Business donates $2K in gifts to Angel Tree

Positive Thinkers members from Johnson County Bank stand around the Christmas tree with Angel Tree gifts. Local businesses and individuals donated these presents for needy children in Johnson County. Left to right: Bonnie Reece, Amy Lewis, Christie Joiner, and Amanda Pierce. Photo by Meg Dickens. 

By Meg Dickens

Every year for more than 30 years, Johnson County Bank has been a sponsor for the Salvation Army’s Santa’s Christmas Angel Tree program. A select number of bank employees from Positive Thinkers work to keep this program running smoothly. This program helps by enlisting volunteers to provide toys, clothing, or both for children in need. One local business stepped up with a large donation.
“Tsubaki Nakashima is committed to supporting the communities in which we operate,” explained. Human Resources Manager Michael Wessely.
Tsubaki Nakashima is relatively new to the area. Its roots go back to 1934 when it was known as Toyo Steel Ball Seisakusho. The company has evolved and merged several times to become the institution it is today. Tsubaki Nakashima bought out NN Ball & Roller in August of 2017 and opened a branch on Industrial Park Road in Mountain City.
As part of its Five Management Principles, Tsubaki Nakashima is committed to “being a better corporate citizen.” Some of the company’s steps towards this include decorating the Crewette Building for the season and donating to Santa’s Helping Hands since coming to the area.
This year, employees raised $1,000, which the company matched for a total donation of $2,000. Tsubaki Nakashima bought hats, gloves, socks, underwear, coats, etc. for the less fortunate children in the community with this money. According to Positive Thinkers member Christie Joiner, they have received enough Santa’s Helping Hands donations to help 160 local children, which is the highest number in years.
“Thank you to the community for helping us help kids in need,” said Positive Thinkers member Bonnie Reece. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
The Salvation Army is always in need of volunteers. Find out more about volunteering opportunities or assistance through the Salvation Army at Visit for more information on Tsubaki Nakashima.

JCHS cheer squad tour capitol with Rep. Hill

Johnson County High School cheerleaders pose in front of the Tennessee Capitol Building on their way to meet Tennessee State Representative Timothy Hill. The Longhorn squad came to Nashville to learn about government and cheer in an NFL game. Photo courtesy of Johnson County High School.

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County High School cheerleaders represented Johnson County during a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee. On Friday, November 22, they met State Representative Timothy Hill for a tour of the historic state capitol. According to the Tennessee State Museum, this is one of the oldest working capitols in existence, and it was named a
Historic National Landmark in 1971.
“It was wonderful having the cheerleaders visit,”
Representative Hill said. “We got to spend quite a bit of time together. It was really a highlight for me. We are so proud of them.”
The cheerleaders learned about the Tennessee state government during this trip. Representative Hill answered any questions they had on the government or the capitol. He showed the Longhorns the Legislative Library, House Floor, and his office. In the
House of Representatives, Tennessee has 99 House districts that hold approximately 64,102 residents. While touring, they also met Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s Chief of Staff and State Treasurer David Lillard, Jr.
On Sunday, November 24, they took a step into the spotlight during an NFL (National Football League) game. They cheered the Tennessee Titans on to victory in their home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Representative Hill made the comparison that he represents the state, and they represented the county that night.
Representative Timothy Hill stays involved in local affairs. He helps
secure funding for programs such as the Johnson County Schools robotics program and recognizes Mountain City citizens such as Farmers State Bank’s John Muse. Find out more about Representative Hill at, and direct questions to [email protected] Keep informed on Johnson County student events and achievements in the Tomahawk,, and on Facebook @johnsoncountyhighschooltn.



Farm families advocate Thomason announces retirement

UT Johnson County Extention Director Rick Thomason will retire Friday, December 13 after serving the citizens and framers of the county for the past 41 years. Submitted photo.

Submitted by Sarah Ransom

Rick moved to the county, right after graduating from UT as a Vocational Agriculture teacher for Johnson County High School. His first day of work in the county was January 1979. During his time in the county, Rick met and fell in love with Jahala. As the famous saying goes, after meeting the woman of his dreams… “the rest is history.”
Rick transitioned to working with Extension in 1992, where he served as an Assistant Extension Agent with responsibilities for the 4-H program. When Tom Fortune retired in 2001, Rick transitioned into working as an joint Extension agent, serving both youth and adult audiences within the field of agriculture and 4-H.
He also began serving as the Johnson County Extension Director. Now, after serving forty-one years in the field of agriculture—twenty-seven years and nine months later in Extension, Rick is ready to retire! The reason he began working in Extension is that he wanted “to have the opportunity to help improve people’s lives by providing information that would benefit farm families.”
Rick’s excited to be working full-time with his church, Central Baptist, and playing with his very precious grandchildren.
Rick loved many parts of Extension, but his favorite part of working within Extension is the many relationships that he has been blessed to build over the years. “Serving the people of Johnson County has been very rewarding. I have made so many friends not only in Johnson County but also throughout Tennessee and across the country.”
Not only are there many friends, but also many fond memories from his work through the years. Rick’s greatest satisfaction has come “from watching my former students be successful in life. I have worked long enough to be able to teach children and even grandchildren of some of my former students. I also cherish the many trips we’ve been on starting in FFA and 4-H to going on numerous beef cattle tours across the country. Just watching people’s eyes light up when they get to see new places and things. I know that had it not been for my job that I would have never been able to travel and see many of the places that I’ve been privileged to visit and learn from listening to how others operated and managed their farms.”
During his time in Extension, Rick organized and planned many Cattlemen’s Trips around the United States to view other farms, agricultural productions and visit historical landmarks along the way.
Rick states that “Extension is a way of life that involves pretty much every aspect of our lives. It takes the support of the entire family. My
late wife, Jahala, was
always by my side, helping with many Extension assignments, classes, workshops, field days, etc. Whether
serving voluntarily or by being drafted into service, our families play a major role in our work as Extension agents.”
While Rick may be completing his career in Extension work, he says that throughout Extension’s storied history, “we have been on a mission to help improve the lives of the citizens we serve. It has been a great honor to serve the citizens of Johnson County over these past 41 years, and I pray that I’ve been able to make a difference in at least one life or one family. If so, then I would consider my career a success.”
Thomason will enjoy a retirement party with coworkers friends and family, December 13, 2019.

Setting straight animal protection law misconceptions

Sheriff Eddie Tester helps locals from Rescue DOG and End of Life Sanctuary transport animals to a partner shelter.
Photos courtesy of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

By Meg Dickens

Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act passed unanimously through the Senate earlier this November making its way to be signed by President Donald Trump into law as Public Law No. 116-72 on Monday, November 25.
This new bill is a step in the right direction for animal protection, but widespread misconceptions make staying informed difficult. Local animal activists Rescue DOG and End of Life Sanctuary Owner Melissa Gentry and Mountain City Animal Control Officer Mandy Neylon took a moment to set the record straight.
PACT builds on the 2010 Animal Crush Prohibition Act (Public Law No. 111-294), which tightens regulations on “Animal Crush” videos. Congress defines Animal Crush as any type of obscene video or image that depicts living, non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians intentionally being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or put through serious bodily harm.
Despite some reports, PACT only applies to specific acts of cruelty mentioned in the Animal Crush Prohibition Act and sexual abuse. Punishment could result in a fine and up to seven years in prison. This bill does not cover neglect, abandonment, extreme weather issues, filthy conditions, tethering issues, or puppy mills.
“In the past 20 years of rescue, I have seen many horrific scenes that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. These are the cases that give me nightmares and keep me up at night. Stricter laws making abusers accountable are the key to change,” said Gentry. “The PACT Bill is a small step, and we can only go forward. I am hopeful we can build on this small step and work together to make a difference in our community.”
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department has been a big help, according to local advocates. Sheriff Eddie Tester partnered with Rescue DOG to help with an animal transport back in June and continues to help animals in the course of duty.
“I am so thankful we have a sheriff’s department that is ready to step in and does not hesitate to charge an individual for cruelty and neglect,” said Gentry. “With the assistance of Sheriff Tester and his deputies, justice has been served to many in Johnson County, and the animals are forever indebted.”
To learn more about the PACT act, visit

Johnson County Schools Closed

Johnson County Schools administration has been monitoring the inbound weather system and expect it to get harsher as the day moves forward, and decided that Johnson County Schools will
be CLOSED today, Monday, December 2, 2019.

Stay safe and warm, and have a good day.

Johnson County Schools on two-hour delay

Road crews from the Johnson County Highway Department clearing ice and snow from the county’s roads.
File Photo by Jill Penley

Due to the arrival of inclement weather tonight and the safety concerns of our students, Johnson County Schools will be on a TWO HOUR DELAY tomorrow morning, December 2nd 2019.


‘Tis the Season

Johnson County Commissioner, Megan McEwen (District 5) and her mom Elaine Lewis are hard at work earlier this week installing Christmas lights in downtown Mountain City in preparation for the winter holiday. Additional decorations befitting the season will also be added in the coming days. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

Donation assists Sheriff’s department with children in need

Sheriff Tester and company receive backpacks full of children’s items for each officer to carry. Tester believes that this will make a big difference when helping children on the scene. Photo submitted

By Meg Dickens

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church’s WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) gathered for its November 6 meeting with a philanthropic idea in mind. The members brought in donations to help the local Sheriff’s Department and children in distress. The WMU donated children’s backpacks filled with items like coloring books, crayons, blankets, etc. that each officer will keep in their cruiser.
Although many would not think to donate these items, they are needed in cases where children are present at a scene, most common in accidents and domestic abuse cases.
According to the Children Advocacy Center’s (CAC) records, the organization served 63 Johnson County child victims in the 2018-2019 period. Two-thirds of these children were female. These numbers do not include cases where children are bystanders. That is part of why the backpack supplies will be so useful to officers.
“It’s a great thing to do. Every kid we can help in a crisis makes a huge difference,” said Sheriff Eddie Tester. “They’re already under stress and upset. This will help calm them down a little bit.”
Public support exploded when news of this donation spread. Several individuals are already proposing plans to keep this in motion. One idea is a replacement policy that will keep the officers stocked. Another idea was to provide small toys for the patrol cars during the Christmas season.
“This was so much fun to do! We had lots of participation and donations. What a great feeling to know that you’re making a positive influence,” said WMU member Lisa Roush. “We’re praying that God blesses each of the children that receive a backpack.”
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church’s WMU was established to study and support mission work, be involved in community mission actions, strengthen each other with prayer, and grow in Christian service. These ladies meet at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 P.M. Find out more about the WMU and Pleasant Grove Baptist Church at or (423) 727-6805. Keep up to date on the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook and at

A new look to an old friend

By Beth Cox
Freelance Writer

Mascots are essential to the spirit of any organization. They are effective marketing tools for promoting a specific product. Chick-fil-A has single-handedly changed the way people look at chicken; interestingly enough, through the eyes of a cow.
University of Tennessee’s mascot, “Smokey,” the hound dog has become so crucial to Tennessee; the bluetick hound is now the official dog of Tennessee.
The mascot helps bring character to the school by depicting the potential perspective of a school’s athletic program by establishing a certain image.
Lonnie the Longhorn has well represented Johnson County sports over the years. He has run out with the football team, brought the crowd to their feet at basketball games, and gave “high fives” to Johnson County’s youngest fans at the homecoming parade. Time has been rough for ‘ole Lonnie, though, and even the best longhorn sometimes gets put “out to pasture.” Unfortunately, the time has come to put the current Lonnie in his eternal resting place. In October, Johnson County residents got to pay their respects to the old mascot during Scarecrows on Main. The cheerleaders bid him a final farewell with a “rest in peace” theme by gently placing the old costume on a bale of hay with a RIP monument.
Johnson County Bank purchased the old Lonnie in 2011, but through the seasons, Lonnie started fading, material started ripping, and honestly, a collection of germs was reaching an all-time high. Johnson County Bank remained committed to Johnson County sports and the mascot, so the bank purchased a new and improved Lonnie the Longhorn. Megan McEwen from Johnson County Bank emphasized the importance of team spirit, “We at Johnson County Bank love our sports and our athletes, we are committed to doing all we can to support Johnson County sports and our community, purchasing a new Lonnie was one small way we can make a difference and show our Longhorn pride.”
Senior, Kobe Cox will be proudly wearing the new costume this year, and he is ready to greet the fans.
Cox explains why he loves being Lonnie the Longhorn, “I get to hype the crowd up. My favorite part is interacting with the kids; they get so excited and run up and give me a high five. It’s great.” Cox, along with Lonnie the Longhorn, will be ready to support Longhorn basketball on December 3, on the Atwood Court as the Longhorns take on the Unaka Rangers.

Heritage Square makes new one-way to protect pedestrians

By Meg Dickens

Heritage Square is a relatively new concept. It is an area recognized by Mountain City that links local businesses and nonprofits that includes the Johnson County Library, Central Office, Heritage Hall Theatre, the Senior Center, the Community Center, the Taylorsville Masonic Lodge, the 4-H building, Johnson County Tax Assessor building, and the Arts Center. Beautification was the original goal, but more important issues became evident.
“We formed this group of tenants with the mission of doing some “beautification” – benches, lighting, signage, landscaping,” said Heritage Square Development Judy McGuire. “It wasn’t too long until we realized we needed to deal with the safety
issue before doing anything else.”
Members have been beautifying the area, but now safety is their priority. The alleyway joining Church Street and College Street is the first concern the group tackled. The alley is narrow, heavily traveled, and drivers are prone to speeding through it.
Those leaving the community center or the senior center have been in undue danger. There have been four near misses this year: one of which was last week. Heritage Square members took matters into their own hands. After talking to the tenants, they were able to turn the alleyway into a one-way road.
“We have had several incidents where someone could have gotten seriously injured while crossing the parking area,” said Senior Center Director Kathy Motsinger. “This is a safety issue, and we need to enforce the one-way behind the Senior Center and the back entrance to Heritage Hall.”
McGuire notes that the city and county have been incredibly helpful. There are already signs in place, and the city agreed to paint arrows once the temperature makes it possible. The Square would like to add speed bumps eventually.
McGuire says that there will be more beautification during spring. One project the Square hopes to tackle is matching signage, which would make the area look clean and show where these different organizations and businesses are more clearly. Improvements can be
pricey, so members of the Square are looking for available grants.
“The timing is good, and the interest is there,” McGuire explained.
Keep an eye out for
future Heritage Square projects. For more information on Heritage Square or the one-way, contact Judy
McGuire at [email protected]

Salary increase approved for Senior Center director

The Johnson County Budget Committee debates agenda items during its Thursday, November 21 meeting. The members decided to approve both of the senior center requests and send offers to the County Commission
meeting later that evening. Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County Senior Center is undoubtedly a staple in the community that has grown massively since Director Kathy Motsinger took over in 2017; numbers jumped from approximately 342 to 1,350 in this short amount of time.
Around 1,000 of these are active members. The Budget Committee and County Commissioners approved requests from the Johnson County Senior Center at their Thursday, November 21 meeting. These requests include adding a part-time administrative assistant and the center advisory board’s plea for a salary increase for Director Kathy Motsinger.
Those who partner with the senior center fully support these requests. Dr. John Payne presented packets to the county commissioners with information on the center’s programs along with letters from AAAD (Area Agency on Aging and Disability) Director Kathy Whitaker, AAAD Projects Specialist Teresa Sutphin, and Meals on Wheels Director of Nutrition Services Stephanie Walker endorsing the center and Motsinger’s abilities.
“Kathy has provided so many services and activities for seniors that are not being done in any other county in Northeast Tennessee,” Payne quoted Walker.
According to Mayor Mike Taylor, the senior center has the largest turnout per capita of any of the centers in surrounding counties. However, the neighboring areas have workers on hand. Dr. Payne explained that the center’s advisory board had to deny several proposed programs because it was unreasonable to pile even more work on Motsinger. She already works long hours after everyone else heads home for the night. Motsinger leads an average of four events per day at the center as well as planning and arranging trips ranging from local day trips to multi-week, cross-country trips.
“She is the busiest and does well at multitasking. I can’t do it,” Payne told the Budget Committee. “I can’t deal with it that way, but she handles more things at one time
than any person I’ve ever seen. And she has a smile doing it.”
Adding more help would make more activities possible, says Payne. The administrative assistant job did exist at the Johnson County Senior Center before Motsinger’s arrival. The two prior directors had some form of assistant or secretary. The newly approved employee will do mostly clerical
work for twenty hours a
week. Anyone interested in this position should contact Kathy Motsinger at (423) 727-8883 or [email protected]

Ashley honored with Music Pathways marker

Department of Tourist Development East Tennessee Division Manager, Dave Jones, left, is joined by Melanie Beachamp, Assistant Commissioner of Rural Tourism Outreach along with local officials and members of the community during the unveiling of “Tennessee Music Pathways” marker held this week in front of the Tom Ashley Mural located at the corner of Donnelly Street and South Church Street in downtown Mountain City. Photo by Tamas Mondovics.

By Tamas Mondovics

Local officials, musicians, music lovers, residents, and representatives with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development gathered this week in downtown Mountain City to celebrate the community’s musical heritage.
Music legend Clarence “Tom” Ashley was the center of attention honored by the installation of a new “Tennessee Music Pathways” marker held in front of the Tom Ashley Mural located at the corner of Donnelly Street and South Church Street.
The marker is the first of a number to be unveiled in Northeast Tennessee.
Tennessee Music Pathways is an online-planning guide that connects visitors to the state’s rich musical heritage at
From the largest cities to the smallest communities, Tennessee Music Pathways stretches across all 95 counties and features hundreds of landmarks from the seven genres of music that call Tennessee home: blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll.

Historians identified more than 300 points of interest to date, and additional markers, including two more planned in Mountain City, will be installed for years to come.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be here today and celebrate the rich musical heritage of the region,” said Department of Tourist Development East Tennessee Division Manager, Dave Jones.
“The installation and unveiling of this marker here in Mountain City will literally launch a statewide tour,” said Melanie Beachamp Assistant Commissioner of Rural Tourism Outreach. “The stories behind the music in these small communities are what shaped the music that it is today.”
During and following the dedication ceremony, followed by a reception at the Center for the Arts, visitors enjoyed Ashley’s songs performed by Kenny Price and Jerry Moses in Ashley’s signature clawhammer banjo style.

“Our community is honored to have Clarence “Tom” Ashley included in the Tennessee Music Pathways program,” said Cristy Dunn, of the Johnson County Center for the Arts.
Ashley was a performer, an artist, and a showman who spent 30 years traveling with a medicine show where he played clawhammer banjo, sang, and performed as a comedian.
It is noteworthy that the event also marks the launch of the “Musical Heritage Mural Mile,” a new walking tour throughout downtown Mountain City.
Dunn explained that Mural Mile, the self-guided mural tour, connects Johnson County residents and visitors alike to a storied history of authentic Appalachian music including Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Blind Fiddler, G.B. Grayson, who first recorded the Ballad of Tom Dooley, plus Fred Price and Clint Howard, who introduced the young Doc Watson to the world.
“We invite everyone to walk the Mural Mile and visit the Arts Center, where they will find more information and historical artifacts.”
All murals are the work of local Johnson County artists. A downloadable map of the tour is available online at

Jo. Co. robotics heading to state tourney

All of the Johnson County robotics teams come together for a photo after the competition. Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

Students at Johnson County High School and Johnson County Middle School have been hard at work since their last robotics competition at Brentwood Academy in early November. This past Saturday, JCMS hosted the Vex Robotics “Turkey Call” Tower Takeover Tournament. Teams from around Tennessee, along with a group from Kentucky, gathered to compete for a spot in the upcoming state competition. There were 36 teams signed up for the tourney.
As the name suggests, the 2019-2020, competition game is Tower Takeover. Two alliances, designated red and blue, made of two teams apiece use their robots to stack colored cubes on a 12’ by 12’ field. Basket-like towers are scattered around. Any block in a tower adds a one-point bonus to that color of block. The majority of these baskets are open to all teams, but each alliance has a designated hoop as well. This game tests the autonomous programming for the first 15 seconds and driver skills for the remaining 1 minute 45 seconds.
“They have made a lot of improvements since the last competition,” said JoCo Robos Assistant Coach Lane Sentell during a recent practice. “I think they have a good shot.”
Sentell was correct. JCHS Robos Team 63303A ranked number 1 and partnered with Robo Panthers Team
97934X to win the tournament 41-28. JCHS Robotics Team 63303V ranked number 13 and won the High School Design Award. Joco Robos Team 3075B ranked number 8 and won the Middle School Excellence Award. All three teams will be heading to the state competition in March.
“I am super proud of the work the students put in and their teamwork this year,” said JCHS Robotics Coach Kasi Dishman after the final match.
The state competition is scheduled for March 6 and 7 at Brentwood Academy, located at 219 Granny White Pike, Brentwood TN. The teams want to thank State Representative Timothy Hill, Senator Jon Lundberg, Danny Herman Trucking, the East TN Foundation, the Johnson County Community Foundation, and the public for their support.

Yellow Ribbons welcome soldiers home

A yellow ribbon tied to a utility pole at the Johnson County Courthouse. One of many placed around Mountain City by the Yellow Ribbon Mission to welcome local veterans home. Photo by Beth Cox

By Beth Cox
Freelance Writer

With several of Johnson County soldiers returning home in just a few days, Ellen Watkins with the Red Cross felt they should have a welcoming homecoming, so she began her “yellow ribbon mission.” Watkins expressed her feelings about the project when she said, “They have been away for almost a year. They need to know they were missed.” After she got the idea of covering the county with yellow ribbons, Watkins immediately started sharing her mission with others, and then things started happening quickly.
The quote, “Alone we can do little, together we can do so much,” exemplifies the foundation of Johnson County. Hearing of the yellow ribbon mission, Farmers State Bank and Johnson County Bank each purchased 100 yellow ribbons to be put in various locations throughout the county.
Melissa Gentry with Mountain City Antiques purchased fifty ribbons as well as Mountain City Dental.
Millers Flowers and House of Flowers only charged for ribbon, but due to the overwhelming response of the community, Millers Flowers has sold out while House of Flowers still has some yellow ribbons left.
Purchasing the yellow ribbons was just the beginning.
Many churches, youth groups, organizations, and schools have joined, creating a sea of beautiful yellow
ribbons that leaves little doubt of Johnson County’s pride and love for its soldiers.
Andrew Norman from First Christian Church led his youth group down 421
to hang up the yellow ribbons.
“It is a visible way of us saying thank you to our soldiers for their service overseas for the past year,” Norman said. “It means so much because we all know someone or we know their families. It was the least we could do to honor their work and service in the protection of our freedoms and our right to worship freely.”
As for Watkins, she is in awe of the turnout, “everywhere I look, I see
yellow ribbons.” She did not expect anything less from the good people of
Johnson County, “this county always comes together and always supports and takes care of their soldiers and veterans.”
As the old song goes, “Now the whole bus is cheerin’, and I can’t believe I see. A hundred yellow ribbons round the ole oak tree, I’m comin’ home.”

State appropriates millions of dollars for rural counties

Johnson County among at-risk and distressed counties to receive funding to spark workforce development.

By Tamas Mondovics

A recent press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce announced that the state of will be using millions of dollars in grant money to help the nearly four dozen distressed and at-risk counties across Tennessee.
“The aim is to bolster workforce development efforts,” the release stated, adding that the funding was approved by the Tennessee Workforce Development Board and aligns with Governor Bill Lee’s rural initiatives.
According to state officials the Rural Initiative Funding Opportunity Announcement (RIFOA) has made $3 million in funding available to local workforce development boards to support workforce expansion efforts in the targeted counties.
By the numbers, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) accepted grant applications from the counties across the state and determined the amount of funding each recipient would receive.
The state’s 15 distressed counties will split $2.1 million of the $3 million in grant money, with the remaining $900,000 divided among 23 counties, including Johnson County, deemed at-risk by the state.
“In alignment with Governor Lee’s priorities for Tennessee, we are excited to be able to make these funds available,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord. “These grant dollars will foster the opportunity to develop and maintain a qualified workforce in the places where it is needed most.”
Areas aside from Johnson County receiving funding in the Northeast Tennessee Local Workforce Development Area (LWDA) include Hancock County, which the state considers distressed, along with Hawkins, Unicoi, and Carter, which are also considered at-risk.
The grant money will fund re-entry, customer service training, OSHA 10 training, incumbent worker training, industry specific chemistry cohort, career technical education, certified production training, and work-based learning programs in the Northeast LWDA.
Commenting on what this means for its reasidents, Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor said, “Once devided up between each qualifying county, Johnson County will receive around $46,000, which will be used in an effort to assist a partnership between the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Parkdale Mills Plant 16 in Mountain City.
Taylor explained that the funds would be used for supplies, safety equipment and other expenses including transportation to help inmates who qualify to work at the plant.
“This will also give participants the chance to be employed after their release from jail,” Taylor said.
The rest of the funds will also be put in good use to ensure that the County is a work-ready community.
Tennessee Workforce Development Board chairman Tim Berry agreed when he said, “The members of the Tennessee Workforce Development Board want to do everything we can to give the residents in our rural communities the skills that will allow them to help themselves to better job opportunities. These grants should provide new resources to which they may not otherwise have access,
and provide them another step upward in their livelihoods.”
Tennessee’s distressed and at-risk counties face workforce challenges that do not exist in the state’s urban and metropolitan areas. Often, local leaders in rural counties are forced to navigate workforce obstacles such as geography, demography and high demand for employees, but a low supply of a qualified workforce.
Programs funded by these grants will create greater opportunities for residents in these counties to take part in skills training in high-demand growth sectors.
Money for the RIFOA comes from the Governor’s reserve of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (WIOA) funds. TDLWD will provide additional program guidance to the local workforce development boards, which receive funding.
For details on county-specific grant amounts and programs, visit the newsroom at

No shortage of pride and honor in Johnson County

Johnson County Lions Club members Bob Greever, left, and Jim Vincill, hard at work posting flags on South Church Street in Mountain City, in preparation for the annual Veterans Day earlier this week. The two were part of a small group of about eight who decorated the streets with a total of 114 American flags. The event raised about $600 for the club to help with providing eyeglasses for area residents in need. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Beth Cox
Freelance writer

A soldier stood ready to greet all who attended this year’s Veterans Day ceremony at the entrance of Heritage Hall in Mountain City, TN, earlier this week.
Air Force Veteran and Past Commander of the American Legion, Robert Hensley, was chosen as the master of Ceremonies for the program. Hensley appropriately began his remarks explaining the history of
Veterans Day and paid special homage to the American Legion, which is celebrating one hundred years of serving veterans and communities.
Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons and Johnson
County Mayor Mike Taylor each presented to Commander Frank Bass a proclamation on behalf of the town of Mountain City and Johnson County stating the importance of the American Legion and proclaiming November 11 as American Legion Centennial Day commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the American Legion and Mountain City’s Post 61.
Rep Timothy Hill spoke of the love and appreciation he and Johnson County have for the veterans stating, “We live in the greatest nation on earth, and God gave it to us through you, our veterans.” He adds, “I’m proud to be a part of the standard that you have set forward here in Johnson County.”
Senator Jon Lundberg also addressed the young people in the audience when he said, “look at the people in the audience and know the people you see were serving before you were born, they never met you, but they were serving because they knew you were coming.”
To follow up, Lundberg presented a coin to the oldest veteran in attendance, 99-year-old WWII veteran Hugh Edward Walker and shook the hand of 98-year-old WWII veteran Joseph Lipford as the audience rose to its feet filled with appreciation and respect for the two oldest veterans.
Local artist, Temple Reece honored the American Legion with a hand-painted picture of Johnson County’s American Legion Post 61. Reece presented the painting to Commander Bass, who promised that the painting would be displayed at the courthouse and city hall for a certain amount of time.
Specialist Frederick Green, who lost his life in the Fort Hood shooting, will be remembered by having the new bridge named in his honor as a reminder of his service and sacrifice.
The songs of both Nancy Davis and the Johnson County Children’s Choir under the direction of Mary Jo Thum gave both a patriotic and inspirational musical rendition of the pride shared by many in attendance.
The Johnson County Honor Guard and The Daughters of the American Revolution presented the wreath along with the music, TAPS, followed by a poignant tribute to all Johnson County veterans with service songs and service flags presentations.
The program signified the true essence of deep-rooted love, respect, and admiration for Johnson County’s past and present military personnel.

Toddler shooting victim scheduled for surgery

Three-year-old Ariel Salaices is going through physical, orthopedic, and speech therapy after she was struck in the head by a stray bullet while playing in her backyard. Submitted photo.


By Meg Dickens

On March 15, 2019, Ariel Salaices, 3, of Laurel Bloomery, was struck in the back, righthand side of her head by a stray bullet while playing in her backyard.
The shot sent Ariel flying off the slide only to collapse after a few steps.
According to local authorities at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, the bullet was from a pellet gun that was shot by an undisclosed child. The bullet severed an artery, which caused a stroke
and loss of brain function on that side.
Ariel is currently going through physical, orthopedic, and speech therapy in Johnson City, TN. Back in July, she spent approximately a month in Georgia doing extensive therapy every day. Her mother, Christina Salaices, is a former home health professional and believes that Ariel will need therapy for the rest of her life.
“Ariel’s life has changed dramatically,” said Christina. “She’s definitely no longer able to do a lot of the things she used to do. We’ve made the needed adjustments.”
Ariel has three other siblings: Destany 14, Evan 12, and Ethan 6. The family has strived to maintain normal routines for the children. Not much has changed with Ariel’s siblings, except they occasionally lend a hand such a pushing her wheelchair. On a good day, Ariel likes to yell and is extremely active. On a bad day, she is fussy and inconsolable.
Ariel is scheduled for a cranioplasty procedure at East TN Children’s Hospital on November 20. In this procedure, surgeons repair bone defects in the skull. The surgeons designated Ariel’s procedure as a custom bone flap placement. She currently wears a helmet to protect her skull.
Christina wants to thank the public for its support. The family is still using funds from their Go Fund Me fundraiser to help with medical expenses. The public donated nearly $60,000. Keep up to date on Ariel’s progress on Facebook @Arielsjourney2019.

First liquor store comes to Mountain City

By Meg Dickens

The Blackwells and Gelatos are making Johnson County history. Mountain Spirits Liquor Store is the county’s first liquor store.
Johnson County was a “dry county” until the November 2018 referendum vote approved both package store sales and liquor by the drink. Mountain City’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen issued two certificates of compliance for package stores at the end of August. Mountain Spirits passed state inspection on November 1, and owner Robert Blackwell plans to open his doors on Saturday, November 23.
The business started after Robert and Rosemary Blackwell noticed the struggle out-of-town family members faced during visits. The closest liquor store was a 45-minute to an hour drive both ways. After four years of hard work, Mountain Spirits has become a reality. The family-run business consists of Robert Blackwell and his siblings-in-law Kimberly and John Gelato. It will carry wine, beer, and regular liquor.
“We want to thank everyone that has helped us get to this point,” Rosemary explained. “Everyone’s support is appreciated.”
Locally there was a lot of pushback. Many thought that alcohol sales should not be allowed. Unhappy individuals argued online and, local pastors gathered at the Johnson County Commissioners meeting to protest against Sunday sales. On the other side, individuals claim this will bring in more revenue, which will help the area grow. The result is that the county and city will allow alcohol sales from 7 AM to closing on Monday through Saturday, and the city will allow Sunday sales starting at noon. These dates exclude Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
“Everyone is entitled to their beliefs,” said Rosemary when asked about those who oppose liquor in Johnson County. “We’re okay with that.”
Blackwell has a vested interest in opening a liquor store close to home. He lost his son, daughter-in-law, and 11-month-old granddaughter when a drunk driver hit them head-on going approximately 90 MPH. Opening a store nearby could reduce the time that people are on the road while intoxicated, which may decrease these types of accidents.
Mountain Spirits Liquor Store is located beside Poblano’s at 204 Pioneer Village Drive in Mountain City, TN.
Find out more information about Mountain Spirits at 423-460-1990.

Bishop’s court hearing set

By Tamas Mondovics

In response to the recent developments involving former Johnson County Schools Transportation Department Supervisor Barry Bishop, the community has not been shy expressing their thoughts and feelings both in person and on social media.
Decisions made by the five-member school board put Bishop’s employment status with the Johnson County School system to rest, but prompted more questions than answers.
With a 4-1 vote earlier this month, the board made Bishop’s retirement with benefits along with a $20,000.04 severance agreement official, effectively causing a social media backlash.
Johnson County Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox said that the school board’s dealings with Bishop, including his retirement and severance is separate from his criminal case. “We had nothing to do with the state’s criminal case against Mr. Bishop.”
As was reported earlier, according to the Johnson County School Board’s legal counsel, and as far as the Johnson County Schools system is concerned the separation agreement between JCS and Bishop, “is far less expensive and less risky than continuing legal proceedings.”
Johnson County School Board Lawyer Chris McCarty told the board earlier this month that, if Bishop’s employment status with JCS is not put to bed, “Mr. Bishop can file a suit. Even if he is dead wrong, just defending a suit would cost you more than what is in this agreement. A lot more.”
When asked if the board considered firing Bishop upon learning of his arrest and the allegations in January 2019 for one count of theft over $10,000, with TBI agents determining the total amount to be approximately $50,000, Simcox said, “The board was called together, and we did what our attorney advised us to do.”
“This was not about stealing from the school system,” Simcox said. “There was never any money stolen from the school system. The contract for CDL testing is from Homeland Security. We had a contract with them for over 20 years, and Mr. Bishop has done the testing. The case is in the DA’s hands.”
When asked why to let an “at-will” school employee who was investigated by the TBI, and is now facing a criminal trial, retire with benefits not to mention paying him $20,000, Simcox said, “I understand that people do not understand. We did everything based on the advice of our attorney.”
Bishop is officially retired as of November 1, 2019.
Based on court records, a final motion hearing for Bishop is currently set for Tuesday, February 25, 2020, followed by a possible trial date for June 25, 26, 2020.

Former Tenn Dept of Correction employees indicted

TDOC Press Release

MOUNTAIN CITY – The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Office of Investigation and Compliance (OIC) has worked jointly over the last 11 months with the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office in an ongoing investigation resulting in obtaining Grand Jury indictments against three former TDOC employees. A Johnson County Grand Jury returned indictments related to official misconduct against Randy Lee, Shannon Clark, and Billy Jan Porter, Jr.
All three individuals previously worked at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City. Lee, who served as Warden, is charged with tampering with evidence (three counts), official misconduct (four counts), and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence. Porter is charged with two counts of introduction of contraband while Clark was indicted on official misconduct and sexual contact with an inmate.
“Any employee who violates the trust bestowed upon correctional professionals, and those found in violation of state law should be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” said Commissioner Tony Parker. “The Department of Correction will not tolerate unprofessional conduct, and those who refuse to honor the oath of a correctional employee will be held accountable.”
Lee retired from TDOC in 2018; Clark was terminated on July 13, 2019, and Porter was terminated on September 21, 2019. Porter was a maintenance worker and Clark was a correctional sergeant at the time of their termination.
The Department of Correction encourages anyone with information about misconduct and/or any threats to the safety and security of our officers or facilities to call our anonymous TIPS hotline at 1-844-TDC-FIND (1-844-832-3463).