Shelter continues to spark controversy; Commissioners overturn Mayor’s decision to eject citizen from public meeting

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter once again proved to be a controversial point during Monday’s Carter County Commission meeting as County Mayor Leon Humphrey had a citizen ejected from the meeting for what he deemed a disruption, but his decision was later overruled by the commissioners.

During the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, Robin McKamey, a former volunteer at the Animal Shelter, addressed the commissioners. As McKamey approached the podium another former volunteer, Samantha Morgan, also walked forward carrying a banner with photographs of drag queens taken from the website of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Last month, Humphrey announced the Animal Shelter would be partnering with Brother Wolf to develop new animal rescue and fostering programs for the shelter.

Humphrey stated that only one person at a time was allowed to address the Commission and asked Morgan to take a seat. Morgan sat down in the front row but continued to hold the banner. Humphrey then directed Carter County Deputy Lowell Shell, who was providing security at the meeting, to take the banner away from Morgan and remove it from the courtroom.

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“This is not a spectacle,” Humphrey said. “We are not going to put up with this behavior going forward.”

Prior to the meeting, McKamey had placed a handout packet on each commissioner’s desk, and as she spoke she referenced the handouts as well as the banner which Morgan had held.

One of the fundraisers Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, which is based in Asheville, N.C., held last year was Drag Queen Bingo and Trivia, McKamey said.

“I don’t think drag queens will go over very well in Carter County,” McKamey said.

McKamey told members of the Commission there were issues to consider regarding the North Carolina-based operation helping out an animal shelter in Tennessee.

“Brother Wolf cannot cross state lines,” McKamey said. “There is a state line issue that should have been researched.”

Former volunteers of the Animal Shelter have banded together to create their own rescue and foster group, Appalachian Tails, McKamey told the Commissioners. However, she said, during a recent meeting of the Animal Shelter Advisory Board Humphrey left the meeting just before the matter came to a vote, which dropped the number of committee members below quorum so no action could be taken.

Public comments during the Commission meeting are limited to five minutes, and when McKamey’s time had elapsed, Humphrey asked her to take a seat. Morgan then stood up and said she would like to yield her time to McKamey but Humphrey, who serves as Chairman of the Commission, would not allow that to take place.

After the ruling by Humphrey, Morgan address the Commission on her own, citing her concerns about animals not being spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter. She also voiced her concern with Shelter finances and requested budget increases, saying “it seems like the money just doesn’t add up.”

The Animal Shelter came up again, this time during the Committee Reports portion of the meeting.

Commissioner Cody McQueen is Chairman of the Law Enforcement Committee, and also serves as the Commission’s representative with the Animal Shelter Advisory Board.

McQueen expressed his support for the shelter while questioning the actions of the former volunteers who have spoken up at several government meetings in recent months.

As he spoke, McQueen held up the handout McKamey had given out earlier.

“As for these things, they have to stop,” McQueen said. “The factual information is limited.”

“This is ludicrous,” McQueen said as he tore the handout.

McKamey stood up from the audience and attempted to respond to McQueen, but Humphrey ordered that she be escorted out of the courtroom for causing a disruption. As Shell walked McKamey out of the courtroom, she turned and said “That’s real classy,” to Humphrey.

After McKamey had been escorted out, Commissioner Al Meehan said he objected Humphrey having the citizen ejected from the meeting and asked County Attorney Josh Hardin for an appeal of the ruling. Hardin said when a commissioner appeals a ruling of the chair the full Commission votes on the appeal. If a simple majority vote for the appeal that decision is overturned.

Humphrey cited what he called “an outburst” by McKamey as his basis for having her removed from the meeting. Some commissioners did not see eye-to-eye with Humphrey regarding his decision.

“The outburst came from the podium position,” Commissioner Ross Garland said, referencing McQueen’s remarks and his tearing of the handout. “It’s irresponsible and frankly embarrassing.”

The commissioners voted 14-8 to overturn Humphrey’s decision to eject McKamey from the meeting.

Those voting to overturn Humphrey’s decision were Commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Dr. Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Meehan, Bradley Johnson, Isaiah Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, Danny Ward, Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Larry ‘Doc’ Miller, Sonja Culler, and Kelly Collins. Those who voted against overturning the ruling were Commissioners Nancy Brown, Ronnie Trivett, Charles VonCannon, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, John Lewis, Ray Lyons, and McQueen. Commissioners Scott Simerly and Robert Carroll were absent from the meeting.

Following the vote, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford stepped out into the hallway and told McKamey she could return to the meeting, which she did.