The Davidson County Election Commission wants to get a court’s opinion on a referendum that could cancel the upcoming property tax increase and significantly reduce the Metro Council’s power.
In Friday’s meeting the commission was expected to make a final decision that would transform the petition into a ballot measure.
But the commission says it has several legal concerns that need to be addressed first. The Election Commission’s role is to say if a referendum follows laws — not weigh in on what they think is right or wrong — and a couple of election commissioners are concerned that restricting the city’s ability to issue bonds or set the property tax rate goes against state law.
“I do have some concerns about the form of the actual petition that has been put before us,” Commissioner Tricia Herzfeld says. “My understanding from our attorneys and some other research I’ve done that there’s a very complicated legislative process that the state has gone through on how it is that bonds are issued and referendums are done on that.”
Legal counsel told the commission that Tennessee law doesn’t allow referendums if a project is for water works, sewage or if local government determines there is an emergency.
This referendum differs from previous proposed charter amendments because it asks voters for a yes or no on five broad issues. During Friday’s meeting, election commissioners considered killing the entire petition, revising certain parts and breaking the five issues up. But that would’ve gone against lawyer Jim Roberts wishes.
“The people of Davidson County want this on the ballot. There’s no middle ground,” Roberts says. “I have the utmost confidence that this board will put this on the ballot as written.”
Some councilmembers and Charter Revision committee members say the language is sloppy, but Roberts says it was written intentionally. Election commissioners agree phrases such as “decades of over borrowing and overspending” and “no give-away of our parks” are political and should be removed from the final ballot measure.
They also said the referendum could create confusion. Typically in a charter amendment, changes cite what the part to be deleted or change and what should be added. The proposed referendum only adds new provisions, which commissioners believe could contradict what’s currently in the charter and cause confusion down the line.
The Election Commission approved Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes’ proposed amendment that could tag along with the petition. If the petition and Mendes’ changes are passed, his amendment would prioritize the original charter whenever the petition contradicts it.
There were tough debates among commissioners as they navigated a balance of moving swiftly and using their discretion to empower residents.
“I don’t think anybody’s choosing their ideal scenario,” Commissioner Jesse Neil says. “We’re trying to figure out what honors the will of the people and also accomplishes the logistical kind of ministerial duties we’ve got.”
As commissioners wait for a court decision, they’ve set a tentative election day for December 15th.