Candidates for the City of Tusculum Board of Mayor and Commissioners have a clear vision for betterment of the community.
Voters will chose two of three candidates for the office on Nov. 3. The commissioner race is contested for the first time since 2011.
Mayor Alan Corley and Vice-Mayor Barbara J. Britton are running for re-election to four-year terms as commissioner. Political newcomer O.J. Early is the third candidate.
Mike Burns was reelected in 2018 to a four-year term for the third commissioner seat.
All three candidates in the general election are drawn to public service. The Tusculum commissioner position includes a salary of $1 a month.
Britton, 64, of Richland Road, was first elected to office in 2011. Britton retired from a 30-year professional career with the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, serving as a child abuse investigator for 22 years and as a supervisor of investigations of abuse and neglect for seven years.
Britton has served two terms as commissioner and as vice-mayor since 2014. She has lived on her family’s farm all her life.
Corley, 66, of Shiloh Road, has been a Tusculum commissioner since 2003, served as vice-mayor and has been mayor since 2014. He is a former chief of the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department.
Corley is president of Corley’s Pharmacy, Inc. and also operates Corley’s Pharmacy Solutions.
Early, 30, of Owen Lane, is currently communications coordinator for the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at East Tennessee State University. He is a former staff writer and contributor to The Greeneville Sun.
The candidates were asked what motivates them to run for a commissioner position.
“Being a lifelong resident of Tusculum, I am interested in the present and future of our city government. If elected, I wish to remain receptive to ideas, challenges and complaints from our citizens on ways to keep our city safe and attractive to future residents and businesses,” Britton wrote.
Corley wrote that he has lived in Tusculum for more than 40 years, “most all of my adult life.”
“When Mary Lynn and I moved to Tusculum and purchased our first home, I honestly did not know much about Tusculum compared to other communities. Over the years, I came to appreciate the benefits of living there and wanted to find a way to support the community,” Corley wrote.
Corley joined the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department in 1982 and later served as fire department chief for more than 20 years.
“During that time, I began to attend city commission meetings to represent the fire department, and became interested in the mechanics of how the city is structured and run. So when a couple of Tusculum residents approached me about running for the city commission in 2003, I accepted the challenge as a means to continue to serve my community. I hope to continue to build on the legacy left by commissioners who have served before me,” Corley wrote.
Early wrote that he has worked in the communications field for almost a decade, “and I am convinced that commissions will need good communicators — those who can assist with grant and funding requests and help market the city to potential businesses — as we deal with the economic slowdown related to COVID-19.”
“Communities like Tusculum will be competing for what could be limited business growth in the months ahead, and I would like to do my part in assisting the city. It is important to me that Tusculum maintains a vibrant community character, but to provide the good services the city already has in place, drawing new businesses will be important,” Early wrote.
Candidates were asked what their priorities as commissioner would be.
Commercial development is one priority, Corley wrote.
“As always, one of the first priorities that I mention is commercial development along East Andrew Johnson Highway within the Tusculum city limits. In order to continue to offer the city services that we do, with no property tax, we must strive to continue to grow revenue because the cost of providing those services continues to increase. The major avenues available for Tusculum to increase revenue are to increase retail sales within the city (to collect the local option sales tax) and to grow our population (to collect a greater share of state-shared taxes) — so we are always looking for new business and new housing construction,” Corley wrote.
Corley noted another issue under study for some time “is the need for additional space for city departments.”
“Our city hall was built in the early 1960s, and the city has grown significantly since then. Our Recorder’s Office and police department both have serious space needs, as well as building security needs,” Corley wrote. “We also need a larger meeting space for our public meetings. Our volunteer fire department and public works department have maxed out their available space as well. We continue to study the best way to provide additional space in a thoughtful and cost-effective way.”
The future use of the former Greene Valley Developmental Center property “is another important issue to the city,” Corley wrote.
“We have had ongoing discussions with the State of Tennessee about the status of the property for the past several years. Just before the pandemic hit, a coalition of Greeneville, Greene County, the Greene County Partnership, and Tusculum had made some progress with the state concerning the property. Although delayed, those discussions continue. We want that valuable and beautiful property to be put to its best possible use for our entire community,” Corley wrote.
Providing the same level of service to city residents in the current economic climate was cited by Early.
“I suspect the biggest issue will be figuring out how to continue providing the services Tusculum offers its citizens with potentially limited revenue because of the nationwide economic downturn. We are fortunate in Tusculum to not have a property tax, but that also results in a need for a strong sales tax base — and that means continuing to draw businesses to our community. Tusculum has enjoyed some good success on that front, and I hope my experience can help even more,” Early wrote.
“The commission has also discussed the need for either repairs or a complete renovation of city hall, as well as other city property. Our city employees and volunteer firefighters deserve to work in a safe, structurally sound place — that has to happen. Beyond safety-related renovations, however, I support exploring grant opportunities to help balance costs,” Early wrote. “Should sales tax revenue be considerably down, I will support first funding the current services provided to our residents, as well as our police department and volunteer fire department.”
Being attentive to public needs is key, Britton wrote.
“We need to be responsive to citizen inquiries and provide a positive work environment for our employees,” Britton wrote. “The voice of our residents should be heard as they are the ones who have elected us to serve them.”
“In order to provide the free services to our residents, we need to continue to budget wisely,” Britton wrote.
Candidates were asked what they see as priorities for the city, and future projects they may advocate.
“First, when it comes to recruiting businesses to our community, we must do all we can to give our city a competitive edge,” Early wrote. “I would like to see if there are ways that I can contribute in promoting the City of Tusculum, maybe through social media, advertising, or perhaps assisting with projects already underway.”
“Second, I would like to help the city search for grant opportunities to offset any repairs or renovations to city property. If sales tax revenue is in fact down because of the pandemic, tough decisions could be on the horizon. I support maintaining the services the city provides its residents, as well as providing adequate funding to our police department and volunteer fire department, before making non-safety-related renovations to city property,” Early wrote.
Third, Early wrote, “I would like the city to take some easy and cost-efficient measures that allow citizens to communicate better with their elected leaders. A good first step would be making clear on the city website the commission’s public comment policy. Publishing on the city’s website contact information for each of the commissioners could establish a convenient way for residents to touch base with their representatives.”
Britton wrote that some of the city’s infrastructure needs improvements.
“Hopefully, our next year’s budget will allow us to begin work on much needed improvements to our city park/playground area,” Britton wrote. “The Transportation Planning Grant will hopefully be initiated by the state in 2021, which will assist our city in planning and implementing improvements in traffic and pedestrian safety.”
A Community Transportation Planning Grant grant thorough the Tennessee Department of Transportation recently approved for the city will help identify future transportation needs.
Corley wrote that “pedestrian and traffic safety has become more of an issue in recent years.”
“Tusculum is fortunate to have been awarded a Community Transportation Planning Grant this year from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to help study the best ways to improve safety, particularly around the schools located in our city, including Tusculum University. This grant will help us to develop a master plan for future improvements in our community,” Corley wrote.
“One project that is just about finished, more than six years since we began working on it, is the improvement of the traffic signaling at the intersection of East Andrew Johnson Highway and Erwin Bypass,” Corley wrote. “This intersection has been found to have a 35% higher than average incidence of motor vehicle accidents with injury than other similar intersections. TDOT has studied the possible reasons for that higher incidence, and has designed new signaling and warnings for the intersection that should reduce those accidents. That project is scheduled to be completed within the next couple of weeks.”
“Another need is the refurbishment of the playground at the City Park,” Corley wrote.
Candidates were given the opportunity to offer additional comments.
“Your vote and support will be greatly appreciated. If elected, I pledge to do my best to respond to your voices. Thank you,” Britton wrote.
Corley wrote that he “appreciates the confidence that the voters of Tusculum have placed in me for the past 17 years, and I would appreciate another four years to continue my service. There are several projects listed in the above questions that I would like to see through to completion during those four years. It is an honor to serve as commissioner and Mayor for the City of Tusculum and its fine citizens.”
“I pledge, with the help of the other two commissioners, our five employees, our many volunteers, and all our citizens, to continue the city’s tradition of fiscally responsible growth while providing essential services to its residents at little or no direct cost to them,” Corley wrote.
Early recognized the work of his incumbent opponents, adding he has ideas that can benefit the city going forward.
“In our time of extreme political division, I would like to note that I have great respect for Mayor Corley and Vice-Mayor Britton. Both have done good things for our community, volunteering hours of their time. I’m running because I believe I have some good ideas and experience that is especially relevant for this moment,” Early wrote.
“I want to be a professional, practical voice for the citizens of Tusculum, and I ask voters to consider me when they vote for the Tusculum City Commission,” Early wrote.
After recording the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases so far on Thursday, Greene County’s coronavirus data looked different on Friday.
Nine new cases were reported for the county by the Tennessee Department of Health in its daily COVID-19 update. One of the new cases is an individual between the ages of 5 and 18.
There were 193 active cases in the county on Friday, down four from Thursday when 52 new cases were reported and there were 197 active cases, according to the state report.
Thirteen more people were added to the inactive/recoverd category by state, which are individuals who are 14 days beyond either the onset of symptoms or a positive test. Since the pandemic began, 1,203 people locally are now counted as having inactive cases or recovered from the virus.
One Greene Countian was hospitalized with the illness within the previous 24 hours, according to the Department of Health report. Ninety people in the county have required hospital care to treat the virus.
On Friday, 108 people were hospitalized within COVID-19 in Ballad Health facilities with seven being treated with symptoms but awaiting test results, according to the health system’s daily COVID-19 Scorecard. Seventeen people are in intensive care units and six on ventilators.
Since the pandemic began, 1,444 people have contracted the virus in Greene County, according to the state. Friday’s report reflected no new deaths locally. Forty-eight people have died from the virus in the county.
Each Friday, the state updates its data about long-term care facilities. Recent increases in new cases are not from local nursing homes. Two local nursing homes have had resident cases, but it has been more than 20 days since the last person tested positive at either Signature Healthcare of Greeneville or Life Care Center of Greeneville, according to the state update.
At Signature Health, 98 of the 108 residents tested positive for the virus, and there were 70 staff cases. Twenty of the nursing home’s residents died from the virus. It has been 22 days since the last positive test at the facility.
Of the 106 residents at Life Care, 75 tested positive for the virus. Forty-three of its employees tested positive for the virus. Ten residents of the facility died from the virus. Its last positive test was 25 days ago.
With the recent increases, Greene County’s average of new cases per day increased to 17.6 for the past 14 days. For the 14 days prior to that period, the average was 10.9.
Over the last seven days, the percentage of people with positive results among all those tested was 11.1%, according to state data. According to Ballad Health, the positive rate for the region it serves was 10.6% for the past week.
All of the 10 counties in Northeast Tennessee had more new cases on Thursday than on Friday, most by a significant number, except for Hancock County which had no new cases either day.
For the region on Thursday, there were 289 new cases reported for the 10 counties. On Friday, there were 84 new cases for those same counties, according to the Department of Health report.
In addition to Greene County, significant differences in new cases between the two days included Sullivan with 84 on Thursday and 29 on Friday, Washington with 54 compared to 19, and Unicoi, which had 21 new cases on Thursday with none on Friday.
Sullivan County has the highest number of active cases in the region at 487. Greene County has the fifth highest number of active cases in the 10-county region.
On Friday, 666 new cases were recorded across Tennessee, according to the Department of Health report. Seven new deaths were recorded statewide. Since the pandemic began, 223,493 people have contracted the virus in Tennessee and 2,871 have died.
Most people who contract COVID-19 will become only mildly or moderately ill, according to health experts. However, for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, it can cause serious illness and can be fatal.
Tests are being administered at the Greene County Health Department from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday. No appointment is necessary, and those seeking to be tested are asked to use the Church Street entrance to the Health Department.
Free self-swab tests are now available at the CVS Pharmacy location on the Asheville Highway for those who meet Centers for Disease Control qualifications. An appointment is required and can be made at CVS.com.
Ballad Health asks anyone concerned they may have the virus to call the system’s Nurse Connect line at 833-822-5523 to be scheduled for testing at the individual’s nearest testing site. The line is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tests may also be scheduled using the Ballad Health app or on its website. Testing is taking place at Greeneville Community Hospital West at 401 Takoma Ave.
Those who need to speak to someone about mental and emotional challenges the coronavirus may be causing, can call Frontier Health’s 24-hour crisis line at 877-928-9062, Tennessee’s 24-hour crisis line at 855-274-7471, or the federal mental health services help line at 1-800-985-5990.
Early Thursday evening, I did something I’d never done before (an interview via the computer program Zoom with someone all the way across the country), and heard words I did not anticipate from the head chef at a sophisticated three-star restaurant owned and operated by Thomas Keller, a legend in the world of fine dining.
The man I interviewed was not the famous Keller, but the “chef de cuisine” at Keller’s restaurant in the wine country of California. The French Laundry restaurant is in Yountville, California, and is a sister establishment to Manhattan’s famous per se restaurant (they spell out that name in all lowercase), also Keller’s.
The words spoken to me by that well-situated chef de cuisine Thursday were these: “I love Tipton’s Cafe.”
Yes, that Tipton’s Cafe. The one down on Depot Street. He then asked me if the Bean Barn is still around. I told him it had closed briefly, but now is open again.
He’s glad, because he’s a Bean Barn fan, too.
That’s a doozy of an endorsement for both those iconic Greeneville eateries – and it comes all the way from the other side of the country, and from somebody who knows what he is talking about regarding food.
Who is this guy? He’s David Breeden, who heads the kitchen and menu planning operations at the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California. David was born in Washington County and grew up in Greene County into his teen years.
Tipton’s and The Bean Barn were eateries he sometimes visited in his youthful days as a student at Greeneville High School and skateboarder on local streets and sidewalks. At age 14, though, he struck out on his own, leaving Greene County with only $21 in his pocket and no fixed roadmap into his future.
Chef David has come a long way since his days as a “rough” kid, as he calls his youthful self.
Next Saturday’s column will trace his unlikely, yet seemingly providential path away from Northeast Tennessee into Knoxville, Charleston, New York and finally California, working in restaurants along the way.
It will also locally introduce a high-end new book being released later this month that will include some of David’s recipes.
Thomas Keller wrote the book’s historical and framing textual material. Three chefs Keller helped establish in their field, including David, provided the recipes and some autobiographical sketches.
There’s even a bit of Greeneville in the book. More about all that next Saturday.
I decided to write today’s column partly to introduce and “tease” next week’s column a bit, but mostly to spotlight something Chef David told me that he wants to say through his hometown paper: the positive influence three particular Greene County men had upon him when he was young and “searching for direction” in his life.
Those men are 1) David Crum, a bike-riding Greeneville policeman and drug education leader at the time, and later Greene County mayor; 2) Cameron Spradlin, a youthful GPD officer when David knew him and now a GPD lieutenant and K-9 commander; and 3) Paul Rose, at the time a local coach and teacher.
All three of those men “really had a positive impact” on David, he said, adding that they may not realize how important they were to him. That’s why he wanted to be sure their names and influences were highlighted in whatever I wrote. I’m happy to oblige.
As David describes it, things the three taught him came back to mind as he became an adult, and helped him grow past the youthful stage in which “everything was moment-to-moment” and thinking ahead was largely neglected.
“I went down a pretty rough path, searching for direction,” he told me Thursday. The lessons he learned from those three and others (including Keller), contributed to a personal and professional growth philosophy David promotes in his kitchen and community to this day: “One percent improvement every day.” Those small steps add up over time, you see.
Next week’s column will present more of David Breeden’s unusual story, including more details of his Greene County life, family and associations, and a look ahead at the new Thomas Keller book in which some of David’s best work is spotlighted.
It will also delve a bit into how being a Tennessean is fundamental to almost everything David does, why he is at heart a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy, and what dish this highly trained and talented chef considers one of the world’s best.
Spoiler alert: it’s soup beans and cornbread.