ACTION Coalition hosts Town Hall on opioids abuse

ACTION Coalition

Angela Hagaman, Dr. Jim Shine, and Officer Chris Lipford were the speakers at the recent town hall about prescription opioids abuse hosted by the ACTION Coalition. Photo by Marlana Ward.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Local citizens, law enforcement, medical professionals, and community organization representatives came together Friday, September 7, for a town hall concerning prescription drug abuse and the resulting opioids epidemic plaguing our region. The ACTION Coalition hosted the event in hopes of bringing people together to increase awareness of the problem and discuss ideas to combat the epidemic.

The speakers for the event included Angela Hagaman, Operations Director for The Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment; family physician, Dr. Jim Shine with Mountain States Medical Group; and Officer Chris Lipford, Investigator for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. Hagaman presented the group with statistics and graphs to demonstrate how the use of opioids has increased in the Appalachian Mountains over the past few years and also how it has affected births in the area.

“In 2017, there were 987 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome documented,” she said. “That was 21percent of births in East Tennessee.”

Hagaman went on to describe the efforts being made by ETSU to bring treatment options to more people and combat the stigmas that accompany opioids treatment facilities. She also mentioned how medication-assisted treatments are proving successful.

“Evidence across the board shows medication assistance treatment decreases mortality by 50 percent,” she said.

Providing the perspective of the medical community, Dr. Shine expressed to those in attendance how pharmaceutical companies contributed to the current opioids epidemic.

“In the 1990s, there was a big emphasis on how pain is the fifth vital sign,” he explained. “There was a big push towards better pain treatment. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies were creating oxycodone, and we were being told it was safe to prescribe. That planted a lot of seeds and helped lead us to where we are now. I think we were duped as a healthcare community.”

Shine informed the group of various websites and databases that healthcare facilities can access to ensure that prescriptions are being used as intended and to stop the once common practice of “doctor shopping.”

“I am optimistic,” he closed by saying. “People understand that there is enough information out there and now I can say ‘This medication is not as safe as was first thought.’”

Representing the law enforcement view on the situation, Officer Chris Lipford explained what he commonly sees with local, school-aged offenders. “The school kids’ main problem is marijuana and prescription drugs,” he said.

Lipford also shared how the drive to continually seek the same feeling as the first time a drug is taken, can ruin lives. “Ninety-five percent of people say that they get high that first time due to peer pressure,” he stated. “They spend the rest of their life trying to catch that high again and they never will.”

The ACTION Coalition wrapped up the town hall by expressing the group’s desire to work alongside the medical community, law enforcement, and any community groups to help combat the opioids epidemic in our area.

Shortage of officers major topic as board meets

Denver Church PCPD Chief

Police Chief Denver Church came before the Mountain City Board of Mayor and Aldermen to request the hiring of new officers. Photo by Marlana Ward

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The current shortage of officers with the Mountain City Police Department was a main topic of discussion as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen met on Tuesday, September 4. Police Chief Denver Church was on hand to request the hiring of additional officers to fill the vacant positions and ensure proper police presence in town. Chief Church first asked the board to approve the hiring of Officer Carl Hatley. Hatley’s recruitment had taken place before the board meeting due to his availability to start immediately and the department’s need for trained officers.

“Denver and I talked, and I approved it, retroactively to this meeting, the hiring of Carl Hatley, and when we did he went to work that week,” City Mayor Kevin Parsons told the board. “He had actually interviewed before and then this position opened.”

Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to approve the hiring of Hatley and all board members in attendance agreed. Additionally, Chief Church requested the board approve the hiring of two more officers to fill the vacancies in the department.

“Also, we are going to be reviewing applications this Friday,” he explained. “If I could, rather than getting the names to bring before the board next month since most people want to give a two week notice, if we come up with somebody have the Mayor approve the hiring before the board or set up a panel from the board to approve it or I can call you individually to approve it.”

Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to grant authority to the Mayor and Chief Church to make the hiring decisions before the next board meeting in October, and it was approved unanimously.

“I will make the motion that we do trust the both of you and if there is an applicant making application and is qualified to hire him on the spot or whatever is necessary,” Alderman Morrison said.

The MCPD typically has eight certified police officers on staff with at least two officers on
duty at all times. The current shortage of officers has occurred due to the departure of some officers to seek employment with other law enforcement agencies. The department received approximately 15 applications from prospective new officers. The department hopes to find applicants with experience and certification to speed the availability of officers to patrol.

“From the time of hire, it typically takes an uncertified officer approximately seven months to be prepared for their patrol duties,” said Police Sergeant Matt Mullins. “Officers must attend a 12 week Basic Police Academy (if not certified), and must complete a field training program that could take up to 4 months.”

With the hiring of new officers, the MCPD hopes to bring a high standard of service to the community as Mullins expressed: “The Police Department is striving to hire individuals with the best qualities possible to deliver the best service possible to the citizens of Mountain City. It is the Police Department’s desire that the new officers be highly trained and effective for the citizens, and be a role model to those who need it.”

Education changes over the years

An early photograph captures a class of students at Dewey School in Johnson County TN. Over the years, county schools have seen many changes, as it continues to provide educational opportunities. Photo Submitted

By Marlana Ward

Freelance Writer

In a continued effort to organize and preserve local history, the Johnson County Historical Archive volunteers have found documents that show just how far the county’s school system has progressed since its humble beginnings in the 1830’s.
According to the documents found, what began as family-funded community schools grew into the current education system benefiting students today.
The archive volunteers have discovered that there has been at least 73 documented schools scattered across the different communities in Johnson County.
A sample of the schools through the past include Eureka, Laurel Springs, Sinks, Cobbs Creek, Snyder Chappel, Pine Grove, Buntontown, Crandull, and Winchester.
“I find it very interesting to see the different names of the schools,” one archive volunteer shared. “For example, in the Neva community, there was a Snider’s Chappell school as well as a different Snyder’s school.”
The change to state-funded schools began to occur in the mid-1800’s when the Governor began seeking support for the schools in each county.
“In 1847, Governor Brown asked to levy a tax to support schools,” volunteers said. “The legislature at that time refused and said that if parents wanted their children to go to school, they should pay for it themselves.”
In evaluations done by the early schools, conditions that would be unacceptable today were normal. One report done on the Crandull School in 1922 showed that it was a 1,800-square-foot building and used a paper blackboard.
The school had no indoor plumbing, and the drinking water was listed as being “unsanitary.”
“That means that the students shared a pail of drinking water and everyone used the same cup,” a volunteer explained.
Over time, the state did begin to support schools, and according to county records, by 1938 the school system received 45 cents per student.
When it came time for secondary schooling, the county’s first high school was built in 1845. It was a two-story building located on the hilltop near Butler Street facing Highway 421.
This first building was destroyed by fire ten years later and replaced.
“By 1873, the county had two high schools which included Watauga Academy in Old Butler,” archive volunteers said.
Teacher salaries are another interesting piece of history found. According to top pay records from 1938, teachers were paid monthly but that their salaries could vary.
Receipts show that teachers were paid $40, $65, and some went up to $77 per month though it is not noted what the determining factors were to explain the differences in salary.
Over the years, Johnson County Schools have seen many changes. Some schools have closed, some have consolidated, and some have recently been built.
No matter the change, over the years the Johnson County School System and the families living in the county have remained determined to providing educational opportunities.
For more information about Johnson County Schools please visit,

Johnson County celebrate its history and the arts

By Meg Dickens
Freelance Writer

The threat of rain was not enough to put a damper on the 4th annual Long Journey Home this Labor Day weekend. Participants set up tents and took cover near buildings in case of a torrential downpour, but it was not needed. Long Journey Home is an annual event celebrating Johnson County’s traditional music, art, and rich local history. This year’s theme was “Black Smoke a Risin’ and it Surely is a Train.” According to Karla Prudhomme, “people come from all over the nation” to attend.

Long Journey Home started with a kick-off dinner and dance at the Johnson County Senior Center on Thursday, August 30. Young and elderly alike took to the dance floor for traditional square dancing accompanied by music from The Long Journey Home Band. The evening also included a shape note singing presentation and an old-fashioned cakewalk.
Friday festivities started out with an art show at the Johnson County Center for the Arts. Many talented artists contributed. The final results are as follows: Temple Reece in first place with “Backbone Rock’s Train” and Dottie Harmon in second place with “Sunflowers.” The event continued with a quilt show by the First Sunrise Quilt Guild at the First Christian Church Christian Life Center.

Later that evening, buskers chased the rain clouds away with the sweet swells of music on Main Street. People young and old performed with string instruments ranging from the smallest violin to the gigantic cello. These performers should look familiar. Many of them are your friends and family. Vendors lined the street with tasty treats and souvenirs. The event went on long after dark and included the premiere of Germain Media’s new film Butler, TN – The Town That Refused To Drown.

Saturday, September 1 started out with the self-guided Musical Heritage Homecoming Tour exploring local history with stops such as the capture site of Tom Dula, famous early 1900s musician Clarence “Tom” Ashley’s home and the location of the 1925 Fiddler’s Convention. Musicians waited at each stop to bring history back to life with their instruments. Groups included The Bluegrass Backroads at Maymead; Lois Dunn, Stephen Long, Kyman and Andrew Matherly at Lois’ Café; Kenny Price and Jerry Moses at Tom Ashley’s Homeplace; and The Piney Woods Boys at Fred Price’s Homeplace. The event ended with an open jam session and refreshments.

Temple Reece unveiled her mural that afternoon depicting The Lopsided Three that ran on the Laurel Railway and is one in a series of five new murals around the Mountain City area. The ceremony opened with train medleys including the theme’s namesake from Danny Meadows, Stephen Long, Kenny Price, The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) and many more.

Long Journey Home closed with an old-fashioned Sunday singing at Heritage Hall Theatre organized by Stephen Long. Performing groups include Forgiven, Narrow Road and The Laurel Creek Boys. The 2018 Johnson County Long Journey Home officially ended with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

County Mayor, Sheriff, take oath of office

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

A month ago, campaigns were winding down, and folks were heading to the polls to place a vote in the state primary and county general election. When the dust settled, Johnson County had elected a new sheriff and a new county mayor, both of whom took the oath of office recently just before officially assuming office on Saturday, September 1.

“I plan to lead a department that is responsive, effective, highly visible, and dedicated to the safety and security of our community,” said newly sworn-in Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester. “We have some good officers that work at the Sheriff’s department that welcome the opportunity to aggressively pursue a campaign against the drug epidemic that exists in Johnson County today, and I am committed to leading such a campaign.”

Per state law, the oath of office for any elected or appointed county official may be administered by the county mayor, the county clerk, a judge of any court of record in the county, or the current or a retired judge of the general sessions court. Tester, easily elected in August after a contentious campaign against former Sheriff Mike Reece and Johnny Roberts, another former Johnson County Sheriff, took the oath of office early to attend a specialized Tennessee sheriff’s training in Nashville.

Friends and family have also packed the upper courtroom of the Johnson County Courthouse on Friday to witness the swearing-in ceremony of County Mayor-Elect Mike Taylor and most other elected officials including Johnson County Commissioner: Bill Adams, Eugene Campbell, Joey Norris (District1), Scott Mast, (District 2), Freddy Phipps, Berna Arnold, Jerry Grindstaff (District 3), Tommy R. Poore, Rick Snyder (District 4), Megan McEwen, Jerry Gentry, Jimmy Lowe (District 5) David McQueen, (District 6) and Gina Meade, Evelyn Hill (District 7).

Adhering to his campaign motto, “Focused on our Future,” Mayor Taylor plans to hit the ground running. “I understand the importance of a team effort,” said Taylor, adding, “And together we can bring success to Johnson County.”

Some of the areas Taylor highlighted on the campaign trail focused on expanding local educational opportunities, improving infrastructure, promoting tourism, keeping local water sources and properties clean and healthy, and maintaining safety.

“Safety of all citizens is paramount,” said Taylor. “I fully support the men and women of law enforcement, and I will work with law enforcement administrators to seek out safety grants for equipment, training, and better working conditions.”

Tester and Taylor are both promising a visible, positive change in Johnson County, and while only time will tell who will be successful, the voters have now spoken, and a new sheriff and new county mayor have the reins.

Carnival draws large crowd

Imagination Library

B.C. Stout pauses his train for a photo, while his passengers are eagerly awaiting the ride around the block during theannual Johnson County Imagination Library Carnival hosted last month in Mountain City. Carnival organizers were pleased to see this year’s festivities as one of the most attended in event history. Photo by Tamas Mondovics.

By Jinifer Rae
Freelance Writer

Visitors from all over Johnson County came to support the Fifth Annual Imagination Library Carnival. Giving testimony to the program’s importance and the community’s interest and support, this year’s carnival held at the First United Methodist Church was one of the most attended since its start in Mountain City.Organizers expected more than 600 people to attend, and they were not disappointed. This year’s carnival saw the largest attendance since it was originated. As guests walked the grounds, there were plenty of fun things to do and see including over 23 activities and booths.

“We are happy to see so many parents bring their children to celebrate with us, as we promote reading,” said Betty Brown Imagination Library Board Co-Chair.

More than 110 volunteers assisted with train rides, a bouncy house, games, arts, nail painting, cookie decorating, face painting, and much more. After enjoying all the carnival fun, children of all ages took a break from the heat while enjoying a free drink.

“As upcoming chair of the Johnson County Imagination Library board, we appreciate the community’s support of the carnival,” said Kathie Love. “I have always loved to read, and I am dedicated to our mission to provide books to children of county age’s birth to five.”

This year’s carnival also featured children’s author Jessica Young, who over the course of the week, in partnership with the Johnson County School System and the Johnson County Community Foundation, presented her work to children from Pre-K through 6 grades at Heritage Hall.

“I am thrilled to be able to visit. The enthusiasm and energy not only the kids, but the whole community has been wonderful. I am honored to be invited to participate, and foster literacy” stated Young.

Young also held a presentation for local teachers on the ‘Read to be Ready’ initiative in Tennessee at the Johnson County School Board Office.” The Imagination Library was created by Dolly Parton in Tennessee and has been providing young readers statewide the tools to develop reading skills early and carry a love of reading throughout their lives. Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children in Sevier County, the singer’s home. Today, the program spans four countries and mail out more than one million free
books each month to children around the world.

Leni Smith stated “It is so rewarding seeing all the kids have such a good time, and how excited they are about the carnival and the author. We want to introduce kids to literacy at an early age.”

The program came to Johnson County in 2005. Imagination Library, which currently, boasts of the enrollment of nearly 800 Johnson County children, is free and is open to any Tennessee child from birth to five years of age. For more information or to enroll in the program, parents can visit or visit the Johnson County Library.

Animal control takes center stage

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

An item on this month’s County Commissioners’ meeting agenda, was the continuing lack of an Animal Control presence in Johnson County. Al Gryder, representative of the Johnson County Humane Society, took to the podium to express his disappointment with the continued lack of a proper animal control in the county.

“I have appeared before this commission before holding a petition with over 900 names on it asking for a county animal control presence,” Gryder said.

Gryder shared with the group the story of a lady who was recently bitten by a dog in the Trade community and how it was handled improperly. He stated that the deputy who responded failed to call the city animal control, as is the legal protocol for such instances.

“The county has a contract with the city animal control for situations like these,” Gryder stated. “Instead of calling animal control, the deputy called a private, unlicensed rescue to respond to the situation. The dog should have been taken to a state controlled shelter for observation.”

Gryder explained that the victim had to undergo rabies treatments because she was never updated on the status of the dog that bit her. He said the dog was quarantined at the rescue and later determined to not have rabies and that the victim would not have had to go through the painful rabies treatments if she had been contacted.

“When I called the lady, she said I was the only person who had contacted her about the situation in over ten days,” Gryder explained. “County citizens deserve better than this.”

A suggestion was made that the county pay for deputies to be trained to handle these situations and on how to properly handle a dog bite case when no vaccination could be proven. Eddie Tester was in attendance and stated that it would mean more deputies would have to be hired and trained to handle animal cases if that is what the county decided to do. No vote was taken and Gryder was thanked for his time. The next meeting of the Johnson County Commissioners will be held on September 20, at 7 p.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse.

Seniors show off brain power

Senior Brain Games

Front row – The First Sunrise Seniors team: Barbara Henson, Joan Payne, and John Mast. Not pictured Robert Glenn. Second row – Terry Hodge, Joe Ray, Nelson Diggs and Lee Diggs were The Breakfast Club Team coming in second place and Tracey Buckles, Kathleen McLaughlin, Teresa Sutphin and Lee Gay conducting the competition from FTAAAD. Photo submitted.

By Tamas Mondovics

The Johnson County Senior Center was pleased to host its first local Brain Games competition earlier this month. The event made up of interested seniors who attend the center, forming twelve teams consisting of three members each.According to event organizer and Director of the Johnson County Senior Center, Kathy Motsinger, the competition, which was won by the First Sunrise Seniors, the same team that participated in Johnson City last year consisted of four rounds of five questions answered as each team worked together.

“The point values of the questions were 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 points depending on team confidence,” Motsinger said. “Each point value could only be used once in each round, so strategy in assigning point value was important. In the fourth round, the point values doubled.”

JCSC also participated in the Tennessee District Senior Brain Games competition held earlier in Johnson City. The team was composed of Robert Glenn, Barbara Henson, John Mast and Joan Payne. Three members competed, and one was an alternate.

“Although that was their first competition, that team placed third out of the eight teams,” Motsinger said.

In July the same team competed in a scrimmage in Jonesborough, a competition of ten teams, which consisted of other East Tennessee area Senior Centers. The team placed second place behind The Old Towners of the Jonesborough Senior Center, the state champion team for the past two years. The JCSC team also represented the senior center in the tournament at the Johnson City Senior Center held on Thursday, August 23. Go, Team.

Some local doors close as others prepare to open

Tributary closing

After seven years on Main Street, The Tributary Restaurant has closed to focusmore on catering. Photo by Jill Penley.

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

While walls are being erected in the construction of two new fast food restaurants in Mountain City, two family-owned restaurants, considered staples in the downtown area, are closed or preparing to close. When Craig and Raina Sluder purchased the lovely little cottage near Mountain City Elementary School facing Murphy Street, it was hard to imagine it housing a specialty coffee shop, but it was soon transformed into a cozy little spot to enjoy not only one’s favorite brew but a nice lunch with friends.

“It looks like the coffee shop will serve its last cup this month,” said Melody Grayson, who has owned and managed the Coffee House Café for the past ten years. “We have had some wonderful staff and met some great friends over the years.”

According to Grayson, the owners have decided to put the house on the market, and while opening in another location has not been completely ruled out, she reports difficulty in finding a suitable and affordable place to rent.

“I would certainly like to thank everyone who has supported us the past few years,” said Grayson.

In 2010, Aleta and Ron Higgins opened The Tributary Restaurant on Church Street. After relocating to the mountains of East Tennessee from Connecticut, it seemed natural to open a restaurant. Behind Chef Ron’s culinary expertise and Aleta’s organization and management skills, The Tributary quickly became the place to go for “great food in a rustic mountain atmosphere.”As the restaurant’s popularity grew, space became limited, and the couple relocated to Main Street, where they could offer more seating, a private dining room, and a full salad bar.

While always offering catering, a few years ago, that aspect of the business started flourishing making it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demands of the restaurant and the special catering events.

Assistance needed for seniors

Johnson County Heating For Seniors Fund seeks donations.

By Jinifer Rae
Freelance Writer

With winter, fast approaching, many in Johnson County are making preparations to stay warm this season. For some of Johnson County’s seniors, keeping the cold out can be a real financial challenge. The Johnson County’s Emergency Heating Assistance for Seniors Fund program has been invaluable for the last ten years, helping eligible low-income seniors keep warm.With a small beginning created to help some of Johnson County’s seniors, the program has grown into a 501(c) 3 organization.Since 2008, the corporation collected more than $175,000 towards heating costs, which helped provide kerosene, propane, wood, coal, or assistance with electric bills.

“We are one hundred percent nonprofit,” said Gwen Bell, President of the Johnson County Emergency Heating Assistance for Seniors Fund. “Every cent donated has been used as fuel for our seniors. Every year it costs approximately $20,000 to supply heat to eligible seniors. With winter fast approaching we are again in need of support and funds.”

Eligible applicants are screened through the Tennessee Department of Health. Qualified individuals must be at least 65 years old, or 60 years of age with a disability. Last year, more than 67 seniors were assisted.

“We had to extend our program into May, because asyou recall it was the winter that wouldn’t end,” Bell said adding that resources were stretched, but the organization managed to help every eligible senior. “Of course, we are in serious need of donations for this coming winter season.”

Providing fuel has become a community effort; many individuals, churches, businesses, and the neighborhood services center all work together helping the cause.

“We are thankful that Tri-State gives us a discount for kerosene and Marsh and Freeman gives a discount for propane,” Bell added. “We have a good provider for wood that delivers a dump truck load for a great price, and I want to thank every business, church, and person who has helped us raise funds, so that we can help these elderly folks in Johnson County. “Also I want to thank the United Way for the grants they have given.”

Bell emphasized the need to thank those who have worked the front-line to administer and maintain the heating fund from its early beginnings through today.

“Bill Brookshire who gave me the idea, and has donated more than $10,000 to this cause while Nancy Wills serves as treasurer, and last but not least Laura Holloway from the Tennessee Department of Human Services, who has handled our casework for more than seven years.”

According to Bell, any donation, no matter how small helps, and makes a difference.

“If you know of a low income senior who needs help, please notify us, we will work with them to get the help they need,” she said.

Donations can be mailed to Johnson County Emergency Heating Assistance for Seniors Fund. P.O. Box 208, Mountain City, Tennessee 37683.

Public Housing smoking ban takes effect

Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine Can Support Residents in Quitting Tobacco Use

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Smoking will be prohibited in public housing units across Tennessee and the U.S. effective July 31, 2018. The smoke-free rule is part of a larger plan to decrease building maintenance and smoke-related damage costs, reduce the risk of accidental fires and create healthier environments by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. The Tennessee Department of Health reminds Tennesseans who smoke that free help to quit smoking is available through the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine.

“Quitting smoking can be a challenge, but it can be done, and studies show those who use counseling services to help them kick the habit are twice as likely to succeed as those who try to quit alone,” said TDH Assistant Commissioner for Family Health and Wellness Morgan McDonald, MD. “Most smokers want to quit, and most people who quit have to try multiple times before they are successful. We want to do everything we can to make it easier for people to quit for their own health and the health of their loved ones.”

The Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine, 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669 is available for all Tennesseans who would like support in their efforts to quit tobacco use. The call and all program services are provided at no cost to participants and kept confidential. The Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine connects tobacco users to a trained quit counselor who helps each caller develop a personalized quit plan and provides ongoing one-on-one support and guidance to help them quit. Callers may also qualify for up to a two-week supply of nicotine replacement therapy patches at no charge.

The Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine is available seven days a week, with services offered in both English and Spanish. A language line is also available to accommodate callers who speak a language other than English or Spanish. Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine hours are Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST, Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. EST and Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST. Enrollment can also be completed online at

TDH also offers the Baby and Me Tobacco Free program to help pregnant women quit smoking. This program offers incentives including vouchers for diapers for each month a participating woman is smoke-free up to one year after her baby’s birth. Supporting family members such as dads can also participate. Contact your local health department for enrollment information or visit

The public housing smoking ban prohibits smoking tobacco products in all indoor common areas, administrative offices, living units and outdoor areas within 25 feet of the buildings. All current and incoming leaseholders will be required to sign a lease agreeing to the policy. The policy was announced in December 2016 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the agency gave the nation’s more than 3,300 local public housing authorities nearly 18 months to begin enforcement. The rule excludes residents living in homes under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at

This news release can be accessed online at Connect with TDH on Facebook and Twitter @TNDeptofHealth!

Drivers may electronically prove vehicle registration

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Life just a got a little bit easier for drivers in Tennessee as a new law went into effect July 1, 2018, allowing drivers to provide digital evidence of current vehicle registration. The law will specifically enable the driver to show proof on any electronic device, like a phone or tablet, as long as the document says the car is properly registered and issued to the owner or person driving the vehicle.

“We are excited to announce this new service now offered by BIS, the company who manages our computer systems,” said Tammie C. Fenner, County Clerk for Johnson County. “Auto Assistant is a free app that makes keeping up with your vehicle registration easy and convenient.”

According to Fenner, drivers will now be able to present instant electronic proof of registration and receive notifications of renewal dates. “With this app, you can manage all of your vehicle’s registrations and renewals all in one place,” said Fenner. “If your registration is expiring, it is easier than ever to renew it online digitally.”

Paper vehicle registration documents are often crammed in crowded glove compartments along with too many other items causing panic to ensue if asked for proof of insurance and registration when pulled over by an officer. State law now allows digital documentation of each, which stands to make the process faster, easier, and safer for both the officer and driver.

Business Information Systems (BIS), headquartered in Piney Flats, Tennessee, is a data system design company founded in 1977 to help businesses and municipalities find solutions by using the latest computer technology and programming techniques. BIS is a partnership registered in the State of Tennessee.

The state bill, dubbed SB0727, is specifically worded: Motor vehicles, titling, and registration: authorizes persons to display evidence of vehicle registration in electronic formats through the use of cell phones and other electronic devices.

Electronic vehicle registration has proven to be secure and is accepted in many other states. Online electronic vehicle registration has been shown to save time, travel, and the hassles of waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicle.

Farmer’s Market to accept SNAP benefits

JCFM Sonyia Douglas from Sweet Spring Farms

Sonyia Douglas from Sweet Spring Farms offers a large selection of produce at the Johnson County Farmers Market at Ralph Stout Park in Mountain City. The market welcomes residents with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to provide assistance with nutritional benefits. Photo courtesy Johnson County Farmers Market.

By Jinifer Rae
Freelance Writer

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides assistance with nutritional benefits to eligible recipients.Thanks to a new program initiated to improve access to nutritious foods, SNAP benefits can be used at the Johnson County Farmer’s Market, located at Ralph Stout Park, 345 N Shady St, in Mountain City. The Farmer’s Market is open from 9 am to noon on Saturdays and from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm on Tuesdays.

Tennessee’s 168 farmers markets are listed with Pick Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s program to help consumers identify and choose farm and food products grown or made in Tennessee. Each farmers market indicates on the Pick Tennessee site if it participates in SNAP. According to the Department of Agriculture’s website, every month more than a million people in Tennessee receive supplemental nutrition benefits.

“We are so happy that some of the farmer’s markets in Tennessee now offer this great service,” said Greer Gill, Ag Marketing Consultant for Agricultural Advancement Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).
The TDA emphasized that a number of markets throughout the state work with organizations that allow SNAP users to double up to $20 worth of foods bought at those markets.

USDA and the AARP Foundation administer the Fresh Savings grant program to help people, especially older adults, add dollars to their SNAP budgets the agency said.It is noteworthy that without the SNAP partnership, farmers at farmers markets would miss out on the dollars allotted for SNAP and their double-up programs.
Gill stated, “This program helps the people of Tennessee, but it also helps the farmers,” confirming that through these programs, participating farmers receive as much benefit from SNAP as the people who need access to fresh, nutritious foods.

TDA officials explained that SNAP benefits are simple to use. Depending on the market, a SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card can be used as a debit card with individual vendors. At other markets, SNAP users go to the market’s information booth and request that the card is processed for a certain amount. The users then receive tokens that can be exchanged for fresh foods at the market. At these markets, farmers who accept SNAP
tokens are identified with signs.

For more information about the Tennessee department of Agriculture, please visit,
For information about the Johnson County Farmers

Market, please visit

SNAP benefits

County seeking grant to help with recycling center

JoCo Commissioners meeting

A larger crowd than usual was in attendance for the Johnson County Commissioners meeting. The commissioners apply for a grant to improve the county’s transfer station recycling center, which was unanimously approved. Photo by Marlana Ward

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Johnson County Commissioners met on Thursday, August 16 before an uncharacteristically large crowd. Among the business discussed at the meeting was the request for a grant to be pursued which would allow  for the purchase of equipment to be used in the recycling area of the Johnson County Transfer Station. County Purchasing Agent Dustin Shearin presented the commissioners with information regarding the request.

“The recycling side of the transfer station is on a slope,” he said. “New equipment would make it keeping the area safer in the winter and clean of debris year-round possible.”

Shearin informed the commissioners that a match from the county would be required to obtain the grant but that due to the county’s size and economic level, that match should be on the minimal side of proposed matching rates. Commissioner Bill Adams made the motion to move forward with the grant application, which Commissioner Rick Snyder seconded. All twelve commissioners in attendance approved the proposal.

Shearin went on to explain in greater detail how the equipment would add to the safety of not only the workers at the site but also the public and their property as they utilize the transfer station’s different portions.

“With the proposed snow plow blade and sweeper attachments respectively, we would be able to more properly clear snow and ice from the sloped drive and lot areas leading to the recycling drop off points at the Solid Waste Transfer Station during winter months,” Shearin said. “We could also sweep areas clean from small debris such as nails and small bits of metal which may cause harm or puncture vehicle tires of the county vehicles and public vehicles using the facility, increasing safety and reducing potential property damage. Also, there are plans for using the bucket attachment to aid in a more efficient loading technique into recycling containers.”

As far as the county’s potential financial responsibility toward the matching requirement of the grant, and why it was expected that the county’s share would be low, Shearin said, “The grant information states that a local match of 10 to 50 percent is required based off of several factors. It is anticipated that Johnson County would be on the lower end of these percentages from prior grant awards having a low match requirement. It is great to bring back to Johnson County grant funding and to have the ability to purchase equipment at a fraction of the cost instead of using 100 percent local tax dollars to fund the purchase.”

When asked about future costs to the county while operating and maintaining the equipment if obtained, Shearin stated that while maintenance costs would be required, the benefits of the equipment in the overall work of the county would offset much of the expense.

“As with all equipment there comes upkeep necessary for proper functioning equipment, so yes there would be a minor cost involved. With that in mind, there are certain recycling percentage regulations, or waste reduction goals, which Johnson County and several other entities within our Solid Waste Planning Region are working to follow. Everything we can do at this point in time to help reach our regional waste reduction goal will help to offset potentially higher costing program changes needed to meet these goals in the future.”

Shearin emphasized that the county hopes that by investing in the recycling areas at the transfer station, the people of the county would be encouraged to utilize those facilities more.

“With this idea of a more maintained recycling program location, we are looking to see more recycling efforts made by citizens due to the elimination of the worry of a flat tire or personal property damage when dropping off items at the transfer station.”

Local man arrested for aggravated rape in NC

captured FBI top 10 criminal


By Tamas Mondovics

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced the capture of one latest top 10 most wanted last week. According to TBI Robert “Bobby” Fletcher, 57, of Mountain City TN, was wanted for aggravated rape and other charges and arrested by authorities in Avery County, North Carolina. Fletcher was added to the TBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list on Tuesday, August 7, but it took only a couple of days before law enforcement officials caught up with him in North Carolina.

Fletcher had a number of charges and has outstanding warrants for his arrest including cockfighting, according to information from the TBI released last Wednesday. Fletcher now faces an additional charge of possession of a potentially vicious dog by a convicted felon and numerous drug violations.

During his arrest, the most serious charges against Fletcher were two counts of aggravated rape. TBI urged residents to considered Fletcher dangerous. According to TBI agents a $2,500 reward was also offered for information to lead to Fletcher’s capture. Individuals on TBI’s Most Wanted list should all be considered armed and dangerous, and should only be approached with extreme caution, the agency said. Current charges of the top 10 suspects include first-degree (murder) homicide (4), Rape (4), assault and robbery (1) and kidnapping and assault (1).

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was born as a result of a highly publicized murder in Greene County in December of 1949. The heinous crime aroused the emotions of citizens throughout the region. In an address to the Tennessee Press Association in January of 1951, John M. Jones, Sr., publisher of the Greeneville Sun, called for the creation of an unbiased state agency to assist local law enforcement in the investigation of serious crimes.

Since that time, the Bureau has grown significantly, and continues to meet the demands of providing up-to-date investigative, forensic science, and support to Tennessee’s entire criminal justice system. To date, 412 fugitives have been apprehended since the inception of the TBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted program.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts can call their local law enforcement agency or 1-800-824-3463.

Senior Center hosts annual Luau, boasts of future services

Senior Center Luau

Johnson County Senior Center director Kathy Motsinger (center) is joined by John Payne, Danea Marchall, Ollie Phipps, Bob and Minnie Miller for a photo during the center’s annual Luau festivities held last week in Mountain City. The event was well attended and was a great success. Photo by Tamas Mondovics.

By Tamas Mondovics

The Johnson County Senior Center (JCSC) 128 North College Street, located in the heart of Mountain City TN, is known as a multi-purpose center providing services for people 60 and older and for keeping its guests busy, with a wide variety of daily activities. The center’s reputation was confirmed once again last week during the annual Johnson County Senior Center Luau, which has seen an excellent turnout bringing more than 122 residents together from across the county. According to JCSC director Katherine Motsinger, the event was a great success.

“The event was well attended, enjoyed and much appreciated by everyone,” Motsinger said but added that while at times passed other functions drew a much larger crowd, it was a nice event for area senior. “We were very pleased.”

Since taking the helm, Motsinger, formerly at the Johnson County High School, has been working hard improve things including working to receive much-needed grants for the center as well as drawing on her community friends and local contacts. One such support recently awarded to the center came as the result of teamwork, seeking a grant for establishing a new transportation program in the county. The proposed initiative hoped to provide residents with rides to the doctor appointments, the senior center, and other transportation needs. Under the direction of Motsinger and the support of a large number of local officials and community advocates, the center is asked for volunteers to help the program come to the county and make a difference in the lives of local seniors.

The effort did not fall on deaf ears as representatives from the JCSC met with officials from the Tennessee chapter of the Southwest Area Agency of Aging and Disability to determine eligibility to establish the My Ride Johnson County program with excellent results.

“I am happy to report that we did receive a grant,” Motsinger said, adding that the group is now working on making good use of the support that meeting earlier this week discussing the Transportation Grant that was awarded to the center. This program will benefit many senior citizens in our county,” she said.

JCSC also hosted a Brian Games Competition ahead of the District Senior Brain Games Competition scheduled for Thursday, August 23. The Regional Competition will be held on Monday, September 24.

“Our team “First Sunrise Seniors” has a very good chance of winning,” Motsinger said.

For more information about the many exciting events and activities at the Johnson County Senior Center, please visit its page on Facebook.

Veterans urged to review Tricare changes

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Recently, a supplemental insurance company utilized by some local veterans announced changes, which could affect costs for retirees, active-duty, and future retirees. Tricare and Tricare for Life will be facing these changes as a result of inner-company and Congressionally ordered adjustments.

“Tricare is a health care program for those on active duty and do not have to pay anything if not stationed near or on a military base,” said Karen Manuel from the Johnson County Veterans Services Office. “Tricare for Life is for military retirees with 20 or more years in service who also must have Medicare Part A and B. If they have Medicare A and B, Tricare for Life can pay their Medicare co pay.”

“Tricare is considered secondary coverage,” Manuel explained. “After your doctor, hospital, or pharmacy is paid by a veteran’s other health insurance, they will file a claim with Tricare or send a bill for any remaining costs. If a veteran receives a bill, they send it to Tricare.”

According to, some changes, which affect retired military personnel include: Tricare for Life users will only be impacted by an update to when deductibles and catastrophic caps reset; Tricare plan names, region borders, and managing contractors are changing January 1; All Tricare standard retirees and Tricare Retired Reserve users will see point-of-service fee changes; Retirees of the future force will face annual enrollment fees for all plans; current retirees continue to pay an enrollment fee for Tricare Prime only. For active duty personnel, the most noticeable change will be with the point of service fees moving to a flat cost which will mean higher costs for some visits and lower for others.

Also changing is the way in which participants enroll or switch between Tricare plans. Open enrollment for Tricare will take place in November and December. Changes to a plan during the year will only be allowed following what the company deems a “qualifying life event.”

Military personnel who enrolled in the military after January 1, 2018, will face higher health care costs through Tricare. Their charges will be on a different scale and will include higher registration fees, higher caps, and different point of service charges.

While these changes are essential to those who qualify, Manuel shares that the changes will not affect every veteran, “There will be little change to our local veterans. It just depends on the type of plan they are on. Some will see an increase and others may stay the same. Veterans should contact Tricare to see if they will be affected.”

Veterans and active duty personnel may contact Tricare East by phone at 1-800-444-5445. Tricare information and answers to questions can also be found online at

Mountain City celebrates musical tradition

Long Journey Home

Temple Reece puts the finishing touches on a new mural, which will be revealed during the 4th Annual Long Journey Home celebration scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Photo by Jinifer Rae

By Jinifer Rae
Freelance Writer

Old-time music will be heard throughout Johnson County this Labor Day weekend as residents bring the past to life during the 4th Annual Long Journey Home celebration. “Black Smoke a Risin’, and It Surely is a Train” is the theme of this year’s four-day Long Journey Home Tour and Festival honoring the iconic old-time mountain music style that shaped country music as we know it. Befitting its musical heritage, Johnson County is located as far as northeast in Tennessee as one can get, equally sharing the hills and hollers of Cherokee National Forest and Watauga Lake.

Nestled within those hills, lies Mountain City, where once again much of the musical celebration will take place. According to event organizers and members of the Long Journey Home Committee, Temple Reece and Cristy Dunn, the festivities are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 30, with the Senior Center Dinner Concert and Dance.

“The committee has a special kickoff planned for Thursday night before anything else gets started,” Reece said. “Diners will enjoy the live music provided by The Long Journey Home House Band complete with an old-fashioned cake walk.”

Of course, that is only the beginning, as the festivities will continue throughout the following three days with a series of art and quilt shows on Friday and Saturday at the Johnson County Art Center and at the First Christian Church Christian Life Center, respectively. One of the most anticipated parts of the celebration is once again scheduled for Friday evening, with Buskin’ on Main Street, a special round of festivities that promises to bring the small town to life with music, friends, and plenty of good food. Reece emphasized that country music, as we know it today was shaped by some of Johnson County’s famous historical residents.

The first to make a recording of the now well-known song “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” G.B Grayson, will be commemorated on Saturday at the unveiling of a new mural honoring the blind fiddler, painted by Reece. The newest painting entitled “It Surely is a Train” will be the fifth in the series depicting Johnson County’s early country music icons.

Following the unveiling, guests will have an opportunity to enjoy a self-guided musical heritage tour, which will begin at Maymead, the site of one of the old Mountain City train depots with the music of Grayson. Aside from The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Grayson’s short career also produced Train 45, Handsome Molly, and nearly 40 other songs that became the standards of Bluegrass and early country music. The tour will guide visitors and music lovers to various sites throughout the county, concluding the day with performances of the Piney Woods Boys from the album, Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s, now on the National Recording Registry, followed by an open community jam session at the home place of Fred Price.

“Guests are encouraged to bring a quilt or lawn chair and be ready to take a trip back in time and follow the tour to five sites throughout the county, with the opportunity to hear murder ballads on the creek bank to commemorate the capture of Tom Dooley, and experience the signature claw-hammer banjo style of Clarence “Tom” Ashley played on the front porch of his home place,” Dunn said in a recent press release.

This year’s festivities will close on Sunday afternoon with a traditional gospel Sunday Singin’ at historic Heritage
Hall in downtown Mountain City.

For more information, please contact Cristy Dunn at 423-957-6346 or Evelyn Cook at 423-727-8700, or or visit

Butler woman dies in motorcycle crash

By Tamas Mondovics

In an update, THP reported that a Butler woman was killed in a motorcycle accident on Highway 91 in Johnson County last Saturday. According to THP officials a 2007 Honda Shadow motorcycle driven by 54-year-old Loren Garland of Butler, Tennessee was traveling south on Highway 91 and crested a hill. THP said that Garland applied his brakes because another vehicle was waiting to turn onto Dollarsville Road when he lost control of his motorcycle, traveled into the northbound lane and was hit by an ambulance, driven by 38-year-old Nicola Phillips of Lebanon. The passenger on the motorcycle, 45-year-old Betsy Brown of Butler, who was wearing a helmet, was killed as the result of the crash. Garland was reportedly injured in the accident. THP said criminal charges are pending.

Students reap rich blessings at 11th Annual Back to School Bash

By David Holloway
Staff Writer

Nearly 400 residents, 75 of them volunteers from Mountain City and surrounding areas attended the 11th Annual Back To School Bash held last month at Old Mill Music Park in Laurel Bloomery. The weather for this year’s event was a wonderful blessing as it provided an absolutely beautiful day for the outdoor festivities. A new addition to the event began on Friday evening with the first annual Youth Encounter, which gave close to 100 young people in attendance a chance to enjoy praise and worship music, followed by a message from Scooter Murphy.

Old Mill Ministries, founded in 2007 by missionaries Andy and Lisa Zeggert, coordinated the annual Back To School Bash. With the assistance of Freedom Christian Center in Mooresville, NC and several other ministries and supporters, Old Mill Ministries is able to reach out to the citizens of Johnson County and provide much-needed clothes and school supplies for the upcoming school year.

“South Mountain Baptist Association has several churches represented,” said Jill Lowe, one of the team members for the event. “There is a group from Princeton, NC here with about 60 youth volunteering running most of the games.”

Musicians from the Johnson County JAM group played several songs around lunchtime, while volunteers served hot dogs and chips for lunch for free to those in attendance. Many enjoyed face painting and playing corn hole or volleyball.After lunch, Refit, a fitness group from North Carolina took the stage. Refit is an exercise program that is set to upbeat Christian music. The dance moves do not require someone to be a professional dancer to join in but are simple enough that most people can do them. Refit started dancing to the first song and invited the crowd to join in either at their seats or to come up on stage. Before long, approximately 40 people were dancing on stage.
Around 2 p.m. a service time was held beginning with 20 minutes of praise and worship music. Following the music time, Murphy preached the message for the service, ending with an altar call, which resulted in 61 people accepting Jesus as their Savior.

Following the service time, the children in attendance were called out by their grade in school to form a line to receive a backpack full of school supplies. Various ministers prayed over each group of children and pronounced blessings over them for a prosperous school year. Following the distribution of all the backpacks, a dismissal prayer offered to close the event.

The community has seen another successful Back To School Bash, and students were sent forth to conquer their schoolwork with much hope for the new school year.