By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
June 5, 2020
IT HURT MY HEART; PUTTING THIS WEEK IN PRESPECTIVE ON INSIDE POLITICS WITH DWIGHT LEWIS AND DAVID EWING; THE LONGEST AND MOST UNUSUAL METRO COUNCIL MEETING EVER; THE VIRUS---METRO; WILL NASHVILLE HOST THE 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION THIS SUMMER?; THE VIRUS---TENNESSEE; NO VOUCHERS IN TENNESSEE THIS FALL; EXPANDED VOTE BY MAIL ORDERED BY NASHVILLE JUDGE; MORE BAD ECONOMIC NEWS BUT SOME RAYS OF HOPE; ANOTHER DIFFICULT WEEK FOR THE PRESIDENT; THE NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS CONTINUE;
IT HURT MY HEART
Last Saturday night when I saw the vandalism of public buildings such as the State Capitol and the firebombing of the Metro Courthouse, it hurt my heart.
I have worked for close to 50 years as a reporter, observer and mayoral aide in those historic structures, they have often acted as my second home. To see the wanton acts of a few callous individuals to destroy and/or deface the people’s building struck me to the core.
My first thought was “Nashville is better than this.” We are. There should always be full freedom for all of us to participate in peaceful protest. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects our rights to express our views, petition our government and to seek change.
But the destruction of buildings where we conduct the public’s business in our democracy, as well as the vandalism and looting of private businesses, as we also witnessed on Lower Broad Saturday evening, must not be tolerated. Those involved in doing that should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I await the continuing investigations into whether the instigators of this violence acted with or were encouraged by left or right-wing extremist groups. I would note so far those arrested for what happened at the Courthouse appear be local individuals, but regardless of where they are from or their political motivations, this kind of behavior is beyond the pale, period. Such actions also undermine the efforts of the vast majority of people who are rightly seeking change. But we have also learned this week that police and prosecutors need to be careful and not get ahead of themselves in trying to bring charges.
Having said all that, I am now so proud of my hometown as twice this week thousands of Nashvillians marched in peaceful protest through downtown and on Thursday night even in the rain. There were no reports of violence or graffiti or vandalism. That’s the Nashville way!
And the children will lead us! The Thursday march, that brought tens of thousands to participate was organized in a matter of days by local teenagers.
PUTTING THIS WEEK IN PRESPECTIVE ON INSIDE POLITICS WITH DWIGHT LEWIS AND DAVID EWING
The entire nation, as well as the state of Tennessee and city of Nashville, are trying to come to grips with what has been the worst week of racial discord across this country since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King over a half century ago in 1968.
Our guests on this week on INSIDE POLITICS are long time TENNESSEAN reporter Dwight Lewis and Nashville historian David Ewing. We have asked them to join us to put what is happening into perspective, in terms of history; of where we are now; and what may lie ahead.
Here is one thing we discuss. It’s an op-ed piece written by Dwight Lewis. It shares some previously unpublished words of wisdom from his late boss, TENNESSEAN Publisher and Editor John Seigenthaler. What John has to say is right on point in assessing the racial divide question we now face.
We appreciate both David and Dwight sharing their insights and I hope you will watch and listen to what they have to say.
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.
THE LONGEST AND MOST UNUSUAL METRO COUNCIL MEETING EVER
It began Tuesday at dinner time (6:30 PM) and ended when many were ready to eat breakfast (about 5:15 AM).
It was the longest meeting ever for Nashville’s 40- member Metro Council, a group already known for burning the midnight oil in recent years. But never quite like this.
For almost 11 hours, the Council met to conduct the people’s business. It spent most of that time (over 9 hours) holding its annual public hearing on the Metro budget.
Normally, this is pretty routine stuff, even in a year when a tax increase is being debated. But this meeting was anything but normal.
I sensed this council session would mirror the turmoil in our city, state, country and world due to the virus pandemic; the steep economic downturn it has caused; and now the unrest across the country sparked by the murder of George Floyd by four policemen in Minneapolis. The Council meeting did mirror that and more.
My first clue of what lay ahead came when I entered the Council chambers to prepare for the live broadcast of the meeting. I saw the vandalism of the Courthouse on Saturday extended up to the second floor of the building, leaving a couple of broken windows in the Council chambers. I also noticed the clock on the back wall of the chambers was not working. I learned the clock was not damaged due to the vandalism at the Courthouse but nobody knew why it was stopped or when it would be fixed.
Where the hands of clock were stopped were even more ominous. They were stuck at either quarter to high noon or 15 minutes to midnight. Either way the hands seemed to indicate a crisis time looms and that the Council’s easiest way to measure the passage of time was broken.
That was proven in many ways during the record meeting that followed. I kept count of how many citizens spoke during the public hearing. Despite other news accounts you may have seen or heard, it was well over 200 people. Of course, that is a record.
But the nature of the speakers’ comments was different. I have covered and observed many public hearings when higher taxes are being proposed, usually the overwhelming message is: “Don’t raise my taxes. My taxes are already too high.” I think I heard that just once or twice. Instead the overwhelming message of those who spoke was: “Metro spends too much money on police and the criminal justice system. It does not make us safe. We should defund Metro police and spent that money instead on affordable housing, schools, transit, police community oversight and other community services.”
That message is one coming from a coalition of progressive community groups under the name of ‘The People’s Budget.” Their message was repeated verbatim (using the exact same numbers and language) over and over again by a large majority of those who spoke. Do they represent what Nashville’s residents think?
I don’t think the Council believes they do. After hearing the People’s Budget message over and over and over again for over four and a half hours, the Council took a 15-minute recess. Several members and Vice Mayor Jim Schulman expressed frustration, and sought going forward, to limit others who spoke from repeating what had been said many times before, in order to allow others to express different thoughts on the budget, pro or con (only a handful spoke in favor of the Mayor’s budget or any tax increase).
It will never be perceived as a good idea for a legislative body in our democracy to limit public input on an issue. Therefore, in the end, the Council invoked its rarely use power to overrule Vice Mayor Schulman’s decision, and opened up the public hearing for anyone who wanted to speak, which they did until well after 4 A.M. on Wednesday morning.
Some Council members remain convinced that somehow the People’s Budget group found a way to hijack the public hearing process and somehow managed who got in to speak by phone and who showed up to talk. In person testimony was allowed due to Nashville being in Phase II of its reopening plan, allowing up to 25 people to present at any one time. That worked (more than 85 of those who spoke, did so in person). This was managed by keeping those who came to the Courthouse socially distanced on the second floor mezzanine and allowing only a few a time to come into the chambers to speak (with the podium and microphone sanitized after every person spoke). It was no doubt the most sanitized podium and mic anywhere in the city thanks to members of the Council staff.
If this sounds cumbersome, it was, although also necessary to protect public health. The Council has encountered a lot of frustrations in holding public hearings and conducting the rest of its meetings. The body has been operating virtually and under emergency rules since March. The Council has struggled with its on-line system, where even holding roll call votes or working through elemental parliamentary procedure has been cumbersome, bedeviled by a system that doesn’t seem to work.
The Council’s phone system (which has over a hundred lines) managed to work without crashing Tuesday, but Council staff announced it was full and overloaded even before the first calls were taken. It stayed that way throughout the public hearing. So many people got frustrated trying to call in to speak, they said they drove to the Courthouse in the dark to participate eve waiting more hours to do so.
Mayor John Cooper’s “crisis” $2.4 billion budget and 32% property tax hike doesn’t reflect any of the priorities and changes outlined in the “People’s Budget.” Neither do the multiple alternative budgets and property tax hikes being offered by members of the Council. But the idea of “defunding police” is gaining traction in some large cities across the country.
Mayor Cooper now says he plans to hold community meetings to discuss the ideas brought up in the Council public hearings. He also says he is working with the companies that manufacturers who make police body cameras to see if that process can be implemented more quickly. It’s one public safety expenditure that the People’s Budget wants implemented right away. But there’s no indication of where or when any additional monies for the cameras might be forthcoming.
The Council is set to get final approval to a budget and tax levy June 16. What will it do to respond to what it heard over and over during the public hearing? Stay tuned.
To sum it all up, the Council is a bit broken these days somewhat like the clock on the wall in its chambers. I think the folks at the Courthouse are doing the best they can. But the events of Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning have led to a public apology from the Council’s leader.
As for the alternative budgets and tax increases, Bob Mendes plan for a $1.00 or $1.066 rate increase (32 % or 34% got the most favorable mentions during the public hearing (but it was a very small sample. The People’s Budget speakers didn’t talk much about taxes or about raising them. Their concern was strictly reordering the priority of how its spent.
Councilmember Emily Benedict has dropped her alternative plan to raise taxes, which would have been even more ($1.16) than what was proposed by Mayor Cooper or Councilman Mendes, to raises salaries for teachers and school employees. She is now backing the $1.06 tax plan Councilman Mendes has proposed.
Councilman Freddie O’Connell’s 37 cent tax hike still needs funding from a federal program that Metro is apparently not able to participate in. If his plan doesn’t get enough, he too says he will support one of Councilman Mendes’ plan.
Finally, Councilman Steve Glover says he has two plans that raise property taxes by less than 20% but there is no word what cuts or layoffs or furloughs might be needed. Glover is sponsoring a bill to raise Nashville’s wheel tax by $50 for commercial vehicles and $25 for everyone else to renew their annual car tags. Glover says he is hosting a ZOOM meeting Saturday morning at 10 AM to announce all his details.
One final budget note, former Councilman Jeremy Elrod spoke at the public hearing. He said he made mistake voting against tax hikes the last two years. He urges the current to approve “at least $1 increase in the property tax rate.
The Council likely has yet another long meeting next week. The June 9 session doesn’t involve taxes or the city’s spending operating budget, but it does have quite a few zoning public hearings (about 35) that could keep the body in session well into the night, if not into the wee morning hours.
Maybe I will bring some breakfast bars, just in case.
It appeared a few days ago Metro was on the way towards moving into Phase III of its reopening plan by sometime next week.
But then came three consecutive days of new COVID-19 cases reaching up into triple digits. The state this week also showed its greatest number of new cases on a single day of over 800.
Metro officials now say they plan to wait, analyze the numbers some more, and see if any further spikes lie ahead in wake of the recent Memorial Day holiday, as well as the virus impact of thousands of protestors taking to the streets of Nashville, and other cities across the state this week , often not wearing masks or observing social distancing.
One of the leaders in the city’s fight against COVID-19 sees some connection between the pandemic and the racial unrest across the country.
At the same time this week, a major controversy is building over the job performance of Metro’s new Health Director, Dr. Michael Caldwell. There are complaints he is absent from work and not bonding with his Health Department leadership team. He also seems not to be keeping his bosses on the city’s Health Board informed. He got indignant when the issues came up at a Health Board meeting.
As mentioned in the TENNESSEAN article, Dr. Caldwell is also continuing to catch heat over his insistence Metro provide COVID-19 patient information to first responders. The Doctor insists it is a matter of protecting workers’ safety, although the State of Tennessee has rescinded its policy of sharing the information. The Metro Council, which also approved the Health Director’s contract, went out of its way to express its opposition to Caldwell at its meeting Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning.
During the wee hours, the Council suspended its rules to overwhelmingly approve a resolution requesting COVID-19 information not be shared. The body also passed an ordinance on second reading that says all employees who work for essential businesses must be required to wear face masks. That’s a policy matter usually left for the Health Director to decide.
By Thursday morning, Dr. Caldwell seemed to be reassessing his situation about releasing COVID-19 information, although exactly what might change and when remains unclear.
Another city department head who is once again coming under fire, in the wake of the civil unrest surrounding the George Floyd murder, is Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson. Those who want him to resign or be fired are members of community groups as well a number of Metro Council members. Says At-Large member Bob Mendes: “"I believe substantial change in policing practices is not possible as long as he is the chief."
To lower the pressure on the Chief and himself, Mayor John Cooper says he is working with the community leaders and the Council’s Minority Caucus on how to deal with and address diversity through the staffing of the Mayor’s office. Mayor Cooper is following national calls and beginning a complete review of the Police Department’s use of force policy.
But the heat stays elevated as the Police Department and the Metro Community Oversight Board seem to remain on different pages from each other.
Finally, Mayor Cooper this week also got attacked by underdog Tennessee Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Manny Sethi. He says the mayor’s actions in how he handled the disturbances in Nashville last Saturday were cowardly.
So far, I have not seen Mayor Cooper issue any response. Sethi’s charge is obviously aimed at the building support among conservative Republican voters in Tennessee.
WILL NASHVILLE HOST THE 2020 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION THIS SUMMER?
Nashville tourism officials have always dreamed one day the city would host a national political convention. It is in the top tier of large gatherings in terms of its size and prestige. It would bring a lot of money to a local economy.
We do now, but for years, we didn’t have enough top- level hotel rooms to host. So there wasn’t as much concern over all the money the host city has to raise money and all the services it has to provide such as security for all the protesters any national political gathering attracts.
The reason all this is coming up now is that President Donald Trump and the National Republican Committee are looking for a new city to host its presidential nominating convention later this summer. The President wants what is now an old- fashion, traditional, full-blown convention with thousands of delegates on the floor, cheek to jowl, waving signs, yelling support and not wearing masks or social distancing.
When the mayor of the current GOP host city of Charlotte and the governor of North Carolina would not offer assurances to allow any of that, due to health concerns, the President set a deadline for them to change their minds. They haven’t and so the GOP convention is up for grabs and Nashville is on the short list to host the event August 24-27, less than 3 months from now!
Mayor John Cooper told reporters Thursday the city has not be contacted about hosting and Metro has no money to pay for all the security and other expenses the host city usually covers. What about the state of Tennessee? Governor Bill Lee was the first to announce national GOP officials were coming to Nashville on Thursday to scope things out. As for the money, despite the state’s own significant budget issues, GOP lawmakers are eager to see the Republican Convention come in and they aren’t ruling out giving Nashville to help.
As for the virus, convention officials say not to worry. But Mayor Cooper clearly seems to have health concerns just like North Carolina, so that could become one big snag. Lots of GOP political leaders in important battleground states (Tennessee is a safe Trump state) are stepping in to land the convention. That might be to Nashville’s ultimate disadvantage versus Florida, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Louisiana.
Late word Thursday night from RNC officials indicates official convention business will still be held in Charlotte (the RNC has a contract with Charlotte) and it may be all the other cities are bidding on is hosting President Trump acceptance speech.
In addition to dealing with a one day all time spike in new COVID-19 cases of over 800 this week, state Health Department officials are still trying to deal with another blockbuster NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES story from Phil Williams.
The story says millions of “sock” face masks, purchased with $8 million in public dollars by the administration of Governor Bill Lee, and distributed free of charge across the state, have been treated with a substance registered as a pesticide making the masks a potential health hazard.
Of course, the sock mask manufacturer denies any problems but the state did suspend the distribution of up to 5 million masks. Now one state lawmaker says all the sock masks distributed should be recalled.
Metro Nashville would like more guidance from the state. The city has distributed thousands of masks with the head of the city’s COVID-19 Task Force says he would not use and others won’t either until the state clarifies the situation.
To try and get something more positive in the news about the state COVID-19 recovery efforts, the Governor went to a local “meat and three” restaurant to announce the use of $200 million of Tennessee’s federal coronavirus relief stimulus funds to help small businesses.
This week, the Governor also told state lawmakers, who are back in town this week to fix the massive revenue problems Tennessee faces due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent state economic shutdown, just how big a challenge they face. It amounts to $1.5 billion.
The cuts in detail are almost completely in line with what Lt. Governor Randy McNally told me last week on INSIDE POLITICS was likely to happen including a $50 million buyout program for state workers. Lawmakers are expected to pass another revised state spending plan in the next week or so.
The state House and Senate still disagree on the scope of this session of the General Assembly. The House wants to consider all manner of bills including several highly controversial ones. The Senate wants to handle only budget or COVID-19 related legislation. Governor Lee has been on the side of the Senate, although he wisely says it is up to each body to decide how to allocate its time. He is asking the Senate to vary its rule concerning one piece of legislation regarding Tennessee annually honoring controversial Confederate Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
NO VOUCHERS IN TENNESSEE THIS FALL
On Thursday of this week, the Tennessee Supreme Court declined to take an early review of a Nashville Chancery Court decision declaring the state’s new school voucher program unconstitutional.
The decision leaves the state’s appeal of the decision in the State Court of Appeals, which won’t have its first full hearing on the matter until August 5. That is too late for the program aimed at Memphis and Nashville schools to have any chance to get underway before classes are scheduled are to begin for the fall term.
The Supreme Court decision means the signal legislative accomplishment of the Lee administration remains in legal limbo at least for 2020 and perhaps even beyond, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit still in the courts.
EXPANDED VOTE BY MAIL ORDERED BY NASHVILLE JUDGE
It was likely be appealed to a higher court, but Nashville judge ruled late Thursday that any Tennessee voter can request a mail in ballot if they want one during the coronavirus pandemic. That would likely be for both the upcoming August and November elections.
Republican Governor Bill Lee has opposed such a broad mandate and GOP legislators in both houses have blocked similar efforts by Democrats this week. But in her decision Chancery Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle said” “ (the)_.State‘s restrictive interpretation and application of Tennessee‘s voting by mail law...during the unique circumstances of the pandemic, constitutes an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution."
MORE BAD ECONOMIC NEWS BUT SOME RAYS OF HOPE
The week began with the Congressional Budget Office projecting an extended recovery period for the economy to return to its pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, maybe as long as a decade.
On Thursday, the news was somewhat better. The number of new unemployment claims this week was below 2 million (1.8 million claims for the first time since the pandemic began and the economy shut down in mid-March. The good news is tempered by this: the increase in claims this week is still so large, it would the all-time record for jobless help before this economic decline began.
Here in Tennessee, another 23,000 claims were filed bringing the total requests for help to over 580,000 since March 14.
These grim economic numbers and the explosion of civil unrest around the country have ginned up more discussion, and brought both sides of the aisle as well as the White House, back to the table to discuss another virus relief bill.
There also appears to be new life in providing federal help, perhaps unrestricted this time help local and state government. If so, and its available by mid-August it might help the size of the city’s property and help some of state’s $1.5 billion budget shortfall.
One other ray of hope came Friday morning, The unemployment rate has actually fallen a bit and is not as high as was predicted. The June jobless rate announced this morning was 13.3% not a figure close to the 20% that had been predicted by many economists.
This is clearly the best piece of news President has gotten in weeks, and I think he will tell about it A LOT in coming days.
The President may need more good fortune based on this new right track/ wrong track poll that just came out.
ANOTHER DIFFICULT WEEK FOR THE PRESIDENT
President Trump tried to be “the law and order” president this week even if it meant using the military to show some governors how to “dominate” in terms of dealing with protestors.
But things quickly backfired. To clear a path for the President to go over to a nearby church for a photo op, law enforcement used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a peaceful crowd of protestors. It succeeded, leaving the President marching over to hold a bible in front of the church. The reaction from religious leaders, elected officials from both sides of the aisle, and military leaders was strong and negative.
The President did get a bit of positive news. The anti-malarial drug Mr. Trump has touted and even took to ward off the COVOD-19 virus may not be as bad as portrayed. One study that was very negative about the drug being used against coronavirus has been withdraw by its authors.
The fallout from all the civic unrest hit President Trump’s Democratic opponent Joe Biden too this week with police groups unhappy with his comments.
THE NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS CONTINUE
As of 11:00 AM CDT Friday, June 5, 2020
CASES: 6, 632, 985
ACTIVE CASES: 3, 371, 963
DEATHS: 391, 136
CASES: 1,914, 054
ACTIVE CASES: 1,35,364
DEATHS: 109, 862
NASHVILLE/ DAVIDSON COUNTY
Metro Public Health Department officials announced today a total number of 5,900 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 69 in the past 24 hours.
The confirmed cases range in age from 1 month to 100 years.
Four additional deaths were reported in Davidson County, a 58-year-old man, a 69-year-old woman, a 79-year-old man and an 89-year-old man, all of whom had underlying health conditions.
A total of seventy (70) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 4,468 individuals have recovered from the virus.
Available hospital beds: 22 percent
Available ICU beds: 24 percent
The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 124 calls on Thursday, June 4, 2020.
Total number of cases: 5,900
Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 69
Cases by sex
Total Cases by age
Total active cases 1,362
Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
63,199 5,900 57,299 9.3%
KINDNESS CAN BE FOUND EVERYWHERE
POLICE AND PROTESTOR PRAY TOGETHER
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES IN TOUGH TIMES
MINORITY BUSINESSES NEED SUPPORT TOO
WALKING OVER A THOUSAND MILES TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER
GIRL SCOUTS RESPOND TO MASK CHALLENGE
See you next week!