Next year, 17 members of the Nashville Metro Council, plus two at-large members, will be terming out. Additionally, Steve Glover–who was serving his first term as an at-large council member–stepped down from his position in March, bringing the total of open at-large positions up to three. The vacancies in the forty-member body need to be filled; however, state legislators may vote to shrink the council down to twenty members during this year’s General Assembly. What would the implications of such an action be? Let’s take a brief look at the history of Metro Council.
NASHVILLE METRO COUNCIL HISTORY
The council consists of 35 district council members, who represent around 15-17K residents each, and five at-large council members, who are elected by and are representative of the entire county. The positions are limited to two terms that are four years in length. The role of an at-large council member is considered a distinctly separate position from that of a district council member. In other words, a candidate can serve two terms as a regular district council member and then serve two more terms as an at-large council member consecutively.
It’s not uncommon to see district council members become at-large council members and for at-large council members to run for mayor: in fact, the last three mayors of Nashville served as at-large council members. More recently, Freddie O’Connell, a current council member, has already announced his 2023 mayoral run, while some of his colleagues have hinted at their own campaigns.
SHRINKING THE COUNCIL
Back in 2015, an amendment to reduce the body of Nashville’s Metro council members from 40 to 27 appeared on the ballot. The initiative was an effort to consolidate the power of the council in order to hold a stronger check against the mayor's office. The amendment failed, and Metro Council remains the third-largest city council in the country.
WILL THE GOP SHRINK THE COUNCIL?
Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton told Axios that his colleagues have discussed legislation aimed at reducing the size of Nashville’s council. Trusted sources have corroborated this and revealed that the proposed bill could potentially reduce all city councils in Tennessee to 20 members. The question remains: what is to gain from this?
While the implications are endless, there is one thing that will certainly happen if Metro Council is reduced in size by state-level legislation. Decreasing the council will decrease the number of districts and, in turn, will increase the area each council member represents. Consolidating the existing districts will put political pressure on candidates running in the next council election, forcing some of the current council members to go toe-to-toe with one another on the ballot.