While some Warren County officials have voiced a stance to stay neutral when it comes to litigation between West Warren Viola Utility District and its eminent domain attempt with the Jarrell family of Coffee County, their hometown might take a different stance.
Coffee County’s full commission will be considering a resolution “in support of the Koss (Jarrell) family and in support of legislation to prevent a utility district from exercising the power of eminent domain in an area or in regard to land which it does not serve” on June 9 during its regular monthly session.
According to Roxanne Patton, who is the executive administrative assistant to Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell, the measure was sent to the full commission for its consideration by Legislative Committee members who accepted the measure unanimously.
“The Koss Resolution has not passed,” said Patton. “It will be on the agenda for the meeting next week, which is the 9th. That’s the full commission meeting. It’s gone through a committee, the Legislative Committee. They recommended to send it to the full commission.”
When questioned about the committee vote, Patton says there are five members on the committee and the resolution was sent to the full commission by unanimous vote.
Over the past three years, the utility has been embroiled in a bitter land dispute with the family. The source of contention is a 5.75-acre portion of land near Manchester atop Flat Mountain. While the utility determined it would be the ideal location to improve water supply to Morrison and to encourage future expansion at Mountain View Industrial Park, the family does not want to sell land that has been in the family for six generations.
To date, courts have ruled against the utility district’s attempts to take the land by force on three occasions -- May 2013, August 2013, and June 2014. The utility was ordered to pay the Jarrell family’s legal fees.
Coffee County’s resolution:
“WHEREAS, the West Warren Viola Utility District, located primarily in Warren County, but which provides water services to certain areas of Coffee County has been in a legal battle for several years seeking to take by Eminent Domain property of the Koss family, who are part of the Jarrell family and owners of land in Coffee County, but which land is not situated in the area of the County which the West Warren Viola Utility District serves; and
WHEREAS, although the family has been successful to this point in defending that action through the court proceedings, it appears West Warren Viola Utility District is determined to pursue the matter further at great costs to the Koss family and at great cost and expense to the West Warren Viola Utility District, the funds for which must come from the people in Coffee and Warren counties who pay the utility bills to that entity; and
WHEREAS, the Koss family has requested the aid of the Coffee County Commission in whatever appropriate means we could exercise to assist them to maintain their property and avoid further litigation; and
WHEREAS, it is the belief and feeling of this Commission it is inappropriate and wrong for a utility district out of Warren County to have and exercise authority to take land of a resident of Coffee County for utilization of their utility operation when that property, which they proposed to take, over the objection of the land owners by means of Eminent Domain, is not located within the area of Coffee County which they service; and
WHEREAS, we are advised that Sen. Janice Bowling and Rep. Judd Matheny are currently sponsoring or are supporting a bill in the State Legislature that would specifically bar a utility district from taking land of a citizen from outside the area which the utility district services; and
WHEREAS, this Commission being the Legislative Body of Coffee County does hereby formally express their support of the Koss family. We commend and encourage Sen. Bowling and Rep. Matheny to continue to push for the referenced legislation; and we also strongly encourage the West Warren Viola Utility District to reconsider its position and put this matter to rest.
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:
That the Coffee County Commission does hereby formally endorse the position of the Koss family in defending their land and in support thereof do hereby encourage Senator Bowling and Representative Matheny to pursue legislation to prevent West Warren Viola Utility District or any other governmental entity from outside the county from condemning private property outside their service district; and we do hereby strongly encourage the West Warren Viola Utility District to reconsider this matter, to terminate pursuing the taking of the Koss family land or any land which is not in the area they service.”
Warren County Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher attempted to write a resolution and have it considered locally. However, the county’s legal counsel advised against it because the resolution did not go through committee and wording used in the resolution would “subject the county and its commissioners to a defamation lawsuit by calling the utility district and its board fraudulent.”
The resolution by Wilcher was an attempt by him to stop the utility’s ongoing efforts to take the Jarrell family property by eminent domain.
“It’s wrong to take the Jarrell’s land by force,” said Wilcher.
During Tuesday night’s Building and Grounds Committee meeting, Wilcher made an attempt to add a revised resolution to the agenda. His motion failed due to lack of a second.
On the committee with Wilcher are Commissioners Carl E. Bouldin, Carolyn Miller, David Rhea and Kenny Roberts.
Bouldin says he believes the county should stay out of the situation.
“I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel about this,” said Bouldin. “I feel this is between West Warren Utility District and the Jarrell family. I, personally, am not going to get involved in it. That’s just the way I feel. Y’all can vote however you want to.”
The county is already involved, says Wilcher, because it voted on a resolution May 18 that pertained to the eminent domain issue, a resolution to “address any perceived conflict of interest on behalf of Warren County, West Warren-Viola Utility District, or James C. Hailey and Company in regard to the Community Development Block Grant Funds” passed the full commissioner with a 21-2 vote.
Coffee County’s full commission has 21 members and a majority vote is needed for the resolution to pass.