City council member Chip Henderson refuses to comment when asked if he knows about the arguments submitted by Mary Alice Crapo in city court in defense against a summons over her outlawed Airbnb house.
But when I put down my microphone and speak about the legal conflict, he listens and tells how the 2-year-old ordinance came about.
Mr. Henderson, a builder, proposed the Airbnb overlay map in 2017 as a compromise to get council members to approve short-term vacation rentals in at least some parts of the city. Better some than none.
Without it, apparently the Airbnb network would have been banned, he indicates. Under the ordinance, many people are allowed to participate in the Gig City internet economy.
The map was a political expedient to get something passed that would allow Airbnb in the city. Five council members, including Ken Smith, opposed Airbnb. To reduce resistance, his proposal allowed for a map to be drawn according to each council member’s preferences. In the final vote, eight voted yes, and only Demetrus Coonrod voted against.
The map reflects the prejudices, feelings and interests of constituents and how a council member was swayed by phone calls, emails and personal conversations.
Mr. Henderson is unfamiliar with my summary of the STVR ordinance’s evil features, namely that it is not based on reasonable distinctions, is of the type law styled “vicious legislation” by one court, and violates the fundamental principle of general law laid out in the state and federal constitutions. It is arbitrary and capricious, I say, expressing dismay that it’s taken two years for a challenge to be filed by one of the city’s victims.
I tell Mr. Henderson that in America there is not the rule of judges and politicians, but the rule of law. The law of the land, I insist, forbids arbitrary classifications “among like parties.”
Mr. Henderson wears a suit and a green shirt; I stand on the floor beneath the dais, looking up to him. Reaching for a sign bearing his name, I tilt the sign on the banister and declare it a yellow line down the middle of the street. “The man in this house on the right side can do Airbnb, and this one on the other said cannot, I explain. “They are legally identical,” so an ordinance arbitrary dividing them is illegal.
Councilman Henderson says he is relying on the court to overturn the ordinance if it’s illegal. Relief will come with the court, he indicates. I make clear such a statement is hardly satisfactory.
“You swore to uphold the constitution and the rule of law, and to not allow anything that arbitrarily injures and hurts the people. Your ordinance is without any reasonable basis because it makes arbitrary classifications among like people. Do you know how many millions of dollars your law has lost to private ordinary people in the banned area? Do you know everyone eas of Missionary Ridge is barred from Airbnb? Doesn’t that bother you?”
Mr. Henderson says he has done his level best to make the STVR market possible. He wanted everyone to be able to do Airbnb, and was ready to take all he could in the compromise bill.
I scoff at the so-called conservatives on the council such as Darrin Leford, who salute the federal flag in the pledge of allegiance yet pass a bill that goes against all the basic tenets of fair play protected under constitutional government implied by the Stars and Stripes. What about the rights of the people? I demand. Thousands and thousands have been hurt by your ordinance.
“Let me tell you how I play this story,” I say, as if unveiling a secret. “The story is that the city has banned the use of the Internet — the Gig City — has banned the use of the Internet among homeowners who want to bring cash flow to their biggest investment — their houses — but can’t do it because you and city council have voted to prevent them.”
The constitution spares the people such treatment, I say. Mr. Henderson has not followed my extended treatment as broadcast journalist and “blogger with the biggest pen” in Chattanooga, I say, because if he had he would have known well before passage the measure is unconstitutional.
It’s no defense that city attorney at the time, Wade Hinton, allowed it, and that the current city attorney, Phil Noblett, will defend it, I say.
If I’m right, Mr. Henderson says, the city court judge Sherry Paty will overturn it, and he’ll get what he wanted originally — that everyone can do Airbnb and be free to enhance their incomes by welcoming visitors from far places to the River City.