Nov 29 2007
06:54 pm

And in this one, money changes hands.

The 8th District Preservation Association has filed a motion to amended their lawsuit against Knox County over the Midway development to include allegations of specific violations of the Open Meetings Act by County Commissioners.

The additional complaint says:

Plaintiffs aver that on or about June 22, 2006, at or around 8:30 a.m., between fourteen (14) and sixteen (16) of the Knox County Commissioners met at the offices of the Knoxville Association of Realtors (f/k/a and a/ka Knoxville Board of Realtors).

At that non-public meeting, the Defendant Development Corporation solicited the support of the commissioners for the re-zoning and purchase of the Midway Road Property subject of this lawsuit. There was discussion among the commissioners about the Midway Road project which constituted a deliberation on the issue.

At this meeting the Knoxville Board of Realtors also solicited the support of the commissioners for the re-zoning and purchase of the Midway Road Property subject of this lawsuit. Subsequent to that solicitation, the Knoxville Board of Realtors presented the commissioners campaign contribution checks.

The meeting of the commissioners constituted a quorum of the Knox County Commission.

The meeting of the commissioners was a “meeting” as defined in Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-44-102.

The public was not given notice of this meeting of commissioners, nor was the meeting open to the public as required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-44-103.31.

At the time of the meeting, the commissioners knew that the purchase and rezoning of the Midway Road property for an industrial park was a very controversial public issue. Notwithstanding, the commissioners chose to meet for discussion and deliberation on the issue.

All of such actions constitute a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act (T.C.A. § 8-44-101 et seq)...

Read the press release after the jump. A PDF copy of the motion to amend is attached.

UPDATE: An important point from comments to keep in mind: The County Commission in June 2006 is different than the ones on the current commission or that prior to January 2007.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 29, 2007
Contact: Bob Wolfenbarger, David L. Buuck

On behalf of the plaintiffs of the 8th District Preservation Association, this afternoon attorney David L. Buuck filed an amendment to their lawsuit against the Knox County Commission, the Metropolitan Planning Commission, and the Development Corporation, which was originally filed in September of 2006. The new pleading revises their Complaint to allege that the so-called “Sunshine Law” was violated by the Knox County Commission prior to their vote on the funding and rezoning of the proposed Midway Road industrial park.

The pleading amendment includes allegations that two or more commissioners deliberated outside of the public’s view before the vote on the controversial rezoning.

Bob Wolfenbarger, a Board member for the 8th District Preservation Association, stated, “We believe that Sunshine Law violations by County Commission render the rezoning action void. This is a single example of a pattern of behavior that has gone on for years.”

Wolfenbarger adds, “This rezoning happened in spite of fierce community opposition because the developers wanted it to happen. The misuse of county purchasing cards is peanuts compared with the tens of millions of dollars that are being wasted by quasi-government agencies such as the Development Corporation.”

Motion to Amend Complaint.pdf46.73 KB
trobinson's picture

I truly hope that this

I truly hope that this lawsuit is allowed to move forward to trial. I want to hear from every one of the commissioners--under oath-- whether or not they were at this meeting and what was discussed. It's time for some serious investigation into the cesspool that is our county government.

Mark N. Foster's picture

Technicality and Practicality

Technically, the press release is incorrect in stating that the Association "filed an amendment to their lawsuit." What was filed was a motion to amend. If the motion is granted, the Association will be allowed to filed an amended complaint containing the allegations. However, motions to amend are almost always granted (absent an imminent trial date), and the applicable procedural rule goes so far as to say that ""leave [to file an amended complaint] shall be freely given when justice so requires."

That technicality aside, the practical ramification is that this illustrate the massive liability and legal uncertainty the politicians have opened up for taxpayers by playing fast and loose with the Sunshine law. It also illustrates both why the politicians are scrambling to change the Sunshine law and why the public should be demanding that they instead invest the effort of learning to comply with the law (letter and spirit).

D Mac's picture

Co. Commission in June 2006

The County Commission in June 2006 is different than the ones on the current commission or that prior to January 2007. Diane Jordan, David Collins, Billy Tindell, John Mills, John Schmidt, Mark Cawood ... who else? Could be interesting if they are called to testify.

I also hope there is a "redo" of the vote for this ridiculous project. I heard that there were checks waiting for the commissioners present from the developers for their campaign fund.

R. Neal's picture

The County Commission in

The County Commission in June 2006 is different than the ones on the current commission or that prior to January 2007.

Excellent point.

jbr's picture

Democracy gets some

Democracy gets some 'Sunshine,' and a chance to grow. This is a good thing. My guess is there are more of these cases that may spring up. This could really improve the area. I never quite understood why the Development Corporation existed. Looks like maybe it never should have.

ma am's picture

wonderful news!

And money to boot! Great news. The Midway situation is even more insidious than the stormwater case.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

This story has legs

This story is as big or bigger than the original sunshine lawsuit because it is finally going to uncover the way Knox County has done business for years.

Once this story broke, you had Mike Edwards categorically denying that any meeting took place period. Then you have Todd Napier, John Greiss and Wallace McClure saying that maybe they did recall being at that meeting with a poster set up to "answer questions" from commissioners. Then you have Edwards saying the allegations were "bizzare" and that maybe they did come to the realtor's meeting with their posters etc. to answer some questions about Midway, but they didn't really do a presentation. Then you have Mr. McClure saying that he didn't remember if checks were given out to commissioners.

Wait till discovery starts in the lawsuit and the depositions get going. It's going to be quite a ride.

R. Neal's picture

This story is as big or

This story is as big or bigger than the original sunshine lawsuit

That's what I was thinking.

rocketsquirrel's picture

I'm thinking any currently

I'm thinking any currently seated commissioner who attended that meeting at the board of realtors and didn't report as such to constituents could just do us all a favor and resign.

That would leave us with a commission of what...2? Lumpy and Mark Harmon?

D Mac's picture

A few more

And Our Larry Smith, Tony Norman, Phil Ballard...

I doubt this case will have any legs before the February appointments so we can add those to the list.

What if several of these commissioners in question come clean now (especially those not in office) and then ask the commission to do a "redo" of the vote. That may be more palatable to some than having to testify.

I would like to see an investigative reporter find out who all got one of those checks and how much they were for.

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