A Chattanooga Industrial Development Board member who made the motion last month to accept the Black Creek tax-increment financing deal apparently has been serving improperly since 2002 because he doesn't live in the city.
Chris Ramsey, who was appointed by former mayor and current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, said Tuesday he has lived in Hamilton County for the past 20 years, but didn't learn until recently that IDB members are supposed to reside within the city limits.
"I had no knowledge of the rule," he said. "Not once was this brought to my attention."
Helen Burns Sharp, a community activist who has criticized the controversial Black Creek Mountain tax increment financing approved by the board, said the panel ought to start over with the plan to use taxpayer funds to build a new road up Aetna Mountain.
She said after a meeting of the board that the process was "procedurally flawed." Sharp earlier sued over the board's handling of the issue, won a Hamilton County Chancery Court ruling, and forced the panel to reaffirm the financing method last month.
Sharp said that Ramsey's situation gives the city a chance to set criteria over such applications as well as provide for "good public participation."
But Mike Mallen, an attorney for the Black Creek development group, said Ramsey's status shouldn't impact the tax increment financing plan. He said that all the votes on the project were approved by the board by more than one vote.
City Attorney Wade Hinton, who represents the board, said officials are looking at Ramsey's situation. Hinton said most of the board's actions over the years wouldn't have been tilted one way or another by Ramsey's vote.
James Miller, the board's vice chairman, said the City Council and Mayor Andy Berke will review Ramsey's status and the board appointment process.
Earlier this year, Chancellor Frank Brown ruled there was something "fundamentally wrong" with the way the IDB handled a 2013 decision to award $9 million in tax-increment financing to a private development group. Under the tax-increment financing plan, the road will be built by the developers and its cost would be repaid by the city and county -- with interest -- using additional property tax collections from the mountaintop homes and businesses created by the new road.
Brown voided the board's decision to allow the financing deal based on violations of the state's open meetings law and conflicts of interest in the case.
Last month, the board reaffirmed the tax plan, with Ramsey making the motion.
On Tuesday, Ramsey didn't attend the board meeting. He said later in a telephone interview that he had been at a funeral.
But, he said, a recent request came to him from the mayor's office asking in which City Council district he lives. Ramsey said he responded that he doesn't live in the city, and he then learned about the residency requirement.
Chattanooga developer Doug Stein said the Black Creek Mountain project was approved and is in line with state law.
"We did everything according to the rules of the law," he said.
The IDB remains embroiled in the lawsuit brought by Sharp, who is asking for the defendants -- including the city, county and developers -- to pay the nearly $75,000 in legal fees she incurred as a result of the board's violation of the open meetings law.
A hearing is planned today in Chancery Court.
Reporter Ellis Smith contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.