ELIZABETHTON — In one of the most heated meetings in recent years, the Carter County Commission on Tuesday discussed a controversy that hit the local news media and social media during Christmas over an email invitation to use some extra doses of COVID-19 vaccination for commissioners and their families.
The discussion ended with one commissioner unsuccessfully trying to pass a “vote of lack of confidence” against another commissioner.
The December email said the county’s health department had “unexpected extra vaccine in today. We’ve got availability to provide this allotment until it is exhausted. … I would like to offer this to you and your family members … this is an opportunity to get the vaccine earlier than expected.”
In a press release, County Mayor Patty Woodby said she was told by the health department that there were extra doses above those needed for the first responders who had registered and that an invitation from the health department had been made to the commissioners and their high-risk family members.
During the time on the agenda for the mayor’s report on Tuesday night, Woodby told the commissioners that news reports on the matter caused a “horrible, horrible firestorm of negativity on social media and other forums.” Woodby said, “The one-sided information that was released to newspapers and media outlets by a couple of members of this commission … resulted in my receiving threats of harm, hate mail and phone calls. This complete disregard for elected officials, directors and department heads and their families’ safety will not be tolerated. I am the mayor of Carter County and I will not be intimidated.”
Woodby said she will not support initiatives that divide the county. She said the community is currently “in a dark place and we are looking for hope … this community is looking to us, the leaders, to bring it out of the pandemic.”
Woodby told the commission “there was never any malicious or illegal intent by me or the health department director on the vaccine invitation. Our health department staff has been bombarded by negative phone calls and hatred over this nonsense.”
Commissioner Mark Blevins made a motion for a “vote of lack of confidence” against Commissioner Mike Hill. He said Hill “needed to get his facts right” before talking to the media. The motion was seconded by Charles Von Cannon.
Hill said he did not enjoy waking up on the morning of Christmas Eve to a reporter’s phone call asking him if he had received his vaccination. He said, “I would kindly ask that you guys keep your illegal offers to yourselves. I want no part of them. I know what the letter was that I got out of my email.’’ Hill said it was an offer “based on information that wasn’t available to the general public to an elite group of people.”
After the meeting, Hill said he was taught in his orientation as a county commissioner that if he felt there was suspicious activity, that he should not investigate it himself, but should report it to the state comptroller. He said that is what he did.
Since then, the comptroller followed up with a telephone call requesting some information. Hill said the comptroller told him that the office would not provide status reports. He said it was the comptroller’s policy not to discuss ongoing investigations.
When the vote on Blevins’ motion was taken, only two commissioners voted for the lack of confidence censure, while six voted against it. The 15 remaining commissioners abstained. The two who voted for it were Blevins and Von Cannon, while Robert Acuff, Ross Garland, Randall Jenkins, Sonja Culler, Robin McKamey and Kelly Collins voted against it.
“I do not think this is an appropriate action to take against a fellow commissioner and I do not think this is an appropriate action to take against the mayor,” Commissioner Isaiah Grindstaff said.
Following the vote, several commissioners spoke of the need for the commissioners to come together, to support Woodby as she becomes experienced in the job and to communicate between the members before speaking outside of the commission. The meeting then ended with a prayer for unity by the commission chaplain Willie Campbell.