Monday, June 29, 2009

No Sunshine in Dandridge

On Friday I discussed some of the ups and downs of the proposed Norfolk Southern Inter-modal facility which the railroad wants to build in Jefferson County. Some of the controversy surrounding the proposal has to do with the fact that Norfolk Southern wants to build on undeveloped farmland when there is already developed "brownfields" which are going unused just over the county line in Knox County.

Of far greater concern, however, is the secrecy with which this project is being carried out. A number of people inside the county government of Jefferson County or somehow connected to it have signed confidentiality agreements not to let the things they've learned be known to the wider public yet. If this is a project that is going to be so good for Jefferson County business and employment development, why do our leaders need to keep the details so quiet, and why isn't the railroad willing to talk in detail?

I had occassion to speak with one member of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Board over the weekend, who said that they were none too thrilled because they had essentially been kept in the dark about the project. Further, one has to wonder just how much the railroaders have actually told Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri. I strongly suspect that Palmieri has not been told everything that he would need to know, and if he has, by not making it public he is misleading the people of Jefferson County. It would be wise for Palmieri to actually listen to the voters, but also to let the voters know what he knows about the inter-modal project.

Palmieri will almost certainly face a serious primary challenge in May of 2010, and his failure to be forthright about the inter-modal will be a major issue in that campaign. If Alan Palmieri and the other officials who have kept their conversations with Norfolk Southern confidential do not spill the proverbial beans, it is highly possible that they could be found in violation of the Tennessee Open Records Act, the Open Meetings Act, or both. Palmieri is beginning to behave in a way which makes the neighboring government in Knox County look like a paragon of openness and accountability.

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