There were plenty of Metro police cruisers and bicycle patrollers on the scene last week at the reopening of the Dollar General Store in public housing’s Sam Levy Homes. The reopening was, for the most part, a happy time, a celebration of the community spirit and solidarity that went into rebuilding the store, which was torched last year in retaliation for the shooting of a notorious criminal fleeing police officers.
But James Threalkill, a noted Nashville artist and a staffer for Mayor Phil Bredesen, didn’t have such a good time.
The neighborhood was packed with high-profile Nashvillians and everyday citizens too. So Threalkill apparently felt it was safe to leave the engine running while he opened the hatch of his large GMC Suburban and showed friends some of his artwork. Unfortunately, that’s when a carjacker jumped in the driver’s seat and drove the Suburban away. Neither vehicle nor car jacker has been seen since.
“I heard my door slam and I looked up, and this kid who looked like he was about 17 years old was putting my car into gear and starting to drive away,” Threalkill recalls. “You can’t get any bolder than that.”
Threalkill, who lived in public housing when he was growing up, says that despite the high-crime “stigma” attached to public housing, he was determined to feel comfortable at the store opening, an event that was supposed to bring the community together and “uplift” an otherwise disenfranchised neighborhood. Instead, he says, he “ended up being victimized.”
“I got carjacked in broad daylight in the midst of what was supposed to be a positive event for the community,” Threalkill says.
While Threalkill awaits word about his car, his boss and his fellow mayoral staffers are trying to give event a humorous twist. “That’s the problem with the bicycle patrol,” the mayor quipped. “They can’t really catch up.”
Third time's a charm
This November, voters will decide whether to abolish term limits for Metro Council members, and they’ll get a chance to make it clear that the mayor is eligible to serve three terms instead of two. If the second of those questions should fail at the ballot box, Mayor Phil Bredesen says he may try to clear it up in the courts.
A poorly worded 1994 referendum is the source of the confusion. The ballot question was clear in its intention to limit Metro Council members to two terms. (That’s the part Council wants to seen overturned this fall.) But the referendum was much less clear about term limits in the mayor’s office. Since Metro was established in 1963, Nashville’s mayors had been eligible to serve a three terms, but the 1994 referendum was so vaguely worded that nobody seems to know for certain now whether the mayor is subject to a two-term or a three-term limit.
The upcoming ballot measure will consist of a single question that, if it passes, will “basically just rescind the item passed in 1994,” according to Bredesen. If the measure fails, the mayor says, he may have to turn to the courts to clear up the ambiguity about mayoral term limits. He says he’ll pursue the issue, whether or not he decides to run for a third term.
“If [the question] fails, then I would feelregardless of my planssome sense of obligation to try to get it resolved, because it happened on my watch,” Bredesen says.
Metro legal director Jim Murphy says that, in order for Bredesen to take the issue to the courts, the mayor would need “standing.” In other words, Murphy explains, Bredesen would have to have a “significant personal interest” in the court’s decision on the issue. “He clearly would have standing if he was trying to decide whether or not he would run,” Murphy says. “It is problematic if he was clearly not running, because there would be a good argument he lacked the significant personal interest in the outcome.”
If Bredesen were not seeking a third term in office, Murphy says, “the court would be involved in considering a hypothetical case, and the courts refrain from doing that.”
Ambiguity on the issue of mayoral term limits could be a significant problem for Metro. For example, if the mayor were to run again, and win, with the question still unresolved, a challenger could then question the legality of Bredesen’s re-election.
Meanwhile, the mayor continues to say that he is undecided about whether he wants to seek a third term.
Sometimes, Metro Council can be remarkably shortsighted.
For the past several weeks, a number of Council members have been advancing the notion that putting the term limits question on the November ballot rather than the August ballot will increase the likelihood that the controversial two-term limit will be overturned.
Because they will probably be voting to pass the mayor’s proposed 12 cent tax increase for schools later this month, those Council members want to put as much time as possible between that action and a vote on their political survival.
There may be perfectly good reasons why the question belongs on the November ballot. But that isn’t one of them.
More astute Council members and Metro officials point out, first of all, that voters aren’t so stupid that, in just four months, they’ll forget Metro’s second property tax increase in two years. Secondly, they point out that new property tax bills won’t even have been issued when voters go the polls in August.
Property tax increase, perhaps including the latest tax hike, will show up just a few short weeks before the November election.
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