Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Nashville attorney Jim Roberts to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Roberts gave updates on his Taxpayer Protection Act petitions revealing that they’ve already reached 19,500 signatures. He added that next week they will be hand delivering the signed petitions to the Metro Clerk’s office sometime next week.
Leahy: It’s a big day for our guest on the newsmaker line Jim Roberts. Good morning Jim!
Roberts: Good morning sir. How are you all doing today?
Leahy: We can’t wait. We are anticipating where you stand with the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act petitions. You need at least 11,000. How many do you have? When are you going to turn them in? And what are the prospects of getting this on the ballot in December?
Roberts: Well, we just crossed the 19,500 threshold. Our goal was to get 20,00 which we thought was a nice round number. And so we’ll probably be turning those into the Metro Clerk, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week. We want to go back and count them and make sure everything is right. We feel very confident and very excited about it. So look for those to be turned into the clerk next week. Then we start getting on the ballot from that point on.
Carmichael: So you are going to turn these in. Obviously, you are an attorney. And so you are keeping a copy of each of the signatures that you are turning in.
Carmichael: You’ve reviewed them. So you are confident that you will pass the threshold. And lets just for purpose of discussion let’s assume the threshold is 11,000. So you are going to be well passed that. What if Metro just decides to ignore you?
Roberts: Well, that’s always a risk. We are getting some pushback. They clearly don’t like having power taken away. And it would probably require a lawsuit to force the clerk to actually count the signatures like they are required to do by law. I don’t think they’ll do that. I think they really believe that people want this tax. And there are people who are out there. It’s not going to win 100 percent. But Metro government really thinks these people want this property tax initiative.
Leahy: You said Jim that you’d been getting some pushback. What exactly do you mean when you say pushback?
Roberts: It’s clear that Metro has no intention of respecting this ballot if it gets passed. I think they are trying to decide whether they want to fight it on the front end or allow it to get loaded on by the people and hoping it will overwhelmingly pass and then fight it at that point. I just have a bad feeling that they have no intention of respecting the people’s wishes on this.
Leahy: But is there anything concrete that you could point to on that other than a feeling?
Roberts: Not really. Having 25 years of dealing with Metro and I think Mayor Cooper’s decision to advance a $1.5 billion transit plan on top of all that is going on right now is clearly a sign that he’s in the, we’re just going to spend every penny we get mode.
There have been attempts by council folks to lower that tax increase based on higher tax revenues. And Mayor Cooper has pretty much said no. I want to spend the money. I don’t think that attitude is going to change between now and December 5.
Carmichael: I guess what I’m trying to understand is that everything that you are doing is based on the Metro charter is that correct?
Roberts: That’s correct.
Carmichael: OK. so the Ballot initiative there is in the Metro Charter the opportunity for voters if they go through the process that you are going through to have a ballot initiative put up for the voters to vote on. And the Charter says, I’m saying something and I want you to correct it if I’m wrong. And the charter says that if more than a majority of voters approve or a majority approve the ballot initiative then the ballot initiative shall become law. Is that correct?
Roberts: That’s right.
Carmichael: Because I’m looking at how other things are now happening across the country where essentially big government people just kind of ignore what the law is or what the courts say. Or what the police might do and then they just tell the police not to do anything.
I am going to be interested to see when you turn them in and they just try and ignore you and say we’re not even going to have a ballot initiative. It would be interesting to see if they tried that and what that would mean. Because I’m not sure if the media in this town cares whether or not our local officials follow the law.
Roberts: No. That’s been my observation as well. And in some ways, I think the local media has shown that it’s in favor of this large tax increase. They don’t seem to want to have any meaningful discussion about the effect that it’s having on the people or the businesses. Or just the fact that it’s an unprecedented increase. It just seems like business as usual for the local media. They are going to have to notice this when it passes though.
Leahy: Well Jim and Crom I will point out that there is at least one media outlet in Tennessee called The Tennessee Star that’s reporting accurately and honestly about all of this. Jim here is my question on this following up on Croms. What might they do if they wanted to ignore you? And how would you respond?
Roberts: I think the most likely thing Metro will do is when this passes. And it’s going to pass overwhelmingly.
Leahy: Even before that. When you submit the petitions next week?
Roberts: I think we’ve got way to many signatures for them to disqualify enough to keep it off the ballot.
Leahy: I think Crom’s question was could they just ignore it?
Roberts: No. No. We’d sue them.
Leahy: And you’d win right?
Roberts: If they refused to count the ballots and there is no legal basis for them to do that and we would force them to do that. Honestly, I don’t think they are that foolish to try to keep it off the ballot.
Leahy: I don’t know! I don’t know Jim. (Laughs)
Roberts: I shouldn’t say that. (Leahy chuckles) But it would hard for me to believe they would be that foolish. The election commission is going to have to put it on the ballot. Metro might try to file some preemptive lawsuit to keep it from being voted on. That is just not likely to work based on historical precedence. But again, I think Metro is going to be desperate on this.
Look for the most vicious personal attacks on me and personal attacks on you. There is not going to be a substantive debate on this. The people defending this 34 percent tax increase are going to use the politics of personal destruction from day one.
They don’t want to defend the tax. They are going to attack me and I’m just a regular citizen trying to help my community out. It’s not about me. I’m not trying to be famous. I’m trying to fix what I see as a major problem with our Metro government which is it doesn’t care about its people.
Carmichael: Assuming that they do put it on the ballot. Give me the hierarchy of the courts. If this ends up in the courts for one reason or another, what court ultimately decides the outcome?
Roberts: Well remember the ballot initiative has more than just one thing. So I think Metro is probably going to focus on the repealing of the 34 percent property tax. They are probably going to try to refuse to implement that repeal or they’ll litigate that its unconstitutional or something like that.
It will probably go to the Tennessee Supreme Court. This is a fundamental issue of whether we are serfs to this government or will we have the power to control this government. And there is a balance in our system which I believe the way the legislation set up the Metro government that the citizens have the power to control it. And Metro thinks they don’t.
And it’s just a question of how far they want to push that. I’m willing to take it to the Supreme Court. We will go all the way on this because I think people do have this power. It is a fundamental inherent power of being a citizen in this town. And that’s the side of this lawsuit I’d want to be on.
Carmichael: So the Tennessee Supreme Court would be the ultimate arbiter. There’s not some other court that’s higher than that court. So that would be the one that you would go through. That’s interesting. And is there any personal liability on anybody who assuming the ballot initiative goes on and the ballot initiative passes and people, human beings in Metro just decided to ignore it and force people to pay their money anyway. Is there any personal liability that those people would have for essentially imposing a law that if after the fact was proven to be legal?
Roberts: I don’t know. You’re getting a little deep in the weeds on this. I don’t know if Metro is going to force to enforce the tax as now illegal. Or if they will capitulate and resend out tax bills. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what Metro does. I don’t want to predict their actions. But most likely they’ll continue to ignore us until we sue them.
Listen to the third hour here:
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