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Commissioners say no to state building codes in county; Ten Commandments issue raised again

Thursday night’s meeting of the Johnson County Commission began with introductions by two of the candidates running for the position of State Representative in the upcoming elections. The winner will be filling the seat vacated by Jason Mumpower. Scotty Campbell, a Johnson County native, and Timothy Hill of Blountville were both on hand to make official introductions to the commission. In his speech, Hill stated that he is “excited about Johnson County and about being State Representative,” and that he is a proponent of faith and family. Campbell cited his experience with the state senate, his connections to the county through the local EMS and his “desire to uphold conservative leadership” in the district.
One notary, Howard Thomas Morefield, was approved and three county officials’ bonds were approved. The bonds were in the amount of $10,000 each and were approved for Deputy Clerk and Master Sherry Fenner, Deputy Sheriff James Brown, and Deputy Sheriff Christian Allen Lipford.
Sheriff Mike Reece made two requests before the commission, the first concerning the auction and sale of two salvaged department vehicles, a 1990 model Ford and a 2003 K-9 Unit, both in wrecked condition. The second request concerned the sale of the county’s K-9 police dog to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. Reece stated that it was no longer economically feasible for the county to keep the police dog and if the need for a K-9 did arise one could be brought in from neighboring counties. The dog in question is approximately five years old and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department is interested in purchasing it. After discussing the situation, the commission approved both requests.
County Mayor Dick Grayson presented the commission with a resolution honoring the late Earl Shull. Shull was a devoted member of Pleasant Grove Church, was a former county commissioner, and most recently was a highway department commissioner. Commissioner Dean Stout made the motion to accept the resolution honoring Shull and added that he would like to see a plaque presented to Shull’s wife. After discussing the motion it was decided that Mayor Grayson would present her with a framed copy of the resolution, which contains many more details than a plaque would.
Following a discussion from last month’s meeting, a motion was made to put Hardin Snyder Road back on the county road list. The road had apparently been taken off the list under strange circumstances several years ago. None of the residents were informed or given an opportunity to voice their opinions on the subject when that initial decision was made. Due to these circumstances, the commission approved putting the road back on the list as well as connecting it to Seehorn Lane. This 300 to 400 foot connection would allow road superintendent Tony Jennings to apply for state funding that could be used to bring the road back up to county standards. Jennings is already in the process of acquiring easements for the project.
Commissioner Kenneth Sluder of Shady Valley also brought up the subject of Buckles Lane near the junction of US Highway 421 and Winchester Road in Shady Valley. Jennings ceased maintaining the road after he took office due to the fact that the road was not on his road list and that he didn’t have proof of right-of-way from some of the adjacent property owners. However, Sluder cited that the road had been maintained by the county for years and was on the county map, including the one on display in the county mayor’s office. The status of the road is still in debate and will be discussed at a later time.
The commission also approved two resolutions presented by Mayor Grayson – a resolution to affirm compliance with federal Title VI regulations and a resolution to adopt the strategic economic development plan. Both passed unanimously.
The big topic of the night concerned a resolution to opt out of the state program which would enforce building codes in the county. For the county to opt out of the building codes measure, two thirds of the commission had to carry the motion. All of the commissioners were present at this month’s meeting except Commissioners Roby Dunn and Ronnie Perkins. Commissioner Larry Potter made the motion to opt out which was seconded by Commissioner Bill Adams. The motion carried 12 to one with Dean Stout voting against it. Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff stated, “We don’t have a problem in this county and there’s no point in fixing what isn’t broken.” Freddy Phipps seconded this idea, stating, “This just isn’t the time in Johnson County.” However according to state law this measure must be voted on again within 180 days of a new commission being appointed.
There was also discussion concerning whether or not to place a referendum on the August ballot to allow voters to increase the local sales tax by one-half cent to nine percent. Representatives for the school board said that the school “doesn’t feel that this is the year for this” and that they didn’t feel that anyone should be asking for a tax increase at this time.” As a result no action was taken.
Ralph Stewart closed the meeting by presenting his opinions on the topic of the separation of church and state and submitting a written request for a display to be placed on the courthouse wall alongside the Ten Commandments and other plaques already there. Stewart read a prepared statement to the commission and those in attendance detailing his objections to the Ten Commandments being displayed in a county building. He presented a design idea to Chairman Freddie Phipps which includes two plaques, one entitled “On the Legal Heritage of the Separation of Church and State” and the other “The Ten Commandments Are Not the Foundation of American Law.” When Phipps asked for clarification from Stewart, he refused to answer any questions except those directly related to his presentation.
In September of 2008 a complaint was lodged by Washington-based “Americans for Separation for Church and State” on behalf of a county resident in opposition to the Ten Commandments display at the courthouse. At that time, according to sources within the courthouse, Stewart made inquiries regarding the document on display and was seen photographing the same.
The other side of the issue was taken up by Scott Teague who headed a group of citizens that quickly became known as the Ten Commandment Warriors. A petition calling for the retention of the plaque was circulated and signed by hundreds. Teague also made what he dubbed “a Ten Commandment awareness walk” to Washington, DC later that year.
When Teague, now a candidate for Johnson County Mayor, was contacted about the revival of the Ten Commandments issue, he said he was present the evening Stewart made his request. “I listened to Stewart’s request, but I didn’t receive an actual copy of what he read and haven’t seen the display/plaque he’s proposing,” said Teague. “I have a great deal of confidence in the county commissioners, county mayor and county attorney that they will act properly on behalf of the citizens of Johnson County. If the rest of the nation displayed the values, principles and courage that our county court has exemplified over these types of issues, our country would be in much better condition.”
Teague went on to say, “The Ten Commandments Warriors nor I will not stand by idle. I strongly encourage anyone who has a deep concern about this issue to inquire when it will be discussed again and be there. We will rally the troops once again to defend our majority rights.” He says that something that brings disgrace to the U.S. Constititution, the Declaration of Independence or the Ten Commandments has no place near the historical display sponsored by the Mountain City Rotary Club.