In the aftermath of the shrapnel bomb that was the Tennessee Waltz scandal, governments across the state reacted — mostly because they were told to — with sweeping changes to their ethics laws, imposing all sorts of new restrictions on how government officials dealt with lobbyists.
Metro was no different. Among the sweeping changes, a complete ban on council members accepting any sort of free food or drink from “anyone that has had, currently has or [is] likely to have a matter pending before Metro,” as council attorney Jon Cooper put it.
That’s not just a kibosh on the $150 meal at the steakhouse courtesy of some power-player at a white-shoe law firm.
It means no free doughnuts at the Rotary. No rubber chicken from the Kiwanians. No sandwiches from the Lions.
Councilman Charlie Tygard thought the rule was just plain draconian.
He proposed a change: permitting free food up to $25 per source per year, all to be disclosed. The change received final council approval last week.
In an October interview with The City Paper, Tygard played it as if this was a way to keep councilmen from coming off as ungrateful.
“Council members can’t go to a civic organization or to a homeowners’ association meeting now and legally accept any type of food item,” Tygard said. “I’m talking about coffee cakes or donuts. It’s a very uncomfortable situation.”
Far be it from us to cause undue embarrassment to the august members of the Metro Council down at the neighborhood association — presumably they don’t need any help.
Now, admittedly $25 isn’t a lot, and really, who’s changing their vote on a key issue with the promise of elegant cold cuts and crudités?
But, as always, it’s not impropriety, it’s the appearance thereof.
Since the outright ban went into effect, the wheels of Metro government haven’t ground to a halt with lawmakers passing out from hypoglycemia at every turn.
But now the council members can have their buffet paid for and not break the law — and they don’t have to deal with the unease of turning down a free meal.
Now the discomfort is with their constituents: wondering if the promise of reheated pork garnered somebody a sweet deal.