Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Mayoral Candidates Serving as Aldermen, Hundreds of 'Ayes' and Very Few 'Nos'

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 7:18 AM

click to enlarge From left, Jeffrey Boyd, Antonio French, Tishaura Jones, Lyda Krewson and Lewis Reed. All but Jones are on the Board of Aldermen. - PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • From left, Jeffrey Boyd, Antonio French, Tishaura Jones, Lyda Krewson and Lewis Reed. All but Jones are on the Board of Aldermen.

In the last two years, the city's Board of Aldermen have taken hundreds of final votes on matters big and small, including plans to finance a new football stadium, to put a soccer stadium before voters, to increase the minimum wage and to approve countless tax incentive plans for developments of all sizes. But only once in all those instances has Alderwoman Lyda Krewson voted no — on a plan opposed by neighbors to vacate a single downtown block. In every other instance, other than one abstention, she was either absent or voted "aye."

Krewson is not an outlier. Her colleagues on the Board of Aldermen almost always vote "aye," too — including all three of those running for mayor. Looking at their voting records as compiled by the board's clerk, absences far outweigh "no" votes — and "ayes" dwarf all other options to the point of almost being laughable.

Like Krewson, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd voted no on the third and final reading of just one bill in the last two years — last session's hotly contested stadium bill. President Lewis Reed voted no twice as often, but that still only entails two no votes on final readings in two years. One was a plan to leverage two city buildings to pay for development costs related to the NGA in north city; the other was a community block grant funding bill. In both cases, a spokesman says, he had concerns about the process used by the administration of Mayor Francis Slay.

Even Alderman Antonio French, who has earned a reputation as a firebrand who is often critical of Slay, voted no on the final version of just three bills in the 2015-2016 session and one, to date, in the 2016-2017 session — although those four "no" votes all came on high-profile, high-pressure bills, including the stadium bill and the minimum wage compromise plan.

Members of the board say, in general, there is pressure to vote "aye." Alderman Scott Ogilvie, who was elected to the board as an outsider in 2011, recalls one longstanding member telling him that he or she had never voted no on anything — "because if they ever had a bill, they didn't want people to vote no on it."

Since joining the board, Ogilvie says he's often asked if there are alliances or groups within it. "The way I rank people in my mind now," he says, "is that there are people who will vote 'yes' on every single thing and people who will sometimes vote 'no.' There are people who don't vote no on anything, and that's hard for me to explain."

Of the five leading mayoral candidates, four are on the Board of Aldermen. Only Treasurer Tishaura Jones is not currently a member. (Ogilvie, for the record, is neutral in the mayor's race.)

Krewson is the longest serving, having first been elected in 1997. Her campaign spokesman Ed Rhode says her long record of "aye" votes is nothing to be ashamed of.

Says Rhode, "Alderwoman Krewson is a proven consensus builder which is reflected in her voting record. Whether it is the minimum wage bill or smoking ban bill, most major pieces of legislation that pass through the Board of Aldermen have her input. It would only make sense that she is typically on the prevailing side of most issues.”

And in President Reed's defense, his spokesman, David Woodruff, notes that the tallies above only reflect those bills that made it all the way to a final vote. "Often, if an alderman or alderwoman know they don’t have enough votes to pass a bill, they never end up putting it up for a vote," he says. "There were numerous other bills that the President did not agree with, but those bills never came up to a vote."

Woodruff also notes that, many times, a member's absence is just as indicative as a "yes" or a "no." Krewson, he notes, missed the board's vote last session to raise the minimum wage. So did Boyd.

Rhode says that criticism of Krewson is unfair. “The minimum wage bill that passed the Board of Aldermen was actually offered as an amendment by Alderwoman Krewson," he says. "She voted yes to perfect that bill but wasn’t able to attend the meeting for the final vote. Any reasonable person would believe that she would vote yes for her own amendment.”

Interestingly, the votes cast by member are only available online because Ogilvie pushed for a bill last session that would require the city to display them. Prior to that, anyone searching an individual member's votes would have to go back bill by bill and examine each one to determine how any individual member voted. "It was very difficult to find that information," he says. "There's an argument you could make in 1972 that getting this stuff online was hard. OK, fine. But by 2015, we had gotten behind compared to what other cities had available."

Getting the information online shouldn't have even required a board bill, Ogilvie notes, but after sensing recalcitrance behind the scenes, he decided official legislation would have to be the way to go.

Board Bill 309 was approved by its third and final vote in March 2016. Everyone present, of course, voted "aye."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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