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I really hadn't planned to write about this but there has been so much misinformation put out I thought I better clear it up.

Any time the Loudon County Commission meets, the public is encouraged to attend and if someone needs to address the commission members on any topic they may do so.

For more years that anybody knows the county commission meeting agenda included a time at the first of the meeting for citizens to address the body. Citizens can discuss any topic they feel important to them. But for various reasons, back in 2002 the then commission and mayor decided to change the agenda. They decided that public comment would be divided into two parts. Folks could speak to the commission at the beginning of the meeting about any matters that were included on the agenda. But if they wanted to speak to the commission about anything that wasn't on the agenda, they had to wait till the end of the meeting.

Myself and other members of the public complained about the change at that time because this meant that if a citizen wanted to address the commission about something that wasn't on the printed agenda, they would have to sit through the entire meeting before their opportunity to speak. Many meetings can last for two or three hours.

At last Monday's commission workshop, chairman Steve Harrelson proposed to change the agenda back to the old system to make it better and easier for all the public to address the commission. Harrelson's proposal was met with support by commissioners and members of the public who were in attendance at the meeting. My goodness, it just makes so much more sense.

Since setting the agenda is the responsibility of the chairman, Harrelson, with consent of the county attorney, directed the board secretary to move all public comment to the front of the agenda for the next meeting. Problem solved? Everything good? Not hardly. No good deed goes unpunished.

In Sunday's News Herald, there was a half page ad accusing the commission of trying to limit free speech. The ad was paid for by a citizen that attends nearly all commission meetings and comments at nearly all commission meetings. On top of that, another citizen who also attends all commission meetings and speaks at nearly all meetings went on a calling spree contacting a number of people apparently telling them the commission was trying to stop citizens from speaking at meetings. In both instances, there was no truth to the accusation. 

Mr. Richard Truit, who attends and speaks at most meetings was the gentleman who bought and paid for the news paper ad. He also hired a lawyer to send a letter to the commission demanding that the agenda be changed back to the old split format. His lawyer also attended the Monday meeting and spoke to the commission as did he.

Ms. Pat Hunter who attends and speaks at most meetings apparently contacted numerous members of the community telling them the commission was trying to limit speaking time at the meetings.

At Monday's commission meeting, the public comment time lasted 47 minutes. 11 citizens addressed the commission on several different topics from gun control, to anti gun control to insurance, to freedom of speech. All 11 were given all the time they wanted to speak as is always the case. Interestingly, the gentleman who spoke on the need for more gun control spoke for eight minutes, passed out some literature and left. I'm betting he liked the new format. Incidentally, the actual business portion of the meeting only lasted twenty minutes.

I'll be honest, I have no idea why these two individuals decided to make such a big deal of the agenda change to the point that they would entirely misrepresent the truth and the true nature of the change. Ms. Hunter had even told a couple of people after the workshop she liked the new system.

Anyway, that's the inside story on us evil commissioners trying to stifle free speech in Loudon County. Never happened, never going to happen.