Thoughts on city races, Boss Hill and Mouse’s Ear

Robert Houk • Jan 21, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Thursday’s deadline for submitting papers to qualify as a candidate for office in Johnson City’s April 23 municipal election produced no last-minute surprises. That’s not to say, however, that the races for the City Commission and city Board of Education haven’t raised a few eyebrows.

Jenny Brock’s decision to resign from the Board of Education to seek a seat on the commission was one such move. While she would be required to resign from the school board if she is elected to the commission, there’s nothing that would prevent her from continuing on the board until the outcome of election. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe made his successful run for Congress in 2008 while serving as mayor of Johnson City.

If Brock loses her bid for city commissioner, that means she needlessly gave up her seat on the school board. At least that’s the thinking of some political pundits I have heard from.

Local government officials say they were pleasantly surprised earlier this month to learn that state Rep. Matthew “Boss” Hill, R-Jonesborough, was named chairman of the House Local Government Committee. The appointment sees Hill, who is beginning his fifth term in the General Assembly, finally move up the ranks to a leadership post. What makes his appointment as chairman of the Local Government Committee so surprising is the fact Hill has never served on that committee.

Area municipal leaders hope Hill will at last become their go-to guy on Capitol Hill. Local city officials have not had a particularly close relationship with Boss Hill, who perturbed more than a few when he sponsored legislation that municipal leaders said would have allowed city firefighters to bargain collectively.

It will be interesting to see how Washington County officials respond to plans by Ralph Browning, the owner of the Mouse’s Ear Exotic Sports Bar, to rebuild his strip bar. Washington County commissioners have never been a fan of the beer and burlesque establishment, and several have vowed to do whatever they can to prevent it from reopening.

The Mouse’s Ear was heavily damaged by a fire earlier this month. Commissioners are hoping the county’s building and zoning regulations will make it difficult for the nudie bar to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. If history is any indication, county officials can expect a long fight on their hands.

I recall back to the late 1990s when efforts by Washington County officials to prohibit topless bars by zoning means ended in failure. That’s when commissioners passed a zoning resolution — modeled after a similar provision in Knox County — aimed at closing the Mouse’s Ear. Browning successfully challenged the legality of that zoning resolution in court.

County commissioners approved creation of a special board in 2000 to regulate adult-oriented businesses. The board was the product of the Adult-Oriented Establishment Act of 1998, a state law upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court earlier in 2000. That board has since faded into obscurity.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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