Vernon discusses new development

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VERNON – Construction of Vernon’s newest business is anticipated to move forward, pending approval of a major development review application by the Washington County Planning Commission. A new Family Dollar Store is proposed for construction at the intersection of Court Street and State Road 79. Vernon City Clerk Tracy Walker gave an update on the project when Vernon City Council met in a workshop Monday, October 4. Walker stated County Planner Dawn McDonald has encouraged Anchor Engineering DBG to present the plans to the council at their workshop on November 1 with the council expected to give their approval at the November 15 meeting.  

Walker also addressed an issue with the council concerning what she says was a violation of her personal privacy after her medical information was discussed in a meeting and later disclosed through an online blog and social media post.

Walker advised in the October 4 workshop she was upset that Foster Folly News stated Walker was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 and that Public Works employee Chad Taylor had tested positive for the coronavirus. Walker says her objection is that certain details not discussed in the September 2 budget workshop were disclosed by the blog, which is run by Paul Goulding, an independent contractor retained by the City of Vernon to provide public relations services. 

Mayor Candace Hodges says she brought the topic up during a previous meeting simply to ask if Deputy Clerk Michelle Cross would be working alone on the budget. “I take responsibility for that,” said Hodges. “I asked about Cross working by herself while Walker was sick. I mentioned being scheduled to be tested.” 

City Attorney Michelle Jordan acknowledges neither Walker’s suspected diagnosis nor the other employee’s name were mentioned in the previous meeting but also stresses that the City did not violate Walker’s or Taylor’s privacy.

“It was not a HIPPA violation because we weren’t providing the testing,” said Jordan. “Furthermore, it is not a violation of privacy to simply state an employee is out with an illness. The City did not release specifics about any employee’s medical tests.”

Goulding responded to Walker’s objections, stating he posted information made available in a public meeting. “There is no expectation of privacy when things are discussed in a public meeting,” said Goulding. “It is what it is.” 

An official recording of that September 2 workshop only mentions Walker was out for an illness and had not been tested yet.

In other business, Vernon High School’s Project Graduation requested a $1,500 donation from the council. The donation is the same amount given by the council in the past; however, the council only $1,000 budgeted for this year’s donation. Council President Rebecca Baxley, Mayor Candace Hodges, and Councilman Chad Jackson each offered to donate part of their monthly pay to make up the difference in the requested donation. The council is expected to approve the measure when they meet in regular session Monday, October 18.

Kevin Williams of the Washington County Dolphins Organization also addressed the council to request space be set aside in the community center to provide a place to practice for the rec wrestling team. Council members stated they would consider the measure, as well as potential liabilities, at the October 18 meeting.

“We always want to help the kids,” said March. “Allowing use of this space is just another way we can do that.” 

The city’s cyber security provider, Holston and Garner IT, is also expected to address the council at the next meeting. The company is expected to discuss pricing to add a public works and fire department computer into the existing network.

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