Jackson commissioner regrets public airing of discord on board

A brouhaha among Jackson County commissioners at a meeting last week prompted a follow-up public apology from Chairman Jack Debnam.

Debnam told The Smoky Mountain News there was a time and place for such disagreements but that the county meeting was neither the proper time nor the suitable place.

Commissioners met Nov. 14 in a special workshop to discuss funding for Smoky Mountain High School and a controversial proposed room tax hike. For the first part of the meeting, commissioners worked together in equanimity.

But when the meeting turned to a discussion of the room tax — and the equally divisive issue of whether the county’s framework for promoting tourism should be revamped — Commissioner Joe Cowan let loose with a heated verbal salvo. Cowan accused Debnam and County Manager Chuck Wooten of leaving him and fellow Democrat Mark Jones out in the cold. Cowan said they are purposely kept in the dark about issues and cut off from information.

That, in turn, sparked an exchange that put Debnam and Commissioner Doug Cody on the defensive.

Debnam and Cody told Cowan he should do more on his end, such as reading up on the county meeting agendas, getting to the meetings early or calling the other commissioners to talk.

“There should not have been an outburst like that in a public meeting,” Debnam said last week. “I’m apologizing for that happening at a board meeting. I would have liked all of that to have been handled in a more diplomatic manner.”

— By Quintin Ellison

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