While the final FrankTalks event of 2019 featured a panel of leaders who shared things to know for 2020, in the midst of an unforeseen pandemic and nationwide racial justice movement, Franklin Tomorrow revisited the idea of “people to know in 2020” during its virtual event Monday.
Mindy Tate, executive director of Franklin Tomorrow, and Allena Bell, board president of Franklin Tomorrow and member of the Franklin Special School District Board of Education, welcomed Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, Williamson County Health Director Cathy Montgomery, Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray and Strong Tower Bible Church Pastor Chris Williamson to give an update on the goings on of Franklin.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists and organizers stressed the importance of wearing masks. Nichole Volk, director of marketing at Williamson Medical Center, gave a brief update on the hospital, sharing that not only is it important to continue taking precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it’s also important to spread hope.
“Things are good here,” Volk said. “We’re starting to see a little bit of a decrease in our COVID patients here, so masks are working.”
Moore reminded listeners that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee renewed his executive order allowing county mayors to require masks in public places, which was followed by Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson’s renewal of the county mask mandate, now effective through Saturday, Aug. 29.
This mandate requires people to wear masks in Williamson County public spaces and businesses, with certain exceptions such as when eating or drinking. Moore said Franklin has some “bad actors” in the business community and encouraged residents to consider which places are following the governor’s Tennessee Pledge protocols.
Moore shared the county has seen a roughly 2.9% drop in active COVID-19 cases. As of 2 p.m. Sunday, the active case count is 1,250 (0.52% of the population).
However, Montgomery said the county’s testing rate, which has consistently been one of the highest in the state, has also dropped from an average of 600 to 800 tests per day to about 200 per day over the last couple weeks.
“We’ve been trying to dispel some theories that maybe it’s people not wanting to test because they don’t want positives to start increasing so kids can go back to school,” she said.
She explained the wait time for test results has also reduced down to three to four days after having been backed up to about seven to 10 days when the testing rate was higher.
Moore also said the party buses spotted in Franklin and Brentwood over the weekend after Nashville Mayor John Cooper banned them from Nashville are “not welcome.”
“Not only were they not welcome, also, some of them got citations for open containers on streets and also for the noise ordinance,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an effect on another major process this year: elections. Gray said with over 38,000 ballots cast in Williamson County, representing about 23% of registered voters, Aug. 6 concluded one of the highest August primary turnouts since the late 1990s. In fact, the August primary featured the third-highest turnout in the last two decades, behind August 2002 (31.5% turnout) and August 2018 (29.6% turnout).
However, this year, an unprecedented percentage of the votes were cast by mail due to a Nashville judge’s ruling that by-mail voting should be open to anyone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gray said a little less than 25% of the votes were mailed in compared with a typical percentage of less than 2% in Williamson County.
The voter registration date for the Nov. 3 general election is Oct. 5, and early voting begins Oct. 14.
Switching gears, Williamson shared about Strong Tower Bible Church, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next month, explaining the importance of multiracial congregations.
“Segregation was never the heart of God. Those were the kinds of sins men put on God,” he said. “Going back to when slavery began, it was really the love of money which created the root to all kinds of evil, including enslaving men and women from Africa, so there were people who put into their theology a form of racism as if God had OK’d this and even authorized this kind of ill treatment towards a certain segment of people.”
He shared that while fostering a multiracial church is not easy, his goal is to show that it can be done because “heaven will not be segregated,” and he hopes that cultivating love “across economic and racial and cultural lines” will show that the gospel is real.
Williamson is also one of the founders of the Fuller Story initiative in Franklin, which has worked to put up five markers around the Franklin Public Square, one describing the Battle of Franklin and four sharing the experience of African Americans during the Civil War. Next year, the group plans to install a U.S. Colored Troop statue in front of the historic Williamson County Courthouse across from the square.
“There’s been a progression in our country to right many of the wrongs of the past, and a lot of it has to do with representation,” he said. “So, in Franklin, we’ve been fighting to make sure there’s a representation of a fuller story — the truth to be told.”
He explained not only has he been working with the Fuller Story to install physical markers and cultivate cross-racial relationships through his ministry, but he has also worked with the community, specifically the Battle of Franklin Trust, to teach that “the root cause of the Civil War was, in fact, slavery — it was economical.”
He said he is happy to see so many in the community getting on board with the Fuller Story initiative.
The next FrankTalks event will take place on Monday, Sept. 14, at 9 a.m. To learn more about the organization, go to FranklinTomorrow.org.