Webster's New World Dictionary defines rape as: "The act of seizing or carrying away by force." When government seizes or carries away your property, it is called eminent domain.
Last week I had the occasion to sit through an eminent domain case in Murfreesboro. This dispute is one of the remaining legacies of former County Mayor Nancy Allen and the past county Commission. This is the boondoggle known as the judicial building.
As you recall, early in 2005 the county took by eminent domain properties from their rightful owners for the purpose of building a county judicial building — a building that has yet to be designed, approved or funded. In fact, the only accomplishment the county can claim is the taking by force of the properties, unless you consider the fact that the county has taken the role as landlord and put away a lot of rental income. That money should be going to the former owners of the buildings, since the former property owners had to sacrifice for decades to pay mortgage and tax payments and keep the buildings rented. Now they must pay for attorneys, land appraisers and consultants.
Those property owners objected to having the property taken from them and sued. One of those owners was Winston Bowling, and it was his trial that I visited. This latest story was not covered by The DNJ or any of the TV stations, and only a couple of people witnessed the two-day trial, but I think it was historic in some ways.
These Maple Street properties are the first time in history Rutherford County has used eminent domain to take property for the purpose of a proposed office building, which again has yet to have plans approved or funded.
This is the worst example of abuse of government strong-arming and mistreatment to the hard-working citizens of this great community. The property was taken as allowed under the law, the court awarded the fee, the attorneys, land appraisers and consultants went happily to the banks with their paychecks, so everyone was happy, right? Well, no! Nothing can replace the 30-plus years the Bowling family and the others have worked to build a future for their family and provide a service to this community.
The citizens of Rutherford County are scared by this abuse of power. Out of our taxes the citizens have to pay for all of this and yet we have no plans for a Judicial Building. Worst of all, the three property owners and the five businesses are hurt, violated and bullied.
As County Attorney Jim Cope said, "The burden of proof lies on the property owner to prove the building is worth more than we have awarded."
As one of those property owners, I have a hard time deciding which is worse — eminent domain or rape. In my opinion, the definitions are the same. I hope our present county leaders have learned from the mistakes of the past and never let this happen again.
Murphreesboro TN Daily News Journal: http://dnj.midsouthnews.com
Properties of Mike J. Liles on North Maple Street were among those that Rutherford County condemned for planned construction of a judicial building