Under new business at Monday night’s Wilson County Commission meeting, the 25-member body voted almost unanimously on a voice vote to send a letter to the state legislators opposing a proposed home for victims of the sex trafficking or slavery trade.
District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice brought the resolution, saying his objection is not to the purpose of the home, but to the state telling the county where the home is to be located.
“My motion is to tell, ask our state legislators, to let us handle our own business,” Justice said. “I don’t care if they give them a license. I have nothing against somebody trying to better themselves. But I don’t want the state to tell us where we have to put them.”
According to Director of Planning Tom Brashear, Tennessee Code Annotated Title 13, Chapter 24, Sections 101-104, gives a definition of being disabled and then states “if there is a home put together for the purpose of housing up to eight of these individuals, with not more than three caretakers, then it must be treated by local zoning and local governments as a single family residence.
“That’s what you’re up against.”
The proposed location is the former home of Jon and Marion Setzer, who died as a result of a bomb exploding that was built and sent to them in the guise of a lamp by their son-in-law Richard Parker, who pled guilty earlier this month to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The application for the home has been brought by Rest Stop Ministries, founded by Rondy Smith, and would be a “respite for up to 18 women trying to escape the dangerous world of human trafficking,” according to a story aired by WSMV Channel 4 on Aug. 22
"We want to have a sanctuary, an oasis, a healing space for these women," Smith said in the interview. "They deserve to be in a home."
Rest Stop Ministries is working to bring women out of sex trafficking and into a normal life. She sees the property as ideal.
"The space communicates a message to them that they are worthy, that they are people," Smith told WSMV reporter Hayley Mason.
Located at 580 Vance Lane, off Hartsville Pike, about 2 miles outside the city limits of Lebanon, the home sits on 25-acres and is across the street from McClain Christian Academy and adjacent to Camp Smiley, a summer camp.
District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford asked that the letter use the wording “strongly recommend” in the letter to the state legislators, urging them to “listen to what we’re asking them to do, as we’ve had that not to happen before.”
Justice said he wanted to take his request through the proper committee channels, but there simply isn’t time, because they will not meet until after Board of Zoning Appeals will have to review the request.
Brashear said the proposal was deferred by BOZA “until such time as we have a clear answer whether the state is going to permit this facility under this code annotated.
“I am in receipt from the state from the lady that's over permitting of this that basically indicates that should all the boxes be checked, I guess, they will be issuing a permit for the facility within 30 to 45 days and that was of July 17,” he added.
District 6 Commissioner Kenny Reich echoed Justice’s concerns, saying his district is adjacent to District 15’s and that he has received numerous phone calls about the home as well.
“These people have moved out there to be in the country. They chose this way of life. So if the state’s going to come in and tell us where we can locate businesses and were we can’t, we have a problem.
“I've had a huge outcry in my district, asking me for help. Without our state representatives stepping up, I don't think we're going to get any,” Justice said.
Amelia Morrison Hipps is a correspondent for The Wilson Post. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.