Last Friday, a contentious meeting of the Greene County, Tennessee Industrial Development Board ended in outrage as 76-year-old veteran Eddie Overholt was arrested for asking officials, who were speaking quietly among themselves rather than using the room’s public address system, to speak louder. Overholt was worried that seniors in the back of the room were unable to hear the discussion, which concerned a controversial plan to allow US Nitrogen to build a pipeline into the Nolichucky River.
The meeting drew a large crowd of locals who feared that the Industrial Development Board’s plan to request that the state allow US Nitrogen to install wastewater pipes into the Nolichucky river would have an impact on their property and way of life. Overholt told WATE-TV, “Eventually whatever they put in the river, we’re going to get in our wells. Knowing it’s a chemical company and a fertilizer company, we know what they put in the river.”
The officials running the packed meeting refused to use the room’s public address system, spoke quietly, and some even had their backs to the audience. According to a CNN i-report, as a result of their efforts to complicate citizens’ ability to hear discussion on the issue, Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles and other members of the Industrial Development Board are facing a lawsuit for violating the open meetings law. Also, one of the members of the board, J.W. Douthat, allegedly plans to sell some of his property to US Nitrogen, which locals feel to be a conflict of interests.
The room was tense, as the crowd expected that citizens would have an opportunity to comment publicly on the issue. Locals were not allowed to express themselves on the matter, however, and Mayor Broyles warned that any outbursts of any kind would result in expulsion from the meeting. Overholt told WJHL-TV what happened next, “When the board was speaking most of the people were standing so far back that they couldn’t hear what the board was saying. To prevent any further outburst I simply asked him could you all speak up so we can hear you.” Matters then escalated as Mayor Broyles ordered police to throw Overholt out of the meeting. Eddie Overholt was arrested on charges of disrupting a public meeting.
Overholt was then forced to walk to the jail, and, when he stopped to rest for a moment, was charged with resisting arrest. His bond was set at $2,000. Local residents have created a crowdfunding campaign to help him deal with resulting legal expenses.
Another local resident, Gary Susong, told WJHL-TV, “If there’s older folks there that can’t hardly hear too good you know and they’re hard of hearing or something it seems like the committee had something hide.” The community reacted strongly to Overholt’s arrest, issuing 42 complaints to the Tennessee Open Records Counsel as of Tuesday.
Back in January of this year, Green County Mayor Alan Broyles announced that he would not seek re-election.