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Kingsport BMA candidate series part one: Why are you running for office?

First in a five-part series

KINGSPORT — Not everyone is willing or able to run for elected office. The hours are generally long, the pay is paltry and a typical day usually consists of concerns and complaints from angry constituents.

And yet people continue to run for office. These public servants sacrifice their time, money and energy by doing what most people won’t. We need to thank them for their service, even if we don’t always agree with their decisions.

In the first of a five-part series, the Times News asked the candidates running in the upcoming Board of Mayor and Aldermen election a very simple question: Why are you running for office?


Sara Buchanan

I am running because I want to focus on what makes Kingsport a great place to live, while better managing the city’s lingering issues. I will face head-on the problems of homelessness, urban blight, and poor roads. I am running to guarantee Kingsport residents’ tax dollars are spent in an efficient and transparent manner.

Kingsport today is not the same city where I was raised. Growing up in Kingsport, there was a strong sense of community and free, family-friendly things to do like Fun Fest events. Over the recent past, Kingsport has lost major retail outlets and crime has increased. Still, we are not addressing the major problems we have in the city, but instead are spending our energy, labor and funds on projects like the Stone Drive sidewalk.

We need to refocus on our people and our community resolve and I can bring that change.

I have decades of experience working with local governments to deal with challenges like growing small businesses, improving infrastructure, and increasing transparency. As alderman, I will use my experience and the advice of our residents to bring Kingsport back to the community-driven city it once was. I will not accept money from political action committees (PAC) or other special interests for my campaign.


Joe Carr

As the youngest candidate running, I represent the generation with the most at stake in our city elections. Simply put, I’m running to make sure we don’t lose more generations of our best and brightest moving away.

I’m running to “Rekindle Kingsport.” That means we need to continue lowering our city’s debt by stopping some of the stupid spending. Kingsport can’t afford multi-million expenditures of tax dollars for bike lanes, sidewalks to nowhere, moving power lines across the street, and gaudy public art. It also means we need to catch up on road paving. That budget has doubled, but we’re still too far behind. A large, one-time investment would catch us up to where we should be.

We also need to help our homeless folks get back on their feet and off the streets, fully fund our first responders, resume our role as the leading city in the region, and keep our kids in Kingsport by emphasizing vocational education and making our workforce a powerful magnet for entrepreneurs and growing businesses.


Wesley Combs

I am running because I want Kingsport to be equipped to become the Model City of the future. I want Kingsport to succeed and thrive in business and community-building, to be well-positioned to provide jobs that are future-proof. I want Kingsport to be a city with modern conveniences and infrastructure above those of similar size cities to drive growth.

I am the candidate that is focused on the future. I have an undergraduate degree in computer science from ETSU and a master’s from UT and have spent my entire career in software development and technology. I have also started a business in Kingsport that has created over 30 jobs in technology, all of which still exist today. I want to ensure Kingsport is thinking ahead about how disruptive technologies (artificial intelligence (AI), work from home, drones, self-driving cars, etc.) will reshape our world. I think my forward-looking views will bring a valuable perspective to the BMA. A vote for me is a vote for the future.


Betsy Cooper

“There’s no greater challenge and there is no greater honor than to be in public service” — Condoleezza Rice.

I commend anyone who commits to public service. My goal in public service is to give back to Kingsport because this city has been and continues to be good to me and my family. Kingsport raised my family, educated us, gave us access to good jobs and provided us with a wonderful place to call home. We are committed to Kingsport and we chose to live, work, raise our family and start and grow a business here. I have been blessed by this community, and I feel compelled to give back to Kingsport.


Colette George

I was born and raised in Kingsport. I had the opportunity to return and raise my family here. I want to ensure that Kingsport remains a charming safe community with great schools, wonderful parks and green spaces, solid infrastructure, and job opportunities so young families will continue to stay and individuals of all ages will want to relocate here.

I want to continue serving on the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen to complete many of the projects that were started during my term. I have studied the issues and have the background information necessary to move forward many items that were put on hold or delayed due to COVID.


Bob Harshbarger

I have had the privilege of being raised, educated, and work in Kingsport. I have two children and my responsibility as a father is to make sure my children have as good or better opportunities that I have had. Kingsport has always been a leader when it comes to Northeast Tennessee. We have abdicated that position and I want to do all I can to see it become the Model City again.

I am a fiscal conservative and I believe in financial responsibility. I believe we need to grow our tax base if we want to invest in more expansive projects. I understand the importance of business recruitment, but I also see the need to develop the businesses we currently have. I want to embrace our true identity as an industrial city. This has always been the city with the good-paying jobs. Above all else, I want to put Kingsport first.

I have run a successful small business for the past decade and that experience has taught me how to be a problem solver who can deal with challenges and make sound decisions. I want to focus on economic development, more specifically small business development. I also want to continue to improve our infrastructure and prioritize academic success.


Michael Lathrop

I have a solid track record of management and supervisory experience, but more importantly, I love this city and I’m passionate about it. The world has changed a lot in the past year, and there are more changes and challenges in front of us. I believe my strongest asset is being a solution-centered person. I want to see the community more active in all aspects of government and help to guide the city in a direction we can all be proud of and making decisions that are made with the interest of the people; fairly and equitably always being the prime consideration.

My vision of the “right” mayor for Kingsport is one who will finish their term walking out of city hall into a better Kingsport than what they walked into at the start of that term. Better in multiple facets; an infrastructure that has been at a minimum well maintained, and, ideally improved as well as planned to properly accommodate future needs of the citizens — and managing to utilize existing assets to their full advantage with a vigilant eye on a budget that does not require unnecessary increases in debt or taxation.


Paul Montgomery

I was always taught that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). I have been richly blessed, so I have served several organizations throughout my life and want to continue serving in a more tangible way. These experiences have provided me unique insights that will enable me to help guide our city into a bright future.

My top two priorities go hand in hand. First, I will work to make Kingsport a desirable place where future generations will want to stay and live. And for that to happen, my second priority is to work to help Kingsport create more job opportunities for our young people.


J.S. Moore

I feel like our current aldermen make little effort to listen to the people who elected them. I think they’ve bent the knee to corporate interests, especially when it come to the medical monopoly which is Ballad Health. Forty-thousand signatures against the merger yet it happened so easily. I am different from the other candidates in that I will meet with the people. My top priority will be to advocate for the homeless and getting them help, training and a shelter. My other priority is a hospital authority to regulate the malfeasance of Ballad.


Gerald Sensabaugh

My goal in running for office is to provide 100% transparency to the people. I want to use social media to share and discuss the important ideas that are being proposed to the BMA. I plan to vote accordingly with how the people respond.


Pat Shull

Two years ago, I ran on a simple platform of getting city spending back to basics because progress depends on priorities. Essentially, my vision was, and still is, “good government.”

That agenda has resulted in lower debt, no tax increases, a practical plan for Brickyard Park, twice as much money for road repaving as before, and conservative budgeting during a pandemic.

Those accomplishments have provided a better foundation for the future, and going forward, my top priorities will include: continued financial stewardship, keeping our tax rate low, and holding the line on city spending; smart economic development that capitalizes on the best that Kingsport has to offer in terms of quality of life, outstanding public schools, world-class infrastructure, and a business-friendly environment; and a continued focus on road repaving, regular town hall meetings as pandemic conditions allow, and a responsive and citizen-friendly city hall.

Thomas Jefferson said it this way: “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned, this is the sum of good government.”


Brian Woliver

I decided to run for Mayor based on what I see happening to Kingsport. Kingsport was once the crown jewel of the Tri-Cities. Unfortunately, now we are being left behind in several aspects. Kingsport has grown stagnant when it comes to economic growth. After the Crossings project failed, there was a big sigh of disappointment.

Our city also lacks family-oriented attractions. The Move to Kingsport initiative has been going very well, but how do we bring in a younger generation with children and retain them? We have to offer them more family-oriented activities. Many children go to neighboring cities to enjoy trampoline parks and skating rinks. Families commuting to surrounding cities for entertainment and enjoyment happens daily. If Kingsport could offer more attractions, we would keep the money circulating within our city and attract outside families to spend money in Kingsport.

As a candidate, I bring a younger, fresh set of eyes to the needs and direction of the city. I pride myself on leading by example. I will listen to the needs of our citizens and make pragmatic money spending decisions. It’s time we take a step back and reassess our city’s needs before spending taxpayer dollars on unnecessary projects.

One of my priorities is to provide more recreational activities for our youth to eliminate idle time. The second priority is focusing on successful economic growth.

We need to make sure our small businesses have the backing to succeed during these trying times while creating an environment for entrepreneurs to thrive. We must continue our efforts in recruiting new businesses to our city as well.

Kingsport woman indicted in 2013 Hawkins murder

ROGERSVILLE — Following an eight-year investigation, Hawkins County authorities have charged a Kingsport woman in the 2013 beating and shooting death of Regilla Ann Stacy.

On Monday, a Hawkins County grand jury indicted Tina Marie Luster, 46, on one count of first-degree murder in connection with Stacy’s death.

Stacy was found beaten and shot inside her home on Mountain View School Road near the Goshen Valley community on Aug. 5, 2013.

According to police reports, Stacy was beaten so badly about the head that investigators couldn’t confirm she had also been shot.

Stacy, 48, was living with her ex-husband at the time, who had felony drug convictions and was visiting his parole officer at the time of the killing.

Luster was convicted on a felony drug possession charge in Hawkins County in 2011 and was on probation when the murder took place.

Investigators at the time indicated the suspected motive was theft, due in part to an attempt to break into a safe at the residence.

Third Judicial District Attorney General Dan Armstrong told the Times News he cannot discuss the motive or how Luster became a suspect.

“Obviously, with this being an eight-year investigation, there were things that happened relatively recently that caused the case to move closer to closure,” Armstrong said. “We’ve developed evidence over the past few weeks that made me comfortable to present to the grand jury and indictment against Ms. Luster for first-degree murder. I can’t get into the specifics of the investigation without compromising the jury pool.”

Luster was arrested on a sealed indictment warrant on Tuesday and booked into the Hawkins County Jail on a $150,000 bond.

She is scheduled for arraignment in Hawkins County Criminal Court on April 30.

TBI special agents joined detectives with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the death of Stacy at the request of former Third District Attorney General Berkeley Bell.

Both agencies were assisted by a number of other agencies, including the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Kingsport Police Department, the Church Hill Police Department, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Correction, the Tennessee Board of Parole and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“We’ve still been following new leads, and a lot of people have been possible suspects and interviewed over the years,” said Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson. “The TBI and my detective division has worked endless hours to solve this.”

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CHARTS: Region adds 66 new COVID-19 cases; Washington County reports one new death

Northeast Tennessee reported 66 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, while its active case count fell by 100 to 1,497.

NET by the numbers

Cases: 55,225 (+66). Past seven days: 762

New cases by county: Carter 4, Greene 0, Hancock 2, Hawkins 9, Johnson 1, Sullivan 27, Unicoi 3, Washington 20.

Active cases: 1,497 (-100)

Active cases by county: Carter 165, Greene 111, Hancock 18, Hawkins 130, Johnson 63, Sullivan 566, Unicoi 45, Washington 399.

New tests: 461 (11.71% positivity rate )

New hospitalizations: 3. Past seven days: 14

Deaths: 1,043 (+1). Past seven days: 3

Tennessee by the numbers

Cases: 836,563 (+721)

New tests: 11,215 (5.97% positivity)

Deaths: 12,096 (+15)

Active cases: 13,275 (-713)

Inactive cases: 811,192 (+1,419)

Current hospitalizations: 874 (+33)

COVID-19 inpatients: 129 (+18)

Patients under investigation: 2

Admissions: 26

Discharges: 16

Patients in intensive care: 29 (+4)

Patients on a ventilator: 19 (+2)

Designated beds available: 14 (-11)

First-dose vaccines administered: 41,707 (+305)

Second-dose vaccines administered: 36,659 (+1,240)

Ballad has a 21-county service area in Tennessee and Virginia. Ballad issues scorecards on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

New life comes to Exchange Place

Two of Exchange Place’s resident sheep, Ebony, above, and Ivory, right, are new mothers. This brings the total number of sheep at Kingsport’s living history farm on Orebank Road to seven. The babies arrived over the weekend. The little ones have yet

to be named. If you have ideas, call (423) 288-6071 with your thoughts.

Courtland Raymond Gales, 31, Norton, Va. was arrested Tuesday, April 20 on armed robbery charges after an overnight standoff with Wise County deputies, Virginia State Police and officers from the Norton and Wise police departments.