Museums open for 2019 season

The Johnson family holds up their rifle they brought to be inspected to the opening ceremony for the museums. The rifle was built around 1820. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Heritage Museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum reopened for the season with a special event on Saturday, May 11. This year marks the 37th season for the Heritage Museum and the eighth season for the Railroad Museum.

“We’ve had tremendous turnout,” Martha Erwin, who serves as curator for both museums, said.

During the season-opening festivities, Dave Byrd and Edward Dorr were on hand to share several of their weapons. Byrd is an expert antique firearms appraiser and collector of locally made surviving rifles. Byrd shared his lifelong knowledge of early local gunsmiths that inhabited our region of Northeast Tennessee. Autographed copies of Byrd’s book titled “Gunmakers of Buffalo Valley and Greasy Cove in Unicoi County” were sold.

Dorr and Byrd examined a rifle brought in by the Johnson family from Washington County on Saturday.

“I remember that gun,” Byrd said. “I’ve tried to buy it three or four times.”

Byrd knew at first glance that the gun had belonged to Henry Johnson.

“That gun was made in 1815 or 1820,” Byrd said. “Baxter, the man who made it, was born around 1800.”

Dorr confirmed that Baxter was born in 1798.

“He fought in the War of 1812 at the age of 14,” Dorr said.

The museums feature a small scale replica of the 1925 Clinchfield Railroad Depot, meticulously hand-crafted in small detail by Scott Fowler. A front porch rocking chair from the notable Unaka Springs Hotel that was built in 1899 is also featured. The hotel was advertised and known as having the finest mineral springs in the south.

Dr. Joe Chamber’s Blue Ridge Pottery “designer series” plates, which have become highly sought after and rarely seen, will be on display for a limited time in the Blue Ridge Pottery Room. Displayed in the Quilt Room is a collection of hand-sewn quilts by highly recognized Erwin quilter, Jo Starnes.

A vintage German doll with its own velvet chair is displayed in memory honoring Erwin native and Class of 1940 member, the late Billie Marie Chapman. Also, other unique exhibits are housed in the three-story, turn of the century house museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum.

The museums’ normal business hours are Monday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. Admission fee for both museums may be enjoyed for one price of $4 per adult and $2 per child.

The museums are located next to the Erwin National Fish Hatchery located at 529 Federal Hatchery Road, Erwin. They are available for field trips, weddings, and organizational outings. For more information, call 743-9449 or 743-8923.

Annual Strawberry Festival set for Saturday

Scott’s Strawberries will again be a featured attraction at the 17th Annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival on Saturday, May 18. Above, Kaylee Nicholson sells strawberries at a previous festival. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

The Town of Unicoi is preparing for the 17th Annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival which will be held Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unicoi Elementary School field.

“Residents looking to get involved have a number of ways to join the festivities this year,” said Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton. “Whether you have a talent to share, a product to sell or just want to volunteer in your community, the Strawberry Festival has it all.”

According to a press release from the Town of Unicoi, the festival will feature approximately 100 craft vendors showcasing handmade items ranging from pottery to soaps, jewelry, home decor and more. Spaces are filling up fast so anyone interested in a booth should contact the Tourist Information Center as soon as possible. Craft spaces are reserved for handmade products, though commercial products may be placed on a waiting list in the event space becomes available.

Numerous food vendors are already confirmed and will be serving hamburgers, hot dogs, fried potatoes, tacos, tamales, kettle corn, strawberry funnel cakes, homemade ice cream and many more menu items. Food vendor spaces are restricted to non-profit organizations and applications are available on the town’s website.

A Strawberry Dessert Recipe Contest will be sponsored by the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, a food incubator in the heart of Unicoi. Contestants are encouraged to dazzle the judges taste buds as they compete for first ($75), second ($50) and third ($25) place prizes.

“People just love food, they want to put their own spin on things and that’s what this contest is all about,” said Lee Manning, director of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. “We want to see something new, something that will have us all begging for more.”

Entries will be judged on taste, appearance and creativity and must include a copy of the recipe to qualify. Contestants may submit their desserts to the kitchen’s booth between 10-11 a.m. and an awards ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. To register for the dessert contest, contact the Tourist Information Center prior to the festival.

In conjunction with the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival, Little Miss Southern Sparkle Pageants will host the Miss Strawberry Festival Pageant from 9 a.m. to noon in the Unicoi Elementary School gymnasium. Those interested in participating may email Valerie Hendrix at director@southernsparklepageant@gmail.com or visit Little Miss Southern Sparkle on Facebook for more information.

While the musical line-up is almost complete, the planning committee is always on the lookout for new talent. Local musicians who think they have what it takes to please festival audiences may submit their band for consideration to fill spots at either the Strawberry Festival or other town-sponsored events including the upcoming Farmers Market opening the end of May and Freedom Fest in July. A link to video or audio recording is required for consideration and may be emailed to recreationaide@unicoitn.net with “Performance Request” in the subject line.

The Town of Unicoi organizes the annual Strawberry Festival and is assisted through sponsorships from local businesses. Festival staff is comprised of town employees, volunteers and local emergency services. Anyone interested in sponsoring the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival or volunteering at the event should contact the Tourist Information Center at 735-0517 or email recreationaide@unicoitn.net.

Additional information is available online at Facebook.com/TownOfUnicoi/Events or on the town’s website, UnicoiTN.net. Both pages will be updated with the festival map, musical performance schedule and vendor list when released.

Ramp Festival draws hundreds to Flag Pond

Coy Lee Harris, Celesta Shelton and Judy Harris prepare food for attendees at the 34th Annual Ramp Festival on Saturday, May 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The 34th Annual Ramp Festival took place on Saturday, May 11, and despite the rain, drew record crowds.

“We sold over a thousand plates,” Friends of Rocky Fork President and Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said. “We had a lot of to go boxes, as well.”

Ramps, the main attraction, sold out this year. According to the Royal Botanical Gardens, ramps are classified as a North American species of wild onion widespread across eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

According to Barbara Desso with the Flag Pond Ruritan, attendees enjoyed meals of ramp infused potatoes, bacon, cole slaw, cornbread, beans, dessert and a drink.

“Weather was no contender for the Flag Pond Ramp Festival,” Desso said.

In addition to the food, there were numerous vendors and entertainment throughout Flag Pond School. Vendors sold items such as watercolor original prints, soaps, journals, metal jewelry, kitchen utensils and wind chimes, essential oils and organic salves, bug spray, handcrafted birdhouses, wooden signs, coat racks, benches, wooden bowls and spoons, steel carving knives, coasters, wire art, Mary Kay, Avon products and vitamins, Thirty-One, handcrafted macramé jewelry, sea glass jewelry, lamps, sea glass pictures, and much more. Author Elizabeth Buttke was selling her book “Deep In The Holler,” as well as autographing copies.

The musical lineup included the Unicoi High School Band, The Dandy Line Dancers from Asheville, Sweetwater Church of God Singers, Spivey Mountain Boys, Mountain Melodies and The Flag Ponderer’s.

All proceeds from the festival will go toward community projects, scholarships, children’s Christmas gifts, Halloween party, festivals and numerous donations to other needs in Unicoi County.

“The planning for the festival begins several months in advance and would not be possible without the many volunteers that put in numerous hours of cleaning, maintenance of the grounds and children’s playset, pavilion, ordering of food and T-shirts, shopping, prepping, cooking, baking, serving, cashiers, etc.,” Desso said. “Festival goers got to enjoy the many musicians, dancers and singers throughout the day. Vendors brought their unique wares to sell and donated to the prize drawings that were held later in the day. Food was served on the lower level as well as in the gym. Vendors were also on the lower level and the majority chose to set up in the gym due to the inclement weather.”

Desso also said the Flag Pond Ruritan is appreciative of the efforts of many festival supporters.

“To each person/business sponsors/attendees that contributed in whatever way, a heartfelt thank you from the Flag Pond Ruritan Club for the time, energy and resources that have been donated,” she said. “ … Once again visitors came from many states, as well as local and nearby communities. The positive feedback with expressions of how many love the festival and look forward to it every year. Next year will be a milestone as it will be the 35th year for the festival.”

The Flag Pond Community Center, 110 School House Road, Flag Pond, will also be the site of the Fourth of July Community Parade, lawnmower races, and fireworks, which will be held on Saturday, June 29. More information will follow.

The Flag Pond Ruritan Club welcomes new members and meets every third Tuesday of the month at the Community Center (Old Flag Pond School) at 7 p.m. There will not be a meeting in May, but meetings will resume in June. For more information, contact President Richard Waldrop at 743-3430 or Vice President Judee Krom at 388-5503.

Whitson makes ‘Survivor’ final

Erwin native Gavin Whitson is one of the few players still standing in “Survivor: Edge of Extinction.” (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

The last week before a million dollar winner is announced, Erwin’s own survivor Gavin Whitson is still standing.

During the Wednesday, May 8, episode of “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” on CBS, Whitson won the reward challenge, which was for a helicopter ride to a resort in Fiji for a lunch. Whitson was allowed to bring two fellow tribemates and chose Victoria Baamonde and Lauren O’Connell. Winning this reward in past seasons of Survivor proved to be a curse as the winner was often chosen to leave during Tribal Council.

The problem for Whitson was that he had an alliance with Baamonde, O’Connell, and Aurora McCreary, and was only able to take Baamonde and O’Connell on the retreat. McCreary was left behind with Rick Devens, who has been the target of Whitson’s alliance, and Julie Rosenberg, who has sided with Devens.

To make matters worse for Whitson’s alliance, Devens has a hidden immunity idol and Devens pulled out the victory during the immunity challenge. During the Tribal Council, Devens revealed that he had the hidden immunity idol and would be willing to save Rosenberg. Devens leveraged Whitson’s alliance to turn on McCreary and vote her out of the tribe.

The final episode of “Survivor: Edge of Extinction,” which airs on CBS on Wednesday, May 15, at 8 p.m., will see a million dollar winner and Sole Survivor. The finale will see Whitson, Baamonde, O’Connell, Devens, Rosenberg, or one of the contestants stranded on Extinction Island, winning the top prize.

Union Street Taproom, 111 Union St. in downtown Erwin, will host a Survivor Watch Party. NOLI Food Truck will attend and serve their signature dishes. The watch party is family and pet-friendly, according to Union Street Taproom owner Michael Baker.

For more information and updated photos of Whitson’s time on Survivor, you can follow Team Gavin on Facebook.

For more information for upcoming events at Union Street Taproom follow Union Street Taproom on Facebook. To keep up with where the NOLI truck is going to be, follow NOLI Food Truck on Facebook and Instagram.

Washington County offers ambulance services for $218K

Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley discusses options for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Thursday, May 1, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee met to discuss temporary options for ambulance service in Unicoi County. Unicoi County Ambulance Chairman John Mosley called the meeting to order at 1 p.m. and was joined by committee members Glenn White, Marie Rice, Mark Lafever and Jeff Linville. Linville was filling in for Town of Unicoi Mayor and committee member Johnny Lynch, who had a prior meeting to attend.

Mosley discussed the option of accepting Washington County/Johnson City EMS services temporarily, while Unicoi County officials decide if they want to create their own ambulance service or accept a bid from an outside agency for ambulance services.

“They gave an estimate on an operation plan for an interlocal agreement for one year, priced at $218,677,” Mosley said. “They can supply us 24 hours a day for seven days a week with two ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances, and one BLS (Basic Life Support) ambulance for five days a week, 10 hours a day, for the $218,677.”

According to Mosley, there are two options to staff the Washington County/Johnson City EMS. Mosley stated that Washington County/Johnson City EMS would take on the current MedicOne staff or Unicoi County could take on the salaries of the staff for a projected lower priced subsidy.

The committee agreed to discuss the proposal to the full Unicoi County Commission during the May 20 Unicoi County Commission meeting.

“I would recommend that the full commission meet and then any questions we may have, send those to Mr. (Dan) Wheely,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said.

Unicoi County commissioner and ambulance committee member Marie Rice agreed with Evely.

“I think that is what is best to do,” Rice said. “It gives us a chance to ask questions and get the answers we need going forward.”

The committee voted unanimously to discuss the proposal with the full Unicoi County Commission at the May 20 Unicoi County Commission meeting and to have Evely and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults take any questions and concerns back to Washington County/Johnson City EMS following the May 20 meeting. Rice made the motion and White seconded the motion.

Prior to that May 20 meeting, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet on Monday, May 13, at 11 a.m. at the Unicoi County Courthouse. Washington County/Johnson City EMS Director of Operations Dan Wheely will be present for informational purposes.

MedicOne Operations Manager Rebecca Bach was on hand last week and wanted to discuss concerns that the current staff of MedicOne had going forward. Bach was concerned that the staff would lose money by losing overtime opportunities.

“You are going to lose a lot of talent if they cannot offer equivalent pay or overtime opportunities,” Bach said. “I think everyone is nervous.”

Bach did acknowledge that the benefits package that Washington County provides are of quality.

“I understand where you are coming from, and we want to do what’s best for you, but we also have to do what’s best for the citizens of the county,” Mosley said.

County officials express opposition to student voucher bill

By Richard Rourk

A controversial bill recently passed in both the Tennessee House of Representatives and the Tennessee State Senate that would allow for student vouchers to be used in Davidson and Shelby Counties.

A school voucher, also called an education voucher in a voucher system, is a certificate of government funding for a student to attend school chosen by the student or the student’s parents. Current Tennessee House Bill 939 (HB939) and Tennessee Senate Bill 795 (SB795) propose that education funds be allocated to a voucher system.

There have been more than 50 school systems, including Unicoi County, and organizations oppose these bills. During the April Unicoi County School Board Meeting, the board voted unanimously to oppose HB939/SB795.

“I’ll tell you tonight that this bill has legs if we don’t speak out against it, and it is nothing more than an attack on public schools,” Board of Education member Steve Willis said during the April meeting.

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English recently spoke with The Erwin Record about his disappointment in the bill.

“I absolutely and wholeheartedly oppose any and all bills that divert any public tax dollars away from public education. Period,” English said. “I would say reach out to legislators and let them know how you feel about this, but having said that, many reps have said openly they were overwhelmed with emails, calls, and texts opposing these bills but voted for it anyway. So, I am not sure that makes a difference, but we have to do all we can do and that’s our avenue.”

According to English, this bill takes away from an already underfunded public school system. “Public education in Tennessee, which is presently underfunded by approximately $500 million will be even more so with this bill,” English said. “Tennessee ranks 45th in the US in public education funding, but this bill takes public dollars and invests it in private institutions, which  doesn’t have the same accountability as public education.”

English took offense to the lack of concern the representatives showed for educators.

“This is yet another example of a decision made by those not in the (teaching) profession, and most have never been, who ignored their constituents,” English said. “The gap they say they are trying to close will only be widened even further, and the lack of trust legislators have shown in administrators and public educators is very frustrating.”

English also took offense to the representatives that voted in favor of the bill, as long as it didn’t affect their districts.

“It says a lot that most who voted yes openly said they did so after assurances were made it wouldn’t impact their districts, and it says plenty about the bill,” English said. “If it’s a good thing why would people not want it in their areas? The answer is pretty clear to me.”

Board of Education Chairman Tyler Engle released the following statement to oppose the bills:

“I am writing to express my firmest opposition to the Education Savings Account plan passed by the Tennessee General Assembly’s House and Senate. As you know, the bills will now be reconciled in a conference committee. What I believe is most telling is that only a handful of the legislators representing Shelby and Davidson Counties – the only counties affected – voted in favor of this legislation.

“I have always stood for full funding of our public school system in Unicoi County and across Tennessee. The public schools do so much more than just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic today. Now, we support children in their social development, teach crucial coping skills which are often not found in the home, and create a loving, supportive atmosphere for every boy and girl, regardless of his or her starting place. It is my sincere hope that those lawmakers who voted in favor of this reckless bill will reconsider their stance.

“As students are disenrolled from the public schools, counties must make up for lost revenues. Unfortunately, this will lead to a cycle of worse performance in public schools and higher and higher taxes. Too, the household income limit of $66,000 means that the poorest Tennesseans – the very people this program was designed to assist – may become disadvantaged by it as more people become eligible.

“Further, the present bill does not require ESA (Education Savings Accounts) recipients to take the same number of tests per year as their public school peers, immediately putting public school children at a disadvantage.

Unicoi County will eventually feel the effects of this bill as public dollars (to the tune of $25 million each year) begin to flow out of the state’s general fund into the Education Savings Account system. Whether it’s through decreased grant opportunities or through increased taxes, we all know that you can’t spend more money without more income.

“The Unicoi County Board of Education took a hard-line stance on this issue at its April 16 regular session meeting. The school board passed a resolution opposing Education Savings Accounts and vouchers for private schools. The public-at-large can get involved by calling or e-mailing their elected representatives in Nashville and telling them to vote ‘no’ on any upcoming legislation related to Education Savings Accounts. If we truly wish to see Tennessee succeed, we need to fund the public school system we’ve worked so hard to build, not tear it down.

Unicoi County Commissioners passed a resolution in opposition of the bill as well during their April meeting.

“The Commission passed a resolution in opposition and I totally agree with that position,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, who previously served on the Unicoi County Board of Education, said. “As I understand the current bills they only pertain to the four largest systems, but that will only expand in future years. I believe that the problems in those systems should be fixed instead of taking funding from public schools.”

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas agreed with Evely.

“I don’t think this bill will immediately impact Unicoi County schools, but it does open the door to negatively affect funding for our school system in the future, and it was disappointing to see some of our local representatives and senators vote in favor of this bill, knowing that the school boards and county officials they represent were opposed to it,” Thomas said. “In the future, if this deal is expanded into all other Tennessee counties, it will pull a significant amount of funding away from public school systems, which will affect teacher’s pay, sports programs, and possibly increase taxes.”

Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley also argues that the bill takes away from the funding of public school systems.

“I think it hurts public schools, and I am not for it,” Mosley said. “It takes away from the public school system, which is the heartbeat of the nation.”

One county commissioner that sees how the bill affects all aspects of public schools is Unicoi County Commissioner and high school educator Glenn White.

“Vouchers are still public money, and education is not a business. In this arena children are involved,” White said. “In my opinion, let the local school boards decide what educational initiatives should be implemented.”

White took offense to the political influence that affects public schools today.

“The influence of the lobbying machine for the testing industry has persuaded the general assembly that this is the only way of accountability, which is ridiculous,” White said. “All students in high school should not be required to take the ACT test, this test is primarily for those students who plan on a four-year college education, whereas, a young man who plans on being a welder, should not be tested in this area.

“There should be two exit tests, one the ACT, then the other a CTE (career technical educational) exam that exemplifies what the student has learned,” White continued. 

Unicoi County is represented in the Tennessee General Assembly by State Senator Rusty Crowe and State Representative John Holsclaw.

Erwin Great Outdoor Festival expands for 2019

The 2019 Erwin Great Outdoors Festival will be larger than before and will include a kickoff on Friday, May 3. The festival will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 4. (File photos)

By Richard Rourk

Spring is finally here and festival season in Unicoi County has arrived along with it. With NOLI Fest, Upper East Tennessee Fiddlers Convention and Fiddlers and Fiddleheads finished, it is time for downtown Erwin to get outdoors. On Saturday, May 4, starting at 10 a.m., the 4th Annual Great Outdoors Festival will officially be underway.

This year will also have a Friday night kickoff that partners with the First Friday events in downtown Erwin. The Friday night kickoff will be on Friday, May 3, starting at 5 p.m. The First Friday events will include the First Annual Union Street Chili Cook-Off sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, a beer tent set up by Union Street Taproom, Union Street Gallery LLC will be open for business, and Movie Night with Bite Food Truck. What’s the Scoop will be hosting a Creative Canvas party and will feature free toppings. A Crystal Generation will be giving away a free small Rose Quartz with a purchase. There will also be specials from Beauty by MC and CHIPS is offering a free bracelet with purchase. There will also be live music downtown and the popular Erwin Cruise-In will be set up at the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot.

Joining the Great Outdoors Festival this year is the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s Triple Threat Competition. The Triple Threat Competition pushes competitors to raft down the Nolichucky, compete on an 18-obstacle, obstacle course, run a 5K race and cross the finish line downtown.

All registered participants will receive a race shirt, racer goodie bag, Triple Threat completion medal, and free beverage compliments of Union Street Taproom. For more information, call the Chamber office at 743-3000.

Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice is excited at all the events planned during the Great Outdoors Festival.

“The new Gathering Place park has been redesigned and will be used for the first time, and there will be a 50 foot demo pool located on First Baptist Parking to allow paddle boarding and kayaks,” Rice said. “Cabela’s will sponsor a live trout pool. Middle Man Ministries is sponsoring a mobile skate park again, which will be at First Baptist, and Scott’s Strawberries will be bringing their first fruits of the season and ice cream.”   

According to Rice, that’s not all that will be available.

“Erwin Outdoor Supply is offering all kinds of hospitality events for the day, and there will be a doctor and veterinarian on premises, hot foot soaks, and free pancake breakfasts,” Rice said.

There will be lots of music downtown as well. My New Favorites will take the Union Street Stage at 11 a.m. and 49 Winchester will be playing downtown at 5 p.m. For more information on My New Favorites or 49 Winchester please follow their Facebook pages.

The one thing that is missing from this year’s festival is the new crop of elephants that have decorated Downtown Erwin in the past.

“We have had a little setback with the Elephant Statues this year, as our supplier in Nebraska had a terrible flood, and has gotten a few months behind,” Rice said. “There will be 20 small painted concrete elephants sprinkled all over downtown in June, with the large ones returning for 2020.”

Rice hopes everyone can come out and enjoy the festival.

“This event could not exist without the entire community pulling together to make it happen. Our most successful events are those that are driven by volunteer grassroots effort, including the Great Outdoors Festival,” Rice said. “We do not have huge donations from area sponsors, and this festival’s spirit comes from those with a passion for our natural resources and their volunteer attitude.”

According to Rice, the festival is entirely free and includes more than 30 free interactive activities for children and adults. For more information, please follow RISE ERWIN and the Town of Erwin’s Facebook pages.

Ambulance service interlocal agreement, RFPs move forward

The Unicoi County Commission voted to move forward with a possible interlocal agreement with Washington County during a meeting on Monday, April 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

The future of ambulance service in Unicoi County was once again on the agenda for the Unicoi County Commission when the panel met on Monday, April 22, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

During the meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to enter into discussions with Washington County EMS to develop an interlocal agreement to provide ambulance service for Unicoi County on an interim basis. The approval allows Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley, and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Washington County EMS.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee on April 9, Washington County EMS Director Dan Wheely offered to speak to the Washington County Emergency Services Board.

“I feel we would have a desire to help in the short term, but if we are talking several months then we would require an interlocal agreement,” Wheely said during the April 9 meeting. “Again, I can’t speak for the board, but I feel we would be willing to help as long as it doesn’t take away from Washington County residents.”

After much discussion during Monday’s meeting, and several failed amendments, the Commission voted to approve to add a representative for the Town of Erwin (Mark LaFever) and Town of Unicoi (Johnny Lynch) to the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee. The amendment was made by Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White to approve the additions of Lafever and Lynch, but decided to exclude Stacy Wigand, who is currently employed by MedicOne.

“I’m not against Stacy Wigand being on this board,” White said. “Sometimes in government it’s about compromise.”

White’s amended motion came after several amendments failed. The final vote was 6-3 with commissioners White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix, Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Matthew Rice, who made the initial request to remove Wigand as a voting member, voting for Lafever and Lynch to be voting members of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee. Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, Vice Chairman Jamie Harris, and Mosley voted against the amendment.

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee met on Tuesday, April 16, and agreed to send out request for proposals (RFPs) on May 8. Interested ambulance service providers will have until June 10 at noon to return the RFPs to the county. The ambulance committee is scheduled to meet on June 10 at 1 p.m. to review bids.

• • •

Also on Monday, the Commission next focused on and approved the resolution for Capital Projects for Unicoi County Board of Education in an amount up to $5 million, pending finalization of funding agreement between the government bodies.

During the April 10 Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Stephens Inc. Senior Vice President of Public Finance Ashley McAnulty laid out a number of scenarios for the capital improvements plan, which includes work at Gentry Stadium and the Unicoi County High School track. According to McAnulty’s report, the county could accept roughly $5 million without a property tax increase. According to McAnulty’s report, repayment would be funded through sales tax and would be paid back in 20 years.

• • •

Shifting gears on Monday, Vice Chair Harris made a motion to waive the agenda to discuss paying the Unicoi County Solid Waste operators $500 per month to compensate for loss wages since the operators will no longer be selling items at the solid waste facilities. Mosley seconded the motion.

“We are operating in an emergency situation,” Vice Chair Harris said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris disagreed.

“These contractors bid on these jobs,”Jason Harris said.

White agreed with the Vice Chairman.

“We are looking at two months before we rebid,” White said. “If we don’t pay them more money, they are going to walk off.”

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed with commissioner Jason Harris.

“This wasn’t a problem before – when these contractors were allowed to sell items,” Marie Rice said. “We either increase their pay or allow them to sell items again.”

The Commission voted 7-2 to pay the three contractors $500 a month for May and June. The $3,000 to cover the $500 payments will come out of the Solid Waste budget. Thomas, Jamie Harris, White, Mosley, Matthew Rice, Hendrix, and Wilcox voted for and Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted against the motion.

The bids go back out for contractors on June 1.

• • •

The Commission then got back on track to vote unanimously to approve a request by Reneau Dubberly to limit access on Temple Hill Road for Bicycle Race Time Trials on June 1.

The commission also voted unanimously to approve a resolution requesting that the State of Tennessee provide a regional inpatient treatment center for the eight county region.

During a March 8 meeting of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee, area judges suggested the commission reach out to other representatives to create a regional inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center. The idea came as a cost cutting measure for area jails.

“Eighty-five percent of the docket is drug-related and it costs half to keep a person in a rehab facility as opposed to jail,” Judge Lisa Rice said during the March 8 meeting.

Judge Stacy Street suggested that the counties of Northeast Tennessee get together and push for a regional intensive drug rehab facility.

“Judge Rice and myself have pushed Congressman Phil Roe and Senator Lamar Alexander to commit to opening a regional facility,” Street said during the March 8 meeting. “It’s time they put their money where their mouth is on this issue.”

At the time, Street suggested that area county commissions could push the state to find funding for a regional intensive inpatient rehab facility. Street backed up his comments by stating that he would send drug addicts to the rehab.

“I would love nothing more than for everyone that has a drug problem, to sentence them to a drug rehab,” Street said at the March 8 meeting.

Also on Monday, the commission approved to accept a grant from the Tennessee Department of Health from “Access to Health through Healthy Built Environment” for $20,000 to be used for a Natural Playground at the Pinnacle Tower Trailhead off Exit 32.

In a final order of business, Evely and Thomas recognized Kortney Bailey as Miss Unicoi County.

Unicoi County Commission votes to issue RFIs for ambulance service

During a meeting on Monday, April 15, the Unicoi County Commission voted to issue requests for information for ambulance service. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission held a special called meeting on Monday, April 15, to discuss the future of ambulance service in Unicoi County.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely joined Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris and Unicoi County commissioners John Mosley, Glenn White, Stephen Hendrix, Matthew Rice, Jason Harris, and Marie Rice. Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent as he was on a call. Wilcox is an officer with the Town of Erwin.

The commission voted unanimously to authorize the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee to advertise for a request for information (RFI) in providing county ambulance service. The motion was made by Marie Rice and seconded by Mosley. According to Mosley, the RFIs will go out later this week and can take up to two weeks to get responses back.

The commission voted to table the authorization of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee to advertise for request for proposals (RFP) for county ambulance services. The motion was made by Mosley and seconded by Hendrix to table the RFP discussion.

“I recommend we wait until we have sent out the RFIs,” Mosley said. “We can revisit this at the next county commission meeting.”

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to meet again on Monday, April 22.

The commission had to first authorize Evely to provide a notice of termination of the current interlocal agreement that the county has with both the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi before moving forward with any new agreements for ambulance services. The commission voted unanimously to allow Evely to terminate the current interlocal agreement. A motion was made by White and seconded by Jamie Harris. The interlocal agreements had to be terminated due to MedicOne Medical Response’s termination of the proposed contract earlier this month.

“We are just recognizing that MedicOne isn’t going through with the contract, so we are just hitting reset,” Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults said.

The final order of business for the commission was to ensure that the county would have ambulance service in the interim. The commission voted unanimously for the emergency provision of ambulance service by MedicOne Medical Response until a new ambulance contract has been approved by the Unicoi County Commission.

“We are just recognizing that they are here on a handshake deal,” Matthew Rice said.

Evely said after Monday’s meeting that he would be working out a temporary deal with neighboring ambulance services.

“My concentration will be working on an interlocal agreement with Washington County to provide services in the short term, for the next 90 days to 6 months,” Evely said. “We are trying to make the most of a bad situation.”

Ambulance service search begins – again

By Richard Rourk

During a Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on April 9, officials decided that all options are on the table in regards to the future of ambulance service for the county.

The county is at a crossroads and two options were discussed, including starting a county-run service. The committee also discussed sending out a wider scope for request for information (RFI) and request for proposals (RFP) to bid the services out.

The new search began last week as less than 24 hours after MedicOne was to begin a new four-year contract that would run through 2023, the company’s CEO Jim Reeves announced that the ambulance service would be pulling out of its contract with Unicoi County.

“Due to incessant local media attacks on MedicOne Medical Response, as well as recent citizen litigation against the county, we are not only unable to keep existing employees working, we are unable to effectively recruit and hire new employees to backfill those staffing loses, a recurring problem we have been working diligently to solve,” Reeves stated in an email sent to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Unicoi County commissioners on April 2 after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for the April 3 issue.

Around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely released the following statement:

“Last night, we received an email notice that MedicOne Medical Response was withdrawing from consideration for the contract to provide ambulance service to the citizens of Unicoi County. They respectfully requested that we seek another service provider. MedicOne committed to providing service until the County Commission can take action to secure another provider. The commission will be meeting and moving forward with the process as quickly as possible. We have a mutual aid agreement with the other county services to provide backup support for services.”

Also on Wednesday, Evely told The Erwin Record that the move was “unexpected.”

“It was unexpected to me, but they (MedicOne) are going to provide service while the commissioners find a new provider,” Evely said. “We also have mutual aid with adjoining counties if we need help.”

Evely said he hopes the county can find a quality ambulance service in a timely manner.

“We will move as quickly as possible to rectify the situation,” Evely said.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas told The Erwin Record last week that officials are working to address the situation.

“The county commission is committed to working with the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to provide an adequate ambulance service to our citizens, no matter who the provider is, whether it is another private provider or a county-run service,” Thomas said.

Unicoi County Commissioner and Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley said he is confident that the county will work with the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to find a solution.

“We will get through this and, hopefully, we will be better for it,” Mosley said. “I am reaching out to the Town of Erwin and (Unicoi County Commissioner) Jamie Harris is reaching out to the Town of Unicoi to get feedback.”

Also on Wednesday, April 3, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley responded to MedicOne’s decision.

“I hope the county will be diligent in rebidding for the service and I’m pleased to know that we will be involved in the selection process,” Hensley said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch also responded to the news on Wednesday, April 3.

“It’s unfortunate and hopefully we can work something out going forward,” Lynch said.

John Day, the former Unicoi County mayoral candidate who recently filed a lawsuit against the county over the MedicOne ambulance contract, also responded to the news last week.

“It’s a good day for Unicoi County residents and the current MedicOne employees working here,” Day said. “Both will benefit from a different, better managed, better equipped, and more financially stable ambulance service provider that has the depth of resources necessary to provide the highest level of service at the lowest cost.”

Local officials who expressed their concerns for the citizens of Unicoi County also expressed concerns for the employees of MedicOne and their future.

“There is such a shortage of paramedics, we are hoping that whoever we bring in will retain them,” Evely said. “I think it is of the utmost importance that whoever we negotiate with that the employees are discussed.”

Mayor Hensley agreed.

“Our best wishes go out to (MedicOne employees) and it’s a difficult time, but hopefully whoever the county selects as the next provider they will be needing paramedics,” Hensley said. “I feel certain those employees will be put back to work if they choose to.”

Mosley, who has been in contact with the employees of MedicOne, told The Erwin Record they are devastated by the company’s decision.

“This is the eighth change some of them have faced,” Mosley said. “They risk losing vacation, overtime and benefits, and it is a terrible situation they are in.”

Despite all of the uncertainty, Mosley said he was impressed with the strength and dedication of the employees.

“This will tell you a little bit about the people down there – they are willing to stick it out and to serve this county; it’s a great group down there,” Mosley said. “I had one medic tell me that if he had to come here with his personal equipment and sit in his car with his scanner, he would do it just to serve this county.”

On Tuesday, April 9, The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee held a meeting to discuss options for ambulance service in Unicoi County.

Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley was joined by committee members Glenn White, Marie Rice, Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and Town of Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever. The committee was joined by fellow Unicoi County commissioners Loren Thomas, Jamie Harris, Jason Harris, Stephen Hendrix, Matthew Rice and Todd Wilcox. Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Unicoi County Hospital Administrator Eric Carroll, Town of Unicoi aldermen Doug Hopson and Jeff Linville and Unicoi County Mayor Evely also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Interim Unicoi County MedicOne Manager Stacy Wigand, Johnson City/Washington County Emergency Services Chief Dan Wheely and Emergency Medical Services Consultant John Dabbs were also on hand during the April 9 meeting.

Mosley called the meeting to order right at 11 a.m.

“It’s unfortunate that MedicOne has pulled out, but now we have to move on,” Mosley said.

Mosley inquired about MedicOne’s commitment to serve Unicoi County until the county has a replacement to which Wigand responded.

“According to corporate, that is the plan,” Wigand said.

Wigand acknowledged that staffing has been a struggle.

“I know they don’t want to hire new employees, so if employees leave to go somewhere else, MedicOne will not be filling those positions,” Wigand said.

If MedicOne was to pull out completely, Unicoi County got some reassurance that Washington County could help out. Wheely offered to speak to the Washington County Emergency Services Board.

“I feel we would have a desire to help in the short term, but if we are talking several months then we would require an interlocal agreement,” Wheely said. “Again, I can’t speak for the board, but I feel we would be willing to help as long as it doesn’t take away from Washington County residents.”

Mosley inquired about Washington County Emergency Services possibly leasing equipment and ambulances to Unicoi County.

“We have the vehicles and equipment but if the state inspects Unicoi County, you would need permits,” Wheely said.

Mosley then shifted to question Dabbs about how long it could take for permits.

“If paperwork and checks are cut, it could be done in a matter of days,” Dabbs said.

According to White, starting an ambulance service could be a viable solution.

“It looks like we would need to get three ambulances and hire the staff,” White said.

Wheely agreed.

“I think it’s that simple,” Wheely said.

Hensley addressed the committee to discuss the Town of Erwin purchasing ambulances with a $500,000 State Grant.

“The grant could purchase two new ambulances and a possible third ambulance for transport,” Hensley said.

Marie Rice acknowledged that Unicoi County still has $440,000 left over from the payment that Unicoi County received when Unicoi County Hospital was sold to Mountain State Health Alliance, which is now Ballad Health.

According to Hensley, there could also be up to $150,000 that can be used from the Hospital Foundation Funds to start an ambulance service.

Lafever said Tuesday that he would like to see something in writing.

“Before anyone starts a business, and this would be a business, there needs to be a solid business plan, but I’ve yet to see it,” Lafever said. “I’m not against starting our own services; we just need to get it right for the taxpayers.”

Jamie Harris agreed.

“We need an unbiased study done, then figure out our revenue and if it works, that is what we should do,” Harris said.

Wigand praised the staff of roughly 20-30 employees that serve Unicoi County.

“These employees are very loyal to Unicoi County,” Wigand said.

Wigand told the committee that it would cost a rough estimate of $1 million a year for employee’s salaries and benefits to run three ambulances 24 hours a day.

“My personal opinion, if the time was ever so present to start your own ambulance service, it’s now,” Wigand said.

Wheely suggested using a third party service for billing.

“I know we use Digitech for our billing,” Wheely said.

The alternative to starting a county-run ambulance service would be to send the services out for bid to outside agencies.

Mosley advised the committee to send out a larger net for RFIs.

“I suggest that we send out RFIs to local papers and regional papers, like Knoxville,” Mosley said. “I would also like to send them out to Atlanta and Charlotte, and for all municipalities to post on their websites.”

White made a motion to send out RFIs to the wider areas and Mosley seconded the motion. The committee voted unanimously to bring the matter to the special called Unicoi County Commission meeting on Monday, April 15, at 5 p.m. at the Unicoi County Courthouse to be voted on by the full commission.

According to Mosley, if the commission votes to send out the RFIs, they will be sent out sometime next week.

“It can take around two weeks to hear back from the RFIs, then the commission must decide if we want to send out RFPs, and those can take another four weeks to get back,” Mosley said. “We want to be sure we get this right.”

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 16, at 2 p.m. in the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

BREAKING: MedicOne decides not to move forward with ambulance service contract

By Richard Rourk

Less than 24 hours after MedicOne was to begin a new four-year contract that would run through 2023, MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves announced that the ambulance service would be pulling out of its contract with Unicoi County.

“Due to incessant local media attacks on MedicOne Medical Response, as well as recent citizen litigation against the county, we are not only unable to keep existing employees working, we are unable to effectively recruit and hire new employees to backfill those staffing loses, a recurring problem we have been working diligently to solve,” Reeves stated in an email sent to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Unicoi County commissioners Tuesday evening.

The announcement came after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for the April 3 issue, in which county officials discussed the beginning of the new contract on April 1.

In his email, Reeves also referenced updated requirements in the new contract as reasons for MedicOne opting out of the agreement.

“Currently, we are having significant difficulty in staffing the two ALS units we are obligated to provide, and under the proposed new arrangement which requires two ALS units, along with one BLS unit, we have an even greater concern with appropriate coverage,” Reeves said in the email. “This would not be an insurmountable task to complete if we had the ability to properly staff or the ability to hire new employees from the area, but with the ongoing statewide ambulance staffing crisis as well as the continuous negative media attention from the locals, it is proving to be near impossible.”

On Wednesday, Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas told The Erwin Record that officials are working to address the situation.

“The county commission is committed to working with the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to provide an adequate ambulance service to our citizens, no matter who the provider is, whether it is another private provider or a county-run service,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, MedicOne has agreed to remain in Unicoi County until the county has transitioned into another ambulance service. This commitment was made via email and verbally to both Thomas and Interim Unicoi County MedicOne Manager Stacy Wiggand.

“MedicOne will continue to do what it takes to provide ambulance service in the interim,” Thomas said. “They have been pulling paramedics from Nashville to come work here in Unicoi County, and will continue to do so. They have been meeting the new contract requirements since deciding to pull out.”

Around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely released the following statement:

“Last night, we received an email notice that MedicOne Medical Response was withdrawing from consideration for the contract to provide ambulance service to the citizens of Unicoi County. They respectfully requested that we seek another service provider. MedicOne committed to providing service until the County Commission can take action to secure another provider. The commission will be meeting and moving forward with the process as quickly as possible. We have a mutual aid agreement with the other county services to provide backup support for services.”

Evely told The Erwin Record that the move was “unexpected.”

“It was unexpected to me, but they (MedicOne) are going to provide service while the commissioners find a new provider,” Evely said. “We also have mutual aid with adjoining counties if we need help.”

Evely said he hopes the county can find a quality ambulance service in a timely manner.

“We will move as quickly as possible to rectify the situation,” Evely said.

Thomas said that the next step is for the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee to meet. A meeting of that committee has been set for Tuesday, April 9, at 11 a.m.

“We will have a special called meeting hopefully on Monday, April 15, with the full commission to discuss the future,” Unicoi County Commissioner and Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley said.

Mosley said he is confident that the county will work with the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to find a solution.

“We will get through this and, hopefully, we will be better for it,” Mosley said. “I am reaching out to the Town of Erwin and (Unicoi County Commissioner) Jamie Harris is reaching out to the Town of Unicoi to get feedback.”

Also on Wednesday, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley responded to MedicOne’s decision.

“I hope the county will be diligent in rebidding for the service and I’m pleased to know that we will be involved in the selection process,” Hensley said.

It was decided during the March 25 Town of Erwin Mayor and Aldermen meeting that Vice Mayor Mark Lafever would represent the Town of Erwin on the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee.

John Day, the former Unicoi County mayoral candidate who recently filed a lawsuit against the county over the MedicOne ambulance contract, also responded to the news.

“It’s a good day for Unicoi County residents and the current MedicOne employees working here,” Day said. “Both will benefit from a different, better managed, better equipped, and more financially stable ambulance service provider that has the depth of resources necessary to provide the highest level of service at the lowest cost.”

Town of Erwin OKs interlocal agreement for ambulance service

Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever, far left, addresses a joint meeting of the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor & Aldermen and the Unicoi County Commission. Seated next to Lafever are, from left, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Erwin Alderman Gary Chandler and Erwin Alderman Gary Edwards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Following many weeks of discussion, the Town of Erwin officials have decided to once again enter into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance services. The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to approve an updated interlocal agreement during a meeting at Town Hall on Monday, March 25.

The updated interlocal agreement allows the Town of Erwin the ability to pull out of the contract with 60 days notice instead of the proposed 90 days. The updated interlocal agreement also removes the words “MedicOne” and replaces them with “ambulance service.”

The Erwin BMA’s decision came after a joint meeting between that panel and the Unicoi County Commission at Town Hall on Thursday, March 21.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley was unable to attend the meeting, as she was at the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) meeting in Johnson City. Hensley is the chairwoman of the FTDD and was unable to reschedule the FTDD meeting. Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice was also absent from the meeting.

The Town of Erwin’s attorney, Tom Seeley, had some questions for Unicoi County’s attorney, Doug Shults. On Thursday, Seeley asked about the status of the lawsuit against the county in regards to the upcoming contract.

“It’s a very preliminary motion for a dismissal of the lawsuit,” Shults said.

Seeley expressed concern about the lawsuit.

“The Town of Erwin would like to know the pending outcome before moving forward with the interlocal agreement,” Seeley said.

Shults expressed urgency in the matter.

“If the court refuses to dismiss the lawsuit, we still need an ambulance service in the county, so we need some kind of agreement,” Shults said.

The lawsuit in question was filed by former Unicoi County mayoral candidate John Day against Unicoi County and Unicoi County officials. In it, Day, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, argues that the bidding process performed by the county before awarding a contract to MedicOne for ambulance services was unlawful, among other issues. The contract in question was approved by the Unicoi County Commission in December and is set to begin on April 1.

Day filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for the State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Feb. 4 and Unicoi County filed a motion of dismissal on Feb. 21. Judge John Rambo heard the case for dismissal on March 15, and as of The Erwin Record’s deadline, no decision has been made yet for dismissal.

During the March 15 hearing, Judge Rambo promised a decision by March 29.

“In fairness to both parties the court should take additional time to issue a ruling later,” Rambo said.

Seeley requested that the interlocal agreement be modified to remove MedicOne out of the interlocal agreement in case the county has to rebid.

“The interlocal agreement has MedicOne listed in the interlocal agreement,” Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said.

According to Rosenoff, “MedicOne” should be replaced with the phrase, “ambulance service.”

Rosenoff also said on March 21 that the Town of Erwin is also concerned with the clause that allows a 90-day written notice to pull out of the contract. Rosenoff proposed a 10-day notice to terminate the contract if needed.

However, Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris disagreed with the 10-day notice.

“Ten days is a little harsh, it takes five days just to call a meeting,” Harris said.

Town of Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever acknowledged that the right number is somewhere between the two options.

“Ten days seems a little small, but 90 days seems a little much to me,” Lafever said. “So if we can meet in the middle somewhere, that would be great.”

Below is the section in question from the interlocal agreement:

“In the event the contract with Medic One is terminated for any reason, the County retains the right to terminate this agreement upon providing ninety (90) days written notice to the Town. In the event an issue arises with the service of Medic One within the corporate boundaries of the Town, then the Town shall make any complaints in writing to the County regarding problems with Medic One’s service. The County shall take action to correct the problem by enforcing the contract entered into between the County and MedicOne. If MedicOne does not address the Town’s complaint to the Town’s satisfaction, the Town reserves the right to terminate this agreement upon providing ninety (90) days written notice to the County.”

Rosenoff explained that if all of the requirements of the contract were met, then the section calling for the right to terminate would never need to come in to play.

Hensley previously voiced concerns that could have prevented the Town of Erwin from signing the interlocal agreement. She also offered the idea of finding ambulance services elsewhere. Hensley had previously mentioned during a Feb. 25 town work session that Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy has offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. According to Hensley, Grandy was in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas recently addressed the issue with the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“I received an email on Friday, March 8, from (Washington County-Johnson City EMS Chief Executive Director) Dan Wheeley that stated that we have never been contacted about providing services for the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County,” Thomas said.

According to the email sent out to the Board of Directors for Washington County EMS from Wheeley, there have been no talks between Washington County EMS and the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County.

Lafever voiced concerned about the lack of written offers from other competing ambulance services for the Town of Erwin.

“We keep talking about Washington County coming over here, and that may be an option, but we can not rely on somebody without some kind of written agreement,” Lafever said.

Going forward, Unicoi County officials said they would like Town of Erwin officials to participate in Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meetings.

“We are trying to provide an avenue for the town to address issues monthly with our ambulance committee meetings,” Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas said during Thursday, March 21’s joint meeting.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White also suggested that the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman send a representative to take part in the monthly Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meetings. It was announced during the Monday, March 25, Town of Erwin BMA meeting that Lafever would represent Erwin on the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee.

“It would be beneficial to have someone from the board become an ambulance committee member, that way we can hear concerns from the town,” White said.

Also on Thursday, Town of Erwin Alderman Michael Baker said that he would like to see the contract.

“We, as the town, would like a contract with teeth,” Baker said.

Town of Erwin Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz asked if the county had a backup plan and how the county planned on holding the ambulance service accountable.

“I will be coming in unannounced a couple times a month to get data, do an unannounced ride along once a month, and continue to have monthly ambulance committee meetings to keep track of the service,” Unicoi County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley said in response.

Thomas said this commission is committed to getting the right service for the county.

“This is a different commission than before with new faces, and we are committed to providing the best ambulance service that we can,” Thomas said.

Mosley agreed with Thomas.

“This commission will get it right,” Mosley said.

Lafever acknowledged the urgency and importance of the interlocal agreement.

“In my opinion, from the city’s standpoint, we are out of time,” Lafever said. “We have nothing in writing as it pertains to a plan B and I feel like we need to move forward and get this thing done. There is some verbiage that needs to be looked at, so there needs to be a meeting between the lawyers and the mayors to hash this out so we can present this before the boards and move on.”

After both Seeley and Shults met to come to a compromise, MedicOne was removed and replaced with ambulance service and the 90-day opt out period was shortened to 60 days.

The Town of Unicoi officials agreed to sign the interlocal agreement during the March 18 Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. During the Monday, March 25, Unicoi County Commission meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve and accept the interlocal agreements for both the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi. Currently, MedicOne is set to start a new contract with the county to be the counties ambulance provider starting April 1, and the contract is set to run through April 2023.

High school’s Second Chance Breakfast program wins award

Pictured, Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, Unicoi County School Board Member Tammy Tipton, Unicoi County High School Principal Dr. Chris Bogart, Unicoi County Schools, Unicoi County High School Vice Principal Catherine Edwards, School Food Service Director Maggie Fair, Unicoi County Schools Executive Secretary Melissa McIntosh, Unicoi County High School Food Service Manager Tracy Foster, Tennessee Department of Education Healthy Schools Executive Director Lori Paisley, Unicoi County High School students Trent White, Brandolyn Thomas, Tammy Rogers, Shelby Miller, and Hannah Bowman receive the No Kid Hungry Tennessee Breakfast Champion 2019 award thanks to the successful Second Chance Breakfast program at UCHS. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On March 6, Unicoi County High School was presented with the 2019 No Kid Hungry Tennessee Breakfast Champion award thanks to its successful Second Chance Breakfast program.

The Second Chance Breakfast program at UCHS started in 2012 and it continues to give students a second chance at the most important meal of the day.

“We started in 2012 and we served roughly more than 1,500 students a month,” Unicoi County Schools School Food Service Director Maggie Fair told The Erwin Record. “The next year we moved the program out into the commons (area at the high school) and we were serving roughly more than 4,000 a month.”

By 2014, Second Chance Breakfast was serving roughly more than 7,500 students a month. “We are averaging 327 students a day and that average includes days, like snow days and senior week, when there is little to no one here, so we are doing really good,” Fair said.

Also on March 6, UCHS students and staff had a round table discussion to discuss the award-winning program and its impact on the school.

“The staff is super nice and they all know my name and ask me about my day, which means a lot,” UCHS student Brandolyn Thomas said.

The benefits of Second Chance Breakfast are easy for both the students and staff to see.

“You know some days I don’t want to wake up and eat breakfast, so to be able to come here and have the option of Second Chance Breakfast allows me to be able to get breakfast in my system, it helps me get through my day and I appreciate that,” Thomas said.

UCHS student Trent White agreed with Thomas.

“It is a great opportunity for students that may have to take their siblings to school, so they may not have time to eat,” White said. “Second Chance Breakfast allows them to get that second chance at eating breakfast and that helps them with their day.”

UCHS student Tammy Rogers also saw the benefit in the Second Chance Breakfast.

“It makes you happy,” Rogers said. “I like to eat, and I’m not always here on time.”

The program has been rewarding for the staff as well.

“It’s great to be on a first name basis with the students and to get to know them,” Unicoi County High School Food Service Manager Tracy Foster said.

It was an easy decision for the administrators to get behind the Second Chance Breakfast program.

“It was a no brainer,” Unicoi County High School Principal Dr. Chris Bogart said. “Why would schools not do this? It’s easy and so beneficial.”

Bogart elaborated on the benefits that the Second Chance Breakfast program brings to UCHS.

“We did have a bump up in the test scores since we implemented this program,” Bogart said. “It’s hard to draw a line and say that the program was the sole reason, as we were doing other things, but I am positive that it is a piece of the success. There is no instructional negative to it, only positive.”

Bogart acknowledged that the teachers saw the positive influence of the Second Chance Breakfast program as well.

“The instructional benefits far outweigh any distractions,” he added.

Bogart explained that the “old school” way of thinking that students shouldn’t have food in the class is outdated.

“If that biscuit is keeping those students from learning in your classroom, that’s a you problem, not a biscuit problem; let’s be honest,” Bogart said.

Fair followed up Dr. Bogart’s point.

“I had a veteran teacher come up to me and thank me, stating that her students are more focused and attentive, and that surprised me,” Fair said.

Erwin Outdoor Supply opens downtown

Pictured from left, Erwin Outdoor Supply owners Tyler Bevins, Brandy Bevins and Mark Lafever. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

A new business has officially opened in downtown Erwin.

Erwin Outdoor Supply, located at 113 Union St., held a soft opening event on Saturday, March 2, then officially opened its doors the following day.

During the soft opening, owners Tyler and Brandy Bevins and Mark Lafever welcomed friends and family to the newly renovated store.

“We are super excited, it’s been booming since 2 p.m.” Brandy Bevins told The Erwin Record. By 5 p.m., there were already more than 200 customers that passed through the doors.

The owners hope their store will showcase the importance of the outdoors and promote an active lifestyle. The Bevins and Lafever also hope the store will help people identify Erwin as a trail town on a larger scale.

“We want to be a place for locals and visitors,” Brandy Bevins said.

It’s estimated that more than 2 million hikers come through the area each year, according to information released by the store. The owners want to capture those hikers and be a place for them to rest, recharge and buy necessary gear.

Brandy Bevins also said that they hope to leverage their proximity to the Appalachian Trail, Rocky Fork State Park, Nolichucky River, Cherokee National Forest and other outdoor assets to help make their business more successful.

Erwin Outdoor Supply plans to host classes on basic outdoor adventures to get more people participating in outdoor recreation. The store will also rent Trek bicycles and sell Pyranha kayaks.

Erwin Outdoor Supply will offer a variety of supplies, gear, services and knowledge for outdoor lovers at every level, from beginners to experts. The store will offer everything from to-go food for hikers and gear from top outdoor brands and a community gathering place to relax and refuel.

“Erwin is doing big things,” Brandy Bevins said. “We are also looking at having live music here as well.”

On Saturday, the owners welcomed those who came to share the experience with them.

“Tyler and Brandy shared their idea with me, and I’m very thankful to be a part of this,” Lafever said. “There are so many people I would like to thank, there are too many to name, I just want to thank all you that have helped along the way.”

Lafever mentioned spending time as a child downtown while his father was working in the neighboring building for more than 30 years and what it meant to him to be here today.

“I want to thank Tyler for believing in me, and Mark as well,” Brandy Bevins said. “We all found our place. When we started we ran into a couple from Greeneville, South Carolina, and they advised that everyone needs to find a place and your business will run much more smoothly.” Bevins continued by thanking all of those who have supported them along the way.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting for Erwin Outdoor Supply is slated for Saturday, March 30. Survivor contestant Gavin Whitson, brand representatives, food trucks, giveaways and more will take place at that time.

For more updates follow Erwin Outdoor Supply on Facebook or visit them during store hours. The regular business hours for Erwin Outdoor Supply will be Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. The store will be closed on Mondays.

Town of Erwin exploring ambulance service options

The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen is considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The future of ambulance services in Unicoi County has been a question on the minds of local officials for many months. Currently, the county is being sued over the Unicoi County Commission’s decision to give MedicOne Medical Response the contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 through April 2023.

For many years, the Town of Erwin has entered into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use the ambulance provider selected by the county to provide ambulance services to the citizens of the town. However, this could change.

On Monday, Feb. 25, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a work session and meeting at Town Hall to decide whether or not the town would be entering into that interlocal agreement once again.

“If we choose not to sign this interlocal agreement we have options,” Mayor Doris Hensley said.

According to Hensley, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy has offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. Hensley also said that Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Hensley expressed concern about MedicOne being able to have enough EMTs to serve Erwin.

Hensley took exception to some of the wording in the contract the county has with MedicOne.

“It says here that they will have at least the minimum personnel,” Hensley said. “What is the minimum personnel and who determines the minimum?”.

Hensley also questioned the amount of time that MedicOne would have to fix a vehicle that is in need of repair.

“The contract says they have 15 days to fix it,” Hensley said.  “I thought that was a long time to have a vehicle down.”

According to Hensley’s reading of the contract, MedicOne would still make money if they are penalized when they are understaffed or underequipped.

“It says (MedicOne) will be penalized $500 when they don’t have the staff or vehicles to serve us, but the county is paying them $625 a day, they will still be making money,” Hensley said.

Some Town of Erwin officials were hesitant to abandon the idea of signing the interlocal agreement again.

“I’m a little worried going down that road with nothing in writing from Washington County,” Vice Mayor Mark Lafever said.

Lafever and Alderman Michael Baker expressed concern about the effects for Unicoi County. Hensley expressed concern for Unicoi County, but said she had to think about what was best for the municipality she serves.

“We are responsible for the citizens of Erwin,” Hensley said.

Lafever suggested tabling the BMA’s decision on the interlocal agreement to buy the town more time to get more information in writing from Washington County

The board voted unanimously to table the vote on an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance service within Erwin corporate limits. No further meetings were planned as of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, but it was announced by Hensley that they could call a special meeting once town officials have more information in writing from Washington County.

• • •

The next order of business during the regularly scheduled meeting of the BMA on Monday was to approve a rebid for the landscaping project and reconstruction at The Gathering Place as part of the Tourism Enhancement Grant.

During the Dec. 17 BMA meeting, it was announced that the lone bid for the project came in at $75,135 and was made by Earth Effects, LLC. The amount is roughly $6,000 more than the Tourism Enhancement Grant would cover. At that time, Hensley had suggested the budget be adjusted for the overage. The design was supposed to be the same as the park has looked in the past, but would consist of steel structures. The Gathering Place has been stripped down to the soil currently, but is being bid to be rebuilt to the same dimensions with more sturdy seating and an irrigation system.

According to the Town of Erwin’s City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, the project had to be sent out for rebid due to the Earth Effects reportedly not having the proper contractor license.

“Any bid that is $25,000 or greater is required to have a licensed contractor to bid on the project,” Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Earth Effects, LLC, is a landscaping business owned by Chase Willis and John Day. Day recently filed a lawsuit against the Unicoi County Commission and the Unicoi County Mayor’s Office over the bidding of the contract for Unicoi County’s ambulance service. The lawsuit questions, among other things, if the bidding process was competitive since there was only one bidder.

On Monday, it was announced that the town again received only one bid for the landscaping project at the Gathering Place.

“We received one bid with Horton Enterprises for $77,020,” Rosenoff said.

Lafever made a motion to approve Horton’s bid. The motion was seconded by Alderman Gary Chandler. The board voted unanimously to accept the bid from Horton Enterprises.

• • •

Also on Monday, representatives from Valley Beautiful Antique Mall and Village Treasures addressed the board to express the need to renew the $1,256.64 yearly expense to keep the current Antique District interstate signage up at exit 37 for another year.

“We get a lot of foot traffic downtown from that sign,” Valley Beautiful Antique Mall co-owner Joey Lewis said.

A motion was made by Lafever to approve the Antique District interstate sign and Chandler seconded the motion to keep the sign up. The board voted unanimously to approve the Antique District interstate sign.

Also on Monday, Lindsey Harris, PE representing S&ME, Inc, was on hand to address the board regarding the bidders for the Second Street Industrial Site Project on Monday.

The Second Street Industrial Site Project is a project that enables the property at the former Morgan Insulation site to be pad ready to attract business. King General, Inc. will be in charge of grading and drainage at the site. The $323,938.80 will be covered by the $500,000 grant that the town received from the ECD Site Development Grant. The ECD Site Development Grant required a five percent match from the town.

“We received three bids and they all had the necessary qualifications,” Harris said.

King General Inc. came in with the lowest bid at $323,938.80. Lafever made a motion to approve King General Inc.’s bid and Chandler seconded the motion. The board voted to accept King General Inc.’s bid unanimously.

Also on Monday, the board unanimously approved of closing a section of Gay Street from the corner of Main Avenue to First Tennessee Bank as part of the Unicoi County Middle School eighth grade banquet at The Bramble, Friday, May 17, from 5-11 p.m.

In the final order of business Mayor Hensley thanked all those that worked during the recent storms.

“I want to thank the police officers and firefighters who braved the weather this past weekend to serve the community,” Hensley said.

Gavin Whitson makes ‘Survivor’ debut

Unicoi County native Gavin Whitson is competing on the newest season
of Survivor. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

For fans of the television show “Survivor,” it’s time once again to “outwit, outplay and outlast.”

For Unicoi County residents, there will be a more personal reason to tune in to the popular CBS show as Erwin resident Gavin Whitson will be a contestant on season 38 of “Survivor,” called “Edge of Extinction.”

Whitson recently spoke to The Erwin Record about his experiences and what drove him to try out for the show.

“I was probably 8 years old when I saw season one, and I knew that it could be me on the show,” Whitson said. “Once I turned 18, I started sending in audition tapes and 5 years later, I’m finally getting that chance.”

Whitson, who is the program director at the Unicoi County Family YMCA and has a background in sports, understands the importance of stamina when it comes to playing the game “Survivor.” “Sports, being outdoors with my family, and working out at the YMCA helped me prepare physically,” Whitson said.

Once Whitson received notice that he had made it onto the show he did not have long to prepare.

“I found out about a month before I left, and instead of preparing for ‘Survivor’ I was actually preparing for my wedding,” Whitson said.

Whitson and his wife Carly had to move their wedding date up so he could appear on the show.

“Instead of learning how to start a fire, I was moving furniture,” Whitson said.

The Whitsons were able to go on their honeymoon two weeks after Gavin returned.

“I’m not sure I was ready to travel to a tropical paradise again, but that is what we did,” Whitson said. “I’m joking, it was great; it’s exactly what I needed.”

The one thing Whitson wasn’t prepared for was dealing with being away from family and loved ones.

“I got married two days before leaving for the show, and being away from my family was a shock to my system,” Whitson said. “Whenever I got back it made me more appreciative of my family because I didn’t realize the support system I had until I lost that.”

The “Survivor” experience for Whitson was life-changing.

“Everyone should have a chance to experience it,” he said. “You come out a better person and you appreciate what you have.”

Whitson said he was humbled by the experience and hopes that he can help other kids achieve their dreams.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I was at the right place at the right time, and if I can turn other kids into ‘Survivor’ fans that would be the greatest thing about the experience.”

Whitson was quick to say “thank you” to those who have made him who he is.

“I would like to thank my wife, Carly, for making this happen, and my mother, father, and brother who are my support system, and also my papaw who is very excited,” Whitson said. “The (Unicoi County) Chamber of Commerce has been amazing as well in supporting me.”

For the latest updates of Whitson and his time on “Survivor,” please follow TeamGavin on Facebook. If you see Whitson, he cannot give out details about the show due to contract restrictions.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will host a viewing party for the “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a pre-show party including games, food trucks and other activities. Whitson will be on hand for photos and autographs and Team Gavin merchandise will be available for sale. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m. The event is open to the public. Admission and games are free.

“Survivor: Edge of Extinction” will air weekly on CBS starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.

Erwin Great Outdoors Festival returning in May

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, pictured, approved the 2019 Erwin Great Outdoors Festival during a meeting on Feb. 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen met to discuss several topics on Monday, Feb. 11, at Erwin Town Hall.

The board approved the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival to be held on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4. To prepare for the festival, Union Street will be shut down around noon on Friday, May 3, to allow for set up to begin.

A motion to approve hosting the festival again was made by Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz and was seconded by Alderman Michael Baker. The board voted unanimously to approve the festival and the festival dates.

“This year Erwin Outdoor Supply wanted to sponsor a Friday night kick off to be added to the festival,” Town of Erwin Communications Director Jamie Rice told The Erwin Record.

The Friday night festival will include a soundstage set up in the parking lot of the former Mountain Commerce Bank and a chili cookoff. The events on Friday, May 3, will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will run to about 9:30 p.m.

Saturday’s events will kick off at 6:30 a.m. and run to about 5 p.m. This year the Town of Erwin Great Outdoors Festival will partner with the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce in bringing the Chamber’s Triple Threat event to the festival.

Also on Monday, the Erwin Beverage Board approved a permit beer to be served at the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival to be held on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, and only within the board approved designated area. The motion to approve the beer permit was made by Vice Mayor Mark Lafever and was seconded by Hyder-Shurtz. The request was approved with Baker abstaining.

The designated area will be in a tent outside of the Union Street Tap Room, which Baker owns. The designated beer garden will be outlined by a picket fence and signage. No alcoholic beverages will be allowed outside of the beer garden, according to the request.

• • •

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen then shifted gears to address some tweaks to area projects.

The board considered adding electrical upgrades on Union Street between the corner of North Main Avenue and Nolichucky Avenue in the amount of $5,500. The $5,500 would be for three electrical posts to be added to the side streets for festivals.

According to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, there are funds in the current capital that could be used for this project. The electrical towers are quoted at $1,700 each.

Vice Mayor Lafever questioned if it would be more cost effective to get all six posts that are needed long term at once or if the board should go with the three electric towers that were included in the bid.

A motion was made by Hyder-Shurtz and seconded by Baker to table the request until the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to allow Rice more time to get more information. The board voted unanimously to table the item until next meeting.

Also during the meeting, the board approved to add irrigation to the Gathering Place Tourism Enhancement Grant Project in the amount of $4,750.

“We have the funds available under our current year’s capital to fund this and would keep the area beautified and lower the maintenance and labor costs on the back end,” Rosenoff said. The motion to approve was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and seconded by Hyder-Shurtz. The board unanimously approved adding the irrigation system.

Moving on, the board approved the purchase of a Robotic Ridgerunner Slope Mower (CMI Equipment Sales – NJPA Cooperative Purchasing) in the amount of $44,216.15 and for this purchase to be included with the Bond Series 2018 Loan. The Bond Series 2018 Loan is in reference to the loan that the Town of Erwin received from the City of Clarksville. The loan was approved during a September Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. The funds were allocated for this purchase, as well as other public works projects.

“Public works and the street department strongly recommended this purchase to cut down on safety concerns and labor,” Rosenoff said.

The motion to approve came from Chandler and was seconded by Baker. The motion carried by a unanimous vote.

“These are key pieces to help forward this department,” Lafever said. “We have to look to build long term.”

The board received two bids for the property located at 1112 Seventh Street. The first bid was for $1,575 and the second was for $10,000 with a contingency pending approval by the Erwin Board of Zoning and Appeals. The issue is that the land is unique in size and shape and it would be difficult to build a home on the location. The bidder wishes to put a manufactured home on the site and have the home facing Seventh Street. The manufactured home would be a three-bedroom, and two-bath home.

“My intent is to put a home there for my daughter and her child,” bidder Johnny Tipton Sr. said.

The board asked Rosenoff what he would recommend.

“I would recommend the $10,000 bid contingent on the variance request be approved,” Rosenoff said.

The motion to approve the $10,000 bid contingent on the variance request was made by Chander and was seconded by Baker. The board voted unanimously to approve.

If the Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals denies the variance request of placing a manufactured home on the property, the property could go out for bid again. The Erwin Board of Zoning and Appeals meets later this month.

In closing, the Erwin Beverage Board named Gary Edwards chairman of the Erwin Beverage Board. The nomination came from Chandler and was seconded by Lafever. The board then voted unanimously to name Edwards chairman of the Erwin Beverage Board.

Day sues county, officials over ambulance service contract

By Richard Rourk

On Wednesday, Jan. 30, John Day filed a lawsuit against Unicoi County, the office of Unicoi County mayor and the Unicoi County Commission challenging the county’s recent decision to award MedicOne Medical Response, Inc. a contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 to April 2023.

“The lawsuit is not punitive toward the mayor and commissioners or seeks any damages from them,” Day said. “It simply is a mechanism that will allow the commissioners to rebid the ambulance service contract in a manner that meets state law and without fear of a lawsuit by MedicOne.”

Day, a former Unicoi County mayoral candidate and leader of a group of citizens who have expressed concerns over the process that led to MedicOne receiving the contract, is representing himself in the suit. He filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Monday, Feb. 4.

The new contract with the company includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000.

The Unicoi County Commission voted to approve the bid and contract during its Dec. 17, 2018, meeting on a 6-2 vote. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

Joining commissioners Jamie Harris and Mosley in voting to approve a new contract with MedicOne were commissioners Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no on the contract. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas is an employee of MedicOne, abstained from voting.

In the weeks that followed the December approval of the contract, Day encouraged the Unicoi County Commission to reconsider the decision, citing issues with the bidding process and contract status.

The MedicOne contract came before the commission again on Jan. 28. During that meeting, Wilcox made a motion for the panel to reconsider awarding the contract to MedicOne and put the contract out for bid again. That motion, however, failed on a 5-3 vote as only Wilcox, Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted in favor. White, Matthew Rice, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Stephen Hendrix voted against Wilcox’s motion. Thomas again abstained.

Also during that meeting, White expressed concern over a possible lawsuit MedicOne could file against the county for breach of contract that could cost $900,000.

• • •

According to Day’s amended complaint, he is “challenging the legality of the expenditure of public funds for a county ambulance service contract” the defendants awarded to MedicOne. The complaint also states that the contract was awarded “through the employment of an unlawful … ‘competitive bid’ process from May 11, 2018, through Jan. 28, 2019.”

The amended complaint also alleges that there are issues with the bid process that led to Medic -One receiving the contract with the county in both 2015 and 2018. The amended complaint alleges that companies had only 15 days to submit bids in 2015 and that MedicOne, which was already serving in the county, was the only company to bid at that time. The company was later awarded a new contract for the years 2015-19.

According to the amended complaint, county officials began discussing bids for a new ambulance service contract in March 2018. The following month, the complaint states, Lifeguard Ambulance Services and American Medical Response (AMR) expressed interest in bidding on the new contract.

“From May 11, 2018, through the end of the defendants County Commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 17, 2018, when they voted to award the new contract to MedicOne, (Thomas) failed to ever inform the other defendants that managers at Lifeguard and AMR still wanted to bid on the contract,” the amended complaint states.

“I filed separate federal and state actions against Loren Thomas for his interference with the ambulance service bidding process by withholding information regarding companies who had requested RFPs (request for proposals) in 2018, but did not receive them,” Day told The Erwin Record.

The complaint also alleges that neither Lifeguard nor AMR received the RFP from the county that was issued on May 11, 2018.

“In fact, MedicOne was the only ambulance service provider, who wanted to bid on the contract, to receive an RFP and the only one who submitted a bid on June 10, 2018,” the amended complaint states.

The lawsuit also alleges that during its years of service in Unicoi County, MedicOne has been “cited for dozens of contract violations, including, but not limited to, poor staffing and poor response times that likely resulted in at least three deaths.”

Day also discusses MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves’ status as an auxiliary officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from 2011-17 in the complaint. Day states that Reeves has given “expensive equipment” to the department at no cost.

Thomas is listed as an auxiliary deputy in the amended complaint, which also states that he “receives a personal financial benefit via his wife’s salary from MedicOne.” Day’s complaint also states that Thomas opposed MedicOne receiving a contract with the county in February 2015.

The issue of whether or not the contract Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Reeves signed is the final contract or a draft copy is also raised by Day in his amended complaint. On Dec. 14, according to the complaint, Evely forwarded a “marked up copy of the contract” to Reeves.

“As of the date of this filing, (Evely) contends that he was not signing the ‘final contract’ by signing that marked up copy on Dec. 19, 2018 …” the amended complaint states.

Day requests in the amended complaint that the contract awarded to MedicOne by the county in December be voided and that “any and all contracts in any state” be rescinded. He is also seeking court costs and any other relief to which he could be entitled.

Evely did not wish to comment due to the pending investigation.

Thomas did provide a comment, saying: “Due to the pending lawsuit and specific accusations towards me from Mr. Day, I cannot say much at this time other than I believe the current commission and mayor has acted in good faith and according to the laws and made the best decisions we could considering the bidding process debacle that the previous commission chaired by Marie Rice left us in,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.

County Commission decides to stay with MedicOne

Pictured from left, commissioners Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice and Jason Harris were the only members of the Unicoi County Commission to vote in favor of reconsidering the contract the county agreed to with MedicOne for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

MedicOne will continue to provide ambulance services to Unicoi County in the coming years.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, Jan. 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse, the panel voted to move forward with its contract with the company that was originally agreed upon in December 2018.

That decision did not come without opposition.

During Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Todd Wilcox, who recently stepped down as the panel’s vice chair, made a motion to reconsider the decision to give MedicOne the contract to provide ambulance services in Unicoi County from April 2019 through April 2023.

“We looked at the bidding process and it was done incorrectly, and I have a problem with that,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox stated he wanted to do right by the citizens of Unicoi County.

“At the end of the day I work for you, the citizens,” Wilcox said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed with Wilcox and seconded his motion to reconsider the contract. She questioned if the signed contract was a draft or a valid contract with MedicOne.

“I have a problem saying this is a final contract,” Rice said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White said he was conflicted on the issue, but decided he did not want to risk a potential lawsuit if the county would be in breach of contract. Some believed that taking the contract away from MedicOne could prompt the company to file a lawsuit against the county. That could have led to a $900,000 penalty.

“I agree with commissioners Todd Wilcox and Marie Rice, but there is an opinion that this is a valid contract,” White said. “That’s my hold up, a possible lawsuit. We don’t have the money for that and it would cost our taxpayers.”

John Day, a former county mayoral candidate who has led the opposition to having MedicOne provide ambulance services to the county, addressed the commission on Monday and assured them that the contract was not valid and if the county was taken to court, it would be a “slam dunk case” for the county attorney. Day also addressed the concern over losing MedicOne staff. “You heard Mr. (Christopher Blach) from (American Medical Response) AMR ask why he would go out looking for a new staff, when he has one right here,” Day said.

Day brought AMR to Unicoi County as a possible ambulance service provider.

Unicoi County Commissioner Matthew Rice addressed Day’s concerns.

“You are saying that these individuals here in MedicOne shirts would be retained by another ambulance service,” Matthew Rice said. “So what you are asking us to do is to gamble with a lawsuit to get the same staff, just with another ambulance service.”

Wilcox’s motion to reconsider the contract with MedicOne failed on a 5-3 vote. Wilcox, Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voting to reconsider. Commissioners Glenn White, Matthew Rice, Stephen Hendrix, Jamie Harris and John Mosley voted against the motion. Chairman Loren Thomas abstained.

The failed motion essentially kept MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider, according to terms of the contract beginning in April 2019.

• • •

The commission moved on with filling the recently vacated vice chairman seat. Commissioner Jamie Harris was voted in and is the new vice chair following a 5-4 vote. Making the recommendation and voting for Jamie Harris was Mosley. Mosley was joined by commissioners White, Hendrix, Jamie Harris and Thomas. Opposing the recommendation were Wilcox, Marie Rice, Matthew Rice and Jason Harris.

The commission also approved to update the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse in a 7-2 vote. A motion was made by Jamie Harris and was seconded by Mosley to accept an upgrade to install a 65-inch television for presentations in the conference room of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The projected cost is $687 and included all the installation equipment. Joining Vice Chairman Harris and Mosley in voting to approve the upgrades were White, Wilcox, Hendrix, Matthew Rice, and Thomas. Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the upgrade.

In the final order of business, the commission approved an updated website proposal that will cost $131 dollars annually for licensing purposes. Students at East Tennessee State University will be working with the county to set up the new web pages. The motion was made by Vice Chairman Harris and was seconded by Marie Rice. The commission voted unanimously to approve the joint project with ETSU.

Also on Monday, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stood up and said a few words in regards to Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett, who is retiring.

“I hate to see Mrs. Bennett go,” Evely said. “She has been a valuable asset.”

No ambulance decision yet

Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox resigned as the panel’s vice chairman on Jan. 18. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Confusion and chaos filled the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 18.

The proceedings ended with Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Todd Wilcox stepping down in his position as vice chair and leaving the special called meeting. Wilcox handed his signed resignation as vice chairman of the Unicoi County Commission to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely during the meeting. Wilcox will remain on the commission.

“I decided to write the resignation letter a few days prior to the special called meeting pending the outcome,” Wilcox told The Erwin Record.

Wilcox made a motion to reconsider the Dec. 17, 2018, vote to give MedicOne the contract to provide ambulance services for Unicoi County, but could not find a second.

“The citizens are always on my mind and providing an ambulance service to the citizens is one of the most important concerns to me,” Wilcox said.

After three calls for a second without response, the motion died. It was then that Wilcox stood up and addressed those in attendance, handed his resignation to Evely and exited the meeting.

“This was an important decision for you all, the citizens of this county, and I will not be put in this position thinking about what could happen,” Wilcox stated.

During the Dec. 17 Unicoi County Commission meeting, the commission voted to approve the bid and contract with MedicOne, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining.

The bid and contract would start in April 2019 and run until April 2023. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and County Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion during the December meeting. The vote followed the recommendation made by the Ambulance Committee during a meeting at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Dec. 14.

During the Jan. 18 meeting, there was confusion among a few of the commissioners following the death of Commissioner Wilcox’s motion.

“I want to discuss this but I do not want to break a contract, but I would like to get all the information,” Commissioner Glenn White said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix called for civility in discussing the matter further.

“I don’t have a problem with the issues being raised,” Hendrix said. “These are legitimate issues. It’s the other stuff I take issue with.”

There was concern among some that there were flaws with the contract.

“There are a lot of flaws in the contract, and there’s a lot of questions that need answers,” County Commissioner Marie Rice said.

White asked Evely to place the item on the agenda to discuss the ambulance situation further during the Jan. 28 Unicoi County Commission meeting.

“Do your research and we can discuss it then,” Commissioner Jamie Harris stated about the future meeting.

Previously, concerned citizen John Day addressed the commission to ask for more time to explore options. Day, who was a candidate for Unicoi County mayor last year, questioned the status of MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves, who was an auxiliary officer with the Unicoi Sheriff’s Department in the past and to see if it was a conflict of interest in representing MedicOne. Sheriff Mike Hensley confirmed that Reeves was with the department in the past as an auxiliary officer, but confirmed he was not a paid county employee.

“Mr. Reeves was an unpaid, auxiliary officer and was an asset to the department,” Hensley said.

Day questioned if the contract that was signed with MedicOne is a valid one or just a draft.

“We are going to find out if it’s a contract, even if I have to pay for an attorney myself,” Day stated.

After an open forum, the commission voted unanimously to adjourn, with Thomas abstaining and Wilcox absent from the vote.

The commission will have to be cautious with their next move, according to discussions last week. The county did place a notice in a local newspaper to request bids last year, and MedicOne was the only company that responded at that time. If the contract with MedicOne is considered a valid contract, the county could be considered in breach of contract, if the contract is sent back out for bid.

“If the contract is deemed valid and enforceable then we are bonded to it, so I will then take the stance to make sure that the conditions are met in the contract for both parties,” Wilcox said. “If the contract is not valid, I will request to rebid the services the correct way.”

The Unicoi County Commission will meet again on Monday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. in the large courtroom at the Unicoi County Courthouse to discuss the ambulance situation, among other county issues.