It is unfortunate that our system of local government is structured so that a handful of rich and powerful people in this town control almost everything significant that goes on here. Some would argue that this has been going on in every government since the beginning of time. While this may be true, I don’t have to like it. I am fortunate to have this forum to vent my frustrations because my voice is certainly not heard by my government as it should be in a true “democracy.”
While most people were hard at work, or homemakers were at home watching children, our city leaders scheduled a meeting last Friday to “allow the voters to weigh in” on a very important issue that would impact their taxes…A TIF. The timing of the meeting was not coincidental. Eleven in the morning would almost certainly assure a minimum attendance. But, a number of citizens actually showed up to exercise their rights to publicly voice their opposition.
What happened next was jaw-dropping. The audience was given a bare minimum (limited to five persons, three minutes each) time to speak and even then they were totally ignored. Afterwards, an attorney (coincidentally a past city attorney), already identified as having a conflict of interest, elevated himself to “expert” status with absolutely no basis and assured the board that his word was gospel and they should vote his way.
The sitting board did not even try to hide the fact that they had already illegally deliberated the controversial issue behind closed doors and all but thumbed their noses at the citizen audience. They voted to allow what amounts to (after interest) a $15 million “gift” to a private developer (and associated hedge fund) courtesy of the very taxpayers there in opposition.
To add insult to injury, our very own city attorney, who one would think would have only the best interests of the city, had already prepared the documents affirming the vote and brought them with him to the meeting. The developer’s attorneys (Miller & Martin) smirked as the votes were cast, probably because they had been clued in by their past colleague, the city attorney, about the vote that was about to take place. That, and they had already billed in excess of $250,000 to the taxpayers on the TIF and surely stood to bill many, many more hours in the future.
I am so tired of watching these types of scenarios unfold in Chattanooga. How could this IDB board possibly have an argument against the taxpayer and in favor of the developer? We may never know. They did not deliberate in the public meeting. They did not try to defend their votes publicly in the meeting. They crawled into bed with the developers and never had to explain themselves.
Honestly, if you had a good reason to vote with the other side on a controversial issue, would you not want the public to know why? IDB, please help me understand this. Please restore my faith in a democratic system. Help me understand why you didn’t listen to the citizens that you were supposed to represent. Help me understand why you sided with a handful of wealthy developers and their NY hedge fund. Help me understand why I feel betrayed by my very own city attorney. Help me understand why a quarter of a million dollars in tax money should go to the Miller Martin attorneys that are buddies of my city attorney. Help me understand.
* * *
Oh, Lynn Aston, you understand what's going on; you laid it out in specific detail, you just wanted to vent.
We all understand what's going on, it's called anything goes, good ole boy glorious Ayn Rand capitalism. And we, the voters, are but parasites and useless eaters.
The Banker Gansters practice the golden rule. 'The ones with the gold maketh the rules.
* * *
My response to Lynn Ashton's well-written tale of woe is short and to the point:
Could it be that our dismay sinks our belief in our own government to the depths of our worn-out sewage treatment plants because our city attorney is only one of our mayor's handpicked saviors of the world from Miller and Martin? Since it is reported that the City Council appointed the IDB members, why not require the Council to recall all of them and immediately take steps to abolish the IDB? While they are at it, throw in the Chamber of Commerce (and all of its little ones seemingly springing up in various districts of the city) as well as River City and EPB? Why do we need them? After all, we have Miller and Martin.
That should give all of the taxpayers a say in where their money goes. If the Council fails to take that action, remove each member from office at the first opportunity. Then we can start to work on the county and see what we can cobble together in search of a government that actually serves the people. I'm just sayin'....as they say.
* * *
It is a shame that this board and these attorneys feel that they can choose to help a very select group of people instead of doing what is right for the citizens of this entire community.
This should never have passed, and now we, the taxpayers, will be paying for this for the unending future. As a taxpayer, I believe all involved are poor stewards of our money.
* * *
At times it is hard to figure out what some people expect. There are a number of local boards and commissions that meet during normal working hours, 8 to 5. These meetings are noticed and the public, that is interested, attends. The Hamilton County Commission holds its sessions mid-morning and citizens who are interested attend.
Apparently for some, if a publicly noticed meeting is not convened to meet the schedule of a select few, then it has been purposely set to avoid public discussion. Fairness has more than one side, and fairness is certainly more than accommodating a small group of naysayers. Their interest seems to be more focused on stopping investments in Chattanooga that generate new revenues that offset raising taxes on all of our citizens - including those that may be at work or are homemakers.
Perhaps those that were interested did attend the recent meetings of the Industrial Development Board and shared an opinion. They were held at the same time, each time, and publicly noticed. The editorial also failed to mention that a similar meeting was held the previous Monday at 11 a.m. Public notice was given for that meeting also. At that meeting, the developer gave a 15-20 presentation. This was followed by no less than 20 opponents who were allowed to speak. Perhaps the Board felt that they heard more than enough from everyone to make a well-informed decision.
Those who oppose the Black Creek TIF talk about the great deal granted the wealthy hedge fund and the investors, but in court the deal is only attacked on procedural or technical grounds. Perhaps it’s because the facts of the finances are unassailable. This is a good deal for the taxpayers of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, and that’s why our elected leaders and the IDB approved it.
* * *
The People, Helen Sharp vs. the city of Chattanooga government was decided in clarity by our judicial system who voided the Black Creek TIF. Yet, we the people are still being robbed through a corporate welfare scheme .
The TIF is a scam created by a group of crony developers that are also on city-appointed boards. It is absolutely sickening to see how easy it is for a group of scammers to take our tax dollars from the blighted inner city to the far reaches of the private golf and country club. The last thing our city needs to fund is a road in a private golf course residential subdivision.
The city has decayed and blighted areas and Black Creek Subdivision is so far off the radar on need it is just absurd. Just why should the poor and middle class taxpayers have to fund a golf course road. We will be paying this elite golf club’s services for 20 years because our elected representative are the spineless, cowards that do just about anything for a $500 campaign donation.
The fact that the bondholders and developers are all the same people should bother the taxpayers greatly. If the developers can afford to buy the bonds, they did not need the TIF $9 million in first place.
We have pervasive poverty in downtown Chattanooga. Why are we allowing our elected officials to enable the absolute robbery of the public by these developers?
This is something we cannot forget about because these people will be back for more TIF money. Did you know that of the first $999,000 of TIF funds given to the developer, $240,000 went to pay their high-dollar firm, all on the taxpayers' dime.
This is sickening cronyism, with the players being enabled by spineless elected officials.
* * *
Who are the folks sitting on this board? It seems that there is a huge cloud of mystery and the board is not listed on any of the local government websites. I understand that these folks are appointed by elected officials; but who? Which ones? The board members are nameless.
Someone has to be accountable for the huge disregard to taxpayer funds.
* * *
"Government 'help' to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off." - Ayn Rand
I'm not too sure anyone would call a partnership between government and big business free market capitalism. I guess you could call it crony capitalism but I'm not convinced that is what Ayn Rand advocated for. I believe she was a outspoken proponent for a laissez-faire society where governments role is limited to protecting individual rights and liberty. A sure sign of weak governments is the inability to protect individuals and their property rights with their primary focus being misplaced on economic development.
Governments' role should be to provide the legal and regulatory framework that applies to every individual the same.
For anyone interested visit the Tennessee Comptrollers office website where you might be able to find the financial reports for the local IDB.