Davidson County Elections Administrator Albert Tieche has told The City Paper his office has asked for a legal opinion on petitions that were submitted in an effort to hold a referendum to keep the status quo at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
Citing what he called “confusion” over whether the language in three different versions is identical, Tieche said the commission earlier this week asked the Metro Department of Law to provide his staff with legal guidance on the matter.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Tieche said of the validity of all three versions. “I am trying to find that answer.”
According to Tieche, petition signatures came to the commission last week in three different forms: postcards; traditional petition forms; and newspaper cutouts from The Tennessean. He said the majority of petitions are postcards.
“There is some confusion on the language,” Tieche said when asked if the language is identical in all three. “I really need to wait until I hear back from Metro Legal on this.”
Tieche declined to elaborate on what questions the commission had for the legal department, adding that information would be available at Thursday’s election commission meeting.
Metro Department of Law Director Sue Cain did not respond to multiple messages left by The City Paper.
Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin, who has taken the lead on the fairgrounds referendum effort, wouldn't address the validity of the petitions.
“That’s not in my purview,” Hollin said. “That’s up to the staff of the election commission. They make the determination. I can’t speculate on what’s going into their determination or not.”
Adding a possible new twist, Hollin referenced a 1983 Tennessee State Supreme Court case ruling in which the court held that amending the Metro Charter by petition doesn't require 10 percent of the previous statewide general election, which took place in November, but rather 10 percent of the most recent Metro general election.
Thus, Hollin claims, only 6,742 signatures are required.
“The Tennessee State Supreme Court clearly states what election initiates [the referendum],” Hollin said.
In past referendums, however, Metro has used figures from the most recent election.
Last Monday, fairgrounds preservationists with the group Save My Fairgrounds turned in an undisclosed number of signatures that called for a referendum on the fairgrounds to be added to Metro’s Aug. 4 ballot. Most believe fairgrounds proponents need more than 15,700 signatures to make the referendum a reality.
“We have more than enough,” Save My Fairgrounds’ Neil Chaffin said at the time. “I can’t give you an exact account, but I think we have several thousand more than what we need.
Tieche has said it would take at least 10 days for the election commission to count and verify the petitions. On Tuesday, he declined to reveal how many have been counted.
“I really don’t want to go into the speculation of the numbers, because I don’t want to start a countdown or a horse race,” Tieche said. “I think we’re going to have better information by the commission meeting on Thursday.”
Last week, the organization Neighbors for Progress, which is made up of fairgrounds neighbors who support Mayor Karl Dean’s desire to redevelop the property, announced it had tapped veteran attorney George Barrett to ensure the validity of petitions. He didn't want to comment on the 1983 court ruling, but said he's looking forward to Thursday's election commission meeting for some clarity on the issue.