(Photo by CNHI used under a Creative Commons License)
Story No. 1 - Controversy over nativity scene: In early December a Wisconsin-based atheist group issued a demand that Henderson County remove a nativity scene from the Courthouse lawn, which the county refused. Later the group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, tried to get one of its anti-God banners displayed, but that also did not happen.
Why it makes the list: Because of the response from the community and the media coverage. In less than 48 hours this story went from county newspapers to national television. A rally organized by four pastors brought an estimated 5,000 to the Athens square.
Will it carry into 2012?: Yes. The Freedom From Religion Foundation may have lost this battle, but has no intention of going away. Gear up for next Christmas.
Story No. 2 - Drought and wildfires: If Henderson County has ever been drier than it was this year, no one is left who can remember that time. Commissioners’ Court had the county under a burn ban for seven straight months, and volunteer firefighters spent the summer running from one blaze to another.
Why it makes the list: Things got so bad that communities started holding fundraisers to help get supplies to exhausted VFDs. At one point, the sound of a fire siren was enough to send frightened residents scurrying to social media for information.
Will it carry into 2012?: Unfortunately, yes. The Texas state climatologist said next year will be just as bad.
Story No. 3 - School district changes: After multiple attempts, Athens ISD was finally able to pass a bond this year to expand the Bel Air campus. AISD also changed to attendance zones for Bel Air and South. The district also got a new superintendent in Dr. Robert Steeber.
Why it makes the list: Simply passing the bond after so many years of futility would have been enough to make the list, but Dr. Steeber was also faced with rebuilding the majority of the administrative staff; plus he has to complete a construction project he didn’t plan.
Will it carry into 2012?: Absolutely – and watching how Dr. Steeber works should be a major storyline for next year.
Story No. 4 - Changes for county government: Henderson County got a new county judge in Richard Sanders and a new commissioner in Ken Geeslin this year. Not only that, but Commissioners’ Court also got a new home in the Henderson County Annex (the old Prosperity Bank Building).
Why it makes the list: Although the changes happened without much fanfare, the move of several county offices to the Annex will impact nearly every county resident. The changes to Commissioners’ Court will do the same at a time when all government is struggling (see Story 5).
Will it carry into 2012?: Yes, because Pct. 2 Commissioner Joe Hall has decided he will not run for reelection. His replacement, along with Sanders and Geeslin, could change the balance of power in the county government.
Story No. 5 - Painful budgets: From the State Legislature to the local city council, elected officials are dealing with rising costs and declining revenue. Like everyone else faced with reduced buying power, government has to choose which services to cut.
Why it makes the list: The biggest impact of the state’s budget cuts so far has been felt at the school districts. Almost every district had to cut teacher positions and programs this year.
Will it carry into 2012?: For sure. More budget cuts are coming for school districts next year, and even bigger cuts are expected when the State Legislature meets in 2013.