At the regularly scheduled meeting on November 14, the Sumner County Board of Commissioners, in an unprecedented move, voted to return the Comer Barn to the Rogers Group and give back a $250,000 grant to the State of Tennessee.
The resolution rescinds all previous actions and resolutions accepting ownership of the Comer Barn, relinquishing previous deeds so that ownership and control are given back to the Rogers Group.
Additionally, the resolution authorized the county’s finance director to return funds to the state and any donors and adjust the county’s financial statements accordingly.
Without any discussion, the resolution passed almost unanimously by a vote of 20 yes to 1 no.
The issue with the Comer Barn dates back to 2016, when then-County Executive Anthony Holt announced to commission members at several committee meetings in April of that year that the Comer Barn was a “gift” to Sumner County from Rogers Group Inc. by way of a deed that had no funds involved, The Tennessee Star reported.
The old and picturesque stone horse barn, considered a historic structure, is located on Highway 31 between Gallatin and Hendersonville on the property of one of Rogers Group’s quarries. Rogers Group is a road paver and builder, asphalt supplier, and the largest privately-owned crushed stone, sand and gravel mix company in the U.S. regularly contracts with the State of Tennessee, Sumner County, and numerous other jurisdictions.
Holt wanted to renovate the dilapidated barn for some time and use it as an event center, which most citizens strongly opposed because of the cost to renovate only to have government create competition for Sumner County’s existing event centers.
Without owning the barn, Sumner County could not access grant monies. The deed Holt negotiated, however, came with an obligation to renovate the barn to Rogers Group’s approval within five years, or the barn would revert to the company. Additionally, there were no easements, making the barn landlocked.
For the 2019-2020 budget year, an astounding $3.5 million in funding was snuck into Sumner County’s annual budget to repair the barn. The proposed expenditure came in the same year that the County Commission passed a 17 percent property tax increase on top of the 20 percent property tax increase they passed in 2014. The line item was later removed from that year’s budget.
A month after the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Sumner County was notified by the state’s Department of Finance and Administration that it had been awarded a grant, initiated by State Senator Ferrell Haile (R-District 18), in the amount of $250,000 for Comer Barn improvements that had be used as one-to-one matching funds from the county.
The commission passed a resolution that month that accepted the state grant and allocated a matching $250,000 from the county hospital sale proceeds.
Almost a year later, the commission at their September 20, 2021, regularly scheduled meeting, passed a resolution that transferred the Comer Barn from the county to the Sumner County School (SCS) system for the purpose of creating an Ag/STEM learning center on an additional 39 acres that would be coming from the Rogers Group, pending approval by the school board.
The resolution called for the $250,000 grant from the state and the $250,000 from the county’s hospital fund also to be transferred to SCS.
The very next night, the school board had a professional, conceptual drawing from Lose Design available when they voted unanimously to accept the Comer Barn, contingent upon Rogers Group donating the additional acreage.
Phase I of the multi-phase project was estimated to cost $3 to $3.5 million, which SCS Director of Schools said could be funded with federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) dollars, Gallatin News reported.
Several members of the public spoke at the recent commission meeting expressing support for the resolution returning the Comer Barn to the Rogers Group.
One such speaker was former County Commissioner Jim Vaughn, who cautioned his fellow commissioners at the time that the deed was problematic with the barn being landlocked and the reversion clause.
“Tonight, you have a really unique privilege and honor to do the right thing,” Vaughn told the new group of commissioners elected in August. “It’s going to be unique because most of the time, people come up here and stand in front of this podium and they’re going to ask you to spend money.”
“Tonight, you have the unique privilege of saving money. You’re going to have the unique privilege of saving the taxpayer dollars of Sumner County millions of dollars. Millions of dollars over the next few years.”
Voting yes to return the Comer Barn to the Rogers Group were Commissioners Terry Moss (District 1), Mark Harrison (District 3), Darrell Rogers (District 5), David Klein (District 6), Danny Sullivan (District 7), Mary Genung (District 9), Kevin Pomeroy (District 11), Deborah Holmes (District 12), Terri Boyt (District 13), Jamie Teachenor (District 14), Wes Wynne (District 15), Jeremy Mansfield (District 16), Bob Brown (District 17), Don Schmit (District 18), Shannon Burgdorf (District 19), Merrol Hyde (District 20), Jerry Becker (District 21), Matt Shoaf (District 22), Tim Jones (District 23) and Chrissi Smith Miller (District 24).
The lone no voting on returning the Comer Barn to Rogers Group was Commissioner Baker Ring (District 8).
Commissioners Terry Wright (District 2), Dillon Lamberth (District 4) and Ben Harris (District 10) were absent.
At the same meeting, the Sumner County Commission passed a resolution calling out the Sumner County School system for books containing pornography and divisive concepts, in apparent violation of state law, The Star reported.
The full language of Resolution 2211-07 A Resolution Rescinding Actions and Relinquishing Ownership of the Comer Barn Back to the Rogers Group can be read here:
BE IT RESOLVED by the Sumner County Board of County Commissioners meeting in regular session this the 14th day of November 2022, that this body does hereby rescind all previous actions and resolutions accepting ownership of the Comer Barn; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED this body desires to relinquish the Quitclaim Deed With Reverter dated March 31, 2016, and Reformation Quitclaim Deed dated January 25, 2021, and give back ownership and control of the Comer Barn and property as outlined in these deeds back to the Rogers Group; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the Sumner County Board of County Commission authorized the Finance Director to remit funds back to the State of Tennessee and to donors and to adjust budget and financial statements as necessary; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED than any remaining funds after remittance to the State of Tennessee and to the donors shall be returned to the hospital fund commitment; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED this Resolution replaces Resolution 2001-03 from January 27, 2020, Resolution 2008-08 from August 17, 2020, and Resolution 2109-07 from September 20, 2021; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any previous resolutions of this body in conflict with this resolution are hereby repealed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution shall become effective upon passage, the public welfare requiring it.
The video of the November 14 meeting of the Sumner County Board of Commissioners can be watched here.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star.