Metro has started planning new districts for a drastically reduced Metro Council in response to legislation passed by the state legislature Thursday morning.
The legislation was signed into law almost immediately by Gov. Bill Lee, initiating a 30-day window for Metro to conjure new districts for a municipal body that can’t exceed 20 representatives. According to sources, a legal challenge from Metro could come as soon as Monday.
Metro Legal Director Wally Dietz issued a statement foreshadowing legal action opposing the state law that Dietz said contains “several serious legal defects." Mayor John Cooper urged state leaders to reconsider the legislation in a letter sent Monday, citing "practical and constitutional concerns" about invalid districts, truncated council terms and compressed implementation timelines.
Richel Albright, a spokesperson for the Metro Planning Department, said that planners will continue working within the shifting legal landscape.
“In accordance with State Law HB48/SB87, the Metro Planning Department has initiated the process of creating maps for redistricting the Metro Council,” reads a statement from Albright. “If at any point Metro Planning receives guidance from the Courts to cease our activities, we will do so immediately.”
A small team of planners led by Greg Claxton has been tasked with reforming districts that are compliant with state law. The team must also observe criteria such as roughly equal population size across districts and representation protections guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.
While the legislation caps any of the state's metropolitan bodies at 20, it does not prescribe a specific size for the council or its makeup. Currently, the 40-person body consists of 35 members representing roughly 20,000 constituents each across 35 districts, as well as five at-large representatives elected countywide. A reduced council could take many forms and distribute seats differently between districts and at-large members, a decision that will fall to current councilmembers.
Planning will hold open hours next week for councilmembers and candidates actively campaigning ahead of Metro’s Aug. 3 election. A court injunction could halt the process, but Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said the council has to operate quickly.
"We’re on very tight timeframes based on the law that passed," Shulman said. "If nothing happens, legally we’ll have to proceed very quickly. We’re going to let Metro Legal take initial action. But we can’t wait too long — that’s why we’re glad planning is going to start talking about possible new districts.”
In addition to redrawing districts, Metro may respond to other aspects of a reduced council. District 14 Councilmember Kevin Rhoten chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, currently considering funding tweaks for 2024. Those may include increased pay for councilmembers and more council staff.
“Obviously, reducing the size of council to 20 or fewer will significantly increase the workload for a councilmember in the years to come,” Rhoten said. “I think salary and staffing will be one of the first areas we will discuss to make sure the future councilmembers have what they need to help Nashville prosper.”
This story was first published by our sister publication Nashville Scene.
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