Jun 12, 2023 - News

Metro sues to block state takeover of airport board

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Metro sued on Monday to block a new law that gives state leaders the power to appoint most of the members to the Airport Authority.

Why it matters: It's the third lawsuit from Mayor John Cooper's administration alleging the state illegally singled out Nashville with new laws this year.

  • The Airport Authority oversees the thriving Nashville International Airport.

Catch up quick: The law, which received opposition during the session including concerns from Federal Aviation Administration officials, gives the governor, the House speaker and the lieutenant governor each two appointments to the Airport Authority board of directors.

  • The Nashville mayor would also have two appointments. Previously, the mayor appointed all board members.
  • Critics say the law amounts to Republican overreach, while supporters say the Nashville International Airport is a regional asset that would benefit from more state involvement.

Yes, but: Metro alleges the state violated the home rule clause, which protects local governments from being singled out by state laws.

  • It also claims that a preexisting state law requires either the council or Davidson County voters at a referendum to two apapprove of the new governance structure.
  • Under a federal rule passed in 2016, if litigation arises over an airport's board makeup, FAA leadership can intervene and allow the existing board to continue serving until the lawsuit is settled.

What he's saying: "The Nashville Airport has thrived with a bipartisan, business-oriented board appointed by Metro government for more than 50 years," Metro director of law Wally Dietz said.

  • "As an agency and instrumentality of Metro, the Nashville Airport has consistently performed well and expanded its capacity, with more passengers coming through BNA than ever before. This hostile takeover only affects one local government and violates the Tennessee Constitution."

The other side: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally remains confident the new law will survive the legal challenge, his spokesperson Adam Kleinheider tells Axios.

  • "The greater Nashville area and its airport have grown significantly," Kleinheider says. "BNA is now a regional airport and should be governed like one. Metro will not be without influence. But it will need to share power as BNA fully transitions from a small municipal airport to large regional international airport. This is reasonable, legal and fair.”

Be smart: In addition to the latest lawsuit, Metro earlier this year sued over a state law that sought to shrink the council down to 20 members prior to the August election. A three-judge panel blocked the law from taking effect before August, and the fight over shrinking the council continues in court.

  • Metro also sued over a law that changed the number of council votes needed to renovate the fairgrounds racetrack.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally's spokesperson Adam Kleinheider.

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