VITAL POLICY – Transparency, Tourism, Jefferson Alliance, A Convergence of Economic Development Ideology

Jefferson County’s Ten-Year Economic Development Journey

For decades, citizens have pressed the Jefferson County Government to conduct economic development out in the open, mainly to avoid strife in the county and to give the citizens a seat at the planning table, citizens who would be profoundly affected by development. Jefferson County government has consistently pushed back on motions requiring transparency with respect to economic development. Talkin’ Turkey | The Jefferson County Post

At one point the strife got so bad that multiple citizens filed suit against the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, EDOC/EDA and the county government demanding that economic development, funded by public money, be conducted under open meetings and with open records requirements. BREAKING NEWS! – Multiple Citizens File Suit For Open Records | The Jefferson County Post Many of the people that filed the suit were under the threat of eminent domain (property condemnation), a process that would have forcefully taken 2000 acres of private Jefferson County property for a speculative private development in 2013, a clear violation of constitutional property rights under the “public use” doctrine of the 5th Amendment.

In 2016, the Jefferson County, Tennessee Commission enacted Resolution 2016-43 calling on the state legislature to end abusive property takings by amending eminent domain laws. State lawmakers did precisely that. Seal Takes Eminent Domain Issue To Nashville | The Jefferson County Post

(Resolution 2016-43 Protect Citizens from Eminent Domain)

The Tennessee legislature made sweeping changes to eminent domain laws after the Jefferson County debacle, a public relations disaster created when county leaders proposed a plan that would have required the condemnation of 102 family farms and homes for the benefit of private developers, orchestrated behind closed doors with taxpayer money by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, EDOC and certain county commissioners that were given a favorable “cooperation score” by the Chamber and EDOC. Tennessee Stands Up for Property Rights – Institute for Justice (

The Jefferson County government and Chamber of Commerce fought the transparency suit in court and were ultimately dismissed from the case. However, EDOC/EDA remained in the suit according to a ruling made by Special Judge Chancellor Don Ash until the case was ultimately decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in favor of the citizens that were seeking open records and open meetings. EDOC/EDA then filed a 116-page appeals application with the Tennessee Supreme Court falsely claiming, among other things, that economic development is impossible to conduct under open meetings and open records requirements, even though Tennessee law (T.C.A. § 5-1-130 and 6-54-142) provides for certain confidentiality when recruiting industry. A copy of that 116-page appeals application and the above cited statutes can be viewed at the following links.

(JCEDOC Application for Appeal to Supreme Court)

(Exceptions to Tennessee’s Open Records Laws)

After the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal Wood v. EDOC, the EDOC/EDA board immediately dissolved the economic development agency, again stating that it was impossible to conduct industrial recruitment and tourism activities under open meetings and open records, now required of EDOC/EDA by the court.

Fast forward to 2020.

Despite concerns that open records transparency would adversely affect performance, Jefferson County established the Department of Tourism under the leadership of Mayor Mark Potts in 2020 which has been wildly successful while operating within an open records and open meetings environment. Tourism Director Lauren Hurdle continues to set records with organized events and related tax revenue for the county. VITAL POLICY – OPINION Jefferson County’s “Tourist Punishment Tax” – a Double-Edged Sword that Must be Wielded Wisely | The Jefferson County Post

Jefferson Alliance [economic development agency] was recently formed by county and city elected officials, elected chairs of each industrial development board in Jefferson County, Appalachian Electric Cooperative, and other business representatives which will conduct its operations under open meetings and open records like many other successful economic development agencies around the nation.

Historically, the county commission, who provides public funding for economic development through the 4% Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax, has resisted several attempts to hold any economic development entity to an open records policy as a condition of funding despite their authority to do so under state law T.C.A. § 5-9-109. County Commission Holds Last Regular Meeting of 2017 | The Jefferson County Post

The Chamber of Commerce continues to resist transparency, a practice that has persisted for decades. Chamber Refuses Public Open Access To Records | The Jefferson County Post

Ironically, it is the economic development professionals [Jefferson Alliance] that have now chosen transparency on their own, except for the Chamber of Commerce which continues to deny public access to records while receiving public economic development funds from Jefferson County.

David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, 917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.

Source: Jefferson County’s Ten-Year Economic Development Journey