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).

Roe visits Mountain City

By Meg Dickens

Congressman Phil Roe, M.D., visited the Johnson County area shortly before Veterans Day to hear from the community.
Roe, who serves on the Veterans Affairs (VA) and Education and Labor committees in Washington, D.C., started the Wednesday, November 6 meeting by updating the crowd on current problems and possible systemic issues.
Roe reported that a chairperson prevented votes on certain bills and amendments, one involving criminals in VA daycares.
The amendment would cause criminals charged with child abuse, drug abuse, etc. to lose their jobs at the VA. Currently, these employees are banned from daycare but keep their VA employment.
Under the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the VA provides records on those with appointed fiduciaries to the FBI. These parties are placed on the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) list, which prohibits the purchase of firearms. Anyone treated for PTSD can potentially be turned in to the NICS list as well. The NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 demands that these patients be informed of the consequences and given a chance to appeal. Roe hopes to change that.
“I’ve had veterans all across this country telling me they will not get treatment because they’re afraid to lose their right to bear arms,” Roe said. “We could not get a vote. It absolutely infuriated me.”
The third bill Roe is currently fighting for focuses on reducing Veteran suicide. According to Roe, 14 out of 20 veterans that commit suicide daily cannot go to the VA due to personal income. This bill would allow veterans to receive treatment at nonVA hospitals.
Roe switched gears from Veteran Affairs to rural economy improvement. According to Roe, a rural community such as Johnson County needs three things to grow: education and skills training, a comparative wage index, and technology availability.
“We’re having economic problems in rural America, he said. “There’s no question. It’s more of a challenge where we live. It’s a challenge because of infrastructure. That would be whether you have high-speed internet, roads, and those types of things to attract people.”
Tennessee is one of the best states in the union working towards improvement. Not only does Tennessee have a free community college, but also the University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd says that if your family makes less than $50,000 annually, any student tuition not covered by scholarships will be supplemented.
Steps are currently being made towards a comparative wage index and making high-speed internet more accessible. Similar areas are already seeing results.

Public Notice

Johnson County School Board Meeting to be held today, Thursday, November 7.

Johnson County Board of Education Regular Monthly meeting has been changed to today, November 7, 2019, same time 6:00 pm at Johnson County Board of Education Boardroom.

Board votes, pays Bishop $20K

Members of the Johnson County School Board discuss former Transportation Supervisor Barry Bishop’s case with their legal counsel. Johnson County School Board Lawyer Chris McCarty recommended allowing Bishop to retire and to pay him $20,000. The board agreed with a vote of 4 to 1. Bishop’s alleged crime took place between January 2015 and May 2017. Photos by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County School board voted 4 to 1 with Gary Matheson opposing to have Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox sign Barry Bishop’s severance agreement on its behalf.
The vote took place during a special called meeting on Monday, November 4, allowing the former JCHS Transportation Supervisor to retire with state benefits and receive a gross amount of $20,000.04.
The amount includes unused leave days and lost income. According to legal counsel, this is far less expensive and less risky than continuing legal proceedings.
The decision now puts the Bishop case, which began after he was arrested on January 3, 2018, for one count of theft over $10,000
to rest. TBI agents determined the total amount to be approximately $50,000. The public was
outraged after learning that Bishop is still technically an employee of Johnson County School System.
“I know this has been ongoing for months,” said Johnson County School Board Lawyer Chris McCarty. “It’s been very stressful for everyone involved. At no point is this going to end unless we end it now.
McCarty added, “If we don’t put this 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.”
Bishop is an “at-will” employee. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at-will employees can be terminated at any time for any legal reason without incurring legal liability. Employees may also quit without any reason or legal repercussions. McCarty mentioned that Bishop might call his termination arbitrary if he is found not guilty. This type of legal case is plead-driven and expensive to handle. Insurance does not cover this type of suit. To McCarty’s knowledge, there are not similar cases across Tennessee happening at the moment.
“The number itself takes into account that we do think we have the better end of the argument legally. If I didn’t think that, I’d recommend you give him his pay from the day he was on leave until now,” said McCarty. “It also acknowledges that Mr. Bishop is saying that he does probably have a weaker case but has enough to kick up some dirt.”

Johnson County School Board Lawyer Chris McCarty

McCarty brought the agreement before Bishop and his lawyer Caleb McDaniel several months ago. Ready and confident of what was to come, Bishop had already signed the severance agreement before Monday’s meeting.
The deal became official when the board authorized Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox to sign it at the end of the meeting, which ends the Bishop case and includes a release that protects the Johnson County School Board and its members from possible legal action.
“Within minutes of the news posted on the Tomahawk Facebook page, members of the community did not hesitate to express their thoughts, many of which included great disappointment, loss of confidence in, and outrage toward the school board.
For an opportunity to comment on the apparent backlash following the vote, The Tomahawk reached out to Simcox for her response to the, which she gave without hesitation.
“The board made its decision off of Mr. McCarty’s advice, “said Simcox. “I support the decision completely. He is very knowledgeable in his field.”
Barry Bishop is officially retired as of November 1, 2019.

Come the parties, Barry Bishop (“Employee”) and the Johnson County Board of Education (“Employer”) and enter into this Separation Agreement (“Agreement”) confirming the terms of employee’s voluntary retirement from employer.
WHEREAS, Employee is facing criminal prosecution, and wishes to focus on defending his name and reputation;
WHEREAS, Employer wishes to focus on educating students, and simply move on from this situation in court;
THEREFORE, in consideration for both sides agreeing to simply go their separate ways without further appeal or other litigation, Employee and Employer agree on the following:
1. Retirement: Effective November 1, 2019, Employee will submit his notice of voluntary retirement to Employer, Employee has been on suspension status, and shall remain so until his retirement date.
2. Reimbursement: In consideration for Section No. 1, Employee will receive a one-time, lump sum payment of $20,000.04 (minus standard deductions) as reimbursement for a portion of his wages that have accrued during the suspension period. Said sum shall be considered wages, and shall be reported to Employee in 2019 via a Form W-2
3. Release: In consideration for Section No. 2, Employee hereby waives:
a. Any and all rights to appeal or contest his suspension;
b. Any and all claims, suits, damages, and/or allegations related in any way to his employment with Employer; and
c. Employee understands that he is providing a GENERAL RELEASE of all claims to Employer, and acknowledges that he has been advised by counsel prior to executing this Agreement. “Employer” as used herein include the Johnson County Board of Education, as well as its members, director, agents, administrators, and employees.
4. No Admission: By executing this Agreement, neither employee nor Employer admit to any type of wrongdoing; instead the parties enter into this Agreement simply to resolve any claims/disputes and go their separate ways. As such, this Agreement and any related discussions should be considered a compromise under Tenn. R Evid. 408.
5. Entirety: This Agreement contains and constitutes the entire understanding between employee and Employer, thus superseding and voiding all prior communications, agreements, discussions, and the like.
6. Execution: This Agreement may be executed in one or more counterparts, and each of which shall be deemed an original constituting one document.
By signing below, the parties acknowledge having read and understood all of the foregoing terms and obligations. Further, the Director of Schools also acknowledges that this Agreement was presented to and discussed by the Board of Educations during a public meeting, and then approved by a majority vote of the Board’s members.

Rain no deterrent for Trick-or-Treat

Emmett Johnson and Ethan Wilson starting off their Halloween night at the First Christian Church, where all the Halloween activities had to be moved indoors due to weather.

By Beth Cox
Freelance writer

The weather forecast for Halloween was as scary as Freddie and Jason joining the Purge. The threat of impending storms, rain, and wind hitting Johnson County led many churches, banks, businesses, and schools to cancel or make alternative plans for all of the Halloween activities. However, the community was still able to give trick-or-treaters a fun-filled, safe Halloween night.
Several churches were packed to capacity as the little, and big kids searched out the best candy to fill their bags. First Christian Church of Mountain City moved their Halloween festivities to the Life Center, and many other churches followed the same plans while others braved the outdoors so the trick-or-treaters could continue their Halloween plight.
Johnson County High School was also another Halloween venue for families who wanted a candy land of goodies for their kids. Many of the high school’s groups and organizations took part in the trick-or-treat fun, going more for the treat and staying away from the trick as Mother Nature had already taken care of that portion of the evening with the rain and wind. The lines were out the front door well past the eight o’clock cut off time. Once inside, the kids were treated to popcorn, cotton candy, and tables of the best candy in town. Faculty and students did not miss a beat in the endeavors of passing out candy to a little Spider Man or small version of Wonder Woman, who demonstrated some of her incredible powers in making candy disappear at a rapid pace. Senior Taylor Parsons enjoyed handing out candy to the kids, “I love volunteering just to see the kids’ faces light up as they get a bucket full of candy. It meant a lot to see that many people come out.”
At the end of the night, the kids may have gotten a little wet, and candy may have been a bit soggy due to the consistency of the rain falling throughout the evening, but many were satisfied with their Halloween delight, munching down on their candy as they headed home. Parents were content as they put their little vampires, sweet little cowgirls, or even a Buzz Lightyear to bed, knowing they had gone to “infinity and beyond” for their little ones to have a successful and safe Halloween experience; rain and all.

2020 election season gearing up

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

With a little over a year before citizens head to the polls for the 59th quadrennial U.S. presidential election, it seems politicians – both local, state, and national – are gearing up for a wild ride. Perhaps everyone is aware of the United States presidential election of 2020 will be held on November 3, 2020, but there are other dates of significance for area voters.
The Presidential Preference Primary will be March 3, 2020, according to Cheri Lipford, Administrator of Elections, Johnson County Election Commission, and the August County General and State Primary will be on August 6. “The local offices that are known at this time for August,” said Lipford, “will be Road Superintendent to fill the unexpired term for two years until 2022, Assessor of Property, and School Board District 2, which represents Forge/Shouns, Trade, Neva and Mountain City.
Jeff Wagner was appointed by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners to fill the position previously held by Darrell Reece, who passed away unexpectedly last September.
Per state law, the county legislative body fills vacancies in elected county offices until a successor can be elected at the next countywide general election for which the candidate has sufficient time to qualify. In the case of Wagner, this would be 2020.
In addition to the State and Federal General election, the Town of Mountain City’s Municipal Election will also be held on November 3. Lipford plans to send a letter to the city recorder next year to confirm what offices will be on the ballot.
It seems like the national election is continuous, and in most of the traditional “battleground” states, volunteers are already combing neighborhoods to win the hearts of voters for the primary election, which will determine who will be the Democratic and Republican nominee.
While Tennessee’s primary isn’t until March, Iowa is expected to kick off the first-in-the-nation caucuses on February 3, 2020, followed by the New Hampshire primary, Nevada Democratic caucuses, and the South Carolina Democratic primary, all in February.
Contact the local election office or visit for prior election results and for qualifications for elected offices.

Locals provide free breast prosthetics for cancer survivors

Ladies from the Knitted Knockers group show off some of their handmade breast prosthetics. Anyone
in need of a prosthetic can pick up a pair for free at Mink Crafts or order a pair from Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Locals participated in events such as Pink Out Day at the Paul McEwen Stadium, the annual Cancer Survivor Dinner, and different acts by the Johnson County Cancer Support Group. Unknown to many, local business proprietors at Mink Crafts started a chapter of the nonprofit organization Knitted Knockers.
Knitted Knockers is a volunteer-based program that provides lightweight prosthetics for those that have undergone mastectomies, lumpectomies, radiation, or are currently going through reconstruction. Volunteers knit or crochet these prosthetics out of approved materials from provided patterns. Generous donations keep this nonprofit afloat, and the “knockers” are 100 percent free.
Rebecca Mink and her mother, Rachel Vincell, have a personal connection to the cause. Rachel lost her sister to aggressive breast cancer in 2005, and Rebecca had a partial mastectomy to remove a tumor. That is what inspired the two to do something special for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
After surgery, sizing and stretching occur over a year. According to Mink’s personal experience, the sizing can change drastically enough to need a new prosthetic. Each normal prosthetic costs approximately $500, and the special bras needed are and additional $100 apiece. These are not adjustable and are hefty.
The group of 12 started making “knockers” in mid-September. So far, they have made approximately 25 pairs. Anyone in need of a prosthetic can drop by Mink Crafts for a free pair. These prosthetics are adjustable, cotton-based, machine washable, pool safe, and available in organic cotton. Current sizes range from A to DD. If the correct size is not available, individuals can put in orders for the correct size. Restuffing is also available for free.
Future projects include military scarfs and wool-based helmet liners, neonatal hats for infants, neonatal wraps for kittens, and cloth dangling toys for premature infants. Donations for stuffing and yarn are appreciated. Call Mink Crafts for more information at 423-440-1561, or check out the Knitted Knockers website at

Celebrate Christmas outside Johnson County Courthouse

By Meg Dickens

Christmas on Main is canceled, but there will still be a celebration. Locals Misste Phillippi and Renee Proffitt decided to host a Christmas Village event on December 7, during the annual Christmas parade. This free event starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m.
“We wanted to do something for the community in conjunction with the Christmas parade,” said Proffitt and Phillippi. “This is a great opportunity for friends from Johnson County and the surrounding area to do some shopping while supporting local businesses.”
During the event, there will be several performances for the public to enjoy. Ashley Dyson and her princesses will host a Princess Meet and Greet on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. The community choir will perform on the steps at 3:30 p.m., and Cristi’s Gymnastics’ dancers will perform there at 4:15 p.m. Proffitt and Phillippi are searching for a band to play Christmas music.
Make sure to come hungry and enjoy the refreshments. Long’s BBQ will be there selling smoked barbeque, and Daniel Thomas will sell his coffee. The Christmas Village Committee will sell hot dogs, cookies, and hot chocolate.
“We truly hope everyone makes plans to spend Saturday, December 7 in beautiful Mountain City celebrating the Christmas season,” Proffitt and Phillippi exclaimed. “Come ready to celebrate, shop, and enjoy the Christmas season! Stay to enjoy the Christmas parade at 5:30 p.m. The Christmas Village will be open until 8 p.m.”
Anyone interested in either being a vendor or signing up to play should contact Renee Proffitt at the courthouse at (423) 727-9633 or Misste Phillippi at (423) 440-5834. Vendor space is free but limited, so any interested parties should reach out to reserve a booth as soon as possible.

Bishop jury trial to be scheduled

Correction: The Johnson County Schools special called meeting to discuss Bishop’s status is scheduled for Monday, November 4 at 5 p.m. at Central Office.

By Meg Dickens

After some delays, the case of former Johnson County Schools Transportation Supervisor Barry Bishop may end soon. A pair of dates to keep in mind includes Thursday, October 31 and Monday, November 4, 2019. According to officials, Bishop will come before the court on Thursday, October 31, for his jury trial to be set. The Johnson County School Board will also have a called meeting on Monday, November 4, to discuss Bishop’s employment and School Board lawyer Chris McCarty’s recommendation.

Bishop was arrested on January 3, 2018, for one count of theft over $10,000. TBI agents determined the total amount to be approximately $50,000. The public was outraged after learning that Bishop is still technically an employee of Johnson County School System. Attention on this case rose after a recent news that the Johnson County School Board considered “paying Bishop a large sum and allowing him to retire.” Board member Gary Matheson started asking questions during the October meeting, and locals were quick to agree with his line of questioning.

“I believe, as a representative of the school board and resident of Johnson County, Gary Matheson had every right to be upset and heated. He was not getting the answers that the people of Johnson County deserve.” said one supporter who did not want to be named.

When asked about the called meeting, Johnson County School Board Chairman Howard Carlton said, “the Board has utilized our attorney to navigate through the complex circumstances surrounding Mr. Bishop’s employment status. We want to ensure any action taken is correct and fair to all involved. Mr. McCarty will share his recommendations and answer Board Members’ questions at the called meeting. Afterward, the Board will make a decision giving guidance to the Director. We take employment decisions involving any of our employees with the utmost seriousness and respect in all circumstances.”

The called meeting will be on November 4 at 5 PM at Central Office. Keep an eye out for more updates on the Barry Bishop case in the future.

Town officials to set record straight

By Meg Dickens

Locals are in distress after hearing about the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce’s cancelation of the popular seasonal event Christmas on Main. Mountain City locals such as business owner John Coolahan have reached out to The Tomahawk to voice their concerns. Now Chamber of Commerce member, Christmas on Main Chair, and County Commissioner Megan McEwen speak out to share their side of the story. Many of these complaints stem from town potential for tourism. Festivals and similar events bring in more people.

When asked about Coolahan’s comments on the lack of supporting for tourism, McEwen cited numbers directly from Director of Accounts and Budgets Russell Robinson.“Johnson County contributes over $20,000 toward tourism,” she said. “This money supports the local community center, provides equipment for events, and maintains an interconnected county government website.”

McEwen confirmed that “the Chamber of Commerce has full intentions of continuing the lighting on Main Street,” a decision she said was made during the September Chamber meeting, adding that the Chamber canceled the festival aspect of the event due to insufficient power supply. ,McEwen explained that the city was made aware of the issue before the 2018 festival and said that inadequate power is not fair to paying vendors.

“This is especially true when low temperatures make heaters a necessity,” McEwen said.

According to Sunflower Festival Coordinator Renee Proffitt, electricity has been an issue for years. Proffitt said that she tried to have the electrical problem fixed before the 2019 Annual Sunflower Festival but had no luck.

“Fixing this would cause a major overhaul in electric under the road,” she said. This would mean closing the road.”

Proffitt and Misste Phillippi plan to host a Christmas Village on the courthouse lawn on Saturday, December 7, 2019, during the annual parade.

Another event under fire was Scarecrows on Main. Many voiced that Coolahan’s statement misrepresented the contest when he said, “when the JCTNCC was operating the event, there were 30 or more participants, covering every street corner. Now we are lucky to see maybe six to eight at best.” City Recorder Sheila Shaw runs this event and reports that nearly all, 21 lampposts were filled by 17 organizations this year. The Tomahawk received photos of 14 scarecrows.

Shaw stepped up to share more information. One prominent piece concerns the $60,000 TDOT grant for the sidewalk bump-outs. According to Shaw, the funds were returned because there were no contractor bids for the project. “The county has no control over this,” Shaw said.”The concern over the missing trashcans on Church Street appears to be somewhat of a misunderstanding.

“The town is in the process of replacing said trashcans,” Shaw said. “New trashcans will be in place as soon as they arrive.”
Keep informed on local events, tourism, and more at Johnson County Commission meetings are the third Thursday of the month and are open to the public. See more meetings scheduled in The Tomahawk’s weekly community announcements.

JCRS to purchase new ambulance with help of USDA

Jeff Young, JCRS, EMS Director and Roger Broch, JCRS administrative supervisor and veteran paramedic, pose for a photo, before returning to duty.   File photo

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County Rescue Squad has been awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and loan to the purchase of a new ambulance for the department.
The award, which was announced earlier this month, includes a $50,000 Community Facilities Grant and a $110,000 Community Facilities Loan from USDA to finance the purchase, resulting in a total of $160,000 in funding secured from the federal agency,
“This is very significant for us,” said Jeff Young, Director, Johnson County Rescue and EMS, “especially since we rely almost solely on fees for service and receive no funding from the county nor the city.” Young also points out the department receives no income from taxation sources making this grant/loan even more fortuitous. “This investment will ensure the area has the resources necessary to keep residents safe,” Young stated.
The new ambulance, which is expected to be outfitted with up-to-date communications and rescue equipment, will be put into service as soon as possible. “We have five ambulances currently in service,” said Young. “The new unit will be an addition to the fleet but is essentially going to be taking up the workload of our two oldest ambulances.”
“Repairs of older units can cost thousands of dollars, and a small department like ours doesn’t have the money to do that,” said Young. Buying a new ambulance made more sense, and by securing a combination of grant and loan funds from USDA, Johnson County Rescue and EMS found an affordable way to make the purchase, Young explained. “It is nice that part of the purchase is coming from a grant, and part is from a loan that we’ll be able to pay for with money we make from emergency medical service billing,” he said.
The new ambulance will provide a safer, smoother ride for both our personnel and our patients, he added. “It is great to know we will now be able to purchase this new vehicle that will serve the community well for
many years to come,” Young said.
The Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program, which provides affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas, remains extremely important to areas like Johnson County as funds can be used to purchase, construct, and improve essential community facilities, purchase equipment and pay related project expenses.
The USDA considers an
“essential community facility” as a facility that “provides an essential service
to the local community
for the orderly development of the community in a
primarily rural area, and does not include private, commercial or business undertakings.”

Doe Mountain Recreation Authority registers 8,600 acres for forest carbon project in Northeast TN

Brian Fulton, left, and Jill South smile for a photo taken by a drone on top of the historic Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower on the top of Doe Mountain at the Doe Mountain Recreation Area in Johnson County TN. The tower is 60 feet high and was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Doe Mountain Recreation Area is now a registered forest carbon project. Photo by Kelley Germain of Germain Media LLC.

By Tamas Mondovics

The Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) announced earlier this month that its Doe Mountain Recreation Area is now a registered forest carbon project.
“The commitment to protect Doe Mountain’s forest is now generating carbon offset “credits” that may be purchased by business entities wishing to mitigate their carbon emissions,” said Gabby Lynch, director of protection, The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Chapter in Trade TN.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters.
Lynch explained that the project demonstrates the economic and ecological benefits of sustainable forestry and recreation management. As markets for forest carbon have matured, managing forests to maximize value beyond timber alone is a growing, international strategy used to diversify both biological and financial gains.
She emphasized that the project aims to protect wildlife habitat, promote biodiversity, and sequester atmospheric carbon to mitigate climate change, all while fostering important investments in the local economy.
“For example, one of the nation’s three largest banking institutions purchased carbon offset credits from the Doe Mountain project this summer, which resulted in approximately $117,000 in revenue for the recreation area’s operational support,” Lynch said.
Jon C. Lundberg, Tennessee Senator for the 4th District, agreed when he said, “Doe Mountain is a vital regional asset for Johnson County and an important part of our future. This partnership will create a base of stability for years to come.”
With a total land area of 8,600 acres, Doe Mountain Recreation Area towers above Mountain City, the seat of Johnson County, and spans nearly 10 miles from town limits south to Watauga Lake.
Since 2013, the DMRA has operated a multi-use recreational trail system here that draws outdoor enthusiasts from several states, particularly Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) users.
“I am extremely excited about this long-term partnership that will ensure a healthy ecological future for Doe Mountain, and vibrant economic growth for Johnson County,” said Mike Taylor, Johnson County Mayor.
Officials with The Nature Conservancy emphasized that Doe Mountain’s diversity of tree species and habitats will prove more resilient to the future impacts of climate change, “so long as the mountain stores more forest carbon than is released into the atmosphere via timber harvesting.”
In 2017, the DMRA Board voted unanimously to enter into a Carbon Development and Marketing Agreement with Bluesource, a leading North American carbon offset development firm. The DMRA Board committed to increasing the property’s forest carbon storage above the baseline level over a 40-year period.
Guided by the technical expertise of Bluesource, a leading carbon offset developer in North America, approximately 100 monitoring plots were established across Doe Mountain to measure the forest’s current carbon storage levels.
“By managing the forests sustainably to “grow” and store more carbon in the standing timber stock than is cut down/released into the atmosphere,” Lynch said. “In other words, we are allowed to remove some trees to maintain the trail system, scenic overlooks, etc., but we ensure that most of the forest is left standing, which is where the carbon is sequestered and increases over time, above the baseline level.”
In return for this commitment, Bluesource reportedly will, on the DMRA’s behalf, quantify, market, and sell carbon credits to corporations voluntarily choosing to offset their businesses’ carbon emissions.
While commercial timber harvesting is now prohibited, the minimal removal of trees for trail construction, scenic overlooks, and the DMRA’s usual daily operations is permitted within the agreement.
The partnership provides the DMRA a regular income stream for the recreation area’s trail and infrastructure improvements while conserving Doe Mountain’s visually stunning landscape for future generations. “I am encouraged by this partnership that will ensure that Doe Mountain will be around for my children and generations to come,” said Representative Timothy Hill, Tennessee Representative for the 3rd District.

Local childcare woes continue

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Across Tennessee, there are more than 181,400 working parents with children under age five, resulting in the need for childcare to support employment and career advancement.
Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is an important aspect of a family’s economic security, not to mention the positive aspect of early childhood development. While families across the nation are facing barriers to finding and paying for quality childcare, rural areas like Johnson County are hit the hardest.
The issue came to the forefront a few months back when Tennessee Governor Bill Lee made a quick stop in Mountain City as local resident and mom, Sally Snyder, pressed the governor about what was being done to assist the state’s working parents with affordable daycare options.
“We are in desperate need of affordable daycare in our county,” Snyder told the governor. “We need immediate assistance. I am representing approximately 40 families that couldn’t be here today because we work for a living,”
A quick internet search of local child care facilities proves the plight of local working parents as only two child care centers are listed for Mountain City.
Snyder went on to say, “Without the local school system providing Pre-K, Head Start and after-school childcare, what are working parents supposed to do?” Snyder asked.
According to Lorie Plank, Johnson County Schools’ Supervisor of Head Start and Pre-K, the after-school programs at Mountain City and Roan Creek Elementary serve approximately 90 students between the two schools. “Our Head Start and Pre-K classrooms are currently serving 78 four-year-olds and 42 three-year-olds,” said Plank, who explained there is a waiting list for these programs. “Head Start funds 80 slots and Pre-K funds 40 slots so that we can serve 120 students in Johnson County.”
Snyder is still waiting to see what type of assistance, if any, will be offered to local working parents. “I am so disappointed,” she said, who recalls Gov Lee promised the matter would be promptly addressed. “Here we are, three months after my conversation with the governor,” said Snyder, “with no legislation in place that I’ve been made aware of, and nothing has been accomplished at all.”
She relates it is hard not to become discouraged by the lack of action on behalf of state legislators. “Parents of young children below the age of five are scrounging to get on the Pre-K, and Head Start lists at Johnson County Schools to see if they are eligible,” said Snyder, “and some are begging family members and friends to help care for their children so they can work.”
Snyder’s suggestion to help alleviate the lack of childcare involves creating a type of waiver, which parents could sign acknowledging they are aware their child is staying at a home not up to state codes. “In my opinion, the rules put in place for in-home daycare and licensed daycare centers are prime examples of government overreach,” said Snyder. “If our state government doesn’t see fit to change the laws to help alleviate Johnson County’s urgent need for more daycare options, then the state of Tennessee needs to be allocating grants for rural areas like ours to open more daycare facilities.”
Studies show when families do not have access to childcare, it creates a ripple effect. Work opportunities are undermined, household incomes are lower; there is a decrease in workplace productivity falls, and spending is curtailed, which means local business and tax revenues suffer.
According to a new report produced from a survey of 2,330, Tennessee families with children under age five and conducted in June and July, which examined the economic consequences of having insufficient and sometimes inadequate childcare in Tennessee. The study, led by the Tennesseans for Quality Early Education policy coalition, suggests Tennessee forfeits $1.34 billion annually in lost earnings and revenue due to continuing childcare woes.
“For a state concerned with workforce and workforce development, it is important for us all to understand how this is affecting workforce productivity and our economy,” said Blair Taylor, president of Memphis Tomorrow and chair of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education.
The call is for collaborative action by state government and Tennessee’s business sector to create a “system overhaul” and “crack the code
on great childcare,” Taylor said.

Locals gather to hold infant memorial ceremony

Above: Those in attendance at the Community Memorial Service wrote messages and memorials on balloons in memory of the children they were there to remember. They released the balloons and messages into the sunset sky after the memorial service had concluded. Inset: Certified Grief Counselor Norma Roark speaks on learning to cope with grief. Roark, along with Rose Edda Fore and Cindy Roberts, facilitates Grief Share meetings at First Baptist Church on Tuesday evenings. Grief Share is a support group for those who have experienced loss of a loved one. Those who wish to find out more about Grief Share can call First Baptist Church at 727 – 9711. Photos by Tia Thomas

By Tamas Mondovics

Each year, candlelight vigils, walks, and other memorial ceremonies mark October as the annual Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Local residents from Johnson County and Mountain City joined communities and organizations across the country, and came together last week at Sunset Memorial Park in Mountain City to show support for and to take part in a day of remembrance for pregnancy loss and infant death, including miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or the death of a newborn.
Since 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, many families know the grief of this kind of loss. It’s often not spoken about, and yet, those who mourn often need support and understanding. The experience is painful and sometimes overwhelming.
The movement began on October 25, 1988, when President Ronald Reagan designated October as The Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness.
In 2002, the October 15 Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day Campaign began as an American movement. Robyn Bear, Lisa Brown, and Tammy Novak petitioned the federal government as well as the governors of each of the 50 states resulting in 20 signing proclamations recognizing October 15, 2002, as the first observance of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (PAILRD).
Today, all 50 states yearly proclaim the day with eight states enacting permanent proclamations. These states are Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
Locally this year’s ceremony drew a small crowd who took part in the somber ceremony that included Mountain City residents Anita Smith and David Holloway, who offered their talents and played appropriate music before and after the memorial observance. Smith opened the event in prayer, followed by participation from Norma Roark and Molly Darocha.
“I read the children’s names during our “Heaven’s Roll Call,” said Diane Darocha, adding, we then went outside to release the balloons we decorated, which was cared for by Jana Jones.”
The ceremony hit Diane a bit too close to home since losing her granddaughter, Lucy Jezel, at 21 weeks.
“My daughter-in-law, Molly, found out that October 15 was a National Remembrance Day, so we made sure we the ceremony is held each year,” Diane said. “Usually, we have glow sticks that stay lit all night as a beacon of the gazebo. It’ll happen next year again.”
Imogene Dotson closed the ceremony with prayer.
It is noteworthy that other countries around the world also observe the day on October 15. For example, Canadian provinces and territories have officially proclaimed the awareness day. And in recent years, the United Kingdom, Western Australia, New South Wales, and Italy have joined the movement.
“Still,” Diane said, “many don’t know that they can grieve. Some can be quick to dismiss it as a ‘nonevent’. But a mother’s soul knows. A family knows. A father knows. You are on a path
of joy and suddenly get yanked off and don’t know what to do. We hope our service brings healing to others. We do this ‘for the little ones we can only hold
in our hearts’; with the
motto: “Validate. Remember. Honor. Heal.”

New SROs reporting for duty

Johnson County Schools’ newest protectors are presented by Deputy Mark Gladden at the Johnson County School Board October meeting. These Security Resource Officers (SROs) will be stationed at every school in the county. Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

Johnson County Schools received the School Resource Officer (SRO) grant on August 9, 2019. Johnson County provided a 25 percent local match on the grant.
Funds for this match come from the Sheriff’s Department, which provides uniforms, patrol vehicles, and other necessary equipment for these deputies. Sheriff Tester and Deputy Mark Gladden were proud to introduce the new officers at the October school board meeting.
“This is a really important program,” said Chairman Howard Carlton. “We will have an SRO in every school in Johnson County.”
Codty Newman is Roan Creek Elementary School’s new officer, while Robert Norris will care for those at Doe Elementary.
Justin Arnold joins the team as Laurel Elementary School’s new officer, and Tamara Bare will protect Mountain City Elementary. Chris Lipford is Shady Valley Elementary School’s new deputy.
Michael Murphy and Mark Gladden are deputies at Johnson County Middle School and Johnson County High School, respectively.
SROs are becoming more prevalent. In 2018 the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) trained approximately 2,200 officers. As of this September, the organization has trained more than 2,500 officers.
According to the SRO grant documentation, “SROs are duly sworn and authorized law enforcement officers assigned to a school setting.” By law, SROs must receive 40 hours of specialized training during their first
year of duty and an additional 16 hours annually. Active shooter training is an
important part of SRO
“We thank Sheriff Tester for all the support he’s given us,” said Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox. “We are always looking for ways to provide the safest environment for our students
and staff. “
Find out more about the Johnson County School Board and its meeting
schedule at The board will have
two meetings in November. One will be on November 4 to discuss the current status of former transportation director, Barry Bishop. The board’s regular meeting has been rescheduled to November 7 because of a TSBA meeting.

Sheriff’s Dept. awarded $5K for high visibility enforcement

By Tamas Mondovics

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office announces $23 million in Federal Grant Funds available to Support Highway Safety Education and Enforcement Efforts across Tennessee.
The funds are to be distributed statewide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the 2019-2020 Federal Fiscal Year.
According to THSO officials, more than 335 federal grants exceeding $20 million in total have been awarded to law enforcement agencies and highway safety partners across Tennessee. Approximately $3 million in media grant funds will be allocated for statewide highway safety education and public awareness campaigns.
State Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), confirmed the announcement in a statement adding that part of the funds will promote public safety on Johnson County roads and to curb drunk driving. The $5,000 award will specifically go to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department for high visibility enforcement.
“These funds will give our local communities additional funds that should help upgrade their efforts to make our roads safer and to protect our citizens from those who drink and drive,” said Sen. Lundberg. “I appreciate all the hard work that our local officials have done in helping us to receive these funds.”
The grants are provided to agencies that successfully applied for funding who meet the required data-driven criteria and highway safety standard. Grant applications must be in line with THSO’s mission to reduce traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.
“Every year, traffic safety advocates, non-profit organizations, emergency response personnel, law enforcement, District Attorneys’ offices, and other state agencies across Tennessee seek
funding through grant applications offered by the THSO,” said THSO Director Vic Donoho.
The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) is a division of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security advocating for traffic safety. The THSO works in tandem with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement statewide programs addressing occupant protection, impaired driving, speed enforcement, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and crash data collection and analysis. Programs administered by the THSO are 100 percent federally funded. The THSO’s mission is to
effectively develop, implement, and evaluate these
programs. To learn more, please visit
For more information about the THSO, please visit