The employment future of employees of Jay County Visitors and Tourism Bureau and Jay County Development Corp. drew a crowd to Monday’s Jay County Commissioners meeting.

There were about 40 in attendance at the meeting, some calling for visitors and tourism bureau employee Blake Watson and JCDC director of community development Ami Huffman to be fired for comments made on Facebook regarding the Oct. 25 “American Patriots Day” event and others speaking in their support.

On the day of the event, Watson made a Facebook post that encouraged residents “not to patronize” businesses that were involved in supporting it. (There was contention over whether the event was a political rally — it was advertised for attendees to support “your country … your president … your Constitutional rights … your military … your police, fire and first responders” — but organizers said it was not intended to be political.) In an unrelated post in a private Facebook group, Huffman said she “took note of the local businesses that support this.”

Both posts were removed, and both organizations issued apologies for the comments later that week.

Comments from eight individuals, including several business owners, calling for Watson and Huffman’s removal generally focused on damage to local businesses.

They said there is a loss of trust that Watson and Huffman are looking out for the best interests for all business owners in Jay County.

The six who spoke specifically in support of Huffman noted that she made no call for a “boycott” and referenced the millions in grant dollars she has helped bring to Jay County. They were also critical of commissioner-elect Brian McGalliard for distributing her post that was made in a private group. (McGalliard later clarified that he had not “broken into” the group but rather that a screenshot had been sent to him.)

The comments at times turned contentious.

Others who spoke called for level heads to prevail, with Jay County Republican chair Jenae Blasdel asking to “put yourself in the other shoes” and that the First Amendment doesn’t stop “just where we agree with it.”

Ted Champ, a Democrat Jay County Council member, pleaded for Jay County to pull together.

“What’s going on at the national level, let’s not bring that to Jay County,” he said. “It’s not necessary. …

“There is good people on both sides, people that care about Jay County, that put the time in for Jay County …”

Both the visitors and tourism bureau and JCDC are governed by independent boards. The former is funded via the local innkeepers’ tax, which was put in place specifically for that purpose, while the bulk of the funding for the latter comes from the county commissioners.

Commissioners Chuck Huffman and Chad Aker, absent Mike Leonhard, took no action, saying they are giving the respective boards time to work through the process of investigating the comments.

Commissioners also tabled a vote on approval of JCDC’s five-year plan for economic development income tax dollars. Those funds are separate from the organization’s annual budget.

The plan calls for EDIT funds to be used for spec buildings, the development of industrial land, the acquisition of land for industrial, residential and commercial use, investment in the downtown area, revolving loans for area businesses, blight eradication and as a match for grants such as Indiana Department of Transportation’s Community Crossings program. It was brought to commissioners for final approval after being OK’d by city and town councils in Jay County over the last few months.
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