Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nashville commission rejects convention center referendum idea

A proposal to let voters decide on building major Metro capital projects — like a $600 million convention center — was rejected by the city's Charter Revision Commission on Monday.
The proposal comes from Councilman Eric Crafton. He's pushing a revision to the city charter that would allow for a voter referendum any time Metro wants to issue more than $250 million in bonds for a capital project if it would be guaranteed by general fund dollars and could be considered unnecessary.

The idea was unanimously rejected by the six-member commission. Mayor Karl Dean's administration also is opposed.

"Very basically, this is just sort of bad public policy," said Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, one of Dean's top advisers. "To start sort of arbitrarily picking a referendum requirement for a piece of legislation that is really directed at opposition to one project. The whole purpose behind this is in opposition to the convention center."

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The commission, which has four new members recently appointed by Dean, took Riebeling's concerns into consideration. The council will vote on the proposed charter amendment on Nov. 17.

"The Charter should only be amended when there are really good reasons to do so," said commission chairman Dewey Branstetter.

The commission also asked if Crafton's proposed amendment would pass the legal litmus test. State law already allows for referendums on capital projects when cities want to issue general obligation bonds backed by property tax revenues. Dean's administration promised not to use such bonds to finance the proposed Music City Center.

Riebeling also argued against a policy that would lead to more referendums when voters have elected council members to make such decisions.

Critics question center

Proponents of the amendment, such as Councilwoman Emily Evans, have argued that the convention center proposal has changed since voters elected a new council in 2007. Since then the price has gone from $455 million to approximately $600 million. Evans also has questioned whether tourism-related revenues set aside for the new convention center will be sufficient to fund the project.

Crafton did not attend Monday's meeting and was not available for comment.

Two other key charter amendments proposed by Councilman Jim Gotto were deferred at his request. One would give the council final say over Metro use of eminent domain to seize property, while another would give the legislative body oversight of the pay plan for executives of Nashville Electric Service.

The commission said it would consider the amendments next summer before the August general election.

Real Estate Outlook: Mixed SignalsNashville convention center should be decided on by public, Councilman Crafton says