Sunday, May 31, 2020

Vice Mayor Announces Plan for June 2 Budget Public Hearing

Metro press release - Vice Mayor Jim Shulman has announced a plan for holding a virtual public hearing on the Mayor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020-2021 operating budget and the Capital Improvements Budget at the June 2, 2020, Metro Council Meeting.

Details of the plan and participation instructions

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. This is the same the process that was used for the May 5, 2020 Council zoning public hearing. Members of the public wishing to speak on either the operating budget or capital improvements budget may call 629-255-1931 toll free to provide live input when the agenda item is called up during the course of the meeting.

The majority of the Councilmembers will be joining the meeting virtually, but there will be some Councilmembers physically in the Chamber who will be socially distanced.

While the public is strongly encouraged to use the call-in feature, constituents may physically come to the courthouse to provide public comment. The Council Office will be taking preventive measures to ensure proper social distancing and will be disinfecting the podium after each speaker. For the purpose of determining spacing requirements, those desiring to provide public comment in person at the Historic Metro Courthouse are requested to send an email to not later than noon on Monday, June 1. These persons are requested to include their first name, last name, and street address in the email.

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CM Glover and CM Sharon Hurt asked Mayor Cooper to address injustices in "a different way," opposed rally.

Mayor Cooper showed a failure of leadership by endorsing the "I will breath" rally.  Due to his own policy of banning gatherings of more than 25 people he had every reason to disavow the rally.  Instead of urging members of the Council to attend the rally, he should have urged people not to attend.

Council member Sharon Hurt, head of the Council's Minority Caucus urged Cooper not to support the rally and said she would not be attending.  That was plenty of cover for Cooper to have made a different decision. 

When the rally tuned violent, by toppling statues, destroying police cars, and breaking windows the police should have moved in in force and made arrest, rather than waiting until rioters set the court house fire. 

Here is the communication from Mayor Cooper urging Metro's leaders to attend the rally.  It is too bad he did not take the advise of Council members Sharon Hurt and Steve Glover.

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Competing Nashville budget proposals.

There are five budget proposals that may be presented to the Council.  Here they are:

  • The Mendez  32% tax increase proposal:  At-large council member Bob Mendes, the council's budget committee chair, has proposed a budget that is very close to the mayor's budget.  It just shifts a little money here and there.  It raises taxes 32% or a $1.00 increase in the tax rate.
  • The Mendez 34% tax increase proposal: This proposed would increase the property tax rate $1.066. It would provide funding for step increases and 1% cost-of-living adjustments for city employees and $7.6 million more for Nashville schools as well as $4.9 million to bring minimum wage for the school district to $15 an hour.
  • The Emily Benedict proposal: It would increase the tax rate about $1.16 to include restoring raises for school employees and boosting funding for Nashville General Hospital and some grant funding.
  • The Freddie O'Connell proposal: Under this proposal, the city would borrow money from the federal Municipal Liquidity Facility program and the tax increase would only be $0.37 per $100 of assessed value.  However, city officials say Nashville is not eligible to borrow from this fund.
  • The Steve Glover proposal: Taxes would increase about 20%.
For more on this, follow this link. If none of the budget proposals can get the support of at least 21 members of the Metro Council, Mayor Cooper's budget is adopted by default even if no one votes for it.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

John Cooper's budget is based on flawed assumptions, misguided goals

by Ralph Bristol, Guest columnist, The Tennessean - ... Flawed assumptions.  Cooper’s budget was submitted before it was certain that more federal aid was on the way. .... There’s no longer any reasonable doubt about massive federal relief for state and city budgets. The only question is “how much.” ... Neither companies nor cities exist for the purpose of providing employment. That is a hard concept for politicians to grasp, especially when government employees constitute a large, highly funded and organized block of their political base. (read more)

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Nashville to continue sharing patient health data with police.

The Tennessean - Nashville will continue to share a list of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 with law enforcement and other first responders, as Metro Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell says he is "puzzled" by the state reversing its policy of sharing patient data. ... Mayor John Cooper and Office of Emergency Management Director Chief William Swann stood in support of Caldwell and the city's policy Thursday, ... (link)

Metro Nashville data share draws controversy with Metro Councilmembers
 Heated exchange between council members and Metro health officials ensues on weekly conference call

Tennessee Outlook - A conference call between Nashville health officials and council members on Thursday revealed a deep and continuing divide over the city’s practice of sharing names and addresses of COVID-19 positive individuals with law enforcement. In one of the most heated moments of the 40-minute call, Dr. Alex Jahangir — chair of Nashville health department known for his calm delivery in daily COVID-19 briefings — angrily suggested that Council Member Freddie O’Connell pay for his own constituents’ testing at private labs if they were discouraged from seeking public testing. (link)

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Nashville ranks #5 for fastest year-over-year rent growth. Tax increase to push rents higher.

by Rod Williams - A new study from Apartment List finds Nashville rents have declined 0.2% over the past month, but are up moderately by 2.1% in comparison to the same time last year.

Currently, median rents in Nashville stand at $950 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,166 for a two-bedroom. Nashville's year-over-year rent growth leads the state average of 1.5%, as well as the national average of 0.8%.

Now, as Nashville is on the verge of passing a 32% property tax hike, we can expect rents to jump again. The average renter can expect rent to increase $1800 a year if the 32% tax hike passes.

There is a lot of hypocrisy about affordable housing in Nashville.  While many advocates bemoan the loss of affordable housing, the same people supports policies that lead to a loss of affordable housing.  Supporting higher taxes is one way, government destroys affordable housing.  Another way is by opposing rezoning or actually downzoning property to stop developers from building affordable housing. This happens.  Some of the most vocal councilmembers  for affordable housing do the most to kill affordable housing and trample property rights in the process.

Another way is by rezoning large swaths of the county from zoning that permits two housing units per lot to a zoning that allows only one housing unit per lot.  When you reduce density, you increase the likelihood of the development of higher priced homes.  This also contributes to urban sprawl.

Another way we destroy affordable housing is my beautifying parts of town that were home to lower income people.  When you ban pay day lenders, restrict the number of car lots on a major corridors, require decorative fencing in front of car lots, require all dumpsters to be behind fencing on reinforced concrete pads and do other things to beautify a part of town, you increase property values and make that part of town desirable to people who previously would not have wanted to live there.  That displaces low-income people.  Every corridor cannot look like Brentwood and remain affordable.  Currently there is a plan to beautify Dickerson Road.  The days of mobile home parks on Dickerson Road are numbered.  Hundreds if not thousands of affordable housing units will be lost.

While rents have been rapidly increasing in Nashville, rent is still not as outrageously high as many other large cities.  For more detailed information see the report from Apartment List at this link.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tennessee to stop sharing COVID-19 patient data with local law enforcement, first responders

Tennessee to stop sharing COVID-19 patient data with local law enforcement, first responders

Rod's comment:  I am pleased to see Tennessee end this practice.  I was surprised when the policy was announced.  I thought that patient health information was confidential. It should be.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Tell the Mayor you are against his 32% plan that will increase your tax bill by $750 a year for the average homeowner or $1,800 a year for the average renter.

Fill out this questionnaire and tell the Mayor you are against his 32% plan that will increase your tax bill by $750 a year for the average homeowner or $1,800 a year for the average renter.
Please read and answer the 9 questions below. Your responses will generate an email that will be sent directly to the mayor and councilman. Your response can make a difference.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Left-wing activist, led by Councilman Sean Parker, call for de facto permanent ban on evictions.

Councilman Sean Parker
by Rod Williams - Nashville has a slew of progressive activist organizations now.  We have always had some.  In the past, they were more of the civil-rights type or union affiliated.  In recent years we have seen a different type. These are more radical and some openly call for socialism.  In the last Council elections several of these left-wing groups endorsed and helped elect a much more progressive Metro Council.  These activist affiliated with these new organization are probably the same people organizing under different umbrellas, so the number of actual left-wing activist is hard to estimate.  A new organization had recently emerged called, "Red Door Collective."  It appears to be the same organization as the Middle Tennessee Democratic Socialist of America, simply operating under a different name.  This organization has recently called for moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs until the unemployment rate falls to its pre-pandemic level.

Nashville currently has a ban on evictions and has had for about two months.  In about two weeks this ban will expire.

 "Our demands are as follows: Evictions and utility payments suspended until Davidson County's unemployment rate returns to 2.8%," group spokesman Dylan Lancaster said. "And no retroactive evictions, late fees or penalties of any kind."

That is essentially a call for a permanent ban on evictions.  It is my understanding that prior to the on-set of the Coronavirus pandemic that our unemployment rate of 2.8% was the lowest it had ever been.  Who knows, it may never be that low again.

This is asinine.  This  is a demand that landlords provide free housing.  As it stands now, before a landlord successfully evicts a tenant, the tenant has already missed several months of rent payments.  It this should be enacted we would see a massive depletion of affordable housing and this would spur rapid gentrification.  Landlords would get out of the rental business.  As units became empty, landlords would sell the property to developers.  Affordable rentals would be replaced by expensive units for sale.

The organization is also calling for empty hotel rooms and apartments to be turned over to people experiencing homelessness.

Councilman Sean Parker has endorsed the call for a moratorium on evictions and plans to introduce a resolution in the Council to that effect. Sean Parker is the current Metro Nashville City Council for District 5, and is the first Democratic Socialist to sit in the Metro Council. Sean is also a founding member of the Middle TN Democratic Socialists of America chapter, and is actively involved in various left-wing activist groups and campaigns around Davidson County.

For more on this see this link, and this,

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Phase 2 Reopening starts Monday May 25

by Rod Williams - This would appear to allow Lower Broad to reopen.  I am not absolutely certain but believe that there are no "bars" on Lower Broad.  As far as I know all of the places on lower Broad serve liquor by the drink and bars cannot.  I think most of the establishments are "limited service restaurants." So while they may open, since most of their income is from the sale of alcohol and not the sale of food, they probably can't make enough money at 3/4 capacity.  I don't know what is there legal capacity, but I would bet that the honky tonks on lower Broad are  routinely at double or triple legal capacity on any weekend night and most week nights.  Just try to walk through Tootsies without body contact with other patrons. During the day you may be able to, but is impossible on a weekend evening.  I am not complaining.  I like the party atmosphere. Well, I liked it better when I was younger. However, I still don't mind it occasionally.   If I have unintended body contact with some hot young babe, I just put up with it and try not to be offended.

So while, the bars may be allowed to open; 3/4th capacity. no dancing, and only two performers on stage is not going to cut it.  Lower Broad cannot operate under these conditions.  I hope they do try it and push the limits and see what they can get by with.  In the mean time, I hope a lawsuit curtails the power of government of government to impose these kinds of limits on people. I think health official should educate and recommend but people should make their own decision as to what is an acceptable risk.  Rock climbing is dangerous. Bungee jumping is dangerous. Skiing can be dangerous. Riding motorcycles can be dangerous. Should these activities be prohibited?

When lower Broad does reopen, I won't be going.  I am in the age group that is vulnerable. Face it- I'm old!  If I were young and feeling invincible and actually at much less risk of catching the illness and more chance recovering itf I did get it, then I would be there.  I love lower Broad. Since I am my current age, I am not going to be the guinea pig and see how contagious this virus really is.  I am going to maintain isolation and evaluate the risk as time goes by and absorb more information as it becomes available.  I have taken some risk in my life and  I am not one to live in fear, but at the same time, I am prudent.

So, while I won't be going to lower Broadway soon, or to the grocery store, or to New Orleans to see my daughter and new grandbaby, I want the right to, if I should want to. It is time to reopen America and let people evaluate the risk for themselves.

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Local bar owner files lawsuit against Lee, Cooper; others. Says stay-at-home orders trampled Constitutional rights. .

by Rod Williams - A local bar owner, Geoffrey Reid, owner of "The Local Spot" has filed a lawsuit against Governor Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper and several other State and local officials alleging the stay-at-home order violates his civil rights.  Specifically he says it violates the 14th Amendment Due Process clause, the 9th Amendment and "inalienable, fundamental rights, both enumerated and unenumerated in the U.S. Constitution."

Mr. Reid says he has followed the law and as a result as lost over $200,000 in revenue. He is seeking a declaratory judgement that the policy did violate his rights and injunctive relief seeking a prohibition of further enforcement of the policy.

The suit recognized that the State has broad authority to control communicable deceases but argues "law is clear that '[w]henever . . . epidemic diseases appear within any locality within the state . . .the commissioner shall prepare and carry into effect such rules and regulations as, in the commissioner’s judgment will, with the least inconvenience to commerce and travel, prevent the spread of the disease.' See Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-1-201(1)(emphasis added)."

Instead of following the law, the State locked down almost all businesses. Among other arguments is that the law provides that,"the medical director is to establish and maintain quarantine, isolation or use other methods of control of the infected individual."  Instead, we quarantined large segments of the population who were not infected.

The suite argues that sick people should have been quarantined and vulnerable people encouraged to quarantine but the State and City exceeded their authority by the lock down order.

I am pleased to see this law suit filed.  There needs to be clarity as to what power the government does have in a crisis.  While an extraordinary crisis may require and extraordinary response we cannot throw the Constitution under the bus.

To read the complete lawsuit, follow this link.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Mayor John Cooper Signs Executive Order 7, Requiring Face Coverings in All Metro Buildings as Part of Citywide COVID-19 Response

Metro press release - Mayor Cooper today signed Executive Order 7, which requires all employees and visitors to wear a face covering inside any building or indoor space that is owned, managed, or leased by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

“The health and well-being of all Metro employees and the residents who visit our facilities is of paramount importance,” said Mayor Cooper. “Executive Order 7 is an important tool in our citywide COVID-19 response. But I want to remind everyone to continue wearing face coverings in all public settings, keep a safe distance from others, and frequently wash your hands. A coordinated response is the best response, so we must remain united in our efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and ensure a sustained economy reopening throughout Davidson County.”

Metro employees working alone in their offices or workspaces are exempted from the requirements listed in the executive order. Also exempt from the order are:

  • Children under the age of two; 
  • Older children who are unable to wear a mask properly or safely; 
  • Persons who would jeopardize their health or safety by wearing a face covering; and 
  • Persons who request an exemption based on individual circumstances. 
Individuals visiting a Metro facility who do not have a face covering will be provided one, subject to availability. For more information about Executive Order 7, please visit

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Sunday, May 17, 2020

What's on the Council agenda for May 19th: Seeking State authority to require paid sick leave, requiring face mask, picking on Short-term rentals, and the budget ordinance and tax rate.

by Rod Williams - The Council meeting will occur on Tuesday May19th at 6:30pm. Again, most council members will participate electronically and will not actually be in the chamber. Here is a link to the Council agenda and the Council staff agenda analysis. Below I am providing a summary and some commentary on what I deem the most important items on the agenda.

Resolutions. All resolutions are on the "consent" agenda. That means they are all lumped together and pass by a single vote.  Any member however, may ask for a bill to be taken off of consent.

Resolution RS2020-308 request a credit for all property and business taxes paid in advance or coming due for any period that a business was unable to operate due to government shut downs caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. This is on "consent" so should pass without opposition.

Resolution RS2020-315 authorizes the issuance of up to six hundred thirteen million dollars ($613,000,000) of interfund tax anticipation notes.  Metro has a lot of different pools of money for different functions, such as a Water and Sewer Fund and a Farmers Market Fund and a whole bunch of others.  It is normal to transfer money from one fund to another while waiting for revenue to replenish the funds. When Nashville's finances drew the attention of the Comptroller he said we must now formalized these fund transfers and this is what this does. Also this would authorized the mayor to borrow the money from a lending institution instead of interagency transfer. It is on the consent agenda. There are several other resolutions on the consent agenda authorizing issuing Tax Anticipation Notes and extending Metro's general obligation commercial paper program. This is routine stuff done this time of the year.

RESOLUTION RS2020-318 accepts a Coronavirus relief fund grant of $121,122,775 from the Federal Government. There is no required cash match for this money.  However, this money can only be used for unbudgeted expenditures related to preparation for, prevention of, and response to the coronavirus pandemic.  So, this cannot make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic. It is on consent.

Resolution RS2020-327 encourages private employers to provide paid sick leave to their

employees and urging Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal statutes that prevent the Metropolitan Government from requiring private employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. I oppose this.  If I were in the Council I would pull it from Consent and vote against it.  The first part is alright.  It is OK to "encourage" private businesses to pay sick leave, but many small businesses would go out of business if they had to.  I oppose asking the state to give Metro authority to require that private businesses provide sick leave.  A job without sick leave is better than no job.

Resolution RS2020-328 declares the Metropolitan Council’s intention not to approve any economic development incentive awards for a period of one year, and not until metrics are established regarding the awarding of such incentives.  I approve of this!

Bills on Second Reading

Bill BL2020-147 (as amended) concerns lobbyist registration. Anyone who is paid to influence Metro is supposed to register as a lobbyist. The current fee is $50. This would raise it to $100. It would also identify a new class of lobbyist called "volunteer lobbyist" and requires them to register. That is people who do not get paid to lobby but get reimbursed for expenses only. They would have to register but not pay the registration fee. I have reservation about this bill and fear we may be impeding the right of people to petition government for redress of grievances.

Bill BL2020-224 requires landlords to provide a 90-day notice to tenants prior to a sale of the property.

Bill BL2020-285 would require employees of essential businesses interfacing with the public to wear face masks. There is not even evidence that wearing a face covering does much good. I wear one but I don't want to force people to were one.

Bill BL2020-286 is the budget ordinance. It is amendable on third reading. The Council must adopt a substitute operating budget no later than June 30th or the budget as originally submitted by the Mayor becomes effective on July 1. For those who want a understanding of this budget, you may want to look at the staff analysis.

Bill BL2020-287 is the tax levy to fund the budget.  This will be deferred or passed an made amendable and a tax rate sufficient to fund whatever budget is approved will be adopted following the adoption of the budget on third reading.

Bills on Third Reading

Substitute 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. In my view this is uncalled for. I oppose this bill. I live on a street with several short-term rentals and have never had a problem. I have one diagonally across the street from me. Maybe some people do have a problem but that indicates a need for more enforcement not making it more difficult to have short-term rental. There are hotels and restaurants within 100 feet of some of the same class of entities identified in this bill. This would place greater restriction on homes rented short-term than we place on businesses. There is a greater likelihood of complaints against owner-occupied housing and long-term rental housing that there is from short-term rental.

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.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Help for Homeowners after their homes were damaged by the tornado

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Upcoming Public Hearing on the Metro Budget

Lifted from the newsletter of Councilman Jeff Syracuse - The public hearing for the budget will be at the June 2nd Council Meeting. How do you have a public hearing without the public? Great question. Governor Lee has extended his Order that allows local municipalities to meet virtually until June 30th. If members of the public are interested in speaking either for or against any item on the public hearing agenda this is how you do it:

  1. Tune into the meeting via live streaming on, by watching on cable TV (Comcast channel 3, AT&T Uverse channel 99), or watch on the Roku Metro Nashville Network Channel.
  2. Wait for the Vice Mayor to announce when your item is ready for live call in. 
  3. Dial 629-255-1931 and wait for operator assistance. 
  4. You will be asked if you are calling for the current bill on public hearing. 
  5. Mute your TV or live stream when it is your turn to speak. 
  6. Once your time begins, state your name, address, and whether you are for or against the bill. You will have two minutes to speak. 
  7. During your public comments, you will receive a 30-second warning before your time limit is up. 
While the live call-in feature is strongly encouraged in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, members of the public may attend the Metro Council Meeting at the Historic Metro Courthouse (1 Public Square) and speak to the Council from the Council Chamber. Additional information about virtual Council Meetings and remote participation in Council public hearings can be found here.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

How Nashville Mayor John Cooper's budget proposal could play out as it heads before Metro Council

by Rod Williams - This article in the Tennessean offers insight into how the Metro budget battle may play out. If is for Tennessean subscribers only and I know many people don't subscribe, so I am going to summarize and excerpt.

If you have been paying attention, you already know the mayor's budget calls for a 32% increase. The proposed budget is $2.4 billion. Not stated in this article, but that is a 3% larger budget than the current budget.

"The city is projected to lose $470 million in revenue over the next 16 months, including more than $200 million in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1."

"Cooper's proposal calls for a $1 property tax increase, which would bring the rate to $4.155 per $100 of assessed value in the city's more urban areas. Those with a home appraised at $250,000 would pay about $625 more per year under Cooper's proposal."

The article gives some history recalling that property taxes have not been raised in a while and that last year while Mayor Briley did not propose a tax increase, the Council came within one vote of passing a tax increase and that effort was led by Council member at-large Bob Mendes  Over half of the Council is composed of new members and the new member will look to council members like Budget Chair Bob Mendes and former Budget Chair Tanaka Vercher for leadership.

Mendes makes a valid point saying that we have no idea what kind of revenue position we will be in, in six months and that we should pass a budget but pledge to reconsider it prior to tax bills going out in October.  Mendes is saying he is working on a substitute budget and while he doesn't say so directly, it looks like he will ask for a bigger tax increase than what the mayor wants.

Council member Steve Glover is putting together another budget proposal that raises taxes but considerably less than what the mayor proposes.

Emily Benedict is working on another budget proposal along with the LGBTQ caucus.  Why homosexuals would have different budget priorities than other members and why their sexual orientation would cause them to agree on budget priorities is beyond me. She wants to see the cuts to the Barnes Fund for affordable housing restored and says we should consider cutting all business incentives for corporation for this one year. "Cooper's budget proposal calls for a reduction by 50% in economic incentive grants, including for six companies, to save $1.2 million," says the article.

Since this speaks of cutting the incentives to six specific companies, I am assuming this is incentives included in previous negotiated incentive packages. While I oppose most incentive packages, if we previously promised the money and a company relocated here based on that understanding I do not see how we can now just not make those payments.  I would have to have more information in order to have an informed opinion of this.

The Minority Caucus is also working on a budget and looking at it through an "equity lens."

Council member Zulfat Suara says she wants a lower tax increase than proposed by the mayor, wants no layoffs but understands Metro employees may have to go without a raise and is looking at putting less money in reserves. She floats the idea of borrowing money.  The opportunity to borrow from something called the Municipal Liquidity Fund is available.  This was a resource only available to larger cities but the day before the mayor released his budget, the threshold was lowered.  We could borrow money at 0% interest that would have to be paid back in three years.  Some are skeptical of this approach.

A source of funding that the city is not yet sure what it could be used to fund, is the $121 million federal Covid-19 aid package. It comes with strings attached and is supposed to cover Covid-19 expenses but it sounds like it can just not be used to make up for lost revene.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Representative Bruce Griffey request a legal opinion from the Attorney General as to the constitutionality of the Governor's Executive Orders.

Rep. Bruce Griffey
From Rep. Bruce Griffey, TN Representative District 75 - Yesterday afternoon, I sent the attached letter to TN Attorney General Herbert Slatery, questioning the legal authority of the Governor to issue his series of Executive Orders in response to the COVID-19 virus and whether the Governor’s Orders infringed upon the rights of Tennesseans as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and/or Tennessee Constitution. When I ran for office, I ran on a platform of small government, limited government – a campaign platform I intend to honor. Moreover, when I took my oath of office, I swore to not only support the TN Constitution, but also to not consent to any act or thing that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge the rights and privileges of the people of this state as declared by the Constitution of this State. I intend to uphold my oath of office, and defend the Constitutional rights of Tennesseans and protect them from government over-reach.
Regrettably, as of today, a number of businesses remain closed entirely or are only operating at partial capacity as a result of the Governor's Executive Orders. A number of my constituents and other Tennesseans remain unemployed. A large number of people can enter Walmart or Lowe’s or even a gym, but children are unable to regain normalcy without little league and youth sport teams being able to practice and play. Consequently, I requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General as to the constitutionality of the Governor's Executive Orders.
As a TN licensed and practicing attorney for 30 years, serving as both an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney General, I have researched this issue myself and question the legal authority for the Governor to issue his Executive Orders purporting to close businesses, dictate Tennesseans’ healthcare decisions or prohibit people from exercising their right to gather.
Specifically, I question the constitutionality of the “Emergency Management Powers” statute under which the Governor is purportedly acting - specifically T.C.A. § 58-2-107. I believe the Tennessee General Assembly exceeded its Constitutional authority 20 years ago when it passed this law to give the Governor legislative power in emergency situations. Article II of the Tennessee Constitution, which addresses the “Distribution of Powers” and divides the “powers of government” “into 3 distinct departments: legislative, executive, and judicial.” In essence, the Tennessee Constitution explicitly provides that neither the Executive branch (i.e. the Governor) nor the courts can create law. Only the legislative branch can create law. Moreover, nothing in Article III of the Tennessee Constitution, which covers the “Executive Department” and the Governor’s powers, permit any legislative power to be given to the Governor or permit the Governor to exercise legislative power. Also, notably absent from Article III or any other provisions of the Tennessee Constitution is any mention of the power of the Governor to issue “Executive Orders”.
Moreover, I believe the Executive Orders themselves infringe upon the unalienable rights guaranteed to Tennesseans by both the U.S. Constitution and the TN Constitution. When the Governor issues an Executive Order, prohibiting Tennesseans from walking the trail of a state park or mandating that Tennesseans stay at home, I submit the Governor is ‘disseiz[ing]’ Tennesseans of their Constitutional ‘liberties’. When the Governor issues an Executive Order allowing Walmarts and Lowes and other big-box corporate giants to remain wide open for business, but banning small business owners from opening the doors to their restaurant, their bar, their clothing boutique, their gym or their bowling alley, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional by ‘destroy[ing] or depriv[ing]’ Tennesseans of their ‘property’. 

When the Governor issues an Executive Order, forbidding a self-employed barber or beautician from exercising their trade and providing services upon which they rely to pay their mortgage, feed their family and make their car payment, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional in violation of Sections 8 and 21 of the Tennessee Constitution. When the Governor issues an Executive Order, disallowing a little league team from playing baseball in an open, outdoor field or friends from gathering to watch the exchange of wedding vows and celebrate the sanctity of a marriage, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional inasmuch as it, among other things, violates Section 23 of the Tennessee Constitution, which guarantees Tennesseans the Constitutional ‘right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good’. When the Governor issues an Executive Order overriding the informed decisions of trained and licensed doctors and stripping Tennesseans of their right to make their own healthcare decisions by banning elective medical procedures, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional inasmuch as it strips Tennesseans of their ‘liberty’ and ‘is inconsistent with the principles of free government’.

I posited the following 4 specific questions to AG Slatery, requesting a formal legal opinion:
  1. Whether the Tennessee General Assembly exceeded its Constitutional authority when it passed T.C.A. § 58-2-107?;
  2. Whether the passage of T.C.A. § 58-2-107 amounted to an effort to amend the Tennessee Constitution without following the proper procedure to do so by equipping the Governor with powers not otherwise delegated to him under the Tennessee Constitution?;
  3. Whether the Governor exceeded his Constitutional authority when he issued the above-described Executive Orders?; and
  4. Whether the above-described Executive Orders issued by the Governor violated any Constitutional rights as guaranteed by either the U.S. Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution to Tennesseans?
I believe in supporting an individual’s Constitutional right to liberty and right to exercise the freedom of choice. An individual should be able to decide for himself or herself whether to assume any potential health risk of attending a public gathering or eating at a particular restaurant or shopping a particular store or getting a hair cut or whether they want to remain home. By the same token, a business should be able to decide whether to open or shutter its doors, and a self-employed individual should be able to make his or her own decision about whether to offer services or not. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions and, with such freedom, should take responsibility for their decisions. The government should not be making healthcare decisions for its citizens and overtaking individual decision making and telling people whether they should stay home or go out and when, where and how they do it.
Rod's comment:  I am pleased to see this.  I commend Representative Griffey for seeking a determination as to the legality of the Governor's actions.  I am not one who doubts the seriousness of the Corona Virus, but there are a lot of unknows as to rates of infection and immunity and best policies for addressing the epidemic.  However, even if it was equal to the Bubonic plague and we knew it, government should not trample's rights.  Government imposing restrictions without proper authority and due process is lawlessness and tyranny.  It may be that the actions governments have taken are legal.  I doubt it, but if that is so it needs to be explained how it is so.  In wars we have had restrictions on our liberty that would not be tolerated in peace time, everything from drafting into involuntary servitude to defend the country, to rationing to restrictions on speech. If there needs to be provision for similarly giving governments near dictatorial powers during a massive health crisis there needs to be a means of authorizing that power and a means of declaring the crisis at an end.  It should not be arbitrary.  Below is the full letter Rep. Griffey sent to the AG.


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City of Koxville Opts Out of Access to State COVID-19 Database

Mayor Indya Kincannon
City of Knoxville press release, 5/12/2020 - Mayor Indya Kincannon and Police Chief Eve Thomas announced today that the Knoxville Police Department will opt out of a state program that allows law-enforcement officers across Tennessee to access a database of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The initiative was well-intended, aimed at protecting first responders and the people they serve, and safeguards were put in place to protect confidential information,” Kincannon said. “But there are better ways to accomplish the same goals, and we will continue to take the appropriate steps to assure public safety.”

Part of the answer, Mayor Kincannon said, is to purchase and distribute more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

“Allowing law enforcement access to the state database was problematic,” Mayor Kincannon said. “Few people have been tested, and many others are asymptomatic carriers, so this could present a false sense of security. More importantly, we don’t want to create any public reluctance to be tested out of fear that confidential information might inadvertently be shared.”

Mayor Kincannon pledged “to continue to protect our first responders so that they can continue to protect our city.”

Steps being taken, the Mayor said, include:
  • Purchasing more N95 masks and other PPE;
  • Making sure that all first responders wear face coverings when interacting with the public in close proximity, unless doing so prevents them from doing their job effectively, such as when chasing a suspect on foot; and
  • Supporting collaborative community efforts to increase testing capacity, so that ALL first responders can be tested every two weeks until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Rod's Comment:  Congratulation Mayor Kincannon. It is a shame that Nashville is participating in this distasteful program.  This program is a grave violation of privacy.  It is a shame that Governor Bill Lee has authorized this practice. If the epidemic was AIDS, would people approve of this?  There have been a lot of policies during this crisis that appear arbitrary and authoritarian.  We should not give up our rights just because it is time of crisis.  We may lose them and never get them back.  Loss of freedom may become the new normal. These policies that are of questionable legality need to be challenged in court to establish limits as to what authorities may do.  Legislative bodies need to take action to stop them.  Our Metro Council should demand that Nashville not participate in this program.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rare bipartisan agreement: TN Republicans, Democrats raise concerns over sharing COVID-19 patient data with police

by Rod Williams - The Tennessean reports that Governor Lee's decision that Tennessee should share with police a daily list of those affected by the Corona virus has received pushback from both Republicans and Democrats.  The Beacon Center on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union on the left have both criticized the policy as have other organizations.  I share that concern and think it is an outrage.  To read the article follow this link.

Also see, Tennessee Department of Health initially denied first responder requests for COVID-19 patient data, emails show.

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Tennessee tax receipts for April off 29% from last year.

As reported in the Tennessean today, State tax receipts for April 2020 were only $855 million.  That compares to April 2019 tax receipts of $1.2 billion. That is a reduction of $345 million. If we had not had the Corona virus of course, revenues would have increased from 2019.  Luckily, Tennessee is in much better financial shape than the city of Nashville and has reserves.  Still, if this level of revenue loses continued, it would be extremely difficult to develop a budget without massive cuts. The State has already imposed a hiring freeze and ordered a halt to all but essential spending.  April's collections reflect economic activity in March, so May's numbers which reflect April collections may even be worst. Hopefully, April and May were the worst month of revenue loses and we will start to see a recovery. For more on this read the story at this link.

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We are going to have a property tax increase. The question is, how much?

by Rod Williams - We are going to have a property tax increase. The question is, how much?  In fact, not a single Council member will vote against a tax increase.  Often in years when we have a tax increase, there will be a few Council members who will vote "no."  I have heard Council members avow they did vote against the proposed tax increase budget.  They really didn't.

Here is how the Metro Budget is passed.  The mayor, after holding administrative budget hearings, develops a budget and presents it to the Council.  The Council can adopt it or change it.  The Council almost always makes some changes to the budget.  Even in years when a tax increase is not proposed, the Council usually shifts some money.  Usually in years in which a mayor proposed a tax increase, Council comes up with a budget that also increases taxes but less than what the mayor proposed. Then the council votes to adopt the budget. If they change the budget, that budget is now called "the substitute budget," or "the Council's budget."

Assume the Council's budget raises taxes but not as much as the Mayor's budget and assume a conservative member of the Council thinks the Council's budget still raises taxes too much and he votes "no."  What he has done is vote for the Mayor's budget that raises taxes more than the Council budget.  Here is what the Charter says:

The council shall finally adopt an operating budget for the ensuing fiscal year not later than the thirtieth day of June, and it shall be effective for the fiscal year beginning on the following July 1st. Such adoption shall take the form of an ordinance setting out the estimated revenues in detail by source and making appropriations according to fund and by organizational unit, purpose or activity as set out in the budget document. If the council shall fail to adopt a budget prior to the beginning of any fiscal year, it shall be conclusively presumed to have adopted the budget as submitted by the mayor. 
So, a vote against the budget before the Council is a vote for the Mayor's budget. That is the effect of a "No" vote.  If there is one Charter change I would like to see happen, I would like that changed.  It does not have to be this way.  In some cities, if the council fails to pass an annual budget, they may pass a monthly "continuing resolution" of 1/12th of last year's budget until such time they can agree on a budget. In those cases, a "no" vote really is a no vote.

The key to passing a Council budget is to get a budget that can get 21 votes. Some members may think the mayors budget does not raise taxes enough.  Some members want no tax increase. Somewhere between these poles is a budget number that can garner 21 votes.

I am pleased that some Council members are advocating no to any tax increase.  That is a good place to start but I can almost guarantee you there are not 21 votes for no tax increase.

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The Council meeting of May 5, 2020

This meeting is six hours long.  It is again conducted electronically with only a handful of people in the chamber.  To access a copy of the agenda, the staff analysis of the agenda and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link. Since this meeting is so long, I am not going attempt to watch the whole thing to find the results of significant legislation. I have been waiting for the minutes of the meeting.  As of 5/12/2020 the minutes are still not posted. Please check back.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Nashville Announces Slow Streets Effort to Promote Social Distancing While Walking, Running and Biking

Streets will close to thru traffic but remain open for local access
Metro Press Release - In an effort to provide additional outdoor space for walking, running and biking, the city of Nashville is unveiling 4.5 miles of temporary street closures in eight Nashville neighborhoods. The effort is a collaboration between Metro Public Works, the office of Mayor John Cooper, and the Metro Planning Department. The closures, which will apply to thru traffic, will allow local residents to spend time outside while maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from their neighbors. Streets will remain open to local traffic, including deliveries. Signage will be put in place beginning tomorrow, May 9.
"As we continue to see fewer vehicles on our roads during COVID-19, Metro joins other American cities in repurposing our valuable street space, in selected locations, to provide more opportunities for our residents to walk safely distanced," said Faye DiMassimo, Senior Advisor of Transportation and Infrastructure for Mayor John Cooper. "In addition to being a good way to get exercise, especially if you've been indoors all day, it can help to manage the anxiety that many are feeling during this time."
The first eight closures will be in the following neighborhood locations:
  • N. 17th St. from Holly St. to McEwen Ave.
  • 18th Ave. N. from Cass St. to 11th Ave. N.
  • Bowling Ave. from Woodlawn Dr. to Whitland Ave.
  • Grace St. from Joseph Ave. to Lischey Ave.
  • Indiana Ave. from 51st Ave N. to 44th Ave. N.
  • Oriole Place from Lone Oak Rd. to Shackleford Rd.
  • Owendale Dr. from Kinwood Dr. to Mossdale Dr.
  • Straightaway Ave. from Chapel Ave. to Porter Rd.
"I appreciate our Public Works and Planning staff putting the city's WalkNBike Strategic Plan and the many traffic calming applications received from our neighborhoods to work in selecting these open street locations," said Metro Council District 34 Member Angie Henderson. "This is an important step as we work to create a wider network of safe neighborways for walking and biking throughout Nashville."
Local streets that are part of this effort will be signed appropriately and barricades will be placed at the outer limits of the closures to prevent thru traffic. Metro Public Works right-of-way inspectors will monitor the closures to ensure they are maintained for the duration. While streets will remain open for local car access, drivers are urged to drive slowly and look out for residents walking, running and biking. Public Works staff will be monitoring and assessing each closure and making modifications as needed. The duration of the closures will align with Mayor Cooper's phased approach to reopening Nashville businesses, and streets will reopen once Nashville moves from phase 2 to phase 3.
"Making our streets safer and more friendly for walking, running and biking is one of our top priorities at Metro Public Works," said Jeff Hammond, Assistant Director. "This effort combines elements of our Walk N Bike master plan and our Neighborhood Traffic Calming program, and we will continue to consider additional ways to navigate these unusual times."
For more information on the temporary closures, visit the Metro Nashville Public Works website.

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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Three school board members file suit against ex-MNPS Director Dr. Shawn Joseph

Jill Speering (District 3), Fran Bush (District 6) and Amy Frogge (District 9)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — Three members of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education have filed a lawsuit against former Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph and the Metro government.

The board members—Jill Speering (District 3), Fran Bush (District 6) and Amy Frogge (District 9)—claim a clause in Joseph’s severance agreement violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (link)

To read the full complaint follow this link.

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Avoid emission testing. Renew tags before May 18th.

ALL Metro Nashville and TNVIP emission testing centers are CLOSED until further notice. All motor vehicle transactions completed by May 18th will be processed without an emissions test. (link)

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Replacing good sidewalk with new sidewalks; no wonder we are broke.

by Rod Williams, 5/10/2020- I walk almost every day to get exercise. Yesterday I saw where the city was replacing sidewalks on South Douglas Avenue between 10th Avenue South and 12th Avenue South.  I have walked this street.  These sidewalk may have had a few cracks but they were certainly serviceable.  This is ridiculous.  We are in a severe financial bind and yet we can afford to do this?  Even if we had plenty of money, rather than replace good sidewalks with new sidewalks, we should be expanding sidewalks to streets without them.

This has been going on for a long time.  We spend millions on sidewalks and yet people without sidewalks don't get them.

For more see;
Perfectly Serviceable Sidewalks being Ripped up and Replaced with New Sidewalks!
 Nashville has allocated $60 million for sidewalks. Only 3.5 miles of new sidewalks!!
Why should it cost $6 million to build a mile of new sidewalk?

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Friday, May 8, 2020

The power of choice: 1 in 3 Nashville public school students opt out of neighborhood schools

The Tennessean - More than 1 in 3 students — about 32,000 of the 86,300 children enrolled this year — commute to a public school outside of their designated neighborhood zone. Those figures do not include families that have chosen a private school, home school or moved out of the county to enroll in another school district. ….

..., Hume Fogg High School had 425 applicants for just 91 open slots this year. …… At Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School, for example, nearly 50% of students zoned for the school chose other public schools,.... (link to the article)

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

(Update) Virtual Budget Questions and Answers Session for Councilmembers. 4PM today, May 7th

Metro press release - Budget and Finance Committee Chair Bob Mendes will host a Budget Questions and Answers Session with Councilmembers to generally discuss the budget process and provide budget orientation for new Councilmembers. In accordance with Safer at Home Order fprotocols on safe social distancing, there will not be a physical location for this meeting in order to protect public health, safety, and welfare.

Members of the public can view and listen to this meeting live on Comcast channel 3, AT&T Uverse channel 99, Google Fiber channel 3, the Metro Nashville Network Roku channel, and online through Metro Nashville Network.

Budget Questions and Answers Session Supplemental Resource Materials:

Meeting facilitated by Budget and Finance Committee Chair and Councilmember-At-Large Bob Mendes:

Rod's comment: The meeting is today, May 7th at 4PM.  The above listed resources are good for anyone who wants to understand Metro's budget.  You may also want to see, Citizens' Guide to the Metro Budget.

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Mayor’s Office Roadmap for Reopening Hospitality Industry Businesses Webinar, Friday May 8th.

Metro Nashville press release - Mayor John Cooper and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp are pleased to present a webinar for businesses in the hospitality industry.

  • Welcome: Butch Spyridon, CEO Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp 
  • Nuts and Bolts of Operating in the Age of Coronavirus: Alex Jahangir, MD, Chair, Metro Coronavirus Task Force 
  • Making your Workplace Safe: Hugh Atkins, Metro Public Health Department 
  • Keeping your Employees Safe: Martha Boyd, JD, Baker Donelson 
  • Peer-to-Peer: Dee Patel, Managing Director of the Hermitage Hotel; Rick Schwartz, CEO, Nashville Zoo. 
  • Question and Answer Session for webinar attendees 
Attendees can attend the small business webinar, using the case sensitive password: Metro2020.

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The mayor's office held budget "hearings," not "discussions," this year. Council begins hearings on May 11.

by Rod Williams - I am pleased to see the mayor's office held budget "hearings," not budget "discussions," this year.  When Mayor Barry was elected she changed the terminology from "hearings" to "discussions" and Mayor Briley kept the terminology.  The council never adopted "discussions;" it continued to have "hearings."

"Discussions," sounds so much more "collaborative" and touchy-feely than "hearings." This is serious business and needs to be treated as such. The Council begins its budget hearings on May 11. Members of the public can view and listen to this meeting live on Comcast channel 3, AT&T Uverse channel 99, Google Fiber channel 3, the Metro Nashville Network Roku channel, and online through Metro Nashville Network.  One can watch broadcast meetings on the Metro Nashville Network YouTube channel the day after live broadcast.

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