We take the strongest exception to a recent Warren County Fiscal Court vote that provided for the use of eminent domain to take Matt Baker’s property to provide access to Beech Bend Park if it could not be purchased.
The county would be wise to look at the restraint the Bowling Green City Commission used last week when it approved the first reading of an ordinance to restrict the use of eminent domain except for public use and public projects. This would prohibit its use to benefit private developers.
The contrast in approach between these two governmental bodies couldn’t be more stark.
Kentucky law permits the taking of property by eminent domain for public use or if the property falls within an area that has been designated as blighted.
No one has argued that Baker’s property is blighted, nor will that argument be raised.
To argue that the property is being seized for public use when the primary beneficiary of that seizure is a private enterprise distorts in a grotesque way our forefathers’ view of what constituted public use.
The founders of our nation recognized that our rights and freedom came from our Creator, rather than being provided by a “benevolent” government, and “that to secure these rights, governments were instituted among men.”
The Bill of Rights was erected as a firewall to protect citizens from abuses by government.
Not withstanding that, a majority of fiscal court seems agreeable to a highly questionable use of eminent domain.
We certainly understand the importance of Beech Bend Park to the city and county. It brings thousands of tourists and millions of dollars into our community. Benefits flow to tourism-related businesses and taxes to local governments.
But does the importance of Beech Bend to the community rise to a level sufficient to justify the taking of an individual’s property to benefit a private enterprise? We think not.
Nor does the fact that former Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Matt Baker is unpopular with many in the tourism industry and some others in the community over the stand he has taken regarding the disputed road justify the taking of his property.
The question of property ownership is now resolved pending appeal. Logan County Circuit Judge Tyler Gill carefully weighed all the evidence and based on that evidence, determined that the 228 feet of road in dispute was the property of Matt Baker and his relatives who own property on the other side of the road.
It is appropriate for the county to make an effort to reach agreement with Baker to purchase his property, but it is not appropriate to ride roughshod over Baker’s Fifth Amendment rights.
We commend Magistrate Cedric Burnam for his principled stand against this proposed action by fiscal court.
Magistrate Doc Kaelin abstained because of a possible conflict of interest.
If Warren County Fiscal Court is really interested in assisting Beech Bend, and we have no doubt they are, they should also look at widening Beech Bend Road as well as improving the county-owned portion of the roadway into the park.
Bowling Green Daily News: www.bgdailynews.com