Republican Legislature Seeks to Cut Nashville’s Metro Council in Half

Republican Legislature Seeks to Cut Nashville’s Metro Council in Half
The skyline of Nashville, Tenn., on April 25, 2019. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Chase Smith

Tennessee’s Legislature is proposing legislation that would cut the size of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Council in half, down from the current 40 members.

The legislation (pdf), filed Jan. 9, would cap the number of members that are elected to a governing body of a metro or municipal government to 20, which in effect slices Nashville’s council in half.

The bill does not target Nashville specifically, as that would violate rules that prevent localities from being specifically targeted by legislation, but Nashville’s council is the only one in the state with more than 20 members.

Nashville-Davidson County, Hartsville-Trousdale County, and Lynchburg-Moore County are the only metropolitan/combined city and county governments in the state. Hartsville’s council has 20 members while Lynchburg’s has 15, according to the University of Tennessee.
The bill, filed by two Republican members of the House and Senate, would require any government with more than 20 members to hold an election on the first Thursday in August 2024 with the scaled-down councils.

Council Size in Nashville Remained the Same as Population Grew

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.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaks during a news conference on the Christmas day bombing in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 26, 2020. (Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)
Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaks during a news conference on the Christmas day bombing in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 26, 2020. (Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)
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.

The Politics

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.

Cooper however has said the move from the Republican supermajority in the state legislature is meant to punish the city for its policies that are often at odds with state lawmakers, including the Council’s voting down of a draft agreement to host the 2024 Republican National Convention in the city.

Tennessee’s Lt. Gov. Randy McNally called Cooper “incompetent” in August and lambasted him and the council. Cooper did not publicly speak for or against hosting the convention himself.

“As recently as 2015, Nashville residents voted by a nearly two-thirds margin to keep Metro Council at 40 members,” Cooper said in a statement after the legislation was filed last week. “Far from strengthening local democracy, today’s legislation undermines the will of Nashville voters and effective local governance. Contrary to claims by our state colleagues, this Metro Council has successfully facilitated historic accomplishments for our city – including record investments in education, enhanced support for our first responders and major economic development agreements that will directly benefit the state’s economy.”

Cooper added Nashville is the engine of Tennessee’s economy and “the envy of cities across the country, and that success has been built with Metro’s 60 years of good governing by our 40-person Council.”

The Chair of the Democratic Caucus in Tennessee’s House, John Ray Clemmons, said the legislation would set a dangerous precedent.

“The GOP supermajority’s continued efforts to overstep into local affairs and usurp the decision-making authority of local officials for the purpose of centralizing more and more power at the state level is concerning,” Clemmons said. “Ultimately, Nashville families know what’s best for Nashville.”

Not everyone on the Council is against the measure, though, with Bob Mendes, an at-large Metro Council member, stating it could be beneficial, according to The Tennessean.

“The size of the council is the result of a race-related political compromise,” Mendes said. “If we can wave a magic wand and strip that away, having a smaller council that’s paid better with professional staff would be in the best interest of the city.”

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.
Related Topics