Sevier County committee meetings scheduled for Thursday canceled

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) — Sevier County officials announced that committee meetings scheduled for Thursday have been canceled because commissioners have "nothing to present."

Warren Hurst / Source: WVLT News

An organization has launched a petition asking for Sevier County officials to censure commissioner Warren Hurst after his homophobic comments made national news.

Hurst took the floor on Oct. 21 to speak about the commission's pending vote on becoming a gun sanctuary city.

"It's time we wake up people, it's time, it's past time," Hurst said.

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 for democratic, to be President of the United States."

The Tennessee Equality Project launched the petition on Monday, Oct. 28. See the petition here. A censure is typically a formal message of disapproval.

By Wednesday, the petition had reached its goal of 1,000 signatures with 1,263 signatures. As of November 18, it had more than 1,700 signatures.

The Sevier County Mayor's Office said on Monday that they did not know of any plans to censure Hurst as the next commission meeting is not until November.

Days after the news made national headlines, Mayor Pete Buttigieg responded.

According to political reporter Sharman Sacchetti, Mayor Buttigieg said of the incident, "Well, he was right about one thing. He's right that there's a gay man running for President. He doesn't seem to be right about much else."

WVLT News was at the meeting and observed as one woman stood up and replied to Hurst, "Excuse me" she said. "This is not professional. This is [expletive]."

The woman left the meeting.

That woman, Sara Thompson, spoke with WVLT News on Tuesday, October 22. She said, "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."

She also said officials "represent those who don't love, look or vote like they do."

She said Hurst's homophobic comments left her angry.

"I was actually incensed. I think that was a very demeaning and nasty thing to even talk about," she said.

Thompson, the chair for the Sevier County democrats, said she showed up at the Monday night meeting as a private citizen. Thompson said she was one of two people present protesting the county's proposal to become a gun sanctuary. Thompson described Hurt's comments as bullying and retaliatory in nature.

However, Thompson did not call for his resignation.

Hurst made another comment during the meeting about the state of white male rights in the country.

"I'm not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they're getting took more every day," said Hurst.

Hurst told WVLT News over the phone that some of his best friends were African American, but he stands by his comments because he's entitled to his opinions.

After his public comments, some members of the crowd applauded.

Multiple organizations have spoken out against Hurst's comments:

Hurst's fellow commissioner, Greg Haggard, said, "Commissioner Hurst's comments do not speak for the rest of the county commission."

Another commissioner, Bryan Delius, said, "Mr. Hurst’s comments did not speak for me, I don’t hold those beliefs. We have an obligation to represent everyone. This type of hateful commentary is not something that is shared or appreciated by other commissioners.” He told WVLT News he believes the commission present a unified statement about their thoughts at the next meeting.

Delius also said he was rejecting Hurst's comments, not Hurst.

Dollywood released a statement to WVLT News on Tuesday afternoon in response to a Sevier County Commissioner's derogatory comments.

A Dollywood spokesperson said, "We read the comments made in Monday night’s County Commission meeting and they do not reflect the Dollywood experience in any way. Dollywood is open and welcoming to everyone, every day."

Dolly Parton herself has not commented on the situation, nor have any of her representatives; however, her sister, Stella Parton, took to Twitter to voice her concerns.

"Fear and hate are running rampant in our country and this is clear evidence of it even in my hometown," she wrote. She also added she did not speak for any of her family.

The City of Pigeon Forge sent a release on behalf of city manager Earlene Teaster:

"On behalf of the city of Pigeon Forge, we in no way condone Sevier County Commissioner Hurst’s disturbing comments. His statements made during the Sevier County commission meeting do not represent the views and feelings of the city of Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge welcomes everyone with open arms. We do not discriminate."

The Tennessee Equality Project is calling for his resignation after his comments about the LGBTQ community.

"He should apologize and yes he should consider resigning," said a TEP representative. "If there were some weird extenuating circumstances like he was having a medical issue, but right now it just looks like he made those remarks."

The City of Sevierville condemned the homophobic comments made at a public meeting on Monday evening.

"On October 21, 2019, Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst made several offensive remarks during an open commission meeting that have produced much concern and rightful indignation, within our city and beyond," said the statement. "Although Sevier County government is separate from Sevierville City government, we realize that these remarks still impact all of us living and working in this area."

"The City of Sevierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and City administration reject bigotry and prejudice towards any and all persons. As such, we strongly condemn the remarks of Commissioner Hurst. Mr. Hurst’s remarks do not reflect the feelings of our residents, who are friendly, caring people and neighbors. The City of Sevierville and the entire Smoky Mountain community is a welcoming place for the millions that visit our region and the thousands who live here."

"The City of Sevierville does not discriminate in our business interactions, hiring, or attitudes towards our visitors or residents."

"The City of Sevierville is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of sex or handicap in its programs or activities pursuant to Public Law 93-112 or 101-336. The City of Sevierville does not discriminate based on race, color or national origin in federal or state-sponsored programs, pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d.)"

Assistant to the Sevier County Mayor, Perrin Anderson also denounced the homophobic comments.

"The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October 21, 2019, do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier County administration," Anderson said. "Sevier County is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or status in any other group protected by law."

The Tennessee Equality project said they want people to attend the next Sevier County commission meeting in protest.

"Tennessee Equality Project is urging people to attend the next Sevier County Commission meeting in red to send a message that racism and homophobia are not acceptable in East Tennessee. We will not forget the Commissioner's harmful words. We condemn them and we believe many people in the area feel the same way."

Chris Sanders, a representative of the organization, said, "The racist and homophobic statements of Commissioner Hurst are something we condemn as strongly as we possibly can."

Sanders said they believe the county should censure him. "He should consider resigning unless he were willing to make a complete about face and introduce ordinances that would make county government more inclusive."

It's scheduled for November 18 at 6 p.m.

Learn more about the protest here.

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