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Watch now: Tri-Cities Airport sees added flights

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Airport is ready to send travelers to destinations that were removed from the airport’s schedule over the past year.

“We are starting to see a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as people are getting vaccinated and getting more comfortable with filling up the aircraft again,” Kristi Haulsee, Tri-Cities Airport director of marketing and air service development, said Monday.

American Airlines recently added back its second flight to Dallas, and Delta has added its mid-morning flight to Atlanta back to the schedule.

Haulsee said during a typical year before the pandemic, the airport would offer 12 average daily flights. The airport is currently at 11 daily flights compared to last June, when about four daily flights departed.

“It’s up to the airlines when they add a flight,” Haulsee said. “We lost Dallas completely for three weeks last June. Before the end of the month they brought it back to one a day. Last week, they started the second flight back up.”

Right now, there is a federal mask mandate, which Haulsee said is set to last until mid-September. Currently vaccinations aren’t required for travel within the United States, but Haulsee said those looking to travel need to do their research and see what is required on the other end of their flight.

“There may be some quarantining areas,” Haulsee said. “You may have to have a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before departure. It just depends on where you’re going.”

Sarah Dixon readied to board an Atlanta-bound plane on Monday along with her grandfather, Sam Moser. The vaccine has eased her fears about traveling during the pandemic.

“It seemed kind of reckless to just fly before,” Dixon said. “This is my first time flying (since the pandemic). But I’m not worried. I’m vaccinated.”

Haulsee said the airport started seeing an increase in travel around March. Business and some international travel have increased, she said, but mostly, leisure travel has been at the top of the list in the Tri-Cities.

“Even here in our area, we have seen more people coming in because they are going to places they can disperse a little bit more,” Haulsee said. “Folks are headed to beaches, the mountains. Those are the two big spots where they can be outdoors and away from people. We thought that would slow down but it hasn’t yet.”

For those looking to travel, Haulsee suggested bringing a face covering and adding your airline’s app to your smartphone to stay more hands-off.

“They generally now will have you scan your own ticket so you don’t have to touch anything and going through security, it’s the same thing,” Haulsee said. “The less they have to touch things, the safer it is for everybody.”

Freedom Hall veteran Bobbie Shirley retires after more than 45 years

Bobbie Shirley has been an employee at the Freedom Hall Civic Center almost as long as the venue has been open.

Initially starting as a clerk at the swimming pool in July 1975, Shirley worked at the center for more than 45 years before retiring this year as the venue’s director, a position she stepped into last year after former director Lisa Chamness retired. Before that, she filled multiple roles at Freedom Hall, which first opened its doors in 1974.

The Johnson City Commission issued a proclamation in her honor at a meeting in May.

“Freedom Hall will not be the same without you,” Commissioner Jenny Brock told Shirley at the time. “I’ve always known ... that if you wanted any information about Freedom Hall, or the history of Freedom Hall, you were the person who has it all.”

When she first took a job at the center, Shirley had just graduated from high school and was looking for extra money. Before that, Shirley had volunteered at Freedom Hall as an usher for the first event at the civic center, a performance by comedian Bob Hope, in 1974.

Since officially joining the payroll, Shirley has worked in the venue’s ticket booth, at the concessions stand, as the administrative secretary and as the box office manager.

She’s also witnessed, and helped organize, hundreds of performances at the venue, a list that includes rock icons like Aerosmith, country music legends like John Prine and adrenaline-soaked spectacles like WWE wrestling. For Shirley, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Jones and Kenny Rogers were particular standouts. Depending on the act, she explained, planning events at the center can take anywhere from six to eight months or even a year.

But the best part about working at Freedom Hall isn’t necessarily all the stars, Shirley said.

“It’s everybody that you work with,” she noted.

The time she’s invested at the center has allowed Shirley to develop strong bonds with co-workers, promoters and performers. She’s even watched some performers grow up.

“You see people over and over again,” Shirley said. “You develop good friendships.”

Shirley has also gathered a mountain of memorabilia over the years, a collection that includes mugs, tickets, photos, backstage passes, drumsticks, guitar picks and shot glasses. She usually tries to buy an item from every show at Freedom Hall and is more inclined to get something if she likes the artist.

“I’m trying to get smaller things now,” she quipped.

Over the years, Freedom Hall has also encountered more competition. When it first opened, Shirley estimated, the civic center was one of dozens of buildings that size. Now, it’s one of hundreds.

“We are not a tier-one market anymore,” she said. “Now, shows they do bigger cities. An artist can get a song on the radio and become an overnight sensation and then they pick and choose where they go to.”

The center is, however, still plenty capable of drawing large acts.

“Freedom Hall is a great place to see events,” Shirley said. “The acoustics are wonderful in here, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.”

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Election Commission formulating plans to move its offices

With a busy election year looming in 2022, election officials say moving day can’t come soon enough for the Washington County Election Commission.

Election commissioners met Monday to discuss plans to move their offices from their current quarters on the third floor of the Washington County Courthouse to the George P. Jaynes Justice Center.

Election officials said the start of the next election cycle will begin on Dec. 20 when candidates are allowed to start picking up qualifying petitions for the May 3 primaries for county offices.

Dana Jones, Washington County’s administrator of elections, said she would like to see election staffers moved into their new home by the end of September, but has been informed by County Mayor Joe Grandy that such a timetable might not be realistic.

Jones told election commissioners she hopes the move can be made by the end of the year.

Washington County commissioners voted last month to approve a resolution allowing the Election Commission to move its offices to the justice center, and to lease event space behind the Food City in The Heritage, 161 Molly Grayce Lane, Jonesborough, for nine weeks to accommodate early voting.

Meanwhile, Jones told election commissioners on Monday that the county has completely cleared out of the former Ole Towne Ace Hardware building at 220 N. 2nd Ave. in Jonesborough. The county had leased that building as one of three early voting sites in 2020.

The election administrator said she has been working on a floor plan for the new office space in the justice center. She and Election Commission Chairman Gary McAllister said the board would meet with Grandy to work out those details.

Election Commissioner John Abe Teague reminded his colleagues that the “mayor has a vision and we have a vision for the space, so we’ll just have to work it out.”

Even so, McAllister said he would “like to see us in the Justice Center as quickly as possible.” Election Commissioner C.B. Kinch agreed, noting “that it’s a shame” election deputies are being asked to continue to work in what he called “unhealthy conditions” at the courthouse.

In the meantime, Jones said there are still a “number of challenges” that must be addressed to facilitate the move, including finding a remedy to security issues with the new space.

“By state statute, I can’t move us into an unsecured space,” Jones said.

The Election Commission also agreed Monday to hold a workshop to discuss the office’s early voting and other facility needs. Election Commission Secretary Martha Davis said that dialogue should include discussion of the commission’s future office needs.

Part of that discussion, she said, should be exploring a stand-alone Election Commission office building on a footprint already designated for such a facility at the justice center.

“We need to come up with a long-range strategy or at least begin working on a wish list,” she told her colleagues.

Earlier Monday, Jones, McAllister and Davis met with members of the County Commission’s Budget Committee to discuss the Election Commission’s new budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. The proposed $774,731 budget covers one election during the next fiscal year, and includes a 3% pay increase for the election staff.

Jones told commissioners the salary adjustments are needed to bring the office’s four election employees more in line with the pay of other courthouse deputies.

Budget Committee members are scheduled to address the pay issue at their regular meeting on Wednesday.

ETSU Health to offer COVID-19 vaccines at events in June

ETSU Health will continue to offer opportunities for members of the community who are 18 and older to receive the free, one-dose Janssen Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at various locations throughout the Appalachian Highlands.

“This summer, we will be utilizing some non-traditional settings to reach as many people as we can with the vaccine,” said Donna Noland, manager of the ETSU Health COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. “While we have had a good response to our vaccine clinics on the campus of East Tennessee State University and will continue to offer those to the public, we realize that there are some excellent opportunities to expand our efforts and bring the vaccine to places where people are gathering this summer.”

The June ETSU Health clinic dates include several convenient weekend opportunities to receive the vaccine. No appointment is required.

  • Friday, June 11, 6-8 p.m. “Fridays After 5”, King Commons, downtown Johnson City.
  • Saturday, June 12, 10 a.m.-noon, ETSU Millennium Center, 2001 Millennium Place, Johnson City. (Patients may park on the third level or above in the parking garage adjacent to the Millennium Center and follow the signs to the ballroom.)
  • Saturday, June 12, 3-5 p.m., Little Animals Brewery, 324 E. Main St., Johnson City.
  • Saturday, June 19, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Kingsport’s Juneteenth Celebration, 301 Louis St., Kingsport. (V.O. Dobbins Field/Riverview)

In addition to these weekend clinics, weekday vaccine clinics are scheduled at ETSU Wednesday-Friday, June 16, 17, 18 and 23, 24, 25, from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on the second floor of the D.P. Culp Student Center. Enter on the second floor entrance off of J.L. Seehorn Road (below the third-floor ramp).

The ETSU Health vaccine clinic will administer Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, which only requires one shot.

Following a pause of the Janssen Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a thorough safety review, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Aministration determined the pause of the vaccine in the U.S. should be lifted and use of the vaccine should resume. The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older. More details about the decision is available at https://bit.ly/3x3jojt.

Faculty, students and staff from ETSU Health colleges, including Quillen College of Medicine, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health, will administer the vaccines and assist with patient intake and registration.

In addition, the ETSU Center for Rural Health Research is helping to connect local sites that have shown an interest in hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics with vaccine providers such as ETSU Health and Ballad Health. Businesses or organizations that are interesting in finding out more about how they can host a vaccine clinic can contact Dr. Sam Pettyjohn at pettyjohns@etsu.edu.

For more information about the ETSU Health vaccine clinic, call 423-439-3829. Patients with questions about the vaccine should contact their physician.

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