Monday, March 19, 2018

What's on the Council agenda for 3/20/18: Protecting from competition the jobs of current bus drivers, regulating the Airbnb website, changing the scope of the Mayor Barry investigation and more.

By Rod Williams - The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse.  If you are going to watch the Council meeting, you need a copy of the Council agenda and the staff analysis  or you really will not know what is going on. You can get the agenda and analysis at the highlighted links. I know a lot, but I often don't know if a piece of legislation is good or bad but I know enough to know if it raises a red flag and I see some red flags on this agenda. I hope someone is paying attention.

Boards and Commissions
The first order of business is the call to order, prayer and pledge followed by consideration of mayoral appointments to boards and commissions. The first item is the selection of a Deputy President Pro Tempore. With David Briley elevated to the position of Mayor, current President Pro tem Sheri Weiner will serve as moderator of the Council which necessitates the selection of another council member to be next in line should she be absent or need a break. I suspect there has been a lot of jockeying to fill this roll with a lot of vote solicitation. This is something that normally would only interest Council members but can be instructive as to the factions and relative power of those factions.

There are eight mayoral appointments to boards and commissions on this agenda for Council confirmations. The council normally rubber stamps whomever the mayor nominates, however last council meeting the Council, in an extremely rare move, rejected the appointment of  distinguished former Councilman Charlie Tygert to a position on the Sports Authority. I never did discover what was behind that unexpected development. I would not expect any of the nominees to be rejected, but then I would not have expected the nomination of Charlie Tygert to be rejected.

Resolutions on Public Hearing: There are two of them and both are exempting establishments for the minimum distance requirements for obtaining a beer permit. I have no opinion on the merits of these applications.

There are 44 resolution on the agenda and all are on the consent agenda at this time. A resolution stays on the consent agenda if it passes  unanimously the committees to which it was assigned. Resolutions which receive negative votes in committee are pulled off of consent. Also any councilman may have a resolution pulled off of consent. Those remaining on consent are lumped together and passed by a single vote. Resolutions on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government, entering into inter agency agreements over mundane things, appropriating money from the 4% fund, settling lawsuits, or approving signs overhanging the sidewalk. Unlike a bill which requires three votes of the Council to pass, a resolution only requires one vote of the Council. These are the ones of interest:

Resolution RS2018-1085  authorizes a short-term extension to the liquidity facility agreement related to the Metropolitan Government’s water and sewer commercial paper program. This is complex and I have no opinion of it but it will cost metro money. I hope the Budget and Finance Committee looks at this closely to determine of it is an appropriate, necessary and wise move.
Resolution RS2018-1088  declares eleven parcels of metro owned property surplus and transfers them to selected non-profit organizations for the purpose of  developing affordable and "work force" housing. It also grants $10.7 million from the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing to subsidize the housing development. Woodbine Community Organization, Our Place Nashville, and Living Development Concepts were selected as recipients of the grants and properties. In addition ten other organization get grants to promote the development of affordable housing. This resolution requires 21 affirmative votes to be approved.

Resolution RS2018-1109 would set a public hearing for the creation of the Donelson Transit- Oriented Redevelopment Plan. This is development focused on development around the Donelson train station. To learn more about it follow this link.

Resolution RS2018-1110 concerns the Council investigation of the Mayor Barry scandal. On February 6, 2018, the Metro Council adopted Resolution No. RS2018 calling for a Council investigation. Since then, as everyone knows, Mayor Barry plead guilty to a crime and some of what the Council was to determine has already been determined. So this resolution modifies the prior resolution to clarify that the Special Committee will prepare a Report and Recommendations to the Council about its findings to include any recommendations for further action, as well as recommendations for additions or revisions to the Metropolitan Government Code of Laws, policies, or regulations. In light of what has happened, this seems appropriate.

Resolution RS2018-1111 authorizes the employment of Burch, Porter &; Johnson, PLLC as Special Counsel to the Metropolitan Council to investigate the Mayor Barry scandal. Since Mayor Barry has already plead guilty to a crime and the scope of the Council investigation will be limited as outlined in resolution 1110 above, I wonder if hiring an outside firm is even necessary at this point. This resolution does limit the payment to the firm to only 15 hours of billable time at a rate of $395 per hour. Unless they have already determined that the firm is racially diverse in addition to questioning if we even need an outside law firm at this point, expect some Black members of the Council to raise the issue of the firm's racial diversity.

Resolution RS2018-1112  adds a representative of Saint Thomas Health to the strategic planning committee established pursuant to study the future of Nashville General Hospital operations. While my preference would be that we would get totally out of the hospital business, if that is not going to happen then it is wise to bring in outside experts to advise the city how to better manage General Hospital. I support this.

Resolution RS2018-1113 request of the Metro Transit Authority that if the May 1 light rail referendum should be approved, that MTA continue to use the Davidson Transit Organization as its "sole management provider." Regardless of your opinion of the wisdom of Metro pursuing a $9 Billion light rail transit system, this is a dumb idea. Should the referendum pass, Metro should seek the best operator for the system. This resolution is designed to protect the jobs of current bus drivers. A government's job should not be to award patronage or to protect the current employment of current employees but to provide necessary services in the most cost-efficient means possible. This resolution needs to be defeated.

Resolution RS2018-1120 is a meaningless memorializing  resolution expressing the support of the Metropolitan Council for the right of public employees to unionize and urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of public employees in a case before the Supreme Court.  This is hardly worth opposing, but I think if I were serving in the Council I would ask to be listed as abstaining. I do not think the Council should be expressing itself about national issues or requesting the Supreme Court rule a certain way. The resolutions contains some verbiage about income inequality and recalls the Memphis sanitation workers strike of the 1960's and references the "I am a man" speech. Probably this will pass without discussion but someone may take an opportunity to grandstand.
Bills on First reading: There are 19 bills on first reading. First reading is a formality that gets bills on the agenda and they are not considered by committee until after they pass first reading. They are all lumped together and pass by a single vote except in rare circumstances. I do not read them until they get to second reading.

Bills on Second Reading: There are only six bills on second reading and this is the only one of interest.
Bill BL2018-1056 would regulate the on-line market for Short term rentals, that is it
would regulate websites such as Airbnb.   It would require these sites to  require a Metro permit number for each STRP application prior to placing the property on the online marketplace site. It would also require the sites to provide a detailed quarterly reports to Metro. I would oppose this if I served in the Council. The development of the quarterly report could require new computer programs or lots of man-hours for the sites. While the staff analysis does not address the issue, I would like to know by what authority Metro had to require this of a company that is not physically located in Nashville and is simply a go between facilitating the interaction of people who want to provide a place to stay and people seeking a place to stay.  What if Metro required Airbnb to have agents who were locally licensed real estate agent? Could Metro do that?  If Airbnb simply ignores this law, what can the city do about it. How would they enforce it. The Internet does not stop at the county line. 
Bills on Third Reading:  There are 31 bills on third reading and most are approved zoning bill. These are two disapproved zoning bills, Bill BL2018-1099 and Bill BL2018-1100 which will take 27 votes in favor to be approved.  Sometimes because a member may be absent or distracted or take a position that they do not vote for bills disapproved by the Planning Commission or based on their perceived merits of the bill may vote "no" or abstain. In the case of a disapproved bill an abstention is the same as a "no" vote. Sometimes it can be hard to get 27 votes for a bill. I have no opinion on the merits of the bills.

To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person or you can watch the broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&T's U-verse 99 and it is streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site and you can watch it live on Roku. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel. If can stand the suspense and just wait, I will post the video on this blog the day after or the day after that and provide commentary.  

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