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Niswonger Foundation Settling Into New Office Following Renovations

The Niswonger Foundation is settling into its new home as 2020 begins following 18 months of renovations that have recaptured the stateliness of what was once one of Greeneville’s most distinctive houses.

Reconstruction of the front porch, walkway construction and landscaping were the exterior indications of the work that began in 2018 at 223 N. Main St. and just a fraction of the efforts to recover some of its original appearance while creating a functional office environment for the Niswonger Foundation.

Staff began to use offices in the renovated building in the latter part of 2019, “but it was not until around Christmas that it began to feel like we were home,” said Nancy Dishner, president and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “We hosted an event in December … and it just felt like we were home.”

However, not all the work is completed for the new home of the foundation, founded in 2001 by Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger to support education through a variety of programs that provide additional resources for students and training for teachers.

A few more minor additions are to be made to the interior, Dishner said, and a carriage house is to be constructed at the rear of the house.

Landscaped gardens are to be planted once the weather warms behind the house, as well. An employee parking area is also to be paved at the back of the property.

“We look forward to welcoming the community to see the offices,” she said. “We plan to have an open house later in the year after the gardens and carriage house are completed.”

One of the primary benefits to the office on North Main is the additional space that it provides for programs on site in its new learning center and Joyful Literacy Land, Dishner said. (See article in The Sun’s Friday edition.)

LOVETTES BUILD HOME

“Greenwood” was the name given to the home by its original occupants, Oscar Byrd Lovette and his wife Mabel. Lovette served as a U.S. representative for the 1st Congressional District and had been earlier elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. A lawyer by profession, he also served as a district attorney.

The house was built in 1930 while Lovette and his wife were on their honeymoon, a year-long tour around Europe, Dishner said. Mabel Lovette was born in Rogersville. She met her first husband while attending Wellesley College, and he went on to become the second largest stockholder in Standard Oil prior to his death. Following his death, his widow moved back to Rogersville and then met Lovette.

The Lovettes did not enjoy the home long as a couple, as Oscar passed away in 1934. His widow lived in the home until her death in 1949.

The house plans were drawn by Allen Dryden, Sr., an architect from Kingsport who also designed the Crescent School building, and the home reflected the bride’s taste in interior design.

“She was a very creative person,” Dishner said. “Mrs. Lovette was ahead of her time.”

For example, the house featured hand-painted wallpaper imported from Paris that she chose. Although much of that wallpaper has been lost through the subsequent changes made to the structure with its changing ownership, two intact pieces of the painted wallpaper featuring a wild animal jungle motif were framed as decoration in one of the bathrooms during the renovation.

After the death of both Lovettes, the house was purchased at auction by the Elks Club. It served as the club’s headquarters for many years before it then became the office of the Greeneville Orthopaedic Clinic.

Significant changes were made to the house as it became a functional medical office, adding small exam rooms, a reception area, testing and treatment areas.

With those changes, many of the original architectural features were removed or altered. Fortunately, Dryden’s original architectural drawings for the house were saved by his son, Dishner said, and Greeneville architect John Fisher was able to use them as a resource as he drew plans for the renovations.

Dishner commended both Fisher and the BurWil Construction Co. for their hard work and their attention to every detail involved in the renovation.

RETURNING TO ‘GREENWOOD’

Visitors to the Niswonger Foundation see one of the major architectural elements that had to be reconstructed as they enter the the front door. The stairwell leading to the upper floors was removed when it became a medical office and has been rebuilt as it appears in the original architectural drawings.

The black and white checkered marble floor in the entranceway is not original, but the element was one that Niswonger wanted to add after seeing the pattern in the Governor’s Mansion in Nashville, Dishner said.

The entranceway features two antique furniture pieces, including one made in Greene County, as well as a framed Christmas card from the 1940s made by Tiffany for Lovette.

An effort has been made to feature furniture and other decorations from the region for the office as well as other items to highlight the history of Northeast Tennessee, she said.

For example, the reception area features a rocking chair that Andrew Johnson had in the White House, his walking stick and a document with the 17th president’s signature.

The reception area was the house’s dining room, and its parlor is now offices for four of the foundation’s employees. While meeting the need for office space, an effort was made to retain the openness of the parlor, Dishner said, with the use of glass to frame the offices.

Small offices were created in the former kitchen of the house while a combination break room, kitchen and meeting space was fashioned out of an open space that was the physical therapy treatment area for the orthopedic clinic.

One of the rooms that needed the most work was in what is now the foundation’s board room. Originally, the space was a sunroom in the Lovettes’ home, and was converted into an X-ray diagnostic area for the orthopedic clinic.

With lead placed in the walls for that medical use, that material had to be completely removed as well as the floor where the wiring for the equipment had been installed. From that bare beginning, an inviting meeting space has been created full of light from the windows and with walls covered with handsome wooden millwork.

Office space continues on the second floor. The master bedroom was on this floor, and Dishner said other offices have been created in what appears to have been servant bedrooms. Servant living quarters were also found in the basement of the house.

While the new office has allowed more of the Niswonger Foundation employees to be housed together, it does not provide enough space to bring all 50 under one roof, she said. The remainder of the employees are housed at the Sky Night LLC office at the Greeneville Municipal Airport.

The number of employees fluctuates as most positions are funded through grants for specific programs, she explained.


Giuliani Associate: Trump Had Knowledge Of Ukraine Pressure

WASHINGTON (AP) — A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer says he delivered an ultimatum in May to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and all American aid to the war-torn country would be withheld if an investigation into Joe Biden wasn’t announced.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the State Department announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.

Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the behest of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trump’s 2020 reelection.

Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiy’s team was at the direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their progress by phone.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” said Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman facing a raft of criminal charges related to campaign finance violations. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President.”

Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, disparaged Parnas’ account Thursday.

“Just to say ‘Rudy told me these things’ doesn’t mean that is has anything to do with the president,” she told “Fox & Friends.” “And it certainly doesn’t mean that the president was directing him to do anything. We stand by exactly what we’ve been saying: The president did nothing wrong.”

If Parnas’ allegations are true, his account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump deployed during the ongoing impeachment fight — that Trump’s withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer wasn’t a quid pro quo for Biden investigations because Zelenskiy didn’t know the money was being held up.

Giuliani called Parnas’ statements “sad.”

“I feel sorry for him,” Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP reporter. “I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.”

Asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump’s lawyer replied, “I’m not responding yet.”

Parnas said he also heard Giuliani and another Trump-aligned defense lawyer, Victoria Toensing, briefing Attorney General William Barr by phone about their efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.

“Barr was basically on the team,” Parnas said.

The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken to Barr about having Ukraine investigate the Bidens and that the attorney general had not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that Parnas’ claims were “100% false.”

The new accusations came as House Democrats made public a trove of documents, text messages and photos from Parnas’ smartphones that appear to verify parts of his account.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled that Parnas could provide the materials to Congress as part of the impeachment proceedings. Democrats voted in December to impeach Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress.

A House committee chairman said Wednesday his panel will investigate what he says are “profoundly alarming” text messages among the newly disclosed materials that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.

The messages show that a Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress from Connecticut, disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the messages are “profoundly alarming” and “suggest a possible risk” to Yovanovitch’s security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.

“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador’s reputation,” Engel said.

He said the committee staff flagged the information for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Yovanovitch and committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.

“This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Engel said.

Democrats released the files this week as they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trump’s trial. The documents could add pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to hear witnesses in the trial.

The text and phone records show Parnas communicating with Giuliani multiple times a day before Yovanovitch’s removal, as well as a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraine’s president to investigate “the Biden case.”

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected but before he took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

The Associated Press reported in October that Zelenskiy had huddled three days earlier, on May 7, with a small group of key advisers in Kyiv to seek advice about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Giuliani for a probe into the Bidens. He expressed his unease about becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the three-hour meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

One of the documents released by Democrats is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.”

Parnas told Maddow he took the notes as he was speaking by phone to Giuliani, receiving precise instructions about the demands Trump wanted to convey to Zelenskiy’s team.

Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.

The documents were sent to the House Judiciary Committee by three other House panels “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment,” according to a statement. Some of the materials were made public while others were blacked out and marked as sensitive.

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. The men have pleaded not guilty.

Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told The New York Times that his client is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are investigating Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.

“We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government,” Bondy told the Times.

Parnas told the newspaper that although he didn’t speak with Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Giuliani that Trump was kept in the loop.

In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The ambassador’s ouster, ordered by Trump, was at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings that she was the victim of a “smear campaign.”

Trump on the July call told Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.” She had been recalled from her diplomatic post roughly three months earlier.

On April 23, just before Yovanovitch was directed to return to the United States, Giuliani texted Parnas, “He fired her again.” Parnas texted back, “I pray it happens this time I’ll call you tomorrow my brother.”

Parnas also received messages from Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “bitch.”

After texting about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that suggested he was watching her. In one text, Hyde wrote: “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.” He said she was under heavy security and “we have a person inside.”

Hyde texted Parnas that ‘’they are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money ... is what I was told.”

Parnas texted back: “lol.”

Lawrence Robbins, an attorney for Yovanovitch, called for an investigation into the messages.

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas a “dweeb” and suggested the messages about surveilling the ambassador were a joke. He said he welcomed an investigation.

Parnas, in turn, also said Wednesday that Hyde’s texts shouldn’t be taken seriously.

The text messages show that Parnas consulted Giuliani in January 2019 after the U.S. denied a visa to former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. Giuliani replied: “I can revive it.”

The following day, Giuliani told Parnas, “It’s going to work I have no 1 in it.” Giuliani then predicted “he will get one,” before giving Parnas the phone number for Jay Sekulow, the leader of the president’s personal legal team. Sekulow is expected to be part of Trump’s legal team during the impeachment trial.

Trump has repeatedly denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, despite numerous photos that have emerged of the men together. Among the materials released from Parnas’ phone this week were more photos of him with Trump, as well as the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., first daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Asked by Maddow about Trump’s denials of knowing him, Parnas said he had spoken one-on-one with the president numerous times.

“He lied,” Parnas said of the president. “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together, we didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were, who I was especially.”


Business
Eastman Credit Union To Build Second Greeneville Branch At Towne Crossing

Eastman Credit Union purchased 2.5 acres Tuesday from Bewley Properties Inc. to build a second ECU branch at 845 W. Andrew Johnson Highway next to Aubrey’s restaurant in the Towne Crossing development area.

A preliminary site plan for the new branch was approved by the Greeneville Regional Planning Commission at its Tuesday meeting.

According to the site plan, the new branch is to be housed in a roughly 5,000-square-foot brick building similar in appearance to Eastman Credit Union’s other branches. It will have 70 parking spaces, and access to the new branch will be provided through driveways connecting to Banks Street and a private drive running between the lot and Aubrey’s.

A representative of ECU said on Wednesday that ECU did not have further comment at that time, although a press release would be prepared.

The list price was also unavailable on Wednesday.

Kent Bewley of Bewley Properties Inc. said Wednesday he is pleased with the deal.

“We’re glad that we were able to work with ECU and put the deal together,” Bewley said. “I think it makes the whole development complete.”

Bewley also said there are three lots still available for sale in the Towne Crossing development, with two currently rented out by the Gateway Ford dealership neighboring the AMC movie theater.

“That end of the bypass has been underserved for several years, but hopefully that will give it some balance,” Bewley said.


Local_news
Sheriff's Deputies To Join GPD At 911 Dispatch

Elements of the Central Dispatch project are moving forward, members of the Greene County 911 Board of Directors were told Tuesday.

A Greene County Sheriff’s Department deputy will join a Greenville police officer at 911 Dispatch on Feb. 5 and work cooperatively with dispatchers there, 911 Director Jerry Bird said.

Dispatchers continue to train with law enforcement officers to learn how calls are dispatched to first responders.

“It’s a learning process, just like when (Greeneville) officers came over,” said board Chairman Tim Ward, Greeneville police chief.

Like Greeneville police officers, sheriff’s deputies will familiarize themselves with technical and operational aspects of emergency dispatch as they work at 911 headquarters at 111 Union St., Ward said.

“The process is going in the right direction. That’s the same thing it was with the police department,” Ward said. “The whole point is not to drop it on them. It is a gradual process.”

Additional dispatchers are also going to be hired soon, Bird said.

“We’re still headed in the right direction. Things are on the right track,” Bird said.

Kelley Dabbs, 911 training officer, said the agency is in the process of grading applicants for full-time dispatcher positions.

All 911 dispatchers will have access to National Crime Information Center information when central dispatch is implemented, but law enforcement officers will disseminate all NCIC information, Ward said.

Dabbs and other dispatchers are going beyond the call of duty to assist in the process, he added.

“Police dispatchers have been helping us in our time of need, and we’ve been helping them as well,” Bird said.

Equipment to complete the transition is already in place. An addition to the 911 Dispatch building was completed in 2018.

Up to eight full-time dispatchers will be hired in 2020 to accommodate additional 911 calls, including up to four new hires early this year, Bird said in December.

A funding formula to pay salaries and benefits for additional dispatchers is in development. The cost of hiring eight new dispatchers will be in the $400,000 range, Bird said.

HYPER-REACH HELP

Educating the public about the county’s Hyper-Reach Emergency Notification System, which provides localized and general alerts about emergencies, was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Getting local industries involved to contribute toward the annual cost of operating the Hyper-Reach system was also a topic of discussion.

Heather Sipe, interim director of the Greeneville-Greene County Office of Emergency Management, is working with Eric Kaltenmark, chairman of the Local Emergency Planning Committee and a MECO employee, to connect with local industries.

The Hyper-Reach system has been in use since late 2017 and can be used by Greene County residents with mobile devices or landlines free of charge. Hyper-Reach is capable of informing the public about severe weather, environmental hazards, missing children alerts and other emergencies. It can be localized to a particular region of Greene County.

Hyper-Reach was launched after an incident in April 2017 at U.S. Nitrogen in Midway involving the unplanned release of nitric acid vapors. No injuries resulted from the incident, which prompted members of the public and local industries to ask the county to implement an effective emergency notification system.

U.S. Nitrogen paid for part of the first year’s costs of the HyperReach system, which totals $11,000 annually under the terms of a five-year contract with CenturyLink.

Kaltenmark said the LEPC can call a special meeting with local industries to meet with the 911 board and discuss the Hyper-Reach system.

“It would be really good to let them now what we’re doing and what we need,” said Robin Quillen, a 911 board member and county commissioner.

How to effectively educate the public about Hyper-Reach has been discussed since the system was introduced. “There’s still a lot of education involved as far as Hyper-Reach,” Sipe said.

Relatively few people have signed up for the free service. There are currently about 3,200 county residents with mobile phones and about 9,000 landlines connected to the Hyper-Reach system.

“It doesn’t just benefit our businesses, it benefits our community,” Ward said.

There are three ways to sign up for the Greene County Hyper-Reach Emergency Notification System. Residents and those who work in Greene County can enroll by going to the website, hyper-reach.com/tngreenesignup.html. Another option is by calling 423-588-1161 and following the prompts. Signups can also be done by text messaging GreenCoAlerts to 828-201-3877.

CAD SYSTEM GLITCHES

The arrival of the year 2020 brought unexpected complications for dispatchers when the computer-aided dispatch system malfunctioned Jan. 1.

The CAD system reacted unexpectedly to the date change, causing a technical glitch affecting the transmission of reports to some agencies like the Greeneville Fire Department. Bird said CAD service provider TriTech Software Systems is working with 911 to correct the unanticipated problem.

911 agencies elsewhere that use CAD systems serviced by TriTech experienced similar issues on Jan. 1, Bird said.

“They were caught blindside,” he said. “It’s a system-wide problem.”

Board members called for TriTech to expedite an update to the CAD system to make it fully serviceable.

“They are working on it for us,” Bird said after the meeting.