The issue of annexation has been covered ad nauseam by the District 7 candidates. I am the founder of Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation and find the condescending appraisal of our efforts to be misguided, self-serving and egregiously inaccurate.
Mr. Smartt contends that his sole action of ceding the sewer system in annexed areas single-handedly halted annexation.
The simple fact is that without a groundswell of community involvement preceding Mr. Smartt's Dec. 16 involvement in spearheading the cession of sewers to the city the WWTA would have had little to no reason to take such action. The City Council would have voted on both readings of the ordinances and all areas in Phase 1 and 2 would now be paying city taxes. Without the citizens raising vehement objection to this massive overstepping of municipal tyranny the annexations of 2009 would have preceded in a cricket-filled city council chamber without so much as a whisper of discontent.
It was the ire of the public facing a hostile and bullying city council and mayor that lead to the incorporation of HCRAA by myself and eight other concerned residents, including Sabrena Turner, from across the county representing various areas facing annexation.
The legally verifiable fact is that the lawsuits filed initially by HCRAA on behalf of aggrieved landowners were the first and only legal action taken against the city regarding Phase 1 and 2 annexations and were the sole reason for immediately halting the process. Under Tennessee law aggrieved landowners have 30 days from the passing of the ordinance' second vote to file a lawsuit which immediately halts the process until the municipality can prove that its actions meet certain criteria, a process which can take months or even years to work through the court system. Our first lawsuit was filed on or about Oct. 29, 2009- nearly a month and a half before the WWTA's involvement in cession of the sewers and was the first legally viable roadblock to annexation. The subsequent lawsuits filed as the city continued passing ordinances halted annexation in those areas as well. Although some areas did not succeed in thwarting the city's attempt, most enjoyed anywhere from two to five years of tax relief as a settlement between the property owners and the city of Chattanooga. For many families that was a cash savings of hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.
The city's efforts were distastefully motivated by a need for revenue (which is not allowed as a reason for annexation under state law) as evidenced by then Councilman Jack Benson's Aug. 10, 2009 statement, "This ship is going to go down unless we all pull together". In addition Councilman Rico stated in a News Channel 9 interview that they were instructed to annex these areas in order to get more federal funding by increasing the city's population prior to the 2010 Federal Census, which is another violation of annexation law.
I concede that Mr. Smartt acted in an effort to limit the city's state-sanctioned power to usurp land via a monetary technicality, however to belittle the actions of the very same people from whom you seek to represent on a political stage mimics the intimidating and ruffian demeanor of the same city officials that instigated the annexation process in the first place.
I personally take offense to the pejorative nature of comments made about my neighbors, my community and my organization regarding our indefatigable and apparently thankless efforts to retain their sovereignty, property rights and financial stability at a time when many families were losing their homes at an alarming rate while the city postured for more taxes, more storm water fees, more infrastructure funding and attempted to provoke hostility between city and county residents as well as city and county government.
HCRAA did not "lose" as Mr. Smartt is intent on pointing out to the public. Windstone, Hurricane Creek Estates, Emerald Valley and other areas never got to a second reading of the ordinance. These largest parcels in the annexation efforts of 2009 are not annexd. Furthermore, through the tireless efforts of concerned citizens and groups from Memphis to Johnson City and cities in between, Tennessee is on the verge of having the strongest annexation laws in the country that ensures an equitable balance of power between unincorporated property owners and the municipalities that surround them.
The issue of "who stopped annexation" is not black and white. Where we stand today is the culmination of the actions and concern of various sources from within city, county and state government as well as lobbying and legal efforts by groups and individuals across the state. While Mr. Smartt is trying to singularly illuminate his involvement at the dismissal of the public at large, Mrs. Turner has been quick to share her accolades with the communities that stood in solidarity against the city and acknowledge the will and the power of the people. She simply seeks to share and serve in the process of governing as an equal in the community.
Founder and President of HCRAA, Inc.