It is astounding and scares me a little that the same people that are driving a $300 million dollar project in Jefferson County can’t seem to plan an informational meeting and put out a few refreshments. Last weeks “informational” meeting was a joke at best and a travesty at worst. I seriously doubt that one person left that cramped, hot room and said  “Wow, now I can be totally on board with this project.” Which is a real shame, because if this project pans out like it is being touted, it could improve the economic plight of many people in Jefferson County. My issue is more with the tone of the project than the project itself. Folks were upset about the manner in which they were treated, almost with disregard. This is an emotional issue for many property owners. They are angry, confused and grieving what they perceive as the loss of their community and way of life. Is it too much to offer them a seat, a bottle of water and a little real conversation?

What we must remember as a community is that we are asking for more than just property. We are asking them to shed their current way of life. A farmer’s life’s blood is the knowledge of his land and it takes years to determine the best way to work the land. It is not as easy as just buying another farm and starting over. If you take a tuba player’s tuba away and give him a flute to play he is still a musician… just not a very happy or effective one.

The event was held in a breakout room at the Expo Center in White Pine. People were packed shoulder to shoulder trying to make their way to the few posters that were set up in the room. Many people waited around, sure that the information portion of the evening would start shortly. It never did. Who do I hold responsible for this mess and public relations train wreck? Well, apparently we, the citizens of Jefferson County, are paying good money to a public relations firm from Knoxville to advise “us” on how to deal with the “public”. From what I have seen, we should have saved our money. People in this County, including those involved in this project, know better than to serve breakfast and back pats to community “movers and shakers” in the morning and then cram property owners into a hot room and push them through the “receiving line” like prisoners in the common rooms at Alcatraz. When I inquired how many were in attendance at the event, one representative from the public relations firm said that they only invited property owners and that they were not expecting the public at large. Is this projected site not proposed to be funded with tax payer dollars? Do tax payers not fund EDOC in Jefferson County, as well as the Chamber? If there is one thing that every Chamber of Commerce knows how to do it is smooze. It is the bread and butter of their funding. Why are the only people that are not being smoozed the property owners that are expected to take one for the home team? So, week 2 has come and gone and still the question remains-Is the Megasite a good and sound proposal to invest $3 million dollars, little alone $300 million? I think it all comes down to incentives and guarantees. Like most people in the County, I want economic growth but I must say that it is difficult to get past the crowded rooms and disrespectful way that some citizens of this County are being treated. I will never feel good about asking members of this community to give up so much of their live, no matter how much they are paid, but I am pragmatic enough to want a closer look at something that could bring relief to so many in our community struggling to make ends meet.

One person involved in the project from the inception said to me that the project needed to stay quite until it was launched and not notifying property owners earlier was not meant to be disrespectful but that most would have been upset anyway. Probably, so. Most people are initially upset when they feel that their homes are threatened. Look at the public outcry Nationally when people feel that their right to have weapons to protect their homes is threatened. But the acceptance and negotiation process could have been much smoother and, if not pleasant, less stressful for those that did nothing more to warrant this situation than simply open their mail on January 10th. Frankly, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a project that, otherwise, might be a very good thing for Jefferson County.

Source: K. Depew, News Director