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Metro Public Courthouse

As has become fairly standard practice, Davidson County voters will be asked to vote on amending the Metro Charter in the August election. The four charter amendments come at the end of the extraordinarily long ballot, which includes primaries for state and federal office, the general election for certain county offices and state judicial retention questions.

But the first of the four may make it a touch more difficult to put future amendments on the ballot. 

Amendment 1 changes the way the charter is amended and — to say the quiet part out loud — was almost certainly at least partially inspired by an ongoing Americans for Prosperity-backed effort to change the charter to radically overhaul the way Metro sets its property tax rate. In any case, Amendment 1’s supporters claim it will make certain requirements for putting an amendment to referendum via petition easier to understand. What it does in fact do is raise the threshold for the ballot. Under the current charter, a petition to add an amendment to the ballot says the petition must have signatures equal to or exceeding 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the preceding general election. The amendment changes that figure to 10 percent of all registered voters. This can drastically increase the requirement, given that Metro elections rarely draw more than 25 percent turnout, midterm state and federal elections hover around 50 percent, and presidential elections draw in the mid to low 60s.

The amendment also increases the role of the charter review committee in petition-driven charter changes by giving that board the power to approve language before it goes to the election commission. It does allow for appeals of those decisions to chancery court.

Amendment 2 will potentially change the physical requirements for recruits to the Metro Nashville Police and Nashville Fire departments. For decades, those requirements have matched those of the United States Army or Navy. The amendment would instead allow the civil service commission to write those standards. To match state law, the amendment would also add a requirement that police recruits be United States citizens.

Amendment 3 makes a distinction between the board of health and the Metro Public Health Department and updates the requirements for Metro’s director of health. It also removes or replaces certain outdated language (substituting “mentally ill” for “insane,” for example).

Amendment 4 officially creates the Nashville Department of Transportation and Multimodal Infrastructure. NDOT is already operational under a 2021 memorandum of understanding, which effectively replaced the Department of Public Works with the new department, and the charter change will allow Metro to pursue grants and federal funding via NDOT. That 2021 MOU also, rather confusingly, moved trash and recycling collection under the purview of Metro Water. The charter amendment does not make that change permanent, meaning the Metro Council would have to do so through the standard legislative process. The mayor’s office has crafted legislation to do just that, but an alternative would be the creation of a separate waste services division.

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