Notes from 3/1 Council Meeting

I want to share three things from this week’s Council meeting.

County Medical Examiner Appointment: The Rules Committee was asked to consider the appointment of Dr. Feng Li as County Medical Examiner. The Committee voted to defer its decision for one meeting. The issue was that, while Dr. Li seems highly qualified, he does not live in Davidson County.

Metro has a contract with Forensic Medical Management Services, PLC, to provide forensic pathology services for Davidson County. Dr. Li is the CEO of FMMS, and they apparently do not have any employee pathologists who both live in Davidson County and are qualified for the County Medical Examiner position. State law allows for a doctor outside the county to serve in this position if it is “not possible” to find someone in the county to accept the position.

FMMS ran a job opening announcement for 22 days on the leading national medical examiner organization’s web site, and was unable to find an interested, qualified candidate.

The Committee voted to defer because it wanted to learn more about the search for a qualified candidate who lives in the county. Also, since Dr. Li is the CEO of FMMS, I am asking for Dr. Li to comment on the April 2015 Metro internal audit of the Medical Examiner’s office. I expect that Dr. Li’s appointment will most likely be approved by the Council, but these are questions that should be answered first.

BL2016-149: Infrastructure for Lifeway Project:  This ordinance would obligate Metro to spend up to $3,490,000 for the construction of public infrastructure improvements in the area around a new Lifeway building in the North Gulch area. As part of the deal, Metro will get a 1+ acre park that is supposed to connect to our greenway system. You can see more details in the Council Agenda Analysis, at pp. 10-11. This ordinance passed on second reading after an extensive discussion.

On the one hand, I think there was widespread agreement that Lifeway is a wonderful 125 year citizen of Nashville. We were told that Lifeway provides 1,100 jobs that have an average annual compensation of $53,000, and that Lifeway generates tens of thousands of room nights of hotel bookings each year. So, this isn’t like Dell swooping into town with no track record here. Lifeway is a legit long-time interested and engaged Nashville employer.

Also, there is no tax increment financing. Metro’s obligation would be to build water, street, and other infrastructure.

On the other hand, there was several Councilmembers who expressed frustration over why this particular infrastructure project should have priority over other projects, and over why building this new park should have priority over other new parks around the city. There were also questions about whether Lifeway would really move out of the city if Nashville were to decline to pay for this infrastructure.

These are all good and fair questions, and I’m glad that Lifeway and the administration promised answers to all of them before this ordinance gets to third reading.

As I see it, there are really two issues going on here.  One issue is a completely legitimate long-term complaint – you really can’t find a prioritized list of water infrastructure projects, or park projects, anywhere. So, for example, if any district councilmember has a piece of land in her district that has been acquired to become a park, she really has no earthly idea whether it will be actually built into a park in 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or whenever.

Coincidently, at a Budget & Finance Committee meeting this week, the administration described how they intend to create such a prioritized list that would address this problem. They described that it will take maybe as long as two or three budget cycles to turn what is currently a wish list of projects into a prioritized list that will reliably let people know when a project will happen.  For now, until Metro develops this prioritized list, we will be subject to criticism whenever a new project seems to just pop up.

The second issue is whether Nashville thinks it is a good idea to pay for this infrastructure.  Is Lifeway a good investment for Nashville? Is paying for this infrastructure a better use of $3+ million than something else? I plan to keep an open mind as we receive the rest of the promised information, but my instinct is that this is a really nice opportunity to get needed infrastructure at the base of our important Charlotte corridor, obtain an important greenway connection that otherwise will not be available to us, and help build the inevitable connection between the North Gulch and Germantown.

I think there will be another long discussion about this on third reading on March 15.

BL2016-157: Tax Increment Financing:  This is the ordinance that Councilmember Gilmore and I filed to change the ground rules for tax increment financing. (previous post here)  This passed first reading yesterday. Second reading will be on March 15. I’m thankful that the feedback on this has been very positive, and that we have more than 20 co-sponsors. I’m looking forward to seeing become law.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.