Thursday, April 30, 2020

Council Member Courtney Johnston: Our Current Financial Crisis, Budget Process, and Next Steps

From the newsletter of Council member Courtney Johnston, Council District 26, April 30, 2020 - Since being elected, Mayor Cooper and his administration have worked hard to search for additional savings or new revenue and stabilize Metro’s finances. In August, the State Comptroller formally instructed Metro to balance its budget, build up cash reserves, and institute a cash management policy. The Mayor’s Office, to date, has found roughly $64 million in new revenue, including a $35 million MOU from the Convention Center Authority (Music City Center), $12.6 million annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from the Music City Center, $10 million PILOT from the water department, and several million in fee increases from Codes, Parks, etc. We WERE on the right track before the tornado and the Covid-19 pandemic. However, gross mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and decades of poor decisions have left us without a life raft. With no rainy-day fund or cash reserves to speak of, these disasters have wiped us out.

The March 3 tornado is estimated to have cost the city $40 million. After our insurance policy benefit ($20 million) and FEMA/TEMA assistance ($15 million), that actual cost is reduced to $5 million. Keep in mind, it takes years to collect money from FEMA/TEMA. It took 8 years to fully collect for the 2010 flood, for example, so the tornado is still affecting us from a cash flow perspective.

Covid-19 is a whole other animal. Just for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year that ends June 30th, this virus is projected to cost the city $192 million. Over a 16 month period, a shortage of $470 million has been estimated by Metro Finance.

Metro has an opportunity to receive up to $122 million in CARES Act State and Local funding. However, the biggest blow for Metro has been the loss of sales tax revenue, which accounts for about a THIRD of our city’s revenue. The CARES Act specifically excludes revenue replacement or compensation and benefits of employees working on our COVID-19 response that were already accounted for in the FY2020 budget. Well thanks a lot! While we have had expenses directly related to Covid-19, the biggest hit has been our inability to collect sales tax revenue. Long story short, we can’t just plug $120 million into the budget.

On Tuesday, April 28, 2020, Mayor Cooper presented his budget proposal for FY2021. Click HERE to view his presentation and HERE for the accompanying slideshow. His proposed operating budget totals $2,447,489,500. It includes over $234 million in savings, reductions, or spending deferrals. His proposed $1 property tax increase (from $3.155 per $100 assessed in the USD to $4.155) will restore $100 million in fund balances, make up for $216 million in net revenue losses, and fund $16 million in net operating needs for a “continuation of effort” budget. In addition to other new revenue generated by Mayor Cooper’s office and with the help of departmental savings, Metro services would continue without interruption. Additionally, according to his budget, Metro employees will forgo pay raises or cost of living adjustments, but this budget avoids the layoffs and pay cuts set to occur in hundreds of other cities nationwide.

This is just the beginning of the Council budget process. Now that the Mayor has released his proposal, the Council will receive a hard copy the week of May 4. I, along with most likely every other councilmember, will be going through this 600-page document line item by line item. TO BE CLEAR – We do NOT vote for or against Mayor Cooper’s budget. We have until June 30th to approve, make amendments, or create and pass a substitute budget (which requires 21 out of 40 votes) or the Mayor’s budget goes into effect automatically, regardless of its support level.

I deeply appreciate the Mayor’s efforts - during absolutely the MOST challenging time our city has ever faced - to lead our city during these tragedies but also to put together a budget that maintains continuity of service, keeps us safe, and attempts to put us back on the right track. However, I am working hard to find ways to minimize the burden put on our taxpayers.

As I’ve said before, the taxpayers didn’t cause this problem and the burden of solving it shouldn’t be with their hard-earned money.

So, how do we balance the budget? The answer is: decrease expenses, increase revenue, issue debt, or a combination of those three things. Issuing more debt is NOT an option due to the enormous amount of debt we have already accrued over the years. ($4.5 billion - yes, a B - to give you an idea compared to the entire State of TN at $1.7 billion). Our annual debt service payments (principal and interest) are hundreds of millions of dollars.

Will there be a tax rate increase of some sort? Almost positively. I know no one wants to hear that but I’m always going to tell you the truth. I do not believe we can make enough cuts to eliminate the need for an increase, but I’m working to make sure it’s the smallest increase possible. We HAVE to pass a balanced budget by June 30, or we risk the State taking us over. That’s effectively a government shutdown which no one wants. We have to make the math work. Revenue has to equal expenses. Will there be programs that will be cut? Yes

Will there be layoffs or positions eliminated? Maybe, although that’s something the Mayor wanted to avoid.

Can we increase the sales tax rate? Any increase in the sales tax rate has to go before the voters. There’s no way to get that done in time to affect the FY2021 budget.

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People need to get back to work. Tennessee unemployment fund could run dry in four months, analysis shows.

Tennessee unemployment fund could run dry in four months, analysis shows.

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A letter from the owner of Peg Leg Porker to the Mayor and Metro Council.

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The Economist: Why voting online is not the way to hold an election in a pandemic

It is still too vulnerable to cyber-attacks and security breaches

As the coronavirus crisis continues, there will be increased calls for on-line voting.  We must reject such suggestions. On-line voting is an invitation to voter fraud.  Please read the following article from The Economist.  Here is an excerpt:

The consensus among experts is that the technology remains vulnerable to security breaches and cyber-attacks. Malware can tamper with votes before they reach government servers. Hackers can create mirror versions of an election portal, steal voter credentials, or attack computers that count and store online ballots. A recent paper by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a non-profit group, concludes that countries without experience of online voting should not contemplate rolling it out in response to the covid-19 crisis. The cure would be worse than the disease.
Even if online voting were foolproof voters might not embrace it for years, if ever. Data security and encryption are complex. Conventional voting methods are also subject to fraud and error, but falsifying millions of paper ballots is a weighty undertaking. In contrast, electronic data are weightless, and a single flaw can in theory be exploited at large scale by anyone who finds it.
(Read more)

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Vice Mayor Announces Plan For May 5 Council Virtual Public Hearing

Metro press release - Vice Mayor Jim Shulman has announced a plan for holding a virtual public hearing for the May 5, 2020, Metro Council Meeting. Details of the plan and participation instructions can be found on the Metro Council Virtual Council Meetings page.

The plan will allow members of the public to provide public comment during the meeting using their telephones from the comfort of their own homes. Members of the public wishing to speak on matters posted for public hearing may call 629-255-1931 toll free to provide live input when the agenda item is called up during the course of the meeting.

Download Virtual Participation in Council Meeting Guide

“Although we are meeting remotely, the business of the Council must continue, and that includes the consideration of zoning legislation,” Shulman said. “I’d like to thank Metro ITS Director Keith Durbin and the Metro Information Technology Services team for all of their hard work in helping us put this plan together. I am confident that the plan and process in place will provide ample opportunity for the public to make their voices heard.”

The May 5, 2020 Council meeting agenda has 46 zoning bills that were advertised for public hearing. However, the Council Office has been polling the sponsors of the legislation and it is anticipated that the following matters will be deferred prior to holding the public hearing: 

Hall: BL2020-132,  BL2020-133,  BL2020-139,  BL2020-140,  BL2020-257
Toombs: BL2019-69, BL2020-212, BL2020-215,  BL2020-218
Swope: BL2020-264
Rhoten: BL2020-261
Welsch: BL2020-211, BL2020-265
Taylor: BL2020-210, BL2020-269
Vercher: Sub BL2020-197
Sepulveda: BL2020-195
Henderson: BL2020-188
Rosenberg: Second Sub BL2019-48
Sledge: BL2020-213, BL2020-262

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Sethi Campaign Releases dishonest attack ad against Haggerty. He should pull that ad.

by Rod Williams - The Sethi campaign has released an ad criticizing Bill Hagerty for getting a $2.5 million loan for his campaign. Here is an excerpt from the ad:

"Millions of American small business people have been praying for their small business loans to be funded, to save their companies, save jobs. But most banks just said 'big companies came first.' By the time we got to you, the money was gone.
So, how, on March 27, did Bill Hagerty get a loan for $2,500,000 to fund his Senate campaign? How did Hagerty prance right up to the front of the line, and get millions?
Well, you see. William Francis Hagerty IV is not a regular guy. He’s entitled, self-dealing. His friends in the ruling class aren’t like you or me. So when Hagerty needed millions, they made sure he got it, ahead of you and me. So, imagine Hagerty’s take if he was a Senator."
This is dishonest non-sense. Bill Hagerty's campaign loan was not competing for the same pool of money as a Care Act small business loan. That Hagerty got a loan for his campaign did not deny a nickel to any small business person who did not get a Cares Act loan.  This is no different than saying someone who got a car loan or a home loan got ahead of you for a Cares Act loan.  This populist appeal is the same kind of little guy vs big guy demagoguery that Democrats engage in all of the time.  It appeals to the worse instincts of people.

I have not made up my mind who I am supporting yet.  I have heard Sethi speak, I have met him and his family and he seems likeable and passionate about pubic service, and I have good friends who are enthusiastic about his campaign, and I like a lot that he has to say, especially on the issue of health care.  However, ads like this are a mark against him. He should stick to issues.  I do think it is fair game to point out a persons corruption or lack of integrity but this ad does not do that, it simply stokes resentment.

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Nashville won't move forward with full police body camera program due to budget woes

Nashville won't move forward with full police body camera program due to budget woes

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What's in Nashville Mayor John Cooper's budget proposal?

The Tennessean - … But Cooper's budget makes the scale of the crisis clear, even if the particulars aren't. Cooper proposed a 32% property tax hike to bring in $332 million to help cover:

  • $216 million in lost net revenue; 
  • $100 million in funds to rebuild Nashville's savings; 
  • and $16 million in needed spending increases. 
The total was even more, with $57 million for operational needs and $6 million in required debt payments, but the city offset that with $48 million in reductions.

 … Things could get worse... Slower recovery could cost up to $40 million more. If a secondary spike of the virus in the fall, around flu season, requires more stay-at-home orders, it could cost the city more than $110 million. (link)

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Nashville extends coronavirus safer at home order until at least May 8

The Tennessean - The decision broadens a divide between Davidson County and surrounding counties, where Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee permitted restaurants, stores and gyms to re-open this week. … Nashville coronavirus cases have spiked over the past week, and the outbreak is still trending upwards in the city...(link)

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What happened at the April 21st Council meeting: 90-day notice to raise rent passes, recycling contract advances, Waffle House shooting law suit settled, new scooter regs pass.

This meeting is over three and half hours long conducted remotely electronically with less than ten people actually in the chamber. To access the agenda and staff agenda analysis, follow the links. Here are the highlights.

Selection of the Metro Auditor: This proved contentious but I do not know one candidate from the other so don't know why or who was supporting whom. Three candidates are recommended by the Audi Committee ranked in order of preference. The three candidates are Lauren Riley, Paul Morris, and John Valtierra. There is a failed attempt to defer the appointment. The Council confirms Lauren Riley by a vote of 37 in favor and 3 abstentions.  To view the deliberation see timestamp 28:30 - 1:13:02.

Resolution RS2020-286 is a non-binding resolution requesting flexibility in rent and mortgage collection in the city of Nashville and supporting the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to provide housing security in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. This passes on consent so it is passed without opposition. These type resolutions carry no weight and accomplish nothing.

Resolution RS2020-287 is a non-binding resolution requesting the Mayor’s Office and the Metropolitan Department of Public Health partner with Meharry Medical College to seek grant funding to track, study, and report on the impact of COVID-19 on minority and rural communities. When directed to the administration or an agency of government this type memorializing resolution is taken more seriously than when directed to the State or the Federal government or society. Entities dependent on Metro financing listen when the Council speaks. This passes on consent.

Resolution RS2020-202 is "a resolution approving an intergovernmental agreement by and between the State of Tennessee, Department of Transportation, and The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, acting by and through the Metropolitan Department of Public Works, for signal maintenance for I-440 Traffic Operational Deployment of Blue Toad Spectra Power over Ethernet (PoE) Data Collection Devices, State No. 99111-4604-04; PIN 125652.00 (Proposal No. 2020M-004AG-001)." This is deferred again. This is they type thing that normally would pass easily, however there is an issue that I suspect, but don 't know, that  may have made this controversial. Many neighbors of the expanded I-440 corridor have complained of lighting pollution. Some have said that prior to the expansion that they were not bothered by the I-440 lighting but now it shines in their house like a spotlight. Over 500 neighbors of I-440 have signed a petition complaining about the lighting. Normally the Council would have little leverage to influence the State to address these concerns. This may have been held up to exert influence on the State.  This is just speculation. I don't know if neighbors bothered by the I-440 lights have had any relief or not.
Apparently this data collection system works anonymously collecting Bluetooth signals from paired vehicles and it seems their are some concerns about privacy. That may be the concern and may have nothing to do with trying to exert leverage to solve the unrelated lighting complaint. In any event it is still deferred.

Resolution RS2020-276 settles the claim of Shaundelle Brooks, the next of kin to Akilah DaSilva, who died in the Waffle House shooting last year.  The basis of the suit was that an ambulance was dispatched to the wrong Waffle House when the shooting occurred.  There were other ambulances at the scene however.  This is settled for a sum of $35,000 paid out of the Self-Insured Liability Fund. This is the way things are supposed to work.  After the parties negotiate Metro legal either recommends settling or fights the suit in court.  Last October, the Council attempted to undermine Legal and just give away money.  A resolution to settle the suit, before the Council received a recommendation from Legal, was introduced last October and 25 members voted for it.  Luckily that effort failed. If anyone is interested in seeing how members voted at that time, follow this link.  This resolution passes 40-0.

Bills on second reading

BILL NO. BL2020-223 would permit a waiver from distancing requirements for liquor stores and their proximity to places of worship, residences and libraries.  The waiver would have to be granted by resolution following a public hearing, the same way distance requirement waivers are approved for beer permits. This passes second reading by a voice vote.

Bill BL2020-224 would require landlords to provide notice to tenants prior to a sale of the property.  It is deferred to the May 19, 2020 meeting.

Bill BL2020-237 extends the city's recycling contract with Waste Management.  It passes second reading, however, if may very well be killed on third reading.  With budget restraints and the change in the market resulting in recycling costing the city much more money, this may be one service that has to be eliminated. Recycling is very popular however, and the Council may not be willing to bite the bullet. Several members voice support for recycling. To view the discussion see time stamp 2:35:08- 310:27. For more on this issue see this link. The minutes say it passed on a voice vote, but the vote was clearly recorded. Listen to the video. It passes on a vote of 27 to 12 to one abstention on second reading.

Bills on Third Reading.

Bill BL2019-109 (as amended) makes changes in the city policy toward scooters or what is termed "shared urban mobility devices."  This has been worked on for over a year.  A pervious version was on the agenda at one time and then removed because it exceeded the number of times it could be deferred.  This one has some provisions I like such as requiring more speedy response by fleet owners to complaints of overturned scooters and things and new rules establishing 'no sidewalk use' zones and slow zones. I like that it eliminates the restriction on number of scooter companies that can operate in Nashville, but I do not like that it cuts in half the overall number of scooters and restrict each company to only 500 vehicles.  I think market demand should dictate that. The hatred of scooters seems to have abated somewhat or people have just leaned to live with them, but I still fear that if this does not pass something more restrictive, such as a ban, may pass. I would support this and vote for it if I had a vote. There is no discussion. It passes 40 to 0.

Bill BL2020-149 (as amended) requires a landlord to provide a 90-day notice prior to an increase in rent unless the landlord has a contract with a tenant providing a 60-day notice. This is likely to accelerate the loss of affordable housing in Nashville. I own a little rental house which is where I lived until I moved to my current house.  Being a landlord can be a pain. There is not  a week goes by that I do not get several contacts from an investor wanting to by my house.  I get card, emails and text and calls.  They would tear it down and build a tall-skinny. There are a lot of people like me.  The more bureaucratic hassle it is be a landlord the more attractive those offers from investors appear.  If one gets a tenant who won't pay their rent and you must evict them, that process can already take months, this would add months to an already lengthy process. This will be one more thing to destroy affordable rentals. There is already a State law known as the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) which requires a 30-day notice.  In my view Nashville should not have a more restrictive rule than other places in Tennessee.  Also, properties subsidized by the Federal, State or local government would not be subject to the law. To see the discussion see timestamp 3:18:46 - 3:37:30. This passes by a vote of 29 to 7 with 4 abstentions.  Here is how members voted:

Yes: (29) Mendes, Hurt, Allen, Suara, Toombs, Gamble, Swope, Parker, Withers, Benedict, VanReece, Evans, Bradford, Syracuse, Welsch, Sledge, Cash, O'Connell, Taylor, Hausser, Druffel, Pulley, Vercher, Porterfield, Sepulveda, Rutherford, Styles, Lee, and Henderson
No: (7) Glover, Hancock, Young, Roberts, Murphy, Johnston, and Rosenberg; 
Abstain(4): Hall, Hagar, Rhoten, and Nash.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ouida (Welch) Williams 1/21/31 – 4/26/2020, Rest in Peace

Listen. The spirit of a larger than life East Tennessee personality now sings among the trees and
flowers and in the hearts and minds of her many friends, admirers, and relations. Ouida Faye Welch Williams--who was known to burst into song from time to time--died quietly in her sleep April 26 in Knoxville. She was 89. Among her last words were, "I'm not afraid, and I'm not worried. I'll be okay. I've lived a wonderful life. I have the best family in the world."

Her first name, Ouida, was pronounced WE-da, and a pet peeve was when people turned that O into a Q in print. When we did it as a joke, she usually detected the prank and laughed along. Known for her humor, artistry, courage, resilience, and boundless love of nature, she had a deep and abiding faith. She shared her love of nature and her love of God with everyone she knew, instilling a love of our sometimes crazy world in her accomplished children and grandchildren.

She daily pointed out to us nature's wonders, from technicolor sunsets to slippery salamanders. Such wonders were reflected in the landscapes and portraits she began painting about middle age, and which often won ribbons at fairs. It was also reflected in several poems that saw publication.

An avid reader, she was an accomplished student growing up in Sparta and Caryville, Tennessee, where she skipped two complete grades before her junior year. She recited poems, read the entire set of an encyclopedia and knew most of the Bible by heart.

She often spoke fondly of her childhood, and especially loved living among wooded hills overlooking Caryville, where she was often assigned to draw water from a spring for her mother and two siblings. She loved following deer trails into the woods to make moss-lined castles out of stumps, where she chased blue-tailed lizards and squirrels and birds that sang among the trees and rock formations.

In 1946 she met the love of her life, Ladonuel "Don" Williams, a handsome man who'd just returned from Europe after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. A Gospel singer who could whistle like a bird--literally, with chirps and trills unlike any whistler you ever heard--he embarked upon a singing ministry in the 1950s with a guitar player named Earl Mays. Soon the music of "Don and Earl" could be heard on radios all over the United States and in several foreign countries.

Ouida and Don
Rather than pursuing her ambitions, Ouida followed Don with her growing family, in service to his ministry. They lived in South Carolina and Texas among other places before settling in East Tennessee. In 1957 they moved to a stone house in Seymour, TN.

There the couple raised five children among hills, woodlands, creeks and caves that spelled adventure and magic. She encouraged her children to take long hikes and bike rides, and sometimes led them to a new spring where she showed them minnows and craw-daddies, ferns and flowers and other wonders like those she'd loved growing up. She and Don grew giant gardens and harvested as many as 100 quarts of tomatoes or blackberries some summers.

She fed her spiritual needs at Bells Chapel Baptist Church, where she sang and taught Sunday School and directed a youth choir, and later at Valley Grove, where her membership remained until her death. Sometimes it seemed she had nine lives, overcoming car wrecks, broken bones, a cancer scare, burst appendix, diabetes, a pancreas operation and much else. Perhaps her greatest challenge, however, was when her husband died of cancer in March, 1985.

After her husband’s death, Ouida swam away her sorrow and then sought work in stores and shops and took temporary assignments--such as U.S. Census work--before settling into a clerical job at the Sevier County Health Department. Although a widow for 35 years, she remained true to her lamented first love, and even published a poem about his good looks, "The Man Who Loved Mirrors."

She watched with pride as her children grew into accomplished grownups. Her son Rod, an Air Force veteran, served ten years as a Nashville Metro Councilman and now runs one of Nashville's most successful blogs. Her daughter Rebecca's floral creations from her own cut flower farm, Sycamore Creek, have graced numerous weddings and funerals. Her middle child, also named Don Williams, became a prizewinning writer, columnist and publisher. Tim is co-founder and CEO of 21st Mortgage, one Knoxville's largest employers. Kathleen was so inspired by her experiences among woods and trees that she founded the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, now known as TennGreen, that has saved untold natural wonders from reckless development.

Along the way her children introduced their children and grandchildren to Nana or Granny Ouida, as she's often called. Without exception they adore her and not so long ago looked forward to seeing Nana, for stories or songs or exploring with her or swimming in wild rivers or the ocean. This grand and gracious woman's spirit now rolls down the ages and sings among the trees. Listen. Maybe now she knows how much she's loved.

She is preceded in death by her late husband Ladonuel "Don" Williams; her mother Lena (Carter) Welch Simmons Fowler and father Basil Welch; her sister and brother-in-law Lila Jane McCalman and Pete McCalman, and her brother Basil Welch. She is survived by two daughters, Rebecca Mandel (Dale) and Kathleen Williams-Mooradian (Don); three sons Rod Williams (Louella) Don Williams (Jeanne) and Tim Williams (Amy); grandchildren Wayne Williams (Misty), Jenny Cook (Brian), Rachel Bennett (Joshua), Alexis Williams (Brent), Travis Williams (Carrie), Justin Williams (Magye); Rebecca Moody (Jonathan) and Joey Mooradian; sister and brother-in-law Linda Upchurch and Richard Upchurch; sister-in-law Shirley Welch; eleven great-grandchildren and numerous beloved nieces and nephews. Special thanks to her recent companion Cheri Spivey and her friends Marty, Anna and the Seymour Library Book Club and her little dog Oreo too.

The family will have a private graveside service and a memorial service will be held at a later date. Condolences can be made to Gentry Griffith Funeral Home, Knoxville. The family is requesting that in lieu of flowers contributions may be made to FOSL, Seymour Branch Library, 137 W. Macon Lane, Seymour, TN 37865.

The above tribute was penned by my brother Don. Ouida was my mother.  She was someone that it was joyous to be around. Her wonder and excitement of nature and beauty and so many things was contagious. She was a wonderful mother.  I am going to miss her so much. Rod

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Recycling could disappear in Nashville

by Rod Williams, April 26, 2020 -The Tennessean reports today that recycling in Nashville could be coming to an end. According to the article, the reason is budgetary and the fact that instead of saving the city money, recycling cost the city money. At one time the income from the recycled material combined with the saving of diverting material from the landfill made money for the city.  A little over a year ago however, China which was the world's largest purchaser of recycled material, stopped accepting and the prices paid for recyclables has plummeted.

Previously, there were plans to expand recycling to twice a month instead of the current once a month. That plan had already been shelved due to budgetary restraints. With the city facing a projected $300 million revenue shortfall this year due to the Corona-19 virus, the city is taking a hard look at expenditures.

“I’m certainly not against recycling but I think we just have to make these really tough decisions on what truly is essential for Metro to continue operating,” Metro Council member Zach Young is quoted as saying during last Tuesday’s council meeting.

For more on this story, follow this link.

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Councilman Thom Druffel: It's Budget Time.

From the email newsletter of Councilman Thom Druffel, Councilman District 23, April 26, 2020 - I have been receiving questions from many of you about the Mayor's statement on raising property taxes. This is a tough time for all of us, and hearing news about a raise in property taxes is especially difficult. We are all dealing with social distancing, concerns about health, job losses and disruptions to our normal routines. I describe myself as a fiscal conservative, and generally, that means I do not look at raising taxes as a way to solve funding issues.

The situation the city is facing is certainly grave. One of the big reasons that I ran for council last year was my concern about the financial state of our city. Long before the tornado, and the effects of COVID-19, the city had not balanced its budget for the previous two years. Years of overspending created over $4B in debt. That works out to be about $6,500 per person and is one of the highest debts per capita in the country. The condition was so severe that the State required the Comptroller to step in and monitor how the former mayor and council were managing the city's finances. Decisions were made over the past several years that began a pattern of overspending on projects. Those decisions lead the city into deep debt.

On Tuesday, the Metro Council will get our first glimpse of the mayor's proposed budget. Mayor Cooper served on the Council for eight years before running for mayor, so he is very informed about the financial condition of the city. What we will see from him and his Finance Team on Tuesday is the initial Operating Budget.

After that, each Metro Department will submit its budget information to the Budget and Finance Committee on which I serve. We will have the opportunity to speak with each department head and hear their proposed budget needs. From there, we can critically evaluate department budgets and consider cost saving measures.

As of today, we don't have a lot of the detailed information we need to discuss property tax increases. We don't yet have the Mayor's proposed budget. We have not yet gotten a reliable number for lost revenue from the COVID crisis. Federal funds will be coming to the city, but that number is not yet certain.

Even with all of the uncertainties, I can tell you that I am not comfortable with the idea that taxpayers have to shoulder the burden of years of poor stewardship. If we determine that there is not an alternative to a tax increase, I want to make sure that there are safeguards to prevent overspending in the future. There are options, such as sunset provisions, that would put a time limit on property tax increases. As we go through the next several weeks of budget meetings and hearings, I will be gathering information to share with you all. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Government's good intentions is setting people up to lose their home.

 A mortgage forbearance is easy to get but think twice. 

by Rod Williams - The economic hardship resulting from the Coronavirus will result in a lot of people unable to make their mortgage payments.  As a result, all homeowners with a  government backed mortgages are to be offering a forbearance if they have an economic hardship "directly or indirectly" caused by the Cova 19 epidemic.  This applies to VA, FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac which is about 65% of all home loans.  Futhermore, one does not have to prove their hardship is caused by the epidemic;  the mortgage servicer is to take the word of the borrower. No documentation is required.

This sounds good and for many people it is but what does it mean?  A forbearance is simply a temporary suspension of payments for a short period of time.  During that period of time, the payments simply accumulate and at the end of the forbearance period the lump sum amount of the missed payment and the next month's payment becomes due. 

Obviously, it is not realistic to expect that someone who could not make their payments, will at the end of the forbearance period be able to bring their loan current. At the end of the forbearance period the mortgage company is to consider other options to bring the loan current. The name of what they call it and the details may differ depending on which entity insures your loan but they are similar options. Here they are:
  • Extending the forbearance. The initial forbearance is for six months. It may be extended for another six months. If the borrower ask for it, the servicer is to give it.
  • Repayment Plan. At the end of the forbearance period if the borrower can afford to resume full payments and a set amount per month toward the arrearage they will be offered a repayment plan.  I have not been able to determine the length of the repayment plan but based on prior experience, I would be surprised if I would last more than a year.  If that is the case and one had the forbearance for six months then one would have a repayment of one an half payments each month.  Few people can afford that. 
  • Partial Claim. The month before the end of the forbearance period the servicer (mortgage company) is to evaluate the borrower for a "COVID-19 National Emergency Standalone Partial Claim." The way the public thinks of a "partial claim," is "moving the missed payments to the end of the note." The reason it is called a "partial claim" is that what actually happens, in the case of FHA loans, is that the mortgage lender files a claim for the missed payments with the insurer of the loan (for instance FHA), the insurer pays the missed payments and the borrower then owes the insurer (FHA if an FHA loan) the amount paid on their behalf to the lender. That amount does not become due until the first mortgage is paid off. 
  • Modification. If one is not eligible for a stand alone partial claim then one is to be evaluated for other options. Which means, basically a modification combined with a partial claim.  So, the partial claim would be applied, that is, the missed payments put to the end of the note. Then, if the owner could not afford the regular payment, the loan could be recast stretching the loan back out to thirty years.  That might lower the payment enough to make it affordable. Any other options are options in which one loses the house.
The extension of the forbearance will be easy to get. However, all that does is create a bigger problem to solve at the end of the forbearance period. The repayment plan, the partial cliam or the motification are not automatic; one has to qualify. To be eligible for the repayment plan you have to be able to afford it and to be eligible for a partial claim or modification you must meet these requirements:
  • Have been current or less than 30 days past due as of March 1, 2020.
  • Be able to resume making on-time payments.
  • Live in the home.
So, if you were behind on your house payment prior to this crisis, you won't be eligible any options for keeping your home except a repayment plan. 

To "be able to resume making on-time payments," has specific meaning. You may think you are able to do so but you may not meet a lender's definition.  You have to qualify. Ratios as to housing debt and total debt as a percentage of income apply.  So, if you return to work but are making considerably less than you were before you lost your job, you may not qualify as being able to afford the house payments.  If you have excessive debt you may not be able to qualify. If you have two car payments, that may be too much debt. 

My advice to homeowner's struggling to pay your house payment is don't apply for a forbearance if there is any way to make your house payment instead.  For many people the extra $600 a week on top of Tennessee's $250 a week unemployments comes close to matching what they were earning prior to losing their job. When applying for the unemployment, I would suggest not having taxes withheld.  You can worry about the taxes on that money latter.  You need the money now.  

Also, get on a crisis budget. Cut! Cut! Cut! Maybe staying at home you and your spouce could get by with one cell phone instead of two.  Evaluate every debt and decide which is most important.  In my view, if income is reduced paying the house payment is more important than paying student loans. Establish priorities.  If you have two car payments if may be time to stop making the payments on one of the cars and let it get repossessed and keep the house instead. Don't be intimidated by bill collectors. Don't let the bill collector who threatens the loudest make you change your priorities.

If getting a forbearance is the only way to survive this period of reduced income, then get it. Realize however, that the debt continues to pile up and you have to repay it. Make sure you understand the ramifications of getting the forbearance. Research it or better yet talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor.

For more see these links: link, link, link.

Rod Williams is recently retired but worked for over 25 years as a housing counselor with a HUD-approved housing counseling organization. 

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Mayor Cooper announces Roadmap for Reopening

From Mayor John Cooper - We know you are concerned about coronavirus (COVID-19) and what it means for you and your loved ones.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville has created this website to help you understand the disease and answer your questions. We will update it regularly as new information becomes available.

Nashville is known as a city that cares for each other in difficult times, and we will do the same now. The sooner we take action to prevent the spread of this virus, the sooner we can return to normal life in Nashville.

I urge everyone to visit this website regularly for the latest coronavirus information and to stay
updated on Metro’s coordinated response to keep all Nashvillians healthy and safe.

Roadmap for Reopening Nashville
The City of Nashville has created a plan to reopen. This plan has been created in cooperation with health, business and community partners in Nashville.

The hard truth is that our city will be living with COVID-19 until there is an effective vaccine for the virus. Living with COVID-19 means returning to work with COVID-19.

We must proceed carefully to ensure we do not create a surge that will send us all back home. Nashville’s economy will open in four phases. We will only move to the next phase if there is positive improvement/stability in the metrics for 14 days.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Protestors in Nashville demand "re-open Tennssee."

by Rod Williams - I did not attend the protest to end the lock down and reopen the economy on Sunday.  Apparently there were two days of protest with "hundreds" the first day and "dozens" the second day.  I did not even know about it until it was over. This surprises me because I thought I was well connected to the conservative activist community. I have a lot of conservative friends on Facebook and subscribe to several email list from organizations and activist. I didn't see any Facebook chatter about it prior to the event. I have not been listening to talk radio recently however, so maybe that is how I missed it. Nevertheless, if I didn't know about it, I would think a lot of other people did not know about it. If this many showed up for a not well publicized event, probably thousands would have shown up if it had been well publicized.

If I would have known about it I would not have attended.  I am taking this social distancing thing seriously. It is pretty simple really. I believe it is real and I am in that vulnerable age group.

The older you are the more likely you are to die from this virus, if you get it. If I was thirty and would have known about it, I would have been there.  If I would have known about it, I might would have driven by and given a thumbs up and honked a horn. I would not have been mingling with other people. Even if this lock down is lifted, I am going to remain in isolation until there is a vaccine or it looks like it has ran its course.

I believe we must reopen the economy, however. Let those most vulnerable isolate and everyone else go to work.  Our county is now $24 trillion in debt. As GDP falls that debt is a greater percentage of GDP. That debt can freeze out other borrowing, take a greater percentage of tax receipts to service and may lead to massive inflation. Also, wealth is disappearing. The stock market has tumbled. That wealth is not hid under mattresses but is capital available for borrowing. Savings = Investment. When money disappears, then money available to start new businesses, to expand business and for consumer consumption disappears. Also, many businesses have already gone under never to reopen. Every day we stay closed down, more businesses will close. Some liberals, including a member of my own family, have characterized the concern with the economic impact of this virus as "putting
profits before people." This is not about the size of one's portfolio.  If the economy does collapse, people will die of starvation. The threat of an economic collapse, I think, is real. It does happen in other countries. There is no reason it cannot happen here.

One of the major concerns of protestors is the suppression of liberties. I am not as convinced as some that the Federal,, State and local actions to impose a lockdown are a violation of our rights. I have studied some of this and address it this post, Legal Authorities for Isolation and Quarantine. I do think, however, that when police arrest people for attended a drive-in church service that is over the line.  I also question if the police have the right to demand of one that they show some papers that they are exempt from lockdown requirements.  The tendency of government is to take power and use it arbitrarily.  What rights do governments have to classify some business as "essential" and others not?

I would welcome clarity and think some lawsuits ought to be brought to actually determine the limits and sources of government authority in this matter. Liberty is as fragile as health. We do not want to get accustomed to government micromanaging our lives. For more on the issue of government authority in this crisis see link, link, and link.

According to Channel 2 news, a protestor told them their next protest is scheduled for April 27 at 10 a.m.

To see a Channel 5 video clip of the protest follow this link.
To see 53 pictures of the event published by The Tennessean, follow this link.
To see Channel 2 video clip follow this link.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Gov. Lee Announces Safer at Home' Order Will Expire April 30, Tennessee Begins Phased Reopening Next Week.

Monday, April 20, 2020, TN State Gov. press release, Nashville, Tenn. -- Today, Governor Bill Lee announced the order for Tennesseans to remain at home will expire April 30, with the vast majority of businesses in 89 counties allowed to re-open on May 1.

“Our Economic Recovery Group is working with industry leaders around the clock so that some businesses can open as soon as Monday, April 27,” said Gov. Lee.  “These businesses will open according to specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business.”

The Lee Administration will work with Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties and their health departments as they plan their own re-open strategies. “While I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible,” said Lee.

“Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it.” The Economic Recovery Group (ERG), composed of 30 leaders from the public and private sector is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening. The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5M Tennesseans. More information about ERG is available here.

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It's OK to be all three

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

President Trump's Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.

President Donald Trump on April 16th revealed his guidelines for reopening the country. It is a phased approach with three phases. The country will not reopen all at once and will not reopen everywhere at the same pace.  The guidelines are implementable on a state-wide or county by county basis at governors' discretion. The guidelines call for certain criteria to be met before each phase is enacted.

To see the guidelines see, Guidelines, Opening Up  America Again.

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Governor Lee Establishes Economic Recovery Group to Reboot Tennessee Economy

Tennessee Government press release, April 16, 2020 - Today, Governor Bill Lee established the Economic Recovery Group, a joint effort between state departments, members of the legislature and leaders from the private sector to build guidance to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy.

 “COVID-19 has not only created a public health crisis, it has hurt thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of hardworking Tennesseans,” said Gov. Lee. “As we work to safely open Tennessee’s economy, this group will provide guidance to industries across the state on the best ways to get Tennesseans back to work.”

The group is led by Tennessee Department of Tourism Development Commissioner Mark Ezell. “This public-private partnership will prioritize connection, collaboration, and communication across industries, the medical community and state government” said Ezell. “We’re grateful to these leaders for serving at a critical time in our state’s history.”

Sammie Arnold will serve as the chief of staff for the Economic Recovery Group. Arnold currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of Rural Development at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Members of the Economic Recovery Group include:
Lee Administration Representatives: 

  • Mark Ezell, Director 
  • Sammie Arnold, Chief of Staff 
  • House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R – Portland) 
  • Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R – Franklin) 
  • Brandon Gibson, Senior Advisor to Governor Lee 
  • Bob Rolfe, Department of Economic and Community Development 
  • Greg Gonzales, Department of Financial Institutions 
  • David Gerregano, Department of Revenue 
  • Dr. Charles Hatcher, Department of Agriculture 
  • Dr. Jeff McCord, Department of Labor and Workforce Development 
  • Hodgen Mainda, Department of Commerce and Insurance 
  • Tony Niknejad, Governor’s Office 
  • Brig. Gen. Scott Brower, COVID-19 Unified Command 
  • Dr. Morgan McDonald, TN Dept. of Health, Deputy Commissioner 
  • Butch Eley, Department of Finance & Administration 
Industry Representatives:
  • Jim Brown, National Federation of Independent Business 
  • Bradley Jackson, TN Chamber of Commerce 
  • Beverly Robertson, President & CEO of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce 
  • Rob Ikard, TN Grocers & Convenience Store Association 
  • Rob Mortensen, TN Hospitality & Tourism Association 
  • Colin Barrett, TN Bankers Association 
  • Fred Robinson, TN Credit Union League 
  • Dave Huneryager, TN Trucking Association 
  • Will Cromer, TN Hospital Association 
  • Mayor Kevin Davis, President of TN County Services Association 
  • Mayor Jill Holland, President of TN Municipal League 
  • Jeff Aiken, TN Farm Bureau 
  • Tari Hughes, Center for Non-Profit Management 
  • Roland Myers, TN Retail Association 
  • Clay Crownover, President & CEO of Associated Builders & Contractors of Tennessee

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Bill Hagerty's service on the task force to reopen the economy inspires confidence.

by Rod Williams - Bill Hagerty, former Director of Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development and former Ambassador to Japan, has been appointed by President Trump to serve on the task force charged with ending the lock down and getting America back to work.  In this interview, he says it is time, that we cannot have an extended period of a shutdown of the American economy. He says the president is keeping our health and safety at the forefront but is laying out a "measured path" to reopen the economy.

The Paycheck Protection Program makes loans to small business impacted by this crisis to keep them afloat. It quickly ran out of the $350 billion allocated for the program.  Hagerty says we need to immediately approve more funding for the program. He says, "We need it and we need it now."  He says Leader McConnell put forth a clean bill days ago to simply add more dollars to the program but Democrats are "holding the economy hostage" to pad the program with pet projects the same way they did when the original bill was passed.

Bill Hagerty speaks with passion but presents a calm rational advocacy for opening the economy and getting it right. His service on this task force inspires confidence.

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Metro Nashville press release - Nashville and Davidson County Mayor John Cooper, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke today announced the formation of the Tennessee Major Metros Economic Restart Task Force to plan and coordinate the restoration of business activity currently suspended due to COVID-19.

The Tennessee Major Metros Economic Restart Task Force is composed of business leaders and health care professionals appointed jointly by each metro area’s city and county mayors. Task Force appointees were vetted with and agreed to by the County Mayors in each metropolitan area — Mayors Lee Harris (Shelby County), Glenn Jacobs (Knox County), and Jim Coppinger (Hamilton County.) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has begun a process for planning the reopening of Tennessee’s economy, and this Task Force intends to further link communities together in a coordinated response.

Over the last month, the mayors of Tennessee’s “Big Four” cities and counties have signed multiple executive orders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. These orders have placed their cities under states of civil emergency, asked the public to observe strict social distancing measures, and required the closure of non-essential businesses and public gatherings. Governor Lee has maintained regular contact with Big 4 mayors to discuss protocols for eventually lifting these restrictions. The Tennessee Major Metros Economic Restart Task Force is an organized way of collecting input and collaborating with the state government about how to handle this process safely.

The Task Force will listen to medical experts and evaluate economic conditions to develop recommendations and public health protocols for reopening. These recommendations will focus on the factors that indicate when businesses are safe to reopen; how businesses should be smoothly phased in; and the specific requirements for safe business operations.

Mayor John Cooper: “As employment centers and healthcare providers for their regions, the four metro areas must coordinate and help inform the statewide approach. Our challenge is restarting our economy with protocols to protect public health. This Task Force is the city’s part of a statewide solution to safely reopening our economy, and I believe will be a valuable partner to the Governor’s office and the Commissioner Ezell’s Economic Recovery Group.”

Mayor Jim Strickland: “We will get through this crisis by working as a team. It will take that same teamwork to revive our economy and get Memphians back into the workforce and to see our city thriving once again. I look forward to partnering with the Governor and the other major cities.”

Mayor Indya Kincannon: “Thanks to the cooperation of our residents, we have seen success in ‘flattening the curve’ in our communities, but we know that our economies cannot remain closed indefinitely. The members of this Task Force will help us implement responsible, data-driven strategies to protect the public and ensure that our partners in the business community can operate safely.”

Mayor Andy Berke: “From the beginning of this crisis, Tennessee’s major metro areas have been aligned on how to respond to this crisis. We’re going to stay aligned as we plan for a prosperous and healthy future.”

The Tennessee Major Metros Economic Restart Task Force will be staffed by the Chiefs of Staff and/or Deputy Mayors of each mayor. It will begin meeting next week and will make public disclosures of their initial discussions, findings, and action steps next week.

Tennessee Major Metros Economic Restart Task Force Members 

  • Alan Crone, Crone Law Firm 
  • Charles Ewing, Ewing Moving and Storage 
  • Dr. Manoj Jain, infectious disease specialist 
  • Kevin Kane, Memphis Tourism 
  • Beverly Robertson, Greater Memphis Chamber 
  • Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College 
  • Laura Hollingsworth, Ryman Hospitality 
  • Dr. Alex Jahangir, Head of Metro Coronavirus Task Force 
  • Rob McCabe, Pinnacle Financial Partners and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce 
  • Kathy Brown, University of Tennessee at Knoxville 
  • Dave Miller, First Horizon Bank 
  • Mike Odom, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce 
  • Ryan Steffy, SoKno Taco Restaurant 
  • Philip Byrum, Monen Family Restaurant Group 
  • Wade Hinton, Unum 
  • Dr. Kathleen Hunt, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger 
  • Mitch Patel, Vision Hospitality Group

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Gov. Lee tells police, use common sense in enforcing stay home order. People do not have to show papers. OK to take a walk, take a drive.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Nashville looks to freeze employee pay plan, eliminate cost-of-living adjustment — again

by Yihyun Jeong, The Tennessean, April 14, 2020 - Economic boom or economic downturn, Nashville city employees have heard the same tune: They will take the brunt of a tighter budget.

Metro Human Resources presented a proposal Tuesday to the Metro Civil Services Commission to freeze all compensation, including step increases and cost-of-living adjustments for employees in a nearly $26 million "cost avoidance" measure as the city faces a steep revenue shortfall from COVID-19. The savings accounts for just more than 1% of the more than $2 billion city budget.

…..As the coronavirus has forced non-essential businesses to close, city officials are forecasting a $200 million to $300 million shortfall in expected taxes and other revenue for the current fiscal year. (link)

Rod's Comment: The employee's unions are moaning about the lack of a pay increase and this Tennessean article is sympathetic to the plight of Metro employees.  Certainty, I also regret that employees will not get an anticipated raise and sypathize with them. However, they ought to be happy that they are immune from lay off and that they still have a job.  Many in the private sector are laid off and will not have a job to go back to.  The longer this lockdown continues, the more likely that private sector employee will not have a job to return to.

My greater concern about how this budget crunch will affect Metro employees is that we will not be hiring adequate people to meet public safety needs.  The police department is short 130 officers and the fire department is short 153 positions and there is a shortage of 911 personnel.

I am still waiting for a sign that Metro is doing all it can to manage our money well.  I am not seeing it. If Metro was really serious about addressing this crisis, we would close General Hospital and save about $50 million a year.  Metro General can not fill its beds, no one wants to go there, poor people have other options and General's only reason for still existing is to boost the collective ego of the Black community.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

What happened at the April 7th Council meeting: New rules for Scooters adopted, Other contentious bills deferred.

by Rod Williams - This is an unusual meeting in that it is being conducted remotely via teleconferencing. Only the Vice Mayor, the President pro tem, the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee and a few staffers are in the room. Everyone else is participating by computer.  All confirmations to Boards and Commissions are deferred and all bills on public hearing are deferred and yet still the meeting is over three and half hours long. Conducting the meeting in this manner is simply a much slower process. The meeting is not gaveled to order until timestamp 11 in the video. Roll call is actually called for this meeting, instead of the usual practice of having the clerk determine who is present. As can be expected there are some technical glitches.  The roll call is not completed until timestamp 24. Some Council rules have to be amended to make this method of conducting a council meeting not conflict with the rules.

To access the agenda, the agenda analysis and my commentary on the agenda follow this link. Below is the action on significant legislation.

Resolution RS2020-236 is a resolution approving an application for a Digital Curb Challenge grant from COORD. Nashville is one of only three cities to be selected for this trial program. Some of what curb management can do is manage curb loading zones rather than having permanent fixed loading zones, it can better manage ride sharing and ride hailing by sitting up zones and it can institute demand sensitive pricing for meters within a certain zone. The grant is free and the program is for a trial period. This passes on the consent agenda.

Resolution RS2020-202 is "A resolution approving an intergovernmental agreement by and between the State of Tennessee, Department of Transportation, and The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, acting by and through the Metropolitan Department of Public Works, for signal maintenance for I-440 Traffic Operational Deployment of Blue Toad Spectra Power over Ethernet (PoE) Data Collection Devices, State No. 99111-4604-04; PIN 125652.00 (Proposal No. 2020M-004AG-001)." This would normally pass without controversy, however there is an issue that I thought may make this controversial. Many neighbors of the expanded I-440 corridor have complained of lighting pollution. Some have said that prior to the expansion that they were not bothered by the I-440 lighting but now it shines in their house like a spotlight. Normally the Council would have little leverage to influence the State to address these concerns. If I were serving in the Council I would hold up passage of this resolution until the concerns of constituents were addressed. I don't know if that is what is holding this up or not but it has been pending for months. It is deferred again.  

Resolution RS2020-209 is, "A resolution requesting the Davidson County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly to support a change in state law to include stormwater utilities among the utilities covered under the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority Act."  The bill was recommended for withdrawal by the Public Works Committee. Council Member Nash withdrew the bill.

Resolution RS2020-236 is a resolution approving an application for a Digital Curb Challenge grant from COORD.  Nashville is one of only three cities to be selected for this trial program. Some of what curb management can do is manage curb loading zones rather than having permanent fixed loading zones, it can better manage ride sharing and ride hailing by sitting up zones and it can institute demand sensitive pricing for meters within a certain zone.  From what little I know about it this sounds like a good thing. Anyway, the grant is free and the program is for a trial period. This passed on the consent agenda.

Resolution RS2020-251. "A resolution recognizing the retirement of Kay Bowers and her years of service as Executive Director of New Level Community Development Corporation." This is not of general interest but I want to give a shout-out to Kay Bowers. I know her through the affordable housing community. Our work was related. She is a good person and has a heart for helping people. This passed on consent.

Resolution RS2020-257 expresses the Metropolitan Council’s support for SB2908/HB2013, currently pending before the Tennessee General Assembly, which would allow metropolitan governments to enact an impact fee or privilege tax on development. The resolution was recommended for withdrawal by the Budget and Finance Committee. Council Member Sledge moved to defer the resolution indefinitely, which motion was seconded and approved by a voice vote of the Council.

Bills on Second Reading

Bill BL2019-109 makes changes in the city policy toward scooters or what is termed "shared
urban mobility devices." This was on the agenda some months ago and deferred an excessive number of times and taken off of the agenda "by rule." It is back. This one has some provisions I like such as requiring more speedy response by fleet owners to complaints of overturned scooters and things and new rules establishing 'no sidewalk use' zones and slow zones. I like that it eliminates the restriction on number of scooter companies that can operate in Nashville, but I do not like that it cuts in half the overall number of scooters. I think market demand should dictate that. The hatred of scooters seems to have abated somewhat or people have just leaned to live with them, but I still fear that if this does not pass something more restrictive, such as a ban, may pass. I would support this and vote for it if I had a vote. It passed with four members voting "no."

Bills on Third Reading

Bill BL2019-78 – This ordinance requires a minimum distance for any new Short Term Rental Property that are Not Owner-Occupied, from churches, schools, daycares, and parks. No new STRP permit could be located less than 100 feet from a religious institution, a school or its playground, a park, or a licensed day care center or its playground, unless, after a public hearing, a resolution receiving 21 affirmative votes is adopted by the Council. This is deferred to the May 5, 2020 meeting.

Bill BL2020-117 would remove the requirement for a minimum number of parking spaces for various uses for properties on multimodal corridors as designated in the major and collector street plan. There is not now a parking requirement for properties in the central business district and properties in urban overlay districts.  It is deterred to the May 5, 2020 meeting.

BILL NO. BL2020-149 would require landlords to provide at least 90 days’ written notice to tenants before increasing the tenant’s rent. It is deferred.

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

This virus will create winners and losers

Bill Bernstein
by Bill Bernstein - This virus is a crisis and like every crisis tests systems. World War I similarly was a system-testing crisis. In the aftermath the great empires largely failed. The Ottoman Empire, The Russian Empire, the German Empire,and the Austro Hungarian Empire all dissolved under the stress of the war. The British Empire limped out of it, probably due to stronger institutions. As such the virus will create winners and losers, some institutions failing the test. A preliminary list:

Capitalism. Companies responded quickly to the crisis, retooling production for needed items. Jean makers made masks. Auto companies made ventilators. Liquor distillers made hand sanitizer. Hundreds of thousands of companies working independently made an enormous difference.

Home schooling. When schools shut down homeschoolers continued to learn. While a lot of parents quickly decided teachers don't get paid enough, I would bet more than a few parents decided they could handle this.

Government. Government at all levels proved itself incompetent or worse. The Federal Government announced business loans with great fanfare. And then screwed up the roll out, guessing wrong on demand and having inadequate systems to deliver critically-needed money, much less any vetting system. Trump dispatched the hospital ship USNS Comfort to NYC to ease the burden. Red tape has meant the ship has 20 patients and the crew sits around idle. State and county governments made themselves dictators, defaulting to trying to control people and violating Constitutional protections with little regard. This isnt about Trump. Or Democrats. A Federal government the size of ours can never do anything quickly and inefficiently. If we';ve learned one lesson it should be never to count on government solving problems.

Public schools. Public schools operate today basically the same way they have since World War II, maybe before. As such they were totally unprepared for the crisis. They have failed to teach kids anything for weeks and the whole Spring Semester will be a waste. We should question why any institution is still working the same way it did 75 years ago and demand some answers.

Conservatives. It takes a crisis like this to determine who is really a "Constitutional Conservative" and who is merely mouthing the lines. The Constitution makes one provision for suspending a right (Habeas Corpus). The Founders' world included periodic epidemics so they were well familiar with the phenomenon and chose not to include a mechanism to suspend any rights. Seeing so-called Conservatives rewrite the Constitutions' protections to justify excessive state power indicates they really don't understand how this works.

The Democratic Party. The party that has spent three years trying to unseat Trump did not fail to muff this. Instead of putting aside differences and acting like this was a crisis they teed up yet another impeachment-oriented investigation and blocked bills, holding them hostage to their agenda. No one can take them seriously anymore and I see November's election becoming a wipe out for them.

This essay is reposted from a recent Facebook post.  Bill Bernstein, formerly of Nashville where he was owner of Eastside Gun Shop, now lives in Brunswick, Georgia. He is a scholar with a BA degree from Vanderbilt University and degrees in Classics from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, UNC-Chapel Hill, and University of Pennsylvania.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

(Update # 3) Now would be a good time to read a good book. Rod's recommended reading list.

by Rod Williams - In this time of lock down and quarantine, it is a good time to put free time to good use.  Instead of watching reruns of Seinfeld, now would be a good time to catch up on some quality reading. Below is some recommended reading.

What I'm reading now.
The Book Thief, by Thief Zusak  
This is on a lot of "best books ever written" list.

"It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time."

What I recently read and recommend

Victory, by Peter Schweizer
This book tells the story of how Reagan's leadership led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The prevailing wisdom at the time Reagan took office was that the best the US could do in its cold war conflict with the Soviet empire was to contain Russia and we were not doing a very good job of doing that.  Reagan wanted to defeat the Soviet Union.  Under Reagan's leadership the U.S. engaged in economic warfare denying Russia hard currency. We tightened the screws on those who sold technology to the Soviet Union and we made it harder for the Soviet Union to steal Western technology. We supported the resisting mujahedeen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and  we helped support the Solidarity movement in Poland.  We kept Russia guessing as to weather or not the U.S. would use military might to stop Soviet aggression.  We engaged in a new round of weapons development in which Russia did not have the means to match our effort. It is no accident Communism was defeated.  If Jimmy  Carter had been reelected and then he followed by Walter Mondale, we would still probably be facing a menacing Russia and pursuing a losing policy of containment.  The book is well documented and the author interviewed a host of active players involved in the strategy to defeat Communist Russia.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
"For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North

Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens (link)."

This is good light reading.  I enjoyed it.  In addition to a good love story and murder mystery those who love nature will like this book.

Masters of the Cross Roads by Madison Smart Bell.
This is a great book. It is about the formation of the State of Haiti and exploits of the Haitian General Toussiant Louverture. It is fascinating to learn of the culture of Negro slaves and how people of mixed blood were viewed and the role of Voodoo in the society. The book is full of military strategy and shifting alliances and the role of international relations.  All Souls Rising also by Madison Smart Bell is  about the Haitian slave rebellion a few year prior to when Cross Roads occurs and it also a great book. Madison Smart Bell is a Nashvillian.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
This may make by "100 best" list.  This is a dystopian novel in the vein of Brave New World or
1984.  It is set in a future century.  People live in glass enclosed domed cities like giant bubbles. The society is called OneState and it is ruled over by "the benefactor." People have numbers instead of names, uniformity is maintained and individualism and human emotions are suppressed  and spies and agents of the secret police abound. It is not only a good book because it explores the issue of the conflict between the public good and individual identity and liberty but it is a good science fiction story.  It is interesting to see in the early 1920's what technology was envisioned. Also the prose is a joy to read. The author is Russian and wrote the book in 1921 but it was suppressed, the author exiled, and the book was not published in Russia until 1988.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
"In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator oachim Messner comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands. Days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months. Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give. " (link)

This book was a joy to read. You like the characters and do not want it to end. Ann Patchett lives in Nashville.

Home by Marilynne Robinson
"Home parallels the story told in Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead. It is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith (link)." This only barely made my recommend list.  It is slow paced. There is a lot of sitting around drinking coffee feeling self-conscious and wondering what the other person is thinking. You do not have to have read Gilead to enjoy this book.  In my view this is not nearly as good as Gilead.  If you have not read either book, read Gilead.

The best 100 books I ever read.
This list is a work in progress, so check back for more detail, reviews, links and additions to the list. The first and second books on the list are by far my first and second most favorite books.  The others on the list are not an ordered ranking, so I don't necessarily favor the thirteenth book on the list more than the thirtieth. None of the books on this list are on the list because they "ought" to be.  I did not list the Bible or Shakespeare or a great many other books that one ought to read.  These are book that I personally recommend that brought me joy, or hours of pleasant entertainment, or rewarding insights.

Atlas Shrugged, by  Ayn Rand

Witness, by Whitaker Chambers

Miracle at Philadelphia

The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck, or the Living Reed. I have read most of her books, I mostly read them as a teenager so I don't know if they would still stand up, but I loved them at the time.

The Gulag Archipelago, by Alexander Soltzenitzen.

The Quest for Community, by Robert Nesbitt
Follow this link for the Conservative book Club review.

Captain Cortés Conquers Mexico, by William Weber Johnson

Our Enemy the State, by Albert Jay Nock
Nock argues that the State has no power except that that is surrendered by individuals or is taken from them and that it is the tendency of the State to accrue more and more power. He says that as the State takes more power it takes it from society and weakens community. He argues that their can be a great degree of social order without government power.  When the states takes over functions like welfare, as example, people tend to be less charitable and to exercise less social power. Nock also makes a distinction between government and the institution of the State. He addresses the issue of the nature of rights.  Do all rights belong with the individual and the State only has the legitimate power yielded to the state or does all power belong to the state and individuals have only rights granted to them. The concept of natural rights is addressed.

Where the Sidewalk Ends and/or Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein

In Defense of Freedom, by Frank Meyer
Frank Meyer is the author of "fusionism." There are many varieties and stains of conservative thought but the major divide is between those of the traditionalist order and virtue strain and the freedom of the individual stain. Meyer shows how these are not exclusive of each other buy complementary.

Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt.  There is so much ignorance of economics. This is one book that will erase some of that ignorance and cause one to think more clearly about economic matters.  While liberals seem much less knowledgeable of basic economics, the ignorance is wide spread.  This book is clearly written and one does not already have to be grounded in economic theory to understand it This book tackles  topics like rent control, tariffs, the function of profits, minimum wage laws, debt and credit and the fallacy of machines causing unemployment. Many people take strong positions on such topics and never think deeper than their emotional response causing them to support their position. 
Animal Farm by George Orwell and/or

1984, by George Orwell

Everything ever written by the husband and wife team of Will Durant and Ariel Durant.
Excellent books that explore the philosophy and cross currents of ideas and history of the period being studied.  Ones that I most highly recommend or The Age of Reason, and The Age of Revolution.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Road to Serfdom, by Henry Hayek
"In the book, Hayek warns of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning. He further argues that the abandonment of individualism and classical liberalism inevitably leads to a loss of freedom, the creation of an oppressive society, the tyranny of a dictator, and the serfdom of the individual. Hayek challenged the view among British Marxists that fascism (including National Socialism) was a capitalist reaction against socialism. He argued that fascism, National Socialism and socialism had common roots in central economic planning and empowering the state over the individual."

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Economics of  The Free Society, by Wilhelm Roepke
"Economics of the Free Society first appeared in Austria in 1937. Since then, nine German editions have been published, along with French, Swedish, Italian, Finnish, and English editions. The book's purpose is twofold: to provide a coherent description of the whole of the economic process, and to analyze current burning questions from an economic perspective. Written for the intelligent layman, as well as the student of economics, Economics of the Free Society is more than just an exercise in economic analysis, it is a masterpiece of economic wisdom and wit."

Huckleberry Finn, or Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
It has been a long time since I read them, but they are good books and a joy to read.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack Loundon.  I read it as a young teen. Loved it. I was later to learn that Jack Loundon had been a Communist but that does not distract from this being a great book.

Something by William Faulkner. Maybe,  As I Lay Dying or Absalom, Absalom! or The Sound and the Fury. It has been a long time since I read anything by Faulkner and I could not even tell you what these books are about but I remember enough to know that I recommend one read Faulkner.

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard M. Weaver
This is a complex book and while compiling this list I realize I need to read it again.  Modern political thought, especially, conservative thought, has embraced economic freedom and individualism.  There is more to a good society than that argues Weaver. He explores the detrimental role of egotism, and materialism, and the abandonment of generalization for specialization, and the technological fallacy which says because a thing can be done, it should be done.  He argues for absolute truths, religious faith, honor, virtue, and tradition.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Something by Franz Kafka.  I like The Castle. Metamorphosis is his most famous work. Castle, like many of his works, is a story of frustratGene ion about forces beyond your control.  The impersonal bloated bureaucracy frustrates the protagonist at every turn. His novels make you feel like you are in a dream of running in thick mud in slow motion.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golden

Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the

American Airwaves, by Gene Fowler
This is a fascinating story about the large radio stations located in Mexico that blanketed the United States.  XERF and XEG were two of the biggest and both were started by quack doctors to promote medical procedures not approved by the AMA.  The most power an American radio station could have was 50,000 watts; these had at one time up to a million watts. In the Texas towns near the border one could only get one station from one end of the dial to the other.  Fences hummed with static at times and it is claimed people heard the radio through the fillings in their teeth. These stations were not covered by the FCC, being in Mexico. This book especially appealed to me because my father, part of the Christian signing duo of Don and Earl, were on two of the station for years.  The status of the stations were constantly in doubt with the US government wanted them dialed back or closed and at times the stations were out of favor with the Mexican government. When I was twelve years old, my Dad's program was suddenly discontinued and Dad and his partner went to Mexico to try to get back on.  I went with them and it was adventure. They got back on. Some people my know of the stations by knowing Wolfman Jack the rock DJ who broadcast from one of the stations. A lot of Country Music artist rose to fame from broadcasting on these stations including The Carter Family.  Unfortunately my dad is not mentioning in the book but he should have been.

All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
This is a fictional story based of Governor Heuy Long of Louisiana.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beaeher Stowe

We the Living, by Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer

Helter Skelter

The Shining

Something by Cormac McCarthy.
His subject matter and style varies. Some are dark and brooding and deal with the perverted and marginalized. Others are entertaining tales of western lore, but no matter which you read it is worth reading. Some recommended titles are:
  • Blood Meridian
  • The Road
  • Suttree
  • All the Pretty Horses
  • No County for Old men
The Moviegoer, by Walter Percy

The Good German, by 

Rabbit Run, by John Updike 

The Spy who Came in from the Cold, by

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
"First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as "a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy"'--Harrison Salisbury

Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry

Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

This a draft of a work in progress. Check back for refinements and additions to the list.

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