New polls across state show overwhelming support for medical cannabis

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association (TMCTA) today released results from four polls showing Tennessee registered voters strongly support medical cannabis use when prescribed by a physician; a state-based solution, not DC-based; and the ability for municipalities to opt out – all elements of the Medical Cannabis Only (MCO) Act.

The results also showed voters are more likely to favor candidates that support providing access to this medicine. Given the overwhelming results, most striking are the similarities across the board between the four polls conducted earlier this month covering urban, rural, East, Middle and West Tennessee.

Registered voters who participated are from Blount, Sevier, Hamilton, Coffee, Warren, Van Buren, Sequatchie, Grundy, Franklin, Marion and Shelby counties.

“These results confirm and validate what everyone already knows: that it doesn’t matter where you go in our state, Tennesseans support restoring patient freedom with a conservative, state-based medical cannabis only bill,” TMCTA executive director Glenn Anderson said. “Two-thirds of the U.S. has access to medical cannabis but not Tennesseans. The Medical Cannabis Only Act provides industry oversight and safe patient access with law enforcement at the table and the right for municipalities to opt out. Now is the time for a medically responsible solution to help our sickest residents and prevent law biding Tennesseans from turning to the black market.”

This polling confirms the Vanderbilt University poll conducted during Fall 2017 that found nearly 80 percent of registered voters in Tennessee supported patients having medical cannabis as a treatment option, and a Pew Research Center national survey in 2016 found 69 percent of police officers backing medical cannabis.

While Arkansas patients already have access to medical cannabis, other states bordering Tennessee are quickly moving in that direction. Kentucky’s governor has signaled his support, and there is legislation moving through Virginia’s legislature.

About TMCTA
The TMCTA is the leading group of business entrepreneurs, researchers and patient advocates supporting the Medical Cannabis Only Act in the state legislature this year. For more on the effort in Tennessee to make medical cannabis an option for those with debilitating health conditions, go to tnmedicalcannabisonly.org.

Free, guided State Park hikes signal Spring’s arrival

free guided hikes

Tennessee State Parks recently announced that free, guided hikes statewide are once again scheduled this year on Saturday, March 24.

By Tamas Mondovics
As the weather breaks and brings warmer temperatures to the region, officials zero in on promoting the large variety of local outdoor, recreational possibilities loaded with amenities found in Tennessee’s 56 State Parks.Officials recently announced that free, guided hikesstatewide are once again scheduled this year on Saturday, March 24.A pair of nearby state parks includes Elk Knob, and Roan Mountain, although there is no shortage of beautiful trails around.

According to park officials, the free event is designed to highlight the amenities and programming available during one of Tennessee’s most beautiful seasons.
“Our Rangers are trained to share the rich history of Tennessee’s public lands in a way that excites the imagination and leaves you wanting more,” said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill.Park Rangers are promising to lead guided hikes throughout the day that takevisitors past scenic vistas, budding wildflowers, and roaring waterfalls. Hikes are
scheduled to range from short; family-friendly walks to adventurous, all-day endeavors through a park’s most remote stretches.
Other statewide hikes Tennessee State Parks offers include National Trails Day in June, National Public Lands Day in September, After Thanksgiving Hikes in November and First Day Hikes in January.
The start of the 2018 camping season on Thursday, March 15, also marks the opening of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) seasonal campgrounds, which are now ready and waiting for visitors to return to the outdoors.

TVA reportedly provides more than 80 public recreation areas managed by Recreation Resource Management LLC, including campgrounds, day-use areas and boat ramps across the Tennessee Valley.
The six TVA campgrounds in its dam reservations are: Cherokee Dam – Cherokee Reservoir in Jefferson City, Tenn; Douglas Dam Headwater – Douglas Reservoir near Sevierville, Tenn.; Douglas Dam Tailwater – Douglas Reservoir near Sevierville, Tenn.; Melton Hill Dam – Melton Hill Reservoir near Lenoir City, Tenn. Pickwick Dam – Pickwick Reservoir near Savannah, Tenn. And the Watauga Dam – Watauga Reservoir near Elizabethton, Tenn.

Judging by the numbers, there is little doubt about the campgrounds’ popularity especially since last year’s renovations and upgrades such as new online reservation systems and renovated restrooms.
The six TVA campgrounds hosted over 75,000 overnight stays in 2017 at a total of 355 campsites, most capable of accommodating tents, pop-up trailers, and recreational vehicles, TVA officials said.
As a word of caution, even as many are ready to put the gloom and doom of the colder, wet, winter days behind them, imported firewood can introduce insects that kill trees. To prevent the spread of these destructive pests, TVA recommends buying firewood that is cut locally, preferably within the same county where it will be burned.

For more information about TVA and its 84-year mission of service to the Tennessee Valley, visit www.tva.com.
For a full list of all planned hikes on March 24, visit www.tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/spring-hikes.

Daffodils bloom on a nearby hill signaling that spring is just around the corner. As the daily temperatures inch higher many are making plans to enjoy the great outdoors by means of hiking local trails such as those at state parks frequented by thousands of visitors annually. Photo by Rita Hewett

Security a key topic at courthouse

By Marlana Ward
Security in public areas has been on the minds of many Americans as the news of stories of threats and attacks make headlines on a daily basis. Johnson County is not immune to the thoughts of safety concerns, and the county’s sheriff’s department is working with local government officials at the Johnson County Courthouse to better ensure citizens’ safety.
Due to the nature of materials contained and issues dealt with at the courthouse, safety for the people who work and patronize the offices on a daily basis is of concern to local law enforcement. “The courthouse is used for so many things other than court,” said Sheriff Mike Reece. “We have offices in the courthouse that hold a lot of safety-sensitive information. Therefore, the staff in these offices need to be safe and secure as well as the courtrooms.”
The Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy (TLETA) traveled to the courthouse in 2017 to identify potential safety risks. The group presented the sheriff’s department with a collection of photos and suggestions for better securing the courthouse building. “All of TLETA’s ideas are very good ideas,” Reece said. “However, there were many suggestions, and we only made the most minimum of changes. Many of the suggestions that were made would have called for a lot more time, changes, and money. The changes that have been made have come at no extra cost to the taxpayers. The monies used on changes made have come from court costs and fines.”
One of the most visible changes made to courthouse security has been the transition to a single entrance leading into the building. In the past, the building could be accessed by three doors, none of which were overseen by security. Now, visitors to the courthouse enter through one entrance and pass through a security checkpoint outfitted with an electronic metal detector.
Whenever a change is made to any workplace or business, there are always reactions from those affected. Sheriff Reece commented on how the staff at the courthouse has felt about the increased security measures: “The staff at the courthouse has given very little negative feedback. Most have had a realization that times have changed and security is a huge issue. Therefore, most of the staff at the courthouse has welcomed the idea of feeling and being more secure than in the past.”
While the staff has adapted to the changes for a few months now, visitors to the courthouse are sometimes surprised by the difference. “The public’s response has also mostly been positive,” said Reece. “We have the majority of the public that is glad to see new security measures put in place even if there have been a few complaints about the changes. We know it is a little inconvenient, but what might take a minute or two to clear security might just save a
life.”
During a recent County Commission meeting, four circuit court judges came to discuss security concerns at the courthouse. While there to mainly address the need to ensure a secured judges’ chamber during court hours, Chancellor John Rambo made certain to express the court’s support for the increased security that a single entrance provides to the courthouse.
“Yours is not the only county we have come to on security issues,” he stated. “When you make changes some people may not be happy with that, and there is some inconvenience involved, but from a security standpoint, the judges appreciate a single-point entry into the courthouse. Our concern is courtroom security, but we are also concerned about courthouse security because if an incident happens downstairs while we have court up here, it is a risk to everyone in the courtroom.”
Chancellor Rambo also addressed the public’s concerns about time and convenience. “It is an inconvenience to the public but lots of things we have to go through in this day and time is an inconvenience to us,” he explained. “It is just an unfortunate state or plight that we are in with security everywhere. A lot of the times we have to give up some of our personal conveniences
to be in a secure place, and that’s where we are, unfortunately.”
Another security concern Sheriff Reece would like to see addressed is the entrance location used for inmate transport. “I would love to see more security within the area of where inmates are brought in and out of the courthouse for court,” he said. “Inmates are just as exposed to being a victim as anyone else visiting or working at the courthouse.”
Sheriff Reece and the local officials at the courthouse will continue to seek out ways to make certain that business conducted at building is as secure as possible. “Changes are not hard to make, but not everyone likes them,” he shared. “The only way for changes to be made is for everyone involved to sit down, work together, and agree upon the changes that are for the staff and public’s benefit.”
“We do not know what the intentions of some will be when they come inside the courthouse,” Sheriff Reece expressed. “We would like to think all people are at the courthouse to attend court or to take care of their personal business at one of the offices. This isn’t always the case. Sadly, there are some with intentions to do harm or commit a crime. For these reasons, there will always be a need for increased security.”
Sheriff Reece would like the public to know that their concerns are important to his department and the staff of the courthouse. “We do not intend to make the extra security measures inconvenient for anyone,” he reiterated. “We know it is different than what everyone is used to and takes a minute or two longer, but I assure you that all of the security is in place for everyone to be and feel more safe and secure. We would also welcome any new ideas from the public about what they would like to see as far as any new safety measures that could be investigated.”

Space major concern as City Council meets

Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen prepare to meet on March 6, 2018. Photo by Marlana Ward

By Marlana Ward

Freelance Writer

Lack of space was brought up multiple times during the monthly meeting of the Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen on March 6, 2018. Only a handful of citizens were on hand as the city government operated and discussed business.
The first concern about limited space within the town
was brought up by Vice Mayor Jerry Jordan who informed
the group that he had been approached by several patrons of the Senior Center about a lack of parking for the facility. Jordan commented that he
had been asked about the
possibility of removing the stone building next to the pool to make more room for parking.
Mayor Parsons and Parks and Recreation Director Flo Bellamy both informed Jordan that the removal of the building would be impractical due to numerous town and county organizations using the structure to store materials. “I understand, but because I was approached, I had to bring it before the board,”
Jordan said.
Bellamy took the opportunity to echo the need for more parking in that area. “When it is court day, I am doing a
day-activity at the center, and while the senior center is
open there is no parking,” she said. “My staff has to park
behind our building on the grass.”
The board recognized the need for parking but could only express that there is no room for expansion of parking in that area.

Push for local veterans clinic on hold

By Jill Penley

Freelance Writer

One in four veterans live in rural areas, and many are aged and in declining health making it more difficult to endure the hour drive to the nearest Veterans Health Administration facility.
For the past decade, at least two local veteran advocates and two legislators have labored tirelessly to increase healthcare access to our rural veterans, and particularly those in Johnson County.
“I have been working for almost 10 years to get a VA outpatient clinic in Mountain City,” said Robert Hensley of the National Legislative Commission of the American Legion, who has just returned from Washington where he attended the American Legion legislative caucus and spoke with house representatives and state senators and reiterated the need for healthcare accessibility for our veterans. “Sequestration has created a fuming problem,” said Hensley. “This is a problem that has been, and continues to be, hammered at the national level.”
Ralph Hutto, Johnson County’s Veterans Service Officer, has also done all he can to see a local VA clinic come to fruition. “At least one out of every ten people living in Johnson County right now has served in the United States Military in some capacity,” said Hutto.“ A new facility would serve not only Johnson County but could also benefit Ashe and Watauga Counties, Damascus, Virginia, and other nearby locations. The county has a significant number of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam that need local access to medical care.”
Both U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and TN Rep. Timothy Hill are aware of the situation and agree all veterans should have timely access to care.
“I am very supportive of getting a VA clinic in Johnson County,” said Rep. Hill, who sponsored legislation to authorize healthcare providers who are in the National Guard to provide volunteer clinic services in a Tennessee military armory for veterans in need. “This would provide healthcare services to veterans at a free clinic operated on the site of the armory.”
The bill was born from a town hall meeting in Mountain City several years back when local veteran Kenneth Harry met with Rep. Hill to pitch his idea to utilize local military personnel to provide limited primary health care to veterans.
And while the bill dubbed the “Kenneth Harry-Hill Tennessee Veterans Health Care Act of 2015” was passed by the state legislature, the Tennessee National Guard has yet to authorize military members to provide such care. While supporters agree, the bill, also referred to as the Mission Tennessee for Veterans Program, is not the final solution in solving veteran’s healthcare issues, it could help Johnson County veterans receive the local healthcare using resources already in place.
In the February oversight hearing to review the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs budget request for the Fiscal Year 2019, Rep. Phil Roe, who also chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, stressed the need for continued improvement for veteran healthcare. “One of the most important items on our agenda is ensuring veterans get access to timely care, regardless of whether that care is at a VA hospital or a facility in the community,” he said in the address. “As the Committee works to improve the quality and timeliness of care that veterans receive, my priority is ensuring benefits are never delayed, dismantled or reneged upon.”
Rep. Roe considers making it easier for veterans to access timely healthcare a top priority. “The VA has been partnering with community providers since the 1940’s to provide care outside the department,” he explained. “The committee has heard from veterans,
VA employees and industry leaders about the many obstacles that prevent VA from effectively partnering with community providers to augment in-house health care services.”
Rep. Phil Roe also believes veterans should have some say in where they receive their health care.
“VA cannot be everywhere and everything for every veteran,” he said. “And we know we have a lot of veterans in rural areas. As we continue to explore options to improve VA’s community care program, our focus will be to preserve VA’s role as the central coordinator of care for enrolled veterans while increasing their options for care and simultaneously investing in a stronger VA.”

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.

The Appalachian Fair to award two college scholarships

The $1000 scholarships go to high school seniors or to those currently enrolled in a college, university or accredited vocational school.

The deadline for applying for the scholarships is April 10.  Selections will be made by the fair’s scholarship committee.
Last year’s scholarship winners were Gordon Moncier of Rogersville, TN and Elizabeth Arowood of Johnson City, TN. Application forms can be obtained by calling the Fair Office at 477-3211, e-mailing a request to appfair@embarqmail.com, or download a form at www.appalachianfair.com.

Applicants must be a permanent resident of the area served by the fair, and have at least a 2.5 GPA.
The applicants must have participated in the Appalachian Fair within the past two years, attach testimonials from school, business, church, and/or community leaders, and an essay stating why they should be selected.
Completed application, with testimonials, required essay and official transcripts are due not later than April 10.  They should be sent to the Appalachian Fair Scholarship Committee, P. O. Box 8218, Gray, TN 37615

TFA backs Rep. David Byrd’s “Arming Teachers” bill

The Tennessee Firearms Association, Tennessee’s “no-compromise” 2nd Amendment advocacy group, announced its support for House Bill 2208 and Senate Bill 2563, which are jointly sponsored by Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R – Hohenwald). These bills would give teachers and school employees additional options for voluntary firearms training – training which Tennessee’s law enforcement has apparently refused to provide.

Rep. Byrd, who is an educator and school administrator, passed legislation a few years ago which would have allowed public school teachers and school employees who wanted to carry a personal firearm on school grounds the ability to do so. That law presently only applies in the two counties that Rep. Byrd represents because the Legislature, under the leadership of Beth Harwell, refused to make it applicable statewide. The existing law authorizes law enforcement officials to train teachers and staff in schools in those two counties. This is an entirely voluntary program and no teacher or school employee is required to participate. However, if they do want to carry a firearm while on school grounds, they have to have more training under this law than is required to get a civilian handgun permit.

The Tennessee legislature included in the original law that local sheriffs and chiefs of police would have the authority to train these teachers and school staff. However, these law enforcement agencies have either failed or refused requests to provide the training. It is not clear why law enforcement is unwilling to take steps that the Tennessee legislature determined would be a step toward protecting students and school employees. Since law enforced has failed or refused to help protect the schools, Rep. Byrd and Sen. Hensley are proposing this year that the teachers and school employees can obtain the training from other entities who are authorized to conduct the same or similar training.

TFA Executive Director John Harris announced TFA’s support, “We were pleased several years ago that Rep. Byrd and Sen. Hensley took the steps to allow at least some teachers and school employees to choose to be armed while at school. We have been concerned since that time, however, that the law enforcement agencies in this state which were legislatively authorized to train teachers have apparently failed or refused to do so. This new legislation will provide those teachers and school employees with other options to get the kind of training that the legislature has specified even if law enforcement would rather not cooperate in this public policy decision.” Harris continued, “TFA is proud to encourage these two legislators on this effort and encourages other legislators to push this into law even if professional law enforcement agencies continue to stonewall or seek to derail this decision.” As of February 26, the legislation has eighteen co-sponsors in the House and none in the Senate.

“TFA will be watching to identify which legislators stand firm to support this legislation and which try to derail it. We will be messaging to our members which legislators care about our children and public employees and which ones have other priorities. We are particularly alert to monitor the degree to which opposition to this legislation arises from the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, the Tennessee Chiefs of Police Association, the Tennessee Municipal League, the Tennessee Education Association, the School Board Superintendents, County Executives, County Commission groups, the Chambers of Commerce, Moms Demand Action, the Governor’s taxpayer funded lobbyists, and any other groups that oppose the implementation of this public policy to promote the safety of school employees and children,” said Harris. “These are the same people and the same groups of people who have histories of opposing some or all of the bills that seek to allow Tennesseans the choice to fully exercise their rights as protected by the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution.” The Tennessee Firearms Association is a not for profit organization which has been working for more than two decades to protect and advance those rights protected by the 2nd Amendment. You can get more information about the Tennessee Firearms Association at www.tennesseefirearms.com

New home equals new opportunities for Adult Education Program

By Marlana Ward

Each year, determined citizens of Johnson County set out to earn their High School Equivalency Diploma, more commonly known as a GED. For over 30 years, the Johnson County Adult Education Program has offered classes and encouragement to those who decide to improve their situation and take steps toward a better tomorrow. The program has recently relocated and hopes that its new location will provide even more opportunities for more people to make a positive difference in their lives. Though once located at the old Shouns Elementary School building, the program has found a new home on Cold Springs Road next to the Department of Human Services.

“Though Johnson County Adult Education long operated under our Johnson County Public School System, it now operates under Northeast State Community College,” said District I Lead Instructor Karla Prudhomme. “Because Northeast State does not have an actual campus in Johnson County, our program had to find its location. Without the help of Johnson County government and County Mayor Larry Potter, and the Town of Mountain City, our fair county would not have this program that helps to change and transform the lives of so many of our citizens.”

The new location not only serves the school well but also makes it easier for some county citizens to seek information about the program. Obtaining a GED opens many doors for would-be job seekers. “The State of Tennessee has long worked towards creating a skilled workforce who are ‘job ready,’” said Prudhomme. “To achieve this goal of economic viability and stability, much focus has been placed on basic education and skills-training. Without a basic education, either a high school diploma or its equivalent HSE (High School Equivalency), job seekers are extremely limited and fail to meet even the minimum educational requirement for most jobs.” There are currently one hundred students enrolled in the Johnson County Adult Education program. This number includes those who attend classes at the Cold Springs Road location, as well as those enrolled in the classes offered at the Johnson County Jail.

Since the program’s inception, thousands of residents have earned their diploma and have gone on to use it in continuing education and job-seeking. “Going back to school to earn your diploma is life-changing,” Prudhomme added. “Though there are various motivators that prompt adults to return to school to earn their High School Equivalency Diploma, 100 percent of our graduates say that attaining this goal was one of the best and smartest decisions they ever made.” For many of the program’s graduates, education does not stop at the completion of the GED program. “About 50 percent of our graduates go on to earn some type of credential, certification, or high education degree,” Prudhomme said. “Governor Haslam’s commitment to education for all Tennessee citizens is now well-known because of ‘Tennessee Promise’ a program in which all traditional students with a minimum GPA get two years of free college. Many of our younger graduates have been able to take advantage of this excellent program and have earned college degrees or technical school certifications. However, starting this past fall a new program initiated by Governor Haslam, “Tennessee Reconnect” provides the same two years of free college for Tennessee residents over the age of 26. Many of our students 26 or older are already taking advantage of this program, and several of our recent graduates are currently attending both Northeast State Community College and TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology).” Going back to school can seem daunting at first, but Prudhomme explained that continuing education as an adult is very different from what a person experienced in a traditional high school. “One of the most surprising things for our adult students is the realization that Adult Education is not high school and doesn’t operate like k-12 schools. Adults learn differently than children, and it’s not always necessary for our students to spend countless class hours to attain their goal of earning their equivalency diploma. Though not the average, some of our students spend only the minimum 12 hours of class time with us before taking their HiSet Test. Until a student has gone through our orientation class, there is no way of knowing in advance how long it will take a student to earn their equivalency diploma.” The program has had proven success throughout its time in Johnson County. However, a student‘s success depends on their level of commitment and dedication.

“About 50 percent of those who walk through our doors complete our program,” Prudhomme said. “Some do not, for various reasons including transportation, loss of dependable childcare, changes in work schedules, and in some cases, the student lacks the commitment at that time in their lives. Of those who start our program and stick with it, over 80 percent attain their goal and earn their diploma.”

Classes are offered in the mornings and evenings to allow people the chance to learn no matter their time constraints. The Johnson County Adult Education program has day classes Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and night classes Monday and Thursday from 4:30- 7:30 p.m. “We are always willing to help our students in any way we can, even those whose schedules won’t allow them to attend these regularly scheduled classes,” Prudhomme said. To learn more about the program, please contact Prudhomme at the school. “Don’t let fear hold you back, she said. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to help our citizens attain their goal of earning their High School Equivalency Diploma. Please stop in at the classroom, 372 Cold Springs Road, or call (423) 460-3330 today.

JC students stand “Strong” for Florida school shooting victims

JCHS students stand strong

The horrific, violent actions of a heavily armed 19-year-old who opened fire on a South Florida high school campus killing 17 people and wounded 14 more set off an apparently unstoppable outcry across the country under the now infamous motto: “Enough is enough.” By no means immune to the aftermath of the events on Feb.14, Johnson County High School students joined the thousands of voices to show their support for the victims and their families. Spearheaded by 15-year-old Rebecca Nowak, students organized “17 Strong” and held a memorial ceremony honoring the victims by each student reading a monolog credited to each of the 17 shooting victims.

“We have realized that we had to get involved and something had to be done,” Nowak said following the emotionally charged event. “People don’t think about the importance of what happened if we don’t highlight it or talk about it. Nowak emphasized that 17 Strong is an awareness effort and that the families of those who lost loved ones would be assured of Johnson County High School’s unwavering support. Of course, last month’s tragic events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in an affluent suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale, has drawn attention to the personal safety of the more than 55 million students currently enrolled in public and private elementary and secondary schools in the U.S.

“I think we are safe here at Johnson County High,” said Lauren Buff, 17, adding that teachers, fellow students, and school administration care very much about the safety of the entire student body. While a fellow student, Tea Greer, 16, agreed and emphasized that the administration is very supportive of the awareness effort she added, “We want more safety at our school.” After firing several rounds, the shooting suspect, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is now charged with 17-counts of premeditated murder reportedly dropped his weapon and hid among the crowd as authorities evacuated students and faculty members.

Officials said that following an hour-long manhunt Cruz was captured in Coral Springs, located about a mile away from the school. Cruz was taken to a local hospital and then released into police custody. The events led to a variety of drastic measures nationwide. Some of the changes and subsequent events that followed included the Florida legislature’s push to arm teachers, while Walmart decided to increase the minimum age to buy firearms to 21.

President Trump’s unscripted gun control meeting with lawmakers added to the mix not to mention high school students across the country assisted in organize the national walkout scheduled on March 14 believing that America is finally ready for a change. JC High also organized a walkout now scheduled for March 14, but according to students, the effort is fully supported by the school administration.

“The walkout is not a protest but a way to raise awareness of school safety and to show our support for the families of those that have lost their loved ones,” said Lauren Wright, 17. “I feel like inspiration is very important right now. Johnson County High School consoler Cassidy Burks added that the administration-approved walkout serves an essential purpose as it “gives students a sense of ownership and that the school is truly a part of their community.”

Perhaps the collective comments of the students attending the “17 strong” ceremony put things in perspective while drawing attention to the need for unity, and mutual respect both in and out of campus when they said, “It could have happened to any of us. The students at Stoneman Douglas High felt safe until it happened to them.”

Mountain City Police Gets New Cruiser

police cruiser

Mountain City Police vehicles line the department’s parking lot last week. The department will be adding a new cruiser to its arsenal. Photo By Tamas Mondovics

By Jill Penley

Freelance Writer

The town of Mountain City is set to add a new police cruiser to its fleet of seven, and taxpayers are not footing the bill.
Where did the money come from? The short answer is drugs. Civil asset forfeiture, originally created to hamper large-scale criminal enterprises, allows law enforcement to seize assets, including vehicles, cash, and drugs from people arrested during law offenses.
“Any vehicle that is seized due to drugs and awarded to the town through the courts,” explained Sheila Shaw, City Recorder, “when it is sold, the proceeds go into the drug fund.”
Cash seized related to drug charges also goes into the fund.
Proponents of the state’s civil asset forfeiture law consider it a vital tool to support anti-drug efforts as forfeitures mean law enforcement agencies at the state and local level can legally take drug dealers’ assets and money and use it to enforce the law.
In large metropolitan areas, however, police departments depend on such seizures to balance their budgets since many of the proceeds from seizures revert back to those departments.
From 2009 to 2014, Tennessee law enforcement collected nearly $86 million in forfeiture, not including the value of all the cars and electronics they seized.
Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons understands the ambiguity of this type of action. “Under the current civil forfeiture laws, police can seize and sell your car or other property and use the proceeds without having charged you with a crime,” explained Parsons. “While this might be construed by some as ‘policing for profit,’ I would never submit a budget with anticipated income from sales of seized property.”
Often, an individual can get the property back through court challenges, but these cases can often be very expensive and take months or years to resolve. “It is important to note Under TCA 55-50-504(h), a person driving on a canceled, suspended, or revoked license because of a DUI can have the vehicle they are driving be subject to seizure and forfeiture,” Parsons said. “If you are driving on a revoked or suspended license for a DUI, even if the DUI was in another state, the city will take and sell the vehicle you were driving regardless of who owns the vehicle.”
According to Parsons, this was the case for one of the vehicles sold by the city last month. While the charges were ultimately dropped against the person who owned the vehicle, under the state’s civil forfeiture law, the seizure was legal, and the vehicle owner was unable to take repossession of the car, which was eventually sold.
“While the overall purpose for asset forfeiture is good,” said Parsons, “it needs to be investigated because as wrong as this was for the city to keep and sell the vehicle, we would have broken the law if we gave it back.”
There have been several bills introduced in the Tennessee legislature in an effort to reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state from taking property without a criminal conviction, but as it stands any law enforcement agency may seize property including vehicles, money, and real estate for possession of narcotics, illegal or prescription.
Vehicles may be seized for driving on a driver’s license which has been revoked for driving under the influence (DUI) and for driving under the influence (DUI) for a second or subsequent time.
The city recorder confirms the Town of Mountain City recently sold a seized vehicle on govdeals.com, and the proceeds from that sale were $10,300.

County Commissioner Billy Roark serves two days in jail for 2017 DUI arrest

Billy Roark

 

By Tamas Mondovics

Editor

Johnson County, Tennessee commissioner Billy Roark served a 48-hour jail term last week for his arrest of driving under the influence on Friday, October 7, 2017.

Upon his arrest Roark, 61 of Mountain City was charged and arrested by Mountain City police before taken to the Johnson County jail.
According to Mountain City Police reports, Roark was found slumped over the wheel of his pickup truck by an officer following a call to police about a reckless driver at the Pioneer Village Shopping Center on the night of his arrest.
The officer reportedly said that Roark failed all of the field sobriety tests administered to him and he was taken to a local hospital for a blood draw after his arrest.
On Wednesday, February 7, 2018, Roark appeared in court on the violation, which was the commissioners first, and was sentenced to 48-hours in jail.
Local officials confirmed that Roark, who represents the 3rd District continues to serve on the commission.

 

Johnson County Sheriff, detective present scam awareness update at Senior Center Luncheon

 

Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece, left, and Detective Joe Woodard presenting information about financial scams to a group of residents at the Mountain City Senior Center last week.

By Tamas Mondovics

Editor

In a continued effort to keep area residents safe and protected, identity theft, scams and personal safety took center stage at the

Mountain City senior citizen center last week.
A sizable group welcomed Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece and his lead Detective Joe Woodard who presented timely information and update on how to avoid being a victim of the ever-growing problem of scams preying on the most vulnerable members of the community.
Reece and Woodard put things in perspective with a
pair of topics such as: how much do you know about scams? Why are you at risk for financial scams?
Woodard also addresses the usual suspects and types of scams ways to protect oneself and their loved ones as well as the resources residents have to report scams and financial abuse.
“We are always welcome at the senior center and had
a great meeting while we
covered many topics,” Reece said, but added that the main concern is phone and debit card scams.”
That is, of course, for a good reason.
According to the latest reports, one in five individuals in the U.S. is 60 years of age and older. One in 20 elderly residents has indicated to be victims of some form of financial mistreatment.
Sadly, the data also shows that less than half of financial abuse cases are ever reported to law enforcement.
Nearly 10 percent of victims turn to Medicaid after their funds were stolen.
Perhaps the most sobering part of the presentation was the realization of why scammers target seniors and the fact that aside from strangers the usual suspects include family members and caregivers.
Woodard emphasized that the long list of reasons seniors are often the primary target includes, fear, the fragility of aging, dependence on others and isolation.
1. Medicare and Health Insurance Fraud
2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
3. Funeral and Cemetery Scams
4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
5. Telemarketing Scams
6. Internet Fraud
7. Investment Scams
8. Reverse Mortgage Scams
9. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
10. The Grandparent Scam

Reece mentioned that according to the National Council of Aging (NCOA), the most crucial tip to protect oneself from financial scams is to “be aware of being at risk from strangers as well as from those closest to us.”
“Our senior residents want to be well informed and to be aware of the risks, including the two most common scam of identity theft and debit card scams,” Reece said.
Reece explained that one type of debit card scam involves a customer being prompted at checkout to answer ‘yes or no’ to wanting cash back.
“When you say no the cashier may enter yes and take the money,’ Reece said. “So pay close attention to the receipt.”
Unfortunately, financial scams are a sad reality of life. But conscientious effort on the part of local authorities, organizations and law enforcement through awareness events and presentations such as the recent event at the senior center, and some diligence on the part of the elderly, becoming victims of such financial scams can be avoided.
Sheriff Reece and detective Woodard also commended Kathy Motsinger for the “great job” she is doing as Director and the positive impact the Senior Center makes in the community.
For more information about financial scams and a complete list of safety tips, please visit www.ncoa.org/

 

 

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.

JCMS Robotics Teams on the fast track to success

 

The JCMS Robotics Teams show off their robots in a friendly match of Vex Robotics Challenge “In the Zone”. Check out the video on our Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Meg Dickens

Freelance Writer

It would be an understatement to say that the Johnson County Middle School’s Robotics Teams are impressive. These students have won a plethora of awards in the 2017-2018 school year alone. These awards and titles include The Sportsmanship Award, the Robot Skills Champion Award, three Tournament Champion Awards, and two Design Awards. They added a Design Award and a first-place win at their competition in Clinton, TN on February 10, and a Design Award and Skills Award at the Dandridge Competition on February 17.
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.

All members started out with no prior knowledge of robotics. The students do everything from designing and building their robots to programming and modifying code.
According to Decker, they learned a lot through YouTube and old-fashioned collaboration with each other, the Johnson County High School teams, and teachers.
“YouTube has good examples and good competitions. We learned a lot about robotics; mostly about programming and building.”
Currently, both teams are working on their autonomous controls. The feat of programming allows the robot to move on its own without any instruction momentarily. The students showed off their robots with a mock competition of Vex Robotics Challenge “In the Zone.” The goal is for each team to maneuver its robot around the field, pick up the appropriate colored cones, and transfer them into their own goals within a set amount of time.

The program has many real-world applications. Interview portions help students with job interviews and sharpen critical thinking,” according to Jensen. The skills may also be the first step towards a career for students such as Sutherland and Decker who plan to pursue robotics or engineering.

JCMS team sponsor and teacher, Susan Quave, is amazed by the progress made.
“Since starting the program, three years ago, my goal was to increase STEM learning through robotics in our county. I never thought we would make it to the World Competition in two years. Who knows what this year will bring? The middle school teams have sixfirst-year robotics students, and it will not surprise me if we make another trip to the World Competition. Thank you to all the businesses and individuals that support our teams and make this possible.”

The teams are now getting prepared to go to the State Competition in Brentwood, Tennessee on March 2, and 3.

City Council considers improvements

By Meg Dickens
The City Council met on Tuesday, February 6, for its monthly meeting. All members were in attendance except Alderman Crosswhite as the meeting held at the City Hall, 210 S. Church St., was called to order at 6:31 p.m.
No presentations or public hearings were scheduled, so the council moved straight to the consent calendar. The minutes were quickly approved unanimously as well as the second and final reading of budget amendment ordinance Number 1577, which covered $12,585 for sanitation vehicle repairs.
The floor was then turned over to the council members to discuss any concerns or comments they may have.
Vice-Mayor Jordan thanked employees for their hard work and dedication, especially in the recent weather. He gave a health update, mentioning that he will be going back to the doctor in a month to see if he can switch from the wheelchair over to a walking boot.
Alderman Morrison has been talking to the police chief about the computers approved for the station. Faster internet speed is required. The city is considering switching to Skyline to fix the problem but is still reviewing the costs along with a central computer system for wreck records.
Mayor Parsons gave the floor over to Kimberly Harper to discuss her proposal for a Fun Center, which would include local entertainment such as laser tag, a skating rink, a movie theater, and an arcade. Several parts have been donated, and Harper believes that other donations may be coming in. The Board believes that the proposed addition would be an excellent way to keep business in town and wishes to get the project underway. Parsons mentioned that grants should become available soon.
Reporter Shaw stated that a recent auction on seized vehicles brought in $15,729.01 in revenue. The money is going into the drug fund and will be used to purchase a new police cruiser when the adequate funds are raised. The floor was then turned over to discuss new business.
Danny Sims was given the floor to discuss the water treatment plant. It is undergoing several grant projects leaving them shorthanded and in need of an inspection.
It was decided that Brian Fredrick needed some help. Chris Hook will transfer over after his current project has concluded. It was also decided that Sims needed a smartphone to receive emails more quickly.
Jana Jones was given the floor to discuss the Farmer’s Market move to Ralph Stout Park. The Board decided to keep the area zoned as residential. The Farmer’s Market will operate in the same capacity as a concession stand. The storage unit will be moved behind the stage area, and Alderman Morrison is working on signage.
Dwight Stapleton was then given the floor to discuss a GIS (geographic information science) mapping system through Communities Unlimited, which is believed would optimize Mountain City’s mapping systems and be available on any device with the proper login information.
“This should have been done years ago,” Alderman Morrison said following the presentation. The Board agreed that this was necessary and decided to put it up to bid.
The Board approved a four-year engineering agreement between Bennett Associates and the Town of Mountain City. An agreement was made with Sizemore-Frederick last year, which has now merged to form Bennett Associates, continuing the deal since 2017. The Board also approved both a Dry Run water tank and water source evaluation to supplement the agreement. The Parkdale meter was denied. The first reading of budget amendment ordinance Number 1578 was given, which covers $775 for the waste and water treatment plant dishwasher and fridge.
The Pedro Shoun pump should be running by the end of the month, which should give that area good, decent water. The meeting was adjourned at 7:32 p.m.

New KFC, Taco Bell location decided

The vacant lot at the corner of Vandilla and Shady Street is now confirmed as the future site of KFC and Taco Bell restaurants. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Meg Dickens

Mountain City is a small town with a picturesque view of the Appalachian Mountains. Small changes happen occasionally, but it predominantly stays the same. That is until recently. Mountain City is in a renewed state of revitalization. KFC and Taco Bell are coming to Mountain City.

When the news was met with disbelief on The Tomahawk Newspaper’s Facebook page, County Mayor Larry Potter chimed in to assure the public “it’s true.” Vice-Mayor Jerry Jordan added, “The City Council approved the project in January, and it has been on the agenda for two months now.” Jordan further explained that “the KFC entrance will be off of Vandilla Street and the Taco Bell entrance will be off of Shady Street.”

The progress in Mountain City started slowly. New restaurants such as Bizzies, Little Caesars, and Sherry & JP’s Chicken House popped up in 2015. New businesses such as The Hidden Gem and El Paso have come and gone. Mountain City even opened the doors to The Johnson County Arts Center in August of 2017. The town is starting to fluctuate like a living, breathing organism. Now it is time to welcome the newest additions to the town.

City Mayor Kevin Parsons clarified that the restaurants will consist of two separate buildings on Vandilla Street. The Tomahawk will provide project updates as soon as possible. There was another new business recently prepositioned the City Council for a recreation center in Mountain City. Kimberly Harper and Donald Snyder, along with City Mayor Kevin Parsons, are working towards a fun zone; the specific name is still under discussion. The business would include an 8-lane bowling alley, a skating rink, a laser tag arena, a cafeteria/dining area, an arcade, and possibly more. What differentiates this proposal from others in the past is the sheer amount of preparation. The dirt and equipment necessary for construction, the laser tag, and bowling alley necessities, and the hardwood floor for the skating rink are already donated to the cause. Snyder and

Harper still have leads to follow for possible donations. If this proposal is accepted, Harper and Snyder plan to demolish the building at 1123 South Shady Street to put up a new steel building. For more information, please call Harper at (270) 929-6958.

Arrests made in disappearance of North Carolina man; search continues for Carlton Edmondson in Trade area

Carlton Lamar Edmondson

As of January 31, 2018 four people have been arrested for their alleged roles in the disappearance of a Burke County, North Carolina, man. Carlton Lamar Edmondson, 29, was first reported missing on January 19, when his family contacted authorities after receiving a call demanding $700 in ransom money for their son’s return. Investigators believe several people kidnapped Edmondson and brought him to a remote area in Johnson County, where he was allegedly assaulted and left, a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office press release said. Last week, a joint investigation brought Burke County detectives and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation officials to Mountain City, where 31-year-old Robert Leroy Littleton, III, of Fleetwood, North Carolina, was charged with first-degree kidnapping and being a fugitive from justice.  His wife, Leigh Katherine Littleton, 30, of Boone, North Carolina, was also charged with first-degree kidnapping. On Friday, a third person, Michael Stacey May, 39, was arrested in Watauga County, North Carolina, and charged with conspiracy to commit especially aggravated kidnapping.

The case’s latest arrest occurred Saturday when James Combs, 30, was arrested in North Carolina and charged with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping and extortion.
Additionally, a fifth person is expected to be charged with aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit especially aggravated kidnapping, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office press release stated.
Edmondson has yet to be found.
WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, reported that authorities found cell phone video of Edmondson getting beat up.
Edmondson is a black male. He stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs about 250 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.

Anyone who may know information about Edmondson’s whereabouts is urged to call the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation is open and all leads are being followed.

NOTE: According to Sheriff Mike Reece’s office, as of Monday, February 5th, Edmondson has not been found. Additional arrests include Brittany Arnold, charged with aggravated kidnapping and criminal trespassing, and Valorie Ann Dollar (no photo available), with charges in North Carolina on a fugitive from justice warrant. She will also come to Johnson County for charges of conspiracy to commit especially aggravated kidnapping.

Foreign investors notification

The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) requires all foreign owners of U.S. agricultural land to report their holdings to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Farm Service Agency administers this program for USDA.
Any foreign person who acquires, transfers, or holds any interest, other than a security interest, in agricultural land in the United States is required by law to report the transaction no later than 90 days after the date of closing.
For AFIDA purposes agricultural land is defined as any land used for farming, ranching or timber production, if the tracts total 10 acres or more.
Failure to submit the AFIDA form ( FSA-153) could result in civil penalties of up to 25 percent of the fair market value of the property.
Disclosure reports are also required when there are changes in land use. For example, reports are required when land use changes from nonagricultural to agricultural or from agricultural to nonagricultural. Foreign investors must also file a report when there is a change in the status of ownership such as owner changes from foreign to non-foreign, from non-foreign to foreign or from foreign to foreign.
County government offices, realtors, attorneys and others involved in real estate transactions are reminded to notify foreign investors of these reporting requirements.
For more information contact the Johnson County FSA office at (423) 727-9744 or visit the office at 119 S Murphey Street, Mountain City, TN.