Saturday, February 09, 2019

I am the proud grandfather of a baby boy.

On a personal note:

I am the proud grandfather of a baby boy!

On Tuesday February 5th, my daughter Rachel Anne Williams Bennett gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  His name is Cova New Bennett and he weighted 8lb and 1 oz and was 20 inches in length.  He is the prettiest baby you have ever seen!

Rachel is married to Joshua Bennett and they live in New Orleans and have lived there about five years, moving to New Orleans shortly after they got married. Cova was born at 10AM on Tuesday.  I flew down and was there by about 5PM and got to hold my new grandson.  I spend the night and visited the hospital again the next day and flew back to Nashville Wednesday evening. Due to my wife being an invalid and needing constant and total care, it can be difficult to get away.  I appreciate Louella's care giver, Sue Deuss, for working around the clock so I could make the trip. I am so glad I did not miss this glorious event. I hope I get to return often to see him as he grows, even if my stays are short.

Rachel is my only child and I was beginning to think I was not going to be a grandfather. I am so happy!

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Metro council decides not to censure former Mayor Megan Barry.

Megan Barry
Feb. 9, 2019 - Last Council meeting there was a resolution before the Council to censure former Mayor Megan Barry. The Metro Board of Ethical Conduct in December recommend the Council do so. However, the Rules and Confirmation Committee of the Council voted 6 to 1 to recommend that the Council defer indefinitely that proposal. That is the normal process for killing a resolution. Seldom is something killed outright but instead is differed indefinitely.  On the floor of the Council, the sponsor of the resolution, Councilwomen Antoinette Lee,  moved to withdraw the resolution and that was accomplished with only At-large Councilman Bob Mendes against withdrawal.

As all who follow Metro politics at all now know, Mayor Barry engaged a two year affair with her police bodyguard, both of whom were married at the time.  They went on official city trips together to exotic locations based on the flimsiest of logic that the trips were related to Metro business.  Also, the officer with whom she was having the affair charged the city overtime while dallying with the Mayor.  This not only bumped up his current paychecks but greatly increased his pension benefit. The affair all came to light and Mayor Barry resigned on March 6, 2017 as part of a plea deal, pleading guilt to felony theft.

There was some legal question as to if the Council could censor a former official.  Given that Barry has already resigned and plead guilty to a crime, I think passing a censor resolution was "beating a dead horse." If I had served in the Council I would have voted with the majority for withdrawal of the resolution.  For more on the issue as reported by The Tennessean, follow this link.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Friday, February 08, 2019

I am curtailing my coverage of the council. How to stay informed about what happens in the Metro Council.

For the last three years I have been covering the meetings of the Metro Council in detail.  I have covered what happened in the Metro Council for much longer than that but in the last three years I have methodically covered the council.  I have read every agenda and every agenda analysis, read a lot of the bills, and posted a blog post on the topic of "what's on the agenda." I would point out what I perceived to be the most important items, summarize the legislation and provide commentary. I would then watch the meeting, post a video of it and provide time-stamp notation to the best parts where one could go to that point in the video and see a good debate or speech or explanation from a member of the body.

I am curtailing my coverage of the council.  Covering the council in such detail had become more like a job and an obligation rather than a pleasurable activity.  I was not having fun. The Council meets twice a month and those meeting seem to be coming faster and faster.  Also, the Council has had some six hour meetings in the last year. I have leaned to watch meeting at double speed but still to watch in sufficient detail to properly notate and report on what occurred has proved very time consuming. I admit that knowing I was the best informed person in Nashville about what went on in the Metro Council gave me a certain amount of ego satisfaction but one never knows if anyone else appreciates what you do or even notices.

I will continue to stay informed and report on the most important stuff before the Council but I am not going to meticulously study every Council agenda and then watch every meeting.  For those who do care deeply about what happens in the city let me give you some tips and links for watching the Metro Council and being well informed.

To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person. I see very little reason to do that. If it is an issue you care deeply about and you know some council members, your presence in the audience could impact a vote but probably not.  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, or if you have Roku there is a Metro Nashville channel that carries the program.

You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel  or you can watch a video of the meeting on the News and Media web page. If you are going to watch the video it is worth learning to watch it in double speed because much of it is real boring and you can listen faster than councilmen can talk. If you open the video and click on the little gear symbol on the bottom of the video screen you can change the speed. If you are not offered that option, there is a setting adjustment you can make. It is different for different web browsers. Just search "How to watch a video in double speed," and you will lean how.

You need an agenda and a staff agenda analysis to really understand what is going on. If you just watch the meeting without these tools it will be hard to understand what is under discussion. To access the agenda go to this link, and you will find the most recent agenda.  For the staff analysis, follow this link.

To access the minutes of the meeting follow this link. The minutes will give you the official version of what happened and give the results of roll call vote and the text of amendments and substitute ordinances which you may not other wise have from just watching the meeting.  The minutes, however, are usually not posted until the Friday following a Tuesday meeting.

It is easier than ever to keep informed about what is happening, but even with all of the available technology it still takes some effort.  To be really informed about Council activity one needs to watch committee meetings. I only watched committee meetings occasionally.  Most real discussion and explanations of  issues takes place in committee meetings.  If you are going to watch any committee meeting, the most important committee is Budget and Finance.

I may resume my methodical coverage of the Council after a period of taking a break, especially if I get any encouragement. In any event, I am going to stay informed and will try to report on the most important legislative activities.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Council votes $15.2 million corporate welfare for Amazon

At Tuesday's February 5th  council meeting the Council voted to approve spending $15.2 million for road, sewer and other work around Nashville Yards which is a new development being build on the site of the old Southern Baptist downtown headquarters. This development will be home to the Amazon hub planned for Nashville.  Amazon, as almost everyone knows, is one of the wealthiest companies in the world.

Usually when a developer builds a piece of property they are responsible for infrastructure improvements. Weather a residential subdivision or an office park, normally the developer must build the roads and sewers and when the construction is complete, give the the infrastructure to the city.  This $15.2 million giveaway is the kind of corporate welfare to which I object.  This type giveaway is why the city of Nashville is in a financial crisis despite experiencing massive growth.

The measure passed by a  vote of 28-3.  The three "no" votes were At-large Councilman John Cooper, Councilman Steve Glover, and Councilwomen Angie Henderson.

Cooper said of the proposal,  "Once again, we are using taxpayer money to subsidize the wealthiest, and once again we don't need to. We are handing subsidies out due to habit." Angie Dickerson was also vocally critical of the deal and called it ""cronyism" and denounced "special deals" for favored developers.

To read The Tennessean's coverage of the issue follow this link.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

John Cooper will not run for mayor.

John Cooper
by Rod Williams - John Cooper has announced he will not run for mayor and has announced also that he will  not seek reelection to the Metro Council.  This is disappointing.  It was widely anticipated that Cooper would run for mayor. Cooper has been one of the best members of the Council when it comes to fiscal matters.  He has been critical of the mayor's budget priorities, critical of tax giveaways to developers, he opposed the soccer stadium deal, and last year when the Council voted against raising taxes in a close 20-19 vote, Cooper voted against the tax increase.  As one who watches the Council closely, I have been very impressed by John Cooper.  John Cooper is a Democrat and the younger brother of Senator Jim Cooper, but he may be the last sane Democrat in America.  He is by far my favorite  Nashville Democrat. I would have supported him had he ran for mayor.

In a Tennessean article today, Cooper is quoted as saying he plans to remain involved in political affairs.  He says rather than a change in the mayor's office that what's most needed is to educate people about Metro's finances and he says he will be doing that. I agree that, that is important, but how Cooper plans to have any impact once out of office, I don't know.  Even if he gets a gig as a commentator on a TV program, his influence will be minimal. I respect his decision but am disappointed.

With Cooper out of the picture, that leaves incumbent Mayor David Briley and State Representative John Ray Clemmons as the announced candidates.  Both would be bad.  Another likely candidate is Bill Freeman.  In the 2015 election which resulted in a runoff between David Fox and Megan Barry, Freeman came in, in third place. It is widely expected that Freeman will run.  Freeman is a major fundraiser for the national Democrat Party and liberal candidates and another liberal. However, he may be more fiscally responsible than the other two candidates. I don't know that but have that impression.  If the choices boil down to Briley, Clemmons and Freeman, I will most likely hold my nose and vote for Freeman. I perceive that he may be the least bad of three bad choices but I hope someone else gets in the race, but at this point I don't know of any potential candidate that would not be flaming liberal.

My perception is that Nashville is even more liberal now than in 2015 when we elected Megan Barry.  As the demographics shift to younger people and more Northeastern and California immigrants, the chance for a conservative candidate to be elected mayor dims.  Many of these newer immigrants to our city may not care a lot about the details of local governance and particular policy positions but they will vote for the candidate that they perceive as the most liberal. Issues like being pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, favoring removing confederate names and monument (not that we have many) and racial "social justice" are going to be more important than the city's debt, tax rates and an adequately funded pension plans. I hate to be so pessimistic but I do not see an opportunity for a path to victory for a conservative.  About the best we can hope for is a social liberal who is fiscally responsible. You sometime do, but rarely, find that combination.

I would like to see a mayor who would cut the number of metro employees, cut taxes, give employees their promised pay raise, put our pension plan on a sound sustainable footing, address crime, and reform our failing school system.  Since the school system is governed by an elected school board, it is difficult for the mayor to make an immediate and huge impact but the mayor can use the bully pulpit and advocate and influence. If we had the right leader who would tackle the issue, I believe the right leader could make an impact on our education system but it would not be easy.   I would also like to see a mayor who had a vision for improving transportation that relied of new technologies and markets rather than the standard nineteenth century model of fixed rail. I don't expect to find the idea candidate.

I don't think Carol Swain would have much of a chance of winning a race for mayor should she run again.  Her conservative view are too well known. If there was a sensible, pragmatic person running for mayor, such as John Cooper, I would not want Swain to run.  If, however, the only candidates are going to be Briley, Clemmons, Freedman and maybe Erica Gilmore, I would like to see Swain jump in the race.  I would not expect her to win, but if those were the choices, I would vote for her.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

State legislature looks to curtail power of new civilian police oversight board

The State legislature is considering action to take away the subpoena power of Nashville's newly created Community Police Oversight Board.  Good! When voters passed the charter amendment creating the Board, I predicted that either a Court or the State legislature would curtail the authority of the Board.  It was a terribly flawed law.  The legislation being considered would not invalidate the new law entirely but would neuter it. The proposed legislation would limit any citizen board's authority to compel witnesses during the review of complaints.  The proposed legislation, "limits the authority of a community oversight board to the review and consideration of matters reported to it and the issuance of advisory reports and recommendations to agencies involved in public safety and the administration of justice." This would correct the corruption of due process inherent in the new Charter amendment. Without this subpoena power the board could do little harm but also could not do much of anything.

If not compelled to testify before the Board, I am sure a police officer accused of misconduct would, on the advice of his attorney, refuse to do so.  The Board could still issue reports and recommendations but they would carry little weight.  The Charter mandates a $2 million annual budget for the new board. When Metro government cannot give employees a promised raise, when schools are failing, and Metro is cutting millions of dollars out of budgets just to stay solvent, $2 million a year is a lot of money to just give a handful of community activist an official platform for attacking the police.  I would hope that without subpoena power, the pubic would see the board is a useless waste of money and the new charter amendment would be repealed.

In addition to taking away subpoena power the pending legislation would prohibit cities from mandating the composition of the board so as to require certain demographics, economic status or employment history for Board members. Nashville's board does that. It requires so many be from economically depressed areas and prohibits policemen or family of policemen from serving on the board.

For more on this issue see the following:

The Tennessean, Tennessee Republicans file bill stripping Nashville police oversight board's subpoena powers

Metro council picks members of police oversight board 

The Tennessee General Assembly, HB0658

Vote NO on Metropolitan Charter Amendment 1

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Paycheck to paycheck

by Rod Williams, Feb. 3, 2019 - As soon as the government shut down occured, the media started running stories about how devastating the shutdown would be on government workers who are living "paycheck to paycheck."  My initial reaction was that this was so much hype to tilt public opinion against the president. After all, government workers get paid pretty darn well compared to the private sector or compared to state or local government employees doing comparable jobs.  Surely, I reasoned, they could miss a paycheck without it being a disaster.

Upon reflection however, I realized the shut down would be devastating for many who live paycheck to paycheck.  And, many do. However, living paycheck to paycheck is simply irresponsible and a reflective of stupidity. I do not think federal government employees are more irresponsible and stupid than the average person, however.  That is probably typical of many people.

I spend my career working with poor people and much of what I did was teach poor people how to become homeowners.  That most often involved teaching them how to change their habits and values. It involved teaching them to set priorities and learn delayed gratification and exercise personal discipline. I did not teach this class as one who did not know what they were talking about.  I have experienced poverty.  It was not fun but I know what it is like. I survived it without ever having my electricity cut off or without being evicted or filing bankruptcy. I managed my poverty until things improved. I could talk to poor people and knew what I was talking about

About 2006 we started seeing a new class of clientele at our agency; not poor people wanting to become homeowners but middle class people wanting to avoid losing their home.  We did some good. We helped many people get financial assistance to save their home and helped many clients get modifications or repayment plans that allowed them to keep their home.  As the housing crisis grew, my work shifted entirely to mortgage default counseling.  I am now mostly retired and don't need to work but still work part-time and see about two clients a week.  It keeps my mind sharp and it is rewarding to help someone through a crisis.

My experience working with middle class people who are about to lose their home and poor people who wanted to achieve the dream of home ownership taught me something.  The poor and the middle class are not much different; the middle class just have more money.  I know my sample may be skewered because of the middle class I saw, I only saw those who were facing a crisis.  However, giving the report of how missing one paycheck impacted federal workers, I think my observation is quite accurate.

It is sad that missing one paycheck could cause someone to be unable to pay their house payment or buy groceries.  It is sad that one lives paycheck to paycheck.  However, there is simply no excuse for living that way.  As a housing counselor I saw people lose their home because as soon as they got laid off and missed their first paycheck, they missed a house payment.  Many people who lost their home could have avoided losing their home had they had some saving.

I know people will object and say, "I don't make enough money to save."  That is simply not true. Savings is simply a matter of prioritizing. It is a question of management and exercising a little discipline and establishing some priorities. I tell clients that savings is "paying yourself first."  In examining a client's income and expense report, after I ask them in detail how much they spend on this or that, I then review their credit card statements and bank statement. Often people don't know how much money they make and they don't know how they spend it. Often they spend it foolishly.

I was working with one client who was facing foreclosure. After developing her budget sheet, I then reviewed her bank statement and saw a fee for something like $115 to a place with the name of something like "Dragon's Lair."  I asked her what that expenditure was for and she said it was for a tattoo. She went on to explain that with all she was going though she needed to do something for herself. "I felt I deserved it, " she said.  That is not an uncommon attitude. People spend money on something because they "deserve it."

I was working with one couple who had missed a house payment but had gone out and traded cars and had a large car payment of almost $500. When I asked the client why they had taken on this new debt the wife told me that she was pregnant and they already had one child and, "we had to have an SUV."  People feel entitled to things weather they can afford them or not.

I see many people who have no accumulated saving for retirement. In an article by David Moon that appeared in the Tennessean today, he says only 52% of Americans have any type of retirement savings.  In my position as a housing counselor, I have seen people who had an employer contribution retirement plan where the employer would match what the employee contributed and yet the employee did not participate.  There is a lot of free money that people are just turning down. If the employer matches the employee's contribution that is a 100% return! Putting it into such an account also makes the money not subject to taxes which makes the effective return 125% or something, and then if you assumes the money is invested and grows at 10% that makes the return 135%.  These employees by refusing to save $100 are saying, "no thank you, keep your $135."  They are leaving money lying on the table and refusing to pick it up.

I have seen people who spend enough daily on Starbucks coffee to have a week's paycheck in the bank in a few months. There are many people who could build a nice nest egg if they would exercise six months' discipline.

As a conservative, I have always believed in maximum freedom for the individual. When it comes to poor people this has caused me to advocate for food stamps as oppose to food commodities and housing vouchers as opposed to public housing and to entertain ideas such as a guaranteed minimum income to replace the bundle of current welfare programs.  I have thought that Social Security should be replaced with a retirement fund owned by the individual.  This rest on a foundation of believe in individual autonomy and personal freedom.  I hate to say I may have been wrong about a lot of things, but I am coming to the conclusion that most people are too stupid to be free.  If given choices they will make wrong choices. Unfortunately, many people need to be treated like children and need someone to take care of them.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories