So, all-in-all, what we’ve come to expect from a weekly news cycle.
In local news, a unanimous vote by the Washington County Board of Education means it is ready to appeal a court decision made last year preventing the county from receiving liquor-by-the drink sales tax revenue.
Under a decision by Tennessee’s Court of Appeals at Knoxville, Johnson City will not have to share years of liquor sales tax revenue with the county, leaving Washington County - and its schools - 60 days from the ruling to file an appeal.
Washington County filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Johnson City for $3.4 million in retroactive sales tax revenues. In 2016, Sullivan County sided with Washington County on the matter, calling the state laws "ambiguous.” Then the Court of Appeals reversed that decision in December.
Under state law, half of liquor-by-the-drink revenue is kept for education. Johnson City collects between $500,000 to $600,000 per year in that revenue. To keep up with the story, read about it in the Johnson City Press, or follow along online.
Eric Azotea will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole after pleading guilty Wednesday to two counts of first-degree murder, allowing him to escape the death penalty.
Azotea’s plea came after the trial was nearly derailed by just a few words from one state witness. When the witness blurted out from the stand that he met Azotea after Azotea got out of prison, attorneys on both sides and Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street took action to stop the man’s testimony.
That led to the plea agreement in which Azotea admitted he killed Amber Terrell and Arthur Gibson Jr. in January 2015, dismembered, and then burned their bodies. Part of the remains were found buried under the house where Azotea lived after serving a federal prison sentence for bank robbery.
Lead defense attorney Gene Scott said he knew as soon as the witness spoke that the jury was tainted, leading Judge Stacy Street to accept the plea deal.
After Azotea entered his plea, Terrell and Gibson’s relatives were allowed to give victim impact statements and address Azotea directly.
Mandy Gibson, younger sister of Art Gibson, said her brother was kind and would help anyone that he could. Ashley Greene, sister of Terrell, said her life changed forever the day Amber went missing.
Johnson City officials are investigating four current and former fraternity houses in the Tree Streets neighborhood for violating the zoning code.
Chief Building Official Jim Sullivan confirmed Wednesday his department is investigating the former Sigma Phi Epsilon house, the Sigma Chi house, the former Lambda Chi Alpha house (currently housing Sigma Alpha Epsilon), and the former Pi Kappa Alpha house.
According to a complaint, the properties in question were “grandfathered” as residential fraternity houses when the Tree Streets’ zoning code was officially changed in 1987 to R-2, or a low-density residential district. Each property has housed a fraternity that was suspended for more than one year and no longer recognized by East Tennessee State University.
The zoning code’s definition, at the time of the rezoning, required that fraternities be recognized by a local university, although that definition has since changed and no longer includes that requirement.
There are other breeches of requirements cited in the investigation, and you can read the full list on our website. It seems that several folks on the tree streets are unhappy with their neighbors, and the first shots have been fired across the frat houses’ bow.
Looking for positive news from ETSU? There’s plenty to announce, starting with the Men’s Basketball team again.
Last week I heralded the team’s attempt to win their 14th game in a row, and this weekend sees them continuing. The Bucs have the second longest winning streak in the nation right now, and they are looking to match the school record of 16 straight wins tomorrow at VMI. They’ve won 19 of their last 20, and are currently ranked 5th in the latest mid-major poll.
Get behind the Bucs, folks, they’ve got a good thing going on.