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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Amending Home Rule Charters

Reference Number: MTAS-298
Reviewed Date: 12/15/2021

Home Rule Charter Municipalities Amend Their Own Charters
Home rule charter municipalities in Tennessee are peculiar — they amend their own charters. Amendment Number 7 of the 1953 amendments to the state constitution prohibits the General Assembly power to pass general laws governing home rule municipalities and says that no charter shall be inconsistent with the general law (except with respect to employee compensation).

The Home Rule Charter Amendment Referendum
Home rule municipalities amend their charters by local referendum. Amendment Number 7 provides three ways amendments to home rule charters are proposed and formulated for submission to voters in a referendum:

  • By passage of an ordinance by the governing body of the municipality;
  • By a charter commission established by an act of the General Assembly and elected by the qualified voters of the home rule municipality; or
  • By a charter commission of seven members chosen at large (not more than once every two years) in a municipal election held pursuant to a petition of not less than 10 percent of the voters of the home rule municipality voting in the latest general municipal election.

Home rule municipalities usually use the first method, by ordinance of the municipal governing body, to propose charter amendments for referendum. The second method has never been used, and the third method apparently has been used only rarely.

The referendum on adopting the proposed charter amendment must be held during the first general state election falling at least 60 days after publication of the proposed charter amendment. T.C.A. § 6-53-105. In addition, T.C.A. § 2-3-204 requires that the election commission must be notified of a referendum between 75 and 90 days prior to the election. A general state election is apparently either the primary election in August or the following general election in November, both of which are held every even-numbered year. That definition restricts referendums on charter changes in home rule municipalities to once every two years at fixed times. To pass the proposed charter amendment, a majority vote from those voting on the question is required, not a majority of those voting in the election in which the question was presented to the voters.