The city of Forest Hills Board of Commissioners Thursday appointed a city judge and authorized a newly created court system to convene in December, even though Metro attorneys claim the board lacks the legal authority to do so.
The affluent satellite city is looking to establish its own court to hear cases involving zoning and property ordinances, which are different than the laws of Metro and allegedly not enforceable in Davidson County General Sessions Court.
The three-member commission appointed attorney David McMackin, a Forest Hills resident, as the city’s judge, and scheduled the new court to open Tuesday, Dec. 20.
“We want to be able to enforce our own ordinances,” Forest Hills Mayor Bill Coke told The City Paper Friday. “There’s nobody to enforce them right now.”
The plan, however, has met resistance from Metro, which sued Forest Hills three months ago over the effort to create an independent municipal court.
Asked to respond to Forest Hills’ actions, Metro attorney Lora Fox wrote in an email that she “can’t comment on ongoing litigation.”
After Forest Hills took initial steps toward judicial autonomy earlier this year, the Metro Department of Law on Aug. 8 filed a complaint in Chancery Court that cites a “small cities” clause in the Metro charter.
The section states Davidson County’s “small cities” — which also includes Belle Meade, Berry Hill, Oak Hill, Goodlettsville and Lakewood (though it’s since been dissolved into Metro) — may continue to exist with their functions “the same as prior to adoption of” the charter, created in 1963. The charter consolidated the county’s 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,” then-Metro Department of Law Director Sue Cain wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Karl Dean and Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors. Cain, who has since retired, added that prior to the drafting of the charter, Forest Hills’ city recorder had the authority to enforce its ordinances.
Mike Safley has replaced Cain as Metro legal director on an interim basis.
Following the complaint’s filing, Forest Hills attorney Matt Foster said he issued a request for discovery –– asking, among other things, for Metro to identify every case in which a Davidson County General Sessions judge has adjudicated a violation of a Forest Hills ordinance. Metro attorneys asked for an initial extension, which was granted. Forest Hills has denied a second request for extension, he said.
On Friday afternoon, Foster filed a motion requesting a Dec. 2 hearing in Chancery Court to “address plaintiffs’ claims” so that Forest Hills “may proceed with operations of its municipal court.”
“They’ve filed their complaint, and we’ve answered their complaint,” Foster said. “We made a request for some discovery and public records, and they have not timely responded to those requests, so we’ve asked the court ... to go ahead and make a ruling.”