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Recess needed to relax at Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting

W. Kenneth Medley II • Updated Apr 9, 2019 at 8:44 PM

Brews and Tunes 2019 became the hot button issue of the Monday’s Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting as Alderman Stephen Callahan called for a 10-minute recess after a brief discussion.

Mayor Chuck Vest said the break was to allow Callahan to relax a little after mentioned changing Brews and Tunes event permit to substitute the words “alcoholic beverages” and not beer. Although the amendment was never formally proposed for a vote, it did trigger a discussion over alcohol and Brews and Tunes.

Vest described Brews and Tunes as a great event. This weekly live music event occurs during summer Sundays at the International Storytelling Center Plaza. Attendees are allowed to purchase craft beer that is 8% alcohol by volume or less.

Alderman Adam Dickson said he opposed the change. Dickson said Brews and Tunes is described as a “family event,” and he understands people have differing opinions to the interpretation of what that means. Dickson advocated leaving the permit as it was written, to explore discussion with more involvement later about the change and move forward as a community.

“I want to be careful with my words, but am going to go ahead and say it,” he said. “Just because you have a platform, does not mean you have the right to play golf. I do not believe as an elected official we have some kind of right to tell people how to live.”

Callahan replied, saying he was not speaking as an alderman but rather as the owner of Tennessee Hills Distillery. He reminded people that just because alcohol is served at at an event, it does not mean the event will get out of hand.

Callahan talked about the success of past events where the distillery served mixed drinks and other spirits. He said there has not been a major incident involving alcohol at the distillery in the past.

“Whether a person drinks 10 beers or three cocktails and gets out of hand, it does not make a substantial difference,” he said.

At this point, Vest called for the vote to approve the special event request as written for the 2019 season. Callahan requested the 10-minute recess, but Vest granted him five minutes.

During the recess, Callahan, Vest and Town Attorney James Wheeler held a private discussion in a room behind the board’s meeting room. Dickson and Alderwoman Virginia Causey tried to follow the group and were asked to wait outside. This caused a murmur from those in attendance.

After returning from the recess, the board voted on the permit for Brews and Tunes as written. Callahan recused himself from the vote while the others voted in favor of the measure.

Contacted Tuesday about the private meeting, Vest said, “We did not discuss town business. It was really just to let him (Callahan) relax a little.”

Dickson said he does not believe any closed-door discussions were being conducted during the recess. Dickson said Tuesday that he is proud of the ability of the people of Jonesborough to be able to discuss topics they do not necessarily agree upon. He went on to say that quality is necessary for the town to move forward.

Deborah Fisher, with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said she does not believe there was a violation of the state’s sunshine laws. The coalition is an advocacy group that reviews violations of of the state’s open meetings laws, which mandate government meetings be open to the public at large.

“If they came out and voted to change the special event permit,” Fisher said, “then the recess would more likely be problematic. Now it is irrelevant.”

Multiple attempts were made to reach Callahan Tuesday for comment, but were not successful.

The rest of Monday’s meeting was business as usual. Alderman Terry Countermine was absent for a medical test, according to Vest. The board approved an assessment of the water pressure throughout the town with a focus on improving services. This will lead to higher property values, Vest said.

A new tobacco policy further restricting smoking and vaping at the Senior Center was approved. Causey said the policy should be adopted at all Jonesborough town buildings. Vest asked Town Administrator Robert Browning to “look into that.”

Water Department employee David Wright was named employee of the month.

For more stories follow @kmedley on Twitter and Facebook.

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