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published on 11/15/2005

N N S – Never Neglect Seatbelts

By staff writer

Councilmembers Robert White, Lizetta Paturalski, Bob Linehart, Steve Ruffin, and Mayor Bill Leonard joined acting town manager Diana Campbell, town attorney Phil Noblett, and a full room of interested citizens, friends, and many members of the Natalie Sitton family at the monthly meeting of the Town Council for the Town of Signal Mountain, Monday, November 14, 2005.

Mayor Bill Leonard opened the meeting with a prayer and after some official business including approving the annual service of the Humane Society, two resolutions were before the council concerning memorializing Natalie Sitton, the young woman who died in an automobile accident in September. Before reading the resolutions, Mayor Leonard gave a brief history of the events occurring to date concerning the cross (made and placed by Natalie’s schoolmates) marking the spot where Natalie died on Shoal Creek Road. The final event being a special meeting which included portions of the Sitton family, town officials, and local resident Judge Bob Moon, a friend of the Sitton family the Friday before the Town Council meeting. The result of that meeting were the two resolutions coming before the Council that evening.

Before reading them, Judge Moon asked to speak and announced that the Sitton family had decided that what they had agreed upon on Friday was no longer necessary and instead would like to just put a stone up as a marker with a plaque. The purpose for the stone is two-fold, according to Natalie’s uncle Brian Sitton, who spoke on behalf of the family. One is to honor Natalie and the other to remind youth in the community of what can happen when you drive and don’t buckle up. According to Judge Moon, the family feels that her death has convinced hundreds of students to buckle up and that is why they are raising money to create the armbands saying, “NNS” meaning Never Neglect Seatbelts (also Natalie’s initials).

Mayor Leonard allowed members of the audience up to three minutes each to speak. During this time the Sitton family apologized to the Mayor and town for any misunderstandings, residents of Carriage Hill called attention the safety hazard the cross is creating on the road, and others expressed compassion to the family while expressing concern for the precedent being set that night.

Members of the Town Council followed up with their comments and it was finally determined and voted upon favorably that the mountain stone, provided by the family would be placed along the road in an area which is maintained by the Signal Mountain Garden Club’s Beautification Committee (Marilyn Garner, Colleen McCall, and Wanda Lacey) only with the committee’s approval and oversight of the project. At this point, Brian Sitton asked if the cross could remain until the stone is in place to which Judge Moon responded and town attorney, Phil Noblett agreed, that now that the Town knows the cross is a hazard to safety, the town is libel if there were to be an accident and so it must come down as soon as possible. The family agreed and a date later in the week was set to close the road for the family to gather and grieve once again and remove the cross in private.

Trish Steel, a member of the Garden Club reminded all that the Beautification Fund receives money in honor or memory of people and contributions would be used to help the committee with the placement of the stone on Shoal Creek. (Editor’s note: If you would like details on how to do this, email me at .)

All parties agreed that compassion and concern and respect had been evident throughout this whole process and no one was quite sure how the many different rumors got started but it was clear from the comments made that statements taken out of context and then reported on in the media and online were the catalyst in this whole affair. Natalie’s grandmother, Ann Sitton, asked for closure and Mayor Leonard agreed.

The meeting continued with a presentation by Councilmember Bob Linehart on the study he and acting town manager, Diana Campbell, and Loretta Hopper from the town public works department created on the 57 different properties the town owns and maintains. The study is available at the Signal Mountain Library and burned on a CD, which Councilmember Linehart can provide for anyone interested.

Lou Oliphant reported on the Planning Commission meeting November 10th noting that the Planning Commission heard from the Regional Planning Agency (RPA) at that meeting and were going to follow-up with another meeting to hear and study in detail the RPA’s options for development in Shackleford Ridge Road area. Councilmember Robert White added that he was at that meeting and noted that Hamilton County Wastewater Authority (WWTA) director Mr. Henry Hoss was present and said that option three of the RPA study was in his opinion, the only option the WWTA would build sewers to the area. Mr. White went on to say that current town ordinances related to development would not allow for the building of a community like Old Towne which is one of the most popular neighborhoods in the Town of Signal Mountain. (Editor’s note: Look for details of that Planning Commission meeting titled, “SM Planning Commission Hears Growth Study.”)

Tina Close, current president of the Signal Mountain Newcomers, invited the Town Council and residents of the mountaintop to attend the annual tree lighting at the Mountain Arts Community Center on Friday, December 2nd at 6:00 PM.

Councilmembers addressed the audience. Councilmember Linehart read a letter which he sent to the Signal Mountain Mirror (abridged) and is posted in full on the Signal Mountain Community web site on his opinion of growth within the Town of Signal Mountain.

Councilmember Lizetta Paturalski addressed the young people in the audience reminding them that Natalie is still with them in their hearts. She praised them on their efforts to raise money for the armbands, but suggested they also consider planting a tree or creating a garden at Red Bank High School in memory of Natalie so that students will remember her and how she died.

Finally, Mayor Bill Leonard closed the meeting by thanking his colleagues on the council for their patience during these past few weeks and expressed his sadness that a very private matter became public and grateful for everyone who helped resolve the issue in such a compassionate and caring manner.
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