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Capitol View commentary: Friday, November 1, 2019

Posted: 10:29 AM, Nov 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-01 11:29:21-04
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
November 1, 2019

SHERIFF DARON HALL ON INSIDE POLITICS; MORE ON THE ICE DECISION; FOR THE NEIGHBORHOODS; SLOWING IT DOWN; RECOMMENDED READING; COLD WEATHER HERE BUT METRO WARMING SHELTER PLAN STILL NOT READY; PROPERTY TAX ISSUES BEING HANDLED BY THE STATE COULD MAKE METRO’S MONEY PROBLEMS GROW; CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER STATE HANDLING OF BLOCK GRANT FUNDS FOR THE POOR; TENNESSEE CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION GOES PARTY LINE ON IMPEACHMENT; YET ANOTHER U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE; DON’T MISS THIS; BACK TO THE FUTURE;

SHERIFF DARON HALL ON INSIDE POLITICS

As the Nashville community continues to find the best way for our city to deal with immigration issues, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall made national news this week announcing his jail will no longer house detainees on behalf of federal ICE officials.

It is one of many issues and other matters that have the Sheriff in the news, so we’ve invited him to join us on INSIDE POLITICS this week. Tune in!

Our INSIDE POLITICS broadcast schedule on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS includes:
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.

MORE ON THE ICE DECISION

Sheriff Hall’s move to ice ICE from the Metro jail as of December 1st has brought both praise and criticism.

Senator Marsha Blackburn is even introducing federal legislation to help stop sanctuary cities, clarify the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) detainer authority, clearly establish the authority of states and localities to maintain custody in cases in which a detainer has been issued and incentivize cooperation between law enforcement agencies and DHS.

All these moves come as a special task force appointed by new Mayor John Cooper to come with an immigration policy for the city held its first meeting. It has just 60 days to finalize its recommendation, so the group has its work cut out for them to do in a short period of time.

NEWSCHANNEL 5

Meanwhile there is renewed doubt about one of the events that led to the creation of the mayor’s immigration task force. It was a visit to a local school by “immigration officials” asking for student records . New e-mails obtained by the Associated Press tells this story.

FOR THE NEIGHBORHOODS

Mayor John Cooper ran for office saying more needs to be done for the city’s neighborhoods and less for downtown.

To that end this week, Mayor Cooper announced he is nixing any further work on the controversial pedestrian bridge that would have connected the So-Bro area and the Gulch. The project was first approved in 2013 or 2014 under then-Mayor Karl Dean. There has always been criticism of the bridge for being much too costly, while design and land acquisition problems also slowed down progress towards construction under two other mayors, Megan Barry and David Briley.

Now Mayor Cooper has decided to use remaining $17.95 million allocated for the pedestrian bridge (out of $18 million total), and rapidly deploy the funds instead for a large number of neighborhood infrastructure projects.

According to the mayor’s office, the pedestrian bridge funds will be allocated in this fashion:

• $13.63 million of the $17.95 million will immediately go to shovel-ready bridge and culvert projects, ranked in order of urgency by Metro Public Works, in 24 different Council districts. 52 separate projects will receive funding;
• $660,000 will go towards replacing the Shelby Bottoms Greenway Pedestrian Bridge, which has been closed due to structural damage;
• $1,500,000 for traffic calming, which represents 100% of the traffic calming allocation in the 2018-19 Capital Spending Plan;
• $750,000 for bikeways, which represents 50% of the bikeways allocation in the 2018-19 Capital Spending Plan;
• $500,000 for new trash and recycling containers, an urgent need highlighted by Metro Public Works;
• $410,000 for emergency roadway work, which will allow Metro Public Works to quickly address needs as they arise; and
• $500,000 for street lighting maintenance, repair, and replacement

Community stakeholders impacted by the diversion of the pedestrian bridge funds have been notified, and both Metro Public Works and Metro Parks are aware that the funds will be made available for infrastructure projects to begin immediately.

As for a future pedestrian bridge to connect the Gulch & So-Bro neighborhoods:

“We need a long-term solution for connectivity in the Gulch and throughout our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Cooper. “Bikeways and walkways certainly help advance our connectivity goals, and there may be a time when we revisit the concept of a Gulch pedestrian bridge. But this reallocation of funds allows us to get to work on shovel-ready projects throughout our neighborhoods with residents’ safety and critical infrastructure priorities in mind.”

You might wonder how a mayor can reallocate funds already approved by the Metro Council? I did, and I am told that Capital spending plan resolutions (initial G.O. Bond resolutions) starting in recent years do tie the dollars to specific capital improvement budget project numbers. That was not the case back in 2014 when the bridge was approved. So, theoretically, unspent authorized allocations from an old spending plan can be used to fund items in a subsequent one.

While the move to ax the pedestrian is largely supported by Metro councilmembers, the move caught many at the Courthouse off guard. Perhaps out of abundance of caution and to continue to build a good relationship with the Council, WPLN reports the mayor’s office will give the 40-member body a chance to review how he wants the funds reallocated.

SLOWING IT DOWN

This week Mayor Cooper also endorsed a plan to lower speed limits on residential streets from 30 to 25 miles per hour. The effort has been underway for a while. Metro Public Works released a Speed Reduction Feasibility Study earlier this year at Metro Council’s request. The Department is now working to implement the speed reduction change over a one-year period, upon completion of a comprehensive signage inventory.

Street sign updates and community education on the speed limit change were previously funded in the 2018-2019 Capital Spending Plan with a $500,000 allocation, in addition to $1M for related engineering improvements from the Neighborhood Traffic Calming program.

Mayor Cooper is also asking the Traffic and Parking Commissioners to consider the speed limit change at their November 18th meeting. He will then ask Metro Council to ensure the code reflects the change in speed on local neighborhood streets.

A team of local stakeholders has been assembled by the Mayor to help with community engagement and public outreach around the rollout. The members include:

• Burkley Allen, Metropolitan Council Member At-Large
• Sgt. Michelle Coker, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department
• Saralee Woods, Commissioner, Traffic & Parking Commission
• Lindsey Ganson, Director of Advocacy & Communications, Walk Bike Nashville
• John Gore, Chair, Metro Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
• Ruby Baker, President, Bordeaux Hills Residential Association
• Kara (KB) Holzer, Director of Marketing & Development, Conexión Américas
• Kathy Buggs, Director, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods

““With Nashville’s growth, more drivers have been prone to using our neighborhood streets as cut-through routes to avoid traffic on major corridors, impacting quality of life for our residents,” said Mayor John Cooper. “Slowing vehicular traffic in residential neighborhoods is a commonsense next step for public safety and health, and it’s important to many Nashvillians I’ve spoken with in recent years. I know Metro departments, the Metro Council, and our many community partners will help to make this effort a success.”

“Speeding through neighborhoods is consistently one of the top issues precinct commanders are asked to address,” Chief Steve Anderson said. “Speeding motorists put families at risk and interfere with the quality of life on residential streets and in subdivisions. This focused initiative to lower speed limits in many of Nashville’s residential areas will make our city safer, and we look forward to working with neighborhood groups and other Metro departments to help bring about this new change.”

But despite all these efforts, a check of Mayor Cooper’s Facebook page found a largely negative public response to the speed reduction plan, saying more police and better enforcement of the existing speed limit would be better. City officials say a trial effort this summer to reduce speed limits in selected neighborhoods got a strong favorable reaction, but media reports from neighborhoods with cut-through problems found little support.

Finally, Mayor Cooper announced his plan to support local, small businesses throughout Nashville’s neighborhoods. He provided a call to action for Nashvillians to shop in local neighborhoods during the upcoming holiday season. He explains in this short video .

RECOMMENDED READING

We talk a lot about the issues facing Metro government as new Mayor John Cooper is seeking to bring significant change to the Courthouse, whether it is balancing the operating budget or getting the city’s water services out of the red.

Metro Councilman At-Large Bob Mendes is also deeply involved in that effort. As chair of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee he sees other issues that need to be watched closely. These are matters that also appear frequently in this column. They include transit, affordable housing, the MLS Fairgrounds stadium, and the so-far dysfunctional relationship between the city’ s new Community Oversight Board and Metro Police.

Last Monday , Mendes shared his thoughts on these issues and others. I highly recommend reading it and following his blog.

In terms of the MLS stadium, the situation remains murky with even a local Chancery Judge, who is hearing a lawsuit trying to stop the MLS construction, saying she is confused and demanding quick answers from Metro on just where the city stands.

In regard to the Metro water/sewer rate increases soon to be considered by the Metro Council, Water Services Director Scott Porter and his staff spent some time with me this week to fill in some numbers I had not been able to locate concerning their plans. I appreciate that.

What I learned is that in addition to the cost of service increase of about $9 dollars a month to take effect at the end of the year, there will be additional increases of 4% in 2021, and 3% each year in 2022 through 2024. All those increases will be approved the ordinance pending in the Council. After that, from 2025 onward, the plan envisions annual increases of at least 2% and no more than 3% each year depending on changes in the federal Consumer Price Index. The Water Services department will be required to notify the Council thirty days before each rate hike takes effect. But, unlike all previous water/sewer rate increases in Metro history, no vote or action by the Council will be required. Remember, the state is demanding a rate increase which has not occurred since 2011. All the funds will go to capital projects to repair and replace existing pipes and infrastructure, not for personnel or salaries.

COLD WEATHER HERE BUT METRO WARMING SHELTER PLAN STILL NOT READY

It did not get down to 27 degrees Thursday night, so Metro didn’t have to open its warming shelters to give the homeless somewhere to go to get away from below freezing temperatures.

But even if this first cold snap of the year had been just a bit colder (the wind chill was certainly well down into the 20s), the shelters weren’t available to open anyway. Two weeks after the city was horrified to learn Metro had not identified the money and did not have a plan to operate its warming shelters this winter, there is still not an approved plan in place.

After a day or so last month of confusion and political finger pointing about who is to blame, Mayor John Cooper said he would be sure the funds will be available, and a plan in place for the city to operate the warming centers this winter.

But I guess nobody figured it would get this cold in late October and early November. The weather is unusual but, of course that is why you plan ahead., then when you learn you are behind, it’s why you work as if someone’s life might depend on getting a plan ready and in place as soon as possible. Instead, the city’s response came uncomfortably close to leaving the homeless in danger as well as just out in the cold this weekend. Disappointing.

Meanwhile in Clarksville to the northwest of Nashville, the community is slowly recovering from damaging storms powered by straight line winds that initially leaving thousands in the dark. With freezing temperatures arriving, city officials went further to declare a state of emergency to further facilitate getting help to those still without power, and now without heat.
CLARKSVILLE LEAF-CHRONICLE

PROPERTY TAX ISSUES BEING HANDLED BY THE STATE COULD MAKE METRO’S MONEY PROBLEMS GROW

This TENNESSEAN article covers a pretty wonky issue, but what the state decides early next year about a change in property tax appeals could have county tax assessors scrambling and provide lots of major property taxpayers with a potential tax windfall. It might also leave Metro Nashville and other local governments in the state in a revenue predicament.

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER STATE HANDLING OF BLOCK GRANT FUNDS FOR THE POOR

With an unallocated surplus of over $700 million dollars in federal block grant funds to help the poor, a statewide controversy has developed over whether some of the extra monies ,unspent over several years , ought to be used for expanded programs and services as some states are already doing.

THE TENNESSEAN is speaking out on the issue with an editorial.

So far, the administration of Governor Bill Lee is defending its use of the stockpiling the funds in case an emergency arises, and the state’s economy tanks. The Commissioner of Human Services even criticized media reports leading to a fact-check response from THE TENNESSEAN.

But some state lawmakers seem open to a more flexible use to some of the federal block grant funds.

The large surplus of extra federal block grant money (the reserve fund overall is nearly as large as the state’s entire overall “rainy day fund”) was first uncovered by the fiscally-conservative Beacon Center. The unallocated extra funds also raise concerns among some activists about other plans the Lee administration has in the works to gain federal approval to change the state’s health care program for the poor, TennCare, into a block grant.

Governor Lee is also still deciding whether to accept an offer by President Donald Trump to remove Tennessee from participation into the country’s refugee resettlement program. A legal effort by state lawmakers to do that seems to have stalled in the court. This article reminds us this is not just a wonky policy issue, the future of families is at stake.

This week the Lee administration is also dealing with a problem created by long lines (waits up to hours long) at the driver license bureaus run by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security across the state. It’s not just computer glitches that are causing this situation, as was featured in the news last week , it is also happening because Tennessee is finally implementing a new federal program called Real ID.

So far, how the state is handling the situation at the driver license centers is not getting good marks at all from some state lawmakers.

Tennessee’s education test scores could be another emerging issue for the Lee administration. During a time while Governor Bill Haslam was in office, the state’s students were doing so well, we were was considered the state with fastest rising test scores in the nation.

In the latest national report card, those scores are still rising in some grades and subject areas, but for the most part, the scores have stalled, and it appears the state is unlikely to meet its goal of being ranked in the top half of the 50 states instead in the bottom half.
WPLN

THE TENNESSEAN reports that even before this latest round of test scores came out, Governor Lee thinks the way to keep student scores rising is to be disruptive of the status quo.

Another area where Governor Lee is interested in getting involved is easing Middle Tennessee’s transportation and traffic issues. He isn’t offering any specific ideas or programs, but he seems to want to be involved in helping to draft a new plan. Any kind of gubernatorial involvement and leadership would surely appear to be helpful.

One budget issue that just won’t go away is the $4 million grant fund that was found in this year’s spending plan, but nobody in the current leadership in the Legislature or in the Lee administration seems to know what the money is for or who requested it be created. The Governor and Republican legislative leaders have put a hold on spending any of the funds. Democrats are calling it a slush fund and want answers.

TENNESSEE CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION GOES PARTY LINE ON IMPEACHMENT

The U.S. House of Representatives took a significant step this week in its potential impeachment process against President Donald Trump. The action on Thursday approved procedures for an inquiry likely to burst into full public view in the weeks to come.

The House measure, which establishes rules for open hearings and the questioning of witnesses by members and staff, passed in a 232-196 party-line vote with just two Democrats voting against it and no Republicans supporting it. The Republicans say the impeachment rules are unfair. The Democrats say what they have approved is very similar to the rules and procedures followed by earlier Congresses which handled impeachment efforts against Republican President Richard Nixon and Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The House vote means Tennessee congressmen voted 7-2 against the House measure, all seven Republicans voting no, the two Democrats voting yes.

Public polling seems to indicate a rising number of those surveyed support both impeachment and removal of the President. But the support is far from equal in all the states. In fact, polling in some key battleground states for the 2020 presidential election, show more opposition than support. I strongly suspect that is exactly the case in a deep red state such as Tennessee.

YET ANOTHER U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE

The NASHVILLE POST reports a third Democrat is entering the race to replace retiring Republican Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Senate.

On the Republican side, former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty is speaking out in defense of his former boss, President Donald Trump. He told a Memphis group this week, the Democrats impeachment effort are an attempt to “ repeal the result of the 2016 election by taking this president down."

While Hagerty has been endorsed by the President, the other major candidate in the GOP primary field, Dr. Manny Sethi, says he can win the race without Mr. Trump’s support. Sethi is running as an outsider and he has released a TV ad touting a strong stance against illegal immigration.

DON’T MISS THIS

NEWSCHANNEL5 is launching an unprecedented effort to outline the results of a disturbing investigation the news team has conducted. They’ve been looking into our state’s broken juvenile justice system.

Under the leadership of Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams, the reports will be aired throughout the month of November. You will be able to see and hear it not only on air and one line at NEWSCHANNEL5 but also through some new communications channels .

BACK TO THE FUTURE

When Mayor Phil Bredesen convinced the Metro Council to build the downtown Arena, skeptics were sure it would be a money loser and a burden on the city like the Municipal Auditorium was perceived to be years ago.

They’ve been wrong on both counts. The Auditorium has seen a renaissance in recent years and the Bridgestone Arena is one of the top venues in the country for both concerts and sporting events.
In that regard, the Arena is going back to the future, bringing the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to the city. It means we will not only be seeing the U.S. Olympic Team being selected here, but it will mark the 25th anniversary of the first big sporting event to come to the Arena when it opened in 1997. Congratulations! Nashville remains quite the sports event town!