City sues Forest Hills over move to create its own court

Monday, August 8, 2011 at 11:06pm

Metro filed a complaint against the City of Forest Hills in Chancery Court on Monday, aiming to spoil the affluent satellite city’s plan to launch its own municipal court. The move left a sense of frustration and bewilderment among Forest Hills officials.

Forest Hills attorney Matt Foster, first alerted to the development by The City Paper, seemed surprised and called the Metro Department of Law’s action “very disappointing.”

“All Forest Hills wants to do is enforce its own ordinances,” Foster said, adding that under Metro’s legal interpretation, General Sessions Courts do not have jurisdiction to hear matters involving Forest Hills’ separate zoning and property laws.

“If Metro General Sessions judges can’t hear those cases, no one can enforce the ordinances,” he said. “So the city rightfully wants to be able to enforce its property condition ordinances, its zoning ordinances.”

In February, Forest Hills’ three-member commission voted to create a new city court that would consist of a city judge and clerk. Foster said the city hasn’t moved forward to appoint a judge, nor has it taken any other action to advance the new system.

Forest Hills Mayor Bill Coke said he was surprised by Metro’s action, given a conservation he had with Mayor Karl Dean last Thursday, prior to Forest Hills’ regular commission meeting, which happened to be hours before Dean was re-elected to a second term.

“Mayor Dean called me Thursday afternoon and said they would bring a lawsuit if we did appoint a judge,” Coke said. “As a result of that telephone call, we deferred action on it at our meeting.”

In Metro’s complaint, filed Monday afternoon, city attorneys cite the clause in the Metro Charter that addresses the operational and service capacity of so-called “small cities,” which includes Forest Hills, as well as Belle Meade, Berry Hill, Goodlettsville and Oak Hill. A sixth satellite city, Lakewood, was recently dissolved through a special election.

Small cities, the charter reads, may continue to exist with their functions “the same as prior to adoption of” the charter, created in 1962, consolidating the various small municipalities into one, united government.

“Prior to consolidation, the City of Forest Hills did not have a judge, a city court, or a police department,” Metro Department of Law Director Sue Cain wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Karl Dean and Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors. Cain added that prior to the drafting of the charter, Forest Hills’ city recorder had the authority to enforce its ordinances.

“Legally, in order to protect the Metropolitan Charter adopted by the vote of the people in June 1962, and to allow the Metropolitan Charter to carry out its purposes, the Department of Law has determined that it must file an action requesting a declaratory judgment in the Chancery Court,” Cain wrote.

This isn’t the first time Forest Hills has tried to exercise its governing autonomy, nor is it the first time it has butted heads with Metro as a result. Two years ago, Forest Hills voted to create a new police force, which drew a similar reaction from Metro attorneys, who cited the identical clause of the Metro Charter.

Forest Hills’ desire to launch its own police department never came to fruition. 

Filed under: City News

7 Comments on this post:

By: Lab on 8/9/11 at 6:45

So it looks like Forrest Hills is going for Big Government, just like the Feds........when will it end??

FYI---Mr. Garrison: Using SpellCheck is not good enough. You must also proof read; para 6 ("...given a conservation he had with Mayor Karl Dean..."---I suspect it was a conversation)

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 6:57

This is ironic. Metro wanted to set up its own rules on the GLBT hiring issue, as opposed to adhering to state rules. But now, Metro is attempting to stifle one of its governmental subsidiaries attempts to exercise its power independently.

Sounds to me like Metro wants to consolidate all the power: state, county, town, city - and now it wants to expand its authority down to the neighborhood level. What's next...full secession and declaration of independence from the USA?

They say that power corrupts....something stinks in Nashville.

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 7:07

From the article: "In February, Forest Hills’ three-member commission voted to create a new city court that would consist of a city judge and clerk."

When three people have the power to arbitrarily create new and high-paying government jobs, without the consent of the governed, something stinks in Forest Hills too.

The people need to clean house....unabashed corruption has set in.

By: localboy on 8/9/11 at 7:53

"Small cities, the charter reads, may continue to exist with their functions “the same as prior to adoption of” the charter, created in 1962, consolidating the various small municipalities into one, united government.

“Prior to consolidation, the City of Forest Hills did not have a judge, a city court, or a police department,” Metro Department of Law Director Sue Cain wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Karl Dean and Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors. Cain added that prior to the drafting of the charter, Forest Hills’ city recorder had the authority to enforce its ordinances."
Sounds like all they need to do is appoint a city recorder and then let that position enforce any local ordinances...that should shut Metro out of the equation.

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 8:12

I'm not familiar with the details of this particular situation, but If the position of Forest Hills Recorder has been vacant, (since adoption, in 1962?), then that authority has been functionally surrendered to Metro.

Re-creating the position, with increased authority, duties and responsibilities should have been a collective decision - with adequate public input - not an arbitrary decision made by 3 people, without a public debate and vote on the issue.

By: localboy on 8/9/11 at 10:08

The authority may have been functionally assumed by Metro, but the same charter provisions still apply according to Metro-so it's likely that FH can re-assume any functions in place at the time of adoption.
However, it has to be granted that you are correct that either course of action - court or recorder - should be a decision put to the taxpayers, as they will be the ones paying for the additional administrative burden. Thus, this is my long-winded way of agreeing with you, Loner.

By: T-BONE on 8/9/11 at 4:15

No poor "RIFF RAFF " allowed!