Monday, December 18, 2006

Tennessee's Legal Limbo or The Annexation Dance

The wiggly rules about annexation and defined growth boundaries have shown up in two cases in East Tennessee and revealed yet again that property owners' rights are a fading remnant in America.

I admit I am perplexed by the notion, as reported in the KNS story, that only one person was eligible to vote in a South Knoxville annexation proposal on the ballot .... because if only one person was eligible, why place it on an election ballot?? Even more odd is that this Legendary Sole Voter moved into the area which allowed him to vote just prior to the election and rented a home owned by the developer of the annexation site. And after the election, he moved out and the home was destroyed.

The KNS story is here, and R. Neal at KnoxViews also has some questions about this very strange deal.

Meanwhile, in Rogersville - or rather, outside Rogersville - 130 homeowners are suing to prevent annexation of their property. And again, questions arise over whether or nor election laws were followed since this proposal was also on the ballot. The suit was filed by Knox attorney, David Buck, who news reports (via Kingsport-Times News) are eager to describe as:

ssociated with the Knoxville-based anti-annexation group Citizens for Home Rule.

It claims that the people included in the annexation did not want to become part of the city and that the annexation is not reasonably necessary for people living in the affected area.

The lawsuit also makes several claims of technical flaws in the annexation.

For example, it alleges that the plan of services was not advertised for the required 15 days. There is also an allegation that there was not three copies of the plan of services and annexation ordinance available for public viewing at City Hall, the water department and the courthouse, as is also required.

Rogersville City Attorney Bill Phillips was served with the lawsuit Wednesday. He said he doesn't believe there were any technical flaws with the annexation, but if there were they will be corrected."

I love how government can magically go back and revise and re-date documents to make everything legal and correct.

Most notable in both the Knox and Rogersville stories is that these expansions go outside the 20-year growth boundaries which the state demanded cities/counties create. But those boundaries seem to have little meaning -- and worse, the law creating such boundaries also changed the nature of legal actions concerning annexations, so that in legal confrontations, all burden of proof is now on the property owner, and not on cities. The cities no longer have to prove their needs for annexation in court.

Attorney Phillips says with the new law in place, annexation opposition usually fails:

Under the old law, there were many annexations that were overturned by lawsuit," Phillips said. "Under the new law, the burden of proof has switched to the persons being annexed, rather than the town having to prove reasonableness of the annexation. With that burden of proof being switched, it makes a big difference.

"There are very few lawsuits that have been filed since the new law took effect, probably because it's difficult to win."

NOTE: Citizens for Home Rule is an advocacy group supporting rights of individuals. From their web site:

"CHR is dedicated to the preservation of the legal rights of its members in the matter of unwanted annexation, and provides the legal and financial resources to file suit and block such annexations.

We believe CHR is the most litigious advocacy organization in the State of Tennessee, and we are the City of Knoxville's most frequent and most successful litigant."

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