The Council has a full agenda on February 5. It includes several items that are guarantied to make someone mad. Here’s what I am looking at (in the order they appear on the agenda):
Murphy Road development, BL -1357 and -58: This is the proposed development on Murphy Road near West End. I believe the developers have met with the neighbors and that discussions are ongoing. I understand that CM Kindall will defer the public hearing again.
NES round-up, RS -1508: NES has a program where customers may opt-in to rounding their monthly bill up to the nearest dollar and allowing NES to use the extra cents to fund its low-income weatherization program, Home Energy Uplift. This non-binding resolution would ask NES’s board to consider transitioning to an opt-out program instead. If NES switched to an opt-out program, all bills would be rounded up to the nearest dollar unless the customer opted-out. This is consistent with other large cities in Tennessee. Supporters argue that this is a relatively harmless way to fund an important program. Detractors feel like it a bit like taxing people without them realizing it. Since the program would come with the ability to opt-out and, by definition, it involved less than $12 per year, I’ll vote in favor of this.
Surplussing property to new community land trust, RS-1570: This resolution would send surplus Metro property to our new community land trust (CLT) for future use as affordable housing. This is a tremendous step forward — and a lot better than selling off Metro’s valuable property to make ends meet temporarily. But this is the first surplussing for the CLT and I’ll have some questions at our committee meetings. I’ll want to make sure I understand the process, how long any units built will be affordable, and how these properties interact with our short-term rental laws. Depending on the information we get in committee meetings, I may vote in favor or to defer one meeting to make sure everyone understands this new process of getting properties into the CLT.
Asking Jill Speering for an apology, RS -1597: This one is guarantied to make a lot of people mad. You can read the Tennessean’s coverage of the back story here. The problem, from my perspective, is that there are some people who have been raising legitimate questions about MNPS and Dr. Joseph’s leadership, and then there are others who tend to not talk about the merits and instead talk about Dr. Joseph being “scary” or “intimidating” or having a “crew” to enforce his will. The second group of critics, to my ear, have helped to inject a race element that’s damaging into the dialogue.
Almost a month ago, I called out the second group as being out of bounds:
I’ll get pushback for this & I don’t know enough about the issues to debate them. I’m just saying – to my ear, the cumulative set of allegations has a racially-charged air about it. We should all acknowledge that & do whatever it takes to end that part of the discussion.
— Bob Mendes (@mendesbob) January 9, 2019
Back to the pending resolution…with all respect to those defending Ms. Speering’s text message statement, the intent to the statement is beside the point. In the context where some are raising well thought out concerns backed by evidence, but others are using rhetoric that rings of stereotypes, her statement was wrong. And, as I understand it, Ms. Speering has not publicly expressed any regret for the statement or how it has been interpreted.
Having said all that, I don’t know yet how I’ll vote. I’ll abstain because I’m not that interested in opening the door to a lot of future apology seeking, or I’ll vote in favor because my personal opinion is that some public expression of regret would be appropriate.
Censure the former mayor? RS -1598: This is another one that will make some people mad whichever way it goes. Opponents of this resolution say the Council is beating a dead horse and suggest that the former mayor has suffered enough for what she did. Let me try to get the debate framed by facts.
First, the Metro Board of Ethical Conduct received a complaint while she was still Mayor. In December 2018, that complaint was resolved by the Ethics Board and it recommended that the Council censure her. Under Metro’s laws, once the Ethics Board makes a recommendation, the Chair of the Council Rules Committee “shall” file a resolution for the Council to consider the recommendation. Hence, we have the current resolution.
Now, there are some (perhaps including Metro Legal) who feel that the Ethics Board lost jurisdiction once she resigned, and that the complaint should’ve been dropped at that time. Remember, Metro Legal had a conflict of interest and the Ethics Board used outside legal counsel. That outside legal counsel recommended that the Ethics Board continued to have jurisdiction to make a decision after she resigned. What should we make of the fact that Metro Legal probably thinks there was no jurisdiction and outside counsel thinks that there was? Well, I’ve read Metro’s ordinances on this and, wearing my lawyer hat, my expert opinion is that the drafting of the ordinance was crap. I think the best reading is that there is continuing jurisdiction to consider a complaint after someone resigns, but it was poorly drafted and could use clarifying one way or another.
The fact is that the Ethics Board did make a recommendation and under Metro law the Council “shall” consider it. We can either vote no (either because you think the Ethics Board should have dropped it after she quit or because you don’t think she should be censured) or vote yes (because you think admitting a felony also warrants a censure). Either way, this ridiculous episode will finally be over. I’ll keep listening to my colleagues. But for now, I plan to vote to adopt this resolution.
Match affordable housing funding to job credit funding, BL -1472: This bill would require setting aside $1 of affordable housing spending for every $1 of job credit spending. In particular, this is aimed at the upcoming legislation to approve job credits for Alliance Bernstein and Amazon. For several reasons, I’m opposed to this. To start, I have been consistently opposed to what I call silo-izing Metro’s budget. I think that slicing and dicing the budget with a ton of required micro-spending cuts into the city’s ability to be flexible and match the needs of a particular year. Beyond that, this is really just disguised opposition to the job credits, I think. From my perspective, if you don’t like the job credits, just vote ‘no’ on them. But passing this bill would just make the job credits literally twice as expensive to the city AND cut down on flexibility in future years.
I don’t know how I’ll vote on the Alliance Bernstein or Amazon job credits — we’ve not seen that legislation yet. But I don’t think doubling the cost of the job credits is the right direction. I think I’ll vote against this bill.
Surplussing $5.4 million of real estate for schools budget, BL -1476, -1477, -1478, -1479: Folks, this is part of the “belt-tightening” that Mayor Briley told us about last year. Instead of properly funding the government from its tax base, the proposal is to sell off one-time assets to make money to balance the budget for the year. The Council can either vote in favor and participate in unloading valuable assets that will never be recovered, or we can vote against and help put a bigger hole in the MNPS budget. Both options are bad.
Among the many reasons why this is a bad way to run a city are: (1) all potential buyers know Metro is in a hurry to sell (which tends to drive price down); (2) at least one of the parcels would benefit from more dense zoning, but it’s not clear whether Metro has time to do that (which may tend to drive price down); (3) nobody is making more land — once these are sold, they are gone forever; and (4) Metro is losing an opportunity to discuss whether affordable housing would be appropriate on these parcels.
Honestly, I don’t know yet whether I’ll vote ‘no’ to protest this method of balancing the budget or vote ‘yes’ to make sure MNPS’s minimal budget this year gets funded.
Nashville Yards participation agreement, BL -1442 (as amended): This bill would approve Metro paying for approximately $15 million of the proposed $80+ million in infrastructure improvements related to the former Lifeway campus. This bill has gotten some push back because it is downtown and because Amazon will move there in a few years.
My perspective starts with “This isn’t tax increment financing.” Instead of giving away all new property tax revenue for up to 30 years, Metro will make the upfront investment and keep all of the property tax revenue going forward. There should be more agreements like this where Metro and developer share in the infrastructure costs, especially downtown. These agreements allow Metro to get long-sought after infrastructure improvements without Metro having to pay the full cost.
Also, keep in mind that these agreements are not limited to downtown. For example, in Antioch where I-24 and Hickory Hollow Parkway meet, Metro has agreed to pay half ($12 million of $24 million) to improve the interstate exchange. Like with Nashville Yards, that interstate exchange participation agreement was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically improve the infrastructure in the area for everyone. I’ll vote in favor of this cost-sharing participation agreement.