Both the Davidson County Election Commission and the group “4Good Government” are heading to court to try to hash out whether a proposed referendum will appear on a special ballot in December.
Petitioners are pushing for a vote that seeks to dramatically limit the Metro Council’s power, including rolling back a 34% increase to the property tax rate. Its supporters tout their move as a way to restrain Metro spending. City officials and the mayor, though, say its passage would cause a debilitating blow to city services, destabilize Metro finances and bog down basic functioning of local government.
In filing in court Friday, the election commission is following through on an earlier decision to seek a judge’s help. They’re seeking more definition as to the commission’s authority and help deciding if the proposed ballot measure meets legal requirements to go to voters.
At the same time, Nashville lawyer and referendum supporter Jim Roberts has filed his own case. He charges that the commission is already violating free speech and due process rights by deciding to go to court instead of approving the special election that more than 20,000 petitioners have requested.
Court dates haven’t been set, but election officials say they needs answers before Nov. 4 to carry out a special election, should it be required.
Election Commission seeks ruling
“The Davidson County Election Commission must get this complex issue right for the taxpayers and for our city,” Chairperson Emily Reynolds says in a news release. “That’s why we have asked the court for clarity on the Commission’s role and responsibilities, before we commit taxpayer dollars for a referendum election.”
The commission says it would cost $800,000 for an election that already appears destined for a court challenge.
In late September, a few commissioners questioned if they could put the entire petition on a ballot, because their lawyer at the time had already identified portions that are at odds with Tennessee law.
In the meantime, the commission set a tentative election date for Dec. 15. The date was selected to ensure there was enough time to set up the election following the presidential contest, and so that voters would vote on a Tuesday — which is consistent with usual routines.
Petitioners say Metro is ignoring its own rules
But those moves, and others, have prompted 4Good Government to sue.
In his filing, Roberts raises the concern that commission members discussed removing political language from the petition before it appears on a ballot. Roberts says that would restrict speech based on its content and go against the First Amendment.
The petition used to gather signatures includes phrases like, “stop the fiscal insanity,” and, “it is time for this nonsense to stop.”
“It never dawned on me that they would think to put that on the ballot,” Roberts says. “But the petition amendment itself, which is clearly written out, it’s five different things. They talked about changing that and I thought I made it pretty clear to them that I wasn’t going to tolerate them changing one word.”
Roberts is also continuing to argue for a Dec. 5 special election, which would create an uncommon Saturday Election Day.