Month: February 2017

Statement about Judge Moreland

I’ve been asked whether I will join the list of Councilmembers asking Judge Casey Moreland to step off the bench while the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct investigates recent allegations. I will not be taking a position on this – let me tell you why.

Since before I was elected in 2015, I have served as a hearing panelist for the state board that oversees the conduct of lawyers. When the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility charges a lawyer with breaking our ethical rules, the Board appoints a panel of three local lawyers to act as the judge. At any given time, I typically am serving as an appointed hearing panelist for two or three lawyer disciplinary cases.

In 2015, I was appointed to be a hearing panelist in a disciplinary case against Bryan Lewis. Judge Moreland was identified as a witness in that case. We were scheduled to begin a three-day hearing on February 13, 2017. The media has reported that the week before the hearing, the case was resolved when Mr. Lewis agreed to accept a “public censure.” My job in Mr. Lewis’s disciplinary case was to be impartial toward Mr. Lewis, the witnesses (including Judge Moreland), and the facts. Even though Mr. Lewis has accepted a public censure, I am obligated to maintain that impartiality.

According to media reports, the challenges facing Judge Moreland now are connected to Mr. Lewis, and are at least tangentially connected to the situation that led to Mr. Lewis’s disciplinary case. Because of my role as a hearing panelist in the Lewis case and the mandatory impartiality that goes along with that, I won’t have any comment about whether Judge Moreland should continue to serve as a judge in Nashville.

Council Meeting Protest Tonight

The Metro Council meeting tonight was brought to a halt by protesters demanding a response to the shooting death of Jocques Clemmons by an MNPD flex officer. The protest is covered in the Tennessean already, and I expect to see a Scene article soon. You can also follow what happened @joeygarrison and @iamstevenhale. I want to share a few thoughts myself.

First, though, goodness, there’s a lot going on these days. The federal government appears to be on the verge of trying to deport every non-citizen charged with or convicted of a crime. I fear that the DACA kid detained in Seattle, and the domestic violence victim detained in El Paso, soon are going to be the norm and not the exception. For those who might somehow be unmoved by the human and family tragedies that will unfold, be prepared for public safety issues as non-citizens stop reporting crimes, and be prepared for economic consequences as real live human beings get disappeared from our economy.

Then there are the Russians, threats of violence against the Jewish community, inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment, and another season of scorn from the State legislature. Oh, and a public hospital working through financial distress, and short term rentals too. I’m not complaining because I volunteered for this Metro Council gig, but it’s a lot.

Back to tonight. It’s tragic. Jocques Clemmons is dead. The TBI is conducting an investigation, with the FBI riding shotgun. People — residents and law enforcement alike — are on edge. And, it is essentially impossible to describe these events in a way that makes everyone happy. On one side, anything short of saying that Mr. Clemmons was murdered is perceived as an insult. On the other, anything short of saying police officers have the hardest job in the world and this was a justified shooting is perceived as an insult. Although it feels like our language, our words, are failing us, and failing to convince the “other,” we can’t shut down the conversation.

I don’t have all the answers. I do feel though that if an argument doesn’t work, maybe a story will. Here’s one story — it is a story that most of white Nashville needs to hear — and I mean really hear and feel and believe. If you gather together a group of African American Nashvillians and ask them to tell their stories about nephews, sons, uncles, cousins, and husbands getting pulled over by MNPD, you will absolutely believe that African Americans get pulled over at significantly higher rates than white drivers. I can’t be any more plain than this — you can look at the statistics, but they are flat and easy to gloss over. But hearing a group of average Nashvillians who happen to be black look you in the eye and tell you about their experiences is moving. It is a truth that all of us need to hear.

Of course, this isn’t the only story that matters. MNPD didn’t create chronically bad education for minorities in Nashville. MNPD didn’t create poverty that unfairly impacts minorities. MNPD didn’t create the desperation that can sometimes lead to drug use or crime. For too many Nashville citizens, the “It City” is just the place on the horizon where you can catch a glimpse of a skyscraper. “It” isn’t real. “It” isn’t home. Yet, officers have to operate in that environment. It is a very hard job.

After a report last fall about traffic stops in Nashville, Council Member Erica Gilmore and I filed two pieces of legislation. I linked to the legislation when I wrote about it in December 2016. My perspective is that Nashville will find its way through these issues by talking about our stories. The Scene recently had a story that made the point that there is a history of racial strife in Nashville and we skim over that at our peril.

There has to be a public discussion that acknowledges the reality that much of Nashville’s African American population feels either over-policed or unfairly policed, and also acknowledges that we have to figure out how our entire community can be policed fairly and safely. This won’t be easy. It will be hard. But we absolutely have to be willing to have hard conversations in order to find the best way forward.

The Council is full of Type-A leaders. We saw that while the protest was starting. I saw at least a dozen of my colleagues trying to jump in to figure out something. I wanted the protesters to be able to speak — I think having them speak at the end of the meeting was a good result.

My legislation about traffic stops was never supposed to be contentious. Honestly, having Metro simply respond about whether it agrees with the data presented in the traffic stop report, and having Metro update the data once a year, was never going to be anything more than a first small, modest step toward shining a light on the conversation we need.

My guess is that we’ll soon see additional legislation — maybe to move body camera funding into this fiscal year instead of next. No matter what legislation gets filed, my primary objective is to take steps toward having a conversation where stories from the entire community are heard and acted on. There will always be some who simply deny that race ever plays a role, and there will always be some that paint all police officers as racist. But I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who hear everyone’s stories can work together in good faith to move Nashville forward.

Feb 7 Council Agenda

The Metro Council has a long agenda on February 7. I am guessing that the short term rental bills will generate the most public interest. I have put those items in bold so you can skim for them easily. Here’s what I am looking at:

For public hearing

There are two bills (-491 and -555) that were disapproved by the Planning Commission. After some recent media coverage about how the Council approaches disapproved bills, it will be interesting to see if the dynamic changes. Usually, disapproved items get approved on 2nd reading, or the sponsor defers to do some more work on the bill.

There’s another (-559) where the Planning Commission made no recommendation. This one is inside baseball. Currently, for a property owned by Metro, an application to change the zoning can only be initiated by the Mayor or the head of the department to which the property is assigned. This bill would add Council members to the list. One side of this would argue that the executive branch is in the best position to manage Metro’s property as a whole. The other would argue that the legislative branch should be able to start a zoning change on Metro owned property.

Resolutions

At our last meeting, the Council voted to defer consideration of a contract with a software company to help with short-term rental enforcement. That was Resolution -519. Since then, the Mayor’s office canceled that contract and they are putting it out for a competitive bid. I think -519 will be withdrawn.

The Barnes Housing Fund has awarded $8+ million in new funding (-536). I expect the Council will approve this award.

We are being asked to approve up to an additional $16 million for Nashville General Hospital (-538). I have written about this previously. This should be approved.

We are also being asked to approve $540,000 for the Knowles Assisted Living Facility (-539). There has been media attention to this also. Basically, Metro’s effort to privatize the facility has stumbled because the new operator was not up to the task. Metro is trying again. These funds are necessary to pick up the slack from the failed operator while Metro works on getting a qualified transition operator in place.

1st reading

Usually, 1st reading isn’t very interesting because most everything gets passed on to 2nd reading more or less automatically. Let me briefly put a few of the new bills on your radar.

The legislation that created the Downtown Central Business Improvement District is expiring. Bill -580 would extend the Downtown CBID. I haven’t gotten all the details yet, but I understand the boundaries are changing a little, and I understand that the district would become automatically renewing under the new bill.

There is a bill to update Metro’s storm water fees (-588).

There is a bill to provide a financial incentive to Ryman for their new indoor water park facility (-589).

There is a bill to authorize the use of eminent domain to acquire the real estate necessary to realign the intersection of Crestmoor Road and Hillsboro Road in Green Hills (-590).

There are three new short term rental bills (-608, -609, -610). You can read my post from last week about these new bills.

2nd Reading

I have sponsored a short term rental bill (-492). All of the new short term rental bills seem to assume that -492 will pass. That’s good. I filed -492 for two reasons — to fix a few definitions that a Court thought were vague, and to move the short term rental legislation to “Title 17” which allows us to have much-needed public hearings about any changes to the short term rental rules. I hope this passes.

Council Member Jim Shulman has a bill that would have MNPD providing quarterly reports about their extensive community service activities (-525). A few have criticized this bill as somehow creating more work for MNPD. I don’t see it that way. As it is, MNPD is engaged in significantly community relations work. And, if you attend one of their weekly COMSTAT meetings, you can get an update on this work. CM Shulman’s ordinance would demonstrate that the full Metro government stands behind this important work, and that it should be more widely publicized.

This one isn’t super-interesting, but it’s my bill…so, I’ll mention it. Bill -560 updates two parts of the Metro ethics ordinance. In both places, there were incorrect citations to statute sections that had been changed over the years.

3rd Reading

There is one bill (-297) that was disapproved by the Planning Commission by a narrow 4-3 margin. I don’t recall opposition at the Council public hearing, and I have not been getting emails about this from the community. I’ll need to hear out the sponsor and Planning about this.

Council Member Freddie O’Connell has a bill that would require contracts for correctional facility management to be approved by the Council (-542). I am a co-sponsor. CM O’Connell has talked to Sheriff Hall about this, and he is okay with it. I expect this to pass.

 

Three new short term rental bills

There are three new short term rental property (STRP) bills filed for first reading next week. I am not the sponsor of any of them. This post is really me thinking out loud in an effort to understand the new bills. I am calling them the residential phase out bill, the one year moratorium bill, and the three year moratorium bill.

There is a lot in common between the bills. All of them assume that BL -492 (which fixes some technical problems raised in a lawsuit) will pass.  All of them allow existing permit holders to continue in business for now. All of them would halt the issuance of new permits for investor-owned short term rentals in residential areas. All of them will go to the Planning Commission. That means the public will have the chance to speak about all three bills twice – once at the Planning Commission, and again at a Council public hearing.

The residential phase out bill would eliminate new permits for investor-owned STRPs in the parts of Nashville that are zoned residential, and phase out all existing investor-owned STRPs in residential areas by 2021. The one year moratorium bill and the three year moratorium bill would stop the issuance of new permits for investor-owned STRPs in residential areas for one year and three years, respectively. To me, the similarities outweigh the differences — in all scenarios, no current owner goes out of business in the near future, and no new investor-owned units will be allowed in a residential neighborhood.

Beyond what they have in common, I am also struck with the continued desperate need for Metro to improve its enforcement capabilities immediately. If any of these bills were to pass, Metro would still need to track down short term rentals operating without a permit. If any of these bills were to pass, Metro would still need to find the owners who are not paying their taxes. If any of these bills were to pass, Metro would still need to create a real-time noise ordinance enforcement ability to protect neighbors from abuses.

These three new bills will take a few months to work their way through the Planning Commission and the Council. My guess is that hundreds of citizens will end up speaking on all sides of these issues. For now, I think that I will probably not take a position until after I hear from the community. While this is happening, I am going to keep saying that, no matter what we do with the regulations, Metro must keep working at improving enforcement efforts. Metro will need to do better with that whether or not any of these bills pass.