In addition to its taxation problems of late, and depending upon whom you ask, Fentress County, Tennessee does not have an entirely open government.
As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, county commissioners’ top priority is constructing a new $10 million jail, which property owners will pay for with a sudden 50 percent increase in property taxes.
While the jail, also known as a Justice Center, is a priority for commissioners, establishing government transparency is not, at least according to the affected property owners.
County commissioners voted at a reconvened session this week to finalize their plans for the Justice Center. As seen in this video, county residents who attended the meeting reported that commissioners conducted the meeting with the microphones turned off. Subsequently, audience members could not hear what commissioners were either saying or doing.
There are also questions as to whether current zoning laws will permit commissioners to construct the jail at the proposed location — yet commissioners are going forth with their plans, regardless.
NO FILMING OR SPEAKING FROM THE AUDIENCE
County resident David Beaty filmed most of the meeting, at least until a sheriff’s deputy made him stop (at five minutes and 50 seconds into the video), per the orders of County Executive Frank Smith (the local cable television broadcasts the commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meetings, but it does not broadcast the commission’s reconvened sessions).
The meeting was public, but Smith ordered Beatty to stop filming for one reason — Beaty never asked for Smith’s permission.
“I am the fellow that runs those meetings. If he wants to film there, then he needs to ask for my permission. Television and radio stations have to do the exact same thing. If he had asked for permission, then it would have been granted, but I wasn’t going to allow it, not with the way he was doing it,” Smith said.
Tennessee Watchdog asked Smith if the commission has a formal policy regarding audience members using video or audio equipment to record each meeting. Smith responded that he did not know.
Beaty furnished a DVD of the reconvened session to Tennessee Watchdog. During the meeting, people on the front row raised their hands from time to time, although the audio of what they said was unclear.