They say better the devil you know that the one you don’t.
I’ve spent a solid week reading news stories from Tennessee, and I’m here to report that the devil in Tennessee is not one with which to trifle, it would seem.
Each year the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association trades news contest judging duties with the newspaper association in another state.
I have volunteered as a judge for several years, and I always get good ideas from other newspapers. I also like reading stories from around the country; one year I judged some papers in New York State and wound up reading a lot about the doings on Martha Stewart’s farm.
This year I’m judging news stories from rural Tennessee.
I always thought Monroe and the Sky Valley had some of the weirdest news stories ever. We had the bank robber who made his getaway on an inner tube down Woods Creek. I once wrote about a pregnant cow that floated, unharmed, down several miles of river. I wrote about the feud between a Sultan police employee and a neighbor that resulted in security fences, poisoned dogs, burglaries, and illegal use of police computers. This is the valley that once was the site of an eco-terrorist attack on a mink farm, for Pete’s sake.
Tennessee has us beat all hollow for oddness.
I’ve read about 250 entries in the Best News Reporting category in the last week. I was afraid it would be dull. It wasn’t.
The sheriff of one Tennessee county was indicted on fraud charges after apparently accepting a donation of two old Buicks from a couple, billing the county $4,600 for the cars and getting the couple to cash the check and return the money in the form of cash by telling them that the money would go to buy and train a bloodhound, which it did not. Juries trying him hung twice.
Our politics may be fractious now and again, but in one Tennessee town, upon hearing that the police budget would be cut, the chief rallied all the police at the precinct, got them in a room and in a foul-mouthed rant threatened to pistol whip the city council, take the town over and menace the population until everyone in town was too terrified to [mess] with the police. Someone secretly recorded his rant and gave it to the council. When he was fired, he sued the mayor and the council for about $20 million for violating his right to free speech.
He lost, at least. Tennessee isn’t that weird.
Tennessee reporters covered one of the strangest murders of which I’ve ever read.
Dubbed the Facebook Murders, a middle-aged man and his friend actually killed a young couple for un-friending the man’s adult daughter on Facebook.
Every Fourth of July in Monroe, there are a handful of complaints about noise and debris. But Monroe is positively placid next to a small Tennessee town in which 50 calls of complaint came in per hour, as kids with roman candles and bottle rockets shot them at emergency workers, at one point forcing them to abandon a fire in progress. A police car narrowly missed one woman as she fled into the street from a friend who was aiming a roman candle at her, and kids with backpacks stuffed with projectile fireworks engaged in fireworks wars all over town.
The city council enacted a ban, but not before one city council member protested that to withhold fireworks from children on the Fourth would push them into lives of drugs and crime.
Politics is impossibly heated at times there, and confusing, with leaders ousting each other and being ousted in turn, occasionally to be reinstated, sometimes within the space of just a few weeks.
And the population of one Tennessee fire district flew into a fury when the fire department decided to only serve people who bought fire department memberships; those who didn’t would receive hefty bills for services should they require help.
Monroe seems like an oasis of harmony and political tranquility by comparison.
So an election season may be looming, and debates over East Monroe and Lake Tye, Walmart and traffic cameras may linger until the snow flies, but we all may take at least take some comfort that there are folks in other parts of the county that would find our troubles a bit of a relief from their own.