Sullivan County Commissioner Michael Surgenor on Thursday amended his resolution to mount a taxpayer-funded, county-led legal fight of Kingsport’s annexation in the Fall Creek area. J.H. Osborne photo.
BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County will not challenge Kingsport’s recent “Chase Meadows” annexation. Nor will the county seek an opinion regarding the annexation from the state’s attorney general.
The Sullivan County Commission met in called session Thursday to consider a proposal to mount a taxpayer-funded, county-led legal fight of the city’s annexation of an undeveloped parcel of land in the Fall Creek area.
That version of the proposal, however, did not make it to a vote.
Its sponsor, Commissioner Michael Surgenor, amended the resolution to exclude any mention of litigation — calling instead for County Attorney Dan Street to seek an opinion from the Tennessee attorney general on whether or not the Chase Meadows annexation was “legal.”
He found some support for that, but not enough for commission approval. Thirteen “yes” votes were needed. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of Surgenor’s amended call for county intervention in the annexation
They were Garth Blackburn, Moe Brotherton, Darlene Calton, Terry Harkleroad, Dennis Houser, Sam Jones, Dwight King, Jim King, John McKamey, Randy Morrell and Surgenor.
Voting “no” were Cathy Armstrong, Linda Brittenham, Clyde Groseclose, Jon Harr, Elliott Kilgore, Bill Kilgore, Buddy King and Mark Vance.
Five commissioners were absent.
Kingsport annexed the land in question at the request of the property owner. Nearby residents petitioned against the city — opposing, especially, the city’s “high density” zoning of the land.
A group of those residents asked the county to take up the battle in court on their behalf. That request spurred Surgenor’s resolution, introduced last week and based in part on the supposition county action was the only option — if, indeed, even possible under law.
After researching the issue, Street told commissioners the county had no more right to challenge the annexation than the nearby residents who oppose it.
From Street’s memo to county commissioners:
•“The argument has been made that the property owners in the area near the annexed area lack standing to contest the annexation and that lawyers have advised these property owners that their only hope to contest the annexation is to convince Sullivan County to file suit to contest the annexation.”
•“Many legal issues have been raised by (the resolution to be considered at the called meeting) and by individuals and groups opposed to this annexation. I have limited myself to give legal advice to only Sullivan County, and not the property owners, in response to the specific argument set forth above — that the property owners near the annexed area lack standing to contest the annexation and that lawyers have advised these property owners that their only hope to contest the annexation is to convince Sullivan County to file suit to contest the annexation.”
Judy Godat, a member of the group seeking legal intervention by the county, said she was “very confused” after the commission’s pre-vote discussion of the topic Thursday.
Godat said she was understanding county commissioners, and Street, to be saying the group has a right to sue over the issue — while city officials have told the group they have no such right.
In answer to that, Street said his statements on the matter were not meant to in any way “guarantee” the group they have that right.
His point, he said, was that if the county has the right to seek a declaratory judgment, the group of residents has the same right.
“We don’t have it to your exclusion,” Street said. “If we have that right, you have that right.”
During public comment on the issue, several people spoke in favor of the county taking legal action against the annexation — although more than one said the group isn’t opposed to annexation, per se, but to the “high density” (4.1 homes per acre) zoning granted by the city for the planned “Chase Meadows” development. The audience applauded a number of times.
Later, the crowd booed Commissioner Buddy King after he said, “We shouldn’t even be involved in this.”