Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What happened at the 6/5/2018 Metro Council meeting: Public ask for more funding for school and employee pay increases, Flood wall killed again, rip-off of pension fund addressed.

At five and half hours long, this is a long council meeting. Over four hours of the meeting is the public hearing on the budget.  To access the agenda, the Council staff agenda analysis and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link.

Following the payer and pledge, there is a presentation of a Lupus awareness mouth resolution. Following that is the opening of the floor for nomination to the Industrial Development Board beginning  at timestamp 13:04. Only two people are nominated and I do not know how many seats are open, it is not stated. Maybe there is only one opening.  This is important to a very small segment of the community but is very important to some of them. If you care about this go to the 13:04 timestamp to see the nominations.

The next item is the confirmation of mayoral appointments to boards and commissions. Usually the appointees are unanimously recommended by the Rules Committee but several of the nominees have a committee report of one opposed and the rest in favor. Those receiving the one vote against from the Rules Committee were appointees or reappointments to the Board of Equalization. The "no: vote was from Councilman Jim Shulman. He explains his "no" vote at about timestamp 19 in the video. Those appointees are going to return to the Rules Committee and explain the process of Board of Equalization appeals. I think this is a good thing. The Council should take its confirmation responsibility seriously.  The Council should understand how these boards operate. Council member Hunt questions why they are asked to come back to the committee and some discussion ensues. All appointees are approved.

Public hearing on the operating budget and capital improvements budget begins at time stamp 
36:58 in the video.  I watched this in double speed but didn't miss anything important.. As anticipated a lot of citizens want Metro to spend more money for their pet projects or areas of concern and others express support for some funding that is in the budget. The budget includes funding for the Black Chamber of Commerce, the  Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the LBGT Chamber of Commerce. Speakers advocate for this funding. Speakers advocate for the funding of the Financial Empowerment Center, for the "In full Motion" program, for the funding of the arts, for pre-K funding, mass transit funding, the "opportunity now" program, the Entrepreneur  Center,and  after school programs,  One speaker addresses the overtime pay for police and says the event organizers should pay for this service, not we taxpayers (about timestamp 1:23:258). Speakers advocate for more funding for Metro employees, schools, fire department, General Hospital, affordable housing,and  a tax increase. One speaker takes the opportunity to argue against short term rentals. Another argues against the racial disparity in in-school suspension. Former Councilman John Summers ask for a tax increase. One speaker (at about timestamp 3:37:30) makes the obvious sensible argument that property tax increases makes housing less affordable and he argues the city should not be funding so many non-profits such as the Country Music Hall of Fame. By far, most speakers were advocating for more funding for schools followed by those advocating for an employee pay increase. One speaker urges a freeze on all new capital expenditures, specifically saying we should not be funding the new Soccer stadium. The public hearings are concluded at timestamp 4:12:01.

Other than the one speaker concerned about overtime pay for policemen and the one who called for a halt to new capital projects, no one else called for belt-tightening or questioned the massive waste and corruption in Metro government. Metro has plenty of money; we just waste too much of it.  We spend millions on sidewalks and get only a few miles of sidewalks, we pay exorbitant management fees for the pension plan investments  and we just spend on things that are not necessary.  No one called for a budget cut or tax decrease.  This is typical of every budget hearing. Those who want to raise taxes and spend more speak out and those who want sound money management and less government do not.

Flood Wall removed from the Capital Improvements Budget

The proposal to build a $125 million flood wall  to protect downtown from the next thousand year flood was again in the Capital Improvements Budget this year. The Council had defeated this proposal in three separate years but Mayor Briley included it in this years proposal again. Normally an item in the CIB does not spend any money or cause anything to be built without coming back before Council as part of a funding package that list the projects to be funded. Normally the CIB does not spend any money but is a wish list of projects that are prioritized and sources of funding identified. The flood wall would have been different.  The Department of Water and Sewer Services has its own source of funding in the water bills they charge customers and they would not have had to come back before the Council to build the wall had this been in the CIB. I am pleased to see this removed and killed yet again. For my commentary on this issue follow this link. To see the Council discussion see timestamp 4:13:18 - 4:34:25.

There are 29 resolutions on the agenda. Here are the ones of interest.

Resolution RS2018-1180  proposes three amendments to the Metro Charter. If approved by the Council they would go before the public to be voted on in a referendum. These proposed charter amendments concern the line of succession in the event of a vacancy in the office of mayor  how to fill a vacancy in the office of vice mayor and the positions of President Pro Tempore and Deputy President Pro Tempore of the Metro Council. This bill is substituted which tweaks the proposed amendments a little and then the resolution is deferred until the first meeting in July.

Resolution RS2018-1243 by Robert Swope and Steve Glover is an attempt to do something about Metro's money mismanagement. This is  a good bill. It passes. It ask the "Investment Committee of the Metropolitan Employee Benefit Board, the Metropolitan Finance Department, and the Metropolitan Office of the Treasurer to review contracts pertaining to the management of Metro’s pension fund and to explore other options for pension fund management that would lower management fees and other expenses related to the pension fund. This should include exploring whether Metro’s pension fund could be managed by the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.

In the "whereas" clauses this resolution reveals the fact that the "pension fund, as of June 30, 2017, had assets of nearly $3 billion," and "investment expenses associated with Metro’s pension fund totaled over $39 million." I suggest those who care about the financial well being or our city to read this resolution. 

Resolution RS2018-1245  is "resolution supporting and encouraging economic equality for women." It passes on the consent agenda. This bill repeats the often made deceptive claim that women are underpaid compared to men because women earn only 79% of what men do. It ignores that women make different choices. When other variables are held constant, there is no pay gap. For more on this see The ‘Wage Gap’ Myth That Won’t Die - WSJ,  or The Gender Pay Gap is a Complete Myth - CBS News. This is a meaningless resolution and accomplishes nothing but I wish someone would have taken to the floor to debunk the myth.
Bills on Introduction and First Reading: There are 48 bills on first reading. Bills on First Reading are normally considered as a group and are seldom discussed. First reading is a formality that allows the bill to be considered. Unless a bill is ridiculously atrocious it should be passed on first reading. Bills are not assigned to committee or analyzed by council staff until after they have passed first reading.   Bill BL2018-1205  on First Reading would save the fairgrounds by prohibiting the giveaway of the ten acres that is slated to be given to the developers of the planned soccer stadium. It is deferred one meeting.

Bills on Second Reading: There are 13 bills on Second Reading. Here are the bill of significance:

Substitute BL2018-1139 approving the Donelson Transit-Oriented Redevelopment Plan passes on a voice vote. There is a new authority given to cities to plan, facilitate and guide develop around transit stops to encourage a certain kind of development around those stops and to give cities the authority to issue Tax Increment Financing bonds for improvements in the designated area. This would be the first time this authority has been used. This designation would apply to the Donelson stop on The Nashville Star line. There is a lot of detail in the staff analysis for those who want to know more.  I had previously expressed a concern is that this might confer the power of eminent domain to MDHA for use in this area.  I have since spoken to the sponsor and have been assured this is not the case. The bill is amended to prohibit non-owner occupied short term rental in this redevelopment district. While I do not like that provision, on balance I think this is good planning and am supportive of this bill.

 Bill BL2018-1157  establishes a 50 foot floodway buffer along the Cumberland River and prohibits variances. This is deferred to July 3rd.
Bill BL2018-1185 sets the tax levy which does not change the current tax levy so does not raise taxes. As expected, this is deferred to "track" with the operating budget.

Bill BL2018-1186   is essentially an extension of an existing tax relief program that has been in existence for many years. This is a good bill. It allows elderly homeowners to stay in their home and not be forced out because of increased property taxes. The out come never in doubt, this passes on a voice vote.
Bills on Third Reading. There are  11 of them. Most are rezoning bills and of little interest and there are no surprises.

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