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Alderman Tom Rosseel

To publicly disagree with a position taken by elected officials is a time-honored tradition in the United States.

Making sensational and false accusations in an attempt to smear one’s opponents or to bolster weak arguments unfortunately has become an all too-common occurrence. Mr. Ralph Dimmick, in a recent letter to editor (March 6), has clearly crossed the line with his false accusations concerning the proposal to buy land on McFee Road and to offer it to Knox County under the condition that an elementary school would be built within a fixed period of time or the property would revert back to the Town for a park.

Mr. Dimmick claims that the proposal was invoked through secrecy and subterfuge. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I first learned that the property owners were interested in discussing the possible sale of their McFee Road property to the Town, I contacted Mr. Dan Olson, Town administrator, and Mr. Tom Hale, Town attorney, during the first week of November, requesting their advice as how to inform the Board of this opportunity and how to proceed with the discussions. And I adhered closely to the guidance provided by our Town Attorney with respect to the Sunshine Law. In fact, at Mr. Hale’s suggestion, he informed the Board during an executive session on Dec. 13 of the possible purchase of the parcel and of Mr. Olson’s authority to obtain an appraisal and to discuss the possible sale with the property owners. Following those discussions, Mr. Olson placed the item on the agenda in [the] manner that was consistent with the how the Town had provided public notification for past purchases of land. This was, as I stated on [Feb.] 14, to be the first of several meetings in which the purchase and potential transfer would be reviewed and decided.

That any member of the Board claimed to be unaware of the proposal surprised me because, beginning in 2005, I publicly advocated it at numerous home-owner meetings, forums and through interviews in the local press. For example, I made a similar proposal at the 2005 Farragut Forum — a Kiwanis-sponsored event to increase public awareness of the candidates’ positions on issues of interest to the community — and discussed the idea in multiple published interviews with the Knoxville News Sentinel and the farragutpress. The most recent interview — with Kim Johnson of the farragutpress — was published in the Fall Edition of the West Side Story [magazine — a publication of farragutpress] and delivered to Farragut homes in December.

I also discussed the proposal with Vice Mayor [J. Michaels] Haynes and Alderman [Dorothy “Dot”] LaMarche prior to my election and with Alderman [John] Williams prior to and during his election campaign. Quite simply, I’ve been willing to discuss this proposal with anyone interested in listening. The only thing that I didn’t discuss was the actual parcel. The reasons being that there were several candidate parcels under consideration and because it would have been inappropriate to publicly disclose information about private property until the owner agreed to have it publicly disclosed and discussed by the Board.

It’s worth noting that Mayor [W. Edward “Eddy”] Ford [III], Vice Mayor Haynes, and other Board members have had discussions with members of the School Board and with Knox County officials concerning this issue over the last three years. And in separate conversations with Mr. Hale and Mr. Olson, in December through February, they confirmed that all Board members were, in fact, well aware of general features of the proposal.

Should anyone be surprised that Aldermen LaMarche and Williams supported the proposal? No, because both have made strong public statements concerning their belief that the Town should be more involved in solving school overcrowding issues. Should anyone be surprised that Mayor Ford opposed the proposal? No, because he’s made numerous public statements concerning his opinion that the “Town is not in the school business.” A statement that I believe has only served to alienate the rest of Knox County to the concerns of Farragut residents. Is it a violation of the Sunshine Law for LaMarche and Williams to support a proposal while Ford and Haynes join together to oppose it? No, that’s democracy.

Contrary to what Mr. Dimmick claimed, the offer of land does not obligate Farragut to build an “educational facility,” but rather would serve as an inducement to Knox County to build an elementary school where it’s needed to help alleviate overcrowding. If you don’t believe how bad the overcrowding has become, please tour Farragut Primary School. The longer the delay in addressing this issue, the worse the overcrowding will become and the greater the negative impact on our Town.

Is this a legitimate action and an affordable allocation of funds? Mr. Hale has confirmed that the purchase of land for a public use is a legitimate Board function and that the Board may donate land to another governmental entity for a public purpose and may include conditions on the transfer as long as both parties agree to those conditions. Funds for this purchase would not impact our current operating budget because, in June 2006, the Board appropriated funds for the acquisition of land for community use. Additionally, in 2007, the State agreed to take over the Concord Road improvement project saving the Town more than $1 million dollars.

This capital expense clearly qualifies as a community use. Although the cost of the land was 24 percent higher than anticipated, as I clearly explained during the meeting and as was confirmed by the buyer, a neighboring parcel sold for a higher price per acre after the Town’s appraisal was obtained in December. Considering the value of a new school or the value of more park land for the Town if the County does not build a school, this is indeed a wise and affordable expenditure of Town funds.

Finally, if you peel away the scurrilous and false accusations in Mr. Dimmick’s letter, the question that still must be answered is: Are we willing to take action to improve the quality of life in our Town or would we prefer to be passive and wait and hope for the best? To me the choice is clear. I believe we must do what is necessary to insure the future of our Town. And our future depends upon the educational opportunities for our children and our neighbors’ children. We can’t afford not to make this purchase because everyone one of us is in the school business.


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