By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
June 21, 2019
METRO COUNCIL MAKES HISTORY WITH DEFAULT BUDGET DECISION; BEHIND THE COUNCIL VOTE; THE FIRST MAYORAL DEBATE LOOMS; INSIDE POLITICS GOES IN DEPTH ON NASHVILLE’S MAYOR’S RACE; ON THE MAYORAL CAMPAIGN TRAIL; GOVERNOR BILL LEE RENEWS INTENT TO CALL SPECIAL SESSION BUT WILL IT END OR EXTEND CASADA SCANDAL?; UPDATE ON THE FUTURE OF SCOOTERS IN NASHVILLE; NEW METRO TRUSTEE; VANDALISM; HASLAM DECISION APPROACHES; METRO INTERIM SCHOOLS DIRECTOR MAY BE PERMANENT;
METRO COUNCIL MAKES HISTORY WITH DEFAULT BUDGET DECISION
For the first time in Metro Nashville’s 56 year-plus history, the Metro Council has allowed a mayor’s operating budget to go into effect by default.
This occurred after a substitute budget, funded by a 49.8 cent property tax increase, failed to pass the Council by one vote. The tally was 20-18, with a councilmember abstaining (Decosta Hastings). A budget requires 21 votes to pass.
Here’s the Council’s roll call vote:
Yes: Tanaka Vercher, Sharon Hurt, Brenda Haywood, Brett Withers, Burkley Allen, Ed Kindall, Fabian Bedne, Erica Gilmore, Anthony Davis, Doug Pardue, Mike Freeman, Freddie O'Connell, Dave Rosenberg ,Jacobia Dowell, Colby Sledge, Bob Mendes, Kathleen Murphy, Jason Potts, Delishia Porterfield and Antoinette Lee
No: John Cooper, Bill Pridemore, Steve Glover, Robert Swope, Jonathan Hall, Jeff Syracuse, Russ Pulley, Angie Henderson, Scott Davis, Holly Huezo, Jeremy Elrod, Larry Hagar, Kevin Rhoten, Mina Johnson, Mary Carolyn Roberts, Davette Blalock, Nancy VanReece and Sheri Weiner
Abstain: Decosta Hastings
The vote, while unprecedented, continues a tradition that a Metro Council has never approved a tax increase without a recommendation or support from the Mayor. Mayor David Briley opposed the tax hike, as he did last year, when the Council also failed to pass a tax increase before ultimately approving the Mayor’s budget with minor modifications.
This year, Mayor Briley’s budget went into effective without any changes because the Metro Charter requires if the Council does not approve a spending plan by the end of June, the mayor’s proposal goes into effect by default. Council leaders apparently feel there is not enough consensus or time before the end of the month to cobble together another alternate budget, pass it three times during special meetings on three different days, and gain a final 21-vote approval.
Therefore, Metro’s property tax rate will remain unchanged for the seventh year in a row.
All these developments constitute a victory of sorts for Mayor Briley. He can claim he helped defeat an unnecessary tax increase two years in a row and that he made the tough choices required to move the city ahead, including 3% pay raises for city employees and more money for schools. Having the Council approve a budget and tax hike he opposed would have been an embarrassing sign of political weakness for Mayor Briley as he seeks re-election on August 1st.
Nevertheless, his mayoral opponents are attacking Briley and his now new Metro budget. That includes State Representative John Ray Clemmons. From a campaign statement:
“Passage of the mayor’s status quo budget effectively robbed the teachers, first responders, and working families across our county.”
“This budget fails to fund our city’s greatest priorities - public schools, affordable housing, infrastructure, and public safety. Relying on non-recurring revenues to fill in budgetary gaps does not reflect “a strong and realistic management approach.” Instead, this budget reflects short-sightedness and political self-preservation.
The city’s budget is not just a spreadsheet of dollars and cents. It’s a tangible reflection of our values. Right now, our city’s priorities are out of order, and people across Nashville are rightfully frustrated. They aren’t benefiting from the boom and want to know where all the money is going. Their quality of life hasn’t improved. Their schools aren’t fully funded. Their house floods more often. The traffic is only getting worse.
It is time for change. The time for political dynasties and status quo city management is over. The time for backroom deals and special-interest driven decisions has passed. The people of Nashville deserve a mayor who is more concerned about the needs of the community than getting re-elected. As mayor, the people of Nashville will always be my priority.”
Clemmons also took a swipe at mayoral candidate and At-Large Councilman John Cooper who Clemmons says “served as an accomplice voting for the mayor’s plan” by voting against the substitute budget, thereby allowing Briley’s plan to take effect.
Cooper defends his vote saying he is “convinced that we can fund our real priorities with a strong and realistic management approach.”
“Before looking to raise the tax rate, the city should look to have better management and find other additional revenue, like from the city’s tourism.”
A third Briley mayoral opponent, Carol Swain also opposes a tax increase. She cites the need to cut the waste in local government first before asking taxpayers for more.
BEHIND THE COUNCIL VOTE
Listening to the two- hour long Council debate that preceded its budget and tax decision, it appears the substitute proposal failed because several Councilmembers found it too little and too late.
Here’s what the proposal put forth by Budget & Finance Committee Tanaka Vercher would have funded with a 49.8 cent property tax hike.
$50 million (more) for Metro schools to fund 4% raises and step-increases.
A 3% cost-of-living raise for Metro employees.
$6.1 million for WeGo Transit.
Fund nine firefighter and 20 police officer positions.
$250,000 for waterways cleanup
Councilmembers who opposed the plan did so in part because it wasn’t proposed until literally just a day or two before the final Council vote. It was something Mayor Briley attacked, going after Vercher in a statement even though, until now, she had been one of his closest allies in the Council.
Said the Mayor: “I do not believe the public has had time to understand the impact of or the merits of the proposed increases being considered. Worse yet, this “Band-Aid” approach limits our ability to plan long-term for things like staffing for police and fire, multi-year pay increases for teachers, affordable housing and transit. In short, this would be “it” for the foreseeable future…. This is not how you run a $2 billion enterprise.”
Councilmembers also opposed the substitute because they said it just didn’t do enough to help city employees and teachers who want (and most councilmembers say they deserve) even higher pay raises than what this tax hike would fund. In perhaps explaining his abstention from voting, Councilman Decosta Hastings told THE TENNESSEAN:
“Hastings said he could not support an increase because his constituents in District 2 already have the third largest increase in property value in the city. In the past year, he said he’s heard from senior citizens and renters that it was already getting too expensive to live in Nashville.
“Me increasing their taxes by 16% for only 1% increases for Metro schools … is crazy to me,” he said in an interview after the vote.
He would have voted for a property tax increase if it meant more increases for all Metro employees, not only for the school district. He added that Metro Council does not have authority of how Metro schools will spend its funds, despite Council member Anthony Davis mentioning that district budget chair Anna Shepherd assured them that the extra money would go toward raises.
In hindsight, Hastings said he should have voted against the substitute rather than abstaining.
“It was a last- minute decision to abstain. I was not clear at the moment on what to do,” he said.”
Councilmember Vercher was unanimously praised for her hard work as budget chair to pull together the substitute budget. She said during the debate that her proposal "reflects the priorities" of the city and not one of "empty rhetoric."
"This is a budget we can be proud of," she said, asking council members not to be afraid of a veto (which Mayor Briley had hinted he might do if the alternate budget passed), but instead, go on the record to tell the residents that "they are a priority."
Frankly, while Mayor Briley criticized Vercher's budget as a "deviation" from her leadership in the past, she did exactly what other budget chairs have done in the past to makes changes in a mayor’s budget after the Council’s budget hearings. But that is clearly much tougher to do when it includes a tax hike not supported by an administration.
Since taking office last year after Mayor Megan Barry resigned in scandal, David Briley has been in embroiled in one major controversy and tough political situation after another. This budget vote doesn’t end that. If he is re-elected, Mayor Briley will have to figure out how to get the new Metro Council to approve plans to privatize the city’s on street parking system and sell its downtown energy system. If not, his budget now in effect will be out of balance by $30-40 million.
And then there is 2020-2021 budget. He won’t confirm it, but privately, councilmembers say he has told them that next spring in 2020 he will seek a property tax hike. Will the political bruises from the past two years of tax fights come back to haunt Mayor Briley even with a new Council?
This TENNESSEAN op-ed by Alex Hubbard, further outlines the challenges Metro faces in light of this unprecedented budget decision which some see as a debacle.
Here’s a summary of some of the other news coverage of the Council vote.
One last piece of analysis on the Council vote on the substitute budget and property tax hike. Obviously, tax increases are always controversial, especially in an election year with early voting about 3 weeks away.
In that regard:
There are 8 current district councilmembers running unopposed for re-election. They split their budget and tax votes 4 yes -4 no.
Among district councilmembers seeking re-election with opposition, the result was 6 yes and 8 no.
Among term limited district councilmembers now running for an At-Large countywide council position it was 2 yes -2 no.
Among term limited district council members not on the ballot in August, it was 6 yes and 4 no.
Both At-Large incumbent councilmembers running again voted yes.
Based on this breakdown you can see how difficult it was to find any consensus in the Council.
THE FIRST MAYORAL DEBATE LOOMS
Debates, especially televised ones, are always important mile markers in a political race, especially the first one.
On Tuesday night June 25 at 6:00 p.m., NEWSCHANNEL5 and THE TENNESSEAN along with Belmont University will be hosting the first such head to head debate between Nashville four major mayoral candidates. The event will be hosted on the Belmont campus and can be seen live on the main channel of NEWSCHANNEL5 as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.
I suspect, as the incumbent and the apparent front runner, Mayor David Briley will be targeted for attacks by his three opponents. Can they land any telling blows? How will and how well will the Mayor defend himself? Will any candidate make a mistake or a gaffe that will live on in news coverage following the event? Will any of the candidates coin a memorable line or phrase that will ignite their campaigns?
With early voting beginning on July 12 (less than three weeks away) the stakes are high, and the issues are important. Tune in to see what happens. NEWSCHANNEL5’s Rhori Johnston will be one of the debate’s moderators along with David Plazas of THE TENNSSSEAN.
INSIDE POLITICS GOES IN DEPTH ON NASHVILLE’S MAYOR’S RACE
This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we begin a series of interviews for those who want to be Nashville’s Mayor.
We’ve already had all four of the major mayoral candidates on this program earlier this year.
But we wanted to give our viewers one more opportunity to hear from the mayoral contenders before early voting begins on Friday, July 12. Election Day is August 1.
All these mayoral candidate interviews will also air on NEWSCHANNEL5’s main channel in prime time on Friday evenings at 6:30 p.m. the next four weeks.
Our first guest is Dr. Carol Swain, a retired law and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. Her interview will run June 21-23.
Next week, Mayor David Briley will join us with his interview airing June 28-June 30.
At Large Councilman John Cooper’s interview will air July 5-7.
Finally, our interview with State Representative John Ray Clemmons will air July 12-14.
Mark all the dates down and tune in!
As always, INSIDE POLITICS airs 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;
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.
ON THE MAYORAL CAMPAIGN TRAIL
John Ray Clemmons picked up another significant endorsement this week. It comes from the teacher’s union, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA). MNEA no doubt supports Clemmons as the only major mayoral candidate who endorsed the property tax increase that failed in the Council on Tuesday night. The tax hike would have provided millions more for local education including a 4% pay raise for teachers. Said Clemmons about the teacher’s support:
“ As both a parent and public servant, my strong support for our public schools has never wavered, and education will be our city’s top priority while I’m mayor. I am prepared to lead and make the tough decisions necessary to fully fund our schools, support our educators, and provide every child across Nashville with a high-quality education. I am truly thankful for the support of MNEA and look forward to working together for the benefit of all students in the years to come.”
Clemmons has now received endorsements from several labor-related groups including (according to the Clemmons campaign) the Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee, the Nashville Building and Construction Trades Council, Communications Workers of America Local 3808, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 429, Heat and Frost Insulators Local 86, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 233.
Mayor David Briley also picked up a high- profile endorsement this week. NASHVILLE POST reports Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry is supporting the incumbent to be elected to a full four- year term.
“David Briley is the right person to lead Nashville right now,” Gentry said in an announcement. “As mayor, he has done better than anyone else could at this moment in our city.”
Gentry is the first African American to serve as Metro Vice Mayor and as an At-Large member of the Metro Council. He twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2008 and 2015. He finished just a few hundred votes from being in the mayoral runoff in 2008 and his endorsement four years ago in the runoff for Megan Barry likely played a major role in her winning that race.
GOVERNOR BILL LEE RENEWS INTENT TO CALL SPECIAL SESSION BUT WILL IT END OR EXTEND CASADA SCANDAL?
For the past month now (May 21), since Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada announced he intended to resign in the wake of a multi-faceted scandal that involved himself and top members of his staff, many state lawmakers have been insisting he leave as soon as possible.
But Casada has resisted. First, he stayed in office, with full pay and benefits, while he took a European vacation. Then, when he returned, he announced he would step down from his leadership post on August 2 and he asked Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to call a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to elect a new speaker.
Governor Lee had first threatened he’d call the special session by the end of June if Casada wasn’t gone. He has obviously backed off from that. He now tells reporters he will call the special session sometime in mid-to-late August, much later in the month than when Casada said he would resign.
So, once again, when will Casada resign as Speaker? Will it still be August 2 or later? Republican leaders expect him to still resign August 2, but Casada has not confirmed that.
This one step forward, then a half step backward way of addressing this scandal is surely puzzling. Even Republican lawmakers who were insisting Casada leave sooner rather than later, have grown rather quiet.
It seems to be occurring this way because neither the Tennessee Constitution, drafted way back in 1870, nor state law or the rules of the Tennessee House of Representatives set out any procedures or even guidelines for how to remove a House Speaker from office until he wants to resign on his own, and at the date of his choosing.
Why is Casada being like this? Is he angling to pick his own successor from among his past close allies in the House? Does he just not want Speaker Pro Tem and Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn from taking the chair? The Constitution does say the Pro Tem becomes Speaker if the seat is vacant. But will Dunn’s reign in office be so brief, that all he will do is gavel in the special session and preside over the choice of the new Speaker? Will that be Glen Casada’s revenge for Dunn being among the most outspoken among lawmakers that he step down right away? What revenge might Casada be plotting for others who told him to resign, including both Governor Lee and Lt. Governor Randy McNally? Casada does plan to stay in his Williamson County legislative seat.
Finally, when will this political scandal soap opera ever end? We are now close to two months since this embarrassment came to life. It has drawn negative news stories from all over the country. Now it may be another two months before it’s finally resolved. Maybe.
It’s your state government in action., as run by a single political party with super majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, and with full control as well of all Tennessee’s state executive offices and the judiciary.
Here’s a TENNESSEAN article looking ahead to what to expect with a special session.
While it remains unclear exactly when Glen Casada will finally resign and his successor is elected, the jockeying for that top state post is already well underway.
And controversy is already emerging about one of Casada’s allies seeking support from his colleagues.
The field of candidates to be the next Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives just continues to grow.
UPDATE ON THE FUTURE OF SCOOTERS IN NASHVILLE
For the past few weeks, Mayor David Briley has threatened to ban electric scooters in Nashville because of the death of one rider, along with numerous injuries and safety complaints. He gave the scooter industry 30 days to come up with a plan to clean things up. Last Friday, all the major companies responded with a letter to the Mayor. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/scooter-companies-outline-policies-to-avoid-nashville-ban-report https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/06/17/letter-scooter-companies-outline-19-policies-to.html
Now Mayor Briley has decided his next steps. Late Friday he announced his decision, sending out a letter and posting this message on Facebook.
“Today, I notified Nashville's seven scooter companies of my decision to end the pilot period and ban e-scooters from our streets. We have seen the public safety and accessibility costs that these devices inflict, and it is not fair to our residents for this to continue.”
The mayor’s stop- and- start- over again plan, banning scooters in the interim, is subject to approval by the Metro Council. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/21/nashville-scooters-mayor-david-briley-directs-city-lawyers-draft-plan-terminate-program/1524881001/
Already at least one Metro Council At Large candidate (Adam Dread) has made banning scooters a top priority if he is elected. Another At-Large candidate, Steve Glover, who is currently a district Council
representative, has already filed legislation to have this Council ban scooters right away. The measure passed a perfunctory first reading vote on Tuesday. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/metro-council-to-consider-scooter-ban
The impact of scooters is already quite apparent in Nashville but seeing some estimated use numbers are still astounding. According to the local group Walk Bike Nashville, some 1.8 million scooter rides have been taken in Nashville in just the last few months since the service began. That’s an estimated 10,000 rides per day covering 2 million miles traveled! https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2019/06/19/walk-bike-nashville-scooters-report/1503701001/
Late in the week (Friday) more information became available about Nashville’s scooter fatality. The police report is likely to become part of the debate over banning scooters. It is an effort which began in earnest, after the parents of the young man who died, began a petition drive to ban the vehicles. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/21/nashville-scooter-rider-brady-gaulke-killed-had-high-alcohol-blood-level-police-says/1522338001/
NEW METRO TRUSTEE
Former Metro Councilman Parker Toler has been elected to be Metro’s new Trustee. The Trustee office collects property and some other taxes. Toler will replace the late Charles Cardwell who passed away last month. Toler will serve as trustee until next year’s elections (May primary, August general election).
Toler garnered a majority of 22 votes in the Council to easily win a four- way contest with three other current councilmembers (Jacobia Dowell, Erica Gilmore and Tanaka Vercher). While the Council has a long history of choosing one of its own to fill vacancies like these, three current councilmembers seeking the post at the same time, seemed to have split the members instead, including the 11-member Black Caucus (all three of the councilmembers opposing Toler are African Americans).
Another big advantage for Toler was strong support from the current staff of the Trustee office. Toler was a long time Metro Water Services employee and had been an outside counsel to the trustee's office under Cardwell.
Toler has not said if he plans to seek election next year to stay in office. After being chosen, he did tell the Council he plans to emulate his predecessor. "I will try to keep his vision for the office and treat taxpayers kindly and respectfully."
Another story in the news this week in Nashville also has its origins in the mid-18th century. A Civil War Confederate monument in Centennial Park has been vandalized Red paint was poured on it and the words “they were racist “scrawled on the side.
Because of the continued controversy all over the country about monuments like these (most of whom were erected after the Civil War during the segregationist Jim Crow era), this Nashville incident has gone nationwide in news coverage.
An investigation is underway to identify the vandals who committed this act in Nashville. Interestingly, a similar vandalism case (also using red paint) occurred this week in South Carolina with two suspects arrested there.
Despite the investigation here, no one in law enforcement seems positive this local case will be solved and past incidents don’t offer hope either.
Despite your political views, damaging or vandalizing someone else’s property is wrong and against the law. If those who committed this act are identified, they should be arrested and prosecuted. The debate about whether monuments like this one should remain on public property, is a separate matter. Those committing vandalism are not advancing their cause.
HASLAM DECISION APPROACHES
Former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is “two to three weeks” away from announcing his decision about whether to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Senator Lamar Alexander.
Haslam announced the timetable to reporters at last weekend’s Republican Statemen’s Dinner where he clearly was seated at one of major power tables. In his comments, Haslam is trying not to tip his hand either way about running.
METRO INTERIM SCHOOLS DIRECTOR MAY BE PERMANENT
Based on two news stories this week, it appears Acting Metro School Director Dr. Adrienne Battle may be in a good position to keep her post on a permanent basis.
One story says the Metro school Board is giving Dr. Battle a two- year contract (until 2021) to be acting Director while the Board defers the search for a permanent director until after the 2020 school board elections. That’s when over half of the nine positions on the board are the ballot.
Dr. Battle is also making high level staff hires that are raising eyebrows and sparking speculation about how confident she feels in her acting Schools Director position.
The stories in the Memphis and the education trade media regarding Dr. Battle’s most recent hire have a somewhat different take to it.