By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
July 9, 2021
NASHVILLE’S COMEBACK EVENT IS A RECORD SUCCESS BUT COMMUNICATIONS SAFETY FLUB AND CONCERNS ABOUT VIRUS VARIANT CLOUD THE PICTURE; WANT TO COME TO TENNESSEE? STATE TAXPAYERS MIGHT PICK UP THE TAB; BUDGET RELATED ISSUES STILL TOP METRO AGENDA; A STEP FORWARD OPENS NEW QUESTIONS FOR METRO; CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS
NASHVILLE’S COMEBACK EVENT IS A RECORD SUCCESS BUT COMMUNICATIONS SAFETY FLUB AND CONCERNS ABOUT VIRUS VARIANT CLOUD THE PICTURE
Planners were expecting a crowd of 400,000 people at Nashville’s annual Independence Day celebration.
About 350,000 folks were there in Nashville’s first big public event since the pandemic. That is still a record attendance to go along with the largest fireworks show in the city’s history (and maybe the largest in the nation).
Nashville’s LET FREEDOM SING MUSIC CITY show does underline once again that we are perhaps the best in the nation to put on a big event. But the significant communications safety issue that delayed the fireworks show, and put some of Metro’s SWAT team members temporarily in jeopardy, does raise concerns that need to be addressed.
There are also health experts expressing concern about the July 4th public celebration being held, even as the Delta variant of COVID-19 is raging in two border states, Arkansas and Missouri. The Delta variant has not so far been a major factor to create disease here in Nashville(only one case so far) or across Tennessee. But it is now the dominant source of new virus cases nationwide. This variant is much more contagious and can still cause hospitalizations and deaths, especially among unvaccinated groups.
Nashville’s vaccination rate for those with at least one vaccine shot is now just over 50%, while our full https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2021/07/06/nashville-public-schools-enrollment-dropped-during-covid-19-pandemic/7626404002/vaccination rate is well above 40% level. The rest of Tennessee is much lower than that, especially in rural areas and with younger age persons and people of color.
I would guess no matter when Nashville held its reopening event, there would be concerns raised, as there is a new variant almost every few weeks. In the next week to ten days, we will see what happens if the new variant moves us backward or we remain in the clear, at least perhaps until the colder weather returns in the fall. All this renewed concern comes as the world marked 4 million COVID-19 deaths this week.
One more sign Nashville is returning to its tourist-friendly normal. The Bluebird Café is reopening for live music.
One organization waiting for its rebound, at least in terms of attendance, are Metro Nashville Public Schools. The system’s enrollment went down about 5% during the pandemic, comparing January of 2020 to January of this year. That is about double the decline seen in other Tennessee counties and across the nation. Maybe with in—person instruction scheduled to return full time that will change when classes begin next month.
WANT TO COME TO TENNESSEE? STATE TAXPAYERS MIGHT PICK UP THE TAB
One of the most startling developments over the 4th of July weekend celebration was the announcement by Governor Bill Lee of a new multi- million- dollar state tourism promotion entitled “Tennessee on Me.”
Simply put the effort seeks to give 10,000 out- of- state tourists $250 airline vouchers to come to the state (Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville) to enjoy a multi-night visit to enjoy our post pandemic attractions, etc.
The plan unveiled by the Governor along with country music superstar Brad Paisley, has come as something of a unwelcome shock to some state lawmakers. They unwittingly approved the funds in the new state budget, even though the exact details of the spending plan were left vague.
Might lawmakers demand more specifics before they approve such marketing efforts in the future?
By the way, some tourists headed to Nashville, by boat, had their efforts run aground when their vessel got stuck on a sandbar up on Lake Barkley in Kentucky.
This move by the Lee administration to provide airline vouchers is a bit puzzling. This is a governor who has been more of a Libertarian than a Republican in how he views the role of government.
This is the same Governor who recently took federal unemployment monies out of the pockets of needy Tennesseans, telling them to “get a job,” despite their own health or personal situations. It is also the administration that says it is not the government’s job to mandate people wearing masks during the pandemic.
While the Governor is giving out taxpayer money to out of state tourists to come to Tennessee, he refused to incentivize Tennesseans to get vaccinated, which is a quicker and more effective way to restore a post-pandemic normal.
The Governor did verbally encourage his fellow citizens to get a shot, but he made sure was not seen or photographed getting one himself. His administration did promise a TV public service announcement to encourage vaccinations, but for some reason, that effort was slow walked for months before finally hitting the airwaves.
Now, perhaps taking their cue from the Lee administration, Republican anti-vaccination lawmakers in the General Assembly are contemplating completely defunding the state’s public health department, unless it removes some of the public education efforts it is doing, to inform the public 9especially young people) vaccines are available.
You can also note Governor Lee has said nothing to defend his embattled public health commissioner. I guess he is too busy sending out plane vouchers to out of state tourists?
Sensing they have a free hand, state lawmakers are building up the anti-vaccine pressure against the health department.
Another of Governor Lee’s commissioners seems fully on board with state lawmakers in enforcing another of the GOP Super Majority’s controversial new laws. In this case, it is the ban on teaching critical race theory. Education Commissioner Peggy Schwinn is already in a difficult relationship with some GOP leaders, so her recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson of Franklin, is not surprising. But she does point out local school districts have the ultimate control.
Meanwhile, Governor Lee is pushing ahead on another national GOP issue. This weekend he is visiting the southern border when Tennessee already has 300 National Guardsmen on duty.
BUDGET RELATED ISSUES STILL TOP METRO AGENDA
The new city budget and property tax rate was approved almost a month ago on June 15.
Yet budget related matters still top Metro’s agenda.
The tax rate might still be subject to change.
The Metro Election Commission has appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in an effort to hold a referendum to roll back the 2020 tax increase. if the Court agrees along with voters, the change could cost the city $40 million in revenue.
I understand the Commission has already submitted its legal briefs to the High Court. Metro was supposed to do the same as early as this week. After that, the five justices will decide whether to take the case on an expedited basis. It could be one of the most important legal decisions impacting Metro in recent years.
The ongoing Metro Charter controversy expanded even further this week. The Republican Chairman of the Davidson County Election Commission claims he was fired from his high- level position with a prestigious Nashville law firm, because he voted to pursue the referendum appeal.
In the meantime, the Metro Council this week gave final approval to a plan supported by the Cooper administration, that will save the city $1.1 billion dollars in future health care costs for its retirees.
The new law will a require a Group Medicare Advantage plan be the only option for metro retirees’ medical benefits when the pensioner and their dependents are Medicare eligible. The move will save Metro $17 million alone in this year’s new budget.
This is a growing financial problem for cities across the country. It involves what is called the cities’ unfunded Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability. OPEB pertains to benefits an employee receives upon retirement, such as health, dental, and drug coverage.
Mayor Cooper has sent out a statement praising the Council’s approval.
“This legislation is a major step in prioritizing our workforce while controlling costs. By offering all Medicare-eligible Metro retirees with a platinum Medicare Advantage plan, we’re protecting our pensioners’ access to quality healthcare while cutting Metro’s OPEB liability by an estimated $1.1 billion and reducing annual operating costs by approximately $17 million. As I’ve said before, this is a win-win-win for our workers, Metro government, and taxpayers.”
I agree with all that. But as someone who has personally been on a Medicare Advantage Plan for the past few years, the solution seems pretty apparent. So, what has taken so long for Metro to get to this “win-win-win” situation?
One other program in the new Metro budget is a $2 million allocation for citizens in the North Nashville and Bordeaux areas to decide how to spend some infrastructure dollars. These are areas of town where residents often feel left out of the process. This is an effort to get their input and involvement. They will also quickly learn how small amount $2 million is to address some of the projects residents are likely to want. But it is a start. Might we see this kind of pilot program in other parts of Nashville in the years to come?
A STEP FORWARD OPENS NEW QUESTIONS FOR METRO
As the city and the entire nation continues to come to grips with our history that includes the institution of slavery, the Metro Parks Board took a step this week to partially rename Hadley Park in North Nashville to honor Kwame (Leo) Lillard, a former Metro Councilmember who was also a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The move was hailed by one minority leader in the Metro Council but found wanting by a Parks Board member.
This is likely just the beginning of this conversation as there are some Metro public schools named for those who owned or were involved with the slave trade.
A similar, long running controversy at the State Capitol over removing the bust of Confederate General and Klu Klux Klan leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest may be reaching a climatic moment or maybe not.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the recent plea bargain settlement involving former Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke continues. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges in connection with the fatal shooting of Matthew Hambrick in 2018.
Delke had been set to go on trial for 1st degree murder which, if convicted, would have carried a life in prison sentence. The plea bargain agreement carries a three- year sentence with the possibility of being released after 15 months.
In the mind of at least one long time civil rights activist, attorney Walter Searcy, the outcome of the plea bargain is “a win for no one.”
All this could well have political repercussions for Nashville Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk if he runs for re-election next year in 2022. This article in the TENNESSEE LOOKOUT by Nate Rau has a spot- on analysis of the situation.
CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS
Normally for Congress, summer is a bit of a slow time in Washington.
But this month, even when our elected representatives are not in session, critical negotiations are underway on key legislation.
Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is well aware of what is at stake and how it could impact the rest of this term through the end of 2022.
We thank Congressman Cooper for joining on this week on INSIDE POLITICS.
Up for our discussion as well are the latest on redistricting, ongoing pandemic relief, looming cyber wars, and should Congress eliminate or limit the use of the filibuster in the Senate, among other topics.
NOTE: Your eyes are not deceiving you! Our interview was done live, in person and in studio!
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