Ozark County Commissioners designate April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, discuss projects

The Ozark County Commissioners signed a proclamation Monday designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the county. The proclamation was prompted by advocates from Christos House, a non-profit agency aimed at helping domestic and sexual assault victims in Ozark County and several other nearby counties. Pictured, from left: Christos House advocate Ginger Chalmers, Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins, Presiding Commissioner John Turner, Western District Commissioner Layne Nance and Christos House advocate Kenya Cook.

The Ozark County Commissioners’ weekly meeting Monday morning lasted just under 30 minutes but covered a wide variety of topics. The public meetings are open to anyone who would like to attend.


Rock spread at conservation areas

Presiding Commissioner John Turner said the eastern and western district road-and-bridge crews have begun  their yearly rock-hauling work for the Missouri Department of Conservation areas within the county.

“The conservation commission pays for the rock, and we apply it,” Turner said. “They get graveled about every year.”

Western District Commissioner Layne Nance said he only has one conservation commission job on his side of the county. That project includes graveling County Road 116 in the Romance area; that road leads to the public hunting area of Caney Mountain Conservation Area. Nance said that road was completed recently.

Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins said his side of the county has several conservation commission projects, including County Road 308 that leads to Cook’s Landing and County Road 328 that leads to Warren Bridge, both on Bryant Creek, and County Road 107, just north of Gainesville, which serves as another access to the Caney Mountain Conservation Area and gun range. 

“I’ve started on mine, but we’ve still got several ton left to haul,” Collins said. 


Haskins Ford

When discussing old business, Nance said that, with the projected 3 to 5 inches of rain forecast for this week, he expects the upper reaches of Bull Shoals Lake will rise again, closing County Road 863 at Haskins Ford. 

“It’s been creeping up anyway, hasn’t it?” Turner asked. 

“Just a little… but you know, we get a big rain, and it’ll be right back up to where it was with the water over the road,” Nance answered. 

He said his road-and-bridge crew will be monitoring the weather and will make sure the signs and boulders are up, signaling the road closure when the water is too high to cross Haskins Ford. 

Nance said last time the water was high, they waited until the ford was unknowingly uncrossable. Water in “the little dip” located toward the center of the nearly mile-long crossing made it impossible for crews to get to the other side to install the extra boulders that serve as an additional warning of the road closure.


TAC meeting, Highway 5 reshouldering

Turner gave a short report on the Transportation Advisory Commission (TAC) meeting he attended last week in West Plains. The meeting gives area commissioners and other officials in the region a chance to discuss and suggest upcoming highway roadwork projects.

During last week’s meeting, Turner said all the roadwork projects occurring this year, including the realignment of Highway 160 at the Tecumseh curves, the widening and addition of roadway shoulders to Highway 160 from Gainesville to Caulfield, and the addition of a left-turn lane off Highway 160 at the Gainesville Elementary School, had been discussed during previous year’s TAC meetings. 

The one Ozark County project that was discussed during last week’s meeting, Turner said, was a project to add 2-foot-wide shoulders and “rumble strips” on Highway 5 from Highway 160 to A Highway in Douglas County. 

The South Central Ozark Council of Governments recently announced on its Facebook page that the Highway 5 shouldering project had moved from SCOCOG’s regional planning framework to MoDOT’s draft statewide transportation improvement program. The project is scheduled for 2022.


Tecumseh curves

The commissioners also discussed the blasting operations that began late last week at the Tecumseh curves construction site. They remarked on how different the area looks now through that stretch of roadway, saying the removal of the trees and dirt in that area has made the road’s curves more pronounced. 

“You can tell now where the curves are,” Collins said. “Kinda looks like a race track through there.”

“I’m hoping, in the long run, it will save lives and make the drive to West Plains more enjoyable,” Turner said. 


Windows paid off

“The note for the courthouse windows has been paid off,” Turner told his fellow commissioners. 

He said the county had borrowed $62,037.23 in Dec. 16, 2004, to replace the courthouse’s old windows with newer, more energy-efficient models. The last payment on the note was made this month, leaving a paid-in-full balance. 

“That’s been a good project… putting all new, more efficient windows in,” Turner said. “Of course, it’s 15 or 16 years old now, but it was a good decision for the county to have those more efficient windows all these years.”


New phone systems

Turner said Grennan Communications is scheduled to return to the courthouse over the next few days to continue its work installing a new phone system in the courthouse. 

Currently, and in the past, each office in the courthouse has been responsible for its own specific telephone line and its own internet service and other communications. That caused the county to have several different bills, which led to issues with the phone company applying the correct payments to the multiple accounts. 

The individual lines also created a hassle for county employees when answering the phone from callers who actually need another office in the building. Instead of being able to transfer the call, they must give the caller the number to the other office and hope they are able to finally connect with the office they need. 

The new, integrated phone system, which uses “voice over IP” technology, uses the internet to place and receive calls. All courthouse offices will be connected within the new system, and officeholders will be able to easily transfer calls between offices. 

The installation of the phones does incur the county some upfront cost, but commissioners say the monthly savings will quickly add up.

“I just looked at my office,” said Ozark County Clerk Brian Wise, who takes minutes for the meeting. “We pay 200-some-odd dollars for our phone and internet package. It’ll be going to just $75 a month.”

Wise said he’d calculated the savings and the upfront costs of the phone system, and the county will have enough in savings to pay for the phones in just over a year. 

“We’ll start saving considerable amounts of money and have better phone systems and internet with all kinds of capabilities. It’s been a long time coming,” Turner said. “It’ll be very, very good for us.”


Friday closures 

Collins said the commissioners had a minor “issue” last Friday when a large load of grader blades was delivered on Friday, a day when the county’s road-and-bridge crews are off. The crews work four 12-hour days Monday through Thursday.

“I had to call someone in to come open the gates,” Collins said, referring to the chainlink fence that surrounds the county’s road-and-bridge shed and the recycling center. 

“It worked out, but it sure couldn’t have if someone wasn’t available,” Nance said. “When we bid those blades, I remember you looking right at him and saying, ‘Any day but Friday will work.’”

“He’s probably like me and just didn’t have his hearing aid working that day,” Collins said, laughing. 

Nance smiled and said, “I know, but I’m going to call him after while anyway and harass him about it.”


Extension employees 

Missouri Extension employees Taylor Young and Alicia Amyx-Winrod attended the meeting as guests. During the citizens’ comments period at the end of the meeting, Young gave the commissioners a certificate that certified the Extension office had elected new officers and council members to the Missouri Extension Council back in March.

Winrod gave a short update on the “snack program” she’s conducting with the Bakersfield fifth grade class. The program, funded through a grant, has the class picking healthy recipes, learning about food safety and using those skills to craft a classroom cookbook. 

“We’ll be finishing our cookbook soon, and I’ll bring you all a copy. The kids are super proud of what they’ve done,” she said. “They’ve picked their recipes, and they’re in the design stage now. . . . They’re having such a good time.”

“Now, that’s cool,” Collins said. 

“The participating rate has just been phenomenal,” Winrod said. “These kids have been taking these recipes home and cooking. I had one kid who came up to me and told me he’d cooked for his little brother, who’s 4.  He made the healthy-choice pizza recipe. It’s made from a wheat tortilla instead of flour, and there’s very little oil, just a non-stick skillet with spray. So it’s way healthier than the Pizza Pocket in the microwave.”

Winrod said the student’s mother told his teacher later that he wouldn’t start until all the food safety objectives were in order. 

“He had to clean the kitchen, sanitize the surfaces, his little brother had to wash his hands, and he had to watch,” Winrod said. “The whole food safety thing – the participation has been great, and they’re retaining this stuff.”


Second-hand compliment

In addition to her update about the cookbook project, Winrod passed along a compliment she had heard at the Ava Town & Country Supermarket when she was conducting a program there recently.

“There was a gentleman who came through and was participating. We were talking about food and so forth…,” Winrod said. “When he found out I lived in Ozark County, the first thing he could say was about our roads. He said he couldn’t believe how good the roads were taken care of.”

Winrod said the man said he lives in the western district of the county.

“He says he lives way down a county road, and he’s been used to living in Douglas County, and he’s lived many other places too…. He said he’s just so impressed since living in Ozark County and seeing how well his road is maintained,” Winrod said.

Nance said the commissioners appreciate the nice comments. He added that he’s heard several nice comments through the years. 

“We hear it a lot,” he said. “And I’m still green at all this [being a commissioner], but if they’d sit on this side of it and see just what we’ve got to work with, they’d probably be even more thankful that they’re as good as they are. I mean, considering what we actually got to work with money-wise.”

Nance said he doesn’t take credit and instead gave credit to the road-and-bridge crews.

“I’m not saying it’s because it’s me, but I think we do a pretty good job with the revenue we got,” Nance said.  

“Well, he was raving and raving about how well the maintenance was, and personally speaking, I can say the same thing, and I’m in the other district,” Winrod said, referring to her home on the east side of the county.

Turner said the crews aren’t working with the best land either. 

“We have hills and hollers and bald glades,” he said. “So we don’t have the best country to work with. We’re not all flat and perfectly gridded out with the roads. The roads, they just go where they go. So we had to build up to where we are.”


County roads of the past

“I remember how they used to be, potholes just solid,” Collins said. 

Nance agreed, remembering his early years in Ozark County.

“I tell people they should’ve seen those roads up there where I lived as a teenager and little boy,” Nance said. “In the wintertime, in the freezing and thawing, you wouldn’t get a four-wheel drive [vehicle] down there, never a car,” Nance said. “[Now] you could pretty well take a car on any road we got unless it’s flooding or something. I mean, in my lifetime, they’ve improved so much.”

Turner said another advancement in the county’s roadwork includes winter-weather work.

“We do some snow removal in the wintertime, which is something that, up until the 90s, they never did, grading the roads for snow. When it snowed, it just stayed on there until it melted,” Turner said. “That’s just the way it was. You just had to put on a set of chains and head out in it back then. There was no such thing as the county removing the snow. We’ve done that the last 20 years, and now it’s expected somewhat.”

“Even when I was on the grader and worked for [former Western District Commissioner] Greg [Donley], he said ‘The good ones we don’t remember because they never complain, but the bad ones…,’” Nance said. “There’s a whole lot more good comments than there are bad ones. There’s a few bad ones that try to bring you down once in a while, but for the most part as a whole, everybody’s pretty decent here.”


Christos House advocates for sexual assault awareness month

Just as the commissioners meeting was wrapping up, Kenya Cook and Ginger Chalmers, advocates with Christos House, arrived for a proclamation signing. 

Christos House is a nonprofit agency that helps victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The agency’s main office is in West Plains, but the group services Ozark and several other counties in the area. 

“This proclamation designates April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Ozark County,” Cook said. 

“Absolutely,” Turner agreed. 

Cook gave the commissioners a quick update on the agency’s upcoming move.

Cook gave the commissioners a quick update on the agency’s upcoming move.

“We’re moving our office and resale shop into the old Daily Quill building on Jefferson Avenue [in West Plains],” Cook said. “The resale store is going to be back in the back part, and then the front part where all the big windows are is where the advocate offices will be – the director’s office, the accounting office…. So we’ll all be right there in the front.”

Cook said the move should help victims of domestic violence who are scared to come to the office to seek help.

“The concept is to put us all under one roof. We’ve had ladies, and even men, who’ve had trouble reaching out for help or resources because they’re terrified,” Cook explained. “Now they can say, ‘Hey, I’m going to run into the resale store.”

Cook says the victim can then ask the resale store’s staff to talk with the Christos House advocates to receive help for domestic or sexual assault and abuse. 

“So our offices are kind of sealed off from the resale shop. That way we can just keep it as quiet as we can. A lot of women live in fear so much, it’s hard for them to get in to have us help them. And where we’re located now, it’s not that discreet. So I think it’ll help,” Cook said.

The agency is hosting an open house at its new location from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 1. Everyone is welcome.

Christos House offers outreach services for victims such as rent, utility cost and clothing, an emergency shelter, community resources, including a diaper program and parenting classes, financial aid, shelter and improvement classes, among other services.  

For more information, visit christoshouse.com or call the West Plains outreach office at 417-256-3408. Victims of domestic violence are encouraged to call the Christos House 24-hour hotline anytime at 800-611-5358. The national domestic violence hotline can also be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE. 

Ozark County Times

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