By CONNIE ESH , The Wilson Post
Two citizen appeared before Lebanon City Council Tuesday to complain about the city’s support of the proposed Bible Park, with one of them, Derek Dodson, filing ethics complaints against former Mayor Don Fox, City Liaison Sue Akins Siens and current Mayor Philip Craighead because they supported the group proposing the park.
The park, originally proposed for Rutherford County which turned it down over zoning issues, was first offered to Wilson County and Lebanon in September 2008.
The $175 million park is proposed to be constructed on a 113-acre tract fronting on I-40 between Cainsville Road and Tater Peeler Road.
The park, being promoted by BPUSA and Rob Wyatt, has been approved by both the county and the city to be a Tax Increment Financing project, with the developers responsible for issuing and repaying bonds based on that money.
Initially, Lebanon citizen Dave Kirkey told city council that the Hard Rock Park, which had been pointed to as an example of how the Bible Park would prosper, was sold yesterday. Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. was developed by SafeHarbor, the company that initially proposed the Bible Park in Rutherford County and in Lebanon. Hard Rock Park filed for bankruptcy last year, a few months after it opened.
The Myrtle Beach park brought $25million, but was in debt for about $400 million, he said.
He also asked whether the group proposing the Bible Park had provided any financial information to the city or the county yet, and was told they had not.
Kirkey also told the council that while he has heard it said that using TIF for the park would not cost taxpayers money, it would cost for fire, police, roads and other services provided by the city and the county.
“Those costs would normally be paid by the taxes collected on property in the area now covered by the TIF,” he said.
Then Dodson accused Fox, Siens and Craighead of complicity for supporting the park and said he was “suing” the officials.
Dodson also accused five members of the council, except Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler, of complicity in supporting the park, the financing of which he claimed is based on fraudulent information. Buhler has consistently voted against the project.
Then just as his time was up, Dodson handed City Attorney Andy Wright ethics complaints against Fox, Siens and Craighead.
These were only the latest in a snow storm of such complaints Dodson has made against local elected officials.
He also delivered 18 similar complaints to County Attorney Mike Jennings last week during a Budget Committee meeting.
However, Jennings said he hasn’t had time to go through all the paperwork Dodson gave him.
“What he handed me was an inch-and-a-half thick,” Jennings said. “I haven’t had time to go through it.”
Jennings did add that the complaints were against all county commissioners who had voted in favor of the park.
Jennings said he would first need to read through all the material and then convene the County Ethics Committee, which is chaired by District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush, who is also one of the commissioners named in the complaints.
Wright said he will also need to read the material and then turn it over to one of three local attorneys, David Viele, Robin Vance Kent or Brent Gibson, approved to investigate ethics complaints by the city council.
But he pointed out two of the complaints are possibly invalid anyway. The first against Fox “may be moot since he no longer works for the city.”
In the case of Craighead, Wright said the complaint appeared to be based on campaign materials, and if so the city ethics policy doesn’t apply, because he was not yet a city employee.
Both attorneys agreed that Dodson would have to provide evidence to prove his claims.
In other business, during the work session before the meeting, City Planner Magi Tilton asked the council to consider adding an ordinance to their next agenda which would lower the payment in lieu of sidewalks from $10 to $5.
She said the change could help solve some of the issues with the current sidewalk regulations.
She also pointed out that the each payment in lieu option still would have to be approved by the planning commission and the council.
Other possibilities that have been discussed include eliminating the sidewalk requirement for industrial areas, commercial areas, or any areas farther than one-half mile from schools.
Tilton said when the planning commission looked at the other possibilities they also seemed to mean Lebanon would not become a walkable city.
During the meeting, council:
• Approved extending Cracker Barrel’s lease for a hanger at the Lebanon Airport for 10 years.
• Approved a service agreement with the Gladeville Utility District to provide sewer service to some of their customers.
• Approved a “Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan” with the county. The plan would allow the city and county to respond more effectively in the event of a major emergency, if for example Wilson County was hit by tornadoes like those that struck Sumner and Macon Counties in February 2008.
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow businesses near the interstate to have signage on the backs of their buildings if the back is toward the interstate.
• Agreed to transfer two workers from Engineering to Water and Waste Water, and to promote a worker to fill a truck driving position in the Sanitation Department.
• Deferred a request to hire two temporary workers for Sanitation and a request to advertise for a Water Treatment Plant Operator, until it can be determined if those jobs can be covered by transfers.
• Extended the hiring freeze for part-time employees, consultants and contract employees until April 7.
Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.