It City or Snitch City?
Nashville has many nicknames: “Music City”, “Athens of the South”, the “It City”, the “Bachelorette Capital of the World”. Yet there is a new one coming on the scene and it’s arguably worse than the incessant hollers of the “woo girls” on Broadway. In a recent Nashville Scene cover story, Metro earned the title of “Snitch City” for its unfortunate trend of weaponizing the Codes department by targeting low-income and minority populations.
In addition to the codes department fees and citations, Metro Nashville is only one of two areas in the state with an environmental court, which enforces the violations. A yard full of junk cars and trash covering a property may be the first thought when you think of code violations, yet one Nashville resident was subject to a codes inspector who would show up on his own volition for nearly two decades. Codes enforcement and violations ranged from proving a classic car was running (on approximately 20 occasions), orders to remove a mini-fridge from a garage, and even to put away an open can of soda the resident was sipping on.
It would be safe to assume an upset neighbor made all of these anonymous complaints to the Codes Department, yet a former Metro council member stated in the article that “…the number one source of Codes complaints is the Metro Council.” He also uncovered the city attorney, who would go after short-term rentals for violations, owned a short-term rental herself. She committed the same violation she was going after.
Weaponizing a city department to punish residents should be egregious in anyone’s eyes. What’s more unsettling is the growth of the Codes department. While total full-time equivalent employees for Metro Nashville has grown 25.3 percent from Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 to the FY 2023 budget (6,731.33 to 8,439.59 FTE), the Codes department positions have grown nearly 81 percent in the same timeframe (89 to 161 positions). The largest increase was seen just recently, adding 35 positions to the department in the 2023 budget. This increase in positions and enforcement is also costing taxpayers more, with the FY 2023 Metro budget saying the codes department will cost $21.46 per capita, compared to $13.75 in FY 2013.
Repairing your vehicle on the weekend while enjoying a cold soda on a hot day shouldn’t bring a city inspector to your door. Income, race, or personal vendettas shouldn’t determine whether or not the government will choose to enforce its rules. Nashville needs to be a city where residents don’t live in fear of anonymous complaints that send the government to their property to issue fines for everyday actions. These poor local policies threaten the very residents that call Nashville home and make the city unique. Unfortunately, these policies are also likely to blame for why Nashville saw the 12th largest population decline in the country, from 2020 to 2021.