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Capitol View commentary: Friday, June 19, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 10:38 AM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 11:38:03-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

June 19, 2020

AN EXPLANATION; A HISTORIC VOTE IN MORE THAN ONE WAY; WHAT HAPPENED TO DEFUND THE POLICE?; POLICE CHIEF STEVE ANDERSON RETIRES AFTER 45 YEARS ON THE FORCE; A WEEK OF TENSION ON THE TENNESSEE’S CAPITOL HILL; FINISHING THE SESSION; AS VIRUS CASES RISE DR. JAMES HILDRETH IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS; DR. REAVIS MITCHELL; NEW UNEMPLOYMENT AID REQUESTS CONTINUE TO DECLINE BUT REMAIN HISTORICALLY HIGH; A BAD WEEK FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP WITH THE SUPREME COURT; THE WEEKLY NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS;

AN EXPLANATION

Before I begin, let me apologize for not posting a Capitol View column last week.

For the first time in 18 years, technical issues kept me doing so. The S key on my computer keyboard broke. I thought I could get that fixed quickly, but I then I learned I would have to replace the entire keyboard. Technology is wonderful, isn’t it!

I have a new keyboard now and I am back in business. Fortunately, those helping find a replacement keyboard for me, managed to do so even faster than they expected in these uncertain times.

A HISTORIC VOTE IN MORE THAN ONE WAY

The 32-8 vote by the Metro Council early Wednesday morning approving a new operating budget for the city is historic in several ways. Yes, with a 34% property tax hike (about a $1.07 on the tax rate), it is the largest increase ever. But you should put an asterisk next to that.

Forty years ago, in 1980, the Council voted a $1.53 property tax rate hike. Mayor Fulton had asked for a $2.87 increase. The property tax increase was later rolled back 70 cents because voters approved a ¾ cent sales tax. That option to raise the sales tax is still available (to add another ½ cent to the local sales tax rate) but neither Mayor Cooper, nor anyone in the Council, thought that was the way to go.

By the way, 1980 was the last time the local sales tax was increased. Property taxes have only been increased twice in this decade. In fact, the Council approved this new increase almost exactly eight years to the day since the last property tax increase was approved in 2012. And, yes, our Metro property tax rate remains the lowest of any of Tennessee’s major cities or largest counties. However, given the difficult times we live in, any tax increase will be difficult for those now in financial distress to handle.

As for property taxes, the tax rate is only one part of determining what you pay. The fair market value (what the property would sell for) plays an even more important role. The next countywide reappraisal of property is next year so the property tax rate will be adjusted again in June 2021.

It will likely be adjusted downward. But that does not mean your taxes will go down next year. If your property has increased in value over the last four years, compared to the rate of increase throughout the county, your tax bill could go up again. Stay tuned.

To me, perhaps the most historic part of the Council’s vote is that it marks the first time, in the 57 years of consolidated government in Nashville, that any Council raised taxes higher than what the mayor requested. Mayor Cooper asked for $1 rate increase or a 32% property tax hike, while the alternate budget crafted by At-Large Councilmember Bob Mendes goes up almost seven cents more on the rate or 34%.

Why did 32 councilmembers go for a tax rate even higher than what the mayor recommended? It’s because the Mendes budget and tax hike provided money to do things that Mayor Cooper’s didn’t fund.

That means:

· A 1% cost of living raise for Metro workers

· 7.6 million for Metro Schools to provide teacher raises (if the School Board maintains at least a 3% reserve fund as required by the state).

· $4.9 million to provide a $15 per hour minimum wage for about 1,500 Metro School Employees

· $2.1 million for full deployment for police body cameras

· $2.6 million for a training class for new Metro police officers

· Addition of a Chief Diversity Officer for Metro

· Addition of a Workforce Diversity Manager for Metro

· $450,000 to open Metro Parks community centers on Saturday mornings

· $2 million for the Summer youth employment for 2021

· $3.5 million for the Metro Arts Commission

· $3.9 for the Metro’s Rainy Day Fund

· $262,000 to implement plans to enforce ‘SP’ Zoning

· $90,000 for the Nashville Business Incubation Center

· $150,000 for the Small Business Incentive

· $75,000 for the Entrepreneur Center

· $75,000 for the Nashville Civic Design Center

· $50,000 for the TSU Economic Development Grant

· $40,000 for the Sister Cities Program

· $25,000 each for the Black Chamber of Commerce, Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, LGBT Chamber of Commerce

In politics if you are going to raise taxes, you are going to catch hell. And the Council and Mayor Cooper are now being threatened with being recalled from office.

So, if taxes are going to be increased, why not raise enough funds you can at least tell your constituents you are providing more to the them than just what they are already receiving? Mayor Cooper said his budget was a “crisis” spending plan to get the city through unprecedented times due to the pandemic. What the Mendes budget and tax hike does is provide the extra sweeter needed to build Council support to get a spending plan approved, especially the moves to provide more money for schools. Even those smaller amounts of funding for SP zoning and for non-profit groups, I suspect were helpful in picking up votes for the Mendes plan.

Remember this is the third time in three years, Councilman Mendes has sought a tax hike. Twice he fell a couple of votes short. This time he got 32 votes or more than 75% support from his colleagues.

It should be noted nobody in the Council suggested a no tax increase budget. Even the budget alternative offered by Councilman Steve Glover indicated the likelihood of significant service cuts, layoffs and furloughs even with a 63- cent property tax increase and doubling the wheel tax. The other alternate budget from Councilman Freddie O’Connell worked only if Metro got federal loans or grants the city apparently isn’t eligible to receive. Yes, there may still be more money coming from the feds, and maybe a pittance of funds from the state, that could see the Council reduce the tax rate before property tax bill go out October 1.

But it better be a lot of money and it better be in hand or assured by the middle of August. Remember as well, the budget amendments that were defeated Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning proposed cuts in many city agencies but would have reduced the tax increase only a few pennies and only one amendment reduced it as much as a dime. That’s not much tax relief.

As high as the tax increase is (and it is a record), the bottom line on this Council budget and tax vote is that these city leaders didn’t see a viable alternative except to destroy Metro’s services and employee base just to share the pain that it occurring throughout the city and the nation due to the virus economic downturn.

Normally a tax hike causes big controversy but fades over time. This one may have a longer half- life of controversy. The next Metro elections are over three years away in August 2023.

WHAT HAPPENED TO DEFUND THE POLICE?

After emerging on the local political scene by dominating the Metro Council’s public hearing on the budget on June 2, you might think the Defund the Police didn’t get much accomplished in the spending plan approved at about 1:25 Wednesday morning.

The budget even includes more money for police. In fact, over $2 million more was allocated to train a new class of officers which many Council members felt they had already committed to fund.

However, if you look more closely, the Defund the Police advocates did accomplish some things. The new budget contains monies to hire both a Chief Diversity Officer and a Workforce Diversity Manager for Metro, positions that minority Council members have been pushing Mayor Cooper to get done.

More significantly the new budget moves ahead to fully implement the long-delayed body camera program for Metro Police. Within a week after Defund Police activists spoke out at the Courthouse, gone were estimates body cameras would cost up to $40 million to implement in its first year. Instead Mayor Cooper said it can be done with just $2.6 million with Motorola, the body camera suppler, agreeing to defer its payment for now.

In politics that is called “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The move also reinforces the long- held observation that if Metro really wants to do something, it will “find” the money or a way to get it done. I suspect the Defund Police movement facilitated that happening.

The extra or restored funds for schools, community centers and the summer youth employment program are also efforts that the Defund activists think go in the right direction. True, their efforts to see a large amount of funds now going to police and the rest of the criminal justice system allocated elsewhere, garnered little support in the 40-member Council. But such major reallocations take time. I suspect the Defund the Police effort is here to stay in Metro Courthouse politics.

POLICE CHIEF STEVE ANDERSON RETIRES AFTER 45 YEARS ON THE FORCE

After a decade as Nashville’s Chief of Police, and 45 years on the force, Steve Anderson is retiring.

You cannot stay in a job like that for 10 years and not have gotten plenty of criticism for what you’ve done, or didn’t do, while being a community’s Top Cop, especially in these times. Indeed, the Chief is leaving with a resolution about to be submitted to the Metro Council, supported by at least 14 of its members, calling for Mayor John Cooper to fire him.

Dismissing the Chief has been another demand by Defund the Police, and groups such as Black Lives Matter and Gideon’s Army, have also clashed with him. There was a time however, a few years ago when there ware local marches after the police shooting and racial discord in Ferguson, Missouri, that Chief Anderson won national headlines by offering hot chocolate and treats to marchers and instructing his officers to allow marchers to sit down and block the interstate as a part of their peaceful protests.

But more recently, Chief Anderson has been criticized him not moving forward on police reform efforts. In particular, the criticism has intensified after two officer related shootings of black men in recent years. Both incidents have roiled the African American community, and one Metro police officer awaits a murder trial in one of the shootings. The continued difficult relationship between the MNPD and the new Citizens Oversight Board has created another difficulty for the Chief. The recent violence and vandalism at the downtown police precinct and at the Metro Courthouse have likely only complicated matters, especially the bungled arrests of two activists on charges later dropped.

Making the Chief’s exit even more strange this week, is the fact that Mayor Cooper announced the Chief’s retirement, not the Chief himself. In fact, the Chief was not even present when the Mayor revealed the departure.

The Mayor did praise the Chief saying: “Chief Anderson is a thoughtful and effective leader – a dedicated public servant who has the admiration of his officers and the thanks of a grateful Mayor for his years of service to our community.” He added that Chief Anderson’s “steady leadership (helped the community) overcome historic challenges, including the flood of 2010 and more recently, the March 3rd tornado and now, the coronavirus pandemic.”

But when reporters inquired multiple times, if the Mayor had asked or suggested Chief Anderson retire, Mayor Cooper avoided a direct answer each time, leaving an impression that perhaps there was at least a nudge that Chief Anderson leave. The Chief will stay on until his successor is chosen after a nationwide search. That could take up to six months, perhaps longer. The Mayor seems pleased the Chief will still be on board in October when Belmont University is scheduled to host a nationally-televised presidential debate, an event that, while bringing prestige and great visibility to Nashville, will pose significant security and other logistical challenges (traffic, comes to mind).

The Mayor says selection of a new police chief for Nashville will mean “over the next several months, my office will organize input from the entire community as we find the right leader for this next chapter of community safety in Nashville.” The process will also include a public commission to be appointed by the Mayor “to review the (Police) department’s use of force policies and procedures.” It also sounds like the Chief selection process will be an opportunity to see and hear a further discussion of policing in Nashville in the future in the wake of the George Floyd and other recent shootings by police across the country.

There are however signs the Chief selection process could create controversy with demands being made that the Community Oversight Board have a representation the Mayor’s commission. The Mayor indicated that is not the role of the COB. But one member of that group went further saying the COB ought to be able to hire and fire the new chief!

A somewhat similar debate about police reform is going on in Washington although whether it results in any major changes remains to be seen.

President Donald Trump wants to be involved and has issued his own executive order on police reform.

In a related matter, President Trump says he opposes changing the names of any U.S. military bases who are named after Confederate generals.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are opposing the President. They are a pushing legislation to mandate the name changes. And maybe some in the Trump White House are looking to go ahead on that too, despite the President’s comments.

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is among those with a difference of opinion from the President on at least considering changing the names of the military bases.

A WEEK OF TENSION ON THE TENNESSEE’S CAPITOL HILL

Tennessee lawmakers knew they’d have a tough time when they came back to the Capitol to cut and rebalance the state’s budget in the wake of the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

What they likely didn’t expect are the racial tensions that are dominating the session in the wake of the George Floyd death in police custody and now the General Assembly’s stubborn insistence to keep the bust of controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest on display in the Capitol.

After toppling the Capitol grounds statue of former Senator and newspaper editor Edward Ward Carmack, an early 20th century Tennessean, who was an ardent prohibitionist with strong racist views, activists have sought use the base of his statue to set up an “autonomist zone” ala Seattle (if a lot smaller). Warnings have been issued and a few threats and arrests have been, including passing new laws to make it a felony to camp at the State Capitol. But inside the Capitol it has been even more tense at time.

It began last week with a racially insensitive joke by a white lawmaker about fried chicken bringing to the surface years of frustration and now anger.

Then this week the racial tensions got even worse. It occurred during what is usually a routine matter of a lawmaker seeking approval of a resolution honoring a young constituent who was recently shot and killed. But instead the Republican Super Majority decided honoring this young black woman was not a good thing. The GOP move was not well received by some lawmakers and others.

Fortunately, the State Senate, also dominated by the GOP took a different tact on the same resolution while the young girl’s mother took her anguish to the streets.

The State House also rejected an effort to have the state plant trees to block the view of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest on private property from motorists traveling I-65 in Nashville.

There is not much going on in terms of police reform in the Tennessee General Assembly. That is in contrast to many other legislatures across the country, even in some red states.

Meanwhile, Governor Lee closed a difficult week on the Hill calling for racial reconciliation. He also indicated he will sign proclamation honoring the Juneteenth celebration of end of slavery in the U.S. today (June 19).

But based on what occurred with incidents involving some protestors at the Capitol on Thursday, the efforts to build racial reconciliation by the Governor are being questioned by some Democratic lawmakers.

FINISHING THE SESSION

For most of this week, the State House and Senate went down different paths in how to cut and balance a billion and a half dollar revenue hole in the state budget. On Thursday, the House Speaker said the bodies were in a stalemate.

It is never good for the General Assembly to be in Nashville, in session, in June. With the June 30 legal deadline approaching, requiring an approved balanced state budget, the implications of a deadlocked Legislature looked ominous for a few hours. But then as usually happens when lawmakers see the end of session just ahead, and wanting to go home for the weekend, a deal was cut and a budget passed both houses in the wee hours of the morning (providing it is not just the Metro Council who can burn the midnight oil on Deadrick Street in Nashville).

But before lawmakers adjourned sine die, they also passed some controversial abortion legislation despite a pledge by Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker Randy McNally that this adjourned session would focus strictly on COVID-19 and budget matters.

Governor Bill Lee too said he preferred the legislative session to focus on budget or COVID-19 issues. But he is a strong supporter of the “heartbeat bill” so he is certain to sign it into law. The measure would be one of the strictest abortion laws in the country and it is bound to be quickly challenged in the courts. Similar laws in other states have been struck down.

Some pro-choice advocates feel tricked. They say the women of Tennessee’s right to determine their own health care has been betrayed. They see a connection between the passage of the budget and the abortion measure. They believe as a part of the deal with the House to end the budget impasse, the Senate to allowed the heartbeat bill to come to the floor (and be passed) all in the dead of night, with no public notice.

This article on THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL blog site seems to give credence to such a deal

AS VIRUS CASES RISE DR. JAMES HILDRETH IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS

He has become a leader in Nashville’s efforts to fight COVID-19.

You have seen his face and heard his comments frequently during the televised briefings about the virus that have come from the mayor’s office several times each week for months now.

An infectious disease specialist, Dr. James Hildreth is the President & CEO of Meharry Medical College and he is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We really appreciate Dr. Hildreth taking time to come on the program. He always brings wisdom and insights in his comments, so you will want to hear what he has to say in this time of continued uncertainty about COVID-!9. Watch us!

NOTE: We interviewed Dr. Hildreth before the city announced late in the week that Nashville on Monday is entering a REVISED Phase III of its roadmap to recovery.

Due to a persistent rise in new virus cases, the city has been stuck in Phase II of its roadmap to recovery plan. Most of the increases appear to be driven, not by community spread, but gatherings among families and friends, particularly in southeast Nashville.

The city hopes its increased numbers of contact tracers and more community outreach to immigrant communities can bring the increases under control. Phase III does allow some new businesses and activities to reopen but some of the Phase III guidelines for some businesses remain as restrictive as Phase II, and are not as liberalizing compared to what had been announced for Phase III earlier. Remember social distancing and mask wearing requirements remain in place.

Metro this week also continued to wrangle with businesses that have not been following the COVID-19 health regulations. After weeks of efforts to try to educate and urge them to comply, city health officials have cited 13 businesses and have ordered them to court to face fines. Some business owners say they will fight the move claiming Metro has a double standard. Now the Metro Beer Board is really putting the hammer down on enforcement, temporarily revoking the beer permits of four Lower Broad bars for not following the health department orders.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times over the 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. on Saturday;

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.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

DR REAVIS MITCHELL

Nashville has lost a great local historian and I have lost a great friend and frequent guest on INSIDE POLITICS with the passing this of Dr. Reavis Mitchell of Fisk University.

I served with him on the Metro Historical Commission some years ago. Nobody knew Nashville’s history, especially our city’s role in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, better than he did. I wanted to have him join us again on INSIDE POLITICS to bring his knowledge and wisdom to bear on this current era of racial unrest and the move towards police and social justice reform. But what turned out to be his final illness made that impossible. He will be missed.

Rest in peace, my friend.

NEW UNEMPLOYMENT AID REQUESTS CONTINUE TO DECLINE BUT REMAIN HISTORICALLY HIGH

We have likely seen the peak of new unemployment requests as a result of the COVID-19 economic implosion, but the number of new requests remain historically high. In fact, not only is this week’s unemployment aid figure of 1.5 million, 200,000 above what was projected, aid requests have been above 1 million or more thirteen weeks in a row, totaling 45 million.

Tennessee has received nearly 20,000 new unemployment requests bringing the total in the last 13 weeks in the Volunteer State to over 280,000.

But the overall Tennessee unemployment rate for May showed significant improvement. The Tennessee unemployment improvement is in line with the nation’s unemployment numbers which declined to 13.3% in May after reaching 14.7% in April.

A BAD WEEK FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP WITH THE SUPREME COURT

The latter part of June always brings major decisions, and often controversy, as the U.S. Supreme Court winds up its term.

2020 has been no exception with the High Court issuing two blockbuster rulings this week.

One provides legal protections for LGBTQ citizens from being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Another ruling rejects an effort by the Trump administration to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrival program (or DACA). If the Court had ruled the other way, it might well have opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of young people being deported from the country they grew in after coming here as small children.

Both rulings are major setbacks for the President, who has often boasted that his two Supreme Court appointments have solidified a solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court for years. However, in these rulings, that did not materialize (a 6-3 decision in LGBTQ case and 5 -4 on DACA).

The President seems ready to accept the LGBTQ decision, but he blasted the DACA decision and went after Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the deciding vote and wrote the majority opinion in the case.

Looking ahead to the presidential election in November, it appears Mr. Trump may be going back to his 2016 playbook to revive what he thinks was a winning proposition for him getting elected 4 years ago.

As the shock of the two High Court decisions are settling in, there seems to be a sense of betrayal emerging among conservatives.

It should be noted the DACA decision did not make the immigration program permanent nor did it find DACA constitutional. Instead the Court found the Trump’s administration efforts to kill DAC to be “arbitrary and capricious” because the White House was “sloppy” in its legal work. That opens the opportunity for the President to retry his effort to end DACA although it is not clear if that is feasible politically or legally, since whatever the Trump administration does on DACA will again be challenged in the courts.

The Supreme Court ruling was something of a surprise given the comments of the justices made during oral arguments back in February. In fact, one local young woman, covered under the DACA program, found the decision such unexpected good news, she didn’t quite trust her own ears when she heard it for the first time.

The DACA decision is being denounced by the two major Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Tennessee, while the man who currently holds that Senate seat, Lamar Alexander, has a different take on the decision.

The Tennessee GOP Senate candidates, Bill Hagerty and Dr. Manny Sethi are getting more active in their TV and digital ad campaigns. Sethi is trying to play off the unrest among conservatives about COVID-19 shutdown restrictions and the ongoing demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

In his ad, Bill Hagerty is pushing his prowess as a job creator. He is just like President Trump says the ad. In fact, all Hagerty’s ads mention his support and for from the President.

THE WEEKLY NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS

As of 9:30 A.M. CDT on Friday, June 19, 2020, the COVID-19 numbers are:

WORLD

Total cases: 8, 519, 543

Active cases: 3, 880, 516

Recovered cases: 4,184, 445

Fatal cases: 454, 582

U.S.

Total cases: 2,234, 449

Active cases: 1,415, 451

Recovered cases: 698,788

Fatal cases: 120, 210

TENNESSEE

The state of 2:00 Tennessee updates its COVID-19 numbers here every day at P.M. CDT

NASHVILLE

Metro health officials say they continue to monitor closely the various daily numbers in terms of new cases, infection rates, hospital/ ICU beds availabilities, etc., as the city plans to move into Phase III on Monday.

In terms of new cases, Friday’s report shows 157 more cases and ICU bed availability down to 20%. So watch the latest Metro COVID-19 reports over the weekend.

Metro Public Health Department officials announced Friday 7,696 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County.

There were no new probable deaths reported in the past 24 hours.

Probable cases refer to those that do not test positive in a diagnostic test but might have tested positive in a different form of test like an antibody or serologic test. Probable cases also could refer to cases that were never tested but exhibited the factors consistent with a COVID-19 infection, like symptoms and close contacts of confirmed cases.

Including both confirmed and probable cases, MPHD officials announced a total of 7,707 cases, an increase of 157 in the past 24 hours.

The cases range in age from 1 month to 100 years.

An additional death was reported in a person that previously tested positive for COVID-19, an 84-year-old man with underlying health conditions.

There have been no new probable deaths in the past 24 hours.

When the health care provider who signs the death certificate determines COVID-19 disease was the cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death, this person meets the probable case criteria and would be considered a probable death.

A total of eighty (87) people in Davidson County have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. Including both confirmed and probable cases, 90 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

5,706 individuals have recovered from the virus.

Available hospital beds: 25 percent

Available ICU beds: 20 percent

The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 178 calls on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

Total number of cases: 7,707

Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 157

Cases by sex

Male: 4,088
Female: 3,392
Unknown: 227

Total Cases by age

Unknown 230
0-10 356
11-20 679
21-30 1,835
31-40 1,608
41-50 1,210
51-60 893
61-70 499
71-80 245
81+ 152

Total 7,707

Recovered 5,706
Deaths 90
Total active cases 1,911

Total number of people tested Total positive/probable cases Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total

78,460 7,707 70,753 9.8%

THE KINDNESS

Supporting Reverend Fuzz while feeding those in need

Brand fashion encourages mask wearing

Nashville’s Hot Chicken Festival Continues With Takeout and Curbside Service

Happy Juneteenth and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!