Jim Roberts

Nashville attorney Jim Roberts speaks Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at Public Square Park before delivering 20,000 voter petition signatures to the Metro Clerk's Office in an effort to repeal the city's 34% property tax increase.

(The Center Square) – After a referendum effort to repeal Nashville’s 34% property tax increase and limit city officials' spending died in court last fall, the attorney behind the effort has launched a new petition aimed at Nashville Metro government.

Jim Roberts is collecting signatures for a new petition, proposing six amendments to the Metro Charter, including a limit on city property tax increases and the elimination of lifetime benefits for city officials.

Roberts collected more than 20,000 voter signatures last summer in support of a similar petition. Citing legal issues with the ballot proposal, Davidson County Election Commissioners asked a judge whether a special election was required. After the ensuing trial, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled the proposed amendments were unconstitutional and not in proper form.

Roberts has been at work since then writing a new petition to accomplish similar goals as last year's petition and sent 215,000 petition mailers to mailboxes in Nashville this week.

“We took everything they said that was supposed to be in there, and we put it in there,” Roberts told The Center Square, recalling the city’s arguments that the proposed amendments needed to cite relevant sections of the charter.

“That's certainly not required, but we did it so they're not going to make that same argument,” Roberts said.

In order to be placed on a ballot for citywide referendum, a petition must be signed by at least 10% of voters participating in the last citywide election. With record voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election, about 33,000 registered voter signatures will be needed if the petition is to qualify for a ballot.

Roberts hopes to deliver petitions to the Metro Clerk’s office in early March.

Even if sufficient signatures are filed, the effort likely again will receive significant pushback from the city. Nashville Mayor John Cooper denounced the measure last fall, calling it a “poison pill.”

“I’m sure they’re sitting back right now trying to figure out a way to defeat this,” Roberts said.

Cooper spokesperson Andrea Fanta said the mayor will continue to focus on addressing problems facing the city, including building new schools, more greenways and a new police precinct.

“Now is no time to get distracted or be divided – not when 700,000 people are counting on us to get this work done,” Fanta said in a statement.

The new petition proposes to amend the Metro Charter in six ways. First, by baring the Metro Council from raising property tax rates by more than 3% in any fiscal year. The proposed amendment would not undo last year’s 34% property tax increase, but it would revert next year’s property tax rate to what it was before the 34% increase was approved.

Other proposed amendments would do away with lifetime benefits for elected officials, such as existing lifetime health insurance benefits for City Council members, prohibit the Metro Council from giving away city property and require that when any professional sports teams leave Nashville, related facilities become public property.

Another amendment effectively would bar the Metro Council from passing legislation to undo the petition effort, if it is successful, requiring that any changes to charter amendments originally made by petition to be made by another voter-sponsored petition.

Nashville’s 34% property tax increase was named government abuse of the year by the Beacon Center of Tennessee in its 2020 annual Pork Report.

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.