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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Amending Private Act Charters

Reference Number: MTAS-297
Reviewed Date: 12/21/2021

1. Figure out precisely what charter provisions are to be changed. This step is important because one change may require amending more than one provision of the charter to ensure that the charter is consistent. Changing one provision may affect other provisions. This step requires reading the whole charter to make sure you have not skipped anything that needs changing.

2. Clear the proposed change with your state legislative delegation. All private act and general law charter changes require the approval of the Tennessee General Assembly, but the General Assembly will rarely interfere with amending private acts as long as they have the unanimous support of the local legislative delegation. Its attitude is usually, “Let locals take care of local business.” But if you decide to sneak or ram your private act through the General Assembly in the teeth of opposition from any member of your legislative delegation, do not bet more than you can afford to lose that the act will make it.

3. Adopt a resolution containing the proposed charter change and ask a member of your legislative delegation to introduce the change in the General Assembly. The part of the resolution containing the proposed change should be in letter perfect form and should specify exactly what and where the charter should be amended.

Be sure to include in the proposed change the method of local approval of the private act. Amendment Number 6 of the 1953 amendments to the Tennessee State Constitution requires private acts to be approved in one of two ways:

  • By a two-thirds vote of the entire membership of the municipal governing body, or
  • By a majority vote in a referendum held on the question of approval of the private act.

4. Give the resolution to your legislative delegation within the time frame it prescribes and check from time to time on its introduction and movement through the Tennessee General Assembly. Getting the proposed private act to your legislative delegation on time is essential. This gives the General Assembly adequate time to pass the act before it adjourns. Most legislative delegations want the proposed private act at least 30 days before the date set for adjournment of the General Assembly. That date usually can be determined (approximately) by checking with your legislators. Once the proposed private act is in the hands of the General Assembly, its journey through the legislative process is relatively certain and speedy. After passage by the General Assembly, the proposed private act goes to the governor for signature, which usually is a formality.

5. Read the private act when it comes back to you after its passage by the General Assembly and its approval by the governor. Your proposed private act goes through certain steps after it leaves your hands and before it actually goes to the General Assembly for a vote, including a check for proper language and form. Most of the time, any changes made in a proposed private act during those steps are beneficial. However, occasionally something is added or taken out of an act that substantially alters its meaning. Make sure that what came out of the General Assembly is what you thought went in.

6. Obtain approval of the proposed private act by whatever method is prescribed in the act (two-thirds affirmative vote of the municipal goverening body or an affirmative majority vote in a referendum) and submit evidence of approval to the Tennessee secretary of state. As pointed out earlier, private acts requiring approval by referendum are regularly rejected by the voters. Some get exactly what they deserve from a well-informed electorate, which knows a clunker when it sees one. But a major reason good acts meet the same end is that they frequently do not receive the intense support they need from the individuals and groups interested in their passage.