Amending the Capital Spending Plan

On June 7, the Council will consider the proposed $475 million capital spending plan.  I expect this resolution to be deferred to allow it to track with the capital improvements budget ordinance. I plan to file two amendments to the capital spending plan. One would remove the $20 million for the Criminal Justice Center, and the other would remove the $20 million for a new Sheriff’s Office headquarters. You can see my draft amendments here and here.

The way the capital spending plan works is that the Council approves an “Initial Resolution” that authorizes Metro to borrow money for certain listed projects.  The Initial Resolution is RS2016-245.  You can see the listed projects here.

My logic is simple. The end user of these buildings (the Sheriff) is vocally and publicly complaining that the executive branch of government in Davidson County is not qualified to take the “lead” in designing and constructing these buildings. Those of us in the legislative branch (the Council) typically have two tools – we can pass laws and we can appropriate money. To me, where there is a disagreement like this, the Council should stop appropriating money for the projects and make sure that the disagreement gets ironed out first.

If this were pretty much any other department in Metro complaining that their building was going to be a non-functional mess, the solution would be easy.  On the Metro organization chart, you would find that the complaining party reports directly or indirectly to the Mayor. In that situation, it would be easy to see that the boss, the Mayor, would always win that disagreement.

Here, there is more to think through. The Sheriff holds a position that is created under the Tennessee Constitution. So, the Mayor is not the Sheriff’s boss, and the Sheriff does not report to the Mayor. However, the Sheriff does depend completely upon the Mayor’s office and the Council for funding. Back in the early days of Metro, the Mayor and Sheriff had a disagreement that had to be settled by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In Metro v. Poe, 383 S.W.2d 265 (Tenn. 1964), the Tennessee Supreme Court held that “..the Sheriff, as an officer of the Metropolitan Government is…bound by the budgetary and purchasing provisions of the Charter.” The bottom line is that the Sheriff doesn’t have a boss (other than the voters), but the Sheriff can’t do much without funds being appropriated by the Council and being spent by the Mayor. This is a political check and balance that was intentionally built into the Metro Charter.

So – back to the current complaints raised by the Sheriff. To me, three things are true: (1) as a legal matter, there is no question that the Mayor, as leader of the executive branch under the Metro Charter, wins this disagreement every time; (2) the Sheriff, as a separately elected official of Davidson County, has the right to complain about who is leading the construction projects; and (3) when the Sheriff makes that complaint, it is a political complaint, not a legal one. Listen, calling the Sheriff’s complaint a political one is not meant to demean it. The fact is that the Sheriff thinks the Mayor is exercising the power of her office poorly and he wants people to know about it. The reality is that, given how clear the law is, if a mutual agreement is not an option, apparently the only alternative is to make a political complaint alleging that the Mayor is doing a bad job with these constructions projects.

The goal of my two proposed amendments is to address the political disagreement. Having the Council walk into this fight probably won’t be fun; but it is the responsible thing for the Council to do.  Leaving the disagreement unresolved might lead to poor teamwork, lost opportunity, and wasted dollars. The citizens of Nashville should demand that the Sheriff be on the same page as the Mayor before we spend another $40 million. The citizens of Nashville don’t want to toss a $40 million log onto a blazing political fire; they deserve better. When everyone is on the same page, the money can be appropriated then.



Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.