The Nashville Election Commission voted three to two on Friday to neither approve nor reject the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, but instead passed the matter on to a chancery court to guide them on how to proceed.
In contrast, “the commission unanimously approved a charter amendment by [Metro Council Member At-Large Bob] Mendes, approved by Metro Council, to go on the ballot if a special election is held. The amendment, if approved by voters, would effectively override the petition initiative and reinforce the city’s existing provisions in the charter,” The Tennessean reported.
As The Tennessee Star reported last month, the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act referendum, if approved, would roll back Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s 34 to 37 percent tax increase. Cooper imposed the tax increase to make up for lost revenue after he shut businesses down during the COVID-19 outbreak. The referendum would also limit property tax rate increases to 2 percent every year, unless voters specifically approved it.
Cooper, as reported, opposes the referendum and wants voters to reject it.
Had commissioners approved the referendum as submitted then voters would have decided during a Saturday, December 5 referendum. But on Friday, as attorney Jim Roberts predicted last week, commissioners moved that back, as a conditional date, to Tuesday, December 15. Commission members said they moved the date back because they “want sufficient time to put the [November 3] presidential election to bed.”
Roberts, who already suspected commission members were working behind the scenes to undermine the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, said Friday that commission members should have voted either yes or no.
“They chose to not take action. They hired a lawyer who is just going to bill the city for $50,000, and they will wait for a court to tell them what to do when the law is already written to tell them what to do,” Roberts said.
“If they thought that there was a problem with it then they should just go ahead and vote it down. I think it is just incredibly dishonest to hire a law firm to sue citizens whose only transgression is they signed a petition to put a ballot initiative on the ballot. That’s just wrong.”
Cooper, in an emailed statement, said there are “serious questions about the constitutionality of the proposed charter amendment.”
“This proposed amendment would turn Nashville’s temporary financial challenges into a chronic and permanent condition and be a roadblock to our community’s success. As essential city services are reduced, including classroom sizes, emergency services and response times, and infrastructure maintenance, our property values and our business landscape will quickly diminish,” Cooper said.
“Nashville requires a stable financial condition to address the many challenges presented by 2020. We’ve faced two historic crises this year unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Mandating a county-wide referendum every time our city requires a new school or other significant infrastructure project is completely contrary to [the] way we govern here in Tennessee.”
Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee State Director Tori Venable, in a press release, said “the Election Commission’s determination to refuse to put this on the ballot is a disservice to Nashville and the 26,000 people that signed the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act.”
“We’re extremely disappointed in this decision and will explore options to make sure Nashvillians’ voices are heard,” Venable said.
Heartbreaking Stories and Inappropriate Behavior
Nashville residents addressed commissioners during the public comment portion of Friday’s meeting and urged them to put the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act on the ballot.
One of them, Kenny Ames, said “it was heartbreaking to hear stories of people on fixed incomes” who will have to pay Cooper’s 34 percent tax increase.
“This is the city I have grown to love over 24 years,” Ames said.
Commissioners met privately one week prior and refused to say what they discussed, even though it was government business.
Roberts said last week that “Cooper is desperate for some way to try to keep this initiative off the ballot.”
Roberts also said last week’s meeting “was totally inappropriate under the Open Meetings Act.”
As reported Thursday, Venable said “Metro officials continue to act in secrecy to thwart the will of the people.”
“Nashville has had a transparency problem for far too long with taxpayer-funded handouts and sweetheart deals to politically connected companies. Now that the cash cow has been put out to pasture, our city is feeling the pressure of reckless spending and corporate welfare that put us in our current position. Responsibly using tax dollars requires cutting budgets, not raising taxes,” Venable said.
“People feel they have been lied to by Mayor Cooper who previously said lawmakers shouldn’t ask taxpayers for more money when they aren’t properly managing the money they already have. Nashvillians have been hit with a massive tax hike while government officials refused to cut their own pay raises or tighten the city’s belt, as Nashville families have been forced to do. The only path out of this dilemma is complete transparency and giving Nashville voters the chance to be heard at the ballot box in December.”
Venable also said that before Cooper starts “threatening to strip essential services like police, fire, and education” he should “take a hard look at all of their pet projects to assess if now is the time to take on billions of more debt.”
“Nashville needs to get its priorities in order — the mayor’s threats to defund public services first just might spur more Nashvillians to call his bluff,” Venable said.
‘Crooked, Underhanded Things’
Roberts told The Star Friday that he’s unsure which way the chancery court will go on this matter. He also said he “goes back and forth” on whether it was legal for commissioners to move back the date of the election to December 15.
“I don’t think they had a right to change one word, period,” Roberts said.
“The citizens have done their job. They followed the statute to the letter.”
Roberts also said he’s disappointed that Cooper “is trying to do crooked, underhanded things to keep this off the ballot.”
“Just let the people decide. If it’s a bad idea then people will vote it down. If it’s a good idea then they’ll vote for it,” Roberts said.
“I don’t understand why Cooper is so afraid of the people.”
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