Saturday, May 16, 2020

Help for Homeowners after their homes were damaged by the tornado

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Upcoming Public Hearing on the Metro Budget

Lifted from the newsletter of Councilman Jeff Syracuse - The public hearing for the budget will be at the June 2nd Council Meeting. How do you have a public hearing without the public? Great question. Governor Lee has extended his Order that allows local municipalities to meet virtually until June 30th. If members of the public are interested in speaking either for or against any item on the public hearing agenda this is how you do it:

  1. Tune into the meeting via live streaming on, by watching on cable TV (Comcast channel 3, AT&T Uverse channel 99), or watch on the Roku Metro Nashville Network Channel.
  2. Wait for the Vice Mayor to announce when your item is ready for live call in. 
  3. Dial 629-255-1931 and wait for operator assistance. 
  4. You will be asked if you are calling for the current bill on public hearing. 
  5. Mute your TV or live stream when it is your turn to speak. 
  6. Once your time begins, state your name, address, and whether you are for or against the bill. You will have two minutes to speak. 
  7. During your public comments, you will receive a 30-second warning before your time limit is up. 
While the live call-in feature is strongly encouraged in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, members of the public may attend the Metro Council Meeting at the Historic Metro Courthouse (1 Public Square) and speak to the Council from the Council Chamber. Additional information about virtual Council Meetings and remote participation in Council public hearings can be found here.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

How Nashville Mayor John Cooper's budget proposal could play out as it heads before Metro Council

by Rod Williams - This article in the Tennessean offers insight into how the Metro budget battle may play out. If is for Tennessean subscribers only and I know many people don't subscribe, so I am going to summarize and excerpt.

If you have been paying attention, you already know the mayor's budget calls for a 32% increase. The proposed budget is $2.4 billion. Not stated in this article, but that is a 3% larger budget than the current budget.

"The city is projected to lose $470 million in revenue over the next 16 months, including more than $200 million in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1."

"Cooper's proposal calls for a $1 property tax increase, which would bring the rate to $4.155 per $100 of assessed value in the city's more urban areas. Those with a home appraised at $250,000 would pay about $625 more per year under Cooper's proposal."

The article gives some history recalling that property taxes have not been raised in a while and that last year while Mayor Briley did not propose a tax increase, the Council came within one vote of passing a tax increase and that effort was led by Council member at-large Bob Mendes  Over half of the Council is composed of new members and the new member will look to council members like Budget Chair Bob Mendes and former Budget Chair Tanaka Vercher for leadership.

Mendes makes a valid point saying that we have no idea what kind of revenue position we will be in, in six months and that we should pass a budget but pledge to reconsider it prior to tax bills going out in October.  Mendes is saying he is working on a substitute budget and while he doesn't say so directly, it looks like he will ask for a bigger tax increase than what the mayor wants.

Council member Steve Glover is putting together another budget proposal that raises taxes but considerably less than what the mayor proposes.

Emily Benedict is working on another budget proposal along with the LGBTQ caucus.  Why homosexuals would have different budget priorities than other members and why their sexual orientation would cause them to agree on budget priorities is beyond me. She wants to see the cuts to the Barnes Fund for affordable housing restored and says we should consider cutting all business incentives for corporation for this one year. "Cooper's budget proposal calls for a reduction by 50% in economic incentive grants, including for six companies, to save $1.2 million," says the article.

Since this speaks of cutting the incentives to six specific companies, I am assuming this is incentives included in previous negotiated incentive packages. While I oppose most incentive packages, if we previously promised the money and a company relocated here based on that understanding I do not see how we can now just not make those payments.  I would have to have more information in order to have an informed opinion of this.

The Minority Caucus is also working on a budget and looking at it through an "equity lens."

Council member Zulfat Suara says she wants a lower tax increase than proposed by the mayor, wants no layoffs but understands Metro employees may have to go without a raise and is looking at putting less money in reserves. She floats the idea of borrowing money.  The opportunity to borrow from something called the Municipal Liquidity Fund is available.  This was a resource only available to larger cities but the day before the mayor released his budget, the threshold was lowered.  We could borrow money at 0% interest that would have to be paid back in three years.  Some are skeptical of this approach.

A source of funding that the city is not yet sure what it could be used to fund, is the $121 million federal Covid-19 aid package. It comes with strings attached and is supposed to cover Covid-19 expenses but it sounds like it can just not be used to make up for lost revene.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Representative Bruce Griffey request a legal opinion from the Attorney General as to the constitutionality of the Governor's Executive Orders.

Rep. Bruce Griffey
From Rep. Bruce Griffey, TN Representative District 75 - Yesterday afternoon, I sent the attached letter to TN Attorney General Herbert Slatery, questioning the legal authority of the Governor to issue his series of Executive Orders in response to the COVID-19 virus and whether the Governor’s Orders infringed upon the rights of Tennesseans as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and/or Tennessee Constitution. When I ran for office, I ran on a platform of small government, limited government – a campaign platform I intend to honor. Moreover, when I took my oath of office, I swore to not only support the TN Constitution, but also to not consent to any act or thing that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge the rights and privileges of the people of this state as declared by the Constitution of this State. I intend to uphold my oath of office, and defend the Constitutional rights of Tennesseans and protect them from government over-reach.
Regrettably, as of today, a number of businesses remain closed entirely or are only operating at partial capacity as a result of the Governor's Executive Orders. A number of my constituents and other Tennesseans remain unemployed. A large number of people can enter Walmart or Lowe’s or even a gym, but children are unable to regain normalcy without little league and youth sport teams being able to practice and play. Consequently, I requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General as to the constitutionality of the Governor's Executive Orders.
As a TN licensed and practicing attorney for 30 years, serving as both an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney General, I have researched this issue myself and question the legal authority for the Governor to issue his Executive Orders purporting to close businesses, dictate Tennesseans’ healthcare decisions or prohibit people from exercising their right to gather.
Specifically, I question the constitutionality of the “Emergency Management Powers” statute under which the Governor is purportedly acting - specifically T.C.A. § 58-2-107. I believe the Tennessee General Assembly exceeded its Constitutional authority 20 years ago when it passed this law to give the Governor legislative power in emergency situations. Article II of the Tennessee Constitution, which addresses the “Distribution of Powers” and divides the “powers of government” “into 3 distinct departments: legislative, executive, and judicial.” In essence, the Tennessee Constitution explicitly provides that neither the Executive branch (i.e. the Governor) nor the courts can create law. Only the legislative branch can create law. Moreover, nothing in Article III of the Tennessee Constitution, which covers the “Executive Department” and the Governor’s powers, permit any legislative power to be given to the Governor or permit the Governor to exercise legislative power. Also, notably absent from Article III or any other provisions of the Tennessee Constitution is any mention of the power of the Governor to issue “Executive Orders”.
Moreover, I believe the Executive Orders themselves infringe upon the unalienable rights guaranteed to Tennesseans by both the U.S. Constitution and the TN Constitution. When the Governor issues an Executive Order, prohibiting Tennesseans from walking the trail of a state park or mandating that Tennesseans stay at home, I submit the Governor is ‘disseiz[ing]’ Tennesseans of their Constitutional ‘liberties’. When the Governor issues an Executive Order allowing Walmarts and Lowes and other big-box corporate giants to remain wide open for business, but banning small business owners from opening the doors to their restaurant, their bar, their clothing boutique, their gym or their bowling alley, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional by ‘destroy[ing] or depriv[ing]’ Tennesseans of their ‘property’. 

When the Governor issues an Executive Order, forbidding a self-employed barber or beautician from exercising their trade and providing services upon which they rely to pay their mortgage, feed their family and make their car payment, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional in violation of Sections 8 and 21 of the Tennessee Constitution. When the Governor issues an Executive Order, disallowing a little league team from playing baseball in an open, outdoor field or friends from gathering to watch the exchange of wedding vows and celebrate the sanctity of a marriage, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional inasmuch as it, among other things, violates Section 23 of the Tennessee Constitution, which guarantees Tennesseans the Constitutional ‘right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good’. When the Governor issues an Executive Order overriding the informed decisions of trained and licensed doctors and stripping Tennesseans of their right to make their own healthcare decisions by banning elective medical procedures, I submit such Executive Order is unconstitutional inasmuch as it strips Tennesseans of their ‘liberty’ and ‘is inconsistent with the principles of free government’.

I posited the following 4 specific questions to AG Slatery, requesting a formal legal opinion:
  1. Whether the Tennessee General Assembly exceeded its Constitutional authority when it passed T.C.A. § 58-2-107?;
  2. Whether the passage of T.C.A. § 58-2-107 amounted to an effort to amend the Tennessee Constitution without following the proper procedure to do so by equipping the Governor with powers not otherwise delegated to him under the Tennessee Constitution?;
  3. Whether the Governor exceeded his Constitutional authority when he issued the above-described Executive Orders?; and
  4. Whether the above-described Executive Orders issued by the Governor violated any Constitutional rights as guaranteed by either the U.S. Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution to Tennesseans?
I believe in supporting an individual’s Constitutional right to liberty and right to exercise the freedom of choice. An individual should be able to decide for himself or herself whether to assume any potential health risk of attending a public gathering or eating at a particular restaurant or shopping a particular store or getting a hair cut or whether they want to remain home. By the same token, a business should be able to decide whether to open or shutter its doors, and a self-employed individual should be able to make his or her own decision about whether to offer services or not. People should have the freedom to make their own decisions and, with such freedom, should take responsibility for their decisions. The government should not be making healthcare decisions for its citizens and overtaking individual decision making and telling people whether they should stay home or go out and when, where and how they do it.
Rod's comment:  I am pleased to see this.  I commend Representative Griffey for seeking a determination as to the legality of the Governor's actions.  I am not one who doubts the seriousness of the Corona Virus, but there are a lot of unknows as to rates of infection and immunity and best policies for addressing the epidemic.  However, even if it was equal to the Bubonic plague and we knew it, government should not trample's rights.  Government imposing restrictions without proper authority and due process is lawlessness and tyranny.  It may be that the actions governments have taken are legal.  I doubt it, but if that is so it needs to be explained how it is so.  In wars we have had restrictions on our liberty that would not be tolerated in peace time, everything from drafting into involuntary servitude to defend the country, to rationing to restrictions on speech. If there needs to be provision for similarly giving governments near dictatorial powers during a massive health crisis there needs to be a means of authorizing that power and a means of declaring the crisis at an end.  It should not be arbitrary.  Below is the full letter Rep. Griffey sent to the AG.


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City of Koxville Opts Out of Access to State COVID-19 Database

Mayor Indya Kincannon
City of Knoxville press release, 5/12/2020 - Mayor Indya Kincannon and Police Chief Eve Thomas announced today that the Knoxville Police Department will opt out of a state program that allows law-enforcement officers across Tennessee to access a database of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The initiative was well-intended, aimed at protecting first responders and the people they serve, and safeguards were put in place to protect confidential information,” Kincannon said. “But there are better ways to accomplish the same goals, and we will continue to take the appropriate steps to assure public safety.”

Part of the answer, Mayor Kincannon said, is to purchase and distribute more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

“Allowing law enforcement access to the state database was problematic,” Mayor Kincannon said. “Few people have been tested, and many others are asymptomatic carriers, so this could present a false sense of security. More importantly, we don’t want to create any public reluctance to be tested out of fear that confidential information might inadvertently be shared.”

Mayor Kincannon pledged “to continue to protect our first responders so that they can continue to protect our city.”

Steps being taken, the Mayor said, include:
  • Purchasing more N95 masks and other PPE;
  • Making sure that all first responders wear face coverings when interacting with the public in close proximity, unless doing so prevents them from doing their job effectively, such as when chasing a suspect on foot; and
  • Supporting collaborative community efforts to increase testing capacity, so that ALL first responders can be tested every two weeks until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Rod's Comment:  Congratulation Mayor Kincannon. It is a shame that Nashville is participating in this distasteful program.  This program is a grave violation of privacy.  It is a shame that Governor Bill Lee has authorized this practice. If the epidemic was AIDS, would people approve of this?  There have been a lot of policies during this crisis that appear arbitrary and authoritarian.  We should not give up our rights just because it is time of crisis.  We may lose them and never get them back.  Loss of freedom may become the new normal. These policies that are of questionable legality need to be challenged in court to establish limits as to what authorities may do.  Legislative bodies need to take action to stop them.  Our Metro Council should demand that Nashville not participate in this program.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rare bipartisan agreement: TN Republicans, Democrats raise concerns over sharing COVID-19 patient data with police

by Rod Williams - The Tennessean reports that Governor Lee's decision that Tennessee should share with police a daily list of those affected by the Corona virus has received pushback from both Republicans and Democrats.  The Beacon Center on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union on the left have both criticized the policy as have other organizations.  I share that concern and think it is an outrage.  To read the article follow this link.

Also see, Tennessee Department of Health initially denied first responder requests for COVID-19 patient data, emails show.

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Tennessee tax receipts for April off 29% from last year.

As reported in the Tennessean today, State tax receipts for April 2020 were only $855 million.  That compares to April 2019 tax receipts of $1.2 billion. That is a reduction of $345 million. If we had not had the Corona virus of course, revenues would have increased from 2019.  Luckily, Tennessee is in much better financial shape than the city of Nashville and has reserves.  Still, if this level of revenue loses continued, it would be extremely difficult to develop a budget without massive cuts. The State has already imposed a hiring freeze and ordered a halt to all but essential spending.  April's collections reflect economic activity in March, so May's numbers which reflect April collections may even be worst. Hopefully, April and May were the worst month of revenue loses and we will start to see a recovery. For more on this read the story at this link.

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We are going to have a property tax increase. The question is, how much?

by Rod Williams - We are going to have a property tax increase. The question is, how much?  In fact, not a single Council member will vote against a tax increase.  Often in years when we have a tax increase, there will be a few Council members who will vote "no."  I have heard Council members avow they did vote against the proposed tax increase budget.  They really didn't.

Here is how the Metro Budget is passed.  The mayor, after holding administrative budget hearings, develops a budget and presents it to the Council.  The Council can adopt it or change it.  The Council almost always makes some changes to the budget.  Even in years when a tax increase is not proposed, the Council usually shifts some money.  Usually in years in which a mayor proposed a tax increase, Council comes up with a budget that also increases taxes but less than what the mayor proposed. Then the council votes to adopt the budget. If they change the budget, that budget is now called "the substitute budget," or "the Council's budget."

Assume the Council's budget raises taxes but not as much as the Mayor's budget and assume a conservative member of the Council thinks the Council's budget still raises taxes too much and he votes "no."  What he has done is vote for the Mayor's budget that raises taxes more than the Council budget.  Here is what the Charter says:

The council shall finally adopt an operating budget for the ensuing fiscal year not later than the thirtieth day of June, and it shall be effective for the fiscal year beginning on the following July 1st. Such adoption shall take the form of an ordinance setting out the estimated revenues in detail by source and making appropriations according to fund and by organizational unit, purpose or activity as set out in the budget document. If the council shall fail to adopt a budget prior to the beginning of any fiscal year, it shall be conclusively presumed to have adopted the budget as submitted by the mayor. 
So, a vote against the budget before the Council is a vote for the Mayor's budget. That is the effect of a "No" vote.  If there is one Charter change I would like to see happen, I would like that changed.  It does not have to be this way.  In some cities, if the council fails to pass an annual budget, they may pass a monthly "continuing resolution" of 1/12th of last year's budget until such time they can agree on a budget. In those cases, a "no" vote really is a no vote.

The key to passing a Council budget is to get a budget that can get 21 votes. Some members may think the mayors budget does not raise taxes enough.  Some members want no tax increase. Somewhere between these poles is a budget number that can garner 21 votes.

I am pleased that some Council members are advocating no to any tax increase.  That is a good place to start but I can almost guarantee you there are not 21 votes for no tax increase.

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The Council meeting of May 5, 2020

This meeting is six hours long.  It is again conducted electronically with only a handful of people in the chamber.  To access a copy of the agenda, the staff analysis of the agenda and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link. Since this meeting is so long, I am not going attempt to watch the whole thing to find the results of significant legislation. I have been waiting for the minutes of the meeting.  As of 5/12/2020 the minutes are still not posted. Please check back.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Nashville Announces Slow Streets Effort to Promote Social Distancing While Walking, Running and Biking

Streets will close to thru traffic but remain open for local access
Metro Press Release - In an effort to provide additional outdoor space for walking, running and biking, the city of Nashville is unveiling 4.5 miles of temporary street closures in eight Nashville neighborhoods. The effort is a collaboration between Metro Public Works, the office of Mayor John Cooper, and the Metro Planning Department. The closures, which will apply to thru traffic, will allow local residents to spend time outside while maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from their neighbors. Streets will remain open to local traffic, including deliveries. Signage will be put in place beginning tomorrow, May 9.
"As we continue to see fewer vehicles on our roads during COVID-19, Metro joins other American cities in repurposing our valuable street space, in selected locations, to provide more opportunities for our residents to walk safely distanced," said Faye DiMassimo, Senior Advisor of Transportation and Infrastructure for Mayor John Cooper. "In addition to being a good way to get exercise, especially if you've been indoors all day, it can help to manage the anxiety that many are feeling during this time."
The first eight closures will be in the following neighborhood locations:
  • N. 17th St. from Holly St. to McEwen Ave.
  • 18th Ave. N. from Cass St. to 11th Ave. N.
  • Bowling Ave. from Woodlawn Dr. to Whitland Ave.
  • Grace St. from Joseph Ave. to Lischey Ave.
  • Indiana Ave. from 51st Ave N. to 44th Ave. N.
  • Oriole Place from Lone Oak Rd. to Shackleford Rd.
  • Owendale Dr. from Kinwood Dr. to Mossdale Dr.
  • Straightaway Ave. from Chapel Ave. to Porter Rd.
"I appreciate our Public Works and Planning staff putting the city's WalkNBike Strategic Plan and the many traffic calming applications received from our neighborhoods to work in selecting these open street locations," said Metro Council District 34 Member Angie Henderson. "This is an important step as we work to create a wider network of safe neighborways for walking and biking throughout Nashville."
Local streets that are part of this effort will be signed appropriately and barricades will be placed at the outer limits of the closures to prevent thru traffic. Metro Public Works right-of-way inspectors will monitor the closures to ensure they are maintained for the duration. While streets will remain open for local car access, drivers are urged to drive slowly and look out for residents walking, running and biking. Public Works staff will be monitoring and assessing each closure and making modifications as needed. The duration of the closures will align with Mayor Cooper's phased approach to reopening Nashville businesses, and streets will reopen once Nashville moves from phase 2 to phase 3.
"Making our streets safer and more friendly for walking, running and biking is one of our top priorities at Metro Public Works," said Jeff Hammond, Assistant Director. "This effort combines elements of our Walk N Bike master plan and our Neighborhood Traffic Calming program, and we will continue to consider additional ways to navigate these unusual times."
For more information on the temporary closures, visit the Metro Nashville Public Works website.

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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Three school board members file suit against ex-MNPS Director Dr. Shawn Joseph

Jill Speering (District 3), Fran Bush (District 6) and Amy Frogge (District 9)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — Three members of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education have filed a lawsuit against former Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph and the Metro government.

The board members—Jill Speering (District 3), Fran Bush (District 6) and Amy Frogge (District 9)—claim a clause in Joseph’s severance agreement violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (link)

To read the full complaint follow this link.

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Avoid emission testing. Renew tags before May 18th.

ALL Metro Nashville and TNVIP emission testing centers are CLOSED until further notice. All motor vehicle transactions completed by May 18th will be processed without an emissions test. (link)

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Replacing good sidewalk with new sidewalks; no wonder we are broke.

by Rod Williams, 5/10/2020- I walk almost every day to get exercise. Yesterday I saw where the city was replacing sidewalks on South Douglas Avenue between 10th Avenue South and 12th Avenue South.  I have walked this street.  These sidewalk may have had a few cracks but they were certainly serviceable.  This is ridiculous.  We are in a severe financial bind and yet we can afford to do this?  Even if we had plenty of money, rather than replace good sidewalks with new sidewalks, we should be expanding sidewalks to streets without them.

This has been going on for a long time.  We spend millions on sidewalks and yet people without sidewalks don't get them.

For more see;
Perfectly Serviceable Sidewalks being Ripped up and Replaced with New Sidewalks!
 Nashville has allocated $60 million for sidewalks. Only 3.5 miles of new sidewalks!!
Why should it cost $6 million to build a mile of new sidewalk?

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