It appears likely that Nashville voters will be asked to decide this fall on whether to extend the term limits for Metro Council members.
That's one of six proposed changes to the county charter that are now being reviewed.
On Friday, the Metro Charter Revision Commission will issue its nonbinding opinions about the ideas. Public input is welcomed at that meeting at 3 p.m. in Suite 205 at City Hall.
Extended term limits would allow those elected the chance to serve 12 years instead of the current eight.
South Nashville Councilwoman Davette Blalock is leading the push for longer terms. She says members need more time because, in the beginning of their terms, the learning curve is so steep that little can be accomplished.
“You’re really just trying to figure out who to call when you need something,” Blalock said. "It takes several years just to figure all that out.”
For example, she said a request for a new stoplight in her district took four years to finalize.
“A lot of times people thinks it’s because people are dragging their feet … when it comes to government,” she said. “But when you get in government you realize how everything has to be done so thoroughly.”
The public has rejected longer term limits before, including in 2015. But prior ballots lumped the idea in with other less-popular proposals, so some observers think that extending terms has a better chance on its own this year.
Dewey Branstetter, chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, said he expects the group to endorse the extended term limits.
He argues that the current two-term cap creates a lot of council turnover, which thwarts the council from tackling complex issues or fully understanding the city budgeting process.
“There has been a loss of institutional knowledge by only allowing two terms,” he said. “Limiting the council to two terms really is not in the best interest of Metropolitan government.”
Both Branstetter and Blalock say voters provide the ultimate check on council members, with the power to elect a replacement.
Procedural Changes Considered
All of the charter proposals are available in detail online here: PDF. In short:
- Amendment A would revise the line of succession for the office of mayor.
- Amendment B would clarify when special elections are held for mayor, vice mayor, and council members.
- Amendment C would eliminate runoff elections for vice mayor and district council members, and institute a method of “instant runoff voting,” in which voters ranking candidates in order of preference.
- Amendment D would require the oath of office to include an oath to uphold the Metro Charter.
- Amendment E would revise term limits for council members from two terms to three, as explained above.
- Amendment F would update the Metro Charter with gender-neutral references, for example changing uses of “he” to “he or she.”
Three of these revolve around a single subject: the line of succession for filling the office of mayor in times of vacancy. The city had to call on its current process in the wake of Megan Barry’s resignation this year, elevating David Briley from vice mayor to mayor.
But officials realized there wasn’t a thorough plan for succession for a scenario beyond the vice mayor, potentially leaving the city with a vacancy that could bring day-to-day business to a halt.
“My best judgement is that no one contemplated this type of an issue 57 years ago,” Branstetter said. “This year, it put a focus on saying, ‘OK, what happens if you have to go to that third person? How does that process work?' "
The succession proposal that’s now on the table would ask the council to elect a temporary mayor — and bar that temporary officeholder from seeking the mayor or vice mayor’s office in the next election.
A related proposal outlines when a special election would be needed for mayor, vice mayor and district council members — and clarifies that no special elections would be held for vacant councilmember-at-large seats.
Branstetter said these measures, as brought by Councilman Dave Rosenberg, have been received favorably.
A third Rosenberg pitch, which would use a different voting method for special elections — “instant runoff voting” — faces more questions. An opinion by the Metro Law Department found that state election laws don’t allow for the method.
Two other amendments are also up for consideration. Amendment D would require that upon taking office, the mayor, vice mayor and council members give an oath to uphold the Metro Charter.
Amendment F would revised the entire charter to use gender-neutral references in place of masculine-only pronouns.