ROGERSVILLE — What started as a proposal for the appointment of a committee to regulate Hawkins County businesses evolved into a referendum on late night drag racing during Monday’s Hawkins County Commission meeting.
By two votes, late night drag racing was victorious, much to the joy of a large contingent of Cherokee Raceway Park supporters who attended the commission meeting Monday evening in support of their track.
Last year the county commission adopted “additional powers” similar to the powers that municipalities have to regulate businesses. The purpose of the regulatory powers is to protect the public from business practices against the public safety, health, morals, comfort, convenience and general well-being.
The original intent of the commission was to regulate seasonal fireworks vendors.
In order for the commission to utilize those regulatory powers, however, it must form a committee. That committee would discuss regulatory proposals and make recommendations to the full commission, which would then require a two-thirds vote for approval.
Monday night the commission was presented with a resolution appointing seven members to the county Powers Committee — one from each of the seven districts. No other issues related to the Powers Committee or proposed regulations were up for consideration.
Commissioner Darrell Gilliam, who was proposed to represent District 6 on the Powers Committee, told the Times-News earlier this month he planned to propose a midnight curfew on drag racing at Cherokee Raceway Park — also located in District 6 — after the committee was formed.
Gilliam said that there had been an unwritten agreement between the track and its residential neighbors that there would be no racing after midnight. Earlier this month, the dragstrip competition ran way past midnight, and Gilliam began receiving complaints around 1:30 a.m.
In fact, it was that event which prompted County Mayor Melville Bailey to appoint members to the committee.
Monday night’s commission meeting had a standing-room-only crowd, and about half of those in attendance were there in support of the dragstrip.
Tim Inman, who is the lease holder for the dragstrip, told the commission that the people who live near the dragstrip knew it was there when they moved in. The dragstrip has been in operation since the 1960s.
“I’m appalled about the idea of one or two people trying to shut the racetrack down,” Inman said. “It has been told that if we didn’t like the 12 o’clock (midnight) curfew, they would try to do it at 10 p.m., and if that didn’t work they’d try to do it at 8 p.m.”
Inman added, “We’ve done things that cut our revenue down by a high sum, just to try to work with the community to try to keep them happy. And we continue to try to do things to help the community, but it’s been over a year and a half since the track went past 12 o’clock (midnight), and that happened a couple of weeks ago.”
One lone voice in the crowd spoke up in support of regulating the dragstip hours. The man, who didn’t give his name, told the commission he lives about a half-mile from the track.
“What do you call reasonable?” the man asked track supporters.
“Two or three o’clock in the morning? ... Come up there and listen to it some Friday or Saturday night. It’s not reasonable at one, two, three o’clock in the morning. It keeps everybody up, but I guess that’s OK if somebody wants to put a couple of nickels in their pocket.”
Gilliam said he lives about four miles from the track, and it sounds like they’re racing in his front yard.
Commissioner Gary Hicks said his concern for establishing a Powers Committee ran deeper than drag racing, however.
“This really worries me about what it can open up if this is passed,” Hicks said.
“What’s going to stop — over at the TVA when the train drives by at night — somebody says that train is too loud? I don’t know that we need to pass this tonight, but I think there’s a lot of information that needs to be answered before we dive into this.”
Hicks added, “I’m just not sure that we understand what we’re getting in to when we get into this and start regulating businesses. The worst thing we can be known as is power hungry as far as the businesses. That is not going to draw retail, industry or business of any type to our county.”
Commission John Metz noted that the Powers Committee would also be regulating businesses such as pain clinics or adult entertainment.
“I would hope and pray that there would be 14 individuals out of 21 (on the county commission) who would have enough common sense and courtesy to vote in a fashion that their constituents would want them to vote,” Metz said.
“I didn’t know about the dragstrip issue. But if we were talking about a pain clinic or adult entertainment establishment opening up in your neighborhood, I think most of the people who are against this issue over the dragstrip would probably have a different opinion.”
The committee appointment resolution failed by a vote of 9-8 with four abstentions.
A majority of the overall 21-member commission, or 11 yes votes, is required for approval of a resolution.
Commissioners who voted in favor of the resolution included Gilliam, Shane Bailey, Virgil Mallett, Joe McLain, Linda Kimbro, Stacy Vaughan, Hubert Neal, Fred Castle and Eugene Christian.
Commissioners who voted against the resolution included Hicks, Metz, Charlie Freeman, Charlie Newton, Dwight Carter, Bob Palmer, Danny Alvis and B.D. Cradic.
The four abstentions were Syble Vaughan-Trent, Jeff Barrett, Glenda Davis and Lynn Short — each of whom was proposed to be a member of the Powers Committee.