Mayoral Strong-Arming has Metro Council Reaching for the Paxil

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"It was the kind of evening you spend in politics where you seriously wonder how we'll ever find our way back. It was so depressing."

That's Councilman Emily Evans. She's talking about Tuesday night, when the amendment she'd proposed with Sylvan Park councilman Jason Holleman was shot down. Maybe you're thinking, Of course she's depressed, she didn't get her way. But the more info that comes out about how Mayor Dean & Co. rammed their stormwater bill through Metro council, the easier it is to understand Evans' jones for anti-depressants.

The quick recap: Council had two different options when deciding how to charge local businesses for stormwater fees. Under the original plan (the one backed by the Mayor's office), fees for land owners were capped at a max of $400 per month. Under the amendment, the fees would have been proportionate to how much impervious surface area (i.e. concrete) the company owns; more concrete equals more runoff equals shouldering their fair share of the burden when it comes to repairs.

Of course, since this meant wealthy campaign contributors like Opryland would have to pay roughly $40,000 more in fees per month, there were some in the Mayor's office (finance director Rich Riebeling, a former developer, chief among them) who wanted nothing more than to send Evans and Holleman running to the medicine cabinet.

Their weapons: Strong-arming, numbers-peddling and some soft-spoken goonery from the former right-hand man of the late Sheriff Fate Thomas.

First, the scenario. The Mayor's office had helpfully (for them) created a Level Five crisis thanks to their use of the dreaded Special Meeting. The Special Meeting happens when the Mayor says so and there's nothing you or I or anyone else can do to stop it. Former Mayor Bill Purcell called precisely zero during his eight years in office. According to the Mayor's office, Karl Dean has now called two in just over a year (hooray, he's winning!).

So Dean says the vote has to happen now. Then, on Monday, one day before the vote, the bill is substituted for a new, extra-dense version that nobody has time to comprehend, let alone read fully. Holleman proposes his amendment the same day. Then everyone whom the Mayor's office called in to "meet with" gets up on the council floor and complains that Holleman filed his amendment too late. No one dares say the words double standard.

Meanwhile, roving outside the chamber is Public Works Director Billy Lynch, formerly of Sheriff Fate fame. Why is he there? Public Works has nothing to do with stormwater fees. But Lynch goes to council meetings once in a while. So that's why he was milling around in the hallway, talking to councilmembers before the vote. Not because he has an agenda.

"I just went to attend," he says before ever being asked an actual question--and as anyone who's ever watched one episode of Law & Order knowsthat means Lynch is guilty of strangling his daughter's principal and then stuffing her in the trunk of his Volvo.

After some pressing, Lynch changes his tune. He was there to lobby on behalf of the Mayor's plan because, goshdarnit, he just thought it made more sense. Also because he "works for the man who signs his checks." That'd be Riebeling.

"If I helped to get it passed I consider myself kinda complimented," says Lynch.

You may consider it, sir. But that's not all.

Lynch's Public Works department is also handing out informative numbers describing how the Holleman amendment will cost TSU and Mt. Zion Baptist Church more money in the long run (subtext: did you know these people hate God AND religion?). Except that these numbers are wrong (like thousands of dollars wrong, according to Metro water). But since nobody has time to actually check the numbers, no one knows this.

No one including North Nashville councilmember Edith Langster. Who is very good at wearing lovely hats and reading numbers off of paper provided to her by someone with an interest in killing the amendment, but not so great at actually getting anyone to tell her whether or not those numbers are right.

Confusion reigns. The amendment loses. We all (substituting "we" for "big business, the Mayor's office and anarchy") win.

Emily Evans = still depressed.

The end.

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