Thursday, May 21, 2015

What happend at the May 19th Council meeting: Term limits advances to the ballot, Capital Improvement Budget controversy, New regs for sex clubs, Top Golf approved, Beer in the parks

This meeting is one and half hour long. If you are interested in watching the meeting but do not want to spend that much time watching it, you can watch it in double time.  In the bar at the bottom of the video screen, under "settings" see if you are given that option.  If not, go to this link and click HTLM5 player and then go back to the video and you should be given the option of watching the video at faster speeds.

It will help you follow what is happening if you have a council agenda. To see my commentary on the agenda and a link to get your own copy of the agenda and staff analysis follow this link.

The meeting is conducted by Lonnell Matthews Jr, who is President Pro Tem of the Council, whose job it is to conduct the council meeting in absence of the Vice Mayor. He also conducted the May 5th meeting. Where is the Vice Mayor?

The first item of business is a presentation honoring the Madison Utility District, followed by a presentation honoring Dr. Register, followed by the adoption of a Council rule change. The rule change would allow the Vice Mayor to put bills on public hearings on two consecutive meetings or call a special meeting to hear bills on public hearings. This makes sense. Last council meeting the meeting lasted four hours. That is entirely too long. I remember serving in the Council when there would be lots of bills on public hearing and meetings would last for hours. After about the first couple hours of basically people saying the same thing (it will cause traffic problems, it will cause water problems, it doesn't fit the character of the neighborhood) you are sort of brain dead. In June there will be 60 bills on public hearing! That is a lot. I see the need for this rule change and my only concern is that if the meeting is a special meeting, it still needs to be televised by Channel 3 and the video archived.  Unless someone coordinates with Channel 3, they may not have people scheduled to cover a special meeting. The council voting machine fails and a rule change requires a recorded vote, so the vote is taken by a show of hands.

The regular order of business does not get underway until timestamp 18:27.

All of the mayor's appointees to board and commission are approved without discussion. I am very disappointed. Two of the appointees were to the Human Relation Commission. I was hoping that at least one councilmember would take the opportunity of vote "no" on these confirmations. My basic reason is that this agency is a useless agency at best, but the worse thing they do is sponsor the youth pavilion at the Gay Pride Festival. For a more detailed explanation, follow this link.

There are 18 resolution on the agenda and all but two are on the consent agenda. All resolutions on consent pass with no dissention. The consent agenda are those resolutions deemed non-controversial and they stay on consent if they pass the committee to which they were assigned by a unanimous vote.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1433 was not on consent. It proposes an amendment to the charter that would extend term limits for the Vice Mayor and members of the Council from two to three terms. It had been approved by the Charter Revision Commission. This would only extend term limits; it would not reduce the size of the council. Only the sponsor speaks in favor and only Steve Glover speaks in opposition. The resolutions required 27 votes to pass and it gets only 27 positive votes, 9 "no" votes and two abstentions. The voting machine is still not working and the clerk has to call the roll.

With this resolution passing, this means there will be two measures on the ballot that extend term limits, this one and the one that got on the ballot by petition that in addition to extending term limits also reduces the size of the council. For more on that proposed charter amendment and other charter amendments that will be on the August ballot, follow this link. To see the discussion and the roll call go to timestamp 27:0- 33:34.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1498 by Charlie Tygard is the other resolution not on consent. It request the   Metropolitan Civil Service Commission to consider and recommend an amendment to the General Pay Plan to partially base the compensation of Members of the Metropolitan Council upon Council and committee meeting attendance.

 Recently, Channel 5 did an investigative piece and revealed that some Council members almost never attend committee meetings.  With a large council, the council must have a strong committee system.  It is in committee where the real work of the Council is done. It is in committee where the council can ask hard questions and get answers.  There is no way a councilmember can know all there is to know about the  bills on the agenda. Some of the Councilmen said they had regular jobs and could  not take off work to attend committee meetings. In my view, if a councilmember does not have flexibility in his job to attend to his council duties, he should not run for council.  If he cannot attend Council committee meetings he should resign from the council. The worst offenders were Emily Evans, who missed 83 committee meetings since 2013, Robert Duvall, who's missed 93 committee meetings in that time period, and Sean McGuire, who's missed 132 committee meetings since 2013! Among the top twelve members with the worst attendance records was Council member-at-large and Mayoral candidate Megan Barry.

I was very disappointed to learn of this because generally Duvall and Evans are two of my favorite council member. For more on the  story and to watch a video of the Channel 5 newscast, follow this link. I am proud of Charlie Tygard for proposing this. I wish other council members had to guts to go out with a bang, standing tall. The Committee vote was only one in favor and four against for a recommendation of disapproval. Councilman Tygard moves to defer indefinitely. That probably kills the resolution.

Bills on First reading all pass all lumped together in one vote as is customary, with the exception of the Capital Improvements Budget which is filed as a late resolution requiring a suspension of the rules.  The Charter requires the Capital Improvements Budget to be approved by no later than June 15; so, in order for that to happen it had to be on First Reading tonight or the council would have to have a special meeting to meet the June 2nd deadline.

The Capital Improvements Budget is not really a budget but a prioritized list of capital projects and the source of the funding for those projects. It is a planning document. Some projects can be funded by revenue bonds and some other sources but most are funded by general obligation bonds. Throughout the year, the Capital Improvements Budget can be amended but that can be difficult to do. Ideally all capital improvements are included in the Capital Improvements Budget. The number of projects that actually get funding that are in the Capital Improvements Budget depends, in most cases, on how much money the Council approves for debt service in the Operating Budget.

Council members really do not have much say on what gets funded because to include a project, another project must be removed from inclusion. A councilman may get something added to the Capital Improvements Budget but it may have a low priority and never be funded. It is easier to get an unpopular project taken out of the Capital Improvement Budget than to get a pet project funded. This is one example of how we have a weak council-strong mayor system.

Councilman Duane Dominy takes to the floor and argues against the Capital Improvements Budget saying it includes moving the criminal justice center to the southeast portion of the county and moving the police headquarters to Jefferson Street and he says there is a lot of concern about those proposed moves and without proper public input and council review he will not vote for it and he request a machine vote. Other discussion follows. My view is that these two projects should be taken out of the Capital Improvements Budget as well as the downtown flood wall. I think the next mayor and the next council should consider those projects. With the voting machine not working, there is an actual roll call vote with a few "no" votes but the clerk does not announce the totals. To see the debate see timestamp 35:37 - 53:28.

Bills on Second Reading all pass and none of them are of interest.

Bills on Third Reading all pass and none generate controversy. These are the ones of interest:

BILL NO. BL2015-1081 passes which changes a zoning in order to allow Top Golf to build a large high tech golf driving range.

BILL NO. BL2015-1099  defines what is a sex club, and says they can only locate in areas zoned industrial and not within 1000 feet of a church, home, school, park or daycare center. It would prohibit the following:

    1. Admitting members that are younger than 21 years of age;
    2. Admitting any new member without the affirmative vote of a majority of the other members;
    3. Accepting applications for membership without a current member’s written recommendation; and
    4. Granting membership within 24 hours from the time a membership application is filed.
BILL NO. BL2015-1100 changes the code to make it the applicant's responsibility rather than the city's for posting signs that say a property has a hearing before The Board of Zoning Appeal. Originally it removed the requirement that such notices be published in a newspaper but it amended to continue requiring notices to be published in the paper.

BILL NO. BL2015-1102  would allow the Parks Department to permit the sale of beer in any Metro Parks. Now, the Parks Department can only allow beer sales at parks in the downtown area.

Here is the Tennessean's report of the meeting. Please note that the Tennessee's now has their on-line content behind a pay wall so if you are not a Tennessean subscriber you can't read it. 

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