ELIZABETHTON — The old fissures that separate the supporters of Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey from the rest of the Carter County Commission reached a new width on Monday night when five commissioners walked out of the meeting and sat with the audience.
Commissioner Charles Von Cannon was the first to walk out after he had been ordered to sit down by Chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers. Instead of sitting, Von Cannon picked up his possessions and walked out.
After a moment of surprised silence, Scott Sams turned and walked out. Then Nancy Brown, Robert Gobble and Ronnie Trivette also walked out and took seats with the audience.
When asked during a recess about his action, Von Cannon said it was nothing that had been planned.
“He told me to sit down like my daddy did. I did just like I did with my daddy. I walked out of the house and never came back,” Von Cannon said.
Von Cannon finished his family history by saying he did come back when his father asked him to, about 40 years later.
Von Cannon’s return to the commission came much sooner. Brown said County Attorney Keith Bowers spoke with them and said there would be some important business later in the meeting that required all members’ consideration. At the county attorney’s urging, all the members agreed to return.
Von Cannon’s action came during yet another discussion on downsizing the County Commission. Bowers responded to the call by the mayor to reconsider the idea by saying it was a decision made by the Reapportionment Committee, but he would entertain a motion.
Von Cannon said, “I rose during the discussion. I didn’t see anyone else ready to speak but I was told later there was someone behind me (who had been recognized by the chairman).” When Von Cannon was ordered to sit down, he said he did not get mad, he just responded the way he had with his father.
Brown said her reason for following Von Cannon out of the committee was because “they don’t respect the mayor.”
Even though his supporters were sitting it out, Humphrey did win a floor fight Monday. The commission was considering adopting the 2009 International Building Codes and 2009 International Residential Codes once again. The commissioners had adopted them in September 2010 but had rescinded the adoption at the mayor’s urging. He said the Planning Commission did not have people certified to conduct the inspections. Planning Director Chris Schuettler had said the inspectors have a year from adoption of the codes to become certified under state law.
With the motion to readopt the 2009 codes up for another vote, Humphrey again rose to object, saying the county inspectors were not qualified on the plumbing and mechanical sections of the codes. Humphrey said state inspectors could continue to conduct the inspections, as they are doing in Washington County. Schuettler once again reminded commissioners that under state law the inspectors have a year from the time of adoption to become qualified. He said all the county inspectors have extensive experience in building, some in residential and some in residential and commercial.
Commissioner Steve Chambers said some state inspectors were no more qualified than the county inspectors. He said one state inspector took the qualifying examination at the same time as the county’s inspectors.
Commissioner Ken Arney invited a building contractor to discuss his experiences with one state inspector.
The builder, Amos Halava, told the commissioners he was building a $1 million house in Watauga Flats. He said a building inspection subcontractor for the state told him to perform some caulking around the edges of the house. Halava said that would create moisture problems in the house and challenged the inspector to show him where the requirement was in the code books.
He said the man could not find any such requirements in the book and the call was then made to his superior in Nashville. When the superior agreed with Halava, he said the inspector passed him but then began making him jump through many hoops that were not in the code book and threatened that he would never receive permanent power to the home.
“I have no problem with the code book,” Halava said. “No true builder has a problem with it.” But he had a problem with state inspections because “you cannot get an answer from Nashville.” He said his calls for help went unanswered.
He said he has developed a good working relationship over the years with Schuettler and the county planning department.
Even with Halava’s complaints, the commissioners proved unready to go against the mayor’s recommendation not to adopt the code until all county inspectors were fully qualified in all areas of the inspections. It takes 13 votes to pass and only 12 commissioners voted for the measure. Even though the mayor’s supporters did not participate in the vote, their absence was the same as a “no” vote on the motion. Five other commissioners passed. John Lewis, the only consistent supporter of the mayor who did not walk out, cast the only no vote.