Friday, October 20, 2023

Unsolicited Advice to Members of the New Metro Council

by Rod Williams, Oct. 3, 2023- 

Play nice and make friends. For one thing, life is just more pleasant if you have pleasant relationships, and you are going to be working with these people for the next four years.  Remember that political disagreements are not personal. While you may disagree over the amount of funding needed for the police force, you may bond with a fellow councilmember over sports or music or food and drink or travel or grandkids or any number of other things.  Get to know your fellow council members. While personal relationships may not lead to a colleague voting your way, it may lead to the courtesy of making sure your bill is not killed in committee because you are late and stuck in traffic. 

Remember where you are.  This is not the U.S. Senate. Sometimes members of the council may feel passionate about abortions rights or the war in Ukraine. I understand. However, the Metro Council is not the place to fight those fights.  You are a lowly council member not a member of congress. You will have your hands full with zoning issues and passing the laws to ensure Nashville is safe and prosperous. 

While there are a handful of conservatives on the council and more radicals than ever before, there are actually few matters before the council that are ideological in nature. There is not a conservative or liberal way to fill a pothole.  If you sought office to the Metro Council to change the world, you are probably in the wrong body. 

Learn parliamentary procedures and use them. There is more to being an effective council member than just voting "yes" or "no."  Study the rules of the Council and use them.  Don't hesitate to offer amendments to bills. If something you don't like is about to pass and requires a two-thirds vote and some members are absent and some are out of the room, don't hesitate to challenge a quorum. Learn to table a motion, to "reconsider," to defer, and to defer indefinitely. Sometimes what cannot be achieved by persuasion can be achieved due to knowing how to use the rules. 

Do your homework. Sometimes I watch a council meeting and am amazed at how little some council members know about how Metro government works and how little attention they have paid to issues on which they are voting.  

Please, become an expert. No one can become the go-to expert on everything, but if you are serving in the Council, you should know a lot about all aspects of local government. You can become an expert on parts of Metro government.  If you are concerned about public safety, become the best-informed person in the Council about issue surrounding that topic and get to know the primary Metro personnel in that field and the advocates who care about those issue. 

I hope someone will become the financial expert.  A few years ago, Nashville became dangerously fiscally mismanaged.  This was during the last years of the Megan Barry administration and the city had been spending beyond its means and selling assets to balance the budget.  There had to be Council members asleep at the wheel or this could have never happened. 

I suspect some newly elected council members have never watched a council meeting before running for office. To get up to speed, start by reading the charter, then explore from top to bottom the hubNashville website. Don't wait until you get to a council meeting to read the agenda. Be prepared to ask questions and make informed decisions.  When facing big decisions like a deal on a sports venue or something else big, know all of the facts.  Don't wait to be handed the data, the administration wants you to have. If you do not feel overwhelmed, you are not doing your job well. 

Honor the committee system but don't blindly follow a committee's recommendation. With a forty member body, the Council has to have committees. Don't skip a committee meeting then ask the same questions from the floor of the chamber that were asked and thoroughly explored in committee. As a member of the council, you can attend a committee to which you are not assigned. If you care about an issue, attend that committee meeting. 

While a committee's recommendation should be a factor in deciding how you vote, don't let it be the deciding factor. While the committee system is important, don't let the committee do your thinking for you, however.  If you are one of the few conservative members of the body, and a committee is overwhelmingly dominated by liberals, don't just blindly follow the committee's recommendation.  

As a member of a committee, don't hesitate to cast an honest vote.  A committee is not a jury; the vote does not have to be unanimous. There is nothing wrong with a committee vote being nine to one. 

Don't roll over and play dead.  I have watched conservative people get elected to Council and then vote like woke liberals.  I understand that sometimes it is hard to not go along with the majority. However, if for instance, you believe so-called "gender affirmation treatment" for minors is abhorrent, do not allow a memorializing resolution advocating for it to pass unanimously. If such comes before the Council, I would hope you would denounce if from the Council floor and explain why you cannot support the resolution.  If you don't have the energy to stand up and make an argument you know you are going to lose, the least you can do is to ask to be recorded as voting "no."  It is better to have the record reflect that such a resolution was passed by a majority of the council than to have the record reflect that such a resolution passed unanimously. 

Set some limits and keep some balance in your life.  Being a conscientious council member can be demanding. While the Council pays a modest salary, serving will probably cost you. It can be like a second full time job.  Don't let it burn you out. Don't let your constituents abuse you.  You are not obligated to go look at every constituent's water runoff problem. Don't neglect your kids and spouse because of Council demands. Know when to say no.  Take vacations. 

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