The Metro Council gave final approval Tuesday night of new districting maps for both council and school board districts.
The unanimous third vote finalizes the new council district map — created by the Metro Planning Department staff and approved by the department’s commission — more than four weeks before candidates must file qualifying papers on May 19. The election is Aug. 4.
There was no discussion prior to the voice vote.
“Most of us are pleased with it,” Councilman Frank Harrison said after the brief special council meeting. “We had a chance for input with the Metro Planning Department.”
The most significant changes with the new council lines are in southeast Davidson County near Antioch, by far the fastest growing part of the city based on U.S. Census Bureau decennial data comparing 2000 to 2010. That area of the county essentially gained a council seat with the redrawn map while the northeast part of the county lost one.
Tuesday night’s vote ends what had been, at times, a somewhat contentious effort.
Originally, the planning department said it could not take U.S Census Bureau data, which would later arrive in early March, and process it quickly and thoroughly enough for election purposes.
However, the department took up the matter of promptly redrawing the map amid what appeared some pressure from the Metro Council after Nashville attorney George Barrett threatened a lawsuit against the city if it did not act promptly. Historically, Metro has put off both the map redrawing and approval process until after the election following each census. After 20 years, both the release of the decennial Census data and a Metro election coincide.
In addition, former Metro Councilman Don Majors, who currently serves as a senior aide for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, chimed in, supporting Barrett’s argument and noting how delaying the redistricting effort until after the August election could result in council representation confusion.
On March 31, the Metro Planning Commission approved the redistricting map by a vote of 7-0. During the meeting, various commissioners commended the planning department staff for its good work.
However, that almost two-hour meeting was not without debate. For example, commissioner Tonya Jones, a Bellevue resident, expressed concern about how the map treated the west Davidson County suburb and its Districts 22 and 35.
Jones wanted essentially a north-south split, with Interstate 40 creating the divider. The commission voted down her motion to amend as such, living Bellevue with a District 22 that essentially represents “urban, downtown Bellevue” and a District 35 “wrapping” District 22 and comprising the suburb’s more rural and park-like areas.
Regarding Districts 11 and 12, commissioner Jim Gotto, who also serves as the Metro Council District 12 representative, presented a motion to have the recommended map tweaked for the Lakewood-area and Percy Priest Lake-area districts, which he felt offered less-than-ideal geographic borders. The commission sided with Gotto, who claimed he had no hidden agenda as he is being term-limited out of office.
Of note, the map includes 15 districts with Hispanic populations of 8 percent of higher (compared to six such districts for the 2007 election) and seven districts with a majority or plurality of African-American residents. Davidson County is 27 percent black and 9.7 percent Latino.
In addition, District 6 no longer covers a portion of the Central Business District and, instead, is located completely east of the Cumberland River.
Based on geographic boundaries of the districts, the core of Davidson County remains the most densely populated area, with contiguous Districts 5, 6, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21 and 24 all showing significant density. However, Southeast Davidson County continues to become more densely populated as seen by the relatively geographically smallish Districts 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 32.
The redistricting map does not affect police or fire protection, nor will it change where children attend Metro’s public schools.
After Tuesday night’s special council meeting, Gotto said he was “pleased overall.”
However, he maintained a continued concern that the process was not as orderly as it could have been.
In other business, the council deferred voting on a memorializing resolution that would urge the state legislature to stay out of the issue of changing Metro’s election date.
The resolution is in direct response to an amendment to a caption bill Gotto has filed as a state representative. If approved at the next regular council meeting, it would move Metro’s election to coincide with presidential elections in November. It would initiate by moving the August 2015 election to November 2016.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by council members Megan Barry, Jerry Maynard and Ronnie Steine, would put the council’s position on record, though it would carry no practical policy effect.
Steine said the resolution now has 30 sponsors and was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting due to the sponsors not having enough time to get it on the agenda. He said Gotto did not give the council a heads-up and added the caption bill was "filed in a rush."
Gotto said he did not alert the council to his state bill and added his approach to handling the matter was "the right thing to do."