Tennessee Legislation of 1955 Allowed Cities to Annex by Ordinance

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
Future moves of this sign will require a vote by affected land owners.
Future moves of this sign will require a vote by affected land owners.
- photo by Curtis Jolley

The Chattanoogan.com reported on April 16, 2014 (http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/4/16/274429/Haslam-Signs-Bill-Ending-Forced.aspx)  that Governor Bill Haslam signed HB 2371/SB2464, a bill which requires that annexations be approved by a vote of the land owners in the annexed area.   The legislation is a major change from past annexation by ordinance, meaning that a city council could decide to annex an unincorporated area without a vote by the people affected.   

In covering the legislative progress of the bill, news reports often referenced 1955 as the year when annexation by ordinance began.  However, I never saw the details of what the 1955 law said about annexation. 

So, after first surfing the Web, off to the library I went to learn more.   I’ll next share what I gleaned, though with a disclaimer that I have no experience as a lawyer.  The only Political Science course on my college transcripts was the 101 level, so I’m also no expert in political matters.   

The 1955 legislation was officially named “Senate Bill 286.”  The bill was a result of amendments originating in the 1953 state constitutional convention.  Some of the amendments recognized the fact that Tennessee was rapidly transitioning from a rural to an urban way of life. 

One was a home rule amendment, which delegated more power to cities regarding their legal affairs.  The constitutional convention allowed the four major cities to choose metro government.  So far, only Nashville/Davidson County has done that, though votes have taken place here.  Interestingly, the original legislation was likely intended for the benefit of Memphis/Shelby County, but no adoption of metro government there so far.

Prior to the home rule amendment, annexations were carried out via private acts (state legislation pertaining to a single county) in Nashville.   There was little recourse provided for those opposed to annexation.

Senate Bill 286 concerning annexation by local ordinance was passed March 1, 1955, and approved by Gov. Frank Clement on March 8.   The full text of the legislation can be found in Public Acts, 1955, Chapter No. 113. 

Section 2 described annexation by ordinance.  “Be it further enacted, That (a) a municipality when petitioned by a majority of the residents and property owners of the affected territory, or upon its own initiative when it appears that the prosperity of such municipality and territory will be materially retarded and the safety and welfare of the inhabitants and property thereof endangered, after notice and public hearing, by Ordinance, may extend its Corporate Limits by annexation of such territory adjoining its existing boundaries ...” (This one sentence goes on for a while longer – read the Public Acts for full text.)

The (b) paragraph of Section 2 described a provision for an “aggrieved owner of property lying within territory” to contest the annexation in a lawsuit. 

The March 2, 1955 Chattanooga Times carried an interview with Hamilton County Councilman Paul Wilbanks concerning the annexation bill.  Mr. Wilbanks said that he had discussed it with Gov. Clement, and “was dubious about the measure,” but had since concluded that it would help the urban areas.  The legislation had been promoted by the Tennessee Municipal League, a voluntary organization still going today to represent the interests of the cities in the state.

Mr. Wilbanks went on to say, “The bill will eliminate all chances we (in unincorporated Hamilton County) could be taken over by legislation without recourse.”  That was referring to section (b) which provided a right to suit if aggrieved.  Mr. Wilbanks said that Gov. Clement had assured him that the measure offered more protection from annexation without consent than the previous private acts approach.

Following passage of the 1955 law, Chattanooga embarked on a path of annexations that took place over the following decades.  The results can be seen in the archives of local maps at the Public Library.

The 1955 map of Chattanooga shows a much smaller land area for Chattanooga than today.  The southern border, the Georgia state line, remains the same today.   The western boundary included St. Elmo north to the river and across to Manufacturers Road.  The northern limits were at Altamont Road, and included most of North Chattanooga (though present-day Heritage Landing’s site was excluded.).    To the east, the line went along the Southern Railroad (there was no Amnicola Highway then).   Crest Road formed some of the eastern boundary, with the original part of Brainerd included, too.

So, in 1955, the following were among those outside the city limits, but were later annexed:

  •  Lookout Valley
  • Moccasin Bend
  • Mountain Creek
  • Rivermont
  • Stuart Heights
  • Hixson
  • Tyner
  • Eastdale
  • Woodmore
  • East Brainerd

The city of Red Bank-White Oak (later amending its charter to become Red Bank) was incorporated on June 21, 1955.

Some of the more recent annexation ordinances can be found under http://www.chattanooga.gov/city-council/ordinances-and-resolutions.   The ordinances include both a reference to the 1955 law, and a “whereas” that embeds its language. “WHEREAS, after a public hearing and investigation by the Council, it now appears that the prosperity of the City and of the territory herein described and as described in said notice will be materially retarded and the safety and welfare of the inhabitants and property of the City and the herein described territory endangered if such territory is not annexed...”

As a result of the recently enacted legislation, the number of new annexation ordinances is likely to be reduced.

If you do have legal or government experience, and are more familiar with annexation law than I, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net with your clarifications of the history of the state law.  I’ll post some of your comments as an update to this article.


Tri-state (TN-GA-AL) Rail Stops Planned but Never Built

NEW ORLEANS, MOBILE, AND CHATTANOOGA RAILROAD, 1871   Th New Orleans, Mobile, and Chattanooga Railroad (NOM&C) was the first to serve the City of New Orleans and the Central Gulf Coast.   Chartered to build a railway linking the three cities in their name, the initial intent was to build to a link from the coast with the planned Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad ... (click for more)

Chester Martin Remembers St. Elmo

I am (highly) qualified to make the brash pronouncement that St. Elmo (Chattanooga's first suburb) is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. It is a place that gets into your mind and into your blood, and sometimes under your skin - indelibly. I have witnessed the same phenomenon in distant cities, but I do not think it is so strong an emotion there as it is here ... (click for more)

TDEC Asks Residents In Southeastern Counties To Limit Water Usage To Ease Drought Conditions

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is asking the public to temporarily limit water usage for non-essential purposes as areas in Tennessee’s southeastern counties face extreme drought conditions. Residents who receive water from the following public utilities are advised to limit their use until drought conditions subside: Fall Creek ... (click for more)

East Ridge May Revise Ordinance On Extended Stays; Fire Hall Cost Well Above Projection; Dunkin Donuts, Firehouse Subs Going Into Border Region Sector

A large portion of the East Ridge City Council meeting Thursday night was devoted to the discussion of a proposed amendment to the ordinance previously passed relating to minimum hotel and extended stay hotel requirements. The new recommendations, which the city manager, codes enforcer and city attorney have drafted after meetings with hotel associations, are that a stay can be ... (click for more)

Accountability Doesn't Have To Be A Bad Word

Am I making a difference? Isn’t that the basic question we all ask ourselves, and seek to demonstrate to others?  Ronald Reagan said:  “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem.”   We would argue teachers do not have that problem either.    Educators make a huge difference ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Guess Who Backed Kelly?

Two weeks before the August election where three members of the Hamilton County School Board were angrily replaced, the organizer of what was called “a great way for the (challengers) to raise great money to help them run smart campaigns” made a bold statement. “I'm sure the current board is well-intentioned, but the results are not there," said Paul Brock. "Leadership matters ... (click for more)