The Rhea County commission is considering a proposal to seize power against the people under authorization of a state law that gives broad authority to cities and counties with token language about the need to respect constitutional rights.
The plan by Commissioner Bill Hollin would give county government a grant to suppress many kinds of innocent activities among the citizens and to subject them to free-lance officials who discern a compelling state interest to brush aside God-given and constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people to satisfy some municipal necessity.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 92.7
Thirty-two thousand people live in the county. The ordinance would create powers against those who live outside incorporated towns such as Dayton, home to 7,200 people and site of the famous Scopes Monkey trial in 1925.
Mr. Hollin says the powers sought are not likely to be abused and will be used only to settle disputes among neighbors over nuisances such as wandering chickens, abandoned cars or piles of trash.
Such claims ignited a noisy property rights battle in Dunlap in Sequatchie County next door. Mayor Dwain Land and city attorney Stephen Greer hounded an elderly couple for two years with demands they permit a search of their house, though neither official had probable cause nor a criminal warrant as required by law.
The controversy in civil court ended in August when Mr. Greer realized that an engineer’s report giving a 100 percent solid grade to the house of Thomas and Carol Gaddy would allow an end to the fight and satisfy the city’s claims to have acted in the interest of public health, safety and welfare.
No such controversy is immediately in view in Rhea County.
But the power to deal with recalcitrant, uncooperative, patriotic and constitution-claiming residents such as Mrs. Gaddy, a former real estate maven and outspoken Americanist, will be assumed by the Rhea County commission — and given its members decades into the future.
The Rhea County nuisances and other practices plan would let the county —
2) Define, prohibit, abate, suppress, prevent and regulate all acts, practices, conduct, businesses, occupations, callings, trades, uses of property and all other things whatsoever detrimental, or liable to be detrimental, to the health, morals, comfort, safety, convenience or welfare of the inhabitants of the municipality, and exercise general police powers;
(23) Prescribe limits within which business occupations and practices liable to be nuisances or detrimental to the health, morals, security or general welfare of the people may lawfully be established, conducted or maintained.
These powers are cut and pasted from TCA 6-2-201 at points 22 and 23, pertaining to powers recognized as belonging to municipal corporations. Similar powers include that of taxation, taking on debt, condemnation of property for eminent domain and the building of sidewalks and roads.
“The only thing it covers is nuisances,” Mr. Hollin says. “I’ve had several neighbors, not my neighbors, they’ve had neighbors they’ve had real problems with — chickens, tires being left there, garbage being left out, and cats and dogs eating stuff like that. It’s really a nuisance.” If a resident “tries to get his neighbor to do right and get his yard clean, *** not just trashing up everything in the neighborhood, we can ask him to would you please clean it up? And if they don’t clean it up, we could go in and have it cleaned. That’s all we’re covering in the nuisance thing.”
But backers of free markets and constitutional liberties in Rhea County are alarmed. Among them is Joe Paige, a builder who runs Access Remodeling in Spring City. “The resolution allows the county to pass laws that regulate every possible use of private property. They will say ‘this isn’t zoning,’ and they are correct. It’s much worse. This is brownshirt stuff.”
He is trying to rally “any and all concerned private property owners to defeat this” effort that will be considered Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the County courthouse annex in Dayton.
Threat to AirBnB, other innocent activity
“What it will do is allow the county to impose regulation on any aspect of private property ownership or use,” Mr Paige says. “In other words, the resolution states they can define — they can abate — they can suppress any acts on your private property if it’s so much as an inconvenience to your neighbor — not not a danger, not a threat — but as so much as an inconvenience. It literally covers everything.”
Mr. Paige says in an interview with 92.7 Noogardio the ordinance could interfere with the discharge of firearms on property in the county, short-term vacation rentals through AirBnB, repairing of cars, the use of a wood stove the smoke of which offends a neighbor three houses down. “This is so broad, so sweeping, that it is a danger to freedom- and liberty-loving private property owners,” says Mr. Paige, who relocated here in 2013 to escape Tampa Bay, Fla., and a “fascist” government.
“I moved here for the simple reason that I believe east Tennessee respects private property, respects liberty. I’ve come to find that’s not always the case.”
The resolution “is written by lawyers for lawyers to cover everything,” Mr. Paige says.
Entrepreneur urges call to action
Rhea County weighs ordinance to suppress, harass, regulate free market trades and businesses under police power. Joe Paige is concerned. (Courtesy NoogaRadio.