How the Nashville Metro Area Became the First True City-County Consolidated Government

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This is a guest post by the 2015 Congress of Cities Nashville Host City Team.

Fall color and the Metro Courthouse and Public Square in downtown Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville, known as Music City due to its premier role in the music world, is also a pioneering force for efficient government.

In 1963, Nashville’s elected, business and civic leaders worked together to consolidate local governments within Davidson County to create the Metropolitan Government of Nashville.

Nashville’s ’63 consolidation was the first true city-county consolidation in the country, although Miami-Dade County had merged part of their government services prior to that date. Nashville-Davidson County became a role model for future city-county consolidations.

Now, more than 50 years later, other national cities and counties considering such a merger look to Metro Nashville for guidance.

The story of Nashville’s city-county merger is the subject of a mobile workshop during the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities. “City-County Consolidation: A Historic Decision,” is scheduled for Nov. 5, 9 a.m. to noon.

“Nashvillians decided to do something different than the rest of the country and become a more efficient government and a stronger community by consolidating our city and county governments,” says Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. “That forward-thinking decision to make us a ‘metropolitan’ form of government has saved us money and resources over the years.”

“Cities from across the country call us to learn more about how it is done,” says Mayor Dean. “Because of the continued strong interest in studying our ‘better way of government,’ we believe it is a natural as a mobile workshop for our National League of Cities guests in November.”

The change from multiple governments to one single organization, led by one administration, has yielded valuable benefits, including financial and service delivery efficiencies, lower taxes and fewer bureaucratic hurdles, as well as unifying residents as citizens of a single community.

According to NLC, to date, there are only 14 city-county consolidations in the United States. Consolidation is a merger of a city and county governments and the services of each, representing creation of a new governmental entity and not the taking over of one by the other.

Talk of city-county government in Davidson County dated back to 1915. But the idea didn’t really take off until the 1950s when the city’s health department director spearheaded a consolidation of the county’s health services.

A “Plan of Metro” was published in 1956 by both the city’s and county’s planning commissions with a stern warning: if the “metropolitan problem” was not solved, the area could “expect to be divided haplessly into a patchwork quilt of many small and ineffective governments and half governments.”

While city and county leaders backed a merger, and the Tennessee General Assembly approved enabling legislation that would allow it to occur, county voters rejected a ballot proposal in 1958.

Four years of community conversation followed, and by 1963 Metro’s “Founding Fathers” had achieved a governance model, including a broad set of citizen-led boards and commissions and a non-partisan, 40-member Metro Council. On June 28, 1962, city and county residents approved a merger and the creation of Metropolitan Government of Nashville.

“The logic of efficiency and economy came together at exactly the same time,” said the late John Seigenthaler, a former editor and chairman emeritus of The Tennessean newspaper. “It just made rational sense.”

Click here for more information about NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities conference and the city-county consolidation workshop.

2 comments on “How the Nashville Metro Area Became the First True City-County Consolidated Government”

  1. According to our information, Andrew, the city and county of San Francisco were consolidated since their creation; that is to say they were created that way, as opposed to actually merging. While there are many different iterations of city-county consolidations, Nashville seems to be the first formerly independent city to merge with an independent county as well as independent incorporated places, creating a merged municipality or metro area. As always, we are open to more conversation on this topic – as well as correction. Thanks for your comment.

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