Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Amend the Metro Charter to Protect Private Property Rights

Jim Gottoby Jim Gotto

One of the unique characteristics of the United States that has set it apart from other countries is the right of individual citizens to own property. Generally referred to as property rights, this freedom that we have has been a significant contributor to successful entrepreneurship and the resulting strong private economy that exists in the United States. We enjoy the highest standard of living in the world, due in no small part to property rights.

One of the enemies to individual property rights is the abuse of eminent domain by the government or its agents. The use of eminent domain should be limited to only those projects that are absolutely necessary for government to fulfill its purposes. The purposes of government have and continue to be a much debated subject. I do not wish to engage in that discussion at this time but I am of the opinion that the delegation of eminent domain decisions to a bureaucratic agency is outside what can reasonably be considered under the umbrella of the purposes of government.

In the past, The Mayor and Metro Council have done just that by legislating redevelopment districts and in that legislation delegated the authority to obtain a private citizens property through condemnation. The agency that has been the beneficiary of this power is the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA). The only restraint placed on MDHA is to determine if the property is “blighted”.

Consider the recent case of Joy Ford. Ms Ford owns a business that is within the footprint of the Gulch Redevelopment District. MDHA through a subjective decision making process declared her property blighted and undertook proceedings to obtain it through eminent domain against Ms Ford’s wishes. The purpose of this property seizure was to pass it on to Lionstone Group, a private developer.

It was only after public pressure was exerted as a result of the involvement of some Metro Council members and the press that MDHA relented and Ms Ford prevailed. However, there was nothing that the Council could do in a timely manner to stop the proceedings because MDHA had been previously granted eminent domain authority through the legislation that established the Gulch Redevelopment District. Had MDHA continued, the final decision would have been up to the courts and I do not believe that eminent domain cases devoid of elected officials’ control on a case by case basis should be settled in this manner.

The only effective way to insure that elected officials in Davidson County retain the absolute authority to make eminent domain decisions is to amend the Metro Charter. An easier course would be to pass legislation to this end. However, any new law could be nullified by future legislation. Amending the Charter to specify that all eminent decisions must come to the Council for a vote on a case by case basis is the only way to preserve the Metro Council’s authority to oversee and protect the property rights of the citizens of Davidson County.

Jim Gotto is a Metro Councilman representing Council District 12. The proposed charter amendment, sponsored by Jim Gotto, to require that all eminent domain decisions must come to the Metro Council for a vote on a case by case basis will be on the November ballot. Gotto is a candidate seeking the District 60 House seat.

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