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Capitol View Commentary: June 25th, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:54 AM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 12:54:03-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — METRO CHARTER REFERENDUM NIXED AGAIN; AN UNEXPECTED MOVE AT THE METRO COURTHOUSE; AS VACCINATIONS NUMBERS CONTINUE TO DECLINE THE LATEST COVID-19 VARIANT IS SURGING IN SOME AREAS; KEEPING THE BIDEN AGENDA ALIVE IN WASHINGTON; SUPREME COURT ANALYST KEN JOST EVALUATES THE LATEST COURT TERM

METRO CHARTER REFERENDUM NIXED AGAIN

For the second time in less than a year, a Davidson Country Chancery Court Judge has ruled a proposed special election to amend the Metro Charter can not be held.

In what was described in one news report as a “blistering opinion,” Judge Russell Perkins said the citizens’ petitions to call the referendum were improperly drafted (two different dates to hold the vote) and some of the goals of the petitions (roll back the 2019 property tax hike and limit future increases) are unconstitutional under state law. Since there is no severability clause to keep the other proposed charter changes intact, the entire July 27 election is cancelled under the court decision (saving taxpayers about a million dollars in costs, by the way).

Still undeterred after two straight embarrassing setbacks in the courts, the Nashville gadfly lawyer, Jim Roberts, who has spearheaded both Charter change efforts, say it was “nick picking” by the court that stopped the vote. I guess violating state law or not following the rules for calling referendums is unimportant to this attorney. Roberts also claims, if the ruling is appealed, the latest court decision will be reversed, and the referendum will be held.

But Roberts has said that he would win every time this matter has gone to court, and every time he has been wrong. The decision to appeal the case is up to the Davidson County Election Commission. It was the Commission’s 3-2 partisan (GOP) vote that sent the matter into litigation. The group is set to meet later today (Friday) to decide what to do.

With military ballots due to go out tomorrow (Saturday) and early voting set to start on July 7, the July 27 referendum date looks impossible. Therefore, any appeal will likely seek a later election date. In light of the court ruling, the Save Nashville Now group, which had launched a community and paid media campaign to defeat the referendum at the polls, has suspended its efforts for now.

I have said from the beginning, this charter referendum effort has been ill conceived. Many of the changes this effort seeks to enact are just not allowed under law. And the petition effort has been sloppy handling important details. The anger against government in the wake of the year- long plus pandemic is understandable. But this is not the way to go. It is time to move on. It is reported the legal fees for the Election Commission alone are already over $50,000, a number that will escalate further with an appeal.

Enough.

AN UNEXPECTED MOVE AT THE METRO COURTHOUSE

Metro Government and Mayor John Cooper have many department heads to run city government.

But the greater among equals is the Metro Finance Director. He oversees all the city’s finances and has the power to impound funds or stop the Council from passing legislation if he doesn’t certify that the funds are available.

The Finance Director is also the only city department head who serves at the mayor’s pleasure.

That is why when a Finance Director suddenly announces he is stepping down, as Kevin Crumbo announced on Thursday, it raises all sorts of questions and red flags about what is going on?

From what I am hearing from my sources at the Courthouse, Kevin Crumbo is leaving because he has successfully done the job he came to do. Throughout his career he has been successful in turning around businesses and non-profits.

Metro sure had financial issues when Director Crumbo came in with the Cooper administration in the fall of 2019. It took some work, but those issues got handled and then the pandemic and tornadoes and social unrest, even a downtown riot. hit. All that presented issues no Metro Finance Director has ever faced. Again, it took some time, and a lot of work, including a record property tax increase in 2020, but the city’s finances have been largely stabilized. With the new budget for FY 2022 in place, and the still simmering controversy over the tax increase put to rest legally (perhaps temporarily), this would seem to be a good time for Mr. Crumbo to step away, mission accomplished. Kevin Crumbo certainly deserves all the congratulations and the thank yous that can be given, for what he has done in the last two years.

But the departure announcement came across as a bit awkward.

Mayor Cooper might have softened the suddenness of the change by issuing a statement of his own when the news broke, including the process and timeline to find a new Finance Director, and who will serve as Finance Director in an Interim capacity.

He could have also praised the current Director for the outstanding job he has done in the last two years.

Not doing any of that seems to perhaps have raised some unnecessary flags, given the Charter relationship between the Mayor and Finance Director.

I asked the Mayor’s office if he has a statement. In the meantime, let me personally congratulate Kevin Crumbo for a job well done and for continued success as he returns to his family investment firm.

Here is Mayor Cooper’s statement I received late Thursday afternoon. I think clarifies the situation.

““I want to thank Kevin for his commitment during one of the hardest years in our city’s history. He played a key role in helping Nashville get its finances back on track so we can invest in our growing community. When Kevin joined Metro government, he told us he could give us a year. I’m grateful he gave us almost two. We will work with Kevin to ensure a smooth transition within Metro Finance.”

One other sign of the city’s recovery from its many recent calamities, is the report given by city officials on Friday morning about the status of Historic 2nd Avenue. There is still a lot to do to bounce back from the devastating Christmas Day bombing, but the progress, and the latest photos of the area, are encouraging to see and hear, six months later.

AS VACCINATIONS NUMBERS CONTINUE TO DECLINE THE LATEST COVID-19 VARIANT IS SURGING IN SOME AREAS

It has been an open secret for weeks.

The latest goal of the administration of President Joe Biden to have 70% of American adults (16+) receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, isn’t going to happen.

It will be close, but no cigar, as for the first time the President will commit the political sin of over promising but under delivering.

Vaccine hesitancy (in some cases, bordering on opposition) is stronger than expected among Trump voters, rural residents, persons of color and young people in particular. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation has actually met the 70% goal except for adults 27 and younger.

The vaccination break- out looks very political with some blue states up over 80% of its population with at least one shot, while many red states (including Tennessee) barely above 40%. It is even worse in rural areas with some having not more than 20% of its residents getting a shot.

The looming problem is that the latest, and more contagious COVID-19 variant (the Delta variant first seen in India) is beginning to surge in areas where the vaccination rates are lowest. One of those is southeast Missouri, an area bordering Tennessee.

Of growing concern are reports the Delta variant may be spinning off its own new variant, now dubbed Delta-Plus.

The Delta variant has already grown from 10%o of U.S. cases two weeks ago, to 20% now, and will soon be the dominant virus strain in this country. The cure is to get vaccinated. The widely available vaccines provide excellent protection to the Delta variant health officials say, but the number of those getting shots keeps declining anyway. I guess folks think they are bullet proof in terms of getting the virus, and the pandemic is over. But, with COVID-19 always looking for new hosts to infect, they could well be wrong.

Despite the continuing efforts of the Biden administration to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, a trip to Nashville this week by First Lady Jill Biden to attend a pop-up clinic, did not bring very good results. She and country music superstar Brad Paisley brought a big crowd, but they were the “usual suspects” of political and civic activists who have already gotten their shots. News reports I have read indicate just a few dozen came to get their first vaccination. And this is in Music City which has the best numbers for shots anywhere in the state.

Nashville’s homeless population has reached 100% access to receive COVID-19 shots. In fact, our homeless citizens have achieved a higher percentage of those vaccinated (60% plus) than the rest of the city.

One of other pandemic-related development, the Centers for Disease Control has again extended its moratorium on evictions. It was set to end the last day of June. Now it will go through July. Health officials say it is time for folks to get back to work and pay their rent. But what is the CDC doing to get out the help for those who need it? It is the billions of dollars Congress has appropriated to help pay back rent, but which federal bureaucracy and red tape can’t get out to people. It is a scandal that also needs to end by the close of July!

KEEPING THE BIDEN AGENDA ALIVE IN WASHINGTON

It is not just vaccinations where the Biden administration is lagging.

Almost every element of the President’s massive legislative agenda has been stalled, stuck or in limbo in Congress.

The sense, even among Democrats, is if the President can’t get things moving by or shortly after the upcoming congressional recess, his agenda could be dead for good, with the 2022 mid term elections soon moving to center stage politically.

With one of the major efforts of the Democrats, a voting rights measure, a victim this week to a Republican filibuster that killed the legislation for the time being, early this week some Democrats are calling for the recess to be cancelled or shortened to work out something on at least some of the remaining pieces of the President’s agenda.

There was a potential ray of hope for Mr. Biden late in the week as bi-partisan talks involving the administration brought forth a framework he supports for a slimmed down infrastructure bill.

But there is still a long way to go before any legislation passes. Elements in both parties will complain the bill is too expensive or not nearly enough. To keep Senate Democrats in line President Biden made it clear he won’t sign the bi-partisan infrastructure bill unless Congress (including all the Senate Democrats) approve a bill under the budget reconciliation process containing the other infrastructure items he wanted in his earlier bill. That includes monies for “human infrastructure involving early child education and health care among other items. Let’s see how this works!

Republicans are already complaining about the linkage of the infrastructure bills.

This infrastructure bill passing under budget reconciliation process would apparently be the last time Democrats can use that legislative device this congressional term. Otherwise frankly, the White House is stuck. There are only 50 Democrats in the Senate, but it takes 60 to break a filibuster on all other bills. And the Democrats are even having trouble even getting party unity.

The filibuster could be repealed or modified. But that would take every Senate Democrat on board and that is not in the cards either, despite strong pressure and criticism being brought on both Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Bottom line is. There likely won’t be more than 50 votes for most of the President’s non-budget related measures in the Senate, until and unless, he bucks mid-term election history and builds a bigger majority in November 2022.

But late Thursday, there was another sign bi-partisan legislation may be coming. This time it is a framework for a bill concerning the issue of police reform. The potential breakthrough comes as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin faces sentencing today (Friday) in the murder of George Floyd. He could receives a decades long prison term although Chauvin’s lawyers are asking for probation for him.

Looking ahead, and seeing an issue that could hurt Democrats in the midterms, President Biden took moves this week to combat the wave of gun violence across the country (including here in Nashville). The surge first emerged during the last year of the Trump administration but has continued and grown in 2021.

Interestingly, the President’s plan allows cities to use their recently received American Rescue Plan virus relief funds to fight gun violence. Nashville has received well over $250 million in those federal monies, most of it still not allocated. The President’s plan would now pay for police, which would be controversial among some groups. But the funds can also be used to hire mental health aides and others to help law enforcement. A pilot program will already soon be underway here.

What direction will Mayor Cooper go? The Rescue funds would also seem to be a potential additional boon to the efforts of the mayor’s new community safety coordinator.

SUPREME COURT ANALYST KEN JOST EVALUATES THE LATEST COURT TERM

It happens in the final weeks of every June.

Wrapping up its annual term, the U. S. Supreme Court issues a number of final decisions, sometimes regarding its most controversial cases.

The 2021 Supreme Court term has almost ended, and we have asked one of the best long- time observers of the Court, Ken Jost, to join us again to analyze what the nine justices did or didn’t do.

Ken has covered the American judicial system for half a century, beginning with his time as a reporter under the late John Seigenthaler at THE TENNESSEAN.

As always, we thank Ken for coming on the program.

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