By Walter F. Roche Jr.
In court filings just before a key hearing, the attorney for local opponents of a major industrial development project has charged that a series of secret meetings and private discussions preceded by months any public announcement of that project.
The filings in Greene County Chancery Court come as opponents of the project make one more effort to have a judge declare that the Greene County Partnership should be treated as a public agency subject to meeting requirements and public disclosure of its actions.
A hearing in the suit is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday before Chancery Judge Douglas T. Jenkins. Jenkins, in a separate suit already concluded the partnership was not a public agency. He now must rule on a summary judgment motion filed by the development group.
Attorneys for the partnership vehemently deny that it is a public agency.
The new filing by attorney Herbert Moncier states that then Mayor Alan Broyles was first approached by a representative of US Nitrogen in June or July of 2010. That representative, Allen Wood, told the mayor, the filing states, that the company would be investing some $110 million and would employ 80 to 100 persons.
Broyles, according to the filing, then contacted Tom Ferguson, and subsequently the partnership "secretly created a project team that included Alan Broyles."
According to the court papers, Ferguson then acted in behalf of US Nitrogen in obtaining options on the properties the company had earmarked for the construction of an ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
Charging that Ferguson "acted unlawfully," the filing charges that a nominee agreement between the partnership and US Nitrogen also was "unlawful." Ferguson, the filing continues, "had a (under seal) interest in the US Nitrogen project being successful."
The partnership, court papers states, "secretly opened a bank account" financed by US Nitrogen to facilitate the purchase of those options.
The filing also challenges the membership of the Greene County Regional Planning Commission which acted on a series of rezoning requests at a February 2011 session. According to the filing, the panel is by statute limited to 8 members. Nonetheless 13 members were listed for the disputed Feb. 8, 2011 meeting.
But for the extra members, the filing charges, there would not have been sufficient affirmative votes at the meeting called to consider the rezoning.
The filing also challenges the legality of a series of meetings between US Nitrogen officials and members of the Greene County Commission prior to a crucial Feb. 21, 2011 commission meeting.
Attached to the filing are a series of affidavits from local residents challenging the adequacy of public notices for meetings on the project .
A filing by Junior Belcher describes a chaotic scene at one key meeting where those in attendance were told that the reasons for the rezoning or who it would benefit was not public.