Secret City Festival growing, evolving, but not ending, officials say

Secret City Festival World War II Re-enactment 2015

A Flak 88 firing during a Battle of Normandy re-enactment at the 2015 Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge. (Photo by Rob Welton)


Note: This story was last updated at 10 a.m.

A rumor that circulated widely this month said this was going to be the last year for the Secret City Festival.

But city officials said it’s premature to say that.

It is true that a Special Events Advisory Task Force has been studying changes to the annual festival, including moving it from June and making it into an expanded celebration in the fall, starting in October and continuing through Veterans Day (November 11). It could be renamed the Secret City Celebration, implemented by a new nonprofit expected to become self-sustaining within five years, and add events while continuing to include the Secret City Festival.

At a Wednesday evening meeting, Task Force members said many of the current festival activities could continue, including music, World War II re-enactments, historical displays, and children’s activities. But they also said there could be opportunities for new partnerships with other organizations, including Wounded Warriors and Oak Ridge Playhouse. And it’s not clear that the Secret City Festival would continue to be a two-day event.

Task Force members say they’re hoping to help create something bigger and better. [Read more…]

Body of missing five-year-old boy found in pond near family home

Olin Elwood Fitton

Olin Elwood Fitton

The body of the five-year-old boy who went missing Wednesday afternoon was found in a pond near his family’s home in Anderson County, authorities said.

Ground search teams working with K-9s tracked the missing child, Odin Elwood Fitton, to a pond in the creek near the family home on Brushy Valley Road, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Mark Lucas said.

“Our dive team was called to search the water, and sadly, the child’s body was found,” Lucas said Wednesday night.

Odin was reported missing at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, and ground and air searches began shortly after that. His family’s home is in the 1600 block of Brushy Valley Road near Interstate 75. [Read more…]

Anderson County teachers disappointed as commissioners delay vote on budget, pay raise

Anderson County Budget Committee and Rachel Minardo, Chris Phillips, and Connie Aytes

Rachel Minardo, right, a first-grade teacher at Claxton Elementary School and president of the Anderson County Education Association, asks for a 4 percent pay raise for county teachers and school staff during a May 28 public hearing on the county budget. Also pictured are Chris Phillips, left, director of accounts and budgets for Anderson County, and Connie Aytes, deputy budget director.


CLINTON—Anderson County teachers were disappointed as they watched county commissioners postpone a vote on the budget and a possible 4 percent pay raise on Tuesday.

But they’ll be back on Monday, June 29, for the next meeting of the Anderson County Commission, said Rachel Minardo, a first-grade teacher at Claxton Elementary School and president of the Anderson County Education Association.

It’s not clear if the 16-member Commission will agree to fund the school system’s request for a 4 percent raise for all teachers and staff. That’s what the Anderson County Board of Education unanimously recommended last month. The request could require the equivalent of an 18-cent increase in the property tax rate.

But during debate over proposed pay raises for some county employees on Tuesday, several commissioners said they want to be consistent and fair to all workers. [Read more…]

Preschool concerns over paint, Head Start funding reaching resolution

Oak Ridge Schools School Administration Building

Concerns over federal funding, lead-based paint, and the Oak Ridge Preschool appear to be reaching a resolution. And that ought to be good news for parents and staff members who have been worried during the past year that the program could lose federal money and even have part of its program shut down.

There have been two separate concerns, one related to lead-based paint at the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool and the other related to the reported falsification of federal data.

Work to repair the lead-based paint could start June 29, Preschool Principal Charlsey Cofer said after a Monday night meeting of the Oak Ridge Board of Education.

And a one-year probationary period with an on-site monitor for the Head Start program ends the next day, on June 30. That monitor was put into place last year as part of a 10-point plan worked out by Anderson County and Oak Ridge schools in April 2014 after concerns were raised about the falsification of federal data at the Oak Ridge Preschool, specifically reports on the motor skills of children.

Oak Ridge Schools will now do its own monitoring, but Anderson County Schools, which supervises the local Head Start program, can come in at any time. [Read more…]

Bear spotted in Rocky Top on Friday

Bear in Rocky Top on June 19, 2015

A bear was spotted at 320 Norris Freeway in Rocky Top, across from the Dollar Store, at about 12:30 p.m. Friday. (Photo courtesy Raymond Jobe)

A bear was spotted in Rocky Top on Friday.

Authorities received a report of a bear near the intersection of U.S. 441 (Norris Freeway) and North Main Street at about noon Friday, a Rocky Top dispatcher said. It was across from Advance Auto Parts.

Dispatchers contacted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which recommended leaving the animal alone. TWRA said the bear was probably looking for food, and berries will “come out” in about another two to three weeks.

The dispatcher said the bear drifted off from that intersection downtown and was seen elsewhere around Rocky Top (the former Lake City) before disappearing. [Read more…]

Green named girls basketball coach, one half of husband-wife coaching duo

Paige Green

Paige Green

Paige Green has been named the new girls basketball coach at Oak Ridge High School, making her one half of a husband-wife coaching duo. Green’s husband, Aaron Green, is the boys basketball coach.

The appointment was announced Wednesday and went into effect immediately. Green, who has an impressive résumé as a player and has coached middle school and AAU basketball, will replace David Scott, who announced his decision to resign in late May. Scott cited family reasons after a second stint as coach.

It’s not unprecedented to have a husband-wife coaching duo. Aaron Green said he knows of two other similar coaching couples, the McWilliams at Upperman High School near Cookeville and Keith and Jennifer Galloway at Hardin Valley Academy. [Read more…]

Cinder, public works director, to retire Sept. 4

Gary Cinder

Gary Cinder

Gary Cinder, who has been Oak Ridge public works director for 24 years and interim city manager twice, is retiring September 4.

Cinder has been in public service for 33 years. He could go to work in the private sector, possibly as a consultant.

“It’s time to try something new, something different,” Cinder told Oak Ridge City Council members on Tuesday.

Cinder was the lead staff member on locating, designing, and building the Oak Ridge Central Services Complex on Woodbury Lane. That building is used by the Oak Ridge Public Works Department, Oak Ridge Electric Department, and the school bus maintenance facility, among others.

Cinder has led a major effort to ensure that Oak Ridge complies with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires the city to repair all sewer system overflows by September 28. That work is mostly complete, and the city is in good shape, Cinder said. [Read more…]

Cocke County says case closed after widow releases suicide note, but parents dispute note

Alexander John Heitman

Alexander John Heitman

Officials say it was suicide. But the parents are skeptical.

So questions linger almost four years after Alexander John Heitman, 29, of Knoxville, was found dead in Cocke County after being reported missing by Oak Ridge Schools. Heitman reportedly died on Tranquility Ridge Drive outside Newport on July 25, 2011. Officials said it was suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

But Heitman’s parents, Don and Annette Heitman of Adams, Wisconsin, find it hard to believe. They aren’t the only ones. Some current and former Oak Ridge residents, including City Council member Trina Baughn, are also skeptical of the official cause of death.

Heitman’s widow, Kristie Heitman, is not. In February, she released a suicide note that she believes Alex, who was the supervisor of business and support services for Oak Ridge Schools, wrote the day before he died.

Neither is Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes. In March, he said the case is closed, and there is no reason to continue pursuing it. Investigators found no evidence that anyone else was involved, Fontes said.

But Don and Annette continue to seek answers. They started a website in October 2013 and used it to raise questions about the case. They’ve also asked for the death investigation to be re-opened, hired attorney Hugh Ward to help them, and won the support of Baughn and others. They’ve also asked the FBI to investigate. [Read more…]

Crunch time: Crews start paving Jackson Square parking lot

Jackson Square Paving June 15, 2015

Work crews started paving the new parking lot at Jackson Square on Monday, June 15, preparing it for this weekend’s Lavender Festival.


Work crews started paving the new parking lot at Jackson Square on Monday, preparing to put down enough pavement to have the Lavender Festival there this weekend.

Workers won’t stripe the pavement before the annual festival, and they may have to finish paving the parking lot after the festival, said Roger Flynn, Oak Ridge’s acting city engineer.

He said he is optimistic that enough work will be done that organizers can have the festival, and vendors know that the project won’t be complete.

Crews will temporarily remove exterior fencing around the square for the festival. And workers will fill in ditches and other areas to prevent tripping, Flynn said. [Read more…]

ORFD uses boat, cell phone signals to rescue mountain bikers lost at Haw Ridge

Oak Ridge Fire Department and Haw Ridge Rescue

The Oak Ridge Fire Department used cell phone signals and a search crew in a boat to rescue three lost mountain bikers at Haw Ridge Park on Sunday night.


Note: This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. June 15.

The Oak Ridge Fire Department used cell phone signals and a search crew in a boat to rescue mountain bikers lost at Haw Ridge Park after dark on Sunday.

Dispatchers received a call that the three young men were lost at about 10 p.m. Sunday. Three firefighters launched a large rescue boat stored at East Tennessee Technology Park, the former K-25 site, by about 10:45 p.m. from a boat ramp at Solway Park, which is near Haw Ridge Park.

Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said the three had stayed on the trails past sunset and became disoriented.

“Without flashlights, they were unable to find their way back to the parking lot, so they called 911 for assistance,” Kerley said. [Read more…]

Council to consider budget on Monday, Tuesday

They postponed a budget vote for one week, and the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday and Tuesday will resume those discussions. So far, the debate has included calls to raise the property tax rate to fund certain programs and other recommendations to keep the rate unchanged—or even lower it.

The budget will be discussed during a non-voting work session at 5 p.m. Monday, June 15, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Training Room. The Council could then vote on it in the first of two readings this month during a 7 p.m. meeting in the Municipal Building Courtroom.

Council will then discuss the budget in a second work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, in the Multipurpose Room at the Central Services Complex on Woodbury Lane. [Read more…]

Construction on ORNL FCU branch on Rutgers could start this month

ORNL FCU Colin Anderson and Marcy Catron

Colin Anderson, ORNL Federal Credit Union senior vice president and chief financial officer, discusses the new Oak Ridge branch on South Rutgers Avenue during a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday. Also pictured is board chair Marcy Catron.


Construction could start this month on an ORNL Federal Credit Union branch on South Rutgers Avenue, and the building could be complete by the end of the year, officials said.

The new branch will at the same site as the original main Oak Ridge branch. The branch will move from its current location next door at the ORNL Federal Credit Union headquarters building, which is also on Rutgers Avenue.

The estimated cost of the 5,000-square-foot branch at 215 South Rutgers Avenue is $4.5 million. Some materials from the original office will be used in the new building.

“This branch represents a multi-million-dollar vote of confidence in Oak Ridge,” said acting chief executive officer Colin Anderson, ORNL FCU senior vice president and chief financial officer. [Read more…]