published Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marion County officials refuse to give up on roadblock-type fundraisers

JASPER, Tenn. — Some Marion County leaders are refusing to give in to a state statute that outlaws roadblock fundraisers.

The Suck Creek Mountain Volunteer Fire Department's annual roadblock fundraiser was stopped by Tennessee Highway Patrol officers Oct. 20, 2013, and officials said a similar event organized by the Sequatchie Volunteer Fire Department was halted a day before that.

State officials told County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett "they were going to stop everybody" because the roadblocks violated state law, Burnett said.

Glenn Mercer, a volunteer fire department representative, said state officials "terminated" the Suck Creek organization's top fundraiser.

The organization has tried other fundraisers over the past several months, he said, but those haven't made up for the lost funding from the annual Ketner's Mill Country Arts Fair roadblock.

"I'm not sure that's a done deal," County Commissioner Kenneth Cookston said. "I have been talking to some people."

He said he believes that if a charitable organization has two police cars at the roadblock "with the blue lights flashing" the fundraisers are legal.

"That's my understanding," Cookston said.

In past years, the SMVFD has had county patrol cars at its roadblock fundraisers, Mercer said.

"Their fee was within our pay scale," he said. "This past year, that fee escalated outside our pay scale, so we pulled our trucks out, turned the lights on and still got terminated."

County Attorney Billy Gouger said the law provides a procedure to legally hold a roadblock fundraiser, but "not exactly the way they were done in the past."

The law requires the roadblock to be done at an intersection, he said.

"You have to go through a preapproved plan process, but it can be done as long as you follow that guideline that's in the statute," Gouger said.

"I'm still checking on it for them," Cookston said. "I have talked to many people about it to see what we can get done there."

Gouger said he is willing to meet with departments interested in organizing the roadblock fundraisers so they can put together a proper plan for them.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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