The courts will likely decide the fate of city land given in December to Greenback Volunteer Fire Department.
Greenback’s board of aldermen voted last week to pursue legal action in an attempt to reclaim two tracts deeded away Dec. 28 by former mayor Tom Peeler.
Because some of the land had been designated for recreational use and bought with state grant money, the city could be found noncompliant with the state, Dewayne Birchfield, Greenback mayor, said.
“Talking to a representative from the state, if this property is given away, the city of Greenback will lose all rights to grants because of not being in compliance,” Birchfield said.
Birchfield told the audience at a Feb. 12 meeting that Jamison Sliger, consultant for Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Parks and Recreation Technical Assistance Service, advised the city that it could run into issues with state compliance for giving away the property.
“We’re not out to do anything to the fire department,” Birchfield said. “They do a great job, but the rules were set (that) this property had to be used for recreation. If you’re not compliant with what the state says … there’s a good possibility that the city of Greenback will lose the ability to have grants. Then you’d just be on your own.”
Sliger directed all requests for information to Kim Schofinski, TDEC deputy communications coordinator, who could not confirm there are problems with the property being given away.
“At this time, we do not have enough information about the property(ies) to determine if there are any compliance issues that may or may not impact future grant eligibility,” Schofinski said in an email correspondence. “We have reached out to the mayor’s office and plan to meet with them soon to discuss.”
Birchfield said he was told that if the sale brings the city out of compliance there would be a loss of grant opportunities.
Because the land behind the fire department was purchased for recreational use as part of a previous grant, he believes giving it away would cause problems.
“It probably would,” he said. “There’s another question about (Peeler) was fixing to try to give away the tennis court to the fire hall, and he was going to give the property across the creek there to the school. He didn’t quite get that done.”
The reason for pursuing legal action is there are problems with the quit claim deed, Melanie Davis, newly appointed city attorney, said. Davis claims Peeler left office before the land was deeded to the fire department, which would not allow him to sign the deed on behalf of the city.
Other problems are related to an October 2018 meeting in which the city voted to give land to the fire department.
“There is an issue about the minutes of the meeting of October of last year when this conveyance was discussed. It’s very unclear as to what was actually approved in the minutes,” Davis said. “Also, there’s a question about whether or not it was publicly noticed appropriately. So if you have a conveyance approved at a meeting that is not properly noticed, that conveyance can be voided.”
Johnny Walker, alderman, also noted confusion about what was decided during the October meeting. Walker said the city agreed to give land behind the People Promoting Animal Welfare office to the fire department — and to work with the department on other property — as long as it would not impact recreation facilities in the city.
Walker seconded a motion from Birchfield to pursue legal action.
“Why would we not fight for the property knowing we would not get state funding?” Walker said.
Robin Blankenship, alderman and Peeler’s daughter, was the lone vote against pursuing legal action. She disputed much of what was said during the meeting in a follow-up email.
According to Blankenship, it was decided at the October meeting that both pieces of property would be given away, including confirmation that a concession stand on the property behind the fire department would need to be moved.
“The vote passed, and at that meeting Dewayne Birchfield and Linda Black were both present, along with two others,” Blankenship said in an email. “That meeting was posted on the door at the community center for 10 days prior to the meeting, so it was a legal meeting.”
Blankenship said the quit claim deed was not signed until Dec. 28 because survey work taking place on the two properties was not complete before then.
She also said Peeler did not leave office until Dec. 28. Birchfield maintains he took over Dec. 27.
“I was sworn in on (Nov. 20),” Birchfield said. “The idea was I would let him stay there until we got all the checks cleared and got the audits back. I picked (Dec. 27) and he said that would be fine. He handed everything over to me on the 27th.”
A timeline for when the land issue will be resolved ranges greatly.
“You’re looking at probably at least nine months to a year if it’s contested,” Davis said. “If it’s not contested, then you could get it resolved sooner.”
The city has made attempts to reach out to the fire department without success, Birchfield said. “(Fire Chief Ronnie Lett) said he wasn’t allowed to talk to me,” Birchfield said.
Lett declined to comment on specifics but said he has handed the matter over to an attorney.
In other business, the board approved the hire of Melanie Davis as the new city attorney, accepted the resignation of alderman Polly Evans and approved the appointment of Linda Black as alderman.