An hour before his scheduled public meeting, Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield accused residents in the Kensington community of trying to harm the county in court.
Members of the McLemore Cove Preservation Society, a non-profit, filed a lawsuit against Walker County on Wednesday afternoon, accusing Whitfield of hiding a business deal that would bring the Pilgrim's Pride chicken plant into their community. McLemore Cove is located just west of downtown LaFayette, in a farming area where Lookout and Pigeon mountains meet.
"This lawsuit and public relations smear campaign are designed to prevent our ability to attract great paying jobs and generate new tax revenues to benefit all our citizens," Whitfield said. "This group will try every trick in the book to discourage, vilify, mislead and smear us as we carefully evaluate growth opportunities. They are working off rumors, not facts. And you know how rumors are: They never are accurate."
Members of the communities have said they believe the county and Pilgrim's Pride representatives are negotiating a deal to bring the company to town. They argue this will bring bad smells, noise and heavy traffic into a secluded region.
Whitfield and Walker County Economic Development Director Robert Wardlaw have maintained that they cannot speak about any pending business deals. If they exist, the county representatives would have signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Whitfield, who took office in 2017, said the community needs more business to increase the tax base. Last year, he raised property taxes 50-70 percent (depending on what part of the county people were in) to pay off looming debts — an $8.7 million bill to Erlanger Health System, in particular.
"The folks suing all of us are doing so with full awareness that we are in a financial distress and will be forced to use your tax dollars to defend this kind of petty, theatrical nonsense," he said. "If you know any of these individuals that are members of this once proud preservation society, please encourage them to join all of us in creating long-term sustainable solutions to the common needs."
He added:"It is infuriating that the people that just say 'no, no, no' are often the same people that enjoy prosperity in a free-market economy somewhere else then move to Walker County and expect us to sit idle and not worry about our own prosperity."
Whitfield will hold a public commissioner's meeting at 6 p.m. at 201 S. Main Street in LaFayette.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.