Not For Sale – Abuse of Eminent Domain

On June 23, 2005, the United States Supreme Court changed the course of Susette Kelo’s life when a narrow, five-to-four decision allowed Ms. Kelo to be driven from her beloved pink house by the water so that a private developer could assume ownership of her property. The Kelo v. City of New London court case set off an avalanche of eminent domain abuse by establishing a precedent that permits cities to take over private property from an owner and forcibly transfer the property to private developers under the guise of “public use.”

Owning property is the goal of many Americans and for those who have made this dream a reality, their homes or businesses are places of comfort and stability. But for many Americans, this dream is turning into a nightmare as their property is forcefully taken from them by abusive enforcement of eminent domain.  Eminent domain is provided for in the fifth amendment of the US Constitution where the government is granted the right of private property seizure as long as

“just compensation”

is provided and the land is used for the

“public good.”

But, Susette Kelo wasn’t forced to surrender her home for a public school or a road. Ms. Kelo lost her land to Pfizer, a private drug company that wanted to build a research facility where her house sat. Perhaps the biggest insult to Ms. Kelo is that while the court battle for her land waged, Pfizer moved to an alternative site. When the dust settled, Ms. Kelo’s home was razed for nothing more than an empty lot.

23087290-NOT-FOR-SALE-Rubber-Stamp-over-a-white-background--Stock-PhotoAs shocking as this example sounds, it is hardly an uncommon practice.  Despite federal limitations enacted in 2006 and subsequent restrictions on use of eminent domain in at least 45 states, cities continue to use the process to turn owner-occupied homes over to private developers on the basis of “redevelopment.” Aggressive use of eminent domain has been shown to target lower-income neighborhoods unfairly, often causing extensive damage to the social bonds of communities in addition to negative life-altering effects for displaced owners.

We have a problem.

  • Eminent domain has become too powerful. 
  • Eminent domain laws are too vague. 
  • Eminent domain serves as a catalyst for increased revenue and greed.

Use of eminent domain has its place and time but many cases today are unconstitutional.

Although eminent domain has been used commonly since the late 1800s to acquire property for government projects and public use, the practice of condemning property for private development became common when real estate prices soared in the 1990s. Modern efforts to redevelop cities have transformed the power of eminent domain from a last resort to a routine development tool.


Today, the rift between the public interest and the interests of private developers is the core of eminent domain.  To put it simply, private developers want what they determine to be prime land and they will go to any means necessary to get it.  Even if that means displacing a family or an existing small business.

You may be thinking, “Sure, this sounds like an issue, but there must be a way to fight it.”  However, in that thought lies the second biggest problem with eminent domain today.  Many attempts at fighting proceedings fail or result in excessive legal fees and emotional stress.

Las Vegas resident Carol Pappas spent 11 years of her life battling eminent domain abuse. Ms. Pappas’s husband left her a commercial building in downtown Las Vegas hoping the rental income would provide for her retirement.  Not long after, Ms. Pappas received a letter telling her that her property was to be condemned so eight casinos could build a parking garage.  Among the 15 legal documents she received that day was one stating that she had 30 days to respond.  But what they didn’t tell her was that a hearing was scheduled in only seven days.  Ms. Pappas missed that hearing.  The judge granted title to the agency and the building was promptly demolished. Eventually, Ms. Pappas took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court and was awarded $4.5 million for her losses. Whether or not she “won” remains a subjective assessment when one considers the emotional toll and time invested in her case. Ms. Pappas passed away in 2009 at the age of 83.

Even though eminent domain is provided for by law, its use as a development tool and the failed attempts at stopping proceedings are major problems and should be considered abuse.  To gain a better understanding of how the power of eminent domain has been transformed we must examine the law itself and the incentive of cities to use it.

Vague language in the law and tax revenue issues are the two primary causes of eminent domain abuse.

The law states that private land can only be seized if doing so will

benefit the “public good” and if

“just compensation” is provided to the original owner.

The definition of “public good” is often expanded to meet the needs of the city officials.  To seize property legally, the area must be deemed “blighted.” But “blight” is a skewed term and each city sets its own standards. Jim and JoAnn Saleets’s home in the Scenic Park area of Lakewood, Ohio was deemed blighted because

it did not have three bedrooms, two baths, an attached two-car garage and central air. 

In a community that is over 100 years old, this definition meant most of the homes were blighted, including the mayor’s and all the members of the city council.

“Just compensation,” another slanted definition, is often limited to the appraised value of the land.

“Just compensation” fails to account for the “subjective value” that some people ascribe to their property.

Think of it this way, I married my husband in 2014 and our ceremony, though simple, was one of the happiest times of my life. My ring cost us a whopping $14.99. My wedding ring is a constant reminder of our love and the joy we shared that day with our family and friends. To me it is priceless. Suppose someone saw my ring and decided they wanted it. They looked online and found the same ring selling now for $4.69 on EBay so that’s what they offer me. You don’t have to be a genius to know that I won’t sell it for that. Nor would I sell it for $50, $500, or even $1,000 because THIS particular ring means more than money.

And what of the person who has spent her whole life in her home?  There is no way to replace the attachment of a home that has amassed years’ worth of memories and emotions. 

The second and perhaps greatest cause of abuse is the possibility of increased tax revenue for the city.

Seizure of privately owned land often results in millions of dollars in tax revenue for a city.  Homes, businesses, even churches are not safe from the abuse. In Cypress, California, the Cottonwood Christian Center’s property was condemned and given to a Costco because Costco pays taxes and the church did not.

Local governments are using eminent domain to take land away from private individuals because they claim surrendering it to big development companies will create a larger tax base and make more jobs available, which will in turn help the local economy.  But if we accept this excuse of economic improvement as justifiable means for using eminent domain then no one’s property is truly safe.

Eminent domain is still used in Indiana and, although reforms have occurred, the language leaves room open for unfair interpretation and abuse.

Everyone’s home and everyone’s property is precious to them; a place where they should feel safe from government involvement.  Abuse of eminent domain is destroying neighborhoods and communities as people find themselves on opposing sides of the debate.

Charlestown has witnessed growth from the use of eminent domain before. In the 1940s the government acquired thousands of acres of privately owned land to build the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. The population boom that Charlestown experienced following the opening of the plant was unprecedented. But…there was a World War going on and duty called.

Now the term eminent domain is being linked to development in Charlestown yet again. We must recognize the difference between fair public use and governmental greed. Those in Pleasant Ridge who fear losing their homes are actively fighting for their rights. Those outside the neighborhood must not sit idly by. To remain silent while they come for your neighbors’ homes is to be complicit in the process. People fighting this fight cannot do it alone.

The names Susette Kelo, Carol Pappas, and Jim and JoAnn Saleet probably mean very little to you. But if you’re from Charlestown the names

Ellen Keith,

Melissa Love Crawford,

and Sally and George Doss

might be more familiar. These are the folks we see at the beauty salon, that we greet in the produce section of the Jay-C store, that we sit next to in bible study at church. Do we want to look into their eyes and tell them they no longer get to live in the homes they love and cherish?


Adam Milsap, “The Injustice of Eminent Domain,” in U.S. News and World Report, November 17, 2015:
Danielle Grady, “Army to Industry: Old Ammunition Plant Shaped the Area,” in News and Tribune, November 12, 2016:
Gerald A. Harrison and Keith A. Good, “Eminent Domain and Condemnation: The Taking of Private Property for Public Use in Indiana,” in Purdue University e-pubs:
Ilya Somin, “How Eminent Domain Abuse Harms the Poor,” Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, May 26, 2015:
Las Vegas Review Journal of October 27, 2009:
Richard A. Epstein, “Kelo v. City of New London Ten Years Later,” in National Review, June 23, 2015:
Scott Bullock and Dana Berliner, “Eminent Domain Abuse Hurts America,” in USA Today, February 23, 2015:
 United States Department of Justice, “History of the Federal Use of Eminent Domain,”

Who is this TIF anyway?


“How are we going to pay for it?” asks a concerned resident as visions of high property taxes dance through her head. “Don’t worry. The money won’t come from tax payers. We’re going to use TIF!” replies an optimistic growth proponent….

If you’ve been listening to city council meetings (or stalking people diligently on Facebook) these days you’ve probably seen the acronym “TIF” being used quite a lot around Charlestown. With recent expansions of the town’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in anticipation of growth inspired by the opening of the east end bridge and development in River Ridge, it is important that we all know how a TIF district impacts us.

If you already know what a TIF is then feel free to scroll past this next paragraph. But if you don’t, then read on…

When a community designates a TIF district they freeze the assessed value of all non-residential property in the area for a specific amount of time (20 years is a popular number). It’s that assessed value that that determines how much property tax a business pays. As new businesses enter the area more property taxes are collected, which are intended to be used to fund development within the district. In order to entice developers to take the risk in the first place, cities take on bond debt under the belief that,

as businesses come…

and money comes in…

they’ll be able to pay off the debt later.

TIF districts began in California in the 1950s as a way for cities to participate in urban renewal projects. They arrived in Indiana in the 1970s and were originally limited to areas defined as


Since 2005, Indiana towns have been able to establish TIF districts more broadly anywhere they determine

“an area in need of redevelopment.”

These new standards have prompted several cases of TIF abuse as communities apply the financing strategy to otherwise healthy areas to make up for state enforced caps on yearly tax spending.

Here are some things to note about TIFs:


  • TIFs create opportunity for cities to self-finance redevelopment
  • TIFs are highly flexible – they are not capped the way regular tax revenue is capped
  • TIFs shift the risk to bondholders


  • TIFs freeze tax bases and overlook services needed to manage additional growth. If you build it…

and they come…your city and county governments,

schools, police and fire departments, libraries,

parks, township trustees, road crews,

and sanitation departments,

all have to continue to function without the additional property taxes generated in the TIF districts. To meet the needs of their growing communities, these entities are forced to cut services or raise taxes on all of us.

  • TIFs assume that all monetary increases come from the redevelopment they inspire. They don’t take into account other market forces that increase property value.
  • TIF bonds are attached to higher interest rates than standard loans because their risk of repayment is based on the success of the development. So cities that take out bonds for TIF repayment end up paying more on that money later.

Now you might be asking…

Why does all this matter?!?

Redevelopment in Charlestown is being funded by TIF.

Springville Manor, Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment , and the proposed Sports Complex (courtesy of a public/private partnership with Klipsch-Card Athletics) would all be supported by TIFs.

Let’s look at the Sports Complex as an example. The facility built by Klipsch-Card in Noblesville has been used as an example of the company’s success. The city of Noblesville pays

$800,000 annually for 20 years (that’s $16 million)

in order to hold that facility.

  • $300,000 is paid to the facility from a TIF on the building itself
  • $300,000 is paid to the facility from user fees
  • $200,000 is paid to the facility from a TIF on businesses in a second TIF district

This is Klipsch-Card’s go-to sales model. In Bargersville, the group asked the city to pay $950,000 per year for 20 years ($19 million). Bargersville examined their budget, found the money lacking, and

decided to meet their needs rather than their wants,

 and rejected the proposal. 

We can also turn to Springville Manor. On Tuesday, September 5, the City Council of Charlestown adopted Ordinance 2017-OR-12 granting permission for the City to acquire bonds in the amount of $2.5 million for Springville Manor, LLC (see my blog from that day). Let me say, nobody wants to deny the elderly a place to live. That’s not the critique here. The rub is in how the process is happening.

Although Mayor Hall said the bond money is allocated for the homes at Springville Manor in the Council Meeting on 09/05/2017, the Ordinance suggests room for modification. The Ordinance mentions funding for an

“economic development facility”

without defining what an “economic development facility” is. It also mentions that repayment can happen from “certain other revenues of the city” without fully explaining what these revenues are.


This is an expensive project. Look at the numbers in the amortization chart. In the end, the City will pay


for that $2.5 million bond. We should not take such expenditures lightly when they are shrouded in speculation and uncertainty.


Are TIFs ever a good idea?

In order for a TIF to be successful, academic literature shows that it must…

  • be targeted and temporary
  • hold developers accountable for the money they receive
  • be fully transparent

Studies show that TIFs work quite well in industrial areas, among non-minority communities, and in their early years while the building boom is fresh. BUT…studies also show no evidence that TIFs bring higher employment.

Employment increases in a TIF district come at the cost of lower employment from outside the district because they don’t attract new people, they just shuffle the existing people around.

Also, they don’t always attract high-paying jobs that would improve average household income.

TIFs also shuffle the financial burden around. Because TIFs divert money from the City’s General Fund, they fail to decrease your tax burden.

closeupportraitwomanholdinggiftinonehandshutterstock_190779821Think of it like a gift. If five people are going to buy a gift for their boss that costs $100, then each one contributes $20 and all is fair. Now imagine that the company grows and there are 10 people who could contribute to the gift – except that they weren’t grandfathered in so they don’t.

You still have five people paying $20 when you could have 10 people paying $10 each instead!

Meanwhile…the cost of the gift rises a little each year…

TIFs take money away and enable the city to use it in potentially abusive ways

(more to come on that).


  • If a city masks its use of TIF districts to fund projects
  • If a city lacks total transparency in planning and financing
  • If a city promises you that TIF redevelopment will bring jobs

You should think very carefully about what is happening.

When Bargersville’s town council turned down Klipsch-Card last year, the athletic management group moved on to other cities. Andy Card quipped,

“If you’re not interested, then others are.”

And he might be right…because now they’re knocking on Charlestown’s door. How will we answer?

Sources for this post:

Annie Goeller, “Sports complex owners asking for $950,000 a year from town,” in Daily Journal, September 9, 2016.

Baker & Daniels, LLP, “Tax Increment Financing in Indiana” (undated).

Charlestown City Ordinance 2017-OR-12

Chris Sikich, “$15 Million Sports Facility to be Built in Noblesville,” in IndyStar, November 29, 2016.

Martina Webster, personal communication from August 31, 2017.

Paul F. Byrne, “Determinants of Property Value Growth for Tax Increment Financing Districts,” in Economic Development Quarterly, vol 20.4, November 2006, pp 317-329.

Paul F. Byrne, “Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth,” in Economic Development Quarterly, vol 24.1, 2010, pp 13-32.

Rob Kerth and Phineas Baxandall, PhD, “Tax-Increment Financing: The Need for Increased Transparency and Accountability in Local Economic Development Subsidies,” U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Fall 2011.

Tom Heller, “Economic Development: Indiana’s Wobbly TIF Law,” in Indiana Policy Review, August 10, 2013:

Open the Doors and See all the People

Pleasant Ridge made the news again this week. For those familiar with Charlestown this is no surprise. Once again the community finds itself in the spotlight of controversy and once again voices call for its destruction with justification that tearing it down will restore some sense of ‘public good’ to the area.



 “I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but when you have a low-rent district, it invites people who are not contributing to society,”

– Mayor Bob Hall testified in a hearing that took place in Scott County on Friday, September 1.

What happens to a town when its leadership sends these messages?

Pleasant Ridge has been on the community radar for several years now. Ask anyone walking down the sidewalk in Charlestown about the neighborhood and they probably have an opinion. Residents who do not live in Pleasant Ridge watch the news and see messages from City leaders and base their opinions about the community on what they see and hear. Some might even cite statistics or sources to support their opinions.


Naturally, when they see and hear stories that highlight dangerous or deviant behavior from the community, it becomes easier to agree with leadership and view Pleasant Ridge as a blight on the face of our community.

The two news releases about Pleasant Ridge this week have prompted folks once again to cry out against the…

“nasty ass”

“drug infested” neighborhood that is

“full of illegals” who

“walk around like zombies.”

Since Charlestown designated Pleasant Ridge as “an area in need of redevelopment,” many arguments have been made in favor of tearing down the entire community and rebuilding to attract a better different population. Certainly nobody wants to ignore an area where crime rates appear higher than average…

…but are we asking the right questions about Pleasant Ridge?

  • Are we asking what social conditions influence people to move into low-rent districts?
  • Are we questioning how we rank crimes on a hierarchy that positions blue-collar offenses as somehow worse than white-collar crimes?
  • Are we looking at all of the ways that revitalization can occur in areas that need it?
  • Are we asking the people of Pleasant Ridge what resources they need to empower them?

Michelle Martinez rented in Pleasant Ridge for 19 years because keeping her rent low enabled her to provide more educational and extracurricular opportunities for her children. Michelle’s third-shift job at NIBCO provided a steady wage that enabled her to shop at local businesses and pay her bills. Had she sacrificed more of that income on higher priced housing, Michelle’s youngest daughter might have had to forego her gymnastics lessons that keep her physically fit and socially engaged with her peers. Because of the extra support she received from her mother’s commitment, Michelle’s oldest daughter graduated from Charlestown High School with honors and has since enlisted in the Army and volunteered for deployment to serve her country. What better way to contribute to society?

Crystal Hébert rented in Pleasant Ridge for thirteen years. During that time she and her husband remained employed and met their financial obligations. They paid taxes, shopped in Charlestown, and were active members of their church. Crystal’s family knows how to help those in need. In addition to volunteering and donating to help support local relief funds, Crystal’s children regularly rushed to help their elderly neighbors unload groceries or maintain their yards. Crystal’s pride in her community is only surpassed by the pride she has for her children including a son who will soon graduate with honors and who has received numerous scholarships to continue his education.

Kristina Neff admires Charlestown for many of the same reasons all of us do. After living here for 19 years and renting in Pleasant Ridge for nine, Kristina says she still loves the town because “it’s quiet and nobody bothers you.” Kristina is happy to have her children attend schools in Charlestown and loves how the community pulls together to support kids and families.

Although these three women provide only a snapshot of the types of people attracted to the “low-rent district” of Pleasant Ridge, they speak in sharp contrast to the images often painted of the community. Dozens of homeowners also love and deeply value their neighborhood.

So when we, as a community, are looking at possible “revitalization” projects, we need to remember the individuals involved. We need to remember that we are not talking about objects, but People. Redevelopment MUST be more than rebuilding!

We owe it to the People of Charlestown to explore all possible alternatives for helping those in need.

Drive through Pleasant Ridge. (I do on a regular basis because a dear friend lives there and I sneak by her house to make sure she’s ok.) But when you drive through, go slowly. Because you WILL see people out on the street…playing basketball…walking their children in strollers…laughing at a neighbor’s joke…working in their yards…

But you must look. You must look past the objects. You must look at the People.

Better yet…try talking to some of them. Do not be deceived…

After all, the first lesson I learned when I moved here is that Charlestown has never been about buildings…it’s about people.

“Mayor defends enforcing city code: Denies Pleasant Ridge residents’ accusations,” by Kirsten Clark in The Courier Journal, Saturday, September 2,, 2017
WAVE News Release “Pleasant Ridge Resident Arrested for Threatening Charlestown Mayor,” September 5, 2017
Personal interviews with prior and current renters of Pleasant Ridge – names and details published with their permission.

Charlestown City Council Meeting 09/05/2017

Charlestown Council Meeting – 09/05/2017

Meeting called to order 6:30 PM by Mayor Bob Hall.

Pledge of Allegiance led by Brittney Miller, student at Indiana University Southeast

Invocation led by Neyland McClellan from North Charlestown Church of God

Determination of a Quorum was made and roll call consisted of all council members in attendance.

Mayor Hall entertained motions to approve the agenda for the evening:

  • motion made by Ted Little
  • motion seconded by Eric Vaughn
  • passed unanimously

Mayor Hall entertained motions to approve the minutes from the previous council meeting on August 22, 2017:

  • motion made by Eric Vaughn
  • motion seconded by Mike Vaughn
  • passed unanimously

Mayor entertained motion to pay the claims:

  • motion made by Brian Hester
  • motion seconded by Eric Vaughn
  • passed unanimously

Mayor entertained motion to accept the payroll allowance docket from 08/20/2017 to 09/02/2017:

  • motion made by Ted Little
  • motion seconded by Eric Vaughn
  • passed unanimously

Public comment made by resident Treva Hodges, 339 Oriole Drive. Spoke on ordinance 2017-OR-12 and asked council to table the decision until more public input could be received. (Link to full text provided below)

Mayor Hall issued comment following and clarified that the $2.2 million loan and $2.5 million bond are the same fund. He offered clarification in the following breakdown: $800,000 for construction, the reminder is dedicated to the $20,000 per home forgivable note and $35,000 loan that will come back to the city. He said they hope to get the financing approved through a credit line to reduce interest costs. He also noted that some residents of Springville Manor have elected not to use the $35,000.

Old Business:

  • Susan Riley Pathway to Home Ownership Update – not issued, Susan Riley not in attendance

New Business:

  • Ordinance 2017-OR-12 (Bond Ordinance) – Mayor entertained motion to adopt
    • motion made by Eric Vaughn
    • motion seconded by Ted Little
    • passed 4-1
      • Ted Little – approve
      • Brian Hester – approve
      • Mike Vaughn – approve
      • Tina Barnes – opposed
      • Eric Vaughn – approve


  • Public Hearing on 2018 Budget was opened by Mayor Hall – no comments made


  • Ordinance 2017-OR-13 (Salary Ordinance) – establishes salaries for city employees (non-elected positions). Only change was a $500 raise for employees. Mayor entertained motion to consider:
    • motion made by Brian Hester
    • motion seconded by Mike Vaughn
    • during open discussion Tina Barnes noted a potential error in the increase amount for Parks Director, Rhonda Davidson. Davidson’s raise was listed as only 1 cent. After a brief pause for document verification, Mayor Hall ensured that her new rate of pay will be $716.21.
    • During this discussion Mayor Hall asked if the council had copies of the Ordinance 2017-OR-14 for the budget discussion that will occur at the next meeting. Council members did not have copies so during the brief pause, copies were made and distributed to council members. Mayor Hall asked council members to let him know of any questions they have about the budget as they review the document.
    • passed unanimously

Mayor entertained motion to adjourn meeting:

  • motion made by Eric Vaughn
  • motion seconded by Mike Vaughn
  • passed unanimously

Meeting adjourned.

For full text of public comment click here: 09.05.2017 public comment – By Treva Hodges

Click here for audio of the full meeting: 

City Council Meeting 08/31/2017

Tonight the City Council held a special meeting to consider Ordinance NO. 2017-OR-12. Following is the written account of the meeting:

Mayor Hall welcomed everyone to the meeting.

Council member Tina Barnes led the Pledge of Allegiance

Roll Call

  •             Ted Little – Absent, on vacation through September 8, 2017
  •             Brian Hester – Present
  •             Mike Vaughn – Present
  •             Tina Barnes – Present
  •             Eric Vaughn – Present

Mayor announced that the only item on the agenda was consideration of ordinance 20017-OR-12 and entertained motions to adopt the ordinance.

Motion to adopt the motion made by Eric Vaughn

Motion seconded by Mike Vaughn

Mayor Hall asked for any Open Discussion. No open discussion occurred.

Votes –

  • Ted Little – Absent
  • Brian Hester – In Favor
  • Mick Vaughn – In Favor
  • Tina Barnes – Opposed
  • Eric Vaughn – In Favor

Motion passes 3-1. Will be on the agenda for the next meeting Tuesday, September 5th, 2017.

Mayor entertained motion to adjourn.   Motion to adjourn made by E. Vaughn. Motion seconded by Brian Hester

Meeting adjourned

Click Here for the full ordinance: CCI31082017

Click here for audio of the meeting: