Nashville’s Metro Council waded into the thorny political issue of private prison operations on Tuesday, ultimately deciding to oppose any city employee pension funds from being invested into for-profit prisons, including locally based CoreCivic.
But to get there, members first had to sift through misinformation and navigate a touchy debate, resulting in an unusual final vote that many members skipped.
Shortly before the meeting, council members learned that the city does not have nearly a million dollars invested into CoreCivic, as prison detractors initially claimed. So instead of calling to divest those dollars, Councilwoman Erica Gilmore asked for a halt to any future prison investing.
“We just want to be clear that we’re not doing it now and we’re not doing it going forward,” she said. “There are several private prisons — and we don’t want to be involved with it.”
Gilmore was joined by 19 members to pass the measure 20-3, with many citing moral misgivings about private prisons.
But about as many were ambivalent — 17 members chose not to take a side (11 abstentions and 6 non-voting). Some sought to defer the measure to allow more time for research and others suggested the divestment message doesn’t fit with the fact that Metro has a contract with CoreCivic.
Other critics called it a bad precedent for the council to tell the investment committee how to do its work.
“Their job is to make the most money for our employees at all times, regardless of the politics involved,” said Councilman Robert Swope, who abstained.
In the end, the resolution is a nonbinding request. An independent committee still gets final say on how the pension fund (valued at nearly $3 billion) is managed.