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Mother accused in toddler's death arraigned in Edmonson
 Justin Story  / 

BROWNSVILLE – An Edmonson County woman charged in her toddler son’s death was arraigned Monday on an indictment accusing her of murder and 17 other criminal counts.

Alexandra Richardson, 28, appeared in Edmonson Circuit Court on charges of murder, first-degree assault, 12 counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, first-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

She is accused of wantonly causing the death of 20-month-old Carson McCullough after attempting to drive across a bridge that had closed because of flooding.

Edmonson Circuit Judge Tim Coleman appointed attorney Joe Howard of the state Department of Public Advocacy to represent Richardson, who pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Richardson, who is in Hart County Jail under a $250,000 cash bond, was directed to return to court Feb. 17 for a discovery conference.

Carson died Dec. 3, a day after police said Richardson attempted to cross a flooded bridge over Alexander Creek on Oak Hill Road.

In a recent preliminary hearing, Sgt. Wally Ritter of the Edmonson County Sheriff’s Office testified the road on either side of the bridge was marked with road closed signs and when Richardson approached the bridge, she backed up and attempted to accelerate across, only for her vehicle to stall in the water.

Richardson and her 7-year-old son, Isaiah, made it out of the car to safety, but Carson was lost.

“At some point, (Richardson) lost or let go of Carson while trying to swim to safety,” Ritter testified last month.

A neighbor who heard the commotion came to the area of the bridge and got Richardson and her older son to the bank of the creek.

A 911 call brought several first responders to the scene to attempt to locate Carson, who was found floating in the water near the car about an hour after it stalled, Ritter said.

A paramedic at the scene suspected Richardson of being intoxicated, and during an interview with deputies, Richardson acknowledged having recently used methamphetamine and marijuana, according to police.

The sheriff’s office obtained a search warrant for Richardson’s medical records, which showed the presence of those drugs in her system at the time she arrived at The Medical Center at Bowling Green.

Online records with the Kentucky Department of Corrections list Richardson as an inmate serving up to eight years on a case from 2015 in which she pleaded guilty to criminal facilitation to manufacturing methamphetamine and fourth-degree controlled substance endangerment to a child.

Richardson had been on probation, which was revoked soon after her arrest in relation to Carson’s death.

City tackles greenways, taxes and sign regulations at retreat
 Wes Swietek  / 

Bowling Green sign regulations, stagnant occupational tax revenue, greenways and sidewalk leases were among the myriad topics discussed Monday as commissioners and other city staff gathered for an annual planning retreat at Sloan Convention Center.

Although no votes were taken, commissioners provided city staff guidance on moving forward with priorities for the coming year.

The first item discussed, however, was informational: a look at the city’s finances.

Although city revenue continues to grow, the city’s main revenue source – the occupational tax on jobs in the city limits – has been flat in recent years, according to Katie Schaller-Ward, assistant city manager and chief financial officer.

“There are any number of factors,” for the numbers, she said, citing things such as baby boomers retiring and recent job cuts at Western Kentucky University.

Occupational tax revenue was $37.4 million in 2012 and climbed to a high mark of $50.9 million in 2017. But that amount dropped to $50.2 million in 2018, with 2019 at about the same $50.2 million level.

As a result, “we are being very conservative” with budgeting, Schaller-Ward said. She noted that in 2008 with the onset of the Great Recession, “we started spending less and we will do the same thing” now.

Despite the stagnation, however, the city continues to see revenue growth. Property tax collections grew from $12.6 million in 2018 to $13.3 million in 2019.

Overall, the city’s general fund revenue grew from $70.8 million in 2018 to $72.7 million in 2019.

City Manager Jeff Meisel said the city will continue to “spend less than we bring in. We will bring you a balanced budget in May.”

Among other issues discussed were:

• Making greenway connections a priority with, eventually, a complete greenways loop around the city’s perimeter.

Public Works Director Greg Meredith said the city started building greenways in 1998 and has completed about 30 miles of the multiuse paths around the city.

“It’s a pretty considerable network ... but it’s not all connected,” he said.

Much of the greenway network has been built with grant funds and has been used to connect locations within the city, such as a school to a park.

As a result, “it’s been piecemeal,” he said. “That’s what we are hoping to get away from.”

Meredith said he thinks the city should “look to close the gaps.”

That would entail allocating city funds on an annual basis, such as is done for sidewalks and road repaving, to complete a full greenways “ultimate loop” around the city, he said.

Meredith suggested allocating $300,000 for the first year and $400,000 in subsequent years to finish the loop.

“We’ve built the loop for 20 years, now is the time to complete it,” Meredith said.

“Now,” however, is a relative term. “It may take 10 years ... it may take 20 years,” he said.

Commissioners signaled their support for moving forward with the effort, with Dana Beasley-Brown saying that for young professionals considering moving here, “this is the sort of amenity they are looking for ... it’s a big selling point.”

• There was also a lengthy discussion about needed changes to the city sign ordinance, which is currently not in compliance with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

That ruling in an Arizona case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, boils down to mandating that a government’s sign laws must be content neutral and regulate all signs in the same manner. The ruling means cities cannot differentiate between a house for sale sign, a sign for an event or a candidate’s sign, for example.

The ruling has municipalities across the country modifying their sign laws.

Neighborhood and Community Services Department Director Brent Childers presented an outline of possible changes to the city’s sign ordinance.

One change that drew consensus approval was to ban all signs in rights of ways, unless they are put up by governmental entities such as the city, state, Convention and Visitors Bureau or Western Kentucky University.

There was much discussion and no consensus, however, on how to regulate signs on private and commercial property.

“That’s where it gets complicated,” Childers said.

Reacting to the possibility of restricting private property owners on how many signs, and how large they can be, they could display on their property, Beasley-Brown and commissioner Sue Parrigin said they were not in favor of strict restrictions on private property.

After much discussion, it was decided that more feedback from stakeholders would be gathered for further discussion at a later time.

• Another item that drew lengthy discussion was the city’s policy of leasing sidewalk space to downtown businesses – primarily restaurants – for their patrons.

The discussion regarding possible revisions to city policy were spurred by some noise complaints and issues of litter and public drinking around downtown.

Commissioners voiced a consensus to change the sidewalk lease policy to mandate that establishments erect non-permanent barriers to contain the portion of the sidewalk they are allowed to use. The city will provide guidelines as to what the barriers must look like.

There was also a consensus to only lease the sidewalk space to establishments that make less than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales.

Commissioners also voiced support for looking at changing the city policy on voting on a first reading of ordinances. While state law mandates that an ordinance be presented at two different meetings, it does not mandate that a vote be taken on the non-binding first reading, according to City Attorney Gene Harmon.

Beasley-Brown said the current process is “confusing for the general public,” with many people thinking an ordinance is final after a first vote.

But Parrigin said the public “deserves to know how we feel about something.”

The consensus was to move ahead and consider changing the policy at a future board of commissioners meeting.

Growing English learner population, new state standards challenge BGISD
 Aaron Mudd  / 

From housing insecure students who change schools three times a year to implementing new state academic standards, Bowling Green Independent School District leaders gathered Monday to hash out possible solutions.

In a meeting that spanned more than two hours and ultimately resulted in the district’s school board adopting a new districtwide improvement plan, school principals shared their own plans, celebrated milestones and owned their areas for improvement.

Superintendent Gary Fields set the tone at the start of the meeting by proclaiming his hope that school leaders leave with the ability to discuss district goals in specific ways with the community.

The meeting’s big themes included equity for all students and aligning school curricula with new state standards. The state standards outline what students are expected to know before graduation – but not how learning experiences should be crafted or which resources should be used.

Elisa Beth Brown, the district’s director of instructional programs, said much of the work in this year’s plan will be a continuation of goals in the previous year’s plans.

“The work over the past year confirms last year’s work was the right one,” Brown told the group at the district’s central office. “It’s just something that takes many years to complete.”

With revised standards in reading, writing, math, social studies, health and physical education this year, the district has been making adjustments.

“The state, in all its wisdom, gave us lots of new standards all at once,” Brown said. “But our teaching staff has been exceptional.”

Additionally, while the state is introducing new content standards, it’s testing students this year on the previous standards. That’s led teachers to walk a fine line, Brown said.

“The teachers have had to be very careful about what they’ve taught this year,” she said.

Since last March, BGISD has been working to bring its school curricula in line with the standards. That includes developing new assessments and other tools the district wants to have in place by the start of the next school year.

In recent training sessions, teachers have been working to translate esoteric concepts like “number sense” into concrete learning goals for students, like mastering multiplication.

Starting Aug. 1, Brown said, “every teacher will know exactly what to teach and in what order to teach it.”

District leaders hope these efforts will lead to more equitable outcomes for students across the board, from special education students, English learners and other student groups.

One big challenge is a significant population of transient students who often move around and switch schools because of their parents’ struggles in making rent.

“We’ve had students that come to us that within one year they’ve been to three different schools, and so you’re having to play catch-up,” said Kory Twyman, principal at T.C. Cherry Elementary School.

Schools continue to struggle to fully meet the needs of the district’s large and diverse English learner student population. With about 4,000 students in the district, roughly 17 percent are classified as English learner students, and that doesn’t count those who are still being monitored before they can fully shed the label.

Officials said more than 50 languages are spoken in the BGISD’s schools. Bowling Green is a hub for refugee resettlement, and it’s not unheard of for students age 17 or 18 to enroll in school with no previous formal education.

D.G. Sherrill, director of pupil personnel for BGISD, said district leaders have been searching for other school districts to emulate, but so far too few have proven to be as diverse.

“I think we’ve all been searching for who’s got this figured out. No one’s got this figured out,” he said.

And since it isn’t a statewide issue, it’s not on the radar of lawmakers, Fields added.

“It’s not a priority for anyone at the state level,” he said.

Alexandra Richardson

Homeless count to be conducted Wednesday
 Don Sergent  / 

It’s not the U.S. Census Bureau count, but a smaller-scale head count coming up Wednesday will have similar repercussions.

The Kentucky Housing Corp.’s annual K-Count will be conducted statewide Wednesday, and about 30 volunteers in the Bowling Green area will be involved in trying to tally up an accurate count of people who meet the KHC’s definition of homeless in the local community.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the K-Count as a condition of funding for its homeless service programs, making this head count nearly as important as the decennial census that determines congressional representation and affects different types of funding.

“Funding (from HUD) is based on actual numbers that we count, in the same way that the census determines funding,” said Sharli Rogers, coordinator of Bowling Green’s Room in the Inn program that partners with churches to provide shelter and meals for the homeless. “We’ll do everything we can to come up with an accurate count.”

Pam Hurt, assistant director of Barren River Area Safe Space and coordinator of Bowling Green’s K-Count, said it is a “point-in-time” count that gives a snapshot of homelessness on a given night.

The K-Count only counts those people who meet HUD’s definition of literally homeless, meaning an individual or family must have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation or is living in a shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements.

Finding those people can be challenging, and that’s where the local volunteers come in.

“We’ll be beating the bushes,” Rogers said. “We’ll go to some known camping spots, and we’ll count all the Room in the Inn folks on Wednesday night. We’ll try to get Salvation Army information, and we’ll have several events planned for that night to get folks out so they can be counted.”

Shaye Rabold, continuum of care planning administrator for the Kentucky Housing Corp., said the KHC receives more than $20 million annually from HUD and then disperses that to local communities.

“Local agencies have to apply to KHC for funding,” Rabold said. “We don’t put funding in areas unless there’s data to support it.”

And bigger numbers don’t necessarily mean better funding.

“It used to be that the higher the numbers were, the more funding you’d get,” Rabold said. “Now HUD is looking for progress. You might not be able to show a reduction in the total number, but you might show progress in certain sub-populations.”

Rabold said the K-Count data is broken down by gender, families, military veterans and other categories that can be used when applying for HUD’s emergency solutions grants, rapid transition to housing grants and other programs.

“Housing is the ultimate solution to homelessness,” she said. “Shelters are important, but we need to move people back into permanent housing. It’s difficult because housing is becoming so expensive.”

That emphasis on progress would seem to bode well for Warren County. Last year’s K-Count showed the county with 121 homeless people, a drop from the 2018 figure of 162, which was an increase from the 2017 figure of 151.

“I would love for the numbers to be down again,” Rogers said. “But I expect the numbers to be at least what we’ve had in the past if not more.”

Room in the Inn isn’t HUD-funded and relies on donations and the participation of local churches, but Rogers said agencies like BRASS, HOTEL Inc and LifeSkills can benefit from an accurate K-Count that leads to more funding opportunities.

“Getting good numbers is important,” she said. “It’s important for us to know how big the problem is.”