Navigating the Metropolitan Government Legislative Process
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County was created by referendum in 1962 as the state’s first consolidated form of government, meaning the former City of Nashville and Davidson County consolidated into one government. The Metropolitan Government is governed by the Metropolitan Charter, the Metropolitan Code, Executive Orders issued by the Mayor, departmental regulations, and the rules and regulations of boards and commissions. These laws and regulations can be found on the Metropolitan Clerk website.
The Metropolitan County Council (“Metro Council” or “Council”) is the legislative body for the Metropolitan Government. The Metro Council is comprised of 35 district Council Members who are elected by district constituents and 5 Council Members-at-Large who are elected by all of Davidson County’s voters. The entire county also elects the Vice Mayor, who presides over Council meetings and other Council business. (To view a roster of the current Members of Council and Vice Mayor, please visit the Metro Council website.)
The Metropolitan Council transacts all official business through the enactment of ordinances (also referred to as “bills”) and the adoption of resolutions. The Charter provides that the Council is to exercise its legislative authority by ordinance unless the Charter or another law of general application provides otherwise. An ordinance is used to pass the city budget, tax levies, zoning changes, street/alley closures, encroachments within the public right-of-way, acquisitions of property, and the re-adoption of and amendments to the Metropolitan Code. There must be three separate readings in front of the Council before an ordinance can be enacted.
A resolution is typically used to approve internal policy changes, memorializing (non-binding) actions, Charter amendments to be submitted to the ballot for a referendum election, the settlement of claims, leases of equipment, grants, and certain contracts to which the Metropolitan Government is a party, as well as to appropriate funds to the various Metro departments. A resolution may be introduced and adopted in one reading.
Legislation originates from three different sources: the Metropolitan Department of Law, the Council Office, and other departments within the city. The Council Office prepares legislation that is requested directly by a Council member. Regardless of its origination, at least one member of the Council must sign the bill or resolution before it can be filed with the Metropolitan Clerk’s Office. The deadline for filing legislation with the Metropolitan Clerk’s Office is 4:00 p.m. on the Tuesday immediately preceding a regular meeting of the Council. Prior to filing legislation with the Clerk’s Office, it must be delivered to and reviewed by the Council Office no later than noon on the Friday preceding the regular Tuesday filing date.
Before legislation can be considered on the floor of the Council, it must be heard and discussed by a standing committee of the Council. There are fifteen standing committees that hold regular meetings on the Monday and Tuesday of a Council meeting week. Committee meetings are open to the public but the public may not testify unless called upon by a committee member. Assignments to a committee are made by the Vice Mayor. Unlike Congress or the Tennessee General Assembly, Council committees do not have the ability to “kill” a resolution or bill. Rather, such committees only make recommendations to the full Council. A resolution can be adopted with the majority of those Council members present and voting. A bill on third reading can be passed with a majority vote of the full Council (21 affirmative votes) under most circumstances. However, if the Planning Commission disapproves an amendment to the zoning maps or Code, or the Traffic and Parking Commission disapproves certain legislation pertaining to the use of streets by traffic, then 27 affirmative Council votes are required to pass the bill.
Council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the David Scobey Council Chambers located in the Historic Metro Courthouse. Meetings are televised by Metro Nashville Network (MNN) and are also available on the Metro Nashville Network website. Citizens interested in zoning matters may address the Council at public hearing meetings during the first Council meeting of every month. However, the easiest and most common way to communicate with Council Members is by phone or email.
The Mayor’s signature is the final step of the legislative process before the bill becomes effective. All legislation approved by the Council is sent to the Mayor for approval. The Mayor must approve or disapprove legislation before the next Council meeting. If the Mayor does not veto a piece of legislation but simply refuses to sign it, the legislation will become effective without his signature. All legislation that the Metropolitan Council passes includes a statement as to the effective date.
The agenda, an analysis of the proposed legislation, and the minutes of each meeting are published online. The Metropolitan Clerk’s Office publishes the Council agenda on its website the Wednesday before each Tuesday meeting. The Council Office publishes an analysis of the proposed legislation on the Thursday prior to the Council meeting. The purpose of this analysis is to provide a summary of the legislation, as well as to point out any potential legal issues that may be associated with the legislation. The agenda analysis is available on the Metropolitan Council website. Following each Council meeting, the Metropolitan Clerk’s office prepares the minutes of the meeting, which are posted on both the Clerk’s and Council’s website.