Members of the Metro Council bide their time as Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, special counsel Margaret Darby and Councilmember Joy Styles attempt to work out the rules on requesting a public hearing

Members of the Metro Council bide their time as Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, Council Director Margaret Darby and Councilmember Joy Styles attempt to work out the rules on requesting a public hearing, July 19, 2022

@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 a comparatively short meeting on Tuesday with unusually chill vibes, the Metro Council continued its efforts to support reproductive rights and fried fish of various sizes.

Be It Resolved, Part Deux

In the wake of the Supreme’s Court overturning Roe v. Wade with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the Council is doing its damnedest to support reproductive rights for Nashvillians. Granted, there’s very little they are actually empowered to do, but they’ve found a couple of creative ways to use their bully pulpit for good. 

On Tuesday, they passed a resolution requesting that the Metro Employee Benefit Board review the current benefits package for city employees to see if it covers transportation, accommodation and related costs for medical care unavailable in Tennessee, including abortion. If the board finds that current benefits don’t cover those costs, the resolution requests that they modify the benefits package.  

This resolution represents a rare joint effort between Mayor John Cooper’s administration and the Council. Now, I am not one to mince words when it comes to criticizing this mayor and his administration. But I have to hand it to Cooper — he is not fucking this up. He hasn’t shown up unannounced at any public meeting for a “big reveal.” He hasn’t hijacked the Council’s work and claimed it as his own. It’s possible there’s an Invasion of the Body Snatchers situation going on, so we might want to have that checked out, but I’m in no particular hurry. 

Councilmembers Robert Swope, Jonathan Hall and Joy Styles were back on some bullshit, however. You may recall that, at the July 5 meeting, CMs Swope, Hall, Styles and Tonya Hancock were conspicuously absent from the floor when it came time to vote on a resolution condemning the Dobbs decision. Swope and Hall pulled the same trick this time around. 

But Styles had something different in mind. In a bizarre floor speech, she expressed vague support for “women that need a voice and need assistance,” but claimed she had to abstain from the vote due to a “board affiliation.” Presumably, she was referencing her position as the board chair of a local crisis pregnancy center

There is literally no conceivable conflict that would have legally compelled CM Styles to abstain on this vote for that reason. Being on that board is a choice. Abstaining on this vote was a choice. Own your choices. And be thankful you have a choice. Because if you hadn’t noticed, we’re kind of running low on choices in Tennessee. 

17 Minutes (Bigger Fish to Fry)

After a truly spectacular showdown at Monday night’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting, CM Styles decided to defer her bill establishing a Nashville Entertainment Commission, but not before wasting 17 minutes of my life. The majority of that time was spent in quiet deliberation with the vice mayor and council director over the rules for requesting a public hearing on the bill. 

I was sure that the Council did not want to hear from an interminable line of people on a topic that — while incredibly important to some people — is among the smaller fish the city is currently frying. But Styles almost did it! She needed 24 votes in favor, and she got 19. 

For context, that’s seven more votes than CM Sean Parker got when he requested a public hearing on a $13.8 million city investment into infrastructure at River North, setting the stage for the Oracle deal. One CM who voted no on Parker’s request but supported Styles’, described it as a “calculated risk,” assuming Styles’ motion would fail but not wanting to make an enemy. Another basically thought CMs Swope and Jeff Syracuse were being assholes. 

Come Again?

On Tuesday, the Council considered a mayoral appointment to the Metro Employee Benefit Board, an obscure board with a dubious past, responsible for administering and managing the benefit plans for city employees. When the mayor’s appointee, David Wyley Long, appeared before the Council’s Rules Committee, CM At-Large Bob Mendes asked for his thoughts on the resolution discussed above. Mr. Long — who had earlier in the meeting described himself as “conservative” — proceeded to express his unequivocal support for the Dobbs decision. One CM in the room where it happened said, “There were bug eyes.” 

After picking their jaws up off the floor, the committee recommended a deferral. Cooper’s CCOSA (that’s chief communications officer and senior adviser, for the uninitiated) TJ Ducklo confirms that Cooper will be withdrawing the nomination. 

Early voting is underway for the Aug. 4 election. All I ask of you between now and then is to VOTE.

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