MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion on Tuesday that it is illegal to hold an election in May to let suburban voters decide if they want their own school districts. While the mayors want to press forward, the Shelby County Election Commission has put a halt to those plans, at least for now.
The mayors met Wednesday morning and decided to forge ahead despite the AG's opinion. It was the first move in a game of legal checkers that will last for years. There will be jumping, crowning, and moving, all of it in court. Watching it all will be the people, and their children.
When it comes to the communities of Collierville and Germantown, and other Memphis suburbs starting their own school systems, the mayors say they won't be stopped.
Attorney General Robert Cooper wants to stop that train, saying the suburbs aren't allowed to even hold a vote on the issue until Memphis and Shelby County schools merge in August of 2013.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald stated, "Obviously this is an opinion; it's not a ruling, and so we're going to be continuing to talk to our attorneys."
Mayor McDonald is speaking for all the suburban mayors. He says the May 10 referendum vote is just a chance to let the people who live in various communities express their feelings on starting their own school systems.
"It's an authorizing vote. It authorizes us to move forward," McDonald explained. "We all agree we can't start ours until [the merger]. But we're allowed to prepare for it. And that's where we disagree with his opinion."
But, that was before lawyers advised Shelby County Election Commissioners that municipal referendums are flawed in light of the AG's opinion. They say Cities have not cleared all hurdles needed to hold referendums, and election commissioners should advise cities that they should decline referendums at this time.
The Election Commission then voted unanimously to hold all May 10 referendums, calling them "procedurally defective."
Mayor McDonald had already said this whole thing might end up in court. This latest move by the election commission practically guarantees that.
While all this is going on, legislators in Nashville will be working on a plan next week that would allow all municipalities in the state to start their own school systems in January of next year, eight months before the city and county schools merge.