Friday, November 22, 2019

What happened at the Nov. 19th Council meeting. Water rate hike advances, ban on aerial ads dead, requirement for new fences to have a permit advances, razor wire ban deferred, new transparency approved.

by Rod Williams - This meeting is just slightly over 2 hours long. If you are going to watch the meeting, you will get a lot more out of the meeting if you know what is under discussion. To access the agenda, agenda analysis and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link.  Without an agenda the meeting is about as exciting as watching paint dry. With the agenda, it is as exciting as watching water boil. I watch it so you don't have to. If you are going to watch it, you can probably watch in double time and not miss much context.

I am providing my summary of the meeting below. However, be advised that I only hit the high points and report on what is important to me, so you may want to watch it for yourself.  Also, if you view the minutes of the meeting you can find out from the official record what happened without watching. Unfortunately, the minutes are often not posted until a week later. You can access the minutes at this link.

Followings Pat Nolan's introduction and summary of what is important that is on the agenda, the meeting is graveled to order at timestamp 8.24. Following the prayer, pledge, some announcements, birthday wishes, nomination to a seat on the industrial board are accepted.  Four people are nominated for a seat that will be filled next meeting.   Seats on the industrial board are important to some people but the general public pays little attention to this. The Industrial Development Board can help favored businesses.

Next the council confirms appointees to Boards and Commission. Dr. Paulette Coleman, an activist with the group NOAH, is confirmed to a seat on the board of MDHA. While I don't know Coleman, I know NOAH.  While I may surprise some people by saying so, I don't object to having a liberal activist on the board of MDHA. MDHA does, in my view, need to refocus on it core mission of housing the poor rather than development. I have the impression and MDHA has become too much of insider group promoting crony capitalism and corporate welfare and a shakeup at MDHA is warranted. I am also pleased that Mayor Cooper has appointed former mayor Bill Purcell to a position on the MDHA board.

Next on the agenda, the Chairman of the Rules Committee announces that the Rules Committee has approved the new rules for the current council and they will be considered at the next Council.  While this may seem mundane and usually is, it can have import. Probably nothing of major significance will change but if  there was a  move to do something drastic, like end starting the meeting with prayer or a pledge, this is where it would be attempted.  Also, some procedures could change, such as having consent agendas or not, or changing the time limit for debate, that could impact the way the Council functions. I don't really expect any radical change but with the new handful of radical-affiliated Council members now serving, they could take this opportunity to exert their influence.

Public Comment Period. This is a time set aside to hear from the public. People who want to speak have to register in advance and are given two minutes.  Four people speak. One speaks about the work of the blue ribbon commission for finding savings, one speaks about transportation needs, and one mother shares the story of the terrible education her child is receiving in a Metro school, and Pastor Enoch Fuzz speaks about education. When the Council started the Public Comment Period, I feared it would be used for bombastic grandstanding by activist. I am pleased that I was wrong. All of the comments were thoughtful and respectful and provide insight. To see the public comments see time stamp 25:30-35:05.

 Resolutions.  Most are routine things like approving contracts, accepting grants and approving signs overhanging sidewalks. Most pass on consent. Here are the only ones of interest.

Resolution RS2019-85 request the Planning Commission to amend the adopted Subdivision Regulations to prohibit the creation of new private streets and require all new streets created as a part of the subdivision platting process to be public rights-of-way. This is deferred a meeting. Since it only request, it wouldn't change sny policy but agencies of Metro government take request from the Council seriously.  I am unsure, but I think, streets in gated communities are privately owned by the community. If they become public, would that mean there could not be gated communities? I don't know, but until I do, I would oppose this.
Resolution RS2019-99  and Resolution RS2019-100  reallocates $1million in money that was to be spend on the Gulch pedestrian bridge and spends it on other things. The other $17 million approved for the bridge does not require Council action in order to be reallocated but the mayor intends to ask the Council to pass a resolution approving the reallocation anyway. That will be presented at the next meeting.   Resolution RS2019-99 passes. Resolution RS2019-100 is deferred one meeting so the Council can see how the full 18 million is to be spend rather than just approve this $1 million by itself. Makes sense. 
Bills on First Reading. There were a couple or three concerning more regulation of short term rentals that were considered separately, one withdrawn, one or two passed on first but then delayed to a public hearing. I will explain these bills when they get to Second reading.  All others are lumped together and pass by a single vote as is the norm,

Bills on Second Reading.
Bill BL2019-4 prohibits aerial advertising.  All committees that considered the bill recommended deferral indefinitely ant that is what happened. That means the bill is dead. It could be brought back up but it would have to go back before committees so you can consider it dead. I am pleased. I never saw any logic to this and to me it appears to be a First Amendment violation.
Bill BL2019-30 bans barbed wire and razor wire fencing in the Urban Zoning Overlay District along arterial and collector roadways. This is one of those bills about which I am conflicted.  I sympathize with those property owners who are trying to protect their property, but this type fencing creates a feeling of living in a war zone. It makes a street ugly and devalues enjoyment of public spaces. It is deferred two meetings.
Bill BL2019-31 would require a permit for all new fencing.  We have never had this requirement befoee and I unsure what problem calls for more burdensome regulation. I oppose it.  For the sponsor's explanation see time stamp 1:08:40.  It passes on a roll call vote of 27 to 9 and one abstention. I will post how individuals voted after the minutes are posted. 

 Bill BL2019-43 requires certain financial information received from the State be submitted to the Council. As the Staff analysis explains, "During the prior Council term, the previous administrations received correspondence from the state comptroller on several occasions concerning the finances of the Metropolitan Government and Metro water services. This ordinance would require that similar financial communications in the future be submitted to the Council within seven days of receipt. For purposes of this ordinance, “financial communications” means all written and electronic communications pertaining to the financial status, revenues, expenses, fees or service charges of the metropolitan government and any of its departments, boards, commissions, offices, and agencies. The department head for the applicable department, board, commission, office, or agency would be responsible for ensuring such communication is submitted to the Council as required by this ordinance."  This is a good bill. The Council deserves to be kept informed. It is shameful that the Council was not kept fully informed of Metro's financial crisis by the prior administration. This passes on a voice vote.

Bill BL2019-45  raises water and sewer rates. It raises several different fees, raising total water fees about 63% over a period of time, and sewer by a lesser amount.  Unfortunately, this has to be done. We have a consent degree agreement with the Federal government to improve the system and don't have the money to do it and the State Comptroller says we have to do it. Also, improvement need to be made. More than 65% of Metro’s water pipes and 58% of the sewer pipes are over 40 years old.  I hope the Council will pursue changes at water and sewer so this situation does not happen again. Water and Sewer operate off of their own revenues and as a result do not get close scrutiny.  Since efficiency and cost cutting at metro water cannot benefit the general fund, they do not get the same oversight as would a regular Metro department.  In my view, changes should be made such that Water and Sewer has a board they have to report to and a member of the Council should be a member of the board. This is adopted by a voice vote on Second Reading.
Bill BL2019-46   would require more oversight of the Water and Sewer Department. It would have to submit annual reports to the Council which would include: 1. The Audited Financial Statements, including net position, capital assets, outstanding bonds payable, and other financial information. 2. The Annual Budget Review, including the adequacy of budgeted revenues to cover projected expenses and debt requirements. 3. Any other information deemed relevant by the director or upon request of the Council public works or budget and finance committees. In my view this does not go far enough.It is deferred one meeting. 
Bills on Third Reading. This is the only one of interest.
Bill BL2019-3   authorizes Metro  to opt into the historic properties tax abatement program under state law and would establish a historic properties review board.  I support this. I don't want to require property owners to preserve historic properties but I support incentives that encourage historic preservation. This is deferred two meetings.

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