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Year in Review: January through June

With 2019 approaching quickly, many people are looking toward the new year. The Franklin County Times, however, is taking a look back, with a review of some of the top headlines from the county in the past year. Although these stories provide only a taste of the busy year Franklin County has had, they are hopefully representative of 2018 and provide an overview of this year’s happenings.


Local music legend Rick Hall dies

Music has the power to bring people together, and that is certainly what happened after the passing of legendary music producer Rick Hall. The music industry, fans and even Gov. Kay Ivey stepped forward and expressed their condolences and shared stories of the music icon, who passed away Jan. 2 at 85 years old. “We are all sad about Rick’s passing. I guess we thought he would live forever,” said Dixie Griffin, director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Hall was born in Tishomingo, Miss., but grew up in the Freedom Hills area of Franklin County. According to his biography, “The Man from Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame,” his father Herman Hall was from Franklin County and worked as a saw miller in Freedom Hills. His mother Dolly was from Mississippi.

Toyota locates new plant in state

Jan. 10 Gov. Kay Ivey made the announcement that many Alabamians have been waiting for: that a new Toyota-Mazda production plant was set to be located in north Alabama.

In the end this new venture could create 10,000 jobs in total – jobs which will hopefully reach as far as Franklin County. Supply facilities and other accessory businesses that the plant will need constitute the multiplier effect in this situation, meaning significantly more than just the 4,000 jobs tied directly to the Toyota-Mazda plant.
“It’s a great day for Alabama, especially north Alabama. I’ve already been talking to people about our interest in being a site for suppliers and whatever help we can provide in Franklin County,” Mayor David Grissom said.

RHS earns School of Distinction recognition

Russellville High School started 2018 off on a high note. At the beginning of January, the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools selected RHS as a 2017 CLAS School of Distinction.

According to CLAS executive director Paul Wilson, this award recognizes schools or programs that serve as outstanding educational models for other schools in Alabama.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the students and teachers at RHS whose hard work has no doubt made such a prestigious achievement possible,” Principal Jason Goodwin said. “Being recognized as a CLAS School of Distinction is a tremendous honor, as it places Russellville High School on a level with the most accomplished schools and systems in the state.”

Water systems for Rockwood, Isbell disband

The Franklin County Commission held its first meeting Jan. 22. Citizens who were using the Rockwood and Isbell water systems should know the two systems have disbanded and been absorbed by the Russellville Utilities water system.
At the meeting, the commission approved two resolutions, one from Rockwood to disband and one from Isbell, to disband.
Probate Judge Barry Moore said these systems were already buying their water from Russellville Utilities, but the billing and maintenance was being handled by Frank Bishop. “I think it was more feasible for them to transfer that over to Russellville,” Moore said.


Celebrating 200 years: Franklin County marks bicentennial

Citizens from all across Franklin County and even a few special guests from Texas crowded in front of the Franklin County Archives building Feb. 6 to celebrate the Alabama Bicentennial Kick-off. What made the occasion even more special is that Franklin County is celebrating its 200th birthday, as well. Franklin County Commissioners had the privilege of unveiling the new historic marker in front of the Franklin County Archives building, bearing a brief history of Franklin County.

Bobcats make first trip to Final Four since ’87

The last time the Phil Campbell Bobcats reached the Final Four, they were carried by an eighth-grade pig-tailed assist machine who was quickly becoming the face of girls basketball in the state of Alabama: Tonya Tice.

That was 1987 – 31 years ago. But in 2018, the Bobcats once again made the trip to the Final Four for a chance to play for a state title.

Heaton resigns as RHS AD, head football coach

Russellville City Schools athletic director and head football coach Mark Heaton resigned, effective June 30, 2018, the school board began a search for someone to fill those positions. Heaton, who served as athletic director and head football coach from March 2014, led the football program to a 30-16 record during his tenure, oversaw the athletic department during the three state championship wins by the RHS baseball team and supported the implementation of the high school’s first competitive soccer team in school history.


Madden pleads guilty to ethics violations on $753K

March 19 Franklin County received answers in a case that hit close to home. Former county administrator Crista Madden pleaded guilty to two counts of intentional ethics violations during her tenure as administrator for Franklin County – one for using her official position for personal gain and one for using official equipment for personal gain. Madden was sentenced to pay full restitution of the $753,899 she stole from the county by way of these felonies and faced the possibility of up to 40 years in prison, with sentencing set for June.

County suffers tornado damage

Another damaging storm hit Franklin County, seven years after the tornado that ripped through parts of the county in 2011. March 19 will go down in history as another day when buildings and land were destroyed and panic spread. But according to Russellville Fire Chief Joe Mansell, it will also be remembered as a day when the county bonded together, faced a crisis and came out on the other side with the reassurance that the proper actions were taken.

Some of the most noticeable damage occurred on Highway 43 near the Highway 24 overpass. According to EMA directory Jody Hitt, Waffle House was in operation when one of the business’ front windows was sucked out, the sign was blown out and the air units on the roof were damaged. Alabama Central Credit Union’s awning and roof were damaged, and Road Gear Trucking Equipment received severe damage to the building.

Hitt said some of the other locations that received damage were the Lee Complex, Filmore Street, Walmart and apartments on the east side of Russellville behind Road Gear.


Vina historical marker honors Congressman Carl Elliott

As the Bicentennial celebrations roll on, Franklin County continues to add to its list of historical recognitions. April 22 brought the unveiling of a historical marker in memory of Vina native, seven-term congressman Carl Elliott, who in 1990 became the first recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for improving education and opposing racism.

FC Farm-City receives award

Franklin County’s Farm-City Committee is a celebrated group, with an award from Alabama Farm-City. April 5 the county’s Farm-City Committee received the Best Farm-City Dinner Award for Division II. Director of Franklin County Extension Katernia Cole-Coffey accepted the award from Committee Chairman Jeff Helms at the Alabama Farm City Awards Luncheon, held in Birmingham.

Red Bay PD solves street gang crime

Franklin County was subject to a rare gang-related crime that started April 19 and resulted in the booking of Paul Porter, 23, into the Franklin County Jail April 24. According to Red Bay investigator Lt. Rodney Belue, Belmont PD had recovered a stolen gun during a vehicle stop. “That led me to check another location, where we found a second gun,” Belue said. That second location was an apartment, where investigators found a gun Porter had allegedly received from a minor as part of a gang-related drug and gun swap. “We started questioning people and found information that led us to the gun and dope trade,” Belue said.


Pioneer Day celebrates county’s heritage

Franklin County’s Pioneer Day kicked off with a bang May 12, as Russellville Mayor David Grissom fired off the first shot from the cannon pointed out over Sloss Lake. “The weather was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better day or event,” organizer Chris Ozbirn said. “It was fun and educational, especially for the kids.” Vendors and artisans filled the park Saturday morning and prepared for the crowds that flowed in and out throughout the day. Demonstrators showcased their talents in blacksmithing, wood-working, cooking with lard, caning chairs, weaving baskets, performing Native American dances and much more.

County approves polling devices

The Franklin County Commission passed a vote Monday that will change the way Franklin County citizens will be voting in upcoming elections. Instead of the customary paper ballots, Franklin County will now use electronic, iPad-like poll pads from the company KNOWiNK. According to FC Commission Chairman Barry Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill contacted him last week and offered to give the county 18 electronic polling units. To use the poll pads, voters will scan their picture ID or use a name search option to locate their information. Printed ballots will still be on hand in case of an electronic or device emergency. “I think a lot of counties are going to use this method,” Moore said.

Local schools place in rocketry competition

Four teams from Franklin County advanced to the National Team America Rocketry Challenge Competition, held May 12. Russellville High School sent three teams, all of which placed in the top 25. Team 1 placed 22nd with a score of 84.36. Team 2 placed 25th with a score of 103.12. Team 3 placed third with a score of 26. Tharptown High School’s all-girl team placed 33rd out of 100 with a total score of 151.84.


Primary results: Tuesday election goes to Moore, Kiel

The June 5 primary was a close race for some candidates and a sweeping win for others. Current Probate Judge Barry Moore won the June 5 primary with 2,184 votes, while Joe Mansell received 1,388 votes. Local businessman Jamie Kiel won state representative for District 18 by a large margin against Tony Riley with 2,811 to 599. “I think our message really resonated with the voters. I’m a small-town businessman. I’m accessible,” Kiel said. “But it wasn’t just me. I had an organized campaign with a lot of volunteers who made a difference.”

Judge sentences Crista Madden to 20 years
June 11 Franklin County citizens filed into the courtroom at the Franklin County Courthouse to witness the sentencing of former county administrator Crista Madden. In March Madden had pleaded guilty to two counts of intentional ethics violations during her tenure as county administrator. Judge Pride Tompkins presided over the sentencing. He denied Madden probation and sentenced her to 20 years in prison for each count, to run concurrent with each other. Madden must also pay back the $753,899.21 she stole from the county.