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Johnson City to consider smoking ban, noise ordinance changes

This Thursday, Johnson City commissioners will cast their final vote on a smoking ban on public property and amendments to the city’s noise ordinance, which would make rules governing loud sounds easier to enforce.

The meeting will occur at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 601 E. Main St.

Fines for smoking

Changes to Title 11 of the city code would prohibit the use of tobacco or vapor products in public parks, playgrounds, greenways and any other city property accessible to youth. People violating the ban could face an up to $50 fine.

Smoking is already prohibited in parks as a result of city policy, but because it’s not an ordinance, it is not comprehensively applied and can be difficult to enforce.

A law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year gives local governments the authority to prohibit the use of tobacco products on public property by ordinance. The law became effective on July 1.

If commissioners approve the change, the ordinance would be effective Friday.

Noise ordinance changes

Under current rules, it can be a burdensome process for officers to measure noise coming from an offending property.

“It was very complicated, and it was so complicated that it had made it virtually unenforceable because our officers just were not able to complete all the steps that were necessary in measuring the noises,” said City Attorney Sunny Sandos.

Maj. Matt Howell told commissioners in June that officers currently have to take a measurement of the sound with a meter and then come back the following night to take an ambient reading.

The changes commissioners will consider Thursday will allow officers to take immediate action. Violations would continue to be an up to $50 fine under the revised ordinance.

Changes would also allow codes enforcement staff to enforce the city’s noise ordinance. Additionally, it adds a ban on sound amplification devices on public property.

Because many events on public property do use sound amplification systems, the amended ordinance includes a series of exceptions to this rule, which includes routine assemblies, special events or activities approved by a representative of that location.

Sandos noted that the revision to the noise ordinance that would ban the use of voice sound amplification devices on public property has been discussed internally for a number of years. The first conversation she recalled was in the fall of 2019. It was not motivated by any protests.

Exceptions included in the proposed ordinance would allow the use of voice sound amplification devices during an organized protest or event, she said.

“I want it to be clear that the city is not placing any regulation with regard to the content of anyone’s speech,” she said. “The ordinance is narrowly tailored to prevent excess noise or ‘competing’ noises without interfering with free speech.”

Other business

• Commissioners will consider a contract with Preston Construction Company to build eight additional classrooms at Lake Ridge Elementary School. The contract also includes upgrading and replacing the school’s existing HVAC system.

The $10.2 million project will be offset by $3.2 million in federal stimulus funding available through ESSER 3.0, which will pay for the HVAC replacements. Consequently, the balance of the contract for the city will be about $7 million.

The city has previously issued contracts for the construction of additional classrooms at South Side and Woodland elementary schools. Those projects are progressing.

The additional classrooms will add room for students as Johnson City Schools prepares to move fifth graders back to the elementary school level in 2022.

• Commissioners will also consider an amendment on third reading that would allow the sale of alcohol at Freedom Hall. The facility was replatted earlier this year so that it no longer qualifies as a school property.

All other requirements, including proper licensing, would still have to be followed before sale or consumption of beer could occur at Freedom Hall.


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Watch: TVA event promotes South Holston trout fishing

BRISTOL — The South Holston River’s tailwaters are known around the country for trout fishing.

Keeping that reputation takes a lot of work and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which manages the reservoir system of which the South Holston is part, takes it seriously.

The TVA put on an event Tuesday at the weir dam below South Holston Dam, bringing together several agencies and organizations with the same goal — preserving and promoting areas like the South Holston.

“Stewardship is one of TVA’s main missions,” said Dennis Baxter, an aquatic zoologist who manages river and reservoir compliance for TVA. “Basically to preserve an area like this and enhance it so we can have a fabulous trout fishery out here.

“If you come to the South Holston, more than

likely you’re going to catch fish because the TVA provided a better habitat, which is better water quality, better areas for the fish, better areas for the fishermen.”

That was the theme of the day. Tuesday’s get-together was one of six similar events the TVA will hold around the Tennessee River Valley area.

“It’s just a reminder to stay together, keep working together,” Baxter said. “These events … you get a chance to go fishing. That’s the lure, if you will. They help us get together and we can reinforce our relationships that we have. We work with each other, but we need to reinforce that every so often.

“We want people to realize what all of our state and federal partners have been doing to make these places better. We’ve got state parks, which are fantastic. You’ve got the federal properties. You’ve got the natural areas with the TVA and the state.”

LASTING RELATIONSHIPS

Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, was one of several people at the event. His group celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this year.

“Our relationship with TVA goes back decades,” Butler said. “They manage 293,000 acres of public land and 11,000 miles of shoreline and their responsibility around the environment and around natural resources is that engine that drives all this outdoor recreation and tourism that we’re talking about today.

“Our belief is if you maintain a healthy and abundant natural resource base, tourism and recreation will sustain forever.”

HOW POPULAR?

Dave Matthews, an aquatic zoologist with the TVA, told a story when talking about the economic impact fly fishing brings into the local economies.

“I traveled to Boulder, Colorado, two years ago and stopped in at a fly shop,” he said. “The owner asked where I was from and when I said East Tennessee, the first thing out of his mouth was ‘How’s the South Holston fishing?’ It’s that well known.

“A friend of mine was in Upstate New York fishing. They heard he was from Tennessee and that person asked about the South Holston.”

IN THE WATER

Fly fishing instructors were on hand to teach the ins and outs of the sport to newcomers, and guides took first-time fishermen into the water.

Plenty of people waded in to see what it was all about. Included in that group was U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, who did not catch a fish during her time in the river.

“Didn’t see any, didn’t catch any, but you know what? That means I’ve got to come back,” Harshbarger said. “TVA’s done a lot for this area and we live in the best area in the country. I’ve told people this is the best district, especially in Tennessee, but in the whole country. I have to let people know that every time I get to talk to them in D.C. that we’ve got a wonderful place to come and fish. We’ve got it all in East Tennessee.”

The fishing equipment for Tuesday’s event was provided by Trout Unlimited.

“They’re great partners, especially with TVA because we don’t own 300 pairs of waders and they do,” Baxter said. “They brought 22 fly rods out here today. They have several events throughout the year and we try to support them as much as we can and they’re here to support us. All I had to do is ask ‘Hey guys, can you come help us? We’re here.’ ”

Editor’s note: Two related stories — one on commerce and tourism and a second on how officials test the health of the waters and fish — will appear on Sunday’s Outdoor page in the Johnson City Press.


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Post-conviction hearing reveals more details of 2012 Johnson County slayings

There were few people in the courtroom to hear it, but Marvin “Buddy” Potter Jr. admitted from a witness stand that he shot a Mountain City man — accidentally — but slit his throat with intent.

Potter, now 71, was in Washington County Tuesday to testify at a post-conviction hearing for his wife Barbara Potter, 69, and daughter Jenelle Potter, 38.

All three are serving two life sentences for the Jan. 31, 2012, shooting deaths of Bill Payne, 36, and Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, inside the couple’s Johnson County home. Their young child, who Hayworth was holding when she was shot, was not injured.

Marvin Potter testified Tuesday that he only meant to talk to Payne but they struggled over a knife Payne pulled out and then Potter pulled out his gun.

He told Deputy District Attorney General Dennis Brooks that he reached for his gun and thought the hammer got caught and then the gun went off.

Payne was shot in the face just below his left eye.

“Did you accidentally slit his throat?” Brooks asked.

“No sir. I did that on purpose because of the things they were saying about my daughter.”

He also said that until Tuesday, he had never admitted to his wife and daughter that he killed Payne. He pointed to Jamie Curd as the one who killed Hayworth.

In addition to Marvin Potter’s revealing testimony, his wife and daughter testified on issues their appellate attorneys — Scott Shults and Grace Studer, respectively — asked to dispute errors the trial lawyers were accused of making.

Tate Davis and Randy Fallin represented Barbara Potter — and had also represented her husband in the same slayings — while Cameron Hyder represented Jenelle Potter.

Case history

The Johnson County family and Curd were charged in the slayings, but Curd didn’t go to trial because he worked out a deal to testify against the Potter women. He is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The slayings were the culmination of what state prosecutors said was fueled by Jenelle’s fascination with Payne and his ultimate rejection when he began dating Hayworth. The couple ultimately moved in with Payne’s father and had a son.

Jenelle Potter reportedly met Payne after someone at her pharmacy tried to introduce her to other people so she could have a social life.

Jenelle’s social life prior to that was non-existent except for Facebook. She became friends with Payne, Hayworth and a number of their friends. One of those was Curd, who on the sly behind Jenelle’s parents’ back became somewhat of a boyfriend for her.

He was apparently at their home often to work on their computer, which was also something he did for Payne. That issue became relevant during the trial as the original defense attorneys tried to point to Curd as one of the primary planners and conspirators to the slaings.

Even while Jenelle was being sweet on Curd, she also had a crush on Payne and was angry when he and Hayworth became a couple.

Things began to get twisted with accusations of lies and rumors and even the Potter home being shot at — purportedly by Payne or Hayworth and her friends.

Post-Conviction Hearing

Defense counsel put on six witnesses — attorneys Tate Davis, Randy Fallin and Cameron Hyder and the three Potter family members.

One of the issues in Barbara Potter’s case was that Fallin had also represented Marvin Potter, whose case was still on appeal during the mother and daughter’s trial.

Davis testified first about how he became involved in Barbara Potter’s case, acting much like a “paralegal” to help Fallin and co-counsel Dave Robbins comb through thousands of emails and assist during the trial keeping evidence sorted.

But he also said that during the case preparation, he felt there was an issue involving Fallin’s daughter, Jessica Fallin, who became durable power of attorney for all three Potters. In that position, Davis said, he had knowledge of Jessica Fallin selling property of the Potters — from which the Potters all testified they never saw proceeds — and that she’d written 17 checks on the Potters’ account as power of attorney to herself, one to her father and one to her mother, Glenda Fallin.

Davis said he had concerns about the ethical practice of the Potters’ power of attorney being relatives of Fallin.

Barbara Potter testified that she never received any accounting from Jessica Fallin, but calculated the family was out $173,000 in income and at least $120,000 in material possessions.

When Studer later asked Hyder if he would have been Jenelle Potter’s POA, he said she asked him to but he wouldn’t. He also told Studer that he would not have considered representing two defendants charged in the same murder case, which is what Fallin did.

Hyder also testified that he felt tension during the trial between Fallin and Davis to the point of comparing them to a couple fighting at dinner. He said Davis texted him several times about not putting Marvin Potter on the stand during the women’s trial.

“I think Mr. Davis just wanted to stir the pot,” Hyder said. “I went straight to Randy Fallin and had a very blunt and straight conversation the East Tennessee way.” After that, Davis did not text Hyder any longer.

Hyder and Fallin were questioned in depth about their decision to not seek a severance of the women’s cases. Hyder said it would not have benefited Jenelle Potter to be tried alone.

“In our opinion we already had the murder. That was Marvin Potter,” Hyder said.

He and Fallin testified they were ready to lay into Curd when he testified and blamed Marvin Potter for the murders, but Curd told the jury exactly what they wanted him to — that the Potter women were not involved in the killing at all and there was no conspiracy.

Hyder also maintained that Jenelle Potter did not have the mental capacity to have been a “mastermind” behind the killings, which is what prosecutors said.

Judge William Acree, who was appointed to hear the post-conviction petition because the trial judge was retired, said he will hear closing arguments from attorneys Wednesday morning.

There will not be a ruling on the case after those arguments, but it will be handed down in writing later this year.


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