Month: April 2016

Update From 4/19 Council Meeting

Here’s a quick update of the highlights from last night’s Council meeting:

RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-172: We approved a supplemental appropriation for approximately $3 million to various Metro agencies and departments. This had been deferred from the April 5 meeting.

Metro Finance was very helpful is getting Council members to understand which supplemental appropriations were completely appropriate (e.g., funding a new program) and which ones weren’t (e.g., failure to properly budget income and/or expenses).  The agencies that got the most attention were the Farmer’s Market and the Municipal Auditorium.  For the Farmer’s Market, nearly all of their shortfalls are due to the State taking back the North Shed – that’s going to be hard for the Farmer’s Market to deal with economically.  As for the Municipal Auditorium, they had less revenue than they expected and more expenses than they expected.  I expect that Council members will have some hard questions for them during the upcoming budget process.

Another interesting note is that the original resolution asked for $3.3 million in supplemental appropriations. At the last minute yesterday, the Election Commission withdrew their request for a $314,000 supplemental appropriation. I still need to learn more, but the first report I’ve heard indicates that they didn’t really need any supplemental funds?!? I’ll be curious to hear more about this.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-205: This resolution approved a $2 million lawsuit settlement.  You can read the Council Analysis here (starting at page 6) for lots of details about this. Although we approved this, CM Pulley raised the question of whether we should be approving settlements for $2 million on 5 days notice to the Council. I thought we knew enough and voted in favor — you’ll see that the Council analysis indicates that the settlement was reasonable given the alternatives.

But, due to CM Pulley’s concerns, I think we’ll be seeing some new legislation soon requiring Metro Legal to provide the Council with a quarterly report listing out significant litigation matters and the amounts being sought from Metro for each case.

These were the important non-zoning measures that we passed yesterday.

Let me also give you a quick update about the Council’s Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. We had a very productive meeting on April 15. We managed to get most of the Committee to meet from 4 to 6 pm on a gorgeous Friday afternoon. The Committee agreed in principle at that meeting on several items of new legislation. In the coming weeks, I hope to see several new proposed ordinances and resolutions filed to address a wider range of affordable housing issues than just inclusionary zoning. I’ll talk about these in greater detail once the new measures are filed, hopefully within a few weeks.

State Legislature + Confirmation =

This was inspired by the combination of two events today: (1) the unjust actions of our State legislature; and (2) my 8th grade daughter asking, as part of her preparation to receive her Confirmation in a few weeks, “Why is Justice important?” Here’s my answer:

Justice is important because it serves as the foundation for civil and social fairness in human society.

The Church teaches that every person has a right to life and to the necessities of life. When our nation was founded, this core principle was written into the Declaration of Independence with the famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness.”

In this way, “Justice” is the bedrock principle of our faith and our country.

With our faith, Jesus calls on us to act with justice and fairness in every interaction we have with others. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus said, “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” In Luke 6:29, Jesus said, “To anyone who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well.” And, in Luke 9:48, Jesus said, “The least among you all is the one who is the greatest.” The lesson is that, to lead a just life, you must always give others every benefit of the doubt, and you must love others the way you would like to be loved.

Our country is built on the same principles. For example, in the Fifth and Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, people who are accused of crimes — often, these are the least among us — are entitled to a fair trial where they are presumed innocent, are entitled to an effective legal defense, are entitled to a jury of their peers, are entitled to see and hear all of the evidence against them, and are protected from being tried more than once for the same charges. In the First Amendment, our rights to express ourselves freely are protected, as well as our right to religious freedom. In the Fourth Amendment, everyone (including people who are not citizens) is protected from arrest without probable cause.

Justice is more than a lofty goal. Justice is a work-in-progress. We know that the Bible teaches that we are imperfect creatures. We are called to make a daily effort at the hard work of living the Gospel truly and authentically. Our civil society is also a work-in-progress. When our Constitution was enacted in 1789, women could not vote and slaves were considered property to be owned and sold. Our country is still working today to overcome these and other historic injustices. Just as we must work every day to personally lead a more just life, as citizens we need to know that our work as a society is not done either.

Update From 4/5 Council Meeting

I passed my first ordinance last night. I am probably over-happy about that. I’ve written about it before here and here. This ordinance changes the way Metro handles tax increment financing in three key ways – Metro will get its property tax revenue back more quickly, Metro will have more say in what projects get tax increment financing, and there will be greater transparency to show us how our tax revenues are being used by MDHA. The ordinance also authorizes MDHA to use the proceeds from the sale of 3 parcels of property in the Rutledge Hill Redevelopment District as part of the Cayce Place Redevelopment Plan.

Here are the other items of interest from the meeting:

Planning Commission Nominees: The Rules Committee was 10 minutes late for our 6:30PM Council start time because we asked so many questions of the Planning Commission nominees, Brenda Diaz-Flores and Brian Tibbs. I found both nominees to be well-informed and articulate about a wide range of planning, development, and housing issues.

For Ms. Diaz-Flores, we asked about her relationship with the Planning Department, where she used to work. We wanted to know whether she’d be able to transition to possibly voting against things that her former employer, the Planning Dept., was recommending. She was able to walk us through some specific positions that the Planning Dept. had taken while she was an employee that she would have voted against as a Commissioner. I liked that show of independence.

For Mr. Tibbs, who is an architect, we asked about the types of clients his architecture firm represents. He told us that his firm sometimes represents developers with matters before the Commission, and also does work for MDHA. Mr. Tibbs told us that he would recuse himself from votes where he or his employer had a financial interest in a project, or where his firm does work for an applicant before the Planning Commission. The Committee told Mr. Tibbs that we appreciated that he was sensitive to this issue. I’m glad he committed to recuse himself when he or his firm has an interest.

Though we had to run late to do it, the Rules Committee recommended approving both nominees. The Council approved both.

BL2016-133 (Inclusionary Zoning): This was on first reading. The Council deferred first reading for two meetings, to May 3. From my perspective, the two main camps – the housing advocate community and the development community – are engaged in the classic negotiating tactic called anchoring. That’s where you stake out an extreme position in the hopes of pulling the ultimate compromise position closer to you than to the other side.

On the housing advocate side, there is a significant subset that are arguing hard to just kill the inclusionary zoning bill and start over again. This is counter-intuitive, of course, since the same groups are the ones who initially pushed for inclusionary zoning last year. The “anchor” they have dropped is to argue that the current bill is so weak that it should just be trashed and, instead, the city should focus on creating a comprehensive affordable housing plan. We’ll see how this pans out. In my law practice, when you decide to anchor, you should be willing to accept the risk that everyone else comes to believe that you’ll never compromise and they choose to continue the conversation about compromise without you.

To me, the way forward is not an “either/or” situation. We can and should commit to have Nashville create a comprehensive affordable housing plan. But I think that we should also go ahead and pass some of the legislative pieces that we know we’ll need once a full plan is crafted.

The next step is that the Planning Dept.’s consultant is working on refining his proposals for the financial incentives that are need to make inclusionary zoning work. And, the Council’s Affordable Housing Committee has meetings set, I believe, on April 18 and 25.

RS2015-76 (Fairgrounds and Firearms I): CM Glover had a resolution that would have asked the Fairgrounds Board to rescind its decision to not have gun shows past 2016, and would have forced Metro to cut-off all capital projects funding for the Fairgrounds if the Board didn’t comply. CM Glover has said several times previously that his goal was to keep Metro from getting sued.

Unfortunately, about 30 minutes before Council Committee meetings started, a gun show vendor did sue Metro. I didn’t see a point to passing a resolution that was supposed to prevent litigation that now has already started. The Codes, Fairgrounds, and Farmer’s Market Committee saw things the same way and voted 3-2 to indefinitely defer the resolution.  That was Coleman, Shulman, and Rosenberg in favor of indefinite deferral, and Huezo and Swope against.

BL2016-161 (Fairgrounds and Firearms II): This was CM Glover’s bill that would have required the Fairgrounds Board to set aside 17 weekend days in 2017 for gun shows. This was deferred indefinitely at our last meeting.  For this meeting, CM Glover was using his one-time right to ask for the Council to place his bill back on the agenda. We voted against that – so that bill is now permanently defeated. For better or worse, the Davidson County Chancery Court is now going to be where the next chapters of this story unfold.

RS2016-172 (Supplemental Appropriations): This is a request for about $3.3 million in supplemental appropriations. At the Budget & Finance Committee meeting yesterday, it was clear that some of the supplemental appropriation requests are fully reasonable and are needed for positive, good reasons. And, some others are needed because there is a department or component unit of Metro that really isn’t performing financially as expected. This has been deferred to the next meeting in order for the Council to get more information about which supplemental appropriations require us to exercise additional oversight of a struggling department or unit.

RS2016-170 (Starbuck’s on West End where traffic backs up): Nashville is at the front end of multiple Starbuck’s locations seeking permission to sell beer. We approved one in Green Hills at the last meeting, and two more were up this time – including the one on West End near Vanderbilt across from Bricktops. If you are familiar with the location, that’s where there are always cars spilled out onto West End waiting to get in the drive-thru and often blocking buses and other traffic. This was deferred indefinitely to allow the store to work with Traffic & Parking to improve how that drive-thru interacts with traffic.

BL2016-140 and 141 (Carrolton Station, Men of Valor): With these two bills in CM Vercher’s district, the Planning Commission disapproved the changes to infrastructure and zoning that were being proposed. Metro Legal and Mike Jameson both advised that these two bills would be completely unenforceable if passed. Metro Legal had already advised Codes to disregard the bills if they were passed. Despite these strong legal admonishments, I think the whole Council really, really wanted to pass CM Vercher’s bills because they address serious traffic and density problems in this neighborhood. Because they were disapproved by the Planning Commission, these would have needed a two-thirds majority to pass. That didn’t happen and the bills failed despite CM Vercher’s strong, tenacious efforts.

I did not vote for either of these bills. I truly appreciate and agree with what CM Vercher was trying to accomplish, but with Metro Legal and Mike Jameson advising that the bills were simply not enforceable, I couldn’t vote in favor. It’s a longer story for another day, but the problem with this situation (and with CM Hagar’s quarry situation) is that the State of Tennessee changed the law about “vesting” property rights in January 2015. Nashville is going to have to figure out a way to adapt to that change in the state law, which allows property rights to be vested sooner than was possible previously.

That’s it. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I appreciate it!