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State denies school renovation referendum; Council votes to put issue on August ballot

Posted on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at 4:32 pm

01-20-16 council meeting quotes - MARCHLYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Voters here will have a chance to voice their opinion on the proposed $13 million school renovation for the Moore County High School campus — just not in March as expected.

Last month, the Metropolitan Moore County Council voted to tentatively approve a resolution that would place a referendum regarding the renovation project on the March 2016 Presidential Preference Primary and County Primary voting ballot.

To get on the ballot, however, the Council’s resolution must become a private act. It was scheduled to go before both the state Senate and the House of Representatives on Jan. 12 and it had to pass through the Senate, then a House sub-committee and then the House of Representatives.

While all were expected to be formalities, timing was an issue. Because the deadline to mail ballots to military and overseas voters who have filed an application for ballot by this date was Jan. 16, the referendum had to make its way through the state process prior to that date.

It didn’t happen.

Metro Mayor Sloan Stewart informed the Council Friday evening that the process at the state level would not be completed in time to get the referendum placed on the March 1 ballot along with the Presidential Preference Primaries.

“This referendum is denied by the state election office due to timing,” Stewart told the council. “Subcomittees won’t meet until next week. The election commission said that it can’t be put on the ballot at this time.

“We knew last month that it would be down to the wire if it could. Now it’s back to (the council) for the next step. It can die here, it can be put on the August (ballot) or the Council can go to work. That’s the decision that was handed down.”

By definition, a referendum is placed on the ballot in order to allow the people of a county, state, etc., to vote for or against a specific issue. The issue at hand is whether or not to fund school renovations at the Moore County High School and Middle School campus. At its December meeting, the Metro Council agreed to test the issue on the March ballot.

Councilman Glen Searcy immediately made a motion to have the referendum placed on the August ballot. Anthony Brandon seconded the motion.

Councilman Amy Cashion urged the Council to forego the referendum and simply make a decision on its own.

“I have some more detailed numbers that I can give you tonight,” she said. “Instead of, like we all said, getting a survey from the public, let’s form a committee … a couple of people from the council, a couple of people from the school board, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Moorehead, and get some real answers for what we need to get it moving forward.

“Let’s get the questions answered.”

Council Chairman Coleman March suggested the Council do some homework.

“My thinking, is what is acceptable for the county as a whole?” said March. “The best way to do that, my thinking is, that each one of us as council members need to go out and do some legwork among our constituents and see how they feel and just discuss in detail what’s going on and what we’re looking at.

“The purpose of the whole thing in the beginning was … to attempt to get this on a referendum in order to have input from the people as to what they would be willing to do. And what I’m saying is that since we can’t do that, it’s our responsibility to go out there and find out from our constituents as to what they are willing to do, and to come back and do an honest account of what they are saying, and then cast our vote accordingly.”

“What’s the difference? Do you wait until August and push it that much further down the road or do you just go out and do some work ourselves and be able to address it again by the next meeting?”

After the 20-minute discussion, the Council went ahead with its vote. The motion to have the referendum placed on the August ballot passed by a roll call vote of 10-5. Cashion, March, Patrick Maynard, Arvis Bobo and Denning Harder voted against pushing the referendum off until the August election.

While voters can still reach out to their respective councilmen, they will not have the chance to cast a vote on the school renovation project until the August election. Again, the referendum is non-binding, so regardless of the outcome in August, the project and any decision on it still has to come back in front of the Council.

Stewart then told the Council he would gather more information and have an update at the February meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 15.

 —By ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher (mcnpub@lcs.net)

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