Thursday, July 31, 2014

Apparently, defending Israeli sovereignty with tacit support of blowing up Palestinian children is an issue pertinent to the Metro Council

In 2003, I wrote my council member at the time, Mike Jameson, asking him to work on legislation with the purpose of taking on the Bush Administration, more specifically, creating local civil liberties zones against John Ashcroft's Patriot Act II. CM Jameson gave me a call and told me that he could attempt to do so, but the initiative would go down in flames given the conservative lean of the council and the local political climate that was not supportive of Nashville challenging DC. It was an early lesson on civics in Nashville.

Unlike other cities, the council here is constrained in what it can do outside of planning and zoning for the county. I've learned to accept that, as hard as it is for someone who admires the histories of other cities that passed initiatives fighting apartheid and the nuclear arms race.

Ever since then I have to sit back and watch conservatives like Eric Crafton and Jim Gotto posture on immigration policies and English Only, and I remember what CM Jameson told me 11 years ago: it does not matter within the political scheme (other than to advance the careers of aspiring politicians who use red meat strategically in order to further their careers on larger stages).

The latest council conservative attempting to stir the pot on policy larger than that of Metropolitan government is Josh Stites, who uses social media to portray his views to constituents.

CM Stites has two Twitter accounts. One is @VoteStites in which he identifies himself as a member of "Nashville Metro Council". Besides the explicit reference to being a CM, the qualifer "Vote" suggests that this is how he expresses himself in his de facto capacity as an elected official. The other Twitter account, just as public, is also more personal, focused on inspiration, family, culture and faith.

In recent days, CM Stites has taken to tweeting on the Israeli attacks on Gaza on the more political @VoteStites. I'm not blaming him for having an opinion on Palestine, but why is he using his "Nashville Metro Council" twitter feed rather than his personal one to rationalize incessant drone attacks on civilians in Gaza by Israel? Someone said one time that the only significant thing Metro Council members do is pass zoning initiatives. Why his council-oriented twitter stream filled with apologies and PR for Israel? 

"Nashville Metro Council"

The personal one.

In the interests of disclosure, I completely disagree with CM Stites' views of the Middle East, which strike me as exclusively theological and Christianocentric rather than realistic and just.

Sole survivor of family of eight.
But the bigger question for me is, why is CM Stites choosing his council-oriented Twitter feed rather than his personal account to convey his uncritically pro-Israeli views of Palestine? His preferential option for Israel seems more consistent with a personal theology than a foreign policy (which council can't control anyway), so why not express it at the more devotional @JoshStites feed? Do his constituents uniformly agree that we can ignore the killing of innocent Arab children and defend Israeli sovereignty by any means necessary? And if they do what does that have to do with any business conducted in Metro Council? That's not a rhetorical question. I want to know what council mechanism I need to engage to encourage the end of the wonton slaughter of Palestinian children who are invisible to some.

Lost her entire family.

What will the real impact of the new ballpark be on neighborhood businesses?

It is not clear yet what kind of establishments will occupy mixed-use spaces in the development that includes First Tennessee Park, but a popular new dining and retail complex at relatively new Busch Stadium in St. Louis indicates negative impact on established neighborhood businesses.

Small businesses up and down Jefferson Street and in Germantown supported building a new ballpark nearby hoping it would boost their revenues. Will it be the boon that they expect? Or will we actually lose businesses to new ones conveniently located on the First Tennessee Park site? St. Louis seems to be a cautionary tale. Ballpark Village seems to be luring customers away from other neighborhood establishments:

This season the crowds are bypassing the neighborhood bars… [Quoting bar owner #1]: “Everybody is down at least 20 to 30 percent if not more,” everybody that is except Ballpark Village. Crowds are just naturally drawn to the complex, which opened this year by the Cardinals and built with tax incentives and every intention of luring in baseball fans …. [Owners of successful neighborhood bars around the ballpark] sank in money for expansion in recent years. Now they’re cutting jobs. [Quoting bar owner #2]: “We’ve seen a decline in business for sure …. We’re going to have to ride it out. Cut back on staff a little bit.” [Quoting bar owner #1]: “… all of us really struggle … to keep our business and make it a success. So, when they did this, it just pulled that much more away from us.” Some owners now say their goal is just to survive the baseball season as Ballpark Village keeps packing them in.

"Just surviving" does not sound like a promising business climate for neighborhood bars and restaurants. If I owned a business in Germantown, I would be concerned about the prospect of "crowds bypassing" my establishment. Remember the dining and retail desert that settled in around antiquated Greer Stadium over the years. I hope the impact of a new ballpark is at least more positive for the neighborhoods than that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NES takes down, will not reinstall one of Salemtown's federally funded lampposts after Taylor Place construction

Being a former member of the advisory committee on the Salemtown steetscape project (running roughly from 2006 to 2010), I tend to keep an eye on what has happened to the elements (neighborhood and traffic signs, lampposts, crosswalks and traffic-calming bulb-outs) over the years. I've reported burned out lampposts, consulted with neighbors on how to deal with destroyed crepe myrtles on bulb-outs and picked up decorative traffic signs run down by trucks.

The remaining lamppost at 5th & Hume
So, I noticed this week that when the construction crews building The Flats at Taylor Place started demolishing the curbside along 5th Avenue North, one of the lampposts of our streetscape project disappeared. I contacted the project manager of the new apartments who replied that NES had taken the lamppost away as part of the approved project, which will include new lighting along 5th fronting Taylor Place. I can't find any images of the new complex that include drawings of the new lighting, so I do not know what it will look like. There were no lampposts in the original sketches shown to the local community by the development team in 2012, and they made no mention at the time of altering the Salemtown streetscape during their construction.

Assuming that no other changes are made to the remaining streetscape elements, I cannot characterize the loss of one lamppost in a $500,000 block grant project as huge. Lighting was the most expensive element of all of the renovations made in the streetscape project, so the loss of any of what was approved is still a waste of some federal dollars. And "more lighting" was the most oft-expressed wish from Salemtown neighbors participating in the streetscape information sessions. I hope that NES won't just trash the lamppost but will save as a replacement in case one of the remaining lights is damaged beyond repair.

However, the bigger question looms: does the removal of a publicly-financed lamppost from a public sidewalk to make room for privately-funded lampposts (assuming Metro is not paying for them) at The Flats at Taylor Place signal that every other developer has license and sanction from NES to alter Salemtown's streetscape elements, which were approved by elected representatives of the neighborhood?

What can Brown do for SouthComm?

It has been a while since a local reporter wrote the following about lightning-rod education reformer, Michelle Rhee, so it is time to see how the 1 1/2 year old copy stands up to reality. Writes Andrea Zelinski, circa January 2013:

Michelle Rhee is an icon of the education reform movement. She’s pushed to hold teachers more accountable for students’ performance, busted open the doors of school choice and shaken up the education establishment. She’s also thrown a few elbows and drawn criticism for her style.

A Tennessee transplant, she is turning her attention to schools in her new state.

The polarizing former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor heads up StudentsFirst, an education reform organization she founded just as she began setting roots in the Volunteer State. The group has already handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to state-level political campaigns and a handful of local elections here, positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with.

Back when Michelle Rhee was a rock star, this kind of fawning coverage might have flown in spite of the protests of those like me who judged it to be a load of crap. Ms. Rhee was a celebrity, and aspiring news coverage seeks to hitch its wagon to a star above all.

Now, given what we have learned about the pitiful "movement" Michelle Rhee fabricated, the SouthComm interview appears to be folly without the slightest hint of courage to probe for the truth. One makes choices, and Zelinski's (or was it SouthComm's?) choice not to challenge Michelle Rhee is inane in light of the harder questions other journalists ask:

Rhee’s StudentsFirst campaigns have done little to animate parents. In Connecticut, an investment of about $700,000 produced a [Rhee head-liner] at the State Capitol ..., which drew only about 75 people. In Alabama, where StudentsFirst claimed 17,000 members, only about 20 showed up at a meeting she called at that state’s capitol.

Revelations about Rhee’s accomplishments while she was chancellor for Washington, D.C., public schools have also sullied her self-avowed reputation for “raising achievement”....

Darkening the pall cast over Rhee’s reputation is an unresolved cheating scandal on Rhee’s watch in D.C. The alleged scandals — and what, if anything, Rhee might have known about them — have never been adequately investigated....

the stench of questionable numbers is likely to follow Rhee wherever she goes, with any new appointment likely to prompt more questioning and investigation from journalists ....

Not only has Rhee’s reputation as a results-oriented school leader gone south, but her organization StudentsFirst is not doing so well either ....

StudentsFirst, the lobbying and political actions firm Rhee started, is shutting down its Minnesota office due to a “changing legislative climate” .... Reporters at Politico noticed the office closing too and added in its daily newsletter that StudentsFirst has “pulled out of five states and laid off six staff members as the midterm elections approach,” shutting down operations not only in Minnesota but also in Florida, Maine, Indiana and Iowa.

Additionally, the reporters noted, “The organization hasn’t brought in anywhere near the $1 billion that Rhee confidently predicted she would raise when she founded the group in 2010.”

On the other hand, what StudentsFirst seems to excel at is funneling campaign contributions from its undisclosed financial backers to lobbying efforts and politicians, who are mostly Republican and mostly incumbents. So much for being a “change agent.”

The contrast between Andrea Zelinski's ode and the latest point-by-point interrogation of Michelle Rhee's actual career could not be more stark. Keep in mind that SouthComm fancies itself as "alt" journalism, but all the "alt" that we can learn appears to be elsewhere.

SouthComm is in a difficult place. They hitched their wagon to Rhee's star instead of at the very least playing devil's advocate, and now that Rhee's star is fading they don't have a shred of credibility left on the subject of education "Rheeform."

The only option they have left to save face is to gin up a promotional interview with Ms. Rhee's replacement in the anti-teacher niche, Campbell Brown, and hope she "transplants" to Tennessee, too.

UPDATE: There was evidence out there in January 2013 that Michelle Rhee was nothing more than a marginal "Tennessee transplant."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Metro Historical Commission to present completed map of Bells Bend history tomorrow

This comes on short notice, but it looks like a worthwhile event for those of you with interest in local oral history and those of you who have been advocates of Bells Bend in the past. Tomorrow, Saturday July 26th, at 2:00pm at the Wade School Tim Walker of Nashville's Historical Commission will review a completed map of historic sites that have been identified via local knowledge.

The Historical Commission and the Nashville Public Library documented and recorded oral histories from Scottsboro-Bells Bend neighbors. They also gathered the neighbors together to pinpoint specific areas connected to those histories. The map that Mr. Walker will present is the culmination of that interaction. Organizers hope to recognize these important areas with historic markers.

UPDATE: Dozens of neighbors attended the Scottsboro/Bells Bend community meeting at Wade School on Saturday, which was designed to gather more historical information in light of the 70+ significant sites already documented in the community. Tim Walker told those in attendance that he made his first visit to Bells Bend a few years ago and was immediately impressed that such a unique place with rural culture existed so close to urban Nashville. He also asked the group to come up with more information that might have been missing from the oral histories they had collected and to identify more sites. Community leader Joe Engle told the audience that there was no deadline for collecting information and that the project would continue indefinitely.

While pressure might continue in the future to suburbanize or to urbanize Bells Bend, it is refreshing to hear a Metro official praise the unique culture of the area. Many of us have been believers in that kind of diversity for much longer. I want to believe that this exercise also has a way of defining community character which might be even more resistant to developers who drool at the thought of high-density infilling the Bend. Above all, the history should not be lost with the passing generations. This was a positive event all the way around.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fears of public school parents becoming realized

One year ago we pulled our daughter out of the Metro public school she was attending in North Nashville and enrolled her in a parochial school. Last August I explained elsewhere in greater detail than parents tend to do openly why we pulled away from MNPS. That statement is not entirely correct. Metro Nashville Public Schools pulled away from us.

The longer I was a public school parent in Nashville, the more I realized that the system is rigged to funnel money away from traditional schools and toward education reform gimmicks and band-aids like charter schools. We knew that the more the school district embraced privatization of public education, the more public money would flow away from public education.

A year later our fears seem confirmed by MNPS board member, Amy Frogge, who tweeted news of a disturbing trend:

We left MNPS because we were afraid that resources were going to be funneled away from public schools for reformers' experiments in privatized education. I wish we had been wrong on this one, because we miss public schools. But there is no way we were going to stay in a house that was falling down around us.

Priorities in this city are messed up.

UPDATE: Jump to more background of our decision to leave Metro Schools after 4 years of soldiering through fray.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Barely a contest: another big developer trounces neighborhoods

After months of fighting the Green Hills neighborhood association loses another battle to developers' definitions of growth, and the Nashville Business Journal makes it sound like supersizing buildings outside of scale somehow equals advancement for all of us. What else could "progress" mean?

The signs of progress are emerging in the days after a county judge ruled against the Green Hills Neighborhood Association, in a lawsuit the group filed this spring.

The neighborhood group sued Southern Land and Metro government, alleging that city planners did not follow proper steps in vetting the project. The neighborhood group wanted a judge to force the matter back before the planning commission.

Chancellor Russell Perkins ruled that Metro government followed appropriate steps. Planning department staff approved Southern Land's plans, which then appeared as one item on a consent agenda, a list of items that are voted on collectively by planning commissioners....

The neighborhood group has about a month to decide whether to appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the ruling by Perkins will become final.

In my opinion, Green Hills neighbors do not stand a chance even if they win an appeal to leverage a new hearing before the Planning Commission, which is now exclusively developer-friendly. Anyway, they declared victory prematurely back in January. They put up a brave fight, but this one is over. With money and political influence, developers win again. It is still the same old story.