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Jeremiah Bragg remembered as a great athlete, Christian and friend

Former Cherokee High School football player Jeremiah Bragg was remembered as a great athlete, but an even greater friend and Christian following his death last week in a motorcycle accident in Sullivan County.

According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, on Nov. 17 around 4:37 p.m. Bragg, 23, of Rogersville, was driving a 2006 Triumph Daytona north on U.S. 421 south of the Camp Tom Howard Road intersection when the bike went off the right side of the road, down an embankment, and struck a tree.

Bragg, who graduated from Cherokee in 2017, set a rushing record as a freshman with more than 2,000 yards. He also played baseball and ran track.

Cherokee athletic director Andrew Morgan said his heart was broken to hear of Bragg’s death.

“This young man had such a great personality, very likeable,” Morgan said. “He was a very confident young man, would look you in the eyes when talking, was very comfortable in his abilities and intelligence. He could have been anything he wanted in life. He was strong all around.”

Morgan added, “Such terrible news. I have known his mother for many years. We grew up together in school and graduated together. Many thoughts and prayers to his family.”

Cherokee track coach Chad Laster said Bragg could brighten up any room with his smile, his joyous personality and his positivity.

“He sometimes stopped by my office during his lunch break where we talked about church, family, and sports,” Laster said. “He was passionate about all three. His joy in life came from his peace in knowing Jesus. Jeremiah will be missed, but the way he lived life will have an enduring, positive impact on many throughout our community.”

Bragg’s death was mourned across the community, as was evident by the many posts on his funeral website.

A few examples include:

“Prayers for the family, friends, coaches — anyone that Jeremiah touched. He definitely was a gift from God. He always had good vibes and always had that commercial smile that could brighten up a room. He was special and did his work while he was down here. My blessings are he’s with his maker and he’s running touchdowns and smiling in paradise.”

“We are remembering Jeremiah Bragg. He would always encourage this Pastor to keep bragging on Jesus! He was able to be a part of our gatherings and we will never forget him! Please remember his family and friends in prayer.”

“He was such a kind soul. Always words of encouragement and an infectious smile. He is going to be missed for sure. Praying for his family.”

“Hard to believe, at a loss for words. I pray for the family and friends of such a bright light in this world gone too soon. Jeremiah Bragg I’m forever thankful for our friendship I will miss you.”

“My heart is so heavy this morning. I woke up thinking how grateful I am for my family and how sometimes I take what I have for granted, thinking I will always have them by my side. You never know when god will call you home. It seems people keep getting younger and younger & you can’t make it make sense. Thinking of the family & friends of Jeremiah Bragg.”

“Never thought we’d lose a brother so soon, man. Jeremiah Bragg was definitely one of a kind. I’ll never forget when he scootered across ETSU campus at 2 in the morning just to give me a hug and tell me missed me. I can’t even piece the words together, but I know you’re up in heaven singing louder than ever while watching over us. After all the fist fights, girl talks, arguments, wins and losses, practices, road trips, and everything else the only thing I regret is not being around more towards the end. Fly high brother man.”

Jim Beller contributed to this report.

'A family of my own': Two adoptions, two testimonies and a song for National Adoption Day

There were two adoptions, two testimonials, and a heart-wrenching song that left a courtroom full of people on the verge of tears during the National Adoption Day ceremony Friday in the Hawkins County Courthouse.

Most of the folks in attendance Friday have participated in adoptions, either as parents, children, or the judges, attorneys, or other professionals involved in the process.

Chancellor Doug Jenkins noted that National Adoption Day was set aside to celebrate the fact that children who don’t have a home get a home, and parents who don’t have a child get a child.

“It’s always a happy occasion and always very much enjoyed doing adoptions in the morning because people usually — if they shed tears — they’re tears of joy,” Jenkins said. “Then I do my regular docket and everybody leaves with other kinds of tears in their eyes, unfortunately.”

Former Chancellor Thomas Frierson, who currently sits on the Court of Appeals, was the keynote speaker for Friday’s event.

Frierson noted that there are 120,000 children in foster care across the country, but nearly 75,000 children are transitioned into “forever homes” during the annual National Adoption Day ceremonies.

In 2003 Frierson presided over the first National Adoption Day in the Third Judicial District (Hawkins, Hamblin, Greene and Hancock counties). Over the course of nine years they celebrated 83 adoptions during those annual events.

He noted that several years ago a former foster care youth in Tennessee had this to say: “I want what everyone wants. A family of my own. I want dad to walk me down the aisle. I want a home to come to for the holidays, and I want grandparents for my children.”

“My wife Jane and I were blessed with three children through adoption,” Frierson said. “We remember their early years with fondness. They’re grown up now. I recall at the time a friend saying, you know Skip, always remember that when your children are young the days are long but the years are short. We have found that to be very, very true.”

He said it is appropriate to celebrate National Adoption Day through the season of Thanksgiving.

“In our community, and communities all across America, adoptive families are going to experience a full overflowing cornucopia of blessings,” he said. “Thankful children will embrace a forever family they once believed could only be a dream. Thankful parents and grandparents will be joining together with children that they have so long awaited. And, grateful communities and states, and our great nation, will be forever better because of all of this.”

Brad Price then sang a song called “My Boy” accompanied by his son D.J. who sat on a box that he used to play percussion.

The lyrics summed up the emotions of the day.

“He ain’t got my smile, that don’t bother me a bit. He’s got somebody else’s eyes that I see myself in. … He ain’t my blood, ain’t got my name. If he did I’d feel the same. I wasn’t there for his first steps, but I ain’t missed a ballgame yet.”

Wesley and Tia Trent then shared their testimony about the adoption of their daughter; followed by Brad Price and his wife Jessica, who shared the story of their journey that led to the adoption of three sons.

By the time Brad Price completed their story a lot of those tears of joy that Chancellor Jenkins had referred to earlier were being shed throughout the courtroom.

A video of Hawkins County’s entire National Adoption Day ceremony can be seen in the online version of this article at www.therogersvillereview.com

At the end of the event Circuit Judge William Phillips approved two adoptions — one for a couple who officially adopted their granddaughter; and one for a couple who each adopted a step-child belonging to the other parent.

In Tennessee there are more than 8,000 children in foster care and fewer than 4,000 foster families willing to provide homes.

Nearly 1,000 children age out of foster care every year without ever finding their permanent family.

"Totally not factual:" Mount Carmel City Manager addresses Vice Mayor’s allegations

“These things are not factual,” Mount Carmel City Manager Mike Housewright said of the allegations Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk leveled against him within her evaluation of Housewright’s performance.

In October board members and employees were given a chance to evaluate Housewright, and the scores were initially discussed at the Oct. 28 BMA meeting.

Housewright received a combined overall score of a 4.3 out of 5 from the anonymous evaluations completed by the employees who work under him.

But, he received a combined overall score of a 2.8 from the BMA. The BMA itself is also very divided, as two Aldermen rated Housewright at a 1 out of 5 on all 77 criteria, others rated him no lower than a 4.

Notably, Alderman Jim Gilliam and Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk rated Housewright at a 1 out of 5 for all 77 questions. In the space provided for written comments on Housewright’s ability to lead, Gilliam wrote, “can’t lead he believes in suck-asses.”

Instead of individually marking each question with her response, Mawk actually drew a line down the page indicating a score of 1 for every category.

She also wrote at the top of her evaluation “see attached for the truth. Not all the truth has been told” and attached multiple pages of allegations against Housewright including the ethics complaint filed by citizen Brenda Parker against him over the removal of a streetlight.

Alderman John Gibson had requested to place the evaluations back on the agenda for the Nov. 18 meeting “due to the lack of discussion last time.”

Mayor Pat Stilwell (right) appeared surprised as City Manager Mike Housewright read the allegations Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk (left) leveled in her evaluation of Housewright

Vice Mayor: Housewright didn’t pay bills

Mawk stated among her allegations that when former CMFO Tammy Connor was on medical leave in March of 2020, Connor received a phone call from an employee who was attempting to fill a prescription and was told they had no insurance.

“You can imagine her (Connor’s) alarm with her in the hospital with thousands of dollars due for her care,” Mawk wrote. “Housewright had not bothered to pay the insurance for two months. He also did not submit the 941 social security and medicare payments in a timely manner. Tammy stated that he had not paid any bills in her absence, and it took several weeks to straighten out the mess she had waiting for her because of Housewright not doing his job of filling in for her while she was out sick.”

However, Housewright told the board that Connor had been back to work for 20 days when the insurance was suspended, had seen the invoice, and mailed the check the day before the insurance was suspended.

Connor had set up the insurance invoices to come to her personal email address rather than a secured town email address. Housewright did not have access to Connor’s email address to view or pay the invoice.

The town incurred a $517 reinstatement fee because of this lapse. Town employees were without insurance for around five days; however, all bills submitted by employees attempting to use their insurance during that lapse were reimbursed.

“Nobody was running up thousands of dollars in medical bills as this states,” Housewright said. “If it had been brought to my attention that it was late when it was realized, it would have all been avoided with a simple call to Blue Cross Blue Shield.”

City Manager Mike Housewright passed around a packet of information rebutting Tresa Mawk’s allegations. He also held up a packet of 90 pages worth of bills that he paid during former CMFO Tammy Connor’s absence.

“It’s my professional reputation you’re playing with”

“We have all been big to praise Tammy on an audit without any findings, but had the auditor known we had invoices — particularly one as important as the city’s insurance for our employees — going to a personal email, that would have been a material finding,” Housewright told the board.

Housewright also passed around a packet of information rebutting Mawk’s allegations. He also held up a packet of 90 pages worth of bills that he paid during Connor’s absence.

“I do not want to be having these discussions publicly because they are an embarrassment to the city and an attack on me,” he said to Mawk. “You could have come to me with any of this, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but when you level these attacks against me publicly, the response is going to come publicly.”

Mawk noted that she thought the board’s evaluation of Housewright was supposed to be anonymous, but Alderman John Gibson explained that only the employees’ evaluation forms were anonymous. Those from board members would all be publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act.

“Whether there was an expectation of anonymity or not, these attacks are unsubstantiated,” Housewright replied. “It is more reprehensible to do it anonymously than to put your name on it. If I’m going to level an allegation against somebody, I need to be accountable for that.”

“These were things I was told, and I had no reason to believe Tammy hadn’t told me the truth,” Mawk replied.

“Why wouldn’t you come to me and see what I had to say about it?” Housewright asked. “I could have dispelled all that with undeniable proof. This is my professional reputation you’re playing with.”

Aldermen Mindy Fleishour (left) and Jim Gilliam (right) engaged in a brief argument over the matter when Gilliam told Fleishour not to “butt in” when he asked a question.

Vice Mayor alleges City Manager failed to pay raises

Mawk also alleged that Housewright failed to pay the city employees for raises the board approved in July of 2020.

“The board does not give raises, the board authorizes money for raises,” Housewright told the board. “Raises are distributed when performance evaluations are complete. This (allegation) is just not factual.”

He further noted that the raises were distributed on Oct. 6, 2020 and were backdated to July 1. He is currently working with department heads to conduct 2021 performance evaluations. When that process is completed, the employees will receive their raises.

Among other things, Mawk alleged that Housewright told city employees not to speak with her and described an encounter where one city employee allegedly attempted to film Mawk speaking with another city employee at a local restaurant.

“I do not tell employees not to talk to board members because I don’t have the authority to do that,” Housewright replied.

Mawk has previously pointed to a conversation with a sewer plant employee as proof that Housewright told employees not to speak with her.

Housewright noted that when Mawk attempted to ask an employee of the sewer treatment plant questions about the failing plant several months ago, he told the employee that Mawk’s questions were best addressed to Housewright rather than instructing the employee not to speak with Mawk.

When City Manager Mike Housewright noted that he would have preferred to have a private conversation with Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk (right) over these allegations rather than at a public meeting, Mawk turned to Alderman John Gibson (left) and said, “this is thanks to you.” “Yes, because I think it’s important for people to see it (the board’s evaluation of Housewright,)” Gibson replied.

No constructive feedback given

When Housewright noted that he would have preferred to have a private conversation with Mawk over these allegations rather than at a public meeting, Mawk turned to Gibson and said, “this is thanks to you.”

“Yes, because I think it’s important for people to see it (the board’s evaluation of Housewright),” Gibson replied. “You didn’t even check individual boxes. You just marked straight down the line of one’s.”

“Well, that’s the way I feel about it,” Mawk said.

“The point of the evaluation was providing constructive feedback on how Mike can improve that score,” Gibson said. “We spent a lot of money on this (evaluation), and, for certain people to leave scores of 1 straight down the row, that’s not actionable or something that anybody can improve upon if you’re not willing to provide feedback on what you want to see done differently.”

“When I do performance evaluations, I have never once been critical of an employee without giving them a pathway to meet my expectations,” Houewright said. “That is a key part of personnel management. I would like to see what it takes to meet your expectations.”

Eamon Ailshie scored 8 in the win.

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ZF Automotive marketing soon-to-be closed Rogersville manufacturing plant

As nearly a half century of automotive manufacturing winds down at Rogersville’e ZF Automotive plant, state and county economic development officials are looking to help market the 254,000 square foot facility.

ZF announced in September of 2020 that the facility, formerly known at TRW Automotive, would be shutting down in December of 2021 and relocating production to Mexico. At the time of the announcement ZF employed approximately 200 people.

Employees tell the Review that people from Mexico have been brought in for training at the Rogersville plant, and they have already begun moving equipment out.

Hawkins County Industrial Development Board chairman Larry Elkins told the board during its Nov. 18 meeting that company officials indicated to him the plant will shut down sometime next year, but an official date hasn’t been announced.

Meanwhile the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is beginning efforts to market the facility in hopes of getting a new company in quickly to replace those lost jobs.

TDEC Northeast Tennessee Regional Director Lynn Tully told the IDB at its Nov. 18 meeting that the Realtor who represents ZF has issued a brochure on the property and contacted the state for assistance.

“That will be one of the few very large square footage available buildings in the state, so I imagine that we’ll get a lot of prospects on that,” Tully said. “I’m looking forward to taking a tour of what all they’re going to include, and then putting it out there and getting it listed by TVA and others.”

Tully added, “A lot of our RFIs (request for information) have been for much larger facilities — 100,000 to 200,000 range.”

The ZF Automotive facility is located at 7500 Highway 11-W in Rogersville and sits on 67.3 acres. The plant produces steering gears primarily for light passenger vehicles and steering gears for commercial vehicles.

The plant’s largest customers are General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The main building is 244,745 square feet which was completed in 1972, and encompasses 212,395 square feet of manufacturing space, 32,350 feet of office space, and 380 parking places.

There is also a 9,250 square foot warehouse, a wastewater treatment plant, a sprinkler building and a backup sprinkler building. Annual property tax on the property is $61,328.

ZF recently released a marketing brochure with statistics and photos of the property. A copy of that brochure can be seen in the photo gallery of the online version of this article at www.therogersvillereview.com

“I spoke with some of the folks at ZF within the last week, and I asked where are we at,” Elkins said. “They said they’re about a year out.”

Elkins added, “I’m gad that they’re on top of it, and they’re involved with all of us in that (marketing) process.”