Nashville sues over Tennessee law letting state pick 6 of 13 on local pro sports facility board

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new Tennessee law that reconfigures the panel overseeing professional sports facilities in the city by letting state leaders pick six of its 13 board members.

The lawsuit over the changes to the Nashville Sports Authority is the latest legal fight over laws passed by Republican legislators this year that dilute Democratic-leaning Nashville’s control in various ways — ranging from oversight of the international airport, to the size of the combined city-county metro council. Judges have stepped in to block some of the new requirements.

Established by city officials under a corporate charter in 1995, the Nashville Sports Authority has 13 board members picked by the city’s mayor and approved by the metro council. The new law lets the mayor retain a slim controlling majority with seven appointments, while splitting the other six picks among the House and Senate speakers and the governor. The lawsuit seeks to block the changes before they take effect Jan. 1.

The suit argues the law violates home rule protections in the state constitution by singling out Nashville without requiring the approval of local voters or two-thirds of the metro council. Nashville officials have made similar arguments in lawsuits against several of the other new state laws that limit their power. Additionally, the lawsuit says the sports authority changes would further violate the state constitution by removing board members before their terms expire.

The lawsuit comes shortly after the inauguration of new Mayor Freddie O’Connell, spurring fresh talks about how to repair relations between the state and city.

“We do not enjoy filing lawsuits against the State and in fact hope for an improved relationship,” Metro Nashville Law Director Wally Dietz said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “But this statute affects only Nashville, not any other sports authority in Tennessee. We cannot sit idly by and let the State deprive the Metropolitan Government and the people who live here of their rights under our Tennessee Constitution.”

Amy Wilhite, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, said the office is aware of the complaint but hadn’t yet been served as of Wednesday afternoon.

In support of the change, prominent Republican lawmakers have reasoned that the state has authorized $500 million in bonds to help build a new $2.1 billion domed stadium planned for the Tennessee Titans. A planned performing arts center nearby is receiving $200 million from the state as well, House Speaker Cameron Sexton noted Wednesday.

“Merely having representation on the Nashville Sports Authority Board to oversee these historic investments allows all parties to have a seat at the table,” Sexton said in a statement.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally said he’s confident the law will be upheld “for the betterment of the city and the region.”

The Republican-dominant Legislature passed the sports authority law and a series of others targeting Nashville after city leaders spiked a proposal last year to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. The exchange escalated efforts in previous years to pass laws that upended policies state Republicans didn’t like in Nashville, in addition to in left-leaning Memphis.

At the urging of Nashville officials, a judicial panel decided last month that the state cannot enforce a new law making it easier to pass changes through the metro council to the local fairgrounds speedway, which is being considered for upgrades in hopes of drawing a NASCAR race.

Separately, judges blocked the law cutting the metro council from 40 to 20 seats before it would have taken effect for the August elections.

Judges declined to quickly halt another change that gives the state a majority of the appointments to the board overseeing Nashville International Airport. The case is now in a position for judges to decide again soon whether the takeover should be reversed.

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