Attorney Jim Roberts speaking to the Davidson County Election Commission that voted 3-2 to put the tax referendum before voters on July 27. Metro sued and Chancellor Russell T. Perkins found in the city’s favor Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo: Yihyun Jeong/The Tennessean)

NASHVILLE, TN – Chancellor Russell Perkins ordered the Davidson County Election Commission to cancel the anti-tax referendum election on July 27, 2021. Perkins’ 42-page decision quotes case law and Tennessee’s doctrine of elision and made eight separate rulings, two of which agreed with the Election Commission and six with Metro.

“The Court respectfully concludes that 4GG (4GoodGovernment) did not satisfy all of the legal prerequisites for getting the Petition it submitted to the Election Commission placed on the ballot for a referendum election,” Perkins wrote.

He said the Commission’s decision to put the measure before the voters was “was fraught with essential illegality” and said they should have submitted it for judicial review before scheduling a special election. However, there is no such requirement in the law for placing a referendum on the ballot.

“The Election Commission‘s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and illegal,” Perkins wrote.

Metro raised several constitutional issues about the petition and Perkins did not rule on them, simply dismissed them, without prejudice, because they would only come into play if the election were held and the referendum passed.

However, Perkins did rule that Amendment 1 to roll back taxes was unconstitutional. He quoted the Tennessee constitution that no law “impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be made”.

He said the referendum would keep Metro from honoring its pledges to bondholders and impair its ability to levy taxes to cover bonds’ principal and interest. That is exactly what the anti-taxers are fed up with. They are tired of Metro floating bonds to finance city government and paying $100 million a year in interest to pay off the debt, which seems to just keep growing.

Much of Perkins’ decision was devoted to the question of “severability” of the six amendments contained in the petition. His basic argument was—saying they are separate doesn’t make it so. Perkins found that if one of the six amendments was faulty, they all are invalid. And so he ordered the election cancelled.

He objected to 6-in-1 form of the referendum because it is impossible to know if the petition-signers would still have signed it if they knew one or more of the amendments would be declared invalid.

That’s a rather convoluted rationale for invalidating the petition, according to Attorney Jim Roberts, who wrote it.  He said the ballot could have a box to check for each amendment and they could be tallied to know exactly what voters decided on each one.

What Perkins seems to be saying is that the anti-tax referendum needed to be broken down into six individual petitions. “That’s just wrong,” Roberts said.

On Friday, June 25, 2021 the Election Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to appeal Perkins’ decision to the appellate court. This is a developing story.