Courtney Johnston Council Meeting

Councilmember Courtney Johnston addresses the Metro Council on Nov. 16, 2021

@startleseasily is a fervent observer of the Metro government's comings and goings. In this column, "On First Reading," she'll recap the bimonthly Metro Council meetings and provide her analysis. You can find her in the pew in the corner by the mic, ready to give public comment on whichever items stir her passions. Follow her on Twitter here.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Metro Council sparred with the administration over funding requests and deferred a bill that would create a standalone Office of Housing and Homelessness. 

’Twas the Night of Weird Vibes ...

Maybe it’s the holiday season; maybe it was the absence of 11 councilmembers; maybe Council Office staff were piping laughing gas through the ventilation system. For whatever reason, the energy in the chamber was weird. Exhibit A: CMs Courtney Johnston and Dave Rosenberg, who have spent the past year in a heated tug-of-war over license plate readers, were spotted — I shit you not — high-fiving before the meeting started. When was the last time you saw two adults high-fiving in public? 

Masks Optional

Thanks to the omnibus COVID-19 legislation Gov. Bill Lee just signed into law, Metro is now prohibited from requiring masks in their buildings. Right-wing CMs like Steve Glover and Robert Swope — the latter of whom I’ve described as “the guy who bought one mask last summer and hasn’t washed it since” — were predictably maskless, but so were moderate (and presumably fully vaccinated) CMs like Angie Henderson and Zach Young.

ARP Allocation Angst

A resolution appropriating roughly $1.9 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds to Metro Parks has been met with significant resistance from the council after the Mayor’s Office scheduled “tours” of homeless encampments throughout the city. Facing backlash from CMs, advocacy groups and even Vice Mayor Jim Shulman himself, the Mayor’s Office inexplicably doubled down on the plans with the stated purpose of “assist[ing] the Council in effectively allocating available funds” to address homelessness.  

This effort to change hearts and minds might have backfired. Several CMs proposed amendments that would significantly pare down the allocation, and the resolution was deferred for the second time. Council will take it up at their next meeting on Dec. 7.

Housing Ends Homelessness

CM Freddie O’Connell’s bill to establish a standalone Office of Housing and Homelessness, lauded by advocates and currently boasting 17 sponsors, was deferred for one meeting to allow for further discussion at a special-called committee meeting on Wednesday. I attended and had the joy of hearing Mike Jameson, Mayor Cooper’s director of legislative affairs, talk about “mating a great dane to a chihuahua.” I’m not kidding; he actually said that. Jameson described the administration as “intrigued” by O’Connell’s bill and suggested a performance audit of existing structures and jurisdictions. Let me save you some consultant dollars, Mike: It’s a mess.

I Just Got My Emissions Tested, and All I Got Was This Stupid Resolution

Council is poised to put an end to emissions testing, which is kind of annoying because I literally just renewed my registration. Anyway, a resolution to end the requirement was deferred to Jan. 4. If the resolution passes — hard to see how it wouldn’t, with 24 sponsors — emissions testing will end in Davidson County on Jan. 28.

Late-Filed ... Again

Without fanfare, the administration late filed a resolution accepting a $1 million transit-oriented development grant from Amazon (you can find it starting on page 6 of the amendments package). Faye DiMassimo, Cooper’s transportation czar, blamed the timing on “extended coordination” required to ready the grant agreement. In the Budget and Finance Committee, the administration asked for more time to finesse the paperwork. They plan to file it in a timely fashion for the next meeting, if they can figure out how to hit “send.”

A process note: By my count, there have been at least 30 pieces of legislation late-filed since Cooper took office, as compared to low single digits during the Barry and Briley administrations. CM At-Large Bob Mendes, who has criticized this administration for its inability to do much of anything on time, explained to me why this matters: “In a few business hours or less,” Mendes says, “we have to figure out whether the reason for being late is fixing a harmless mistake, an understandable desire for something to move faster, or just flat breaking the rules for no good reason.” It can also make it difficult for Council to effectively vet legislation coming out of the Mayor’s Office. Maybe the administration will get its act together sometime before 2023, but I’m not holding my breath. 

Stay tuned for my recap of the next Council meeting on Dec. 7. I might even cover some legislation that doesn’t get deferred.

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