Nashville vs. Tennessee

My thoughts on the new law that cuts Metro Council by half

Last week, the Governor signed legislation to shrink the size of Nashville’s Metro Council and simultaneously plunge Nashville’s upcoming local elections into chaos. I spoke against and voted against this brazenly unconstitutional and dramatically irresponsible legislation, but now we as a city have to figure out what’s next. 

Over the coming weeks, there will be lawsuits and big decisions to make in the Metro Council about how to move forward. Councilman Bob Mendes has a good explainer on what to watch and what to expect. But here’s a question that’s been posed over and over to me and other candidates for Mayor: 

Should the next Mayor be committed to fighting back against state overreach or finding a way to build a more cooperative relationship with the state government?

That’s a false choice, because the next Mayor of Nashville must do both. 

Nashville’s next Mayor — whether they want to or not — will be managing an ongoing, multi-front conflict with the State. This conflict didn’t begin with the Council’s decision on the RNC convention and it won’t end with the shrinking of the Metro Council. The legislature is still considering bills to take control of our airport authority, sports authority, convention center funding, and even regulation of downtown beer permitting. If you’re not willing and able to stand up for the city, its people, and its values, you don’t have any business being our next Mayor. 

At the same time, Nashville’s next Mayor — whether they want to or not — needs to work with state government to make progress. On education, housing, roads, transit, infrastructure, economic development, and public safety, the city’s future requires either building partnerships with the state or at least avoiding any efforts by the state to undermine or sabotage our success. If you’re not willing to search for common ground and work with common purpose wherever possible, you can’t succeed being our next Mayor. 

The days when Metro Nashville could focus on local issues and trust the State to focus on statewide issues are behind us. Managing our city’s complicated relationship with an increasingly interventionist state government is now an essential job requirement. 

Over the last nine years, Nashville has seen me defending our city’s interests and values in the state Senate. I’m not someone who goes along to get along. Too often, I’ve been required to fight against legislation aimed at hurting our city or targeting vulnerable communities the supermajority too often uses as props in divisive culture wars. Sometimes I’ve succeeded; too often, I’ve been outnumbered. While I don’t get into dumb, personal, or performative spats with the supermajority, I’ve never sat out the fights that matter. 

At the same time, I’ve consistently found ways to work across the aisle and get things done. I’ve sponsored and passed over 75 laws, including legislation to allow Nashville to invest in affordable housing, to finally start regulating the downtown party buses, and to provide more affordable childcare options. I’ve worked with the last four Mayors and last two Governors to ensure Nashville had pathways to improving transportation and invest in mass transit. 

While I’ve got the experience needed for the challenges we face right now, voters deserve to know how I and the other candidates for Mayor view the challenge ahead.

Here’s the deal. The State and its capital city are symbiotic. There’s no way for the State to succeed if Nashville is in political or economic chaos, and it’ll be nearly impossible for Nashville to succeed if the State wants us to fail. The current state of affairs is a negative sum conflict where nobody will win. 

But that can’t mean our city sacrifices core values to make peace. Nashville must and should reject any interference that shuts our communities out of deciding our own future. We’ve worked too hard for too long to ensure that minority communities have real and meaningful representation in city government to simply accept a state-mandated replacement now. We will reject becoming a rightwing subsidiary that marginalizes the LGBT community, criminalizes immigrants, or abandons those in poverty. And we’re not going to sit politely and take it for a handful of legislators who want to treat the city as a plaything. 

Nashville is one of the great American cities — and it’s time to start acting like it. While we respect the State’s role and partnership, we are not powerless in this dispute. I hardly think the folks who don’t know how to keep children in state custody from sleeping on cots in office buildings are prepared to manage the complexities of managing a modern, international, economic powerhouse of a city. And regardless of recent bluster, the State depends on Nashville’s success. 

We have an amazing density of talent, ideas, creativity, and opportunities that attract people to move here and prompt those already here to stay. That’s why Nashville has been the center of Tennessee’s economic and population growth for the last two decades. Any effort to undermine the values of Nashville must be opposed not just because it’s bad for business but also because it’s inconsistent with who we are — and who we will continue to be. 


Paid for by Jeff Yarbro for Mayor, Danielle Norton, Treasurer.

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As a starting point for a safe city, we need to have a fully-staffed, well-trained, and well-compensated police force — and we need our police officers to be able to afford to live in the city they work to protect every day. 

Our next Mayor needs to work hand-in-glove with both the Chief of Police and the people who are out working in the field. And part of that is looking at the responsibilities we put on the police. Because we have a lot of police officers, we tend to ask them to do everything. But we need to have a real conversation about when there are other people who are better suited to step into a situation, like mental health services professionals. By focusing on and investing in wraparound services, we can allow our police officers to focus on the work they are trained and equipped to do. 

Nashville also needs to be much more intentional about having a trauma response strategy, especially for instances of significant violence. The tragedy at the Covenant School is a clear example of where more support on the trauma inflicted was needed, but it’s not just the obvious examples — if there’s a homicide on the street, we know from the data that kids’ test scores go down on that same street. There’s a broader effect of crime and violence, and we need to holistically respond to the trauma caused by lack of safety for our kids and families.


The next Mayor of Nashville has to make affordable housing a city-wide priority. In the state legislature, I helped author the legislation that allows Metro to invest in the Barnes Fund and appropriate dollars to acquire properties to build affordable housing — and that’s all well and good, but the reality is that as things stand, we are losing affordable housing units faster than we’re adding them.

Not only does pricing people out of our city clash with our values, it’s also an economic imperative for the city, from our tourism sector to almost any employer you’re talking to. We’ve got to be able to house more people in our city affordably if we want to have a thriving and inclusive Nashville.

To do that, we have to start with preserving more housing and improving property tax freezes so we don’t lose the affordable housing we’ve got. We also need to better utilize the Barnes Funds and public properties to bring the private sector off the sidelines on this issue. And finally, we need to clean up and speed up our zoning, permitting, and code process to ensure that you can make money by building affordable housing — because if we’re not bringing the private sector into the solution, we’re not going to solve this problem in Nashville.


Part of building a Nashville that works for all of us is getting a handle on growth. The growth and development of our city is moving at an exponential rate, but our housing and services are growing much more incrementally — and it’s in the distance between those two spots that the frustration and anxiety of people in this city lives. For many people, it feels like the growth is happening to us, not for us. 

Buying a house that you can afford in the neighborhood you love shouldn’t feel like you’re winning the lottery. And dropping your kids off at school or driving to work shouldn’t feel like you’re navigating around road closures and dodging potholes constantly. But that’s what we’ve got right now.

We need to take advantage of density where there’s demand and infrastructure for it so that we don’t have constant spread. We also need to have a laser-focus on what’s happening in people’s neighborhoods. Because where we run into problems with growth is when there’s no place for families to take a walk in their neighborhood, or no place to take their kids to play. We need to improve pedestrian infrastructure and small-scale infrastructure where people live their lives.

And finally, we need to get real about our transit problems. We are one of the only major cities in the country that doesn’t have a built-out transit system, and we’re about 30 years behind on this. The most important thing when it comes to solving this problem is thinking in terms of decades — not four-year mayoral terms. We can’t come up with a new vision every time we elect a new Mayor. Instead, we need to think about the long term and start making incremental improvements to our systems — making them more reliable, more frequent, and easier to use — while we collaborate with the people around us to think about transit regionally, too.


Providing a top-notch education for my first-grade daughter and eighth-grade son is the most important thing Nashville does for my family — and I think that’s true for a lot of families. If we don’t get public education right, we’re going to fail the families of our city. The Mayor can’t micromanage our public education system, but there are a few critical things our next Mayor has to do, starting with investing in our teachers. 

Right now, in Nashville, across Tennessee and around the whole country, we’re facing a teacher shortage. This makes sense when you look at what teachers are paid and the chronic underfunding of education, not to mention our affordable housing problem here in Nashville. So our next Mayor needs to be a full partner with the school system in recruiting and retaining our teacher corps — because you can’t invest in public education unless you’re investing in public educators.

The Mayor also needs to take a good look at what we can do to help families before kids even get to school, and after they leave school, too. We need to focus on high-quality child care options and pre-K, and we need to look closely at how we can transition kids out of high school, into community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and technical and vocational schools — and into the workforce.

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Jeff Yarbro for Mayor
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Nashville, TN 37209

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