Memphis, Knoxville mayors rally against de-annexation

Only six cities are impacted by the latest version of de-annexation legislation and mayors in two of those — Memphis and Knoxville — are trying to rally opposition to the measure, reports Richard Locker.

The bill is the second phase of a massive shift in Tennessee municipal annexation law that began in 2014 when the General Assembly ended six decades of annexation simply by the majority votes of city councils and replaced it with a requirement for the consent of residents of areas to be taken into city limits, through referendums or petitions.

The de-annexation bill would allow 10 percent of the registered voters of a territory annexed since May 1, 1998, or whose annexation “became operative” after that date, to petition for a de-annexation referendum. De-annexation would occur if approved by a majority of voters in the referendum.

House Bill 779 failed on the last day of the 2015 legislative session but its supporters vowed to return with it this year. And they have, with an amended version that limits most of its provisions to just six cities: Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Johnson City, Kingsport and, oddly, Cornersville (pop. 1,199, in Marshall County) — places where the bill says “citizens have experienced the most egregious forms of annexation and have no other reasonable course to redress their grievance than to petition for a vote.”

… It’s sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

“The City of Knoxville is strongly opposed to de-annexation legislation,” said Eric Vreeland, the mayor’s communications manager, on Wednesday. “…allowing de-annexation of properties that have been a part of the city of Knoxville for at least a decade, or many decades, would be chaotic. Infrastructure and facilities — streets, sidewalks and fire halls, for example — have been constructed as areas have been annexed. Services have been upgraded as businesses and residents have come into the city.”

…Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Wednesday the bill is “potentially devastating” to his city, potentially costing it up to 100,000 residents and up to $64 million in property tax revenue.

Strickland, who took office as Memphis mayor Jan. 1, said the city has identified 10 potential de-annexation neighborhoods that could petition for referendums if the bill is approved in its current form.