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In this week’s Oak Ridge Observer

Here’s what I said when The Oak Ridge Observer asked what (in 75 words or less) had “compelled” the candidates to run for City Council:

Under our charter, City Council consists of citizens elected to represent their friends and neighbors in making decisions for the common good. I am attracted to this kind of civic service. I seek re-election to help Oak Ridge make wise choices, ensuring value for our money, and aiming for a prosperous future without sacrificing what makes our city special (like neighborhoods, schools, city services, natural environment, and atomic heritage).

Pick up a copy of Thursday’s Observer or subscribe to the online edition to see the other candidate’s answers. Editor Stan Mitchell will be running a new question for all area candidates every week from now until the election.

In that same issue of the Observer, I also had a short guest column, under the headline “Eminent domain was never on the table”, responding to an editorial the previous week that applauded the announcement of plans for a new Kroger Marketplace shopping center:

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed in the September 13th editorial about the Kroger Marketplace project, but I was troubled by the suggestion that eminent domain might have been used if property owners hadn’t voluntarily accepted the developer’s purchase offers.

Some people have told me they were afraid they could be forced to sell their homes to this retail developer, but I don’t think there is a valid basis for this concern. First, this is a private initiative. It is not sponsored by the Oak Ridge city government, nor (as far as I know) any other government. Secondly, Tennessee law allows eminent domain (condemnation) to acquire property only for “public use”, not for a private economic development such as a retail store.

A Municipal Technical Advisory Service publication entitled “Eminent Domain in Tennessee” discusses the allowable purposes for eminent domain under Tennessee law. I suppose that a clever lawyer might be able to stretch some of the allowable purposes (such as the redevelopment of a blighted area) to justify acquiring a residential neighborhood for a shopping center, but that couldn’t happen without government action — and probably some nasty litigation. In the case of the site for the Kroger Marketplace, the neighborhood as a whole is not blighted — and no one ever approached me, as a City Council member, to suggest that the city government should help acquire the land for the project.

As the editorial indicated, the development team deserves to be commended for successfully assembling the property for this project through voluntary purchases. We don’t need to speculate about what they would have done if property owners didn’t agree to sell, because involuntary acquisition by eminent domain wasn’t a realistic option.

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