Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Oct. 7

The Kingsport TimesNews on a local mayor conducting a quarterly town hall meeting and how such meetings strengthen the connection between city leaders and the public:

With extensive political experience in his past, new Kingsport Mayor Patrick Shull has hit the ground running including keeping a campaign promise to conduct quarterly town hall meetings. The first was at Lynn View Community Center, and the surprising attendance confirmed what Mayor Shull said during his campaign — that there is a disconnect between the public and city leaders.

More than 150 residents turned out for the town hall. Over some three hours, many took the opportunity to tell the mayor and City Manager Chris McCartt what was on their mind. Because the city's homeless situation has been front and center of late, much of what residents had to say dealt with that subject.

Shull served as a Kingsport alderman from 2005-2009 and a Sullivan County commissioner from 2012 until he resigned after winning a decisive victory over four opponents in May.

He said the election was about change. "I'm probably from a different mold than some of our previous mayors, and I felt a real connection with the citizens I spoke to one on one," Shull said. "Their concerns are my concerns to a great degree. I know it sounds mundane, but roads and potholes was the number one issue."

Shull worked hard during his three-month campaign, personally knocking on thousands of doors. He said his conversations with voters told him that there is a disconnect between the public and city leaders. He said ideas being considered by city government like a new baseball stadium weren't going over well with the public.

"The public really doesn't see a need for a second baseball stadium," Shull said. "I'm not criticizing the BMA's motives, but it just sends a wrong message to voters to read about this type of thing, then run over a pothole on the way to work." Shull pledged to begin quarterly town hall meetings with residents to stay in touch with what they were thinking and provide information on the conduct of city government.

"I think it's not only important that I hear from the citizens, but that they hear from each other," Shull said. "If they know we listen to them and consider them, it will help bring everyone more together."

That was certainly borne out in the first of Shull's town hall sessions. Hats off to the mayor for this initiative.

Online: https://www.timesnews.net

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Oct. 6

The Johnson City Press on Sen. Jon Lundberg questioning a $75,000 grant that state Rep. Matthew Hill presented in a peculiar way:

One of two things has been afoot in the squabble over a $75,000 community development grant state Rep. Matthew Hill recently announced for a local charitable organization. Neither would paint Hill in a good light.

Either the Jonesborough lawmaker made a public promise he may not be able to keep or he has succeeded in backroom pork politics.

Thus began a rare public display of strife among Northeast Tennessee's all-Republican legislative caucus. The flap between Hill and state Sen. Jon Lundberg began when Hill said during the grand opening of a new Isaiah 117 House location in Washington County in September that the local nonprofit would receive an additional $75,000 grant from the state. Isaiah 117 provides transitional lodging for children entering foster care.

Hill's statement prompted Lundberg to publicly question just how such grants are awarded from a $4 million state fund included in the state's budget for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

"Typically when we budget money for grants, also in there is how those grants are going to be awarded and what the process is," Lundberg told Press Staff Writer David Floyd. "I have never seen that happen where a legislator just says, 'Hey, I'm awarding a grant.' We just don't have that authority normally."

In response, Hill said Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter actually approves the grants, while legislators are free to make suggestions and write letters of support. He told Floyd the Isaiah 117 grant had not been officially approved by the department's commissioner, but it had been in the works "for some time now."

In other words, he made a premature statement, but he was awfully confident about the outcome.

Hill went on to criticize Lundberg for raising the question in the first place. He told Floyd the Bristol-based lawmaker should stay out of Washington County's affairs, keep his nose at home and stop messing with children awaiting foster care. Hill claimed Lundberg's "meddling" could cost Isaiah 117 the grant.

Lundberg is not meddling. He's doing what lawmakers should — maintaining stewardship and transparency with the money taxpayers send to Nashville. According to The Tennessean, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally share Lundberg's concerns about the process for the $4 million fund.

And Lundberg is in no way trying to hurt Isaiah 117 House. Along with Hill's brother, state Rep. Timothy Hill, Lundberg sponsored legislation that provided an earlier $100,000 grant to the organization. Hill's hyperbolic attack was unwarranted.

We hope Hill succeeds in the quest to help Isaiah 117 House with more funding. It's among the worthiest of new initiatives in our region, and we've asked our readers to support it with donations.

But we agree with Lundberg that the grant process deserves scrutiny in light of Hill's announcement. His nose is right where it ought to be.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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Oct. 1

The Greenville Sun on the recent Hands Free Law:

Carrie Underwood scored a hit on the country charts in 2005 with the song, "Jesus Take the Wheel," but we can't count on the Almighty jumping into the driver's seat if we're not doing our part to stay safe on the roadways.

That's why it's encouraging that, as Ken Little reported, local law enforcement agencies are working to ensure drivers know about the Hands Free Law that went into effect July 1. Most have no doubt heard of the new statute's requirements by now, but they bear repeating:

The law makes it illegal for a driver to:

- hold a cellphone or mobile device with any part of the body;

- write, send or read any text-based communication;

- reach for a cellphone or mobile device that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seat belt;

- watch a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device; and

- record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device;

Those seem like common-sense measures. When controlling a machine that weighs thousands of pounds on roadways filled with other machines weighing thousands of pounds - as well as some weighing much less and completely unprotected pedestrians - safe operation should be the top priority. In a world where we're always connected to our devices and every bit of incoming information seems vitally important, however, priorities can be misplaced faster than we can slam on the brakes.

And that can be a deadly mistake. According to a report commissioned by personal finance website ValuePenguin, investigators blamed distracted driving due to cellphone use for more than 1,400 fatalities nationwide from 2015 to 2017. Of all states, the report says, Tennessee had the highest rate of such accidents during that time with 7.2 distracted driving deaths per 10 billion miles traveled - nearly five times the national average.

That is not a list you want to top, and we appear to be moving in the right direction. Statistics provided Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security show the number of distracted driver-related wrecks declining statewide and in Greene County from 2017 to 2018. Still, Sheriff Wesley Holt told Little if authorities routinely examined cellphone records after crashes, "we would find a lot more wrecks caused by distracted driving."

That's why the Hands Free Law and the Hands Free Tennessee information campaign are so important. Up to now, authorities have been handing out warnings and fliers explaining the law. Soon, they'll start issuing citations that carry a $50 fine for a first offense and increase from there - and rightly so.

No one likes being told what to do, especially by the government. But when you drive while distracted by a cell phone or anything else, you're not just putting yourself in danger. You're putting the safety of everyone in and around your vehicle at risk, too.

No call or text or social media update is worth that. Let's keep our priorities in order, Greene County, and keep our hands on the wheel.

Online: https://www.greenevillesun.com

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