HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) – The Wednesday morning meeting of the Hamilton County Commission started with a lengthy public prayer and ended with political fireworks directed at the county school board.

With both opponents and supporters of the ongoing debate over public prayers at commission meetings, Signal Mountain Church of God Pastor Paul Massey delivered an extended invocation to open the meeting. The Rev. Massey's prayer invoked God three times, the Father three times, and the Lord and Jesus Christ once each. 

Prayer opponents recorded the invocation for possible inclusion in the federal lawsuit, which is currently awaiting a judge's ruling on a possible injunction.  Opponents want the judge to halt opening prayers while court case itself is heard and decided. 

Since the commission adopted its new 'more inclusive, first request-first honored' policy after the filing of the initial lawsuit, no non-Christian representatives have delivered an opening prayer.

But public prayer was far from being the only controversial topic at the meeting.

What seemed to be a routine approval of an architectural firm to design the new East Brainerd Elementary School turned into a political kerfluffle between the commission and the school board, with a final vote of 7-2 against the approval.

Commissioner Joe Graham questioned the approval, asking if the old property had yet been sold and if the entire process had been resolved. A representative from TWH Architects explained that they were seeking authorization from the county to put the old East Brainerd Elementary and Ooltewah Elementary properties up for sale.

"We need to secure that revenue so Commission knows where and how it's being spent," Graham said.  

Commission Chairman Larry Henry asked if there was already an agreement with the school board. County Mayor Jim Coppinger answered that today's vote would merely would start the process, as the  HCDE owns the property.  

"You'll have plenty of opportunities to stop the process," Coppinger said.  "Don't let the timetable and architect appointment be held hostage by this issue.  The purpose is to move forward."

However, Commissioner Warren Mackey disagreed, saying that it was "not good business" to not have time to look it over. "We can do better," he said.

Commissioner Tim Boyd noted that the commissioners still didn't have "a clue" when HCDE would give them a broader plan. "We're like Three Blind Mice," Boyd said. "We're kind of like wherever the rub is the most, that's where the focus is."

Coppinger explained that it was difficult to put dates on these projects, as economic development and interest rates drive the proposal. "We all want to see schools move forward," he said. "I plead with you to do that today."

Commissioner Fred Skillern echoed the opposition to the motion, noting that it was unclear whether by approving the architectural firm would give them any say in how revenues from the sale of East Brainerd Element property would be utilized.

"The school board is famous for spending one-time money for ongoing expenses," Skillern claimed. He also asserted the school board had not explained the East Brainerd property intent.

He maintained that the commission, not the school board, needed to decide that all revenues from property sales goes back into school building, renovation or buying property.