Since the formation of our Metropolitan government in 1963, we have been governed by the Metro Charter, which operates as the local equivalent of the U.S. Constitution. Amendments to our Metro Charter should be taken very seriously and only considered when:
• Circumstances have significantly changed so that the existing Charter language is no longer sufficient;
• The Charter is silent or fails to address a subject of public policy for the general good of our citizens;
• We face circumstances that the authors of the Charter could not or did not anticipate in 1963. Amendments should never be used to address a single political issue for a political or personal agenda.
There are those who would argue that the Charter be amended to allow voters, instead of the elected officials of the Metropolitan Council, to decide whether to build large capital projects. Today, there is a proposal to amend our Metro Charter that, if passed, would put the financing package for the Music City Center and adjoining anchor hotel to a public referendum. While I strongly value the voice of the people and the power of the vote, this proposal is bad public policy and will waste taxpayer money.
As members of the Metro Council, we were elected to office to represent all residents of Davidson County and we took an oath to make informed decisions that are in the best interests of our citizens. Specifically, our citizens made their voice heard when they went to the voting booth and elected us in 2007.
If the citizens feel we have individually or collectively failed in our due diligence and service to our county and districts, their voice will be heard again in the next election. This is the foundation of our democracy and should not be subverted every time there is a challenging issue or disagreement from some in our elected body.
There are certainly situations in which referendums are needed, but the proposed amendment is not one of those rare circumstances and fails to reach the high threshold for changing our Charter.
Last year there was a divisive public referendum to amend our Metro Charter to make English the official language of Davidson County. It failed by a significant margin. The English-only legislation should have been decided by the Metro Council, which would have spared our community from the disruptive politics of special interests and the national embarrassment surrounding the public vote.
On the same ballot was a measure to make it easier to amend our Metro Charter, which also failed by an overwhelming majority of citizens who believed in the strength of our founding document. These recent ballot measures reinforce why it is bad public policy for any government to rule by referendum. During last year’s budget debate, we had to make difficult decisions when passing the $1.5 billion operating budget. There was tremendous civil discourse around funding priorities, and we eventually passed a balanced budget in the face of historic economic turmoil. The Council also debated and passed Mayor Dean’s $550 million water, sewer and storm water plan in addition to a $560 million capital improvement budget. Each of these issues required extensive briefings from city department heads, numerous committee hearings, countless hours of research and input gathered during community meetings across the city.
The general public has entrusted this body to make informed decisions on their behalf and hold us accountable for every one of our actions. If our community had to hold a public referendum on every major issue, we would be in the same shape as California’s state government — broke and ineffective.
These ballot measures are extremely expensive for taxpayers and divert hundreds of thousands of dollars from other city priorities such as schools and public safety. If the Music City Center goes to public referendum, there will be two separate public votes costing Davidson County taxpayers at least $500,000. There are much more efficient ways to gather input from our constituents: neighborhood meetings, e-mails and good old-fashioned phone calls.
The Metro Council is still awaiting the financing package for the Music City Center and the adjoining hotel, so at this point there is really nothing to debate. We anticipate receiving the voluminous financing package later this year, at which point Council members will begin reviewing and asking tough questions directly to the mayor, Metro Finance Department and other expert sources. This process will provide the time needed to process the information and put us in the best position to make an informed decision on behalf of Davidson County taxpayers.
For nearly 50 years, the Metro Charter has served as a sound governing document for our community. There are occasional circumstances that warrant considering amendments, but these rare cases should not be driven by the desires of personal or special interests.
We must preserve the integrity of the Metro Charter and protect it from the politics of the day.