Dear Jefferson County Tomorrow Members:
As most of you probably know by now, a lawsuit was filed last week in the Chancery Court for Jefferson County pursuant to which a number of Jefferson County citizens joined together to ask the Court to require the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee to conduct its meetings in public in future. The lawsuit also requests the Court to order EDOC to open up its books and records to public review.
This lawsuit resulted from months of unsuccessful efforts to persuade EDOC and the Chamber of Commerce to open up the economic development planning process in Jefferson County. From May through September of 2013, we have had multiple meetings and conversations with EDOC, the Chamber, and their legal representatives for the purpose of attempting to do everything possible to avoid this lawsuit. When it became apparent that EDOC and the Chamber would not agree to open up the economic development planning process in Jefferson County to review by the taxpayers and private citizens, we decided it was time to proceed to ask the Court to intervene.
A copy of this lawsuit can be reviewed here.
We will be scheduling a Jefferson County Tomorrow meeting in the very near future. I sincerely hope that you will be able to attend this meeting. The future of economic development and taxpayer rights in Jefferson County is in the balance.
We will keep you advised of additional developments as they occur. I hope that everyone is having a great fall, and I will look forward to seeing you soon.
D. Scott Hurley, Esq.
July 30, 2013
Dear Jefferson County Tomorrow Members:
At the Jefferson County Commission meeting last night, County Commission approved a ten cent property tax increase in order to raise funds to satisfy the budget requirements for fiscal year 2013 – 2014. This increase was three cents less than the amount initially recommended by the Budget Committee. In order to cover that shortfall, County Commission voted to use additional funds from the fund balance maintained by the county for operating purposes. The use of the fund balance was approved as an alternative to an across-the-board cut for all departments.
During the deliberations, County Commission again declined to impose any cuts on EDOC or the Chamber of Commerce. A motion was made by Commissioner Barreiro (and seconded by Commissioner Blevins) to cut EDOC and Chamber funding to an amount that would be equal to the hotel/motel tax. The effect of this motion would be to limit the county funding of those two organizations to the amount that is raised by the hotel/motel tax, and to refrain from giving those organizations any additional monies from taxpayer funds. The full Commission voted against this motion by a vote of 17 – 2.
Accordingly, County Commission has now clearly indicated that it intends to take no steps toward exerting any influence or supervision over EDOC or the Chamber. This vote comes in spite of the refusal of EDOC and the Chamber to provide information regarding their expenditures and their operating budgets, or to provide any information regarding their activities in the recent megasite proposal, during which time approximately $135,000.00 was spent (wasted) for out-of-county consultants and public relations efforts.
Why is this important? If the Norfolk Southern proposal for an intermodal is to proceed, Norfolk Southern will have to rely on the government of Jefferson County to close roads and bridges, to build substitute roads and bridges, to make zoning changes, to create and/or alter rights-of-way and easements. A University of Tennessee study had earlier estimated these costs to the county to exceed $20 million.
When it comes time to lobby Jefferson County for these expenditures, we believe it is a certainty that Norfolk Southern will rely heavily on the Chamber of Commerce and EDOC to persuade county government, elected officials, and Commissioners to approve these expenditures. Keep in mind that the amount that Norfolk Southern would be asking for (in a conservative estimate based on the value of the dollar in 2009) would be approximately five times the amount of the deficit that Jefferson County Commissioners struggled to cover just last night. Yes, that is FIVE TIMES the amount of this year’s deficit.
Norfolk Southern cannot construct an operating intermodal without the cooperation of Jefferson County government. Further, past history suggests that Norfolk Southern will not construct an operating intermodal without significant financial assistance from Jefferson County, the State of Tennessee, and the federal government. If we can act together to persuade Jefferson County government to reject the Norfolk Southern request when it occurs, then we have our greatest chance of stopping the intermodal in its tracks.
Since the present County Commission has refused to exert any control or influence over EDOC and the Chamber, we are left with only one other alternative. We believe that previous court decisions support the proposition that an economic development committee is subject to open meetings laws and open books and records if (1) it receives substantial monies from a local county government, (2) its governing board includes elected officials of the county and/or other county government officers, and (3) the economic development board engages in the deliberating of issues and the making of decisions that affect county economic development. We believe that all of these factors exist regarding the Economic Development Oversight Committee for Jefferson County.
If we are correct, and if the Court supports such a finding, then EDOC would be required to conduct its meetings in the open. Citizens would have the opportunity to attend and to be heard regarding economic development issues such as the intermodal. Secret meetings, secret plans, and sneak attacks would come to an end.
Additionally, the use of taxpayer funds to try to take farms, homes, and private property would occur only after the public was made aware of those plans and after the parties that would be affected by those plans would have an opportunity to speak. As the megasite battle proved, if we get the opportunity to participate in a debate on those issues, we can win.
Rest assured that the issue related to EDOC and the Chamber is only one component of our ongoing battle over the intermodal. There are other legal issues related to zoning, environmental impacts, public safety, and related matters that will have a tremendous impact on our potential for success.
However, the issue related to open government, and that of having a fair and level playing field when EDOC and the Chamber come calling for money on behalf of Norfolk Southern, is essential.
We are prepared to have two meetings of Jefferson County Tomorrow members to address these issues, in addition to giving you an overview of the upcoming battle to stop the intermodal. While we had originally planned for those meetings to occur on August 3 and August 10 (Saturdays) we have received several phone calls asking that one of the meetings be on a week night for those who are otherwise unavailable on weekends. In order to accommodate those requests, our plan is now to proceed with meetings on August 6 (Tuesday), and August 10 (Saturday). The exact time and location for these two meetings will be posted on this website no later than noon tomorrow (July 31). We are conducting two separate meetings (which will be very similar in nature) so that all of you will have at least some opportunity to attend one of the two meetings. We look forward to seeing you there, and continuing in our efforts to preserve the New Market Community.
D. Scott Hurley
Dear Jefferson County Tomorrow Members:
I wanted to provide you with an important update regarding several events of great urgency that are presently ongoing in Jefferson County.
1. In late June and early July, we presented requests to EDOC and the Chamber that financial information be provided regarding the megasite project, and a request that EDOC agree to conduct all of its future meetings in a manner that would be open to the public. Our requests have been made formally in writing, and informally in face-to-face meetings with representatives of these organizations. We were told that we would have a prompt response. To date, no response has been forthcoming.
2. The Jefferson County Post recently requested financial information from the Chamber and from EDOC. The editor of the Jefferson County Post was informed that both EDOC and the Chamber conducted board meetings, and that the Board of Directors of each of those organizations voted to reject any request for financial information and records. Further, it is my understanding that the editor was instructed to direct all future contact with EDOC and the Chamber to the attorney for those organizations.
3. These developments would seem to conclusively establish that EDOC and the Chamber have determined, through their respective Boards of Directors, that they have no obligation to be responsive to taxpayers or the citizens of Jefferson County. It appears to be the position of these organizations that they have no obligation or duty to account for their use of taxpayer funds.
4. On July 15, Jefferson County Commission purported to pass a budget package for 2013 – 2014, but rejected a required tax increase that would have funded a significant portion of the budget deficit. Mayor Palmieri vetoed the budget since Commission had failed to provide a full funding mechanism. Accordingly, Jefferson County is currently operating without an approved budget. The Commissioners have called a special meeting of the full Commission for July 29, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. It is important that you attend this Commission meeting if at all possible.
5. The Commissioners have repeatedly voted down motions to reduce the funding of EDOC (approximately $180,000.00) and the Chamber (approximately $155,000.00). The full Commission has rejected any suggestion of a decrease in these budgets even though the budget amounts significantly exceed the amount of the hotel/motel tax that is designated for EDOC and the Chamber. This means that EDOC and the Chamber are receiving not only the money that comes from hotel and motel tax receipts, they are receiving additional funds from county tax receipts – in effect, your hard-earned tax payments.
6. In summary, your taxes are funding organizations that refuse to be accountable to the Commission. They refuse to be accountable to the press. They refuse to be accountable to you, the very taxpayers who are funding their operations.
We have now reached a critical point. We can either act to change this situation, or we can make a decision to tolerate the very conditions that led to the megasite fiasco.
What can we do?
First, attend the Commission meeting next Monday night. Prior to that meeting, contact commissioners who have supported the Chamber and EDOC in the past. A list of Commissioner telephone numbers and e-mail addresses is available on this website. Tell them that you oppose the Chamber and EDOC receiving any funds over and above the hotel/motel tax receipts.
Second, be prepared to attend an upcoming JCT meeting. We are presently planning meetings which will occur on August 3 and August 10. More information regarding this meeting will be upcoming in the very near future, so continue to check the JCT website.
Third, we may be required to consider taking a more formal type of action to attempt to resolve these issues. We have discussed these issues with EDOC and the Chamber. We have met with County Commissioners and county elected officials. We have written letters. We have provided information. We have provided copies of what we believe to be applicable state laws and statutes, opinions from the Attorney General of the State of Tennessee, and other supporting material that would back up our position. All of these efforts have met with nothing but silence on the part of EDOC and the Chamber.
We are fast approaching a point of having no other alternative, no other place to turn, no other option available than that of formal legal proceedings.
I will provide an additional update on this website by noon on Monday, July 29. Check back for an update at that time, and plan to be in attendance at the Commission meeting on Monday night. I will look forward to seeing you there.
D. Scott Hurley, Esq.
May 17, 2013
Dear JCT Group Members:
Our law firm has been retained by an association of Jefferson County Tomorrow group members to provide legal representation regarding the planned intermodal project. Our firm has also been asked to provide representation and consultation regarding various issues that are pending before the Jefferson County Commission, including funding issues related to EDOC and the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.
We are honored to have the opportunity to work with members of your group. We sincerely look forward to having the opportunity to make a difference in the future of Jefferson County.
Many of you are familiar with the recent victory experienced by the membership of the organization known as “Save Our Farms and Homes,” in the Kansas and Talbott communities. Those communities faced the specter of a proposed megasite. As a result of a united, organized, and determined effort, the residents in those communities have prevailed over an ill-conceived plan that would have taken their farms and homes from them. This outcome can serve as an encouragement to the membership of Jefferson County Tomorrow. This battle can be won.
There will be a meeting next Thursday night, May 23, at 6:30 p.m., at the New Market Elementary School. Anyone and everyone that is interested in helping and supporting the Jefferson County Tomorrow effort is encouraged to attend. At that meeting, we will discuss both our short-term and long-term goals. We will “re-organize” JCT and provide the members of this organization (and all of its friends) with information regarding how you can help in this effort.
We will also discuss the financial needs that will exist in proceeding with this battle. There will be no “dues” or required membership fees. However, we will provide information as to the financial needs of the organization and how anyone who is able to do so can help as we move forward.
There are crucial events that will be occurring in the next few weeks. In particular, Jefferson County Commission will be considering funding requests during the June 2013 budget process that will be of great importance. It is urgent that we meet, organize, plan, and begin our efforts now.
I will look forward to seeing you next Thursday night, May 23.
With kindest regards, I am
D. Scott Hurley