Historic Nashville Courthouse. (Photo: John Partipilo)
On Tuesday night, two Metro Nashville Council Members accused colleagues of pitting Black and Hispanic communities against each other as they argued over new appointees to the Fair Board Commission.
As council members prepared to vote in Tracy Hardin, the vice president of construction company Don Hardin Group, to the Board of Fair Commissioners, members of the minority caucus — lead by commissioner Sandra Sepulveda—addressed the controversies surrounding the nomination.
Hardin’s husband, Don Hardin, serves on the Procurement Standards Board, bringing questions of a possible conflict of interest.
As one of the few city officials representing the Hispanic community, Sepulveda has made efforts to have more Hispanics elected to city positions. In March, council members discussions on selecting a person of color to represent the fairgrounds in a push to diversify Nashville’s commissions and boards.
Initially, Sandra Moore was nominated to fill the seat but lost by one vote, with commissioners opting for a Hispanic nomination. Sepulveda nominated Leon Barrios, a former director of law for the Hispanic Family Foundation, and said she was led to believe Barrios would be put through. Instead, Hardin was selected, causing a rift among council members.
The decision to nominate Hardin over Barrios sent a clear message, said Sepulveda.
“Colleagues, look around this room. There is more than one person that looks like you. In this room, it’s just me. And my fight had to be big enough to carry a community ,” said Sepulveda, the only Hispanic council member.
“Every fight matters. I can’t afford to be at every meeting. I can’t be on every board. I can’t be on every call, I try, but I am only one person,” she added.
Commissioner Jennifer Gamble and At-Large Council Member Sharon Hurt supported Hardin and both spoke of Hardin’s qualifications.
“Colleagues, we need to get back to the business of serving people and keeping our personal and political agendas out of this,” said Hurt.
Other council members spoke in support of Sepulveda, pointing out that there had been long standing public support for more Hispanic representation. As Nashville’s Hispanic population continues to grow, a large percentage live and work on Nolensville Road, located near the fairgrounds.
Commissioner Colby Sledge spoke of needing officials to look out for Hispanic interests. During the pandemic, permission was given to allow a rodeo event marketed to Hispanics that quickly spiraled out of control.
“That event was, by numbers, one of the worst unmasked events, as far as compliance with our mask compliance at the time,” he said. “I feel like if we’d had a representative, we could have helped in that instance, we could potentially have had better representation regarding that event and maybe avoided what was clearly a heavy impact in our [Hispanic] communities.”
The council eventually voted 20-10 not to confirm Tracy Hardin, paving the way for Sepulveda’s nomination.
While commissioners spoke well of Hardin’s qualifications as a community member, most acknowledged that she had been put into a bad position and shone a light on the council’s nominations often being divided between two minority groups.
“[We’re] pitting Black and brown communities against one other,” said commissioner Joy Styles. “‘Oh, you asked for Hispanic but we’re going to offer you a Black representative, which one do you want?’ That’s not fair, and it should stop tonight.”
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