2011 was no different with scandals in the school system, the ever-present battle over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and the murder of a Lady Raiders basketball player.
Here are the Top 10 (11, because it was an eventful year) stories of 2011, in no particular order.
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro
On May 24, 2010, the planning commission heard and approved a new site plan for the 52,000-square-foot Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, which will be located on Veals Road.
Within a month of the approval, opponents of the religious center converged on the Rutherford County Courthouse to express their displeasure at the decision and the county’s actions leading up to the meeting.
The legal wrangling surrounding the religious community center continued into 2011.
In April, Chancellor Robert Corlew allowed 14 additional plaintiffs to join the case.
In June, he ruled his Clerk and Master John Bratcher to review county government e-mails as possible evidence in the lawsuit.
Corlew even gave Bratcher the authority to conduct hearings about the issue or appoint someone else to trudge through the government’s paper trail.
In November, Corlew ruled that The Murfreesboro Post could intervene in the lawsuit to defend itself against attorney Joe Brandon’s clients, who have argued that the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission did not give adequate notice prior to the Islamic Center's approval.
The case will continue into 2012 with additional arguments scheduled for the spring.
Troubles at Campus School
Another ongoing storyline involves deep-seated passions, a school principal and angry parents.
In August, parent Tracy Pack went to court against Rutherford County Schools for access to public records.
Pack alleged the Rutherford County Board of Education of withholding public documents concerning Bridgeman, including missing checks, altered checks, altered sign-out sheets, and files kept about Pack’s son by Principal Chontel Bridgeman.
He also accused the school system of ignoring his requests for copies of these documents through a Tennessee Public Records Request. The Tennessee Public Records Act gives the government seven days to respond to such a request. However, Pack’s request was ignored for more than three weeks until he made a second request.
The school board then produced a series of checks with several missing, and some blank checks that had been signed and then redacted to obliterate the signatures, the lawsuit alleges. After repeated requests and legal action, the school board finally produced the missing checks.
To ensure that records are produced at a reasonable cost, Corlew ruled the Chancery Court oversee a nine-step process which gives a court-appointed Special Master the final say on what is redacted from the documents.
The case is ongoing.
Tina Stewart murdered
Just days before MTSU's Lady Raiders were to play in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, Junior guard Clantina (Tina) Marie Lapae Stewart died following a lethal stabbing, which occurred in her Raiders Crossing apartment.
Stewart's roommate, Shanterrica Madden, 18, a freshman at MTSU was arrested in connection to the stabbing and charged with first-degree murder. She claims she acted in self defense.
Circuit Court Judge Don Ash scheduled a Jan. 31, 2012, tentative trial date for Madden, but her attorney threw a wrench in the works, asking Ash to recuse himself because of his connections with MTSU.
In April, Stewart's family filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against Madden. The family, Ida Stewart Jackson and Adrian Lee Jackson, are seeking a jury trial, $10 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages.
Rowland, Smotherman sentenced
Another high-profile criminal case finally came to an end in 2011.
Chris Rowland was sentenced Friday to 28 months in prison and two years supervised probation in court in Nashville.
Rowland pleaded guilty to five counts of money laundering in March, bringing an end to a nearly four-year drama involving drugs, guns and cash.
As part of the plea agreement, six additional charges against Rowland were dropped.
Rowland was indicted in February 2009 by a federal grand jury on two counts of weapons violations.
Rowland was arrested and charged with possession of a machine gun and possession of an unregistered firearm, a Rock River Arms .223-caliber machine gun and failing to register it.
Federal agents raided Rowland’s home and brother-in-law Jeremy Chad Smotherman’s home in September 2007 on Warrior Drive across from Riverdale High School as part of an investigation stemming from a $6 million illegal narcotics operation.
In court documents filed in 2008, Internal Revenue Service Agent William Desantis accused Rowland and Smotherman of money laundering as “sham owners” of real estate and engaging in large money transactions with defendants indicted in a $6 million narcotics operation.
Rowland and Smotherman were accused of filtering drug money from defendants through houses in Hendersonville, Desantis stated in court documents. Both Rowland and Smotherman worked in real estate in September 2007 when and federal agents searched their homes and offices.
Occupy Murfreesboro occupies Murfreesboro
Occupy Wall Street made headlines across the nation in 2011 and it was no different in Murfreesboro.
The Occupation came to Murfreesboro in October when more than 50 people converged at Old Fort Park for its first organized meeting.
Occupy Murfreesboro is a loosely formed group of residents who believe corporations are drowning out the voices of constituents.
The group started with marches and protests, including heckling former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain at a speech for MTSU's School of Business.
On Monday, Dec. 4, the occupation finally took full form when members of Occupy Murfreesboro began camping out at Civic Plaza next to the Square as part of a statewide effort to establish a stronger foothold for the movement.
Instead of arresting the protestors, like other cities have done, the City of Murfreesboro issued tickets for illegal camping to the protestors.
New administrator of elections appointed
Two years of contentious meetings and seemingly underhanded actions ended with Nicole Lester being appointed as Rutherford County's administrator of elections.
Lester replaced Tom Walker, who in turn had replaced Hooper Penuel only a few months before.
Walker, the former chairman of the Election Commission, was appointed in December 2010 to replace Penuel. A few months, and some embarrassing moments later, Walker was replaced by Lester.
All the Republicans on the commission were also replaced after the RuCo GOP called for their resignations.
School, Road Board redistricting map comes under fire
Despite outcries from citizens of La Vergne, members of the Rutherford County Redistricting Committee earlier this month decided not to make changes to Road and School Board zones.
Several board members attended the Dec. 14 meeting to voice their concerns over the alternative map proposed by Commissioner Robert Stevens (Dist. 12). Election Administrator Nicole Lester presented potential issues with the scenario including alteration of term limits if certain zones change and the possibility of incumbents having to run for re-election against each other.
Road Board Chairman Randal Jones asked the committee to reject the proposed map saying, “The Road Board and School Board should have had a member on this committee.”
Jones was not the only board member unhappy with the scenario presented. All six Road and School Board members in attendance recommended voting down the proposed map.
The Redistricting Committee reconvened after the County Commission voted in Nvember to look at alternative scenarios for the new zones. The decision came after several commissioners and La Vergne citizens expressed concern over future representation on both boards with current zones after redistricting took place.
Redistricting is required by federal and state law every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken to ensure equal representation at all levels of government.
Molly’s Plant Food confiscated from local stores
Almost 1,200 capsules of the popular Molly’s Plant Food, used as a recreational drug by young people, were confiscated in March from convenience stores by sheriff’s Narcotics detectives.
Most of the store employees in Rutherford County and its cities voluntarily turned over the product after viewing and reading media coverage about Molly’s Plant Food.
Molly’s Plant Food and other new drugs were taken off the shelves after a court order sought by state Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson and Attorney General Bob Cooper.
A press release from Cooper’s office stated Molly’s Plant Food is a substance described on the Internet for its “mind-altering qualities when taken orally. The product has been known to cause severe physical and psychological side effects and is quickly spreading throughout the country as a popular but dangerous recreational drug.”
Plant food is legal to possess but illegal to manufacture or offer to sell or sell under state law.
Tenure legislation passes state senate
The Senate approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure reform legislation in March.
The bill was heavily debated, with Democrats expressing deep concerns, particularly over whether the state’s evaluation system for teachers is equipped for such a substantive change. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the bill. All Republicans in the Senate voted for it.
In late December, Haslam then announced the state will take a closer look at Tennessee’s new approach to evaluating teachers. The group he’s tasking with that review is the State Collaborative for Reforming Education, which was founded by former Sen. Bill Frist.
Many teachers have complained about the new evaluation system, complaining about the stricter requirements.
Old MTMC, Red Rose demolished
Murfreesboro lost two significant pieces of its history puzzle in 2011: a majority of the original Middle Tennessee Medical Center and the building which formerly housed Red Rose Dairies.
While on very different scales in terms of caliber, each aided in the city’s progression toward becoming one of the largest in the state.
MTMC announced that “after nearly two years of market research and efforts to sell the former MTMC, officials with the hospital and Saint Thomas Health have announced plans to raze the four main buildings that comprised the former hospital” on Highland Avenue.
At the corner of Lytle and West College Streets stands a very different structure, albeit in a very dilapidated state, with a similar future ahead of it.
Affectionately known as Red Rose, this building housed a dairy in its early years and a coffee house and bistro in more recent years.
The city’s Building and Codes Department issued a Notice of Repair in late-November 2010 to the building’s owners. Feb. 27 marked the end of the 90-day deadline, and no repairs were made to the building.
Both the original hospital building that faces University Avenue and the Red Rose date back to the 1920s. According to Images of America: Murfreesboro, by Deborah Wagnon and Christian Hidalgo, Rutherford Hospital was built with financial assistance from the Commonwealth Fund.
Amazon announces Murfreesboro location
Murfreesboro received a highly anticipated Christmas gift last week with the promise of more than 1,300 jobs and a $135 million economic investment in Rutherford and Wilson counties.
The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce announced retail giant Amazon.com has officially chosen Murfreesboro’s Joe B. Jackson Parkway as the site of its 1.2 million square-foot distribution facility.
The move solidifies months-long speculation that Amazon had its sights set on Rutherford County. First dubbed “Project Tango” by Chamber of Commerce staff, the project was confirmed by Gov. Bill Haslam, and then city planners received a site plan that matched the company’s needs.
The facilities are expected to be completed and opened by fall 2012.