Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Council Member Emily Evans explains the Fairgournd Charter Amendment.

I found this on Emily Evans blog and am reproducing it in full.  I assume she would not mind. This is a great explanation of why we need to vote for the Fairgrounds Charter Amendment and what the amendment would do. Rod

by Emily Evans

There is but one amendment to the Metro Charter on the ballot this Thursday. Known as the "Fairgrounds Amendment," this change to the charter would require two things.

1) The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners will be required to continue to conduct all activities held at the Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010. Those activities shall include but not be limited to the Tennessee State Fair, the expo activities (lawn and garden show, Christmas Village, etc.) flea market and auto racing; and

2) The Fairgrounds property will not be demolished unless it is approved by 27 votes of the Metro Council.

Some have raised the rather specious argument that the question of the Fairgrounds does not rise to a level of importance necessary for inclusion in the Metro Charter. They are, of course, ignoring the fact that the reason we have a State Fair in the first place is because we are directed to do so by the Metro Charter.

Way back in 1909, the State of Tennessee determined that each county in the state should have a divisional fair. The state set about obtaining locations and sponsoring fairs. After a few years in the fair business the State realized that sponsoring a fair in each county was a load of work and they decided to shift the burden to the counties themselves. So, through Chapter 515 of the Private Acts of 1923, all the counties were enabled to obtain control of their fairgrounds from the state, hold a fair and, if necessary, levy a small property tax to pay for it. This last feature, more than the other, expresses the State's strong support of fairs that exhibit the agriculture and industry of the great State of Tennessee. The only other entity that can levy property taxes in Davidson County is the Metro Council.

When Metro was formed in 1963, Chapter 515 of the Private Acts of 1923 along with the earlier Chapter 490 of the Acts of Tennessee for 1909 were incorporated by reference along with additional language about how Fair Commissioners would be selected and provisions on payment of personnel. The Charter further states that the Metro Council can adopt any ordinance providing for additional duties of the Fair Board. So, it is both proper and appropriate that an amendment to the Charter pertaining to the duties of the Fair Board be brought to you for consideration at the ballot.

The first part of the amendment requires that the activities held at the Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010 be continued. Unfortunately, the language does not make clear that these activities are to be conducted on the property we know as the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. So, if you ignored the rowdy debate last winter or just moved here from Cleveland, you might not fully understand the intent which is to continue the operation of the Fairgrounds in south Nashville as they are today.

The second part of the amendment prohibits demolition of the Fairgrounds structures unless there are 27 votes. The purpose of this section is in direct response to an effort, which ultimately failed, to demolish the historic auto short track at the Fairgrounds.

So, how you vote on this charter amendment will really come down to how you feel about fairs and the Fairgrounds. There is little doubt that the Tennessee State Fair and the Fairgrounds are not living up to their potential. The place has been plagued by bad politics, bureaucratic indifference and poor management for many years. On a more macro level, the last 50 years or so have seen Nashville, and to a lesser extent, the State of Tennessee put some distance between its urban/suburban present and its agrarian past.

I think it is the latter trend that prompted some folks to view the Fairgrounds as a place to realize their real estate development ambitions. It is the promise of "mixed use" (which most real estate development experts find unlikely) that motivates them. There has also been some chatter about unspecified jobs and economic impact that makes them think we should dispense with the legacy that is the State Fair and the Fairgrounds.

Its checkered past does not mean the future for the State Fair cannot be a bright one. Appreciation for local agriculture is once again on the rise. A few weeks ago, I went to a "cheese" dinner at a Hillsboro Village restaurant. The dinner featured cheeses made in Tennessee. CSA's like Bells Bend and Avalon Acres are becoming more and more popular for people who don't like to speculate on how far their food travels. Tennessee's contributions to industry continue to increase. The Smyrna-built Nissan Leaf is just one example of the innovation that could be put on display at a Tennessee State Fair.

The motto of the State of Tennessee is "Agriculture and Commerce." As Senator Douglas Henry likes to point out, "Agriculture" comes first. Like it or not, we are the capital of the State of Tennessee and with that honor comes some responsibilities and activities that are pressed upon us by our unique status - like the Tennessee State Fair.

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