The public attending Blount County Commission meetings in the future may have to sit on their hands and bite their tongues. Expressions of agreement, disappointment or anger by the public attending the meetings could be banned if a resolution coming before the full commission on Thursday, July 21, passes. On Tuesday, the agenda committee forwarded a motion to change the rules regarding applause during commission meetings to the full commission.
The measure passed the agenda committee by a vote of 13-5-2. Commissioners Tab Burkhalter, Brad Harrison, Mike Lewis, Mike Caylor, Gary Farmer Mark Hasty, Jerome Moon, Peggy Lambert, Holden Lail, Scott Helton, Gordon Wright Sr., Gerald Kirby and Kenneth Melton voted “Yes.” Commissioners Rick Carver, Jim Folts, Roy Gamble, Tom Greene and Monika Murrell voted “No.” Commissioner Steve Samples and Ron French abstained. Commissioner Tonya Burchfield was absent.
“The movement from this committee only requires a majority vote,” said Farmer. “In the commission meeting, it will require a two-thirds vote of the full commission.”
The measure, sponsored by commissioners Rick Carver and Mark Hasty, has several parts. Rule 4-G deals with “purpose and decorum,” stating, in part: “Actions which disrupt or delay the orderly transaction of business are prohibited, including but not limited to the following: public outcry or protest, public applause or other interruption except that applause and public support is appropriate during the consent calendar portion of the meeting when citizens or organizations are recognized.”
Other points of the resolution involved elections and appointments and information included in commission packets.
During comment by commissioners before voting, Folts said he is a life-long Republican. “As far as I know, all the members of this commission are Republicans. I always thought Republicans stood against big, intrusive government. Here we have a set of rules which you propose we adopt, and those rules regulate when a citizen applauds or not applauds and that sure sounds like intrusive government to me,” he said.
Folts said the measure is demeaning and insulting to citizens. “They know when they want to applaud, and they certainly should have the right to applaud. It is not up to anyone to tell them they can’t applaud,” he said. “This is the worst kind of legislation, and it shouldn’t even get to the commission.”
Carver said this issue has been tough. “It seems as people come here and start the applause, it grows and it becomes hooting and hollering,” Carver said. “It seems like it is 20 people who are stopping a community of 120,000. Maybe we need to set rules and say applause is OK, and if people go beyond that to hollering, they are escorted out.”
During public input for items on the agenda, several stood to protest the measure. Carol Ross said the proposal restrains freedom of expression. “It has problems. It classifies applause as disruptive behavior during one part of a meeting and in another, it is considered acceptable behavior,” she said. Tona Monroe Ball asked, “Why are you banning applause when hooting and hollering is the problem?” Sherri Turner French, who ran unsuccessfully in the District 6 Republican primary, opposed the measure. “Each commissioner represents a district and applause is a reflection of moral support of citizens of Blount County each of you represent. It is a constitutional right to voice support or non-support for actions you take,” she said.