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Coronavirus pandemic leads to Pumpkintown cancellation this year

The organizing committee for Athens’ fall festival, Pumpkintown, has decided to cancel this year’s event.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 10, the group will forego this year’s event citing complicating factors, such as obtaining sponsors, coordinating vendors and delays in getting organized. The most challenging aspect of planning this year’s festival is the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

“It is challenging enough to get the sponsors, work the logistics, schedule entertainment and coordinate activities and vendors, but when you throw in the ever-changing response to the pandemic, it just wasn’t worth it,” stated Meredith Willson, Pumpkintown Festival Committee chair and founder of Willsonthropic, Inc., the organizing group behind local events such as MooFest, Sounds of Summer and the Pumpkintown Festival. “We are a group of volunteers; we’ve done this event for the past 14 years, but no one on the committee was feeling it this year.”

Several festivals and events have been canceled this year because of the pandemic, including some that happen in close proximity to Pumpkintown.

“Tennessee Wesleyan University is not having their homecoming this fall, which is typically held in conjunction with Pumpkintown,” Willson continued. “Also, Christ’s Legacy Academy is not having their 5K run, which traditionally kicks off the Pumpkintown day of activities. Our canceling seems like a natural progression.”

Plans for 2021 are to have MooFest the first Saturday of June and an expanded Sounds of Summer schedule kicking off the same weekend as MooFest, according to officials.

Pumpkintown will get a revamp next year as well by making it part of a month-long celebration, with other weekend events, such as an arts festival, Artoberfest celebration one weekend with an actual German Oom-pah band and a beer tent in addition to the traditional activities found at Pumpkintown such as the Scott Crisp Memorial PowWow.

Anyone interested in helping with events going forward can e-mail Willson at mere dithw2009@comcast.net

McMinn native Harmon finds inspector general role 'very rewarding'

Kim Harmon, a McMinn County native, became the inspector general for the State of Tennessee in January of 2018.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) is a law enforcement agency that investigates TennCare fraud and abuse by recipients or people taking wrongful advantage of TennCare benefits.

According to Harmon, the OIG works to preserve Medicaid benefits in Tennessee for those for whom they are intended.

“Typical cases include persons providing false income information, or they lie about their household composition (who is living in the home), or they lie about living in Tennessee by using their mother’s address but live in another state,” said Harmon. “These are considered eligibility cases. They lie in order to receive TennCare benefits.”

They also work to ensure that state-funded medicine reaches its rightful recipient.

“Another type of investigation is drug diversion. Recipients sell their prescriptions for which TennCare paid,” she explained. “TennCare is a great program and provides much needed medical care to approximately 1.4 million Tennesseans. Anytime you have a great program, you will have persons trying to take undue advantage of that program.”

Harmon has 29 years of experience working for the State of Tennessee.

She worked her first 10 years in the Tennessee Department of Revenue as a tax auditor.

“On a rare occasion, I would discover someone was cheating on their taxes and I wanted to know where the dirty money went,” Harmon stated. “Out of that interest, I was promoted to a special agent in the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s Special Investigations Unit and went to basic police school at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy (TLETA) in 1998 as a 32 year-old female. I was the second oldest and one of nine women in the class. There were many times during basic police that I heard my mother’s words saying I could do anything I wanted to do; those words got me through the most strenuous and difficult courses at TLETA.”

Her next career opportunity came in 2001 when she was hired by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to investigate TennCare provider fraud in their Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (now division).

“For 10 years, I investigated a wide variety of cases with TennCare nexus: rape, patient abuse, embezzlement, fraudulent billing and drug diversion. Every case was interesting to me because I wanted to find the truth and, if warranted, present those investigations to prosecutors, both federal and state,” Harmon said. “Larry Wallace was the director of TBI when I was hired. When he spoke to my TBI class of 18 special agents, I remember him sharing about the importance of working investigations for the victims. He specifically shared a story about working a crime against a non-verbal victim in Memphis. He stressed the importance of speaking on behalf of the victim and seeking justice.”

She shared a story about how the lessons she had learned from Wallace proved true when a male nurse was accused of improper activity with a female resident at a medical facility for developmentally and intellectually challenged adults.

“The prosecutor said moving forward was the right thing to do. After the male nurse took the stand in his trial and opened pandora’s box regarding his history, the jury found him guilty of lesser charges, which resulted in his being on the sex offender registry and losing his nursing license,” she said. “This particular case told me this was exactly why God had placed me in this job at this time. Prior to that, I never really had a calling to a vocation. I just knew I needed to work and these opportunities for work were in my path. Every case was interesting, whether working undercover as a patient in a pill mill, sorting through financial records or interviewing witnesses to gain their perspectives.”

In 2011 she accepted a promotion with the TBI and moved to the Nashville area where she primarily trained TBI special agents and other law enforcement officers.

After working with the TBI for 17 years she took an opportunity to become the new inspector general at the OIG.

“During the two and half years, we have met goals of placing half of the agents across the state where they have closer ties to their local law enforcement and prosecutors and, most importantly, the citizens in their respective regions. It is very common for agents to have roots in the community and have someone approach them at a ballgame or in the neighborhood to say someone is on TennCare but their lifestyle well exceeds expectations of TennCare income thresholds,” Harmon explained. “Another goal OIG recently met was hiring a forensic accountant last fall for the purpose of analyzing financial documents to best determine one’s true income.”

Respecting people is critical in life, regardless of your career, Harmon noted.

“I was a shy young lady from McMinn County that did well in school. After years of explaining to some taxpayers they owed money and why, I discovered ‘people are people are people,’” she said. “People work hard to run their businesses and to earn a living. Some probably were well aware they owed additional tax, but some were not. Regardless, treating everyone with respect and talking them through their tough time was rewarding. I found the same to be true in criminal investigations. Regardless of the evidence of intent, having to answer to their decisions was best approached with respect.

“Whether making an arrest or conducting a search warrant, everyone deserves respect. I have found it very rewarding to walk alongside the victims in investigations and/or their families,” she continued.

Harmon added that she enjoys being able to help people and the community in her current position.

“The victim I described earlier needed someone to be her advocate. If someone billed TennCare as if they were working 48-hour days, I found it rewarding to follow the trail of evidence through boxes and boxes of documents,” she said. “I have found finding the truth and doing the right thing to be very rewarding. So I hope professionally, my greatest accomplishment has been giving back to society, specifically Tennesseans, by finding the truth and seeing some resolution afterward. In OIG, we are working to preserve TennCare money for those truly deserving.”

Her immediate family consists of her husband, Randy, and their two daughters, Taylor and Bailey.

“Randy went to McMinn County High School and I went to McMinn Central. Randy and I often tease each other as to who got the better education,” she said.

Her hobbies consist of spending time with family and friends, watching birds with her husband on their back porch, playing the piano and watching TV.

“I have really appreciated my life and heritage from McMinn County where my parents raised me on a farm in the Claxton community, and where we raised our girls for 12 years of their lives,” Harmon said. “There is such a strong sense of trust and community. McMinn County is full of people doing the right things for the right reasons. If there is anything I have held onto from McMinn, it would be just that. There are givers and takers in this world. I hope to always be found to be one giving back and making people’s lives better.”

Early voting up significantly in McMinn County

McMinn County saw a substantial increase in early voting for Thursday’s election.

The early voting period ended on Saturday with 3,613 McMinn Countians casting an early ballot. There were 2,932 Republican ballots and 645 Democratic ballots cast. Another 36 county residents cast only general election ballots.

In McMinn County, a total of 1,676 voters cast an early ballot in the comparable August 2016 election, with 2,877 early voters in 2012.

Meigs County will release the results from its early voting period along with election day results.

In Meigs County, early voters cast 866 ballots in August 2016, with 691 early voters participating in 2012.

Election day is set for Thursday, Aug. 6.

There are several races on each county’s ballot, spanning from national to local municipal races.

In McMinn County, the state Republican primary for the United States Senate will be held between Clifford Adkins, Natisha Brooks, Byron Bush, Roy Dale Cope, Terry Dicus, Tom Emerson Jr., George S. Flinn Jr., Bill Hagerty, Jon Henry, Kent A. Morrell, Glen L. Neal Jr., John E. Osborne, Aaron L. Pettigrew, David Schuster and Manny Sethi.

The Democratic side of that race will feature Marquita Bradshaw, Gary G. Davis, Robin Kimbrough, James Mackler and Mark Pickrell.

The United States House of Representatives District 3 seat will also be up with incumbent Chuck Fleischmann running unopposed on the Republican side and future challenger Meg Gorman without an opponent on the Democratic side.

Mark Cochran will be on the ballot for the Republican primary in the Tennessee House of Representatives District 23 seat. No Democrat has qualified for the corresponding primary.

County races will feature Keith Price unopposed in the assessor of property category and all but one McMinn County School Board race unopposed.

Incumbent Bill Irvin is facing Danny H. Pritchett in the District 4 school board unexpired term race and candidates running unopposed are: Jonathan Pierce (District 1), Denise Cunningham (District 2), Donna Maxwell Casteel (District 3), Tony Allman Sr. (District 4) and Sharon Brown (District 5).

Local races will include two contests each in Englewood and Etowah.

In Englewood, incumbent Jason Hitt faces challenger Tony R. Hawn in the mayoral race and Walter Arrowood and James C. Cochran are running unopposed for two town commission seats.

In Etowah, incumbents Gene Keller and Jim Swayne along with challenger John James are running for two seats on the city commission. There are also two school board seats up for grabs, with Jessica Goodin and Jeff Williams on the ballot for them.

There will also be a judicial retention question, asking if Carma Dennis McGee should be retained or replaced as Court of Appeals judge — western division.

In Meigs, the two U.S. Senate races are the same as McMinn.

There are three candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives District 4 Republican primary race, with incumbent Scott DesJarlais facing challengers Doug Meyer and Randy A. Sharp. Two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination, with Noelle Bivens facing Christopher J. Hale.

Incumbent Dan Howell is running unopposed in the Republican primary for Tennessee House of Representatives District 22 and there is no Democratic challenger on the other side of the ballot.

County races will see Billy Breeden unopposed in the assessor of property race and Andy Andrews without a challenger in the School Board District 1 race.

In the Meigs County School Board District 4 race, however, Amber Hutsell Ammons faces Marty D. Lawson for one seat.

The judicial retention question surrounding McGee will also be on the ballot.

Voters can find election day polling locations, view and mark sample ballots and much more with the GoVoteTN app or online at GoVoteTN.com

They can download the GoVoteTN app for free in the App Store or Google Play. Reviewing the sample ballot and deciding how you will vote will reduce your time at the polls.

Voters who have moved within their county or have had a name change since the last time they voted can update their registration online at GoVoteTN.com

By making sure your registration is up to date, you can shorten the time you will need to spend at your polling location.

Tennesseans voting on election day should remember to bring valid photo identification with them to the polls. A driver’s license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, by Tennessee state government or by the federal government are acceptable even if they are expired. College student IDs are not acceptable.

More information about what types of ID are acceptable can be found on GoVoteTN.com

Wallace 'grateful' for local upbringing, enjoying work as Georgia IG

Deb Wallace, a native of McMinn County, is the inspector general for the State of Georgia.

She has worked with Georgia’s Office of Inspector General since its inception in 2003, working under Govs. Sonny Perdue, Nathan Deal and now Brian Kemp.

“I initially worked as deputy inspector general for 10 years and, in 2013, was appointed as the state inspector general,” Wallace said. “As inspector general, I direct the office responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in the executive branch for state government.”

Her office has jurisdiction and authority to conduct both administrative and criminal investigations for approximately 100,000 state employees that span over 86 separate agencies, along with 330,000 vendors that conduct business with the state government.

“Anti-fraud awareness and ethics training presentations are essential components of my job,” stated Wallace. “Therefore, my staff and I speak to about 3,000 employees a year at various conferences and events.”

In January of 2019, Kemp signed an executive order assigning Wallace’s department oversight of the state’s sexual harassment investigations.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in management science from Chaminade University and a master’s degree in education administration from Troy University.

She is a graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) special agent training, executive leadership programs in both Tennessee and Georgia state government, as well as being a certified inspector general and certified fraud examiner.

“Upon graduation from McMinn Central High School in 1980, I served on active duty in the United States Navy five years in the enlisted ranks, advancing from seaman recruit to yeoman first class petty officer,” stated Wallace looking back on her work history. “I then transitioned to the United States Naval Reserve where I was promoted to chief petty officer and subsequently earned a direct commission as an officer. I worked as a communications officer overseeing the administration and training divisions.”

She is a veteran of 20 years and ultimately retired as a lieutenant commander.

“The beauty of being a naval reservist all those years allowed me to also maintain a parallel civilian career. Hence, my professional work experience includes working as an adult education instructor for government contracted Central Texas College and an academic advisor for Chaminade University prior to becoming a federal law enforcement officer,” Wallace said. “Once in the federal government, I worked as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), compensation investigator with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division and security specialist with the U.S. Department of Energy. I also worked for the State of Tennessee as an internal affairs Investigator for the Department of Corrections and was later promoted by the corrections commissioner to serve as the director of education for the Department’s Special School District encompassing academic and vocational programs in 22 state prisons. Subsequently, I transitioned to Georgia state government where I’ve been the past 17 years.”

She believes a person’s success is determined by their own abilities to work and form connections.

“People have said that ‘you don’t seem like you would be the state inspector general, what would you say has made you able to be good at what you have done all these years?’ And what I tell people is because of my unassuming nature, I have really been underestimated my whole life — my soft voice, my feminine demeanor — they never think that I have been in the roles that I have been in, but in my experience success is not based on your craft knowledge it is really based on your soft skills,” she stated. “Your personal attributes influence how well you can work or interact with others and that is what makes you better at whatever your trade craft is … You could be a guru at whatever your trade craft is but if you don’t have those soft skills then you aren’t going to get that far. I think just trying to treat people right and do the right thing has helped me get to where I am just by being authentic and real.”

Her affiliations consist of “proudly” being a seventh generation native of McMinn County, a member of the National Association of Inspector Generals, Georgia Chapter of Certified Fraud Examiners, and Alexander Keith Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“I travel home frequently to Athens to spend time with my daughter, Ashley Wallace Copeland, who works at Tennessee Wesleyan University, my father, Larry Wallace, who founded TWU’s Criminal Justice program and continues to serve on TWU’s Board of Trustees, and mother and step-father, Eva and Richard Burris, who are artisans and gardeners, and other special family members,” she said. “I enjoy collecting heirloom and vintage things that bring comfort, character and joy to home. An avid hiker, I relish spending time outdoors and love to travel with my little Maltese, The Colonel, affectionately named in honor of my father.”

Her future aspirations are to return to her hometown of Athens where she would like to contribute to the community.

“I am too young to actually retire from my current position, but I am sure that I will do something else, it may be that I want to open an antique store, it may be that I want to help somebody else in their story, or that I want to work at TWU or volunteer,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful for my good East Tennessee roots and upbringing. With a genuine passion for my work, I continue to be very challenged and fulfilled as a public servant at the pinnacle of my career. I do look forward to transitioning in a few years to my hometown of Athens and giving back to this beautiful community.”