The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Change is Coming to Metro Council, Here’s What You Need to Know

The Metropolitan Council (Metro Council) is the legislative authority of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, a city-county consolidated government created on April 1, 1963. We are fortunate to have an effective working relationship with the council, highlighted by strong personal relationships with four members who are affiliated with the Jewish community of Nashville, including Sheri Weiner. Sheri has longstanding experience serving on Metro Council and has provided significant wisdom and guidance in our interactions with the council.    

Over the past months, there have been some concerning occurrences at Metro Council meetings, specifically as part of the public comment section, and these relationships have been especially valuable in shaping our response.  

Providing time for the public to address the council directly is part of the Tennessee Code, and this time is reserved during all regular and special Council and Council committee meetings where there are actionable items on the agenda. This time provides the public with an opportunity to speak about legislative items appearing on Committee and Council meeting agendas. 

Until recently, rules for public comment required that these comments relate to something on the meeting agenda. For example, several weeks ago the agenda included a recommendation for additional funding to address the needs of victims of crime. During that meeting, several of us from the Jewish community used this agenda item to address the council and express concern about the rise of antisemitic incidents locally. 

Some groups have been using the public comment period to pursue a push for the council to sponsor resolutions that were not on the agenda, and that do not relate to specific local needsIn some cases, these comments were harassing of specific members. As the situation continued to escalate, Federation leadership directed our concerns to Vice Mayor Angie Henderson, who presides over council meetings. 

In response to our letter, Vice Mayor Henderson invited Federation CEO, Rabbi Dan Horwitz, Board President Leslie Kirby and myself to meet with her and her legal counsel to address this concern directly to gain better understanding of the process, options for disciplining members who violate ethics or rules, and how she is deciding where and when to use her discretion in addressing these incidents. We will continue to monitor these actions. 

During the meeting, Vice Mayor Henderson shared with us a recent rule change that may ultimately do more to exacerbate rather than deescalate these concerns. Until now, rules required that those signing up for public comment specify the agenda item they planned to address. The vote on this proposed change was extremely close, being determined by only one vote, in favor of the rule changes. Once the rule takes effect, there will no longer be a requirement to connect public comments to specific agenda items, and Nashville residents will be able to address council on any topic, regardless of whether it relates to the agenda or even to any local issue. There will be preference given to those whose comments relate directly to the agenda, but that may be difficult to discern in advance. 

This change will go into effect at the meeting on June 11 and will continue thereafter. Time will tell how this change will affect the tone, disposition, and demeanor of upcoming meetings.  

At the meeting on May 21, before the change in the rule, several members of the Jewish community participated in public comment to support the Jewish Heritage Month resolution proposed by Councilmember Jacob Kupin. Community members were able to share concerns about growing antisemitism directly to the council, and we have heard that that the respectful way these comments were delivered spoke volumes about our community and had impact and left a meaningful impression on council members. The resolution passed. 

To address the council during public comment, you must sign up in advance. For details visit www.nashville.gov or message Deborah Oleshansky, deborah@jewishnashville.org for assistance. 

In addition to work with the council, JCRC May activity included working with several families whose children have been experiencing antisemitism at school, along with meetings and presentaions to local community groups. School is in summer recess, but JCRC will continue to work proactively to ensure that local schools have as much knowledge and resource as possible to prevent this situation from repeating in the 2024-25 school year. 

To report incidents of antisemitism: www.jewishnashville.org  

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