Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Emails Show Corker's Aids Monitored Shady Land Deal

Newly released Corker Administration internal documents show that Mayor Bob Corker’s chief of staff and communications director closely monitored a shady land deal in which Mayor Corker destroyed a conservation easement--held by the City of Chattanooga--so that he could pocket $4.7 million.

As the Memphis Commercial Appeal has reported in two page-one stories, the key to the deal was the Corker’s administration approval of construction of an access road over the nature preserve, paving over the very conservation easement Corker was legally obligated to protect.

Instead, Corker’s Osborne Building Corporation developed the land--while mayor--selling it to a shopping center developer in July 2003 for $4.7 million. Corker has released information showing he made more money while mayor than he did in the previous 24 years of his life--combined.

Corker’s explanations of how the deal occurred now are coming unraveled.

The Commercial Appeal article yesterday directly contradicts prior statements of the Corker campaign, that the land deal was finalized in 2002. Today’s newly released documents, obtained under Tennessee’s Open Records Law, raise serious questions regarding the other cornerstone of the Corker defense--that he had nothing to do with the deal that profited him so handsomely.

On July 16, 2003, after meetings with the city’s parks and public works directors, communications director Todd Womack asked city stormwater director Bill Payne for copies of all his e-mails on the deal. Womack, now political director of Corker’s Senate campaign, forwarded the documents he received to Michael Compton, Corker’s mayoral chief of staff.

The documents reveal negotiations, meetings, and documents exchanged over a period of months in 2003 involving the most senior members of Corker’s administration and show--for the first time--the City of Chattanooga executed a letter of intent to destroy the conservation easement in July 2003, an agreement the Chattanooga City Council appears never to have approved, contrary to the city’s code.

Among the information contained in the e-mails Womack forwarded to Compton, and from Womack’s electronic calendar for 2003:
  • On March 13, 2003, Corker’s private lawyers sent the city’s stormwater director a draft letter of intent, by which Corker would give the City the land covered by the conservation easement, preserving Corker the right to “drain surface water onto” the former nature preserve.
  • On March 19, 2003, the stormwater director, Bill Payne, met privately with Womack in the mayor’s office for a half hour.
  • On March 25, 2003, after review by city attorneys, Payne returned the draft letter to Corker’s lawyers with minor comments.
  • On June 4, 2003, Corker’s lawyers sent Payne a revised draft of the letter of intent. For the first time, the letter said, “The Conservation Easement will be released by separate agreement.” The letter also stated, “Upon the delivery and acceptance of this letter, the City will issue to Osborne all necessary permits in connection with Osborne’s construction of Greenway View Drive,” the road that paved over the lands the city was obligated to protect.
  • On July 1, 2003, despite the absence of any executed letter of intent, the city and Osborne granted the shopping center developers the right to begin construction of a road over the protected lands.
  • On July 3, 2003, Corker sold the property for $4.66 million.The city executed the letter of intent to dissolve the conservation easement on July 14, 2003.
  • On July 14, 2003, Womack, “Mike and Bob” met in the mayoral suite with city Parks Director Jerry Mitchell, the official who was directly responsible for preserving the conservation easement.
  • On July 15, 2003, Womack and Compton met with Payne’s boss, public works director Bill McDonald, in the mayoral suite.
  • On July 16, 2003, Payne forwarded copies of his correspondence to Womack, saying that he had very few e-mails regarding the easement destruction because “the majority of the discussions were done over the phone or in meetings.” In response to the e-mails, Womack wrote: “Bill, Thanks for all of these. They’re a great help.”
There is no evidence the Chattanooga City Council ever approved the destruction of the conservation easement either before or after July 2003.

Ford for Tennessee senior advisor Michael Powell released the following statement:

“The level of deception and dishonesty by the Corker campaign in covering up Mr. Corker making more money as mayor than he did in the previous 24 years combined is breathtaking. Mr. Corker owes an explanation to Tennessee voters why he has been so unwilling to tell the truth about his shady land deal.

“There are blind trusts, and there’s blind loyalty. It is apparent Mayor Corker was blindly loyal to making money, regardless of his blind trust or the public trust he owed.”