Nashville’s identity, at least to an outsider’s eye, is inextricably linked to its musical heritage. But quite apart from its lyrical inclinations, Music City USA also has history of corruption scandals, countered by grassroots efforts of its citizenry to push for a more open and transparent government. The recent corruption charges against ex-Mayor Megan Barry and the “Do Better” law passed at the end of 2018 perfectly exemplify these dueling motifs of corruption and public integrity activism.
Nashville was founded in 1779 under the name of Fort Nashborough. In 1806, Nashville was granted a charter by the Tennessee legislature and held its first mayor elections, with Joseph Coleman becoming the first mayor of the city. In 1843 Nashville became the permanent capital of Tennessee. From the middle of the 19th century and through War World II, Nashville expanded quickly into a commercial and industrial hub, taking advantage of its position on the Cumberland River. Its population grew rapidly, from a little under 7,000 inhabitants in 1840 to over 150,000 by the start of World War II. After World War II, Nashville struggled with an all too common problem facing U.S. cities at the time: an exodus of residents to the surrounding suburbs. As the population of the surrounding Davidson County swelled, Nashville’s population shrank and its tax revenue dwindled. Faced with a shrinking tax base and unpopular attempts to raise tax revenue, Nashville officials worked with Davidson County officials to unite the two municipalities under one single charter. After a failed attempt in 1958, Nashville and Davidson County residents finally approved the charter on June 28, 1962 and the Metropolitan government was formed.
Berit Berger, Edward Popovici, Rosie Fatt & Benjamin Bleibert,
Oversight and Enforcement of Public Integrity – A City-by-City Study: Nashville,
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/public_integrity/11