No answer for prayer: Blount County Commission pulls prayer policy for legal review
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Blount County Commission on Thursday did not end up discussing its practice of allowing prayer prior to its monthly meetings after all.
Commissioner Gerald Kirby asked that consideration of a written policy clarifying the practice, meant to protect the county from possible court challenges, be deferred until a future date because it remains under legal review.
“This resolution is in the lawyer’s office under advisement, so I need to pull it off the agenda tonight,” he said.
During public comments, audience member Samuel Duck approached the microphone only to crumple up his handheld notes, saying that’s what he was going to read about a topic pulled from the agenda. “Wonderful backbone, wonderful courage.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., whose stated purpose is “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church,” has been pressuring the county to get commissioners to modify the long-standing practice.
During public comments on items not on the agenda, audience member Elisabeth Spratt told commissioners she opposes the custom of prayer before the meetings, citing the separation of church and state. She added that the same separation protects people of all faiths and does not hurt anyone’s right to pray privately.
“I want to protect the religious freedoms of Christians, too,” she said.
Audience member Linda King supports the custom, saying, “It should continue.”
The foundation does not believe that legislative bodies like the County Commission should have prayer before their meetings, but if they do they should have to obey dictates that say they cannot pray to a specific deity.
Under the proposed guidelines, commissioners can choose to deliver the invocation or assign someone else to do so. The resolution would prohibit coercion and includes language meant to avoid the appearance of pushing a particular faith.
In other action, commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to extend its current letters of credit with BB&T at a better price than under the current contract but to also request proposals from other banks to look for an even better deal.
Commissioner Jim Folts was concerned about a paragraph that indicates the county agrees to pay all reasonable costs and expenses of the bank in connection with preparing and delivering the documents.
“My concern here is that $18,000 doesn’t go very far with legal fees,” he said. “Could we eat up all our savings in legal fees?”
County Finance Director Randy Vineyard said, “The estimated cost to execute this agreement is approximately ... $500.”
“We could save a great deal more than 5 basis points (through the request for proposals),” Commissioner Steve Samples said.
In other business, commissioners approved a request from Blackberry Farm to rezone 74 acres of land to a new classification designed for resorts. Blackberry Farm LLC and Singing Brook Conservancy have requested rezoning of the land along West Millers Cove Road in Walland from R-1- Rural District 1 and R-2-Rural District 2 to PRRD-Planned Rural Resort District.
The PRRD is meant to simplify the planning and zoning requests that Blackberry Farm has to make when seeking to expand. The resort has not specified its expansion plans.
In addition, the County Commission:
• Rezoned property at 225 and 235 Old Glory Road from suburbanizing to commercial.
• Rezoned property on Cedar Creek Road from R-1 to Commercial.