Nashville flood wall, jail plan, police HQ move rejected
Mayor Karl Dean was dealt a clean sweep of defeats Tuesday by the Metro Council, which rejected three controversial and expensive municipal projects he had sought to pass before leaving office.
Citing a lack of proper vetting for each, the council voted separately Tuesday to kill funding for a $100 million downtown flood wall and protection system, a $113 million jail consolidation in Southeast Nashville as well as a $23 million police headquarters proposed for North Nashville.
The council later approved Dean's $520 million 2015-16 capital plan, which includes substantial dollars for school buildings and sidewalk paving — but no longer projects that have divided much of Davidson County.
The defeats mark a decisive blow for term-limited Dean before he exits the mayor's office in September. Some council members noted his impending departure and said it would be better to let the next mayor decide whether they are projects worth pursuing.
"If any of these are good projects now, then they will be good projects 90 days from now," at-large councilman Tim Garrett said. "I really think that's where they need to be — with the next administration."
"Let's slow down and get all the facts about these big projects," echoed Metro councilman Carter Todd, a usual Dean ally on most projects. "For some reason, this mayor seems to be rushing here at the very end to get a bunch of large capital projects done without doing all of the homework."
Defeats came via three separate amendments during a heated meeting. The council voted 19-18 to pull funds for the flood wall and protection system. It later voted 19-17 to remove funds for the jail relocation and then 22-14 to block the relocation of the police headquarters. Each project came out of the mayor's 2015-16 capital improvements budget. There were two abstentions on all three votes.
"Obviously, I am disappointed in the results of three crucial votes removing needed projects from the city's capital improvement budget," Dean said in a statement. "Each of these proposals would have funded important public safety infrastructure that the city shouldn't put off. I hope these projects will be taken up by the next administration and council because these issues aren't going away."
Council action followed an impassioned three-hour public hearing on the issues last week.
With the downtown flood wall and protection system, Dean had gotten an assist last week from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which reinforced its support by calling the project key to protecting the city's cultural heart and economic engine. They reminded Nashvillians that around 18 percent of all tax revenue in Nashville is generated from downtown.
But the project never overcame skeptical council members, who on Tuesday questioned why federal funding wasn't more aggressively sought. They also reminded their colleagues that residential neighborhoods were hit equally, if not worse, by the 2010 flood that prompted the downtown flood wall in the first place.
"To talk about the economic center of downtown is basically telling our neighborhoods you're not as important," at-large councilman Charlie Tygard said. "That's the problem I have with this."
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall has pushed hard for a new jail facility on Harding Place to replace operations within the aging downtown Criminal Justice Center. The Metro police headquarters would have relocated from the same downtown facility to Jefferson Street under a proposal Dean announced in April.
"Have we involved the community at any point in this process?" said Antioch councilman Duane Dominy, looking toward the council gallery where many jail critics had gathered. "No."
In a statement, Hall called the removal of funding a "very important decision for our city" and offered hope that the issue will remain at the forefront of discussion for the next mayor and council.
"As we have said, doing nothing about the conditions and long-range future of our downtown facilities is not an option," Hall said. "The issues at the Criminal Justice Center are well documented and need serious attention now."
Organizations in North Nashville in recent days had issued split opinions on the police headquarters for Jefferson Street. A group of businesses merchants in the area had said it supported the proposal, calling the headquarters a possible catalyst for a corridor that contains several blighted buildings. Others, including the Justice for Jefferson Street Coalition and the Tennessee State University Community Coalition, have remained opposed.
The latter groups raised fears over potential racial profiling that they said could result along the historically African-America corridor, even though Dean has been adamant that the police headquarters would house only administrative offices.
The mayor last week sought a compromise by vowing to hold further community meetings on the police headquarters proposal even if the council were to have authorized funding. He had said those meetings would then dictate whether Jefferson Street is the best area or if new locations should be explored.
But councilwoman Erica Gilmore, who represents the area, said Tuesday that opposition had proven to be "really overwhelming for the community."
"I'm not against development, but it has to be the right kind of development," she said. "And the people have spoken against it."
Tuesday's meeting turned particularly heated on two occasions. Dominy, as he interrogated Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling on the jail plan, appeared to accuse the finance director of lying about the proposal. That prompted Riebeling to point from across the council chambers toward Dominy and say, "You don't call me a liar."
Earlier, Councilman Todd charged that "backroom" trades had taken place by the administration. Mayor's Office of Economic and Community Development Director Matt Wiltshire responded to that accusation by storming out of the council chambers.
In the end, the latest string of defeats adds to the redevelopment of the fairgrounds and Amp bus rapid transit proposal as projects that Dean was unable to get approved amid fierce public resistance.
In the latest case, the mayor was rejected on three proposals in three different parts of the county. Each had one underlying complaint: a lack of front-end community input.
"We have created discord in this city like I have never seen," councilwoman Jacobia Dowell of Antioch said prior to the votes. "Not only community discord but we have different communities that are being pitted against other communities. The suburbs against the core. For downtown or against downtown.
"All of these proposals — this headquarters, this flood wall and this jail — I believe that if they were presented to the community and we had time for a conversation, we might have come up with some kind of resolution."
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.