With deliberation on a proposed convention center nearing its final month, Councilman Eric Crafton says he plans to file a resolution that would allow citizens of Davidson County to weigh in on financing for the $585 million project through a referendum.
Though still in its drafting stage, the resolution would likely be heard at the Council’s Jan. 19 meeting, the same night the body is expected to vote on a finance package to bankroll the convention center through a combination of taxes and fees that target tourists.
“It’s time for the Council to step up and give the people a chance to vote on this project,” Crafton said. “I know the argument against it is, ‘the Council is elected to make decisions and we should make the decision on that,’ but the problem is this is an intergenerational commitment to spend about a billion dollars worth of debt for the city.
“Why don’t we just let the people have an honest chance to express what they feel about it?” Crafton said. “I think that’s very reasonable.”
Davidson County Election Commission Administrator Ray Barrett said he estimates the countywide election would cost $300,000, a figure based on the approximate cost it took to hold January’s special election on two Metro Charter amendments, which included Crafton’s controversial “English-Only” referendum.
In October, Crafton proposed legislation that would have given voters the final say on issuing bonds for all projects in excess of $250 million not considered “necessities.” The six-member Charter Revision Commission disapproved the resolution unanimously, and the bill was deferred indefinitely last month.
The councilman’s latest push for a public referendum would pinpoint the proposed Music City Center specifically, while relying on a section of the Metro Charter that states the Council may call an election “for the purpose of ascertaining the will of the qualified electors” with respects to issuing any government bonds.
Council attorney Jon Cooper believes the resolution would not be binding, as state law obligates only the Council authorize the nine-member Convention Center Authority to issue bonds for the project.
“It would, in my opinion, not have any legal binding effect on whether the Council could approve the issue of bonds for the convention center,” Cooper said. “Under state law, that discretion is solely with the Council and it cannot be delegated to the people.
“That doesn’t mean that the Council couldn’t call for a referendum to ascertain the will of the people to see if the citizens of Davidson County think this is a good idea or not,” he said.
Crafton’s resolution comes as Nashville’s Priorities, a citizen-led group opposed to the convention center, announced plans Monday for a petition drive, the goal also being to hold a referendum on the issue based on the same “will of the people” Charter clause cited by Crafton. The group plans to turn in petition signatures at a Jan. 11 public hearing.
But calling the proposed convention center “Nashville’s economic stimulus,” Music City Coalition Chairman Ron Samuels suggested Nashvillians already expressed their view of the matter two years ago when they elected a new mayor.
“There has been a referendum on it, quite frankly, because all five mayoral candidates, including Karl Dean, had this as their economic platform,” Samuels said.