Perry County parted with a number of well know people in 2010, including longtime Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman, who passed away on October 9.
Gorman became mayor in 1978, and served until his death at the age of 86, overseeing a bevy of development projects in the City of Hazard. He worked with county government to expand waterlines throughout Kentucky, and was also active in civic affairs long before he ever took office.
His wife, Nan, was sworn in as the interim mayor in October, and waged a successful write-in campaign to capture her first full term the following month.
Perry County also said goodbye to Ernest Sparkman, who died in January at the age of 84.
Sparkman was a pioneer in the radio business, starting WSGS in the 1950s, a station which is still going strong today. A high school basketball star for Morton Combs at the old Carr Creek High School, Sparkman also played for legendary Coach Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky before finding his calling on the radio waves back in Perry County.
As a broadcaster, Sparkman reported some of the biggest stories of the region in the second half of the 20th century, including the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the bus wreck in Floyd County that killed 26 children in 1958.
Perry County was in shock earlier this month when news of the murder of well known land developer Roy Campbell and his wife, Wanda, hit the community.
Campbell was instrumental in developing a large portion of Hazard. By gifting the land on which the Hazard ARH medical center currently stands, a myriad of businesses and residential properties sprang up in the years that followed, constituting a large section of contemporary Hazard.
The Perry County community was also hit with other big losses in 2010 as well, from longtime business owner Floyd Hall, who owned and operated Perry Furniture, to Dr. Becky John and David Campbell, an attorney and candidate for District Judge at the time of his death in May.
2: Coal stokes the fires in 2010
Coal was again in the headlines throughout 2010, and for good reason.
It was in April that the EPA released new water quality guidelines that have since halted the approval of several permits for surface mines in central Appalachia. Supporters of the coal industry decried the guidance, which sets standards for dissolved solids in streams affected by surface mining, claiming the new rules would effectively shut down any new mining operations in the region.
In June the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would suspend the use of the Nationwide Permit 21, which allowed surface mining companies to fill headwater streams with discharges of fill material from the mining process. Proponents of the suspension said it would help the local environment, though industry supporters saw it as another attempt by the federal government to end coal mining in Appalachia.
More controversy followed. In July the Office of Surface Mining announced it would be rewriting stream protection regulations that have the potential to place stricter regulations on surface mining. In September, three federal agencies that oversee coal mining reached an agreement to reconsider how coal companies dispose of overburden. And in October a group of environmental justice organizations presented two coal companies operating in Perry County with a notice of intent to sue over what they said were a copious amount of Clean Water Act violations, found only though an investigation the groups conducted. The companies settled with the state just this month for more than $600,000, but the groups recently announced that they hope to intervene in that settlement.
3: Philanthropy bill quickly moves through legislature
A bill that received too little fanfare but promises to promote local philanthropy through community foundations and similar organizations swiftly made its way through the state legislature this past spring.
Sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Smith, of Hazard, and backed by Gerry Roll, director of the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, the bill sought to “create a mechanism” for organizations to capture wealth to be used for the betterment of local communities. It also puts forth the idea that anyone can take part in improving their own community, noted Roll during an interview with the Herald in March. The Endow Kentucky bill also makes it possible to allow the wealthy to have an avenue to give back to their community by donating to these community foundations, and it also keeps money in the local community that may have otherwise gone outside the region.
The bill was signed into law on April 7.
4: Water outage causes problems for many
The year kicked off with less than a bang for many people in Perry County.
A major line break following the winter storm of December 2009 left hundreds of people without running water for several days, and many for several weeks.
The water first went out in Buckhorn on December 19, 2009, and local officials declared a state of emergency as water customers around the county lost service in the days that followed. Bottled water was handed out by the caseload as officials scrambled to get the water turned back on. Multiple line breaks caused delays, and it was mid-January before everyone’s water was restored.
Officials have since begun making adjustments to the water system, and say they hope to be able to prevent a similar outage from occurring in the future.
5: Vote buying charges lead to indictments
For many people Election Day is a time to demonstrate the workings of democracy. But for four Perry County residents, that day of democracy led to federal indictments and an upcoming trial for allegedly buying votes.
It was during the May 18 primary election in Hazard that officers with the Hazard Police Department arrested Pearl Combs, Jr. outside his building on High Street, charging him with buying votes during the election. A few weeks later, a federal grand jury indicted Combs, along with Michael Combs, Lewis “Cuz” Baker and Charles Marvin Herald, accusing them of conspiring to buy votes during the election.
The four men have all pled not guilty to the charges and are expected to go to trial in January.
6: Attack on judge lands man in jail
A Perry County man is currently in jail and awaiting trial after he allegedly stabbed District Judge Leigh Anne Stephens while she was dining at the Circle T Restaurant in September.
Ronnie D. Brock’s attack was only foiled after a bystander, Victor Gaines, distracted him before throwing him through a window, holding Brock until police could arrive. Stephens was treated and released that day, while Brock is facing an attempted murder charge. No motive for his alleged attack has ever been released.
7: Kentucky Power gets rate increase
Everyone in Perry County expected to see their electricity rates increase after the Public Service Commission approved a rate increase for Kentucky Power Company in June. The company had initially asked for a higher increase, but for many the nearly 17 percent increase approved was high enough. The Commission heard public comment on the increase throughout the year, including a letter of opposition from the late Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman and other local officials.
8: ACT investigates local test scores
It was in October that ACT, the national testing organization, told the Herald that they were investigating high school test scores due to compromised tests. Several students were forced to retake the exam. Two months later, ACT said their investigation was complete, and they did indeed find evidence that the scores were compromised. The Kentucky Department of Education has since turned over information about the case to three state agencies for review.
9: Man facing death penalty in doctor’s slaying
A Knott County man accused of shooting and murdering Dr. Dennis Sandlin at a Perry County clinic in December 2009 is facing capital punishment after Perry County Commonwealth Attorney Teresa Reed filed intent to seek the death penalty. Combs was also found competent to stand trial during an appearance earlier this year.
10: Local school board installs nickel tax
Every property owner’s taxes in Perry County raised some in 2010 with a new nickel tax installed by the Perry County Board of Education, but it met with very little opposition. Technically a tax of just over 5 cents per every $100 of assessed value, revenue from the tax will be used to help build a much needed school building to replace Dennis Wooton Elementary.