Tension, frustration dominates marathon Metro Council budget hearing

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A tense budget hearing for the Metro Council ended early Wednesday morning after a marathon session that lasted nearly 11 hours.

Recent events led to a long night of discussion about funding for Metro police at the meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and ended around 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, after an estimated 200 people spoke to the Council.

Mayor John Cooper’s 32% property tax increase was up for discussion, but instead, the Council was met with opposition over funding for the Metro police and Metro jail.

The phone lines were overwhelmed with calls and the hallways were filled with residents who feel the proposed budget commits too much money to law enforcement. Instead, many Nashvillians believe the money should go toward resources like Metro Nashville Public Schools, community centers and affordable housing.

“As we’ve seen, the police force does not necessarily keep everyone in our community safe. An overpoliced community is not a safe community,” said one concerned citizen.

“As servants of this city, I urge you and I beg you, please give that money to housing, please give that money to health and human services, please give that money to schools and the arts,” added another.

After hours, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman expressed his frustration and said the long line of people with similar comments prevented other perspectives from being heard.

“If you are interested in talking about the budget, we would like to hear from you. Again, it is 10 after 1, if we get people on the phone that tell us the exact same thing we have heard for 4 1/2 hours, we will cut them off,” said Vice Mayor Shulman. “That’s just the way it’s got to work or we will be here until 5 a.m. That’s the way it’s got to be.”

Concerned citizens did not relent and continued to ask for more funding for schools.

“This really matters right now, I am a 10-year resident of Nashville and I say we have to do better, defund the police, and fully fund public schools, where my son goes to school,” said one caller.

“You are out of order, we have heard that discussion before, Ma’am you are out of order… I’m making the decision to cut that conversation off,” interrupted Vice Mayor Shulman.

Abby Lee Hood told News 2 she waited for hours to address the Council. Her turn came after Vice Mayor Shulman came out of council chambers expressing his frustration.

Vice Mayor Shulman addressed citizens waiting to speak, saying they were “playing fun and games.” Hood attended the hearing to argue for reallocation of police funding and said $500 million is more the department needs. She wants the money given to schools instead.

“I have volunteered in Nashville schools and I have seen what doing more with less looks like with my own eyes. I might not be a teacher, but I have seen what underfunding our education system does. Instead of investing in violent systems that uphold oppression and racial inequality, it’s more important to invest in education, healthcare and affordable housing,” said Hood.

After some back and forth, the public hearing did eventually resume though some members of the council believe the majority was not represented in the marathon session.

Councilman Steve Glover was upset about how the meeting went, telling News 2 the people of Nashville weren’t heard and people who were concerned about the budget didn’t get a chance to speak.

“Don’t tell me that’s what people in Nashville want to do, defund our police given all of the activity that’s happened over the past weekend, given the fact that we couldn’t cover it anyway. We’re so short on police officers right now, we’re 108 police officers short and now we want to want to defund our police department? I don’t think so. We don’t defund our first responders, we have too few of them as it is right now,” said Glover.

Councilman Bob Mendes, who felt Nashvillians did have the chance to talk and speak about issues that mattered to them and had every right to, said Glover is a “blowhard and he’s going to yell at the wind if he had an opportunity to.”

Mayor Cooper announced the proposed 32% property tax increase in late April, noting the impact of the tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Metro finance estimated a nearly half-a-billion dollar decline in revenue over a 16-month period. The budget avoids layoffs but does not include a pay raise for Metro employees.

The budget passed its second reading and the Council is scheduled to meet again June 16.

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