Many topics lengthened commission meeting

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Like moths to a flame, citizens flocked to Monday's Carter County Commission meeting hoping members would address again the institution of county-wide zoning.
   The 3-and-a-half hour meeting began in an abnormal manner when County Mayor Dale Fair addressed the large standing-room-only crowd citing fire marshal codes. People lined courtroom walls, filled outside hallways and sat on the floor. Fair said a clear path to the doorway was necessary in case of an emergency.
   Not much was said about zoning, except when Commissioner Jack Buckles introduced citizen Jeff McKinney.
   McKinney said, "Tonight we come to represent the voters of Carter County. We feel our freedom to vote has been taken away from us. We would like the privilege of every voter to be able to say yea or nea."
   Further into the agenda, commissioners approved a motion allowing $10,000 for construction purposes to renovate the Register of Deeds office which is in dire need of more space. Utilizing the work of state prisoners will save the county significant costs, commissioners decided. An amendment was made on the motion to cap the construction cost at $37,000, which passed 18-4. If the project costs more, commissioners will need to approve another motion to fund the remainder.
   The Election Commission decided to alter two voting districts. The commission chose to move 24 Roan Mountain residents who have been voting in Hampton after those districts were rearranged years ago back to the Roan Mountain district, and also move a small number around Happy Valley High School into their former districts. Tracy Harris, the county's administrator of elections, said notices are mailed twice before an election to inform voters of the location where they are to vote.
   In other business, constant overcrowding and two lawsuits against the county and Sheriff John Henson forced commissioners to seek other housing options for prisoners. Johnson County's new jail will open Dec. 15. Johnson County Sheriff Roger Gentry and other local officials are willing to sign an "inter-local agreement" transferring 30 Carter County prisoners to Johnson County at a cost of $29 per day.
   Commissioner Tom "Yogi" Bowers expressed concern about a sentence in the agreement stating which county would assume responsibility of work release prisoners. The motion was tabled until the contract is amended.
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson said that, as it reads, Carter County would be responsible for medical care for work release prisoners, but if it is amended, Carter County would only be responsible for the medical care of the jail's inmates.
   The railroad has long been an icon in Carter County and Elizabethton. Local officials with the city and county are worried that, when the railroad is completely gone, large industry will not want to locate in the area.
   The commissioners voted to match $1,000 along with the city of Elizabethton to hire a consultant to research keeping the railroad for future industry.
   Fair said once the railroad is removed, it would be impossible to get it back and hard to recruit industry without the railway.
   Fair also announced the 2004 County Commission calendar is ready. Commissioner Bowers suggested instead of the regularly scheduled eight commission meetings in 2004, the full court should meet each month.
   Commissioner John D. Snyder amended Bowers' motion to say that the extra four meetings should be unpaid for the commissioners. A motion to table failed by a vote of 8-13. Moments later the motion failed by a vote of 12-10.
   The original schedule of eight meetings was later voted on and passed 16-6.
   Fair also announced that the dedication of Rachel Clawson Road, who was killed in the summer 2002 while working on a traffic monitoring crew on U.S. Highway 91, will be held on Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. The road is located behind Hampton High School. Senator Rusty Crowe will be present to unveil the road sign.
   Commissioner Jack Buckles spoke to the commission near the end of the meeting and commended response from the public. "I am 100 percent sure they are here on zoning." He wanted the court to document that all four entrances were stuffed with people standing, extra chairs were brought in and that the majority of the audience stayed for the entire meeting.
   "Don't give up. Stand up for your rights. We would like to see this many people at each meeting," Buckles said.