JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Washington County Election Commission (WCEC) has officially rejected a Tennessee Hills Distillery-launched petition that would have triggered a referendum on term limits for Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA).

Now, a lawyer affiliated with Tennessee Hills, which announced the drive in early July after expressing dissatisfaction with the town’s handling of a beer permit request, is calling for the BMA to impose term limits itself.

“I believe the next step should be that the Mayor and Alderman go on record of whether they support a referendum on term limits or don’t,” Clark Jordan wrote in response to News Channel 11’s question about what the group might do next. 

“Some like the Mayor (Chuck Vest) were strong proponents until someone proposed it.”

The WCEC voted 3-0 in a called meeting Wednesday to reject the petition, which it had ruled on Aug. 15 failed to meet specific state requirements including missing dates and addresses. Wednesday was the last day a so-called “cured” petition could have been submitted.

WCEC members and Election Administrator Dana Jones repeated their assertion that the group, which gathered 187 signatures, has plenty of time to gather signatures using a document and format that meet state requirements. The referendum couldn’t go on the ballot until next August’s municipal election.

Per language in the town’s charter, the referendum would have centered around whether to limit aldermen to no more than two consecutive four-year terms and mayors to no more than four consecutive two-year terms. Citizens could run again after sitting out a cycle.

Jordan, chief legal officer for Tennessee Hills’ parent company, told News Channel 11 on Aug. 15 that he would query the state about the rules and that if his opinion that the petition was valid didn’t stand, “we’ll have to evaluate and see what we do at that point.”

Thursday, Jordan said the ball was in Jonesborough’s court now. The 2012 change to Jonesborough’s charter allows the BMA to impose term limits without requiring a referendum. He said the petition, even if it failed on a technicality, shows voter support for a referendum.

“The Mayor and Alderman can (resolve) the issue of term limits up at their next meeting including holding a vote which if in favor would alleviate any need for further petitions.”

Thursday’s statements were the first by petitioners suggesting the BMA should take the term limits issue up. Asked for comment, Vest said he’d limit himself to a written statement:

“I’m not interested in commenting just to address comments made by some lawyer but will say I introduced term limits for inclusion to our town charter so that speaks for itself,” Vest wrote, adding “any future comments I make will be directly to the board and the public.”

The tiff relates to Tennessee Hills’ efforts to get an on-premise beer permit for its Jonesborough distillery. The town approved one, but with limitations that Tennessee Hills founder Stephen Callahan described as “nefariously and capriciously mov(ing) the goalposts on us” when he launched the petition drive in early July.

Jordan hinted a second run at a petition could be in the offing.

“If the Mayor and Alderman fail to support the will of hundreds of voters or fail to take up a vote, we’ll evaluate what the voters who signed the original petition would like to do next,” he wrote.

He also wrote that Tennessee Hills was not “driving a referendum.” He said when the idea was “suggested on social media,” it got what he called “overwhelming support from voters other than a small vocal group who are opposed to all things Tennessee Hills.”

Jordan claimed the BMA tends to “bend to the will of this small vocal group” before he took a direct shot at the town’s leadership.

“Jonesborough voters wants leadership who can manage projects such as the Jackson Theater on time and on budget and can create a business-friendly environment that embraces the true heritage of Jonesborough,” Jordan wrote. “Putting the town in debt and raising taxes to support pet projects is not leadership.

“While the Mayor and Alderman go in debt to support pet projects like Jackson Theater, Tennessee Hills cannot get the town to act on requests for crosswalk safety lights on Fox Street and ADA accessible walkways and stairs in parking lots that would allow the town to grow safer and more accessible pedestrian traffic for the entire town.”

The BMA’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at town hall.