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June 17, 2009

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

The whispering about whether Mayor Jerry Abramson will run for another term has grown louder since the budget hearings began earlier this month. No one really knows what the mayor will decide later this summer, and potential successors aren’t waiting around to find out.

Sources say Metro Council President David Tandy, D-4, is actively lining up supporters and courting donors for a possible 2010 mayoral bid, assuming Abramson opts to end his reign.

“We’re at a point where everybody’s positioning themselves,” Tandy tells LEO Weekly. “Most of the discussion has been unsolicited on my part. It’s people coming to me saying, ‘David, we’d like you to seriously think about running.’”

If Abramson doesn’t run for re-election, the Democratic field will be heavy, but the favorites remain Tandy and Jim King, D-10, the former council president who has had obvious mayoral aspirations since joining the council.

Last year the two wrestled over the council presidency: Although King was more aggressive in seeking a second term as council president (which is unprecedented), Tandy prevailed — and did so without talking smack about his opponent. It is expected that the bid for mayor will be much more heated.

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Distrustful and dissatisfied would be the best way to describe the members of Stop Invisible Taxes, a citizens’ brigade straight out of the South End that fancies itself a Metro government watchdog.

Flanked by Mayor Abramson’s noisiest critics, including outspoken businessman Chris Thieneman, activist/blogger Ed Springston and State Sen. Dan Seum, the group unveiled plans for a citizen-operated tip line last week that will be an alternative to the reporting service recently approved by the Metro Council.

The Metro tip line is expected to be in operation by September, but that has done little to end the general paranoia some have about Metro government. For example, Paul Holliger, operations manager of SIT, points out that any calls made to the city tip line will have to go through agencies beholden to the mayor. And so they’ve started their own.

Ironically, the watchdog group refused to share the names of private donors who are helping fund the independent reporting service, even though the organization advocates transparency. And while they’ve already gotten their tip line up and running, the residents are amateurs when it comes to running a tip line, which will only operate on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — I mean, these people do have real jobs and families and whatnot. In contrast, a third party will run the Metro tip line 24/7.

When I called last week, it rang six times and then went to voicemail.

Like most city lawmakers, Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, who introduced the Metro tip line ordinance, was careful to avoid the wrath of the well-organized noisemakers. Kramer made the usual gracious remarks about supporting efforts to bring forth greater levels of transparency, but quickly reiterated the Metro hotline would be better equipped to handle complaints.

Other council members, for the most part, simply rolled their eyes when the citizen tip line was mentioned, calling it nothing more than a distraction.

•••

After an exhausting week of budget hearings, the council appeared worn out (and completely over the whole governing thing) by the time it passed a new anti-litter ordinance by a 20-3 vote last Thursday. The new law regulates the delivery of unsolicited written materials, but really it was all about The Courier-Journal dropping little green bags of unwanted advertisements on driveways, sidewalks and yards.

While most of the council held back yawns, sponsors of the ordinance congratulated themselves for cleaning up a big mess. Several city lawmakers who ended up supporting the bill did manage to muster up enough energy to admit during a brief debate that the green bags weren’t even a problem in their districts. The one thing that did seem to spark some enthusiasm in the room was mention of the newspaper’s threat to sue the city if the bill passed.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, D-5, one of the few opposing votes, suggested Metro government does not need yet another unenforceable law on the books. But her point about this one being overkill did not convince the majority. Once the ordinance takes effect in 60 days, the offense will carry a $100 to $200 fine per incident, which could also apply to the carrier and add up to more than a month’s salary for the lowly delivery person.

Before the vote, Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, who introduced the ordinance, told his colleagues they shouldn’t fear a lawsuit and should instead do the right thing, which was to vote for his ordinance. The freshman councilman’s bravado set the tone for a vote in favor, with the majority of city lawmakers effectively telling the once-mighty daily to, well, bring it.