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 explained the Chancellor’s ruling on the referendum act and outlined how he will move forward next week seeking signatures on a revised petition. He added that this new petition is in response to the Chancellor’s criticisms and will make it harder for them to keep it off the ballot despite Metro’s legal tactics.
Leahy: And joining us now on the newsmaker line our good friend attorney Jim Roberts. Jim, good morning.
Roberts: Good morning to you!
Leahy: Well, where do we stand? (Roberts chuckles) Just to recap when we last spoke there was a judicial decision by a Chancery Court judge that I personally thought was incorrect on your referendum question. Tell us where we are right now.
Roberts: Well, let me tell you I was very disappointed in the Chancellor’s ruling.
Leahy: Set up what the ruling was and tell us how it got there. Tell us about what your petition would have done and what referendum would have done had it been on the ballot as it should have been in my view by law.
Roberts: Absolutely. The requirements for putting a referendum election very open and we followed every requirement that there was to the T. And the court added on a bunch of new requirements.
Leahy: So you got 27,000, right? And one of the elements you wanted to do was you wanted to put a referendum on the ballot that would impart repeal the 34 percent property tax increase. Those were the terms.
Carmichael: But you had other things on the ballot and that’s what the judge took exception claiming that your ballot initiative was confusing. So, where are you going to go from here?
Roberts: Well, what we decided to do is to step back redraft the ballot initiative to change a few things. Change some things that would make the Chancellor happy even though I don’t believe that was the law. It’s not worth fighting over. and so we’ve redrafted it. we’ve added a couple of things and we took one or two out that didn’t really accomplish the goal we wanted. and we are in the final stage of right now getting ready to send out about 200,000 petitions to every household in Davidson County. It had actually been my hope it would go out today, but it may be early next week before we can actually get it in the mail. We’ve made some changes.
Carmichael: Now what will be included? Can you tell us?
Roberts: Absolutely. They are still going to go back to the 34 percent tax increase and one of the things that the Chancellor made an issue of was that you can’t retroactively affect tax rates. I’m not convinced that’s the law in Tennessee, but it’s certainly the law in Davidson County for the moment. So we just changed it and we just basically said okay starting next fiscal year you’ve got to go back to the 2019 rates.
They’re going to get away with one year of the increase. So we’re just going to force them to go back to the original rate and put the same limitations on both of them after that. I’m doing the best I can for the people of Nashville. But we’re going to roll it back to the 2019 level and they’re going to have to live with that.
The second issue that we’ve added is there’s been some anger of the citizens against the Metro Government and as you probably know there’s been a recall effort by a couple of groups who have put efforts out. I was not involved in that. But it’s very hard to recall politicians in Davidson County. So we’re going to make that easier. We’re going to change the requirements.
Not too easy, but make it worse and not just impossible so at least those politicians have the fear of being recalled if they do these kinds of foolish things. So that was one thing that we added. We’re going to protect voter amendments. One of the most dishonest things that we saw was from Councilman Mendes who put forth his own ballot initiative that was very confusing that would have undone really everything we were trying to do.
So we added a provision that said they can’t do that. The council can’t change voter sponsored initiatives. They have to get their own voters sponsored initiative. Those are some things that are going to be that I don’t think the mayor’s office is going to like very much. We kept in the protection of our parks and greenways. They can’t give away our lands anymore. I think we backed off the bond issue because the state law was really intertwined in that and in some ways just opened up too much confusion.
So we may come back in two years and clarify that issue a little better. It’s gonna be a little more streamlined. It’s going to be a little bit and I hate to say better because it was perfectly fine the first time. But we’ve responded to the Chancellor’s criticisms and they’re gonna have a lot of harder time trying to keep it off the ballot. I do expect them to sue of course because that’s what Metro does with your tax dollars.
Carmichael: Okay, but you think that this new initiative cures what the judge concluded were in her ruling concluded were faults in your original initiative. I’m not saying they were false. But the judge said so they by law they are false because that’s how our system works. So you think you’ve cured her problems?
Roberts: Yes, we did.
Leahy: So then Jim now you send this out. You’ll still have to hit the same numbers? When do you think you would be able to reach you know, 27,000 or whatever the number is that you get on this new petition?
Roberts: Well, we’re gonna have to have more signatures of that because of the November election. We’re going to need about 32,000. Which really means we want to turn out about 40,000. So if you think about it, when we sent out about 80,000 petitions we got 27,000 signatures. This time we’re just going to send 200,000 petitions out and hopefully we’ll get 45, 50, 60, thousand signatures. Our return rate was amazing.
People are still mad about this. They don’t think it’s they’ve been treated correctly and they haven’t. and so we’re going to probably set the election date for about the second week of March. That gives us enough time to get the petitions out. And also if it passes and we certainly expect it to it will affect the budget cycle for the next year and won’t be able to put one of the things that Metro claimed.
They claimed that you can’t go back and change tax rates once the budget has been approved. That is just absolutely untrue. There’s not any law that says that other than the Chancellor’s order. So we just made it a perspective. We said, okay, we’re going to limit you before you begin the budget process and so you’re not going to have any excuse.
Leahy: Did you consider Jim at all just simply focusing on the one issue of the property tax reduction going forward?
Roberts: We did. And then there was a lot of debate and something’s got dropped off and something’s got added. The problem was what we saw from that it was a good idea and we certainly thought about that. But the property tax was really important but also the recall. But then you add on the dishonesty of Councilman Mendes and his ballot initiative undoing what we were doing. We had to have something in there to protect voter sponsored ballot initiatives. Well, now we’re up to three. We couldn’t just do it as one because we face the same sort of dishonesty as before.
Leahy: So there will just be three elements to it?
Roberts: Well we had to have at least three. We began to look at what we could leave off. We’re not trying to overwhelm people here, but the real goal is to come back in two years and do this again and make some other good changes. But we’re working on it a little bit. It’s not final yet.
Leahy: Okay, so you’re still working on it?
Carmichael: I used to be in direct mail? So you need to have something on the front of your envelope that calls attention to what’s inside the envelope.
Roberts: That’s right. We used a fold over. If you remember we just use a cardstock that allowed people to fold back the other way and then it’s going to be a similar style so we hope that people will recognize it. I mean people know what happened. I think people understand.
Carmichael: Okay. Well, good.
Leahy: Jim the thank you from every taxpayer everywhere registered in Davidson County for continuing this effort. I think you’ve got a very good chance of having this to be a success.
Roberts: We’re very optimistic. I mean, it’s just people are mad and they are still mad about it. And we have just been run over by Metro. And I think the arrogance of Metro Government has been sort of appalling to people. it just never ends. It’s not just COVID. It’s not just the business shut down. It’s a combination of everything and we see it.
Leahy: Well Jim Roberts. Thanks so much come back again in a couple of weeks and give us an update when it’s finalized.
Carmichael: Will be in the mail within the next two weeks you think?
Roberts: Oh, absolutely. My goal is to have it at the printer by Monday or Tuesday of next week. And then the printer controls it.
Leahy: When it’s in the mail come back and talk to us here Jim Roberts. Thanks so much for talking to us today.
Carmichael: Thanks, Jim.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Background Photo “Davidson Courthouse” by Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0.