'In God We Trust' vote called into question

2:03 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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The outcome of the Anderson County Commission vote allowing "In God We Trust" on the Anderson County courthouse is a hot button issue in itself.

But opinions aren't the only thing that has residents and commissioners talking. Some have voiced concerns about how the meeting was handled.

The meeting was unusual for the Anderson County Commission. It was standing room only and the crowd was charged.

The crowd was shouting "Amen" and roaring with applause anytime anyone spoke in favor of "In God We Trust." The majority of the audience wanted to see the words inscribed on the courthouse walls, either above an entrance or on the sides of the building.

"It was a little intimidating," said Anne Garcia Garland, a person who came to speak against it.

Garland is no stranger to speaking in public. She serves on the Oak Ridge City Council. But at this hearing she doesn't think her views got a fair shot.

"It was a bit onesided in it's presentation and it's push through the commission. My impression was that the commission was really under a lot of pressure to make this happen," Garland said.

Garland isn't alone in her concerns. Commissioner Myron Iwanski and Chuck Fritts said the vote didn't go through the proper channels.

First, the commission voted for the proposal to go straight to a vote, rather than first be discussed and vetted for legal and liability issues in committee.

"That's normally how we do things, actually, that's always how we do things," said Iwanski.

Mayor Terry Frank pushed for the vote to happen and had five prepared speakers ready to present. Iwanski said they believed by voting at the commission meeting, rather than allowing time for both sides to prepare an argument, wasn't fair.

"There are a lot of people [constituents] that have talked to me that are very concerned that they did not have the opportunity to have some input to this decision," said Iwanski, commissioner of 18 years and former mayor.

Another concern, came from commissioners applauding and showing support for the pro- "In God We Trust" speakers.

"I thought that was inappropriate," Iwanksi said.

"I personally applauded almost everyone that spoke. I believe I could be wrong, but I believe I applauded every single speaker except when I was taking notes and busy with my clock," said Commissioner Dusty Irwin. After 10News reviewed meeting footage, it wasn't clear if he applauded for the three speakers who spoke in opposition.

Irwin serves as Parliamentarian or rule enforcer for the commission. He said all the rules were followed and he made every effort to be fair. He also felt like everyone had enough time to prepare an argument and be present if they had concerns.

"I do believe this meeting was properly publicized it was on the agenda last Wednesday. It was in the newspaper and on the television," said Irwin.

The commission approved the measure 12 to four. Even commissioners that voted for it, spoke out against it at the meeting.

"I'm voting for it but I don't like the way this happened. This is not best government," said Commissioner John Shuey at the meeting.

A commission committee will now look at legal and practical issues of putting "In God We Trust" on the building on the second Tuesday of March.

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