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 to discuss his receipt of more than enough signed petitions to put the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act on the ballot yet informs of Metro Legals attempts to change the rules.
Leahy: We are joined on our newspaper line by the triumphant Jim Roberts. Good morning, Jim.
Roberts: Good morning, sir. How are you doing today?
Leahy: So tell us what you did yesterday afternoon.
Roberts: Well, we were very excited. Yesterday we went down to the courthouse and handed over to the Metro Clerk more than sufficient signatures to place the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act on the ballot. And they were waiting for us, even though we didn’t tell them we were coming, they knew we were coming. And they already had the forms ready. And it was just a wonderful feeling to unload those thousands and thousands and thousands of petitions with the signatures on them.
Leahy: I saw the picture. You had a lot of them. Now the number that you submitted was a little over 14,000. Is that correct?
Roberts: That’s right. 14,000 valid signatures.
Leahy: Now, there’s a little dispute coming on what the right number is. Tell us what your interpretation of the Metro charter is as to what the number needs to be.
Roberts: Certainly. There was a little confusion first, because, quite honestly, the Election Commission was putting out some incorrect information. And it’s really all based on how many people voted in the last general election. And that term general election is defined as the last Metro election.
Leahy: And let me just pause here for a moment. When people use the term general election, the general election for state and federal offices was held in November 2020.
Roberts: That’s right.
Leahy: But the general election for Metro Nashville County government offices was at the August of 2019 election?
Roberts: No, it was the August of 2020 election.
Leahy: And the charter says you need 10 percent. And so what is 10 percent of the August 2020 general election?
Roberts: About 11,500 signatures.
Leahy: And you turned in 14,000.
Roberts: That’s right.
Leahy: So game over right? If they get approved by the Metro clerks, you should be on the ballot except your counterpart accept. And now we have the rest of the story. (Roberts chuckles) Jeff Roberts, no relation to you. Jim Roberts is the election administrator for Davidson County. He says no. He says when they say general election, they mean the November 2020 general election for federal and state offices. And 10 percent of that number is 32,000. He said in an article in The Tennesseean where he said he’s going to challenge you. What happens next?
Roberts: Well, what’s going to happen is that we’re actually going to fail a lawsuit Monday. I must admit I didn’t expect this sort of legal shenanigans that we had last time. The unbelievable dishonesty of the Metropolitan government in the department of law. I was caught off guard by that. We’re not really going to put up with that nonsense.
The law is very clear. In fact, Metro argued in a very similar situation that it would have been the August election, not just two years ago when the Community Oversight Board referendum was on the ballot it was Metro that argued that the prior August selection was the right election and that Metro argued that the intervening federal election didn’t count.
That was Metro’s argument. And I expected them to be hypocrites and to change their position. But the law is completely clear. This case is less than two years old, and it says very clearly that the November federal and state election isn’t the election you count from. So Jeff is just wrong. And either he doesn’t know he’s wrong or he doesn’t care he’s wrong.
Carmichael: Are you going to file for a declaratory judgment on Monday?
Roberts: That is probably what we’ll do. If you remember last time that the Election Commission stalled and delayed. We found out that Metro legal was meeting illegally and secretly with the Election Commission to conspire against the voters. We’re not going to put up with that nonsense this time. My goal is to file for a declarative action and an injunction prohibiting Metro legal from engaging in any more unethical behavior. We’re going to make it very clear that this is serious. This is what the people want, and we’re not going to have a lot of illegal and unethical behavior by the Metropolitan government to try to stop it.
Carmichael: When you say this is what people want what you’re really saying is people want to have a right to have a say on their own tax rates. Now whether or not they want to have them or not. If this vote goes against the way that you would like it to, you’re still satisfied with that as a result, because the people have spoken. Is that accurate?
Roberts: Absolutely. And obviously, I hope they look for these six good things because they’re all good government amendments but I want to put it in the people’s hands. They have a right. This is what’s so dishonest about what Metro legal is doing. It is that they’re not just trying to say it’s a bad idea they’re trying to prevent and have been trying to prevent the people from voting on it. And when your government is telling you, you don’t get to vote on something that should bother everybody. And it bothers me a lot.
Leahy: So, Jim, the precedent you’re talking about, tell me if I’ve got it right. So the controversial Community Oversight Board, which was placed on the ballot because community groups gathered signatures that were more than 10 percent
Carmichael: Of the previous August.
Leahy: Previous August general election back in 2018. And they got it on like 1,500 signatures or something at 10,000. And I think the number was 8,500 or something like that. And the fraternal order of police filed a lawsuit that went through many, many cases and many iterations. And they said, no, that’s not enough. It needs to be the general election in the November election. Metro legal argued, no no no it has to be August in that. Do I have that right?
Roberts: That’s exactly right. That’s what they ordered. The phrase in the charter says proceeding general election. So in a sort of legal way, there was a dispute. What does proceeding general election mean? Well, one of the bills is very clear. In an election just Metro offices are being decided, not just people in Davidson County are voting but a true Metro election. And that was August of 2016 in that particular case. And for us, it’s August 2020. Metro knows this, and they’re just purposely spreading false information.
Leahy: So it’s interesting. They argue that it should have been the August election back to get the Community Oversight Board referendum on the ballot. It got on the ballot and was passed by the voters. Now we have a community oversight board. Are they going to literally make exactly the opposite argument when you go to court to get this on the ballot?
Roberts: Not only do I expect them to do that, which is incredibly dishonest, but one of the things that they argued in the oversight board case was that the people should have a right to go ahead and vote on it. And if there’s a problem with it, that can be determined later in court. But they should let the people vote on it. They were all about letting the people vote on that referendum. I am pretty certain that they won’t be as happy about letting people vote on this one.
Carmichael: Well, you’re going to see. I think that the strategy of filing for a declaratory judgment to move the thing along quickly is probably the wise course of action because the last time you kind of you waited for them, and now they’ve already pretty much said they’re going to sue over this. So you’re going to sue first and bring it to a head quickly.
Roberts: That’s right.
Carmichael: It will be interesting to see how the judge rules given the other recent ruling.
Roberts: That’s right. That gives us more time. If you remember last time they said they were going to sue and they never did. I finally had to sue Metro to force them to put it on the ballot because they clearly had no intention of actually doing anything. They just wanted to sort of stall and delay. We’re going to go forward.
I’d like to do it today, but I just think I’ve got too much work to do to get it done today. But maybe Monday or Tuesday or at the latest next week. We’re going to force Metro to put this on the ballot. The people deserve the right to vote on it. And if they vote yes on some of these, and no on some of these, that’s fine. I’ve given the people the opportunity to vote. They’re all good and they all should be voted for. But people’s minds differ sometimes.
Leahy: When do you think that the chancery court, which is, I guess where this will go, when do you think they would rule on whether your numbers right or the other number is right?
Roberts: We’ll file everything on an expedited basis. We’ll be pushing this very quickly. Almost certainly when Metro loses, they’re going to want to go to the court of appeals to try to tie up our resources. And remember, they’re using your tax dollars to fight this. They have unlimited resources to spend. They probably spent two or 300,000 dollars last time trying to keep you off the vote. I don’t think they won’t spend that or more.
Leahy: Yes, probably. They want to just nip it in the bud, that’s for sure.
Carmichael: Do you know which judge you’ll get?
Roberts: No, it’s supposed to be random. I do tend to get Chancellor Lyle more often than not, but it’s supposed to be random.
Carmichael: How many chancellor court judges are there?
Roberts: There are four.
Leahy: Okay, so you got four chances. Jim Roberts come back next week at the same time. Tell us what’s happened. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all your hard work to roll back the 34 percent property tax with the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act. Jim, thanks for joining us.
Roberts: Thank you for having me. Have a good day.
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Background Photo “Nashville City Hall” by Nicolas Henderson. CC BY 2.0.