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Winter Preview Coming Next Week

Winter doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 21. Don’t tell Mother Nature.

Punishing blasts of Arctic air will invade the region early next week, a reality that will provide East Tennesseans a preview of the coming cold weather months.

Temperatures in Greeneville are poised to dip as low as 13 on Tuesday, a plunge that stands to break a nearly 80-year-old record. Highs through mid-week will hover just above freezing. Snow seems likely Tuesday, though forecasters were divided over the amount. The Weather Channel calls for 1 to 3 inches. The National Weather Service says little to no accumulation.

“The big story next week will be the very cold air, but some areas may see some light snowfall, too,” read a statement from the National Weather Service’s Morristown office. “The event is still several days away; a lot can and will likely change.”

Temperatures will be unseasonably frigid, and at least one record may fall. Tuesday’s predicted high of 35 is about 25 degrees below normal, a look at data from the National Weather Service shows. The same is true for Wednesday. The forecasted high is 36, and the historic norm is 59.

The record low for Nov. 12 is 19, a mark set in 1941. Tuesday’s projected low is 13. The record for Nov. 13, established in 1986, is 19. Wednesday’s predicted low is 21.

The likelihood of frosty temperatures next week prompted meteorologists across the nation to share winter-weather safety tips. Some of those, taken from The Weather Channel, AccuWeather and the National Weather Service, include:

  • Heed all warnings and weather alerts.
  • Be cautious driving on slick roads and, when possible, avoid it.
  • Wear warm clothes and avoid extended outdoor exposure.
  • Know the signs of hypothermia: confusion, shivering, difficulty speaking, sleepiness and stiff muscles.
  • If accumulating snow is forecast, make sure you have prepared by stocking your home with appropriate amounts of food and water, filling your vehicle with gas and charging up cell phones.
  • Be mindful of outdoor animals. Bring pets inside or provide warm shelter.

The chilly weather won’t linger long.

Forecasters predict a gradual rise in temperatures starting Thursday, when the high is 45. Temperatures will be back in the mid-50s by the weekend, but lows will remain in the 30s for at least the next two weeks.


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Mossburg Indicted; No Decision On Death Penalty

A decision is pending by the State of Florida about whether the death penalty will be sought for Stanley Eric Mossburg for the alleged murder in October of two Polk County residents.

Mossburg was indicted on Oct. 24 by a Polk County Grand Jury on 17 charges, including two counts of first-degree murder.

He is also charged in Greene County with first-degree murder and other offenses in connection with the Oct. 2 death of Christopher Scott Short. The Florida case will likely be resolved first because Mossburg is in custody there, Greene County prosecutors have said.

“No decision has been made yet on whether the state will seek the death penalty against Stanley Mossburg,” John Chambliss, a spokesman for the Office of the State Attorney of the 10th Judicial Circuit in Florida, said Thursday.

The Florida murders were committed in Winter Haven, in Polk County, as authorities sought Mossburg in connection with the Greene County homicide.

Mossburg, who turned 26 Thursday, is a native of the Spartanburg, South Carolina area. Police said he stayed in Greeneville for at least several weeks before the murder early Oct. 2 of Short, 33, whose body was found outside an East Andrew Johnson Highway laundromat.

Mossburg, also known as “Woo Woo,” allegedly fled Tennessee in Short’s car and went to South Carolina before taking a bus to Orlando, Florida. The man and woman killed in Polk County died in the Winter Haven house they lived in with another man, who was allegedly held hostage by Mossburg but survived.

FLORIDA CHARGES

In addition to the two first-degree murder charges in Florida, Mossburg was indicted by the Polk County Grand Jury on three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer with a firearm, two counts of robbery with a firearm, two counts of armed kidnapping and burglary of a dwelling with an assault or battery while armed with a firearm.

Mossburg was also indicted on charges of resisting an officer with violence, resisting an officer without violence, grand theft of a motor vehicle, burglary of a conveyance, tampering with physical evidence, battery on a police dog and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The murder charges would apply to a capital punishment penalty upon conviction, while other charges, including attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, would carry a mandatory life prison sentence.

Prosecutors in Tennessee have not indicated if the death penalty would be sought should Mossburg be extradited from Florida.

Greeneville Police Chief Tim Ward recently said that Mossburg lived in a camp in a wooded area off Serral Drive up to four weeks before Short’s murder.

Short was accosted late on the night of Oct. 1 in the Celebrity Coin Laundry at 2055 E. Andrew Johnson Highway. His body was found the morning of Oct. 2 outside the laundromat.

Mossburg allegedly killed a man and woman in the Winter Haven home between Oct. 13 and 14 and took an elderly man who lived in the house hostage after he returned home.

He was armed with a knife in the deaths of Marguerite Ethel Morey and Kenneth Rex Beaver, according to the Polk County indictments. He held Thomas D. Kohl hostage. Kohl survived and provided the Polk County Sheriff’s Office with information about Mossburg’s alleged actions.

Mossburg left the Winter Haven home Oct. 14 in Morey’s sport utility vehicle, but later returned to within several blocks of the crime scene and barricaded himself in a nearby house.

Mossburg allegedly fired gunshots at sheriff’s deputies trying to take him into custody during the night of Oct. 14. He allegedly fought with a police dog early on the morning of Oct. 15 in the garage of the house before being taken into custody.

Mossburg had a first court appearance Oct. 16 in Polk County. He remains held without bond pending a second appearance scheduled for Nov. 19 in Bartow, the seat of the Central Florida county.

“Any announcement regarding the death penalty will be made in the coming weeks,” Chambliss said after Mossburg’s first court appearance.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Oct. 15 that Mossburg told Kohl that the man and woman killed in Winter Haven were his seventh and eighth victims. Only three victims, including Short, are known, Judd added.

“(He) told our live victim, ‘I want to be a serial killer. I like killing people,’” Judd said at an Oct. 15 news conference.

As Mossburg was walked to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office patrol car Oct. 15 for the ride to jail after his arrest, he made several statements to reporters there.

Mossburg shook his head negatively when asked about the statement he allegedly made about killing “seven or eight people.”

“I’m a prophet, not a serial killer,” Mossburg said.

He expressed no regret for the alleged murder of Short in Greeneville and the two victims in Winter Haven.

“Not when you’re doing it for God,” he said. “I’m going to heaven. I’m already a prophet.”

Ward said Mossburg’s camp in Greeneville was found after he became a person of interest in Short’s murder. Mossburg had already left Tennessee in Short’s car by that time.

GREENE COUNTY CHARGES

In addition to first-degree felony murder, Mossburg is also charged in Greene County with especially aggravated robbery and especially aggravated kidnapping.

Mossburg may not face trial in Tennessee.

“Florida has him in their custody and we won’t be able to extradite him until Florida has finished their proceedings with him. We have a hold on him and we have sent copies of our warrants to them. We’re not going to be entitled to get him,” Ritchie Collins, a 3rd Judicial District assistant attorney general, said in October.

Mossburg can request extradition to Tennessee to face the Greene County charges, but only after he has been sentenced for his alleged crimes and is in a Florida prison or if his case is otherwise resolved, Collins said.

“We may never get him back to Tennessee,” he said. “We have done all we can do, which is place a hold on him in Florida. They’re not going to give him up.”

The Polk County sheriff was outspoken about how he wants the legal process to proceed in Florida during the Oct. 15 news conference.

“This guy needs the death penalty if there’s ever anyone who needed the death penalty,” Judd said.


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Revised Long-Term Schools Plan Presented To Commissioners

A revised long-term school facilities plan was at the center of discussion Thursday at a workshop including the Greene County Board of Education and County Commission.

Last spring, the school board approved a long-term facilities plan that calls for the construction of two new high schools in phases, one opening in 2025 and the other in 2035, closing schools as construction takes place.

The plan also adopts a middle school concept for the entire district, which is set to begin next school year. Chuckey-Doak Middle will remain a middle school while DeBusk becomes a middle school for the southern part of the county, Mosheim will become the middle school for the western part while still retaining its elementary school, and Ottway will be the middle school for the northern part of the county.

The construction of the high schools and the location of the middle schools are changed in the plan.

The revised plan calls for the construction of the two new high schools preferably at the same time and by the 2025-26 school year, one in the northwestern part of the county and the other in the southeastern section.

Another major revision is the use of all four present high schools as middle schools once their corresponding high schools constructed. Previously, only Chuckey-Doak and West Greene were going to be used as middle schools for the long term.

The revised plan also calls for five elementary schools at that point – Baileyton, McDonald Mosheim and McDonald in the northwest and Camp Creek, Chuckey, Doak and Nolachuckey in the southeast. Closing would be DeBusk and Ottway with the current Chuckey-Doak Middle School facilities no longer used.

“As a school system and board, we are at a point that to move forward we are going to need your help as our funding board,” Greene County School Director David McLain told the 11 commissioners in attendance at the workshop.

In 36 years, the system has built one new school, Chuckey-Doak High School, but in the 36 years prior to that period, 15 schools were constructed.

There were people then who had a vision for the school system and providing opportunities for students, and a new vision is needed today, McLain said. “Our job as a district and leaders of this community is to put students in the best possible facilities that are conducive to learning for the 21st century.”

The director shared photos of the construction of new high schools and additions such as the one under construction at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport.

“You could say that we are not Dobyns-Bennett, but our kids are going to be competing with those kids for jobs,” he said. “It is our job to provide the opportunities they need to be able to compete with those kids.”

The revised plan was met with questions about funding options and how much would be needed to fund the schools if constructed. The current school debt for the county will be paid by 2025.

McLain said a primary purpose of the workshop was share the information and get feedback from the commissioners to gauge whether the school board should continue toward implementing the plan or find another option that could be funded.

The commissioners who were not able to attend should also provided the information, it was agreed, and another workshop prior to a future County Commission meeting was suggested.

SCHOOL SYSTEM CHALLENGES

McLain presented information about challenges the school system is facing – declining enrollment and aging facilities.

Declining enrollment results in less funding in Basic Education Program (BEP) funds from the state. “The state funds us like we were one big school, not by individual schools,” he said.

Funding is based on enrollment, and a decrease in the number of students means less money in the BEP allocation from the state.

One of the reasons is a drop in birth rate, he said, and there are now more options for parent schooling. While the system has experienced a reduction of students through some going to the Greeneville School System, now about an equal number, 500, have chose home schooling.

Last year, the school board made the difficult decision to close two schools due to declining enrollment, he said.

However, the school system was able to cut 18 teaching positions and two administrators through the closing, McLain said, a savings of about $1.2 million. People in those positions were offered other positions in the system, open through retirement or attrition.

Currently, 85 percent of the expenditures for the school system are for personnel, he said. While it is easier to reduce staffing at the elementary school level, in the upper grades, trimming staff also means cutting programs, which no one wants to do, the director said.

This school year, 6,130 students are enrolled whereas in the 2007-08 school year, there were 7,268 total students, he said.

“We are losing about 150 kids every year,” he said. “Greene County is not alone. Rural districts all across the state are struggling as people are preferring to move to metropolitan areas.

Looking at the projections for the 2026-2027 year, the students who will be in high school are now in second through fifth grade. If the current enrollments are kept, the enrollment in grades 9-12 will drop from the current 2,091 to 1,665.

Aging facilities are another issue, he said. as the oldest school, Baileyton, was built in 1939 and the newest, C-DHS, was built in 2003.

HVAC replacement is another challenge the school system faces as 272 units in the district have been in service 20 or more years while 254 are around 15 years old.

McLain also presented information about property tax rates in the region. Greene County has the lowest property tax rate in Northeast Tennessee at $2.01 per $100 of assessed value, down from the $2.62 rate in 1997,

The county had the third lowest per pupil expenditure in the region for 2017-18 at $9,156. The highest is Greeneville at $11,822.

“For a classroom for 20 students, Greeneville is spending $54,000,” he said. “If I asked each one of you, if you thought Greene County students deserved that, you would say ‘yes.’”

The revised plan is how the school board and system wants to move forward to provide more opportunities for those Greene County students, McLain said.

Options Discussed

School Board member Nathan Brown expressed appreciation for the county commissioners attending and asked for feedback about the proposed plan.

Commissioner Robin Quillen said she thinks it is time to do something to help the school system and provide more opportunities for students, particularly with programs to help them prepare for jobs needed in the workplace

Board member Clark Justis commented that the facilities and these programs are necessary if the community wants young people to stay and settle in the county.

McLain explained that the the new high schools would provide on-site career and technical education courses. He noted that some students currently do not like leaving their home high school to travel to the Greene Technology Center to take courses and perhaps the on-site programs would increase the number of students who took advantage of them.

Brown said that about 70 percent of the jobs in Greene County require some type of certification and if the school system could expand its CTE programs, that would help provide employees that industries want.

Commission member Tim White asked about funding and how much of a tax increase would be needed.

The school system does not have those numbers now other than estimates of what other nearby projects have cost. McLain said the commission’s support would be needed to transfer funds to find a preliminary estimate of those costs.

At the end of the meeting, some of the commissioners expressed support for the concept while others said they were undecided and needed more information.

Commissioners attending the meeting were Lloyd “Hoot” Bowers, Paul Burkey, George Clemmer, Jason Cobble, Kathy Crawford, Bill Dabbs, Teddy Lawing, Brad Peters, Robin Quillen, John Waddle and Tim White. Also attending were Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison and Budget Director Danny Lowery.


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Appellate Court Finds In Favor Of Clerk & Master

The Tennessee Appellate Court upheld the ruling of a judge in the protracted civil dispute over funds for office staffing between Greene County Clerk and Master Kay Solomon Armstrong and county Mayor Kevin Morrison.

The Court of Appeals also ordered a modification of Chancellor John C. Rambo’s judgment so that Armstrong be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the trial.

In an opinion published Thursday, the Appellate Court upheld the 2018 ruling of Rambo that Greene County should pay for additional staff positions that Armstrong maintained are needed to operate her office.

The appellate court’s judgment will be the final word in the case.

“It’s our fervent belief that this concludes the case,” Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison said of the judgment. “We can now all move forward with the business of Greene County and not cost the taxpayers. I think that is what the Clerk and Master wants as well.”

LAWSUIT FILED IN 2017The Greene County Commission declined to add the funds requested for two deputy clerk positions in its 2017-18 budget.

Armstrong, in her official capacity, filed a lawsuit in August 2017 against former Greene County Mayor David Crum in his official capacity to provide what the civil action claimed was essential funding to add an additional full-time position and one part-time employee.

A four-day, non-jury trial in Washington County Chancery Court concluded in April 2018. Third Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins, Armstrong’s supervisor, recused himself from the case. The lawsuit was heard in Washington County by Rambo, 1st Judicial District chancellor.

Rambo wrote in an order after trial that the county should replace one “half-time” deputy clerk position in the office with one full-time deputy clerk position.

The full-time position pays an annual salary of $24,375, according to court records.

The county and Armstrong had spent a combined $430,000 in legal wrangling as of a year ago.

The legal bill for the lawsuit may now be over $500,000 after lawyers for the county and Armstrong argued the appeal filed by the county on Oct. 16 before the Court of Appeals in Knoxville. The Appellate Court came back with a swift decision on the appeal, authored by Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney.

A second lawsuit filed by Armstrong and a possible trial over the same office staff funding issue for the 2018-19 budget was settled out of court earlier this year by Morrison and Armstrong, who agreed to funding for staffing in her office. Legal expenses in the contentious first lawsuit will be borne by taxpayers.

Greene County has the option of appealing the Court of Appeals judgment in the state Supreme Court. However, Morrison said the settlement and earlier action by the Greene County Commission has directed the appellate court judgment to be final, with no appeal.

“Kay and myself in our negotiations made sure to comply with the order and to save taxpayers money,” he said.

Rambo’s ruling said that when Greene County adopted the county’s budget for fiscal year 2017-18, Armstrong proposed a budget for her office that included the addition of one full-time and one “half-time” deputy clerk.

The County Commission “failed to include funding for the positions,” in its adopted 2017-18 budget, Rambo’s ruling said.

“I am very grateful for the quick opinion that has been offered by Judge Swiney here,” Armstrong said Thursday night. “I am amazed. I expected it to be months and months.”

APPELLATE COURT ORDER

The county filed its appeal to the Appellate Court, arguing “that the evidence preponderates against (Rambo’s) decision to award additional funding for a new full-time assistant to replace a half-time assistant and that (Armstrong) was not entitled to recover any attorney’s fees,” the Court of Appeals judgement said.

“We hold that reasonable attorney’s fees were recoverable by (Armstrong) based on existing law,” the opinion states.

The Court of Appeals further found that “evidence does not preponderate against (Rambo’s) factual findings, including the trial court’s core finding that (Armstrong’s) workspace” in the Greene County Courthouse “is so structurally inefficient that her office requires more staff.”

Rambo’s order on fees and expenses was modified by the Court of Appeals “to the extent it failed to award (Armstrong) expenses she paid out of pocket.”

The trial court was directed on remand to reimburse Armstrong “for her reasonable put-of-pocket fees and expenses” and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

In conclusion, Swiney wrote that Rambo’s judgment “is affirmed, as modified, and this cause is remanded to the trial court for collection of the costs below and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

“The costs on appeal are assessed against the appellant, (Morrison), in his official capacity as mayor of Greene County, Tennessee,” the judgment states.


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Student Volunteers Help Prepare For Gifts For Kids Distribution