County Mayor Jim Coppinger charged Wednesday that the sewage treatment issue facing the county "has gotten totally out of control. It has become totally political."
He said, "The people who deal with this every day are telling us one thing and we are responding differently."
The County Commission voted earlier 5-4 not to approve a site on Mahan Gap Road that had been recommended by the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) for a sewage treatment plant.
County Mayor Coppinger said, "Now it's turned into something that's gone on for months" and brought charges against the integrity of WWTA board members and himself.
He said the rumors had even been against the wife of WWTA Board Chairman Mike Moon and his own wife.
County Mayor Coppinger said, "I rely on the people who do this every day. I trust and have confidence in them."
He said he is "a pro-growth guy" and said he is willing to "fall on the sword" on the sewage plant issue. "When I ran for office, I promised to do what is best for all of Hamilton County."
The county mayor said the county had been successful with VW and others in bringing in large number of jobs, "but if we're not going to grow, I don't know where we're going to be."
After his statement, Chairman Sabrena Smedley, who was one of those voting against the Mahan Gap Road site, asked, "You say it's gotten political. For who?"
County Mayor Coppinger, saying the WWTA "has been like a pinata for the past year," said, "I am not going to name names, but I believe members of the commission would agree with me, and I see their heads shaking."
He said the politics "is not just from up here" but from other quarters in the community, including rumors he cited.
Chairman Smedley said her position remains that she wanted to "fully vet" all options. She said she as a realtor was losing money as long as the issue remains unresolved. She said "ridiculous rumors" were also flung at her, including that she voted based on a planned run for county mayor.
Commissioner Chester Bankston, who also voted against Mahan Gap Road, said a committee that was put together to try to find an agreeable sewage plant site, would be making its recommendation to the WWTA next Monday.
County Mayor Coppinger warned about continued criticism of the WWTA. He said, "Every comment about selling and their going away is hurting their chances every single day. They are going to have to be borrowing money and issuing bonds in the future."
He also talked about the issue of consolidation of the city sewer operation with the WWTA that was raised at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
He said, "I favor consolidation of services 100 percent." He said though it would likely need to be a countywide operation, saying that if the city is in charge it would not have any incentive to put sewers out into the unincorporated areas.
Mike Patrick, WWTA director who formerly headed the Moccasin Bend operations, said he did not believe that the city was required in perpetuity to operate the large regional plant.
Commissioner Tim Boyd said the "county should not put all its eggs in one basket" but should have more than one sewage treatment plant. He said when any plant gets very large there are significant operational problems.
County Mayor Coppinger said Knox County is roughly the size of Hamilton County and has four sewage treatment plants.
Commissioner David Sharpe said, "Maybe we should stop thinking about encouraging jobs if we can't build the houses."
Commissioner Greg Martin said he also had been attacked over the issue. He said, "I am not going to dignify the rumors. Who cares?" He added, "I don't question a single person on this dais for their vote."
County Mayor Coppinger said the commission now needed to turn its attention to the upcoming budget, with several important decisions to be made. He said the first budget work session would be May 7 with a June 5 presentation of his budget recommendations.