Laws governing local ballot measures in Tennessee
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Tennessee. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Types of local government
Local government in Tennessee consists of:
- Counties: There are 95 counties in Tennessee (this includes the consolidated city-counties the City of Nashville and Davidson County, the City of Lynchburg and Moore County, and the City of Hartsville and Trousdale County). Two of these, Shelby and Knox counties, operate under home rule charters. Three counties (not included in the count) are classified as service districts--they are not considered independent governments under state law.
- Municipalities: There are 342 cities and towns in Tennessee. There are not significant legal differences between cities and towns.
- Metropolitan governments: There are 3 metropolitan governments in Tennessee. They are a form of city-county consolidation and exercise substantially all of the functions of both under state law. They are Nashville-Davidson, Lynchburg-Moore, and Hartsville-Trousdale.
- In addition, there are 469 special districts and 14 independent school districts.
Further municipal classification:
All municipalities are governed under a charter. However, there is significant difference in the degree of local autonomy depending on the type of charter.
- Home rule charter: 14 cities and towns operate under a home rule charter and exercise substantial local autonomy. They are Chattanooga, Clinton, East Ridge, Etowah, Johnson City, Knoxville, Lenoir City, Memphis, Mt. Juliet, Oak Ridge, Red Bank, Sevierville, Sweetwater and Whitwell.
- Private act charter: 212 cities and towns operate under a private act charter which was granted by the state General Assembly. While the charter is individualized to the city or town, the General Assembly and state statutes maintain more control over the municipality compared to home rule municipalities.
- General law: The remaining cities and towns are incorporated with a standardized charter set by state statutes. They may be incorporated under a Mayor-Aldermanic Charter (T.C.A., Title 6, Chapters 1-17); Uniform City Manager-Commission Charter (T.C.A., Title 6, Chapters 18-29); or Modified City Manager-Council Charter (T.C.A., Title 6, Chapters 30-36). A Metropolitan Government Charter (T.C.A., Title 7, Chapters 1-6) also falls in this category, but statutes authorize considerable freedom for metropolitan governments to individualize their charters. 
Tennessee is one of eight states along with the District of Columbia that does not hold school bond or school tax referendums. Under Tennessee law, all tax levies must be certified by the county in which the school district resides in. Also, all bonds in Tennessee must be sold at 98 percent of its value or higher with zero (0%) percent interest. All bonding must be approved by the Tennessee State Funding Board.
Local recall rules
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
The Tennessee code authorizes broad recall powers against local elected officials. Local recall is governed by Tenn. Code Ann. §2-5-151, Tenn. Code Ann. §6-31-301 through Tenn. Code Ann. §6-31-307, Tenn. Code Ann. §6-36-102 and Tenn. Code Ann. §6-53-108.
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Tennessee
Initiative process availability
The 2 home rule charter counties, Shelby and Knox, authorize initiative for charter amendments.
The 3 metropolitan governments, Nashville-Davidson, Lynchburg-Moore, and Hartsville-Trousdale, authorize initiative for charter amendments.
At least 7 cities have initiative for ordinances through their private act charter. These are Algood, Bristol, Cookville, Eagleville, Gatlinburg, Jackson, and Murfreesboro.
At least 2 cities have initiative for ordinances through their home rule charter. These are Chattanooga and Knoxville. As charter amendments may be proposed by ordinance, this process has been used for charter amendments as well.
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
Tennessee Constitution Art. XI, Section 9 states that home rule charters may be amended by ordinance. This is also stated in Tennessee Code § 6-53-105 b.
If a city authorizes initiative, Tennessee Code § 2-5-151 contains minimum requirements that must be met.
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Tennessee|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Memphis||652,050||Home rule charter|
|Nashville||609,644||Metropolitan charter (consolidated with Davidson county)|
|Knoxville||180,761||Home rule charter|
|Chattanooga||170,136||Home rule charter|
|Clarksville||136,231||Private act charter|
|Murfreesboro||111,327||Private act charter|
|Jackson||65,187||Private act charter|
|Franklin||64,317||Private act charter|
|Johnson City||63,815||Home rule charter|
|Bartlett||55,055||Private act charter|
Initiative is available in 5 of the top 10 most populated cities. The provisions below come from the specific city charter and the requirements of Tennessee Code § 2-5-151.
- Laws governing ballot measures
- Laws governing local ballot measures
- Local ballot measures, Tennessee
- Ballotpedia Research Document, Local Initiative in Tennessee
- Tennessee Municipal League
- Municipal Technical Advisory Service, Getting to Know Your Municipal Charter
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, "Forming a Metropolitan Government," September 2003
- ↑ Municipal Technical Advisory Service, Getting to Know Your Municipal Charter
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- ↑ Ballotpedia Research Document, Local Initiative in Tennessee
- ↑ Tennessee Code § 6-53-105 b
- ↑ Tennessee Code § 2-5-151
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 US Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Tennessee: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011