Residents could win huge refund if Gaddy right about Dunlap annex flaw

Steve Darnell, an administrative law judge from the Tennessee department of state, strolls about the old Sequatchie County courthouse prior to hearing a case seeking to overturn 1972 annexation claims by City of Dunlap, a municipal corporation. (Photos David Tulis)

Ivan Condra, 84, elected property assessor seven times, served 28 years and is a longtime county surveyor. He is about to testify about easements, maps, city charters and the like and whether Dunlap legally gobbled parts of the surrounding county.

But [Sampson’s] father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord — that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” — Judges 14:4

DUNLAP, Tenn., July 17, 2018 Dunlap appears to have defrauded people in Sequatchie County by imposing taxation upon them for decades. That’s the argument implied by feisty constitutionalist Carol Gaddy in a hearing that could bring perhaps millions of dollars in tax refunds for Sequatchie County residents.

The dispute focuses on whether Dunlap’s annexation of large areas of private land south of Coops Creek is lawful. If the acts are not actual and verifiable annexation, they constitute a fraud, she says in closing arguments in a 90-minute hearing.

By David Tulis /  92.7 NoogaRadio

The argument prodding the memory of an old surveyor is held before an administrative law judge sent by the secretary of state’s office, a hearing that gives a state botch of round No. 1 of the case a second chance, and Mrs. Gaddy a fresh opportunity to fight back.

In an earlier hearing, a judge operating under administrative law, ruled that Mrs. Gaddy failed to show” by a preponderance of evidence” that the city had not annexed her house.

No so fast, Mrs. Gaddy says. In the hearing today Mrs. Gaddy points out that state law a new statute drafted with her plight in mind — puts the burden of proof on the city to prove it has annexed people in outlying areas, and that Mrs. Gaddy is not under any burden to provide evidence in her favor.

City faces harassment payback

Mrs. Gaddy figures in a notorious case of municipal overreach in Tennessee. The patriotic flag-waving former real estate maven and her husband, Thomas, four years ago were forced to defend against claims against her property by the town’s mayor, Dwain Land.

The fight began when Mr. Land stood on the edge of the Gaddy lot and on Feb. 11, 2015, decided that the Gaddy house in bad condition and posed a threat to the public.

The city made numerous blunders in chasing Mayor Land’s grievance, filing a suit in Sequatchie County chancery court when the city charter clearly directs all matters over an ordinance to be exhausted in city court first.

The city insisted that it had an administrative necessity to inspect the house, but Mr. and  Mrs. Gaddy stood their ground on their constitutional right to be free from all any search-and-seizure apart from a warrant or probable cause, neither of which were available to the city.

City’s defense: Oral testimony

In the hearing Mrs. Gaddy questions a former surveyor and long-time tax assessor for Sequatchie County, Ivan Condra, 84, who sits more than an hour on the witness stand.

City attorney Stephen Greer’s role seems limited to objecting to documents being entered into evidence on relevance grounds and to obtaining testimony that many businesses, subdivisions and a post office are south of the creek “in the city of Dunlap — is that correct?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Mr. Condra says.

“The city of Dunlap arbitrarily annexed  but not by law,” Mrs. Gaddy declares in closing argument. “No legal annexation ever occurred, and this is a genuine issue of material fact.” Ordinance No. 55 for annexation was “allegedly read” over three months in 1972, she says, but there is no vote count in the record. “The annexation ordinance may have never gone before that legislative body for a vote at all.”

She asks for an order for the city to produce the minutes of these 1972. The city’s earlier witness, Norman Hatfield, “the keeper of the books,” came with no “legal documentation of proof” of an annexation vote at the earlier hearing decided Feb. 25 in the city’s favor by administrative judge Rachel Waterhouse. That’s little different than the appearance of Mr. Condra at today’s hearing.

Asked if he has a pile of papers as part of his testimony, he says, “No, just what’s in my head.”

The earlier verdict against the Gaddys was overturned partly because her main witness, Mr. Condra failed to show, having been at the hearing but prompted to disappear after Mr. Greer told him he was free to leave because he had not been subpoenaed, Mrs. Gaddy says.

Three months of research by state archivist Vincent McGrath came up with no evidence of a Dunlap panel vote, and the problem Mr. McGrath, the state archivist, had in finding evidence of an annexation gave support for the Frank Nicely bill that became public law No. 385 that puts the burden of proof in an annexation fight upon the city.

Mrs. Gaddy’s main effort is to have Mr. Condra admit that the difference between legal language and mirror descriptive language is important in determining a boundary. She tries to get him to describe the growth of Dunlap as going northward, not southward.

Mr. Greer declines to comment for this story.

Disputed house not in city

Mrs. Gaddy’s main argument is that the city did not give her due process, failed to exhausted administrative and other remedies and had no subject matter jurisdiction — not only on grounds of not having a warrant, but on additional grounds of the house not being in the city limit.

With all the digging and legal work she and her husband had to do to defend their rights, Mrs. Gaddy found the record for the purported annexation of her property to be sketchy. She dug deeper, consulting with Vince McGrath, the state archivist, and others.

In her closing argument, Mrs. Gaddy strays from the immediate issue regarding proof of the city’s annexation, but it would have been hard for Judge Darnell to have her separate the 31/2 year chancery case and the property line and the dusty record of annexation (if one, indeed, exists).

Due process defending ancient right

The case before the secretary of state’s office resembles the lack of due process Mrs. Gaddy received from Mayor Land and the city administration. “The charter and ordinance that began this conflict call for the Gaddys to be notified by letter — in writing to come in before city commissioners so that the commissioners can determine if there has been a violation of ordinance. City police department, court summons, city court all this local due process was not made available to the Gaddys. Just the mayor pays a personal visit, with letter, without phone call, says, ‘You’re gonna tear down this house or I’m gonna hurt you. We will sue you in court.’

Carol Gaddy argues with Dunlap city attorney Stephen Greer at a hearing July 17 over the city’s 1972 purported annexation of her lot. (Photo David Tulis)

“Your honor, we’ve been 3½ years. We are senior citizens. And we only want the enjoyment of our home, and our yard, and this conspiracy that has turned into a huge fraud on the court, that has existed in two judicial districts now, has compelled, forced, my husband and I into the study of civil law, the study of criminal law *** .

Cost of defending rights

“Since then, we’ve had no freedom. And I don’t mean just the five incarcerations, the false imprisonment my husband and I have endured, and the thousands of dollars in bond fees to buy our freedom *** due to this controversy.”

Mr. Condra is directed to read aloud from the city charter that indicates that the Gaddy house, on Main Street and a carbine shot from city hall, is not in the city, but in Sequatchie County.

Mrs. Gaddy also elicits testimony from Mr. Condra indicating that the city commission did not record a final vote, so records indicate that there was a first, second and third reading of annexation ordinances gulping into the city land south of the creek, but no proof in writing.

Mrs. Gaddy plays down the significance of overturning an annexation, citing Knox County, where chancery court judges have overturned 182 annexation efforts by City of Knoxville since 2015. “We call this a precedent,” Mrs. Gaddy says.

‘No, absolutely no, legal annexation took place’

Mrs. Gaddy is reluctant to indicate how many other people in Sequatchie county might benefit from her efforts to set the annexation record straight. Forty-four years of property taxation would have to be refunded  with interest, she says. Instead, she drills into her main arguments.

“No, absolutely no, legal annexation ever took place, because the city of Dunlap has refused since March 2016  we filed it in the chancery case, right here in this courthouse, trying to get proofs, to put forth some documents that proved that they had any jurisdiction, but they would not, and they still have not.”

A boundary line on a map, she says, was “just drawn up in 2016” and is not valid “44 years after the fact,” and city documents for say the southern border of the corporation is midway in the creek dividing her lot from Dunlap proper. An easement granted the city by the Gaddys also puts the property in the county.

I hold in my formerly newsprint ink-stained fingertips a copy of a one-page law that was passed to help people such as Carol Gaddy, challenging a city’s annexation.

Meet Carol Gaddy, woman vs. old-boy network

Carol Gaddy explains to David Tulis what happened at her July 17 hearing over Dunlap annexation of her property  or not. (Courtesy NoogaRadio)

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