Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 9, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

February 9, 2018

MAYOR MEGAN BARRY ON INSIDE POLITICS; A BAD NIGHT AT THE COUNCIL FOR MAYOR BARRY; THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE; AND SOON THERE WILL BE AT LEAST THREE; THE SCANDAL’S IMPACT ON THE TRANSIT REFRENDUM & GENERAL HOSPITAL; ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

MAYOR MEGAN BARRY ON INSIDE POLITICS

Mayor Megan Barry is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Our interview airs first on the main channel, WTVF-NEWSCHANNEL5 at 6:30 PM Friday evening!

As always, I really appreciate her making time to sit down and talk just as she did last year following the overdose death of her son, Max.

I also appreciate her talking with me now.

I tried to ask her the questions that I think are on everyone's mind following the scandal, disclosed last week, that the Mayor had a nearly two-year long extra-marital affair with her security chief. Did I cover everything? No, probably not.

But I hope you'll find it an interesting, informative and in-depth interview.

INSIDE POLITICS will also air, as usual, several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

Some of my thoughts about Mayor Barry and her current status in office follow next.

A BAD NIGHT AT THE COUNCIL FOR MAYOR BARRY

In last week’s column I suggested one good way to measure the success of Mayor Megan Barry in recovering voter and community confidence, following her admission of having a nearly two-year affair with her chief of security, would be to see how the Metro Council reacts and how it votes on her key legislation.

Based on last Tuesday’s Council session, she is not in great shape.

On three different occasions during that meeting, the Council approved legislation that either was not what the Mayor would prefer (such as the Council launching its own special investigation into the scandal) or bills to which the Council made major changes (the Transit referendum and emergency funding for General Hospital). With those last two bills, the Council either added a major amendment or added more dollars that were previously opposed by the Barry administration.

Being able to maintain a supportive, working majority in the Council (of at least 21 votes) is key to any mayor being able to show she (or he) is politically strong and can govern effectively. Until now, and before the revelation and admission of her affair last week, that had not been in any question for Mayor Barry. Now it is.

Negative public reaction to the Mayor’s affair (and that being expressed to lawmakers), I think clearly had a lot to do with the change of attitude by the Council. I think there is also a strong desire by lawmakers to show that they want to play a leading role in several ways. That includes finding out the truth of this scandal in terms of any improper use of tax dollars; to recommend any policy or legal changes required; and according to one Council leader, start to bring “healing” to the community.

THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE

First, for only the second time in Metro’s 55-plus years of existence, the Council approved creating a special committee (with subpoena power) to investigate whether there was misuse of taxpayers’ dollars as a part of the affair between the Mayor and now retired Metro Police Sgt. Rob Forrest. That could include a lot of areas of inquiry, in particular, the 10 trips out of town that the pair took alone, across the country and even overseas, as well the significant amount of overtime her security chief was paid.

It took a three-quarter vote of the Council to approve the creation of the special committee. That’s a very high threshold. The resolution got just the bare minimum 30 votes to be approved.

The only other time the Council has ever invoke the use of a special committee was back in 1974. The the body was embroiled in controversy amid charges of wrongdoing, even bribery, related to zoning matters. Ultimately a couple of council members went to prison (Morris Haddox & Jack Clariday). A young TENNESSEAN reporter wrote a lot about it too. His name is Al Gore.

This special committee will be different and historic in its own way. In the 1970s, the Council was investigating itself. Now the Council is investigating the Mayor. That’s never happened before having one branch of Metro Government (legislative) investigate another branch (executive). That’s not just historic and unprecedented. It’s uncharted territory politically.

It will be up to Vice Mayor David Briley to select the committee members. In a way, this puts the Vice Mayor in a bit of an awkward position. He, like almost entire Council, has been a big supporter of Mayor Barry. Now he will select the membership of a group that, depending on its investigative results, could further add to pressure on the Mayor to step down.

If that happens, David Briley would take her place as Mayor at least temporarily. Again, potentially awkward.

The Vice Mayor says he is looking to select council members who will ‘fair” and who understand the investigative process. Interestingly, when he talked with the media earlier this week, he said no councilmembers had asked to be on the special committee. Given the criteria Vice Mayor has outlined it would seem councilmen Russ Pulley (former FBI) and Bill Pridemore (retired Metro PD) could be possible choices. The committee membership is to be announced early next week.

AND SOON THERE WILL BE AT LEAST THREE

The Council investigation will join a criminal probe already underway by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. It is being done at the request of Nashville/ Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk. There is also likely to be yet a third inquiry launched by the city’s Ethical Standards Board (made up of both councilmembers and citizens). A specific complaint is required for that to happen. That occurred this week with an advocacy group saying the Mayor’s affair improperly influenced the Mayor policy decisions regarding Metro Police, especially the creation of police review board.

The Ethics group will decide if the complaint is valid. If so, it can then hold a hearing to gather information and review evidence. The Ethics group can report its findings in several ways. One, for action by the Metro Council (including a vote to censure the mayor); send their findings to the District Attorney for criminal review; and/or send their report to the Metro Legal Department if there needs to be changes in Metro’s rules and regulations.

All these separate investigations could become redundant or even interfere with each other. Making sure that doesn’t happen is up to investigative groups involved. By the way, the results of any TBI probe are not automatically made public.

It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where that happens in this case, without creating even more controversy and even charges of a cover up. But the question about those TBI results not being released, could have been one motivating reason for the Council to decide to do its own inquiry.

The results and recommendations of the Council probe will be released when the special committee’s work is done. Mayor Barry says through a spokesman that she welcomes any investigations. She denies there has been any misuse of taxpayer money. Her office this week also released quite a bit of additional travel, overtime and other records largely, all resulting from as media inquiries. The TBI has begun to gather information including the cell phone used by Sgt. Forrest. There are still other information requests and questions from the media that the mayor’s office is working to provide.

And there are other interesting media headlines and stories which broke in recent days that will likely raise eyebrows and may open other lines of inquiry, including this story which alleges Mayor Barry traveled out of town without security in the months before her affair began.

THE SCANDAL’S IMPACT ON THE TRANSIT REFRENDUM & GENERAL HOSPITAL

The Mayor’s scandal seems to be creating additional challenges for her on issues and legislation that were already controversial.

The bill to put her $5 billion plus transit plan (including four required tax increases) on the May 1 ballot gained overwhelming final approval from the Council with 34 yes votes. That’s greater than its margin of passage (30 votes) on second reading two weeks ago. But that margin could be padded a bit because of the adoption of an amendment. It requires the ballot language to include not only the $5 billion plus capital cost of the plan, but also the additional costs for operations and upkeep of the transit system over the next couple of decades, with that total cost being close to $ 9 billion.

This amendment had been pushed by opponents of the transit plan. They say this is a more transparent way for voters to see the real costs. The Barry administration says Metro always breaks out its major capital plans like this and the amendment was just an effort to confuse things, although after it was reworded the Mayor did not oppose the amendment on third reading.

A similar amendment failed 21-14 two weeks ago. I do not really think approval of the transit referendum (just 21 votes) was ever in doubt. The Council says voters tell them they want to have something done about our traffic woes, and the Mayor’s transit plan lets them make that decision. This is something councilmembers want to let them do even if some of lawmakers have personal concerns about portions of the plan.

But will the amendment wind up being a poison pill for its passage? Opponents will claim the plan will give the city the highest sales tax rate in the country and they will also claim the Barry administration really didn’t want the $9 billion cost on the ballot and only agreed to it to save the plan.

What effective role will the Mayor be able to play in the transit plan campaign? She has been the leading spokesman, the face, heart and soul of the effort, who can take her place? How can she not be involved?

A third issue where the Council approved legislation that is not what the Mayor wanted is a vote to allocate $17 million in emergency funds to keep General Hospital operating after the Barry administration said it should be just $13 million.

There were already hard feelings brewing about this issue after hospital supporters felt blindsided late last year when the Mayor recommended General be closed for in-patient service and operated only as an out-patient client. So has the back wash from the affair further polarized this issue and what does it mean in trying to find common ground on General’s future?

I said last week Mayor Barry is performing a political high wire act to stay in office and doing so without a net. This week with investigations gearing up, the transit plan campaign going into high gear, and the

Council not fully backing her on key legislation, that hasn’t changed. But there could be signs that the threads of the high wire she is walking, are showing signs of fraying.

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

A million- dollar ad buy!

That is what Republican Congressman Marsha Blackman says she is shelling out to run TV spots across the state in support of her U.S. Senate campaign. The buy begins in late April and covers the following three months. It includes both over the air TV and cable buys (in particular Fox News). The ads are aimed most immediately at winning the August Republican primary against former Congressman Stephen Fincher.

Blackburn has a decided campaign funds advantage over Fincher and this indicates one way Blackburn plans to employ it. Here are more details.

While the million- dollar price tag certainly catches the eye, media buys of this size may not be all the unusual as Tennessee’s campaign season warms up, including not just this Senate contest, but also a race in both parties to capture the governor’s chair.

THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL reports GOP gubernatorial candidate Congressman Diane Black has reserved $1.45 million in air time on both broadcast and cable channels across Tennessee. The ads will run in July, the month before the August primary.

Meanwhile, Black’s opponent Randy Boyd is already putting out his second introductory TV ad. The first one began across the state about a week ago. This second ad is entitled ‘Grit.” It has a video theme built around the Olympics (and you will find some of the ads playing on the current Winter Games coverage). This $500,000 broadcast and cable buy is a big one, and that’s particularly true since it’s the Boyd campaign’s second one in recent weeks to introduce its candidate. The first buy totaled $300,000. Here’s the new ad.

One last campaign update: After months of uncertainty, Upper East Tennessee First District Republican Congressman Phil Roe says he will seek re-election. Roe says he has still has work to do in his district and in Washington, particularly supporting veterans.

He has a lot to do to build up his campaign war chest too. His lack of fund raising had been fueling speculation he would not run again. Even with Roe running, there will still 3 faces in our nine-member D.C. delegation as John Duncan retires and Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black are seeking other offices.

Our delegation is 7-2 Republican, and there appears to be no sign that will change despite speculation the Democrats will take over the full House in Washington come November.

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