Jan 9, 2023 - News

Tennessee lawmakers want to cut Nashville's Metro Council in half

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers filed legislation Monday to shrink the size of Nashville's Metro Council from 40 to 20 members.

Why it matters: The proposal would completely overhaul how the city government operates and constitute a political reset for Nashville.

  • A push to shrink the council ratchets up tension between the city, which is mostly Democratic, and the conservative state government.
  • In recent years, the relationship devolved following bitter disagreements, and in some cases lawsuits, over education funding, private school vouchers and whether Nashville should host the Republican National Convention.

What they're saying: State Rep. William Lamberth says he's pursuing the legislation for economic reasons.

  • "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. Government functions best closer to the people," he says.

The other side: Mayor John Cooper said in a press release the legislation "undermines the will of Nashville voters and effective local governance."

Flashback: Although shrinking the council has been debated by city leaders in the past, Nashville voters rejected the idea in 2015.

  • A charter amendment proposal sought to downsize the council from 40 to 27 members.
  • That proposal failed with 62% of the voters against the idea and 38% in support.

State Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, bashed the proposal as "petty and vindictive."

  • Mitchell says he thinks the plan is retribution for council voting against hosting the RNC.
  • "Are we using government to help people in the state, or are we using it as a weapon?" he asked.
  • Mitchell, who served two terms on the council, actually pitched a separate plan to shrink the council. But he says any proposal to change the makeup of a local government's legislative body should come from the local government itself, not state lawmakers.

The legislation to shrink the council would take effect in 2024, creating a year of political limbo in Nashville.

How it would work: The current council members would have their terms extended for one year. There would be an election for the new 20-person council in 2024 for a three-year term. After that, council members would serve four-year terms with the next election coinciding with the 2027 mayor's race.

  • The plan is sponsored by Lamberth and state Sen. Bo Watson, who are top Republican lawmakers.
  • They propose leaving it to city officials how many of the 20 seats are at-large, representing all of Davidson County, and how many are district council members, who represent smaller parts of town. Metro officials would also draw the district boundaries.

Between the lines: The push would apply to all city councils and metropolitan government councils in Tennessee. But it's notable that the proposal comes on the heels of Republican leaders sparring last year with Nashville leaders over whether Nashville should host the RNC.

  • It is believed Nashville is the only local government in Tennessee with a council that has more than 20 members. Other councils would be prevented from expanding and adding new members in the future.

Editor's note: This story was updated with reactions and with more details throughout.


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