Lending a hand: As Hurricane Florence wreaks its havoc, local hands reach out

Deb Burger gets her “tiny” house ready to house more guests.


Staff Writer


When Deb and Don Burger began building their “tiny house” in their backyard, they envisioned it being used as a sort of clubhouse for their grandchildren or a refuge for themselves when their home was filled with youngsters.

Hurricane Florence provided a reason for the house to become an important refuge for evacuees from a storm.

Over the past week, four Florence-impacted folks have taken up residence in the “tiny house” as involuntary tourists of Jonesborough.

“We had three young people from Myrtle Beach who were here for the past three days,” Deb Burger explained on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 17. “This next guy is reserved for four days. If he chooses to extend it because he needs to, that’s available. If not, he’ll leave and we may get booked by somebody else.”

Their current tenant is seeking refuge from Savannah, Georgia.

The Burgers are members of a Facebook group called, “Florence evacuation support in East TN/W NC/SW VA”.  They are two of the more than 1,500 members of the group that have extended whatever assistance they can to victims of the most recent natural disaster to strike.

“Every day when I check the postings, there are people who say, ‘I can’t keep somebody. If you need help feeding the evacuees who are staying with you, call me at this number or message me and I’ll make casseroles.’ Or we get other people saying, ‘I can go buy dog food if you’ve got evacuees staying with you who have pets, I can provide dog and cat food.’ We get other people saying ‘I can’t keep people but if they need a place for their livestock, I’ve got a horse stall; I’ve got room for two goats.’

Deb was quick to stress that she is just one of many hands.

“I say ‘we,’”she explained. “I have participated in a group. I was not the brains behind it. That’s Kiran (Sirah) and Ren (Allen) … The Facebook group started last year for Hurricane Irma and we revived it and changed the name and got it going again for Florence. The page acts as a clearinghouse for people who need help and people who are offering help.”

The Burgers offered assistance during Irma in the form of a campsite in their backyard and an RV hookup, which included water and electricity.

In addition to Facebook, the couple’s house is listed on Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service that brokers short-term lodging rentals.

“They have a program called ‘Open Homes’ where you can choose to turn that option on and that flips your cost to zero for people who are refugees,” Deb explained. All fees and rent are waived for refugees of natural disasters.

The decision to offer assistance was an easy one for them, as they know the strain each evacuee is under.

“We try to provide shelter. It’s not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination but you can stand up, you can change your clothes, it’s dry and you have a warm place to sleep. They pay nothing and we provide what comfort we can. It’s clean and dry and there’s electricity.”

While the tiny house has been a blessing for the evacuees, the original use was as far from a disaster as it can possibly get.

“The grandchildren like to camp out there. And when our house is full of grown children and little-bitty ones, then Don and I sleep up there for a few nights while the kids are being noisy in our home … Tiny houses are a thing. There’s the TV shows, there are books about them. We’ve had it in mind for long enough now that I don’t remember where we originally got the idea.”

The house still is not completed, so the recent guests had to make do with a few trips to the Burger’s house for bathroom breaks and showers. But soon enough those trips will be things of the past, Deb said.

“Eventually, our goal for the tiny house is it will have solar on the roof and there will be a composting toilet. The power is from a car battery, which you keep charged from solar. We have plans to build an outdoor shower in the back.”

While the tiny project is still underway, Deb said they have provided as much comfort as they could for the evacuees.

“We have a sink where we put two gallon drinking jugs on so a person can make tea in the hot pot and we keep little tea cups and saucers with some honey and tea out here. There’s drinking water, there’s a place to brush your teeth or wash your face, you just have to empty the bucket every day. There’s a chair and table and places to store things that’s the first floor.”

Upstairs has an inflatable mattress with a window view of the neighborhood.

Deb Burger said her husband Don provided a treat for the recent tenants.

“Don has made, and my husband is a great cook and baker, and he made muffins for breakfast every morning. We make spaghetti or soup or something that we can feed a crowd with for supper and just try to provide comfort and a place to regroup for as long as they need it.”

While the first three evacuees certainly had enough on their minds during their stay at the Burgers’ tiny house, some much needed good news managed to reach them.

“The first guests had found out that their house was not destroyed. They had relatives who rode out the storm and told them they could start working their way back home,” she explained.

While the relief of having a dry, warm place to ride out the storm in safety must be overwhelming, Deb said the thought of offering help was never in doubt.

“When they’re evacuees, we’re seeing people at their worst (moment) and their most stressed out. So the call is to show comfort and mercy. That’s what it’s completely all about.”

Corner Cup seeks permit for beer service


Staff Writer


The Corner Cup is looking to extend its beverage options.

During Monday night’s Beer Board meeting, held prior to the Sept. 10 Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, the owner of The Corner Cup, Deb Kruse, submitted a letter to the BMA stating her intention to seek “an on-premise beer license without receiving our ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) license. We cannot currently obtain an ABC license due to the minimum 40 seat requirement. We currently have only 16 seats.”

Kruse spoke to the board about the plans she and the building’s co-owner, Melinda Copp, have for the future.

“What we’re looking at, because we have limited seating, is just a special permit that we can maybe once or twice a month, have receptions on the other half of the building,” Kruse said. “We have Mill Springs Makers Market and they’re (hosting) all local artists. We like to have receptions where we can feature our local artists. They can meet with people and serve beer and food.”

Alderman Terry Countermine spoke in favor of issuing the permit of The Corner Cup, “I think it’s a good idea. Certainly what they would do down there isn’t going to be like a ‘beer joint’.”

Mayor Chuck Vest, however, urged caution. “What’s the risk involved with this?,” Vest said. “To me, we know The Corner Cup, we know the establishment. What happens if we open this up and then somebody that’s not as well known or someone not having the best of intentions (requests a permit)?”

Vest’s concern was setting up a loophole that might be abused by future applicants for an on-premise beer permit.

The main issue was square footage versus seats.

For any establishment to obtain an ABC license, one of the conditions is a minimum seating capacity of 40 seats. The building housing the Corner Cup also contains the Mill Springs Makers Market, which adds considerable square footage, but no seating, as it is a retail store.

Someone trying to slip through a loophole might have a building with ample square footage for 40 seats but not want to install such seating, and still request a beer permit from the BMA without being required to obtain an ABC license.

While The Corner Cup building could hold much more seating, Kruse and Copp set up their businesses to maximize retail space.

As Town Administrator Bob Browning said, “I guess you could say, they’ve chosen to do retail in one part of the building as opposed to adding seats in there. I think it’s reasonable to say from an economic standpoint it’s in their best interest.”

“My concern is not you (to Kruse). I like what you’re doing. It’s to make sure we address anybody in the future that might want to do something that kind of gets around a loophole,” Vest added.

The BMA decided to defer action on The Corner Cup’s petition while the town staff and the town attorney worked on the amendment. A final decision will be made at a future Beer Board meeting.

Courthouse Square to get ‘A Taste of Texas’

From left to right, Roger and Mary Sipple, Amber Waninger and Myra Cardenas are ready to bring Texas to Tennessee.


Staff Writer


Many folks walking through downtown may have noticed activity around the building space that used to hold the “Courthouse Diner”.

Mary and Roger Sipple are bringing “A Taste of Texas” to 109 Courthouse Square within the next month. Mary’s daughter, Myra Cardenas, is also on the team alongside their marketing guru, Amber Waninger.

Their initial plan is to stay open from breakfast to dinner.

“We’re trying to shoot for the next couple of weeks (for the opening). Depending on if everything goes well,”

Cardenas said recently. “We’ve gotten all of our equipment in, we’re getting menus, social media, websites and vendors lined up.” Cardenas will be a chef and will design dish presentations while Mary Sipple will be head chef.

Mary Sipple has a long history in the restaurant business, having run three eateries in their home state of Texas before becoming a nurse and moving to Tennessee.

“I am from Texas. My husband and I met in Texas when he was in the Air Force. His family lives in Tennessee, so we decided one day to move up this way. That’s what brought us here.

“I ran restaurants before. My kids were little, and I got tired of it and decided to be a nurse. My kids have grown up and (Myra) wants to help now so we plan to do it again. I have a lot of support now. When I had the other ones it was just me and that was difficult to do.”

Mary Sipple drove from Morristown to the Veterans Assistance Hospital every day, an extra long commute, which led to the move to Jonesborough.

“We looked around the area and Jonesborough was just beautiful, I just loved it, the downtown historic feel. I wanted to find something around Jonesborough.”

Cardenas added that her mother was also drawn to the location by its history, and her love of all things antique.

“When we found this location she was like, ‘It’s my dream. It’s beautiful’. And we’re trying to keep that history. We are Tex-Mex and we do Mexican food, but we’re also trying to keep the integrity of downtown Jonesborough.”

The decision to stay open for dinner was assisted by folks who have walked by the building and requested they stay open for evening eats.

“We are considering different hours. We don’t know what the town’s looking for yet. We’re thinking maybe 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to start out and to play it by ear and change our hours to 7 p.m. to start out and to play it by ear and change our hours according to what the people are looking for. Maybe they want us open later. Or maybe earlier, as we’re going to specialize in breakfast burritos,” Sipple said.

While their specialty will be breakfast-fare, the burritos may be ordered at any time of the day. And Cardenas said that their Tex-Mex inspired meals are different from typical Mexican restaurants.

“They tend to have a bigger menu, so you’re kind of overwhelmed. We’re trying to customize it to be our Tex-Mex. It’s not traditional Mexican food. For us, we use a lot of natural ingredients. We have our own spices and seasonings. Tex-Mex style is cumin-based. We don’t do too much with the ingredients because simplicity is key whenever you’re trying to create something that tastes wonderful.

“Queso will be cheddar-based. Growing up in Texas, we always like to add things to our cheese. Again, it’s just simple ingredients but when you mix them all together it creates this wonderful design.”

Cardenas certainly has the background for the task at hand.

She earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Full Sail University and ran the kitchen at the Winter Park, Florida Olive Garden.

Waninger earned her Masters at Full Sail in Marketing and Design and was also a culinary professional at Olive Garden.

According to Cardenas, the initial plan includes a beer license and a “quick service” style restaurant. 

“We’re not going to have serving staff or anything. Up front will be three chalk boards. You come up to the counter, order, sit down and we’ll have someone bring your food out to you. You’ll go up and get your own drink.”

She added that to-go service would also be available and that they plan to source locally and stay as fresh as possible (including homemade chips).

“Everything we’re making is basically fresh. Beans will be made fresh. Rice will be made fresh daily. Ground beef, all of that. We’re trying to stay away from as much frozen food as possible by sourcing locally.”

Other features will be a salsa bar, limited seating outside, vegetarian options and gluten-free dishes.

“We know what it takes to keep our customers happy,” Cardenas said. “We know what it takes to make sure everything in the back is functioning right. ‘These are my standards. This is where they are, and they’re not going to drop because there’s no reason for them to go below that’.

“We never want to be inconsistent, it’s the key to everything.”

“A Taste of Texas” will have phone service on Sept. 7. Their website will soon be online at www.atasteoftx.com.

In Photos: Taking an oath of leadership

Chancellor John Rambo (left) assists the newly named Washington County Mayor, Joe Grandy (center), joined by his wife Lucinda (right), in the county’s swearing in ceremony on Friday, Aug. 31 at the George Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough. The ceremony inducted new and re-elected school board members, county commissioners and other county officials into office, while family, friends and Washington County citizens watched at the standing-room-only event. Grandy was met with applause at the swearing in ceremony and took a moment to say thanks to county citizens after taking oath as the Washington County Mayor.



Title IX issue? Crockett softball lighting updates left in the dark

Crockett’s softball lights shown above with football lights in the background.


Staff Writer


County officials recently discussed a request for updated lighting at David Crockett High School’s softball field. For now, the project has been left in the dark, but it could result in a Title IX violation.

Title IX is a civil rights law that requires both male and females are given “equitable opportunities to participate in sports.” This includes equal opportunities in areas such as equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice time, and practice and competitive facilities. The issue in regards to Title IX requirements and Crockett’s softball field lights is that the neighboring Pioneer baseball field is well-lit, while the softball field lighting is, as Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary told county officials, lacking in comparison.

“The current lights are just not sufficient,” Flanary said at the Aug. 9 Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting. “More importantly, the boys baseball field is well-lit.”

An example of the softball lights at Crockett.

Currently there are six poles placed around the field to light the Crockett softball diamond for late afternoon and night games. However, the school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, confirmed that the lights are outdated and would require new poles and fixtures — with a price tag of $150,000 — in order to properly light the field.

“It’s not lit to the level that the men’s baseball field is and mainly because of the type of lighting it is,” Patrick said. “It’s the old mercury vapor lamps. We can’t even buy fixtures for them anymore.”

Patrick said the Lady Pioneer Softball Team currently schedules two to three night games a season. While they hope to add more night games to their 2019 schedule with adequate lighting, the Crockett team said they’re left working with what they have.

“Every year we start the season, we have at least 20 or more lights out of about 40 that have to be replaced,” Crockett Head Softball Coach Carla Weems said. “Even when they get them all working, the lighting is still very bad and the girls have trouble seeing the ball. I hope, for the girls’ sake, we get them.”

However, the county is holding off on the project.

The Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee’s split 2-2 vote on the $150,000 request left the call for updates at a standstill this month, while budget committee members put the request’s approval on hold.

The lighting project was included along with other requests listed in the school system’s newly drafted maintenance plan for the 2018-2019 school year. However, approval and funding from the Washington County Commission is required in order for any of the school system’s projects to go into effect.

School officials presented the request to the two county committees, with Patrick explaining that if someone calls the Office of Civil Rights Regional Office in Atlanta, Georgia, “that’s when it becomes an issue.”

However, Flanary told the Herald & Tribune that as of Aug. 16, the school system has had no communication with any state or federal agency regarding a civil rights issue and Crockett’s softball field lighting.

At the county’s budget meeting, Mayor-Elect Joe Grandy said he acknowledged the call for equity within the athletic program, but said he wanted to get more out of the field improvements.

“A $150,000 investment, to me, doesn’t seem to make sense,” Grandy, who is also the budget committee chairman, said. “I’m not trying to minimize the Title IX issue. That’s really important that we do everything (required) there. It certainly is about covering the legal basis, but if it’s the right thing to do for equity, then I think we should do it.

“It’s just that for a very few number of meetings per season, it seems to me that this takes a long time to get our value out of that project unless you can use the field differently and expand the use of it. These are the questions I sort of have on this.”

Commissioner Todd Hensley asked if softball games could be played on the baseball field. Patrick said Ridgeview Elementary and Grandview Elementary currently adapt their fields for baseball and softball use. However, he said temporary fencing would have to be installed at the Crockett baseball field, should it be adapted for softball. He also added that softball requires a different mound.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Tom Krieger said he felt that talk of a potential Title IX violation seemed to suddenly pop up. He also asked if the money for the project could come from another fund, rather than the capital projects fund.

“This Title IX issue, that’s something that’s 28 or 29 years old and we’ve set there for years with that field like it is,” Krieger said. “And it wasn’t on the (previous) five-year plan. All of the sudden it came out of nowhere. I don’t know if there’s a rumbling of something that’s going to happen from a Title IX suit or something.

“But I also wonder if (the $150,000) can’t come out of an existing budget rather than additional money from the commission, from their capital plan. Those capital dollars are going to be so critical as we look towards these other schools.”

Paws in Blue: Fundraiser to help raise K-9 money, awareness

Loki is currently the town’s only K-9 officer.


Staff Writer


Any dog lovers in the area, who also happen to be competitive doughnut-eaters, should make certain their calendar is open on Saturday, Sept. 8, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

And for those who REALLY love dogs, there will be a dog-kissing booth.

The “Paws in Blue” fundraiser, to be held at Persimmon Ridge Park, will raise funds towards the purchase and training of a K-9 unit for the town.

“It’s amazing what these dogs can do,” Chairman of the Paws in Blue Fundraising Committee Ruth Verhegge said recently. “It’s almost unlimited the benefit that these dogs have had. They’re truly amazing.”

The Town of Jonesborough currently has one K-9 unit, “Loki”, a chocolate lab trained in narcotics detection and tracking.

Verhegge added that K-9 dogs can be trained in two specialty areas:

• Article searches for weapons, contraband, narcotics, explosives, other evidence types

• Tracking and search for criminal suspects

• Search and rescue tracking for lost or missing children and elderly victims

• Physical apprehension of fleeing or combative suspects

• Building and open area searches for suspects

• Handler protection against assault by suspects

• Establishing probable cause by alerting to the presence of narcotics

• Establishing probable cause by alerting to the presence of explosives

The areas in which the new K-9 will most likely receive training will be explosives detection and apprehension.

Such specialized training is not cheap, and Verhegge hopes the fundraiser will raise a large portion, if not the entire sum, of the cost of purchasing and training the canine.

“Police dogs cost between $13,000 and $15,000 by the time the dog is trained and the handler is trained. There’s several certifications both of them get, so it’s not an inexpensive process.

“I’m real hopeful that this event on the 8th (of Sept.) will generate a pretty good amount of money.”

The newest member of Jonesborough’s K-9 unit will be purchased in Michigan, and receive training alongside his or her new handler at the same location.

Officer Dustin Fleming and Loki.

According to a Police K-9 Information release, “Initial Handler School for a ‘green’ dog and handler consists of six weeks of intense training in all K-9 functions. K-9 teams must complete a minimum of 16 hours of training in all functions monthly, with most handlers completing 24 to 30.”

For certification, the JPD chose the North American Police and Working Dog Association, which “is considered to be the premier certifying agency in the Police K-9 industry.”

Once training has been completed, the new police pup will live with the handler, although the town will be the owner.

While adding another K-9 to the force will certainly benefit officers and citizens, ultimately Verhegge envisions more than two K-9 units.

“Our ultimate goal is to have four dogs. So we’d have one on duty on every shift and then one that could fill in when, say, you have vacation or something like that.

“My dream is that even once we get the dogs, we will continue to have fundraising to support the K-9 program, because the town has to pay the vet bills, buy the food, all these kinds of things to continue to support the K-9 program. I’m really hoping that we’ll start some real community buy-in to this program.”

The “Paws in Blue” Fundraiser will showcase the skills police dogs use to aid police departments and give the community a chance to meet Jonesborough’s current K-9 team.

“We have invited all the area police departments that have K-9’s to bring their dog or dogs, so they can compete. The idea is that they’ll compete doing things like searching a building or looking for drugs,” Verhegge said.

“We’re hoping we get the prison to bring down one of their bloodhounds so we can show the bloodhound tracking somebody. We want to demonstrate the things police dogs can do.”

Ultimately, Verhegge’s goal is much more ambitious.

“My dream is eventually we’ll have a regional competition where we’ll end up with a regional top police dog. That’s the dream.”

Many area businesses and clubs have volunteered or donated in order to help with the event, which will require supplies to build the facilities needed.

“(Lowes is) donating all the materials that we need to build all the things we need for demonstrations. And all these things that are built will go up and be in a training area so the (Jonesborough) dogs can continue training in it. That’s what we’re going to use all this stuff for. They will train on this monthly.”

With a training area available for the local K-9 units to use, JPD can eliminate travel costs and any other expenses to maintain their monthly training requirements.

According to Verhegge, Lowes will also be giving away smoke alarms at the event.

The local Civitan branch has chipped in, as well. “A huge one is the Civitan Club. And Jonesborough Area Merchants & Services Association. You have to have some money to raise money. And they’ve made that possible.”

Tractor Supply is donating a large dome doghouse, while Fresh Market is donating for a raffle.

Two food trucks, “Let’s Taco ‘Bout It” and “Auntie Ruth’s Doughnuts”, will provide sustenance at the event, along with Pizza Plus.

Local resident John Abe Teague and his son will also be cooking up hamburgers and hot dogs.

If watching highly trained police dogs chase down “suspects” and sniff out “contraband” inspires competition among the attendees, a Doughnut Eating Contest around 1 p.m. will provide an outlet.

Natural Pet Supply plans to set up a dog washing station for those who bring their pups to the park. The event will also feature exhibitors such as the Humane Society, Off Leash K-9 Training, Camp Ruff N More, Dianne’s Pet Projects, Sticky Paws and Kayla Byrd.

If the whole family joins the fun, Wetlands Water Park is another option.

“The pool will be open. Normally it closes on Labor Day and they’re going to open it for us so people can swim for a donation,” Verhegge said.

For those who attend the event, make sure to keep an eye out for “Loki”.

As Verhegge said, “His most dangerous weapon, other than his nose, is his tail.”

Boone JROTC continues its excellence

Cadets proudly show off their new JROTC Marine Corps Reserve Association Award for Boone.


Staff Writer


Trophies and awards already line the walls and shelves of the JROTC department at Daniel Boone High School. But now, it’s time to make a little more room.

The school’s JROTC program just earned the Marine Corps Reserve Association Award given to the top school in the region. The award marks the school as one of the top five MCJROTC programs in the nation. This is the third consecutive year the Boone group has clinched the honor and is the sixth time since 2010 that the award has been taken back to Gray, Tennessee.

“Most of the other schools that are getting this kind of award are bigger, urban schools that are massively larger than us,” said Major Steven Sessis, the senior marine instructor at Daniel Boone. “So it’s kind of neat that out here in Northeast Tennessee, we are six-time winners of that award. It’s become a legacy now.”

The award is given to the school with the highest aggregate score in competitions, community service, and annual inspections from the MCRA. For Sessis and Michael Gardener, the school’s marine instructor, the award also supports the idea of building well-rounded young adults. That includes not only hitting the mark with their drill, marksman, orienteering, academic and physical fitness team competitions; it includes working within the community.

“We want everyone to know that there’s a group of kids out there who bust their tail to do the right thing,” Sessis said. “They’re not necessarily going to serve in the military — as a matter of fact, the vast majority of them do not — that doesn’t mean there are not things that they cannot learn in high school that will benefit them and the community long after they’ve left high school.”

For the two program members who have risen to the top of the ranks at Daniel Boone, JROTC has been an opportunity to work hard and gain experience in various areas.

Madalyn Darnell (left) and Samantha Miller (right) are proud to represent Daniel Booone High School’s JROTC program.

Senior leaders Madalyn Darnell, who is the senior executive officer, and Samantha Miller, who is the senior commanding officer, have both been on almost each of the program’s five teams. Mostly, they said, being a part of the program has given them valuable skills and lasting life lessons.

“It offered me everything — something as basic as time-management skills to being able to lead a group of 100 people,” Darnell said. “We have opportunities as 17-year-old girls that some people don’t get in their 20, 30-year careers.”

Miller, who is also the captain of the marksman team, said her work in the program has opened her eyes to what she’s capable of and what all the program has offered her.

“When I came here I was very shy and to myself, but this program really opened me up to the things that not only I can do but what others can do,” Miller said. “I learned that I’m good at marksmanship and that I’m good at drill, it’s very easy to help the community, organization, responsibility — all the things you don’t usually get the opportunity to learn.

“Leading the program, it makes me feel empowered. I want to let all the others — not only females — have a chance at that kind of empowerment.”

While Miller plans to pursue a career in education and Darnell plans to pursue a career in constitutional law after high school, the two senior leaders are mostly looking forward to what will come before graduation, including the 30-40 JROTC competitions and events in places such as Washington D.C., South Carolina and Nashville.

In considering their senior year, the two best friends said they have work to do, an award they’re hoping to win one last time and a JROTC family they’re hoping to inspire and embrace before their time is up at Daniel Boone.

“If it wasn’t for JROTC, I don’t think I would have found a friendship like what Sam and I have,” Darnell said. “It always comes back to this is a family. This is the place where the kids who don’t necessarily fit into band or a sport, they can come here. There is something for everybody here. I think that in and of itself is a reward of the program. It’s a lot, but it’s a lot to be grateful for.”

Of all of the trophies adorning the walls of their favorite place on Daniel Boone High School’s campus, Darnell and Miller might be most proud of the legacy built and that is continuing on in Gray, Tennessee.

“There is a line from the musical Hamilton. It’s ‘Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’,” Darnell said. “To think about that and to think that what I do today is going to affect cadets tomorrow, next week, in two years, in five years, in the next century — it feels like there’s a lot on your shoulders.

“But as long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and performing how we’re supposed to be performing, then the legacy that we leave, we’re setting it down and the next group of cadets are picking it up.”

Sell not to seek re-election on BMA

David Sell won’t seek reelection in the upcoming Jonesborough Alderman race.


Staff Writer


Three candidates have joined the Town of Jonesborough’s latest edition of alderman musical chairs. There will be two “chairs” available for the three entrants, although current Alderman David Sell is not one of the challengers.

“The main reason is my business,” Sell said about his decision not to seek re-election.  “We’ve been in business over 20 years and we’re phasing out the ACE Hardware and we’re going to be doing locksmith service and work, commercial, residential and automotive.”

Those seeking a seat on the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen include Virginia Causey, who temporarily filled the vacancy left when Chuck Vest was appointed mayor; Stephen Callahan, proprietor of the Tennessee Hills Distillery; and Charlie B. Moore. The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“The climate’s changed in the past 10 years, with the box stores and the internet and all that,” as Sell explained his planned departure from the board. “It’s really put a damper on things. We’re moving from this location (on Jackson Boulevard) to next door where the old service station was (across Jackson Blvd from the Justice Center). We’re remodeling it and our locksmith business is going in that building. My business is changing … I guess you could say I’m kind of starting all over. It’s going to take a lot of time to get this thing done. And my time is very limited. We’ve gotten some out of state contracts. I’ll be on the road quite a bit.”

Sell added that he would have considered running again had his business not required a change.

“It’s in good hands with Chuck (Vest), the new mayor,” he said. “He’s a good leader and he’s been on there a long time. He knows what’s going on. So it’ll be left in good hands. They’ve got a good board.”

He also had some advice for those seeking public office.

“Run for the right reasons. Don’t have an agenda. That was the same advice that was given to me when I ran. Run to be able to serve the people. That’s what it’s all about.

“If you’ve got an axe to grind, with a department, or a person that works for the town, and you’re going to run, that’s not the right reason.”

As a temporary alderman filling Mayor Vest’s former seat, Virginia Causey has some knowledge about the position, but also believes her background helped prepare her for the seat.

“I was Executive Assistant for the Town Administrator. I worked for the town for almost 40 years. During that time I worked with Mr. (Bob) Browning, who worked directly with the Board. And I feel like when they asked me if I would fill the vacant position, my husband and I talked about it and he said, ‘You want to get in there and see what you think’.

“Well, I feel in my heart that I can help the town because I know a lot of what has been the process for years. It’s not like I’m coming in blind-sided on how to handle a board meeting.”

The temporary alderman said that continuing the current path of progression appealed to her.

“I would like to see the town keep progressing. We have progressed so much in the past 10 years. And we have so many people coming to town now. I’d like to see that continue.”

Causey concluded that her experience as a town employee would be beneficial.

“I love the town. I love the people. I love the employees. And I do feel that I would be an asset for the employees because I was an employee and I know what it’s like.”

Stephen Callahan, who opened Tennessee Hills Distillery less than five years ago, said that a younger voice on the BMA would add another dimension.

“Having somebody that the younger generation could come and talk to and relate to and not be afraid to bring new business into town.

“We need to attract the younger crowd … (for me) to be a sounding board for them. I think that’s going to be a huge asset to the BMA. That’s something that I could relay to the other Board members and kind of be a spokesman.”

Callahan added that his business has given him the knowledge he believes necessary.

“I own a business and I know how to manage money. I didn’t major in finances or accounting, but I also went to school and I own a pretty profitable business here in downtown.”

The spirit brewer believes that Jonesborough’s last 10 years of progress provided the necessary environment for a successful small business such as his own.

“I definitely want to keep us from going back 10 years. I want to keep the things that people have done here in recent years … that’s the reason I’m here in town.

Callahan said he would be the model candidate for small businesses.

“The best thing I can do is basically be a spokesman for the small business people here in town.”

The final candidate, Charlie B. Moore, has been employed at the Tennessee Department of Transportation for eight years.

Moore is a former Alderman and said he would like to be involved with the town again.

“I love being a part of the decision making for the town of Jonesborough, and as everybody knows Jonesborough is growing by leaps and bounds and I think we’ve got a lot to offer people, but we’ve probably got a little growing pains right now I believe. But that’s a good thing.

“I like to be involved in everything. I’m hoping to get back in there and help everybody that I can. Help the taxpayers, help the employees, and I just enjoy helping people.”

Moore believes his job would benefit Jonesborough’s infrastructure.

“I’ve been certified in concrete and asphalt, so I’ve been well-versed in construction. Roadways, bridges, etc. So I think that would be a big asset to the town when we have projects going on. I know it’s a plus when you’ve got somebody that knows whether the job’s being done right or not. And I think sitting on the board that could be important to ensure the taxpayers are getting their bang for their bucks.”

Sprouting an interest: Students learn from classroom garden

Second grade students (from left to right) Addison Huffine, Bryson Key and Ellie Morrill show off their freshly picked veggies from Betty Jo Dempsey’s garden at Jonesborough Elementary.


Staff Writer


When you step through the back door of Betty Jo Dempsey’s second grade classroom at Jonesborough Elementary School, you’ll find students curiously peaking over healthy leaves and stems to get a look at the latest harvest of zucchini, beans, carrots and tomatoes. And around this time of year, the harvest provides enough fruits and vegetables for each student to happily tote at least one homegrown crop back to the classroom, with pride in his or her freshly picked item also in tow.

Jacoby Flew, Kaitlyn Dykes, Katelyn Broughton and Charlie Broyles-McIntosh examine a radish from the class garden.

Dempsey has cultivated a garden behind her classroom for eight years and has seen a plethora of fruits and vegetables shuttled from the garden to the table sitting in the back of the classroom for all to see the latest pickings. She said her longing to step outside of the classroom and her deep love for plants first made her pick up her gardening gloves.

“I got the idea for a garden from being a student with a classroom that had windows,” Dempsey said with a laugh — meanwhile her students anxiously await their journey to the beloved garden. “I’ve just always been interested in plants. I just think it’s a miracle you can plant one little teeny seed and you can get something that’s got a gazillion seeds in it.”

Abileny Saucedo holds fresh tomatoes.

Dempsey started the garden thanks to a grant she received from Tennessee Farm Bureau’s “Ag in the Classroom” initiative to provide teachers with resources for similar outdoor projects in order to educate students on agriculture. This summer, Dempsey received a $250 grant with the Farm Bureau for on-going garden needs. Dempsey said that grant would be used to put fresh soil in the raised-bed garden area.

Grants haven’t been the only thing keeping this garden alive; students have put in work recently by planting, weeding and watering the garden in order for it to thrive.

“I’ve involved the kids as much as I can,” Dempsey said. “It’s such a learning experience, too. It just involves so many life skills and it gets them hands-on with everyday things and a real garden.”

It’s also cultivated a love for stepping outside of the classroom and rolling up those sleeves — which is something one student, Lucas Verble, said he also practices at home by caring for his Tommy Toe Tomato plant.

“You need to get some plant food,” Verble suggested to Dempsey. “Because plant food, they just help them grow. I have a Tommy Toe plant. I put plant food in mine and in a week it got taller than me.”

Though the kids are enamored with selecting a homegrown good to shuttle back to the classroom, they’ve also gotten to brush up on their vocabulary by spending time at the garden.

Aurora Rodriguez and Haiden Wilson grin with their zucchini and tomato.

“At the end of May, we had to cultivate and we learned the word ‘harrowing’. So it’s vocabulary-building. They also made water jugs to help water it from old milk cartons — so they learned how heavy a gallon is,” Dempsey said with a chuckle.

The students walked back through the classroom door with enough fresh, leafy greens to fill the surface of the large table at the back of Dempsey’s classroom, but the Jonesborough teacher hopes to leave her students with more than just a robust, ripened tomato to appreciate.

“I think they need to know where their food comes from,” Dempsey said, standing next to the fresh crop of fruits and veggies from the class’s fresh picking. “I’m not going to say it’s a survival skill, but at least they know that they could grow their own food if they wanted to.”

BMA issues proclamation for United Way kick-off


Staff Writer


During Monday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Mayor Chuck Vest proclaimed Aug. 23, 2018 “United Way of Washington County TN – Local Kickoff Day”.

Vest presented United Way of Washington County President and CEO Kristan Ginnings and United Way of Washington Co. Chair/Washington County Commissioner Gary McAllister a plaque during his proclamation.

“Two thousand eight hundred forty-one Jonesborough residents received assistance from or took part in programs supported by United Way of Washington County T in 2017,” Vest said, reading the proclamation. “And the United Way provides more than $1.7 million dollars of assistance in our area each year.”

After Vest’s comments, Ginnings added, “Last year with the funds raised, (United Way) supported 53 percent of the residents in the town of Jonesborough. And there’s still a lot of needs.”

McAllister then gave a few details regarding the Kickoff event but added a bit of mystery.

“Aug. 23 is going to be our kickoff. It’s going to be at Rotary Park (in Johnson City), and we’re having a very special event,” McAllister continued. “Former Mayor Kelly Wolfe is going up against Kenny Hawkins of WJHL in a special event. I’m not going to tell you what it is but it’s not cage-match wrestling or anything.”

In addition to the Kickoff event, Ginnings detailed another United Way program in the county.

“We just implemented our new Vello reading program. It’s a virtual volunteer reading program. We’re piloting that in 10 second-grade classrooms. Two in Lamar, two in Westview, one in South Central for Washington County and then Mountain View school in Johnson City.

“If there’s anybody interested in volunteering for that program, it’s 30 minutes a week. You can do it right from your cellphone, right from your computer at work … it’s going to help about 70 children in these ten classrooms be proficient in reading by the time they reach third grade.”

Following the meeting, Ginnings said, “We’re not telling all the details because there’s going to be a surprise element to it … Coach Steve Forbes at ETSU will be our speaker. We have, of course, Kenny Hawkins and Kelly Wolfe. (They) have always had a little competition going on with each other, so they are both going to be there, and have a fun competition between each other.

“We are just doing something that’s going to be fun that is also going to have community impact. And that’s kind of the part we’re not sharing. It’ll be a different format from what anybody used to coming to a United Way function (is used to). But that’ll be the format of how we do things going forward.”

When asked about the secretive nature of the event, Ginnings said, “Even our board of directors does not know.”

‘Makers Market’ debuts on Main Street

Melinda Copp, owner of the new Mill Spring Makers Market with Deborah Kruse, owner of Corner Cup.


Staff Writer


Yet another new business has set up shop in downtown Jonesborough.

The market plans a grand opening on Aug. 31.

The Mill Spring Makers Market opened July 16 and many of the items offered are local hand-made crafts and artworks. The store provides space for artists to display and sell their creations.

While the market sells many unique products, classes and workshops taught by local artists will also showcase and teach the skills each artist used to create their art.

Owner Melinda Copp, formerly the full-time Main Street Jonesborough Director, purchased the old town hall building in partnership with Corner Cup owner Deborah Kruse.

“It’ll be a little bit of everything,” Copp said, “It’ll be all kinds of different things that our artists want to offer. We’re just getting the feel right now for what our artists that are here want to offer and what our community wants to learn.

“We see that whole corner as where the community comes together and they can sell their things. It’s kind of like a little entrepreneurial center where people can get their feel for their art and display it and sell it to the public.”

While the Corner Cup has been open for almost three years, the idea for Mill Spring Makers Market blossomed when Copp and Kruse were on a business trip in Colorado. According to the two partners, the town sent several local business owners to a marketing and business development workshop for four days of training. From store setup to signage, they covered all matters of small business ownership, and received a valuable tip.

“One of the things they talked to Deb (Kruse) about was owning your space,” Copp said. “And she was sub-leasing the space here (at Corner Cup). This building had been for sale for a while but they weren’t actively selling it. After we came back, the building was put on the market and Deb said ‘Oh my gosh, Melinda. What am I going to do?’”

Kruse said that she feared she would be forced to move the coffee shop somewhere else in town.

The previous owners had an active business there previously, but had moved to Florida and “were not giving the building the attention it needed,” Copp added.

Kruse and Copp jokingly chatted about buying the property, but that joke and the business acumen the two had gained evolved into an opportunity.

“We bought the building together with the idea that I would eventually have a business on the other side. So we have a partnership in the building,” Copp said.

The two spent months brainstorming how the building would best be utilized and two weeks physically transforming it into their vision.

“We worked hard. 14 days, every day, it was manual labor. The other part of it has been a gradual creation. That’s kind of what we envisioned, a soft-opening.

“People come in and it looks inviting. It’s bright, it’s colorful, open and not cluttered. That was the first phase and to keep going, we probably have 15 more phases,” Kruse said, which prompted a laugh from Copp.

They believe the two stores can co-exist and will be mutually beneficial. Copp explained, “We’ve found now that we’ve opened, people definitely come into both places. A lot of times they’ll come in one door and then they’ll go through the middle area (which connects the two stores) and leave out the other door. They’ll go get a coffee and then shop around our place or vice versa.” 

While the two have noticed the flow between the stores, Kruse believes there is more potential.

“As we start doing some special events such as highlighting local artists and having a gathering here, like a reception, that’s when it’s going to really start flowing back and forth.”

Space in the Mill Street Makers Market has begun filling up but areas remain for more products and by utilizing social media, Copp said the store has been contacted by additional artists.

“We still have space available and we’re still getting it filled with good variety.”

Artists also have the opportunity to teach classes or host workshops on their specialties. The Market has an area designated as a “makers section”, where the sessions are held. Weekly yarn classes are held on Tuesday afternoons with “Stitch Therapist” Deb Burger. Burger also has a dedicated space in the back of the store where her own business resides. “The Yarn Asylum” sells supplies and tools for knitting, crocheting and more.

“(Burger) has been here probably since the beginning and has grown and evolved and has been very successful,” Copp said.

In addition, regularly scheduled quilting classes taught by Angela Harris are scheduled to begin by the end of August.

Special events are also scheduled to be held in the Makers Section. A Sunflower Paint Party is set for Friday, Aug. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a class fee of $40, attendees will also receive an appetizer. The event is BYOB. Future events include a Lightning Bug Paint Party and a Mosaic Beach Box class.

Plans for a Grand Opening weekend are tentatively scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30, around 11 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting. Saturday, Aug. 31 will feature an artist’s reception from 5 to 8 p.m.

Copp, who now works for the town part-time, said she has always been interested in downtown businesses and knew owning one would be time-consuming.

“(Moving to part-time) was a decision I made on my own. Being a business owner, I knew was going to take up a lot of my time so I knew I couldn’t juggle both (jobs). I felt like I wanted to be more hands-on with the business and we talked back and forth about I could still be full-time and have somebody else help run the business, but that’s really not what I wanted to do. If I wanted to have a business downtown I wanted to have my mark on it.” 

Contact info for the Mill Spring Makers Market is 423-557-3499 or email at millspringmakers@gmail.com.

Info for The Yarn Asylum is 828-553-7545 or at theyarnasylum@gmail.com.

BOE candidates tackle top challenges

Seven of the nine candidates for Washington County School Board were on hand last week to participate in a special Johnson City forum.


Staff Writer


City and county residents gathered on Thursday, July 26, to hear Washington County Board of Education candidates sound off on the top issues surrounding the school system.

Seven of the nine candidates running for the six spots available on the county BOE attended the candidate forum. District 1 candidates Kerrie Aistrop, Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin were joined by District 3 candidates Donald Feathers, David Hammond, Trevor Knight and Mitch Meredith on the panel. Candidates Jason Day (District 1) and Chad Fleenor (District 3) were both unable to attend.

The event started off with two universal questions, the first being “How do you propose to address the needs at the Jonesborough School?”

Kerrie Aistrop talks school projects as Keith Ervin watches on.

The Jonesborough School project has been an ongoing debacle for the school board with over a year’s worth of presented design plans for the future K-8 school. Throughout the ongoing discussion involving the project, Aistrop said the project conundrum was what first drew her into attending meetings. To answer the question, Aistrop said she feels the board is close to a decision now that the school’s architect has presented “Scheme 6”, the newest design plan which would include renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Middle School building.

“The only thing I was advocating for was a safe learning environment,” Aistrop said. “Many people, including school board members, had no clue how bad (Jonesborough Elementary)  was. We can’t use 90 percent of the water facilities, spigots and water fountains because rust comes out of them …The board did not understand completely the issues we had in our school.

“But we have Scheme 6 and they have my blessing on it. They are going to gut all the pipes out with the plan they have with remodeling it and adding onto the side. I’m excited we’re going to move on with the project. It’s in budget so the county commission can approve it. I think we’re at a solution.”

Feathers, who is a former first responder and environmental specialist, said he would like to walk through Jonesborough Elementary to view the facility through an environmentalist’s perspective.

“I’d have a field day at Jonesborough Elementary School and at Boones Creek Elementary School. I’d have it shut down probably within about 10 minutes,” Feathers said. “I’ll make you a promise, I’ll come down to Jonesborough Elementary School and volunteer my free time as an environmental specialist and I’ll look through that school for you because it’s a mess and Boones Creek Elementary School’s a mess. You’ve got this problem that’s been there for 25 years? That’s a big environmental issue.”

The other universal question was, “The per-student rate for one city student is $1,400 higher than one county student. How do we address this gap or how do we provide a more equal education for our students?”

Ervin, who is up for reelection, said it isn’t so much the school board’s decision as it is the state’s. Meredith, who is a certified professional accountant and a former county commissioner, echoed Ervin’s take on the matter while adding that there are changes that would have to occur at the state level in order to bridge the per-student gap.

“There really is no way to close that gap under the present situation. The City of Johnson City makes a special appropriation for their school system to the tune of about $10 million a year and that’s what effectively creates that $1,400 gap,” Meredith said. “Of the tax rate (in Washington County), about $24 million goes towards the schools — that’s split half and half between Johnson City.

“The BEP formula, which provides funding, is comprised of a fiscal capacity component. That is determined on a county-wide basis. If it would change to a system-wide basis, you could see that gap narrowing tremendously. It wouldn’t be good for Washington County as a whole. It would cost the city actually more dollars than what it would bring in to the city of Johnson City. The best thing to do is for the county school board and the city school board to sit down together and figure out how to keep that little bit of Armageddon from happening.”

Meredith, Ervin and Buchanan said they felt the county had a need to boost its career and technical education services. Meredith said he felt adding a Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Washington County is something he hopes the city and county school systems can discuss. Meanwhile, Ervin stressed the need for CTE courses throughout high school and beyond.

“I’m a strong CTE person,” Ervin said. “We’ve got to teach these kids a trade. Not every child is going to go to college. I didn’t go to college. I’m a dairy farmer. I can weld, I can (do) electric, I can fix it because it’s what I learned to do. The CTE classes are one of the most important things.”

Buchanan, who is up for reelection, said she felt one of the biggest issues she’d like to work on is the student-to-teacher ratio.

“When you overcrowd our classrooms, you cannot expect these teachers to have the time to spend with every single child every day,” Buchanan said. “The more time they have with each student, that’s your impact right there. The teachers impact our student learning in the classroom with smaller class sizes. That’s what’s going to impact our K-3 and getting them ready to read, getting them reading.”

School safety was also part of the discussion.

Knight said he felt there was no issue of more importance than that of school safety. While answering a question on arming teachers, Knight expressed his hope that a school resource officer be placed in each county school.

“Currently there’s not (an SRO in each county school), but there are plans for there to be in the fall,” Knight said. “But if that’s not the case, I’m going to make it my goal to make it the case. I think that police presence at every school is important.

“The door I came in tonight said I couldn’t have a handgun on me, so I went back to the vehicle and put it back. I’m for carrying a gun if you want to do that and you have the permit to do it. But for arming all of our teachers, I think there are many who would not want to do that. We can look at those extreme measures, but I think for now, we just do what we need to do with the SROs, and with the door locking, cameras and things like that.”

While school safety has become an issue for school systems across the country, board members also touched on very specific topics as well. Hammond, who is running for reelection to the board, responded to the question, “what is your opinion of funding the sports complex over money for classrooms.”

The county recently opted to have a study conducted in order to see how many athletic facilities could be placed on the property setting adjacent to what will soon be the Boones Creek K-8 School. However, in light of the Jonesborough School project roadblocks, some have questioned whether an athletic complex is necessary.

“I have played sports, my children have played and play sports. I’m an advocate of that,” Hammond said. “But first and foremost, we must make sure the classroom is covered. Period. From payroll to facilities. So I cannot support anything on the back of education. That may upset a few, but education is the business we’re in and that has to be first.”

The general election and final day to vote will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2. For more information, go to http://wcecoffice.com/.


What you need to know:

Event co-sponsored by the Johnson City Press and Jodi Jones (District 11 Washington County Commission candidate)

Held at Memorial Park Community Center in Johnson City

What the candidates said:

Director of Schools: “These teachers understand the needs of these students and, sometimes, I feel that we are not giving these teachers enough respect. So we have to build a culture in our school system to where these teachers want to stay in Washington County, because if we can make them want to stay, the money is not going to be as important.” — Kerrie Aistrop, District 1

Class sizes: “The teachers impact our student learning in the classroom with smaller class sizes. That’s what’s going to impact our K-3 and getting them ready to read, getting them reading. That’s the key right there, to make sure that those ratios are small on that scale.” — Annette Buchanan, District 1

Teacher raises: “If we get money from the state to go towards raises, we ask the county commission for enough money to give everybody (in the school system) a raise. That’s as fair as fair can be. I get down on my hands and knees and beg (for teacher raises). If you all want to get down on your hands and knees and beg, go for it. Because that’s the only way. — Keith Ervin, District 1

Fiscal stewardship: “We need someone to stop making excuses and start looking at the good ol’ boy network where they’re just spending money like crazy. That needs to stop.” — Donald Feathers, District 3

Nepotism: “I tried to introduce policy on two occasions this past year where no sitting board member can apply for a job or give a family member a job while sitting on the school board. I also took it a step further to where we could not apply for a job or a family member apply for a job a year after that board member’s term is up.” — David Hammond, District 3

School safety: “I think we need to step back and look at the big picture. To me, the most important issue in Washington County Schools is what should be the most important issue in every school right now and that is security and safety.” — Trevor Knight, District 3

Career and technical education: “There are plans to create a TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology) in Washington County. There’s 26 or 27 of them in the state and there are only two that are east of Knoxville. We need another one here and we need it in Washington County. I think a joint effort by both school systems could make that happen.” — Mitch Meredith, District 3

Honoring a history: Jonesborough home tapped as one of town’s oldest buildings

The Rees-Hawley House, owned by Marcy Hawley, is officially one of the oldest houses in Jonesborough.




The stories this house could tell.

Jonesborough’s Rees-Hawley House was honored Friday as one of the oldest houses in Tennessee’s oldest town, adding yet another page in a historical tale that began in 1779.

“The story of the Rees-Hawley house begins even before Tennessee became a state,” said Dynal Savery, second vice president of the Katherine Marbury Scott Chapter of the Colonial Dames XVII Century at a July 20 ceremony to mark the historic structure. Built upon Lot No. 1 of the original town plan by attorney James Rees, it has witnessed the settling of a frontier, the creation of a town, prohibition, Civil War and more.

“Through the years, many changes have happened to the house, many owners, but one thing remains the same,” Savery continued. “It is still one of the oldest houses in the historic district of Jonesborough.”

Currently owned by longtime Jonesborough resident Marcy Hawley, the three-story, chestnut log structure features a wrap-around porch, original limestone foundation and original cooking fireplace and has served as a favorite bed-and-breakfast for 22 years.

Marcy Hawley accepts the honor from the Society of Colonial Dames.

The home was purchased by Hawley and her husband R.I.C. in 1988 and restored at that time with painstaking historical details to maintain its character. R.I.C. Hawley passed away in 2000.

“I’m sorry my husband is not here because he is the one who did the hard work.,” a tearful Hawley told the crowd who had gathered for the plaque unveiling. “Thank you all so, so much.”

But this award was about so much more than honoring the Hawleys’ work. According to Mary Stagg Johnston with the National Colonial Dames Society in a letter she sent to the event,  “This marking will help those who follow to be able to understand the influence your ancestors had on our lives. This marking interprets places important to understanding America’s past.”

Cindy Waters, Tennessee Society for the Colonial Dames president, agreed.

“The Katherine Marbury Scott Chapter of the Colonial Dames XVII Century recognized the importance of the Rees-Hawley house and we were determined to designate it as one of the oldest surviving structures in Jonesborough,” she said.

The marking also reflects the historical importance of Jonesborough, Waters said.

“The history of your state began in the hills and mountains of this area,” she said. Tennessee is the state’s oldest town, and the building of the historic district remain in much the same way as when they were erected.  Yet, “this place isn’t a museum, untouchable and roped off. It’s a thriving commercial district.”

A reception was held at the McKinney Center following the awards ceremony.

The National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century is an organization of women, eighteen years of age or over, who are lineal descendants of an ancestor who lived and served prior to 1701 in one of the Original Colonies in the geographical area of the present United State of America.  Established on July 15, 1915, the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century is a non-profit organization with its headquarters located in Washington D.C.  Constructed in 1884, the headquarters building holds historical significance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Colonial Dames work is dedicated to the preservation of historic sites and records, promotion of heraldry and coats of arms, and support of charitable projects and education.

Study spurs talk on future of athletic complex

School board member and athletic facility task force co-chairman Clarence Mabe (left) talks over options at the task force’s last meeting as Commissioner Bryan Davenport looks on. Now, the Boones Creek sports complex could be mapped out in the next few weeks.


Staff Writer


Questions about the athletic facility complex slated to be built next to the upcoming Boones Creek School could soon be answered.

On Monday, July 23, the Washington County Commission will consider a resolution to enlist CHA Design/Construction Solutions to develop two concept plans for the athletic facility complex on Boones Creek Road. If passed, the study would cost the county $49,800 from the capital projects fund unassigned fund balance.

Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson sent an email to Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge on May 21 suggesting the county consider the study to be conducted by CHA, a group the city has enlisted for other projects. In that letter he also cited the county as the “approving and funding party” for the complex. Should the county pass the proposal, the design plans from CHA would include the layout, grading and utilities plans and it would show a floor plan for the restroom/concessions/press box building and the maintenance building.

But for Eldridge, the most important areas of the study would include what size athletic facilities could fit on the property and just how much it would cost.

“I think this is a necessary step because the study accomplishes two things; this study will give the county commission an idea of what can realistically be developed there because the original plan that the school board’s architect developed is apparently just not doable,” Eldridge said. “And it’s going to give the county commission a a good estimation of what it’s actually going to cost.”

The commission has $3 million earmarked for the athletic facilities complex, which was the  amount estimated by the school system’s architect, Eldridge said. But the dollar amount isn’t what the city cited as their main hold up.

During the last meeting held by the athletic facilities task force, which is comprised of city and county officials, city officials said their planning and design firm indicated that the complex wouldn’t fill Johnson City’s need for four 300-foot baseball and softball fields. However, the group mentioned potentially having a study done in the future.

As far as the details of which entity would be responsible for which aspect of the complex goes, that is yet to be decided. Eldridge said those decisions would be the next steps, should the study be conducted.

“Johnson City has put together a list of questions pertaining to everything from the cost of operations and who pays for what to scheduling. It was several pages of questions,” Eldridge said. “And I think that determining the feasibility of the project is the first step and then working out those operational questions will be a natural next phase of developing an agreement.”

“What I’m hoping is, if this is going to be a project that the county commission chooses to go forward with, I really hope they go forward and partner with Johnson City.”

Eldridge also said a partnership with the city could dramatically reduce the county’s capital investment in the project. He also cited the city’s experience and staffing ability in running successful facilities such as the sports complex as an asset to the project.

Washington County Board of Education member Clarence Mabe, who is also the athletic facilities task force co-chairman, said he felt the potential partnership offers success for both parties as compared to any other athletic facilities either entity could plan and construct.

“If we do it (without the city), it’s going to be average at best, like what we have at Ridgeview and Grandview,” Mabe said. “If the city does one, they can do average at best, like Ridgeview and Grandview and their facility up there at Winged Deer Park. But if we do it together, it’s a win-win. They will come in and add to what we’re going to put into it and the city could come in and put bigger fields with longer fences so it will be a better fit for them.”

Mabe also mentioned putting an Astroturf field at the complex, which he said could bring in about $5 million taxable dollars a year.

“How does a school system get their money? They get it through tax money and sales tax,” Mabe said. “If we can bring $5 million a year more into the county, the county becomes wealthier and so do our students. And Johnson City can use it during the summertime and we can use it during the school year. Everybody wins.”

But in order for both parties to “win”, Eldridge said it all hinges on two things; what the project will cost and whether or not Johnson City is a partner in the project. Should one or both of those factors not work in the counties favor, Eldridge said financial concerns could put the project on hold.

“We have some very tight funding constraints within the capital projects plan,” Eldridge said. “I’m just speaking hypothetically here — to take this from the $3 million that has been earmarked for this facility to, say, an $8 million project, quite honestly, it doesn’t matter if the county commission wants to do it or not, funding’s just not available for it. That’s why I say it’s really got to be a function of both of those factors being favorable, the cost of it and Johnson City’s willingness to partner on it.”

The county commission will vote on the athletic facilities complex study at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, July 23 at 6 p.m. at the Justice Center, located at 108 W Jackson Blvd. #1210, Jonesborough.

BOE considers 2 more plans

Above, Board of Education members look at “Scheme 6” in the latest progression of school design ideas for Jonesborough.


Staff Writer


Numerous design plans for the Jonesborough School project have been brought before the Washington County Board of Education throughout the past year and a half. But the Monday, July 9, meeting offered two more options.

The board opted to put off a decision on the school’s design until next month in a split 5-4 vote after the project’s architect, Tony Street, presented two plans within the $20,750,000 budget allotted by the Washington County Commission.

Scheme 5 includes tearing down the round and holding off on two wings. The plan would also include redistricting.

The first presented plan, Scheme 5, includes additions and renovations to the current Jonesborough Elementary School building and would involve demolishing the round portion of the building. The total cost would be $17,451,000. However, the two wings drawn in place of the round part of the building in previous design plans would be left out in Scheme 5, which cuts costs, but also reduces the size of the school.

Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary said Jonesborough Elementary School has an enrollment of 540 kids and Jonesborough Middle School has 400, leaving a Jonesborough K-8 school at 940 kids. Scheme 5’s capacity sets at 675 kids.

That means, as the board and Street pointed out, around 265 kids would have to be redistricted according to this plan.

“One of the keys to this … there would have to be eight to 10 classrooms relocated into other existing spaces in the county,” Street said. “There’s some space, I think, at South Central, some at West View and Lamar.

“This is an effort where something’s got to give. We’ve either got to reduce quality or we have to reduce quantity and this is an example of making the school smaller, yet maintaining it as a K-8 and utilizing the existent space you already have (at other schools) and isn’t being used.”

Street added that there was available space to build future classrooms in Scheme 5 and could be added on when funds became available.

Then there was Scheme 6, which involves additions and renovations to the current Jonesborough Middle School building.

The plan is similar to the Scheme 3 plan involving the middle school, but places the new area of the school on the left side of the current building rather than farther back on the property towards the football field, which was a previous concern for some board members. Street also said the Scheme 6 plan includes two entrances, one for buses and one for cars in an effort to keep away from Highway traffic on 11-E.

When asked what renovations would be done in the Scheme 6 plan, Street said the project would include “heavy renovations” throughout the school.

“When you start tearing doors and frames out and start tearing lockers out, redoing floors, ceilings and the lighting and totally redoing the heating and air conditioning and reproofing the building, that’s a heavy renovation.”

According to Street’s figures, the Scheme 6 plan would include 26,000 square feet more than the Scheme 5 plan. But even then, some board members had space concerns when it came to Scheme 6’s cafeteria space.

“My concern is we’re going to go from feeding 400 students to feeding 540,” board member Phillip McLain said. “These are K-8 students we’re talking about. I think we need to know what a reasonable lunch schedule would be without enlarging the cafeteria any more than 500 square feet and with (adding) more than double the number of students who go through there. I don’t think  you can do it unless you’ve got a lot more space. I hate to be the devil’s advocate on this, but that concerns me.”

Street said the cafeteria would be enlarged by 500 feet and would claim the space in which the current entrance is located with the new entrance on the opposite side of the school.

Other board members felt the cafeteria — which Street reminded the board was originally designed for high school students — would be an adequate size.

“They’re feeding the high schools just fine and those cafeterias are not that big,” School board member Todd Ganger said. “It’s no different from if we had to redistrict; now you’re loading up those schools, Lamar and Grandview, and it’s going to cause the same problem there in the cafeteria. So this can be done.”

McLain asked that Flanary meet with food services to see if Scheme 6’s cafeteria would be feasible for the number of students. In the meantime, some board members said they wanted more time to look over the plans and get feedback from community members.

“Just getting this tonight and looking at it,” board member Mary Beth Dellinger said. “I’d really like to have a little bit more time before we vote. I’d like to at least give it a month to gage people in the community and see what they think.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s Central Office located at 405 W College Street, Jonesborough.

Next month’s meeting will also serve as the school board’s final meeting before those who are reelected or elected to the District 1 and District 3 spots take their place as a part of the board.

Town celebrates Fourth of July

The Independence Day fireworks at Jonesborough Days dazzled downtown/



Staff Writer


Downtown Jonesborough was scorching this past weekend, and that wasn’t limited to just the temperatures. While processions of vendors lined Main Street, crowds flocked to the parade and the fireworks display.

From fireworks to music to a parade, Jonesborough turned out to honor our 1776 independence.

“With the fireworks and the parade and everything, we had really good turnout. And the Johnny Cash show definitely had a very large attendance,” Main Street Jonesborough Director Melinda Copp said, while adding that the attendance for the weekend was close to 20,000 people.

“(The heat) kept a little bit of the people away.”

Copp believed the highlights of the weekend included the Johnny Cash NOW concert as well as the Johnny Cash look-a-like contest, the big tribute bands each night and the “I Made It Market”.

According to Copp, the “I Made It Market”, in its first year at Jonesborough Days “was a hit, it was a lot of fun. We want to try to grow that each year, for sure.”

The young entrepreneurs set up shop in the courtyard of the International Storytelling Center, offering a number of homemade items for sale.

One group of mini-merchants, 13-year-old Gage Bass of Kingsport, his 8-year-old brother Cale and their 10-year-old friend Braelynn Ferrell had an eclectic group of items.

“Soap from goat’s milk and bath bombs, made out of essential oils,” Gage Bass said. “We also have paintings right here.”

Asked about the paintings, he said, “I just thought it’d be cool to make abstract art, to make it colorful.”

Although the heat was oppressive, the youngsters came out of the event with some financial lessons and a few more dollars.

And for anyone who missed the Johnny Cash NOW concert to avoid the steamy weather, the commemorative t-shirts honoring Cash’s 1973 performance in Jonesborough are still available at the Visitor’s Center.

Altogether, this year’s Jonesborough Days proved memorable, and Copp hopes whoever experienced the festivities will not forget them. “We were very pleased with everything. We hope everyone enjoyed it and it was a lot of fun.”

In honor of service: Veteran receives keys to new home

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Hall, with wife MaKayla and son Liam, pays tribute to his flag before entering their new home.


Staff Writer


On Saturday, June 23, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Hall received two things; a newly built home for his family in his hometown and a start at a new life.

Retired Brigadier General Tom Landwermeyer (right) joins retired U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Hall and family in the ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday.

Hall, along with his wife, MaKayla, and young son, Liam, finally got the chance to open the door of their brand new house to friends, family and supporters during the key ceremony in their new Jonesborough neighborhood.

“It’s mind-blowing,” Hall said. “This just means a lot. I didn’t really know until yesterday how much went into coordinating all of this. You can’t really put it into words. I don’t even know how it’s going to be (in the new house), but I know that I am grateful and I’m sure I’ll be more grateful every day that goes by.”

Hall didn’t get just any kind of house; the non-profit organization, Homes For Our Troops, built the Hall family a one-story, specialized home with over 40 special adaptations, which they build for post Sept. 11 veterans who have been severely wounded.

Hall takes a moment to share his story and thankfulness for his new home as his family, friends and supporters watch on.

Hall retired from the Army after suffering a serious injury during his second tour in Afghanistan in 2012. There, he was part of the 82nd Airborne Division and was conducting a damage assessment after a firefight when his left heel triggered an improvised explosive device. The blast sent him 30 feet in the air and left him without his left leg and with severe damage to his right leg. He also suffered a broken pelvis, a fractured sacrum and several fractured vertebrae.

“I’d like to say that literally dying made me have this great epiphany and I never took another day for granted, but I didn’t,” Hall said. “But now, I’m glad that I lost my leg. I’m glad that I hurt all the time, I’m glad that I have to deal with every one of these challenges and can’t wait to face more of them because God has used that to finally teach me to rely on Him for everything, to be joyful and grateful no matter what.”

And his joy and gratefulness didn’t end in his driveway.

Hall expressed gratitude throughout the new home, which is complete with widened doorways for wheelchair access and holds over 40 special adaptations such as a roll-in shower and special kitchen amenities. It’s all thanks to HFOT who, after completing Hall’s home, has built 256 homes for injured veterans throughout the U.S.

For the Massachusetts-based group, projects such as this aren’t just about giving back to veterans who have made sacrifices to secure our nation’s freedom — it’s also about acting on their tagline “building homes and rebuilding lives”.

HFOT President and retired Brigadier General Tom Landwermeyer said the home not only offers a safe environment in which a wounded veteran can more easily move around and safely conduct every day activities such as cooking or taking a shower, but it also offers a new lease on life found through being able to do more activities in these homes.

The Halls show visitors their specially adapted kitchen in their new home.

“It rolls into freedom and independence. All these folks, just like all of us, are fiercely independent. You don’t want to have to rely on anyone else to help you do every thing on a daily basis. But a lot of times, these severely injured veterans end up like that because of the situation,” Landwermeyer said.

“It’s tremendous for the spouses and caregivers and a lot of people don’t think about that. The home should be the place you rest. It should be where you go to relax. And this is where this family should be able to go to relax too.”

Hall said he felt the house would offer him an easier lifestyle than the one he’s been living since his injury.

“Rehab has been a long and never-ending process and everywhere I’ve lived since then has each had a unique set of challenges,” Hall said. “I’ve had to deal with several flights of stairs, rails breaking off of stairs, hopping and falling in the shower, not being able to take off my leg because I can’t get the wheelchair through a narrow door and get my kid in the middle of the night.”

He also said he feels differently about his struggles than he did in the past. Now, he sees them as another obstacle to over come rather than a potential roadblock.

The Josh and MaKayla Hall told the Herald & Tribune that this home will offer the start of a less stressful life.

“I used to wish that after I moved out of the handicapped accessible environment of Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center) that I moved straight into this house and didn’t have to deal with the challenges that all the different apartments and rental houses presented. I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Now that Hall is back in his hometown with his wife and son in their new home, Landwermeyer mentioned that Hall is considering becoming a police officer.

For now, Hall said he’s ready to discover just what it means to live and enjoy life in a house that is less of an obstacle and more of a home.

“This house allows me to train and exercise harder, work harder, play with my son more,” Hall said. “I can do more with my wife, spend more time with my family and not leave anything in the tank because I have to put my leg on to go to the bathroom, to get a drink of water or get Liam something to eat and put him to bed. It allows me to make my wife breakfast, even if I’m sore or in pain.

“It allows me to live my life in ways I’m sure I’m yet to discover.”


Quilter discovers peace among bits of fabric


Staff Writer


When Linda Crouch-McCreadie took a quilting class for fun while working as a lawyer in Memphis, she probably never imagined it would lead to this.

Fast-forward to the current period where she has a large store carrying every possible tool and ingredient needed to make every possible quilt.

Linda Crouch-McCreadie, on right with Brenda Crouch, is a part of this year’s Quilt Trail.

Crouch-McCreadie and her sister-in-law Brenda Crouch own Tennessee Quilts, located across from the visitors center near downtown Jonesborough.

She also recently participated in the 4th Annual Quilt Turning for the Quilt Trail of Northeast Tennessee event held at the McKinney Center.

“Families who have these quilt blocks on their barns and have the quilt that those blocks came from will bring those old antique quilts, and we’ll have a place where we can lay these out,” Crouch-McCreadie explained. “Then the family member explains the history of the quilt, who made it, where it came from, something about the farm that is represented by the family. So each year there are about four or five different people who bring their quilts and talk about them.”

A quilt block is the pattern which, when sewed together, makes up the quilt.

“The Quilt Trail started, the theory was, to promote agri-business. It was a way to get people out onto the farms to see what farmers had,” Crouch-McCreadie said. “The family would have an old antique quilt that would be made out of various blocks or all one block and they would take one of those blocks from the family quilt … paint it and put it on the barn.”

Crouch-McCreadie’s family is also part of the NE Tennessee Quilt Trail.

“We have a farm out there (in Boones Creek) that is on the Quilt Trail. We have a barn that was built in 1830 and it has a block, one of the painted quilt blocks on it.”

The Quilt Trail is not unique to Northeast Tennessee. According to the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development, there are currently 45 states with Quilt Trails, but the original was located in Ohio. Each trail is independent from the others.

The most recent Quilt Turning event was sponsored by the Tennessee Quilts shop.

Crouch-McCreadie first encountered her hobby when she would stay with her grandmother while her mother went to work.

“I had to stay with her on Saturdays because my mother worked at Parks-Belk. So she would keep me busy to keep me out of her hair,” Crouch-McCreadie reminisced. “She taught me how to embroider. I did all my aunt’s pillowcases, anything you could embroider, I did for years. I also took four years of Home Economics at Boones Creek and learned how to sew and did a lot of garment sewing when that used to be the thing, when you made your own clothes.”

As she grew up, she added cross-stitching, knitting and crocheting to the skills she learned while growing up.

“So when I went to quilting class, I had already done some needlework. Holding a needle in my hand was not foreign … I started quilting in 1988. I lived in Memphis and was practicing law and took a quilting class just for fun and got hooked,” Crouch-McCreadie continued, “I jumped in with both feet. As a lawyer, it was kind of a stress relief from practicing law. And I enjoyed it. It was something calming. It was something I was in control of.”

Crouch-McCreadie spent 13 years in Memphis when her firm merged with a firm that had offices in Johnson City, so she took the opportunity to return home, where she spent another 15 years practicing law.

Crouch-McCreadie and her sister-in-law have kept the Tennessee Quilt store up and running and offer an extensive range of materials. With over 8,000 bolts of fabric in their store, finding a pattern or fabric they don’t carry would be a tall order. The store also offers lessons and the ability to shop online at their website, tennesseequilts.com.

While Crouch-McCreadie has been able to run a business involving her hobby, it means much more than that to her.

“It’s patience and enjoyment. We’re not manufacturing quilts. I see it as creating art, really.”

A tribute to dad: Alderman recalls early days in Jonesborough

Adam Dickson sits between his mother and father in this early family photo.


Staff Writer


When he was 4 or 5  years old, Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson may not have known what he wanted to be when he grew up; but it seems his father had an idea.

“The earliest memory that I have being a little boy, (my father) had an old, beat up Chevrolet truck, a black Chevy truck and he would look at me and say, ‘Son, you’re going to be a senator one of these days and when you run, we’re going to start in Memphis and we’ll work our way all the way back to Mountain City,” Dickson said recently.

Adam Dickson

“And so he saw something in me then that I didn’t even know existed. That’s my earliest memory of my father.”

Dickson’s father, Fred Venable Dickson, was born and raised in Jonesborough, and remained here to start and raise his own family.

“He had a number of jobs, but at one period he worked for an organization called the Organization of Equal Opportunity (OEO),” Dickson said. “When he passed away, he had retired from the state. He was a sign-maker for the State Department of Transportation. I guess in the ‘80s and ‘90s he would make all the signs that you would see maybe on state highways. And for Greeneville eastwards, he made the signs that you might see on the interstate. The official title was ‘Sign Technician’.”

When asked what he remembered most about his father, Dickson replied, “Supporter. Very supportive. He was very supportive of me and my activities. Anytime we had to go anywhere for say, 4-H or a Public Speaking contest or some kind of school related activity, he had no problem at all driving to Greeneville, driving to Knoxville, driving wherever. He was always supportive of my activities.”

Dickson paused a moment and added, “The typical boy is in baseball, football and basketball. I’ve always been the atypical child. I was in public speaking and 4-H and things like this. But I never felt any judgment or anything from my father.”

Just as Fred Dickson was born and raised in Jonesborough, Alderman Dickson was also Jonesborough born and bred and has seen his fair share of changes over the years.

“For me, I think what is most noticeable is that the community, and I guess particularly the black community that was here. . .  people have just passed away. At one time here on Spring Street there used to be a number of black households on Spring Street. And, you know, now those people have passed on, new people have moved in. Spring Street and the farther out you go used to be was called ‘Buzzard Roost.’ That used to be the area of town that black folks lived. Like I said, folks have now passed away and Jonesborough has just changed.”

While the changes are noticeable to Dickson, he also believes the future is bright for Jonesborough.

“For a town our size, yes, there’s a lot of positive activity going on. I think that’s what makes us attractive to folks who want to move here and stay here.

“What we’re doing here, it’s very focused, it’s very niche, very targeted. You’re seeing a lot of optimism and a lot of hope. All the townscaping, for example. It took time; there was a lot of frustration but it’s reaping dividends when we see a typical Saturday and you see a lot of people walking the street, enjoying the street.”

While Dickson has himself seen how Jonesborough has changed and grown over the years, he still carries some valuable lessons from his father.

“I was about 12 at that time. We lived in the New Victory community. That’s where I grew up,” he recalled. “There’s a store down there, Pioneer Market, it was, and still is; kind of a hangout of sorts. My father used to work for Hartman Hardware and Coalyard. He drove the coal truck for Mr. (Charles) Hartman for years. So that’s where he knew a lot of the people in Telford.

“So on this particular night, we were there to get a Coke or something and there was a bunch of fellas there who knew my father. ‘Fred, what’s going on?’

Everyone would gather around him and what not, and there was this gentleman who knew my father for years. And he came up behind him and kicked him in the behind, and said, ‘What do you say, Freddie?’

And my father turned around and called him by name, and again my father had some colorful language and said, ‘What in the hell is wrong with you?’

“’What do you mean, Fred?’

“’Kicking me like that, what’s wrong with you?’

And my dad looked at him and said, ‘. . . don’t you ever kick me again. I’m an old man. Don’t you ever kick me again.’

Now my father was one that could get along with (this) wall. If you were willing to talk to Fred, Fred would talk to you.

What I saw that night was a sense of character and a sense of dignity. That meant something; it’s always meant something to me as I’ve grown to be a man. You certainly want to be inclusive, but you do have your character. You do have your dignity.”

BOE questions transparency

The Washington County Board of Education discussed conversations leading up to the director’s resignation.


Staff Writer


The news of Kimber Halliburton’s resignation as the Washington County Director of Schools shook the community last month, but the Washington County Board of Education’s called meeting to discuss the budget, accept her resignation and name an interim director only proved to be an aftershock of tense conversation.

And it all started with questions from board members about conversations leading up to the public meeting.

After Board member Phillip McLain nominated the school system’s director of secondary education, Bill Flanary, for the interim spot, the BOE unanimously voted to name Flanary to the temporary position. School board member Mike Masters asked Flanary if he had been approached by any board members regarding the interim position. Flanary said a board member asked him a few weeks prior to the meeting if the interim position were to come available, would he accept it. Board member Todd Ganger pointed out that, according to that time frame, that conversation came before Halliburton had resigned.

After Ganger asked which board member approached Flanary, board member Phillip McLain admitted to the conversation.

“The reason I did it was Mrs. Halliburton had told us about the job opportunity in Alabama,” McLain said. “My question to him was in an iffy situation, anticipating her doing exactly what she did. That’s all I have to say.”

Halliburton was announced as a finalist for a position as the Alabama State Superintendent of Education in April. Then on May 23, the day she tendered her resignation in Washington County, Halliburton accepted the director of schools position in Madison County, Mississippi.

Before Halliburton’s departure, she faced the suspension and eventual firing of Gerald Sensabaugh as the David Crockett High School football coach which ended in a pending lawsuit. Multiple bus accidents and the firing of the school system’s transportation supervisor and a split BOE that, after a year of discussions, is currently still in gridlock over a Jonesborough School project design were other controversial events that she faced during her tenure with the school system.

But what concerned some board members in the wake of Halliburton’s resignation was board member transparency and a lack of public discussion on matters such as the director’s position.

“Superintendents come and they go. That’s a part of life,” school board member Clarence Mabe said. “But the way this was handled, I’m not satisfied with at all. Four or five board members called our lawyer, and without coming to the board or even talking to the chairman. I found out about it when one of the mayors told me what y’all were doing. And then y’all write a letter to the superintendent telling her she can resign when we don’t know a thing about it and it hasn’t been brought to us? Something is wrong with that picture men and ladies.”

The board’s attorney, Scott Bennett, who was hired in December of 2017 in a 5-4 vote from the board, said during the meeting that he drafted a letter that was sent to Halliburton before her resignation. He also said it wasn’t a letter calling for her resignation and did not contain an ultimatum.

“She indicated to me that she had an attorney and her primary concern was that transition being smooth. (Her attorney’s) suggestion to me was that I draft something that would make sense … It would be a simple way to explain how she got to where she is, why she was transitioning. It wasn’t a letter asking her to resign. Her lawyer asked me to put pen to paper.”

Ganger also asked Bennett if he had board members contacting him asking about dismissing Halliburton.

Bennett said each board member was entitled to know that information, but that he could not discuss the information during a public meeting. Ganger requested that they waive that privilege, but Bennett explained that once that privilege is waived, it’s off for any future topic and that there was no selective waiver.

“I did not have any conversations with board members where I was currying votes if that’s what you’re asking or suggesting. That’s not my job,” Bennett said. “What I want to make clear is that my role to assist you as a board member and your colleagues as board members is if you ask me a question about ‘what does the contract say?’ or ‘what does the law say?’, I’m going to answer your question because it helps you.

“At the point and time I think that it’s more than a board member or two asking me to interpret the contract, I’m going to pick up the phone and call the chairman, which is what I did.”

School board member and BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said Bennett called him and said he had “the fifth call.” Bennett said he recalled that conversation differently, saying he called the chairman to let him know the director’s contract appeared to be something board members wanted to put on the agenda. Later, board member Keith Ervin said he did in fact call Bennett about the director.

“Since everybody’s talking about me being the fifth vote, damn right I’m the fifth vote,” Ervin said. “And I’m going to tell you something, I’m tired of it. I am tired of it. I’ve had enough. That’s exactly what I told Scott Bennett. If the vote come out that I was going to move her or that she resigned, that’s fine. I’m done. I’m ready to do something.”

Though he said he didn’t talk to five board members regarding transferring Halliburton into another position within the school system, Bennett did say he interpreted the director’s contract which he found to allow a transfer in positions within the system.

“It’s an extremely common provision in a director’s contract to waive transfers,” Bennett said. “Your contract, for whatever reason, did not waive a transfer rights regarding Mrs. Halliburton.

“To answer your questions, I didn’t carry any water. As I’ve told people time and again, five people can make the front door the back door. And it’s up to you, the board, to decide what to do with the information I give.”

Some board members, however, felt differently.

“Don’t you think the right way was to discuss this with the board?,” Mabe said. “You don’t think they were using you to carry water? Why do you think they hired you six months ago? You carried a whole bucket of water.”

Bennett said there were no negotiations regarding the director’s departure. He did, however, mention what he called “the black out date” which, according to Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-203-(a)(14)(A), states that no school board may either terminate a director without cause or enter into a contract with the superintendent 45 days before a general school board election or 30 days following the election.

“We’re getting into areas where I gave legal advice, but I can answer this; there’s a period of time in which sitting boards cannot make changes to a sitting director’s contract and I think every superintendent in the state of Tennessee knows what that date is,” Bennett said. “Everyone was aware that the deadline for notifying the public of any changes to the agenda regarding a change in the director was 15 days prior to your board meeting.”

Halliburton tendered her resignation 15 days before the next regularly scheduled school board meeting set for Thursday, June 7.

With an interim director sitting in the vacant seat come the meeting’s end and a search for a new director up ahead, multiple board members asked why the discussion wasn’t brought up in a public meeting, thus calling for more transparency from the board.

“When you have board members contacting you about removing our director from her position — I actually had to find out through the public,” Ganger said. “That’s the first I heard of it. I’ve got a problem with that. To me, it’s sneaking around. We’ve got board members going outside of their scope of duties and running around to try to get something done. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be fixed because we’ve got a lot of that going on.”

The next school board meeting will be held on Thursday, June 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s central office, located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.