Sunday, June 21, 2020

Councilman Brett A. Withers explains the budget process, his votes and defends himself against his leftist critics.

In the below essay Councilman Brett Withers provides valuable insight into the Metro government budgeting process and defends himself against attacks by his fellow progressive social justice warrior distractors.  At over 3500 words long, this is probably one of the longest blog post I have ever posted.  However, it does not contain wasted words.  Withers uses the number of words necessary to make his points. I encourage you to read it all.  The highlighting in the below essay is mine.
Brett Withers is not one of my favorite Council members.  I have often disagreed with legislation he has sponsored and the way he has voted.  One does not have to always agree with someone however, to recognize that they work hard and that they are knowledgeable and know what they are talking about.  I can respect someone for their ability, work ethic and knowledge and still not agree with their conclusions.  The budget process is complicated and a lot of people who are opinionated are not very informed. This essay by Withers is informative for anyone wanting a better understanding of the budget process.
In the most recent budget battle, the leftist activist have turned on Withers for not supporting their attempt to defund the police.  Because he is an employee of a subsidiary of TransCor America, the left has taken the tactic of claiming Withers voted for the interest of his employer rather than standing with the people for racial justice.  TransCor is the company formerly know as CoreLogic that provides incarceration services to governments.  They own prisons, among other things. In this essay,  Withers counters that charge that he put the interest of his employer above that of his constituents. Rod Williams

Brett Withers
by Councilman Brett A Withers, reposted from Facebook - I hope that everyone is enjoying the sunny weather today. I finally got a chance to sleep in this morning and go for a drive in the country to clear my head, which I highly recommend. I also joined Council Member Zulfat Suara’s FaceBook Live meeting providing a budget vote recap at 3:00 PM. I indicated earlier that I would send out a communication as well, and so here goes.

The Metro Government budget process is always like a marathon - it lasts several months - and this year’s was the most harrowing of the five that I have been through so far. The Metro Charter is a strong-mayor/weak-council system, and the Metro Departments are part of the executive branch, not the legislative branch of government.

Metro’s operating budget is a maintenance-of-effort system which means that each Department leadership team makes a presentation to the Mayor about what staffing or other operating budgets they need to continue providing services to constituents. This could mean that some efficiencies have been found (“targeted savings”) or that new situations have emerged or new efforts are underway or are being asked that would require additional employees or recurring operating budget resources. The mayor then goes through all of these department presentations and submits a recommended budget. Then the Metro Council goes back through that process with each of the Departments and then the Budget & Finance Committee chair submits a substitute operating budget that tweaks those recommendations a little bit, and there are amendment proposals to that substitute that the Metro Council votes up or down. Then if the Budget & Finance Committee chair’s substitute does not pass with whatever amendments were approved, then by law the Mayor’s recommended operating budget goes into effect. That happened last year. This year was unusual in that there were multiple substitute budget options that came out really late in the timeline. But Budget & Finance Committee Chair Bob Mendes’s Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget passed with 32 votes.

I think that it is fair to say that this budget doesn’t make anyone happy. Truly. But I have always voted to fund our school system and I did support Council Member Zulfat Suara’s Amendment 8 that moves up to $8,158,500 out of the MNPS Cash & Fund Balance (savings) toward teacher compensation. I also voted for Council Member Colby Sledge’s Amendment 5 that would have moved $2.5M from the Public Health & Safety Contingency fund toward the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing, but that vote count failed.

I did not vote for Council Member Sean Parker’s Amendment 7 that would have diverted about $2.9M from the Sheriff, District Attorney and Police Departments for a contingency account for a social and emotional learning contingency fund. While the minutes have not yet posted, the Council Office’s notes appear to show that in addition to me, 24 other Council Members voted no on this amendment: Council Members Allen, Glover, Hall, Swope, VanReece, Hancock, Young, Hagar, Evans, Bradford, Rhoten, Syracuse, Cash, O’Connell, Roberts, Druffel, Murphy, Pulley, Johnston, Nash, Vercher, Rutherford, Styles and Henderson. This vote count captures a broad spectrum of Council Members. I have in the past supported efforts by NOAH and other groups by voting to fund social and emotional learning in MNPS budgets and to urge for the passage of School Board actions to address this needed instruction. But a great many of my Metro Council colleagues and I felt that this particular Amendment was well intentioned but not the appropriate way to fund this contingency fund at this time.

Council Member Welsch’s Amendment 26 that would have decreased the police department and sheriff’s office funding by about $110M and moved those funds into a number of other departments failed in a voice vote and a roll call vote was not taken. I have seen social media posts that listed perhaps ten out of forty Council Members who voted for it. There was a larger number of no votes - including mine - and a large number of abstentions. The African American Council Member vote was spread in yes/no/abstain votes.

Here are some thoughts on that.

Let’s go back to my previous indication that Metro’s operating budget is based upon departmental needs to maintain essential services to constituents. It is not clear to me that the sponsor or advocates for this amendment have thought through and accounted for how such a significant budget cut would impact services to the entire county.

Davidson County’s police staffing per capita is already lower than some other large cities, and our city is spread out over 500 square miles. The number one thing that constituents contact Council Members about is speeding cars and requesting traffic enforcement, which is mostly a police function. Noise complaints which are high in District 6 are also a police function.

Council Members also receive complaints about slow response times to police calls, and in the Southeast region which has the most traffic and some of the highest population growth, the former District 32 Council Member commented several times during our service together last term that her constituents wanted more police patrols. District 28 Council Member Tanaka Vercher served with me last term and has shared similar constituent feedback and this year has continued to advocate for opening a new Antioch police precinct on Murfreesboro Road. And so while I understand that in the last few weeks a national movement has erupted to defund police departments in large cities, and that defund movement means different things to different people, it is not clear to me that this amendment matches up with longstanding constituent calls throughout the county for additional police patrols and to create a new police precinct in Antioch led by an African American Council Member.

I would also share that I have been involved in this community for more than a dozen years and have experienced how our East Nashville neighborhood associations have worked closely with the East Precinct to address problems and make our community much safer for everyone. That effort to make our neighborhoods safer has taken a lot of working together among our neighborhood associations and with the East Precinct over the years. This longstanding positive working relationship includes neighborhood associations that have been led by African American East Nashville community members.

Several years ago as a community member I worked with the McFerrin Park neighborhood association on an event with the East Precinct to address crime concerns on North Second Street that were making residents there fearful in their homes. That community work with the East Precinct appears to have improved the quality of life and safety for neighbors in McFerrin Park over what it used to be ten or more years ago. And that event working with the East Precinct and the McFerrin Park Neighborhood Association was where I met a longtime neighbor who currently serves on the Community Oversight Board. It is good to have community members who have longstanding ties to neighborhoods that have worked on problem-solving efforts with the police department serving on the Community Oversight Board.

My own street is much safer now than when I first moved here and my family feared for my safety due to drug dealing and aggravated assaults. Later on East Nashville was experiencing rashes of home breakins and around 2010 the Eastwood neighborhood association created a yard sign that said “See Suspicious Activity? Call 862-8600.” Lots of neighbors across East Nashville bought those signs to encourage neighbors to contact the police nonemergency number to report suspicious activity, and the effort worked and the number of breakins decreased significantly, but of course there still are some.

Most if not all East Nashville neighborhood association meetings before COVID-19 continued to include police reports where an officer attends, goes over recent statistics for each neighborhood, and answers any questions or concerns that neighbors have. I have attended hundreds of those neighborhood meetings in District 6 including in Cayce Place and I have never heard neighbors say that they wanted less police officers responding to calls.

In Cayce we had a series of tragic shootings all in one year and the last one was a high school student who was caught in crossfire and tragically killed. I was present that night when Cayce neighbors gathered to mourn her death and speakers urged neighbors to communicate with the police to help bring the shootings to and end.

I was also serving as the District 6 Council Member when Jocques Clemmons was shot by a police officer. I spent a lot of time at Cayce over those days and weeks following that shooting. The Cayce residents themselves expressed to me that they wanted the matter investigated but they also remained calm. There were some social justice advocates who wanted to hold protests on the campus. But the Cayce Residents Assiciation president at the time who was also a NAACP member asked them not to do that. Some groups later held a protest and came to the Metro Council.

The Cayce residents themselves indicated to me that they wanted police protection but wanted policing to be done differently. Ultimately MDHA added more security cameras on the campus and the East Precinct worked with me, MDHA and the Cayce residents to set up foot and bike patrols that have fostered close relationships in Cayce Place. We actually pay police officers to walk children to school in the morning and play basketball in the afternoon and build positive relationships with residents in order to address potential problems before they place the community in danger.

There is a community advisory group for this team that includes Cayce residents, other neighbors and local faith leaders, and the advisory group meets monthly to talk with the East Precinct about what is working well or could be approached better or differently. This community policing model requires more personnel in the Cayce neighborhood than typical cruiser patrol ratios and it has made the Cayce community safer. But if we cut the police budget in half overnight that will go away, and instead whatever police officer staffing the county has remaining will go back to cruisers to respond to calls all across the county when they can get to the call.

So that is an example of how in some cases, having more police officers on foot or bike actually does make communities safer. It depends on the relationships that can be built. The sort of one-size-fits-all truisms of many of the calls to slash police department funding and personnel are not necessarily always true in Nashville. Nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the constituents for whom some well-meaning groups and neighbors are trying to speak. The way that I know what Cayce residents want is by asking them and listening to them.

I would also encourage folks to look more closely at how African American Council Members voted on this amendment. A couple of them voted yes, others abstained and at least two voted no. Council Member Porterfield stated on the floor that she empathized with the concerns but would be voting no. I cannot and will not speak for my colleagues but I do encourage folks to watch the video footage to discern the nuance of the deliberations.

I agree with several colleagues that I understand and appreciate the concerns raised but do not feel that simply cutting the Nashville police department’s budget by a large number and then sprinkling those funds over to other Departments is a well-thought-out plan to provide services to communities who truly need support. It is conceivable to me that Nashville can come up with a thoughtful and intentional, stakeholder-led plan to reimagine how several interrelated community support services are funded and provided in Nashville. Taking a dramatic budget cut action simply “to make a point” as one constituent wrote to me is not a thoughtful plan.

I appreciate the passion and enthusiasm of the many young people who wrote or spoke to the Metro Council on this topic.Sometimes I can agree with someone on a goal but not on the strategy for attaining that goal.

When I was in college and about 20 years old I was part of a Left-aligned group and read up on a lot of the Marxist-Leninist literature. I still have some of those books on my personal library shelf today as pictured. I had to work two jobs for a while to put myself through college but I did spend a fair amount of time traveling around the Midwest to counter-demonstrate against KuKluxKlan rallies. And while my appreciation of the Left critique of Capitalism remains, my beliefs about how to address those problems and how change occurs through government has continued to evolve with my own life experience and observation. In my zeal I did and said things to people whom I was trying to help or persuade that were not helpful, compassionate or even constructive. I am still working to make the world a better place and I continue to listen, observe and learn every day.

Sometimes individuals with Left-aligned views have a tendency to decide that a person who agrees with them on many things and actually votes with them a lot of the time is suddenly the enemy, and some of that phenomenon appears to be targeted toward me right now. That activity is understandable but unfortunate and I believe that it is misplaced.

I am the first person in my family to go to college in the traditional sense and I put myself through school, earned an undergraduate degree in liberal arts (English, with a minor in Comparative Literature and a minor in Philosophy) and then decided against incurring more student loan debt for graduate school but rather decided instead to get a “day job” to pay off those undergrad student loans.

My first job out of college was as an entry-level employee in the commercial real estate appraisal department at Price Waterhouse (now PwC). I loved that job and was working toward my commercial real estate appraise certifications. That’s how I learned so much about land use policy and zoning.

Then 9/11 happened and almost all commercial real estate transactions stopped for a while and that division was eliminated in Chicago. So I went to work as a support staff for executives at PwC. I worked for the president of a department that did business process best practices analysis and publishing and then that division was relocated to Tampa, Florida. I then went to work as the assistant to the head of PwC’s mergers and acquisitions division for the Midwest region. I left that job and moved to Nashville to help take care of my grandparents and to spend time with my family here. So when I moved to Nashville PwC did not have an office in Nashville and I worked with a staffing company on a job search and that is how I ended up at TransCor America, which is government contractor that provides transportation services. Yes, it is a company that is owned by CoreCivic. I had never even heard of that then. But at any rate, my job is as the support staff for the president and VP of TransCor America. They are both Marines (TransCor strives to hire veterans).

I am an hourly worker. I do meeting and event planning, I work on documents, reports and communications, and I work on employee relations stuff. I produce the employee newsletter. I send birthday cards. I spend a lot of time ordering flowers for funerals when an employee loses a loved one. I put a lot of work into quarterly or annual employee recognition awards events and communications. I work with a team of volunteers who send gifts to employees at the non-Nashville locations to let them know that we are thinking of them. Most TransCor employees are CDL drivers and are diverse. In 2016 TransCor was named a Top Workplace based upon external employee engagement survey responses. Right now I am also covering a switchboard.

I have held this same support staff position at TransCor for 13 years. That information has always been available. I know that a lot of people don’t like CoreCivic. I don’t make decisions for or speak for CoreCivic, or even TransCor. I punch a clock and go home at the end of the day.

While working my day job at TransCor over the years I have taken off work countless times to support our community at Planning Commission or other Metro Government meetings. I was elected the president of Eastwood Neighbors five years in a row from 2010-2014 and worked with our neighborhood on an extensive Conservation Overlay expansion and helped negotiate an adaptive reuse plan for Hobson Church at Greenwood/Chapel that is finally coming to fruition. I worked with then-Council Member Walter Hunt in 2013 and 2014 to build community support to pass the DADU bill allowing detached garage apartments, the Duplex Bill regulating the “tall-skinny” proportions of duplexes, and the Contextual Overlay enabling legislation. I was honored by the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association as their East Nashvillian of the Year for 2014. All while working this same administrative support job.

In 2015 I ran for Metro Council to represent District 6 with a campaign team of neighborhood volunteers and with support from District 6 residents and small businesses. My employer was definitely a topic of conversation at that time. I won 62% of the vote. I think that most District 6 voters at that time were able to weigh my long record of community involvement higher than their feelings about the parent company of the employer who pays me an hourly wage for a support staff position. I ran unopposed in 2019.

I know that some people are once again resorting to putting up signs and using ad-hominem attacks, but the identity of my employer has been public information for a long time and has been known to most people who have been around and paying attention. I hope that those who have been around the neighborhood and paying attention have also noticed my work to serve and support this community as best as I can.

That leads me to the concern that some have expressed that my reason for not voting for Amendment 26 is due to my employer.


My voting record shows that I have always voted to fund Metro Schools as much as I can, even if it requires raising taxes to do so. Every year.

On the law enforcement and immigration topic, I even cosponsored legislation introduced by Council Member Bob Mendes that would have ended Metro funding for immigration enforcement at the jail…/o…/term_2015_2019/bl2017_739.htm and ended Metro’s contract with the US Marshals Service…/o…/term_2015_2019/bl2017_743.htm. My views do not reflect those of my employer.

I also introduced and passed a Resolution making Nashville one of the first cities in the Southeast to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day…/r…/term_2015_2019/rs2017_907.htm. I have taken numerous other steps to support racial justice efforts in Nashville, not to mention LGBTQ equality. In terms of funding affordable housing and services, the Envision Cayce Master Plan is a $600M affordable and workforce housing plan that has also brought an additional school to the Cayce neighborhood at no cost to Metro. I did work with Mayor David Briley to fund some additional affordable housing units on top of the one-for-one affordable housing replacement units. So I support funding education and affordable housing.

I simply do not believe that the proposed Amendment 26 represented a well thought-out strategic plan to address some of the valid concerns that have been raised about policing and to provide comprehensive solutions that would be needed in order to reduce the number of police officer positions in Nashville. That is an aspirational goal. And some of my African American Metro Council colleagues appear to agree and voted similarly.

I appreciate the many kind emails or communications from District 6 neighbors that I have received over the last few days. I will continue doing what I can to support practical measures that further the Black Lives Matter movement in Nashville where I believe that our city can again lead the nation in thoughtful dialogue and positive change to make our city safer for everyone.

Thank you for reading.

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