Public Meeting At Jamboree

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County commissioners took their weekly meeting to Jamboree In The Hills on Wednesday – but not before Commission president Matt Coffland told meeting regulars there would be no public comment session at the courthouse, and they would have to meet with the commissioners at JITH if they wished to speak.

Commissioners first convened in commission chambers at the courthouse at 9 a.m. Wednesday to vote on motions and approve the paying of county bills.

A public comment period is typically listed as the next item on the commission, but it wasn’t Wednesday.

After motions were completed, Coffland instead recessed the meeting until 10:30 a.m., when the commissioners would reconvene at the VIP Pavillion at the JITH site near Morristown.

Commissioner Ginny Favede asked him if they were going to ask for public comment since about four residents were in attendance.

“No,” Coffland responded. “We’re going to hold it out there. That’s what we advertised, wasn’t it?”

Pease Township Trustee Michael Bianconi, also a former commissioner, asked if he could speak.

“I’m on a break, but what would you like?” Coffland asked.

Bianconi said he disagreed with Coffland’s decision. He wanted to speak on record, but he didn’t want to go to JITH. He said it was only 9:30 a.m., and it would be an hour before the commission would reconvene.

“Everyone doesn’t agree with us going out there,” Coffland said. “We do go out there and hold forum, and we’ve done so for the past five years. It’s never been an issue. Today it’s an issue. I don’t know why. We could have discussed this long ago.”

Only one of the persons attending followed the meeting to the JITH site, and she termed herself an observer who had no comments or questions to ask. Otherwise, only the commission staff was present when the commissioners convened for about 10 minutes at the VIP Pavillion.

“Jamboree is like nothing else in the Midwest,” Favede said. “It serves as the Superbowl of Country Music, but also as a vacation destination. Many people plan their vacations around Jamboree In The Hills. It serves as a reunion. It’s unbelievable how many people tell me how many years they’ve been coming to this event. Sometimes it is just to participate in those reunions and see old friends. I love knowing that’s what Belmont County represents to so many people.”

Commissioner Mark Thomas said while it was his first commission meeting at JITH, he has a long history at the event. As an 18-year-old, he parked cars for the Saints Club during JITH at its former Brush Run Park location in the late 1970s.

“With the traffic that’s been here in the past week, it is now seemingly a two-week event as an economic development engine in Belmont County,” he said. “People feel they need to come in early to secure a site. … This is a huge, huge economic impact to Belmont County. And it’s just a fun event.”

Coffland said he has been a patron at JITH each year since it started in 1977, and he was 18 years old.

“It’s a big party, though it was probably more family-oriented then,” he said. “It’s a good time.”