Newspaper article News Sentinel

Emails Show Burchett, Turley Eyed Venture

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Emails Show Burchett, Turley Eyed Venture

Article excerpt

An email released to the News Sentinel after a long court fight shows that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was involved in an aborted business deal with developer John Turley.

In 2012, the mayor said, he explored buying a building owned by a Turley company in the Happy Holler neighborhood of North Knoxville where his brother, Charles, could locate a hot rod shop. The deal would have involved refurbishing the building at 115 W. Anderson Ave.

"I was actually interested in purchasing that piece of property," Burchett said. "I'm excited about what's going on in Happy Holler."

Turley's company, Anderson Avenue Properties, applied for a $50,000 grant from the Faade Improvement Program of the City of Knoxville Community Development Division. The application said the owner would also put $10,000 into the project, which would involve windows, down spouts, awnings, sign panels, spotlights, door, paint and a power pole.

Turley sent Mayor Burchett the email about the project on July 30, 2012, the day the grant application was filed, saying:

"Tim enclosed is the latest on our Anderson Ave property .

"New Roof

"$50 K Faade Grant

"Rendering of new Faade

"Thanks

"JLT."

Attached to the email were copies of invoices for roof work, the grant application documents and a rendering of the building.

The grant never was awarded, and Burchett did not buy the building. It is still on the market.

The mayor said he pulled out of the deal once he found out about the facade grant application with the city.

"I told my brother that I didn't want anything to do with it," Burchett said. "Even though it was totally legitimate, and everybody else seems to be getting those facade grants, I told my brother that I didn't think it was a good idea."

Charles Burchett was unavailable for comment. Turley would not comment for the record. City staff said that the application was not approved because the building was not in a historic overlay district, a requirement for receiving a facade grant.

About two and a half months after the grant application was made, on Oct. 18, 2012, the News Sentinel published a story reporting that Turley had paid Dean Rice $2,000 a month for lobbying at the same time that Rice was working as Burchett's campaign manager in 2010. After Burchett was elected, Rice became his chief of staff, and the new administration expedited a $2.6 million planned extension of Outlet Drive that improved access to Turley's Turkey Creek Public Market project at 11221 Outlet Drive.

-Law director withheld emails-

The email with its attachments disclosing the deal was one of 13 that County Law Director Bud Armstrong refused to release to the News Sentinel on Sept. 26, 2012, while the newspaper was preparing the Outlet Drive article. He said the emails were exempt from the state Public Records Law because they dealt with personal, not government, business.

Armstrong had just taken office on Sept. 1, 2012, after defeating incumbent law director Joe Jarret. Burchett supported Armstrong's campaign with a $400 donation on July 19, 2012, records show. Burchett said that his office had no influence over which records were released, and added that the two elected offices "have a good working relationship."

The News Sentinel appealed the law director's decision by filing suit in Chancery Court on Oct. 25, 2012, and on Jan. 13, 2014, Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan issued a final order that nine of the emails be released, saying: "These are so clearly public documents." The News Sentinel received the emails from the law director's office on March 7, 2014.

In addition to the Turley email, Duggan said five emails from Allison Burchett, then the mayor's wife, should have been made public by the law director. The emails were sent between Jan. 30, 2012, and April 3, 2012, during the time that the Burchetts were separating. They now are divorced. …

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