IJ has taken the case of Joy Ford, the owner of Country International threatened by the city of Nashville and its desire to have a generic office building replace the independent music producer. At the heart of the case is the question of Tennessee’s weak eminent domain reform:
In June 2008, Nashville’s redevelopment agency filed a condemnation action against Country International Records, located on the city’s storied Music Row.
“Nashville wants to take a unique, independent, small business to make way for another generic office building on Music Row that will house businesses that have nothing to do with music,” said Scott Bullock, an IJ senior attorney who will be representing Ford and who argued the landmark Kelo case. “By condemning Country International, Nashville is not only violating the Constitution and Tennessee law, it is taking a piece of its heart and soul in the process.”
“I am not interested in selling my property at any price; this isn’t about money for me,” said Joy Ford, who founded Country International along with her late husband in 1974. “This is about principle. I just want to hold on to a business that has meant so much to my family and a lot of other folks in country music. I should have the right to do that in the United States of America.”
Although never a big player in the business, Country International has had a steady and nurturing influence on many country musicians and songwriters, a role that continues to this day. Over the years, Ford has refused several offers to buy her property. But in March 2008, Nashville’s redevelopment agency, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), made a deal with a Houston-based developer, the Lionstone Group, to acquire Ford’s property to put up an office tower.
Incredibly, the developer admitted in 2006 that it did not need the property in order to build the office building. “The power of eminent domain should only be used for necessary public uses, like a road or a courthouse, not to make things more convenient for a private developer,” Bullock said.
MDHA is relying on a bogus 1999 “blight” designation to justify its taking of Country International. Unfortunately for MDHA but fortunately for Joy Ford, the Tennessee legislature changed the law in 2006 in the wake of the Kelo ruling to make it more difficult for cities to concoct blight designations like this one. The MDHA must comply with Tennessee’s new eminent domain law; it may not condemn a property by relying on an older and invalid blight designation.
Bullock said, “Everyone knows this condemnation is not about eliminating blight. No one claims that Mrs. Ford’s small, well-kept building is blighted. The city is just using the blight designation as a cover for its real purpose, which is to transfer the property to a private developer for its own private gain and to get the tax revenue the new development supposedly will bring. Tennessee law forbids condemnation for tax revenue, and this condemnation violates Tennessee law.”
All Tennesseans have two basic rights that protect their property: the right not to have it taken for private use and the right to speak out against government abuse, without getting sued by the very people whose actions they are protesting. Both of those rights are under attack in Tennessee. By standing up in defense of those rights, Joy Ford and the CPRC are protecting the homes and small businesses of every resident in the state.