Mayor halts major MJ business park

Headline from The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, November 21, 2007 – story on page 3

“A major building project has been tabled for now after an explosive debate between Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam, the Mt. Juliet planning commission and area developers rocked the scheduled meeting last Thursday.”

[ . . . ]

“The approval was done under the prior administration, and I would not hazard a guess as to how it came about.”

“The bottom line is, when I realized they were not in compliance I asked for it to be put back on the planning commission agenda,” Elam said. “They decided to reevaluate or reconsider the prior approval, and in the interim instructed Public Works that no permit be given.”

A couple of comments:

First, the Planning Commission has the authority to approve variances from the requirements of the Town Center Overlay Zoning at the time a plan is submitted. There’s nothing irregular, unusual, or illegal about it.

Second, the Mayor does not have the authority to “halt” construction or instruct Public Works that no building permits be issued.

Third, what “prior administration” is the Mayor talking about? The membership of the Planning Commission has not changed. City employees don’t have the authority to approve or disapprove a commercial development – only the Planning Commission can do that. And the Planning Commission members are appointed by the Mayor!!

Fourth, if the City “reconsiders” and revokes approval given to the developer of a business park after he’s already started work on the development – the City may very well be subject to a lawsuit and the liability of substantial financial damages.

Fifth, The Chamber holds a ribbon-cutting and the Mayor halts development – all in the same week? You have got to be kidding me.

Once again, we have the Mayor acting beyond her authority. Is she acting as the Mayor – or as the agent of a rival developer?

-Publius

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Mayor halts major MJ business park

  1. Butch Huber

    To the gentleman who is developing this property, if you are reading this, I want you to know that I am truly sorry for how you are being treated. The way that this is being handled is shameful!

    This is yet one more example of how the Mayor of this city doesn’t see the need for the city to honor its agreements and contracts.

    It may come as a small consolation, but you are in good company. There are other good people who have fallen victim as well, people like Rob Shearer, Bobby Franklin, Hatton Wright, Kenny Martin, and Debbie Moss. Even Commissioner Hagerty has not been immune from attack.

  2. Common Sense

    I think it is time that everyone knew that the city takes care of it’s own, and that is what most likely caused a lot of the problems listed above. I can’t remember the last time a mistake was made that someone actually stood up and said that was me, sorry. We all make them, so what’s the problem?

    How many mid level supervisors can work for the city for a few years, where the written policy is that you must have a TN driver’s license, before they are forced to get one? What action was taken against this person for violating this policy? Who knows but maybe someone can tell us if any disciplinary action at all was taken. Again, they take care of their own.

    What would have happened if that person had an accident in a city vehicle??? Another lawsuit?

    Any help with this one? Anyone?

  3. Butch Huber

    Common Sense,

    What are you talking about?

    This is about a person who has properly been approved for a building and who has now had his building permits suspended/withheld because the planning commission approved something that the mayor doesn’t like. What does that have to do with a person having or not having a driver’s license?

  4. Common Sense

    It all comes out of the public works department, where the permits would have been issued. I read the notes provided on this site from the Reitz case. A few days later I was in the bank and had a conversation that ended up with a lot of interesting information coming out.

    Cut and pasted directly from the report by the independent investigator on the Reitz complaint:
    Ms. Reitz states that while employed at the City, she has continuously heard employees discuss the rumor that Mr. Wright has had an ongoing romantic relationship with another City employee. Ms. Reitz was unable to provide any solid evidence that the relationship between Mr. Wright and this particular employee was anything more than a close friendship. Many witnesses were asked about this rumor, and none of the witnesses were able to provide specific evidence that Mr. Wright was engaged in a romantic relationship with another City empl0yee. This appears to be a rumor that has plagued the Public Works Department for quite some time. Employees apparently continue to discuss it and gossip about it. Mr. Wright adamantly denies such a relationship, and the other City employee allegedly involved in this romantic relationship also adamantly denies the existence of such.

    If you believe the truth was told to the investigator, or even that it is not written from a biased standpoint, you should reread it and keep that in the back of your mind while doing so.

    The way it appears, the accusations of an ongoing romantic relationship between the former director of public works and a city employee in that department can be seen almost daily in public out and about in MJ, and even at the public works office on occasions when they have been seen stopping in for a visit. Way too many people live and work on that street, and it has been seen over and over.

    The whole point is, where else do you put information out other than a site like this? This is exactly the type of behavior that has gotten the city into a lot of the problems it is facing. You have department heads lying to investigators, who are not even competent enough to check their own employees to see if they have a drivers license, or even worse, possibly overlooking issues for one reason or another. What does this say about the quality of work coming out of that department? What does it say about the city in general when they didn’t even know this?

    Until MJ hires/elects competent people who follow all of the rules for all of the people all of the time, we will need such a site as this to put this information out. OK, since a lot of people have been disciplined for a lot less, let’s see what they do about this incident where an employee who uses a city vehicle probably daily didn’t have a TN license as per the city policy. Again, people have been disciplined for a lot less.

    Butch, if you want to know what is going on in the city, good or bad, just ask anyone who works in the area. I promise, you will find a lot of people who are as fed up as you are and they are willing to talk.

  5. Butch Huber

    “Explosive”; that was the word the reporter for the Mt. Juliet Chronicle used to describe the exchanges that occurred during the last planning commission meeting when Mayor Elam used her ample skills to cause a delay, and perhaps kill, a building park project that was set to begin excavation and construction last Monday.

    I was not present during that meeting, however my impression from that reporter’s piece was that area developers and the planning commission were on opposite sides of an issue than the side the mayor was on and the planning commission and the area developers came away from the ensuing tussle with a extra few bumps and bruises. But what is even more important to note, the city of Mt. Juliet lost some serious credibility that night, so I guess you could say that we all took another black eye, compliments of Mayor Elam.

    When a developer has taken a project all the way through the required processes, has his project approved on every level, and then, in the final hour, just before construction begins, after a lot of money and time has been invested, after land has been purchased, after buildings have been cleared and the process of building has begun, only to have those plans delayed, or possibly even killed, a dark cloud is cast across all of Mt. Juliet. Do you think other developers are not watching? Do you think this is an isolated incident? Do you think this only affects one issue? I will answer that for you….”no, it affects everything”!

    It appears as though the Mayor somehow “discovered” that the plan did not meet all of the restrictions for the Village Architecture Overlay Restrictions/Regulations and requested that the project be put back on the planning commission agenda. I don’t know this for sure, but it is what I glean from the piece in the paper. Here is the thing to keep in mind; it appears that this project had reached unanimous approval back in March or April…and then in the eleventh hour…Mayor Elam requested that it be put back on the agenda. Does that mean that I have a right to request that an already approved project be put back on the agenda? If I have the right would the planning commission take me seriously? The Mayor has no more authority in this area than I, yet she seems to hold significant sway over what this planning commission does.

    The city must restore its integrity. The city of Mt. Juliet must speak with one final voice; the word of the city must be its bond. This developer had no reason to believe that there was anything wrong, and by the look of it, nothing was wrong. In reading the reporter’s article one can reasonably draw the conclusion from remarks made by members of the planning commission, from the developer, and even from the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce, that everything was viewed as being hunky-dory with regard to this project. That is a public perception; one that is backed up by public policy, by public record, and by the corroboration of testimony and of opinion of those involved. There was no reason to conclude that there may be a problem with this project, yet the mayor steps in and the plans are delayed.

    Read the reporter’s article.

    The mayor is quoted as saying; “The bottom line is, when I realized they (the plans) were not in compliance I asked for it (The plan) to be put back on the planning commission agenda” and “They decided to re-evaluate or reconsider the prior approval, and in the interim instructed public works that no permit be given.” First of all, I want you to notice that the mayor says that the planning commission instructed public works that no permit be given. The planning commission doesn’t have the authority to direct the public works department; only the city manager can do that. This is yet another example of over-extension of authority. Secondly, I want to draw your attention to how craftily the mayor does what she does. Prior to the above statement she is quoted in the article as having said the following: “The plan was approved in error because it doesn’t comply with the village architecture overlay” and that “the approval was done under the prior administration, and I would not hazard a guess as to how it came about.”

    Firstly, from what I have been able to discern about the powers of the planning commission, they have the authority to allow plans to be approved even if those plans don’t comply with standing regulations. I don’t know how far that authority stretches, but I believe that the planning commission was acting within its authority when it approved these plans, even if they didn’t meet all the restrictions. Secondly, when the mayor says “Prior administration” she must mean either during Rob Shearer’s administration or during Sheila Luckett’s administration, because no other “prior” administration has occurred during the approval process of this project. Folks, the mayor knows that the city manager doesn’t “approve” building projects. She chaired the planning commission for years and she appointed 8 of the 9 members of the planning commission! She knows this process! Yet she is trying to direct blame onto someone who had nothing to do with the process. When she says “administration” she can’t be talking about Bobby Franklin, “aka…City Planner in exile”, because he never had an administration, and seeing as there still isn’t a city planner to fill his shoes, the word “prior” would not be applicable in his case even if he had an administration. Finally, the mayor says that she won’t “hazard a guess as to how this came about”. This is a neat tactic. It casts suspicion immediately without ever making a direct accusation. It is implied accusation. Crafty, isn’t it? That statement causes the suspicion of collusion between a member of the city administration and the developer, without ever actually saying those exact words.

    The article leads me to believe this project was approved in late March or early April of this year. Let’s go back to that time and try to remember if there was anything else going on at that time. Hmmm. No, everything was quite calm at that time, wasn’t it? Hmmm. Oh, wasn’t there….? Ummm. Seems there was something going on at that time…I just can’t seem to bring it to mind. What was it? Let me think for a minute, I am sure I will come up with it. (Pondering, wondering, contemplating.) Hold on, it’s coming to me. Wait for it, I just about have it…Oh, I remember now! On March 22nd of this year the mayor had a meeting with Rob Shearer during which she violated his rights, the rights of every citizen in this city, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, the city Charter, and the rights of the other commissioners when she craftily pried a resignation from former city manager, Rob Shearer! Also during that time the mayor had stirred up another controversy when she violated the City’s sexual harassment policy and the Tennessee Code Annotated when she publicly identified Hatton Wright in a sexual harassment complaint. The mayor was also named in a complaint and there were twin investigations going on in the city. Could something about this project be one of the reasons for all the mess she caused back then? I am still waiting for all the facts to come out, little by little the picture is becoming clearer. One day we will all know what really happened, until then, we can only speculate. But because I simply can’t trust anything she does now, I have to suspect that there are things we don’t know about yet.

    We all have to remember that this mayor hid the fact that she was working for a developer with interests in this city. Her deception was not an innocent omission on her part…she made a volitional attempt to conceal the identity of her employer as evidenced by testimony given during the investigation into her behavior in the Hatton Wright complaint. Remember how indignant she was back then, when the Chronicle broke the story? I personally sent her an e-mail advising her to take a humble approach regarding the issue. Instead, however, she chose to be arrogant, somehow finding it incredulous that anyone would doubt her veracity and integrity. Folks, she is the mayor of a city and she secretly goes to work for a developer who has invested thousands of dollars into her campaign for county mayor, a developer who has a major building project being developer in the city, she makes a concerted attempt to conceal the identity of her employer, and yet “we” were the ones who, in her mind, were violating her by calling into question her integrity and honesty.

    From what I read in this article, the architect of this project is very familiar with the village architecture overlay restrictions, he drew the plans according to the village architecture overlay regulations, he visited with the planning commission and explained the plans, the planning commission gave its blessing, and everything was fine.

    The mayor says; “When I realized they (The plans) were not in compliance…”. I would like to know by what revelation did this supposed fact come to her attention? I would also like to know “when” the revelation of this so-called “non-compliance” occurred. Why is she the only one having a problem here? Vice-mayor Haggerty didn’t seem to have a problem, and he is the biggest stickler of them all on issues such as this. The entire planning commission didn’t seem to have a problem with this, and they deal with issues such as this all the time. So why does the mayor have such an interest here?

    Let me remind you of the string of deceptions.

    The mayor went to work for a developer, who has interests in the city, without informing the public and then makes an intentional attempt to conceal that fact.

    The mayor calls Bobby Franklin under color of office for the benefit of that employer when she apparently vociferously and heatedly tried to persuade Bobby Franklin to remove an item from the planning commission agenda: an item that would put an unfavorable requirement on her employer/developer.

    Had Bobby Franklin honored the mayor’s request he could have opened the city up to the possibility of a major lawsuit by another landowner.

    The mayor acts on behalf of her employer/developer by calling the land-use attorney for the benefit of her employer when she can’t persuade Bobby Franklin to do as she requested in that phone call. Then she says under oath that she has had no involvement with the developer’s project. I say that her calling the land-use attorney to hire him to deal with this issue in opposition to the city is involvement.

    The mayor forces Rob Shearer’s resignation and then releases a press release saying that the city manager has resigned to pursue publishing and teaching. Rob Shearer didn’t want to resign, just ask him. Read Rob’s deposition in the investigation into Mayor Elam’s actions under the Hatton Wright complaint; in that deposition you will find that the he accuses the mayor of what can only be described as strong-arm tactics to force him to resign under duress. According to what I have learned through investigating these matters, the mayor sent out a press release with misinformation included. If we can’t trust what a public official reports to the media we simply can’t trust the public official at all.

    The mayor admittedly made a volitional decision to withhold a six-page complaint brought against many employees of the city from then city manager Rob Shearer; Withholding that six-page complaint is a clear violation of the city’s personnel manual under section 14; sexual harassment. The mayor then communicates back and forth with the complainant, who finally issues a one-page sexual harassment complaint against Hatton Wright alone. Ironically, that one page complaint is conveniently submitted precisely when the city is arbitrating a lawsuit against the city. An employee who was unsuccessful in a previous complaint against Hatton Wright brought that lawsuit. The mayor intimates in a public meeting that the lawsuit has something to do with Hatton Wright, when in fact it had absolutely nothing to do with Hatton Wright. The mayor violates Hatton’s rights when she identifies him as the target of a sexual harassment complaint in a public meeting. We later find out that the mayor was extremely bitter toward Hatton Wright because he embarrassed her during a meeting she called during which she was demanding that the city issue building permits to Pulte Homes in violation of city ordinances. Oh, and then there was the act of attempt when she tried to persuade (Banging her hand on the table and demanding that the city issue Pulte Homes a permit according to one testimony) city employees to violate the law and issue permits to Pulte Homes against city ordinance.

    I personally have been refused delivery of materials and information that I have a legal right to obtain so that I can’t collect evidence that would prove my suspicions about the mayor.

    Now, ask yourself this question…does it fit that a Mayor, who one year ago was in a room slamming her hand on a table, demanding issuance of permits to a builder that has not met city requirements, is now in the planning commission taking on the planning commission and local builders because one particular project doesn’t meet the village architecture overlay restrictions, but who has meet the conditions well enough that the planning commission approved the project? Let me clear that up and make it more to the point…in the case of Pulte Home (A developer who had promised the mayor money for a ladder truck if she could get approval for his permits) the mayor is advocating that city employees violate the law and issue permits for this developer…in the case of the Caldwell Business Park, a project that apparently had met all the conditions that it needed to meet in order to begin construction, the mayor is going toe-to-toe in what is described as an “explosive” debate with the planning commission and local developers in order to get that developer’s permits withheld.

    Can anyone assuage my suspicions that mayor is once again up to something? Can anyone convince me that the mayor is not covertly working for the benefit of another developer? Can someone convince me that the real reason that this project is being shuttered is because the developer hasn’t “donated” something to one of Mayor Elam’s pet projects, the way Pulte homes was promising to donate to the ladder truck fund? The mayor has prided herself on her ability to force developers to “give” the city land or other things in return for approval on their projects….is that what is going on in this situation? Is it that the owners of the Caldwell Business Park development haven’t “Donated” enough to maintain their approval? Was there a promise made by the developer that the developer didn’t fulfill, a promise that you and I know nothing about?

    For the record, if a developer wants to develop a piece of property, I believe he or she should have to meet the requirements of the city or at the very least get a variance, but in all cases the spirit of the requirement must be met prior to approval…however, once an approval is granted, the city should stand behind its decision and allow the development to proceed or the city should purchase the property from the owner at fair market value in a condemnation procedure.

    There is a meeting to be held at 5pm Monday, November 26th at city hall to discuss this issue. It is going to be very interesting to watch this whole issue unfold.

    It is time to stop this mayor from further tarnishing this city’s reputation and from holding back progress…this mayor is the worst thing that has happened to this city since I moved here nearly 10 years ago. The city no longer has direction, leadership or vision…unless you count giving away a $20,000,000 gift to the YMCA and doing anything and everything you can to meet that end “direction, leadership and vision”, in which case we must have “direction, leadership and vision” in spades. By the way, how do you like the traffic in Mt. Juliet today? Stand-by, it is going to get much, much worse….

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