Monday, April 6, 2015

What's on the Council Agenda April 7th: term limits, a lot of 4% money, diverting Hotel-motel tax, public sector unions.

If you don't know what the Metro Council is voting on and you watch a council meeting, you will find it really, really boring. If you have your own copy of the Council agenda and staff analysis it will still be boring but not really, really boring. To get your own copies, follow the highlighted links.

There are seven appointees to Boards and Commissions. None of them are to the troubled or controversial agencies and I don't know the appointees. The council routinely  approves whomever the mayor appoints.  Recently the council did reject an appointee to the Fair Board who was an advocate of destroying the fair grounds and selling the property, but it is extremely rare the council ever rejects an appointee to a board or commission.

There is one resolution and 13 bills on Public hearing. Most bills on public hearing are zoning or related issues and are of interest only to nearby neighbors of the proposed rezoning. I don't try to stay informed on zoning issues nor do I try to form an opinion. Here are the ones I find interesting:

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1415  This is interesting because it is so silly that the Council has to keep doing this. This resolution allows a particular restaurant that already has a liquor license, an exemption from a portion of the metro beer ordinance so they can get a permit to sell beer. Metro has distance requirements from schools, churches, parks, day care center, in order to get a beer permit. However, the state does not have those distance requirements to get a liquor license. So, if an establishment has a liquor license then the Council can exempt them from the distance requirements in the beer ordinance and let them also get a beer permit, but there must first be a public hearing. I think that the distance exemption should be automatic; that if one has a liquor license they should be allowed to get a beer permit.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1055 is a bill disapproved by the planning commission. The bill is tailored to allow an outdoor amusement called Topgolf to operate in an area now zoned industrial. Rather than changing the zoning, the bill attempts to change the text of the zoning ordinance to permit what is not now permitted.
There are 20 resolutions on the agenda. Most resolutions are lumped together and put on the "consent agenda" and all pass with a single voted. If a resolution does not pass the committee to which it was assigned unanimously then it is not on consent and is considered separately. Any council member may from the floor, ask for a bill to be pulled off of consent and then the resolution will be considered separately.  There are several bills concerning issuing short-term debt to finance sewer projects. The short-term debt may be thought of as a construction loan that one gets while building a house then the construction loan is paid off with a mortgage. This short-term loans will be paid off when long-term bonds are issued. These are the resolutions I find interesting:
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1419 spends almost $15 million dollars out of the four percent fund. Four percent of the General Fund is set aside to be appropriated throughout the year. The four percent fund is supposed to only fund equipment purchases and repairs. Before the request gets to the Council, it must be approved by the Mayor's finance director. 
There is now $28 million in the fund but that includes $5 million of anticipated revenue not yet realized so spending $15 million will leave the fund pretty low. $650,000 is for a new a new "legislative management system," what ever that is, and a new voting system for the Metro Council. Four million dollars is to replace a phone system and other information technology service needs. A half million is for renovation and repairs at General Hospital. In my view, the city needs to get out of the hospital business.  When contemplating the future of General Hospital, the next mayor and council should recall that the subsidy to General Hospital is not only the budgeted amount but this half million from the 4% fund.  $50,000 is for miscellaneous equipment and repairs at Farmers Market.
Please note that this is all additional money to the departments, money not budgeted for that department. This is a large request from the 4% fund but will probably be the last request this year unless something major breaks.  Every penny of request may be justified, but to me it looks like department are getting while the getting is good, not knowing if the next mayor will approve their request or not.  The council has no way to determine if a repair or piece equipment would just be nice to have or is essential but sometimes a probing inquiry of the department head can result in somewhat of a determination if the request is necessary or if it is inflated. I hope the Budget and Finance Committee takes a hard look at this request.  They need to ask if there is any life remaining in what is being asked to be replaced. They need to ask how long the repair or replacement has been needed.  They need to ask what would the agency do if the request in not granted. I suspect some of this is not essential spending.
  •  RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1420 appropriates $1.85 million to entities that operate as enterprise funds, that is they are supposed to operate off of their own revenue. The Fair Ground request is for $700K, however the funds will come from funds that have been generated at the Fair Grounds.  The municipal auditorium request of $550K and the Farmers Market request of $600K is money out of the undesignated fund balance. My view is that perhaps the city should sellthe municipal auditorium if it cannot break even.  We have the Bridestone arena and there are numerous other music venues and exhibition spaces in town.  The auditorium does fill a niche in a space of that size and that price point, however the property is extremely valuable and if the facility cannot figure out how to cover their operating cost, maybe it is time to sell and redevelop the property.
I don't know what to say about the farmers market. It is really not a farmers market where farmers can sell to retailers such as grocery stores and restaurants. It is a boutique farm-to-table farmers market.  I enjoy going to farmers market but we should be able to operate a facility like that and make it covers it's operating cost.
I know the stuff sold in the North shed was tacky junk.  I was never in the market for a velvet African princess piece of art or twelve pair of socks for six dollars, but those vendors were providing income to the market as well as making a living for themsleves. I doubt there is enough demand for soy candles and homemade soap and such to fill that shed. Unless it would mean closing the market, I think this appropriation should be deferred and let the next mayor and council decide what to do with farmers market.  
RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1433 proposes an amendment to the charter to appear on the November 7th ballot to increase the term limits of the Vice Mayor and Council to three terms. Terms limits for the Council were approved in 1994. Attempts to repeal or extend term limits have been tried several times since. I think term limits are a mistake and it weakens the role of the council and makes for a stronger mayor and more powerful permanent bureaucracy. However, I doubt the public is in a mood to expand term limits so I don't think this ought to go on the November 7th ballot. The Council will defer this to let the Charter Revision Commission make a recommendation.
There are a bunch of bills on first reading, but I don't look at them until second reading and I doubt many of the members of the Council do either.  First reading is a formality to get the bill on the agenda and all bills on first reading are passed at one time in one motion.

Bills on Second Reading of interest:

BILL NO. BL2015-1056 would designate that revenue received from the hotel-motel tax from short-term vacation rental (such as Airbnb) go to the Barnes fund for Affordable Housing.  The State law that created the  hotel-motel tax says where the money must go and only one 1% of the 6% tax on rooms goes to the general fund.  The other 5% go to debt service on the convention center, tourism promotion and tourism related activity.  This bill would divert that 1% from the general fund to the Barnes Fund. but only the portion of that 1% of the tax collected from short-term vacation rentals. I see no logic in why that portion of the hotel-motel tax should fund the Barnes Fund.  I also think this is unwise.  My view is that money designated, is an appropriations decision the council cannot make. The Barnes Fund should compete with General Hospital, Farmers Market, Schools, police and everything else the city does for an annual appropriations. There are many unmet needs in the city including an ageing infrastructure  and a desire for sidewalk and drainage projects.  I am concerned about Metro's unfunded and growing pension liability and retiree health care obligations and general debt obligations and do  not think any money should be taken off the table.  If I were in the Council, I would vote against this bill.

There are only three bills on Third Reading and none of them are of interest.

Memorializing resolutions:  There are six memorializing resolutions on the agenda. A memorializing resolution does not have any force in law or do anything, it just expresses the will of the Council.  Often memorializing resolutions are used to congratulate a sports team on a victory or to honor a retiring employee or community volunteer. Sometimes however, the Council weights in on State or national issues.  Most often when that happens it is to promote some left-wing agenda item and may be part of a nationwide movement to get cities across the nation to urge Congress to take a particular action. The handful of conservatives on the Council have usually rolled over and played dead when it comes to liberal memorializing resolutions and allowed them to pass without objections. I hope the new Council will push back against the trend of putting the Council on record supporting liberal policies. If a memorializing resolution passes the committee to which it is assigned unanimously, then the memorializing resolution becomes part of the consent agenda.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1437 puts the council on record opposing state legislation that would prohibit local governments from recognizing any labor union or employee association as a bargaining agent of government employees. There is a bill pending in the legislature,  House Bill 603  and Senate Bill 123 that would do that. Here is the legislative summary of the bill:
This bill prohibits municipal and county governments from:
(1) Recognizing any labor union or employee association as a bargaining agent of the employees or officers of the municipality or county;
(2) Collectively bargaining with any labor union or employee association; or
(3) Entering into any collective bargaining agreement with a labor union or employee association, including, but not limited to, a memorandum of understanding.
Any agreement, contract, understanding, or practice, written or oral, implied or expressed, between a municipality or county and any labor union or employee association in violation of this bill will be deemed illegal, void, and of no legal effect.
This bill authorizes elected and appointed county and municipal public officers to seek injunctive relief in chancery court to prevent the municipality or county from violating this section.
This bill's prohibitions will not apply to:
(1) Collaborative conferencing between local boards of education and professional employees; or
(2) Collective bargaining between transit authorities and workers.
I support the bill and oppose the memorializing resolution against it. In government, there are not market forces that mitigate against excessive union demands.  In the private sector, a company can go out of business if labor cost raise the price of a product and make the product unattractive to consumers. In the public sector there are no market forces to provide a pushback against union demands.   As unionized labor has diminished in the US, unions have focused more and more on unionizing public sector employees. The Supreme Court of Tennessee, in Fulenwider v. Firefighters Assoc. Local Union, 649 S.W.2d 268 (Tenn. 1982), has confirmed the long-standing rule that contracts between municipal corporations and unions representing their employees are unenforceable.  This codifies that Court ruling.

This needs to be defeated, deferred indefinitely or withdrawn. I will  be very disappointed if any of the Council members who profess  to be conservative support this memorializing resolution. The State House has deferred the bill  to a summer study committee, which  often kills a bill, so it will not be voted  on in the remaining days of this legislative session anyway.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1438  welcome the National Rifle Association to Nashville for its 2015 Annual Meetings. I would not be surprised if some anti-2nd amendment  liberals in the Council attempt to defeat this resolution.

The other four memorializing resolutions should not be controversial.

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