The Look in Brief

Group led by Nashville lawyer pushes anti-tax referendum

By: - July 16, 2020 3:58 pm
Nashville Mayor John Cooper at a recent press conference. (Photo: Metro Nashville News)

Nashville Mayor John Cooper at a recent press conference. (Photo: Metro Nashville News)

Davidson County voters received a petition in their mailboxes this week asking for signatures to support a referendum that would overhaul how Metro raises property taxes, deals with excess property and issues bonds.

It’s unclear who is behind financing the initiative, which is dubbed the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, but Nashville attorney Jim Roberts is listed as the leader on the group’s website. Roberts is the attorney representing a pro-fairgrounds group that has fought the soccer stadium project in court.

The petition says that property taxes cannot increase more than 2 percent without a public referendum. Earlier this year, Metro Council and Mayor John Cooper approved a 34 percent property tax rate increase.

Jim Roberts (Photo: Facebook)
Jim Roberts (Photo: Facebook)

Roberts declined to say who is financing the effort, but said the group was as “grassroots as grassroots can be.” He said fellow organizers Michelle Forman and Kimberly Edwards are also leading the group.

“The Metro Council did us a favor and the mayor did us a favor by passing such a large tax increase that is clearly not popular,” Roberts said, adding that he supports but is not affiliated with an effort to recall Mayor John Cooper and the council members who supported the tax increase.

Cooper spokesman Chris Song responded.

“The crisis budget and large property tax increase passed by Metro Council maintains essential services and will do exactly what the subtitle of their website says: ‘Bring financial stability back to Nashville,’” said Song.

“The large tax increase is something Mayor Cooper would not have considered were we not facing Nashville’s greatest financial challenge. Metro entered 2020 woefully ill-prepared for a downturn, much less the rapid recession and unemployment brought on by the pandemic,” said Song. “The FY2021 budget, built on compromise and full of tough choices, will get us through this time of historic challenge and provide stable financial footing for our city’s future.”

Approximately 45,000 petitions were mailed out this week and another 45,000 are due to go out next week. The group has until Aug. 5 to collect its signatures.

The number of signatures needed is based on the previous county-wide election, which Roberts said will be the August primary. He estimated that the effort will need about 4,500 signatures total.

Additionally, the referendum would block Metro from giving away parks, greenways or public lands valued at $5 million or more without approval of 31 votes on council – an extremely high bar to clear.

Any bond issuance over $15 million for a specific project would require a voter referendum, excluding projects for schools, libraries, healthcare buildings, police and fire departments.

The proposed referendum also takes aim at the city’s pro sports teams, proposing that if the Titans, Predators, Nashville SC or Sounds “leaves Nashville” or ceases playing games for more than 24 months, all facilities would and related commercial development would “revert to the people.”

Finally, the petition says any group receiving $250,000 or more in public funds is subject to the state’s open records laws.

The proposed date for the referendum to vote on the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act is Dec. 5. The mail-in petitions have a return post office box with a Nashville zip code.More information is available at

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Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.