by Steven Hale
A meeting of Nashville's Metro Council Tuesday night, which was to be headlined by a procedural first vote on a trio of bills related to Mayor Karl Dean's proposed ballpark at Sulphur Dell, produced the most dramatic, albeit brief, scene in the chamber in recent memory.
On the first of three required votes, the Council typically passes legislation without discussion, sending it into the committee process. But on Tuesday, At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard — who had already played the troublemaker earlier with a proposal to take $10 million from the reserve fund and put it in the city's pension fund — took the unusual step of pulling all three Sulphur Dell-related bills aside, for discussion, and asking that they be deferred for two meetings.
Noting that the request to issue $65 million in bonds — to cover acquisition of the land from the state, and construction of the stadium — was coming before the council at the beginning of the holiday season, Tygard questioned whether there was actually enough time for relevant officials to be available to explain "why this is a good deal and why the taxpayer should help fund this."
"Why is there such a rush?" Tygard said.
For his part, the mayor has answered that question. Speaking to reporters after the financing proposal was revealed, Dean said it was important to move forward while interest rates were low, as well as to accommodate Embrey, who had already been involved in a development project but agreed to move locations to make way for the ballpark. All that and to make sure the stadium is ready for opening day of the Sounds 2015 season (a target date which would allow Dean to throw the opening pitch on his way out of office).
In any case, Tygard asked that the bills be delayed until next month, so that "all the citizens of Nashville, including those most directly affected" and the council members who will vote on it would have time to consider the proposal.
"It's simply too tight a schedule, at the wrong period of time, to be bringing this issue up right now, in my personal opinion," Tygard said.
His fellow At-Large member, Jerry Maynard, asked the council to vote against Tygard's motion and advance the bills, allowing them to proceed to committee meetings where the proposal can be discussed further. If there were still issues at that point, he said, a motion to defer would be more appropriate. At this point, he said, Tygard's request was "premature."
Things went off the rails from there, robbing Councilman Chris Harmon of a smooth night wielding the gavel in place of absent Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors:
Maynard: "I consider [Tygard] a friend, him and I talk offline. But I gotta tell you, I'm troubled because, as Council lady Gilmore said, this is the first time we've had major economic investment in North Nashville. And to pull this one, when we haven't pulled anything else, after all these years...
Tygard: Point of order?
Maynard: I just think that we need to move forward on this...
Councilman Tony Tenpenny: Oh, come on.
Maynard [turns around to face Tenpenny]: You come on.
Tenpenny: No, you come on! Where do you get off saying something like that!
Maynard: I have the microphone, I can say whatever I want to and if you got a problem with it, then push the button.
Tenpenny: I got it pushed!
Maynard: We have waited, those of us who've been community activists have been told time and time again how we have not had public investment in certain areas of town. And we have had to come before the council, work with the mayor, in the past and presently, in order to get this kind of economic development that we can have. And we have not had this type of major economic development in years in North Nashville. So that's why I'm asking that we continue to keep this moving forward, in order to help create jobs, for economic development. Now if somebody has a problem with what I said, that's fine. They can pick up their mic, they can make their point. Thank you, Mr. Pro Tem.
At-Large Councilman Ronnie Steine urged his colleagues to "take a deep breath."
"Let's back up, and let's remember that even when we disagree we're all on the same team in this 40 member body," Steine said, to scattered applause which was quickly gaveled out.
The council said that he opposes pulling any bill on first reading because it leads to a debate that is "far less informed" than it would be after committee meetings. He said that if even if members were going to oppose the stadium, "you ought to honor how this council operates and the [traditions] of this council that have said consistently, we move bills from first reading second reading and then we have extensive debate." Moreover he said "we've got some folks making motions on this bill that didn't even attend the two briefings we've had so far, so how in the world do they know where we are?"
After that came a little more speechifying: From Tenpenny, who said he wants time for his constituents to "understand what this is all about" and that he is not decidedly for or against the proposal; Councilman Scott Davis, who emphasized the importance of employing local workers for the project; Councilman Bo Mitchell, who did not support the deferral but questioned the Sulphur Dell site altogether.
And there were more tortured baseball references.
After all that, Tygard's motion was defeated and the bills were advanced.