published Monday, June 25th, 2012

Chattanooga official Danny Thornton endorses company on behalf of city


by Cliff Hightower
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A city director will face no repercussions after writing a letter to the Nashville Metro Planning Commission that endorses a private business on behalf of the city.

"He apologized the letter set off such a flurry of activity," Mayor Ron Littlefield said. "I accept that."

Interim General Services Director Danny Thornton sent the letter to the Nashville body two weeks ago on behalf of LKQ Corp., a Chicago-based auto parts recycling business. The letter was written on city stationery and stated, "On behalf of the City of Chattanooga, I want to endorse LKQ Corp.'s auto parts recycling operation as the 'gold standard' for such facilities."

Thornton admitted he never received permission to send the letter.

"I know I probably overstepped my boundaries," he said.

He said the company contacted him to write the letter and he agreed because he thought the company worked very well with government.

The letter was sent just before the Nashville planning commission voted on rezoning property to allow LKQ to build a facility. The vote was 8-0 against the proposal, records show.

Littlefield said he did not think Thornton's letter warranted any disciplinary action because it did not break the city's ethics code.

He also said that, during his days in both city and county government, he wrote many letters on city letterhead, so Thornton's letter didn't worry him.

"I didn't find it that out of the ordinary," Littlefield said. "Frankly, it did not rise to the level of significant as far as I'm concerned."

But Nashville officials didn't see it that way.

Craig Owensby, planning department spokesman, said it is highly unusual for city endorsement letters to arrive on behalf of a private company.

"This is the first time we've seen this," he said.

LKQ Corp. did not return repeated calls for comment.

The letter from Thornton was entered into public record as Nashville considered the rezoning. Thornton wrote an email to the metro planning commission Thursday morning, asking it to take his letter out of the information packet.

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