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Johnson City approves smoking ban on public property

Visitors caught smoking in Johnson City parks will now face up to a $50 fine.

On Thursday, the City Commission approved on third and final reading an ordinance that bans tobacco and vapor products in public parks, greenways, playgrounds and any other city properties accessible to youth.

“It’s important that we keep our children and youth safe,” said Commissioner Aaron Murphy. “We really care about our future and our kids ... I think this is great.”

A law recently passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Lee gives municipalities the ability to pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of tobacco and vape products on public property. The city can now issue a citation for those violations.

The city does have policies that prohibit tobacco products in parks, but City Attorney Sunny Sandos said that excluded Founders and King Commons parks. This ordinance allows the city to also prohibit tobacco products at those facilities.

Founders and King Commons control flooding in downtown Johnson City. They are technically considered greenways under the ordinance rather than parks.

The city also officially approved changes to its noise ordinance, which make the rules more user-friendly for officers to enforce.

With assistance from the East Tennessee State University Department of Audiology, Maj. Matt Howell said, officers will receive classroom training on the ordinance’s terminology and different types of sound. A second phase of training will involve using noise meters in the field.

Although there is a lengthy list of exceptions that accommodate sports, special events, routine assemblies and other activities, the ordinance also places a ban on sound amplification systems on public property. It also now allows codes enforcement staff to apply noise rules.

The ordinance maintains an up to $50 fine for offenders, but it explicitly lays out the conditions under which an additional fine can be issued if an offender doesn’t quickly comply with noise rules. Each violation is considered a separate offense and can carry a $50 fine.

Sandos said offenders will essentially have 30 minutes to quiet down or the noise level will be measured again.

Other business

• Commissioners approved an ordinance that allows the sale and consumption of beer at the Freedom Hall Civic Center. The facility was recently replatted so that it no longer qualifies as a school property, which was necessary before the city could allow the sale of alcohol there.

• Commissioners approved on second reading a request to rezone 207 E. Mountcastle Drive from B-4 (planned arterial business) to RO-1 (high-density residential professional office). The developer, Philip Cox, has proposed converting the existing Econolodge motel into market-rate apartments.

• Commissioners approved a contract with Preston Construction Company to add eight new classrooms at Lake Ridge Elementary School and replace the building’s HVAC system.

The total cost of the project will be $10.2 million, but the price will be offset with $3.2 million in federal relief funding, which will pay for the HVAC replacements.

• Commissioners approved a series of appointments to the city’s volunteer boards, including six to the new Johnson City Convention & Visitors Bureau board. The appointees are Steven Bales, Byron Browder, Shannon Castillo, Joel Dalhauser, Steve Lewis and Andy Marquart.

This will replace a temporary transitional board that was appointed to shepherd the organization through the process of separating from the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

A Convention & Visitors Bureau advisory board existed under the Chamber of Commerce, but it didn’t report directly to the City Commission.

“The big change is that it’s now an independent entity rather than a component of the Chamber of Commerce,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “Their roles and expectations really aren’t changed ... The advisory board reports directly back to the funding body, which is the City Commission.”

Questions with local musician Kasey Williams

She left Johnson City to pursue an acting career in New York, but now a local musician is back home with a renewed focus on songwriting and performing.

Music — writing and performing — was actually a hobby for Kasey Williams while working as an actress in the Big Apple, but after a personal tragedy, it became a way to heal. Williams’ father died in 2009.

“I am an actress, comedian, touring singer-songwriter; basically I am a performer,” Williams said recently.

“There are so many things I love about my jobs.

“I love being in front of people. Maybe I enjoy attention. I love being able to tell my stories and connect with my audience on a personal level. Especially when it comes to my songwriting and the stories about where they came from, because so much of my life is really revealed in my songs.”

Williams talked about her background and thoughts in response to several questions we asked:

What is your job and

what do you find most

satisfying about it?

My favorite thing about being a musician is I get to travel all around the world, see places I would have never have thought to see, meet people and share my music with them. It has been the biggest blessing. I also love making people laugh. I have always had a comedic side to my personality and for a long time I feel like I fought my natural abilities of being humorous because I wanted to be “taken seriously.”

I moved to New York City over 15 years ago to pursue acting and really went for more dramatic roles for a long time. After a handful of years of stepping back from the film and theater world to focus on my music, it seems appropriate that I am now fully immersed in comedy. I am so grateful that my improv troop (Boomtown Improv) found me and recruited me to be a part of the team. I feel like I am back in my element doing what I enjoy, which is playing. I have also reconnected with old friends from high school and we are making short funny films which have been again, so much fun to play and laugh and not take things so seriously.

I find it interesting sometimes — how hard we fight the things that come easy to us. Like we should have to work really hard to be successful, when in actuality it would be a lot easier if we just used the gifts we have been given. It feels good to be doing what I have always wanted to do — act, play music and make people laugh :) I perform as a musician often around the Tri Cities area. I am also a part of Boomtown Improv which performs in downtown JC at the Wallace Theatre. I am also a filmmaker, actress, writer, and producer.

How has COVID affected

you as a performer?

When COVID hit I was traveling full-time as a musician, so all of my work ended. It was a little nerve-racking. But as I banded with other performers and brainstormed ideas to help us sustain ourselves in the uncertain times, I found creative ways to help support myself. A lot of that included online performances.

In a way, as awkward as some of these shows can feel, it made me realize that I have the ability to connect with my audience from anywhere. I don’t necessarily have to be on the road full time. COVID also forced me to be still for a bit. 2019 was almost a full year of travel. I released my last EP in March of 2019 and spent the majority of the year after that traveling around the US and Europe. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to write while I was on the move, so getting still really allowed me some time to sit with myself and get creative again.

It was a big change for sure, but I didn’t let it stop me from finding ways to keep putting myself out there. And now I have new material that I am in the process of recording to share once I am able to hit the road again, So, that’s exciting to me. I also believe that being in one place helped me connect to the artist community in the area.

I only relocated back to East Tennessee from New York City a year ago. The time forced to stay in one place has allowed me to develop great friendships, explore opportunities in the area and it led me back to my acting roots.

Where is your ideal

vacation destination?

Oh man this is a hard one because I want to go everywhere. But I do have this one trip in mind — Northern Thailand to Southern Thailand and all the islands, Jakarta, drive through Indonesian Islands to Bali, Auckland, New Zealand (for like a month), Fiji, and Tonga to swim with humpback whales.

This is probably like a three- to four-month trip, but ideal. I have not been to South America yet, so that is on the list too. I mean I could keep going with this question.

How do you describe Johnson City to people who may not be familiar with our region?

Johnson City has grown A LOT since I left. I think I would explain the area as a small town but not super small. It’s become more progressive, which I appreciate. The artist community is growing rapidly and the support and love for art is apparent. Even within the community — I really felt like I was welcomed with open arms. So, (Johnson City is) that too — warm and welcoming. Also, it’s a beautiful area. It’s easy to forget how beautiful a place is when you grew up there. Coming back has opened my eyes to how much nature we are surrounded by.

What’s your favorite

part of the work day?

Even though I am not a morning person, I appreciate my mornings when I can wake up and have time to myself to meditate, journal and get myself in a good head space before I start my day. It helps me focus a bit too. As a freelance artist it’s sometimes difficult for me to know how to prioritize my work. That and night time. That’s usually when I either am performing or when my creative wheels start spinning. So, I guess the times of day when there is not too much distraction.

Do you ever find

yourself daydreaming,

and if so what about?

ALL. THE. TIME. About everything. I dream about the next house I am going to live in or the next relationship I might have. I daydream about ideas I have for scripts and comedy routines. I daydream about touring and where I want to take my music. I often find myself just thinking. So much of my creativity stems from daydreaming :) .

Do you have a hobby or interest that might surprise some to know?

A new one … drawing. Never in my life until about four months ago did I ever draw or even consider myself as even being anywhere near a decent drawer. But, I discovered that I like to draw with mechanical pencils. It’s strange to me but I really do enjoy it.

Kasey Williams fast facts:

Hometown: Johnson City

Favorite Fruit: Pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, grapefruit

Last book you read: Something self-help. Always self-help

Dogs or cats: Dogs

Favorite TV shows: Currently “Schitt’s Creek,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Arrested Development”

Favorite local restaurant: White Duck Taco

Pet peeve: People spitting

Hobbies: drawing

Favorite musicians: Honestly I don’t know enough about musicians. I am a song and lyric junkie.

Eastman Credit Union to sponsor ETSU's Roan Scholars program with $125,000 donation

Eastman Credit Union is making a $125,000 donation to sponsor East Tennessee State University’s Roan Scholars Summer Experience Program.

“The mission of the Roan Scholars program perfectly aligns with ECU’s desire to make our communities and region a better place to live, work and raise families,” ECU President and CEO Kelly Price said in a press release. “These students are leaders with a passion to make a difference, and it’s a privilege for ECU to support the Summer Experience Program.”

The Roan Scholars Leadership Program empowers students to be leaders who positively impact ETSU’s campus, the region and the world. The Summer Experience Program has scholars participate in a six-week, individually designed service internship that must be completed after their first year. The Roan Scholars Program is funded primarily through private donations.

“The exceptional students selected to the Roan Scholars Leadership Program continue to exemplify the mission of East Tennessee State University long after they graduate,” ETSU President Brian Noland said in the release. “Out-of-the-classroom experiences help cultivate their dedication to improving the lives of the people of our region, and to leading that transformation. This partnership with ECU will enhance those experiences and directly impact the next generation of regional leaders.”

Price said that ECU has a history of supporting various ETSU programs, including the performing arts center, the engineering program, the football stadium, the college of pharmacy and the Gray Fossil Site.

“This generous marquee contribution from Eastman Credit Union to support Roan Summer Experiences is an extraordinary investment in leadership and in the future of our region,” Roan Director Scott Jeffress said in the release. “It will make possible transformative experiences that will push Roan Scholars outside their comfort zone to grow in leadership.”

For more information about the program, visit roanscholars.org.

Washington County tax collections were strong in the last fiscal year

The COVID-19 pandemic did not appear to have a negative impact on Washington County’s tax collections in the past fiscal year.

“We had the highest percentage of collections we’ve seen in years,” Washington County Trustee Rick Storey told the county’s Budget Committee earlier this week.

Storey made the comment while delivering has annual end-of-the-fiscal-year report as trustee. He said $72.1 million in property taxes were collected during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

That represents a collection rate of 97.3%

Delinquent taxes: Storey said 2,121 county property tax bills amounting to $1.4 million were still unpaid at the end of the past fiscal year.

Another $289,349 in personal taxes were uncollected for the fiscal year.

Unpaid taxes: The trustee said $335,697 in unpaid property tax bills for 2019 have been turned over to Washington County clerk and master’s office for collection.

Property tax relief: Washington County paid $390,966 for property tax relief in the past fiscal year. The state also contributed $478,568 to reduce property tax bills for Washington County residents.

A breakdown of

tax relief recipients:

• 1,651 classified as elderly;

• 221 listed as disabled;

• 471 qualified as veterans;

• 104 named as spouse of a deceased veteran.

Local option sales taxes: Washington County distributed a total of $64 million in sales tax dollars in the past fiscal year. The previous year saw the county allocating $56.7 in local option sales taxes.

Of that amount: Storey said $18.656 million in local sales tax collections went to county schools in the past fiscal year. That includes all of the rural share of sales tax dollars, including the amount state law allows to go to a county government’s own coffers.

Other sales tax

distributions include:

• $16.6 million to Johnson City schools;

• $26.5 million to the city of Johnson City;

• $2.3 million to the town of Jonesborough; and

• $31,958 for the city of Watauga.

What’s next: The trustee said his office is now planning for the release of this year’s property tax bills, which are expected to be mailed in late October.