Sunday, December 30, 2007

Enclave's 2007 Best And Worst Rankings Of Metro Nashville Services To Neighborhoods

This year's rankings looks more like a Festivus ritual of "Airing of Grievances," as there seemed to be less cream this year and more mediocrity and failure in Metro services. Sorry if you don't find the following list uplifting and hopeful for our future, but it's the nature of watchdogging to bear bad news (without lapsing into ideological hatred of everything that comes from government). And look at it this way: we may have no where to go but up!

Enclave's Official 2007 Best and Worst Rankings of Metro Nashville Services To Neighborhoods


1. Metro Police -- By themselves, police should not be the sole blame for spikes in crime nor should they take sole credit for drops in crime rates. However, whenever crime goes up the police detractors multiply faster than those who praise cops when crime drops. This year is no different. Crime is down and the Metro Police don't get much credit. They should get some. But what makes them the strongest Metro service in this writer's judgment is that they continue to be consistently involved in the neighborhood. And at our most trying moments with crime here, their response is rapid and large.

An Enclave reader has this to say about the police:
I do want to commend the police's South precinct. During the State Fair, I had called them and asked them to step up patrols in our area, in part because of traffic being rerouted onto our residential street and problems I encountered while walking home from the bus stop during this period. I don't know if they actually increased the number of police, but when gunshots rang out on our street one night during the fair, numerous police teams were on the scene in less than a minute. They also followed up by adding horse-mounted patrols along our street in the following days. Overall, they were very responsive, and the precinct has been helpful when I have had other concerns.
That is consistent with our experience here in Salemtown. For some time after a recent wave of break-ins in Salemtown, cops responded within minutes to calls about any suspicious activity.

2. Public Works -- For a while in 2007, MPW seemed destined for the bottom of the pile of worst Metro services. A hangover broken promise from 2006 was that a couple of Salemtown alleys would be paved in Spring 2007. The reason given was broken equipment. When they did not get paved in Spring 2007 we were told that their equipment was broken, which was strange because some Germantown alleys were paved in April 2007. When I called a couple of MPW Managers to find out how Germantown alleys got paved with broken equipment, I got shrugs and bounces to other managers. Once the MPW Assistant Director Mark Macy and Director Billy Lynch got involved, however, the paving happened rapidly. Public Works has come through the Salemtown alleys on a number of occasions unsolicited to clean up rubbish and furniture that residents and interlopers unlawfully dump there. They have also asked for our feedback on how to improve recycling. A strong finish puts them a distant second.


Mayor's Office -- After spending the previous two years among the best of Nashville services, the Mayor's Office was bumped to the bubble in 2007. The office split time between the Purcell Administration and the Dean Administration. There were some high notes during the waning months of the Purcell Administration. Mayor Purcell joined Salemtown walkers in our Night Out Against Crime. Earlier in the year, he wasted little time voicing his opposition to Eric Crafton's English Only/First bill after Council passage, and he vetoed it in the face of exaggerated popular support.

However, Bill Purcell also vetoed a Council bill--modeled on court tested legislation in other cities--that would have regulated the commercial distribution and placement of news racks on public property. The common denominator in both vetoes was that the mainstream media overwhelmingly supported both, which makes Mr. Purcell's stand look more beholden than bold. The news rack veto showed little regard for quality of life in neighborhoods. And during his campaign, Karl Dean himself showed no interest in taking any principled stand on the news rack question. After promising me an answer to the query of whether he might so veto, his campaign put me on permanent hold.

I only wish that I could say things progressed in the Mayor's Office since the change so that I have more confidence rather than a lot of questions going into 2008. Karl Dean intends to have a better relationship with Metro Council? That's fine as long as the latter behave themselves. But will Mr. Dean pull out the stick when necessary, especially when Mr. Crafton or Charlie Tygard start saber-rattling again? Are we going to have a term of ethical equivocation? Is saving a financially co-dependent hockey team in a town where ponds don't freeze becoming a higher priority than saving our public schools? Will the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods lead by listening or set their own agenda? Where is the Mayor on Bicentennial Mall security? What services are going to be cut next year? Is he still planning this questionable idea? It will be interesting to see whether we get answers in 2008 and whether those answers cause the Mayor's Office to rise once again or to fall further.

Metro Water Services -- Metro Water finally fixed one of Salemtown's nagging ponding/icy hazards at Coffee and 4th. It took us at least 2 years of cajoling, but they installed a completely new storm system line. Long-standing problems abide elsewhere. When a developer installed a water retention system that some here believe could exacerbate ponding and even lead to flooding of other properties, a MWS inspector made a site visit and expressed his own concerns that the system was not sufficient to divert stormwater from the adjacent property. But then he mysteriously and with no explanation reversed course and claimed that the system "meets regulations," and thus no MWS action was required. According to the affected property owners, that belied the inspector's comments directly to them that they system looked "bad for them." Tests were promised to make sure that the system worked as the engineers designed, but I have no proof that the tests were ever conducted. However, MWS can be credited for fining the same developers who were chronic violators of erosion and sediment control codes. And they have made significant efforts to meet with local neighborhoods and explain the stormwater control process from their end. But, then again, they are also in dutch with the EPA over sewerage spills. Looks like a bubble about to burst.


5. Metro Codes -- It's pretty bad when the police have to step in to do a job that is your raison d'ĂȘtre. One perception floating around out there is when someone says, "Send your complaint to Metro Codes," the actual meaning is, "Send your complaint down a black hole to another dimension." "Codes" is code for "slow and unresponsive." An Enclave reader relates her problem with Codes (un-)enforcement:
For all of the talk about "graffiti is harmful to our city and our neighborhoods" (, I reported multiple instances of graffiti on business property (along a heavily traveled road) to codes in September, and they apparently still haven't made them clean it up. Meanwhile, many more "tags" have been applied to signs and posts in the same area. I wonder if it will do any good to report them, or if they will also languish for months.
My guess: for months unless the police start citing.

4. Metro Planning -- In the past, Planning has had a reputation of working with neighborhoods to come up with sub-area plans based on feedback from residents. So, how did they come up with the recommendation that re-zoning from mixed-use retail to 12 attached townhouses at Salem Gardens (because the builders did not want to pay for the hook-up to stormwater sewers to alleviate some of our ponding problems) was consistent with the neighborhood sub-area plan? Just because the developers and Ludye Wallace said so? Had they bothered to look at the tear downs of single-family homes and the explosion of duplexes in Salemtown? Did they come back to the neighborhood and consult residents? It took the Planning Commission's game-saving rejection of Metro Planning's recommendation in favor of the idea that at least 3 detached single family homes should be built at Salem Gardens to make it balanced and consistent with the sub-area plan.

3. Parks & Recreation -- The 2006 bubble burst for Parks in 2007 (I judged them among the best in 2005). They faced a stern challenge when Metro Council cut their budget in 2007. And how did they choose to fight stupidity? With stupidity: obviously caught in a narrow suburban frame of mind, they closed Morgan Park Community Center on Saturdays, as if never occurred to them that urban community centers provide vital programming and sports opportunities to keep our teens occupied, focused, and unidle. Or maybe they were just using the absence of programming vengefully. Either way, we can reasonably assume that every incident of vandalism occurring any weekend in Salemtown in the last six months is due to the stupid decision of the Parks officials to close MPCC on Saturdays.

While Parks did make long-overdue upgrades to MPCC and to a greenway spur (which is still unfinished) across Morgan Park, they have yet to install a playground for our kids after tearing out the worst playground in Nashville. I called Parks last week to find out when they playground would be installed, and I did not get a specific date outside of some time in 2008. They tell me that they are waiting on $75,000--above and beyond the $400,000 originally allocated for other improvements--to be allocated to the equipment. Sounds bureaucratic to me. In the meantime, our kids have an empty lot and a dangerous concreted-edged sandpit to frolic in. And Parks dismantled the historic baseball diamond with no indication of when a proposed new "all-purpose" field would be going in.

2. Metro Council -- In spite of several positive actions in 2007 (including turning back Meals-for-Deals twice and killing the Car Wash Exemption bill), there were two irredeemable episodes that dragged Metro Council to the bottom of the list of worst Metro services. One was the unending willfulness--even among conservatives--to commit public tax dollars to private non-profit groups in an election year. Spending 80% of their discretionary funds on their favorite private patrons was the epitome of conflict of interest, and Charlie Tygard skirted ethics and even had a beneficiary of Metro funds to appear in one of his at-Large campaign commercials; Tygard's brother sent out an official endorsement on a non-profit e-mail list. Pam Murray secured funds for a neighborhood group with which she has close ties. Ludye Wallace tried to take funds out of the poor person's utility bill help line-item and send it to a tennis program; he also ignored the chance to earmark funds to keep programming going for North End kids at Morgan Park while the MPCC was closed for renovations. The silver lining is that Megan Barry, who made reform of these conflicts of interest the center of her campaign, was elected in the fall. The question remains: will she be able to do more than offset the intention of fellow at-Large Member Tygard to expand privatized earmarks?

The second fatal strike against Council credibility was consideration and passage of Eric Crafton's English Only/First bill last spring. In spite of evidence that Hispanic immigrants learn English at a swift pace, in spite of Council passage of a moderate, widely supported substitute resolution affirming English as our common language, and in spite of the mean-spirited and even racist connotations of it, Eric Crafton and an uninspiring group of supportive Council Members voted to force Metro employees to speak English in all of their interactions in a monumental waste of taxpayer time and money. Further indicating malice, Mr. Crafton first dangled a carrot of "community education" for immigrants, only to drop the idea once he got enough votes for his bill. The Mayor pulled Nashville's butt out of the fire on this one, but Crafton vowed to continue the fight in 2008, and a sizable number of his "Aye" votes who refused to acknowledge his contradictions returned to Metro Council in the new term.

1. Metro Election Commission -- I know. The Davidson County Election Commission is not chartered by the Metro Government and it is appointed by State Election Commissioners, but it seems to be a quasi-local service. It is not headquartered in state buildings, but in the Metro Offices at the Howard School Building. Its website is not in the state domain, but is listed under So, I think that it could argueably be called the worst service to Metro citizens for its failure to secure 337,000 voter records from theft at Christmas. No bad thing done by any other local government department remotely approaches this collapse in security protocol.

Happy 2008! Don't we deserve one from Metro?

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