Friday, September 13, 2019

What the Metro Council Isn't

Randy Foster
By Randy Foster - 1. Congress -- The Metro Council is the legislative branch of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Federal issues often impact local government, but rarely does the Council need to opine on the federal affairs of the day. If you want to reform healthcare or balance the federal budget, you should set your aim higher and leave the Council to those who want to affect local land use or decide how local government spends money.

2. The Tennessee General Assembly -- See #1 above. If your political interests run to regulating guns or outlawing abortion, you may find the Metro Council to be a narrow playing field.

3. A partisan body -- In the Council chamber, there are no Democrats and no Republicans (although partisan politics sometimes intrudes). Some might argue that the Council is primarily populated by members of the “Know-Nothing” Party, but I would disagree! The Metro Charter is clear that candidates run in nonpartisan races. Pragmatic, nonpartisan politics means that a new coalition is formed for each vote, and you will be surprised who your allies may be. The old saw that “politics makes for strange bedfellows” could have been written with the Metro Council in mind.

4. The Executive Branch of Metro Government -- Councilmembers do not fill potholes, mow weeds, operate parks, fix stormwater problems, pick up the trash, teach our children, put out fires, patrol our streets, lend out books, represent the Metropolitan Government in court, or do the thousands of other things that are the responsibility of the Executive Branch, i.e., in most cases, the Mayor. If you want to be Mayor, file a qualifying petition, pull several hundreds of thousands of dollars out of your mattress, and go for it!

5.A springboard to higher office (for most people) -- Walk around the committee rooms and common areas of the Council office, and you will see framed Council District maps surrounded by the faces of Councilmembers you’ve never heard of, who came and went with hardly a peep. A relative few have gone to the General Assembly with a few more going to positions on the bench. But no Mayors…no Congressmen. A Councilmember is well served by remembering the humbling fact that, if someone shows him or her respect, it is likely he or she was likely mistaken for someone else far more important.

6. A place to become famous or popular -- People will curse you, revile you, mistrust you, and say upon first meeting you that you are “bought and paid for.” Neighbors will line up on both sides of an issue with you squarely between the rock and the hard place. You family will wonder who you’ve become and will make a life without you. And for all this, you’ll be paid a whopping $15,000 a year before taxes and spend your life at Council meetings, committee meetings, Planning Commission meetings, Traffic and Parking Commission meetings, Greenway Commission meetings, ribbon cuttings, office hours, constituent meetings, 9/11 observances, and Boy Scout and Girl Scout awards ceremonies. Also, you’ll think your phone has grown to your ear, and you’ll read thousands of emails. Oh, and don’t forget the time you’ll spend reading analyses of legislation and all the mail that Councilmembers are heir to. If elected, you’ll find that only 39 other people will really understand what you’re facing, i.e. the other members. Treasure them!

7. Your personal fiefdom -- I am not the Earl of Sevenmile Creek (although I think it would be a pretty title). You will not be royalty or nobility. You will, I hope, be a servant of the people you represent. A lack of humility and communication can lead to disastrous relationships with your constituents. It has been frequently been said that you can vote for just about anything and not irretrievably alienate your constituents if you will (a) return your calls, (b) return your emails, and (c) not get crosswise with your constituents over zoning issues.

Service on the Metro Council is a high calling and a heady experience, and I am deeply honored and humbled to have been elected twice to represent my neighbors. Having tread for a while the path that the 13th Metropolitan Council will continue, I recommend to those who will follow me the ancient words of Proverbs 16:18 which could have been written for all politicians everywhere: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 Randy Foster is a former member of the Metro Council. This was written by Randy several years ago but is as true now as then. I also once served on the Metro Council and agree with everything he says.  I wish every council member would read this essay, especially those newly elected members, and take it to heart.

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1 comment:

  1. I've updated with a note referencing John Cooper's jump from the Council to Mayor. I had previously added a note for Megan Barry's election: