As succinctly as I might put it, I think that the Metro Council Committee Appointments, as originally reported at the City Paper, are about as good as I could have expected. Overall, there seems to be balance and the conservatives do not chair the more significant and powerful committees.
In July I did worry about Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' appointments, but that was when we were facing a rather nightmarish scenario of ethically challenged J.B. Loring and Ronnie Greer filling at-Large seats alongside old school patron Charlie Tygard. I believe that Loring's and Greer's losses did Ms. Neighbors a favor.
Erik Cole seems the natural choice for the almighty Budget and Finance Committee. He seems to be moderate-to-progressive, and he made a judicious Pro Tem during the last session. His connections to Karl Dean should not be underestimated as the Mayor's Office works with the Council at budget time.
The two stronger conservatives on this committee, Michael Craddock and Mr. Tygard seem balanced by the more moderate presence of Mike Jameson and Ronnie Steine, and my impression of many of the other members is that they tend to break moderate. It will interest people in the North End and District 19 that Erica Gilmore is on this powerful committee. The only question I have concerns Pam Murray's membership on this committee: given Ms. Murray's previous conflict of interest over budget appropriations, does she really need to be sitting so close to the Council's purse strings?
Another committee of interest to neighborhoods is Planning, Zoning, and Historical. This committee was chaired by J.B. Loring last session, which represented a conflict of interest to me because Mr. Loring also serves as a member of the Planning Commission. So, he was on a fence that would allow him to influence both processes to his benefit and that of Gaylord Entertainment, from whom he received a lot of campaign finance.
The Chair of that committee is currently open and to be decided by the Council next week. One of the conservatives, Jim Gotto is running for the seat and we shall see whether he sways in favor of development and growth over community and neighborhood character. Gotto lined up against the Historical Commission in the Evergreen Debacle in which a 200-year-old house was torn down to make room for a big box store. I look forward to newly elected at-Large Member Megan Barry keeping the committee straight and balanced in their decisions.
A final committee of immediate interest to those of us who live on the North End of Downtown is the Codes, Fair, and Farmer's Market committee. The Farmer's Market has been embroiled in controversy over the last couple of years as community demand has increased for actual farmers and for organic produce. A small group of middlemen sellers have tried to control the market and intimidate any direct vendors who tried to set up shop there. They have received the support of some council conservatives like Mr. Craddock, who is on the committee. Two other members, Jim Hodge and Robert Duvall, have leaned toward the council's conservative bloc on several issues in the last session.
We should watch this committee. The appointed Chair, Anna Page, strikes me as more moderate, but she may have her hands full when consideration of the Farmer's Market heats up.
UPDATE: Carol McCullough comments below that Megan Barry is said to be considering a run against Jim Gotto for the open Chair of Planning, Zoning, and Historical. As a reformer, Ms. Barry represents a viable and clear alternative to Mr. Gotto's rather checkered history last session. I believe that she would restore balance to development decisions. If this rumor is true, I would like to see the breakdown of votes between Gotto and Barry. It may give us early indications how the Council will ideologically divide in this session and whether it has a reforming mood.
CORRECTION: A commenter points out below that the Metro Charter requires that the Metro Council Planning Chair have a seat on the Metro Planning Commission. I stand corrected.