Eldridge called out on bill stance

Gary B. Gray • Feb 27, 2014 at 9:28 PM

Washington County Commissioner Roger Nave said this week that Gray residents “feel they have been betrayed” by County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s opposition to fast-moving state legislation that would let people decide for themselves whether they want to be annexed into municipalities.

The state House voted overwhelmingly Monday to support a bill sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-6th, which mandates local referendums when cities attempt to annex without the consent of affected property owners. Nave’s poke at Eldridge arrived at the Johnson City Press via fax Wednesday.

The following is a quote from Eldridge published in the Press soon after the House bill cleared a subcommittee: “I do support referendums, and I feel that unless agricultural use changes, that land should never be annexed. The Legislature should not rush into a one-size-fits all solution.”

Though it may appear to some during this political season that Eldridge has not lived up to expectations, he has consistently expressed the above point of view, and he has never told the Press specifically that he opposed the bill.

Nave told the Press by telephone Thursday that people were concerned about the mayor’s statements Saturday at a Farm Bureau Legislative Breakfast in Jonesborough.

“I was there along with about 100 other people,” said state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, who happens to be the primary sponsor of the Senate companion bill. “From what I recall, he said he was favorable to the legislation and very protective of the farmland.”

The state Senate version of the bill is headed to that body’s State and Local Government Committee.

“I have the bill on notice, and it’s pretty much the talk of the town right now in Nashville,” Crowe said. “We expect to get it in committee in a few weeks, and the intent now is to pass it as is.”

Nave maintains the mayor flatly opposes the legislation and his lack of enthusiasm to fully support Gray residents led to the Public Safety Committee’s formulation of a resolution calling for protective legislation eventually passed by the full commission That resolution was then sent to Van Huss and Crowe — a resolution Eldridge signed before it was delivered.

“Communications and assistance from the county mayor was not successful,” Nave said. “The result was the introduction of the bill. Gray residents want to know who the mayor represents and why he opposes the bill. The citizens of Gray feel they have been betrayed.”

Farm Bureau President David Sayler said he wasn’t aware any Gray residents were present at Saturday’s meeting.

“First, I’d like to know where Mr. Nave got his information,” Sayler said. “Mr. Eldridge did not express any feelings about not wanting people to have the right to vote on whether they are annexed. In fact, he was very much for it.”

Eldridge, who at first expressed disappointment over what he felt was a purely political ploy by Nave, said he recently met with state senators knowing the bill was moving forward. State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Nashville, Crowe’s co-sponsor of the Senate annexation bill, was among those with whom he met.

“I made it clear I thought this bill didn’t solve all our problems,” Eldridge said. “There will always be residents who want no part of it, and the only recourse they have is to sue. I spoke with state senators about three things: first, my concern over the size of the city’s Urban Growth Boundary; second, I asked that agricultural use land be exempted from annexation, and it appears they will try to enter that as an amendment to the bill; finally, I asked that an annexation appeals board be formed so property owners could have some kind of recourse, regardless of who actually votes.”

Nonetheless, Nave said Gray residents want to know who the mayor represents and why he opposes the bill.

When asked to assist the Press with constituent telephone numbers living in Gray, Nave quickly delivered.

Four people were contacted, and each was both anti-annexation and anti-Eldridge.

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