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Concerned citizens brainstorm positive change

By Meg Dickens

During the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting Safer at Home declaration, some citizens have put their heads together to figure out what Johnson County needs most. The conversation started on April 26 when American Red Cross volunteer Ellen Watkins posed the question on Johnson County, TN In the Know, a Facebook group that shares information on the area. Many of the topics hit close to home for many residents.

One popular response revolves around medical care. While Johnson County has many primary care physicians, there is a severe lack of specialists in the area. Specific examples given by locals include an OBGYN and an endocrinologist. Recent reports show that the local hospital does not have resources to test for COVID-19. Citizens rely on the health department and occasional events such as the drive-through testing at Johnson County High School on April 22.

Many citizens brought up the lack of resources for children. Johnson County has a public park for younger children but nothing geared towards teens and young adults. There have been multiple attempts over the last few years to add something more, such as a skating rink or youth center, but none of these plans were approved. Citizens complained about the continued denial from the Mountain City Council, citing a case from 2018 where the only missing piece was a building site. Officials originally liked the idea but later reported that the building in question had issues that made it impractical. There is still no progress on this plan.

Johnson County is growing. Recent years have shown a real estate boom and several new businesses coming into the area, such as the Johnson County Center for the Arts, KFC, and Taco Bell. Both the county and city approved liquor sales. Local sports teams have been dominating and shattering records. Johnson County’s robotics program started five years ago, and students have qualified for the world competition for three of those. Each of these factors makes Johnson County more attractive to the outside world.

Citizens hope to see Johnson County grow so they can shop locally and support the area, which in turn makes more growth possible. They are aware that the best way to encourage this is to talk to local government. Under normal circumstances, meetings are open to the public. Before COVID-19 struck and made meeting impossible, Mountain Antiques owner John Coolahan and Sassy Kats owner Sylvia Silverburg were working to form a local community advocacy group. Together concerned citizens can work to help the Mountain City/Johnson County area prosper.

“It all starts with an idea. Signed petitions, a cost analysis plan, benefits to the city county, and most of all, being present at the meetings,” said Kimberly Harper. “Have your voice heard; get in the ballot to speak at these meetings when they start back up. Communities working together is how things get done.”