Standing against hateful policies. A reflection & a call to action. As I began what may be my final year of service on Nashville’s Metro Council, it was my turn to organize an invocation–often that’s simply inviting a local faith leader from one’s district, and I have been pleased to have a youth minister from First Presbyterian and Rabbi Laurie Rice from Congregation Micah as my guests over the years. But this year, after so much hateful legislation at the state level, and in response to those who often are aligned with that legislation quoting the Reverend Martin Luther King, I chose to speak my own words about the work we do and the moment in which we find ourselves together.
Steve Cavendish and the Nashville Banner recently sat down for a Q&A one-on-one with Angie. They discussed everything from the role of the vice mayor, Angie’s vision for how an effective and efficient council should run, and even her vote on the Titan’s Stadium.
Check out Angie’s responses at the link below:
Recently, the Tennessean Editorial Board invited candidates for the 2023 Metro Nashville-Davidson County municipal elections to fill out their candidate questionnaire. Angie answered the Tennessean’s questions that ranged on a variety of topics from key policy issues to recommendations to visitors on what they should see and do in our city.
Check out Angie’s responses at the link below:
Since announcing my campaign in March, even in the midst of an especially difficult time for our community, the response to my candidacy has been outstanding. Across the city, folks want a leader with empathy and energy, a strong communicator focused on solutions. Nashvillians want stability not the status quo, someone who will step up and meet our challenges.
I am grateful to everyone who has helped make the start of my campaign to serve Nashville such a success. You’re attending events, making contributions, telling your friends. Keep spreading the word! We’re building something special together.
Nashville has been needing some good news, and we received it on Monday when a three-judge panel ruled unanimously in the city’s favor, agreeing that the “home rule” provision of our state constitution prohibits the legislature from targeting Metro Nashville and creating confusion in an already in-progress election. With an injunction in place, we are now almost certain to have races for a 40-member council, with 35 district and five at-large seats, per the Metro Charter, our city’s constitution. Nashvillians had their say on the size of the Council, just five years ago, in a referendum. Hopefully this positive turn-of-events will encourage more restraint by the state legislature’s Republican supermajority, which has lately targeted our city with overreaching bills, punching and grabbing at Nashville.
Standing up to bullies is the best strategy, and I have always been someone who will stand and speak for what is right. I do not suffer fools or abide hypocrisy, but I am a constructive person. I am a bridge builder, not a bridge burner, and I will bring this strength to my service as vice mayor
Also on Monday, the Metro Council voted unanimously to return House District 52 Representative Justin Jones to his seat in the legislature, from which he had been unjustly expelled this past Thursday. The “Tennessee Three” had taken to the floor of the state house to amplify the voices of youth and parent protestors galvanized by the recent shooting at the Covenant School in Green Hills, and now sadly again, at a Louisville bank.
Nashvillians are saying enough is enough. I have received a tidal wave of calls and emails from constituents to the left, right and center politically asking what they can do to help end gun violence. In district service, I have always listened closely to a wide variety of perspectives to better understand people’s thinking and help advance solutions, and I will bring this skill to my service as vice mayor.
Please join me and Voices for a Safer Tennessee at safertn.org in signing their nonpartisan petition for common-sense gun-safety policies and registering for their Linking Arms for Change event on April 18. Then contact your friends in surrounding counties and encourage them to do the same and contact their state representatives. Follow State Rep. Caleb Hemmer in support of his bipartisan legislative effort to require secured storage of guns in vehicles and boats–these thefts have been rising all across Nashville since the state implemented more permissive policies. “Guns everywhere for everyone” do not make our communities safer.
I commend Governor Lee for taking an important step on Tuesday with his Executive Order on background checks and encouraging the legislature to implement judicial orders of protection, so that people who are a danger to themselves and the community, like the Covenant shooter, no longer have such easy access to guns. But we have more work to do. I have been speaking up about these issues for years, and will continue to do so as vice mayor. Speaking the truth is not partisan.
The Metro Council is back in session next Tuesday and voting on the Titans stadium. At our last meeting, I called for a one-meeting deferral and a public hearing because your voice matters, and financial terms were not yet finalized when the East Bank Stadium Committee held community listening sessions in the fall. My motion for a public hearing failed by one vote, but I remain dedicated to ensuring that the full implications of this deal are understood and all voices are heard.
I am prepared to take on our city’s biggest challenges and represent the Metro Council and Nashville as vice mayor, but I need your support to serve. Will you consider making a contribution to help our grassroots efforts?
On Monday, our campaign reported a strong first month of fundraising, raising a third more dollars overall with three times the total number of donors as my opponent–and we’re just getting started! The many mayoral candidates are reporting hundreds of thousands, millions even, raised. And while Nashville has a “mayor-dominant” system, the checks and balances of good government mean it matters who your vice mayor is, so please invest in this race!
I am determined to win with a diverse team of voters and donors. Thank you for your consideration and continued support!
Hypocrisy prevailed at the Tennessee General Assembly today. Political power can be a dangerous drug, when used irresponsibly, and the purported party of local control is getting high on controlling Nashville.
As a woman, a proud member of the 40-member Metro Council, and a candidate to lead that body as the next vice mayor, I was profoundly saddened this week as I watched the state legislature engage in a “debate” where the facts did not matter and the “fix” was already in.
It feels especially gross that, with complete disregard for representative democracy, a few affluent and influential men put their personal opinions and particular business interests above the best interests of their own city and the majority opinion of its people. Their selfishly detached influence game means Nashvillians will have less representation and less access to local policy makers. In the absence of productive-policy-based relationships over recent years and the abdication of duty in recent months to organize and speak up with a united voice about this petty and paternalistic power grab, it will be more difficult for women, minorities and other marginalized populations to achieve elected office, to make their voices heard, and for others to simply see themselves represented.
Why Did This Happen?
False Narrative #1: Your city council declining to host the Republican National Convention–a decision that the majority of our constituents supported–triggered this debacle. The head of the Convention & Visitors Bureau Butch Spyridon himself said, regarding hosting political conventions, “it isn’t really worth it for cities like ours because we have more than ample national and international media coverage….my professional opinion has been the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost.” In a post-January 6 era, after a tornado, derecho, pandemic, courthouse riot, bombing, and three mayors in a time we’d normally have one, Nashville is TIRED of the type of chaos and extended closures and heightened security that a national political convention would have brought. Just because certain bullies want a big party on a national stage to fulfill the aspirations of their leaders, doesn’t mean Nashvillians should have to bear the burden.
False narrative #2: Nashville is a “big, bad, blue, over-regulatory, mismanaged city” that needs the steady paternal hand and deregulation of the GOP. The GOP says this about almost every major city because it undermines your confidence in government and is used to justify their preemption of popular, local legislative controls. Every city, Nashville included, can and should endeavor to do its work better. Oversight, accountability, and fiscal discipline are vital. We were the first city/county consolidated government in the USA. Combining county governance with a city council understandably created a large legislative body. Nashville is 526 square miles with a population of 700,000, and district council members have 20,000 constituents to which we are highly responsive. Unlike many cities in the 1960s, we did not lose our tax base to white flight. Nashville remains the economic engine of this state, and the Metro Council mirrors our population.
While the libertarian political advocacy group founded and funded by the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, praised the passage of the bill cutting your city council in half and disenfranchising you, Republican State Senator Frank Nicely had a different view and showed his colleagues’ cards as he expressed his opposition before not voting, “we’re not punishing this mayor at all. We’re rewarding the mayor. Every mayor in the nation, in the world, would rather deal with a smaller body. Fewer people to talk to. We’re rewarding the lobbyists.” Spot on, Senator, except for that gross “punishing” the mayor part.
Have I thought over the years that the Council might be more effective, if it were a slightly smaller, say 30 members, and full-time? I have. Would it be worthwhile in coming years to have a better-organized community conversation and a referendum vote on such a proposal, as our Charter requires? I think so. This should have been your decision, Nashville, not the Tennessee General Assembly’s. The party of local control has willfully undermined the State’s economic engine, yet again, in a brazen authoritarian action that continues with legislation directed at our Airport Authority, Sports Authority, and Convention Center Authority.
Nashvillians voted against reducing the size of the Metro Council just seven years ago, in the summer of 2015. I was knocking doors and listening closely then, and NASHVILLIANS clearly SAID NO to a smaller city council, expressing their appreciation for Council’s accessibility. What I hear from my constituents when they call me: “I’m so surprised someone answered the phone and that it’s actually you!” “I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to me.” “Thank you for discussing this matter with me in such detail; I understand it much better now.” And council members understand Metro government at a granular level. The challenge, often well met, is in translating that understanding into policy improvements. This policy focus can often be lost when trying to keep up with constituent services work for 20,000 people. Council members having around 40,000 constituents does not magically create “efficient and effective” government.
I have spent time, over the last few years, thinking about how to optimize the work of our 40-member body for the good of the city and the people we serve, and it is very disappointing that for lack of vice mayoral leadership, we are unlikely to realize that vision, which I know many of my colleagues shared. We could have kept, and perhaps still can keep, our uniquely representative structure and meaningfully improve it, but realizing that almost no one in leadership was genuinely fighting for Nashville on this issue, aside from the much appreciated advocacy of our Davidson County Delegation in the General Assembly and the Metro Council’s Minority Caucus, I’ve made time in the last two weeks to think about how to organize and support the work of a 20-member body. Whatever happens, whatever our size, as your next vice mayor, I am ready to lead the Metro Council, to help bridge divides, and speak up for Nashville and all Nashvillians.
I am running to serve as Nashville’s vice mayor.
Representing the neighborhoods of southwest Nashville on the Metro Council has been an honor and a privilege. Serving my constituents for the past eight years has been a daily, behind-the-scenes look at how Metro Government works and what our departments need so they can do their best for all citizens. As a council member, when I see or hear about a problem in my district, I seek first to understand it and then to fix it—not just for my constituents, but for the entire city. I do this knowing that everything in a city is connected, and our city is stronger when we work together for lasting solutions.
Among the many reasons I first ran for office in 2015 was to address Nashville’s alarming lack of sidewalks. I have been successful in that work, delivering major, countywide legislation, which was 80 years overdue and that previous councils found too daunting to undertake. Crafting and passing a bill is only half the challenge–ensuring that legislation is implemented consistently and correctly, is fine-tuned, and is not preempted by the state legislature is an ongoing endeavor. I have a strategic vision for the immense amount of policy work needed to create a vibrant, fiscally and environmentally sustainable city, and it would be an honor to lead and support the Council in that work as vice mayor.
I have been an active member of the Budget & Finance Committee and an effective vice chair and chair of three major committees: Public Works (now Transportation & Infrastructure); the Parks, Libraries, & Arts Committee; and the Charter Revision Committee. In 2021, I was elected by my colleagues to represent the Council on the Traffic & Parking Commission, engaging one of our city’s biggest challenges–a safe network of roadways for a truly multi-modal transportation system. Serving in a wide variety of Council leadership roles motivates me to step up now and answer the call to provide much-needed direction at a pivotal moment in the history of the Council and of Metro Government.
The vice mayor is the president of the Metropolitan Council. Chartered in 1963, our municipal government (the first in the USA to fully consolidate a city and a county) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with a state-imposed downsizing of the 40-member Council looming. Simply put, we need a thoughtful leader with strong communication and organization skills to navigate the major changes that lie ahead.
After several difficult and volatile years for our city, on August 3rd, Nashville can chart a new course for the future. My record of leadership is clear. It would be an honor to serve as your vice mayor.
An effective vice major ensures our city’s success. I look forward to the work ahead.
With appreciation and best wishes,
At 4:15 a.m. on June 17th, the Council finished its all-night meeting addressing the 2020-2021 budget and companion tax levy. The budget passed by a vote of 32-8 and raised property taxes by 33.8% This means that for residents in the General Services District (GSD), taxes will increase by $1.033 per $100 of assessed value, and for residents in the Urban Services District (USD), taxes will increase by $1.066, per $100 of assessed value. 57% of District 34 properties are in the GSD and the 43% are in the USD. The new budget took effect on July 1.
Two months later, I’m still frustrated with the budget that ultimately “won” my vote. I share your disappointment, and know it’s reprehensible to elevate property taxes by 34% in any single year, and all the more so in the midst of the economic uncertainty Nashvillians are enduring. No one feels good voting for a marginally “less bad” budget, especially when there is multi-faceted disagreement about which budget is better or worse and why. With three proposed substitutes and over 30 potential amendments of varying viability, scale and impact, the FY2021 budget was a moving target of pros and cons for me till the very last minute.
Our marathon Council meeting to vote on the budget was the culmination of a six-week, entirely on-line process of unusually short department hearings, a very lengthy public hearing and independent amendment drafting that was the most difficult budget season in my service on the Council. There is so much potential to support and grow the good in our city government, but we remain stuck, for now, with a “maintenance of effort” budgeting process. The inertia of the status quo is strong and departments might add or subtract a person here or there in a meager attempt to “improve,” but often more significant programmatic and structural change is needed to help deliver beneficial and lasting changes in the community.
Is the Tax Increase Because of COVID?
Delays in addressing over a decade of accruing financial decisions is a heavy burden for our departments and our City. Previous administrations had been borrowing internally from other funds balances, selling real-estate assets, deferring debt service and compounding the fiscal reckoning. Accordingly, Briley’s FY2020 budget had a $40 million hole in it to be filled over the last year. The projected loss of $300 million in revenues due to COVID-19 made a reckoning unavoidable. Nashville’s well-diversified economy still relies heavily on tourism in our revenue calculations, but what makes this time especially awful from a fiscal management standpoint, is that already compounding fiscal problems and can-kicking converged with COVID-19 uncertainties. COVID is contributing, but it’s not “the reason.”
Does This Budget Show Ever Get Better?
Good process and transparency are fundamental to good governance. Nashville has a mayor-dominant system, and in past years, the Council has been in the dark on certain fiscal matters as much as citizens. It’s been a bit like being in a mystery show when members of the cast are finding patterns and clues, but can’t put them all together in time or convince enough people to stop and avoid the disaster. The key after the show ends is for the audience to keep watching closely and stay engaged as critics and participants.
Meanwhile, the rest of the year….
As your representative, I’m working year-round on matters with fiscal implications. I am working to improve ethics in procurement, accountability in spending, and to right-size departments and programs to deliver the level of performance that we as tax-payers should expect. I also continue to lead some of the Council’s most complex county-wide legislative efforts, which elevate our development standards, requiring developers to deliver more infrastructure from sidewalks to trees, which will make our city more environmentally and fiscally sustainable in the decades to come.
The budget vote receives the most attention each year, but it is not the only way in which I am representing and serving you. While you and I may have disagreed on this budget vote, we have likely agreed and will agree on many more votes. To those who have called and emailed in frustration, I heard you loud and clear, and did my best to respond to you all, but I know I missed some replies. The volume of messages was, understandably, especially high this year. Whenever possible, I called you to discuss the budget by phone, and those were good, sometimes difficult, and often lengthy conversations. District 34 residents have challenging questions and helpful suggestions–as always, I welcome your opinions, and our discussions inform my voting and my communication.
Video Window on Amending the Budget
I also heard clearly from Nashvillians over the last term a concern about corporate incentives. I have decried corporate incentives and the cronyism of special deals and imbalanced infrastructure participation agreements for preferred developers and corporations for five years, so all three of my proposed budget amendments to the budget addressed this policy area. For a glimpse into how I tried to improve this budget and our problematic process, please watch this short video from the budget meeting, as I make the case for my Amendment #24.
Given a crisis budget year, Amendment #24 zeroed out all $1.5 million in remaining annual “per job” corporate incentives. According to the Director of Finance, my proposed cuts were “draconian,” and I was “villainizing” corporations. Not true–all “per job” incentives were/are written with NO annual obligation by the City. They all have standard language indicating that they are conditional on availability of funds and the Council’s budgetary appropriation. There was zero legal concern about taking a hiatus this year, which Metro Legal confirmed. So, if we can’t cut this small, unnecessary amount out of our budget, when we are facing a supposed $300 million revenue shortfall and raising everyone’s taxes over 30%, what does that tell you about the majority of the Council’s willingness and ability to cut anything at all?
Please read this Tennessean article to learn more about the incentives Metro has paid out over the last three fiscal years (averaging $31M/year).
I think we could and should have made more cuts in this budget. I tried with my amendments packages to cut at least 5% out of each of the final two budgets before us, but unless 21 people on the Council agree with you, it is impossible for anyone other than the Budget & Finance chair to effectuate significant changes in the budget. But even so, I always try my best. My comprehensive amendments packages (one for the mayor’s budget and one for the chair’s substitute) failed to get the recommendation of the Budget & Finance Committee, but even so, I advanced them during the full Council meeting to make the point that bonus/optional programs should not be sacrosanct in lean times and also to have a debate about the wheel tax and elevate the Council and the public’s awareness of it.
Keep It Rolling. Wheel tax.
I think a modest increase in the annual, per vehicle wheel tax/licensing fee would have been a prudent way to lessen the impact of the property tax increase on single-income and fixed-income households, but several of my colleagues made assertions about it being a “regressive” tax and used a variety of “what-abouts?” for families with four cars. The actual impact of my proposal to that hypothetical four-car family, which is statistically more likely to be an affluent family, would have been just $52 a year. By the way, property tax is even more regressive than an annual use tax that can be applied via the budget to the management and maintenance of our roadways and mitigation of traffic impacts. The wheel tax/licensing fee was last increased in 2005, along with the budget. There are 600,000 plus cars registered in Davidson County, so the modest increase of $12 that I proposed would have garnered $6.5 million annually, a 2-cent reduction in the property tax increase. A $24 increase, would have garnered $14 million more annually and a 4-cent reduction, and so on. (I hope that we can keep this conversation going as we discuss the next transit plan and how to fund much-needed road safety initiatives.)
Alternatives? Frequent Questions:
- What about furloughs and layoffs? While I think various departments could have implemented some surgical furloughs, on the whole this would cripple city services. Most (not all) of the departments with which I interact closely are understaffed. Public Works has the same number of employees today that it had 20 years ago.
- What about using federal funding from the CARES Act ($121M)? This money is stipulated for virus response. It cannot be used to supplement lost revenue or for expenses that were existing prior to the virus in our operating budget.
- Could we raise the local option sales tax? This requires a voter referendum.
- Could we charge impact fees on developers? State law does not allow this.
- Could we issue more debt? Nashville already has $3.4B in outstanding debt (note that the entire state of TN has $1.7B in debt). Our annual debt service payments of about $343M are already approaching 15% of our operating budget.
The final vote. Why?
Ultimately, after all the amendments were considered, I voted for the Council’s substitute budget, rather than voting no and letting the Mayor’s proposed budget, which differed by 1-2%, become law. The budget I voted for had a compromise amendment that ensured funding for the implementation of the first phase of body-worn cameras and training of the next class of police officers. It also included $450K to open all Parks Department community centers on Saturday mornings and $15 an hour for the paraprofessionals who work in the classroom supporting the education of students with the highest needs. Discretionary spending for all departments in both budgets was cut the same 50%.
Tax Freeze Program Participation Up
The Metro Trustee’s Office administers this program for seniors 65 and older with annual incomes below $43,810, which allows applicants to freeze their property tax rate before the issuance of tax bills. Metro Council members, myself included, communicated frequently about this freeze option in anticipation of a property tax increase. This year, Metro extended the annual application deadline from April to July 1, subsequent to the passage of the budget. For District 34, this deadline extension and additional time during and after the budget for me to communicate with senior constituents and encourage them to apply, meant participation in the tax freeze program went up 23% this year, but still just 103 households in District 34 qualified for this relief.
A Marker for Accountability
Key to my vote for CM Mendes’ budget was that we included a provision that requires Metro’s Finance Director to submit by August 15th an updated report on the city’s revenues for the last quarter of FY2020. This was so that in case the city brought in more money than expected, Metro Council would have the opportunity to adjust the tax levy before tax bills go out on October 1st. While revenue projections were actually $100M above his department’s estimate for March, April & May, the Finance Director chose not revise his revenue estimate for FY2021. You can read his report here.
*As I was finishing writing this, I touched base with the new financial analyst in the Council Office. Reported last week, “other” tax revenues, which include alcohol and gas tax among others, are now in for June, along with final sales tax revenues and all together they are off just 8.7% from last year. May revenue which we did not yet have in the budget process was only down 0.73% from 2019. Sales + other tax revenues were down just 2.4% overall from last year.
Last Best Effort, My Amended Levy
In July, after much consideration and in an effort to prudently, lower the property tax burden for Nashvillians during these extraordinary times, and to honor the marker that we put down for an August review of actual and projected revenues and consideration of an amended levy, I requested legislation for a 5% reduction to the current tax levy, which would have meant…
- a 92 cent property tax increase for USD residents instead of $1.06
- an 89 cent property tax increase for GSD residents instead of $1.03
My substitute tax levy would have changed the 34% increase to a 29% increase, a modest reduction of $46 million in property tax revenue. (Every cent of tax increase = $3.32M of property tax revenue.) This would have been lower than the 12% decrease which was put forward in Councilman Glover’s bill. Council voted in support of my substitute bill to replace CM Glover’s bill, 32-8, but the vote on my bill as substituted failed 15-24, with 1 abstention. This was unfortunate because the bill was only on the first of three readings (pulled from consent by Councilman Mendes) and four more weeks till the final reading on September 1 would have brought more financial information to inform the analysis of a modest reduction in the levy.
Failure of my reduced levy was a frustrating conclusion to an extended budget season, but I wanted you to know that I did everything within my power to effectuate a lower rate for FY2021. Every year we pass a new budget and every year we are able to set a new tax rate to fund that budget. Next year is a reappraisal year, which by state law requires that the tax rate be made revenue neutral again.
To calculate the effect of the FY2021 tax levy for your household, here is the formula:
- For the USD tax rate of $4.221: $600,000 (appraised value) x 25% (assessment ratio) = $150,000 (assessed value) ÷ 100 (per $100 assessed) x $4.221 (tax rate) = $6,331/year or $527/month
- For the GSD tax rate of $3.788: $600,000 (appraised value) x 25% (assessment ratio) = $150,000 (assessed value) ÷ 100 (per $100 assessed) x $3.788 (tax rate) = $5,682/year or $473/month
Council rarely exercises the little influence and power that the Charter affords us, especially on matters of oversight and budgeting. Per the Charter, the Director of Finance has the sole authority to attest to availability of funds and to project revenues. The Council should NOT project revenues, but in a system of checks and balances, we should do independent financial analysis of projected revenue, ask good questions of the Finance Director and his staff, and expect detailed answers. We cannot abdicate our duty to push for better.
On August 4th, with pressure from the Director of Finance and the Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee, from my perspective, 24 council members threw in the towel prematurely on the possibility of a very modest tax reduction. The good news: 16 did not. Sixteen members were willing to keep the conversation going and the options open. Cold comfort though it is, this is progress. If we facilitate more constructive conversations, Council and the community learn more about our city’s financial history and current position, and that is never a bad thing. It is your money. When it comes to Metro’s finances, your elected representatives must take nothing for granted, be more skeptical, ask more questions, and keep pushing.
I sent the following letter to the Metro Council this morning as we contemplate the final meeting of our term with several controversial bills before us, including BL2019-1633, which attempts to address 24/7 mini-hotels in residential zoning, but as currently drafted creates as many problems as it purports to solve. I have a compromise, “second substitute” bill that I hope colleagues will consider seriously.
I cannot believe how swiftly four years have passed. It has been an honor to work with you all to help make Nashville better, safer, healthier, and happier to the best of our abilities. I think we would all acknowledge that strong neighborhoods are the building blocks of our city. In our term, one issue that has affected a wide variety of neighborhoods and constituents from the single-family suburbs of District 34 to the multi-family apartments of District 19 is Not-Owner-Occupied Short Term Rentals. This Council did not enable this annual permitted use–it was the prior Council, but we have certainly struggled with the unintended consequences. I hope together we can achieve a resolution this evening.
I want to bring your attention to one of two proposed second substitutes in the amendments packet and put the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute (pages 13-17) in context of 1) this term’s broader STRP policy struggles and 2) the various options that are before you for consideration.
Not-Owner-Occupied STRP-permitted properties have been a mounting problem for neighborhood quality of life and housing affordability in Nashville and numerous cities with thriving tourist economies across the U.S. and the world. Increasingly we have seen that the benefits of the annually permitted not-owner-occupied STRP use to guests, owners, and the tourist economy are outweighed by the damage to neighborhoods, quality of life, and housing affordability. This is acute in neighborhoods closest to downtown and areas near popular tourist destinations. Every city struggles with the appropriate regulatory balance for these low-barrier-to-entry, disruptor business platforms, but the platforms control the narrative and with it the related-policy with millions in lobbying and marketing money.
I would remind colleagues of the same thing Councilman O’Connell and I said when we voted against the enabling scooter legislation: legislating for disruptive and hyper-evolving business models requires sunset provisions. There is no accountability or reckoning without them. So here we are in the sunset of our term, and we have the opportunity to sunset new Not-Owner-Occupied short term rental in RM zoning. Sunsetting STRP annual permits in residential-only zoning, whether that’s R, RS or RM, will not diminish the underlying appreciating real estate asset. The primary use of the property as zoned has always been and remains residential. Taking thousands of homes off the market and turning them into 24/7 mini-hotels via an annual permitted use is something that we can and should fix.
The onus is not on us to make sure that a speculative real estate investment garners it’s maximum return. The onus is on the buyer to perform due diligence before making their purchase. Basing an investment on a one-year permit in a hyper-evolving and contentious business model has risks. This would be clearly evident to any investor with a quick Google search.
Subsequent to the passage of 608, which addressed Not-Owner-Occupied STRPs in R and RS zoning, we have seen and heard from numerous Nashvillians distraught that their RM apartment community is being converted into an STRP hotel. As we close out this term, let’s start closing the door on this practice. Our Council securing places for people to live is more fundamental to our success as a city than our securing commercial hotel investments in residentially zoned neighborhoods. Real estate investors will tell you that markets like certainty, and they are correct about that. So let’s provide that certainty. Let’s substitute and thus simplify this legislation.
The Henderson/Hagar substitute, which is supported by the Coalition for Nashville Neighborhoods does the following:
• Returns the bill essentially to the form it was in when it unanimously passed the Planning Commission (before it was subsequently amended and substituted.)
• Eliminates exemptions and transfers for RM zoned properties. This is key. Passage of 1633 in its current form will effectively make an annual permit a property right.
• Extends the window to acquire a new permit from May 31, 2020 to January 1, 2022 to address the concerns of in-progress investors and balance the removal of the exemptions and transfers.
• Keeps all necessary state law changes and includes the language to deal with lawsuits pending against Metro for HPRs who were issued STRP permits before July 1, 2019
I know that Councilwoman Allen’s heart was in the right place with 1633, and it was a bill initially supported by neighborhood leaders albeit with some skepticism, but you have heard the email furor from neighborhood advocates about this bill as currently substituted and amended. That’s not just because it reflects concessions primarily for speculative builder/investors, but because the exception and transfer provisions could have very real negative consequences for both RM and R & RS zoning districts. It sets a bad precedent and does not provide the clear and definitive policy statement that Nashville’s residents and real estate investors want and need.
As we conclude our term and our deliberation on this policy, let’s please think more about the parents living next to not-owner-occupied short-term-rentals and have empathy for the anxiety they feel every Thursday waiting to see who is going to show up and be hanging out across the back fence or on the deck above their children’s playset. Let’s think more about the young couples, who are going to have to move out of their downtown apartment close to their work to the periphery of the county to find an affordable place to live, compounding our traffic problem, because their residential apartment community is being turned into a hotel.
Nashvillians are watching. They are no longer fooled by the false and self-serving narratives proffered by this industry. Please show the majority of Nashvillians who you represent by supporting and voting in favor of the Hagar/Henderson/Johnson substitute.
Our substitute is solid and thoughtful bill that meets the needs and concerns of a wide variety of districts and stakeholders. We did not file it rashly. We co-sponsors have followed this issue very closely our entire term, and our substitute reflects four years of listening and researching a broad variety of cities and stakeholder perspectives.
Hard though it may seem, if Councilwoman Allen were to simply let go of her much-maligned bill, which it does not appear she has the votes to pass, moving the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute would honor her legislative intent and achieve the majority of her policy goals. Complicated though this seems, it’s really quite simple. Let’s not give up on Nashville’s neighborhoods at the finish line.
With thanks for your consideration,
District 34 is home to numerous ash trees (examples above), which are now threatened due to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle species. This insect will have a devastating effect on our community’s tree canopy, with almost all untreated ash trees expected to die by 2026. It is estimated that up to 10% of Nashville’s tree canopy is ash trees, and in many District 34 neighborhoods, the percentage of the canopy is much higher. Ash trees can be found throughout the district in parks, neighborhoods, school campuses, cultural sites, along city streets and in private yards. There are 241 ash trees on the 55 acres at Cheekwood, for example, and my own street adjacent to Cheekwood is a veritable grove of beautiful, tall ash trees. Sadly, the loss of ash trees will be both visible and palpable for many District 34 neighborhoods.
In partnership with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Metro Public Works and Cheekwood, I am hosting a District 34 Community Meeting about the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic on Wednesday, July 10th, 7:00 – 8:00 PM at Cheekwood in the Potter Room in Botanic Hall. This will be a concise informational meeting to make sure you know exactly what an ash tree looks like and all the options you have to address their impending demise in your neighborhood and/or at your home. If you have a big, healthy ash tree, you may still be able to save it through trunk treatments. Other ash trees, which become brittle and hazardous as they die, will need to be removed, or if they are in a wooded area and not a hazard, they can be left to die in place.
The loss of ash trees will have a significant impact on private and public property in the coming years, however this past year, I found that many Nashvillians had not yet heard of this looming epidemic. This spring, I filed a resolution to help raise awareness in our community and within Metro Government. The death of so many large canopy trees will have an impact on both the Public Works and Parks Department budgets and the impact to stormwater runoff will also be challenging for Metro’s Stormwater Division. Click here to read the resolution.
Additional Resources & Information: https://www.nashville.gov/Public-Works/Community-Beautification/Tree-Information.aspx
During my first term in office, it has been my privilege to work with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Nashville Tree Foundation, Nashville Tree Task Force, and numerous advocates for trees on community tree plantings–most recently along Page Road in District 34, where the “kissing canopy” has been compromised by two major straight-line wind events and along which there are numerous ash trees. Trees can serve as traffic calming–when planted close to the street, they narrow a drivers cone of vision and reduce speeding. Along Page Road, Metro’s horticulturist worked with neighbors to strategically place the new trees in areas of impending ash loss.
Root Nashville, a public/private campaign, is led by Metro Nashville Government and the Cumberland River Compact. Root Nashville’s goal is to plant 500,000 trees across Davidson County by 2050. All the trees from community plantings are recorded on the Root Nashville website, and if you plant a tree(s) at your own home, please make sure you record it on the website also to help the city reach its goal. Stay tuned for the Metro Public Works tree sale in the fall, for great deals on trees and assistance in the planting and watering them.
In the last two years of this term, I’m also proud to have been the lead sponsor on Nashville’s first tree-related legislation in 10 years. BL2018-1416 was highly technical and complicated and took many months working with Metro Planning staff and stakeholders to reach consensus. The bill as substituted and amended had a positive public hearing on July 2 and is now on track to pass third and final reading on July 16th. “The tree bill” will better incentivize mature tree retention and street trees and require more tree density in commercial and multi-family development. This is just the first in a series of bills that will work in concert with each other to deliver a more consistent, comprehensive and effective approach to urban forestry in Nashville.
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why I didn’t vote for a property tax increase.
It was a challenging week on Metro Council, with mixed opinions on the various proposed budgets (the most substitute budgets filed by the Council in Metro’s history) and a wide variety of needs and wants to balance and consider. Several of my constituents are disappointed because I did not vote for what they believed was a much-needed, 15.8% property tax increase. While it saddens me to disappoint any constituent, and I understand their concerns, I also know that the majority of my constituents agree with my decision to vote no.
There are more people over age 70 living in District 34 than anywhere else in Nashville, and I heard from a lot of them last week. A senior residing in a modest ranch home on our district’s typically large lots is paying around $4,000 in property taxes at the current rate. The Vercher substitute budget would have increased their annual taxes $630. Some will say, that’s a small price to pay for all the benefits within the budget, but I have to think closely about the impact on the people I represent and be mindful that in other areas of Nashville with exponentially appreciating home values, a sharply rising and regressive property tax is an even greater burden, contributing to the gentrification of core neighborhoods and pushing more people to reside on the periphery of Davidson County and beyond.
I also heard from several constituents asking me to raise their taxes. I appreciate these constituents’ willingness to increase their personal tax burden for the collective good of our schools. While this was a clear vote for my head, this was a difficult vote for my heart because I know that our Metro teachers and employees feel under valued and under appreciated with just a 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the mayor’s budget, when they were already due 3% last year. Chair Vercher’s budget delivered a 4% COLA and one pay “step” increase for MNPS employees, but just a 3% COLA for general Metro employees. The Council eagerly awaits the MNPS pay study and the School Board’s work in this area, as it is clear that teachers have long been dissatisfied with the current pay structure.
Numerous departments and constituencies had items in the Vercher substitute budget that they wanted, that were good things, but those goods have to be balanced against the larger budgetary and economic impacts. For example, the Vercher budget added 20 new positions to the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), which sounds beneficial, until you realize that there are currently over 80 MNPD positions un-filled. Personally, I wanted another urban forestry position in the Codes Department. I know from my work on tree-related policy that we are far behind peer cities and this position is much needed. This was a budget request that I personally coordinated. Chair Vercher kindly added it to her substitute budget, but as passionate as I am about tree-policy work, that still did not convince me to vote for this budget.
There’s no one solution to Metro’s budget woes. I agree that we will likely need a slight tax rate adjustment to get back on track after the last three mayors abdicated their responsibility to adjust the rate to keep revenue, spending and debt obligations in balance. That said, I disagree that a rate adjustment of the magnitude proposed, a $0.498 cent increase per $100 of assessed value, a 15.8% rate increase, is appropriate at this time. A rate adjustment should not be so significant that Metro Government is disincentivized from addressing systemic/structural problems and making the heavier, more complicated policy lifts. Before we consider raising property taxes, which have the greatest impact on lower-income individuals, we must:
- address the revenue capture in the “downtown” tourism zone (TDZ).
- advance a referendum within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways, & a truly excellent bus system.
- be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas.
- elevate ethics in procurement.
- reform tax increment financing (TIF).
- better address the impact and lessen the use of incentives and abatements for preferred real estate developers and corporations.
These are just some of the structural, policy changes we need to make, and I do not believe we should raise the property taxes of individual citizens so significantly until Metro Government gets our proverbial house in order. (For more details on the list above, please see the “Getting Our House in Order” blog post). There are so many awesome folks in Metro Government doing solid work for our citizens. I am grateful to them, and saddened that the rocky leadership in the Mayor’s Office, and the doubts and concerns that creates, continues to influence the willingness of taxpayers to invest more money in the Bank of Metro.
However they feel about mayoral leadership over this term, the majority of the Council agrees that Metro Government’s budgeting process is broken. Despite our thick budget books and 55 departmental budget hearings, much of our large departments’ budgets remain opaque. It is only through years of intentional engagement that council members begin to notice patterns in legislative and budget related discussions and start making specific requests for organizational charts and financial reports. In so doing, members of our various committee’s come to better understand the inner workings and budgetary needs of the departments to better deliver the services that citizens need and want. This requires an inordinate amount of time and effort, and questions of the council members are often met with skepticism and concerns of micro-management.
Given the constraints the Council has, I am grateful to Councilman Mendes for his budget work, to Councilman Glover for trying to provide a budget with a lower tax increase to honor the COLA, and to Budget & Finance Committee Chair Vercher for all her hard work. For one person to have to revise and compile a massive budget in virtual isolation with small inputs for changes and additions from other council members via staff, when the mayor has a massive finance department and months and months at his disposal to prepare his budget, is ridiculous. Our mayor-dominant system does not serve our citizens well. The Council does not, but can and should, make better use of its committee system to divide the work needed for comprehensive departmental oversight, meeting policy goals, and delivering a budget that reflects the collective will of our body and the citizens we represent.
When a budget fails by one vote, it’s very easy for those who are disappointed to direct their ire at any one particular Council member. Nashvillians who are mad at the Council for not passing the substitute budget with the tax increase, should remember also that the mayor lobbied against it and likely would have vetoed it. If you want better budgeting and fiscal stewardship, elect a better mayor and elect council members with the independence to vote against unsound deals. For good or bad, with our “strong-mayor” form of government, Nashville is where it is at any particular time largely due to the deals and choices made inside the Mayor’s Office.
In service to you, I research, read, and listen to a variety of opinions and sources before all votes, especially one of this magnitude. I stand by my budget vote and am accountable for it and every vote that I have made in my service on the Council. I welcome you to contact me with your questions and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 615-260-5530. I am always happy to discuss your Metro government with you.