Monday, April 9, 2012

Update: What happended at the April 3rd Council Meeting

 The Gaylord-Dollywood Snow-Splash Park tax giveaway and the HCA tax giveaway

Here is the video of the April 3rd Council meeting. See below for a summary of the meeting and the highlights.

The invocation is offered by Pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church who is the guest of Council Member Karen Bennett. This is noteworthy because Maury Davis is an outspoken conservative minister who has his critics in the community.

Mr. Brock Parks is unanimously approved for an appointment to the Beer Permit Board. The only reason this is noteworthy is because Parks lost a close race for council District 26 last year to sitting Councilman Chris Harmon.

Several appointments to Boards and Commission where deferred and no explanation was offered. There may be a very good reason why these votes where deferred. Maybe the nominated appointees had a conflict and could not attend the meeting, but an explanation of why the nominations were deferred would seem appropriate. Also the reappointment of both Mr. Dwight Beard and Mr. Roy Black to the Vegetation Control Board were withdrawn. Why? I don't have a clue but it seem like if they simply did not want to serve they should have asked their name not be put in nomination. I think a simple explanation should be provided if a name is withdrawn. 

Resolution number 2012-203 appropriates a lot of money to various department of Metro Government including $405,000.00 to the Election Commission. Councilman Bo Mitchell takes to the floor (see 8:39) and complains that coming this August two of the early voting sites are closed which are the Belle Meade and Bellevue early voting sites. He says he hopes that the Election Commission will reconsider and open those two sites. CM Mitchell is one of the most liberals members of the Council but this issue has broad and passionate support across the political divide.

Many Republicans feel that failure to have a site in West Nashville will suppress Republican turnout and given that the Election Commission now has a Republican majority and a Republican Director, many Republicans are very disappointed in the decision to close the two westward most early voting sites, sites that tend to vote Republican. Many thought that a Republican majority Election Commission would be more sensitive to Republican interest in matters such as siting early voting locations. It seems no one in the west part of the County is happy with the Election Commission. Davidson County Republican Party Executive Committee Member Lonnie Spivak has been especially vocal in urging people to call and write the Election Commission and try to get a early voting site in the Belle Meade-Bellevue community.

I know that the other Council Members from the west part of the County are not happy with this decision to not have early voting in the western part of the County. I think this is an example of how weak our council really is. When an agency comes before the council seeking funding, that is the time to force the agency to yield to the will of the Council. I know when I served in the Council we often exerted the Council's power of the purse to force agencies to respond to Council concerns. Even if you yourself did not feel strongly about an issue, you may vote to support another Councilman in a matter such as this that was important to he and his constituents. The Council has power and the legislative branch of government in theory should be a co-equal branch of government. I don't know why we so seldom see the Council exert their authority. If may be that the Council is weaker than in the past due to term limits. With no council members serving for long periods of time, the body may simply never develop a sense of identity as a co-equal branch of government. It may be that this particular Council is just not cohesive enough to support each other in getting concessions from the administration and various agencies of government. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the Council to force an agency to do something that was important to a number of the Council Members and was the right thing to do. Unfortunately it didn't happen.

BILL NO. BL2012-118 is the Gaylord-Dollywood snow-splash park tax giveaway bill. (Discussion starts at 16:27.) CM Mitchell makes an argument that the bill needs to include some sort of amendment or accountability mechanism to insure that local workers get the jobs associated with the construction project.

Council Member Josh Stites (22:18) argues against the bill. "I want to make sure my appreciation and adoration of Dolly Parton is not called into question," he says. "I actually have her latest album, Back with Barbie, on my iPod, and I am proud of that. However, I am going to support her with my own money and not someone else's."

He questions the economic impact study data. He says he has a “problem with giving tax incentives to companies that move here.” He questions the promised construction job creation and says it is “disproportionate” with the project’s $50 million price tag. “I don’t think we should be charging other private investors that have large water parks 100 percent taxes, so we can then turn around and essentially subsidize a new water park,” an obvious reference to Nashville Shores.

Councilman Robert Duvall also takes to the floor in opposition (25:02). “The last thing we need to be doing is giving tax incentives to some individuals and then turn around and raise property taxes on people," he says. "What we are doing as a body when we pass this is, we are selectively choosing who will succeed and who won't and it is wrong; it is the wrong thing to do."

Councilman Tim Garrett and Councilman Charlie Tygert, Walter Hunt and others argue in favor of the bill.

After all the good debate, the bill passed by voice vote. Why did not someone demand a roll call? I want to know how they voted. Too often Councilmen hide behind voice votes. The opponents of this bill should have demanded a recorded vote. How do you know who the good councilmen are, if councilmen seldom go on the record? Knowing how their councilman voted on second reading might have given the public a chance to lobby their Council Member between now and third reading and convinced them to change their vote.

BL2012-115 which extends the smoking ban on public property from 50 feet from a hospital entrance to 200 feet from a hospital entrance appears to serve no purpose except to punish smokers for having a nasty habit. This bill passed by voice vote with no audible "no" votes. This was an opportunity for a conservative council member to make a principled argument against government expansion but no one did.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2012-116 on third reading was the HCA tax giveaway bill. This deal gave a 100% tax abatement for the first five years, and a 50% abatement for the next five years on a new regional data center being built in Antioch. Robert Duvall takes to the floor (57:34) and argues against it. He points out that there is no grantee that the 155 jobs supposed to be created by this bill will in fact be created by this development. The jobs may be existing jobs that are simply a transfer of people. All jobs created since Jan. 1 this year by HCA are credited toward the 155 total. Karen Johnson argues in favor of the bill. It passed by machine vote with only Tennpenny, Duvall and Stites voting against it. 

This was a pretty interesting council meeting. Thanks to Councilmen Stites and Councilman Duvall for taking principled stands and speaking out.

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