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By David Seal [Special to The Tennessee Conservative] –
Tennova Jefferson Memorial Hospital thought they dodged a bullet in June. After a motion died for lack of a second to condemn 95 acres of real estate located adjacent to the hospital complex, owned by the parent company of Tennova Jefferson Memorial Hospital, the residents of Jefferson City, Jefferson County, and hospital officials were breathing a sigh of relief.
Their relief was short-lived.
In a move that surprised nearly all the stakeholders, a Jefferson City resolution was approved last week in a vote of 3 yes, 1 no, and 1 abstention to forcefully take 95 acres of hospital land by eminent domain for a “recreational park.” There seems to be more at play than just a property taking for a park. Local citizens and county officials suspect that “shenanigans” are under way to facilitate a private/public hotel and retail development.
Here are the concerns and factors.
Jefferson City has several acres of recreational park properties that are in a poor state of repair from lack of maintenance and neglect. City taxpayers, including the publisher of the Standard-Banner newspaper Dale Gentry, are wondering why the city needs more recreation park property. Gentry recently editorialized several well-stated questions and cited a survey of local citizens revealing their preference to refurbish existing parks.
Local businessman Rev. Ronnie Trent owns and operates a company that specializes in park development, design, and engineering. He has offered his services to revitalize existing city parks at a tremendous discount, aiming to save the city nearly $400,000.00 as a means of giving back to his community. According to Trent, Mayor Mitch Cain is not responding to his offer, the Standard-Banner reported on November 16.
The Jefferson County Commission has drafted, and is considering, a formal resolution to oppose Jefferson City’s eminent domain action. Commissioner Terry Dockery (R-Dandridge) and 14 co-sponsors are calling on Jefferson City to abandon its property taking. The resolution states in part, “that arbitrary and capricious taking of private property by government for any purpose other than those for essential, proper, and necessary infrastructure creates a chilling effect on innovation, investment, business expansion, and prosperity, and should not be undertaken by any government entity.”
Dockery is also consulting with the county attorney to see if Jefferson County has standing to intervene in court to block the property taking.
Councilwoman Sheila Purkey, who abstained from voting to use eminent domain, stated that she did not have enough information to vote on the resolution, citing that Cain and the city manager had communicated with a property owner of 100 acres near the hospital property who would be a willing seller and that details of that communication were incomplete.
Councilman Kevin Bunch, who voted no on the eminent domain resolution because he considers it an overreach of government authority, reported that he was not advised by Cain and city officials that they had met with a willing seller of comparable property near the targeted hospital property. Bunch learned of the willing seller from citizens.
The following officials voted to forcefully take the hospital property by eminent domain.
City Hall Central Phone Number: (865) 475-9071
A follow-up report will include updates and statements from the Jefferson County Republican Party, Empowered Jefferson, Tennova Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and others.
About the Author: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, 917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a citizen lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.