ELIZABETHTON — Tuesday’s meeting of the Carter County Planning Commission became more contentious than usual on Tuesday and ended with an angry confrontation between outgoing Chairman Ralph Watson and citizen Roy Livingston.
Livingston had approached Watson and stood close to him, saying he objected to Watson’s comments to a previous citizen that they could leave the county if they did not like the way things were done. Livingston said he was a veteran who had served in the military to defend the rights of others. Watson said he was a veteran also and that Livingston had misunderstood his statement.
When Livingston suggested that they could continue to discuss the matter outside the courthouse after the meeting, some in the crowd yelled that Livingston was making threats. Bailiffs quickly approached and took Livingston back to the gallery.
The meeting was quickly adjourned, but even that did not restore complete order, as another citizen, Scott Snell, objected that he had not been given a chance to speak about code and planning violations by a mobile home on Arlington Drive in Pinecrest.
There was also dissension among some of the commissioners. Mayor Leon Humphrey was targeted for criticism by several members for allegedly bypassing the Planning Commission on Monday when the full County Commission voted to approve the expenditure of $12,250 in Planning Department funds to obtain advice and services from the newly established planning division of the First Tennessee Development District.
Humphrey said the money was already in the department’s budget and was to be used for similar services that were provided by the state’s regional planning office in Johnson City before Gov. Bill Haslam closed the office as part of his budget cuts.
“There was no new money,” Humphrey told the commission. He said the money was going for the same purpose for which it had been budgeted.
Commissioner Steve Chambers said the funds were still part of the Planning Department’s budget and the matter should have been brought to the Planning Commission for a decision before being brought to the County Commission.
“You are bypassing this commission,” Watson said. “I have been on this commission for a long time and that is the way it is supposed to be done.”
Planning Director Chris Schuettler said the services provided by the FTDD’s planning office might not have been needed and the money might have been saved.
The contentious meeting was the end of a difficult day for Schuettler. He had made his first appearance in Sessions Court Tuesday morning to answer a charge of theft over $1,000.
The charge stems from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation review of Schuettler’s cell phone records that indicate calls billed from Lenoir and Wilkesboro, N.C., during business hours from June 2008 through October 2010, when Schuettler said he was at work inside Carter County.
When he was issued a criminal summons last week, Schuettler denied the assumptions made by the TBI and said it was “nothing more than another attack on me personally and professionally” by Mayor Humphrey.
Humphrey said last week he was not out to get Schuettler but emphasized that “public monies are to be handled with trust. It doesn’t matter who you are. This seems to be a serious charge.”
Steve Pierce, who was elected chairman of the Planning Commission during the meeting, made a strong statement in support of Schuettler prior to his being elected chairman.
“Until proven otherwise in a court of law, Mr. Schuettler is innocent until proven guilty. I feel, along with many members of this commission, as well as many people in the community, that he has worked faithfully and performed his duties in an honorable manner. I also believe the Planning Department and Carter County needs the continued leadership, experience and guidance Mr. Schuettler brings to his role as planning director. ... At this time, I would like to propose that Mr. Schuettler continue with his current duties and be given a vote of support and confidence by this commission.”
The proposal passed with all commissioners voting for it except Humphrey and Mary Ann Patton, who both passed.