Saturday, October 22, 2016

What happened at the 10-18-16 Council meeting: standards of conduct for tenants of Barnes Fund Housing, the Gulch Bridge and bribing Bridgestone.

At just an hour and half long, including announcements, this is a relatively short council meeting. If you are going to watch it, you really need the agenda and  the Council staff analysis or you won't have a clue about what is going on. Follow the highlighted link above to view the agenda.  Below is my commentary and summary of the meeting.

The opening prayer is a beautiful appellate rendition of Amazing Grace. Following the prayer and pledge there is a presentation recognizing Domestic Violence Month. Five people up for confirmation to Boards and Commissions are all approved as is always the case. There is one insignificant bill on Public Hearing, which is deferred for a minor reason.

There are 14 resolutions on the agenda. Most are on "consent."  Resolutions on "consent" are passed by a single vote of the council instead of being voted on individually. A couple unimportant resolutions are not on consent and are deferred due to procedural issues, not because they are controversial.  These are the resolutions of interest.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-399 amends the economic and community development incentive grant made to the Industrial Development Board  for the benefit of Bridgestone.  It rewards Bridestone for moving some of its operations from other places to Nashville. It pays Bridgestone $500 each year for seven years for each new position created in Nashville. Based on the new estimate of 1,015 new positions, this would result in annual payments to Bridgestone of $507,500 for this seven year period. While I do not like this form of corporate welfare, I would not vote against this if I had a vote.  Unfortunately, this is the way business is done, and if we don't reward Bridgestone for locating to Nashville, someone else will entice them to move to their city. It passes on the consent agenda.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-406 expands from one year old to three years old the vehicles that are exempt from being required to be tested for auto emissions. This makes sense. Vehicles not over three years old almost never fail the emissions test. It is deferred one meeting.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-408  request the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to track misdemeanor citations and civil citations for marijuana possession by race, gender and age. When the Council passed a measure significantly decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. the law was amended to say the police "may" issue the less severe civil citation instead of charging the offender with the State crime of possession, leaving it up to the discretion of the arresting officer. I did not like that amendment. I fear that well-behaved respectful white kids will get the citation and Black kids hanging out on the street corner are most likely to get the criminal charge. Too much discretion is not "rule of law." While this does not do away with that discretion, how that discretion is applied will be monitored. This is a good bill. It passes on consent.
Bills on First Reading. There are 7 bills on First Reading and they all pass without discussion as is customary.

Bills on Second Reading.
These are 12 bills on Second reading and these are the one's of interest.
BILL NO. BL2016-375 is one of the bills to curtail Short Term Rentals such as those rented on AirBnB.   Currently the maximum number of occupants permitted on a STRP property at any one time shall not exceed  twice the number of sleeping rooms plus four. This would restrict the number of occupants to no more than twice the number of sleeping rooms with a maximum of eight occupants. Those who already have permits would be grandfathered in under the current rule.The city has hired a consultant to review Metro's STRP policies and this bill is deferred indefinitely to await the report from the consultant.
SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2016-381 is another anti Short Term Rental Property bill. It would make it more cumbersome to get a STRP permit and further restrict the number of permits allowed in any census track. This is deferred one meeting.
SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2016-382  is still yet another anti Short Term Rental Property bill. This one would addresses some of what is addressed in the bill above restricting the number of permits that may be issued in any one census tract. This is deferred indefinitely.
BILL NO. BL2016-417  would prohibit one from putting a "for sale" on their vehicle parked on residential property. This was also on second reading last council meeting and deferred to this meeting.  It is substituted and passes. I do not know what is in the substitute. I wonder how often this occurs and if this is really a problem. It passes.
BILL NO. BL2016-433 is a telecommunications franchise requests from a company wanting to provide fiber optic cable. This is not Google.  Metro is getting a lot of request for these type franchises.  This is deferred one meeting.
Bills on Third Reading.  There are 30 bills on Third Reading. Most of them are zoning bills. These are the bills of interest.

BILL NO. BL2016-308  requires tenants of housing funded by the Barnes Trust Fund to comply with certain maintenance and standards of conduct and to refrain from any illegal activity on the premises of the dwelling being rented. This was on Second Reading last Council meeting. Surprising me, it proved controversial at that meeting. At last Council meeting several council members spoke against it, mostly the African-American members of the Council.  It was amended to say landlords "may" instead of "shall" enforce standards of conduct. This still did not satisfy some members of the Council. It passes on a voice vote with some audible "no's." To see the second reading discussion follow this link and view the video and see timestamp 2:27:02- 2:43:11.

Councilman Hastings, an African-American member of the Council makes a spirited defense of the bill and moves to defer it one meeting. He explains this is not an attempt to deny low income people a place to live but an attempt to make sure landlords are managing their property correctly. From his comments, Hastings has apparently been called a racist for his sponsorship of this bill and some have questioned his authenticity as a member of the Black community. He defends the bill and says he grew up in public housing. He says we cannot sit around and pretend there are no issues. Apparently there has been a lot of lobbying against this bill. The Reverent Bill Barns, for whom the Barnes Fund is named, has written a letter opposing this bill. Councilman Sharon Hunt speaks against it saying it stigmatizes and marginalized people. To read The Tenenssean's coverage of this issue see, Should affordable housing have 'conduct' rules for tenants?  To views the discussion see timestamp 39:51-49:10.

BILL NO. BL2016-379  changes the definition of a financial institution.  Currently a metro ordinance defines a financial institution and part of that definition is that it is open to the public within hours that do not exceed 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.  This bill changes that definition by removing the restriction on operating hours and replaces it with a definition that says they must be “a state or federally chartered bank, savings and loan association, or credit union, a mortgage company, or other financial institution whose services are insured by an agency of the United States government.” That is an improvement.  Under the current law a bank could not stay open till 3PM on Saturday or till 7PM on a Friday. The reason the city thinks it has a need to define them is to differentiate between respectable establishments like banks and places such as pay day lenders and check cashing services, so the city may restrict the deplorables and not the respectables.   In my view the city should not try to distinguish and instead let the market decide the mix and what and how many are needed. Last meeting, this was on Public Hearing and no one on the bill and it passed. It passes this meeting without discussion. 
BILL NO. BL2016-416  by Councilmen Mendes and Cooper requires that any Metro department or agency that must submit regular reports to the Metro Council should post those reports on their website and keep them posted for up to six months. There are 14 reports that must regularly be submitted to Council.  This should be easy and cost nothing to accomplish.  I support this move to make government more transparent and accessible to the public. It passes on a voice vote without discussion.
BILL NO. BL2016-419  requires Council members to receive diversity training.  This is more useless unnecessary political correctness. it passes without discussion on a voice vote.
BILL NO. BL2016-421  is a part of the effort to build the pedestrian bridge across the
gulch. This bill  acquires the parcel of land known as the Clement Land Port and
sells it to Cummings Station and it  permits metro to acquire a piece of land owned by Cummings Station. This parcel would be the eastern end of the bridge.  The gulch pedestrian bridge is already approved and funded.  A couple of years ago this project was stopped by Council when council refused to approve a land acquisition ordinance necessary to facilitate the construction of the bridge. At that time the Council rebelled against the deal in frustration that so much money was being spend downtown and neighborhoods were being ignored. The project was funded then and is still funded.
I support the pedestrian bridge.  Certainly we could build a more utilitarian bridge for less or not build the bridge at all, but I believe this will be an important connection to tie the gulch to downtown.  Also, I support the bridge as a beautification and an arts project.  It will be one more thing to make Nashville a place tourist want to visit and a city where people want to live. Cities should not be just utilitarian but pleasant places to live and visit.  
The argument against if is that neighborhood streets need sidewalks and $18 million dollars would build a lot of sidewalks. This development is being funded from General Obligation Bonds. Councilman Cooper and Glover argue against it. The arguments against it are not without merit, but I am not persuaded. This passes on a machine vote with 34 to 3, the three "no" votes being Cooper, Hager and Glover.  To see the discussion see timestamp 1:03:14-1:18:46.

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