No applause measure dies at county commission

Bring on the applause. Citizens can still applaud at Blount County Commission meetings.

The measure to ban applause as a new rule didn’t get to the floor after being approved by committee.

The “no applause” was part of several other rules being considered that also didn’t get approved. Commissioner Mark Hasty sponsored the measures and addressed them during the July 21 commission meeting.

Hasty said the proposed rule changes included commissioners being able to yield time to citizens speaking on an item, commissioners being able to request further information be included in their packets, a bio sheet or resume being required when naming someone to a committee and the rule to ban applause as a means of preserving decorum during commission meetings.

“This comes from the Rules Committee,” Hasty said. “I’d like to say there are four rule changes from committee. I personally feel that we should take each of these rules and vote on them individually,” he said.

Commissioners Steve Samples and Peggy Lambert seconded to vote on rules separately.

Samples came back, made motion to approve all three rules minus the applause rule, and that got an 11-8 vote with one abstention. Rule changes need a two-thirds vote, so it needed 14 votes, got 11 and failed. Those voting no included Commissioners Tab Burkhalter, Gary Farmer, Brad Harrison, Mark Hasty, Scott Helton, Gerald Kirby, Holden Lail and Kenneth Melton. Jerome Moon abstained and Mike Caylor was absent due to illness.

At this point, the commission was to vote on the fourth rule change banning applause. When Melton asked if there was a motion to vote for the proposed rule banning applause, none of the commissioners spoke up. Farmer, chairman pro-tem, said, “In line with past practice with our rules, if it does not receive a motion, it fails,” to which Melton said, “I see no motion, it fails.”

The proposed rule change was the subject of most of the comments made during public input for items on the agenda.

Larry Shore said applause at public meeting is a constitutional right freedom of speech. “I would think you, as commissioners, would welcome applause. It is a means of knowing how citizens feel about items,” he said. “If you don’t want applause, it makes me think you really don’t want to hear from citizens. I ask you to please don’t vote to restrict applause at public meetings.”

Linda King asked the commissioners what was wrong with applause. “You just heard the applause from this audience. What was wrong? It took seven seconds. It didn’t hurt decorum,” she said. “If someone gets disruptive or unruly, deputies are here to remove them. Applause is not unruly; it’s a freedom of expression. I don’t understand how you can as Republicans want to take away a right granted us.”

Sherri Turner French said not everyone has the demeanor to stand before commissioners and voice their opinions. “It is our right to have our voices heard,” she said.

After the vote during public input for items not on the agenda, Richard Hutchins thanked commissioners for not making a motion to vote on the applause ban.

“You did right thing,” he said. “You showed statesmanship. I commend, applaud and congratulate you.”

Mary Gregory said serving on the commission isn’t a popularity contest, and she encouraged everyone to be respectful. “You voted for things I didn’t like, but I didn’t scream and yell. That’s the way we do things in America. We let everyone speak their piece,” she said.

Lynn Rickey took individual commissioners to task regarding the recent tax increase and said the commission has more important issues facing it than the applause ban.

“When I grew up, a Republican meant less government control, fewer or less taxes and spending frugally,” he said. “I am beginning to question the convictions of others who say they’re Republican. I was very disappointed in those who represent me and voted for the tax increase,” he said.

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