NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) —A Metro councilman said the people of Nashville "got cheated" as members only heard from six people before passing a massive 32 percent property tax increase during a nearly 11 hour meeting.
Metro Councilman Steve Glover said the marathon meeting was "hijacked" by members of the public calling to defund the Metro Nashville Police Department.
The Tuesday meeting didn't adjourn until about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday as the sun began to rise. Countless citizens who called and showed up to City Hall Tuesday and early Wednesday overwhelmingly said the city could find some of that money by cutting the funding of the MNPD, which is set to get nearly $500 million in the proposed budget.
"Not in my lifetime and don't tell me that's what people in Nashville want to do is defund our police. Given all the activity that's happened over the 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 defund our police department? I don't think so," Glover said. "We don't defund our police department, we don't defund our fire department, we don't defund our first responders. We have too few of them as it is right now."
As Glover said the meeting was "hijacked" by numerous people calling to defund police, he said only six people against the massive 32% property tax increase were heard from before the budget passed on second reading.
"I think the people of Nashville got cheated tonight," Glover said in an interview with FOX 17 News. "I'm extremely concerned about the length of it because here's what happened: All the people who did want to speak about it, oh they have jobs, so they were getting up and having to go to their work today, or they stayed up as long as they could. I can't tell you how many messages I got with people saying, 'I give up, I'm going to bed.'"
Metro Councilman Bob Mendes said the meeting ended up being more about the protests than the budget.
"It did strike me that it was more of a protest than a budget conversation which is awesome...again, really inspired when people came to speak their mind," Mendes said. "We didn't really get concrete budget suggestions from the group, but I really appreciate people showing up and talking to us."
Glover said people couldn't get past the busy signal Tuesday night to give comment about Mayor Cooper's budget proposal. However; Councilman Mendes doesn't appear to agree.
"Everybody in the county had the phone number, everybody in the county could've showed up here and we got the comments that we got so I'm not really sure what he's talking about. "
Nashville's economy has tanked after the COVID-19 cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and the pandemic came on the heels of the deadly and destructive March 3 tornado that hobbled the city. Mayor Jim Cooper has been warning that the financial situation is dire, and he's said cuts and tax increases are necessary to keep the city afloat.
Thousands of Nashvillians in recent days have joined people across America to take to the streets to protest police discrimination against African Americans after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. In many cases, the protests have turned violent and broke out into full-blown riots, including here in Nashville — in fact the very building the council meeting takes place was set fire by vandals during the unrest Saturday night.
Many of the protesters have called to defund the police and say there needs to be more of a balance in the funding police departments receive compared to education, public housing and other public services. Nashvillians spoke of the militarization of the police as the department is set to receive nearly $500 million, with some of that spending going to armored vehicles.
One of the speakers recalled on Monday surrounding the family of Daniel Hambrick, who was killed by a Nashville police officer in 2018. He said the family asked to be surrounded by people for protection from police as they honored Hambrick during a peaceful protest on what would have been his birthday. The man who spoke at the council meeting Monday said he hopes to never be in a situation again where he's helping "to help protect people from an agency that (he) paid for."
This was the second reading of Mayor Cooper's budget. It will be amended in the Budget and Finance Committee and will move on to a third and final reading Jun 16.