During the most recent annexations carried out by Mayor Littlefield, I was the chairman of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority. Our attorney at the time was Mike Carter, who also worked as special assistant to Claude Ramsey. At the initial announcement of the annexations, I approached Mike to inquire as to how we might legally or legislatively stop the forced annexations. He advised me we had the full support of Mayor Ramsey, and he was looking at every alternative to stop the city.
A few days later I was notified that the urban growth agreement, adopted by Hamilton County and all surrounding areas, had entered into an agreement concerning the growth of cities within the county. We discovered a provision of the agreement which stated that any city annexing an area without sewers would have to provide sewer service within 36 months of the annexation if sewers did not already exist. If the area was reserved for future development by the WWTA, this provision did not apply. However, the document did allow the WWTA to cede its rights for future development of sewer to the annexing entity. In essence, if the WWTA ceded its “sewer rights” in the proposed annexation areas to the city of Chattanooga, then by operation of the agreement they would have to construct sewers in the affected areas within 36 months.
We were warned that this was a “bold step” to throttle the cities annexation because it would reduce the growth area of the WWTA. However, I saw no other alternative to stopping the city’s aggressive annexation plans. As such, I told Mike Carter that we had to “go for it.” During our next WWTA meeting, the motion was presented to the entire board, and passed with overwhelming support. To be clear, this motion forced the city of Chattanooga to provide sewer service to all newly annexed areas. Importantly, it shifted the burden of installing sewers from Hamilton County’s 20 Plan to the urban growth policy’s requirement of sewers within 36 months.
Mike obtained the approval of the mayor and several county commissioners supporting the WWTA in this action. Mike and I then met with Mayor Littlefield and chief of staff Dan Johnson to advise them of our plan. The mayor protested and argued that the document did not say what it appeared to say, and that the WWTA could not take such dramatic action. However, these arguments were without merit. I recall Mayor Littlefield was so distraught over the passing of the resolution that he personally came to the WWTA’s office to obtain a certified copy of the motion.
As a result, the city then withdrew three of its 10 areas from annexation. While I do not recall the three areas that were removed from the annexation plans, I know that Mountain Shadows was certainly one of the three.
My opponent, Sabrena Turner, has boldly asserted that she is the “only candidate that fought annexation.” Furthermore, during a recent debate she asserted that attending public meetings at Westview Elementary School, and gathering signatures on a petition were more important than the action taken by myself as chairman of the WWTA. This assertion is both ridiculous and misleading. I, too, was at the Westview Elementary meetings, and fielded questions from concerned residents of District 7. However, the only action that stopped forced annexation was ceding sewer rights to the city of Chattanooga which would have forced them to spend millions to comply. Indeed, in Mountain Shadows neighborhood alone, the average cost per household to run new sewer connections would have exceeded $15,096.82.
Sabrena also asserts the lawsuits she participated in were a blow against annexation. However, the residents who live in those areas tell a different story. The vast majority of those individuals are now full residents of the city of Chattanooga and state that the lawsuits had no effect other than to delay their additional taxes by one year.
There should be no doubt to any resident of District 7 that Sabrena Turner and I are steadfastly opposed to forced annexation. Moreover, we wholly support Mike Carter and the general assembly in their efforts to end forced annexation. However, the residents of District 7 have a right to know the facts and what actions were taken by each candidate to fight annexation.
Candidate for County Commission, District 7
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When the city of Chattanooga was annexing by force in 2009, a group of citizens came together to stand up and fight. I am Sabrena Turner, and I am proud that I stood on the front lines with others concerned about their rights as property owners.
The fight was not an easy one. We volunteered our time, raised money, and poured sweat equity into it! We organized the first community meeting on August 3, 2009, at Westview Elementary. We incorporated to spearhead the fight. We attended countless meetings, met with state legislators, and gained support of the county commission and Mayor Claude Ramsey.
We filed lawsuits in September and October of 2009 that kept most of the annexed areas from paying increased taxes and fees for more than three years. City council members confirmed the lawsuits stopped the city from moving into the next phase of annexation. Mayor Littlefield admitted that forced annexation had been “held up in court.”
I am glad Phil Smartt opposes forced annexation, but he did not stand to fight when it mattered. Stressing that he was only one vote on a 12-member board, he took no action for nearly six months until the WWTA finally voted on Dec. 16, 2009. During that meeting, Phil Smartt did not make a single statement against forced annexation. The transfer of sewer rights has not even occurred due to ongoing litigation between WWTA and the city.
Bureaucratic maneuvering and grandstanding by the WWTA did not stop annexation. Comparing these actions with the power of citizens coming together to fight is offensive to the hundreds of homeowners affected. One long distance call and one vote in a board room are a long ways from the front lines. Phil Smartt’s claims that he stopped annexation are not supported by the facts. His claims aren’t just misleading; they are wrong.
As a resident, I helped lead the fight against forced annexation. As a small business owner, I fought against the nearly 20 percent Chattanooga property tax increase. As your county commissioner, I will continue to fight for our shared values and will stand firm when it comes to providing great education, keeping taxes low, and building on the unprecedented economic growth in our community.
Join me in moving beyond political gamesmanship and let’s focus on what matters: the people of District 7.
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I was appalled to see Phil Smartt boasting of his time on the WWTA board and gleefully admitting he had subverted the purpose and misused the responsibilities of the WWTA - our public sewer utility - in an attempt to half annexation by the city of Chattanooga, instead of fixing sewer problems.
I suppose we, as residents of Hamilton County, should not be surprised to see further evidence of WWTA board members and staff using our sewer utility as a tool in their own, private political manipulations. The current WWTA board has chosen to implement a billing system that does not accept cash as payment. For those who choose not to trust banks with their money or who are not privileged enough to have a bank account or credit cards to make payment to the billing service, the purchase of a money order is required - a business model that mirrors racketeering. Refusal to participate in this phony system of billing (wherein we must pay-to-pay for government services) leads to threats against the physical health and well-being of Hamilton County residents by the removal of water service.
Phil Smartt's letter only serves to underline a legacy of abuse of the WWTA and its stated purpose, by the WWTA board members for their personal agendas. As residents of Hamilton County we should be asking ourselves two questions. When will this systematic misuse of the WWTA be stopped and our sewer utility return to providing the services it was commissioned to provide? And is Mr. Smartt really someone we want in a position that will oversee all of Hamilton County? A change of venue is not likely to change his outlook on the manipulation of government authority to suit his personal ends.
Dissatisfied Hamilton County Resident