A partial ruling was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove on Friday involving the case between Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock and the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD).
The judge ruled the BCVFD fire stations and property belong to the fire department — not to the taxpayers of Bell County.
According to the court document, Brock has not articulated how the fire department’s current corporate status threatens to undo or run afoul of state law.
BCVFD attorney Mark Hayden stated the federal judge threw out the 2010 lawsuit because the issue of who owns the property had already been decided in 2007, when an Agreed Permanent Injunction (API) and settlement agreement were signed.
According to the court document, the API “permanently enjoined (Brock) from continuing to control and possess the real and personal property and all the real property records of the (fire department).”
This ruling will allow the fire department to continue accepting bids to sell the fire stations as advertised. It will also weaken one of the notices placed on fire stations because the property can not be affected in federal court.
“I would have preferred (Van Tatenhove) to have agreed with the court and the citizens,” said Brock. “This has given us the chance to move forward.”
Brock said he and the fiscal court have several options since the judge ruled in favor of the BCVFD. He and the court could bring the case back to state court, or they could open up a new fire station if the BCVFD continues to close stations.
Brock said as long as the BCVFD continues to claim to be private and the taxpayers have no interest in the stations or property, the fire department will not receive any money from the fiscal court.
Brock said the ruling by the fiscal court will not stop the fight.
“Those properties and stations were purchased by the taxpayers,” said Brock. “The ruling will make the fight tougher, but we will continue to fight.”
“There is no need to sell a fire station when the fiscal court is offering to pay all legitimate costs to operate the stations,” said Brock.
According to the court document, the BCVFD also urged the federal court to impose sanctions against Brock because of his public statements, his “willful violation of the API and settlement agreement and his blantant attempt to obtain a conflicting ruling from a state court.”
This motion was ultimately denied by the federal courts because the fire department cited no authority for its position. There is a temporary injunction that needs to be ruled on in federal court. If ruled in favor of Brock, the temporary injunction would prevent the BCVFD from selling property in the meantime.
The majority of the problems between the fiscal court and the BCVFD stem from a 2007 lawsuit filed because of events resulting in Brock and the fiscal court attempting to take control of the fire department’s assets. Since then, there have been lawsuits filed back-and-forth between both parties.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone at 606-248-1010 ext. 208.