County, POA clear air over delinquent tax lots
 Jeremy Styron
More than two months after Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw and County Commission met in closed session to discuss potential litigation ahead of a motion to remove hundreds of Tellico Village lots from a delinquent tax sale, negotiation details are still surfacing as the county and the Property Owners Association look for a way to settle an ongoing dispute about assessment fees on the depressed properties.

POA General Manager Winston Blazer and County Attorney Bob Bowman met with commissioners during a workshop Monday to offer their perspectives and clear up what some have perceived as misinformation about settlement negotiations.

According to county officials, the POA previously requested the county contribute $1.4 million to help pay off debt related to construction costs at The Public Library at Tellico Village, and, in exchange, the lots would remain in the sale and the county would be waived of any responsibility from paying assessments.

Bowman said he has correspondence from POA Attorney Kevin Stevens outlining this arrangement.

“We were,” Bowman said when asked at the meeting whether the county was asked to pay $1.4 million. “And I have an email from Mr. Stevens that confirms the amount, the payoff schedule and all the terms.”

Bowman said he went to Stevens’ office on the afternoon of the closed session, which took place Oct. 1, to go over proposed changes to the deal.

“There was a gap or a hole in the agreement as to what the county was going to have to do for Tellico in order to have them sign the agreement, and at that point Mr. Stevens said pay off the library,” Bowman said. “I said, ‘What’s it going to take to pay off the library?’ And I said, ‘Well, do you know how much that is?’ I said quite candidly the county was thinking more along the lines of funding more hours for librarians.”

That question apparently remained open-ended until the night of the Oct. 1 meeting.

In his account, Bowman said just “before or during” the closed session, Stevens emailed him the payoff amount related to library construction debt of about $1.4 million.

“And so that’s what I presented to the county as the initial offer,” Bowman said.

The two sides also considered a proposal for the county to contribute additional funds for the POA marketing program.

Blazer said Stevens was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting because the attorney previously recused himself from negotiations between the county and the POA, citing a potential conflict of interest. Stevens also serves as the Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission attorney.

Blazer disputed Bowman’s account of the details.

“That email does not say that’s what we will take,” Blazer said about Stevens’ correspondence with Bowman. “We were answering questions that were asked to us.”

The POA did not ask the county to pay more than $1 million toward library construction debt but was just answering questions as part of the negotiations, Blazer said.

“We knew that the county could not pay $1.4 million because we had told them repeatedly that if a deal was struck we would not seek the assessments,” Blazer said. “We would seek some other arrangement because we know the budgetary restrictions that are within the county, so we would not ask for $1.4 million when we certainly wouldn’t ask for $300 or $400 or $500,000 worth of assessments.

“... For it to be told we were asking for that money, it’s being portrayed in the wrong light,” he added.

The county subsequently filed a motion in Chancery Court to remove the lots from the property sale that was scheduled for Oct. 20. That action was swiftly followed by a motion to dismiss from the POA. On the morning of the sale, Chancellor Frank V. Williams ruled in the county’s favor.

“We did not put any words in anybody’s mouth and did not lay out any figures because we wanted the county to reach a decision that they were comfortable with as a starting point,” Blazer said. “And we had several ideas on the table, but we did not share those with anybody. We wanted the county within their means to come to some sort of — we could do this or we could do this — and we could start there and begin the negotiations. We did not ask for that unreasonable amount.”