Council member asks for legal “blank check” to revisit barrel tax issue

In November 2011, the Metro Council decided by a 10-5 vote. Back then, the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce unanimously opposed the proposal. In April 2018, the General Assembly decided by a 78-12 vote. But on Monday night, Metro Council member Tommy Brown asked his fellow council members to a approve a legal “blank check” to get clarification on the “constitutionality” of the Moore County Barrel Tax issue.

Brown asked Chairman Denning Harder to add the item into old business just before the January meeting. As such, no information about the issue could be added to the informational packets that each member receives prior to each meeting.

Brown asked for a motion empowering Property Tax Assessor Darrin Harrison to pursue a “administrative or judicial review” of the 2018 decision … using public funds to do so. Brown said he was asking the Council to revisit the long-decided issue due to a new opinion by Murfreesboro Administrative Judge Mark Aaron in September 2019.

“I think we owe it to the the people of this county,” Brown stated.

The Lynchburg Times acquired a copy of that legal opinion. In it, Judge Aaron states that “the administrative judge is earnestly unable to see the assessor’s argument as anything short of a claim that the recent amendment is facially invalid due to constitutional infirmity” … meaning he declines to make a ruling on the constitutional questions surrounding the state legislature’s approved whiskey barrel tax exemption. He further state that he’s “highly skeptical of his authority to usurp the Legislature’s clear directive.”

In Brown’s motion to the Council, he asked that they green light public funds to pursue an administrative or judicial review of the case. He received considerable push back. Mayor Bonnie Lewis cautioned that a legal “blank check” could result in a large, unintended line item.

“I can’t see it costing much,” Brown retorted.

Fellow Metro Council member Amy Cashion stated her unwillingness to vote on Brown’s motion out of the blue. “All of this was decided a long time ago,” she stated. “I’d need to refresh my memory before I felt comfortable voting.”

It’s a sentiment several other members also addressed. Several asked Brown to table his motion until the February meeting to give members time to review the facts … an idea Brown rebuffed.

“It was decided in September,” he replied. “You’ve had time.”

Instead he asked for a roll call vote in the matter. Yes votes were Adams, Millsaps, Brown, and Hawkins. No votes were Moses, Lewis, Burnett, Boyce, Harder, Cashion, Lindsay, Bailey, Moorehead, and Taylor. The motion failed 4-10. Arvis Bobo did not attend the meeting.

Judge Aaron’s appeal ruling took place on September 13, 2019. According to the document, interested parties had 75 days to file any further appeals. That deadline expired in late November.•

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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