A mariachi performance in the Metro Council chambers, Sept. 20, 2022

A mariachi performance in the Metro Council chambers, Sept. 20, 2022

Most weeks, fervent Metro government observer @startleseasily recaps the bimonthly Metro Council meetings with her column "On First Reading." Startles is taking the week off, so Scene staffer Eli Motycka has filed a substitute column in her stead. Startles will return in two weeks.

The country’s leading causes of death loomed over an otherwise procedural, at times even joyous, third-Tuesday council meeting at the Historic Metro Courthouse. 

“It has been the honor of a lifetime being the first Latina elected to council and the first Mexican-American,” District 30's Sandra Sepulveda prefaced her resolution officially honoring Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. “It is my hope that in the future, the weight will be a little less heavy, and I will not be the lone person from the community honoring Hispanic Heritage Month but be able to look up and see someone who looks like me.” The chamber was treated to a rousing mariachi performance and traditional Colombian and Mexican dancing before passing the resolution. Behind public recognition for Hispanic heritage is a broadly defined, growing community of Nashvillians representing a variety of countries and continents, projected to become the city’s largest minority group by 2040. Popular Spanish immersion classes and Glencliff High School’s mariachi program are two small facets of a city quickly becoming multilingual and multicultural.

A strong opening — which Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, sipping on a mini Diet Coke, called the “hottest ticket in town” — soon gave way to a prop-heavy public comment period, power-grab accusations and contentious debates about smoking and reckless driving. At one point, Dave Rosenberg nearly said “half-assed.”

Musical Chairs

Just two meetings into new committee assignments, a proposed rule change backed by Councilmember At-Large (and potential mayoral candidate) Sharon Hurt offered a response to a perceived committee attendance problem. Hurt, frustrated by delayed starts, reported so-so attendance numbers from district councilmembers (73 percent median committee attendance per her data) and slightly better so-so attendance from at-large councilmembers (84 percent median). She hoped to codify a solution that would allow at-large members to act as roaming substitutes, legally empowered to fill quorum vacancies or act as an interim chair in any committee dealing with an absence.

District councilmembers pushed back on the proposed special powers. Kathleen Murphy launched into a personal story about her own lack of punctuality earlier that day (she mentioned an out-of-town conference and a $50 Uber) and decried the rules change as an opportunity to manipulate votes and confer special powers to at-large members. Sean Parker agreed, suggesting that the change might invite strategic absences and open a can of logistical worms. Colby Sledge asked: What happens when a late district member shows up? Hurt’s proposal failed.

House of Shame

Organized Facebook group Reclaim Brookmeade Park, now officially a nonprofit, used this week’s public comment period to blame councilmembers for an encampment of unhoused people near Bellevue at a park that the group seeks to reclaim.

“The plan Metro has for these people is so failing, so epicly bad, that we had to do something,” organizer Dede Byrd told the chamber, gesturing with medical supplies like NARCAN and clean syringes that, she said, are part of a harm reduction program for the camp’s residents.

Another speaker asked members to consider the lost revenue at the neighborhood Walmart, Lowe’s and Thornton’s (a convenience chain owned by BP). A third speaker was politicized by his young granddaughter who, he recalled, has seen naked men near the camp. He brought pictures for proof. Rebecca Lowe, the group’s founder, took the chance to endorse city-sponsored camps of micro homes and pallet housing. The group backs the mayor’s proposal to take $50 million in remaining American Rescue Plan funds to piece together a recently announced four-part city plan to increase housing options. Lowe scored a 90-minute one-on-one with the mayor after confronting Cooper at a Bellevue Harpeth Chamber of Commerce luncheon earlier this year.

An effort to direct surplus tax revenue from the Music City Center’s PILOT fund to affordable housing initiatives was deferred.

Blowing Smoke

A handful of amendments and emotional debate trailed Jeff Syracuse’s proposed bill that would further restrict smoking in Davidson County. Councilmember Sean Parker, a self-described former smoker, sought a legacy carve-out aimed at preserving smokiness in dive bars. Colby Sledge was moved nearly to tears explaining the matter as a critical health threat that, he said, should be the single consideration for elected officials lawmaking on behalf of constituents. Syracuse, who is building an at-large campaign in part as an advocate for the music business, wants to eliminate an occupational hazard for musicians. The bill was deferred and will now enter its third month. 

War on Cars

Browse the Nashville corners of Reddit, Nextdoor, Twitter or Facebook and you know what unites the city: mockery, hatred and fear of Nashville drivers. Toward the end of the evening, a bill that would enable privately funded traffic-calming studies became a watershed for councilmembers’ automotive grievances. Rather than wait for the city’s traffic bureaucracy, constituents want ways to commission their own. Tom Cash criticized the city’s leisurely goal of ending pedestrian-related deaths by 2050. Tanaka Vercher took a subtle sideswipe at NDOT director Diana Alarcon, who has, according to Vercher, been out of the country. Bob Mendes told his colleagues that skimpy city services follow flimsy tax regimes.

Russ Bradford put the conversation in starker terms: “How many more people in my district have to die before this body — this government — gives a damn?“

The bill passed and moves to its third (and final) reading.

Usual first-reader Nicole (aka @startleseasily) will return to her post soon.

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