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 weighed in on the recent press conference by Mayor John Cooper using the words “steal election” and “poison pill” to give the Taxpayer Protection Act initiative a negative light.
Leahy: We are in studio on Music Row here with Jim Roberts. The man behind the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act. 20,000 signatures have been submitted. You only need 11,500 to get your charter amendment on the ballot December 5.
And Davidson County residents can vote for a repeal of the 34 percent property tax increase reducing it back to two percent. That looks pretty good. Let’s assume this. Let’s assume that the election commission plays it straight and they say, yes you’ve got plenty of signatures here. You qualify.
And they are prepared to go to their meeting on the third week of December to declare that this charter amendment will go on the ballot December 5. What kind of skulduggery can Nashville Mayor John Cooper engage in to stop that legal process behind the scenes?
Roberts: Well I think it’s going to be hard for him to pull any sort of stunts. I can say when the election commission was controlled and it is a partisan body, so it’s controlled based on the legislature. And at one time it was controlled by the Democrats. Now it’s controlled by Republicans. About 20 years ago I was in the election commission in a meeting. I was there when Karl Dean called up and called the head of the commission and told him to keep someone off the ballot.
Leahy: Former Mayor Karl Dean.
Roberts: Former Mayor. Absolutely illegal. We sued them over it and forced a recall of the ballot and got this person put on the ballot. It was illegal. And it was done intentionally.
Leahy: I thought he was a bastion of moral virtue. (Laughs)
Roberts: I lost a lot of respect for him that day. And that was the kind of stuff that maybe went on 20 years ago.
Leahy: But Mayor John Cooper in my view is far worse. He’s an authoritarian dictatorial type in my view. But here’s what he said about your charter amendment. Here’s a quote from him yesterday he said, “ultimately I do worry that the result of this is just forcing stealth election on Nashville. A very expensive stealth election on Nashville in order to give the city a poison pill.” Let me just stop for a moment. Stealth? How can a duly authorized legal election be called a stealth election? What’s the mayor doing with that?
Roberts: I have no idea. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. What the mayor should be explaining to people is that if his own department of law would have not litigated this issue we probably could have had this vote on November 3 along with the federal election. But it was the Metropolitan Department of Law that prevented that. We didn’t want to have this election on December 5. And that was a choice.
Leahy: And that was a prior Democratic administration but nonetheless, he’s in that long line of authoritarian democrat tax erasing control of Davidson County. Here’s what else Mayor Cooper said yesterday. “It’s not just about the property taxes. It has all kinds of stuff on it that is quite frankly a poison pill for our city.”
Roberts: I love that. I love the fact that restraining the council and the mayor’s ability to waste money is a poison pill. If that’s what that is then let me hand him a glass of water with it.
Leahy: That’s a good line, Jim. (Laughs)
Roberts: Expect all the hysteria. Children starving in the street and old people falling into the rivers. It’s going to be the same sort of nonsense that we always see. The bottom line is that this is the Taxpayer Protection Act. It does certain things to restrain the government’s ability to spend in foolish ways. It doesn’t on core government functions.
If they want to build a police station, go right ahead. If they want to build a firewall, a schoolroom, or a medical facility, go right ahead. But if you want to give away money to Amazon or to billionaires you just might have to run that by the people with a vote. That’s what Mayor Cooper doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want the people holding him and the council accountable.
Leahy: He doesn’t want to be accountable at all. This follows on a quote from his press conference. Have you heard his comments yet?
Roberts: No. This is the first I’ve heard of them.
Leahy: Get ready. I’m going to break this into two more sentences. “Everyone who serves the city, mayor Cooper said yesterday. Every teacher. Every police officer. And every citizen of the city would need to be deeply concerned that this is a poison pill,” he said.
Roberts: I think every citizen should be deeply concerned about raising taxes 34 percent in a down economy. We have been the”‘it” city for five or ten years? We were the center of the universe. Everybody wants to come to Nashville. We’ve had incredible growth and tax revenues and we squandered that.
So every citizen, firefighter, and teacher should be asking the question, why did you people squander 10 good years of prosperity to do foolish things with our money? Everyone should be concerned. We are $3.6 billion in debt. Nashville has over half the amount that the entire state has. There is your problem. There is your future right there. Thank you council. Thank you, Cooper.
Leahy: This one’s really quite a gem. This comment from Mayor Cooper. (Chuckles) Kind of what you said earlier about giving him a glass of water. (Roberts laughs) He kind of stepped into it with this quote. John Cooper said, “We want to create a great city going forward in the 21st century and not create a backwater and have us swallow unintentionally a poison pill particularly through a stealth election.”
Roberts: I love that. That’s the first I’ve heard of a stealth election. I’m pretty sure we are going to be publicizing it. We believe that about 85 percent of the voters are in favor of it. We are going to do our level best to make sure every single Davidson County resident knows about this election on December 5. Comes out for this election December 5. And votes for the repeal of this terrible tax increase.
And so I don’t know how stealth it’s going to be. We are expecting a huge turnout. What I think he means by that is that he wasn’t in control of it. He wasn’t behind it. The council wasn’t behind it. But somehow when the people speak up it’s something bad. Well, that’s why we have a ballot initiative process. This is about governmental incompetence.
This would not be needed if our council and our mayors, and not just Cooper, but prior mayors had acted in a responsible fashion. Their lack of leadership and stewardship is why this is necessary. It’s not a secret. It’s not stealth. It’s in your face.
Leahy: And it’s hypocritical because through his governmental actions, but I think many of those are illegal. Shutting down businesses. Shutting down businesses here in Nashville have seen their revenues by 50 to 75 to 100 percent. And yet the city government, he wants to increase property taxes by 34 percent. And the over expenditures during this terrible period have increased five percent. That is reckless in my view.
Roberts: Absolutely. If you look at the mayor’s budget in June there were $100 million in new spending. There was a misestimate of what the tax revenue was going to be. Knowing what we know right now if the mayor had not increased spending and we knew what that tax revenue was going to be that 34 percent would have been about a 10 percent increase.
Leahy: You can see in his focus group consultant created messaging here the key themes that he will be articulating from now until we think the likely charter amendment election. Stealth election. Very expensive stealth election. Poison pill. I promise you, these were not words that he was thinking of. They brought his political consultants in and said how can we disparage this process and these are the words they came up with.
Roberts: Like I said. We don’t really plan on making it a stealth election. We are encouraging every single person we know to come out and vote. We are going to have yard signs and rallies and things you do when you are trying to motivate people. I hope it’s not a secret. A listen to the poison pill. Taking away money from irresponsible government officials is like taking loaded guns away from children. You sort of have to do it.
Leahy: You have to do it.
Roberts: You just can’t reason with them.
Leahy: It’s interesting you say that. I’ve come to the view that elected leaders in or appointed leaders in Democratically controlled cities around the country have a mental health problem. They lack common sense.
Roberts: It’s a system.
Leahy: You nailed it. It’s the system. I’ll take that. It’s not necessarily the individuals. It’s the system that is very bad and we want to change it.
Listen to the third hour here:
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