Higher court denies Lakeland’s appeal in bond lawsuit

Lakeland logo copyLakeland lost an appeal last Wednesday and now faces a handful of its citizens in court.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Jackson, Tenn., announced Jan. 30 that the court denied an interlocutory appeal filed by the City of Lakeland in the lawsuit, Melton vs. Lakeland. (According to uslegal.com, an interlocutory appeal is “an appeal of a ruling by a trial court that is made before the trial itself has concluded. It asks an appellate court to review an aspect of the case before the trial has concluded.”)

In December, a group of Lakeland citizens, including Cary and Lillie (Lou) Melton, filed suit against the city, alleging violations of the Tennessee Sunshine Law as well as violations of state law in the issuance of $60 million in municipal bonds without allowing a referendum. The residents submitted more than 1,000 signatures of Lakeland voters requesting a referendum as part of the legal action before Chancellor Walter Evans.

Evans denied the city’s initial motion to dismiss the legal action. The city then appealed this action to the Court of Appeals.

The funds were to be used to refinance the city’s new middle school and to build a high school on the same campus. A point of contention is the city’s stance is that the type of bond chosen does not require a referendum.

Robert Spence of the Spence Law Firm, which represents the Meltons, said, “Obviously we are very pleased with the Appeals Court ruling and we await the Defendants’ response to our first request of discovery.”

Plaintiff Cary Melton said, “This is the largest debt in the history of Lakeland. We want a vote. Let the voters decide. Let Lakeland vote.”

In 2015, the residents of Lakeland sought a referendum on a $50M bond issue and it was voted down by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

The case returned to Chancellor Evans’ court on Friday, Feb. 2, as it moves toward trial. The court heard requests for the defendants to have 30 days to answer two previous motions: a joint motion for stay and/or protective order, originally set for Jan. 26; and a motion to compel, originally set for Feb. 2.

Additional comments from Spence, city attorney Chris Patterson and Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker were not immediately available on Monday, Feb. 5.