Jun 24, 2022 - News

Election Commission chair sues over departure from Baker Donelson

Jim DeLanis
Jim DeLanis. Photo: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

The chairman of the Davidson County Election Commission sued his former law firm, Metro government, and Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Chairman Jim DeLanis claims Metro, Mendes and the firm Baker Donelson conspired to "coerce, intimidate or otherwise illegally pressure" him to change his stance on an anti-tax charter amendment proposal.

  • DeLanis, a Republican, said last year he was fired after refusing to back away from that referendum. According to the lawsuit, Baker Donelson had contracts with Metro and the school district for legal work unrelated to the election commission.
  • DeLanis is seeking $1 million in damages.

The other side: Baker Donelson general counsel John Hicks tells Axios in an emailed statement the firm "categorically denies that it entered into any conspiracy related to Mr. DeLanis or that his departure from the firm happened in the way he has described."

Flashback: The petition-driven proposal would have rolled back the city's 34% property tax increase in 2020.

  • It also sought to change the charter to give voters power over certain real estate transactions and the ability to approve substantial property tax increases in the future.
  • The proposal bitterly divided the election commission along party lines, and was narrowly approved in the Republicans' favor.

Context: The matter led to a web of litigation, with Metro and pro-business groups fighting to block the proposal.

  • A Davidson County judge ruled the proposal was illegal. An Appeals Court again sided with Metro.
  • The election commission appealed to the state Supreme Court.

State of play: DeLanis has fought to put the anti-tax measure on the ballot, while Mendes has called it illegal and battled to keep it off.

  • In recent months, Mendes pushed legislation to overhaul how petition-driven charter amendment proposals are vetted. It would also require more signatures to be collected in order to place such a measure on the ballot.
  • Mendes told Axios he was traveling and would not have time to read the lawsuit until late Thursday.

The bottom line: DeLanis' lawsuit is the latest development in an epic legal brawl over the anti-tax proposal, which pits Metro and business leaders against the Republican-led election commission.

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