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Metro legal says charter amendment petition 'contains legal defects,' and 'violates state law'

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Posted at 5:01 PM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 18:01:45-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Metro Nashville Department of Law released its legal opinion on the recently filed 4GoodGovernment charter amendment.

If passed, the charter amendment petition would repeal the city's recent 34% tax hike. Mayor John Cooper and several other city leaders have warned of the referendum's damaging effects, saying the so-called "poison pill" would slash jobs and public services across the city.

Last week, the Davidson County Election Commission voted to seek a judgment from Chancery Court on the validity and legality of the 4GoodGovernment's amendment petition.

In the meantime, Mayor Cooper and Director of Finance Kevin Crumbo requested a review of the amendment by the city's law department.

Director of Law Robert E. Cooper Jr. issued his findings which said, "every provision of the proposed amendment contains legal defects." Therefore, it is not legal or enforceable.

Cooper Jr.'s findings state that the amendment violates the state constitution and state law that requires taxes be set by Metro Council and not by voter referendums. He says it also illegally uses the referendum process to repeal an ordinance and adjust the tax rate mid-fiscal year.

The amendment tackles more than just the property tax hike. It also aims to change the way the city issues bonds, which Cooper Jr. says also violates state law by requiring voter referendums for bonds greater than $15 million.

The amendment petition was filed as a single unit and contains no severability clause, meaning it was filed as all or nothing. The group's attorney, Jim Roberts, sternly urged commissioners Friday to not make edits and to leave it as is.

"This one needs to be put on the ballot as written and I ask you today on behalf of the 27,000 people who took the time to sign this petition and mail it back to my office... that you follow the law, you place it on the ballot without question," Roberts said.

However, that presents a problem for the group because, even if part of the amendment was found to be legal and enforceable by a Chancery Court judge, it wouldn't matter because the provisions can't be split up.

Ultimately Cooper Jr. states Tennessee courts would likely strike down the entire petition amendment if any part is found invalid.

As Nashvillians wait for a ruling, the Election Commission set a conditional date for the special election for Dec. 15