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Rules of Order Resolution Postponed After Commission Approves Changes

During citizens comments Bernadette Pajer pointed out that the version of the meeting “Disruption” law in the proposed resolution omitted key language in the state law. The commission later agreed to amend the resolution by quoting state law verbatim.

The commission voted Monday to postpone consideration of its proposed “Rules of Order” resolution, but not before approving amendments changing the sections involving disruptions and citizen comment limitations.

Five people spoke on the Rules resolution during citizens comments at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, none of whom were in favor of the resolution as written.

Bernadette Pajer told commissioners that key verbiage in the Tennessee Code Annotated version of the meeting disruption law was absent from the county’s resolution. TCA 39-17-306 sets out what must occur for a person to charged with a Class A misdemeanor for disrupting a meeting.

“I feel like the language is divisive, fearful, and it omits very important term that is included in state law, which is, ‘with intent to disrupt’,” Pajer told the commission. “I absolutely support rules of decorum, and I have vocalized to many of you here my concerns over the past few months that decorum was not held and people were getting used to speaking out of turn.”

Pajer added, “I really do believe we do have to respect the rules of decorum. But, existing state law is sufficient if we uphold that, to keeping things peaceful. The language in (the “Disruption” section) I don’t feel is helpful to the growing divide between you, the commissioners, and the people.”

Pajer also questioned the section changing public notification for meetings from three days to “adequate public notice”.

“I feel like that amount of time is too vague and I’d like to see more concrete parameters,” Pajer said. “Everybody’s idea of adequate public notice may differ.”

Not all speakers were as congenial as Pajer. One stated he planned to unseat his commissioner in the next election because “something really stinks in the county and I intend to find out what it is”. He also thanked the commission for trying to turn the county into “a communistic HOA”.

Another speaker exercised his First Amendment right to use profane language directed at the County Mayor.

A video of the citizens comments and subsequent discussion by the commission on the Rules of Order resolution can be seen in the online version of this article at

‘Not making anything illegal’

Commissioner Robbie Palmer made a motion to amend the resolution by inserting the language “with intent to disrupt” — as suggested by Pajer.

However, when Commissioner Jason Roach suggested simply inserting state law verbatim, Palmer agreed to make that his amendment.

TCA 39-17-306 states,

“A person commits an offense if, with the intent to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering, the person substantially obstructs or interferes with the meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action or verbal utterance. A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.”

“If it’s already written in TCA, is it not enforceable whether or not it’s in the bylaws,” Roach asked. “The fact is we are not making anything illegal with this section in these bylaws. We cannot legislate criminal law. The state of Tennessee doesn’t give us the ability to do that. All we can do is cite standing state law, and we can quote law in this all we want to.”

Palmer’s amendment was approved 9-3 with one abstention. Commissioners Charlie Thanker, Danny Alvis, and Syble Vaughan-Trent voted no and Larry Clonce abstained.

‘Very different perspectives’

Commissioner Josh Gilliam then made a motion to delete a section from the proposed Rules resolution which states, “If several citizens appear to speak on the same topic or issue, the chairman will have the authority to ask the group to appoint one to three citizens to speak on the issue.”

“We heard several people speak on the same resolution tonight,” Gilliam said. “While most of them were opposed to something with this resolution, it was very different perspectives. It’s not a good thing for us to say, ‘Well we’ve heard enough about that resolution, so only two or three of you get to speak’. I understand that wouldn’t be common practice necessarily, but I don’t like that rule.”

Gilliam’s amendment was approved 10-3 with Thacker, Vaughan-Trent, and Clonce opposed.

Following approval of the two amendments Clonce made a motion to postpone consideration of final approval of the resolution until next month. Clonce said he wanted time to look over the revised resolution with amendments before voting.

Clonce’s motion was approved approved 13-0, and the resolution as amended is expected to be on the agenda for the Dec. 18 commission meeting.

Jeff Bobo, Editor

Published in The Rogersville Review - Nov 30, 2023

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