Humorously described by Councilmember Parker as having “big ‘this could have been an email’ energy,” 2024’s first council meeting began with the approval of a whopping 14 board, commission, and authority appointments. Though tedious, these placements were likely some of the most impactful accomplishments during the three-and-a-half-hour meeting.
Aside from filling five of the vacant Metro Arts Commission seats, the council also confirmed three Sports Authority appointments, two Fire and Building Code Appeals Board appointments, and single appointments to the Emergency Communications District Board, Sexually Oriented Business Licensing Board (yes, this is a thing), Stormwater Management Commission, and the Transportation Licensing Commission.
Instead of voting individually on each nominee, the council heard all the committee recommendations at once: Vice Mayor Henderson then placed them on consent to be voted on in one fell swoop. However, Councilmember Johnston requested Beverly Watts, one of O’Connell’s Metro Arts nominees, to be pulled from the consent agenda. This seemed to be a widely appreciated request, considering the controversy surrounding Watts’s nomination.
METRO’S EVALUATION OF BEVERLY WATTS
“I live in District 11 in a place called Hopewell,” Watts shared while introducing herself to the Rules, Confirmations, and Public Elections Committee during yesterday’s interviews. “Some people might know it as the Hopewell Box.” Though her reference seemed to go over nearly everyone’s head, Watts was referring to Jim Squires’ The Secrets of the Hopewell Box, a nonfiction account of Nashville ballot swapping, jury tampering, and corruption made famous in the 90s.
During her evaluation, Watts disclosed that the allegations filed against her during her tenure as director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission weren’t “her first rodeo.” “In Louisville, Kentucky, I spent the summer in the press with allegations of all sorts,” she told Councilmember Sepulveda.
When pressed by Councilmember Johnston on the circumstances of those additional allegations, Watts explained it as workplace politics. “I was a new director,” she said. “The staff decided they didn’t want me, so everything I did went to the Courier-Journal.” She concluded, “I did have a commission body that conducted a full investigation that cleared me of all charges.”
Councilmember Evans made sure to ask Watts if she would be a good collaborator if elected to the commission. “I currently serve on six boards, one national,” she replied. “So I do understand collaboration. I’m a pretty collaborative person, but every once in a while one must be the third-grade teacher I knew when I went to school.” Watts was unanimously approved by the committee and later voted onto the commission by the council with a vote of 22 yeses, 11 noes, and 5 abstentions.
In fact, all five arts commission nominees were unanimously approved by the Rules, Confirmations, and Public Elections Committee. Keeping in lockstep with Daniel Singh, the Executive Director of Metro Arts, Sepulveda asked each nominee whether they would “distribute funds equitably” or “commit to equitable practices.”
While the community comment period was mostly monopolized by protestors supporting Palestine, the council aired their own grievances with a protest of their own. A symbolic resolution opposing the expansion of the Education Savings Account program was discussed then passed, despite— as Councilmember Nash pointed out— Davidson County already being part of the ESA program.
Of more significance was the passing of a bill regarding the agreement between the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, United Way of Greater Nashville, and Metro Government. Following an audit of the Community Foundation, its director has since requested to recuse the foundation from the responsibility of distributing funding. Six months in the works, the amended bill was commended as a victory for transparency, efficiency, and accountability when it comes to the distribution of disaster relief funds.