be a God-fearing person, and I think his hand is far-reaching … I just have a lot to be thankful for.”


To boldly go…

Fans of the “Walking Dead” and “Once Upon a Time” television shows will soon spot a familiar face on a new “Star Trek” series – the face of a woman from right here in Russellville.

According to online entertainment sources, Sonequa Martin-Green has been cast as the lead of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which is set to air in 2017 on CBS All Access. The series is the first since “Star Trek: Enterprise” concluded in 2005 and continues – or to be more specific, chronologically pre-dates – the sci-fi story that began half a century ago.

Martin-Green, a 2003 Russellville High School graduate and class valedictorian, will star as Rainsford, lieutenant commander of the USS Discovery. Her role represents the first main protagonist of a Star Trek series who is not the captain of the ship in the storyline.


EF-0, 80-mile winds damage Vina High

National Weather Service Authorities have determined it was an EF-0 tornado that wreaked mild havoc at Vina High School this weekend, according to Superintendent Gary Williams.

Canopies were ripped from their posts by 80 mile-per-hour winds and smashed into windows in the school’s main building and science building. On both the science building and the gym, Williams said, the roof was raised up and set back down – one whole side, for the gym, and on one corner of science building.

At the baseball field, the roof was blown of one of the dugouts. Fencing was also knocked down on campus. But, as Williams optimistically pointed out, “luckily we’ve had no water damage.”

“We have contacted the insurance company to come out and do appraisals and we’ll have to let them look at everything,” Williams said. “Hopefully the entire roofs won’t have to be replaced.”

Franklin County

PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight – Tony Chard


Car show benefit helps raise needed funds


Russellville High School varsity cheerleaders attend UCA cheer camp

Franklin County

NWSCC receives $18,000 in grants from Dollar General Literacy Foundation


Russellville equine therapy visits library program


Steam locomotive delivery to Red Bay delayed, arrives July 1


Local author holds book signing at RPL

Franklin County

Former Russellville resident performs ‘Miracle Worker’


Presenting: Miss Phil Campbell

Franklin County

All American Tang Soo Do students recognized


Russellville High School students sign to pursue fine arts careers

Franklin County

Football Funday, special needs probowl take place June 15


PHOTOS: RMS students take the stage for spring sing


Russellville member named among finalists for GFWC Jennie Award

East Franklin

East Franklin Junior High celebrates May 21 graduation


Belgreen Class of 2024 celebrates graduation

Franklin County

Local churches plan Vacation Bible School programs


PHOTOS: Tharptown High School Wildcats graduate


PHOTOS: Phil Campbell High School students graduate

Franklin County

NEMCC announces more than 400 to spring vice president’s list

Franklin County

UNA releases spring dean’s, president’s lists


Roxy holds June 15 concert, plans other events

Franklin County

Free summer meal program available at Franklin County Schools


PHOTOS: Red Bay High School graduates celebrate