Despite efforts from protestors on the courthouse steps, and vocal opposition from the ACLU and others, downtown Johnson City has become a less welcome haven for the area’s homeless.
Thursday’s unanimous vote, which came in response to concerns expressed by downtown business owners regarding people sleeping or “camping” in front of stores, sidewalks, parking lots and public parks makes it a municipal offense for anyone to “camp” on property owned, leased or controlled by the city of Johnson City. The law goes into effect July 1.
Before the meeting began, more than a dozen activists silently protested the ban on the steps of city hall, claiming the ordinance unfairly targets the city’s homeless population. Officials from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness and the American Civil Liberties Union also got involved in the matter by sending letters to Johnson City leaders urging them to reject the ordinance.
Some argued that laying down a blanket in Founders Park or King Commons Park for a picnic could technically qualify as “camping,” but police officers enforcing the ordinance will have the discretion to decide whether someone is actually “camping” or not. A person who violates the ordinance can only be fined $50 per day, similar to a parking ticket. Even if the violator doesn’t show up to municipal court, no criminal charges would be involved.
The home of a local addiction treatment doctor and the eight recovery centers he operates in Virginia and Tennessee were raided Wednesday by federal agents — a move Dr. Tom Reach called “overzealous” that could likely cause drug overdose deaths in the region.
As the search warrants were executed at the various treatment centers, patients were turned away as they showed up for their appointments. A Johnson City police officer stood guard at the front door of Watauga Recovery Center to tell people the business was closed, and agents inside the center refused to speak to the Press.
Reach said he was driving to Virginia when his wife called around 10 a.m. to tell him the “feds were raiding the house.” He returned home to find Drug Enforcement Agents taking documents from his home, and downloading info from computers and phones, looking for anything related to Medicaid or Medicare, banking records and the distribution of drugs or misbranding of drugs.
Reach said the treatment centers have never taken Medicare or Medicaid and does not file insurance claims, although some patients are reimbursed for their medications. He also said there are no medications at the recovery centers at any time and doctors do not administer medications.
Reach said with his background in addiction recovery and work in helping set standards in the field, he was shocked by what happened Wednesday, claiming that he had done “absolutely nothing illegal, immoral or unethical.”
Tuesday was Primary Day in East Tennessee, with Republican voters taking the chance to back the candidates that will represent them in fall elections. Although the day was notable for its low turnout, candidates were chosen, and hopefully an end was granted to a season of bickering and accusations.
Washington County voters chose Joe Grandy, a two-term Washington County commissioner and chairman of the Budget Committee, as their representative for Washington County Mayor over former Washington County Commissioner Mark Ferguson and current Johnson City Mayor David Tomita in what became a very ugly and highly contested race.
Rusty Barnett defeated two-term mayor Leon Humphrey, winning the nomination for Carter County Mayor on the Republican ticket, and Unicoi’s incumbent mayor Greg Lynch was unseated by Garland “Bubba” Evely.
In other Washington County elections, the following people came out on top: Brenda Downes will become the first “outsider” in decades to be named Washington County Circuit Court Clerk, Teresa Bowman was chosen as Register of Deeds, and Rick Storey was chosen as Trustee.
Steven Light, Kent Harris, Jerome Fitzgerald, Danny Edens, Bryan Davenport, Greg Matherly, Larry England, Freddie Malone, Lee Chase, Phillip Carriger, Jodi Jones, Robbie Tester, Gary McAllister, Jim Wheeler, and Logan Burleson all won Commission seats in their respective districts.
So - whether your candidate for election won or lost, keep this in mind: you had your chance to vote. Did you do it? Because if you didn’t take the time to vote, and the vast majority of you didn’t, as the numbers easily show, you don’t have the right to complain.
If you want to have a voice, be involved. Cast your vote. Exercise your rights.