Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Another Update: What is on the 02-07-2012 Council Agenda? School Unions and John Arriola

Will Council Say No to Jessie Register's standing up to School Unions?  Will Council Say Arriola, you gotta go!

Will Council say Jessie, Don't bust the Unions?
A late resolution has been introduced by Councilman Bo Mitchell, the most pro labor union member of the Metro Council,  that would urge the Metro School Board and the Director of Schools Jesse Register  to abide by the current labor negotiation policy.

As reported in the City Paper, The School Board currently has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Unions concerning labor negotiations which Register says is not binding. This year, the State of Tennessee passed a new law that stripped teachers’ unions of their ability to bargain collectively. Mitchell says the law applied only to "certified" personnel and was not applicable to unions representing support personnel.

This is the same argument that Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205 made on January 13th when they filed a complaint with the school board. "This is not a dispute over wages, funding, or benefits" said Doug Collier when filing that complaint. "Last year, the state legislature passed laws which affected teachers' right to bargain collectively. Dr. Register is now trying to use those laws – which do not apply to school support employees - as an excuse to overreach his authority and silence the voices of thousands of loyal city employees who voted to form a union." (See: Complaint filed against Metro schools director.)

I am not sure that the question of whether or not the law stripping teachers unions of their ability to bargain collectively applies to other school personnel is even relevant. Other public sector unions, as far as I can tell, never had that right written into state law in the first place. The more relevant question maybe whether or not our current MOU with the unions is a binding agreement that can be terminated by one party.

One of the more conservative members of the Council to whom I talked to today, said that he is uncertain if the MOU is a contract or not.  If the MOU is in fact a contract and by Register suspending it the city would be liable for violating a contract and face a law suite we are likely to lose, he said he would have to support Mitchell's resolution.  Whether or not the MOU is a contract is a fact yet to be determined. As reported in the City Paper, Register is very clear in saying the MOU is not a binding agreement. Unless the MOU is a binding contract,  I would have to vote to stand with the Director of Schools. If that cannot be determined at this time, then this resolution should not be passed but time should be given to make that determination.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Steelworkers are the unions involved in this dispute. In this year's elections the SEIU endorsed a broad range of candidates, not just liberal Democrats. Conservative and independent minded members of the Council endorsed by SEIU included Tim Garrett, Robert Duvall, Duane Dominy, Emily Evans, and Davette Blalock. (To see who the SEIU endorsed, click here.) Union members vote heavily in Council elections and can mobilize their relatives and friends and can exercise considerable clout. I hope members of the Council do not buckle to the Unions.

I hope members of the Council have the fortitude to stand up to the Unions and stand with Director of Schools Register. According to Council rules, a late resolution can be stopped if two members object. They should object. There is no crisis that requires a late resolution. Let this resolution be introduced following the normal procedures and give the council time to deliberate and get all the facts.

 Arriola you gotta go!
The most interesting item on the agenda will probably be RESOLUTION NO. RS2012-158 by Councilman Robert Duvall calling on John Arriola to resign. It is only a memorializing resolution which means it expresses the will of the council but is non-binding. Last year the council rejected this resolution.

Arriola is under investigation by the District Attorney's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and a recent audit revealed massive irregularities and questionably practices in the office. The most troublesome issue surrounding Arriola is his charging a $40 fee to perform marriages and pocketing the money.

Robert Duvall is to be commended for pushing this resolution. It this does not pass, I will be totally disgusted with our Metro Council. This is a vote that will tell us a lot about the Council: who is for defending the good 'ole boy system of political corruption and who favors honest government. I don't know how anyone can spin this any other way. To read the full text of the resolution click here.

Get your own copy of the Agenda and Analysis: 

You can find the agenda at the link: Metro Council Agenda. And,  the analysis at this link: Metro Council Analysis. The council meeting are less boring if you have an agenda and an analysis, not that they are still not boring, but they are less boring.

Other issues worth watching:

Ana Page is to be confirmed as a Mayor's appointee to the Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency for a term expiring November 5, 2014. These appointees to boards and commission are usually routine and I expect this one will be also. The thing that makes this appointment noteworthy is that Ms Page is a former member of the Metro Council who was defeated for reelection by Councilman Tony Tenpenny. She was only one of two incumbents seeking reelection to the Council that was not reelected in the last council election. The Mayor's office supported Page. It seems like an unfriendly act on the part of the Mayor to appoint a sitting councilman's former and possibly future opponent to a position of influence.

RESOLUTION NOS. RS2012-136 & RS2012-137 are on the consent agenda so most likely will pass with no discussion and I bet, if truth be known, there is not a council member up there who really knows what they are voting on. I may sound like I understand this but am still vague on how all of this works.

These two resolutions appropriate $600, 000, $300,000 each, ultimately to two different entities. The money is appropriated from the Capitol Mall Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) to MDHA for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and ServiceSource.

One interesting thing about this is that the money has to be spend in a “pocket of poverty” areas of the Metropolitan Government. Now, if you are familiar with downtown, think about the boundries of this "pocket of poverty:" The Capitol Mall pocket of poverty includes basically the heart of the downtown area bordered by 2nd and 4th Avenues to the east, Union Street to the north, 8th Avenue to the west, and Peabody Street to the south. Think about those boundaries. That has got to be some of the richest poverty areas I have ever seen! If you want to try to understand this, look at the analysis and good luck.

Every Resolution on the agenda is on the consent agenda which means they have received anonymous approval in committee and will be voted on as a group instead of individually.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2011-83 by Councilman Stanley which is on second reading would allow Metro to extend water lines to homes using private wells. Currently, if one wants to extend a water line to ones property, it is at one's own expense. The director of finance was unable to certify that funds are available to implement this ordinance. Fiscal watchdogs in the Council may have a problem with this bill. I hope there is an explanation of why we would deviate from a long-standing prudent fiscally-sound policy.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2011-91 which is on second reading would require a  fiscal impact statements to be prepared for legislation pending with the council, other than zoning ordinances and non-binding memorializing resolutions. The fiscal note is to include a dollar estimate of the anticipated change in revenue, expenditures, or fiscal liability associated with the resolution or ordinance. 

This is a good move. Council needs to know what something will cost before they vote on it.  However, Council should not let a fiscal note replace good judgement. As we see at the state and federal level, an estimate of cost is a static estimate and changes in expenditures and tax rates are often dynamic. A "saving" may cost more elsewhere or later and an increase in tax rates can sometimes lead to less revenue to the government rather than more.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2011-82 on third reading creates a means whereby Metro can accept unfinished infrastructure. When a developer develops a subdivision, he is supposed to complete the streets to an acceptable standard before Metro will accept them. There are several developments around town, where the developer went broke or the developer just abandoned the project and the streets were never completed. The developer is supposed to post a bond or secure a letter of credit which would insure that if the developer does go broke or abandon the project, Metro has the funds to complete the project. That did not always work out as planned. This bill establishes a procedure whereby, under certain circumstances, Metro can accept the incomplete streets and complete the development. This will set the stage for finishing the streets and infrastructure such as sidewalks and drainage systems in several subdivisions where the infrastructure was never completed. 

I am disappointing that this bill was not publicly discussed on second reading. I would like to know who screwed up and cost the city millions of dollars and have assurances that the problem has been fixed.

I had thought this meeting would be super short and super boring, but the the resolution calling on Arriola to resign and the resolution supporting the SEIU, may make this a good meeting. 

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