Nashville Residents Urge Officials to Not Let Nashville Become a ‘Colony’ of State Legislature

Nashville Residents Urge Officials to Not Let Nashville Become a ‘Colony’ of State Legislature
The Nashville, Tennessee skyline as seen from Cumberland River Park on March 29, 2023. (Chase Smith/The Epoch Times)
Chase Smith

Nashville has days left to begin voting on new council districts as citizens voiced their opposition to any action being taken by the city council at a hearing this week–as lawsuits questioning the legality of the legislation are also being heard in courts.

The Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation last month that will force the Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County’s (Metro) council to submit plans to cut itself in half to the state by May 1.

The legislation was signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee on March 9, which kicked into effect the 30-day period in which Metro Nashville Planning Commission officials had to get the maps to the current council for an initial vote on district boundaries.
Currently two lawsuits are pending and arguments were heard this week on the legality of the legislature’s efforts to force what Nashville voters rejected themselves in a 2015 referendum to cut the council.

The New Law

The legislation, filed in January, caps the number of members that are elected to a governing body of a metro or municipal government at 20.
The bill does not target Nashville by name, but in practice Nashville’s council is the only one in the state with more than 20 members—having 40 since county and city governments consolidated 60 years ago last week.

The legislation upends the council’s current election season, in which candidates have already begun campaigning and raising funds for a general election scheduled Aug. 3.

In a planning commission meeting Thursday, officials noted this process should under normal circumstances take “six months.”

If the council fails to meet deadlines, the law allows current council members’ terms to be extended for one year in exchange for reducing the first term of the new council to three years and also scheduling a new election for Aug. 6, 2024.

Citizens Voice Opposition

A line of concerned community leaders spoke for hours at the Metro Council meeting on Tuesday—with all those present voicing strong opposition to the council taking any action to approve proposed maps and complying with the new law. Just under 50 people total spoke at the meeting, a tally by The Epoch Times showed.
Nashvillians put forth arguments that included not letting Nashville become “a colony of the [Tennessee] General Assembly,” not letting the state “whitewash” Nashville, and even one person mentioning the possibility of “statehood” for Nashville.
“We have something worth holding onto,” Martha Carol, an East Nashville resident, said at the meeting. “A metro government that represents and respects all our citizens. We have on the one hand this unique creative history. On the other hand, we have state legislators bullying and rushing us through a process that will only create chaos. I urge you to act to protect what we have to honor the creative inspired thinking of our forebears. Within just days of celebrating the 60th anniversary of our metropolitan government, do not vote to go along with its destruction.”
Nashville is written on a building in the city's historic district. (MoreISO/Getty Images)
Nashville is written on a building in the city's historic district. (MoreISO/Getty Images)

Following the arguments by residents–the council decided to table the decision to vote on either of the two proposed maps from the planning commission until a future meeting.

The Metro Planning Commission has until April 10 to present its final proposals on new district maps, and the Metro Council has until May 1 to approve those new lines.

The Lawsuits

A panel of three state judges in Tennessee heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking an injunction on the law, according to Courthouse News Service.
The council filed its lawsuit against the state March 13 (pdf) in Davidson County Chancery Court, claiming the state violated a host of its own laws with the legislation.

“This is a radical infringement on local sovereignty,” an attorney representing the council told the panel Tuesday, according to the outlet. “This has been a rushed, chaotic redistricting process with a constant flurry of issues to address. Metro Nashville is having to make extraordinarily important public policy decisions right now based on an unconstitutional law and they have very little time to do that.”

A second lawsuit alleging the same problems with the legislation was filed (pdf) in the chancery court on March 28 by “voters, candidates for Metropolitan Council, and current Metropolitan Councilmembers.”

Metro History

Nashville’s consolidation into the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County was one of the first true consolidations of city and county governments in the United States, according to Davidson County historian Carole Bucy (pdf).

After several failed attempts to get voters on board with the consolidation, voters were in favor of the measure in 1962 and it went into effect in 1963.

“Nashville became the national pioneer in metropolitan organization,” Bucy wrote. “Although other cities had partial consolidation, Nashville was the first city in the country to achieve true consolidation.”

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Courthouse and City Hall as seen from 2nd Ave. N on March 29, 2023. (Chase Smith/The Epoch Times)
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Courthouse and City Hall as seen from 2nd Ave. N on March 29, 2023. (Chase Smith/The Epoch Times)
A ballot measure in Nashville to change the size of the council in 2015 failed, with 62 percent of voters being against the measure. It would have reduced the number of council members to 27. The current system has 35 district-elected members and five at-large elected members.

Metro’s governing body was the third largest in the country at the time, only behind New York City and Chicago governing bodies. At the same time, it was the 25th largest city in the United States, according to 2013 census data.

Since then, Nashville has grown to become the 20th largest city in the United States, according to 2020 census data.

GOP Legislature’s Reasoning Behind Law

Nashville’s council is independent in practice, with all seats being non-partisan. However, Nashville in federal and state elections has been reliably Democratic, and Mayor John Cooper said although the office is nonpartisan, he is a Democrat.

State House Majority Leader Republican William Lamberth, a Republican, said the proposed legislation is good government.

“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,” Lamberth said.

State Sen. Bo Watson, the Republican sponsor in the Tennessee Senate, echoed that sentiment.

“Local government bodies need to be a size that allows them to function efficiently and effectively without compromising their duty to represent the people,” he said.

Chase is an award-winning journalist. He covers national news for The Epoch Times and is based out of Tennessee. For news tips, send Chase an email at [email protected] or connect with him on X.
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