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Member of city board does not live in Chattanooga city limits

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Chris Ramsey Chris Ramsey
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - For 12 years, a man who's been helping decide how to spend your city tax dollars hasn't been paying city property taxes himself.

That's because he doesn't live in the city of Chattanooga. For 12 years, Chris Ramsey has been a volunteer member of the seven person Chattanooga Industrial Development Board (IDB). He lives in unincorporated Hamilton County and has since the 90s.

This all began with discussion over the new Black Creek development on Aetna Mountain. The city approved $9 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to help move the project along. But Chattanoogan Helen Burns Sharp filed a lawsuit against the city board which approved the TIF and won in Chancery Court. After being struck down in court, Ramsey made a motion to re-approve the TIF in an IDB meeting and it was passed once again. But Sharp has a problem with the re-approval because Ramsey motioned for the vote and is not a city resident.

"Mr. Chris Ramsey does not live in the city and that is a violation of state law," said Helen Burns Sharp. "I don't think the city realized that nor did Mr. Ramsey realize that maybe he had to be a city resident to be on the board."

Sharp has been fighting the TIF for the new Black Creek development for years. She recently began looking into the IDB members and checking their property tax records. That's when she discovered Ramsey does not live in the city limits.

City Attorney Wade Hinton confirmed with Channel 3 that Ramsey lives in unincorporated Hamilton County.

"As part of the appointment process, we determined Mr. Ramsey is not a resident of the City. We are aware of the potential issues and are looking into the matter," he said in a statement.

Hinton said Ramsey's term recently expired and the city council was already working to fill that position. Hinton said a board member can continue to serve once his or her term is expired until the position is filled. He said he knew of the development before Sharp brought it to his attention this week, though this was the first it was made public.

But how was Ramsey ever appointed to the board? Hinton said he was appointed by city council in September 2002 under then Mayor Bob Corker. Nowadays, there's an online application for a spot on a board or commission that clearly asks for the applicants home address and length of residency. Hinton said he's unaware of any application Ramsey ever submitted.

Hinton said he doesn't anticipate the issue having any impact on previous votes in the IDB, such as August's re-approval of the TIF.  But Sharp disagreed, saying, "The fact that he did make the motion, I think does cast a cloud over that action."

Sharp said she hopes the TIF discussion will be turned over to the county commission and the city council, calling it "fundamentally a policy decision." She said the entire TIF approval process should be reworked.

In an email to Sharp, Hinton said, "we have been asked by City Council to review criteria for appointments to this" board... "this is also part of our overhaul of the board process. We will providing some recommendations in the next week or so."

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