Monday, October 19, 2015

What's on the Oct. 20 Council Agenda? Council position elections, not much else of interest.

You can get your own copy of the Metro council meeting agenda at this link: Metro Council Agenda. And, you can find the agenda analysis at this link: Metro Council Agenda Analysis. Council meetings are more interesting if you follow along with an agenda and know what the council is voting on.

This will be only the second meeting of the new council so it is worth watching to see who emerges as leaders and what factions may form. Without political parties, there is not much to create and hold a faction together. Probably the strongest faction  is the Black members of the Council. Other factions are often groupings of council member from the same part of the county.  Other temporary factions emerge around issues and then dissolve. There actually are very few conservative-liberal divisive issues in the council. As one council member commented recently, there are no Republican or Democratic potholes.

The last council saw the fairgrounds to be a divisive issue and most of the council members who one would think of as conservative were active in the effort to save the fairgrounds. Another  divisive issue was the effort to stop the AMP with the conservative council members opposing the AMP. Other issues that reflected ones political leanings were raising the property tax and metro benefits for same-sex couples and a few memorializing resolutions praising Obama's policies. It may take a while to emerge who are the conservative members of the Council and how often they will vote together.

Most of the council leadership is determined by the Vice Mayor. It is he who appoints chairmen of the committees.  The chairmen of a committee is usually the person asked to sign bills presented by the administration that are to be assigned to that particular committee.  These are most often routine things and if the chairman does not support the bill then he could refuse to sign it of course, but that seldom happens. As a result of sponsoring lots of routine bills, conducting committee meetings and getting face-time on TV, the committee chairmen become leaders of the council.

Their are a few leadership positions not appointed by the vice mayor. These are positions elected by the council. Tonight he Council will be filling these seats. The council has not been in office long enough for members to know each other well, but those who want those leadership positions have most likely been lobbying other council members for their support so members are getting to know each other through this process. This will show who, so far, is popular or has been lobbying for one of the positions and which alliances are being created.

The first order of business is Elections and Confirmations. Below are the positions to be filled by the council tonight where the council elects one of its own. These are coveted seats and often a lot of lobbying goes into getting these positions. 

  • President Pro Tempore. This member conducts the meeting in the absence of the vice mayor. This is for a one year term.
  • Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee Chair. Election of committee chair for a two-year term ending September 30, 2017. I would not want this job; it is thankless and a lot of hard work and I find most zoning issues boring, but it is a coveted position.  The Chair of this committee also serves as a member of the Metro Planning Commission.
  • Traffic, Parking and Transportation Committee. Election of committee chair for a two-year term ending September 30, 2017. The person who gets this position also serves as a member of the Traffic and Parking Commission.
  • Audit Committee. Election of two Council members for two-year terms ending September 30, 2017. Council members Steve Glover and Jacobia Dowell are the two previous council members serving on this committee and both are incumbents who were reelected. I assume they could keep their position on this committee if the want it. 
Other Elections and confirmations are these: 
  • Industrial Development Board nominations made from the Council floor to fill four vacancies. The election from among the nominees to fill the positions will occur at the November 3, 2015 council meeting. Members of this board control a lot of money.  This board can issue bonds, buy and develop property and then rent the property to a tenants. When you hear of a company paying "payments is lieu of taxes" or PILOT, this is most likely a development of property by the Industrial Development Board. Since the property is owned by this government entity, the tenant does not pay taxes and often the PILOT is much less than the taxes would be.  Along with Tax Increment Financing this is a tool to either facilitate crony capitalism and sweetheart deals or encourage development, depending on how one looks at it. A lot of important well-connected people want positions on this board. I assume some newly elected council members were not even aware of the function of the board and now they have been solicited by someone to put their name in nomination.
  • Director of Finance Appointee is Ms.Talia Lomax-O’dnea. She is a 15-year veteran of the Metro finance department and is being appointed to replace Rich Riebeling who Mayor Barry appointed as her Chief Operating Officer. She should win confirmation easily.
There is one resolution on public hearing and that is for a restaurant that already has a liquor license but is seeking a beer permit and is seeking a variance from the rules for those permitted to have a beer permit. I think this is a waste of Council time and any place that has acquired a liquor license should automatically be entitled to a beer permit, but that is not the case.

There are fifteen other resolutions, all on the consent agenda at this time. A resolutions stays on the consent agenda if it passes the committee to which it was assigned unanimously. However,in any member may request a bill to be pulled off or consent or have his dissenting vote or abstention recorded. Most of the resolutions are simply accepting pass through grants.  These are the resolutions of interest:
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-19, authorizing the employment of former Councilman Michael F. Jameson as Special Counsel and Director of the Council Office for the Metropolitan  Council.
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-25 approves the waiver of repayment of pension benefit overpayments made to former employee due to a Metro employee error. I did not know that there was a policy that permitted waiver of repayment of  overpayments. I think this is a bad policy. If Social Security makes an error in an overpays you, you have to pay the money back. I think we should be accommodating to those for whom repayment of an overpayment would create a hardship and maybe only withhold as little as $5 a month until repayment is made, but I do not think it should just be forgiven. 
There are thirteen bills on First Reading. Normally everything passes First Reading and is not discussed until second reading. I normally do not examine bills on First Reading, but here is a bill of interest.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-32 by Councilman Steve Glover would ban the sale of newspapers, magazines, periodicals or other such written items to occupants of vehicles within the public right-of-way. The Contributor newspaper which provides a livelihood for many homeless is one of the most successful operations of its kind in the country. Most of the people selling The Contributor are unable to hold down a real job. I realize selling The Contributor is a form of panhandling, but these unfortunate people do exist and I think this system of seeking assistance has served these people well. Also, when I buy a copy it makes me feel good. Rather than giving to some impersonal bureaucracy to help these people, I like the one-on-one opportunity to help the less fortunate. Occasionally, but rarely, I have seen what I thought were situations which slowed traffic or created a hazard, but rarely.  I have gotten to know, in a casual way, the man who regularly sells newspapers at the Wedgewood-8th Avenue intersection. Selling The Contributor has let this man earn enough money to keep a roof over his head. I would not oppose this on first reading and would let the bill go to committee, but do not think I could vote for this bill on second reading. If there are situations that create a traffic problem or safety hazard then that needs addressing, but I would not be in favor of banning this type of solicitation.  
Bills on Second Reading: Most of them concern sewer easements and none of them are of much interest. There are no Bills on Third Reading.  

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