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 how he is circling back to the Chancery Court with a revised petition aided by Vanderbilt professors to ensure its wording is indisputable and meets the judge’s new requirements. He added that he’s looking at getting 60,000 signatures on the new petition in the next three weeks in hopes of setting a mid-April 2021 election date.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by our good friend attorney Jim Roberts. The man who put together the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act and has gone through a lot of legal proceedings to get a petition up to repeal the 34 percent property tax here that was struck down I suppose that at first level of the courts. But you’re at it again. Jim, welcome, and tell us where things stand at the moment.
Roberts: Well, good morning to you. The lawsuit is not over. But knowing how long the judicial system takes and knowing that Metro would stall and delay we decided to fall back and do another petition and we are in the process. We have finalized it. We’ve got a couple of the Vanderbilt law professor’s reviewing it and a few other lawyers. And just trying to make sure it’s perfect. And as soon as we get through these holidays it’s going to be in the mailbox of just about every household in Nashville or Davidson County.
Carmichael: So it’ll hit the mailbox has somewhere between the New Year’s and when people have to pay the much higher property taxes that they owe.
Roberts: That’s right. That’s right. We’re hoping to mail about the last day of December it it’ll get there right after New Year’s. So when people are starting the new year out, they’re going to think the first New Year’s resolution can be to repeal this 34 percent tax increase.
Carmichael: How many signatures do you have to have for this?
Roberts: We’re going to have about 33,000 which sounds like a lot but with not a whole lot of effort. We gathered over 27,000 signatures last time. And we just have to do a little extra effort this time.
Carmichael: And how many do you want to get so that you know that you’ve got plenty of margin?
Roberts: I’d like to have about 60,000 to be honest with you. I want to send a real message to the mayor that the taxpayers don’t think this is funny. They don’t think it’s appropriate and they don’t think that the legal shenanigans that the Metro Department of Law are appropriate. People should have gotten a chance to vote on this. They were so desperate to keep this off the ballot that they were willing to do anything to stop it.
Leahy: That’s exactly what happened.
Carmichael: Well, that’s a very good point in your main point that the voters should have a right to vote on something like this. If my memory serves me correct when Mayor Cooper was candidate Cooper, he opposed a property tax increase. And so if you’re going to flip then you ought to let the voters decide and you ought to make a case to the voters on something this big. That’s how a democratically run city should operate. So I’m very hopeful that you’ll get your 60,000 signatures. So the final language has not yet been determined. Is that correct?
Roberts: We are within a comma or maybe a word here or there. We’re taking the input. I mean the court added on a lot of requirements that didn’t exist in the law and said we didn’t comply with them because they didn’t exist. So we’re trying to go through her order and say alright, what does the judge say we have to do?
And we’ve got some smart people looking at it trying to make sure we’ve done everything the judge said. And sometimes that means changing a word here or making sure it’s almost redundant because Metro is going to claim every word is confusing and nobody knows what any word means because that’s their dishonest argument. So we’re trying to be extra double careful.
Carmichael: Good, good. I think that’s very very wise.
Leahy: Now if you start collecting signatures in early January, how long will it take to get your target of 60,000?
Roberts: How long will it take? We don’t think more than about three weeks to be honest with you.
Carmichael: Okay. So then if you reach your goal and you turn all of your signatures in by the end of January will the petition have an election date?
Roberts: Absolutely. With Metro Charter, it has to be 80 days after they turned in and that puts us at about mid-April. And so we’re going to set it for mid-April date. And that’s when we’ll tee it up. It will probably be April 15 or 24.
Leahy: Make it April 15. (Laughter)
Roberts: Well you know we are aiming for that. we had to wait till after the Christmas holidays. It’s all a little close to the holidays. You know people just have a lot of other things on their minds. But you know made people are still really mad about this and they should be. The citizens should be furious. And it’s hard even convey to be able to convey the lengths that Metro met went to keep you from voting on it.
Leahy: Let’s continue that theme. Jim let’s continue that theme. So we are at the end of January, you submit these 60,000 signatures which are well over the number that you need. Then it goes to the election division that gives it to the Metro Clerk. At what point then do the minions in the legal department of Metro Nashville start suing in Chancery Court again?
Roberts: Well it depends on how brave they are. I think they will because again, they’re desperate. They will probably file suit immediately. Last time they stalled and delayed. If you remember, they voted to sue but then did nothing. And so I eventually sued them with what’s called a mandamus to force them.
And then they sort of responded. So it was pretty clear to me that they had no intention of doing anything except just stalling and delaying. They’ll still take that same tactic again because you know, they have to have to tie this up. This is a power grab for money. They don’t want to give this money back. They don’t want to be held accountable for this money. They’re going to pull this out. And they’ve already probably spent half as much money as an election would cost just fighting this.
Carmichael: Now you’re not asking them to give money back. You are not asking them to refund this tax increase. You’re just you’re going to be asking to repeal it going forward. Is that correct?
Roberts: That’s correct. The judge did rule that we could not retroactively lower the tax rate. That’s not really Tennessee law, but it’s certainly the law of the Davidson County Chancery Court. So instead of fighting that upon appeal we just said okay fine. You got away with one year, but next year you’re going to take it back to 2019.
Because that’s one of the weird things. We don’t have an ongoing tax rate. Every year it’s a brand new tax rate. They start from scratch. And so in 2021, they’re going to start at the 2019 rate and that’s all we’re going to give them. And they’re going to get to keep their 34 percent for one year. And they can use that for their COVID problems. But starting next year they’re going back. So we’re going to put a limit on it and put some fiscal responsibility on them.
Leahy: So this petition that you put forward and the referendum will address all of the problems that the Chancery Court Judge identified the first time. And you expect the minions in the Metro legal department to file challenges again. It will go again to Chancery Court. Is there any chance that Chancery Court with all the changes you’ve made will side once again with Metro legal?
Roberts: Well there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Chancery Court. The last time part of the problem I ran into was the election commission itself who didn’t really know what to do. This time it’s going to be very easy for the election commission to say look, they’ve done everything we told them to do.
So it will really be this time the Metro Government fighting this one on the Election Commission and the citizen. So it’ll be two on one. But it will be us against Metro this time. And so you know we’ve done everything. The first petition met the legal requirements as they stood at the time. We’re now having to deal with added requirements and we’re going to follow those added requirements. We’ll litigate those up on a deal later. But that’s not what we’re worried about right at the moment.
Leahy: That makes sense. I would say at the outset that the odds that they would win when they challenge again are not nearly as great as it was last time.
Carmichael: Well what Jim’s group is doing, and he’s getting expert legal opinion in addition to his own, is to make sure that the language in his petition meets the requirements.
Leahy: It’s unassailable.
Carmichael: I think that’s very smart.
Listen to the full third hour here:
– – –