Monday, August 31, 2009

Setting the Record Straight on Tony G.

Truth be told about a checkered past at the Nashville Scene's Love-Hate Mail section:

Tell Tony no
Giarratana has done nothing but destroy historic buildings and change our skyline for the worse ("The Signature Tower and May Town Center are far from sure things. Is Tony Giarratana's legacy as Nashville's development king up in the air?" Aug. 6)—e.g., taking the iconic L&C Tower out of our skyline.

Why anyone would not speak up before he tore down the Tennessee Theater and the Sudekum Building is beyond me. And FYI, he did not convert the Bennie Dillon Building into lofts. It had already been converted into beautiful lofts five years previous to his buying the building and giving renters the ultimatum of paying his over-inflated prices or get out. He bought the building and claimed to have converted them.

I know he didn't convert them because I had lived there for three years when he quietly went through my apartment several times with his posse, thinking I would never know. But I had a neighbor who informed me each time. When I would ask management about it, of course they denied it.

That is the MO of his management team, and that is his way of doing business. I don't understand why articles whine about his presence here, yet no one will speak up. Just say no to him, then there will be no need to keep putting his "big ideas" in the paper.

J.D. Robertson

Local Landscape Architect Promotes Salemtown Streetscape Design in Her Online Projects List

Carol Ashworth has published a write-up and mock-up of the Salemtown Neighborhood identification signs that are almost ready to be put up at several places around the neighborhood. As a member of the advisory committee that motivated Ms. Ashworth to come up with this design, I am most pleased with this concept. It ties the historic character of our community with the practicality of "vandal resistance" into an attractive and unusual design for neighborhood ID signage. It fits nearly exactly with what we asked her to do and I have not seen anything like this design anywhere else in Nashville. She e-mailed me last week to say that the signs are almost ready to install.

Because it's the only way anyone outside of the Mayor's Office will ever be allowed to influence the convention center project

Metro CFO Rich Riebeling sounds like he's had enough of the reaction formation and pansy-ass criticism against the botched roll-out of the Mayor's Music City Center:
"I'm tired of being told we're not doing it the right way. If people have a better way, they can run for mayor."
Either sit down and shut up or start your own exploratory committee. Otherwise, stop acting like we're supposed to live in a democracy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Video Mashup of Gore/Clinton Appearances in Nashville

Christian Grantham mashes it up so we don't have to:

Converting Urban Commercial to Mixed-Use Residential

Newport News, Virginia is dealing with the question of urban repurposing and infill:
reuse makes sense for urban spots that are no longer as economically viable, attractive or popular as they once were. That's the case for these warehouses along the railroad tracks in Hilton, which have more vacancies than going businesses.

Recycling city land reduces sprawl, and that's a good thing. When new residential developments spread into surrounding counties, claiming open land, woods and fields, there's a big downside.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poli Sci Prof Asks for Fair Treatment of Tennessean Reporter on Enclave

Dr. Sekou Franklin left the following comment in response to my post a Tennessean reporter's coverage of the question of racial profiling in North Nashville. I thought it remarkable enough to be brought to the surface in a post rather than relegated a link removed to the comments section:
Sir,

I read your comments about Janell Ross and her piece in The Tennessean. I've been reading your blog for some time now and enjoy reading your comments. Although I must admit, I disagree with some of them. Also, I've learned a great deal from your insight. However, I think you need to be more fair in some of your analyses. Before moving further, I should say that I too live in North Nashville (11th and Buchanan), and I know and respect your neighborhood association leader (Freddie O'Connell). I've also done a considerable amount of work with progressive and social justice organizations in Nashville.

Though Ms. Ross is not perfect, her general observation about racial profiling is correct. Racial profiling and borderline unwarrented stops of many black residents -- stops that presumably would not happen in Green Hills -- are common occurences in North Nashville. (I have been unfairly stopped.)

The Ross piece was the first time the Nashville media exposed what seems like an established policy by the police department. I think Serpas believes minor traffic stops can prevent more serious crimes - a kind of "broken windows" approach applied to Nashville. That is, if he could increase the number of stops in high-crime areas -- stops based on minor violations (i.e. playing loud music, driving with a broken headlights, going 5 mph past the speed limit -- then it gives the police leverage to check driver licenses for warrents, past felonies, etc, and potentially make arrests. Accordingly, penalizing small violations in high-crime neighborhoods can prevent more serious crimes. I believe this is the police department's official policy. The research is, indeed, controversial and I have some problems with it. The challenge with this policy, if it is an official one, is that similar traffic/driving violations occur in middle-class and upper-middle class communities, but consequences appear to be much less. For example, if one goes to traffic court, an overwhelming number of the people seem to be African-American. It hasn't caused much public controversy because Serpas has been fairly saavy and sophisticated about courting established black leaders to back his policies (this is a common belief among progressive black activists). Moreover, there are some blacks, including working-class blacks, who are willing to support any policy -- even a policy that may lead to racial profiling -- as long as it can stop crime.

Further, a general concern among black activists is that some residents of Germantown, Salemtown, and Hope Gardens may receive different levels of treatment from the police because of the influx of whites (and some black professionals) who now leverage influence via the neighborhood associations. In other words, it's possible that the police department treats white residents (and even some black middle class residents) in North Nashville communities. I'm sure this requires some research, but a similar debate took place in East Nashville three years ago.

As I stated earlier, Ms. Ross is not perfect. I also know for a fact that her editors often scale back some of her articles, and as a result, the context tends to be sacrificed. Some of her original pieces (before they are chopped up by her editors), I've heard, have more context and nuisance. Based on my experiences with her, most of her articles about race are informed by previous conversations with people, often activists or residents directly affected by the problem. These individuals often approach her for pieces, which then must be approved by her editors. Her Salemtown article, most likely, did not come out of thin air. She probably was approached by someone -- maybe even someone in the Salemtown community -- to write the piece. Also, in terms of her article, the NAACP organized the town hall, which was a spin-off of CNN's Black in America meeting. They set the agenda, invited multiple speakers, etc. Her story was not based on an opinion, but reported the content of the town hall.

Sincerely,


Sekou Franklin

Neighborhoods Hardest Hit by Katrina Not Having the Happier Anniversary the Rest of New Orleans Is

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
With other hard-hit but more affluent New Orleans neighborhoods staging remarkable comebacks, the traditionally poor and predominantly African American Lower Ninth Ward remains in limbo. Nobody knows whether it is headed toward revival or ultimate collapse.

New Orleans has regained roughly 75 percent of its pre-Katrina population. For the Lower Ninth Ward, 20 percent of its former 14,000 inhabitants would be a generous estimate ....

In the Lower Ninth Ward, chest-high weeds separate the foundations of houses smashed by the waters or demolished afterward. Street numbers of long-gone houses are spray-painted on curbs. The few still standing bear the fading tattoos left by rescue teams after the great deluge ....

toward the Mississippi River, a cluster of functional, built-to-last brick-and-wood houses with solar panels nurtures the hope of a full recovery. The Make It Right Foundation, headed by actor Brad Pitt, is at work there.

Such charitable efforts, the constant presence of volunteers from all over the country, and the tireless work of neighborhood associations are the best source of hope

Entrepreneurbia: New Urbanist Folly of Zoning-Free Neighborhoods

Amy Traub looks at a suburban design competition winner based on a rather noxious mix of new urbanism and the unrealized myth of a "free" market:
And that idea is simple: get rid of the zoning regulations that prevent commercial businesses from operating in residential areas. Then, stand back and watch entrepreneurs transform suburban subdivisions into flourishing mixed-use areas.

As a serious proposal, this leaves a lot to be desired. Consider that the marquee business is a single-family home turned nightclub. I may be raising my family in Manhattan, but even I don't want thumping music next door until 3 a.m. every night. And who wants to wake up to find their neighbor's house suddenly transformed into a medical waste disposal firm, or a dog kennel? In general, it's a good thing zoning regulations exist. The answer isn't simply to "abolish poorly conceived zoning laws," but to conceive better ones, laws that allow for mixed use areas, denser development, and the infrastructure to handle it (a significant weakness of the Entrepreneurbia design, as several commenters pointed out) without necessarily letting a disco spring up on every corner.
I'm perpetually arguing with doctrinaire conservatives on one side and progressive urbanists on the other about the wisdom of easing residential zoning restrictions or boxing out neighborhood feedback in order to allow commercial enterprise in residential zones. The assumption from my opponents seems to be naive and overly optimistic: boutique shops, hip restaurants, and coffee bars will magically emerge as if every neighborhood could be Germantown or 5 Points.

The market reality is that every neighborhood cannot be trendy and otherwise innocuous. There will still be niches for unpalatable businesses like car washes, pawn shops, and convenience stores. I have yet to see new urbanists flocking to the idea of designing for those kinds of establishments. Yet, once zoning rules and public feedback requirements are relaxed, and as we open residential zoning to mixed-use and commercial development, the genie is out of the bottle. We have to accept any kind of business that chooses to locate next to our home. If its a used book store, great. If it's a quick-sacked, brown-bag liquor store, not so much.

Part of the problem with living in Salemtown is that we live right next to a neighborhood that already has an established restaurant line-up and a growing mixed-use boutique culture. Relaxing residential zoning here may promote the same. However, I believe that relaxation is just as likely to invite less than desirable lower tier businesses because the restaurant and boutique market is already saturated a few blocks down. Germantown's ├╝ber-popular Monell's recently filed for bankruptcy, which reinforces my perception that there may not be much more room for new neighborhood restaurants, wishful thinking aside.

In the final analysis, developers and entrepreneurs who want to relax residential zoning to allow mixed-use should have to make their case to neighborhoods and under the strictures of sub-area plans. That is the only way to insure that undesirable businesses don't encroach on residential quality of life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tennessean Reporter Owes the Problem of Racial Profiling More Than She Gives

Janell Ross is at it again. Nearly one year ago Ms. Ross trotted out a Tennessean story full of unsubstantiated anecdotes about an unnamed market in Salemtown or Germantown near which paranoid whites sicked the police on African Americans merely due to race. Not only was it disputable; it was marred by factual errors.

So, you'll excuse me if I take Ms. Ross's piece on racial profiling in this morning's Tennessean with a grain of salt. It likewise seems less about North Nashville neighborhoods and more about her own presupposed narrative about what happens in the community. Her focus on alleged racial profiling by police in North Nashville seems flawed and her past missteps merely reinforce my perception.

The problem of racial profiling is real and those who fight it deserve stronger evidence than anecdotes, apples-to-oranges comparisons, and reporters who approach neighborhoods with their own preconceived and erroneous agendas. The opponents of racial profiling deserve data ironclad by reporters who mine it objectively and make relevant comparisons between communities.

A better method of exposing racial profiling would be to investigate directly the actual traffic stops as they occur on the streets. However, the risk in doing that is the reporter may discover that the traffic stops may be more bonafide than a superficial glance at the statistics suggests.

For instance, if Ms. Ross ventures around the Salemtown neighborhood many mornings before 8:00 she will find police standing with radar guns curbside near the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Hume Street stopping cars along one of the most heavily used rush hour corridors into Downtown. Why are they not out casing local gambling houses? Because they are trying to prevent speeders from racing through a 3-block area where 3 crosswalks serve K-4 kids walking to 2 schools.

Whenever I see the officers as I drive my kid to school, they seem to be stopping speeders headed from I-65 to Downtown in droves. I'm sure that area alone consistently feeds the traffic stop statistics with high numbers. Would I prefer that the police be out apprehending the visitmusiccity.com's new convention center lobbyist as he frequents area gambling houses? Not if having the traffic stop saves a single child's life as she walks to school.

These are the sorts of details that Janell Ross ignores. She should either compare these District 19 traffic stops to similar contexts in other districts or she should factor out traffic stops that obviously do not constitute racial profiling. But she cannot do either by interviewing Erica Gilmore or a social psychologist from California.

As for my council member's comments, I don't know which neighborhoods CM Gilmore is speaking about with regard to police sitting at traffic stops on the periphery but not entering the center, but I see the police patrols in cruisers in Salemtown (which according to Metro is 83% African American) on almost a daily basis. I see cops on bikes and horses patrolling alleys and streets around 2 or 3 times a week. Again, Ms. Ross's reportage does not fit with my experience in a North Nashville neighborhood. Given last year's botched story, I am not surprised.

Explain to me how this does not constitute lobbying of Metro Council by McNeely, Pigott, & Fox

According to Channel 4 News, MDHA released e-mails from powerful PR firm that seem to sustain claims that the firm lobbied rather than advised Metro Council on behalf of the plan to build a new convention center:
The e-mails show it was clearly the PR firm's intent to get the project approved by council, even though some elected officials opposed it.

On June 27, 2008, partner David Fox wrote, "We all worked very hard for a long time to see the Music City Center become a reality." He invited MDHA's Phil Ryan and others to a meeting to "help continue the forward momentum."

Fox mentioned "the celebration" when MHDA was chosen to oversee the project -- a decision some in council now regret, blaming MDHA failure to cap the PR firm's spending.

The e-mails show the partners at the PR firm, who were billing MDHA $285 an hour, wrote speeches and presentations for Ryan -- in March 2009, for example, writing a sheet of questions and answers about the project for Ryan to send to council members.
Advisers don't invite, celebrate, or write talking points sheets for 3rd parties.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's Now or Never

Chris Vance opines that Barack Obama is running out of time to be a catalyst for progressive change and is likely to become a diminishing-returns replica of Bill Clinton:
The Obama presidency won’t be doomed if the public option and cap-and-trade fail to pass. If the normal trends of the business cycle prevail and the economy recovers before 2012, Obama will probably be re-elected. But like Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama will have lost his chance to become the historic liberal change-agent he aspires to be. Republicans will likely eat into the Democrats’ huge congressional majorities in 2010. Obama’s moment is now.

Housing Market's New Normal

Economist Krugman says that while we won't see a reinflation of the previous housing market bubble, housing prices seem to be stablizing on the way to recovery.

More of what's wrong with local media

The SouthComm Nashville beat reporter spends around half of an article on CM Mike Jameson's political career (six years or so on Metro Council) talking about Dean administration initiatives of the last two years.

He also repeats the descriptive opinions of Mayor's Office vendetta against Jameson as fact:
Dean supporters ... dislike his flair for the dramatic.
He writes as if it is objective fact that Jameson has a dramatic flair to dislike.

The City Paper has been through something like three Nashville beat reporters in the time Jameson has been in office. Where does Johnny-come-lately Nate Rau get off assuming the Courthouse communications bias du jour without reviewing the entire council career of Mike Jameson? Repeating the Dean meme, "Jameson-is-grandstanding," and bending it toward idle speculation about the opportunism of a future campaign must keep reporters out of the Dean dog house, too. (Note that, with Rau, whenever Jameson doesn't criticize Dean initiatives, it's because he's in the Mayor's dog house).

This is more shoddy, shilling SouthComm reporting that looks like a veiled hit piece designed to frame subtle interpretations of an erstwhile Karl Dean supporter who chose to oppose on principle.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Local Community-Based Organization Revamps

According to the Nashville Neighborhoods list, a 20-year-old Nashville community organization is making a lateral change from the Alinskyite Industrial Areas Foundation to the Alinskyite Gamaliel Foundation and celebrating the new direction this weekend at Sewanee:
New Day Coming For Old TNT

A partnership with the Gamaliel Foundation out of Chicago has brought a new chapter in the life of Tying Nashville Together (the gamaliel foundation). Members of TNT voted to work with Gamaliel to create a new and vibrant local organization in Nashville that works in tandem with a state wide organization.

What does this change mean?
  1. Soon a new name will be chosen. Leaders, member groups, and congregations of the former TNT are encouraged to continue their membership in the new organization. Ana Garcia Ashley is the southern regional director for the Gamaliel Foundation and will be working with us in Nashville. We will continue our tradition of “faith based” congregational organizing. We will also continue to welcome other member organizations. Matt Christy will continue as the part time staff and office manager, and help in coordinating the next phase in the development of a Nashville organization. Right now you may continue to address your checks to Tying Nashville Together. Please continue your pledges. As of August 6, 2009 we have a budget of $18,000 and are managing our budget with great care. The office is in the West End United Methodist Church. We will be relocating this fall and are looking for free office space. If you have any suggestions let us know.
  2. What’s ahead. Our first state wide meeting is August 29th 2009 at the University of the South in Sewanee. An expert on urban policy, David Rusk ,will give leaders from across the state an analysis of the some of the issues facing Tennessee and Nashville. Please invite members from your congregations or organizations who would be interested in attending. In September we will call all delegates from Nashville together to create a new leadership team. We will form a clergy group as well and will begin training and working to develop an action agenda as we research local issues.
  3. Down the Road. We will be searching for a full time organizer. We will develop funding proposals and approach local and national foundations. We will also host fundraising events to support our new work.

Thanks,

Matt Christy
Tying Nashville Together,
An interesting aside: about one-third of the written history of TNT on the website seems to come directly from a 1996 paper that I presented to an on-line urban history seminar sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Deep Thought

So, what ever came of current Music City Center / visitmusiccity.com lobbyist Ludye Wallace's day in court on gambling charges?

WPLN Responds to Micro-blogged Charges of Bias

WPLN's twitter feed posted a link to its station's response to criticism tweeted by a partner of a local translation firm that a previous WPLN story on the convention center was biased. Here is WPLN's response:
JLibbey said:
This statement is opinion, not fact: "mismanaged pre-construction contracts". Blake is showing his bias.

Another message to WPLN: “Is he reporting or writing editorials?

Response from the news department:
The folks charged with oversight of MDHA and its management of the convention center predevelopment admit contracts weren't managed properly.

Rich Riebling, finance director, on WPLN: "We've sort of let the project down a little bit."

Mayor Karl Dean from a press release: "Questions about spending on this project are valid and deserve to be answered."

Dean from a letter to the Metro Council: "I do not believe that having an open-ended contract with a vendor is a fiscally responsible approach to managing this project."

Councilman Michael Craddock on WPLN: "MDHA is throwing it (tax dollars) away over there."
This is a somewhat disjointed, thrown-together, and rapid fire reply via Twitter, but is it a signal that local media is making a stand against charges of bias by issuing their own talking points?

This is how SouthComm steamrolls

Last week Southcomm Publisher Chris Ferrell took time away from the task of purchasing the Nashville Scene to tweet a reply to my post defending CM Mike Jameson's attempt to delay the Mayor's proposal to create a convention center authority. Ferrell compared Jameson's use of council rules to the actions of my former District 19 council member, Ludye Wallace:
on the council rules post - that's an old Ludye Wallace trick and not what the rule was intended for
What bothers me most about Ferrell's response are the insinuations in the word "trick" about motivations and intentions. Tricks are acts meant to deceive people, and I learned fairly quickly while being Ludye's constituent that there usually seemed to be some hidden vice in his council actions. I found Ludye's deceit to be about talking as if he were representing the community while merely serving himself.

For all of his talk about listening to constituents, he never responded to e-mails or attended neighborhood meetings. The one discussion I had with him face-to-face about one of his bills, he argued incessantly with me and seemed to close his mind to my perspective. He promised to have community meetings on development issues and did not.

Ludye earmarked thousands of dollars for private non-profits likely to return favors later and ignored Metro Park pleas to use council discretionary funds to provide summer youth programming as community centers reduced hours in tight budget times. He attempted to redirect funds that would have helped struggling families pay their utility bills to a non-profit tennis program. He went to bat for a growth-focused university against the Rose Park neighborhood and its sense of character. Speaking of character, Ludye has not exactly been a model. He grew grass on his properties that was code-violating tall and he was indicted for his patronage of gambling houses.

And he only did that just while I was paying attention to him.

Ferrell may have served on council with both Ludye and Jameson, but his attempt to criticize squeaky clean MJ with a comparison to Ludye is patently absurd. Mike Jameson's tenure on Metro Council is broadly characterized as above reproach. Jameson listened to his constituents. He expressed hesitance at the one request I made of him when I lived in his East Nashville district, but he said he would raise the issue in council if I were set on it. He held community meetings. He recommended discretionary funds not for patronizing non-profits but for public infrastructure. His opponents may not like his stance on the issues, but they can hardly pin anything on him with regard to ulterior motives.

Jameson's attempts to slow down the Mayor's rush-to-convention-center have been telegraphed and broadcast. His use of the rules to guarantee that questions bubbling up from the public get answered were fairly predictable. Where's the sleight of hand? More importantly, where is the arrogant selfishness that marked the tricks of Ludye Wallace? How does it serve Mike Jameson to plant himself in front of Karl Dean's steamroller or to risk his political career by taking on McNeely, Pigott, and Fox (who besides Dean counts Phil Bredesen and scores of other Tennessee big shots as close friends)?

The reality of the situation is that Ludye Wallace never would have attempted to stop the Mayor's convention center proposal, because the Mayor would have already thrown Ludye whatever bone he asked for. Ludye never would have taken the risk to oppose on principle. Standing up for the right thing "tho the heavens fall" is not Ludye's style. Being a Salty Papa is.

The irony here is that Ludye is now a paid lobbyist for the Mayor's convention center plan. The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau is paying him $1,500 to be a "minority representative" with council relationships and knowledge of council procedure. Too bad that amount won't cover the $2,000 he lost on June 2, 2006 visiting "constituents" in a gambling house a few blocks west of the street where I live. I don't hear any trepidation from Chris Ferrell about Ludye's influential new position.

In lumping Ludye and MJ, either Ferrell is riding the Dean steamroller himself or he knows something about a dark side to Jameson that none of the rest of us do. Having watched both CMs, I consider Ferrell's short burst at Jameson serious, and I would like to know more about what sort of Ludye-like deceit he believes that Jameson was intending. I've asked him to clarify, but he has not responded. That's the mark of tactical attempts to undermine credibility rather than exhibition of authentic attempts to join the debate and to answer all questions.

I have yet to understand why advocates of the Music City Center might be more offended that Jameson is demanding answers from the Mayor before moving ahead than they should be at the pummelling Mayor's managers have given the Metro budget.

In the end, though, Ferrell has to concede that if Mike Jameson attempted to trick people by derailing the Dean express, then Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and 15 other council members exercised their own form of deceit in arranging, staging, and executing last Friday's defeat of Jameson's actions. They did not exactly take the high road. One could interpret their actions as a use of the Charter against the intentions and spirit of the Charter.

If the Southcomm publisher truly believes that Jameson was morally wrong for exercising a privilege that the Charter gives him to delay the process in order to have the Mayor's office answer a few questions, then he cannot without self-contradiction excuse convention center proponents for using the rules against Jameson deceitfully. Two wrongs don't make a right, unless you're riding the Karl Dean steamroller.

Columnist Locates an Eye of the Tiger

Whether Gail Kerr is rooting for May Town Center or not, it is a small step forward for her criticize one of Nashville's high rollers, even if she ignores those of us in North Nashville who oppose a new urbanist rape of agrarian Bells Bend:
Jack May answered his phone on the first ring yesterday. His answers were clipped: "We have said we are making this charitable donation. Most people don't want to get into their charitable donations in the newspaper."

So, could he shine new light on where the donation stands? "There is no new light to shed," May said.

Funny, he wanted the newspaper to print his statements before. Why won't anyone just answer the question?

TSU and North Nashville embraced May Town Center because of this unconditional present. If it turns out they were lied to and used, kiss May Town Center goodbye.
She's not exactly the queen of the fight, yet. However, we'll take what we can get.


UPDATE: At the City Paper, Nate Rau's scope of the project is not exactly comprehensive:
The project would require two bridges across the Cumberland River as well. The proposal has faced strident opposition from Nashville environmentalists, Council members whose districts would be directly impacted, and downtown Council members, who say May Town Center would detract from developing downtown.
Clarification, ace: the project requires two bridges and probably necessitates a third with growth. The opposition also includes organized neighborhood associations from all over Nashville, including the Scottsboro/Bells Bend neighborhood association. The only organization I know of that claims to represent neighborhoods and supports MTC is Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, which is actually more of a business group representing the sliver of properties along the Jeff Street corridor.


LATER UPDATE: Betsy Phillips roars much more impressively than Gail Kerr, but she has been practicing pouncing on the hapless May Town team much longer than the Tennessean columnist:
There's nobody affiliated with TSU today who gave public testimony about how wonderful May Town Center would be who had any room to stand today outraged that TSU doesn't have the land it was promised.

The May Town Center people lied on their zoning application about whether they'd done the proper archaeological surveys. They played fast and loose with the number and location of the bridges that will be needed to build their center. They compromised a TSU professor when they had him "survey" folks about their support for MTC when really he and his students were being paid to market the project. They can't even say how big the development will be, because it is whatever size they think the person asking wants to hear.

And all of that stuff has played out in the papers, where anyone can read it.

If you thought, "Well, with us, they'll play square," you are a fool. And you are a fool who'd better be calling the administration at TSU and the MTC development people until the land is actually in the legal possession of TSU. Because if you don't keep the pressure on these folks, you can't be sure they'll keep their word.
Indeed, there was way too much uncritical, wishful thinking in the greater TSU community about the intentions of The Man on May Town Center.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Poster Child for Local Media's Shameless Double Standards

For the third story in a row on the Metro Council's votes to approve the Mayor's proposed Convention Center Authority, City Paper reporter Nate Rau refers to Mike Jameson's invocation of council rules to delay authority approval as "obscure." Rau seems bent on spinning our interpretations of CM Jameson's actions as somehow concealed, occult, or unaccountable. Or maybe I'm just giving Rau too much credit. Maybe he doesn't know any less pejorative terms to describe rules that don't get used very much except on controversial votes.

Either way, he fails in yesterday's story on the council's second vote to be balanced or neutral in his description of Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' use of an "obscure" rule to defeat CM Jameson's attempt to delay:
Council held Friday’s special meeting after Jameson used an obscure procedural rule to force the legislation to be reconsidered at its next meeting. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, at the request of several Council members, called the special meeting for Friday instead of waiting until the next meeting on Sept. 2.
Too bad no one at parent company SouthComm Publishing is motivating Rau to reconsider the truthiness of his reporting. You see, the Vice Mayor acted on the evocation of another little used rule to call a rare special session to beat CM Jameson at his own game. I give you the Vice Mayor's own exercise in "obscurity":
Pursuant to Section 3.04 of the Charter of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County and Rule 34 of the Council Rules of Procedure, we, the undersigned Members of the Metropolitan Council, respectfully request that you call a Special Meeting of the Council for the purpose of considering the motion to reconsider the vote on Resolution No. RS2009-881.
And with that Diane Neighbors (if I may apply Rau's own terms) "forced" the convention center authority plan back on the Mayor's fast track. But Rau doesn't report that Ms. Neighbors forced anything. Instead, he reports that the council "officially approved" it. As if a minority's use of the rules does not really ever count as "official."

CRIME ALERT: Attempted Germantown Burglary

From the Metro Police via the Salemtown e-mail list:
CRIME UPDATE

Thieves attempted to break into a garage apartment on 5th Avenue North yesterday [Aug. 19]. This occurred during the day while no one was home. Luckily, the doors and windows were well secured and the thieves did not get into the apartment.

Metro police officers took fingerprints at the scene. However, they have no description of the crooks. The officers believe this was an opportunistic crime. The thieves were likely walking along the alley and saw what they thought would be an easy target, but it didn't turn out that way.

The police are looking for a break in the rash of burglaries lately. At this point they have no description and no suspect.

Friday, August 21, 2009

That was cool.

Remember when we were naive enough to believe that if we elected someone with a professional background in ethics to Metro Council it might make the subtlest difference in their conduct?

Today is it. Today is one of those kind of days I imagined in 2007: an ethicist on board to tap brakes against patronage and favoritism. Today is the day Metro Council is holding a special session to bulldoze the Mayor's convention center proposal past public questions and concerns about costs, taxes, and timing. Today is the day where we see just how entrenched business and growth special interests are in the cat herd.

The new hope, the ethicist I dreamed would rise up and shout caution is silent and absent. The only CMs raising red flags are a couple of veterans from the last council, so reviled.

Remember how cool it was to be so unsuspecting?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Having Already Placed the Blame for the Airport Authority's Luxurious Spending Habits During a Recession

I'm noticing a troubling tendency among some in the social media since the controversy first broke to give corporate PR firms like McNeely, Pigott, and Fox a pass from criticism akin to the minimizing excuse "boys will be boys." To paraphrase the logic as I've seen it: MP&F doesn't force their services on anyone; they simply respond to calls for proposals; they make their pitch; it's the government that accepts their proposal; MP&F is a private company, not part of the government, and they have a right to ask for whatever the market will bear.

All things being equal it would be that simple. But I got news for you. Take yourself down to the election commission and look at the lists of corporate contributors. You're bound to find individuals with MP&F on the campaign contribution lists of Metro's elected officials. They lobby and they give money to prime the pump so that when jobs go out, they haven't merely responded to a call and made a no-strings-attached pitch. It's not simple and all things are not equal.

When campaign finance is driven mostly by industry, powerful special interests, and political action groups, the line between private enterprise and government service gets blurred. Corporations effectively become the government and decisions on contracts get weighted by patronage rather than performance. And the business community has to shoulder some responsibility for that situation.

It takes at least two to tango, and while the the Mayor's Office is mostly culpable, firms like MP&F take up the trot. They are not unwitting accomplices. They join in the dance. Hell, they even tip the band and make special requests.

I don't know why MP&F should be given more latitude to rip-off taxpayers than any common sap who might attempt to do so. And the interest in making a $1,000 holiday card for the airport should not be confused with the avarice of charging $10,000 just because they can.

Business ethics still matters even if good-ole-boy government gives a wink and a nod and looks the other way. Ethics is still what one does when no one else, especially not NewsChannel5, is looking. Right?

Metro Department Pays McNeely, Pigott, and Fox $10,000-$15,000 for "Holiday Card"

The next time you spend money at Nashville International Airport (BNA) keep in mind that the percentage of your purchases going to Metro government may be inordinately spent on holiday cards. The next question is, why does Metro government need to spend so much money for holiday cards?




The Airport Authority is appointed by and answerable to Mayor Karl Dean, so the buck for paying the Mayor's political friends should finally stop at his desk.

Deep Thought

How many of the 15 council members signing yesterday's request for a quick special session to fast-track approval of the convention center authority are either running for office in the next election or have future electoral aspirations beyond the next election?

Convention Center's Diminishing Returns Will Be Cinched Tomorrow

I'm with Council Member Emily Evans:
Dean's office had the [convention center authority] legislation introduced earlier than originally planned after a furor erupted over the Metro Development and Housing Agency's oversight of the convention center public relations contract.

But Evans said she hasn't been convinced the authority would provide more oversight than MDHA has.

"How do I trade the devil I know for the one I don't know?" she said Wednesday. "Yeah, MDHA messed up. But how does it follow that we should start a new entity with no staff, no bylaws, no contracting regulations?"
No. It doesn't follow. However, convention center proponents don't need staff, bylaws, or regulations. They have the power and the money and the avarice to keep this thing going.

The story is the same. Only the players change.

Mayor Karl Dean responded swiftly to the backlash over MDHA and McNeely, Pigott, and Fox not with specific points of reform but by shifting the mess to the council while dangling the prospect of an indeterminate, empty vessel called the "Convention Center Authority." My guess is that vessel is already being filled behind closed doors with the same campaign contributors and industry interests that keep local political leaders in office and grease the wheels for their next elections.

But the prospects could be worse for the general welfare.

Keep in mind that MDHA isn't under the direct thumb of campaign finance; the Mayor appoints the MDHA Board, which hires the Executive Director, who watched the PR cost overruns.

The new authority will be appointed by and answerable to the Mayor, who is indebted to Nashville's wealthiest campaign donors. So, tomorrow the convention center issue may be going directly from the frying pan into the fire. What was once bureaucratic mismanagement will likely become money-grubbing influence pulling in half of Metro Council, consolidating Mayor Dean's control over that slavish body.

And any discussion of ethics in this mess will be ground down by an Ahabic drive to land a large white whale called the Music City Center. Call me Ishmael, but I don't entirely agree with some implicated in this fiasco that the Courthouse system works. It only truly works for those at the top of the system. Unless you are one of their associates or lackeys, it doesn't serve you, either.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Mayor's Supporters Pull Their Own "Obscure" Parliamentary Move and Force Less Time for Reconsidering Authority

Thanks to Christian Grantham for forwarding these documents, which Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors supplied to the news media.

First, CMs who apparently have a dog in a speedy convention center hunt (Ronnie Steine, Michael Craddock, Jim Gotto, Anna Page, Carl Burch, Buddy Baker, Parker Toler, Jim Forkum, Rip Ryman, Charlie Tygard, Walter Hunt, Frank Harrison, Duane Dominy, and Phil Claiborne) submitted a letter earlier today requesting a special meeting to consider Mike Jameson's move to reconsider the council's snap approval of the Mayor's new convention center authority in the wake of the Mayor's PR debacle the last couple of weeks:


Without pause and as if she has a dog in the swift hunt, Vice Mayor Neighbors responds by scheduling a special meeting for the day after tomorrow:



I can't say that I've ever seen Metro Council move with such cat-like and coordinated reflexes on a mayoral request. Makes me wonder how hungry Metro Council members are to have influence over and benefits from the construction of a convention center. Makes me wonder how corralled by the Mayor's Office the council is on this single issue. Makes me wish they were motived to operate with such coordinated efficiency on issues that benefit common people's real lives like parks, neighborhoods, schools, infrastructure, etc.

Dear Majority on the Authority: I'm not the only one questioning the need for a ramrod

After observing last night's discussion of, vote to accept, and motion to reconsider the Mayor's authorization of a new convention center authority, I wondered what the rush was to ramrod approval through so quickly. In an interview with the City Paper's Nate Rau, CM Mike Jameson, who voted with the majority on the authority (which allowed him to move that the council reconsider the vote in two weeks) explains why he is concerned about the rush:
Jameson also said the resolution had been rushed by the administration as a Band-Aid for bad press stemming from a whirlwind of stories concerning invoices turned in by the public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox for the project.

“In the committee meeting today Mr. Riebeling confirmed what he had previously indicated in media reports this was in the works for a long time, that they had planned to do this, but they had accelerated the filing of it because of recent developments with the invoices of the public relations firm,” Jameson said.

“So the concern that I had asked him was, 'Was that true?’ he said yes. And secondly, obviously it was in a rush. In other words, if you weren’t planning on filing it on Friday, which you eventually did when it becomes a public relations concern, there’s no reason the Council needs to vote on this on Tuesday.

“This introduction was reflective of other issues that brought before the Council regarding the convention center. They’re filed, deferrals are argued against, significant decisions are made and the Council doesn’t have time to take these issues out to our civic groups, out to our neighborhood organizations, out to business groups. And we can’t do that any longer.”
To CMs who express concern about having two more weeks to discuss this thanks to an organized minority on the council, I would say that the last two weeks have made it clear that the convention center proposal should be slowly walked through more deliberately and with careful oversight.

This is going to be the biggest project of this Mayor's tenure; the public needs to feel that they are not being sold a bill of goods just to help out the wealthy patrons of the Courthouse elite. We need to feel like our future services and our schools aren't going to be threatened by the Mayor's single-minded, thriftless, and unrestrained approach toward a new convention center.

So, why shouldn't the resolution be allowed to waltz through when it cannot even pass a simple parliamentary test designed to protect the minority on the council?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deep Thought

So, if CM Jim Hodge believes that opting out of the state's authorization of allowing guns in public parks is a violation of a council member's oath of office, then shouldn't he also believe that any past votes to prohibit guns in public schools or in Metro Council chambers were constitutional violations?

CRIME ALERT: Burglaries Spike in North End

From the Metro Police Central Precinct via the Salemtown e-list:
Wanted to let our communities know that we have had 4 burglaries in the last week. There was one on 9th Ave. N, one on 7th Ave N [Germantown], and two on 11th Ave N. Unfortunately, we don't have any description of suspects or vehicle. So please be on the look out for anything out of the ordinary and report it.

CM Gilmore Joins Proponents to Reconsider Council's Vote on Convention Center Authority

District 19 CM Erica Gilmore joined four three other council members to second CM Mike Jameson's motion to reconsider in two weeks tonight's vote to authorize the Mayor's proposed convention center authority.

During debate on the authority, CM Michael Craddock told his fellow members that he supported the proposed authority because the council would have the power to remove "bad" authority members if they had 27 votes. That is cold comfort to those who see the big money influence on these council members during the last election. 27 votes would be nearly impossible given the influence growth interests have on council members.

Given the lapses in accountability that we've seen during the past two weeks in management of the convention center contracts, I don't see why we should push so quickly toward getting the process back on track without more study and discussion. Until someone can explain to me the virtues of fast-tracking this, Gilmore's support for Jameson looks rational to me.


UPDATE: On her Twitter feed earlier tonight, former council member Lynn Williams responded to Michael Craddock's claim that bad members could be removed by council by tweeting, "Never happens." I'm not the only one who sees council power over the new authority as empty solace. And Williams speaks from first hand experience.

Monday, August 17, 2009

State Law Authorizes Mayor's Advisers to Raid Public School Funds to Pay for Convention Center

There are probably a few private- and home-school advocates who would love to see an expensive proposal drain public education of resources to hamstring the competition. However, those of us with children in public schools should be alarmed by the latest risks of Mayor Karl Dean's proposed convention center.

The Tennessean reports that the state law authorizing Metro Nashville to establish a convention center authority also authorizes that authority to use money that the Charter designates for Metro Nashville Public Schools

Chances are that the convention center authority, which will be voted on by Metro Council tomorrow night is probably going to be dominated by those close to Karl Dean and those most likelyto go along with his focused intention to carry through with this project, regardless of economic realities and budget limitations.

Is a few more convention dollars on the back end worth the sacrifice of our schools on the front end? Wouldn't stealing sales taxes designated for public schools be the ultimate betrayal of Karl Dean's 2007 campaign promise to make education the centerpiece of his administration?

Another Addition to the Mayor Dean's Cast of Patsies

Caleb Hannan reports that PR firm, McNeely, Pigott, & Fox has fallen on its own sword in the wake of its suspension from the marketing contract for the proposed Music City Center.

But don't cry for Nashville's largest pitch men. They exit copping an attitude about the "misleading" blogs they were paid $10,000 to monitor, and they likely avoid any consequences from their friends in Mayor Karl Dean's office. For his part, the Mayor is free now to drop his plans for an audit of the spending, probably rationalizing that his MP&F campaign patrons have suffered enough.

But more importantly, according to NewsChannel5, they still have a sweet deal lined up with the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, which was won the very same day they landed the convention center contract. Under that contract not only do they average $10,000 a month more than the previous PR contractor, but Metro paid them $30,000 per month on two separate occasions when they did not complete the hours they pledged. Nice work if you can get it.

And what would Music City Center coverage be without a slick interface between unethical business practices and inappropriate government influence?
In the end, the airport picked McNeely, Pigott & Fox, they say, because an evaluation committee like an oral presentation put on by the group.

"We thought their presentation was the best and it was the unanimous feeling of the committee," Watson said.

Among the evaluators: the airport's communications director, Emily Richard, was a former McNeely Pigott & Fox employee, who'd had just got her job a few months earlier using references from the firm.
When you look at those air brushed ads that MP&F is doing for these government agencies, just keep in mind that thanks to a few bureaucrats and a slew of conflicts of interest, you're paying for it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mayor Has His Brownie

Remember the dumb trick that George Bush tried to play on Americans when he told ABC that nobody could have anticipated the levee failures in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit even though he a discussed the possibility of such failures the day before landfall with FEMA Director Michael "Heckuva job, Brownie" Brown? Of course this country's executive is going to consider possible catastrophic failures that could adversely affect the well-being of those whom he represents.

Likewise, Nashville's executive, Karl Dean is not going to propose a convention center in the middle of difficult budget times and an economic recession without considering, knowing and discussing with his advisers the high costs of beating back resistance to his proposal. So, did Karl Dean know that public relations costs of his bid were going to be much higher than originally proposed? Of course, he did. And claiming that he did not would only make him look like an inept executive.

Caleb Hannan iterates what the Mayor knew and when he knew it:
The open-ended contracts given to a PR firm and a consultant to help MDHA promote the new convention center were the result of a failure in management. A failure in management that was supported by all levels of management ....

Dean was responsible for handing down the duty of coordinating Music City Center pre-development, along with an extra $250K to execute said duty, to MDHA, stressing that these were the guys capable of handling the job. Now that the contract flaps are out in the open, he's acting as if they've violated some sacred trust. But that's the thing: everyone knew.
Got that? Mayor Dean is reprising the role of El Presidente Dubya and feigning ignorance along the lines of "nobody anticipated the breach of the levees," by acting shocked and saying that he did not know about costs overruns until NewsChannel5 reported it.

Of course he knew about the costs overruns. We elected him Mayor to marshal that kind of knowledge about capital expenditures not just during and after things fall apart, but beforehand, too.

But Nashvillians cannot be allowed to believe that Mayor Dean knew all along lest his reputation hit the skids. So, he effectively needs a stand-in scoundrel. Bush had Brownie as a fall guy, and Mayor Dean's Brownie is MDHA's Phil Ryan. Hannan again:
Phil Ryan says he had a budget cap of $900,000 for MP&F. MP&F says they were told of the same number. Dean and finance director Rich Riebeling went to (or were billed for) a bunch of meetings in which high-priced, on-the-clock PR partners were present ....

That MDHA did not [get their money's worth] is a result of lax oversight that no one, especially the Mayor's office, seemed to object to ....

That Ryan is now left to fall on his sword is an unfortunate political reality. That Dean is the man holding it steady is, at least after so much willfully neglectful supervision, at least a sign that he's willing to be, for once, assertive. Even when it means sacrificing a good soldier.
I'm not a fan of Ryan, and I don't have much sympathy for him in this mess. After all, he had the gall to tell NewsChannel5 about the overexpenditures, "There's nothing wrong here. Everything is fine." I would caution against deluding ourselves into thinking that the Mayor's office is not pleased with such a willing scapegoat to take its place on the platform of accountability.

However, if you believe that Karl Dean didn't know the astronomical costs of selling the Music City Center to a reluctant and expense-wary audience, then you were probably prone to believe George Bush when he said that he had no clue that the levees could fail in a major hurricane, too. If Nashvillians give Karl Dean a pass on the the convention center debacle, Phil Ryan is not going to be the Mayor's only patsy.

Netroots and Power

In his review of a couple of books looking at the role of the netroots in electoral politics, Henry Farrell downplays the impact of bloggers that some see in the 2008 Obama win. While he doesn't see their influence on behalf of the current White House, he does see more a more substantive role for the netroots in a broader context:
The story of the netroots is less one of individual heroes and villains than of the revival of an overt left-of-center partisanship that had largely disappeared from mainstream debate. Although many elite journalists and opinion makers continued to be liberal, they were genteelly so, preferring to maintain a polite consensus around the proper limits of debate than to engage in fisticuffs with conservatives.

The netroots are neither genteel nor interested in nuance. They want to aggressively confront a right that they see as dangerous and an establishment that they see as at best semi-corrupt. Their combativeness can be a problem ....

But they also potentially provide a model for a politics that can actually engage citizens. As political scientists such as Theda Skocpol and Nancy Rosenblum have argued, vigorous political contention mobilizes people and gets them involved in civil society.

The netroots may help to create a more participatory American politics. If they do succeed, however, it will be the result of their long-term effects in building political movements, not their short-term effects in an election like that of 2008, when they were not especially consequential.
It seems to me that the tactics of good bloggers lie somewhere between the genteel and the coarse. Participatory democracy is fractious and unkempt. But public discourse should not be reduced to free-for-all or a no-holds-barred brawl. Bloggers should be willing to mix-it-up under something akin to Queensberry rules.

And I agree with Farrell, that the netroots is better suited to influencing everyday politics than it is the party- and campaign-dominated election calendar. Frankly, it is wise for bloggers to form associations with interest groups outside of parties and political campaigns:
If the netroots are to have any hope of pushing back against the parts of Obama's agenda that they don't like, they are going to need more allies. These will not be hard to find. Civil-liberties organizations are unhappy about Obama's policies on wiretapping and lack of interest in prosecuting Bush administration officials who signed off on torture. Union leaders are increasingly impatient with the administration's reluctance to move forward on the Employee Free Choice Act. Left-wing economic think tanks are critical of bailout deals for large financial institutions.I believe that blogs operate at their best when they push agendas instead of candidates.
They're at their best and not likely to be turned into tools or to be discarded by agendas.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nashville's Newest Premier Convention Center Hotel Revictimizes a Rape Victim

Betsy Phillips refers us to the latest blemish on Mayor Karl Dean's plans to build a new Music City Center and adjoining Marriott Marquis hotel: the troglodytic Marriott management has decided to blame a crime victim herself for being raped in one of their Connecticut parking garages in front of her own children. And if their totally philistine attack on the victim's motherhood weren't enough, they are also exercising their own hypocrisy by blaming her for not having foresight while absolving themselves from all discernment for criminals hanging out in their garage:
The hotel also claims as a special defense that the acts were unforeseen and beyond their control, that the woman and her children failed to properly "mitigate their damages,"
Arguing that a rape victim is responsible for the crimes of her attacker because she should have known better than to be in a Marriott parking garage is sort of like blaming the Marriott Corporation for terrorist attacks on their hotels when they should know better than to build them in the first place.

Looks like the hotel picked to anchor the proposed convention center is a real dog, ya'll.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Planning Commission Discusses LED Proposal, Defers Decision For a Second Work Session

Hillsboro-West End neighborhood leader and LED task force member Burkley Allen attended the Planning Commission's "working session" earlier this afternoon. She reports to the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list that they listened to planners compare Charley Tygard's proposed LED ordinance to those of 8 other peer cities. The Planning Commission discussed recommending amendments that would bring Tygard's sign ordinance in line with the stricter regulations of Nashville's peers. They deferred their vote until after they hold a second working session to discuss the matter again.

Deep Thought

The interest that MDHA earns in one year on its $20 million reserve fund could pay off the PR and consulting work of McNeely, Pigott, & Fox and C.H. Johnson, and there still would some left over to donate to the Nashville Symphony's public school music initiative.

Mayor Dean's Budget Cuts Trickle Down and End School Music Programs

Metro Nashville school kids are losing free music lessons because the Metro Nashville Arts Commission cut a grant to the Nashville Symphony by 55%. That grant cut was passed on to the symphony partly because the commission had 7% less money to pass out due to the Mayor's budget cuts.

At the same time that money that serves public school music programs is evaporating under Karl Dean's administration, revenue to pay the Mayor's friends in a private PR firm to market a new convention center to otherwise resistant Nashvillians is outstripping the budget line item. Wouldn't it have been great if that $300,000+ McNeely, Pigott & Fox overrun could have gone to compensate the hits to the symphony's free music lessons program?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another Public Relations Fail for Mayor Karl Dean: Hotel Consulting Firm is Way Over Convention Center Budget

The ink has barely dried on MDHA's announcement of selection of Marriott's "premium" line of hotels for the new convention center, but whatever traction the Mayor's office might have got to turn the corner on its balance sheet nightmare was undone once again by NewsChannel5. The TV news station has a new report tonight that the consulting firm MDHA picked for the hotel portion of the Music City Center has overcharged their budget by over $200,000 and rising:
The latest contract was with the consulting firm C.H. Johnson. Their job was to help MDHA with the hotel portion of the proposed convention center which announced this week would be a Marriott Hotel.

The contract with C.H. Johnson was signed in June of last year. It said costs will not exceed $93,500 plus $11,000 for expenses.

Six months later the contract was amended and left open ended to services paid on an as needed basis.

As of last month MDHA has paid the firm nearly $315,000 - three times the amount of the original contract ....

Last week, MDHA amended the C.H. Johnson contract again. There's a cap on spending at $500,000 - nearly five times the original budget.
So, MDHA's contract with a consulting firm is going to cost half-a-million Metro dollars and ground has not even broken, yet. Metro Nashville is spending $1 million just on an advertising firm and on a consulting company so that Mayor Karl Dean can get his name on a big capital budget project.

Had enough, yet? Will we remember this next summer when Mayor Dean announces a new round of Metro budget cuts due to belt-tightening economic conditions?

Metro Planning Announces "Work Session" on Tygard's LED Billboard Proposal

From the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:
LED signs set for deferral

The Planning Commission will hold a work session immediately before the August 13 regular meeting to discuss LED signs and development in the Rural Hill/Moss Road area. The August 13 Planning Commission agenda will include a staff recommendation that the LED sign bill be deferred to September 10.
NOTE: this session is scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon on August 13, and it will NOT be televised on Metro 3.

Lipstick Liberal

There are liberals whose progressive streak is more substantial than skin deep. Then there are those liberals who wear liberalism superficially, like lipstick.

Recently a friend from District 19 approached me to say that Council-at-Large member Megan Barry called asking her to mobilize neighbors to direct 19's hesitant CM, Erica Gilmore, toward supporting the non-discrimination bill sponsored by Barry and due for second reading next week. Being the good progressive, I would usually support this bill openly and enthusiastically. CM Gilmore would by now have grown weary of phone calls and e-mails urging her to vote with Barry. Enclave would have a long subject thread on it.

People who read me know that I lock on issues like a fully-loaded American Stratfordshire Terrier.

But not this time. Not on this bill. But not because of the issue.

My motivation is my belief that CM Barry is a lipstick liberal, prompted less by abiding progressive principles and more by safe choices and prospects of kowtowing to the Mayor's office.

CM Barry seems to be burning all of her political capital on this issue. She's not used any for the ones for which I've advocated. In fact, after her early opposition to bargaining with Predators, issue after issue she has receded into the background rather than taking a strong progressive stand (unless Mayor Karl Dean does so). Barry baited us to join the fight against Tygard's LEDs, then she switched to acquiescence. At her inexplicably least liberal moment, she supported the Mayor's regressive stormwater fee structure that taxes smaller, greener property owners more than the big, blacktopped boys. And then she had the audacity to blame another council progressive for making her vote unprogressively.

If she were a man I'd call her "Mini-Karl." Perhaps "Mini-Karlene" is fitting.

I'm sorry, fellow liberals, but it is the ethos of the nondiscrimination bill sponsor that has been the obstacle to my ringing endorsement of it. Any encouragement to support the Barry bill comes across like Lt. Kaffee cajoling LCpl. Dawson to accept the government's plea bargain instead of fighting the good fight. I feel like I'm being asked to make one safe choice after a string of risky ones many consider untouchable. And like LCpl. Dawson (whom writer Aaron Sworkin describes as "a man who would rather die than breach military protocol"), I feel like shoving my hands in my pockets and balking in spite of my commitments to progressive issues like nondiscrimination.

So, I haven't written CM Gilmore to encourage support and I don't know if I'll join this fight. I see a certain wisdom in choosing to sit this battle out.

Frankly, politics and social justice are mutually bound mechanisms. Ideals are fine, and as Reinhold Neibuhr wrote, they leaven politics. But they are no substitute for balance and mutuality. Many of those supporting Barry's bill have not been supportive of my issues like providing more family-friendly urban environments with strong schools and welcoming parks. They've been quiet on saving Bells Bend and opposing LED billboards. Local politics is not a single-issue, zero-sum game. It comes down to "you support my issue, I'll support yours."

Single-issue arguments do not motivate me to mobilize, especially given the lipstick liberal disposition of the bill sponsor. You want me to support this bill? I would like nothing more than to trump council conservatives after the conservative fiascoes of the previous council. But I'm going to need more than appeals to conscience.

Either express support for the issues I believe in or find a substantive liberal sponsor who is not just using a single progressive issue cosmetically to satisfy her future Democratic Party aspirations. I require something more profound than the triflings of lipstick liberals to pull me on board.

Metro's housing imperium decays from within

MDHA Director Phil Ryan's dramatic about-face from defending McNeely, Pigott & Fox to telling the MDHA Board on Tuesday that they would be taking a second look at MP&F billing makes my skin crawl:



It looks cynical and unprincipled.

Reportedly, the Board only met for about a-half-an-hour without much alarm or dissatisfaction even though this must be one of MDHA's most humiliating and fumbling moments. What is wrong with the MDHA Board? Doesn't democracy deserve some dissension in their ranks particularly after their Executive Director's monumental missteps?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is Planning a Language Whose Vocabulary Gets Smaller Every Year?

Last Friday, Enclave commenter Ellen Jacobson pointed out an irony in an upcoming conference of the TN chapter of the American Planning Association:



That Tennessee planners are meeting to consider planning for sustainable buildings is not the ironic part. What is ironic is the first speaker listed to discuss sustainable planning for Bells Bend:



Inviting this new urbanist to speak about green planning for Bells Bend is newspeak to me.

Rick Bernhardt is the same Planning executive who is advancing the idea of urbanizing agricultural land. He is the advocate of developers seeking to build a 2nd downtown in Bells Bend called May Town Center. He has accepted a proposal to build at least two (and probably three) bridges to haul traffic in and out of currently remote and inconvenient Bells Bend.

Mr. Bernhardt's staff of planners wrote a biased and unbalanced endorsement of the plan to urbanize farm land in passionate terms like these:
Staff has evaluated May Town Center’s substantial economic impact, its aggressive land conservation plan, and its developers’ commitment to constructing public roads and bridges over the life of the project to manage off-site traffic impacts.
And Metro's chief planner seems to assume--naively defying all past rezoning realities--that a mere belt of undeveloped green space around May Town Center will insure open space conservation in Bells Bend better than the bridgeless Cumberland itself. Where did he get the notion that greenbelts provide anything but token resistance to greenbacks? Engineered open space would hardly be a match for the avarice folded into high returns on cheap undeveloped land and the developer-friendly tendencies of the Planning Commission.

I would love to be at that session. It seems to me there would be a lot of squaring the circle in his comments on sustainable growth in the Bend.

Back off, Nashville: you didn't really think you had a say in this, did you, you tools?

Via Caleb Hannan, Mayor Karl Dean's consigliare speaks as if we should just lay back and enjoy the inevitable high-dollar ordeal:
(Finance director Rich) Riebeling said the transition of management from MDHA to the Convention Center Authority will take several months. Construction of Music City Center is expected to begin in the spring. The facility is scheduled to open in early 2013.
Public deliberation and informed consent on where our revenues are headed don't seem to matter to the Mayor's office. So, we may have to restrict community center hours further, build a few less sidewalks, and shed some police protection. Mayor Dean is going to give you a big box whether you want it or not. So why do they need to pay PR specialists hundreds of thousands of Metro dollars to convince the people if they never had any intention of considering the people?

Jon Stewart Takes on the Anti-Reform Teabaggers

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PR Peas to the Mayor's Pod

Jeff Woods on the enmeshment of Karl Dean and McNeely, Pigott, and Fox:
MP&F snuggled up to Karl Dean during his election campaign. When it became apparent he would win, their flacks suddenly started appearing around the candidate, ingratiating themselves and offering unneeded advice. This MDHA contract was one of the firm's rewards. Dean should have told MP&F to take a hike when he had the chance.
The Mayor's office continues its slouch toward the bottom of the rankings of Metro's services for 2009.

MP&F was not the only private party to ingratiate itself to Karl Dean at the 2007 election. The City Paper printed a partial list of people who attended a reception to help Dean pay off his campaign debts:
Longtime Nashville businessman Bobby Joslin hosted a reception for new Mayor Karl Dean last Wednesday at his Joslin and Son Signs headquarters on Murfreesboro Pike. About 75-100 people showed .... [T]he party included former Metro Councilman Roy Dale, former at-large Councilman Adam Dread and his wife Kasey, lobbyist and public relations man Joe Hall, developer Bill Hostettler, restaurateur Mike Kelly, insurance executive Jack Spann. Waller Lansden attorney James Weaver, former Metro Councilman and Vice Mayor Jay West, land use litigation attorney Tom White and both Pete Dickson and Bobby Pitts of Associated Builders & Contractors were there.

CRIME ALERT: Bullets Fired into 12South House

Disturbing bit of news from yesterday's 12South's e-mail list:
Between 11:30pm and 12 last night, Sunday, 8/9, three bullets were fired into the upstairs of a home on Kirkwood across from Sevier Park. Police will investigate this afternoon. No one hurt. No further information now in interests of investigation and privacy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Methinks the editor doth protest too much

More than likely, the Tennessean editor did not use PR coaches to help him write his Sunday editorial, but perhaps he should have.

If Mark Silverman's goal is to defend the honor of his reporters against charges of biased journalism, he does a poor job of it. He waxed too long about bloggers alleging that his reporters are paid to write positive reports. If he believes that citing all of the other McNeely, Pigott, & Fox-billed-and-juiced news outlets helps journalism's reputation, he strikes me as a man who would burn down most of a forest to draw attention to the integrity of his own little stand of trees. Admittedly, he did the public a service in showing that most of Nashville media got on the same gravy train that Gail Kerr enjoyed. However, his inventory of others only reinforces the idea of a biased, self-serving and lazy local media.

Silverman also overplays his hand in his defense of Gail Kerr. Whether or not she was paid money for her friendliness to the idea of a new convention center is irrelevant. She sacrificed her independence and her critical role as a journalist in allowing herself to be coached by PR professionals, whether everyone else was doing it or not. Now she should have to live down the black mark and a growing perception that she does not ask powerful people tough questions.

Blogger Betsy Phillips characterizes as audacious a private PR company inserted between "the 4th estate and the government it is supposed to monitor," but it seems to me that the actions of reporters like Kerr reflect a blurring of those distinctions. Reporters move easily now between government communications posts (i.e., Craig Owensby at Metro Planning) and PR and lobbyist firms (i.e., Joe Hall). Lately one does not have to look hard to see the build up to those transitions in reportage.

It seems to me that journalism has already sold its soul, and its claim on the 4th estate is tenuous because it deals with demons. It is newsworthy that Gail Kerr relies on a PR firm to write a column, however I would characterize it as one profit-making giant (Gannett) dealing with another profit-making giant (MP&F) at the behest of the ruling class at the courthouse. If the days when journalism placed a check on influence and money ever existed, they are extinct now.

Power and corporate greed have reduced the Tennessean to a communications conduit in a network of commercial interests. I was making the same argument back during the fight over placing newsracks in neighborhoods. Local publishers postured as if banning newsracks in neighborhoods were a 1st amendment issue of freedom of the press. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. Newsracks were not constitutional issues; they were commercial ones. Likewise, Gail Kerr's puff column on the convention center was more a commercial pitch than it was an expose in the public interest.

Having Kerr write favorably on their project functions as free advertising with broad reach for MP&F. Plus, Metro pays them rather than the Tennessean for the publicity. Kerr's benefit may not be money beyond the salary Gannett pays her, but she ingratiates herself to the Courthouse elite, which may give her the inside track on dangled information in the future. She also positions herself if she ever wants to make jumps vertically into government or laterally into PR work. Intangible benefits are no less real than monetary ones, and Mark Silverman is not being entirely honest in ignoring them to howl at bloggers.

But this whole protest at bloggers seems ridiculous, unless bloggers have come to matter more than the mainstream media prefers to acknowledge. It was quite startling to learn last week that Metro paid a PR firm $10,000 to monitor blogs and micro-blogs. To have the Tennessean editor flip out philippic and issue a Sunday morning jeremiad against bloggers for what they've done to his poor reporter reinforces the perception that lowly blogs may be forcing mainstreamers to gird themselves for a 4th estate challenge.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Does the Convention Center Billing Controversy Blow Back on the Successful Effort against English Only?

Last week's mess regarding public relations firm McNeely, Pigott, & Fox and their overbilling of work for MDHA and Metro government--including co-writing speeches for the Mayor and columns for the Tennessean--got me wondering about Nashville for All of Us. The Public Relations Society of America awarded "Nashville for All of Us with McNeely, Pigott, & Fox" a Silver Anvil in public affairs for "changing the outcome" of the referendum on Eric Crafton's English Only.

As someone who has been fighting against English Only since Crafton pitching it around 2006, I would say that there are a lot of people both inside and outside "Nashville for All of Us" who can take pride in changing the outcome of the 2009 referendum. So I take the reason for the award with a grain of salt without denying the role MP&F played in, as they describe it, "providing messaging, media, communications and materials" for the movement against Crafton.

But the recent enmeshment between MP&F with the Mayor's office, MDHA, and the media regarding the proposal to build a new convention center makes me wonder how much separation there actually was between the PR firm and the Nashville for All of Us. It looks like these awards are won tandemly with PR firms either in tow or coordinating the group's message. So it seems that coalitions do not win Silver Anvils without hiring (or being created by?) PR firms.

I guess I am curious about how much time MP&F spent writing prominent speeches against English Only (including the Mayor's). I would also like to know where that Silver Anvil award resides. If there is a separate Nashville for All of Us office is it there? Or is it sitting at MP&F even though their press release says that they accepted it on behalf of the coalition? Nashville for All of Us was touted as a grassroots group. I guess I'm interested in knowing whether that was really the case, or it was more of a top-down proposition than we might have been lead to believe.

Finally, excuse me for asking, but I would be remiss if I didn't do so now with news that MP&F coached a Tennessean columnist and that the City Paper appears on MP&F's bills to Metro five times on behalf of the Music City Center. A Nashville City Paper reporter won a journalists' award for coverage of English Only. Did the PR firm coach him during their efforts against English Only, too?

Freeway Tear Downs without Transit Plans

What advocate of a higher quality of life in urban neighborhoods doesn't dream of a day when community-dissecting freeways disappear? But Seattle seems to be the only city with transit plans in place. It seems irresponsible for urban planners to call for demolishing freeways without comprehensive mass transit strategies accompanying these dreams.

What they take away matters more than what they include

Blogging CM Emily Evans corrects half-truths that convention center supporters use to promote the proposal in their online PR:
Everyday, this government should try to do everything it can to keep taxes low. We need to look for ways to see that our revenue streams stay diverse and healthy. But, if you are inclined to support the construction of a convention center and hotel that will take the debt in this city from $1.7 billion to $2.7 billion, please do it with objective facts presented by disinterested sources. Those facts are these:

Property taxes make up about 41% of our revenue. Sales and other taxes make up about 25%. The rest of our $1.5 billion budget comes from a diverse and fairly dependable blend of federal and state money and fees and fines.

Hotel and Tourism taxes in Nashville amount to about $30 million a year. This amount represents about 2% of all revenue and 6% of sales and other taxes. receipts

And feel free to send my pie chart to MDHA, fee of charge.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Belated Mayoral Information Does No Good, and Lack of Follow-up is Insult to Injury

Recently, there was a discussion on the Nashville neighborhoods list over the question of why so few leaders showed up to the Mayor's June 22 Night Out event for neighborhoods. One answer to the question was that not all neighborhoods are in the Mayor's communication loop. Then came the retort that said neighborhood leaders should sign up for the Mayor's e-newsletter.

Not so fast with that last retort. It really does no one outside of the Mayor's office any good to publish information on the Mayor's Night Out in the newsletter 4 days after the event. The previous e-newsletter listed no information on the June 22 event, and neither did the one before that. Here's the backlog of newsletters for your consideration. Publishing information about the Mayor's Night Out after the event is not a community-serving invitation, it's self-serving PR. Are our tax dollars spent wisely on an after-the-fact report?

And there remains questions over whether this event has lead to any demonstrated results or follow-up to neighborhood requests. Two community leaders on the Nashville Neighborhoods list expressed their dissatisfaction with the event. One commented that she came away with the sense that her concerns were not heard. Another south Nashville leader shared his disappointment that there was no follow-up over a week later on an overgrown vacant lot in his neighborhood. When I canvassed the Salemtown e-list to find out whether our expressed concerns had been addressed by Metro, I received an e-mail response off list this week that expressed concerns about crime to the Mayor had received no follow up since June 22. The only positive feedback that I've read is that Metro Transit did respond to a request to put a bench at its Meharry Hospital bus stop.

Please comment below or e-mail me with any feedback on whether the Mayor's office has followed up on its June 22 night out event. It would be rather shameful if the only follow up from the Dean administration is a bus stop bench.

Deep Thought

If I had just saved all of the blog stat counts of visits from McNeely, Pigott, & Fox I might have been able to figure how much of Metro's $10,000 (paid for monitoring blogs) Enclave is worth.

Quote of the Week

I just want to beg you for the next two years when we consider a project that’s going to cost $1 billion for this city, at a time when we can’t meet Metro budgets and we’re letting people go, I’m just asking you that when you sit your butts in these chairs, that you do it unfettered by inappropriate influence.
- -Council Member Mike Jameson in remarks regarding alleged lobbying by McNeely, Pigott, and Fox for the Mayor's convention center proposal

This week the local political beat belongs to Caleb Hannan; the other reporters are just visiting (part 2)

Yesterday Scene reporter Hannan also took some time away from delving into Tony G's history in order to quarry some valuable information on local public relations firm McNeely, Pigott, and Fox. For those who have been living in a hole this week: MP&F was caught billing Metro astronomically for lobbying work on behalf of the Mayor's office and MDHA, including pimping the news media to support the expensive convention center proposal.

In another piece worthy of your time, Caleb quotes the Mayor's scribe at the City Paper quoting a MP&F partner who insists that the firm did not help Karl Dean write pro-convention center speeches. Caleb then proceeds to dismantle that claim by documenting billing for e-mails to the Mayor's Communication Director Janel Lacy, billing for speech and Q&A practice, billing for the Mayor's council talking points, and billing for final edits.

The Scene reporter leaves me wondering, why are we paying a public relations firm for working on the Mayor's speeches to drum up public and council support for his own pet project? Why does this Mayor require our valuable resources to pitch a project he believes in and to lobby a council that all but rolls over for him on command? Why is all of this money going to the Mayor's friends at MP&F?

Caleb draws a few conclusions of his own based on what he and NewsChannel5's Ben Hall have discovered so far:
1) No matter what they say to the contrary, MP&F were lobbying the council. In their own invoices they draw a line between support and opposition. They also make it clear who, out of the two, they chose to reward.

2) Including the words "Twitter" in a headline about hog-wild government spending is always going to make news. What might be worse, however, than a couple hours spent on social networking are all the hours billed for nothing in particular. There are hundreds of pages of invoices with thousands of lines of inventoried charges and roughly 80% of those are grouped under ambiguous titles like "meeting" or "e-mails." What kind of meetings? E-mails to who? We'll never know.

3) Maybe they didn't pen them themselves, but if we're to believe what's on the bill it'd be downright misleading to say MP&F didn't have a hand in shaping speeches given by Mayor Dean and MDHA head Phil Ryan.

4) This "this is only 3% of the money" excuse is utter bullshit. You're saying you can't control costs on a minuscule portion of the budget...and that's an argument in your favor? So MDHA is building us a billion dollar house and they just got overcharged 500% on the nails. This is supposed to inspire confidence?

5) Last but not least, the Mayor. Dean probably made the right move by suspending MP&F's "communications." But are we really to believe he only just realized their spending was out of control? All he had to do was look around the room, during one of his many meetings or speech pow-wows, and start counting heads: There's $285 an hour, there's $285 an hour, there's $285 an hour...At some point, it's not just enough to say "I didn't know." It's your responsibility to know. We wouldn't accept that kind of excuse from any manager. We shouldn't accept it from you either.
If you want to keep up with this unfolding convention center fiasco in the print media, I don't see any need to look to any other beat reporter than Caleb Hannan at this point.