JASPER, Tenn. — For almost a year, the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen's regular meetings increasingly have become a must-see event rather than a sparsely-attended, mundane gathering.
The small meeting room at the city hall annex along Phillips Avenue that doubles as the city courtroom is now completely full at least a half an hour before the board begins its business with standing room only just outside the double doors.
In recent months, a local media outlet has begun live-streaming meetings on Facebook for residents who don't want to fight the crowd, but many around the area are now tuning in, too.
They all gather to see the circus atmosphere that has become Jasper city meetings, and some are getting sick of it.
Since Alderman Jason Turner joined the board in December 2018, it signaled a fundamental shift in how the group operates, and the battle lines are as clear as the 3-2 votes many measures tally either for or against.
Turner, along with Vice Mayor Paul West and Alderman Josh Jennings compose the majority side, while Mayor Paul Evans and Alderman Paul "Mac" Bumpus typically make up the minority.
Normal discussions about city business escalate quickly into shouting matches and name-calling.
Evans has accused Jennings, Turner and West of trying to intimidate him over city matters and for attacking his character.
The three tried to freeze Evans's pay in July until a new budget was passed.
In just the last week, when Turner said Evans's original 2019-2020 budget proposal included a $137,000 deficit, Evans had a quick response.
"B— —," Evans told Turner. "I'm telling you b— — right now to your face. I'm telling it to your face, b— —."
At the same meeting, Evans said that during a conversation with Jennings at city hall in January, Jennings told him he had "the votes to do anything I want to do."
"I didn't tell you that b— —," Jennings told Evans.
"Yes, you did," Evans shot back. "And I said, Josh, you sure do, and what has it been since then? I'm telling you, you're a liar."
One resident left that meeting in frustration.
"This bickering right here needs to stop," he said as he walked out. "The mayor is the mayor. Ya'll are the aldermen. Do your job."
On social media, one person wrote that live-streaming the meetings was "the best thing that happened to Jasper" because it's always "one heck of a show."
While some residents laugh at the accusations or constant in-fighting and some take one side or the other, many residents have grown weary of the board's seeming inability to work together.
"Time to clean house," Roger Alder wrote on Facebook.
Another wrote that the board's meetings showed "complete dysfunction."
"People are making jokes about this being better than [Saturday Night Live], better than [Tennessee] football," Jessica Huggins said via social media. "While I agree it's a joke, if you live in this town, this is what citizens are facing. We need change, period."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org