Lakeland school bond lawsuit heads to trial: City to appeal judge’s decision

Lakeland logoAttorneys for Cary and Lillie (Lou) Melton and the City of Lakeland were back in chancery court again Tuesday to get a ruling on the Meltons’ lawsuit to stop Lakeland’s proposed school bond. The Lakeland couple filed on Dec. 8 in an attempt to stop any bonds that violate state law.

Their lawsuit also alleges violations of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

On Tuesday the judge denied the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, meaning the case is headed to trial. However, the judge also granted the city’s motion to appeal that decision. At press time Tuesday, the city was working within an hour’s deadline to complete and file that appeal.

Whether the case does or does not go to trial is critical, because the city board is pressing for bond issuance before the end of the year. This would allow Lakeland to avoid conflicts with pending legislation that will hurt the city’s refinancing options. Currently, Lakeland’s mayor and city board plan to have the city’s Industrial Development Board issue a public improvement bond as the only practical financing option within this timetable. The city’s position is that such bonds don’t require the public’s approval via a referendum.

The Meltons and other vocal Lakeland residents have demanded a referendum if the city is to enter into any new debt.

Previously, the Meltons’ attorney, Robert Spence Jr., has said, “The issue is whether or not the bond issuance creates a debt that the citizens of Lakeland have to pay. If so, the state requires that they be allowed to vote.”

The bond would be for up to $60 million to refinance the existing middle school and also build a high school wing for Lakeland School System on that same campus. The high school portion of that debt is currently estimated at $36.5 million.

In 2015, Lakeland residents voted down a proposed $50 million bond that would have paid for both the middle school and high school.

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to