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Industrial Board an embarrassment

Race car deal a bust

By Jim Moore

The Hickman County Industrial Development Board’s (IDB) much-ballyhooed deal to spend $10,000 on a misleading ad painted on the race car of Willie Allen is a disaster, despite the Hickman County Times’ numerous articles promoting the deal-makers (three in just one issue plus a gushing editorial).

The deal enriched Martins Motorsports, a Lascassas/Murfreesboro area business. What connections does 2nd District Commissioner Todd Collins have to this company (he and his father pushed hard for the board to approve the deal)?

In the first place, the initial promise of “free land – no taxes” is false and misleading “advertising” the board now tries to pawn off as “a joke” according to Tom Isbell. Expensive joke! The board only has 12 acres to sell, not the kind of land that fits the needs of the “big manufacturers” it is trying to attract.

Also, the Board does not have the authority to dismiss taxes on the property, according to Board member Wayne Richie. Collins claims the board doesn’t need anyone’s permission to strike a PILOT (Land-In-Lie-Of-Payments) deal.

Of course the last two such deals allowed Sole Supports to go three years without even getting a bill, which they’ve since paid, and allowed Agrana Fruit to go 10 years without a bill, which they may not have to pay now, avoiding over $1 million in taxes owed to Centerville and Hickman County, according to a confusing report in the Times.

Second, the Board initially voted 4-3 to use the “free land no taxes” ad gimmick. John Porch, a 5th District County Commission Candidate), Tom Isbell (a 3rd District Commission candidate) and Tommy Clifton and Tony Collins supported the “distorted” advertising while President Howard Talley, Wayne Richie and Phil Wenneker not to use the misleading slogan.

Isbell, who said the deal was “a gold mine”, also said those who see the ad would understand it’s a joke. “They’re going to smile. They understand it’s an overstatement,” he told the Hickman County Times Feb. 17. Porch, board secretary and former Chamber of Commerce president said, “This is advertising. This is not an offer or obligation.”

Richie said “Anything on paper is an offer. We don’t need to be involved in anything that isn’t absolutely fact. I’m completely opposed to advertising ‘free land, no taxes. The first caller could say ‘I want 50 acres of free land.’ The best you can say is that it is a distortion,” even though Board attorney Eric Thornton approved it.

He added that the proposal introduced by Board Vice President Collins and his son, 2nd District County Commissioner Todd Collins amounts to “a moral obligation” to provide free land and to do otherwise is “less than honest.” Kenneth Canady and Howard Breece were absent.

President Howard Talley noted that two or three members had objected to the offer because “Why are we advertising this, because we have no land?” He also noted that the three votes on the matter were unlawful because 5 votes of the 9-member board were required, not just 4.

The Hickman County Times noted that “The Collinses suggested “Free Land – No Taxes” though the board has only 12 usable acres and quickly discounted that. … As agreed by board members …Allen’s vehicle will say ‘Land – No Tax’ [after a secret Feb. 7 meeting].”

Following the original January meeting, some board members held a private back room meeting at the Community First Bank and Trust in Lyles, where Isbell’s wife is manager, to hammer out the advertising details.” One member who was present says that because it was “a working meeting” it does not violate the Sunshine Law prohibiting secret meetings.

Some disagree with that.

Nevertheless, after a 6-0 vote to meet again (with Clifton abstaining) a second secret meeting was held the morning after the February meeting, also in the bank, where the decision was made to eliminate the word “free” to read land – no taxes.”

Howard Talley, to his credit, immediately resigned after the second secret meeting. A website – www.landnotax.org – was quickly thrown together and launched. It has no counter to tell how many visits it gets and it is composed primarily of large, slow-loading photos and very little text, making it something the search engines will pay little attention to.

Despite several statements over the past year that the Board’s original website – idbhickman.org – had been retrieved from Patrick Hite at the Economic and Community Development Board, and paid for, those statements are false. A check of the primary website registration database, www.who.is, shows it was never transferred and that is actually expired Feb. 17.

Meanwhile, the official Hickman County website, maintained, supposedly, by County Mayor Steve Gregory, has virtually eliminated all reference to the County Industrial Board after criticism that Gregory had not updated the information in years and still listed Tom Isbell as president. There have been two presidents since – Becky Bates and Howard Talley.

With the resignation of Bates, who quit to join the Centerville Industrial Development Board, and Talley, the board seems to be in a mode of self-destruct. If Isbell and Porch become elected as county commissioners, the 10-member board will be decimated, since Isbell and Porch cannot hold the two offices at once.

Oh, by the way, Willie Allen’s car didn’t even qualify for that $10,000 ride in the Daytona 500 – which also coast another $500 that now acting president Tony Collins spent on hats and 250 flyers. But, the good Spin Doctor Collins claims “We had good success, I think, as far as the industrial. We passed out a lot of pamphlets, talked to a lot of people and got a lot of positive feedback. It really got a lot of attention – there’s a lot of people now who know where Hickman County is.”

Of course, there’s no way to measure the Return On Investment (ROI) or even tell how many visitors the website has had. And while I enjoy racing myself, I seriously doubt that the good ol’ boys in the stands with their Budweisers are the CEO’s of big corporations who make the decisions to move to Hickman County. “I don’t know of any deal we got,” Collins admits.

Oh well, maybe we can just raise the property tax again and double the wheel tax to $150. By breaking the tax of local residents and property owners, who needs jobs in Hickman County?

SOURCES: Various editions of the Hickman County Times, Jan. 20, Feb. 17. Mar. 3