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Thursday, August 28 2014, 07:17 PM EDT
"David Versus Goliath - Taxpayer Dollars and the Subdivision Expansion

A "David versus Goliath-style" fight is underway over the development of some valuable property in Lookout Valley, and just like in the Old Testament story, David has drawn some blood.
 
This "David" is Helen Burns Sharp -- who lives nowhere near the development and says she has no connection to it all -- except that she opposes what she sees as corporate welfare for the developer.

On the other side is the city and the county that approves projects, and Chattanooga's Industrial Development Board, which approves the bond paperwork for those bonds that go to companies promising jobs and prosperity.

In July Sharp won her lawsuit, but that was not the end of the fight.  

"Filing a lawsuit was the last thing on my mind," she said.  "I was thinking 'I think this is unfortunate, I don't think it was the correct decision, but OK."

She sued to stop her tax money and others from supporting a road necessary for the expansion of the Black Creek subdivision on top of Aetna Mountain.  

"We have never established any criteria or guidelines that help us decide whether or not we want to award this tax incentive," she said.

The Chattanooga Industrial Development Board approved a $9 million bond for the Black Creek developers. Sharp said she attended the public meetings in the runup to the approval, and kept raising questions about whether it was appropriate.

"Any answer to those questions," I asked her.  

"No," said Sharp.  

"They totally ignored you?" was the next question.  

"Yes," came the quick response.

So with her own money, Sharp sued the IDB in Chancery Court and Judge Frank Brown ruled in her favor.  He agreed the I-D-B had broken Tennessee Open Meetings law in issuing the bond.

No one with the Industrial Development Board would talk about any of this. They said they could not comment since a lawsuit is pending.

Doug Stein however, whose company would actually build the road, said, "There are people that say they don't want their tax dollars to go fund a road to a rich man's subdivision, and that's not how it works.  That's not what's going to happen here."

Just last week, the IDB brought the issue back up in an open meeting and passed it again -- so the Black Creek expansion continues.

Meanwhile, on her website, Sharp asks for money to continue her uphill legal fight.

She also repeats a line from one of her favorite books, "Free Lunch."  That line is this -- "If it is a sound investment the market will make it.  If the investment is unsound, why should taxpayers subsidize it?"

"I really think we're right," Sharp said.


Mike Mallen, one of the attorneys representing the Black Creek Development project, told us it's important to note, as as part of his ruling, that the judge quote "did not have personal experience with bonds" unquote.


The Industrial Development Board's next meeting is Tuesday (Sept. 2, 2014) at the Chattanooga City Hall, and Sharp said she does plan to attend.  There is no indication that Black Creek is going to be on the agenda, but we plan to be there and will let you know what happens.


By Calvin Sneed

"David Versus Goliath - Taxpayer Dollars and the Subdivision Expansion

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