By Jonathan Pleasant
Newly appointed chancellor John Rambo formally introduced himself at last weeks County Commission meeting. A Jonesborough native that has been practicing law for the past two decades, Rambo got his start as the Washington County Attorney in 1999, a position he held until taking the chancellorship earlier this year. Rambo was very appreciative of Johnson Countys support thus far and noted that he would make every effort to catch up on the docket following former Chancellor Johnsons ongoing battle with health issues.
Rambo explained that he loved coming up to Johnson County, both because of the beautiful scenery as well as the warm welcome from the people here. As such, Rambo reiterated that he would be scheduling more days in Mountain City and would make an effort to be present as much as he could. The chancellor concluded by expressing his appreciation to commission and all elected officials for their service.
Rambo wasnt the only person to make a presentation to the Commission. Vicky Wolfe from the Dry Hill Community came before the board to seek help with an ongoing problem stemming from the use of propane cannons at Villa Nova Vineyards. Wolfe explained that the vineyard uses the devices to scare off and deter birds from eating their grapes, but also pointed out that the loud noises are disturbing the neighborhood. Wolfe passed out copies of an email that was sent to Villa Nova owners Wayne and Linda Gay asking them to stop using the cannons and find a method of protecting your crop that does not negatively impact your neighbors.
Wolfe continued by saying that there had been no real response to the request and was thus hoping to receive some action from the commission. County Attorney Bill Cockett addressed the issue by informing Wolfe that without county zoning there was very little that could be done. Although there were questions about the possibility of creating an ordinance to handle the situation, Cockett emphasized that the county cannot make laws of its own accord, and is only given authority through legislation passed down from the state.
Although no representative was on hand, the Commission did receive and discuss information concerning an upcoming competition sponsored by State Farm Insurance. Known as Celebrate My Drive the contest focuses on young teenage drivers in an effort to secure commitments to safe driving practices. One of the main focuses of the initiative is to reduce distracted driving, an alarmingly destructive and growing problem with new drivers.
The contest is sponsored by State Farm and is divided between smaller schools with less than 750 students and larger schools with more than 750. Prizes will be provided for the top 50 schools in each category, ranging from a $25,000 grant up to a grand prize that features $100,000 and a live concert from Kelly Clarkson. School Superintendent Morris Woodring was on hand and confirmed that similar competitions had been held in the past with much success. With the competition officially kicking off the week of October 18th, Chairman Freddy Phipps was hopeful that more information might be available next month.
This months meeting also saw the reappointment of several key positions on the commission. Freddy Phipps and John Brookshire returned to their seats as Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively, and Bill Cockett was also reconfirmed as the County Attorney. This years county committees list was approved with very few changes in the lineup. Other typical monthly business included the approval of several notaries as well as one county official bond for 911 Assistant Director Kevin Coleson. In addition to the County Commission reappointments, there were also two planning commission approvals, giving both Kim Wilson and Gary Matheson another 4-year term on the board.
County Mayor Larry Potter gave an in depth update on the Doe Mountain Project, providing the commission with a list of more than a dozen major accomplishments that have occurred since the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority first met in November of 2012. Aside from the legal requirements including the adoption of an official seal and charter, the DMRA has been very busy working to secure the property, map existing trails, develop relationships with various user groups, and jump start the master planning process. Additionally the board has applied for and received several grants including a huge Regional Trails Program grant for nearly $200,000 from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Potter explained that the project has been moving very swiftly compared to similar endeavors in other states, and is hopeful that the mountain might see its first official opening in early November. The last big hurdle has been securing insurance, but Potter was hopeful that enough user passes could be sold over the next few weeks to generate the necessary funding to work with a private firm. In the long run, the DMRA is hopeful to see legislation passed through the state that would bring the project under the same protection of other state agencies, but this effort would be several months away at best.
Discussing insurance, the commission made a decision to change their stance concerning the inclusion of board members in the countys health insurance plan. Only two commissioners currently utilize the countys health insurance, but following a motion from Commissioner Huey Long, this will no longer be an option for incoming seats. As one of the biggest expenses to the county, efforts have been strong over the past few years to limit or cut insurance costs. In the same line of thought, a cap was already placed at $5,875 for all incoming county employees, but this new action will effectively eliminate insurance availability for members of the county commission in the future.
The last real business of the night was to approve two nominal changes to the county road system. In an effort to match up with 911 records, the commission approved recognizing a portion of Mountain Lake Road as Deer Path Circle, its original and intended name. This consequently led to the re-adoption of Deer Path and an adjustment in mileage to Mountain Lake. Although these changes do not reflect any variation in the road itself, they will correct addressing problems for residents and emergency services.
After a long battle with serious medical issues, Commissioner Dean Stout was back in attendance, actually opening the meeting with the invocation and closing with his increasingly traditional motion to adjourn. However, the significance of this particular closing remark was evident with members of the commission and the audience giving Stout a resounding standing ovation.