Tag: Metro charter

The Other Charter Amendments

With early voting starting, I am getting a lot of questions about the other Charter amendments — Numbers 2 through 6.

The text of the proposed amendments is here.

A good round-up by Tony Gonzalez at WPLN is here.

(I’ve already posted about Amendment #1 on community oversight. I am voting FOR #1. My previous post is here.)

My thoughts on #2 through #6 are:

#2 — This amendment adds a new provision about what would happen if both the Mayor and Vice Mayor were unable to serve. Currently, the Charter is silent about what would happen. This is definitely a very low-probability event, but earlier this year, it became clear that if David Briley had been unable or unwilling to serve as Mayor for any reason, the seat would have remained vacant until the next election. This amendment fills the hole. If passed, the new provision would have the Council choose a temporary mayor. The person selected would not be allowed to run for the office. This is supposed to keep the Council from getting too bogged down in the politics of trying to figure who would get a head start in an election. I am voting FOR #2.

#3 — This amendment talks about when a special election will take place when various seats are vacant. Most of this amendment is just clarifying language. The biggest change in this one is about when to hold a special election for a vacant district council seat. Currently, if a vacancy will be less then 12 months, there is no special election. The amendment would change this threshold to 8 months. There are pros and cons both ways. With the current 12 months, an individual district may suffer from having no leadership for up to a year. The problem with shortening it up to 8 months is that there could be scenarios where a Council member might resign with 8 months and a day until the next scheduled election. Under the new language, that would trigger a special election. The special election would take about 70 days to organize, and then another few weeks for the Election Commission to certify the result. In that case, the winner would be getting sworn in with just about 5 months until the next election (and therefore immediately begin campaigning). On this one, I am close to indifferent and may let “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” guide me to vote AGAINST #3.

#4 — This amendment would change the oath of office for Metro positions to include a promise to uphold the Metro Charter. I am very indifferent on this because we are obligated to uphold the Charter whether it is in the oath of office or not. That said, I believe I will vote FOR #4.

#5 — This amendment would extend term limits for Council members from 2 terms to 3 terms. The argument behind this one is that term limits are said by some to have further watered down the power of the Metro Council and tilted our form of government even more in favor of the Mayor. I have two reasons why I’ll vote against this one. First, voters in Davidson County reject the idea of extending term limits every chance they get and I want to be responsive to that. Second, I suspect that Council members would not gain much more skill or influence or knowledge in years 9 to 12 than they do in years 5 to 8 in the Council. I’ll vote AGAINST #5.

#6 — This amendment would update the Charter to use gender neutral terms throughout. If you read the Charter now, it is striking how dated the terminology is. I will for FOR #6.

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.