Referendum on fairgrounds added to Metro's Aug. 4 ballot

Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 4:03pm

Metro voters will decide Aug. 4 whether to keep the status quo at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds after the Davidson County Election Commission Thursday verified 11,159 petitions, nearly twice the figure needed to add a fairgrounds referendum to the ballot. 

The development adds a wrinkle to Metro’s election, affording voters the opportunity to amend Metro's charter to keep auto-racing, an expo center and flea market at the Metro-owned fairgrounds. 

The victory for fairgrounds preservationists, led by Councilman Jamie Hollin, would not have happened if not for the election commission’s 4-0 unanimous vote to follow the advice of Metro attorneys to use the August 2010 election as the reference point for the required number of petitions. 

That decision, made after an hour of legal debate at Thursday’s commission meeting, changed the benchmark to a 6,742-vote threshold, drastically lower than the more than 15,700 petitions observers had earlier believed were necessary.

Fairgrounds backers cleared the benchmark despite the commission throwing out numerous petition formats because of irregularities.

“The people of Davidson County will decide the issue once and for all,” Hollin said. “And whatever that decision is, that’s it. It will be off the backs of the next council.”

Asked how he and others plan to get enough supporters to the polls in August, Hollin seemed confident.

“You’ll hear from us,” he said.  

Throughout the four weeks since the petition drive initiated, observers, including Metro officials, had believed fairgrounds supporters needed petitions from 10 percent of the voters in the previous election, which was Nov. 4.

But Metro attorney Tom Cross alerted the election commission Thursday to a 1983 Tennessee State Supreme Court ruling that held the required signatures to amend the Metro Charter is not 10 percent of the previous statewide general election, which took place in November, but 10 percent of the most recent Metro general election, which the commission agreed took place last August.

Metro tapped a Bass Berry & Sims attorney to assist in informing the opinion. Only 67,420 voters took part in last August’s election; hence, the lowering of the bar. 

“At the end of the day, based on the Supreme Court opinion, the August 2010 election is the one that should be used for the referendum,” said Cross, adding the Metro Department of Law would later issue an official legal opinion to the election commission.

The commission’s certification Thursday came after a legal debate between veteran attorney George Barrett — representing a group of fairgrounds neighbors who support Mayor Karl Dean’s desire to redevelop the 117-are fairgrounds — and Hollin.

“It’s always disappointing when the rules seem to change in the middle of the game,” said Colby Sledge, who is part of Neighbors for Progress, the group Barrett represents. “We’re going to go forward with this, and we’re going to see what our options are.”

Barrett argued two points, contending first and foremost that the 1983 state decision was a wrong one. If the commission chose to cite the higher decision, Barrett said, then commissioners should look at the August 2007 election, which included mayoral and council races, as the most recent true Metro general election.

Barrett argued last August’s election was statewide in nature. Had the commission sided with Barrett on this point, the petition threshold would have been approximately 10,000, an amount fairgrounds supporters still surpassed. 

In the end, Barrett’s argument didn’t carry the day, with commissioner Steve Abernathy stating that the commission should, by principle, choose the lower threshold.

“On a decision like this, I’m going to defer to making it easier for the citizens of Davidson County to make the decision versus me,” Abernathy said. “I don’t like it when I make a decision that keeps them from having a voice in this issue.”

After the meeting, Barrett didn’t rule out future litigation. “I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Barrett said, adding that attorneys weren’t allowed to view the verification of petitions.

After the number of required petitions was settled, Elections Administrator Albert Tieche showed commissioners eight different petition versions that were submitted last week. Commissioners voted to exclude versions that didn’t mention the charter amendment and others that had the wrong date, as well as formats in which the referendum wording was clearly added after people had already signed. Despite the exclusions, petitioners had more than enough signatures.   

16 Comments on this post:

By: yucchhii on 5/26/11 at 2:40

Yeah RIGHT!!! Just like the NEW convention center was given to the voters to decide if they wanted it or not, the voters said.....NO!!!! NOBODY wanted see what THAT gotcha didn't it? Nobody gonna say NO to karl DINK!!! BUT, NOBODY listens to ME!!!

By: rainessl on 5/26/11 at 2:42

i aint voting on that mess.the fair isn't like it use to be any how.they just want that race car mess there.which the should move dont bother me.i live in antioch anyway.they need to move the fairgrounds.would be my vote.

By: SouthNashvillian on 5/26/11 at 3:04

The language that will go on the ballot ACTUALLY will state: “all activities being conducted on the premises of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, Expo Center Events, Flea Markets, and Auto Racing, shall be continued on the same site. No demolition of the premises shall be allowed to occur without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter.”

This is a lot different from "deciding the future of the fairgrounds." There is still going to be a master planning process. Even if this does pass, this will not "save the fairgrounds once and for all" like Hollin's been saying. This ain't over.

By: pswindle on 5/26/11 at 3:14

I hope the wording is clear, so the piblic will know exactly how to vote.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 5/26/11 at 3:38

oh the irony, pswindle.

By: NewYorker1 on 5/26/11 at 4:09

yucchhii, I'm curious. How much of your personal money have you lost towards the new convention center? I live in Davidson county and I haven't seen any difference in my income or lifestyle since construction started on the convention center. I'm just wondering why people are so against progress in this city? Maybe I'm missing what the big deal is. Enlighten me please.

By: JakeNashville on 5/26/11 at 7:26

Well rainessl,
I don't like soccer, football, and other sports than thousands of Nashvillians do like, but if we let Metro begin to take one activity away, they will decide to take more away as they wish. It's time to put a stop to the Mayaor and his greedy pockets and let them know we want a fully diverse city. There is NO WAY people believe he doesn't financially benefit personally if the Fairgrounds is removed. He is fighting way to hard for this. He wants more office buildings when Nashville already has millions of vacant office space wasting away.

So, rainessl, go ahead and vote against it, but when Metro takes your favorite sport/activity next, do, f'in cry about it!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 5/27/11 at 7:27

no one is taking away your dang sport. go to Highland Rim.

By: geekinstein on 5/27/11 at 8:14

The state fair competitions are just not that profitable and probably belong at the Ellington Farm. They stimulate agriculture and are a viable state function, but probably just not at such a valuable location.

Government should never subsidize entertainment beyond the amount the entertainment generates in tax revenue and jobs.The space used by the speedway could earn more taxes and generate more jobs if a company (HCA, Amazon or similar) moved in there. The quietened neighborhood, so near 100 Oaks, downtown, and Green Hills,would drive up demand for these homes and spark condo construction. Assuming the speedway is profitable, is there space near the airport and the 24/40 interchange for the speedway?

By: nester on 5/27/11 at 9:09

Letting Lawyers finagle with requirements, loop holes and data is exactly how rapists and pedophiles go free.

So let me get this straight: Hollin needed 15,700 signatures to put the shabbily written referendum on the ballot – but only got 11,100 – so Metro Legal advised the Election Committee to lower the mandatory # of signatures down to 6700 so it’s STILL being put on the ballot? Not to mention that Duane Domny/Save My Fairgrounds group was BUSTED for trying to Xerox old signatures taken another time, onto this ballot to pass off as valid signatures – many of which weren’t even from Davidson County.

What a joke.

They only collected 11,000 signatures – from all over Davidson? Sounds like no one cares about this property…oh wait, that’s obvious by the poor attendance of all the events (fair, expo halls & racetrack) reliance on the “fund” allocated for the property many years ago – that is going to RUN DRY after this year. How will Davidson County voters like it when they found out they have to pay for THAT mess of a property to host unprofitable events like the Fair and Auto Races? Not to mention the MILLIONS in codes updates they’ll have to make – that has been put off for years because – the fund was too low to cover the updates. I’m thinking tax paying citizens won’t like it one bit.

By: nester on 5/27/11 at 9:17

JakeNashville -- you shouldn't speak about things you know nothing of. Davidson County doesn't have large tracks of land that are zoned for commercial -- to attract major corporations to our City.....which would bring lots of money to Davidson County in tax revenue. Millions, in fact.... that joke of a racetrack won't ever bring in that kind of money. So really, you should stick to your love of racing -- and take it to one of the few tracks that are in TN...... The Mayor or Metro arent going to take away the Titans or the Preds..... the fact that you think the Track at that Fairgrounds is even in the same CATEGORY as the Titans & Preds? Says to me that you're living in the clouds if you think the fairgrounds racing measures up to NFL & NHL franchises that make millions.

By: Kosh III on 5/27/11 at 10:30

Davidson County doesn't have large tracks of land that are zoned for commercial "

But it does. There are several hundred acres of land along Myatt Drive which are not only zoned properly but much of it has commercial buildings already, just sitting idle because the plutocrats like Dean, Frist and Bush have allowed the jobs to be exported to China.

There is also suitable property on both sides of OHB near Rayon City. I am sure there are several other spots but those are two just off the top of my head.

By: nester on 5/27/11 at 10:58

UM KOSH -- OK then, Nashvile. Corporations don't want to touch Madison, and Rayon City is out by Hendersonville.... it's been proven -- large properties zoned commercial like are a commodity -- we don't have them in Nashville/close to the downtown area which is desirable for major corporations. Rayon City and Madison aren't as much so....

Bush isn't a part of this, even though I ddn't vote for him. Stop trying to make this something it isn't -- it's simple. The fairgrounds property is a drain, and will be better served making money in another way other then a crappy fair and rinky dink race track that is an eye sore/ear sore to the areas surrounding it. I highly doubt Dean is getting $ out fo the deal if the property is redeveloped - but here's a psing -- I don't care who makes money off the deal behind closed doors -- in the end it will clean up that area, attract major tax revenue for Davidson and as a result, attract even more businesses. All positive cash flow for Davdison. I don't care if Dean gets something out of it privately. If it helps the city in the end -- WHO CARES!

Let's let Nashville thrive a bit.

By: TITAN1 on 5/27/11 at 11:55

It does not matter what is built on that property. You will not see a difference in your property taxes! The track is already there and it is not hurting a thing. If you live near it, then you must have been blind and deaf when you moved next to it! There are two groups who want to tear it down. Those who do not like racing and think nobody should like it and those who think their income will increase when something else is built. I laugh at both of you! The track is already there so find some vacant land or vacant property to put whatever it is you want! Some people would complain if they won $10,000,000 because they had to pay taxes on it!

By: Kosh III on 5/27/11 at 2:16


Just because some arrogant corporatist doesn't want to be in Madison is no reason to destroy the fairgrounds just to cater to their snobbery. Myatt Drive is less than 5 minutes from I-65.
You should also check your geography. Rayon City is near Old Hickory and it was a perfectly fine location for DuPont.

Of course it's Bush's fault. It always is. Just like it was always Clinton's fault. :)

By: bruingeek on 5/27/11 at 7:22

I am glad to see this making to public vote and I am willing to accept the outcome either way. It is probably asking too much, but it would be nice for the proponents and opponents of this referendum to present facts about the current and proposed use of the property rather than demonizing the individuals on either side of the issue.