Monday, April 20, 2015

What is on the Council Agenda for April 21st? The Human Relations Commission, more $ to Farmers Market, redevelopment of old convention center site and funding Barnes.

Like I have said before, if you don't know what the council is voting on, council meetings can be really, really boring.  If you do, they are just boring. The Metro Council agenda and staff analysis for the April 21st meeting is now available at the highlighted links. Follow the links to get your own copy.

 There are seven appointments or reappointments to boards and commissions on the agenda for Council confirmation. The council does not take this responsibility seriously and usually just rubber stamps whomever the mayor appoints without serious deliberation or asking serious questions of the candidates. The council actually does not have much opportunity to influence public policy and one of the tools they could use to do so, is the power to affirm mayor's appointees.  These people are serving their community without pay and their service should be appreciated and valued, but the council should ensure that the people appointed to these commissions and boards are capable and that the people on these boards and commission are doing a good job.

Three of the appointees are to the Human Relations Commission which should better be named The Enforcement and Promotion of Political Correctness agency.  This agency has no real function, is a waste of money and should be abolished.  One of the things they do is sponsor the twink booth at the gay pride festival. Actually it is called the Youth Pavilion and it serves the purpose of normalizing deviant behavior among young people and letting them know that it is OK to be gay.  If I were on the Council and on the committee that  makes recommendations on appointees to this commission, I would ask them, "Do you support the Human Relations Commission sponsoring the Youth Pavilion at the Gay Pride Festival?"  If they said they did I would vote against them.  On the Council floor, I would vote against them, and I would not care if I was the only one to do so.

Resolutions: There are 18 resolutions on the agenda. Most of them are just accepting money from some federal grant or some such non controversial thing. This is the only one that appears important.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1420 appropriates $1.85 million to entities that operate as enterprise funds, that is they are supposed to operate off of their own revenue. The Fair Ground request is for $700K, however the funds will come from funds that have been generated by the Fair Grounds.  The municipal auditorium request of $550K and the Farmers Market request of $600K is money out of the undesignated fund balance.

My view is that perhaps the city should sell the municipal auditorium if it cannot break even.  We have the Bridestone arena and there are numerous other music venues and exhibition spaces in town.  The auditorium does fill a niche in a space of that size and that price point, however the property is extremely valuable and if the facility cannot figure out how to cover their operating cost, maybe it is time to sell and redevelop the property.

I don't know what to say about the farmers market. It is really not a farmers market where farmers can sell to retailers such as grocery stores and restaurants. It is a boutique farm-to-table farmers market. Real farmers cannot make a living selling one little bag of tomatoes at a time when they need to be on the farm working; some can, but this is a niche market and does not really promote agriculture.  I enjoy going to the farmers market but we should be able to operate a facility like that and make it covers it's operating cost.

I know the stuff sold in the North shed was tacky junk.  I was never in the market for a velvet African princess piece of art or twelve pair of socks for six dollars, but those vendors were providing income to the market as well as making a living for themsleves. I doubt there is enough demand for soy candles and homemade soap and such to fill that shed. Unless it would mean closing the market, I think this appropriation should be deferred and let the next mayor and council decide what to do with farmers market. 

At the last council meeting, this resolution was deferred one meeting at the recommendation of the Budget and Finance Committee. At that committee meeting there were a lot of questions about Farmer's Market.  In the discussion it is revealed that the Farmers Market has actually been spending money it does not have and the request from the 4% fund would cover that overspending. If the council does not approve it, then at the end of the year, the Farmers Market audit would show a deficit. It the Council does not cover this deficit out of 4% money then it would have to be covered out of the cities reserve but one way or the other it would have to be paid. That is not however the way things are supposed to work. No department should be permitted to spend money they do not have and then tell the Council you must fund our overspending because we will get it anyway. 

In addition to pushing the flea market vendors out of the farmers market, it appears the city has forced a lot of farmers out.  I assume this is a result of the policy that prohibits vendors  from being retailers of produce they did not grow themselves. The pushing out of some farmers and the pushing out of the flea market vendors has resulted in a lot of angry people calling councilmen, and it is obvious some of the council members are mad at Farmers Market management.  Also, apparently the Farmers Market did not handle this change in policy with the best diplomacy.

I hope the council rejects giving the Farmers Market any money and closely scrutinizes the other request.

There are 12 bills on First reading, but I have not read them. First reading is a formality that allows a bill to be on the agenda and all bills on first reading are considered as a group and are not discussed until second reading except in very unusual circumstances.

There are 11 bills on second reading. None of them are of much interest except this one:

BILL NO. BL2015-1067 which concerns the sale and the redevelopment of the old convention center property. One of the things I would like to know more about is why are we requiring that a portion of the property be set aside for the National Museum of African American Music. How did Nashville get this museum? Was it a competition and we beat out cities like Detroit, Memphis and New Orleans or did Nashville just decide to build such a museum. I don't know. Will this be a significant generator of tourist dollars? If we have resources to give space to a museum, it seems like the Songwriters Hall of Fame or Musicians Hall of Fame would be a better fit for lower Broadway. How did this come about? The whole redevelopment of this property is a complex deal and if one wants to know more about it, please see the council staff analysis. I hope this is not being rushed and the Council carefully studies this deal.

There are 22 bills on Third Reading and most of them are rezoning bills and I don't even try to keep up with rezoning bills. Here are two of interest:
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1055 is a bill disapproved by the planning commission. The bill is tailored to allow an outdoor amusement called Topgolf to operate in an area now zoned industrial. Rather than changing the zoning, the bill attempts to change the text of the zoning ordinance to permit what is not now permitted.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1056 would designate that revenue received from the hotel-motel tax from short-term vacation rental (such as Airbnb) go to the Barnes fund for Affordable Housing.  The State law that created the  hotel-motel tax says where the money must go and only one 1% of the 6% tax on rooms goes to the general fund.  The other 5% go to debt service on the convention center, tourism promotion and tourism related activity.  This bill would divert that 1% from the general fund to the Barnes Fund. but only the portion of that 1% of the tax collected from short-term vacation rentals. I see no logic in why that portion of the hotel-motel tax should fund the Barnes Fund.  I also think this is unwise.  My view is that money designated, is an appropriations decision the council cannot make. The Barnes Fund should compete with General Hospital, Farmers Market, Schools, police and everything else the city does for an annual appropriations. There are many unmet needs in the city including an ageing infrastructure  and a desire for sidewalk and drainage projects.  I am concerned about Metro's unfunded and growing pension liability and retiree health care obligations and general debt obligations and do  not think any money should be taken off the table.  If I were in the Council, I would vote against this bill.   

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