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Capitol View Commentary: October 11, 2019

Posted: 1:02 PM, Oct 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-11 14:02:51-04
Capitol View

ANNUAL IN-LIEU OF TAXES PAYMENTS COMING FROM THE CONVENTION CENTER AS MORE QUESTIONS ARISE ABOUT MLS STADIUM AND POLICE BODY CAMERAS: BUILDING THE STAFF; BACK UP AND START OVER? ; A BRIEF HISTORY OF METRO WATER-SEWER RATE HIKES; FILLING A SCHOOL BOARD VACANCY; A DAY FOR PRAYER AND FASTING BRINGS DIVISION; MORE HEALTH EFFORTS AND MESSAGE CONTROL FROM THE LEE ADMINISTRATION; TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN LEADERS PART WAYS WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP ON SYRIAN TROOP REMOVAL; THE BATTLE OVER TRADE AND OTHER CONTROVERSIES COME TO NASHVILLE AS DO SEVERAL TRUMP CABINET MEMBERS; THE 2020 TENNESSEE GOP SENATE RACE MONEY NUMBERS; BELMONT UNIVERSITY BRINGS A PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE TO NASHVILLE AGAIN; AMERICA’S OLDEST AND PERHAPS MOST ADMIRED FORMER PRESIDENT COMES TO NASHVILLE; LINDA PEEK SCHACHT ON INSIDE POLITICS;

ANNUAL IN- LIEU OF TAXES PAYMENTS COMING FROM THE CONVENTION CENTER AS MORE QUESTIONS ARISE ABOUT MLS STADIUM AND POLICE BODY CAMERAS

When Mayor John Cooper says his first job is get the city’s financial books in order, he sure isn’t kidding.

In that regard, late in in his second week (Thursday) and just working 9 days on the job as mayor, he has gotten some help.

Mayor Cooper and officials from the Music City Center announced a deal that will annually see at least an extra $12.6 million in in-lieu of taxes payment coming from the Music City Center (MCC) to the city’s general fund. The payments are to be tied to the assessed value of the MCC property and the current property tax rate, so the amount should grow. The Nashville Electric Service has been paying such in-lieu taxes for years. It is called a PILOT program (payment in lieu of taxes). It’s a proposal then candidate Cooper floated on the air during the campaign while appearing on my INSIDE POLITICS show. The PILOT payment plan is subject to approval of the Metro Council and some council budget hawks already believe think the convention center payments ought to be higher and ought enough to solve Metro’s budget shortfall. NASHVILLE SCENE

The extra PILOT funds may go on a one- time basis to help fill part of a nearly $40 million deficit in the present operating budget. The shortfall is because it doesn’t appear Mayor Cooper and the Council will move ahead with plans to sell the city’s downtown energy and parking meter systems while are expected as revenues in the city’s spending plan.

Longer term, Mayor Cooper has been looking for extra monies to offer larger pay raises to city workers, fund more neighborhood projects and provide more dollars for schools. But may the funds have to go to pay for implementing the use of police body cameras? It is an issue that seems ready to come back into the news again as early as next week.

And there are new issues arising concerning the new MLS Stadium, planned to be under construction at the Fairgrounds. When the previous Metro Council approved the developer deal to build the stadium and bring an MLS team to Nashville, a last-minute amendment was added that financers for the project now indicate they can’t agree to, leaving the project in limbo.

This MLS Stadium snag may give a possible explanation to comments Mayor Cooper made last week on his first day in office. That’s when he said he wanted to hold hearings on the stadium plans, its financing as well as “the true facts” of the project. As a member of the last Council, Mayor Cooper was an opponent of the MLS stadium. It is not clear if the new Mayor is ready to accept the fix being talked about by Council Colby Sledge to remedy the last-minute financing issue for the stadium. Construction had been slated to begin in the last week. Stay tuned.

BUILDING THE STAFF

In the second week of his mayoral term, John Cooper named several key staff members to his team.

On Monday, there was a new leader named in the Office of Neighborhoods as well as a new Advisor to the Mayor in the areas of Transportation and Infrastructure.

From a mayoral news release:

Kathy Buggs

Kathy has joined the Cooper administration as Director of the Office of Neighborhoods.

Kathy is a native of Nashville, a graduate of McGavock High School and Austin Peay State University where she majored in Business. She is currently the Director of Office and Community Services for Congressman Jim Cooper. Prior to the appointment of her job with Congressman Cooper in 2003, she worked on his campaign to elect Jim Cooper as the Volunteer Coordinator. She has more than 15 years of banking experience as a loan officer with Tennessee Teachers Credit Union and Customer Service Manager at Regions Bank. Kathy is an active member of Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church. She is very active in the community and sits on several boards around the city. Kathy is a Board Member with Affordable Housing Resources, Inc., Alignment Nashville Operating Board, Alignment Nashville Family Engagement and Adolescent Sexual Responsibility/Healthy Starts. Past member and still very involved in Mending Hearts. A member of IMF and is a Committee member for the Annual MLK Day.

Faye DiMassimo

Faye is deeply accomplished in local transportation planning and implementation and with nearly 40 years of experience in the public and private sectors. She joins Mayor Cooper’s staff as Senior Advisor of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Faye holds B.S., MPA and MCP degrees from Auburn University, is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha political science honorary and the American Institute for Certified Planners College of Fellows (FAICP).

On Wednesday Mayor Cooper’s communications team was announced.

Katie Lentile

Katie is joining the Cooper administration as Chief Communications Officer.

Katie previously served as CEO of The Lentile Group, a creative marketing and design firm. She has lived in Nashville for 11 years, during which time she’s worked on projects in over 30 countries for a diverse set of clients, including Google, Vanderbilt University, Kenneth Cole, and most recently as Communications Director for the John Cooper for Nashville mayoral campaign. Additionally, Katie helped launch one of the first creative co-working spaces in the country, WELD. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Katie holds a B.A. degree in Business Administration, Marketing and she was named one of Nashville’s top “30 under 30” in 2010. She currently serves on the board of Friends of Fort Negley.

Chris Song

Chris is joining the Cooper administration as Press Secretary.

Chris has worked in political communications for multiple local and statewide campaigns based in the Nashville area and previously served as Deputy Press Secretary to Former Vice President Al Gore. Most recently, Song served in strategic marketing and public relations roles for local healthcare technology companies Healthcare Bluebook and InQuicker, a subsidiary of Stericycle Inc. He is a native of Memphis, TN and graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Vanderbilt University

Brandon Marshall

Brandon will be joining the Cooper Administration as Digital Director. He was born and raised in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Brandon is a four-time Emmy nominated journalist with extensive experience and knowledge in storytelling and utilizing social media to convey stories to local and national audiences. He has a passion for working with youth groups and local schools. Prior to three years of reporting in Nashville, he spent time reporting in Waco, Texas and Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

BACK UP AND START OVER?

Metro’s money woes could be even worse.

Even though the city doesn’t appear to want to sell and privatize its downtown parking meter system, now a court ruling says it can’t.

It’s story that broke within hours after my Capitol View column was published last Friday. A local Chancery judge threw out as illegal the $300 million contract the administration of former Mayor David Briley wanted to follow to privatize and modernize the city’s parking meter system.

That deal was supposed to provide $30 million in revenue to the current Metro budget. New Mayor Jon Cooper opposed the Briley plan from the start.

Still, the question remains: If the city won’t sell its parking meter system or its downtown energy system, how will the $40 million revenue shortfall in the present city’s budget be handled? Maybe the $12.6 million in Convention Center in lieu of tax payments will fill part of that budget hole, but what about the rest?

Last week Mayor Cooper seemed to open the door to consider another bid to buy the city’s downtown energy system from a group advised legally by former Mayor Bill Purcell. That might mean $10 million or more towards the $40 million shortfall. But is Mayor Cooper open to a different group offering a different deal on the energy system? We’ll see.

In the meantime, as we reported last week, Metro has been told by the State Comptroller’s Office it must raise water/sewer rates almost immediately. That is due to the fact that the city’s water services department has been running tens of millions of dollars in the red for the past several years. Local water/sewer rates, which are set by the Metro Council, have not been increased for almost a decade. The increase demanded by the state has not be announced, but an earlier study by the city reportedly recommended a hike of over $9.00 a month for the average Metro water customer.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF METRO WATER-SEWER RATE HIKES

With Metro under orders from the state of Tennessee to increase its water services rates by the end of year, it might be worthwhile to review the history of such rate hikes in Nashville. They have often been controversial.

Before consolidated government in 1963, portions of the old city had water and sewer services. Davidson County did not. Folks outside Nashville relied on well water. Some communities such as Radnor in the southern part of the county or Bellevue to the west, formed their own utility districts. The one in Bellevue, Harpeth Valley Utilities District continues to operate today and serves portions of a few surrounding counties as well. As for wastewater services there was no county system. Many relied on septic tanks with home often built on oversized to make sure the property had enough land to percolate.

One of the selling points for Metro government back in the early 1960s was ultimately extending water and service services throughout the urban services tax district. The more rural general services tax district would still be on its own for water sewer services until annexed into the USD.

But not long into the new Metro government, it became clear that water and sewer line expansion wasn’t going to work unless the property tax rate went to astronomical levels. It is hard and expensive to dig in the ground with so much bedrock not far below the surface.

In the late 60s, funding for water sewer expansion projects when on a pay as you go basis. That is, those already on the system saw their rates go up to pay for others were to be added.

Since Council approval was needed for the rate hikes (as it still does), that funding mechanism worked well until the Council reached the situation where a majority of those in the county were on the system. Then it got tough to muster a majority of 21 votes in the Council to approve rate hikes.

A couple of times rate hikes were rejected, and expansion efforts were put on hold. Right after he was elected in 1975, Mayor Richard Fulton had to spend some of his political capital to get projects moving again, pushing a rate increase through Council.

Several years later, in the early 1980s, another expansion plan and rate increase was set for third and final reading late in the year. But one or two council members were not able to be present and the bill was deferred until mid-January.

By that time, strong community opposition had arisen to the rate hike, in part due a newly formed citizen group called NCOP (Nashville Communities Organized for Progress) and due to a new form of media to Nashville (the radio talk show format that had just begun on WLAC).

The rate bill didn’t pass, and it was a couple of years later before there was a successful expansion plan and rate hike that did make it through. By then Mayor Fulton had changed leadership in the Water Services department, bringing in Bill Whitson from the city’s Purchasing Department. Whitson, and then Finance Director Charlie Cardwell engineered some multi year rate hikes to all but complete the major trunk lines needed (along with the new Ray Harrington Water Treatment Plant and expansions of our existing Wastewater Treatment Plant) to serve the city, which now has over 250,000 water services customers.

In more recent years, as federal water quality regulations tightened, Metro has had to enter into agreed orders in federal court with the Environmental Protection Agency. Those agreements mandate improvements and infrastructure updates to replace older water and sewer lines. Obviously, Metro has not been raising rates as needed to meet these court degree requirements and the state is cracking down.

THE ICE CONTROVERSY TURNS TO METRO SCHOOLS

It’s got nothing to do with the city’s financial crunch, but Mayor John Cooper says he is taking the next 90 days to decide his administration’s position regarding the city assisting federal ICE officials with immigration enforcement. His predecessor, Mayor David Briley, issued an executive order banning city workers from giving any help to ICE and urging repeal of the state’ sanctuary city law. That angered state GOP legislative leaders who threatened to cut funds to Metro. Those lawmakers might also turn a deaf ear to requests by Mayor Cooper to help the city have greater access to tourism funds unless the city’s new leader takes a different position than Mayor Briley on immigration. In that regard, there was a development this week involving Metro Schools that seem to open up a whole new area of concern about ICE immigration efforts. NEWSCHANNEL5

FILLING A SCHOOL BOARD VACANCY AND A TEMPORARY SCHOOLS DIRECTOR

Voters made the change in the Metro Charter last November to conform with state law.

Now, for the first time, the Metro Council will fill a vacancy on the Metro School Board.

It is the post held for several years by Will Pinkston, who announced he was leaving some months ago, before finally leaving about a week ago. Already nominations have been submitted, with the Council set to begin its review process and make its final choice at a November 5th meeting. In the meantime, Metro Schools will have a temporary new leader while the current Schools Director goes on maternity leave. Fortunately, the temporary leader has filled the post before.

A DAY FOR PRAYER AND FASTING BRINGS DIVISION

It seems there are few things in life and politics these days that don’t create controversy. That includes a Day of Prayer and Fasting which was proclaimed for yesterday (October 10) by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. Governor Bill Lee Twitter CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL BAPTIST PRESS NEWS

And, of course there are somewhat differing op-eds on the matter. The call for prayer and fasting is also creating concern because it occurs so close to a major holy day of the Jewish faith. THE TENNESSEAN DAVID PLAZAS As best I can tell, the Day of Prayer and Fasting itself on Thursday ended quietly in Nashville. ROBERTSON COUNTY

MORE HEALTH EFFORTS AND MESSAGE CONTROL FROM THE LEE ADMINISTRATION

A week after plans to convert the TENNCARE program into a first of its kind federal block grant met with criticism and opposition during several statewide public hearings, the Lee administration appeared ready to release more details this week about the membership of the Governor’s health care modernization task force. It seems the modernization and the block grant efforts are somewhat separate objectives for the Lee team.

Perhaps trying to get out in front with its message this time, the state’s Finance Commissioner has penned an op-ed piece to outline and give the public a first look at what has been found so far. It should be noted that so far the media has had some problem finding out what has happened so far after a statewide “listening” tour and recommendations from several different state agencies. Adding still more process to the effort, this week the multi-member task force was named by Governor Lee to further look at the matter and make recommendations. Meanwhile as the studies continue, yet another rural Tennessee hospital struggles to stay open.

And there is yet another public health challenge that health care leaders want addressed by Governor Lee and the General Assembly, vaping products. But the Governor is pushing back from a vaping ban.

TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN LEADERS PART WAYS WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP ON SYRIAN TROOP REMOVAL

As the efforts to impeach President Donald Trump continue to dominate the national news, Tennessee’s elected leaders in Washington have almost all held firm in strong support of the President. Only Senator Lamar Alexander has been quiet, awaiting the results of an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Ukrainian phone call controversy that has sparked the impeachment push. But this week, Tennessee’s senior Senator came out in defense of the President saying impeaching him “would be a mistake.” The Alexander comments leave both of Tennessee’s Senators opposing impeachment but supporting President Trump for different reasons.

However, the overall strong support for the President among the Tennessee delegation (and on both sides of the aisle in Congress) quickly went south this week due to developments in another foreign policy area.

Many lawmakers were caught off guard when the President announced he is withdrawing our remaining troops from northern Syria, leaving our Kurdish allies to fend for themselves with an expected invasion by Turkish forces. Indeed, such an invasion has begun with the President now seeking to distance himself from the controversy. In that regard, he offers a rather strange rationale for not continuing to back the Kurds: They didn’t help us World War II 70 years ago!

But the President’s arguments are not changing many minds on either side of the aisle in Washington. Even one of the most loyal supporters of the President, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn is speaking out, much as she did when Mr. Trump threatened similar action a few months ago. Impacting the issue locally, and increasing the calls of opposition, is the fact that Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish community in the United States. NASHVILLE SCENE WPLN

The Nashville Kurdish community put on a demonstration to express its concern. The event was held today (Friday) from 1:30-4:30 p.m. outside the Federal Court House at 801 Broadway.

Back in Washington, Congress appears united to do something to show to show their opposition to the President on this issue. But will they? So far, how exactly they might proceed is unclea