Hispanics make up 10.5% of Nashville’s population. Yet currently they’re only 1.4% of the city’s boards and commissions.
These lesser known boards play a key role in Metro. They can act as gatekeepers, or watchdogs, and they often get a say over city spending.
The mayor, vice mayor and Metro councilmembers all agree that the city’s boards and commissions need to be more diverse. But city leaders can’t agree on what that means for the city’s vacant seat on the Board of Fair Commissioners.
In early March, the job of appointing someone fell to Vice Mayor Jim Shulman. It’s usually the mayor who recommends to city council who should be on boards. But Mayor John Cooper’s office missed a deadline so it became the vice mayor’s responsibility.
“There was concern about not having enough minorities on that board,” Shulman says. “And I understand that. So I made it clear that I would pick a minority.”
The currently all-white fair board has some muscle, since it’s making suggestions about the new soccer stadium and updated race track, which will impact the county.
The fairgrounds is in many Hispanic residents’ backyards — and some see the arrival of soccer as a way to engage them at what has otherwise been a space that catered mostly to white people.
Metro’s Minority Caucus endorsed Leon Berríos, a Latino from the Nolensville corridor, while the mayor suggested Juan Taylor, who is a Black man. Shulman instead nominated former Councilmember Sandra Moore, a one-time Minority Caucus chair who is a Black woman.
“After last week’s meeting, I felt that the best solution was to find a candidate that would hopefully be acceptable to everyone,” Shulman wrote in an email to the Minority Caucus. “Obviously, it is not typical for the council to spend over three hours debating two candidates for positions on boards. But the points made by councilmembers were well made and I listened.”
Moore represented the area for eight years on council. Shulman was hoping that would squash most disagreements, but that didn’t happen. Councilmember Sandra Sepulveda and many others didn’t vote on his nominee, which left her one vote shy of getting the gig.
“I am very happy that former councilmembers want to still be involved and help out and participate,” she says. “But we also have to make space for people who haven’t had seats at the table to also engage in city business.”
Calls for more POC in city leadership
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have had any quarrels whatsoever with her [Moore] sitting in a seat,” says Odessa Kelly says, executive director of Stand Up Nashville. Her organization has a training program called the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, or BCLI, to prepare Black, Brown, immigrant and working class residents to serve on these boards.
“We shouldn’t have had to pick. That’s why I say it goes back to gaslighting. We shouldn’t had to pick between her and Leon Berrios to be the person of color that sits in that seat.”
“This isn’t one group against the other,” Sepulveda says. “We are council members for all types of communities.”
In council and in the minority caucus, Sepulveda is currently the only Hispanic person. Which makes it just about impossible to account for the diverse ideology and experience of the city’s Hispanic population.
Minority Caucus Chair Sharon Hurt and several other members voted in support of Shulman’s pick.
“It was denied for a Black woman who was very well qualified able to serve in a capacity in which we needed,” Hurt says.
She says having a diverse candidate who is knowledgeable and will challenge the mayor’s office is important to her. In general, she says, it’s important that all boards should represent the county in race, experience and geography.
A Metro report shows Black people make up 26.8% of boards, which is just about their overall population in the city. Women are 47.3% of board members. The report doesn’t specify break down based on intersectional identities.
There are around 300 seats across Metro’s boards, so every resident could be represented in some way. In order to ensure that happens and apply lessons from this debate, city officials might have to reform how members are chosen.
Mayor Cooper’s office agrees “procedural improvements” can be done to recruit more “diverse” community participation. Right now, the mayor’s office holds the power on who is considered.
“There could be a much more kind of collaborative process between council and the mayor’s office and community groups around really finding perspectives that round out what Nashville’s made up of,” Kelly says.
Over the last year, 14 BCLI fellows learned how to apply race and class analysis to policy decisions, learn Robert’s Rules of Order, and how to map out power networks.
As it stands, the Board of Fair Commissioners still has a vacant seat. The vice mayor has gone back to the drawing board to pick another nominee for Metro Council consideration.