Referendum petitions to lower property taxes and reign in Metro's free-spending ways, sitting on the floor at the City Clerk's office Thursday, March 25.

NASHVILLE, TN – Attorney Jim Roberts, a thorn in side of three mayors, dropped off 14,000 signatures to the city clerk Thursday, March 25. They were from voters who want to put a stop to Metro’s profligate spending of their tax dollars.

“I fully expect Metro to pull all kinds of shenanigans to keep it off the ballot,” Roberts said.

A previous effort failed when Chancery Court judge Ellen Hobbes Lyle decided a similar case in Metro’s favor. If the Davidson County Election Commission validates enough signatures this time, there will be a special referendum election June 14, 2021.

“They’re going to spread all the lies they can come up with,” Roberts said. He threatened to sue the city over every signature the commission invalidates. He said 4 Good Government has checked many of those signatures themselves: they created a spreadsheet with every voter and matched it to their signatures just like the Election Commission does.

The 2021 Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act (NTPA) measure is not just about rolling back the 34% tax increase (37% in General Services part of Davidson County) that Metro Council approved last year. It is a shot across the bow of city officials who let Nashville’s debt grow for more than a decade without delivering better schools, more affordable housing, or higher wages to the bottom half of Nashville’s workforce and seniors who are paying more than 30% of their income on housing.

These are things Nashvillians worry about but Roberts is more a lightning rod for property owners than an inadvertent champion of the “have-nots”. The little people don’t see Nashville as an egalitarian utopia but rather as a city bent on development for the wealthy. (See Black assembly )  The two groups make strange bedfellows but powerful enough together to upend Metro politics.

If a referendum vote is approved, it would be a coalition of the unwilling and the underserved who will vote for it. If it then passes, Mayor John Cooper and the Metro Council will find themselves up a creek without a paddle. It would fundamentally change the way Metro government operates and threaten the reelection prospects of several council members.

The Metro Council spent hours last week arguing about which minority block would get to put its candidate on the Fair Board. It turned out the Mayor’s pick, Q-Juan Taylor, a Black restaurant owner, the Vice Mayor’s pick, Sandra Moore, a former council member, and Leon Berrios, endorsed by the minority caucus, failed to get enough votes to secure a position on the Fair Board. Shane Smiley, a longtime advocate for flea-market vendors and probably the most experienced with Fairgrounds operations, was not considered. He had opposed the soccer stadium deal.

Missing from the Council’s deliberations was a frank discussion about what is actually happening at the Fairgrounds. A MLS soccer stadium is being built there. Regardless of who serves on the Fair Board, the Tennessee State Fair will no longer be held there where it has taken place for more than a century on land given for that purpose. (see State Fair)

The council voted down a measure in 2018 to let voters decide if a stadium should be built at the Fairgrounds. Instead they approved a 30-year lease to the MLS Soccer team and a 99-year lease to ten acres for private development that will reap millions in profit for John Ingram and his associates on public property that will no longer be public.

Like the attempt in 2017 to privatize Fort Negley, the Tribune covered that land grab as well as the Fairgrounds debacle, which is only different because it has succeeded. City officials were deeply involved in both efforts to privatize public parks.

Here is what to expect in the coming weeks: the Davison County Election Commission will likely decide 4 Good Government did not gather enough signatures to place the measure on the June ballot. They will use the numbers from the November 6 election to make that determination. The criterion is collecting signatures equal to or greater than 10% of the previous general election.

Citing a 2018 court decision, Roberts said that the definition of a general municipal election means that the general election on August 6, 2020 is the correct election to use to determine how many signatures are required, not the November 3, 2020 Presidential Election.

Metro’s legal department will likely dispute that but would probably lose in court, which means the referendum would be placed on the ballot for a special election June 14.