Monday, June 29, 2015

Nashville SEIU supports charter amendment for smaller council, expanded terms.

"Choose smaller Metro Nashville council, no term limits," is the title given an op-ed in the Tennessean written by Mr. Doug Collier, who is the president of SEIU Local 205. I assume the title was written by the staff of the Tennessean, not Mr. Doug Collier. The charter amendment which will be on the August 7th ballot calls for reducing the Council to 26 seats and expanding the number of terms a council member may serve from two to three; not "no term limits."

 Unless you subscribe to The Tennessean, you can't read their stuff online as they have finally put it behind a pay wall. In this piece, Mr. Collier laments that metro employee salary increases have not kept pace with inflation but says, "those budget constraints haven’t stopped councilmembers from rubber-stamping virtually every major capital project Mayor Dean has proposed."

He is critical of tax giveaways like Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) deals which mean that a lot of the new construction downtown does not put much more money in city coffers. He calls it "corporate welfare." I agree.

He says the Council is not responsive to the needs of metro employee's because only being able to serve two terms, they do not have to fight to be reelected and do not have to be responsive. He also says the size of the Council is a problem, saying that a small council, "like a small classroom — enhances that learning process and allows them to come up the curve quickly."

I am sure there are a lot of things I disagree with the SEIU about, but I agree with Mr. Collier in supporting reducing the size of the Council and expanding terms. It is an advantage to have people in the Council with institutional knowledge, who remembers how certain things came to be. Also, with a large body it is easier for one not to step up and really study the issues and do the hard work of the Council. When you are one in a group of forty it is easier skip the committee meetings than when you are one of a smaller group.

The bureaucracy is permanent and a department head can snow a new council member and the bureaucracy answers to the mayor, not the Council. The goal of a department head is always to have a bigger budget and more employees. No department head tries shrink his department and have fewer employees.

It takes a while to actually learn how government functions and to know when someone is being truthful with you. Term limits and a large Council, make for a weak Council and a strong mayor. That is not the most important change I would make to shift the balance of power to the Council, but it is a step in the right direction.

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