What Circle? 23 Music Circle East - Nashville, TN to be precise. And broken may be the kindest way to describe what the owner of the business at that address faces. Shattered, decimated, mercilessly hounded into oblivion all come to mind to describe what Joy Ford, owner of Country International Records (CIR), is facing at the hands of Nashville's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA).
For almost 30 years, Ford and her late husband Sherman, have operated one of the first studios on what would become Music Row at that address. While much of the rest of the Row has gone corporate with multi-million dollar facilities, CIR remains privately owned. This earns CIR the classification of an Independent label or "Indie" as it's known in the trade. Usually reserved for recent entries into the field who don't have the juice to or don't want to compete with the big boys, in the case of CIR, it's deceptive. Joy and Sherman Ford were making music, writing songs, developing artists and cutting tracks at Country International Records long before many of the current Music Row elite were born. The walls of Ford's business are filled with pictures of the legends she's personally worked with. Stars like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Tracy Lawrence, Tim McGraw and more.
If government has anything to say about it, that won't be true much longer. Chas Sisk at The Tennessean, who has covered the story since March, reports,
The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency filed papers in a Nashville court Friday to start a process that would take the offices of Country International Records at 23 Music Circle East. The action, the city's first test of eminent domain since the state legislature tightened condemnation laws two years ago, was taken after the agency determined that negotiations with building owner Joy Ford would not work, said Joe Cain, the agency's development director. "We're not having any conversation," Cain said. "We're hopeful that now she will meet with us."
The government is filing papers to take Ford's property. When they asked her to sell she said, "No". Problem was, Joe Cain and MDHA didn't like that answer. Having determined "negotiations with the building owner Joy Ford would not work" (read: this woman doesn't want to sell her property at any price) they are having her property condemned as "blighted". If she will not sell, they'll force her out. With the pressure on, they're "hopeful that now she will meet with" them. Mr. Cain and the MDHA seem to be confusing conversation with coercion.
A casual read of the issue sounds like a business deal moving along, working out small contractual differences as it goes. A "win-win" in the buzzword parlance of business. Except Joy doesn't want that sort of victory. Her idea of winning is Joe Cain and MDHA leave her alone to continue the dream she and her late husband pursued for years, making music. This being America, she should be able to do exactly that. The property is hers. She owns it free and clear. She pays all her taxes. To most Americans that means that she can do what she wants with her land as long as it's legal.
Welcome to the real blight in this story. Just a week after Kelo v New London's 3rd anniversary and in a week celebrating the quintessential remembrance of American freedom from governmental tyranny, the spreading blight of governmental abuse of Eminent Domain has arrived in Nashville. The arrogance and hubris of Joe Cain and MDHA reminds one of the royalty we opposed for our freedom over 230 years ago. If Joe Cain has his way, Joy Ford's dreams and right to do what she pleases with her own property will be bulldozed to make room for a $100 million dollar development deal with a private company in Texas.
At it's heart, this is the real issue. True Eminent Domain is about the government requisitioning property for Public Use for the good of all the citizens. This is just a business deal. And it's the stuff of Hollywood, not Music City. It reads like a boilerplate movie script, not a hot Billboard single. The widow v the conglomerate. MDHA signed a deal with Houston based Lionstone Group, a private developer, to sell them the property they wanted at cost. They inked this Music Row deal in March of this year. At the time, Ford's property was not theirs to sell yet they sold it anyway! Now, they are using strongarm tactics to keep a promise they had no right to make. In doing so, they are not simply trampling on the rights and dreams of one woman. They are making a mockery of our Constitution and rights and values paid for with the blood of tens of thousands. The question is, will this movie script, as yet unfinished, have a happy ending? How will this sad country song finish after the bridge?
I met Joy Ford just this afternoon. But three weeks ago I wrote 'Eminent Domain, the other ED' in which I said,
New ED will be eradicated when Americans choose to reclaim their constitutional rights and responsibilities. We must trust ourselves and our neighbors more than those in government when making decisions about our property. We must reject the idea government is our source and reclaim the notion we are responsible for ourselves and have specific rights, including to own property. And we must be willing to defend our Right to private property ownership by exercising our other Rights as needed. The Right to Free Speech, to Assemble, of the Press and perhaps even to Keep and Bear Arms will be needed to stem the encroachment of government on our Rights.
Joy Ford is going to fight. She's going to need some help. I'll stand with her. This is just the first of several posts I have planned. Phil Valentine will stand with her. Metro Councilman Mike Craddock will fight for Joy. There are some country music legends chiming in, too.
I'm inviting you to stand with her as well. I'm asking you to be like Bill R. from Washington, DC. He read Joy's story in the Tennessean and walked from downtown's Renaissance Hotel to Joy's part of Music Circle. Having seen her place and her plight, he wrote her a check and an encouraging note. His actions said he believed this is a fight Joy can win but it will take more than just her. Watch this space, tune in to Phil and other talk radio shows for more information. Call Mayor Dean and your Council member. Put the pressure on and keep it on. The MDHA is saying they are doing this to benefit all the people, not just one developer. Tell them there are limits to how far you want them going in your name.
Blue Collar Muse