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Van Buren County Commission meeting cut short
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Melissa Harmon speaks with Van Buren County Commission chair Joey Grissom after the meeting was abruptly ended Tuesday night. - photo by Hansel Moore

The Van Buren County Commission meeting was abruptly halted Tuesday night in Spencer when a packed roomful of concerned residents began to question commissioners about a recent wheel tax vote.

“We are not here to argue,” said County Commission chair Joey Simmons.

Commissioner Mickey Robinson then made a motion to adjourn that was quickly seconded and the meeting was terminated.

Unrest began to grow as County Mayor Greg Wilson gave a speech to the 80-plus people in attendance where he reiterated the importance of the 60 to 70 jobs that have been promised with the gasification company that is slated to be in operation by the end of 2020.

“We are using what we got for Van Buren County, no conspiracy, nothing,” said Wilson. “That I am sick of! I can’t do my job during the day without having to worry about what somebody thinks. There are only about four or five. I am not speaking about everyone in here … my whole point of today is, there are some that want to go forward with conspiracy theories. I guess they have a dislike for myself and this commission. When they attack them (the commissioners) it goes with something like the X-Files.”

When the opportunity for questions from the audience was given, Virginia Evans asked for clarification of an action of the previous month’s meeting. “There was nothing in the notes about how much money was written off with the BDS loan.”

Evans was referring to a purchase of property and equipment by the county from BDS waste management company. The amount in question was later clarified as $475,000.

Commissioner Will Maxwell responded, “It wasn’t a write off. It was a forgiveness of a loan. It was an inner (county) loan, from one fund to another.”

When Evans continued to ask questions, Mayor Wilson interjected, “That’s just it. Exactly what I am talking about right there. We are trying to get something out there.”  

He then turned to county attorney Howard Upchurch and asked “Can they forgive that?”  

When it was answered in the affirmative, Wilson continued, “It’s an inner-county loan.” 

Evans cited a recent statement given by the mayor regarding property tax on county residents.

Wilson responded, “We are not in dire straits now, probably not for the next two years, but what we have to do is look to the future. In the next two or three years there are going to be some issues.” 

As Wilson continued about the wheel tax vote, he verbalized a respect for the right for the voters to deny the wheel tax.

His statement was questioned by Evans declaring, “You filed a lawsuit to stop that vote. I disagree that you support that.” 

At that point, Simmons said, “We are not here to argue” and the meeting was adjourned.

The packed commission room erupted into a state of disbelief and confusion as five individuals who were waiting to speak were abruptly silenced.