Smith apologizes for comments about importance of women's issues

Knox County Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith on Tuesday apologized to fellow board member Amy Broyles, telling her that disparaging comments he made last week connected to women's issues and board trips she made "were blown out of proportion."

"I appreciate what you bring to us as a commissioner," he told her during Tuesday's work session.

Smith then said he wanted to hold off leading a discussion regarding the "transparency of commission travel," a topic he initially put on Tuesday's agenda. Smith said he wanted to wait until next Monday's voting session when board Chairman Brad Anders is present to talk about it. Anders was out of town Tuesday.

He then declined to comment to WBIR Channel 10 after the meeting.

Smith came under fire last week for questioning a $180 trip to Nashville that Broyles took in October when she attended the Tennessee Economic Council on Women.

"How's women's issues going to better Knox County's government decision-making?" Smith asked the News Sentinel.

The League of Women Voters of Knoxville and Knox County issued a statement on Wednesday after the story ran. In it, league president Kim Lauth, said the state spends "more than $885 million annually as a result of violence against women – a significant impact on taxpayers."

"The League strongly disagrees with Commissioner Smith's implication that having the lone woman on Commission attend a State-sponsored Summit on women's economic issues would have no bearing on county government decision making," Lauth said in her statement.

Also, dozens of residents wrote letters to the media, commissioners and the board's office to express disapproval of Smith and his statements.

They called his remarks "appalling," and "lame and insipid." Others suggested he attend the conference and one writer said "your self-indulgent ignorance is stunning."

Broyles, after Tuesday's meeting, said she was "disappointed" that Smith made the remarks, but is glad he apologized.

During Tuesday's meeting, four women defended the trip Broyles took, since it touched on violence against women – a growing concern in Tennessee, they said.

"It's a huge deal," added Rynn Dupes, who then told commissioners that a quarter of all women are subjected to domestic violence during their lives.

Mary Wilson told the board that the conferences teach members "new approaches and new ideas," something that Broyles shares with her constituents.

She also said that "I think further apologies would be in (Smith's) best interest," adding that 51 percent of registered voters in Knox County are women.

The board will talk more next week about the commission's travel budget. County finance records show that commissioners filed for almost $6,500 in travel and educational expenses for fiscal year 2013, which concluded at the end of June.

Broyles accounted for almost $5,200. Hammond for about $750; Sam McKenzie for $515 and Brad Anders for $50.


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