County, cities a 'unified front'

Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, from left, Loudon County Mayor Rollen ‘Buddy’ Bradshaw and Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris hold a press conference Monday at the county office building.

The mayors of Loudon County, Lenoir City and Loudon stood together Monday to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and its local impact.

The conference Monday at the county office building comes on the heels of the first COVID-19 case in Loudon County confirmed over the weekend.

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw released a statement Saturday informing the public. On Monday, he had no new additional information other than what was shared with him by the Loudon County Health Department.

“We knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time,” Bradshaw said before the conference. “I don’t think it changes anything the fact that we still continue to follow CDC recommendations and limit social interaction and stay out of crowds, just universal precautions.”

Bradshaw said he wanted to inform the public to hopefully stifle panic.

“It’s one of those things, their rights are just as important as mine or yours or anybody else when it comes to the law,” he said. “So when that information becomes available I’m making it known. I plan on keeping the public as informed as I am and just help keep everything calm and keep the rumor mill down.”

Changes at offices

Residents looking to go to city or county buildings will need to take extra steps as officials limit traffic.

“We’re really trying to restrict and control who’s out of the buildings more than anything,” Bradshaw said. “Our annex, which is our county clerk, our register of deeds, our trustee and our property assessor, they’re open, but if you need somebody you can see the number on the door. If you can call, if you need something you need to come in, you can get in with an escort. If not, we’re going to encourage everyone to use the drive-through window for renews, and some of the renewals can actually be done online. There are some people paying their taxes and stuff, so if it’s an absolute you need to get in to take care of some business you’re able to, but as far as just being able to walk in to any building we’re restricting that.”

Inside the county office building visitors are asked to fill out a questionnaire to verify they are not at “high risk” of bringing the virus into the building, he said.

“All we’re asking is it be legitimate business to be coming in instead of just coming in to hang out,” he said.

Loudon County Fire & Rescue will not respond to lift assist calls, but Bradshaw said other calls would still be taken. T-BART will also not respond to calls. Loudon County Sheriff’s Office is encouraging people to call over the phone for reports when available.

“Obviously, this is a serious thing, and everyone is taking it serious, but it’s important that we stay focused and that we all work together,” Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, said. “Lenoir City government is open, Lenoir City Utilities is open. We are limiting access to city hall and to the Lenoir City utilities. We’re asking people to go through the drive-through service at Lenoir City utilities. We’re continuing to set power and do things that we do on a daily basis at Lenoir City utilities. We’re asking folks to limit their access coming into city hall. We’ve done some extra cleaning there, and so the police department certainly is open along with all the other city functions — streets and the fire department, of course, and we’re there to assist folks as needed.”

Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris said Loudon Utilities Board customer service building would be drive-through only, and paying online was encouraged. Card payment fees would be waived, he said.

“Obviously, those drive-throughs are open and you can drop those bills off through the drive-throughs,” Aikens said. “We have stopped disconnecting service for nonpayment and our billing department is open and able to, if you don’t have those funds, we’ll certainly will try to work with you and we’re not going to cut anybody off, certainly now in this time. I would encourage folks if they are having a billing issue to call the billing department.”

Harris said LUB would work with customers during this “unprecedented event.”

“Both our utilities are fully functioning,” Bradshaw said. “If your power goes out for a reason, it’s not going to be out for weeks and you’re going to have plenty of fresh drinking water coming out of your faucets.”

Buying additional generators or bottled water out of fear is unnecessary, he said.

“It’s sort of like the people comparing it to snow days in Loudon County when they go out and buy all the eggs and bread and milk up when it snowed. There’s no need to do that,” Aikens said. “The reason the grocery stores are partially empty is because people are going out and hoarding all this stuff thinking there’s not going to be anymore and that’s just not the case. I was at one of the local grocery stores just a few days ago and they had plenty of food there. ... Don’t run out and thinking there’s not going to be anymore, that’s not the case, and we’re seeing that all across the nation that people’s doing that and they shouldn’t be because we’ve seen no indication of that whatsoever.”

Loudon Police and Fire departments have closed the lobby to the public. Harris said people can still find contact information on the building door.

“They are doing normal patrolling and visibility will continue throughout the community, so residents need to remember they’re being kept safe,” Harris said. “Our utilities and service that we provide to our city residents is going to continue. That will not slack off.”

Remain calm

The mayors took questions via social media during the conference.

Bradshaw sees no reason now for the county to declare a state of emergency.

“A lot of times the declaration of emergency will allow a government to sometimes bypass some of the regular laws or regulations,” he said. “Now if this building was sitting up here empty then maybe then, but right now we are fully staffed and we are fully capable to be able to follow all the guidelines and procedures set in place, so I’m comfortable right now saying at this point right now Loudon County’s not ready to be declared.”

Aikens agreed, pointing to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency saying Loudon County did not need to make the declaration.

“There’s different ordinances,” Aikens said. “I know the city of Knoxville mayor declared a state of emergency. Obviously, in order for her to release some funds up there, she felt like that she had to do that and their ordinances are different than ours. Certainly in Lenoir City and talking to these other two gentlemen, we don’t see that need. TEMA says there’s no need in it and we feel like we have the resources available if we need them without doing that. It serves no purpose for the folks in leadership in Loudon County.”

Bradshaw emphasized shopping local “now more than ever,” but still practicing social distancing.

“This is going to have an impact on our economy,” he said. “Anybody who says different doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’ll be more important now than ever that we buy local products. Use local business, small business. Entertain the small business when it comes to if you’re looking for a meal. Nothing against the chain residents, but the mom-and-pop joints are the backbone of this great county, and so I want to encourage everybody to do that as well. Take advantage of our outdoor activities.”

Harris said there was no plan to close non-essential business because “I don’t think it’s within our realm to do that.”

Aikens said the mayors could only “recommend what the state and federal governments” put forth.

“For right now we’re going to let those (non-essential) businesses, obviously the drug stores and the grocery stores and the government has to operate,” Aikens said. “As far as restaurants, I think for the most part in Lenoir City they’re operating through the drive-through services or takeouts and I would encourage people to shop at those businesses through those drive-throughs to keep those businesses going because it is very important as other mayors have said.”