SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Supporters and protesters alike attended a Sevier County Commission meeting about a month after a commissioner's comments caused a national outcry.
Warren Hurst arrives November 18 / Source: WVLT News
Watch the full meeting, including comments made by public speakers, below:
The Sevier County Commission met November 18 for the first time since county commissioner Warren Hurst's comments, which included what many consider homophobic statements and condemnation of "liberal democrats" made national and international headlines.
In an October 21 meeting, Hurst took to the floor to speak about the commission's vote on becoming a gun sanctuary city. "It's time we wake up people, it's time, it's past time," said Hurst then.
Hurst also voiced his opinions on other topics.
"We got a queer running for president if that ain't about as ugly as you can get," he said. "Look what we got running for president in the Democratic party. We can go over here to Hoss's jail [Sevier County Sheriff] and get better people out of there than those running as democrats to be president of the United States."
After business on the commission's agenda was concluded at the November meeting, the floor was open for comments from the public. Nine people, supporters of Hurst and dissenters, took to the podium to speak and had three minutes to address the crowd. Hurst did not speak and would not speak to WVLT News. He was seen leaving the room out a side door.
The first speaker, identified as Mr. Bailey, addressed Hurst and said, "I love you with all my heart. I'm a local pastor, motivational speaker and someone that moved here because I love the beauty of the Smoky Mountains ... because of the love that I see in all of the faces ... the kindness that this county represents."
Bailey added that he was part of a group of protesters who rallied before the meeting and that he had a Bible verse to share. Before he could continue, a man at the meeting, broke out and shouted, "You don't read the Bible. You read heresy." The man was taken out of the meeting by law enforcement, and Bailey was allowed to finish his statement to the crowd.
The next speaker, identified as Ms. Bradley, said she supported the commission and thanked everyone, "including the opposition," at the meeting. She said that the October meeting--held to vote on making the county a Second Amendment sanctuary--was "overshadowed" by "selective censorship."
"Press used to be giving events and listeners ... deciding on their position. Now, our position concedes to forms of oppression," she said.
"Mr. Hurst," she said. "I want to thank you. I support you."
The third speaker, Ms. Karrickner, said she was a new resident and business owner in Sevier County. "We all have a right to all of the Constitutional rights," she said and thanked the commission for "standing up for those rights." She also said the October meeting was "overshadowed ... by the press."
"It's the Second Amendment that stands up for the First Amendment," she added.
The next speaker, Mr. Fox, said he identified as an Independent, pastor and Marine and that he has been a longtime resident with longstanding roots in the community.
"Every single person in here was made in the image of God," Fox said. "You're beloved children of God ... We serve a God of reconciliation and hope."
Fox added that people should "treat each other with the divine dignity."
A speaker identified as Mrs. McAdoo, said, "I love the Smoky Mountains and the people of Sevier County." However, she said that, since Hurst's comments, some people believe that the county is not accepting.
She also said that Hurst should be censured, adding that he "had his chance, we need somebody new."
"Change is coming," she continued, "and you can either embrace it or not."
Throughout the meeting, protesters led by the Tennessee Equality Project, could be heard shouting outside the room. Protesters told WVLT News reporter Robert Grant that some of them were not allowed inside the meeting; however, Sevier County officials have neither confirmed nor denied that.
A man identified by the commission as Mr. Osborne took the podium after and said he supported the First Amendment, decrying the "progressive left."
Another speaker, Donna Starne, also voiced support for the First Amendment and said that after Hurst "voiced his opinion ... the media frenzy started."
"The people were clamoring for him to be silent," she said. She ended her speech by saying "we will be silent no longer."
Next, a woman named Amy Williams spoke, saying Hurst was exercising his First Amendment right. "Our First Amendment rights must be protected, even when others make statements that are not reflective of our own personal views." She added that the local media was "biased," which drew some applause from the crowd.
The last speaker, Mr. Michael, was with the Tennessee Equality Project and claimed that the county government had not let some protesters into the meeting.
"We're about hospitality," he said. "The responsibility of the host is to protect the visitor." He added that protesters allegedly not being allowed into the meeting was "reprehensible behavior." He added that the commission "should be ashamed" before finishing.
Before the meeting, the Sevier County Democrats released a letter the group had sent to Hurst. The letter said that Hurst "crossed an ethical line" after his "several minute rant against Democrats and Liberals, which morphed into a homophobic comment and finally an unrealistic lament about white men losing their rights."
Their leader, Sara Thompson, was caught on video leaving the October meeting. She later told WVLT News, "County commissioners need to remember that when they're elected they need to represent everyone. This should serve as a reminder to all county commissioners to have more respect for each other and their constituents." Thompson did not speak at the November meeting.
After WVLT News reported on the commissioner's comments, some on Twitter called for a boycott against the area, with at least one family backing out of their Smoky Mountain vacation plans.
Looks to me like I must now boycott all things Sevier County, all products and services, etc. until this man is voted out of office for being a BIG BIGOT! Not one cent will be spent on anything.— ManoloGal (@ManoloGal) October 22, 2019
cc: @TravelGburg @GatlinburgTN @My_PigeonForge #BoycottSevierCounty
The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) launched a petition for the Sevier County Commission to censure Hurst. It reached its goal of 1,000 within a week. However, Mayor Waters did not address what would come next or what the commission would do, if anything, with Hurst.
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