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Board will file suit contesting sales tax referendum defeat

The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously adopted a resolution this week to file a lawsuit contesting the narrow defeat of a referendum to increase the local sales tax rate by half a cent.

Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Don Lowry and seconded by Alderman Jim Brown.

In last Thursday’s city elections, by a vote of 1,338 or 64.42 percent to 739 or 35.58 percent, residents approved a referendum to create a municipal school district. But by a vote of 1,033 or 50.07 percent to 1,030 or 49.93 percent, they rejected a proposed sales tax increase designed to help fund it.

At Monday night’s board meeting, City Attorney Barbara Lapides said the city discovered that, in the voting precinct identified as Lucy-1, residents of the Lucy community who are not eligible to vote in Millington city elections were in fact given ballots and did vote last Thursday.

“I can’t tell you everyone did,” she acknowledged. “But some did vote in the Millington sales tax referendum. So, we have been working on how to deal with that.”

Lapides said “it is believed” that the sales tax referendum would be approved if those ineligible votes were removed. So, the city has determined that the “best course” for it to take is to file a lawsuit against the Shelby County Election Commission challenging the ineligible votes.

Lapides said the theory is that it is impossible for anyone to “truly determine” what the outcome of that referendum election would be if only the eligible voters had cast ballots. She noted that the lawsuit will not affect the outcome of the schools referendum or the elections for mayor and aldermen.

“Even though there were people who voted in those matters,” she said, “it would not change anything that happened. The only thing that it might change is the sales tax increase referendum.”

Lapides said the election commission does not dispute the fact that ineligible voters cast ballots last Thursday. Consequently, she expects that the lawsuit will be “handled quickly enough,” so the sales tax increase referendum can be conducted again in the Nov. 6 election. And only Millington residents will be eligible to vote at that time.

The resolution also authorizes Interim Mayor Linda Carter, after consultation with Lapides, to hire “an appropriate attorney” to represent the city in the lawsuit.

Lapides said her law partners Ed McKinney and John Ryder cannot participate in the lawsuit, because it would be a conflict of interest. McKinney handles “virtually all” the litigation for Millington, and Ryder is the election commission attorney.

“Even though we all know that there were problems,” she acknowledged, “you don’t have two lawyers in the same law firm representing parties on opposite sides of the lawsuit. So, we will be looking at someone other than Mr. McKinney, and the election commission will have someone other than Mr. Ryder.”

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