In a special called Monday morning meeting, the East Ridge City Council voted to dissolve the city’s housing and redevelopment authority.
The 4-0-1 vote – Mayor Brent Lambert voted “present” – was met with a standing ovation by the residents packing the courtroom at City Hall.
After the vote, City Attorney Mark Litchford said the East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Board would meet later this month and follow the directive to dissolve. The articles of dissolution would be filed with the state, he said.
Lambert said prior to the vote that it was never the intention of the city to take private residences for the purposes of redevelopment. The ERHRA board was implemented to “help with the commercial corridor,” he said.
Lambert told those gathered that the “initial steps” of the ERHRA were not executed well. In particular he pointed out the lack of communication and specifically the letter that the ERHRA mailed on April 11 to 5,300 residents and business owners informing them that their property was subject to redevelopment. A community meeting was scheduled for May 3 where residents’ questions would be addressed.
The letter created a firestorm of protest in the community. An organization called East Ridge Citizens for Property Rights was formed to oppose the housing authority. Attorneys for the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Virginia-based , non-profit organization that fights government overreach, met with property owners two weeks ago to advise them on issues relative to eminent domain.
About 500 angry residents attended the May 3 meeting at the Community Center where elected officials, ERHRA board members and city staff attempted to allay the widespread fear that private property would be seized for the purposes of economic development.
The meeting, many residents said, did nothing to quell panic among the residents of East Ridge.
Almost immediately after the May 3 meeting, Councilman Brian Williams and Councilwoman Esther Helton issued public statements that they would call for the ERHRA to be dissolved. Vice-Mayor Larry Sewell posted similar views on his East Ridge City Council Facebook page. Councilman Jacky Cagle opposed the creation of the group from its inception in April of 2017.
All the members of the ERHRA were appointed by Lambert, who was soundly defeated last week in his second bid for the Republican nomination for Hamilton County Commission District 8.
During Monday’s meeting Lambert told the audience that the ERHRA was his idea and he believed the board was a “good concept” and that those serving on the board were “some of the finest people I have ever known.”
“Don’t blame them (the ERHRA board). Blame me,” he said.
Prior to the council taking action on dissolving the board, citizens were allowed five minutes to comment.
Gary Thomas Moore of Weaver Street commended the council for taking action to dissolve a board that was not wanted by the people of East Ridge.
He quoted Henry Clay, a 19th century Congressman and Senator from Kentucky: “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”
Moore said he was proud of his fellow citizens for banding together to oppose the ERHRA. He called the meeting and the board’s actions, “a shining hour for our city.”
Kelly Kroll, who was instrumental in the formation of the East Ridge Citizens for Property Rights, presented Lambert with a petition signed by scores of residents to dissolve the ERHRA.