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Gavel strikes amid high tensions

july meeting
The Johnson County Commission met on July 17 to discuss budget proposals and other county business. The majority of the meeting was business as usual, but the end of the meeting saw tensions and voices rise as the stress of Election Day builds. Photo by Marlana Ward.

By Tamas Mondovics

Recess was called, but the meeting was far from over.

This month’s Johnson County Commissioners’ meeting held last Tuesday, with less than five private citizens in attendance was business as usual for the first forty-five minutes, before things took a drastic turn prompting attendees to sit up and take note. It was the final commissioners meeting before the upcoming county elections adding to rising tensions in the room that had everyone talking as they left the courthouse.

The majority of the meeting dealt with the county’s operating budget for 2018-2019. County Accounting and Budget Director Russell Robinson presented the commissioners with a proposed budget and went over details contained within the packet of information they were given. The group was encouraged to study the materials in preparation for the special August 6 public hearing on the budget when the citizens of Johnson County have an opportunity to speak and give their thoughts on the budget. Following the public hearing, the commission meeting would reconvene, and a vote would be held on the budget. But when Robinson finished, and Commission Chairman Mike Taylor asked the commissioners if someone would like to make the motion for the meeting to be recessed until August 6, things turned interesting with tensions running high.

According to recordings obtained from the County Clerks office, it was at this time that Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff stood up and asked to be allowed to speak on a matter. With notes in hand, Grindstaff brought up previous votes concerning cost-of-living raises for county employees implying that Taylor had been resistant to the raises for county employees and that while at one point Taylor had requested the county consider a three percent raise, he had only mentioned it but did not push for the increase.Taylor then repeatedly hit the gavel over the judge’s bench
and spoke of how the commission meeting was “not the place for political speeches” and that he had supported the raises adding, “My votes were on record and could be reviewed.”

The tension in the room got even higher as Taylor again asked for someone to a motion for the meeting to be recessed. Grindstaff then motioned
and Taylor hit the gavel to make it official when County Mayor Larry Potter asked if Taylor was going to allow other officials present to speak
as is customary before the conclusion of commissioner meetings.

The awkward tense back and forth continued as Taylor replied that the meeting was not officially adjourned but rather, recessed and that any other business would have to be discussed when the group met again on August 6. Potter then asked if he “would not be allowed to speak?” Taylor replied with another question asking if what Potter had to say was “in connection to what Grindstaff had already said or political in any nature,” adding, “The gavel had already come down on the meeting so it would need to wait.”

Potter would not have it; stood up and said, “I am going to speak.” The first item on Potter’s list was to ask the commissioners if they would want to consider the August 6 reconvening as the official monthly meeting and not have to meet twice in August. Taylor asked if the new business could be brought up at that meeting and County Attorney Perry Stout assured all that it could be done legally. No vote was taken.

The second item Potter wanted to discuss was that he had been approached by local officials asking if county offices could be closed on Election
Day, August 2, as had been done in the past. Because the meeting had been closed before the item could be brought up; once again, no vote was taken.

The meeting then came to an uneasy, tension filled end as everyone gathering their belongings walked towards the exit wondering about the awkward interaction between the county’s leaders they had just witnessed. The Johnson County Commission will reconvene for a public hearing about the county budget on August 6 at 6 p.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse.