School security made a high priority

Officers at MCE

Johnson County Sheriff Office deputies Adam Worley and Robert Gwinn at Mountain City Elementary School. Photo courtesy of the Johnson County Sheriff Office

Once again due to the issue of school safety at the forefront of not only the news but the minds of students, parents and staff, Sheriff Mike Reece will begin this week utilizing all resources possible to help protect our elementary schools with extra security.
Beginning Monday, March 19, 2018, Sheriff Mike Reece will be rotating an officer atthe elementary schools at random times for the remainder of the year. The officer will spend an allotted time at each school throughout the day. The sheriff will be using off duty officers during school hours to provide the extra security. Off duty officers will sign up for the extra shifts and will be paid at their overtime rate. However, this should not interfere with the budgeted amount in the officers salary line item, as there were times this year that the department was short on officer staff. So with the remainder time left of the school year, they should not go into overages in salaries. The sheriff also has reserve deputies who have offered to volunteer their time to sign up for some of the shifts in which there would be at no extra cost at all. Our School Resource Officer will continue to stay at the high school and middle school.Without the funding for now, the sheriff feels this is the best thing that he can do to help as this time.

Hopefully before the start of the next school year, there will be funding available to provide additional officers for the schools. Until then, we will make a presence known at each school so that the students, parents and staff can be assured that we do care and we want them all to feel safe and secure with no worries of simply just going to school.
— Press release from JCSO

Weapons, drugs, cash found during routine traffic stop

Eugene Waters

By Tamas Mondovics
During an investigation into possible drug activity on March 11, 2018, Mountain City Police officers Thomas Brown, and Lieutenant Clifton Worley made multiple traffic stops, one which of a car with expired registration that resulted in an arrest.
Following a consent search of the vehicle, in which Eugene Waters, 30, of Carter County Tennessee was a back-seat passenger, MCPD officer Brown found a handgun, methamphetamine, suboxone, and a large sum of cash, totaling $4,600.
According to MCPD, officer Brown arrested Waters and received consent to search Waters’ Mountain City motel.
Upon arrival, officers noted two more individuals from Carter County in the room, and while the two were not charged, the search resulted in the discovery of an AR style 9mm pistol as well as .45 cal 1911npistol.
The officers reported that both firearms were loaded and had extra ammunition.
The search also resulted in officers finding a ledger book containing transactions from the sale of drugs.
Waters was charged with Possession of Schedule II drugs with intent to Sale or deliver, Possession of Schedule III with intent to Sale or deliver, and Possession of a weapon in the commission of a Dangerous Felon.
The investigation is ongoing related to drug trafficking in the area.

Shupe sentenced

The following is a news release from Department of Justice

Ronald Shupe

“GREENEVILLE – On March 19, 2018, Ronald Glen Shupe, 44, of Butler, Tennessee, was sentenced by the Honorable J. Ronnie Greer, U.S. District Court Judge, to serve 37 months in federal prison for possession with the intent to distribute oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, and the use of a firearm during and relation to a drug trafficking offense. Shupe was a lieutenant with the Mountain City Police Department at the time of his offenses. Upon his release from prison, U.S Probation will supervise him for three years.
According to information on file with the U.S. District Court, in 2016 and 2017, while serving as the third-ranking member of the Mountain City Police Department, Shupe bought and sold oxycodone pills, supplied pills to another Mountain City Police Officer, and used controlled substances, including methamphetamine and pain pills. In one incident, a confidential witness reported that in 2017 she gave Mr. Shupe an intravenous injection of methamphetamine while he was in his patrol car and on duty. In November 2017, Mr. Shupe purchased oxycodone pills for distribution from another individual working on behalf of law enforcement. During the transaction, Shupe was in full uniform, driving a Mountain City Police car, and armed with a department-issued Glock pistol and ammunition.
“Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect the public and uphold the law. The U.S Attorney’s office will prosecute vigorously those that choose to violate that trust by committing crimes, especially while on duty and in uniform,” said J. Douglas Overbey, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Renae McDermott, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Knoxville Division commented, “Citizens have the right
to expect that law enforcement officers act legally and in accordance with the law.
The FBI is committed to ensuring that all violations of the law are aggressively investigated.”
Agencies involved in this investigation included the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gunn represented the United States in court proceedings.”

Johnson County Emergency Management promotes weather readiness at home and work

By Tamas Mondovics

Johnson County Emergency Management (JCEM) has once again joined forces with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Johnson County Schools to help area residents to be weather ready for the upcoming spring and summer season.
The agency located at 216 Honeysuckle St., in Mountain City is led by JCEM Director Jason Blevins was proud of promoting severe weather preparedness week held annually.
Officials emphasized that National Severe Weather Preparedness Week is a nationwide effort that is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).
This year’s weeklong event from Feb. 25-March 3, 2018 was designed to increase awareness of the severe weather that affects everyone as well as encourage individuals, families, businesses, and communities to know their risk, take action, and be an example.
“We wanted to specifically focus on urging residents to review their personal emergency preparedness at home and work,” said Johnson County Emergency Operations Officer, Michael Sumner.
And, for a good reason.
In a press release, JCEM emphasized that despite advance warnings many people are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes and other types of severe weather each year. “Severe weather knows no boundaries and affects every individual. Because of this we are committed to helping educate our citizens, and we’re calling on you to be “Weather-Ready,” the release read, adding, “Knowing your risk, taking action and being an example are just a few steps you can take to be better prepared and assist in saving lives.”
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), severe weather in the state of Tennessee has claimed at least 11 lives and injured nearly 40 more in 2016. Weather events have cost the Tennessee more than 26 million dollars.
JCEM officials zeroed in on the approach of spring and summer as the appropriate time for everyone to monitor the weather. “This is when thunderstorms develop in the area that can develop rapidly and with little warning,” Sumner said.
Sumner added that during the week JCEM tested its communications systems, while the Johnson County School system participated in tornado drills at area schools. The event joined a statewide effort.
“We also did a live radio show on WMCT, discussed information about severe weather and provided education on various ways to get weather alerts,” Sumner said.
Thanks to technology, smartphones have become one of the best places to get weather alerts as various websites provide as many apps to receive alerts.
Of course, the local media weather services and the
national weather service
are all excellent sources to
get the heads up on the forecast.
Officials pressed that knowing the risk is only the first step to becoming weather-ready as severe weather comes in many forms and that a shelter plan should include all types of local hazards.
The second step, of course, is to ‘Take Action,’ which according to officials means to develop a family communication plan, putting an emergency kit together, keeping important papers and valuables in a safe place, and getting involved.
Another way to prepare is to be an example by sharing personal readiness with family and friends on YouTube, Facebook, commenting on a blog, or sending a tweet.
“Don’t wait until an emergency to make a plan,” Blevins said. “It is better to have one that you have developed and practiced so when the need arises you can take care of you and your family,”
You can visit for more on family preparedness for severe weather.
Residents can also sign up for weather alerts from the National Weather Service by visiting,
Any organization or group who would like an Emergency Preparedness presentation should contact us at

Mayor wants closure on proposed youth activity center project

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Parsons wants closure on proposed youth activity center project
In other business, Mayor Parsons asked the board to decide on the proposed youth activity center, which has been discussed at length for many months. “We are going to have to make a decision to either move forward or backward,” he said.
Kimberly Harper presented the group with drawings of a building concept along with a list of final cost estimations so the board could make a decision.
She explained that Danny Herman had made an offer on behalf of the estate, which owns the property to let the town purchase the lot at half of the appraisal value with him donating the remaining cost. “He has said that if he can get a commitment from the city, he will turn the deed over and the town can take however long needed to pay,” said Harper.
Shaw informed the group that an appraisal had already been done and included in the lease agreement, which was approximately $260,000.
The group was informed that time had become an issue for deciding what to do about the property. “We cannot get any grants or get inmates to paint until the property is in the Town of Mountain City name,” explained Parsons, while Harper added, “People who are donating want to get something set so they can move forward with other things they have going too.”
Alderman Bob Morrison requested that a final price is determined for the property and a decision is made at the next meeting when the aldermen would have had ample opportunity to review the costs and how much time would be needed to pay the town’s commitment if it was decided to move forward.
The next meeting of the Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen will be on April 3, 2018. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall located at 210 South Church Street.

Edes-King headed to Mars Hill






By Tim Chambers

Tomahawk Sports Editor

It’s only fitting that one Longhorn would become a “Lion” after being one of the “mane” cogs on this year’s 11-1 football team. Jordan Edes-King will take his talents to Mars Hill University after signing a grant and aid to play football for them on Wednesday in front of a large gathering inside the school library.
Edes-King was a two-sport standout in football and basketball, and both teams had banner seasons.
He logged 91 tackles on the football side that included 13 sacks. He also had nearly 200 yards receiving as a tight end, and those numbers might have been more had he not been so team oriented.
The senior standout moved into the offensive tackle slot late in the year after the starter at that position went down with an injury.
Head football coach Don Kerley praised him for his efforts.
“We are very proud of Jordan and all the things he has done for this school,” said Kerley. “He’s probably started all four years in some capacity on the football field. He’s been a
solid player, dependable and willing to play wherever we needed him. He played a big role in us going undefeated
during the regular season and winning a first-round playoff game. Mars Hill is getting an excellent student-athlete and leader. It will be a good fit for him.”
Edes-King was also a blue-collar worker on the basketball court averaging 10 points per game and seven rebounds. He was also among the leaders in East Tennessee at drawing charging fouls.
“Jordan is the type of kid that every coach wants on their team, said head basketball coach and athletic director Austin Atwood. “He’s always willing to do the little things to help his team win. He rebounds, takes charges and plays much bigger than his size. He’ll do what it takes to make himself a player. You couldn’t ask for a better kid to have on your team.”
Edes-King moved here from West Palm Beach, Florida his eighth-grade year and since has fallen in love with the mountains. He said that Mars Hill felt like the perfect fit.
“It’s so close to home, and my family will get to watch me play,” said Edes-King. “Asheville is only 15 miles away, and I love that size town being from a big city. Coach Kerley said that God puts us where he wants us to be and I believe he put me at Mars Hill. It has everything that I was looking for in a school. I’m very excited about becoming a Lion.”
Edes-King laughed about trying to adjust from West Palm Beach to Mountain City.
“I came in wearing my colorful shoes, and people here had on jeans and boots. I adjusted to the culture pretty fast and fell in love with everyone.”
Like Nathan Arnold, Edes-King said his senior season is one he’ll always remember.
“It was quite a ride being ranked third in the state and going 11-1,” he said. “Then we turn around and win 22 games in basketball. I think our senior class raised the bar a bit. I hope it’s the start of many good seasons to come.”
Edes-King thanked Coach Jordan Bray and Assistant basketball coach David Arnold for what they did to further his career.
“Coach Bray was the one who gave me my start and believes in me,” said Edes. “I was thinking about giving up football my junior year, and Coach David told me to stick with it. He let me know that it was my ticket in sports to college. I owe a lot to both of them.”
Edes is the son of Robin Edes and Jason King. Both parents were happy with his selection.
“I’m happy with the school because it’s close by with a beautiful campus and good academically,” said Robin.
Jason added. “He’s worked hard for this. He does the things to help his team win and stats really have never mattered. That’s what we’ve always tried to teach him.”
Edes-King hopes to play some next season but could redshirt depending on the circumstances.
“They only had one tight end, and he’s probably going to move out to wide receiver. I’ll do whatever it takes to get out there and compete. I don’t care to put a lot of extra work. I just want to show everyone that I can do this.”
Fitting words from a man whose blue-collar work ethics will blend in with his blue colored uniform next fall.

Farmers Market future location in question

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Another group looking for more room is the Johnson County Farmers Market. Mayor Parsons informed those in attendance that the previously mentioned plans of a proposed shelter to be added to the park for use by the market and the general public was now off the table due to the discussed area being in a floodplain and unsuitable for construction. “It is in the flood zone so we will not be able to do anything with putting a building there,” explained Parsons. “Unless we get this looked at and changed, which you can do, but I don’t know how much time that would take.”
Farmers Market Manager Jana Jones was on hand to discuss alternatives for the market as it heads into the 2018 season. “Everybody is asking where we are going to be,” Jones said. “April 2, is our vendor meeting.”
Alderman Bob Morrison expressed his understanding of the time constraints on the market and need to have a location determined. “You need to know so you can tell them,” Morrison said. “It would be weird meeting somewhere on Saturday and then back and forth. The first few months is when you get things going.”
The market was hopeful to use the paved area behind the park’s pavilion to conduct their weekly market activities. City Recorder Sheila Shaw saw some issues with the pavilion already being promised to other groups throughout the spring and summer. “I have had several people already reserve the stage area for events on Saturday,” she said.
Jones inquired about the use the area after the market vendors were gone by noon. Bellamy and Shaw, however, both pointed out that some groups use the pavilion for all-day activities and the limited area could not support two things going on at once.
Parsons suggested the market look at locating on the opposite side of the park entrance. “What about that area to the left the parking lot for the playground area,” Parsons asked. “We aren’t saying this would be permanent, but at least you would be able to set up without any conflicts with the stage or with team practice times.”
It was determined that allowing the market to set up their vendor tents against the newly constructed fence along the Goose Creek Trail would be the best solution for the time being. “If something should happen, a big issue or something, we reserve the right to say ‘sorry that isn’t going to work there’,” Parsons said.
“We can always go back to the parking lot at the courthouse,” Jones agreed.

JCMS Robotics Teams win state,headed for world competition


By Tamas Mondovics

Following its success of earning a Judge’s Award and a Tournament Champion win at the competition in Dandridge last month, the Johnson County Middle School Robotics Team looked confidently to compete in the state tourney earlier this month. As expected, the students did not disappoint teachers, parents, fellow students and robotics fans after winning the State Competition in Brentwood, Tennessee on March 2, and 3, effectively earning a trip to the Vex Robotics World Championship. JCMS’ Joco Robos are one of four teams in the state to make the cut and represent their school and community. The event will once again take place at the Kentucky Exposition Center 937 Phillips Ln., in Louisville, Kentucky, starting with the VEX Robotics Competition and VEX U portion of the event on April 25-28, 2018, followed immediately by VEX IQ Challenge portion April 29-May 1. Presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, the tournament brings together top robotics teams in the VEX IQ Challenge, VEX Robotics Competition, and VEX U under one roof.

According to tourney officials, the competition celebrates the participating students’ accomplishments as it includes 160 top teams from events held in cities around the world from June 2017 to March 2018. The teams will play the current VEX Robotics Competition game, In the Zone. As it was reported by The Tomahawk last month, JCMS’ Robotics Teams have won many awards and titles including, The Sportsmanship Award, the Robot Skills Champion Award, three Tournament Champion Awards, and two Design Awards. The Design Award and a first-place win at their competition in Clinton, TN on February 10th and a Design Award and Skills Award at the Dandridge Competition on February 17 earned the program a chance to clinch the state title and advance to the world championship. Team A members are Dillon Long, builder, and driver; Brandon Sutherland, programmer; Jackie Jensen, journalist. Team B members are Wyatt Decker, programmer and driver; Damon Thompson, builder; McGreger Barnhill, journalist. With no prior knowledge of robotics, the students have mastered the designing and building their robots along with their programming and modifying code. Ahead of the state tourney JCMS team sponsor and teacher, Susan Quave, emphasized her confidence in her students when she said, “We have six first-year robotics students, and it will not surprise me if we make another trip to the World Competition.”

Way to go JCMS.

Kidnapping Update: Judge upholds murder charges; case goes to grand jury

By Tamas Mondovics

The Mountain City, TN courthouse was again packed last Wednesday in connection with the ongoing case of the kidnapping, beating and possibly killing of North Carolina man, Carlton Lamar Edmonson, 29 over $700. Two weeks ago, prosecutor, Dennis Brooks upped the charges to murder against the suspects, a request that Johnson County General Sessions Judge William Bliss Hawkins upheld sending the case of the three suspects-Michael Stacey May, 39, James Parker Combs, 31, and Brittany Michelle Arnold, 25, to a Johnson County grand jury. With more charges pending, a key piece of evidence—Edmonson’s body still missing—the three now face charges of first-degree felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion and aggravated assault. Two cell phone videos recovered from the defendants’ phones showing the victim pleading for his life, then being kicked in the head falling into the snow and laying motionless with temperatures hovering in the low 20’s was enough for the judge to do his job. The videos are believed to have been shot in Trade, Tennessee while arrangements for ransom were being made. Officials said that at least one of the suspects claim that the victim was alive when they left him, but Edmondson has not been seen or heard from since. No trial dates have been set.

Recent arrest reveals widespread drug issues

Donna M. Eastridge and Nathan Severt

By Jill Penley

Officers and investigators with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department arrested two individuals on drug charges last week after serving a search warrant at 10950 Highway 421 South in Mountain City. Officers were able to identify two adult males, an adult female and a juvenile female at the residence, which contained methamphetamine, monies, and firearms. One man, identified by officers as Nathan Severt, 20, of Jefferson, NC, is now facing charges of possession of Schedule II drugs as he was arrested with methamphetamine on his person. The adult female, Donna M. Eastridge, 52, of Mountain City was also charged with possession of Schedule II drugs for resale, possession of schedule VI for resale, maintaining a dwelling where narcotics are sold, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Severt’s bond is set at $35,000, while Eastridge’s is set at $120,000. The investigation is ongoing according to Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece.

While rural leaders and local law enforcement continue to deal with the illegal manufacturing, distribution, and use of methamphetamine, the opioid crisis is also slamming the area hard. “Abuse of methamphetamine and opioids continue to keep us busy,” said Mountain City Police Chief Denver Church, who points to the need for a collaborative way to keep track of abusers. “With Johnson County bordering Virginia and North Carolina, it increases the need for a better federal tracking system that all law enforcement agencies could utilize.” State leaders, too, are finally addressing the glaring drug problem as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced a major multi-faceted plan, dubbed TN Together, to combat the state’s opioid problem to the tune of $30 million. “This is a crisis that knows no boundaries and impacts many Tennesseans regardless of race, income, gender or age,” said Haslam. “Our approach will be aggressive with provisions to limit the supply of opioids and significant state and federal dollars to provide treatment to those in need.” The TN Together initiative is reportedly based on a three-pronged approach focusing on prevention, treatment and law enforcement aspects of the opioid epidemic.

The prevention approach for dosage of prescription opioids, limiting initial prescriptions to a five-day supply with daily dosage limits. “Higher dosages of opioids have been associated with higher risk of overdose and death while proving ineffective at reducing pain over the long term,” according to the plan. State and federal funding will increase towards treatment and recovery services as part of the treatment prong of the plan. For the treatment approach, more than $25 million will be spent in state and federal funds for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid disorders. The final aspect of the plan will focus on updating the schedule of controlled substances to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs.

Officials promise to enforce law in combating countywide litter problem

County Litter problem 3


By Marlana Ward

Freelance Writer

The people of Johnson County have always taken great pride in the natural beauty that their mountain home affords.
While most seek out ways to preserve the landscape they have been blessed to live within, damaged roadways and waterways littered with garbage and unwanted goods are common.
A ride down any county road will give evidence of the careless and disrespectful actions of individuals who would ruin the region’s naturally beautiful surroundings.
Litter along roadways is made up of several different types and causes, and no part of the county is immune to the plague of trash. “It is consistent throughout the county,” said Road Superintendent Darrell Reece. “It mostly consists of fast food bags, wrappers, cans, and bottles.” Property owners within Johnson County can attest to the abundance of those mentioned above as most have had to take time out of their busy schedules to clean trash a passerby has tossed from their window and into their lawn.
County Litter Control Officer Sandy Hammons shared the sources of the county’s litter when she said, “Some toss it out of their windows here and there, but there are also paid trash haulers who refuse to tarp their loads. I have watched one of these trucks lose four bags as I traveled behind him in Trade.”
People who choose to throw garbage out their window or fail to secure trash properly during hauling may believe that their portion of the litter is insignificant. When numerous people share that same sentiment, the amount of refuse builds and the trash collected becomes a heavy load.
Hammons said that the most recent trash pick up by inmates totaled 1,720 pounds in Sink Valley; 1,720 pounds in Big Dry Run; 800 pounds along Lakeview Drive, and 840 pounds on Antioch Road from the turnoff at 421 to the top of the hill.
“Based on recent litter pickups, we have been averaging 20 full (30 gallons) bags per mile,” Superintendent Reece added.
Over ten years ago, Johnson County began the Litter Control Department to try to combat the pollution along roadways. The continued support of the Litter Pickup and Litter Prevention Education Grant allows the county to not only improve the litter situation but also work in conjunction with the 2007 Tennessee Litter Law.
Under the Litter Law, offenders are subject to fines, jail time, and permanent criminal records if convicted of malicious littering. The problematic part of enforcing these judgments comes with the inability to identify the offenders. Most convictions can only come when names are found on pieces of refuse. “If I find a name,” Hammons stated, “I can work with the District Attorney to prosecute.”
Hammons encourages residents who hire someone to haul their trash to make sure that the business, which picks up their garbage, securely tarps the loads because if the resident’s name is found among the litter along the roadway, they could be held responsible.
According to Tennessee’s Litter Law, the amount of litter as well as the intent of the litterer is taken into account when sentencing is determined.
For example Section 39-14-503: Mitigated Criminal Littering is defined as less than five pounds or 7.5 cubic feet of material and is subject to a misdemeanor charge and $50 fine. Section 39-14-504: Criminal Littering includes five to ten pounds of material and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor with a sentence of $500 in fines with additional court costs, public service pick up, work in the county recycling center, and possibly six months in jail. A conviction of Aggravated Criminal Littering (Section 39-14-505/6), which includes over ten pounds or over 15 cubic feet of trash, is punishable with a $2,500 fine, 160 hours of public service, and could include up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.
While litter is found on every roadway and elicits complaints from residents and visitors alike, finding the funds and time to collect the garbage is difficult. “With the Highway Department staff being limited in numbers and designated to county road maintenance, there are limited opportunities for assistance in litter control,” Reece said.
Also contributing to the litter problem within the county is the mindset that there is nothing wrong with throwing trash from one’s window. “I have heard multiple times ‘I’m just giving the inmates something to do,’” stated Hammons. This way of thinking affects the youth of the county, and Hammons hopes to bring litter awareness programs back to the county schools with the education funds allowed under the grant. “I am working towards having a program that includes a magician who helps teach the kids about littering,” said Hammons. “Making it fun helps it to stick with them later in life.”
Fighting litter in Johnson County is a responsibility for all citizens to share. “It will take the total support of the county, and I would like to see more people involved to solve the problem,” said Reece. “I’m open to any suggestion or support from anybody wanting to address the litter problem in the county.”
Hammons wants to encourage residents to take an active role in preventing and collecting litter in the area. “Volunteers are always welcomed and appreciated,” she said. “I am at the Recycling Collection Center on Mondays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and would love to talk with anyone interested.”
Hammons also asks that anyone who is unable to discard their garbage appropriately due to finances to speak with her. “If you cannot afford trash pick up, please come speak with me. Just please do not throw your trash out along the road.”

Farmers Market Preparing for Spring Move

Local vendors and visitors exchange pleasantries during the Winter Farmers Market at the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center. The event is scheduled to move to its new location this spring. Photo by Dennis Shekinah.

By Jill Penley

Freelance Writer

Since its founding in 2009 as a non-profit to aid in strengthening and sustaining the local agricultural and food economy, the Johnson County Farmers Market has been looking for a place to call home.
The initial years, fresh local produce, local handmade crafts, homemade bread, jams, and jellies were offered in the Shouns community utilizing a borrowed Quonset hut.
In 2012, the county board of commissioners unanimously approved the use of the large parking lot adjacent to the courthouse for the weekly farmers market.
“These locations have served us well as the community has supported us in good weather and not so good weather,” said Jana Jones, JCFM manager. “But, we have longed for a permanent, covered space to call our home that would allow customers to shop out of the rain and ease vendors’ fears of their tents being blown away by wind gusts that can occur out of nowhere here in the mountains.”
After getting approval from the city council to relocate to Ralph Stout Park Last year, the Town of Mountain City, with the help of the Johnson County Farmers Market, applied for a USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Grant and a Rural Business Development Grant in hopes of funding the planned pavilion to serve as the permanent home for the JCFM on Saturday mornings.
For the remainder of the time, the pavilion would serve the community as a beautiful timber-framed picnic shelter.
“The footprint of the shelter will be over 3,000 square feet and will complement the existing stage construction,” Jones said. “Architect and Engineer Eric Nordmark has designed a beautiful timber-framed pavilion and will be working with General Contractor Alan Hammons to gather bids for the project.”
Jones further explained the design, which is made up of two 30’X50’ buildings set at an angle that is attached to the center by the roof structure covering. The location at Ralph Stout Park will be behind the existing stage in the grassy area below Highway 421.
Until spring temperatures allow, the newly-established Johnson County Winter Farmers Market is located in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center from 9 am to noon every Saturday between now and the end of April.

County Roads takes center stage during this week’s commissioners meeting

By Marlana Ward

Freelance Writer

The courthouse’s upper courtroom was occupied by only fifteen members of the public on Thursday, February 15, as the men and women who represent the county came together to make decisions on public policy and financial obligations.
Residents of Eldridge Lane came before the commissioners seeking the adoption of their road into the county’s road system.
Since 1995, the number of homes built along the private lane has increased. Consequently, traffic has grown as well, and according to residents, the increase in travel along the stretch of road has led to hazardous travel conditions.
“Our families do not want to come visit us because they cannot get up the hill,” Eldrige Lane resident Joey Falls told the group.
Another resident of the neighborhood, Jennifer Campbell came forward to speak about the conditions of the lane. “I drive a Dodge Durango,” said Campbell. “I cannot go up the hill without scraping.”
County Road Superintendent Darrell Reece came forward to address the situation and answer questions posed by the commissioners and residents.
Due to the way the land was divided and developed, the road leading to the homes has been the responsibility of the property owners and never part of the county’s official road system.
When asked the length of the portion of Eldridge Lane which was in question, Reece responded: “I don’t know exactly how long it is. I cannot get my truck up that hill to measure it. County maintenance ends at the group of mailboxes.”
Reece went on to list some of the improvements which needed to be made to the lane to improve travel.
“Drainage is a major issue,” he explained. “There would need to be at least three or four culverts installed which would have to turn the water onto the homeowners’ property.”
While Reece and the commissioners sympathized with the plight of the Eldridge Lane residents, they had to make the homeowners aware of the conditions of the county accepting the road as part of their maintenance responsibilities.
“It is up to the property owners to bring the road up to code before we can accept it,” Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff stated. “They can come before the Planning Commission but the road has to be brought to code, and they also have to have 22 feet of roadway surface and 40 feet of right of way.”
It was made clear to the homeowners that the road would have to meet all of the current road codes at their own expense before the county could consider the annexation of the roadway.
Campbell expressed her gratitude at being heard and the advice of the officials when she said, “At least this is a step in the right direction.”
While he had the commissioners’ attention, Superintendent Reece took the opportunity to ask their recommendations for two problems which continue to plague the county road program. The first he presented was the ever-increasing litter problem alongside all county roads.
“The inmates picked up trash along Cold Springs Road and gathered over 100 bags of garbage,” he said. “On average, they pick up 100 to 120 on every county road. It really looks bad for the county. I hoped that you all would have ideas of how to help the problem.”
County Attorney Perry Stout said that prosecution of litterers was difficult unless a name was found on the trash.

Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff reminded the commission about a program which once helped bring the amount of litter down. “The Litter Control Officer used to visit the county schools and talk to the kids about litter,” said Grindstaff. “It did seem to make some headway, but the program was cut out.”

Another commissioner mentioned how some people justified their discarding trash out their car window as giving the inmates something to do and how that mentality hurt the county. Several commissioners spoke in favor of finding ways to help the county’s litter problem.

The second problem Reece asked for recommendations combating was the destruction and theft of county road signs.
“We have installed over 800 signs since I have been in office,” Reece said. “Some of the same signs have been put up six times. Missing signs are bad for 911 and law enforcement. It is also bad for visitors traveling at night.” When asked if the department had tried installing cameras at the high-theft locations, Reece stated, “One sign we put up and installed a camera to watch for a month. We took the camera down, and the sign was stolen that very night.” Commissioners expressed they would continue to consider ways to try and improve the situation.

At 7:46 pm, Commissioner Chairman Mike Taylor announced that County Attorney Stout had requested an executive session be held and the group dismissed themselves to a private meeting. The commissioners, county mayor, and county attorney went into another room and met for approximately nine minutes. The regular commission meeting resumed at 7:56 pm.

The next meeting of the Johnson County Commissioners will be on March 15, 2018. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Brooks ups charges to felony murder in kidnapping case

By Tamas Mondovics


The three suspects in the kidnapping and beating of Burke County, North Carolina man Carlton Lamaar Edmondson, 29 awaited their preliminary hearing last week in expectation of their cases to be sent to a higher court. But then, things got interesting in the Mountain City Courtroom.

Prosecutor Dennis Brooks asked the judge to approve raising the charges against Michael May, 39, James Combs, 30, and Brittany Arnold to felony murder. The judge agreed, and bond was set at $250,000.
Brooks’ move raised the charge against all three suspects to first-degree murder although the body of Edmondson has not yet been found.
The three, currently held in Tennessee. Three others also involved with the case are held in North Carolina. All six suspects are accused of kidnapping Edmondson and taking him to a wooded area near Trade, Tennessee and beating him.
According to law enforcement officials while the beatings, two of which was recorded on video were taking place, the suspects were demanding ransom from the victim’s family.

Investigators said that Edmondson could not have survived his injuries and believe that the victim’s body may have been left in the woods near Trade TN.
Johnson County Sheriff Michael Reece confirmed that K9 units have searched for the victim in the Trade area several times, but have not been able to locate the victim.
“We have searched the region three times so far,” Reece said, adding “The suspects are not talking and have not pointed the way.”
Edmondson’s parents Robert Pearson and Lanisha Kincaid said the family also wants answers, need closure and are hopeful that authorities will be able to find their son.
The three suspects now facing murder charges will be back in court next week.

Farmers Market Preparing for Spring Move

Local vendors and visitors exchange pleasantries during the Winter Farmers Market at the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center. The event is scheduled to move to its new location this spring. Photo by Dennis Shekinah.

By Jill Penley

Freelance Writer

Since its founding in 2009 as a non-profit to aid in strengthening and sustaining the local agricultural and food economy, the Johnson County Farmers Market has been looking for a place to call home.
The initial years, fresh local produce, local handmade crafts, homemade bread, jams, and jellies were offered in the Shouns community utilizing a borrowed Quonset hut.
In 2012, the county board of commissioners unanimously approved the use of the large parking lot adjacent to the courthouse for the weekly farmers market.
“These locations have served us well as the community has supported us in good weather and not so good weather,” said Jana Jones, JCFM manager. “But, we have longed for a permanent, covered space to call our home that would allow customers to shop out of the rain and ease vendors’ fears of their tents being blown away by wind gusts that can occur out of nowhere here in the mountains.”
After getting approval from the city council to relocate to Ralph Stout Park Last year, the Town of Mountain City, with the help of the Johnson County Farmers Market, applied for a USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Grant and a Rural Business Development Grant in hopes of funding the planned pavilion to serve as the permanent home for the JCFM on Saturday mornings.
For the remainder of the time, the pavilion would serve the community as a beautiful timber-framed picnic shelter.
“The footprint of the shelter will be over 3,000 square feet and will complement the existing stage construction,” Jones said. “Architect and Engineer Eric Nordmark has designed a beautiful timber-framed pavilion and will be working with General Contractor Alan Hammons to gather bids for the project.”
Jones further explained the design, which is made up of two 30’X50’ buildings set at an angle that is attached to the center by the roof structure covering. The location at Ralph Stout Park will be behind the existing stage in the grassy area below Highway 421.
Until spring temperatures allow, the newly-established Johnson County Winter Farmers Market is located in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center from 9 am to noon every Saturday between now and the end of April.


The many ways of buying locally grown food pays dividends

The popularity of organic foods and stores that cater to customers who prefer such foods continues to grow, and that growth has contributed to a growing awareness among shoppers of where the food they eat comes from. Many consumers now recognize the impact that food production has on the environment, and that recognition has spurred interest in locally grown foods.
Locally grown foods are those that are grown within your community or a community nearby. Such foods do not need to be shipped hundreds of miles before they ultimately find their way onto your plate, and many people find that contributes to meals that are more fresh than meals made up of foods shipped from afar. But freshness is not the only benefit to purchasing locally grown foods, which pay various dividends for people and the planet.
· Locally grown foods benefit the environment. The phrase “field to plate” is significant to consumers who prefer locally grown foods. That phrase refers to the distance food travels from the grower to the plate on your dinner table. Estimates vary depending on the source, but advocates of locally grown food suggest that it reduces the field to plate distance by an average of 1,300 miles. That’s a significant feather in locally grown foods’ cap, as the Council on the Environment of New York City notes that it takes 435 fossil-fuel calories to fly a single five calorie strawberry from California to New York. Buying locally preserves that energy that is used to transport foods from afar.
· Locally grown foods fuel your local economy. In addition to benefitting the environment, locally grown foods stimulate your local economy. Local, independent farmers have largely fallen by the wayside in the 21st century, as industrial agribusinesses have taken over the produce sections in grocery stores across the country. But local, independent farmers are making a comeback, thanks in large part to consumer demand for organic foods. Supporting such farmers who grow their foods locally means you’re putting money back into your own community, a worthwhile effort at a time when so many small communities are struggling economically.
· Buying locally grown foods contributes to biodiversity. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 75 percent of agricultural genetic diversity was lost in the 20th century. That’s thanks in large part to industrial agribusinesses that cultivate fruits and vegetables that are bred for fast maturation. But small, local farms typically grow a wider variety of fruits and vegetables in an effort to extend their growing seasons. That means consumers of locally grown foods have access to more fruits and vegetables, and therefore more flavor.
· Buying locally maintains beautiful landscapes. Farmland has been on the decline for decades, as cement and asphalt have made millions of acres of once beautiful farmland disappear. Buying locally helps to maintain the green space your community and surrounding communities have left. That makes for great road trips and even helps to sustain local wildlife populations.
· Locally grown foods can be more nutritious. Fruits and vegetables can rapidly lose nutrients once they are harvested. That’s problematic when buying such foods from industrial agribusinesses that need substantial time to get their products from the farm to the shelves at your local grocery chain. But buying from local farmers increases the likelihood that the fruits and vegetables you purchase were just picked and therefore have yet to lose a significant amount of nutrients.Locally grown foods are growing in popularity, and that popularity can be traced to the freshness of such foods as well as the numerous additional benefits that locally grown foods provide

STARLED takes steps to ready spec building for business

Garry Garoni, chairman of STARLED, along with his wife, Lauren Pechacek, and Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter shoveling the first of the concrete being poured at the facility in Doe.

By Paula Walter

Concrete was poured this past week at the spec building in the Doe Valley area of Johnson County. STARLED, Inc. is about to begin operations in Johnson County. Mayor Larry Potter had been actively looking for businesses to come to Johnson County and utilize the large spec building that had been empty for years.
According to Garry Garoni, chairman of STARLED, approximately 20,000 square feet of concrete was poured last week and it is expected another 30,000 additional feet will also be laid. The endeavor began at midnight last Tuesday and work went on well into the early hours of the morning.
Cinderblock has also been laid on the outside of the building as offices and a show room will be added onto the facility. Currently, bathrooms and a training room are in the process of being built inside the facility. “It’s all happening,” Garoni stated. STARLED is anticipating an opening in early April. “It’s all coming together,” he added.
STARLED manufactures and distributes light emitting diode (LED) lighting products for both commercial and residential space, as well as marine and automotive use. The company provides energy efficient products that are also environmentally safe. LED lights are energy saving as they use 90 percent less energy than ordinary light bulbs. They last 25 times longer than standard bulbs, and offer better lighting. LED products are a cost effective way of saving energy. The amount of savings depends on the space to be lighted. A LED bulb reaches a temperature of 90 degrees, a dramatic drop from a standard light bulb at 400 degrees. The company guarantees its products for five years.
STARLED has been in business for more than 10 years with offices around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Southeast Asia. They are currently manufacturing in China and now they are preparing for operations to begin in Mountain City. Johnson County is in a prime location in the country as STARLED has warehouse districts in Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, as well as Minnesota.
An economic fast track grant of $275,000 was available to help cover some of the costs of preparing the building to start production of the LED products. STARLED has a long-term lease of 20 years, along with an option to buy. “This is a big commitment to our county,” Potter previously stated. “We appreciate Mr. Garoni entering into a long-term partnership with Johnson County.”
At this time, two employees have already been hired It is expected that there will be 10 employees needed to get the business off the ground, but it is anticipated that there will be 50 jobs in the Johnson County location in the first year. After finding a senior manager to begin operations, a team of people will be built from there, including senior management, assembly workers as well as a warehouse manager.

Want a simple wedding? There are many options to formal ceremonies

Johnson County Clerk Tammie Fenner is the first stop for those wanting to tie the knot in Johnson County.

By Paula Walter

The office of Tammie Fenner, Johnson County Clerk, is typically a busy place. Not only does the office register and title vehicles, provide license plates and registrations and renewals, but also it is the place to come to obtain a marriage license.
In order to obtain a marriage license, you need to bring some form of picture identification that shows your birthdate. “We encourage you to bring your birth certificate,” Fenner stated. Proof of Social Security number is also required for both the bride and the groom. You do not need to be a resident of Tennessee in order to be married in the state.
Applicants also need to provide the bride and groom’s parents’ names and their places of birth. There is no waiting period once your marriage license is issued if the couple is 18 or older. Those 16 to 18 must have the consent of both parents or next of kin. There is a waiting period of three days for those applicants. Licenses are only good for 30 days and can be used anywhere in Tennessee. Both parties must be present in order to obtain a marriage license.
In addition to ordained preachers, there are other officials in the county who can perform marriage ceremonies. These include Fenner as the county clerk, any current county commissioner, any past commissioner, county mayor, former judge or anyone who is an ordained minister.
There is a fee of $102 for the marriage license. However, you may participate in a premarital preparation course that will reduce the cost by $60, dropping the cost of the license to $42. The course must not be less than four hours and it must be completed a maximum of one year prior to the date of application for the license. Couples may attend separate classes, but if they do, each party will need to provide a certificate of completion. Tennessee does not certify or provide a list of providers. The names of those who meet the qualifications to provide premarital preparation courses can be found at or check in a local phone book. The website does not guarantee those listed are willing to provide the premarital course. Check with your preacher or counselor to see if they offer the premarital preparation course.
According to Fenner, applications for marriage licenses peak in the summer months. “It’s always busy around Valentine’s Day,” Fenner said. “There are not a whole lot of applications in the winter.”
There are more civil marriages performed in Johnson County than church marriages by approximately 60 to 40. In 2017, there were 152 marriage licenses issued.


Area hospitals increase restrictions because of flu epidemic

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. and KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System have increased visitation restrictions at all their hospitals this week due to the severity of this year’s flu season, both locally and across the country.

To protect patients, team members and physicians from potential exposure, hospitals are asking the following individuals to refrain from visiting patients at this time:

Anyone who has flu-like symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, fever, chills, runny nose, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Anyone younger than 18
Any groups of more than two adults per patient

“This is a level of restriction we have not done before, but it’s important to understand the risks this flu season are higher than normal,” said Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Mountain States. “These restrictions match what is being done in many other parts of the country, as hospitals are seeing not only higher volumes of flu cases, but also more severe illness. The predominant flu strain circulating throughout our area and the rest of the country is H3N2, which is the most severe strain of flu. It by far causes the most hospitalizations, critical illness and deaths.”

This year’s flu shot is not a perfect match for the strain of H3N2 currently circulating, so people may become sick when they are exposed the virus, even if they received a flu shot. As a result, flu volumes have been extremely high. Since the start of flu season on Oct. 1, Mountain States and Wellmont hospitals recorded more than 1,650 positive flu cases, compared to about 350 during the same time period last flu season.

“What makes this particularly concerning is that as high as our numbers are locally, they’re even higher in other parts of this country. Some hospitals in other states are now setting up triage tents outside their emergency rooms to handle the additional volume. This tells us that the possibility exists for our flu cases to surge even higher, so we want to do everything we can to prevent that,” said Swift.

Area hospitals have plans in place to accommodate additional volume if flu cases surge, but visitation restrictions and community education are being deployed in an attempt to prevent an increase in cases.

“When a loved one is in the hospital, we know family and friends want to stay connected and check on them. We encourage you to call the front desk of the hospital, and we will be glad to connect you to the patient’s room,” said Gail Stanley, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Bristol Regional Medical Center. “It’s important to remember that people can spread the flu to others for a full day before they start showing symptoms. So, to keep our patients and our community safe, we’re trying to limit the number of visitors who come into the hospital.”

In December, the hospitals implemented visitation restrictions for children younger than 12 and individuals experiencing flu-like symptoms. These restrictions were put in place much earlier this flu season due to the rapid increase of influenza across the region, which matches the state and national trend. Prior to implementing visitation restrictions, Mountain States and Wellmont hospitals were already employing a number of other precautions, including providing masks at each entrance and registration area and designating separate waiting areas for patients experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms.

“Community members can play an important role in the health and well-being of patients, team members and physicians by observing these enhanced measures,” said Stanley. “They can also take a number of proactive steps to lower the chances they and others will be infected with flu, such as washing hands frequently, covering their cough and not touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

“We also want people to know it is not too late to receive a flu vaccination, which can decrease symptoms and reduce the risk of critical illness or death from this potent virus.”
A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone older than 6 months, especially pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system.