A quick Metro Council meeting Tuesday night ended on a familiar note for increasingly irritated members, with more talk of state legislators meddling in local government.
Just before the body adjourned, At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine introduced a late resolution requesting that state legislators reject legislation that would empower satellite cities in Davidson County beyond the authority granted to them by the Metro charter. It passed unanimously.
The state bill, which will appear before the House Local Government Committee next Tuesday, would allow satellite cities like Forest Hills, Belle Meade, Berry Hill and others to provide more of their own services — such as a court system, police service or public school system — even if they duplicate government services currently provided by the Metro government. The Metro charter currently allows such cities to provide only the services they were providing when Metro government officially formed in 1963.
“The council is unanimously on record as asking the legislature to kill the legislation that would change our charter without folks in Nashville having any say in it,” Steine told The City Paper. “I understand that the satellite cities probably don’t think that most of Nashville wants to dilute Metro government, but it really will open the door to many possibilities to be redundant. And at least in a couple of the satellite cities it’s going to cost those people more money because they’re going to start levying a property tax.”
That would not affect residents of Belle Meade, for instance, where a property tax is already in place.
“But Oak Hill and Forrest Hills are going to pay more taxes as sure as we’re sitting here, and it won’t be because of those of us sitting here,” said Steine.
“There is clearly a pattern,” he said. “And if one were a conspiracy theorist, one would think that there was a concerted effort on a statewide basis to try to somehow alter or change what’s working in this community. We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of this charter that’s served this city better than most other cities in the country. We have our intramural squabbles, but they’re all at the same table, which makes for much more efficient government. This will absolutely open the door to, ultimately, dismantling Metro government, at least in certain parts of the city.”
Councilman Darren Jernigan is also a newly elected state representative, and sits on the House Local Government Committee where he said he plans to “wear them out” on the issue.
“How would [Rep. Joe Carr, the bill’s sponsor] feel if I went to Lascassas and decided to fool around with his little government there?” Jernigan said. “Metro government is the best thing that’s ever happened to this city, if not the state, for the capital city. And to even come in and not even realize how hard it is to run a city. That little city, they would get drilled on stormwater, ADA, they would get drilled on all kinds of compliance issues.”
Mayor Karl Dean has said the legislation would “gut” the Metro model of government, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has sided with him, saying the proposal would “unravel Metro government.”
In a recent interview with The City Paper, House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican whose district includes some of the potentially affected satellite cities, was less direct about her feelings on the matter.
“So it’s a tough dilemma,” she said, “and I’m open to being understanding of both sides, and we’ve enjoyed metropolitan government; I think it’s been good for the county. I also understand the needs of these local governments to meet their constituents’ needs. I mean, that’s close to the people, right? And if people are saying then, we want this service provided by Oak Hill or Forest Hills, I want to understand that and hear that. So I really haven’t come down on that on a side yet.”
At-large Councilman Tim Garrett did make a point to remind the council that satellite cities Goodlettsville and Ridgetop did not sign on in support of the state legislation.
While the bill will appear before the House Local Government Committee next week, it has already been deferred to the Senate State and Local Government Committee’s final meeting of the legislative session.