Sep 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Nashville mayor stumbles on board appointments

Nashville Mayor John Cooper gives a press conference.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has quietly been forced to overhaul his staff in the last year following a series of departures, including three of his top advisers. Cooper spokesperson Andrea Fanta admitted staff departures have "created some stumbles" in appointing seats on city boards and commissions.

  • Seven top officials have left Cooper's staff, including legal director Bob Cooper, finance director Kevin Crumbo and communications director Katie Lentile.

Why it matters: The rash of departures has called into question Cooper's ability to retain top advisers, all while putting the city in uncharted waters to find people to serve on boards and commissions overseeing city agencies.

  • The mayor's job is to make such appointments before they're confirmed by the Metro Council.
  • Under Metro law, the vice mayor makes appointments if the mayor misses a required deadline. This was rare in previous administrations, but it's become commonplace in the current one.
  • Vice Mayor Jim Shulman has been required to make 17 appointments to boards and commissions in two years.

Go deeper: Shulman told Axios that he credits Cooper's administration for how the health department responded to the pandemic and how the finance department navigated the uncertainty facing city finances in 2020.

  • But in terms of backlog in finding people to serve on Metro boards, Shulman said, "We don't have the staff resources or the experience to take on that many appointments and try to keep up."

What they’re saying: Spokesperson Fanta said several of the departures were expected and called the mayor's first two years in office "very productive" despite a "brutal 18 months for Nashville" due to the pandemic, deadly 2020 tornado, Christmas morning bombing and "civil unrest."

  • In a statement, Fanta highlighted the administration’s development of a "workable, practical plan" for transportation, consecutive "structurally balanced" budgets, the Oracle economic development project and the city's largest-ever teacher pay increase.
  • "That said, boards and commissions appointments is the one area where transition created some stumbles," Fanta wrote.

Yes, but: It’s not just high-ranking officials who’ve left. Cooper has also gone through three schedulers and two administrative assistants.

What's next: The mayor's office has a new look after the staffing losses. Wally Dietz is the new legal director, Metro veteran Tom Jurkovich is a senior adviser, and Kelly Flannery, the previous CFO of Charlotte, was nominated as finance director earlier this month.

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