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Kingsport BMA casts end-of-year votes

KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen wrapped up 2020 with votes on a variety of measures affecting the city and its citizens, including two dealing with Brickyard Park, a materials agreement with a potential housing developer, and approval of a joint legislative policy for the Tri-Cities.

Due to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the BMA has canceled its Monday work session and Tuesday regular business meeting. And, with MLK Day taking place on Jan. 18, the BMA rescheduled that day’s work session to the following day.

In summary, the BMA will next meet on Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. for a work session and then at 7 p.m. in regular session.

As for the December meeting, here’s what the BMA voted on:

• The 2021 Tri-Cities Joint Legislative Policy. For years now, Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City have crafted and approved a joint policy document for our local state legislators to express where the Tri-Cities stands on certain issues and topics.

The policy includes stands on education, annexation, taxes, public safety and transportation. New to the policy this year was the support of residential development incentives.

However, Johnson City leaders voiced opposition to such a stance.

Kingsport Alderwoman Jennifer Adler cast the lone “no” vote against the Tri-Cities Joint Legislative Policy, saying she has concerns about the continued expansion of power and authority of industrial development boards.

In last year’s state legislative session, a bill would have given IDBs in certain counties the ability to promote the development of single-family housing, regardless of the target market for such housing.

“At this point, I have concerns,” Alder said. “IDBs are unelected individuals, and I think incentives should be something we look at very carefully and should be carried out with the highest level of transparency.”

• A materials agreement with The Integrity Building Group for the creation of 38 lots at the proposed Miller Parke Phase One development. Kingsport’s materials agreement has been in place for more than a decade and essentially calls for the city to purchase the water and sewer infrastructure materials, which the developer installs at their cost.

• Rezoning 43 acres of city-owned property adjacent to Brickyard Park from M-2 (general manufacturing) to PD (planned development district). According to city documents, the rezoning is to help with the development of the residential and green space portions of the property.

• An agreement with the Tennessee Department of Transportation for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad tracks at Brickyard Park. The agreement is necessary to move forward with the design phase of the project. Total cost of the project is estimated to be $3.5 million.

Trump, on tape, presses Ga. official to 'find' him votes

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state’s presidential election, repeatedly citing disproven claims of fraud and raising the prospect of “criminal offense” if officials did not change the vote count, according to a recording of the conversation.

The phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday was the latest step in an unprecedented effort by a sitting president to pressure a state official to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election that he lost. The president, who has refused to accept his loss to Democratic president-elect Biden, repeatedly argued that Raffensperger could change the certified results.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. “Because we won the state.”

Georgia counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by a 11,779 margin, Raffensperger noted: “President Trump, we’ve had several lawsuits, and we’ve had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don’t agree that you have won.”

Audio snippets of the conversation were first posted online by The Washington Post. The Associated Press obtained the full audio of Trump’s conversation with Georgia officials from a person on the call. The AP has a policy of not amplifying disinformation and unproven allegations. The AP will be posting the full audio as it annotates a transcript with fact check material.

Trump’s renewed intervention and the persistent and unfounded claims of fraud come nearly two weeks before he leaves office and two days before twin runoff elections in Georgia that will determine political control of the U.S. Senate.

The president used the hourlong conversation to tick through a list of claims about the election in Georgia, including that hundreds of thousands of ballots mysteriously appeared in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Officials have said there is no evidence of that happening.

The Georgia officials on the call are heard repeatedly pushing back against the president’s assertions, telling him that he’s relying on debunked theories and, in one case, selectively edited video.

At another point in the conversation, Trump appeared to threaten Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s legal counsel, by suggesting both could be criminally liable if they failed to find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County had been illegally destroyed. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

“That’s a criminal offense,” Trump says. “And you can’t let that happen.”

Others on the call included Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and attorneys assisting Trump, including Washington lawyer Cleta Mitchell.

Democrats and a few Republicans condemned Trump’s actions, while at least one Democrat urged a criminal investigation. Legal experts said Trump’s behavior raised questions about possible election law violations.

Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer called the recording “irrefutable proof” of Trump pressuring and threatening an official in his own party to “rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place.”

“It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy,” Bauer said.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in that chamber, said Trump’s conduct “merits nothing less than a criminal investigation.”

Trump confirmed in a tweet Sunday that he had spoken with Raffensperger. The White House referred questions to Trump’s reelection campaign, which did not respond Sunday to an emailed request for comment. Raffensperger’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has repeatedly attacked how Raffensperger conducted Georgia’s elections, claiming without evidence that the state’s 16 electoral votes were wrongly given to Biden.

“He has no clue!” Trump tweeted of Raffensperger, saying the state official “was unwilling, or unable” to answer questions.

Raffensperger’s Twitter response: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

Various election officials across the country and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states crucial to Biden’s victory, have also vouched for the integrity of their state elections. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-nominated justices.

In Georgia, the ballots were counted three times, including a mandatory hand count and a Trump-requested recount.

Still, Trump has publicly disparaged the election, worrying Republicans that may discourage GOP voters from participating in Tuesday’s runoffs pitting Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Rebecca Green, who helps direct the election law program at William and Mary Law School, said that while it is appropriate for a candidate to question the outcome of an election, the processes for doing so for the presidential election have run their course. States have certified their votes.

Green said Trump had raised “lots of questions” about whether he violated any election laws.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Trump is guilty of “reprehensible and, possibly illegal, conduct.”

Trump noted on the call that he intended to repeat his claims about fraud at a Monday night rally in Dalton, a heavily Republican area in north Georgia.

“The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry,” he says on the recording.

Biden is also due to campaign in Georgia on Monday, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stumped in Garden City, Georgia, on Sunday, slamming Trump for the call.

“It was a bald, bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States,” she said.

Loeffler and Perdue have largely backed Trump in his attempts to overturn election results. But on Sunday, Loeffler said she hadn’t decided whether to join Republican colleagues in challenging the legitimacy of Biden’s victory over Trump when Congress meets Wednesday to affirm Biden’s 306-232 vote win in the Electoral College.

Perdue, who was quarantining after being exposed to a staff member with the coronavirus, said he supports the challenge, although he will not be a sitting senator when the vote happens because his term has expired. Still, he told Fox News Channel he was encouraging his colleagues to object, saying it’s “something that the American people demand right now.”

His rival, Ossoff, speaking at the Garden City rally, attacked Perdue and Loeffler for failing to stand up for Georgia’s voters, specifically saying that the state’s Black voters were being targeted.

“When the president of the United States calls up Georgia’s election officials and tries to intimidate them to change the result of the election, to disenfranchise Georgia voters, to disenfranchise Black voters in Georgia who delivered this state for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that is a direct attack on our democracy,” he said.


Superville reported from Washington and Brumback from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Garden City, Georgia, contributed to this report.

Northeast students complete workforce training with COVID-19 grant

KINGSPORT — Efforts by the Northeast State Foundation and the Sync Space Entrepreneur Center recently yielded a class of makers and creators, providing workforce training for individuals who lost jobs or income because of COVID-19.

The graduates were part of the Makers, Creators, and Online Retail: Thriving Post Pandemic class, which was comprised of intensive, two-hour sessions held in November and December at Kingsport’s Inventor Center on Shelby Street. Justin Stacy of Short Fuse Engineering and Fred Sexton of the Bristol Artisan Co. were instructors.

The students were tasked with making artisan benches using a variety of advanced manufacturing processes and equipment.

The students not only received hands-on training, but also learned about sales and marketing, e-commerce, training and equipment, finance, and intellectual property. The curriculum is designed to give students an advantage in a post-pandemic economy.

The foundation funded the class with a $251,000 Tennessee Community CARES grant, which paid tuition and instruction and materials costs. The foundation was one of 656 nonprofit organizations across the state to receive funds.

To make the training a reality, the foundation merged resources with Sync Space, a regional entrepreneur uniquely focused on support for local and recruited startups considering Northeast Tennessee as a place to grow or expand.

Barrow Turner, who makes stringed instruments, said his business halted with the advent of COVID-19. Looking to diversify and expand his product line, he signed up for the course to learn additional woodworking techniques as well as how to use social media and marketing.

“The class has enriched my base knowledge tremendously, and so as we come out of COVID-19, I expect my offerings should be infinitely larger in terms of products to sell,” Turner said. “The class was a lot of fun … and the constant exchange of ideas was terrifically beneficial.”

Mandy Graham, who lost her job in March due to COVID-19, said the course has opened her eyes to woodworking opportunities.

“I have loved it. Even though I don’t have a personal business, I have learned a wealth of information, especially about marketing and engagement,” Graham said. “I might like to continue that (woodworking) on my own once the course is finished.”

Each student will have the course placed on his/her transcript and will be award continuing education credits.

The Northeast State Community College Foundation is a part of the college’s Advancement Office. Established in 1986, the Foundation aims to support academics, community service, educational scholarships, and other programs offered by the college.

COVID-19 in NET: Daily cases pass 460

The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report for Sunday:


• 55 new deaths reported Sunday; 4,165 new cases reported.

• Pandemic totals are 7,025 deaths and 608,297 cases.

• 87% of case totals were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

• New deaths by age Sunday: 20 in the 81-plus group; 17 in the 71-80 group; six in the 61-70 group; 10 in the 51-60 group; two in the 41-50 group.

Northeast Tennessee

• Two new deaths and 463 new cases Sunday for the eight-county region.

New deaths by county: one in Carter County (88); one in Hawkins County (57).

No new deaths were reported in Washington County (total 165); Sullivan County (181); Greene County (93); Johnson County (28); Unicoi County (40); and Hancock County (five).

New cases by county: 130 in Washington; 98 in Greene; 59 in Carter; 97 in Sullivan; 56 in Hawkins; 14 in Unicoi; eight in Johnson; and one in Hancock.

Active cases by county: 1,272 in Washington; 1,202 in Sullivan; 805 in Greene; 565 in Hawkins; 579 in Carter; 187 in Unicoi; 101 in Johnson; and 43 in Hancock.

Positive rates

Statewide: 21.41% of the 15,364 new test results reported Sunday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Ballad Health: 30.7% over the past seven days for the health system’s 21-county service area, including Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

COVID-19 in SWVA: over 50 cases in LENOWISCO

Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 cases pushed over 50, according to Sunday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 55 COVID-19-related cases and one related death for totals of 5,109 and 127 deaths during the pandemic.

Wise County saw 27 cases for totals of 2,132 and 60 deaths. Lee County had 19 cases for 1,550 and 30 deaths.

Scott County had eight cases and one death for 1,252 and 36 deaths. Norton added one case for 175 and one death.

The VDH reported 5,010 new cases and seven deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 363,765 cases and 5,124 deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Sunday’s VDH report was 5,238,963 of 8.63 million residents, or 60.71%. For nasal swab testing only, 4,365,480 people have been tested to date, or 50.58%. In the LENOWISCO district, 33,293 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 38.5%.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Sunday’s report rose from 31.8% to 32.5%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate rose from 14.8% to 15.3%.

Red Onion State Prison had 25 inmate cases and decreased one case for two active staff/contractor cases Sunday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap had one inmate case and added a case for 15 active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case.

The VDH pandemic measures dashboard for the LENOWISCO Health district was not updated late Sunday.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

A young Barracudas swimmer takes practice laps in the Freedom Hall pool.