Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison was among a group of seven Northeast Tennessee county mayors who recently traveled to Nashville and met with Gov. Bill Lee, along with their state lawmakers and the commissioners of state agencies.
Regional issues were stressed, but Morrison had an opportunity to discuss matters specific to Greene County like the future of the former Greene Valley Developmental Center.
Morrison said the two-day visit to Nashville with the county mayors group was well-spent.
“Specific to Greene County, we had many discussions with the governor, the commissioners for (the departments) of Economic and Community Development, and Workforce and Labor Development on Greene Valley and its future role for our community and the region,” Morrison said.
Morrison said many local government officials, “including all the mayors in Greene County’s municipalities, along with our very supportive and active legislative delegation of Sen. (Steve) Southerland, and representatives (David) Hawk and (Jeremy) Faison, have worked very hard to see the Greene Valley campus repurposed into something that we can all be proud of.”
Potential uses for the mostly vacant state facility remain under discussion. Greene Valley closed in May 2017 after 56 years of serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“There have been a myriad of ideas, and all those ideas are still on the table and under consideration. Extensive discussions have been ongoing for some time, but the disposition of the campus is in a very sensitive and critical phase of discussion” with no information immediately forthcoming, Morrison said.
Morrison said that other topics discussed included legislation under review about the involvement of municipalities in lawsuits addressing the opioid addiction epidemic, COVID-19 relief funding for local governments, issues related to criminal justice and mental health reform, preservation of Second Amendment rights, rural broadband internet access, rural economic site development, the U.S. Census “and the coming redistricting,” and American Rescue Act expenditure criteria.
“We had a full agenda,” Morrison said.
Lee referred to the trip as “historic” and said it was the first time county mayors from any region of Tennessee “traveled to Nashville as a cohesive group,” according to a news release.
In addition to Morrison, county mayors from Carter, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties discussed the trip before setting a legislative agenda and lining up meetings with commissioners from several state agencies.
“Each mayor had an opportunity to discuss projects that are important to their counties with both the governor and commissioners,” Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said. “It was very significant that we had so many of our legislators meet with the group to discuss county-specific issues that benefit the region as a whole.”
Many projects are under discussion in Nashville “that will have impact across county lines,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said.
“When we approached various offices about meeting with us, it raised some eyebrows. But we approached it with an agenda of supporting each other in various projects, and that made a huge impact. I think seeing the seven of us walk into a room made an impact, but seeing us all actively supporting each other is what left an impression,” Grandy said.
The mayors met with state lawmakers representing their counties. In addition to Lee, they also met with state Comptroller Jason Mumpower, Commissioner of Finance and Administration Butch Ealey, Commissioner of the Department of Correction Tony Parker, Commissioner of Tourism Mark Ezell and representatives from the Department of Economic and Community Development, including Assistant Commissioner of Rural Development Sammie Arnold.
“It was good for the seven of us to be there together to show a united front for projects in our counties. We went in there to meet with the folks who can help us make projects happen,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said.
Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee agreed that the trip seemed to attract a great deal of attention, no matter who the group met with.
“This trip made an impact,” Lee said. “We brought up issues that need to get back on track, like funding for radio communications to keep our law enforcement and first responders connected on calls. We want them to remember we’re up here in Northeast Tennessee, and we can make a trip to Nashville any time they forget us.”