ANTIOCH, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee legislature passed a bill to cut the number of Metro Council members in half on Thursday. Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law soon after.
Several community and Metro Council members are concerned about the lack of diversity on the council and if everyone's voices will be heard.
One council member — who is also running for mayor — even suggested this isn't about doing what's best for the people. It’s to pass the legislation because the legislature could.
March 9, 2023
Signing the bill into law has become a topic of discussion inside Milestone Barber Beauty Salon in southeast Nashville.
"I think more council members is better because Nashville is a growing city. The more council members mean the more productivity," barber Linn Erwin said.
"Anytime you subtract something, it’s going to be a fear because you’re losing the numbers," barber Paul Williams said.
Williams and Erwin didn't know Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher represents the barbershop’s district. They feel like communication could be better.
In the past, Vercher has been very outspoken about the need for a southeast police precinct. She's also responded to issues and concerns her constituents have like crime and drag racing.
Williams thinks her presence is needed to reduce problems in Antioch, and since Nashville is growing, he questions if 20 council members is enough.
"Can I just walk in the office and speak to somebody? I have to go through the chain of command so my council member will be my chain of command," Williams said.
Sponsors of the new law believe it will increase the efficiency in local governments. Williams and Erwin question why the public didn’t have a say.
"Why wouldn’t we want to vote on something that affects us city-wide or statewide?" Williams said.
Council member Joy Styles said Metro legal would be filing lawsuits to overturn the decision.
While Metro's legal department didn't flat out say it would be filing a lawsuit, in a statement released Thursday, Metro's legal director, Wally Dietz, all but said a lawsuit would come:
“House Bill 48 and Senate Bill 87, as passed, contain several serious legal defects which will make them impossible to legally implement.
“First, there is simply not enough time to change the law this late in the election cycle. Over forty candidates have already appointed treasurers and are actively raising money for Council Districts that ostensibly will no longer exist. Petitions are to be issued a week from Monday. The qualifying deadline is May 18. Even if the Planning Commission prepares a map and the current Metro Council passes a redistricting plan by May 1, the confusion and uncertainty that follows will be prime for legal challenges from a range of affected parties.
“More fundamentally, these bills violate the Tennessee Constitution in multiple ways. A number of Metro leaders and advisors, including Mayor Cooper, attempted to point out the legal defects to the legislature and state leaders before either body voted, but those warnings were largely ignored.
“Additionally, the legislature rejected an amendment that would have cured one of the most significant flaws, by allowing the voters in Metropolitan Nashville to have a straight up or down vote on a smaller Metro Council and postpone any change until voters approved the change. That suggestion, among others, to make these bills workable was rejected.
“This attack on the Constitutional rights of Metro and the people who live here is very dangerous. It serves the interests of no one.
“Not the State of Tennessee.
“Not the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
“We hope cooler heads will prevail, but in the event they do not, we are prepared to vigorously defend the constitutional rights of our city and its residents.”