Union County Mayor Micheal Williams wants the county to withdraw from a regional planning organization that recently held a series of public forums and drew some opposition from property rights advocates, including in Oak Ridge and Anderson County.
Named PlanET, the five-county organization includes Anderson, Blount, Loudon, Knox, and Union counties. Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan is chair of its board of mayors.
“Union County is a rural county and is much smaller, as far as demographics are concerned, than the other counties which make up PlanET,” Williams wrote in a May 1 letter to the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization. “I feel that Union County would be better served if we promote ourselves as an individual county instead of grouping with the larger ones and being left behind.”
Williams, who was not available for comment Wednesday or Thursday, said tax dollars that the county contributed to PlanET “could have been better spent towards the effective promotion of our county.”
“My office has received several calls and visits from some of our citizens who share in my concerns,” he said.
But others involved in PlanET said Union County hasn’t spent any tax money on the three-year initiative.
“There has been, as far as we know, no tax dollars expended on this effort from Union County,” said Jeff Welch, director of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization.
He said he was surprised by Williams’ letter because residents of Maynardville, Luttrell, and Plainview in Union County have been enthusiastic about PlanET, and the Union County Commission supported it in a 2010 resolution.
Most Union County residents work outside the county, making them regular regional commuters.
“They are part of the region,” Welch said.
Julie Graham, president and chief executive officer of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, said all the county’s work so far has been voluntary.
She said she will continue to take part in the PlanET initiative on her own time. Graham said the effort has produced valuable and hard-to-obtain data and opinions about community issues such as transportation.
“This has been a positive benefit to have some of that data in front of us,” she said.
There are long-term planning benefits, and any decision to take action would be left up to local officials, Graham said.
If Union County doesn’t like the plan, they wouldn’t have to implement it, she said.
Beehan agreed with Graham that PlanET is providing valuable data that can be used by county officials and economic development leaders, helping to make the region competitive.
“The intent of the plan was to be able to look toward the future,” he said. “That doesn’t exclude Union County nor would it at this point because we’ve got good information on Union County.”
Funded with help from a $4.3 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant, PlanET is expected to have a finished product by January 2014.
Opponents of the process said they are concerned about their personal property rights and liberties as well as government micromanagement. They have drawn a connection between PlanET and an international plan known as Agenda 21 that was approved in 1992 at a United Nations conference and designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas.