How bill cutting Metro Council in half affects Davidson County

The bill caps Metro City Council seats at 20.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 11:52 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2023 at 12:43 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Major changes are being made to how Nashville’s Metro Council represents people who live in Davidson County under a bill that passed the state legislature on Thursday morning.

State senators voted in favor of limiting local governments to a maximum of 20 members, and Gov. Bill Lee promptly signed the bill into law less than an hour later. The reduction proposal was passed in a 23-7 vote despite emotional opposition from several senators.

HB0048/SB0087 was introduced in January by Rep. William Lamberth and Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson. The limits will cut the number of members on Metro Nashville’s city council in half.

The Metro Council currently seats 40 members. Under this new law, local government bodies exceeding 20 voting members would be required to dissolve and re-appropriate current districts using the latest federal U.S. Census data to ensure equal representation based on population.

“When government grows beyond a certain size, it hinders economic growth, taxes are inevitably raised and the standard of living for the average citizen is diminished,” Rep. Lamberth said in a statement. “Government functions best closer to the people. This legislation will strengthen local democracy and competency by improving the ability of local elected leaders to effectively represent their communities.”

The Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee recommended SB0087 for passage on Tuesday morning, with nine members voting for the bill and two voting against it.

In reaction to the bill’s passing, Nashville’s Law Director Wally Dietz issued a statement, saying the bill is unconstitutional and will create problems in the next election cycle. Dietz said the bill does serve the interests of those who call Tennessee and Davidson County home.

“House Bill 48 and Senate Bill 87, as passed, contain several serious legal defects which will make them impossible to legally implement. First, there is simply not enough time to change the law this late in the election cycle,” the statement reads. “Over 40 candidates have already appointed treasurers and are actively raising money for Council Districts that ostensibly will no longer exist. Petitions are to be issued a week from Monday. The qualifying deadline is May 18. Even if the Planning Commission prepares a map and the current Metro Council passes a redistricting plan by May 1, the confusion and uncertainty that follows will be prime for legal challenges from a range of affected parties.

“More fundamentally, these bills violate the Tennessee Constitution in multiple ways. A number of Metro leaders and advisors, including Mayor Cooper, attempted to point out the legal defects to the legislature and state leaders before either body voted, but those warnings were largely ignored. Additionally, the legislature rejected an amendment that would have cured one of the most significant flaws, by allowing the voters in Metropolitan Nashville to have a straight up or down vote on a smaller Metro Council and postpone any change until voters approved the change. That suggestion, among others, to make these bills workable was rejected. This attack on the Constitutional rights of Metro and the people who live here is very dangerous. It serves the interests of no one. We hope cooler heads will prevail, but in the event they do not, we are prepared to vigorously defend the constitutional rights of our city and its residents.”

Senators voted in favor of limiting local governments to a maximum of 20 members, and Gov. Bill Lee promptly signed the bill into law less than an hour later.

The Urban League of Middle Tennessee is one of many groups opposing the bill that said this change will negatively affect schools, roads and neighborhood safety in Nashville. Kenya McGruder, the Director of Civic and Community Engagement, said she’s concerned people will not have their issues heard and addressed with twice as many people being represented by each Metro Council member.

“We want to make sure that you have a good place to live, to work and to play,” McGruder said. “How we make a difference in that is, one, we make sure that folks know this is happening in their community, but we also know that we stand with you, and we fight for you.”

McGruder said the Urban League expects this change to lead to gerrymandering and fewer diverse people serving in elected positions. She described this new law as a “power grab” and wants to make sure people who live in Nashville do not lose their representation.

Residents, like Olivia Floyd, said they do not understand why Metro Council is being reduced at a time when the city is growing so much. Floyd moved to Nashville five years ago and would like to see more people involved with local government to make sure everyone’s voice is heard on major issues like the new Titans stadium.

“Especially with the amount of inflation we’ve been facing since 2020,” Floyd said. “Our taxes are only getting more expensive, and now we are having fewer people make these huge decisions on our tax dollars. That is a big deal.”