Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The dance of the rubber stamp fairy: Metro Council goes through the motions of "considering" the bid to bribe Bridgestone to stay in Nashville

The gingerbread soldiers put up more of a fight against the mice army in the Nutcracker than Metro Council is mustering against King Karl's latest public-private partnership payola to keep the Bridgestone headquarters in Nashville. Two weeks ago the local news media reported the beginning of "the debate" on Bridgestone in council chambers; the council passed the deal on first reading without a peep.

They promise us now that the plan is up for second reading that they will actually discuss the question. Metro Council may have started their cursory chinfest on the mayor's corporate welfare plan but it looks much like the confabs the preceded other major subsidy proposals (like Dean's plan to build the Sounds a new ballpark). It is a foregone conclusion. This deal is predestined to win because this council rubber stamps everything Karl Dean proposes.

Here is what happened yesterday when Dean's deal was heard by the most important committee the council has. Not much of anything:

At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine, during a series of questions with Metro officials, alluded to a policy stance of Jeremy Kane, a mayoral candidate .... In a letter to council members over the weekend, Kane called for a reduction in the size of Bridgestone's property tax abatement in order to protect revenue that could be used on public schools.

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, who defended the administration's commitment to education, said that while one can always second-guess negotiations "this was one that was done thinking about the best interests of the city." He also suggested it would be difficult to amend the deal at this juncture.

"It would be very difficult to change what's been agreed upon at this point in time," Riebeling said.

At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, another mayoral candidate for the 2015 race — and the only one among the five declared candidates who will take a vote on the Bridgestone deal — called the proposal "a really great deal." She said it would keep a major headquarters in Nashville, bring high-quality new jobs and reinvigorate downtown.

"We can take apart all the different pieces of this … There are probably pieces that we could refine and change, but that's not the deal on the table," she said.

The role of council in this process was defined by Mr. Riebeling's comment that the deal is already done between the principals (the Mayor, the Governor and Bridgestone), and the council cannot do much about it. This is the body we elect to represent us when Hizzoner will not, even though they have practically no power to do so.

Even if they did, CM Steine and CM Barry make it clear that they do not have the fortitude or the will to question the decisions that Karl Dean makes. Ronnie Steine has been unquestioningly loyal to the mayor since we forgave his unpleasant brush with the law and put him back in office.

For her part, CM Barry merely echoed the Dean administration's talking point that the Bridgestone deal is good for all of Nashville; just like she parroted his point that the opulent Gulch pedestrian bridge will inexplicably connect all of Nashville. What she will not address is the jeopardy placed on Metro services--sidewalks, school buildings. libraries, park programming, community policing, etc--by permitting one of Nashville's biggest employers to skip their property tax obligations for 20 years. $56 million is a lot of money for Nashville to risk losing and, per Karl Dean's usual script, Bridgestone is not risking a doggone thing.

But then again, neither is Megan Barry. She rarely has from her seat on the Metro Council.

I'll give mayoral candidate Jeremy Kane only partial credit for trying to set himself apart and prompt a more lively council discussion of the budget implications of Hizzoner's shortsighted trade-offs. It may seem noble to try to shield Metro school income from the brutal realities of selling off public goods to private corporations. (There is irony here given that Mr. Kane is an unwavering charter school advocate, and we see the damage privatization does to public education). However, in the breakneck shell game of Metro budgeting, shielding Metro school income can come at the expense of other services in departments that serve a clientele wider than and including children in public schools. In sum, his Bridgestone option is itself weak and impractical.

No Nashvillians should be put at risk so that Bridgestone can get wealthier than it already is. Maybe it makes no difference, given the Mayor's executive power, that Metro Council refuses to acknowledge that. But wouldn't it be quaint if for once they interrupted their dance and went through offbeat motions?

UPDATE:  According to one news source, our Deaniac overlords are enraged with the Kane mutiny. I wonder if Mr. Kane's rather limp waywardness opens up a place at Karl Dean's right hand for Megan Barry, who is forever loyal to Hizzoner:

The day after releasing the letter, Kane told the Scene he supports the Bridgestone package and wants it to pass. He veers away from anything that could resemble a criticism of the Dean administration, but the implication of his proposal seems clear enough: Could the city have gotten a better deal?

Behind the scenes, the Dean administration is livid that Kane made such a public display without approaching them for clarification.

If anything, this scores just how important loyalty is to the Dean administration. Remember how important it was in the George W. Bush presidency? It seems to have those proportions with Karl Dean. Any independent query draws their ire. All questions should be run by the Mayor's Office before they are made public. No wonder Metro Council is so whipped.

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