Nashville House and electoral law group support Metro in fight against property taxes
Two local groups have expressed support for the Metro government in an intensifying legal fight over the anti-property tax referendum.
The Nashville-area Chamber of Commerce, along with electoral rights group Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws, filed an amicus brief on Friday in the Metro case against the Davidson County Election Commission.
“Both organizations are concerned about the selective and apparently partisan interpretations of DCEC and the abrupt shift in stance on long-established rules,” said lawyer Daniel Horwitz, who represents both groups in the brief.
The brief, filed ahead of a three-day trial on the case next week, criticized the committee’s approval of a petition proposing more than one election date. He also questioned the power of the commission to set a date for the referendum.
In both aspects, he said, the electoral commission violated the metro charter.
Local lawyer Jim Roberts, who represents the 4 Good Government petition group, called the case a “dishonest” effort.
“It’s a stupid argument on their part,” he said. “They are desperate.”
This development will likely increase the pressure on an electoral commission in difficulty and involved in multiple lawsuits.
Two of the court challenges, filed by officials at Metro Nashville and the Nashville Business Coalition, followed the commission’s 3-2 decision last month to hold a referendum on July 27. The Republican-controlled panel voted along party lines.
If approved by voters, the referendum would limit the power of Nashville officials over property tax rates, recall elections, property transfers and more.
This would bring the city’s property tax rate back to the 2019 level, which is $ 3.155 for every $ 100 of assessed value. Following the most recent reassessment cycle, the city has a mandate to set the property tax rate at $ 3.288, which is $ 0.133 higher than that proposed by the petitioners.
The petition to hold the referendum, according to the lawsuits, was worded imperfectly and unconstitutionally. The results would result in financial losses for the city and businesses of Nashville, they said.
The referendum drew opposition from Save Nashville Now – a coalition of businesses, faith groups and community activists – who announced their campaign to defeat the initiative last month. Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Conservative Koch Brothers Network, also announced campaign efforts in support of the petition.
Roberts had previously rejected the lawsuits as a “Hail Mary” approach to delay the election. In a separate trial, he challenges the legitimacy of a closed-door meeting organized by the electoral commission last year.
A new amicus file accuses a fault on the dates of the petition
For months, Metro officials challenged the legitimacy of the petition from several angles. They found the language of the petition flawed and criticized the petition for prescribing two election dates.
The first version of the petition included two potential election dates – May 28 or June 14 – which Metro contends in its lawsuit is inconsistent with the Metro charter demanding a single date.
The new legal dossier focused on this aspect only.
Since 1986, elections have been held for 10 referendum initiatives in Nashville, the groups argue in the brief. None offered several options for the date of the election.
“By approving 4 Good Government’s flawed referendum petition on multiple dates, and then illegally setting the election of 4 Good Government’s petition on an entirely different third date, the Davidson County Election Commission made two errors of law, both of which require a reversal, ”the brief said. bed.
Roberts refuted this notion, arguing that the Metro Charter requires only one date instead of imposing a single option. The second version of the petition also only includes the date of June 14, he said.
“(The charter) doesn’t say how many dates, or what dates,” he said.
The proposed date “doesn’t really matter,” Roberts said, arguing that the commission would never have had enough time to prepare for the June 14 election anyway. The commission, he believes, has the power to change election dates under state law.
But in another document, the groups argue that the electoral commission does not have that power. They argue that his decision on the election date was inconsistent with his positions in previous cases.
In a 2008 lawsuit against the electoral commission, a judge ruled against the attempt of Eric Crafton, then a member of the Metro Council, to place his “English First” initiative on the ballot of November 4 of the same year. The initiative, which would have required all government business to be conducted in English, gained national attention and failed when voters rejected it in January 2009.
The judge overturned the November date because it would have been less than two years after the last time voters in Nashville changed the subway charter, in violation of the subway law. The charter was amended by voters on November 7, 2006, less than two years before the date proposed by Crafton in 2008.
The Nashville chamber filed an amicus brief at the time, supporting the court’s decision. Citing the order, the group argues in Friday’s brief that the electoral commission does not have the power to change the date of the elections proposed by the petitioners.
“The Electoral Commission asserted (…) in this case – wrongly and contrary to
its past and long-standing public positions on the issue – that the electoral commission is empowered to disregard the date prescribed by a petition filed under (Metro Charter) § 19.01, “the groups argue in a court case.
Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws, an advocacy group that has prevailed in First amendment and electoral law in recent years, judged the commission’s decision to be “sudden and unexpected deviations from its
public positions ”on the proposed election dates.
The move, the group argued in the case, was partisan and unfairly benefited the 4 Good Government petition group.
“The (commission’s) position also ensures a constant flow of accelerated pre-election litigation, and this creates serious concerns that in the future partisanship will dictate the outcome of what is supposed to be the neutral process of election administration, ”the group said.
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