Ironic twist in election lawsuit story
Municipal League seminar set at library long before debate over early voting site
By CAROL STUART
Brentwood Home Page
Ironically, the Tennessee Municipal League’s attorneys association is among the groups scheduled to meet at the Brentwood Library during the time the Williamson County Election Commission wanted the space for early voting in February.
“If the law is interpreted their way, then it does definitely set a precedent, not just for the Brentwood Library but for public facilities all over Tennessee..."
City Attorney Roger Horner
The lawsuit by the Williamson County Election Commission against City of Brentwood leaders over a state statute about public polling places should set a precedent statewide.
“If the law is interpreted their way, then it does definitely set a precedent, not just for the Brentwood Library but for public facilities all over Tennessee, including libraries, schools, community centers, municipal and county facilities of every type,” Brentwood City Attorney Roger Horner said.
Jeff Moseley, whose firm serves as the county attorney, said there appears to be no case law concerning the statute.
“We're not aware of any guidance to date,” Moseley said.
The county election commission’s amended complaint had not been filed as of Monday, but the board voted to change it to a declaratory judgment request as well as take out the immediacy need for the February dates. Locations in north Frankling and Nolensville, but not in Brentwood, were chosen for the northern end of the county for early voting dates in February.
The city-owned Brentwood Library still will be used for Election Day voting in the presidential primary as well as the August and November elections, with those dates already set aside. However, the library had meeting spaces and events booked for over a year out before getting the election commission’s directive about early voting.
“It's unlikely that it would be heard before sometime in March at the earliest,” said Moseley, whose firm intends to file the amended complaint this week.
Horner, meanwhile, already had plans to attend the Tennessee Municipal League attorneys’ group’s meeting at the city-owned library. That February seminar over one and a half days is traditionally held in Middle Tennessee in such locations as Franklin, Nashville and Murfreesboro. This will be the first time for Brentwood.
“It is kind of ironic that that was going to be during that time period, and we were able to salvage that meeting,” Horner said.
In fact, when asked by Brentwood Home Page about the event, he said he had suggested the library space more than a year ago.
“It had been in hotels in the past, and we were just looking for a way to save some money, and having cities host it at their facility was a good way to do that,” Horner said.
“I had heard talk about how much it was costing at hotels to use meeting space and have luncheons at hotels, and put forward the idea of ‘What about the Brentwood Library? Do you want to try that and see how it works?’ It just happened to fall during this funny time period. It's been planned for a year now.”
While the agenda for the meeting has long been set, there is a business meeting at some point in the event. “It's quite possible that that could be topic of discussion,” Horner said.
While the city attorney hasn’t contacted the Municipal League about the lawsuit so far, Horner said the City of Brentwood would probably forward it to TML once the amended complaint is filed by the Election Commission.
“I would think it would generate some interest from them,” Horner said.
Moseley said he didn’t know if the Tennessee County Services Association or the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance program would have any interest in the lawsuit. The county attorney said he hadn’t contacted them about it.
The attorneys on both sides said the change in the lawsuit, by taking the February early voting dates out of consideration, keeps the judge from having to make a more-immediate decision.
“It takes the pressure off everybody since we're not on this expedited schedule now. It gives everybody a little more time to breathe,” Horner said. “And instead of seeking a specific court order forcing the city to open the library on specific dates, it would just be asking the court for more general interpretation of the statute.”
Moseley said the amended lawsuit would allow “both sides to fully argue their positions and to structure the arguments so that we're dealing with the legal interpretations of the parties.”
Although the case wouldn’t have involved a jury anyway, the court hearing itself will now focus on both sides arguing their interpretations of the state law – instead of having people testify in the case.
“We're trying to make it specific to the interpretations of the statute so the parties know where they stand going forward,” Moseley said.
Said Horner: “We're glad we at least got to this point where we don't have to worry about being forced to open up the library for early voting in February.”