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.


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