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First day of early voting yields positive experiences

A long line extending around the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center awaited voters Tuesday morning at the start of the state’s first day of early in-person voting.

Despite the initial wait time, the line swiftly narrowed as more than 30 voting machines were available in SKyPAC’s lobby.

A steady stream of voters filtered in and out of the lobby throughout the day with no major problems.

Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates said her goal for early in-person voting in the county is more than 20,000 people. Warren County has 86,766 registered voters, according to the State Board of Elections.

In Warren County, SKyPAC will be open for in-person voting each weekday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and from 8 a.m. until noon on the three Saturdays leading up to the Nov. 3 Election Day.

Despite the number of open days available over the next three weeks, voter John Cady, 85, took advantage of his good health and the nice weather Tuesday to complete his 2020 ballot.

“I think it’s good we have this with our current health issues going on,” Cady said. I think it’s a good idea. It was fantastic. I was expecting a long line and to wait and wait. Everything is set up very good in there. I had a question, but they took care of me very quick. It’s much quicker than the voting I did last time.”

Cady also said he was comfortable voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers and voters at SKyPAC wore masks, and voting booths were socially distanced by at least 6 feet to ensure that large crowds of voters would not be crammed closely together.

For voter Tanya Feagins, taking the opportunity to vote early in-person was a way for her to avoid large crowds on Election Day.

“I didn’t want to be around a lot of people because I’m taking care of my mother, who is elderly,” Feagins said. “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t come into contact with anything that would affect her. She was able to vote by mailing her ballot in.”

Feagins said Tuesday’s process was “very easy, very swift and very effective.”

Jonathan Ashby, 42, decided to come vote after a friend told him the lines were small and moving quickly.

“I feel like the lines are going to get longer as time goes on,” Ashby said. “It was really simple. I felt like it was painless. I think everyone needs to vote. It’s very important to have your voice heard. A lot of people fought for this, and we have this ability in our country.”

Those wanting to cast their vote in-person on the traditional Election Day will have more choices Nov. 3 than they had in the June 23 primary, when Phil Moore Park was the only polling place in Warren County.

On Nov. 3, Warren County voters can go to one of six locations to cast their ballots: SKyPAC, Warren Central High School gymnasium, Living Hope Baptist Church gymnasium, Phil Moore Park, Ephram White Park and Buchanon Park. Those polling locations will be open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

BG murder suspect returns to court

The attorney for a man charged in the death of his girlfriend’s son told a judge Tuesday he would need time to review evidence in the case with his client.

Harold Bell, 52, appeared via Skype for a pretrial conference in a number of criminal cases.

Bell is charged with murder, first-degree assault, first-degree wanton endangerment and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon.

He is accused of shooting Desmon Cunningham, 32, of Bowling Green, late April 24 or early April 25 outside the Woodford Street home of Cunningham’s mother.

During the hearing, Bell’s attorney, Ken Garrett, said he received 22 CDs of discovery evidence in the case from Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron and required time to go over the evidence with Bell, who is in the Warren County Regional Jail.

“The jail is limiting attorney visits to 30 minutes at a time, so it’s going to take some for me to go through the discovery with him,” Garrett said.

Warren Circuit Judge John Grise set a pretrial conference for Jan. 19.

Grise also revoked Bell’s probation from an unrelated 2017 conviction for trafficking in marijuana and trafficking in synthetic drugs, and imposed a five-year prison sentence in that case.

Bell emerged as a suspect in Cunningham’s death after witnesses reported seeing the two become involved in a physical altercation.

Bowling Green Police Department Detective Sean Johnson testified at a preliminary hearing this year that Bell pulled out a handgun and attempted to strike Cunningham with it during the encounter, and that Bell fired a shot from the ground that struck Cunningham in the chest.

The bullet also passed through the forearm of Travious Russell, who Johnson said was trying to intervene in the altercation.

“Everyone scattered and started running,” Johnson said at the May preliminary hearing. “No one knew the full effects of what happened until the next morning.”

Police were contacted the next morning after Russell found Cunningham’s body.

Bell was located April 25 in Jefferson County, Ill., and arrested by law enforcement there.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

Helena Chase Birdwell

Virus-related shutdown of litter pickup prompts complaints

From increased expenses for the election to the growth in litter on streets, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt in Warren County.

As if they didn’t already know, Warren Fiscal Court magistrates heard examples of just how serious those impacts are during Tuesday’s meeting at the Warren County Courthouse.

John Helveston, who lives on Moorman Lane in Plum Springs, complained about the increase in litter along that street that connects to Louisville Road.

“It (litter) has been an ongoing issue,” Helveston said, “and it’s getting worse. When the coronavirus scare first started, this road was beautiful. There was no trash.

“The minute the lockdown was lifting, there was litter on the road. There are people on this road who won’t pick up the trash on their property. It pretty much looks like a pigsty now,” he said.

Helveston implored the magistrates to help alleviate the problem, but the pandemic has made it impossible to implement the usual solution of having Warren County Regional Jail inmates clean up the mess.

With a number of the state’s jails and prisons hit with COVID-19 outbreaks, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has forbidden the use of inmates on work details outside those facilities.

“We’ve had several calls from people requesting trash pickup,” Warren County Jailer Stephen Harmon said. “Under normal circumstances, our crews would be out there. But since March we’ve had no inmates outside the facility.”

The result can be seen simply by driving county roads, said Fourth District Magistrate Rex McWhorter, who represents the Plum Springs area.

“I was out there (Moorman Lane) Sunday, and there was trash along the road,” McWhorter said. “In the past, we had to get inmates out there once every couple of months, but now we can’t.

“I feel sorry for those people. I know it (the litter) is a detriment. I don’t have a solution other than the residents picking up the trash.”

Harmon said the jail normally has five road crews operating, responding to calls to pick up litter along county and state roads. Last year, Harmon said, those crews picked up more than 10,000 bags of litter.

The jailer said cessation of the program was mandated by the state, and he believes that mandate has helped keep COVID-19 out of the jail.

“We’ve been blessed so far,” he said. “Our staff and inmates have done a good job of keeping the virus out of the facility. We’ve not had any known cases in our inmates.”

While saying that he wants to reinstate the road crews, Harmon believes now is not the time.

“The main thoroughfares and streets like Moorman Lane are suffering,” he said. “People are mad because their street looks bad. I understand that. We want to get the program back, but we want to do it safely.”

Although powerless to address the litter problem for now, the magistrates did take some action Tuesday to address another pandemic-related issue: the added costs of the general election.

Magistrates voted to grant authority to Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon to sign a $570,360 grant agreement with the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that received a $300 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to promote safe and reliable voting in states and communities during the pandemic.

The county has already received election-related funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, but Buchanon said “there aren’t enough CARES Act funds to take care of everything.”

The county clerk’s office is faced with the added expense of extended in-person voting that started Tuesday, expanded absentee voting and added safeguards that must be put in place at six polling places on Election Day.

“We’re going to have to spend a great deal of extra money to provide election services,” Buchanon said. “With the additional costs, we’re looking for every opportunity to access additional funds.”

The magistrates also approved issuing industrial revenue bonds of up to $80 million as an inducement for Canada-based Nova Steel to locate a plant in Warren County.

Although based in Canada, Nova Steel has plants in Michigan and Mexico.

In other action Tuesday, the magistrates:

  • approved spending $2,850 to Boyd Cat for a snow pusher attachment for the track loader at Basil Griffin Park.
  • approved spending $9,956.08 to Miracle Recreation for four outdoor basketball goals at the Jennings Creek facility.
  • approved an expenditure of $3,700 to CelleBrite USA for renewal of a software agreement for the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force.
  • adopted the execution of a $80,000 Rural Secondary Road program agreement with the state Transportation Cabinet for drainage structure replacement for Little Beaver Creek.
  • approved spending $5,985.79 to Buck Electric for work on the NCTC broadband internet project at Phil Moore Park.
  • approved spending $1,293.09 to R.E. Michael Co. for a replacement furnace for the drug task force building.
  • approved the purchase of 55 Glock 9-millimeter firearms, at a total cost of $19,635, for the county jail’s deputies.
  • approved purchasing two cordless electrostatic backpack sprayers and two cases of spray from Staples in the amount of $3,325.98 for use at the old Alvaton gymnasium, the Ephram White Park senior center and other locations.
  • approved the $2,695 purchase of five Stearns i810 Surface Rescue Dry Suits.
  • approved spending $1,062.12 to Causey’s Collision Center for repairs to a Ford F350 truck at Buchanon Park.

The next fiscal court meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28 at 9 a.m.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

WKU tackles renaming issue in ongoing campus talks

After Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni announced this semester that WKU will reexamine “problematic” names on campus – particularly those tied to former slaveholders – a group of students and staff is taking up the topic through ongoing talks.

Molly Kerby, an associate professor and assistant provost at WKU, recently led one of the deliberative dialogue events, which was held over Zoom and aimed to foster open conversations about race and racism in a structured setting, she said.

Although the group discussed possible solutions to the renaming issue, Kerby said it is not actually working with a separate university task force charged with exploring options for university leadership to consider.

WKU spokesman Bob Skipper told the Daily News on Tuesday that the group hasn’t met since Caboni announced its formation in August.

“The purpose is not for an outcome,” Kerby said of the deliberative dialogue events. “These are about just having conversations. The president has a task force that’s looking into this.”

Instead, Kerby said the event aimed to help students and staff unpack a complicated topic and achieve some shared understanding about it. Participants broke out into groups and worked with moderators to facilitate the discussion.

“It’s just to give people an exercise on how you come to a consensus about something. How do you come to a consensus when you have a conversation?” Kerby said.

To help guide the conversation, Kerby looked at how other universities have reckoned with namesakes linked to slavery and submitted several hypothetical proposals for the group to consider. George Mason University, which recently grappled with the legacy of its slaveholding namesake, acted as one case study, Kerby said.

“I knew that they decided not to change the name of their university, but they opened a center and a memorial fund,” Kerby said, adding that other universities have outright removed controversial names or responded in other ways.

Going forward, and with a similar event planned for next month, Kerby said she hopes the talks will enable more open conversations about race and racism on campus.

“I want to see if we can raise the bar on that a little bit,” she said. “How comfortable are you about talking about these situations?”

Mitch McConnell