Anonymous letter sparks debate at Unicoi BMA session

By Brad Hicks

Most cheered. Some jeered. Others questioned some of the calls made by those in charge to take action.

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen, including Mayor Johnny Lynch, center, address a packed crowd during the panel’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 15. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen, including Mayor Johnny Lynch, center, address a packed crowd during the panel’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 15. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

As has been the case for the past several months, Monday’s sometimes-heated meeting of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen was held before a standing-room-only crowd. And while the board quickly got through the business portion of its meeting, the public comments portion of the agenda made up the bulk of the meeting.

Some of Monday’s discussion was spurred by an anonymous letter recently disseminated throughout the town.

“Let’s keep the momentum going!” the letter states. “As a resident and family in the city of Unicoi it is our duty to our family to know what our town officials are doing. Items on the agenda may impact you.

“We need to pay attention, while we have lost homes to inadequate fire protection in the north end of the county, the current administration continues to use the budget for a cabin, pavilion, welcome center with an a (sic) attendant to give directions, farmers market, possible car charging station and planned amphitheater. Responsible management???”

The letter also urged town residents to attend Monday’s board meeting, providing the start time and location.

“Ask questions,” the letter implored its recipients.

Resident Suzan Harkins was the first speaker to address the unsigned letter. She said the town’s management has acted responsibly, as the municipality’s budget is balanced. She said the town’s farmers market is open to vendors wishing to participate at no cost. She added that the town’s various undertakings are not being paid for via a municipal property tax. The town of Unicoi does not have a property tax and instead has operated from sales tax revenue collected within its limits.

“There’s a rumor going around that ‘A vote for (Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch) is a vote for increasing property taxes,’ but I’d like to see how you increase something that doesn’t exist,” Harkins said.

Resident Jean Stead said the town has retained its “rural integrity” while still acting progressively, fulfilling the promises town leadership made more than 20 years ago.

“Whoever sent that letter out needs to get the facts,” Stead said.

Stead’s husband Edward Stead also complimented the efforts of town officials.

“This place has become a vibrant, rural, fun place to be,” he said. “It’s got all kinds of neat stuff going.”

Residents Bob Sahli and Court Lewis were also among those who applauded the town’s efforts and its work on various projects, including the installation of sewage lines, work on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen and work to repair the bridge on Marbleton Road.

Lynch said the town’s activities and projects, such as the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, Bogart-Bowman Cabin and Visitors Information Center, are about generating sales tax revenue by attempting to draw visitors to the town of Unicoi. To further drive home this point, the board on Monday considered a resolution in which its members pledged not to entertain the prospect of a town property tax while in office.

Alderwoman Kathy Bullen said while she does not favor the implementation of a municipal property tax and would sign the resolution, she pointed out that the board’s membership will change in November. Todd Hopson, appointed to the board in June to fill the seat left vacant by Phillip Hensley’s resignation, will not seek election in November. Bullen also said the board has not discussed a property tax in any meetings or retreats since she began serving, adding the board signed off on a similar resolution just four years ago in 2012.

“This is nothing more than a campaign promise disguised as a resolution,” Bullen said.

Still, the resolution was unanimously approved by the board.

Bill Clemson asked that the board move its regular monthly meetings to the town’s Visitors Information Center beginning with the September meeting. He said Unicoi Town Hall is no longer an adequate meeting venue due to its lack of seating, a sound system and capacity combined with increased citizen attendance.

Lynch said he would have no issue considering such a request – but only after the November election. He attributed the recent spike in meeting attendance and increased number of public comments to the looming election. Lynch also said there was plenty of seating at Town Hall until around three months ago when “you all started this,” directing his statement at a small group standing in the back.

“We don’t have a crowd here until it comes up right before election time, so don’t think that we’re fooled by that,” Lynch said. “We know what’s going on.”

Developer Brian Dunbar addressed purported efforts to eliminate the town. Lynch said town officials recently got word that there was a petition circulating in favor of dissolution of the town of Unicoi.

“I think opponents would like to see this town done away with,” Dunbar said. “I think that would be a mistake. The numbers, maybe, look good on that. Maybe. But these people in the town of Unicoi would not be properly served if that happened. I know that for a fact.”

Speaking after Dunbar was Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley, who addressed the same issue.

“Mr. Dunbar said there was a group wanting to do away with the town,” Mosley said. “I know of no one. That was told last time I ran against you, Mr. Mayor Lynch, that I wanted to do away with the town. There’s no truth to that. There never will be. I never even thought about that until I heard it come from your mouth.”

To address the fire protection concerns referenced in the letter, the board called upon Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Adams to speak. Adams commended the support of the town’s BMA, stating the fire department would never have reached its current state without this.

“This board has not turned the fire department down on any request,” Lynch said, with this statement confirmed by Adams.

Adams said the UVFD has a Class 6 rating throughout its district, which he said is a strong ranking for a volunteer department. He also said the department has better equipment than other departments throughout the county and an exceptional group of volunteer firefighters that the department is always looking to expand. And while Adams said he did not wish to comment on politics, he, too, gave his opinion on the letter.

“If I was going to put out propaganda, I’d have the guts to put my name,” Adams said.

The board also received an update on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen from Town Recorder Mike Housewright. He said the town received word on Thursday from the First Tennessee Development District that the state has signed off on the design and given the town notice to proceed with bidding construction.

Housewright said the bid package was released Monday. The bid closing will be Sept. 15, and construction will begin moving forward afterward.

“Regardless of how you feel about the kitchen, a lot of people worked very hard to get it to this point,” Housewright said.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the second and final reading of an ordinance regarding A-1 language for accessory structures for churches.

• Approved the second and final reading of an ordinance regarding language changes in the Planned Business District zone concerning single-family residences.

  Approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend the bylaws of the town’s Planning Commission. This would allow the town recorder or his designee to prepare the commission’s agenda.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance to repeal town Ordinance 1999-44, an ordinance that closed Garfield Street between Virginia Street and Massachusetts Avenue for certain periods of time while Unicoi County Elementary School was in session. The repeal will allow the town to work with school officials to determine when the road should be opened and closed, providing more flexibility.

Ayers Foundation announces expansion to Unicoi County

By Keeli Parkey

Jim Ayers, fourth from left, and Janet Ayers, third from left, announced that The Ayers Foundation will provide funds for a counselor, Jodi Lane Bradford, second from left, at UCHS to help students continue their education after graduation. Also at the announcement were, from left, School Board Chairman Tyler Engle, Director of Schools John English, The Ayers Foundation Director Susan Rhodes and UCHS Principal Dr. Chris Bogart. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

Jim Ayers, fourth from left, and Janet Ayers, third from left, announced that The Ayers Foundation will provide funds for a counselor, Jodi Lane Bradford, second from left, at UCHS to help students continue their education after graduation. Also at the announcement were, from left, School Board Chairman Tyler Engle, Director of Schools John English, The Ayers Foundation Director Susan Rhodes and UCHS Principal Dr. Chris Bogart. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

A program that has reportedly helped secure $39 million in grants and other funds for students in West Tennessee has arrived in Unicoi County.

On Friday, Aug. 12, Jim Ayers and his wife, Janet Ayers, a native of Northeast Tennessee and former county businesswoman, announced that The Ayers Foundation will provide funds to bring a new counselor to Unicoi County High School through its Scholars Program. The purpose of this counselor will be to help students apply – and find funding for – their post-secondary education.

“The foundation will provide funding for a counselor in Unicoi County to help students and parents find outside financial aid so that they can continue their education,” Mrs. Ayers, who is president of the Foundation, said. “Our counselors are very skilled at finding all possible funding sources that help our students attend the school of their choice.”

Unicoi County joins three other counties – Decatur, Perry and Henderson – in receiving this support from the Foundation. In its 17 years supporting Decatur, Perry and Henderson counties, approximately 4,200 graduates from those three counties have continued their education after high school.

“The work Jim and Janet Ayers have done in these communities has transformed the lives of hundreds of young people and their families,” Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen said. “Now, more students are graduating from high school equipped for college and careers, which will change their futures and strengthen their communities – both now and for years to come.”

Speaking before an assembly of students, high school faculty and community leaders at UCHS on Friday, Director of Schools John English shared the Foundation’s history of success with students.

“Since working with the The Ayers Foundation, the graduation rates for these counties have shot through the roof, as have the number of graduates who went on to continue their education after high school,” English said. “Just to give you an example of the impact The Ayers Foundation has had on partnering schools … Scotts Hills High School had 96 percent of all seniors committed to post-secondary education. That is a staggering, staggering figure.

“The Ayers Foundation and its impact on these communities has been transformative and life-changing for numerous students and families.”

Following Friday’s announcement, English expressed his appreciation for the new partnership.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our school system and community,” he said. “We are very grateful to the foundation for this partnership. It is an absolute game changer for our students.”

Postsecondary education is critical in today’s economy, according to state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd.

“Employers today are looking for workers who are continual learners and critical thinkers,” Boyd said. “With support from The Ayers Foundation, high school graduates in Unicoi County will be able to pursue additional education and training in colleges or technical schools.”

Mrs. Ayers told the assembly the school’s new counselor, Jodi Lane Bradford, started working at UCHS on Aug. 1. She also said that while Bradford is an employee of The Ayers Foundation, she will have an office at UCHS.

“Her sole person is to work with every single student in this high school and your parents to help you to find the best fit, the financial resources … anything and everything she can to help every single student do something post-secondary when they graduate from Unicoi County High School,” Mrs. Ayers said. “Every single student. We don’t cherry pick. We don’t make you jump through a lot of hoops. You have to do your part – you have to graduate. You have to work on your grades. We are not looking for just the top 10 percent; we’re not looking for just the student-athlete; we’re not looking for the band member; we are looking for every single student to get you to the highest level that we can.”

Bradford will also help students with TN Promise, which according to the state, offers two years attendance at a technical school or community college in Tennessee tuition free.

Jim Ayers, who founded The Ayers Foundation in 1999, on Friday encouraged students to continue their education and work with the counselor.

“This can be transformative for this school, for every one of you students and for the community if you students recognize what an opportunity this is and take it seriously,” Mr. Ayers said. “… I want each of you to make a commitment to yourself: ‘I am not going to let this opportunity go away without taking advantage of it.’ You can do it. Everybody in here can do it. … I know you are going to do it. … We are going to love to see the progress that you make.”

Mrs. Ayers said she and Mr. Ayers “believe in” communities like Unicoi County.

“Jim started The Ayers Foundation as a way of giving back to a community that had done so much for him,” she said. “… We both come from small-town communities and we believe in them. There is a small-town community in Unicoi County that means as much to me as Henderson, Decatur and Perry counties mean to Jim.

“About nine years ago we decided we wanted to get a lot more involved in Unicoi County because we believe in small communities,” she continued. “… One of the best ways to raise a community up, besides your family and your faith, is your education. We believe very strongly in that.”

Mrs. Ayers said she expects 160 students from the UCHS 2017 graduating class to go on to a form of post-secondary education.

“I am really expecting Unicoi County to knock it off the charts,” she said. “We are so excited about being here and being part of this high school. … I can’t think of a better place for The Ayers Foundation to be. I am so grateful that we get to join hands with this amazing community and together bring a full-time employee here.”

For more information about The Ayers Foundation, visit

Sheriff threatens legal action over budget

Sheriff Mike Hensley, left, addresses the Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee on July 20. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Sheriff Mike Hensley, left, addresses the Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee on July 20. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

Despite Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley’s insistence that the panel review several funding requests he said are needed to operate his department, the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, Aug. 8, approved the first reading of the county’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

And Hensley said if his needs are not addressed between now and the Commission’s consideration of the budget’s second and final reading, he will be left with “no choice” but to let the court decide whether the county should fund the requests.

“I cannot operate on what they’ve given me to operate on,” Hensley said following Monday’s meeting.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, members of the County Commission received a letter dated Aug. 8 and signed by Hensley. In his letter, Hensley presented commissioners with two options impacting maintenance of Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department vehicles. He is also seeking the funding to bring two part-time jailers at each of the county’s jail facilities up to full-time status, the full restoration of funding for a much-discussed teaching position at the Unicoi County Jail, and funding to install fencing around the Unicoi County Jail Annex.

“If this can be accomplished I will accept this budget and the cuts that we have previously discussed, respectfully if this cannot be accomplished this will be turned over to my attorney,” the last sentence of Hensley’s letter reads.

In his letter, the sheriff gives the County Commission the option of replacing the roof of the UCSD’s vehicle maintenance garage located next to the Unicoi County Jail in downtown Erwin. During meetings of the County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee held to prepare the county’s 2016-17 budget, this repair was estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $30,000. With this, Hensley writes that the county would need to fund a certified mechanic to perform vehicle maintenance for his department. Annual mechanic salary estimates provided by Hensley in his letter ranged from around $31,000 to nearly $46,000.

Should the commission opt not to proceed with the repair of the leaky roof and the funding of a certified mechanic, Hensley is seeking $110,000 in his department’s budget for vehicle maintenance and repair. Fifty-thousand dollars was originally sought for this expenditure in the UCSD’s 2016-17 budget, but the Budget and Finance Committee previously proposed providing $36,000 for this item in the new fiscal year.

Following Monday’s meeting, Hensley said the hiring of a mechanic to perform maintenance on his department’s cruisers and other vehicles would save the county thousands of dollars. Approximately $35,000 was spent on maintenance and repair in 2015-16, but Hensley said this was the amount spent on parts and did not include labor costs due to having a mechanic onboard.

Hensley said the Commission previously agreed to begin moving a few part-time corrections officers up to full-time status each year, but he said this was not included in his proposed 2016-17 budget due to a letter he previously received from the county mayor’s office asking that positions, pay increases and capital expenses not be included in the submitted budgets, as these expenditures would be discussed by the Budget and Finance Committee.

Included in the original budget for the Unicoi County Jail, however, was $25,000 for a teacher who leads inmate GED and drug rehabilitation programs. At one point, the Budget and Finance Committee discussed completely eliminating funding for the position but eventually opted to provide $15,000 for the position by increasing projected state inmate revenues by the same amount.

Hensley in his letter called for the full $25,256 for the teacher’s salary to be restored.

“It is not required by (the Tennessee Corrections Institute) for me to do this. I’ll agree it’s not,” Hensley said of having the teacher at the jail. “But the thing of it is, what he has done has been successful for the inmates to keep them out and not return back to jail.”

Hensley said fencing is needed to secure the Unicoi County Jail Annex. The sheriff said he has obtained the razor wire needed to complete the project through the U.S. military, reducing the projected project cost from $50,000 to around $24,000.

“I fully realize that this will need to be put out to bid and I have brought this to the county commission attention for several years and nothing has been done,” Hensley wrote in reference to the fencing project.

The sheriff’s letter also outlined areas in which his department has increased revenue, including bringing in 2015-16 state inmate revenue over original projections, as well as medical, commissary and telephone revenues.

Because the UCSD has brought additional revenue to the county, Hensley said the money is there to meet the requests spelled out in his letter. However, the sheriff said the additional revenue is instead being used to build the county’s fund balance. And, while Hensley said he is not opposed the county bolstering its fund balance, he said his requests must be met.

“Those things I’ve asked for are needs, necessities,” Hensley said. “The money is there. The money is there, and they refuse to give it up.”

Monday’s meeting was a special-called session, and the only item up for the Commission’s consideration was approval of the budget on first reading. Commissioner Kenneth Garland moved that the budget be approved, with Commissioner Gene Wilson seconding.

Commissioner Loren Thomas asked fellow commissioners if they wanted to discuss Hensley’s letter.

“We’ve all read it, but we’ve met with the sheriff, Mr. Thomas,” Wilson said.

Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice said she did not receive Hensley’s letter until less than an hour before the start of Monday’s meeting and was unaware of the requests prior to that.

“All of these requests are over and above what had been included in the original budget from the sheriff’s department,” Rice said.

“There’s a lot of things that need to be addressed, and I would urge you to take a serious look at them,” Hensley said to the Commission.

But Rice and Wilson pointed out Hensley left the Budget and Finance Committee’s July 26 meeting  before items in his budgets could be fully discussed and did not attend the July 27 meeting to provide the committee with further information.

The first reading of the budget was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Thomas casting the dissenting vote. Commissioner John Mosley was not present for Monday’s meeting.

Hensley said Monday evening he has consulted with the County Technical Advisory Service and has been advised that doing nothing is not an option. He said if the budget is passed on second reading, he can either sign a letter of agreement stipulating that he will work within the approved budget or take legal action against the county.

“I’m standing firm on (the jail teacher). I’m standing firm on my budget. I’m standing on everything I’ve asked for is a necessity,” Hensley said. “It’s nothing extravagant. It is things that has been put off and put off and put off. It needs to be addressed.”

Hensley said the county is obligated by state law to fund his department so that it can operate efficiently. He said he will not sign the letter of agreement if his requests are not addressed prior to approval of the budget’s second reading. He said legal action against the county is not something he wishes to proceed with and described it as a “last resort.”

“There is no way I can operate my jails and my department efficiently and safely with the budget that they’re trying to give me and the cuts that they have made to me. There’s no way,” Hensley said.

• • •

As for the county’s overall 2016-17 budget, it reflects projected revenues of around $7,150,000 against approximately $7,210,000 in projected expenditures. It also does not include a property tax increase. Unicoi County’s current property tax rate is $2.6838 per $100 of property value.

Unicoi County’s projected fund balance for 2016-17 is approximately $569,000. Following Monday’s meeting, Rice said county officials must continue efforts to increase the fund balance, as the county is supposed to maintain three month’s worth of operating funds. The goal, she said, is to get the fund balance over the $1 million mark.

The County Commission is set to consider the second and final reading of the budget at its Aug. 22 meeting.

Erwin Hatchery lends hand to W.Va. counterparts

By Brad Hicks

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery is one of two hatcheries in the federal system tasked with helping the White Sulphur Springs Hatchery meet its trout egg commitments.  (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery is one of two hatcheries in the federal system tasked with helping the White Sulphur Springs Hatchery meet its trout egg commitments. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

The historic and deadly flash flooding that struck White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., in late June left sheer devastation in its wake.

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed. More than 20 lives were lost.

Also caught in the path of destruction was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery.

The hatchery, located in Greenbrier County, W. Va., was heavily damaged by the June 23 flooding of Wade’s Creek. The hatchery’s raceways, where fish are raised, were flooded, resulting in the deaths of around 15,000 adult rainbow trout broodstock, according to the USFWS. Another 30,000 juvenile future broodstock were impacted by the flooding. The hatchery, according to the USFWS, was depopulated on these fish appropriately in consultation with health biologists and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

It is estimated that the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery will not again be fully operational for another two years. However, the hatchery, being a broodstock hatchery that provides eggs to other federal, state and tribal hatcheries, has commitments to provide eggs to hatcheries throughout the USFWS’s Northeast Region and other areas.

In the aftermath of the flooding, the USFWS began assessing whether other state and federal hatcheries in the national broodstock program could provide eggs to meet the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery’s demand.

This led the USFWS to call upon two of its hatcheries – the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and the Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Ennis, Mont. – to ensure the eggs that would have been shipped from the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery reach their destinations.

“Between the two of us, we have their commitments covered,” said Erwin National Fish Hatchery Manager Norm Heil.

The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery was committed to the production and shipment of approximately 4 million eggs, according to Heil. He said the Ennis National Fish Hatchery is picking up the bulk of the damaged hatchery’s commitments, with the Erwin facility offering assistance to its sister station in West Virginia.

The assistance of the Erwin and Ennis hatcheries was sought, Heil said, because each facility raises the same strains of trout as the White Sulphur Springs facility. Heil said the USFWS maintains backups such as this in the event disasters inhibit a hatchery’s ability to operate.

“We’re lucky we had all that in place,” Heil said.

The White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery, established in the early 1900s, sustained significant structural damage, Heil said. Along with fish-rearing structures, the hatchery’s main facility, other structures and parking area were also impacted.

“It was considered a 100 percent loss of the fish,” Heil said.

But while significant fish losses were realized, mussels and crayfish at the station, which are raised there for the restoration and recovery of imperiled and endangered species, survived, according to the USFWS. The West Virginia hatchery must be cleaned and disinfected before repairs can be made and fish can again be raised there.

Along with helping the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery meet its shipment commitments, Heil said the Erwin and Ennis facilities will also work to supply eggs to the station to allow it to hit the ground running once it is ready to resume full operations.

In the meantime, the Erwin National Fish Hatchery will continue to meet its own obligations, Heil said. Last year, approximately 14 million trout eggs were shipped from the local facility to hatcheries throughout the country.

“We’ll certainly continue to meet our Southeast (Region) commitments and help them along the way,” Heil said.

Commission set to vote on budget Aug. 8

By Brad Hicks

The Unicoi County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee first convened more than a month ago to begin the process of reviewing – and proposing cuts to – the 2016-17 fiscal year budgets presented by Unicoi County’s department heads and elected officeholders.

Since its first meeting, the panel has met regularly to continue its preparation of the county’s overall budget for the new fiscal year and, the end of the process is now in sight.

The full Unicoi County Commission is set to consider the first reading of the county’s 2016-17 budget on Aug. 8, with consideration of the second and final reading set for Aug. 22.

The budget does not include a property tax increase. Unicoi County’s current property tax rate is $2.6838 per $100 of property value.

Most recently, the Budget and Finance Committee met on July 26 to further discuss the proposed budget of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, met on July 27 to take care of some loose ends, and gathered on Monday, Aug. 1, to give its work one last look before the budget is considered by the full county commission.

As it currently stands, the county’s 2016-17 budget reflects overall projected revenues of around $7,150,000 against approximately $7,210,000 in anticipated expenditures.

The county is set to enter the new fiscal year with a projected fund balance of around $628,500, but County Budget Director Phyllis Bennett said Monday that a subsequent audit adjustment would likely reduce this to around $600,000.

Some commissioners remarked on how the projected fund balance to enter 2016-17 is the county’s best starting point in years.

“Since I’ve been on the County Commission, each year I’ve tried to help increase the fund balance,” County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice said following Monday’s meeting. “When I first came on the County Commission they were having to borrow funds to finish out the year. Late in the year, we’d just run out of funding. And most other entities – the town of Erwin, the town of Unicoi – their fund balance is well over $1 million.

“We’re trying to increase it each year, and that’s my hope and plan that we can continue to increase that fund balance until we can be financially stable, and each year, the auditors, that’s one of their complaints is that we have a low fund balance. Sometimes, we would be concerned about the Comptroller’s Office even passing the budget, so this year with what we had we should be well on our way and hope that we can continue to inch that up each year and kind of get our books in order.”

The committee picked up where it left off with its July 26 meeting, as items contained within the  proposed budgets overseen by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department – in particular a teacher position included in the presented budget for the Unicoi County Jail – dominated the discussion.

Eventually the committee would reach what several commissioners referred to as a “compromise” to extend at least some of the funding for this position.

Originally contained within the proposed 2016-17 budget for the county’s jail was a $25,000 line item for a teacher. Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley previously said this position is held by Lyle Wilcox, who not only leads inmate GED programs but also oversees drug rehabilitation programs.

Throughout its budget-preparation process, the Budget and Finance Committee has proposed cuts to the bottom line totals proposed in the departmental budgets, using individual line items contained within these budgets as guides. At its July 12 meeting, the committee proposed reducing the total jail budget by nearly $43,500, agreeing that $25,000 of this could come from the complete defunding of the teacher position.

Hensley was present at the committee’s July 20 meeting to discuss the need to maintain the position, and Unicoi County Greg Lynch urged county commissioners to meet with Wilcox prior to making a final decision. However, commissioners learned that day the position is not mandated by the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

The sheriff was again in attendance for the committee’s July 26 meeting to advocate for the position, and he was not alone. Several local ministers and Dale Clements with East Tennessee State University’s Educational Opportunity Center were on hand to voice support for keeping Wilcox’s position.

“I honestly believe that the GED program can help these people in the jails have a better life once they finish,” Clements said.

David Crutchfield, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, said the majority of inmates who go through the local HiSet course pass their final exam and the majority of those, as well as the majority of inmates completing the 12-step program, do not return to jail.

“What we are here to support is that this position remain a paid position to have a quality, qualified person to fill that position,” Crutchfield said, “and if you have to cut that position and pay some, I believe we’d understand that, but I would say it’s at the top priority for the good of our county that this position remain.”

Lynch also provided commissioners present with a copy of a letter from officials with the town of Unicoi written in support of Wilcox’s position.

“It has been shown that inmates reentering society with higher levels of education stand a significantly greater chance of successful rehabilitation,” the letter stated in part. “The opportunities afforded to inmates with greater levels of education serves to better increase their likelihood of finding employment, for providing for their families, and contributing to society. Likewise, the impact that these factors have on their self-esteem is immeasurable.”

Hensley added his department is short-staffed and that Wilcox completes tasks that deputies would otherwise have to do, such as taking inmates to visitations should a family member pass away.

But some commissioners remained staunch in their stance that the position be cut. Commissioner Gene Wilson said he opposed funding $25,000, especially since the jail teacher also drives a county vehicle and has his own fuel card. Wilson also pointed out that the loss of the $90,000 the town of Unicoi previously paid to the sheriff’s department has led to the need for a tighter budget.

“We voted against that $25,000,” Commissioner Kenneth Garland said. “Let’s leave it that way.”

Commissioner Jason Harris suggested that $35,000 in funding for a new vehicle contained within the sheriff’s department’s general budget could be cut to allow the salary for the jail teacher to be restored. The sheriff’s department was originally seeking $70,000 in the 2016-17 fiscal year to purchase two vehicles, but the Budget and Finance Committee previously proposed cutting this amount in half to have the county provide one vehicle and allowing the department to use revenues from the sale of surplus equipment to purchase a second vehicle.

“To me, it’s either that car or that salary,” Harris said.

“I know I can probably speak for all my fellow commissioners – we’re just trying to balance the budget,” Commissioner Glenn White said to Hensley and others present. “It’s not that we’re against any of this, but you all tell us how we can balance the budget if we don’t cut. So you look at the least important of the priorities when you cut. And, yeah, this is a great program, but right now we’re $7,000 in the black and we don’t even know what our fund balance is.”

Hensley left the July 26 meeting before an agreement regarding the teacher position and other items contained within his proposed budgets could be reached.

“You all have my budget. Thank you,” the sheriff said to commissioners as he exited the meeting.

The committee on July 26 held off on a proposal presented by Commissioner Loren Thomas to restore the teacher’s salary in the jail budget and add $25,000 to the income projected from the housing of state inmates in Unicoi County’s jails.

However, the panel did restore $2,000 back to the sheriff’s department’s general budget. Hensley had originally requested $50,000 for vehicle maintenance and repair in the new fiscal year, an amount the committee previously proposed scaling back to $34,000. But because the sheriff’s department spent approximately $35,400 on this item on 2015-16, the committee agreed to provide $36,000 in the new year.

This move left the county’s 2016-17 finances around $5,000 in the black.

The funding for the teacher at the jail was again a primary topic of conversation at the committee’s July 27 meeting. To help maintain the much-discussed position, the committee returned to a solution presented since the cut was first proposed.

The committee agreed with a proposal made by Rice to increase projected state inmate revenue by $15,000 and increasing the jail budget by the same amount. Commissioners said this would help fund the teacher position if the sheriff chooses to put the money toward that expense.

Harris was the only commissioner present to oppose this move, as it would leave the county’s 2016-17 contribution toward sheriff’s department vehicles at $35,000.

Although Commissioner John Mosley favored Rice’s proposal, he called it a “gamble.” The county projected around $650,000 in state inmate revenue for the 2015-16 fiscal year, but it appears the actual revenue realized may be in the $800,000 range. Based off this, the county originally projected $750,000 in state inmate revenue for the new fiscal year. With Rice’s proposal, that projection would increase to $765,000.

Other budgetary action was also recommended by the committee during its July 27 meeting, including granting some employees raises, providing funding for a veterans’ service program, and extending county funding to the Unicoi County Highway Department.

To fund the veterans’ service program and the employee raises, the committee agreed to increase “other state revenues” by $10,000. The panel agreed that $7,000 of this could be put toward the program, a move that left the county around $8,000 in the black. The town of Erwin is providing office space for the officer, and the committee also suggested that additional funding for the officer be sought from the town of Unicoi.

A total of $5,000 were provided to six employees who were set to receive either small or no pay raises. This include $1,000 each provided to four employees and $500 to two others.

The committee also agreed to extend an additional $1,500 in funding to the Unicoi County Little League to provide a total of $2,000 in 2016-17.

These moves left the county around $2,400 in the positive with revenues exceeding expenditures.

The committee further agreed to designate 2 cents of the county’s property tax rate, or approximately $60,000, to the Highway Department. The state will provide the same amount, as it matches county highway funding.

“That gives (Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes) $60,000 more in his budget from the state, and then that money comes back to us next year. We just felt like that was an investment,” Rice said following Monday’s meeting.

The committee also recommended at its July 26 meeting that the 2016-17 fiscal year budget for Unicoi County Schools be approved as presented. The school system’s balanced budget reflects $23,804,277 in both revenues and expenditures.

The school system’s general purpose budget for the new fiscal year contains additional funding totaling $2,191,390. Unicoi County Director of Schools John English said this amount includes $315,000 for the purchase of iPads. The system previously leased the tablets, and English said about $30,000 could be saved through their purchase. The additional funding also includes nearly $1.3 million for renovations to Temple Hill Elementary School and work to prepare the new Love Chapel Elementary School, $447,000 to cover a 6.1 percent insurance increase and to provide 2 percent raises to all the system’s employees, and a little less than $150,000 for the UC Advance program, a blended learning program established to reengage local students lost to online schools and due to dropouts. 

On Monday, Lynch again brought up a prior request to fund a part-time position within his office. The mayor was seeking $15,000 in funding for the employ, which would be cross-trained to complete various duties within his office. The committee agreed to utilize the $2,400 remaining to put a new line item in the county mayor’s budget for the position, a move that will allow the position to be added later should the Commission opt to do so.

If the proposed 2016-17 budget passes as presented, it would mark another year without a property tax increase in Unicoi County. Rice said this was of the utmost importance to the Unicoi County Commission.

“I am proud of the fact that we have not raised taxes in the last four years now, I think it has been,” Rice said Monday. “This year, especially, with the CSX layoffs and all that’s happened in this county, we just felt like as a Commission that we could not afford to pass that on to the people who have already suffered the losses that they have.”

Sheriff: ‘Not enough ambulances available’

By Brad Hicks

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said he has pulled the numbers and has noticed a trend – one he feels needs to be addressed immediately.

“We can do better than this,” he said. “We have to do better than this.”

The sheriff said he believes there are simply not enough ambulances in Unicoi County to meet the county’s needs. He said reports from Unicoi County 911 indicate that over the past two months there have been 14 separate occasions in which someone contacted 911 but no ambulances were available.

“My main complaint is there are not enough ambulances here to meet the needs of the people here in Unicoi County,” Hensley said.

Hensley made his feelings on the topic known throughout last week, starting with a July 19 post to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page. That post was made one day after an accident on Interstate 26 near the Unicoi Walmart in which Hensley said no ambulances were available. Hensley said members of Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department and local off-duty EMS employees shopping at the store responded to stabilize the injured patient until an ambulance became available.

“Citizens of Unicoi County, as your Sheriff I am informing you we have a serious problem concerning Ambulance Service,” Hensley wrote in the Facebook post. “There is not enough Ambulances here to meet the needs of our county. There is documented evidence on several occasions we have called for an Ambulance, and there was not one available in Unicoi, Carter, or Washington Counties. The EMS workers we have do an excellent job. Yesterday there was an accident near Wal Mart with injuries, no ambulance available. I want to commend the Unicoi Fire Department and off duty EMS persons who responded and stabilized the patients until an Ambulance was available. It is not my job to negotiate Ambulance Contracts, BUT it is my job to inform the Legislative bodies of this county & cities, as well as the citizens when a serious safety or security problem exist. You have been informed.”

MedicOne Medical Response has served as Unicoi County’s ambulance services provider since 2011. Under its original contract with the company, the county paid to MedicOne an annual subsidy of $180,000. But as the April 1, 2015, expiration of the original contract approached, county officials began to express concern that the county could no longer afford the subsidy.

This would lead MedicOne to having to rebid on the county’s ambulance services. Per its bid submitted early last year, the company would require a $132,000 annual subsidy under the new contract. The bid was approved by the Unicoi County Commission in February 2015.

Hensley again expressed his concerns during a July 20 meeting of the County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee after Unicoi County Commissioner Loren Thomas suggested that county officials look at the possibility of increasing the subsidy paid to MedicOne to allow for more ambulance coverage.

“We have got a serious problem and it needs to be addressed immediately,” Hensley said to members of the committee. “We do not have enough ambulances in this county to do what we need to do.”

Under its current contract with the county, MedicOne is required to operate two 24-hour ambulances – a requirement that Hensley said the company is meeting. And, as he stated in his Facebook post, Hensley said the problem is not MedicOne’s employees.

“The EMS workers that we have here do an excellent job, an excellent job. No problem whatsoever,” he said. “The problem is there’s just not enough to go around.”

Because situations requiring emergency medical response are impossible to predict and can occur at any time, Hensley said Unicoi County needs more ambulances that are ready, as minutes and seconds count in such situations.

“Two ambulances cannot meet the needs of Unicoi County now,” he said.

The sheriff added that he took to social media to voice his concerns as it is his responsibility as Unicoi County’s top law enforcement official to make fellow county officials and residents of the county aware when a safety or security issue exists.

Also, as he stated in his Facebook post, Hensley said it is up to the Unicoi County Commission to come up with a solution to the issue.

“There’s no question in my mind I have done my duty. The people know,” he said. “It’s not my job to work this problem out. It’s not my job. But it is my job to say, ‘Look, we have got a serious problem and you need to address it and address it immediately,’ and I have done that. The rest of it lies on (the Unicoi County Commission’s) shoulders.”

Lt. Stacy Wigand, public information officer for MedicOne, said that no local ambulances are available is an inaccurate statement. Instead, Wigand said it would be more accurate to state that, in some instances, response times are higher than the average.

“The statement that there is an ambulance unavailable is wrong,” he said. “That’s not the case. If there was truly an ambulance unavailable, then that would result in that patient needing to be transported to the hospital by other means, and that is not the case. I don’t think there is one documented case where there was literally no ambulance available and that patient was forced to be transported to the hospital, either by themselves, by family members or other means.

“The problem is not that we have no ambulances available. It is that the response time is delayed.”

Wigand said a third 24-hour ambulance would be “ideally beneficial” to Unicoi County, but this is not fiscally feasible due to several factors, including funding, staffing and an increased number of out-of-county transports.

Wigand said it was the county’s decision to reduce MedicOne’s subsidy was perhaps the first domino to fall. 

“We cautioned the county back during the negotiations, ‘If you cut our subsidy that much there will be cuts. We have to make cuts,’” Wigand said.

But the lower subsidy is not the only area in which MedicOne has seen reduced revenues. Wigand said the passage of the Affordable Care Act led to significant losses in insurance reimbursements, such as those from Medicare.

Maintaining a full staff has also presented an issue, Wigand said. Like Hensley, Wigand said there is a shortage of EMTs and paramedics throughout the state of Tennessee, both because government-operated ambulance agencies have the ability to provide better employee benefits than private companies like MedicOne and because EMTs and paramedics are finding better paying jobs outside of the emergency services field.

“Even if we had four ambulances sitting there and the funding, I don’t think we would even be able to staff them,” Wigand said. “We don’t have the staffing, and it’s not just us. We’re struggling to keep our staffing as it is with the trucks we have simply because there’s such a shortage.”

MedicOne has also realized a recent increase in out-of-county transports, both Hensley and Wigand said. Wigand said more local patients and residents of Unicoi County’s nursing homes are being transported by MedicOne ambulances to facilities such as Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethan and the Johnson City Medical Center. Such transports tie ambulances up for longer periods of time, Wigand said.

Once a patient is transported to a hospital, Wigand said that a briefing of aid offered by EMS crews must be provided by hospital staff and crews must wait until the facility accepts the patient.

“So we’re at their mercy,” Wigand said. “If they’re busy…We’re at their mercy. We can’t just walk in and say, ‘Here you go. Bye.’”

Wigand said MedicOne’s current average response time in Unicoi County is around 11 minutes 34 seconds, lower than the national average of more than 19 minutes in rural areas. He said prior to last year’s renegotiation of the company’s contract, local response times were around 8 minutes.

Wigand also said Ken Tipton, MedicOne’s operations manager in Unicoi County, compared local ambulance agencies and found that the ratio of ambulances to the county’s overall population is better in Unicoi County than in Washington or Carter counties.

MedicOne President and CEO Jim Reeves is intending to visit Unicoi County in the near future to speak with county commissioners and discuss possible options for additional funding, Wigand said. A timetable for Reeves’ trip to the county has not yet been set, but Hensley told commissioners during the July 20 Budget and Finance Committee meeting that he has spoken with Reeves and he is open to speaking with county officials to “try to work something out.”

“MedicOne takes the concerns of (Unicoi County’s) citizens to heart,” Wigand said. “At MedicOne, our corporate leadership, our local leadership, we feel like the residents of Unicoi County are family to us. We don’t want them with the image that they’re not going to have an ambulance. It’s not that an ambulance isn’t available. There will still be an ambulance coming to them, but it may take a little bit longer.”

Commission appoints Wilcox to complete Garland’s term

By Brad Hicks

The vacant seat on the Unicoi County Commission once held by the late Walter J. Garland, a former Unicoi County sheriff and chief deputy, as well as policeman for the town of Erwin, will now be filled by a fellow lawman.

Todd Wilcox, left, takes the oath of office in front of Judge David Shults on Tuesday, July 26. Wilcox was appointed to the Unicoi County Commission by the panel on Monday to complete the unexpired term of Walter Garland. Garland passed away in late May. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Todd Wilcox, left, takes the oath of office in front of Judge David Shults on Tuesday, July 26. Wilcox was appointed to the Unicoi County Commission by the panel on Monday to complete the unexpired term of Walter Garland. Garland passed away in late May. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

On Monday, July 25, the Unicoi County Commission appointed Todd Wilcox, an officer/detective with the Erwin Police Department, to fill the 3rd District seat on the panel left vacant due to Garland’s death in late May.

Following Monday’s meeting, Wilcox called the appointment “overwhelming.”

“I came in here and I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” he said. “I was hoping I was going to get it. If not, when another election came up, I’d try it then. I’m thankful to get it.”

Wilcox, a Unicoi County native, has been employed by the Erwin Police Department since September 2010. He has also served as a combat medic with the U.S. Army National Guard since April 2015.

Wilcox worked as an officer for the Wise, Va., Police Department from November 2009 to September 2010, and as a deputy with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from September 2007 to November 2009. He also served with the 134th Security Forces Squadron of the U.S. Air Force National Guard at Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport from November 2006 to March 2008, and served with the 78th Security Forces Squadron of the U.S. Air Force at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga., from February 2005 to November 2006.

A 2001 graduate of Unicoi County High School, Wilcox earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from East Tennessee State University in 2013 and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security from the American Military University.

Wilcox is also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and served on the Unicoi County Civil Service Board from 2014 to 2015. Wilcox said he enjoys serving the county and feels a spot on the county commission will allow to further serve the community. Wilcox said while he will take a particular interest in the needs of the 3rd District, he hopes to act in the best interests of Unicoi County as a whole.

“I’m looking forward to serving,” he said. “I love this county. I’ve elected to stay here, and I’ve dedicated my life to serving people in law enforcement and hopefully in this capacity, too.”

Wilcox’s appointment came on the Unicoi County Commission’s first round of voting. The panel opted to nominate each of the five people who previously submitted resumes to County Mayor Greg Lynch’s offices in the hopes of filling the vacancy.

The five to submit resumes were Wilcox, Kenneth S. Calain, Franklin W. Cooke, James A. McLellan and Jonathan Clint Miller.

Commissioner Bridget Peters, who represents the county’s 3rd District, nominated Wilcox, and fellow 3rd District Commissioner John Mosley nominated McLellan. After Commissioner Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland’s brother, nominated Cooke and Calain, Mosley also nominated Miller.

“I think all five ought to have a chance,” Kenneth Garland said.

A roll call vote was taken, with each of the eight commissioners present providing the name of the candidate they wished to fill the vacancy. The first candidate to receive five votes – the majority of the Unicoi County Commission – was to earn the appointment.

Along with Peters, commissioners Jason Harris, Kenneth Garland, Marie Rice and Gene Wilson cast votes for Wilcox. McLellan received votes from commissioners Glenn White, Loren Thomas and Mosley.

A photograph of Walter Garland, who passed away on May 27, was placed on the table at the seat on the county commission he had occupied since his election in 2014. Several commissioners commented on Garland and his service to the community prior to Wilcox’s appointment.

“It was an honor serving with Walter J. Garland on the county commission,” said Rice, who serves as chairwoman of the Unicoi County Commission. “I know that we’re all going to miss him, and we’re just going to keep his family in our prayers.”

In his invocation to open Monday’s meeting, White asked those in attendance to keep Garland’s family in their prayers.

“I enjoyed his friendship,” White said. “He reminded me of my father in a lot of ways, and he was just a fabulous, magnificent man.”

• • •

In other business, the commission approved a resolution to increase the county’s litigation tax for a judge’s salary from $30 to $35 for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

According to the resolution, Tennessee Code Annotated 16-15-5006 permits counties to impose a local litigation tax on each civil case and each criminal conviction in the county’s general sessions court in order to pay the salary supplements and adjustments for general sessions court judges.

The $35 local litigation tax will fully fund the salary and supplements for the county’s General Sessions Court judge, according to the resolution.

The commission also approved Lynch’s appointment of Kenneth Garland to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board. Garland, who is replacing Judy King on the board, was appointed to a three-year term.

The commission also heard from Kristin Anders and Jamie Rice, co-owners of The Bramble Event Space and Venue located in downtown Erwin, regarding upcoming events organized by a local group known as RISE, which stands for Rejuvenate, Invest, Support and Energize.

Anders and Rice discussed the group’s plans to bring a farmer’s market to downtown Erwin with the aim of increasing foot traffic and boosting economic development in the area, and next month’s Erwin Elephant Revival.

Events to coincide with the Erwin Elephant Revival, which is being held prior to the 100-year anniversary of the hanging of the circus elephant Mary in Erwin and to raise funds for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, include the “Trunk Show” antique car show on Aug. 25, the Low-Country Boil Charity Dinner on Aug. 26 and events on Aug. 27 to include a kids’ zone and parade.

Southside Volunteer Fire Department celebrates 40th anniversary with open house on July 30

From Staff Reports

Southside Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a community open house on Saturday, July 30, fro 4 to 7 p.m. at Station 1 located at 1295 Carolina Ave. in Erwin.

The department was established on March 10, 1976, by a group of concerned citizens who saw the need for fire protection for the south end of Unicoi County.

Southside invites everyone to stop by and tour the fire station and the trucks on July 30. There will also be firemen on hand to answer questions you might have and safety publications. Smokey Mountain Sideshow will be providing entertainment.

For more information, call Southside Station 1 at 743-5964.

Juvenile arrested, charged in crash leading to Padgett’s death

From Staff Reports

The juvenile driver involved in the June crash that resulted in the death of a recent Unicoi County High School graduate has been arrested and charged, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The release states the juvenile, who was not identified, was arrested after turning himself in to the WCSO on Monday after charges of vehicular homicide, underage consumption, curfew violation and aggravated assault by recklessness were filed in Washington County Juvenile Court.

According to the WCSO, the juvenile was transported to the Upper East Tennessee Juvenile Regional Detention Center and will be arraigned this Wednesday in Washington County Juvenile Court.

Ashlie Padgett, an 18-year-old May graduate of UCHS, died as a result of a June 10 single-vehicle crash. According to the Johnson City Press, Padgett was sitting between two other people in a pickup truck when the vehicle slid off Buffalo Mountain.

According to the crash report, the crash happened as two teenagers – one of whom was Padgett – and an adult – identified as Christopher Thomas – were headed down Buffalo Mountain toward Dry Creek Road, the Press previously reported.

According to the crash report, the driver said his brakes failed on a downhill slop of Firetower Road and truck went off the right side on the roadway onto a dirt path, the Press reported. The truck struck a tree then rolled over and came to rest against another tree. The juvenile driver and Thomas were able to get out of the truck, but Padgett remained trapped inside and later died.

None in the truck were wearing seat belts, according to officials.

The crash occurred on the Washington County side of Buffalo Mountain.

Early voting begins July 15

PrintBy Brad Hicks

Early voting for the Aug. 4 state primary and county general elections will begin this Friday for Unicoi County’s registered voters.

Early voting will continue through Saturday, July 30.

Those wishing to participate in early voting will do so at the office of the Unicoi County Election Commission, located at 106 Nolichucky Ave. in Erwin. Early voting will be conducted at the office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.

The office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property and several seats on the Unicoi County Board of Education will be decided in the county general election.

The race for Assessor of Property is unique in that no candidates will appear on the ballot and the office will be decided by a write-in vote.

Four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are vying for the office.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following his death, the Commission, in March, appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Five candidates are seeking two seats to represent the county’s 2nd District on the Board of Education. Joining incumbents Tyler Engle and Lisa White in vying for these seats are Glenn E. Fisher, Shane O’Hare and Sue Jean Wilson.

Two candidates – Ruth H. Gaines and Steve Scott – are vying to represent the county’s 3rd District by filling an unexpired term on the board.

The unexpired term is the result of the November 2014 death of Dwight Bennett, who was elected to the Board of Education in August of that year.

Scott has served on the board previously, and Gaines was appointed to the school board in January 2015 by the Unicoi County Commission to fill the seat held by Bennett until the next general election.

Voters are reminded to bring a state or federally-issued photo ID in order to vote in person. An acceptable photo ID is required for early voting and for voting on Election Day.

Acceptable forms of ID, whether current or expired, include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs, and other state or federal government photo ID cards.

College student IDs are not acceptable.

For more information on early voting, contact the Unicoi County Election Commission at 743-6521.

Hearing to decide if teens will be tried as adults

By Brad Hicks

A hearing date to determine whether the two Washington County teens charged with robbing a Flag Pond man and leading law enforcement on a pursuit that resulted in the death of a third juvenile will be tried as adults was set Monday in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

Per an order filed Monday by the state and signed by Judge David Shults, this transfer hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 26 in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

The order also outlines steps that must be completed for each juvenile in order for the transfer hearing to take place. This includes the preparation of a report by the Department of Children’s Services detailing the nature and extent of any prior delinquency records, the nature of any past treatments and the nature of responses to these treatments, and the possible rehabilitation of the teens if they are tried as juveniles.

The order also states that Frontier Health is to complete an evaluation of each juvenile to determine his competency to participate in court proceedings.

The teens – ages 14 and 15 – are each charged in Unicoi County with aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, theft of property over $500, and theft of a vehicle over $1,000. The 15-year-old is also charged with felony evading arrest.

Bonds were also set Monday for each of the juveniles. A $60,000 corporate bond was set for the 15-year-old, and a $2,500 corporate bond was set for the 14-year-old.

According to law enforcement officials, the teens led officers on a two-county chase on June 20 which resulted in the death of 14-year-old Lacey Burton of Embreeville.

The 15-year-old was the driver of the vehicle and Lacey’s brother, according to law enforcement. The pursuit, which traveled from Unicoi County into Washington County for around 15 miles, began after the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received the report of a robbery which had allegedly occurred on Rice Creek Road in Flag Pond.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley previously said the alleged victim, identified as Roger Briggs, was beaten, robbed and tied up in his home but was able to free himself and go to a neighbor’s home to contact 911.

It is alleged that the three juveniles were dropped off at the Rice Creek residence by an adult where they waited on Briggs to return home.

“When he returned, they grabbed him and assaulted him,” Hensley said previously. “They held him at knife point. They tied him up and placed him in a closet.”

The motive for the alleged robbery stemmed from an altercation between Briggs and his brother, which reportedly took place on June 18. Briggs reportedly owed his brother, who is the grandfather of the juvenile siblings, $100.

“They went up there to collect the debt,” Hensley said.

The teens also allegedly took the 2000 Ford Ranger owned by the victim and traveled toward Washington County. A “be-on-the-lookout alert” was issued for the vehicle. Hensley previously said officers attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver refused to stop and exited Interstate 26 and drove down State Route 81 into Washington County. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the pursuit, which turned right onto Cherokee Road, Hensley said.

As the vehicle approached the intersection of Cherokee Road and Charlie Hicks Road, the driver lost control of the truck. A crash report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol stated that control of the truck was lost as a curve was negotiated, causing the vehicle to roll several times before coming to rest on its top. Burton was ejected from the vehicle. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts, according to the THP report. She passed away around midnight on June 21 at the Johnson City Medical Center.

Hensley said it was not until after the crash that officers learned the three subjects were teenagers. The sheriff also said officers in pursuit acted appropriately and that no officer made contact with the vehicle as control was lost.

“All these subjects were juveniles,” he said. “Of course, we did not know that at the time of the call. The call was vague on what had happened, other than that victim had been tied up and held at knife point and had been assaulted.”

At the crash scene, officers reportedly found two handguns and a large hunting knife.

No charges have been placed against the adult who dropped the juveniles off at Briggs’ residence. This individual reportedly was unaware of what the teens were planning.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Curtis said Monday charges in Washington County against the two male juveniles are pending the completion of a full report from the THP.

Attorneys Cameron Hyder and Elizabeth Jones, appointed to represent the teens, objected to the media’s presence during Monday’s hearing and the use of the juveniles’ names in any reports, as neither attorney was aware media would be present prior to the hearing. Tennessee Code Annotated 37-1-153(b) states that petitions and orders filed in juvenile court proceedings shall be open to public inspection so long as the juvenile is at least 14 years of age when the alleged act is committed and if the alleged act, if committed by an adult, would constitute several charges, including especially aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping.

Shults said this code does grant the public access to the filings, it does not specify whether the public has access to court hearings meeting this criteria. Rule 27(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure grants the public access to transfer cases involving juveniles, but Hyder said the transfer hearing would not be taking place Monday, as he needed more time to prepare and that he intended to introduce proof during Monday’s hearing during which he did not believe the media should be present. Members of the media present left the courtroom prior to the conclusion of the hearing.

Shults also issued an order at least temporarily blocking the publication of the juveniles’ names. He said a separate hearing to determine whether this information can be disseminated to the public will be held on Aug. 15.

Write-in process described for using voting machines

MicroVoteBy Brad Hicks

The race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property has created a unique situation for local voters, as the names of those seeking the office will not appear on the August general election ballot.

Instead, it will be up to voters to write – or more appropriately type – the name of their candidate of choice.

But how does one go about casting a write-in vote? According to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey, it’s a fairly simple process.

“Honestly, it’s very simple,” she said. “I would say people, when they get done, are going to be like, ‘Oh, I thought there was going to be more to it than that.’”

On the voting machine screen, voters will see on the ballot an option for “Write-In” under the box for Assessor of Property. Voters wishing to cast a vote will need to press the button alongside the screen adjacent this option.

Once this button has been pressed, the voting screen will change. Each letter of the alphabet will be assigned a button alongside the screen. Voters will use these buttons to type in the name of the candidate for whom they wish to vote by pressing the buttons next to the desired letters of the candidate’s name.

The candidate’s name will appear in a box located in the center of the voting machine screen as the letters are selected.

Voters will also have the ability to insert spaces and make corrections by using the “Space” and “Erase” buttons, respectively.

Once the candidate’s name has been entered, the voter will press the button adjacent to the “Done” option. This will return the voter to the regular ballot screen.

The candidate name entered by the voter will now be displayed below the write-in header within the Assessor of Property section of the ballot.

If a voter wishes to cancel a write-in or enter a new candidate’s name before casting a ballot, he or she may press the “Write-In” button again. From there, the voter will be taken back to the screen allowing a candidate’s name to be entered manually.

The process will be the same whether the vote is cast during the early voting period, which begins on July 15, or the Aug. 4 election day.

Bailey said poll workers will be able to assist those experiencing any difficulty casting a write-in vote.

“They won’t be able to spell a candidate’s name, but they will certainly instruct on how to do a write-in,” she said.

Four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are seeking the office of county Property Assessor.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following Peterson’s death, the Commission in March appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Depending on voter turnout and the number of voters casting write-in votes, Aug. 4 could be a long evening for local election officials due to the scale of the write-in race.

Bailey said the result tape printed from voting machines will be used to provide the total write-in votes from a precinct, but it will be up to the Election Commission’s four-member Absentee and Write-In Counting Board to review the votes cast and tally the number of write-in votes each candidate has received.

“Let’s say on this machine there were 100 (write-in votes). What they’re going to do is go down there and tally up, this candidate got 20 of those, this candidate got 30 of those, this candidate got 40 and this candidate got 10 or whatever the case may be,” Bailey said. “They’ll have to parse out who the votes were for and, of course, they’ll have to throw out any votes that are ‘Mickey Mouse’ or ‘Nobody’ or whatever the case may be and determine which are legitimate write-ins and which are not.”

The counting board will meet early on Aug. 4 to get started on early voting totals, Bailey said. To help expedite the tallying process, election officials are hopeful that around 60 percent of the county’s voters will participate in early voting.

“The more that vote early, the quicker we will have a total, just because they can work on that throughout election day, whereas precinct votes, they won’t be able to even start those until the precincts close and get the supplies back here,” Bailey said.

For the small percentage of voters who request a ballot by mail or use a paper ballot, Bailey said a flyer will be included allowing them to cast a write-in vote in the Assessor of Property race.

Bailey also said the August general election typically sees a lower turnout than other elections. A total of 4,073 voters – 2,164 during early voting and 1,909 on election day – cast ballots in the county’s August 2012 general election. A total of 3,300 voters voted in the August 2014 election. These ranges represent a 35-40 percent voter turnout, Bailey said.

Election Commission chooses acceptable names for write-in votes

By Brad Hicks

Mistakes will happen.

Because the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property will be decided by a write-in vote in the August general election, there is a high likelihood that some voters may misspell the name of their candidate of choice. Others may write in only a first or last name. Still others may simply enter the initials of the candidate they have selected.

On Thursday, the Unicoi County Election Commission took action to determine what will be considered an acceptable vote and what will not, as the panel created a list of approved name variations for the write-in candidates seeking the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property.

Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey opened Thursday’s discussion by covering with the commission information she received during a training session with the state Coordinator of Elections. According to information provided by Bailey, if the write-in candidate’s name is misspelled, the voter’s intent must be honored. If the voter’s intent – who he or she wished to vote for – can be “reasonably ascertained” despite the misspelling, the election commission must give effect to that voter’s intention.

And Bailey said local election officials are anticipating misspellings.

“We’ve had write-ins before, but never on this scale because there’s always been certified candidates who are on the ballot,” Bailey said. “As you can see on the sample ballot, it simply says, ‘No Candidate Qualified,’ and the only option under Assessor of Property is write-in. So we know we’ll have a whole lot more write-ins this time, and I think the more we can do to sort of set our guidelines on the front end, will decrease any questions or concerns or issues later on.”

The Unicoi County Election Commission’s counting board, a four-member board made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, will be responsible for reviewing the tapes printed out from voting machines to see what voters have written and make sure that the voter has placed the write-in under the Assessor of Property box on the ballot.

“That is the only office that has certified write-in candidates and then, of course, (the counting board) is going to look at the name,” Bailey said prior to the Election Commission’s Thursday vote. “They will have paper tally sheets, and they’ll be tallying those names. What they need from you all is guidance on what is an appropriate name, what’s not an appropriate name.”

Bailey said the key, according to information provided by the state, is a write-in candidate’s last name. She said if a voter writes in the candidate’s first name only or a first name with a last name initial, this will not count as a vote.

“They can’t count that if someone just writes in a first name,” Bailey said. “However, there’s a lot of wiggle room in first and last names, especially the last names.”

Although their names will not appear on the Aug. 4 ballot, four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are seeking the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property.

Bailey presented the commission with a list of variations that would count as votes for each candidate.

For Day, acceptable variations will include Johnny Day, John Daye, J. Day, Jon Day, John Dae, Johnnie Day, Day and the last name spelling of Da. At Day’s suggestion, last name spellings of Dai, Daie and Diaz were also added to the acceptable variations list.

For Kinsler, acceptable variations will include Teresa Kinser, Teresa Kinslre, Terry Kinsler, Kinsler, Theresa Kinsler, Teresa Kensler, Teresa Cinsler and T. Kinsler. At Kinsler’s suggestion, the last name variation of Kinsley was added to the list.

Acceptable variations for McInturff will include Rocky McInnturff, Alan McInturff, McInturff, Rocky McInturf, Rocky MacInturff, R. McInturff, J. McInturff, J.A. McInturff and J. Alan McInturff.

For Seward, acceptable variations will include Richard Sewerd, Rick Seward, Rich Seward, Seward, Richard Steward, Richard Sewart, Ricky Seward and R. Seward. The last name variation Stewart was also added to the list.

Both Bailey and Election Commission Chairman Thomas Reeves emphasized that even if a candidate’s last name is misspelled, the last name must be written in for the vote to count.

“We want to be clear that first names do not count or any variation of a first name with a last initial or just initials for a candidate,” Bailey said.

Variations not countable as votes for Day will include John D., Jon D., Johnny D., Johnnie D., John, Jon, Johnny, Johnnie and J.D. For Kinsler, unacceptable variations will include Teresa K., Theresa K., Teresa, Theresa, Terry and T.K. Unacceptable variations for McInturff will include Rocky M., Alan M., Allen, Rocky, Alan and R.M. Variations not countable for Seward will include Richard S., Rich S., Rick S., Ricky S., R.S., Richard, Rick, Ricky and Rich.

The list approved by the Unicoi County Election Commission on Thursday is not the “end all, be all,” as the counting board does have discretion in determining whether variations not on the approved list will count as votes for a particular candidate, Bailey said. She said if the counting board comes across a variation not on the list approved Thursday, that board can vote to accept the variation as a “reasonable vote” for a candidate. She said poll workers can explain the write-in process to voters but cannot provide candidate names or correct spellings. Bailey also said she would check with the state to see if a list of those seeking the Assessor of Property office could be displayed around polling places.

“It’s important that we focus on the intent – that’s the key word – of the voter,” Reeves said.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following his death, the Commission in March appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Remains of local POW to return home after 70 years

By Brad Hicks

More than 70 years after his death in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, the family of U.S. Army Air Force Pvt. Evans Overbey will finally lay to rest the fallen soldier and the community will have the opportunity to honor the young man who perished in service to his country.

Overbey’s remains will be returned to the region early next week, days before a public tribute to be held in Erwin and his interment in the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City.

Overbey was born on May 25, 1917, in Wise County, Va, according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency. He was a member of the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group when the U.S. entered World War II. In October 1941, the squadron was deployed from New Mexico to Clark Field in the Pampanga Providence in the Philippines.

Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands and attacked Clark Field. This destroyed nearly all of the U.S. bombers at the base and resulted in more than 150 American casualties.

Overbey survived this attack and, like other survivors with the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, joined with American and Filipino infantry during the Battle of Bataan. But, following their April 1942 surrender, thousands of U.S. and Filipino soldiers became Japanese POWs.

The captive soldiers were forced by the Japanese to endure what would become known as the “Bataan Death March,” a more than 60-mile trek to Japanese POW camps on the island of Luzon, Philippines. It is estimated that more than 70,000 American and Filipino captives were forced to march.

Overbey was among those forced to make this trek.

Overbey, according to reports, died of pellagra on Nov. 19, 1942, while in the Japanese-operated Cabanatuan prison camp. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 12 other U.S. servicemen and one U.S. civilian also died on the same date as a result of malnutrition and medical neglect while at the Cabanatuan POW camp.

The 13 who died on Nov. 19, 1942, were buried in Common Grave 717 in the camp’s cemetery. This mass grave would serve as Overbey’s resting place for several years, but not his final one.

Following WWII, officials with the American Graves Registration Service, from late 1945 through early 1946, exhumed the Cabanatuan cemetery, relocating discovered remains to a temporary U.S. military cemetery established near Manila. By early 1946, most of the deceased from the O’Dell and Cabanatuan camps were relocated to the temporary site.

Throughout late 1947 and early 1948, the AGRS re-exhumed the remains from the temporary cemetery. The remains were transferred to a mausoleum, and it was the AGRS’s goal to identify each individual.

But this would not prove easy. According to the Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency, the Cabanatuan Cabanatuan camp did not initially allow the erection of grave markers and remains were not organized in the often shallow graves. The cemetery was also situated in an area with a high water table. On top of this, the “chaotic manner in which the remains had been buried, exhumed, reburied, and re-exhumed resulted in a level of commingling that could not be resolved given the forensic science techniques available at the time.”

Those remains that could not be identified were reburied as Unknown Remains at the American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery at Fort McKinley in Manila, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Among the remains interred there were 10 individuals buried in Common Grave 717.

The Secretary of the Army in 2014 gave permission for these 10 graves to be exhumed. Extensive DNA testing was performed on the remains which led to one set of bones being identified as Overbey.

The military was able to track down his living relatives, which included his niece Grace Erwin, a resident of Erwin. His other living relatives include his great-nephews Phillip and Larry Erwin, who are Erwin’s sons, and great-niece Tammy Anderson, the daughter of Overbey’s nephew Ray Taylor.

Now that he had been identified, it was up to Overbey’s next-of-kin to select a funeral home for his interment. Overbey’s living relatives contacted Valley Funeral Home in Erwin.

“I’ve known this family for many years and worked with them several times, and they gave us a call, probably, two months ago,” said Valley Funeral Home Manager Michael Peterson. “We had met with the family and military personnel subsequently, and we’ve been working on the details for the service since then.”

Overbey was officially accounted for last month, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Peterson said it is an “overwhelming honor” to have a part in laying Overbey to rest.

“I feel it’s a tremendous honor that the family has reached out to us as we bring him back and reunite him with family, so to speak, that we could be a part of this,” Peterson said. “This family basically represents his mother, his father and brothers that he may have had that weren’t afforded this opportunity.”

Those wishing to honor Overbey may visit Valley Funeral Home on July 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s more of an open house time that people in the community can come by to learn some about Pvt. Overbey, sign the register book and be there to pay tribute,” Peterson said.

On the afternoon of July 15, a graveside service will be held at the Mountain Home National Cemetery where Overbey will be interred. Peterson said Overbey’s living relatives will be present as his remains are buried, adding that Overbey also has other relatives interred in the Mountain Home cemetery.

It is not yet known whether Overbey’s remains will be transported from Hawaii to Tri-Cities Regional Airport or flown in to McGhee Tyson Airport in the Knoxville area or whether his remains will arrive Monday or Tuesday. Regardless of airport, Overbey’s remains will be brought to Erwin. Once more information becomes known, Peterson said he would like to see the community gather to give Overbey a well-deserved welcome home.

“I think it would be wonderful if our community would line Main Street from Exit 26 up here, coming in to Erwin, all the way down to Valley Funeral Home and just welcome him here,” Peterson said.

Peterson also said Overbey’s return is special, as many servicemen never made it back.

“I want to encourage our community to come together and honor his return,” Peterson said. “I think he represents a lot of other individuals that have not been able to do this.”

Peterson said more information on Overbey’s service can be found on the Valley Funeral Home Facebook page or on its website at

Crash during pursuit kills teen

By Keeli Parkey

One of the three Washington County teens involved in a wreck during a pursuit on Monday, June 20, by county law enforcement officers has died.

Sheriff Mike Hensley told The Erwin Record the teen, who was the lone female in the vehicle, passed away around midnight on June 21. She had been in critical condition at Johnson City Medical Center. She has been identified as 14-year-old Lacey Burton of Embreeville, Hensley said. She has also been referred to as Lacey Briggs.

The male juveniles are 14- and 15-years-old. Their names have not been released by law enforcement. The 15-year-old was the driver of the vehicle and Lacey’s brother, according to law enforcement.

The pursuit, which traveled from Unicoi County into Washington County for approximately 15 miles, began after the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call reporting a robbery that had allegedly occurred on Rice Creek Road in the Flag Pond community.

“At approximately 12:30 p.m. we received a 911 call,” Hensley said. “A person had been robbed and tied up in his residence. He was able to free himself and went to a deputy who lived close by and used the phone to call 911.

“A (be-on-the-lookout) was put out on the suspect’s vehicle. My chief deputy (Frank Rogers) and other officers spotted the vehicle a short time after the 911 call around Exit 40.”

Hensley said Rogers attempted to stop the vehicle, however, the driver refused to stop and exited Interstate 26 and drove down State Route 81 into Washington County. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the pursuit, which turned right onto Cherokee Road, Hensley said.

As the vehicle, which was later identified as a 2000 Ford Ranger owned by the victim, approached the intersection of Cherokee Road and Charlie Hicks Road, the driver lost control of the truck.

According to a crash report by the Tennessee Highway Patrol and shared with The Johnson City Press, “while negotiating a curve, (the truck) lost control and over corrected. As a result, (the truck) rolled several times before coming to a final rest on its top …” Burton was ejected from the vehicle. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts, according to the THP report.

It was not until after the crash that officers learned the three suspects were teenagers, according to Hensley.

“All these subjects were juveniles,” he said. “Of course, we did not know that at the time of the call. The call was vague on what had happened, other than that the victim had been tied up and held at knife point and had been assaulted.”

Hensley said he believed the officers in pursuit, which also included an Erwin police officer and, later, Washington County deputies, acted appropriately.

“They went by the book,” he added. “All of it is on video. We have witnesses to the crash. They lost control of the vehicle and rolled the vehicle several times. None of the officers’ vehicles made contact with that vehicle whatsoever.”

At the crash scene, officers reportedly found two handguns and a large hunting knife.

During the investigation into the robbery, Hensley said officers learned an adult had dropped the juveniles off at the Rice Creek residence where they waited on the victim, identified as Roger Briggs, 58, to return home.

“When he returned, they grabbed him and assaulted him,” Hensley said. “They held him at knife point. They tied him up and placed him in a closet.”

Bungee cords and a belt were used to bind Briggs, according to the sheriff.

The motive for the alleged robbery stemmed from an altercation between Briggs and his brother, which reportedly took place on Saturday, June 18. Briggs reportedly owed his brother, who is the grandfather of the siblings, $100.

“They went up there to collect the debt,” Hensley said.

Briggs was taken to JCMC on June 20 and was in serious condition. He did receive serious injuries, according to Hensley. “They beat him,” Hensley said. “He had blunt-force trauma to his head and about his body.”

He was listed in stable condition on June 21.

The trio reportedly stole Briggs’ truck, as well as chainsaws, and fled the scene after the reported assault.

The UCSD is expected to charge the juveniles with especially aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, theft of a vehicle over $1,000, theft over $500 and evading arrest. Charges by the THP are pending, according to its report.

No charges have been placed against the person who dropped the juveniles at Briggs’ residence. The driver reportedly had no idea what the juveniles were planning.

The male juveniles were being held in the Juvenile Detention Center in Johnson City.
They were scheduled to appear in juvenile court in Washington County on Wednesday, June 22.

County mourns teen’s passing

Ashlie Padgett received her diploma from UCHS last month.  She was also the school’s athlete of the year. (File photo)

Ashlie Padgett received her diploma from UCHS last month. She was also the school’s athlete of the year. (File photo)

From Staff Reports

An auto accident during the morning hours of Friday, June 10, has claimed the life of Ashlie Padgett, a Unicoi County teen described as a “true friend” and a “special, special young lady.”

Director of Schools John English said Padgett graduated from Unicoi County High School last month. A three-sport athlete, she was voted on by the school’s coaches as female athlete of the year. She played basketball, softball and volleyball.

“I had the privilege of being her principal in middle school,” English said. “Without a doubt, she had the sweetest disposition of any student I have been around. She was a special, special young lady.”

English said Padgett will also be remembered for her smile.

“So many people talk about her smile,” he said. “It was absolutely infectious. It would light up any place she was.”

English also said the “unbelievable outpouring of support” for Padgett’s family is a testament to her character.

“Ashlie was good to everybody,” he said. “She didn’t have any enemies. Everybody liked Ashlie.

“On behalf of the entire school system, I want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Ashlie’s family and friends. We will support them anyway we can.”

Kerri King, who coached Padgett on the Lady Blue Devil basketball team, remembers Padgett for her dedication to her friends and teammates.

“Ashlie’s physical attributes were obvious; she was gorgeous, smart and extremely athletic,” King said. “However, her more genuine gifts were her commitment to her teammates, loyalty to her friends, protectiveness of her sister, adoration for children and an ability to connect with people of any age.

“I was her coach, but I know she was my true friend.”

A Go Fund Me campaign is underway to raise financial support for her family. To donate, visit and search “Prayers for Ashlie.” Corner Grill in Erwin donated a portion of its sales from Tuesday, June 14, to the family. Other businesses are collecting funds as well.

English said counselors were available at UCHS on Tuesday for students who wished to gather there.

The accident is reportedly under investigation by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators could not be reached for comment prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline for the June 15 issue


ETSU Response website activated to assist victims of Orlando attack

From Staff Reports

Early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub, leaving 50 people dead, including the shooter, and dozens injured. East Tennessee State University has activated its ETSU Response website to provide information on how to support victims of the attack at the Pulse Orlando club.

The website,, provides a link to the Equity Florida website for those who wish to contribute online. It also provides links to three local blood donation organizations and to support services for ETSU students and employees who may have been affected by this disaster.

In addition, the website gives details on the candlelight vigil planned Monday, June 13, at 8 p.m. at Founders Park, 74 Wilson Ave., Johnson City, sponsored by the Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities.

The ETSU Response website has been used several times in the past to give individuals a way to provide assistance for victims of disasters both near and far, including the April earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the tornadoes in Greene County and tsunami in Japan in 2011, and the Millercrest Apartments fire in Johnson City and earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

For more information, call the ETSU Office of Student Affairs at 439-4210.

Ledford retires as 911 director, committee appoints interim

Patsy Ledford waves goodbye as she retires after 23 years of work with Unicoi County. Ledford was presented a plaque last Friday during a reception in her honor. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

Patsy Ledford waves goodbye as she retires after 23 years of work with Unicoi County. Ledford was presented a plaque last Friday during a reception in her honor. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

By Curtis Carden

The Unicoi County 911 committee addressed the vacancy created by 911 Director Patsy Ledford’s retirement during a regularly scheduled meeting held Wednesday, June 1, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Ledford retired from her position on Friday, June 3, after 23 years of work inside the county.

“I’ve done my job and worked my butt off over the years,” Ledford said during the meeting. “I’ve loved every minute of it. 911 has been my baby, but it’s time to be with my family.”

The personnel committee branch of the emergency services group, spearheaded by Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson, discussed the process of selecting an interim during the meeting.

Tilson stated that the committee is working with a June 17 deadline to receive applications for the position and that five resumes have already been submitted. A pair of individuals have also requested information about the director spot.

“We could expect around 12 applications, if not more, by the deadline,” Tilson said. “We’ve had individuals express interest from Sevier County, Greene County, Washington County, Carter County and internally.”

Applicants will be interviewed by the emergency services’ personnel committee in the coming weeks. The committee is hoping to have a director in place by July 1, but until then, Tilson told members that it would be in the best interest of the committee to appoint an interim director, from the committee, until a new director is in place to assist with day-to-day activities.

After a brief discussion, the floor opened for suggestions on an interim director with Tilson nominating Robert Adams, with the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, due to his dispatching knowledge and work with the board.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch agreed with Tilson’s nomination and closed the floor for any other nominations. The committee voted unanimously on the nomination, with Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, a Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department representative and Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch not in attendance. Ledford left the meeting before the vote for Adams.

“Robert has been a great help for me,” Bill Hensley, chairman of the 911 committee, said. “I know he’ll do a great job, along with the employees.”

Adams will be the interim director for 30 days, effective from the meeting date, and work alongside 911’s three supervisors as the transition is underway.

“I appreciate your confidence in me,” Adams said.


In other business, the board decided to take a wait-and-see approach following their previous recommendation of putting a guardrail at the roadway that runs along the 911 and UCSD offices on Jackson Love Highway.

Ceremony honors those who served

By Curtis Carden

Rev. Rusty Wishon was the guest speaker for Sunday’s Memorial Day service at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

Rev. Rusty Wishon was the guest speaker for Sunday’s Memorial Day service at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

“We cannot allow Memorial Day to lose its meaning.”

These passionate words from Rev. Rusty Wishon of Fishery Community Church summed up the thoughts of many during a Memorial Day service hosted by the town of Erwin at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday, May 29.

Wishon, who served over 25 years in the military, was the guest speaker for the event and gave thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom.

“Sacrifice is a necessary condition to have freedom,” Wishon said. “We have freedom to say and do whatever we want, thanks to those who gave their lives. It is our job to live our lives in a way to honor those who sacrificed for us.”

During his speech, Wishon shared the story of Master Sergeant Ned Lyle, from Erwin, who was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in the Korean War.

“Master Sergeant Lyle distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Mundung-ni, Korea, on 26 Aug. 1951,” Wishon read from a report issued of the Military Times’ Hall of Valor website. “On that date, Company F was subjected to a devastating barrage of enemy mortar and artillery fire and was forced to begin a limited withdrawal. In this action two platoon leaders became casualties and Sergeant Lyle promptly took charge of both platoons. He rapidly reorganized the men in order to meet the oncoming enemy, who now began to subject them to a heavy volume of fire. When the close proximity of the numerically superior hostile troops threatened the small friendly force with annihilation, Sergeant Lyle, with utter disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself to the enemy fire in order to draw it away from the wounded.”

Wishon continued the story, describing of Lyle’s “deadly accurate fire” that helped back up the enemy and of his successful use of a machine gun post with his bayonet.

That’s just one of the many stories that come from war, Wishon said.

“That’s a Unicoi County man,” he added. “There’s many here today who would do the same thing that Mr. Lyle did. I’m proud to be from an area like Unicoi County, where we can spend the day honoring our veterans.”

Allen Foster and members of Fishery Community Church also brought attendants to their feet with a rendition of “Proud to be an American.”

While Sunday was a time for remembering those who passed away, veteran Ray Tipton paid homage to soldiers who are currently missing in action’ (M.I.A.) by giving a speech. During Tipton’s speech, local veteran Charles King placed a commemorative mat on the chair of the park’s MIA memorial.

The honor guard, led by Captain Ron Arnold with the Erwin Police Department, provided a gun salute, the playing of trumpets and raised the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Bill Hensley, who chairs the county’s veterans committee, gave thanks for the support for the park from community members.

County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes provided the closing remarks at the event.

Service members who lost their lives during duty have their name featured on a monument in the center of the roofing at the park. The Mary Patton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a special red, white and blue wreath beside this piece during Sunday’s event.

In honor of Memorial Day, The Erwin Record would like to remember those who gave their life by recognizing each name included on the monument:

• World War I: Garrett Edwards, Hobert Harris, Lina McCurry, William M. Moore, James H. Price, John Green, William A. Jones, Paul Masters, Douglas Penland and James W. Teague.

• World War II: Harm K. Adams, Robert Bailey, Charles B. Baxter, Bob Beam, Oscar J. Bennett, Robert L. Bennett, Bernard Chapman, Curtis D. Clark, Hubert D. Copp, Gus Cousin, Charles E. Duncan, Dallas P. Edmond, Mills Edmunds, Plen Edwards, Kelley L. Epley, Jr., Paul E. Farnor, James H. Foster, William T. Gilbert, Dwight L. Guinn, Woodward Harris, Elmer C. Harvey, Donald Hensley, Luther E. Hensley, Orville F. Hensley, Fred B. Howell, Howard W. Hurt, Howard Huskins, Bruce Johnson, Dwight L. Keever, Donald C. Keplinger, William A. Ledford, Robert E. Martin, Harley G. Masters, Deanah R. McCurry, Ralph C. McIntosh, Reid C. McInturff, Thomas S. McInturff, Joseph P. McLaughlin, Johnie J. Meadows, Robert N. Moon, Rufus S. Moore, Jr., Lee R. Morgan, James R. Nichols, William F. Niemeyer, Ivan A. Osborne, Glen W. Pack, Milliard F. Parsley, Jr., Clark Peterson, Hugh P. Prince, Lester L. Pulley, Walter L. Rice, Jr., Earl D. Ryburn, Simon P. Shelton, Clarence C. Stockton, Eugene H. Street, James E. Strickland, Jr., Leonard W. Taylor, Carroll B. Tilson, Roy C. Tinker, Lattie Tipton, Jack M. Turner, Edward M. Vogel, Hugh L. Waldrop, Marvin L. Williams, Paul Williams, Jack Wilson, Ralph Wilson and Clyde R. Wishon.

• Korean War: Lewis Ray Callahan, Vernon C. Hardin, Albert C. May, Cecil Poore.

• Vietnam War: Richard W. Bannister, James J. Britt, Donald R. Cook, David L. Edney, Donald L. Grubb, Bobby G. Haynes, Doyle Holcomb, Douglas L. Jones, Johnny W. Ogle, Bobby J. Shelton, Michael Tolley, Allen E. White and Eugene Wilson.

• County soldiers who passed away during service in the Middle East were Mark O. Edwards, who served in Iraq, and Benjamin D. White, who served in Afghanistan.

Commissioner, former sheriff passes away

By Keeli Parkey

Walter Garland

Walter Garland

Walter Garland, a well-known Unicoi County public servant, passed away on Friday, May 27. He was 81. A memorial service for Garland was held on Tuesday, May 31, at Rock Creek Presbyterian Church.

Garland, who was serving as Unicoi County Commissioner representing the third district at the time of this death, was born in Burnsville, N.C., but lived his entire life in Unicoi County, according to his obituary. He was the son of the late Howard and Margaret Garland.

“Walter always took his job as a county commissioner very seriously,” County Mayor Greg Lynch told The Erwin Record. “He was always looking out for the best interest of the taxpayers. The people who elected him were always his number one concern.”

In addition to his service on the County Commission, Garland was a former sheriff and chief deputy for the county, as well as a policeman for the town of Erwin. He also served the county through the Unicoi Ruritan Club and as a member of the county’s Civil Service board.

“I am going to miss working with him, both (in county government) and with the Ruritan Club,” Lynch said. “He was always at our functions to help us, whether it was slicing strawberries or selling hotdogs at the Strawberry Festival – Walter and his wife, Betty, were always there, always contributing. The community is going to miss him.”

In his spare time, Garland enjoyed woodworking and playing golf. He also worked as a partner of Clarence’s Drive-In in Unicoi before retirement.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister, Frances Louise, according to his obituary. Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Betty Haun Garland; a son, Mark Garland of Unicoi; one daughter, Teresa Collins and husband Jerry of Unicoi; one grandson, Jabies Collins of Erwin; three sisters, Ruby Peake and husband Gene, Dolly Bailey and husband Kyle, Shirley Brinkley and husband, Bill; two brothers, Kenneth Garland and wife Barbara, Ronnie Garland and wife Karen; and several nieces and nephews.