The building housing the Greene County Election Commission needs a new roof, other improvements and does not have extra space that may be needed for storing new voting machines.
So the Greene County government is now exploring a possible solution — an available property off U.S. Highway 11E, the former Consumer Credit Union office on CCU Boulevard. It could provide space to meet election security and storage needs of the Election Commission, house offices of the Greene County Emergency Management Agency and, perhaps, other county services.
The opportunity that the building may hold to answer these issues was discussed Wednesday at the Greene County Commission’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting.
Following discussion, the committee voted to sponsor a resolution to authorize the county mayor to negotiate to purchase the former CCU property that will be considered by the full commission at its meeting later this month.
If information to answer questions raised by committee members or other inquiries that are anticipated is not ready by the Aug. 19 meeting, the resolution can be pulled from consideration, the committee agreed.
The committee also voted to table action on a resolution that would allow County Clerk Lori Bryant to rent space in a building now under construction near the intersection of Summer Street and the Highway 70 Truck Route and create a drive-thru service for the office.
Committee members agreed that it would be best to wait to make a decision about the request from the Clerk’s Office for the drive-thru until the opportunity with the former CCU building can be further explored since that building also has a drive-thru.
County Clerk Lori Bryant told the committee that she would not be in support of having a drive-thru for the office at the former CCU location. Senior citizens do not like to drive on the Highway 11E Bypass, Bryant said, and the drive-thru for the County Clerk’s Office is intended to help the elderly and others who may have mobility issues renew their vehicle registration.
The Summer Street location was chosen since it is close to the Clerk’s Office and is easily accessible, she added.
County Mayor Kevin Morrison said that the availability of the former CCU building has been explored for the past few months as the county looks at issues with the building on North Main Street where the Election Commission located.
The Emergency Management Agency office was moved into the lower level of the building earlier this year after an gas-like odor arose near its former offices in the old Andrew Johnson School.
A new roof is needed for the building and one of the bathrooms needs to be made Americans With Disabilities Act compliant, he said. In addition, there are wiring upgrades that are needed. Estimates for the roofing and the ADA improvements total around $75,000.
In an effort address these issues, the possibility of purchasing the former CCU building has been explored, where the Election Commission office and the Emergency Management Agency office could be located with ample parking, Morrison said.
The building has three drive-thru lanes, which could be used by offices such as the County Clerk and Trustee, he said.
The entire property consists of 13.24 acres, so the site could be used for future services, the county mayor said. In talks about the purchase, the price has come down more than $200,000 to around $425,000 — approximately $56-57 a square foot, he said.
County Building Official Tim Tweed said the building structurally appears to be in good shape, but one of the bathrooms would need to have a handicapped accessible stall added.
The building has gas heating, but only one of the air conditioning units was turned on so he was unable to check their operation. He said they are older units, but it appears that they have not required much work other than regular maintenance.
Committee member Dale Tucker asked if the building would be large enough to meet the Election Commission’s needs.
Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner told the committee that new voting machines may be purchased in the coming year, and those machines will be larger than the existing machines. There will be more than 100 pieces of equipment purchased.
Currently, the voting machines are not stored at the office, but once they are certified prior to an election, they have to be stored in the office for security purposes, and space in the office becomes very tight then, she said.
Justin Reaves, election office staff member, said that the former CCU building would have enough space for secure voting equipment storage and the needed offices, while providing space for the Emergency Management Agency office and drive-thru services.
The large lobby would also provide more space for early voting than at the existing office, he said.
During early voting periods, about three people can wait inside the lobby area with the remainder having to wait in line outside, Reaves said. People have commented to him that they have not stopped to vote because of the lines outside, he added.
Both Burgner and Reaves said parking is also an issue at the current office. At times, the truck that transports the voting machines to polling places has not been able to park in the lot next to the building and has had to park on the street to load the equipment, Burgner said.
The discussion of the possible purchase of the former CCU location came during consideration of a resolution about the rental of space in a building under construction near the intersection of Summer Street and the 70 Truck Route.
Bryant said that the drive-thru could benefit the elderly or handicapped citizens who may find it easier to use it than the County Courthouse Annex building, and it is easily accessible and close to the main office.
Additional staff would not be needed as one person from existing staff would be assigned to work there, she said.
Rental for the office space would be $1,200 a month, and could be paid through the fee the state pays county clerks for driver’s license and gun permit renewals and the new “Real ID,” Bryant said.
The state pays $4 per each driver’s license and gun permit renewal completed at a county clerk office and will be paying the same amount for processing the Real ID, which will be required in October 2020 for entrance into federal buildings and boarding commercial aircraft.
Tucker expressed concern if the revenue would continue to pay for the drive-thru in the long term, because it will be a service that a number of people will use and would need to be continued.
After discussion of the former CCU building, Bryant said she had not known previously about the consideration of that location and she would like the resolution regarding the drive-thru at her proposed location still be presented to the full County Commission as the drive-thru needs to be installed during construction.
Property owner Pat Hankins, who is former Greene County sheriff, said that he could wait a month to install a drive-thru window and understands why the committee wants to explore the possibilities in the former CCU building.
If a drive-thru is installed in his building, Hankins said he would be looking for the office to remain there for several years to recoup the cost of putting in the window.
In other business, the committee voted to send a resolution to the full commission to allow the 911 Emergency Communications District to seek grant funds and a low interest loan to help pay for new radio equipment.
The committee also approved the transfer of funds within the Register of Deeds budget to cover part-time employee expenses and a transfer of funds within the sheriff’s department budget to provide raises for its two mechanics. Neither item involves new funding.
Morrison explained that the raise for mechanics was an oversight in the budgeting process. As part of raises given in the Emergency Medical Services budget, its mechanic, who has less experience than the Sheriff’s Department mechanics but works alongside them, received a wage increase, he said, and this action will adjust their wages accordingly.
Situations such as this point to a need to develop a countywide salary scale, he said.
Marshalls, one of the incoming stores in the Greeneville Commons, has confirmed an Aug. 29 grand opening date.
In an announcement listing other details about the store, the company said it will be open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. for a special grand opening that day, which will include festivities and giveaways.
“Our newest store in Greeneville will offer an ever-changing selection of high-quality, on-trend, and brand-name merchandise at the amazing prices that Marshalls is known for. Our buyers create a broad and exciting mix that offers exceptional values for the entire family, and we’re excited to bring this experience to a new neighborhood,” Marshalls President Tim Miner said in the announcement.
Marshalls operates more than 1,000 stores in 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. It offers brand name and designer merchandise in ladies, men, juniors, kids, shoes, accessories, home, pet, beauty and more.
The announcement comes days after Hobby Lobby, another new store to the Commons shopping center, said it will open its store in mid-September.
Both Marshalls and Hobby Lobby will join the already opened Five Below in occupying space formerly held by Kmart.
Across the parking lot, at the former JC Penney location, a Ross Dress for Less is expected to open on Oct. 1, company officials said last week.
The Marshalls store, which will occupy about 21,000 square feet, will have regular operating hours of 9:30 a.m-9:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 11 a.m-8 p.m. on Sundays.
The store will also add bout 60 full and part-time jobs to the area.
Brixmor Property Group, which owns the Commons, has been busy filling vacancies created with the closure of Kmart, JC Penney and Carolyn’s Hallmark, among others. A Rack Room Shoes and Five Below have already opened in the Greeneville Commons this year, as well as a State Farm Insurance office.
The Greeneville Historic Zoning Commission has approved a new design for facade renovations for a South Main Street building.
Approval had originally been given earlier this year for a design of the street level facade featuring arches and a recessed entrance for 122 S. Main St.
The building, owned by Jamey and Tammy Fillers, was awarded a facade grant in June from Main Street: Greeneville. The grant is part of the Tennessee Main Street program’s revitalization initiatives and funded through Commercial Façade Improvement Grant dollars from Tennessee’s federal Community Development Block Grant.
The couple have said they are planning to open a daytime bistro and evening pub on the first floor of the building with the top two floors renovated as a residence.
As part of the grant requirements, plans for improvements require approval of the state’s Historic Preservation Office.
The original design plan was not approved by the state office, Tammy Fillers reported to the Historic Zoning Commission.
The reason given by the state office was not specific; state officials indicated the design would not be compatible with the surrounding buildings on the street, she said.
With hopes that the arches were what the state office found objectionable, another design for the facade has been developed, with the lack of arches being the only change, Fillers said.
The new design has framed rectangular windows similar to other storefronts on Main and Depot streets.
With the approval of the Historic Zoning Commission of the new design, it will now be submitted to the state for its consideration, she said.
In other business, the commission approved porch repair at 320 N. Main St. New owners Josh and Courtney Pierce explained to the commission that repairs and expansion of the front porch that had been approved for the previous owners were not completed.
The Pierces said they did not want to expand the porch, but want to cover it with brick that closely matches existing brick and make repairs.
The commission also approved member Noah Young and chairman Ben Brooks as expediting commissioners.
Greeneville Planning Director Logan Engle explained that the bylaws for the commission give the authority for designated members to have the power to provide an expedited approval for a request.
Most of the requests that are considered for expedited approval involve minor repairs that do not change an appearance of a structure and some painting projects that make no alterations to the look of the structure, she said. Projects that receive expedited approval are reported to the full commission at its next meeting.
The previous two expediting commissioners were then chairman Sarah Webster, who had to resign from the board after moving outside city limits, and Charles Alter, who died earlier this year.
The commission also voted to recommend that the vacancy caused by Alter’s death be filled by Teresa Hammer. Four applications were received for the vacancy, and all the applicants would make excellent members, the commission agreed.
Hammer and another applicant, Peter Higgins, received nominations for the position from commission members, with Hammer receiving one more vote. Higgins was appointed to the commission later in the day by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
A federal judge recently denied a request by Larry Edward Thomas to withdraw his guilty plea in a Greene County drug case from 2015.
Thomas, 51, of Mosheim, entered a guilty plea in August 2018 on charges including conspiracy to deliver 50 or more grams of methamphetamine and possession of an illegal firearm that had not been registered.
Thomas is also charged in a separate case in Georgia with 23 criminal counts that include murder and homicide by vehicle in connection with a January 2016 vehicle collision in Gwinnett County during a police pursuit. The crash killed an elderly couple.
At a sentencing hearing in March in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Thomas filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. He now maintains his innocence in the 2015 case and has sought a trial by jury.
A motion hearing was held in May in federal court where defense lawyer Jerry J. Fabus Jr. and prosecutor J. Gregory Bowman offered legal arguments whether Thomas should receive a new trial on the charges or be sentenced under the terms of the 2018 plea agreement with the government.
In filing motions to withdraw his guilty plea, Thomas indicated “he has not demonstrated acceptance of responsibility,” Bowman wrote in court document filed June 14.
A sentencing hearing for Thomas will be held on Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
“This court recognizes that this is somewhat of a close call,” and some of the factors considered “weigh in favor of allowing (Thomas) to withdraw his guilty pleas and proceed to trial,” Senior U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer wrote in his order.
Ultimately, Greer found Thomas failed “to meet his burden of showing a fair and just reason for allowing the withdrawal of his guilty pleas.”
The length of time that passed before Thomas requested the withdrawal of the guilty pleas, along with the circumstances surrounding guilty pleas entered “voluntarily and knowingly, are simply too strong to be outweighed by the other factors in this case,” Greer wrote.
Thomas “completely ruined his credibility by openly lying to this court under oath, and his complete reliance on his own testimony has ultimately not overcome his burden for showing a fair and just reason to allow withdrawal of the guilty pleas,” Greer wrote. “For (these) reasons, the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas is denied.”
Greer wrote in the order issued in June that he considered seven factors supporting his order denying Thomas’ request.
They include the amount of time that elapsed between the guilty pleas and a motion to withdraw the plea, the “presence of a valid reason for failing to move for withdrawal earlier,” Thomas’ assertion he is “factually innocent” of the charges, his “nature and background,” prior experience in the criminal justice system, and potential prejudice to the government inherent in Thomas’ request to withdraw the plea.
“His repeated and acknowledged lies to this court seemingly grew from the superficial to the utterly bizarre,” Greer wrote in response to Thomas’ claim of innocence.
In his plea agreement reached in 2018 with government prosecutors, Thomas agreed to a sentence of up to 13 years in prison, to be served concurrently with the sentence to be imposed in his pending case in Georgia.
Thomas’ lawyer, Jerry Fabus Jr., could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
“It is not easy to withdraw a plea in federal court,” Fabus said in May.
Fabus said at least two factors argued at the May hearing could weigh in Thomas’ favor. Thomas had little previous exposure to the legal system and its workings before his 2015 arrest and maintains he was told by his previous lawyer that he had no choice other than to take the plea agreement.
Thomas admitted in the federal case plea agreement that he is responsible “for conspiring with others to distribute at least 150 grams but less than 55 grams of methamphetamine,” in addition to possessing an unregistered sawed-off shotgun.
Thomas was initially charged in Tennessee with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance; two counts of use of a machine gun in connection with a violent crime; sale, distribution or dispensing a controlled substance; and another firearms-related offense. The case was transferred in 2017 from state to federal jurisdiction.
Thomas, known on the street and referred to in court documents as “Scary Larry,” was arrested on Sept. 6, 2015, by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.
On that date, deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call in the 7400 block of West Andrew Johnson Highway in Mosheim.
During a search of the house, deputies found numerous firearms, including a 9mm pistol with a full magazine and a 20-gauge sawed-off shotgun attached to a bag containing shotgun shells.
A backpack found in the house contained $13,113 in cash. Deputies also found a bag containing 5.3 ounces of methamphetamine, in addition to drug paraphernalia, court records state.
Between Oct. 1 and Dec 31, 2015, Thomas traveled to Atlanta on behalf of another Greene County resident to purchase meth from a named defendant and others, according to documents filed in connection with his August 2018 guilty plea in federal court.
In court at the August 2018 plea hearing, Thomas admitted to Greer that he is responsible for conspiring with others to distribute “at least 150 grams” but less than 500 grams of meth, and that he possessed the sawed-off shotgun inside the residence, and that the gun was not registered to him.
While Thomas admitted his guilt at the earlier hearing, a motion filed in March on Thomas’ behalf by Fabus states he “only said what he needed to say to get through the (hearing) upon the advice of counsel,” and now maintains his innocence.
Thomas told his former lawyer, court-assigned federal defender Tim Moore, “at all times” that he wanted to go to trial, the motion states. Thomas asserts that lab test results on the methamphetamine he was charged with possessing were not provided by the government, in addition to a recorded interview he gave and other discovery.
Thomas claims that Moore “gave misleading advice because he failed to investigate the sufficiency of the evidence,” the motion states, adding that Moore “did not want to go to trial” despite Thomas’ desire to do so.
Thomas was free on bond on Jan. 28, 2016, when he and son Jesse Cole Thomas were involved in a pursuit with police that ended in Gwinnett County, Georgia, in a collision with another car.
Larry Thomas is a 23-count indictment pending in Georgia that includes different theories of felony murder and homicide by vehicle.
He is also charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer; trafficking in methamphetamine; trafficking in morphine, opium or heroin; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; possession of a firearm or knife during commission of a crime; and two counts of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Larry Thomas was driving late on the night of Jan. 28, 2016, in Georgia, according to arrest warrants filed by the Gwinnett County Police Department.
A Johns Creek police officer spotted a white Ford Crown Victoria with a burned-out tag light and attempted to pull the car over.
Police reports state that Larry Thomas appeared to pull over, but suddenly accelerated, reaching speeds up to 83 mph. The pursuit began in Fulton County and crossed the Gwinnett County line.
The full-size Ford collided with a Mercedes sedan in Gwinnett County as Thomas was being pursued by the Johns Creek police officer from neighboring Fulton County, an Atlanta suburb.
The driver and passenger in the Mercedes died of injuries suffered in the crash.
The two-minute pursuit ended when the Ford driven by Larry Thomas collided at an intersection with the Mercedes occupied by 77-year-old Kryzysztof Krawczynski and 78-year-old Elzbieta Gurtler-Krawczynska, both of Norcross, Georgia. The couple were returning home from a dinner celebrating Gurtler-Krawczynska’s 78th birthday, police said.
Krawczynski and Gurtler-Krawczynska were retired researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. They were buried in their native country, Poland.
Jesse Thomas, 21, was sentenced in June 2018 in U.S. District Court in Greeneville to a prison term of 101 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of an illegal firearm that had not been registered.
Other drug possession and firearms-related charges against Jesse Thomas were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. His sentence runs concurrently with another imposed in July 2017 in Gwinnett County, Georgia, for convictions on drug possession charges filed after his arrest there on Jan. 28, 2016.
Mike Morrison, a Gwinnett County assistant district attorney prosecuting the Larry Thomas case, is keeping track of the federal court case in Greeneville.
“As soon as he is sentenced in Tennessee he will be extradited to Georgia to stand trial for felony murder,” Morrison said earlier this year.
Thomas remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.