However, I was disappointed that each of them in run-ups to the first significant Metro Council Meeting wrote last night's agenda off as nothing "too exciting" (Sean offered the opinion and Adam noted that Sean's opinion was "saying something"). On the one hand, not every meeting is going to be extraordinary; that would pretty much destroy the concept of extraordinary meetings. On the other hand, I thought that Sean's conclusions were unwittingly encouraging constituents not to watch. My view is that the last thing we want to do is discourage people from watching just because the agenda looks ordinary (or less than) to some who lack the interest.
I watched the 40 minute meeting, and I was able to find several noteworthy moments of which to write. But Sean and I have always disagreed about what is important about council meetings. Sean doesn't seem to like zoning issues, and yet, that is the overwhelming bulk of items on any council agenda.
Rarely do we see issues cross council's docket that look sexy from a state or a federal or a party perspective (like English Only or immigration or benefits for gays and lesbians). There is a good reason: the main focus of the council is less on social issues, which they can do little to solve, and more on neighborhood issues to which the council is bound to respond. There is nothing sexy or remotely stimulating about the latter issues until your eyes are opened to their impact on the life you live in this community.
And that "glut" of zoning issues is important to the everyday lives of the constituents affected by zoning, which is most of us in Davidson County. You can bet that the people with the money, the influence, and the land--the developers, the brokers, the investors, the Realtors, the builders--are keeping tabs on most of these zoning issues that seem to bore Sean and that fail to attract Adam's passing glance.
And if we simply lull ourselves into the preconceived idea that these zoning decisions don't affect us directly because we cannot out-shout or out-blog somebody else like we do on social issues, then we are going to find ourselves at a political disadvantage in the Metro Council, especially when the time rolls around to speak our minds about a zoning issue in Public Hearing. If you don't listen to the council now, you won't be heard by them later.
That is why, at the very least, last night's meeting should have been characterized as our first chance to see how the new Council would be starting to pay back their campaign financiers and to get a feel for any sense of balance in their deliberations. If some don't see that possibility, then--and I don't care if the Nashville Scene ensconces them in velvet and christens them alt-weekly-laureates--they should not be heeded. Planning and zoning issues are important, even and especially when we don't think they are.
Such issues have effects:
- on family issues like affordable housing
- on quality of life issues like whether a market will be built or traffic calming measures will be enacted to serve and to protect a community
- on the environment and water conservation, like whether Franklin will have to restrict water use
- on diversity issues like accommodating our elders with housing and community services
- on so many other issues that ripple out to other people's pet projects
Until that point the boys deserve the accolades they get with limits: those of us who occupy what Roger Abramson oversimplified and lampooned as "the vast wasteland of the local political blogosphere" will continue to consider the low-hanging and mundane details, because those are the very issues that the mainstream press largely ignores, like they ignore most council meeting proceedings.