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Capitol View commentary: Friday, October 18, 2019

Posted: 1:35 PM, Oct 18, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-18 14:35:09-04
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
October 18, 2019
MAYOR COOPER RESCINDS BRILEY IMMIGRATION ORDER; CONFUSION REIGNS ABOUT METRO SCHOOLS AND ICE; THE STILL EVOLVING COST OF POLICE BODY CAMS; A BUSY NIGHT ON SEVERAL FRONTS FOR THE NEW METRO COUNCIL’S SECOND BUSINESS MEETING; THE WAFFLE HOUSE SHOOTING AND METRO 9-1-1; JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ALL OF THE CHALLENGES FACING METRO; TRYING TO IDENTIFY SOLUTIONS TO AGE-OLD METRO PROBLEMS; VANDERBILT HEALTH POLICY EXPERT ON INSIDE POLITICS; TENNESSEE LEGISLATIVE LAWSUIT OVER REFUGEE SETTLEMENT ON LIFE SUPPORT; THE CONFEDERATE MONUMENT SAGA CONTINUES; FALLOUT FROM TRUMP FOREIGN RELATIONS BLUNDER IN SYRIA CONTINUES TO GROW; SETHI STARTS THE FIRST TV AD OF THE GOP 2020 PRIMARY RACE FOR THE ALEXANDER SENATE SEAT; BACK TO WORK?;

MAYOR COOPER RESCINDS BRILEY IMMIGRATION ORDER

It has never happened in the 66 -year history of Metro Government.

I seem to be writing that sentence quite a bit the last several months.

But it continued this week, as new Mayor John Cooper, in his third week on the job, rescinded the immigration executive order of his predecessor, Mayor David Briley. Cooper overwhelmingly defeated Briley in the September 12 Metro runoff election. That defeat of an incumbent was the first time that had ever happened in Metro history.

Now, it’s executive orders. The executive orders of all previous mayors have been renewed by their successors, but Mayor Cooper decided he could not renew this one. In a news release he said the Briley executive order regarding immigration is “flawed.”

“The order, as written, provides insufficient clarity for either immigrant families as well as Metropolitan Government employees, as many have noted, including immigration advocacy groups” says the Mayor.

Mayor Cooper said last week he planned to take up to 90 days to decide what to do. In his news release, he added this reason for acting now: “The State of Tennessee has given Metro Government an extension to address this issue by October 18th (today) or risk losing four grants totaling over $1.1 million.”

What really ticked off Republican leaders on Tennessee Capitol Hill was Briley’s call in his executive order for the repeal of the state’s “sanctuary cities” law, which Briley said was an illegal measure. You can likely bet that kind of language won’ t be included in the recommendations of the task force Mayor Cooper is appointing to draft a new immigration policy statement for the city. Here is the makeup of the task force and the charge given to the group by the Mayor:

Shanna Hughey, ThinkTN, Founder and President (CHAIR)
Juliana Ospina Cano, Executive Director Conexion Americas
Hank Clay, MNPS Chief of Staff
Ana Escobar, General Sessions Judge
Mike Hagar, MNPD Deputy Chief
Daron Hall, Davidson County Sheriff
Mary Kathryn Harcombe, TIRRC Legal Director
Victor S. (Torry) Johnson III, Former District Attorney General of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County
Sandra Sepulveda, Metro Councilwoman, District 30
Zulfat Suara, Metro Councilwoman At-Large

““We will be convening (this) task force of leaders from across the community and Metro Government to ensure my administration is aware of requests made by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and knows how to respond appropriately. The task force will be responsible for making recommendations for how Metro employees should interact with federal immigration authorities in a manner that: (1) respects the very separate roles of federal, state, and local governments, (2) complies with state and federal law, and (3) protects the safety and well-being of everyone in our immigrant communities.”

When any mayor or government chief executive appoints a task force, he or she usually knows what recommendations he wants its recommendations to be. Using his own language (and some of the verbiage in the mayor’s charge to the group previously cited), in 60 days, when the task force is supposed to be done with its work, I would look for this kind of general thrust from the recommendations.

Said Mayor Cooper: “I want Nashville to be a city for everyone, and that certainly includes immigrants. Our city benefits greatly from the many contributions of our immigrant neighbors. I am deeply aware that our success as a city depends on everyone both feeling safe to participate and having access to opportunities. To get there, we need to make sure that all Nashvillians feel safe when interacting with our city agencies.

“It is up to the federal government to both make and enforce our immigration laws. It is my job to make sure that our city runs well. Our city agencies have limited resources and cannot be expected to do the work of the federal government.”

Will all this effort by the Mayor to rescind the Briley order and draft his own immigration policy be enough to satisfy the Republicans in state government as well as the Nashville progressive community?

We will see. The makeup of the task force seems to include several members with strong credentials in the progressive community. But the exact language of the task force’s final report will be crucial, to both the progressive community and to the GOP Super Majority. Remember regarding that latter group, Mayor Cooper needs their help in his effort to change state law so Metro can receive a larger share of city tourism taxes.

Here is a roundup of some of the media coverage of this story:

NEWSCHANNEL 5
WPLN
THE TENNESSEAN
ASSOCIATED PRESS
NASHVILLE SCENE
CONFUSION REIGNS ABOUT METRO SCHOOLS AND ICE

Even as Mayor Cooper seeks to rescind and clarify Metro’s relationship with the federal ICE immigration agency, a dispute continues about whether ICE agents recently demanded student data from a local school. ICE says they have no record of that happening. Metro officials have responded with some pretty detailed (and if true, disturbing) information about what happened.
NASHVILLE SCENE

The matter gets even more uncertain with Metro School Board members complaining they were not informed when this incident occurred. One member say she first learned of the incident from members of the community.

THE STILL EVOLVING COST OF POLICE BODY CAMS

We mentioned this in last week’s CAPITOL VIEW column.

While efforts continue to have body cameras worn by some Metro Police officers by as early as the end of this year, the ongoing saga to identify just how much this overall program will cost the community seems yet to be determined.

Based on a presentation made this week by the city’s District Attorney and Metro Police, it could require tens of millions of dollars more. This is sure to create debate and concern both over the public policy and the budgetary impacts of all this for an already financially strapped city.

It has already left some Metro Council leaders unhappy over the piecemeal fashion the costs of this program have been unveiled.
WPLN
NEWSCHANNEL 5
THE TENNESSEAN

A policy matter, that will also impact the cost of the police body cam program, is whether, and to what extent, the recordings will be made available to the public and the media. You’d think if one of the goals of the body cam program is to build transparency and trust in law enforcement, that would be vital . But no decision has been made.

A BUSY NIGHT ON SEVERAL FRONTS FOR THE NEW METRO COUNCIL’S SECOND BUSINESS MEETING

Mayor John Cooper came back again to speak to the new Metro Council Tuesday night.

Historically, mayoral visits like these are not unheard of, but until now, they have been rare. Mayor Cooper wants to build a good relationship with this Council, which he describes as “the Council that can get thing done”, so he wants to keep them involved.

That will include the need for Metro to raise its water sewer services rates something that hasn’t been done since 2011. In fact, the Metro system is in such bad shape financially, the state is insisting that rates must be increased immediately before the end of the year.

The exact amount of that increase remains unclear. In fact, I’ve learned that a previous study by the city that recommended rates go up just over $9 per month on average, appears to be outdated. Therefore, the coming rate hike request will likely be higher than the $9 monthly figure.

Mayor Cooper also used his remarks to the Council to announce his choice to fill another important city position, the Metro Legal Director. And, as has been a bit of trend lately in Metro , the choice is someone who’s last name is Cooper.

The expected Council confirmation of Bob Cooper as Metro Legal Director will necessitate his resignation from the city’s Community Oversight Board. He would be the first member to leave that group, setting up the need for Mayor Cooper to name, and the Council to confirm, a replacement. There are three other COB seats also up for reappointment early next year which may require nominations from community groups.

On a unanimous voice vote, the Council Tuesday night did confirm Mayor Cooper’s choice of Kevin Crumbo to be the city’s Finance Director. Crumbo is a highly regarded financial professional. He has a background in the private sector of helping to turn around financially ailing organizations. There were questions asked of Crumbo during the Council committee meeting reviewing his nomination. One question concerned his pro bono work under the administration of Mayor Meagan Barry, advising her and the city on the future of General Hospital. It was during the time while Crumbo was a city consultant that Mayor Barry advocated closing the city’s General Hospital as a full- service facility and making it a outpatient clinic instead. Mayor Barry later dropped that idea in the wake of strong opposition, especially from the African American community.

After first expressing concern that his comments could possibly violate patient confidentiality matters (he did not explain that concern further), Crumbo did tell the committee he will “take a fresh look” at the General Hospital issue, if the matter comes up again. There was no debate or questions on the floor about the Crumby nomination and it was quickly approved unanimously.

THE WAFFLE HOUSE SHOOTING AND METRO 9-1-1

Because the Metro 9-1-1 Board was a long time client of mine before I retired from the public relations business, out of an abundance of caution, I want to refrain from analyzing the action of the Council Tuesday night arising out of a law suit regarding the city’s response to the Waffle House mass shooting.

But it is an important enough matter and potential precedent, here’s a sampling of media coverage of the Council vote.
NEWSCHANNEL5
THE TENNESSEAN
WPLN

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ALL OF THE CHALLENGES FACING METRO

I told you a couple of weeks ago that, like any new mayor, John Cooper would face lots of expected and unexpected budget and other challenges when he took office.

He sure has, including this latest unexpected challenge that just came to light. In the middle of this week, a news story and controversy arose that seemed to leave Metro officials surprised, unsure and probably a little embarrassed. A city with a multi-billon dollar budget did not have the money ready to open and operate warming shelters this winter to save the lives of the homeless when temperatures fall below 28 degrees.

Immediately, both city and non-profit agencies began scrambling to react and fill the service gap.

Late Wednesday evening Mayor Cooper’s office offered an additional clarifying statement on how he planned to proceed.

“We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable residents are taken care of in a cold weather situation. Mayor Cooper met with Vice Mayor Shulman this (Wednesday) morning to discuss this shared priority. Tomorrow (Thursday), the Mayor’s Office will meet with the Department of Social Services to discuss shelter availability and to receive an update on the impact of previous budget decisions that led to this situation. Together with the Metro Council and Departments, Mayor Cooper looks forward to addressing this situation before any winter weather occurs and will share updates with you.”

This TENNESSEAN article seems to indicate this funding issue may not be related to any recent actions by Mayors Cooper and Briley. In fact the funding issues seems to have come up several times before revolving around questions about the duties of the Department of Social Services in delivering direct services.
Regardless, even as efforts continue to find the funds needed to open the shelter, public criticism began building over how this service gaffe could occur in a city with multi-billion-dollar operating budget.

Not unexpectedly, there was also some finger pointing going on .

Here’s the bottom line: For a city as booming as Nashville is, all you can say about this latest budget mess is this. For whatever reasons Nashville is in this situation, it’s embarrassing. It needs to be fixed NOW.

Late Thursday afternoon Mayor Cooper finally stepped up to say the shelters would be open and “100% operational” this winter, although he did not identify the amount of money needed or where funds would come from to provide this service.

“I am committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, and I’m tremendously thankful to our friends in the many non-profit and religious organizations in Nashville who do such good work on behalf of our unsheltered and unhoused neighbors.”

The Mayor also added he would push forward with the construction of a Permanent Supportive Housing Center to be located at 505 2nd Avenue North. The structure, first recommended by the preceding Briley administration, will include approximately 112 living units on multiple floors and will feature integrated voluntary social services designed to help those experiencing chronic homelessness in Nashville.

The project is part of the 2019 Capital Spending Plan approved by the Metro Council, with the contract for design and construction of the Permanent Supportive Housing Center awarded to Bell & Associates Construction. The building is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

The Mayor’s office will announce a groundbreaking ceremony later this month.

It will be a nice, positive photo op story to allow the city to begin to recover from another puzzling, disappointing, and this time rather embarrassing example of how our highly prosperous city struggles to fund basic services.

TRYING TO IDENTIFY SOLUTIONS TO AGE-OLD METRO PROBLEMS

There always seem to be issues and questions Metro just can’t get a handle on.

They include:
1. Why are Nashvillians not voting in elections?
2. Why do teachers have to spend their own money for school supplies for their classrooms? Do we have enough textbooks for students?
3. Why are there so many street and lane closures in Nashville that last so long and seem unregulated?
4. Why is it so difficult for Nashville to build sidewalks?
5. Why does the Nashville zip code 37208 (North Nashville) have the highest incarceration rate in the nation? What can be done about it?
6. What can and should be done to pay Metro employees and teachers a fair, competitive salary?
7. What are the current after-school activities available for Nashville youngsters? Are there enough such activities?
8. We have lots of laws on the books concerning codes. Are they being enforced? How quickly? Do they need to be updated? Are we understaffed for codes inspectors?

Using his powers as Vice Mayor Jim Schulman is appointing eight special committees to explore these questions. He has selected council members to serve on each committee and will soon name interested citizens to join them. He wants the committees to report back by January so their recommendations can be incorporated into the next city budget. If this works well, Schulman says these special committees could be annual occurrence.

Good luck to the special committees. They are taking on a big task, on a short time line, trying to deal with some overdue issues, that have been talked about a lot over the years, but never fully addressed in in our city.

VANDERBILT HEALTH POLICY EXPERT ON INSIDE POLITICS

TennCare is a long -standing state program that provides health care coverage for more than 1.4 million children and low -income individuals in Tennessee. It dates back to the early 1990s and the administration of the late Governor Ned McWherter. The program has often been controversial usually due to rising costs that in turn have caused cutbacks in service and cutbacks on who is covered in the program.

Now the Super Majority of Republicans in the General Assembly along with Governor Bill Lee are seeking to change TennCare into a block grant program from the federal government. What will that mean and is it a good public policy concept? Our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS ought to be able to give some perspective.

She is Dr. Melinda Buntin the Mike Curb Professor of Health Care Policy and chair of the Department of Health Policy at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Watch us! We hope we can offer a primer on how to understand this rather complex proposed health change, what the change would mean, and the pros and cons of what is being proposed.

Watch us!

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.
TENNESSEE LEGISLATIVE LAWSUIT OVER REFUGEE SETTLEMENT ON LIFE SUPPORT

It was something of a political Don Quixote move from the beginning. Back in 2016 the Tennessee General Assembly approved a resolution authorizing a federal lawsuit. It was based on the assertion that the federal government is forcing states to pay for costs related to refugee resettlement, which is in violation the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The effort has not fared well in the courts. This week a panel of judges rejected a request for the case to be heard by the full 6th Circuit Court.

All that remains to keep the case alive is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. Even with today’s much more conservative High Court, that move is at best a last- ditch legal strategy. I guess it is a good thing for Tennessee taxpayers, the Thomas More Law Center offered to handle the case for the state on a pro-bono basis.

THE CONFEDERATE MONUMENT SAGA CONTINUES

When the city of Memphis came up with a plan to take down its Confederate monuments in late 2017, Republican legislative leaders in the Capitol raised a fuss and even threatened funding for the city. Others filled a lawsuit. This week the State Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning Memphis officials won.

Meanwhile in Franklin, a controversy over a statue of a Confederate soldier in the town square is moving in a different direction.

FALLOUT FROM TRUMP FOREIGN RELATIONS BLUNDER IN SYRIA CONTINUES TO GROW

It got still worse for President Donald Trump this week.

The full U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday took a rare action. The body overwhelmingly approved a resolution formally rebuking the nation’s Chief Executive over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. The measure passed on a bi-partisan basis 354-60 vote, with four lawmakers voting present.

President Trump ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to pull back, paving the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces that were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the ISIS. The result has been a military, humanitarian and strategic disaster for that part of the world and for this country says congressional leaders in both parties.

President Trump ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to pull back, paving the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces that were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the ISIS. The result has been a military, humanitarian and strategic disaster for that part of the world and for this country says congressional leaders in both parties.

Now even though the President has imposed sanctions on Turkey to call for a ceasefire, even sending Vice President Mike Pence to plead his case, for most of the week there appeared to be little sign that the President’s effort were working, as not only Turkish forces but also Syrian troops and Russian military elements had gotten involved. Early in the week, Turkey also ignored a letter from President Trump with a blunt warning the NATO ally should not be a “fool” in this matter by continuing its invasion.

On Thursday Vice President Pence announced a temporary ceasefire for 120 hours to allow Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw. This seems to many quite a hollow achievement with Turkey likely already having achieved its objectives, while devastation and ruin for our former allies the Kurds are everywhere in the invaded area. And it is all because President Trump’s “green-light” to evacuate American troops opened the door for the Turks to invade.

Both the House and the Senate are putting together their own stronger sanctions for approval. As for the censure motion passed by the House, Senate Republicans seem ready to hold it up to make it “stronger” says Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But will that move end up derailing the censure effort while the House and Senate scramble to find common language for the resolution?
President Trump seems to continue to be his own worst enemy. With comments he made on Wednesday, the President may have dug his hole a little deeper with both parties.

LOS ANGLES TIMES

The President has clearly lost his Republican firewall in the Congress on this issue. That includes support from one of his strongest allies, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. She relied heavily on President Trump’s support to win her seat last year. Now she has criticized the President on this issue more than once.

Even former Senator Bob Corker is back in the media criticizing the President.

TENNESSEAN

But so far, whether it is former Senator Corker or Senators Blackburn or Lamar Alexander, the firewall to support the President against impeachment or decline to discuss the issue (Corker) continues to hold firm among Tennessee GOP leaders and many other Republicans in Washington , especially in the Senate.

SETHI STARTS THE FIRST TV AD OF THE GOP 2020 PRIMARY RACE FOR THE ALEXANDER SENATE SEAT

Positioning himself as an outsider, Nashville doctor and 2020 GOP U.S. senate candidate Manny Sethi is taking a page out of the 2018 national Republican playbook. He is taking a strong anti-immigration stance in his first TV ad. In fact, Dr. Sethi predicts there will be an immigrant invasion if Democrats win next year. He dares anyone to call him racist.
First ads are usually biographical in nature and often feature family members which this first ad does as well.

One potential hiccup in Dr. Sethi’s anti-immigration positioning is the fact that President Donald Trump has already endorsed his main Republican opponent, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty. The endorsement does seem to back Sethi’s claim that his campaign is “Manny Against the Machine,” proving that campaign mantras to “dry up the swamp” and “defeat the Deep State” can evolve over time, as candidates and political races change.

BACK TO WORK?

Given the major economic impact auto manufacturing has in Tennessee, it is good news to hear the strike between the United Autoworkers and General Motors may soon be settled.
I must say watching the news coverage the past several weeks and seeing the hardships and uncertainty the strike brought to the families of auto workers and independent suppliers, it took me back to my childhood.

My Dad was a plumber/ pipefitter. When the Ford Glass Plant opened in Nashville in the late 1950s, it was a godsend. My father had a good-paying, steady job. He no longer had to travel as far away as St. Louis to find temporary construction work to provide for this family.

Now neither of my parents talked about this with me when I was younger, but I could sense it and see how my Mom was even more thrifty than ever when we picked out our back to school clothes and other purchases when a possible strike loomed.

There were some brief job actions and walkouts at the Ford Plant when I was growing up. I remember my Dad taking his turn to walk the picket line when his local was on strike. I don’t remember being deprived or going hungry because my Dad was off the job. What stays with me is how my parents were willing to take the risks involved to protect their children and safeguard their way of life, their piece of the American Dream. It’s bravery and courage I still admire today.