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Write-in option sparks social media discussion

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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Chuck Vest’s name will be the only one on the Nov. 3 ballot for Jonesborough Mayor, but one downtown business owner might receive some votes as a write-in.

Though Vest, the current mayor for the Town of Jonesborough, is running unopposed, some residents, like Jonesborough resident Nathan Gross, plan to write in Eureka Innkeeper Katelyn Yarbrough for Jonesborough Mayor.

“I thought about the people who were in the community and had a vested interest,” Gross said, referring to when he asked for Yarbrough’s permission to write her in. “I have a lot of respect for Katelyn and she was the first person I thought of.”

If Yarbrough were to receive the most votes against the incumbent mayor, however, she wouldn’t be able to accept the role. 

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-7-133 (i) says anyone trying to be elected as a write-in must give notice to the county election commission 50 days before the primary or 50 days before a general election. Yarbrough did not submit her petition to the county election commission.

Gross said he opted for a write-in because he doesn’t agree with the current mayor’s posts on social media regarding Jonesborough.

“I’ve seen this trend where he is promoting the area in a specific light that I feel is unfavorable towards people with a more progressive mindset,” Gross said, “and with some hostility towards that group of people.”

Vest said he thinks the write-in conversation mostly started as a reaction to his conservative political views.

“They don’t like the fact that I said I think local government needs good, conservative leaders,” Vest said. “They don’t like that I support my president.”

Vest has been the Jonesborough Mayor since he was appointed in 2018, when Kelly Wolfe stepped down from the position.

Vest feels that Jonesborough’s strong police department is one reason some have taken issue with him as the mayor.

“The Town of Jonesborough has a successful and an excellent police department,” Vest said. “I guess they don’t like that we operate that ourselves and we don’t need suggestions from outside groups.”

Gross — who has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice as well as one in psychology, along with a master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security — said he is not against the police, but is also in support of those who wish to discuss “police standards.”

“In Jonesborough, we do have an excellent group of police officers,” Gross said. “In general, they do a great job. But I think we can still be leaders as far as promoting good police standards.”

Apart from social media, Gross said he had no other problems with Vest as far as town issues were concerned.

Vest added that he supported the voters’ right to opt for a write-in, though he felt that Yarbrough could have put her name on the ballot. 

“People are free to (vote for a write-in) all they want,” Vest said. “If she had wanted to serve the people, she could have easily run for alderman. She could have run for mayor. Why we’re giving someone attention who had the opportunity to run, I’m not quite sure.”

Yarbrough is the co-owner and operator of the Eureka Inn along with her husband, Blake. She is also the chairwoman of the New Generation Freedom Fighters and has served on Jonesborough’s Main Street Board, the advisory board for the McKinney Center Diversity and Equity Committee, along with other community boards and organizations.

Yarbrough considered running in the ongoing Jonesborough Alderman race, but yielded as incumbent Terry Countermine ran for reelection.

“I was going to run for alderman only because I thought Terry was going to retire,” Yarbrough said. “But Terry is fired up and wants to run, so I stepped aside. I took a candidate training course and everything so I was fully prepared to get my petition in by the deadline.”

Though she wouldn’t be able to accept the role as mayor, she feels the write-in conversation reveals there are views that aren’t solely conservative in Jonesborough.

“The polarization that always comes with big election years is really sinking in here in Jonesborough,” Yarbrough said. “(The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman) is a nonpartisan representation of our town … I think it shines a light that there is a portion of the Jonesborough population that feels we are not being represented by those that are in power.”

As for social media, Yarbrough feels that anyone in the mayor’s position should refrain from political posts on a personal account. She suggested Jonesborough establish a Jonesborough Mayor Facebook that can offer the “mayor’s voice for the town” on social media.

“If I were serving in a nonpartisan seat, I definitely would scale things back,” Yarbrough said. “I wouldn’t necessarily be posting on my own private Facebook anything that would cause someone to maybe feel ostracized or othered.”

Jonesborough Senior Center reopens today

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

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Jonesborough’s Senior Center is opening back up today.

“We are thrilled,” said Center Director Mary Regen on Tuesday just prior to Wednesday’s reopening. “Even though we’re going to have to change how we do things,  I think we were all so excited to be able to do what we are here to do.”

That mission, according to Regen, is to help meet the needs of area seniors, from educational to medical to social.

And while the center has stayed busy providing as many services they could, from meal delivery to online fitness classes, it hasn’t quite been the same.

“It’s not the same as people being here,” Regen said. “We have a lot of people that this was the main part of their day.

“This has really become a family to them.”

That family atmosphere was severely curtailed in March when the ongoing COVID pandemic forced the center to temporarily close its doors.

“It was just sudden,” Regen recalled. “One minute you’re open and then the world shut down.”

When Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued the executive order allowing  senior centers in the state to reopen, Regen said staff and local seniors were more than ready to return to a new “normal.”  

“Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” she said.

Still, Regen stressed, that doesn’t mean a return to business as usual.

“For us, it’s all about taking baby steps,” she said. “We are in this together.”

Online options will still be available for seniors more comfortable at home, Regen promised. She also said the center will be ready to adapt procedures as needed as they move forward. 

Here are a few of the guidelines:

• Beginning on Oct. 14, the center will open in a reduced capacity, with social distancing, mandatory masks and sanitizing efforts in place. 

• Hours will be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow for additional cleaning.

• Prior to entry into the center, participants will have their temperature taken and will be asked a series of questions.

• The center is asking anyone who has had a fever in the last 48 hours, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell or anyone that has experienced diarrhea or vomiting in the last 24 hours to refrain from visiting the center until those symptoms are resolved.

•  The Fitness Center will be open appointment only, from 8 a.m. to noon and from  1 to 4 p.m. 

•  Contact the front desk  at (423) 753-4781 to schedule a time slot.

 • The access will be in 45-minute intervals in groups of five. One fitness class will be offered per day and participants will need to sign for the class. Social distancing will be required. Only 10 people will be allowed per class, with online classes still provided. 

• The computer room will be open and available, as well as ping pong, shuffleboard and billiards, with two people per table. Please schedule billiard use with the front desk. 

• Congregate drive-thru meals will still be provided at 11:30 a.m. No meals may be consumed in the center at this time. 

For more information, call (423) 753-4781.