Wear, Robinson squabble at meeting

'One-percent' voters, commissioner's sons topics of dispute
Jan. 16, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

A rancorous session of the Pigeon Forge City Commission saw disagreements centered — as they have before — on liquor by the drink.

Pigeon Forge voters approved liquor by the drink in a Nov. 6 election marred by irregularities. Last week, Chancellor Telford Forgety voided the result. A new election will be held probably in March.

At Monday's commission meeting, the tensest moments came near the end, when Commissioner Randal Robinson spoke out against nonresidents who signed up to vote after being deeded a minimum of 1 percent of Pigeon Forge properties, allegedly with no money changing hands on the land deal.

Even if they do not live there, property owners may vote in Pigeon Forge.

"I don't think it's fair to let these people come in and register to vote," Robinson said. "This was new in the last election. I think we need to stand with what we've always done."

Robinson said the rule represented an improper change in voting regulations, citing a conversation with a Sevier County Election Comission employee.

The employee, whom The Mountain Press will not name, later told the newspaper Robinson did not describe their conversation accurately. No rules were changed, and the election commission consulted state and city attorneys who affirmed that the property owners were eligible to vote, the employee said.

"We were very careful to make sure it was legal," the employee said.

Robinson offered a motion that the city instruct the election commission not to follow what he said were new rules – in effect, not to register "1 percent" property owners.

"If it's legal for them to register, I don't think we need to be suppressing people's votes," said Mayor David Wear, who presided.

Robinson and Commissioner Howard Reagan voted for Robinson's motion. Wear, Vice Mayor Kevin McClure and Commissioner Joyce Brackins voted against it.

Amid the heated discussion of voting eligibility, Wear mentioned Robinson's two sons. They voted in the Nov. 6 Pigeon Forge election but do not live there, Wear said.

In an interview later, Robinson confirmed that one of his sons lives in Kodak, the other Sevierville. They remain registered to vote in Pigeon Forge and cast Pigeon Forge ballots, but did not vote on the liquor issue, Robinson said.

The meeting likewise began with passionate discussion of the liquor issue, as citizens James Overstreet and Leland Wycoff registered unhappiness about the Nov. 6 vote and the liquor licenses currently held by Pigeon Forge businesses. The state will honor those licenses until a court directs them not to.

Between liquor discussions, the commission approved:

- On first reading, an ordinance annexing Wear Farm City Park land not already part of the city

- A resolution calling for a public hearing about the parkland annexation

- Computers for the police department

- Additional services for the greenway

- A garage door for the Building Maintenance Department

- Turbidimeters for the water plant

- Accepting a FEMA grant to hire more firefighters

- The donation of surplus air bottles to the English Mountain and Kingsport fire departments

- A new debris tank for a wastewater-plant truck

n Historic markers for the Pigeon Forge iron works, Fort Wear and the Pigeon River Railroad Company

kburns@themountainpress.com