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Capitol View commentary: Friday, November 15, 2019

Posted: 12:48 PM, Nov 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-15 13:48:31-05
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
November 15, 2019

TAKING METRO OUT BEHIND THE FINANCIAL WOODSHED; INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE PUBLIC IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS; GRUMBLING ABOUT THE COOPERS BEGINS; REPRESENTATIVE BYRD OUSTER LOOKS LESS LIKELY; ANOTHER PAY STUDY; OPERATOR OUT AT THE FAIRGROUNDS SPEEDWAY; TAKING THE DELKE TRIAL TO ANOTHER VENUE; METRO PARK NAMED FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN SUFFRAGE LEADER; THE LINES STAY LONG; A FEBRUARY DECISION ON BEGINNING VOUCHERS EARLY; MORE BRAND BUILDING FOR NASHVILLE;

TAKING METRO OUT BEHIND THE FINANCIAL WOODSHED

This has been coming for several months, if not years.

Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson and members of his staff came to the Metro Courthouse Wednesday night to make it clear the city has to get its financial house in order right away or face serious and embarrassing consequences, including a state takeover.

THE TENNESSEAN

WPLN NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO

It appears it will be early December before Metro Finance officials will be ready to present a plan to balance the city’s estimated $40 million deficit in the current operating budget. THE TENNESSEAN has some speculation on what options are available. None of them will be easy or quick to do especially with just over seven months left in the city’s fiscal year.

There is a multi-year plan now before the Metro Council on second reading next Tuesday to raise the city’s water and sewer rates. It is a plan to deal with a serious lack of funds that has been unaddressed for several years. The state has mandated a rate hike by the end of this year or face a possible takeover of the system. The plan before Council not only increases rates, it creates a new four level residential water sewer rate system that seeks to encourages conservation or else your bill will be even higher, especially if you use water above a minimum level for ‘essential” needs.

This week Mayor John Cooper, along with the Council’s Budget Committee Chairman Bob Mendes, announced legislation that would tighten up the approval of capital spending projects. The problem, outlined in two recent projects (the Nashville Sounds First Tennessee Ball Park and most recently the construction of a new HQ facility for the Metro Sheriff), were approved based on cost numbers that were significantly underestimated.

From a news release issued by Mayor Cooper’s office:

“The proposed ordinance mandates the development of a “Capital Project Cost Itemization Form,” which specifically lists at least 11 projected cost items − including land acquisition, design, and construction − for all proposed capital projects with an estimated value of over $5 million.

Past initial bond resolutions that fund Metro’s Capital Spending Plans have featured generically labeled projects with little to no itemizations of specific costs or details regarding project phases, a practice that has created uncertainty and often led to project announcements creating the false impression that a project was fully funded.

“The under-appropriation for the Sherriff’s headquarters project, which was not the fault of the DCSO, demonstrates problems that can be avoided through commonsense Capital Spending Plan reform,” said Mayor Cooper. “I was disappointed to learn the actual financial position of the headquarters project, and I am now acting to bring about policies to prevent such problems in the future.”

The Sheriff’s headquarters project did not run over budget as reported but was instead under-appropriated for purposes of completing construction. Another example is First Tennessee Park – now First Horizon Park – which eventually required additional funding from the Greenways budget in order to complete construction.”

It all sounds like common sense, right? Well, apparently not for the leaders of our IT City who are learning and now beginning to clean up this mess

INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE PUBLIC IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS

With impeachment still dominating the news in Washington, especially with the House hearings now being televised gavel to gavel beginning this week, we bring in Democrat Larry Woods and Republican Bill Phillips as our guests on this week’s INSIDE POLITICS show. We ask them to analyze what’s been said and learned so far and where this effort goes from here. We will also discuss 2020 Presidential politics in light of the impeachment probe, and the involvement of potential new Democratic candidates, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who indicates one of the states he might run in next year is Tennessee’s March Super Tuesday primary.

Tune us 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.

GRUMBLING ABOUT THE COOPERS BEGINS

Starting into a second month in office, most elected officials are still enjoying their political honeymoon.

For the most part, that still appears to be true for new Nashville mayor John Cooper.

But now that is has been disclosed who has been hired in the office of new mayor, what they are being paid and what their duties are, some grumbling is surfacing at the Metro Courthouse .

Perhaps somewhat in the category of “no good deal goes unpunished,” Mayor Cooper is also being criticized that Metro’s new homeless overflow shelter, which just went into service in recent days due to our earlier than usual fall cold snap, should be moved because it is in a converted jail facility.

Meanwhile Mayor Cooper’s brother Congressman Jim Cooper is hearing some grumbling too.

He is reportedly facing primary opposition next August from a controversial political activist. The grumbling against the Democratic congressman is that he is not progressive enough on legislation such as Medicare For All, the Green New Deal and his somewhat belated support for impeachment.

NASHVILLE POST

The competition for the incumbent Congressman is meeting with praise from some local progressive groups.

THE TENNESSEAN

Given Congressman Cooper’s likely large financial advantage and his past success in being re-elected multiple times in this district (he has been in office since 2003), the Democratic incumbent begins next year’s primary contest as a heavy favorite. But if his opponent Justin Jones can somewhat gain significant support in the African-American community (a big if) he might better than expected in a primary race with some of Congressman Cooper’s more moderate to conservative vote going to cast their ballots in the GOP U.S. Senate race.

Meanwhile the legal issues regarding Justin Jones and his protest activities on the Hill saw a new development this week.

REPRESENTATIVE BYRD OUSTER LOOKS LESS LIKELY

There was a major development this week in another on-going controversy on Nashville’s Capitol Hill. It’s a State Attorney General’s ruling regarding efforts to oust Republican State Representative David Byrd over sexual assault allegations that occurred over three decades ago while he was a high school coach.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said expelling a lawmaker for conduct that took place before entering office is legal, not prohibited, but inadvisable he suggests. House Speaker Cameron Sexton immediately said that because Slatery "counsels against" expulsion in such a scenario, he would not move to support a vote to expel Byrd.

"After consulting with House leadership and our committee chairmen, we will heed Attorney General Slatery’s advice and not move forward," Sexton said.

ANOTHER PAY STUDY

Getting back to Metro government on the other end of Deadrick Street, Mayor John Cooper announced this week (Tuesday), that in partnership with the Nashville Public Education Foundation and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), an expert compensation study of teacher compensation is being commissioned for Nashville-Davidson County. The study will be conducted by the ERS Group, reportedly one of a handful of national consulting firms with the expertise necessary to conduct a comprehensive teacher compensation study.

“Ensuring that our children have excellent teachers is the single most important thing we can do to improve education,” said Mayor Cooper. “This study will help us understand how we can better attract and retain teachers through the creation and implementation of a strategic long-term compensation strategy. It will also develop concrete options for the school board and Dr. Battle to consider as we work together to improve teacher pay and address the problems of the current teacher pay schedule.”

"Our pay scale has not kept pace with the rising cost of living in Nashville, making it more difficult to recruit or retain great teachers and staff,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle. “I'm grateful for Mayor Cooper's attention to this issue and look forward to reviewing the results of this study.”

At its latest retreat, Metro School members saw a plan that indicated it would take up to $100 million to bring mid-career teachers up to the median salary for all workers in Davidson County ($64,000). Pay for mid-career teachers is apparently one the big problems in the city’s salary scale for teachers.

From a news release out of the Mayor’s office; “Teachers and MNPS staff currently move through a 28-step pay schedule as they advance in their teaching careers. However, the current pay schedule does not provide all teachers with regular pay increases. It also caps teacher pay at low compensation levels relative to comparable public- school systems. Under the current compensation design, an MNPS teacher with a master’s degree is only eligible to earn $66,412 after 27 years of employment in the school system.”

No cost has been estimated for the ERS Group study. Again, quoting from the mayor’s office news release:

“The study will be concluded in early 2020, in time to inform the budget request process. It will give the Mayor’s Office, the MNPS school board, the Metro Council, and the public insight into the causes of our teacher attraction and retention challenges. This study will present policymakers, the public, and our educators with the analysis they need to develop an effective approach to compensation.”

Speaking of pay, Metro Schools officials this week got caught in the middle over a pay dispute between one of its sub-contractors on a school construction project and the subcontractor’s workers .

The Metro School Board has been presented with yet another challenge. For the second time in recent weeks, it appears state education officials are poised to overturn the city’s rejection about opening and operating two of the city’s charter schools.

Finally, there is also an animal cruelty issue involving a teacher which Metro School officials must deal with, and not for the first time, it appears.

OPERATOR OUT AT THE FAIRGROUNDS SPEEDWAY

With uncertainty remaining over construction of the MLS soccer stadium at the Historic Fairgrounds, now there is uncertainty about the future of the Fairgrounds Speedway located next door. The city’s Fair Board has ended its contract with the current operator due to a lack of confidence and non-payment of bills.

TAKING THE DELKE TRIAL TO ANOTHER VENUE

Ever since Nashville Policeman Andrew Delke became the first officer in Metro history charged with murder in the line of duty his lawyers have insisted the trial needs a change of venue. Citing pre-trial publicity and their own public opinion survey, they went to court this week to plead their case.

METRO PARK NAMED FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN SUFFRAGE LEADER

As the nation prepares to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage next August, 100 years after Tennessee became the final state to approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Nashville is naming a new city park in honor of Frankie Pierce, one of the significant local leaders in the suffrage movement.

This week during the annual Country Music Awards celebration, there was an effort to spotlight and honor the importance and major achievements of women in county music. It made for some great moments of entertainment in the nationally-televised awards show but given the industry’s record, especially country radio, the overall reviews were mixed .

YAHOO ENTERTAINMENT
ASSOCIATED PRESS

THE LINES STAY LONG

Back to Tennessee state government, despite the intent of hiring extra employees, the lines remain quite long at the drivers’ license bureaus operated by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

It takes time to hire and train personnel, while the need for the public to have the new federally-mandated REAL ID license is approaching quickly with a deadline set for next year.

The state is now seeking help from the 95 county clerks in Tennessee to handle the rush for the REAL ID requests. So far, however, neither the Davidson or Williamson County Clerk offices are involved.
One observation, the federal deadline has been known for quite some time, so why didn’t the state not anticipate this rush, plan ahead and be staffed up and ready before this REAL ID crisis occurred?

A FEBRUARY DECISION ON BEGINNING VOUCHERS EARLY

It was indicated during Governor Lee’s recent budget hearings that a decision is not coming until February about whether state education officials will be ready to start Tennessee’s school voucher plan a year early in the fall of 2020.

Will the Governor leak the decision early in his annual State of the State speech, usually held late in January? Would the Mr. Lee miss the opportunity of a statewide audience to plug the advantages of starting the controversial program ahead of schedule in Memphis and Nashville? Might he even move the State of the State address back a bit into February to include announcing the voucher decision?

The February decision date might also further complicate efforts to stop the early voucher implementation by its opponents in the General Assembly, including new Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton.

And what about school officials and parents in Nashville who might be left in limbo while the Legislature and the Lee Administration debate over exactly when the voucher program begins?

MORE BRAND BUILDING FOR NASHVILLE

Everyone I’ve talked to has raved about the recent Ken Burns’ multi-night PBS documentary on Country Music.

The national ratings seem to back that up, with an average viewership of 6.8 million per episode, and 4 million video streams so far across all of PBS’ digital platforms.

The documentary is not just about Nashville, but our city plays such an integral part of each episode, it is a brand building bonanza for Music City, U.S.A.

The best news, especially for folks like me who missed several of the eight episodes when they aired in September, PBS will re-air Country Music on Friday nights starting Jan. 3.