Monday, September 1, 2014

Kingsport's City Manager: "Retirement is Only the Beginning"

For Kingsport's former city manager, retirement day is the first day of the rest of his life.

"It was OK for about the first five days," says John Campbell. "I still have a lot of work to do to finish sorting out things. Most all of the unfinished business, is either finished or just about finished. I don't think you can ever really put everything away.. there'll always be an interest, and sometimes, it's difficult to completely walk away."

"But I did."

Your Douglass-Riverview website caught up with former Kingsport city manager John Campbell, at the recent Fourth of July parade. Although he talked to us like he was still on the job, he admits he'll probably do that for a while.

He does say the city of Kingsport is in very good hands.

"We've got some outstanding young people," he says. "I really feel strongly that our core leadership is sthe strongest in the area for the next 15 to 20 years. All they need is some core members to help 'em out."


Campbell, a native of Kingsport, served as city manager from 2008 until last month. Before that, he was city manager of Johnson City for 17 years, a job from which he also retired. He was twice named Tennessee City Manager of the year in 1992 and 1999. His retirement from the Model City's second-highest post, surprised several on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen when he announced his leaving.

"I have always believed in leaving a community better than you found it," he says, "and the best way to do that is to surround yourself with good people.. people who are either more qualified than usual for their positions, or people who show tremendous potential in the positions they are in. In Johnson City when I was there, I think it was the staff we built there. Most of those people are still there, although most are ready to retire, like me. I also feel strongly about the staff that we have here in Kingsport. When you're at this size of a city, the city manager is more or less, a liason between the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the staff. Your inter-leadership role with the staff is important.. you really gotta have great staff underneath the position.'

"The guys here have been great colaborators, and we're very fortunate to have them."


Ask any city official their number one accomplishment. Usually, they'll name several.

Campbell cites one huge goal that was achieved, without a lot of residents being able to see it physically.

"Improvements to the waste water treatment plant," he says.. "that was really big thing. Things that are ready to go on schedule with the water intake at the water plant. We've also put in a lot of sewer lines.. for some people, that was a big thing, because it's key to protecting the environment."

He also cites one accomplishment during his term, that residents can see.

"Certainly, there were a lot of building projects, especially the HOPE VI homes, the V.O. Dobbins renovations, the hospital improvements," he remembers, "but probably the one thing that impacts the entire city is the academic village. Knowing that where Kingsport was, when I was going to college back in the late 60's, I remember well the effort put out to try and bring a university here to Kingsport, and then the University Center was created. We were still the largest city in Tennessee and the second largest city in the South that did not have a four-year educational institution. Being able to be here at the time it got started, and being able to help show how more could be done with less money was a big accomplishment."

"Now, you see 2500 college students downtown, going to four or five college extentions... that's impressive."


Campbell says the only advice he can offer his successor and the staff he has, is to keep thinking forward.

"They are very well trained in their jobs," he says. "I think they just need to continually try and get better and look for ways to be more efficient. They should always look towards the future.. try to be forward-thinking. I think the worst thing a city could do is really get bogged down on not moving forward. There are lots of ways to get things done in a creative, financial way, that can still be done well without spending a lot of money. Things can be done not at the risk that some people think is there."

"Creativity is the key. Think beyond the box of limited price tags."

The former city manager also has advice for residents of Kingsport, too.. many of them, he says, have not been afraid to express opinions about the direction the city is going in.

"Try and be as knowledgeable as you can about your government," Campbell says. "It's frustrating at times to see how many citizens don't really understand the type of government that we have, and how it operates.. the framework of it. I remember my civics class in 8th grade.. you spend four days on local government and then several weeks on state and federal government. Turns out, local government is where it's at.. that's what affects you every day. Just try and be more knowledgeable and if you have questions, don't hesitate to call the staff down at city hall. Part of their job is answering questions.. that's what they're expected to do. I never minded being questioned about things at social events, at lunch, the gas station. Ask questions."

"It's better for people to know something, than have them think something differently because they didn't ask about it."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Can you Meet at the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex Saturday (August 30th) Morning?

Anybody out there, can meet me tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 11 AM, August 30th at the Louis Street side of the V.O. Dobbins Complex for just a few minutes?

The building has a new feature for the Kingsport community that we're anxious to show off. It will make you proud, and I'm doing a news story on it.

It is guaranteed to make us the envy of other people in Kingsport, and in particular, other alumni groups around East Tennessee. DB doesn't even have anything like this.

We'll tour just a few areas and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thanks for your participation!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Douglass Alumni Scholarships: Generations of Continuing Education


"Don't forget where your help came from, and in turn, don't forget where you came from."

That was the message for graduating African-American high school seniors more than 30 years ago from the Douglass Alumni Association of Kingsport, and it's the same message the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association still has for black seniors furthering their education.

Although the alumni association for upper East Tennessee's largest black high school changed its name two years ago, its focus to provide scholarships to the school's descendants has not changed. "We have always thought that trying to help black seniors heading off to college, would give them an incentive to make something out of themselves," says Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni president Douglas Releford, "and in turn, they would come back in some way and help the community that helped them."

Back in 1982, members of the Douglass High School Alumni Association in Kingsport first wanted to recognize graduating African-American high school seniors, whose descendants attended Kingsport's African-American high school.

"To be recognized by your own people inspires you to do more," says Byron Williams. According to a plaque recently discovered at Dobyns-Bennett, Williams was the first honoree of the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award. At that time, financial scholarships were not fiscally possible, but recognition of academic achievement among black students going to college was absolutely necessary.

Williamson still remembers the day of the awards ceremony at his DB graduation 32 years ago.

"I had no idea I was getting a scholastic award," he says. "When they called my name, I went up on stage in from of all those people. They said I was being honored with the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award, and I was very suprised. I knew about Mr. Dobbins and Douglass High School.. my mother Mabel and my aunt Jesse Dennis both went to Douglass, and I remember they telling me how he used to grow vegetables in his garden in the summer so the students there would have something hot to eat in the winter. My folks always told me about the good education that they got, so the fact that I received an honor with Mr. Dobbins' name on it meant a lot."

"It made a powerful impression on me."

After that first one, recipients of the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Award were Angela Maxwell in 1983, Delbert Davis in 1986, Rhonda Kincaid in 1987, Shana Wright in 1988, Deeya Dobbins in '89, and Chad Machen in 1990. The award faded away after that year, and the plaque disappeared into the historical archives of Dobyns-Bennett, never to be awarded again.

Eleven years later, Douglass alumni who had been holding reunions every other year since the early 70's, begun to realize the importance of financial support for young African-American descendants of the school. In 2001, the alumni group began providing $500 dollar scholarships to black seniors who met the criteria set forth by an appointed scholarship committee of the alumni association.

"A lot of places won't give out a scholarship unless the graduating senior has a 4.0 grade point average," Releford says. "That's great, but not everybody has a 4.0 GPA.. some have GPA's of 2.8, 3.4., maybe even 3.8. We wanted to reward those seniors who were still going to college, but not necessarily in the top 10% of their class."

"The kids in the lower 90% who were still going to college, deserved a shot at financial help, too. It was our way of saying 'we love you just the way you are. If you try hard, we will reward you for giving it your best shot."

"So far, no one has disappointed us," he says. "It's been very rewarding to see the results."


Scholarship availability was always open to Douglass School descendants, but requirements to receive awards tightened up a bit over the years.

"Two years ago, our alumni board decided to help more of our school descendants and give out more money," Releford says. "We did that by requiring, not only that the recipient be a descendant of a Douglass graduate, but also that the descendant be a member in good standing of the alumni association. That year, 2012, we gave out a total of five scholarships, the most we've every given in a year, and we have averaged at least three every year since then."


To qualify, scholarship applicants have to write a short essay on why they think the financial aid is important to their particular education needs, what course of study they plan to engage in, how they plan to make an impact on society, and also provide a high school transcript. Applicants also have to provide an acceptance letter from the college or university they have chosen. On approval, the Douglass scholarship will then be deposited in the student's name in the financial aid office of the school.

Financial scholarships began in 2001, and were given at Douglass alumni reunions.  The first college-bound students to receive Douglass alumni financial aid were Tia Lanauze and Michelle Hankins. In 2005, Kristopher Leeper was awarded the scholarship, and Terrance Maxwell, Blake Leeper and Courtney Wolfe were the recipients in 2007.

Previously, scholarships were considered and presented to recipients during the Douglass Alumni reunions every 2 years. Upon a rules change in 2010, even more college-bound Douglass descendants benefited from the financial help.

"Our board decided to award scholarships every single year, instead of every other year," says Releford. "Some of our alumni correctly pointed out that students graduate every year, not just every 2 years. They felt that everybody should have a chance. By changing to every year, there is no way that we would miss the opportunity to reward a student with help to continue their higher education."


Since the change, Jessica Williams and Darius Davis received Douglass scholarships in 2010. At right, Briasha Russell, Chris Sensabaugh and Brenton Leeper were the recipients in 2011. The next year 2012 saw the largest number of scholarships in alumni history: Sierra Evans, Todd Gilmore, Courtney Alexander, Kelsie Dulaney and Justin Long were the honorees. Last year, Devanun Swafford, Hunter Muller, Cyndee Morrisette and Jessica Cherry were the winners.


For 2014, the recipients of Douglass scholarships are Evan Wilmer, Akeyia Arnett and Dontae Johnson.  One of the scholarship awards is in memory of local educators Wilbur and Della Hendricks.. 

"Often, our winners are already in school when the scholarship names are announced," says Releford. "When they are not present to accept the honor, friends, family, even grandmothers proudly accept in their absence. Those friends and family members remember the Douglass tradition of recognizing educational talent and are just as proud of getting the scholarships as the people who get the award."

Releford says today, the scholarships are funded through dues from Douglass alumni. Periodically, the group holds golf tournaments, the proceeds from which, go directly into the scholarship fund.

Only a few months ago, the long-lost V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award plaque was found and presented to the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association by Dobyns-Bennett High School. The alumni group's board then decided to combine the Scholastic Memorial award and the Douglass alumni scholarships, creating a new V.O. Dobbins, Sr. - Sons and Daughters of Douglass Scholarship Memorial Award.

"This award IS the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association," says Releford. "It is our hopes, dreams, education and community, all wrapped up into a financial package. We do other programs in the community and partner with several organizations in Kingsport, but our main purpose is scholarships for our school descendants. It is our heart and soul that we honor the education that we as alumni received from a school that meant a lot to us. The newly combined scholarship award honors the teachers who gave their heart and soul to make sure we were prepared for life. That's the V.O. Dobbins Sr. part. We cannot give our descendants an education, but we can help them financially, when they chose to get one. That's the alumni association part."


The new focus continues the legacy of the Douglass School of Kingsport through its many descendants, including Byron Williamson. He went on to ETSU, earning a degree in computer science.

"It's a good feeling to know that the community encourages you to go to college," he says. "The feeling that you have done something further than the generation before you, but that generation fully supports you financially and spiritually. If you achieve, give back to the community.. if it's time, give that back.. if it's money or expertise, give those back."

"Always give back to the next generation coming along, simply because the previous generation gave to you."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kingsport's 4th of July Parade: "Gets Bigger and Better Every Year"


"It really does. It gets bigger and better every year."

Everybody loves the Mack Riddle American Legion Fourth of July parade in Kingsport. At every intersection, Center Street is packed with spectators, many of them young children. They enjoy the pagentry of floats, bands, marchers and just plain ordinary citizens in formation, celebrating the birth of our country.

Among those spectators.. Gwan Hill and his family of Kingsport.

"I like the old cars," he admits, "those really old cars and the way they have them fixed up. The cars get older and nicer every year."

Hill says the organizers really do a good job.

"It's great that you can line up along the parade route, and the bands and the cars drive right up close to you," he says. "You can see everybody's face that's happy to be in the parade, and since I like the old cars, I get to see how they've fixed 'em up.. every little line, every coat of paint."

Everybody else has their little Kingsport parade favorites. For Hill's wife, Tameika, she comes to see lots of parade floats, but there's one thing that makes her proud.

"The DB band," she says, emphatically. "I love the band. I think DB's band is just unbelieveable. It's the best band around.. when they're on their A game, you just can't beat 'em."




It helps that Tameika is a Dobyns-Bennett graduate, class of '96.

Gwan Hill says, his family has been to many Kingsport Fourth of July parades, too numerous to count.

"We do notice that every time we come, there's always something new.. something we haven't seen before," he says. "That's what makes it so much fun.. you never know what you'll see that you've never seen before. There's more involvement from different people. You can be in the parade and be an individual, instead of being in a group."

"That's people just supporting the Fourth of July," he says "People here do that in the parade, both as groups and people as marchers."

He says, his hometown of Johnson City needs to sit up and take notice, because there's nothing like a Kingsport parade.

"We don't have these kinds of civic parades in Johnson City celebrating the 4th," he says. The '83 Davy Crockett High School graduate has a suggestion for the powers-that-be in that city. "I would recommend that some committee come over here to Kingsport and take a look at what they're doing here and how they're doing it."

"They should take that back, and either duplicate it or do it better."

Kingsport’s Fourth of July Celebration & Parade began at 10 AM Saturday the 4th, kicking off from the Renaissance Center and rolling through town to its end point at the intersection of Eastman Road and Fort Henry Drive.

It was the 56th Mack Riddle American Legion Fourth of July Parade in Kingsport.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Umoja Festival Stories, Pictures and Videos Posted

Stories, videos and pictures from the recent Umoja Festival in Johnson City are now posted.

You'll find them at the Langston link on the main page of the website.

The stories include a feature on the Young Adult Stage, with videos and pictures from the Gospel Fest and the performances later on Saturday.

Also, a story on the Main Stage, with videos and pictures on the festival's main headliner, the Faze II Band.

There is also a feature story on the Umoja Festival parade, with videos and pictures from the African drummers and stilt walkers.

And finally, a history of the Johnson City festival, with this year's festival committee chairman, Ralph Davis.

Go to the Douglass website's main page, scroll over to the links underneath the TV screen, and click on the one that says "Langston Tigers - Johnson City."

Friday, August 15, 2014


Central Baptist Church, 301 Carver St., Kingsport, will celebrate its homecoming Sunday.

The morning service will begin at 11 a.m. with Minister Lamar Gordon of Friendship Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., preaching.

The afternoon service will begin at 3 p.m. with Pastor C. Danny Johnson of Thankful Baptist Church in Johnson City preaching.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What's Next for Holston Valley Hospital & Medical Center? Letter From the Mayor


On Monday, August 18 at 5:00 p.m. there will be a community forum concerning the future of our area hospitals. This important meeting will be held at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education auditorium, 300 W. Market Street, downtown Kingsport.

Please plan to attend. Our medical profession has been our employment growth leader for the past several years and the loss of any or both of our hospitals would be very critical to our City. The Wellmont Board of Directors intend to make a decision on the future of Holston Valley and Bristol Medical Center by December. They need to hear your comments and concerns. If we do nothing, there is, in my opinion, a very good chance that both Wellmont and Mountain States will look at out-of-area mergers, acquisitions or outright sell.

It is imperative that the industry leaders, business people, civic groups and all citizens learn as much as possible concerning the current Wellmont situation. There would appear to be three options for Wellmont.

a. Remain independent as they are now (the board does not feel this is a possibility).

b. Merge Wellmont and Mountain States in order to become a larger (approximately $2 billion) medical facility.

c. Merge / sell to an out-of-area large medical facility where local control would be in question. This action would be permanent and irreversible.

We all know there will be changes within the medical profession caused by several factors including Obama Care. For the sake of our City, County, and Northeast Tennessee, we must insure that we get this decision right. Your input matters.

WHEN: Monday, August 18 at 5:00 p.m.

WHERE: Kingsport Center for Higher Education Auditorium, 300 W. Market Street Kingsport, TN 37660


Dennis Phillips, Mayor
City of Kingsport

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vols present Swafford with challenge of playing safety


Knoxville News Sentinel

KNOXVILLE — Few fans knew who Devaun Swafford was until the first quarter of the 2013 Tennessee-Florida game.

Swafford, then a walk-on true freshman playing in his fourth game, intercepted Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel and ran 62 yards to give UT a 7-0 lead.

By the time Bob Kesling found Swafford’s name on the roster and shared it with Vol Network radio listeners, the defensive back stood in the end zone, ball in hand, and offered a quick head nod to a silent Swamp and a CBS national television audience.

Speaking with the media Tuesday for the first time in his UT career (actually, Swafford has spoken several times with the Douglass website), the former Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett High School standout recalled the gesture and said it was “just to let them know I’m out there.”

Now everybody knows.

Despite an influx of talented defensive backs, Swafford earned a scholarship after spring practice and received first-team reps at safety alongside Brian Randolph through the first week of fall camp.

The lead he gave the Vols against Florida did not hold, but Swafford’s playmaking ability lingered throughout the 2013 season. He rounded out his freshman campaign by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Georgia and forcing a fumble against Vanderbilt. He earned his second start of the season at nickel back in the finale against Kentucky.

Swafford finished his freshman campaign with 17 tackles while splitting time with JaRon Toney at the nickel position.

Now tasked with learning to play safety at a relatively pedestrian 184 pounds, the 5-foot-11 sophomore said his agenda is simple for year two in orange.

“I just want to stay real low key,” Swafford said. “I want to make plays and let people know, ‘Hey, he was overlooked coming out of high school.’ Hopefully my play will take care of itself and I’ll move on to the next level.”

He added that he feels more comfortable at safety because he can see the whole field.

Head coach Butch Jones complimented Swafford on Tuesday and hinted that he will at least continue to contribute on special teams in 2014.

“Devaun is one of those individuals that has put a lot of weight on and he’s really done exceptionally well in the strength and conditioning area,” Jones said. “And we’ve challenged him playing safety now. Swafford brings it every day.”

Following a recruitment in which FCS schools showed the most interest, the 247Sports two-star prospect committed to UT in late December of 2012 under an initial agreement that he would sit the 2013 season as a grayshirt with the expectation of receiving a scholarship in 2014.

But he changed his mind after arriving in Knoxville and elected to walk on and play immediately.

“We’ve asked a lot of him,” Jones said. “Here’s a young man that didn’t play much defense in high school and here he is your starting nickel in games, going into the Swamp, playing at Florida and having a big interception.”