Where does the Nashville Chamber stand on bills targeting the city? Their CEO won’t say

Lawmakers, lobbyists and city officials say it seems like Nashville Chamber CEO Ralph Shultz favors Republican bills to reduce the Metro Council’s size and power.

By: - March 2, 2023 6:01 am
Historic Metro Nashville Courthouse (Photo: Nashville.gov)

Historic Metro Nashville Courthouse (Photo: Nashville.gov)

As state Republicans target Nashville with a slate of legislation, business leaders, city officials and local representatives have been sounding the alarm, but the city’s most prominent business group is absent from the conversation.

Last week, a group of three dozen Nashville business leaders signed a letter asking for a “reboot” in the relationship between the city and Republican lawmakers, but the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and its leader, Ralph Shultz, were absent from the group. The group sent the letter to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

Signees of the letter included prominent Nashville lawyers, nonprofit leaders, bankers and city officials, attempting to mend the relationship with state GOP lawmakers after the Metro Nashville Council blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention.

I would say that I've been disappointed that some community and business leaders have been actively working against the city's interest.

– Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville

Several lawmakers, lobbyists and city officials confirmed Shultz actively pushed business leaders against signing the letter, prompting questions on whether he favored the legislation.

Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville, declined to name any particular Nashville business leader who backed the GOP efforts but criticized behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts from segments of the business community.

“I would say that I’ve been disappointed that some community and business leaders have been actively working against the city’s interest,” Hemmer said.

State Republicans are quickly moving through bills to cut the size of the Metro Council from 40 members to 20 and take board appointments on Nashville’s airport and sports authorities away from the council and mayor and give them to lawmakers. The council size bill is expected to be on Monday’s House floor agenda.

Earlier this week, Sexton told the Nashville Business Journal the letter only represented a “portion” of the business community, and he believes a “silent majority” backed the bills.

Sexton’s statement and Shultz’s presumed lobbying have Nashville lawmakers wondering where the Nashville Chamber of Commerce — the city’s most prominent business lobbying group — stands on bills.

The Lookout asked Shultz his position on the Nashville bills and whether he wanted to comment on the allegations he played a role in them.

Metro Nashville Councilmember Dave Rosenberg. (Photo: Nashville.gov)
Metro Nashville Councilmember Dave Rosenberg. (Photo: Nashville.gov)

Shultz didn’t answer his phone. Instead, the organization’s public relations director, Malick Gaye, returned the request.

Gaye declined to provide a statement or answer questions, stating the chamber would not comment until after the story to “correct the record.”

The Nashville Chamber is often slow to take positions on specific issues, and its leaders rarely sign letters. Shultz, as its representative, keeps his personal views distinct from those of his members.

But, so far, the business association has yet to ask its members where they stand on any of the Nashville bills, a poll that could show a split in member preferences.

The chamber’s previous positions on bills has  often angered Metro Nashville Council members. Last year, the organization backed a bill to allow mayors to appoint school board members — which didn’t pass — and has favored charter schools over the views of the council and the Metro Nashville Public Schools board.

In response, the council has cut a yearly grant it gives chambers by nearly 75%. In 2022 the council gave the Nashville chamber $76,300. In 2019, the subsidy was $350,000.

Council member Dave Rosenberg, who initiated the chamber funding cut, said Shultz’s decision to stay quiet is all about power.

“He holds the interests of his members secondary to his own agenda,” Rosenberg said. “It is about enhancing his own power by trying to have a school board he can control through the mayor’s office and a council where it’s going to be harder to elect people who don’t have establishment support.”

Nashville business community letter to House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally

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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.