Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Tiny Truths Of "Cat-Herding"

The ballpark deal seems all but done, and not simply because, as the mainstream media puts it, bills that get through 2nd reading usually pass making 3rd reading all but formality. Opponents still have opportunities to kill this bill (the deferral of the Sylvan Park conservation overlay bill at its third reading indicates that) and both sides seem entrenched and unmoved from their positions. I think that margin in the vote taken last night is more evidentiary. I first interpreted the slim vote (15-16) defeating an attempt to defer the ballpark bill one meeting as an indicator that the Council was almost evenly divided on the ballpark. That possibility did not bode well for ballpark supporters, given all of the time and deliberation put into the matter over the past year. I was surprised then, when the bill passed by a relatively wide margin (21-12). Some minor changes may be made before 3rd reading, but the margin passed signals to me that it will be passed on 3rd reading, too.


After proponents of the ballpark bill argued that the $250,000 increase in maintenance costs per year of the proposed ballpark would not be taken from education or the hospital (particularly given education's multi-million dollar budget increases) Council member-at-large David Briley took exception. Briley, one of the more vigorous opponents, got public confirmation from the Metro legal official present that the extra "$250,000 would be taken from the general budget" to cover the increase. Briley repeated emphatically and without qualification that money would indeed be taken from education and the hospital. What he failed to mention and what proponents failed to drive home: if the Sounds stay at Greer, as much as $5 million extra dollars would have to pulled from education and the hospital to bring Greer up to ADA compliance. As vigorous as Briley's opposition is, so go his exaggerations about the cost impact to other Metro services. The fact that a new ballpark would save Metro $5 million makes the extra $250,000 per year a wash. That puts me back where I started: grudging support of a new ballpark.


Twilight Zone episode of the night: Sylvan Park Council member John Summers simply disappeared at the time that the Sylvan Park overlay bill came up for third reading and passage. After introducing and reading the resolution, Vice Mayor Howard Gentry looked around the room and asked, "Has Councilman Summers left the building?" The next sequence slipped further into weirdness. Rip Ryman rose and moved to defer third reading of the overlay to June. At that point Summers re-emerged and asked Ryman to withdraw the deferral so that he could make his own motion to defer. Ryman sat stone-faced straight ahead making no acknowledgement of Summers. Summers then moved to table Ryman's motion. Ludye Wallace stood to say correctly that Summers' motion to table was out-of-order since a member who wants to table a motion cannot rise for any other reason. Summers was eventually rescued when someone else moved to table Ryman's motion and tabling passed. At that point Vice Mayor Gentry with some irritation announced, "I have already read the caption [on the original Sylvan Park bill] and Councilman Summers was out of the room so I hope he read the motion. I need a motion from him." Summers stood and said, "I'm going to make a similar motion on Whitland." Gentry stopped him and replied, "We are on the Sylvan Park motion. Can we please discuss the motion on Sylvan Park?!" Summers said, "Yeah, but I want to say that I'm going to make a similar motion on Whitland." After taking some parting shots at overlay opponents, Summers moved to defer the Sylvan Park ordinance indefinitely (Council approved). When the motion to defer the Whitland zoning came up, Summers used some of his time to repeat anecdotes about dissension in Sylvan Park. Clearly John Summers is allowed way too much time to speak; but I wish I could have been a fly on Gentry's desk at that moment just to glimpse his nonverbals up close. After the motion to defer the Whitland ordinance was introduced, Council member Wallace then asked how Sylvan Park and Whitland residents would be notified of the new vote. Vice Mayor asked Summers to address the question; Summers redirected: "I hope that opponents will respect the results of this vote." Vice Mayor cut him off repeating that Wallace's question was about notification. Gentry ended the episode in frustration, saying, "I can't give an inch around here today." This episode is just further proof that dealing with this Council is akin to "herding cats."


Comic relief of the night unfortunately came early rather than late:
Ludye [Wallace] was on the Council then [in 1977 when Council was deliberating the plan to build Greer Stadium]. In fact, you've been on every Council haven't you, Ludye?
--Larry Schmittou, who was being honored at the beginning of Council Meeting for being inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

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