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This story was edited on 8/5/20 to remove references to Nolensville having a strong mayor system, which given the mayor's absence of veto power, makes it closer to a mayor-aldermanic system of government.

A referendum that will appear on Thursday’s ballot will decide the future structure of Nolensville’s government.

That referendum, which was placed on the state primary ballot after gaining 3,000 signatures, proposes that the town move from a mayor-aldermanic system to a commission system.

Arguments in favor of the change

Among the strongest voices arguing on behalf of the change is Better Nolensville, a citizen-run organization bent on reshaping Nolensville’s government to “help ease the burden on any one town official” for the purpose of making a “better Nolensville.”

Better Nolensville argues that the equal distribution of accountability and responsibility among the town’s leaders would be better suited towards the increasing growth of the town, with the population exploding from just over 3,000 in 2009 to an estimated 9,012 in 2018.

“Now that we are a town with a population approaching 15,000 - an unfair amount of responsibility (and with it in many cases: an unfair amount of accountability) has fallen on our mayor,” reads a statement from Better Nolensville. 

“While each of our distinguished mayors in our history has handled the position by going above and beyond to serve our town day in and day out- it simply is unreasonable and unfair to ask one person to continue to carry such an enormous load.

“We are proposing a change in the way our town government is structured in order to help ease the burden on any one town official, while ensuring that we are fully prepared for the next 25 years and beyond. We believe it is unwise to wait until a major problem arises to address the structure of our town government.”

Arguments opposed to the change

Among those who have argued against the reshaping of the town government include Nolensville Mayor Jimmy Alexander himself, who said it was his belief that if the referendum were to pass, “the town as we know it now will cease to exist.”

“I've been mayor nine years now, and the town has done really well,” Alexander told the Home Page. 

“We've made great strides in nine years; we built a new Town Hall, we built a rec center, we've prepared roads, we've got new trails all over the place and we've done this all without a property tax increase.”

Alexander said that because of the current mayor-aldermanic system in Nolensville, it is more difficult for the mayor to escape scrutiny for poor policy or leadership - something, he argued, makes the mayor position more effective.

“I'm not sure the town is ready for a system where we don't have an elected mayor, and the system they're talking about a mayor would be appointed and basically doesn't have any power to do very much,” Alexander said. “Before, if we had problems in this town, everybody could point to me, and I'm responsible - a new mayor would not be responsible, it would be the board that's responsible.”

Another voice against the change was Nolensville Alderman Wendy Cook-Mucci, who argued that were the referendum to pass, the city could potentially face a substantial loss of revenue in the form of impact fees.

"Both systems are almost identical - after ordinances were passed in June, the mayor does not have any more significant power that she or he would have in a commission system," Cook-Mucci wrote in an email to the Home Page.

"There is a risk though, financially to changing the charters. Commission systems are unable to collect impact fees so it is unsure what would happen with those fees.  That is 20 percent of our revenue.  We could try to raise permit fees, but [the Municipal Technical Advisory Service] has indicated to us that we would have difficulty raising them high enough to offset the loss of impact fees."

"When I look at the potential risks of at best, legal fees for any challenges to the loss of that income and worse, the courts deciding we can't collect those fees, I don't want to risk losing the fees and I believe we are showing, once those amendments were passed, that a mayor-aldermanic system with a town administrator can work great.  We have already seen a great deal of work done since June, with the passing of those amendments - I would like the chance to continue that work without the loss of fees."

Cook-Mucci explained that while a new commission-style government could, in theory, request the ability to collect both adequate facilities tax and impact fees, it could likely result in legal action from local home builders arguing against the new precedent being set.

The ability to collect both adequate facilities tax and impact fees would also need to be approved in the state legislature. After having reached out to Williamson County’s representative in the state legislature, Glen Casada, Cook-Mucci said the state leader relayed back that passing such a request in the state House would be “incredibly difficult to do.”

How to vote

Voters can cast their ballots at any one of 25 voting precincts spread throughout the county. The town of Nolensville itself will have one voting location: the Nolensville Recreation Center, located at 7250 Nolensville Road, which is open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.