Metropolitan Nashville Government
Just over fifty years ago, the citizens of Davidson County and the City of Nashville had a great debate about our future. They understood the higher cost and inefficiency involved in keeping two separate forms of local government in place and funding them.
They decided to do something different about their government - different than the rest of the country. They voted to consolidate our competing and duplicative city and county governments into one. They called this new government Metro. They saw this as a way to make our community stronger and more efficient in delivering services to the citizens. They voted to create the first fully unified government in the United States with the passage of the Metro Charter on June 28, 1962.
How Our Metropolitan Government Was Formed
After World War II, Davidson County, Tennessee experienced dramatic growth as people began moving out of Nashville's older urban neighborhoods into new modern houses being rapidly built in new neighborhoods known as suburbs. The county's educational system attempted to keep up with the increased school‐age population by building new schools in the suburbs, but the county did not have the financial resources to provide other basic services, such as fire protection, sanitary sewers, or garbage collection. This population shift also created a financial challenge for Nashville's city government as its tax base began to erode. County residents enjoyed many city services such as the use of its public libraries and parks system without paying the city taxes which funded those services. The county was unable to provide such services as a sewer system and fire protection. In addition to the problems caused by rapid growth, there was some overlapping of services by the city and the county. Both the city and county operated school systems; each had a health department. Elected officials and community leaders in both the city and county recognized that they needed to work together to solve these problems. After twenty years of lengthy debates over the best solution, the residents of the city of Nashville and Davidson County voted to consolidate their governmental functions into a new completely form of government now known as the Metropolitan Government of Nashville‐Davidson County.
In 1958, the voters of Nashville and Davidson County rejected a charter to consolidate the city and county into one metropolitan unit of government by a referendum, in spite of the fact that the charter was supported by County Judge Beverly Briley and Nashville Mayor Ben West as well as both Nashville newspapers. Since metropolitan government had failed, the city of Nashville immediately implemented alternative plans to improve its tax base. It began to annex commercial and suburban residential property outside the city limits and created a $10.00 wheel tax on all cars regularly using the city streets. This wheel tax, known as “the green sticker tax” outraged suburban residents in both the newly annexed areas and the remainder of Davidson County alike because it applied to all county residents who worked in the city. The annexation plan added 82,000 residents to the population of the city of Nashville. Other neighborhoods adjoining the city, but not inside Nashville’s city limits worried that their neighborhood could be annexed as well. Although the residents of the county wanted some city services such as a sewer system and fire protection, they feared that their taxes would increase without the city providing these additional services. Suburban residents in both the newly annexed areas and other suburban areas of the county called for another referendum on consolidation. The General Assembly created a second charter commission to write a second charter for metropolitan government.
When the second charter was completed, the size of the metropolitan council had been increased from twenty‐one members to forty members. It proposed to create thirty‐five districts which each would be represented by a member of the council and five at‐large members which would represent the county as a whole. The new charter provided for a transition school board to implement the consolidation of the two school systems. It also attempted to address the concerns of the residents of the county who had been annexed by creating two service districts, the General Services District and the Urban Services District, to provide for a differential in tax levels. Residents of the Urban Services District had a full range of city services. The areas that comprised the General Services District, however, had a lower tax rate until services were provided. Six incorporated communities in the county ‐ Berry Hill, Belle Meade, Oak Hill, Forest Hills, Goodlettsville, Lakewood ‐ were allowed to retain their charters. These satellite communities would be allowed to keep their existing police forces and zoning regulations, but would still be part of Metropolitan Nashville‐Davidson County.
Led by County Judge Beverly Briley and The Tennessean, supporters of the new charter launched a massive political campaign for passage. Mayor Ben West and the Nashville Banner no longer supported consolidation since the city had attempted to achieve a similar goal by annexation; they led the opposition. The African‐American community of the city was divided over the long‐term benefits of consolidation for African Americans since they had steadily gained political power in the city since World War II. In spite of their reservations, key African‐American leaders such as Z. Alexander Looby and Avon Williams endorsed the new charter. On June 28, 1962, the voters of the city and the county voted in favor of the creation of Metropolitan government. Beverly Briley was elected the first mayor in November and Metropolitan government was implemented on April 1, 1963 with the swearing in of Mayor Briley & the newly elected Metropolitan Council. Nashville became the national pioneer in Metropolitan organization. Although other cities had partial consolidation, Nashville was the first city in the country to achieve true consolidation. Today, there are some fourteen consolidated governments in the United States out of over 3100 county units. Each successful consolidation has used the 1962 Nashville charter as a model.
Metropolitan government is a consolidation of two governments rather than the county taking over the city or the city taking over the county government. It is, in reality, a third form of local government with a range of options and flexibility to provide for population shifts to the suburbs. The charter provides a mechanism for changes to be made in the document through the Charter Revision Commission. Since 1962, the Charter has been amended for several housekeeping measures, but there has not been a major, comprehensive revision of the Charter since its adoption.