NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed a measure Monday that would have made English the official language of Nashville, saying it was unconstitutional, unnecessary and mean-spirited.
"This ordinance does not reflect who we are in Nashville," Purcell said.
The measure passed 23-14 last week by the Metro Council required all government documents to be in English, except when multilingual communications are required by federal rules or are needed "to protect or promote public health, safety or welfare."
Opponents and supporters of the ordinance agreed it was largely a symbolic slap at illegal immigration that had no significant effect.
Purcell said his legal staff had advised him the bill violated the U.S. and state constitutions and would be costly to defend.
"If this ordinance becomes law, Nashville will become a less safe, less friendly and less successful city," Purcell said. "And as mayor, I cannot allow that to happen."
His veto seems likely to stand. It would take 27 council votes to override it.
Councilman Eric Crafton, who sponsored the measure, said it would offer an incentive for immigrants to learn English. Opponents including the Chamber of Commerce worried it would hurt the image of Nashville, which bills itself as "Music City USA."
Crafton told WKRN-TV: "It's almost ridiculous to the point of being absurd for the mayor to say, 'Well, I'm afraid that somebody might sue us because we want to conduct our business in English.' To me it's a lack of courage and a lack of leadership."
Several smaller communities have passed similar laws or resolutions, including Pahrump, Nev.; Taneytown, Md.; and the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas.
Nashville, a city of more than 600,000, is home to the nation's largest Kurdish community and has been a resettlement site for refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia. The Hispanic immigrant population also has boomed.
Researchers say Nashville's foreign-born population has grown 350 percent since 1990.