Tensions run high at city meeting

Liquor ordinances, department requests approved
Dec. 13, 2012 @ 12:57 AM

The people spoke. Commissioner Randal Robinson responded.

At the beginning of Monday's Pigeon Forge City Commission meeting, the floor was opened to public comments. What followed verged on a shouting match.

First Robinson and hotelier Ken Maples, who addressed the commission, sparred over a tax issue related to the Nov. 6 referendum that legalized liquor by the drink. "There you go again," said Maples, recalling Ronald Reagan at the 1980 presidential debate.

Later in the meeting, Robinson was the only commissioner to vote against a measure appointing Maples to the Sevier County Economic Development Council. Wear abstained from the vote because he works for the  council.

After Maples, Titanic Pigeon Forge owner John Joslyn spoke. He was displeased that in a newspaper interview about the referendum, Robinson spoke of a "moral decline" that took place in Myrtle Beach, S.C., after that city approved liquor sales.

"What I say in an interview with a newspaper is my personal opinion," said Robinson. "I'm very disappointed by the moral decline of Myrtle Beach."

"Let's respond outside," said Mayor David Wear, who presided at the meeting.

"I get to respond," said Robinson. "I am being attacked. These people are all in here to attack me."

"We're not here to debate the public," said Wear. Robinson could speak freely during his commissioner's report at the end of the meeting, Wear added.

Robinson further expressed his opposition to liquor in voting against two ordinances. One establishes a city privilege tax on liquor. The other declares that state law controls the hours of liquor sales and the age of liquor servers.

Both ordinances passed on their second and final reading. Wear, Vice Mayor Kevin McClure and Commissioner Joyce Brackins voted for them. Commissioner Howard Reagan did not attend the meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, during his commissioner's report, Robinson spoke at length. In vivid detail, he expanded on his criticism of Myrtle Beach. "I want to say I am against liquor by the drink," he said. "I believe it will be the moral decline of Pigeon Forge."

Wear spoke last. He looked tired. He acknowledged tensions related to the liquor referendum and the presidential election.

"I had some things to say," he said. But it was his son's seventh birthday, he continued, and his family was about to celebrate. He decided to keep his remarks to himself.

"I don't mind saying it," he said in conclusion. "God bless you. And God bless the city of Pigeon Forge."

In other business, the commission approved:

- The 2013 spring/summer media plan for the Department of Tourism

- The 2011-2012 fiscal year audit

- A $15,700 change order requested by the firm CDM Smith for work on the traffic signal at the Parkway and Music Road

- For the police department, mobile computers and cameras, furniture, uniforms, radios and ballistic vests

- For the transit department, a bus and a 76-passenger tram

- Chemicals for the water department

- Hoses and firefighting equipment for the fire department

- Concession equipment for the parks department, as well as plant material for Wear Farm City Park

- A water purchase agreement with Sevier County