The Hamblen County Commission unanimously censured Commission Chairman Howard Shipley Thursday night during the regularly-scheduled commission meeting for an incident that occurred in October where he asked a group to turn their shirts inside out.
Shipley also read a statement to the commission, apologizing for the incident and saying that he believed in First Amendment rights and was wrong for infringing on the rights of the group, Citizens for Open and Accountable Government in Hamblen County.
“I wrongly prohibited the exercise of freedom of speech and the right to petition the government when I directed deputies to stop individuals wearing a COAG shirt at the courthouse door and tell individuals to turn their shirts inside out before entering,” Shipley said.
Shipley said if the commission did not censure him then he would immediately resign as chairman of the commission. The commission voted 14-0 to censure Shipley.
The censure took place after attorneys for COAG contacted Hamblen County and said they would file a lawsuit if certain steps did not take place.
The incident occurred on Oct. 22 when Shipley directed deputies to have any COAG member wearing a T-shirt with the COAG logo on it to either turn their shirt inside out or hide the logo.
Shipley said he did not have the authority to order county law enforcement to take any such action and there are no rules that prohibit T-shirts being worn with political statements during County Commission meetings.
He also stated that the group had been wearing the shirts since July 23 and he had taken no previous action against them.
“My actions deserve and I will accept a vote of censure from this body,” Shipley said.
Shipley also apologized to the commission for his actions and said that he apologizes for any undue comments other commissioners may have received due to his comments.
As part of its agreement, the commission will also review all of its rules.
The Commission also voted 14-0 to begin recording all meetings from this point.
Before voting, County Commissioner Wayne NeSmith made a motion to amend the original resolution and add that any video would be placed on the county website or social media channels “in its entirety with no editing.”
The commission approved the amendment 14-0.
County Commissioner Chris Cutshaw then asked if there would be any type of backup in case the county’s video goes down during one of the meetings.
“As soon as it goes down, we’ll be accused of trying to hide something,” he said.
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said that the commission meeting is also being broadcast over the county’s video conferencing system. So, if that occurs they would be able to post that video online if needed.
The commission approved the resolution with the added amendment 14-0.