Tennessee Republicans push for control of Nashville airport, sports venues

Tennessee Republicans filed bills Tuesday to exert their control over the governing boards for Nashville's airport, Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena and other Music City landmarks.

The new bills would remake the boards and give state lawmakers and the governor the power to appoint the majority of the members.

The legislation comes as the battle between Democratic-led Nashville and legislative Republicans continues to heat up and as the city's politics experience a major shakeup. Nashville Mayor John Cooper this week announced he would not run for reelection, setting the stage for a wide open August mayoral election.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, introduced a bill to defund Music City Center — another venue whose board of directors is currently appointed by the mayor — and another bill by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, could shrink the size of the 40-member Metro Council to no more than 20 members.

Lamberth said in a statement the new bills would "improve the makeup" of the boards to "reflect the interest of all Tennessee taxpayers."

"The people of this state have a compelling interest in protecting their investments and this bill will provide them with more oversight and better representation," Lamberth said.

The airport is largely privately funded with airline ticket and parking fees. But it does receive federal and state grants on occasion.

Nashville International Airport President and CEO Doug Kreulen sent a statement on behalf of the board reiterating their continued professionalism amid political upheaval.

"Since 1970, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority has operated effectively and independently to serve Middle Tennessee and surrounding counties. As a major economic engine for the region, Nashville International Airport and John C. Tune Airport generate more than $10 billion in annual economic impact," Kreulen said.

"Regarding the proposed state legislation, the Airport Authority is respectful of the legislative process and will engage with lawmakers to gain insight concerning this bill. As one of the fastest growing airports in the country, BNA remains committed to serving our community through best-in-class facilities, air service and customer experience."

Nashville officials are planning to fight the state in court if the bill passes, Metro Law Director Wallace Dietz said in a statement Wednesday.

"There is no rational basis to create different rules that apply solely to Metro Nashville," Dietz said. "Any legislation that does so can create grounds for litigation."

What would the bills do?

Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, introduced HB 1176, which "adds the governor and speakers of the General Assembly as appointing authorities for board positions" for state airport authorities.

A power struggle How defunding Music City Center could reverberate across Nashville

The bill sets up an 11-member Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority board. Here's how the appointments would work:

  • Four members appointed by the House speaker;

  • Four members appointed by the Senate speaker;

  • Two members appointed by the governor;

  • Nashville's mayor, or a designee, would be the final member of the board, serving as a voting, ex-officio member.

Members of the board would have to be residents of Davidson County, according to the legislation.

A view of the East bank of the Cumberland River from the Kelly Miller Smith Bridge  Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.
A view of the East bank of the Cumberland River from the Kelly Miller Smith Bridge Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.

Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, proposed HB 1197, which "reconstitutes boards of directors for sports authorities." It would give the state leaders majority control of the board that manages Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena, First Horizon Park and other sports venues in Davidson County.

The legislation creates a new 13-member board. Here's how the appointments would work:

  • Three members appointed by Nashville's mayor;

  • Four members appointed by the governor;

  • Three members appointed by the House speaker;

  • Three members appointed by the Senate speaker.

According to the legislation, some members of the sports authority could live outside of Davidson County.

Both bills are written to apply only to areas with metropolitan governments and only those with populations of more than 500,000 people. Only Nashville-Davidson County meets the criteria.

Garrett and Williams did not return messages seeking comment.

Adam Friedman contributed to this report.

Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at smazza@tennessean.com, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville airport, sports venues target of state takeover effort