Metro voters will decide Aug. 4 whether to keep the status quo at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds after the Davidson County Election Commission last week 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, with voters weighing in on whether to keep auto racing, an expo center and flea market at the 117-acre fairgrounds. Mayor Karl Dean, who lacks a credible election opponent with last week’s exit of Councilman Michael Craddock from the race, has expressed a desire to pursue redevelopment at the grounds.
The victory for fairgrounds preservationists, led by Councilman Jamie Hollin, would not have happened if not for the commission’s 4-0 vote to follow the advice of city attorneys and use the August 2010 election as the reference point for the required number of petitions.
That decision, made after a lengthy legal debate at last week’s commission meeting, changed the benchmark to 6,742 signatures, drastically lower than the more than 15,700 petitions observers had earlier believed were necessary. Fairgrounds backers cleared the mark despite the commission throwing out numerous petitions 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.”
Throughout the four weeks since the petition drive began, 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 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 in August. Only 67,420 voters took part; hence, the lowering of the bar.
Veteran attorney George Barrett, working on behalf of a group of fairgrounds-area residents called Neighbors for Progress, made a case against the interpretation, but to no avail.
The election commission’s decision sets up a new campaign over the summer in which fairgrounds preservationists must now remind supporters to go to the polls.