Williamson, Inc. "town hall" events become "legislative updates" following recent confrontation

Williamson, Inc. "town hall" events become "legislative updates" following recent confrontation

Williamson County legislators answer questions during a Williamson Inc. town hall event in July 2018. // File Photo


The Williamson County chamber of commerce is changing the name of its monthly event featuring a panel discussion with state legislators.

The town hall events will now be called legislative updates.

The name change comes after a sexual assault survivor confronted Williamson County legislators at the last town hall. 

Ashley Massey criticized Speaker of the House Glen Casada’s decision to appoint Representative David Byrd to an education subcommittee despite accusations of sexual assault. Casada wasn’t at the event.

The liberal blog The Tennessee Holler posted a video of the confrontation on twitter. Moderator Dave Crouch later apologized for the way he responded to Massey at the town hall.

Williamson County Director of Government Affairs Kel McDowell wrote in an email that the event will remain largely the same as before.

McDowell didn’t provide any other details about the change, but said the chamber would discuss the name change ahead of the next event on March 29.

In an email, Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen wrote that the confrontation in February precipitated the name change.

“The last Town Hall revealed the shortcomings of calling what was essentially a legislative update, a Town Hall meeting,” Largen wrote.  “Back when it was called the Public Affairs Roundtable it was designed to be a legislative update and to give our attendees an in-depth understanding of current legislation, especially legislation our delegation is sponsoring or supporting.”

He added that it’s routine for the organization to change the name of events to better explain their purpose.

A tweet from the chamber about the February town hall used the hashtags #PublicForum and #TownHall. A tweet for the March event uses the hashtags #GovernmentAffairs and #LegislativeUpdate.

After the town hall in February, protesters at the state capitol also confronted Casada about a statue of Confederate General and Klu Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest displayed in the capitol building. One protester threw a cup at Casada.

In a tweet, Casada said he wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior.

In the past, the Williamson Inc. town hall events haven’t typically involved flying cups of coffee, or tense confrontations with protesters. Still, many residents of Williamson County are already trying to figure out how to improve civility.

Next month, Franklin Tomorrow — a community group that aims to engage the community and foster collaboration — will host a discussion on the topic of civility at its monthly FrankTalks event.

Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate said the topic isn’t in response to the confrontations at the capitol or the town hall, but she hopes the event will encourage residents of Williamson County to engage with people who disagree with them.

“Civility doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with each other,” she said. “It means everyone agrees to treat each other with respect, and to listen to opinions of others.”

During conversations about contentious topics, Tate said people often wait for a chance to respond, rather than trying to hear what someone else is saying. While many people want to defend strongly held beliefs, she said it’s still important to listen.

“I think sometimes those feelings emerge in a setting if someone feels like they’re not being heard,” she said. “If we can open the channels of ensuring that people are heard, whether it’s in a public setting or a private setting then you won’t see, I think, some of the flare ups.”

The FrankTalks event on civility is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. on April 8 at SPARK: Lipscomb’s Idea Center in Cool Springs. The event features Tennesseean Opinion and Engagement Director David Plazas, ThinkTennessee President Shanna Singh Hughey and Franklin Mayor Ken Moore.

Williamson Inc’s legislative update is scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. on March 29 at Columbia State. It will feature a panel discussion with Casada, Johnson, Representative Sam Whiston and Representative Brandon Ogles.

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