Newly appointed Rogersville Alderman Mark Dewitte requested that the question of opening BMA meetings with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance be placed on the agenda of Tuesday’s BMA meetings.
Most governmental entities in Hawkins County open meetings with the pledge and either a prayer, or in the case of the Hawkins County Board of Education, a moment of silence.
Two exceptions include the Rogersville City School BOE and the Rogersville BMA.
Dewitte, who was appointed last month to fill an alderman seat vacated by the resignation of Philip Beal, asked his fellow board members Tuesday if there is a reason the BMA doesn’t open meetings with a prayer and the pledge.
Mayor Jim Sells, who has served on the board for more than four decades, said he doesn’t have a problem with an opening prayer/pledge.
Sells added, however, that he would like to receive advice from City Attorney Bill Phillips before an official decision is made. Phillips was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t want to suggest that we do anything illegal,” Dewitte said.
Sells relied, “I don’t think it would be, but we’ll know for sure if we check with him (Phillips).”
In the meantime, Sells asked City Recorder Bill Lyons to contact local clergy and arrange for a different pastor to give an invocation every month. Sells said Lyons or aldermen Wayne Slater and John Johnson would be good candidates to lead the pledge because they are military veterans.
Lyons told the board he was recently checking BMA meeting minutes from the 1920s on a different subject, and thought of the prayer/pledge issue set to come before the BMA. He said he checked Rogersville BMA minutes records as far back as they’re recorded, and there was no mention of the board ever opening meetings with a prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I’ll bet anything that during World War II they did it, because I remember my dad telling me Dr. Rhea opened the meeting one time,” Lyons said. “But it’s not in the minutes.”
Dewitte is one of the organizers of a regularly scheduled “prayer walk” in the Rogersville area, as well as a prayer breakfast that meets bi-weekly on Thursday mornings at the Price Public Community Center.
“I’ve been asked that question (about the absence of a prayer/pledge) several times out in the (BMA) audience, and I thought it would be something worth bringing up,” Dewitte said.