NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Nashville’s Community Oversight Board staff will be laid off in the coming days after a state law requiring local governments to dissolve COBs and reconstitute them as Civilian Review Boards passed last legislative session.
The COB’s post on X reads: “COB Update: A layoff plan for the employees of the COB has been submitted as requested by Metro Legal. The staff will be given a layoff notice in the coming days. Every single employee is a SEIU member (not the ED) and will possibly have to find new employment.”
Metro had four months to comply with the new law, which went into effect July 1. Some community advocates questioned the timing of the layoff notifications.
“It’s not just that they made the decision, but they made it at the most critical time where both the mayor’s office and the Metro Council are at their weakest points because it’s basically a transition period,” said Dr. Sekou Franklin with Community Oversight Now.
However, Metro Legal Director Wally Dietz told News 2 his office advised against waiting until the last day to send the layoff notifications, but the date was pushed back any way. Dietz issued the following statement to News 2:
“The original effective date of the Metro ordinance creating the Committee provided sufficient time for an orderly transition, not in the middle of a change of administrations. The ordinance was amended to make the effect date the last possible day to meet the state’s deadline which occurs shortly after the new Mayor was to be sworn in. We advised against waiting that long.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Freddie O’Connell’s office said the mayor plans to recommend current COB executive director, Jill Fitcheard, as the new director of the Community Review Board. In addition, he hopes to retain current staffing levels, adding that the Metro Human Resources Department will work with the COB staff members, whose jobs are in limbo, to ensure a smooth transition.
“There is a possible world in which all staff are retained in different roles. There is a possible world in which some staff find opportunities elsewhere in Metro. It’s still a little bit unclear because we have a tight timeline and a lot of legal and HR work to do to comply with state law,” O’Connell told reporters Friday, Sept. 29.
Metro Councilmember at-large Zulfat Suara posted her concerns about the livelihoods of the COB staff on social media. She described her conversations with the COB members who received the layoff notifications in an interview with News 2.
“When I talked to the people, it’s about, ‘We don’t know what’s happening to us. We don’t know where our paycheck is coming from; we don’t know if we’re going to lose our benefits.’ So, I’m saying whatever decision we need to make, we need to do it in such a quick way that these people do not lose their benefits or lose their paycheck,” Suara said.
Suara told News 2 she was confident the mayor and vice mayor would come up with a plan to support the employees who were laid off.
Franklin encouraged Metro Government to rescind the layoff notifications, but a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city had to issue the notifications due to the law’s language.
Metro Legal decided not to file a lawsuit against the state in response to the COB law because, according to the director, the law did not violate Tennessee’s Home Rule Amendment because it impacted more cities than just Nashville.
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“We do not file lawsuits as a form of protest. We file only when we have solid grounds to do so,” Dietz was quoted saying in a press release.
The COB engaged independent counsel and elected not to file a lawsuit against the state, according to the mayor’s office.
The newly-formed Community Review Board is expected to meet Oct. 27.