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Phillips accuses Shipley of telling merchants to sue city over flooding last year

July 13th, 2014 9:00 am by Hank Hayes

Phillips accuses Shipley of telling merchants to sue city over flooding last year

KINGSPORT — State Rep. Tony Shipley's solution for the July 2013 downtown flood was to ask affected merchants to sue the city, said Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips.

"I don't feel there was anything to sue the city over. ... The answer was not sue, it was working together," Phillips said.

Shipley denies Phillips' assertion.

Downtown property owner Stephen Lahair said he did not recall Shipley telling him to sue the city.

But Lahair also noted he heard others were told by Shipley to take legal action.

"I thought it would be a travesty to think a lawsuit would settle anything," Lahair said.

Phillips sent a letter to Shipley in late September 2013 and began it by telling him a downtown merchant was "very appreciative" Shipley had come to visit with people impacted by the flood that resulted in standing water in a number of stores.

"(The merchant) did say something however about your telling merchants that they should file a lawsuit against the city because of the flooding problems," Phillips told Shipley in the letter, which can be found at the bottom of this article. "I had considered this an act of God based on my discussion with the city manager and staff, all of which tell me there was little or nothing the city could have done to prevent these merchants being flooded by more than five inches of rainfall in a very short period of time. If you have factual information that the problem was caused by negligence on the part of the city would you please be so kind as to share that with me.

"Like you, I am concerned that people lost tens of thousands of dollars during this disaster, most of which were mom and pop operators who had borrowed or invested their life savings to go into business."

Phillips, who sent copies of the letter to other city leaders, said he never got a response from Shipley.

When asked for a response, Shipley said in an email he went to observe flooding impact in the downtown area at the invitation of former Alderman Jantry Shupe and current Alderman Tom Parham.

"We toured several buildings and talked to lots of people," Shipley said. "No one mentioned suing the city to me, nor did I mention it to anyone."

Shipley added he attempted to put together a legislative relief package, but it "never really got any traction. ... The issue was dropped."

Shipley also insisted he ignored Phillips' letter because its premise was inaccurate.

"Either he had been misinformed, or simply wanted to continue the political harassment of me as he had so many others," Shipley said. "...I will add that the timing of this is an obvious effort to mislead the voters of the 2nd District just before early voting. I hope you and others can see through it."

This is not the first time Phillips and Shipley have been at odds.

Their apparent strained relationship came to light following Shipley's narrow, 10-vote victory over former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote in the 2012 GOP primary for Tennessee's 2nd House District seat. Phillips had endorsed Mallicote's campaign.

In that race, Shipley won absentee and early voting, but lost the actual primary Election Day vote.

Still, Shipley has pointed out he has forged close working relationships with both city and county officials in the past to pass new laws combating synthetic drugs; although, he went against the city's wishes by voting for 2014 legislation eliminating annexation by ordinance. He lives in Colonial Heights, but his district office is inside the city.

Shipley, who was first elected in 2008, faces Republican primary opposition this year from retired Kingsport Police Officer Bud Hulsey.

You can find the letter here

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