Davidson County voters who work their way to the bottom of the ballot, past the races for the White House and the state legislature, will find something a little more mundane.
Five Metro Charter amendments received the required 27 Metro Council votes and will now be put to the people. The issues they address vary from the qualifications required of, and powers afforded to, public officials to the terminology used to refer to school crossing guards.
While proposed changes to the city’s founding document have stoked controversy in the past — for example, the “English only” amendment in 2009 — the current ones have received relatively little attention.
If any has drawn moderate scrutiny, it is an amendment proposed by the Metro Department of Law, which it said is meant to clarify the duties and abilities granted to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. Metro law director Saul Solomon told The City Paper that the amendment would clarify the sheriff’s authority to continue carrying out certain duties that were once assigned to the police department, and permit the Metro Council to assign other duties to the sheriff as well.
“There have been certain activities the sheriff has engaged in over the years, which the charter is kind of silent as to who has the authority to do, be it the sheriff’s department or the police,” he said. “I think the better view is that in absence of any specific delegation in the charter, that the council would have the right to designate that the sheriff can do certain things.”
According to the language of the amendment, those would include duties “relating to the intake, processing, identification, questioning and interrogation” of people in official custody. Given the time at which the proposal was filed — just as the Tennessee Supreme Court was mulling over the DCSO’s participation in the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program — some saw the amendment as an attempt to ensure that the office could continue carrying out such duties, even if the court ruled that they could not do so as part of the 287(g) program.
As it happened, the sheriff’s office announced in August that it would be ending its participation in the program, and earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that such participation was not in violation of the Metro Charter or state law. As a result, Dewey Branstetter, who chairs Metro’s Charter Revision Commission, said the amendment may actually be more restricting than the charter’s current language. While the Supreme Court ruled that the council can assign additional tasks to the sheriff on its own, he said, the amendment requires that the chief of police and the sheriff be in agreement for such a transfer of duties to occur.
Another amendment on the ballot, proposed by Councilman Charlie Tygard, would do away with the requirement that the Metro public works director be a licensed engineer. Tygard noted that the department’s last two directors have not been licensed engineers, and called the move “one of common sense” given the position’s changing job description.
In the early 1960s when the Charter was adopted, the feeling was the public works director needed to oversee the building & maintenance of bridges, roads & sidewalks,” Tygard said. “Since those early days, the public works department has evolved into so much more — garbage and brush collection, beautification, community cleanup days. The director now is more of a manager of different divisions and the overseer of consulting, paving contracts, etc.”
Tygard said the proposal has gotten some pushback from the engineering community, but that the change would reflect the reality that is effectively already in place and would “expand our pool of qualified managers.”
The remaining amendments are more straightforward. Two sponsored by Councilwoman Emily Evans are part of an ongoing effort to update various areas of the 50-year-old charter. One would rename the police department’s “school mothers’ patrol” as the “school crossing guard division.” The change will get rid of the last remnants of an old set of requirements for mothers as crossing guards.
“In the process, we discovered this code provision related to the ‘school mothers patrol,’ ” said Evans. “And it set forth certain requirements like the school mother had to be between 105 and 140 pounds, and once she got pregnant she couldn’t be a school mother patrol person.”
Evans’ other amendment would rename Metro Water Services as the Department of Watershed Management, the language currently used by the Environmental Protection Agency. Evans said the change would also clarify that Metro’s stormwater functions fall under the Metro water department, as they have for some time.
The fifth and final charter amendment would allow Metro employees to serve on a part-time basis as poll workers for the county’s election commission, which says that organizing the amount of workers it needs during election season is often a difficult task.