Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Special election on English requirement is set for Jan. 22

Voters also will weigh in on a second referendum to allow more opportunities to change the Metro Charter By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • November 18, 2008 If you're going through a little election withdrawal, take heart: There are just 45 days until early voting starts again in Metro Nashville. The Davidson County Election Commission voted Monday to call a special election for Jan. 22 to hold referendums on two proposals to change the Metro Charter. Early voting will start Jan. 2. Voters will decide whether Metro should do business in English only, a controversial idea that has taken a long and winding road to the brink of becoming law. They'll also weigh in on a proposal to give voters more opportunities to amend the charter, an idea that grew out of the English-only fracas. But there was a little drama before the election commission voted. Commission Chairman Eddie Bryan asked Metro Councilman Eric Crafton if he'd be open to holding the English-only vote at the next general election in August 2010. Bryan said he had made that offer previously, but Crafton vehemently insisted it had been his idea the first time around. This time, though, he rejected the offer, saying there was an underlying reason for the proposal. "They were trying to give themselves time to mount a campaign" against the English-only plan, Crafton said in an interview after the meeting. In any case, election Commissioner Patricia Heim said she didn't think the commission could move an election from the date requested by the thousands of people who signed Crafton's petition. The Metro Council approved an English-only measure more than 18 months ago, but then-Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed it. Crafton hoped to hold a referendum on Nov. 4, but a series of courts ruled for Metro's position that the vote couldn't be held that early under the charter's requirements. Later in the meeting, Bryan and Heim raised another question: Could multiple petitions generate charter amendment votes on the same ballot? Nicki Eke, a Metro attorney, said her office decided that was legal because the charter says, "An amendment or amendments may be proposed … upon petition filed with the metropolitan clerk." The use of the plural "amendments" indicated more than one petition could be filed for a single election, Eke said. Bill could be $350,000 Jim Roberts, an attorney for the English-only proponents and leader of the drive to let voters change the charter at least once a year, shot the proceedings with a small video camera. He said after the meeting that passage of his amendment would create greater accountability in government. Critics have said it would lead to government by referendum, undermining the charter. Early voting will take place at just one site, the election commission's headquarters in the Metro Office Building, 800 Second Ave. S. It will run through Jan. 17. Election Administrator Ray Barrett said the special election would cost between $300,000 and $350,000.

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