District 14 Council Member Bruce Stanley, who beat controversial former member Harold White, tried to introduce a bill on first reading tonight that would have repealed one of Mr. White's more notorious ordinances that permits the expansion of a one-story office building in a low-level residential neighborhood to a three-story medical center. Mr. Stanley argued that Mr. White did not listen to the "hundreds" of area residents who contacted him during and after the campaign to express the preference that the expansion approval be repealed.
"At-Large" Member Charlie Tygard pulled the bill out for debate against the community and on behalf of the property owner and he--of all people--charged that Mr. Stanley was being unethical for introducing the bill without telling that owner. He also told the Council that Mr. Stanley had not yet had any community meetings on the issue. Mr. Tygard failed to acknowledge that Mr. White's opponents indicated in Public Hearing that he didn't hold any community meetings before the second reading. Mr. Tygard also failed to acknowledge that Mr. White did little to publicize his promised community meeting in May to residents of the affected neighborhood, and then he allegedly broke his promise to get the owner and the affected residents together to compromise by telling the group at the community meeting that no negotiation between the two sides was going to be allowed.
After the Metro Council Advisor told the Council that there was a chance that courts could find in favor of owner if he was significantly vested in the new project, the Council voted to deny Mr. Stanley first reading of his bill (to her credit, District 19 Council Member, Erica Gilmore, voted to approve).
Indeed, it may be too late for the neighborhood to stop this expansion thanks to the last Council's unwillingness to listen to the affected residents and its undeliberated haste to side with Harold White, J.B. Loring, and the Medical Center developer. Sometimes we get screwed by our elected officials and there is not a lot we can do about it. But the actions around Bruce Stanley's attempt to make right a past wrong represent the opening lines of a litmus test I have for this Council.
Are they going to move to reform the unethical actions of the past Councils or will they avoid amelioration altogether? Charlie Tygard made it clear that he intends to be the same development/growth/business-friendly representative he was in the last session. The fact that he would pull this off of the consent agenda when first reading bills usually pass without debate (so that the committees can begin deliberations) shows that he is not going to change, and we cannot expect him to speak up for those of us not in Nashville's commercial elite.
Given the legal complexities of this bill, it would be premature to judge the members on this one vote, but at least some of them seem to have well-intentioned motives: representing all the people in the district or the entire city (the other at-Large Members joined Tygard in voting against) rather than just the special interests. We shall continue to watch to see whether others--outside of Mr. Tygard--will also step up to that line to lead Council to a better way.