Monday, November 30, 2009

Ferrier fail

Genma Holmes is dissatisfied with WSMV reporter Dennis Ferrier's account of last month's misunderstanding over a Karen Y. Johnson for Juvenile Court Clerk campaign sign in the North End, so she conducted some investigative interviews on her own and comes back with info you won't see on Channel 4:
When I met with the [Metro Police] officer whose name was given to me by all parties involved, he believed this was much ado about nothing. The sign was taken off the property by one of the owners; the sign was retrieved by the candidate to whom the sign belonged after Metro was contacted. I asked him if the sign was damaged, he said, “No.” He was surprised that this story made the news because by the time the story aired he had already closed the case ....

After speaking to Ms. Wilkinson, Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Johnson, the property manager, several metro officers, the painter, the baker and the candle stick maker, I question how much time was invested in researching this story by the media when it was originally aired. What made this story appealing to run with half the facts is ... Ms. Johnson voting for the rezoning of Metro school district[s]. Some folks in the African American community, especially those that can remember attending raggedy schools that were not equal, have not forgotten that vote and the emotions that surface whenever this matter is broached were played upon in the reporting of this story. For people of color, the media should not be allowed to use those passionate feelings about the Civil Rights era to pit one against the other over and over again.
Ferrier describes himself as "fair without always being nice," but was he merely full of sound and fury signifying nothing in this case?

Positive crime news for the North End

Metro Nashville Police reported at a Salemtown Neighbors association meeting earlier tonight that the Central Precinct is leading with a 16% rise in crime reduction followed by East and North Precincts at around 11%.

Obama's roost

Paul Krugman sees bleak times coming with years of terrible job markets and political paralysis. The tide will turn most grimly against the Democrats, whose losses
will be worse because Obama, by pursuing a uniformly pro-banker policy without even a gesture to popular anger over the bailouts, has ceded populist energy to the right and demoralized the movement that brought him to power.

Despite all this, the midterms probably won’t give Republicans the majority in the House. But the losses will be big enough to deny Obama a working majority for any major initiatives in the rest of his first term. (My guess is that he’ll be reelected thanks to the true awfulness of the Republican nominee). Since Republicans are dead set against any of the things I think could help pull the economy out of its rut, this means more economic stagnation.
It's a damned shame that the President has blown the political capital of his election on being kind to high finance rather than beating the drum of banking reform to ear-pounding levels. The chickens are on their way home.

Blue-faced, lying and misleading

Blogging CM Emily Evans is more charitable toward mainstream columnist Gail Kerr's Sunday Tennessean piece than I was while she still challenges Kerr's assumptions about mayoral budget options:
Missing from Gail's analysis is the outcome of the convention center debate. If the convention center is approved, it very likely rules out a property tax increase. We can talk til we are blue in the face about how the revenues for the proposed convention center can only be used for a convention center. In addition to turning blue we will also be lying because many of the taxes (2% of HOT and redirected sales taxes which make up the majority of the earmarked revenues) can and/or are being used for something else. In addition to turning blue and lying we would also be misleading because we can and have changed state law to expand the permitted uses of of these taxes .... regardless of the limitations - real or perceived - of state law, the public will believe that the property tax increase was directly related to the construction of the convention center.

The possibilities for a sales tax increase are equally remote for the same reason. Increasing sales taxes will require a public vote and that day at the ballot box could easily turn into a referendum on the convention center.

The convention center demonstrates an "all-our'eggs-in-one-basket" approach that could turn our other obligations to our employees, our city services, our education system into after-thoughts that become victims of political backlash.
I agree, but I believe that Kerr's self-interest in pandering to the Mayor's Office blinds her to the political realities behind the budget realities. Moreover, news of payment of $2,500 to a PR firm to coach Ms. Kerr on writing promotional puff earlier this year indicates that she is not predisposed to consider the convention center in any critical way whatsoever. Gail Kerr is not merely your average mainstream shill for the Mayor's Office; Metro funds also bought and paid for her propped editorials. So, I find it logical that she ignored what Emily Evans cannot: the political and fiscal millstone of building the Music City Center. Any Kerr editorial is bound to be incomplete unless seen in the context of Kerr's politic.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Detroit Freep features Nashville's "grassroots" movement to preserve Union Station

After the Detroit city council voted to demolish the city's historic train depot, a local movement sprang up to engage the debate on whether to keep it. A Detroit Free Press reporter covers the debate and looks to Nashville's Union Station as a chance for Michigan preservationists:

Nashville got its Union Station up and operating by taking advantage of a little-used federal provision.

Ann Roberts, former director of the Nashville Historic Commission, is Nashville's expert on all things Union Station.

Now retired, Roberts said the Nashville station, which first opened in 1900, was in various stages of decay in the early 1970s and condemned by the city by 1975.

By the late 1970s, a nearby building was converted to a federal office building, paving the way for the station -- designated a federal historic property -- to be given to the City of Nashville for free ....

Phil Goldfarb, president and chief executive officer of Turnberry Hospitality Management, is the latest leaseholder at Nashville Union Station. It took $12 million and two years, from 2006-08, to painstakingly restore the station, converting it to a Wyndham property.

The urgency for projects like this, Goldfarb said, "starts at the grassroots level."

There was such a ground swell following the council's vote to demolish the depot. Facebook groups calling to "Save Detroit's Michigan Central Station" sprang up.

Posing the handicapper but effectively sandbagging on the Mayor's next budget

If Gail Kerr didn't have a writing history of uncritically pandering to this Mayor's Office, we might be able to accept her Sunday column describing how hard it will be for Karl Dean next year as sober realism. However--after being coached to write on behalf of the Mayor's convention center (which she does not list among the budget demands today), setting the media pick-and-roll on the Metro Parks Director, and defending Dean's waffling on Riverfront development--is she doing anything but managing the expectations of the marks of the 2010 budget confidence game here? The con will likely end up taking away more services and programs from residents of Davidson County as more money flushes through the line item expenses of the convention center construction project. And Ms Kerr will have told us to expect less funding for community-oriented expenses. Of course, she tells us so. She rarely criticizes the Mayor's Office.

Neighborhood meeting for proposed West Nashville Rec Center

From the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:


Monday, November 30, 2009

6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Metro Parks Boardroom

2565 Park Plaza


Proposed Recreation Center

3138 Parthenon Avenue

BZA Case #2009-080

The purpose of this meeting is to allow local residents and property owners to learn of plans for a proposed building on the vacant Metro Parks property at the address above. This will be an informal meeting where citizens can ask questions and offer opinions to Metro Parks’ officials and interested parties. Metro Councilmember Edith Langster will attend this meeting.

The Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation has conditionally approved a proposal from the Vanderbilt Bridge Education Association (VBEA) to construct a 6000 square foot facility on Metro Parks’ property at 3138 Parthenon Avenue, which would be used by the VBEA as well as by Metro Parks and the community. The VBEA is a not-for-profit organization that would pay to build and operate the facility. If the proposal is approved, the building would become the property of Metro Parks and programmed for joint use by Metro and the VBEA.

Currently the property is zoned as residential property. Construction of the facility would require a zoning special exception and a zoning variance for setbacks from the property lines. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) is scheduled to hear the zoning request at its December 3, 2009 meeting. This meeting will be at 1:00 p.m. in the Green Hills Auditorium at the Metro Southeast Offices, 1417 Murfreesboro Pike. Per BZA Rules of Procedure Item 9.(2)(e) we are making contact with neighbors within 300 feet of the property, to make you aware of the project and to give you a date, time and place to meet and discuss the request if desired.

The Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation will receive a status report on the project at its meeting on Tuesday, December 1. This meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. at the 2565 Park Plaza location.

In addition to the BZA approval, final approval by the Parks’ Board, the Metropolitan Planning Commission, and the Metro Council will be necessary before the project could proceed. Should you have any questions about this proposal, you are encouraged to call Metro Parks at 615-862-8400.

Stupid human tricks

Antioch CM Sam Coleman is bound and determined to follow through on his intention to allow guns in rural parks not because they have especially high crime rates but only because they are rural. He is due to make an appearance at the Parks Board on Tuesday to press his case, which ought to give board members an opportunity to challenge him to show why our generally crime-free rural parks require guns for safety:



(1:30 PM)

2565 Park Plaza









11-09-00 Mr. Sam Coleman, Councilmember of the 32nd District, requests permission to address the board with regard to Resolution 2009-1009.

A resolution requesting the Director of the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Department to provide the Council with a list of rural and/or isolated parks and greenways for purposes of a possible exemption from the prohibition on carrying handguns.

Dethroned journos

Timothy B. Lee considers the results for news dissemination of the Internet removing journalists from the paternalistic, privileged gatekeeping positions:

The reality is that a great many people still read newspapers, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the local metro daily is still one of the most prominent soapboxes in a given metropolitan area. But we’ve seen a proliferation of locally-focused blogs and news sites that help to disseminate news to civically-minded people in a metropolitan area ....

Things look even better if we look at the hyper-local level. Virtually every neighborhood has a neighborhood mailing list for exchanging local community information. Here the reporter-middleman is cut out of the loop entirely: people who care about local politics communicate directly with one another. A neighborhood mailing list is going to have vastly more information than would be available in a local newspaper a generation ago. Not everyone will have the patience for that, but the ones who matter most will. And the rest will take their cues from their politically-engaged friends and neighbors.

Reporters no longer have a technologically-imposed monopoly on their readers’ attention. Readers are no longer stuck with whichever local newspaper happens to be in their home town, and so reporters have to work harder to keep the audiences that used to be theirs by default. Not surprisingly, established journalists don’t like this trend. They liked the privileged position they enjoyed in the pre-Internet age, and they built an elaborate self-justifying ideology that portrayed their privileged position as a benefit to readers. It’s a letdown for journalists to suddenly find themselves on a level playing field with hordes of amateurs. But frankly, that’s just the world works: if a bunch of amateurs can do your job as well as you can, then you should probably find a new job.

HT: Freddie O'Connell

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Mayor's Saturday neighborhood stroll through Germantown, Salemtown

According to the Salemtown e-list the Mayor will be here on Saturday at 11:00 to make his 2nd neighborhood walk.

Too bad he didn't extend the Salemtown leg for another block to 7th, he would have a great view of Werthan Lofts and Downtown beyond.

Reader watchdogs City Paper local coverage, unacknowledged re-writes online

West Nashville community advocate Mina Johnson followed the debate of the West Police Precinct with great interest. She also noticed substantial changes in the evolution of a SouthComm reporter's copy. She alerted me to the changes in a November 17 piece by Joey Garrison:
[Original title] Council approves spending $14M for new West Precinct
[Redacted title] Council OKs property sale for new West Precinct

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 8:54pm
By Joey Garrison

Mayor Karl Dean’s proposal to turn the former Bob Frensley car dealership on Charlotte Avenue into a new $14 million West Police Precinct and crime lab received overwhelming Metro Council approval Tuesday night.

[Original article, now deleted w/o comment] Despite vocal opposition from some west Nashville Council members, the panel voted 34 to 5, with one abstention, to pass a resolution to acquire the property and refurbish the structure into police facilities.

[Redacted article] Despite vocal opposition from some west Nashville Council members, the panel voted 34 to 5, with one abstention, to pass a resolution to acquire the property for $4.2 million. The refurbishing of the structure into police facilities will take additional funds, not yet approved by Council.


The proposal had been championed by Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas as an opportunity to upgrade the current West Police Precinct building, while bringing new technology to the police force. [Original article included this now deleted sentence w/o comment] Metro will pay $6.5 million for the property. The remaining funds will be used to update the property.
While I referred to the latest revisions as "redacted", they are not redacted in the conventional editorial sense. Conventionally, redaction (or editing) occurs before publication. Redactions after publication are "corrections" or "clarifications" added to the original intact copy. The City Paper seems to have shifted from the classic journalistic model of making edits before publication to making them after, which is more of a blogging model of writing (although a model closed from the top down to crowdsourcing). Journalists should concede that if they are making that move, they also must give up some claims of professionalism in news coverage.

Claims of a professional class of news reporters are already disintegrating at the reader level, even without shifts in online editing. Local readers are no longer going to be reduced to the status of passive consumers or empty containers into which paternalistic reporters randomly pour whatever they deem to be newsworthy. They are actively engaging local content and noting and documenting how and sometimes why news conveys information as it does.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Final throes of ATL sprawl

AJC blogger Jay Bookman recites last rites over the final days of Atlanta's suburban boom:
Even before the recession hit, the sprawl model of growth was showing serious strains in metro Atlanta. Admittedly, it was hard to see at the time. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, reported that from July 2000 to July 2008, six of the 15 fastest growing counties in the country could be found here in the 28-county Atlanta metro region.

By the end of that eight-year stretch, however, the Atlanta boom had cooled considerably ....

Younger people forming households of their own are more interested in urban living than in recreating their suburban upbringing, and many older Americans are also looking to downsize their living arrangements. The rising cost of commuting and energy to heat and cool large homes are having an impact as well.

Government’s declining ability to subsidize farflung suburbia has also had an effect. In Atlanta and other areas, the transportation infrastructure needed to shorten commuting times and thus extend the suburban model still farther from the core is no longer practical or affordable; it has become a struggle just to service already developed areas.

Urban leaders ask Metro Pubic Works to maintain federal investments in their neighborhoods

Several neighborhoods are concerned to learn that despite MDHA utilizing HUD funds to install quality of life streetscape elements, Public Works refuses to help them maintain those elements after vandals strike. So, they asked for a meeting with Public Works and other officials yesterday to seek resolution. Via the Salemtown e-list, here are the notes from that meeting:
11/23/09 Meeting Notes
Decorative Neighborhood Signs and Public Works: A Discussion

In attendance: Benny Word from PW; Linda Howard from MDHA; residents from Cleveland Park, McFerrin Park, Maxwell, Chestnut Hill, South Inglewood; CM Karen Bennett, CM Jamie Hollin

Absent, but interested: CM Erik Cole, CM Sandra Moore, residents from Salemtown

Concerns / Ideas
- The cost of installation for the number of signs that are coming down in our neighborhoods is prohibitive. These neighborhoods are low to moderate income (and that’s why MDHA invested the money).

- We request help from Public Works for the installation of our neighborhood signs

- Some of the locations where decorative signs have fallen have had standard stop signs but NOT street signs installed. (the intersection of Stainback and Evanston is one example)

- It costs PW a certain amount to come out and replace our decorative sign post with a standard sign. Can we apply that cost to the re-installation of a decorative sign?

- What would be most ideal would be for PW to replace and install the decorative signs. We recognize that isn’t likely, but the question was asked, what would be ideal.

- Perhaps we can keep basic parts on hand for the most common breakage which appears to be a simple tube insert that the decorative posts (which typically remain largely unharmed) are mounted on. Neighborhoods could purchase the parts, storage could be arranged, and Public Works could use those parts for re-installing the decorative signs

- In the future, PW could indicate to residents at the design phase that if they choose one of a small number of decorative sign posts, PW will be willing to do labor on those. If residents want to choose a different style, they cannot expect PW to provide assistance. In particular, there appear to be two kinds of bases, which is where most of the problems have occurred.

- Neighborhoods need Public Works to be willing to pick up and store the decorative signs until they can be reinstalled. This needs to be a longer period of time than 30 days.

- Installation of sign blades seems pretty straightforward. If neighborhoods provide the parts, can PW do this?

- Once a sign has fallen, is there a way to retrofit it so that it is at the stronger breakaway point that has now been approved?

- Can PW come inspect our neighborhood signs (the ones that have fallen) so that there can be a context for the discussion?

Next Steps:
- Benny Word will talk with Mark Macy about the concerns and ideas above
- Mr. Word will be in touch with CM Bennett and CM Hollin and they will disperse the info
- CM Bennett suggested that a follow up meeting for the whole group with Mr. Macy to discuss the outcome should take place—that date needs to be scheduled

In case there is anyone still left who still wonders what bloggers do

Dave Winer and Jay Rosen discuss:
The natural born blogger (Dave says) is “someone whose nature is to do stuff without waiting for permission. To explain things, knowing they could easily be wrong. To go first. To err on the side of saying too much.” ....

Jay: ... Bloggers aren’t intimidated by expertise or certification .... “we need people who can just look at what needs to be done, look at the tools they have for doing it, and just start in.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Exactly the kind of difference council members should make on behalf of Nashvillians

In stark contrast to CM Ronnie Steine, whom I referenced yesterday as the Mayor's unquestioning go-with guy on spending Metro revenues, I refer you to CM Emily Evans:
Similar to Riebeling, who previously worked at Fifth Third Securities and Morgan Keegan Co., Evans also has a background in finance.

She contends Riebeling’s decisions are too often based on opinion instead of quantitative facts, and said she “sort of ends up in the mix” because Riebeling’s professional field overlaps her own area of expertise. “I tend to know enough about it to ask questions,” she said.

According to Evans, a “pattern” of financial trouble has emerged in recent years. “When you look at the seven or eight front-page stories that the administration has weathered the last two years, they all have to do with financing,” Evans said. “They all have to do with the management of the financial part of our city — budgets and things like that.”
The last two years council chambers has been more of a tool shed than a civic forum for robust debate on Mayor Dean's policies. Emily Evans has been one of the few critical, independent thinkers willing to break from the herd.

Council memo sets dates for consideration of finance package for the Mayor's convention center

Some very important dates set by CMs Ronnie Steine and Erik Cole and communicated to Metro Council for consideration of the largest capital project in Nashville ever (click on image to enlarge):

HT: Carol McCullough

SouthComm celebrity makers spin neighborhood leaders as "berating" Finance Director

I would be interested to hear the responses of concerned West Nashvillians to SouthComm reporter Joey Garrison's spin on their community meetings with Finance Director Rich Riebeling:
One minute he’s berated by neighborhood association leaders at a community meeting in west Nashville. The next day he’s with state officials at Legislative Plaza representing the city’s fiscal interests. And the following afternoon he’s a political battering ram, questioning an embattled (now outgoing) Metro parks director and recommending layoffs to ease a departmental budget crisis. He plays antagonist of sorts in this high-stakes game of municipal finance — and, not least, protagonist for any and all matters that have some impact on Metro’s $1.5 billion annual budget.
As you ruminate this reportage, keep in mind that the City Paper has expressed a bias against organized neighborhoods in the past, and recall that their profiles on Dean administration critics (like Mike Jameson) tend to skew toward ingratiating promos for the Mayor's Office.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

34 Council Members were unswayed by Hillwood association President's reasoned letter

In the last post, I referred to the Metro Council's failure last Tuesday to slow the process of acquiring and building a new West Precinct police station in the face of serious, unanswered questions coming from the West Nashville community. The Hillwood neighborhood association president, Kathy Baker, was kind enough to forward me a strong and sensible letter she sent to me before last Tuesday's fateful rubber stamp of a $14 million unplanned bid for a new station:

We have understood for many years that the West Precinct would be expanding and within the last 6 months or so that it would move to the Horizon Building just yards away from the current location. Then we hear in late August that there is a possibility that it would move to the Frensley property on Charlotte Pike and that Councilman Buddy Baker, a friend of Mr. Frensley’s, introduced this idea to Metro.

This is the point that we started asking questions about that property. Since Council voted to defer the appropriation of $4.2 million to purchase the Frensley property on Charlotte Pike for the West Precinct and DNA/Crime Lab there have been two community meetings and I have attended both. Below are some of the questions we asked about the Frensley property and the answers we received:

1. Q: Where are the plans for the Frensley property?
A: We don’t have any. Most of the work that was done on the Horizon site will be usable for the Frensley site.

2. Q: How much is it going to cost?
A: We don’t know but it will be under the $14 million budget

3. Q: How long is it going to take?
A. We don’t know, we have to design it first.

4. Q: What traffic studies have been done on this busy intersection?
A: No traffic studies have been done.

5: Q: What are you going to do to protect and improve Richland Creek?
A: Those things will be worked out as we move forward.

6. Q: What other sites could be used and what would they cost?
A: We have a list of alternative sites but none of them will work and we don’t know how much it’ll cost to acquire any of them.

7. Q: How much is the planning budget and how much have you spent?
A: We don’t know how much the planning budget is but we’ve spent around $50,000 planning the Horizon site.

The finance director produced a cost analysis between the Horizon Building and the Frensley location at the first community meeting. What we discovered, however, was that this was finished on November 2, over one month after the Frensley site was chosen. Additionally, when questions were asked about the report, the finance director and the architects could not explain some of the numbers and several mistakes were found. For instance they added road construction twice on the Horizon building overestimating the cost of that site by $500,000. And, they have geothermal costs shown on the Frensley site for the exact same amount as the Horizon site in the amount of $674,627 but admitted they had done no analysis to see if geothermal would work at the Frensley site and that’s almost 10% of the entire construction budget. Furthermore, even with the so-called cost analysis that site comes in at $1 million over budget!

No real evaluation has been done on this site and at the second community meeting the finance director was asked if he could please just go ahead and cost out this site, draw up the plans, etc. This is not going to delay the project since they are going to have to do the plans anyway before they start. This is not an unreasonable request. I ask you to make the same request and defer this purchase until that work has been done and presented to Council. THEN, you can make an informed decision about whether or not this property is going to work. Council budged $500,000 for the planning of this so why does our finance director refuse to plan?

Kathy Baker, President
Hillwood Neighborhood Association

Lopsided Council vote on West Precinct MNPD station belied community opposition and the appearance of unethical patronage

For the last couple of weeks the Nashville neighborhoods e-list was lit up with a discussion by West Nashville leaders opposed to the ramrod style that Police Chief Ronal Serpas and Finance Director Rich Riebeling have pushed through the purchase of an old auto dealership for assignment as the new West Nashville police precinct.

Despite the fact that two community meetings were held with courthouse leaders to address concerns, several questions remained unanswered as council resolution RS2009-979 went to vote last Tuesday. Here is a list of unanswered questions that was sent to council members before the vote from one concerned leader:
  • Is the former car dealer lot the best location for much needed West Precinct expansion and DNA Lab?
  • Was comprehensive study and planning done to conclude the final location?
  • How conclusive is the overall plan?
  • Can the project on that location be done under $14 million as it has been said?
  • How much will the budget increase once construction advances as it is currently estimated $14,918,316.75?
  • What kind of environmental measures are considered? Are they just ideas or achievable?
No media cameras captured community meetings attended by Chief Serpas and Mr. Riebeling, but I've received e-mail correspondence written by attendees who reported that both Metro officials came across as arrogant, paternalistic, and close-minded to concerns; and reportedly, Chief Serpas appeared to attempt to physically intimidate CM Bo Mitchell, who questioned the purchase decision. Serpas accused leaders who questioned the quick purchase as having an "emotional attachment" and failing to comprehend the decision.

So, I was surprised at the lopsided council vote last Tuesday, given how badly the community meetings sounded. Here's a breakdown of the votes for and against RS2009-979 to purchase the property for $4.2 million without any pre-purchase planning (private appraiser valued it at $4 million):
"Ayes" -- Tim Garrett, Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, Jerry Maynard, Lonell Matthews, Frank Harrison, Walter Hunt, Jamie Hollin, Mike Jameson, Erik Cole, Karen Bennett, Jim Forkum, Rip Ryman, Darren Jernigan, Jim Gotto, Carl Burch, Bruce Stanley, Phil Claiborne, Anna Page, Sandra Moore, Krisine LaLonde, Erica Gilmore, Buddy Baker, Edith Langster, Jason Holleman, Sean McGuire, Greg Adkins, Randy Foster, Duane Dominy, Vivian Wilhoite, Jim Hodge, Park Toler, Sam Coleman, Carter Todd (34)

"Noes" -- Charlie Tygard, Eric Crafton, Emily Evans, Robert Duvall, Bo Mitchell (5)

"Abstaining" -- Mike Craddock (1)
The seller of the property is the trust of Bob Frensley, who according to the Tennessean, "significantly" patronized local politicians "for many years." Also, WSMV reported on Friday that an ethics violation complaint has been filed against council members Ronnie Steine and Buddy Baker for concealing information that a trustee for Bob Frensley is Metro police Captain Mickey Miller, former commander of the West Precinct.

With all of this coming down, I'm disappointed that 34 council members went along with the Mayor's Office and Chief Serpas without asking more questions about it.

Uncritical Faith?

CM Ronnie Steine can't come up with a single reason to question Mayor Karl Dean on the convention center:
Councilman Ronnie Steine, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said the council would "owe it to the mayor" to hear his rationale if he submits the hotel financing at a later date. "I still fully expect we'll see it all together," Steine said. "If not, I'm sure he'll have a compelling reason."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Hollin Effect (or "The difference 2 votes can make")

According to a report received from the Cleveland Park neighborhood e-list, Public Works has been in District 5 every day this week "cleaning up alleys and hauling off the junk". Reportedly, people have not witnessed Public Works tending Cleveland Park in these ways in the past. One resident checked with CM Jamie Hollin and found out that he had prompted Public Works' response after approaching the Mayor's Office.

On the one hand, District 5 neighborhoods are thankfully enjoying the benefits of replacing neglectful CM Pam Murray. On the other hand, why should it take a special appeal from a CM to the Mayor's Office to get help from Public Works in cleaning up illegal dumping in public alleys? Was Public Works ignoring direct neighborhood appeals when Ms. Murray was in office?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Won't be accused of putting the "social" in "social media"

This teachable moment brought to you by local-to-Nashville social media big-shot, Rex Hammock, who is seemingly tired of people finding fault with a new Twitter function unless they can actually alter that Twitter function with brawn and their bare hands:

If you decide to enter the heady realm of social media and have independent opinions, just beware of what you might eventually wade through. User feedback? We don't need no stinkin' user feedback!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anger blows back on local press "assassins"

A number of elected leaders have expressed their anger over the unpleasant lashing out at Metro Parks and Roy Wilson by courthouse and columnist. Among those is typically mild-mannered Mike Jameson, who spoke truth to the power of the press:
Councilman Mike Jameson, who called Wilson “top-notch” in responding to constituents, questioned a recent column in the Tennessean that he said contained a series of unfair accusations, which seemed to come from anonymous sources.

“What I don’t appreciate and what I hope is not happening here is efforts to engage in character assassination by the press,” Jameson said.
To paraphrase Scottish author Alexander Smith: in their attempts to destroy Mr. Wilson's reputation, critics in the mainstream media only made a very human official seem more noble.

BREAKING: Roy Wilson's resignation letter to Metro Parks Board

Via Karen Y. Johnson (click on image to enlarge):

Dead CM walking

District 5 is in a kind of limbo this week with a newly certified new council member and with former council member Pam Murray considering a legal challenge. But Ms. Murray is back to her half-baked hyperbole in response to Monday's certification at the Election Commission:
to agree with this act of injustice is like sending an innocent person to the death chamber; and (it is with) this reason I cannot consent to this election
Did she get her choice of a last meal?

Metro Finance talking points against Parks derailed

The attempts at the courthouse and in the mainstream media to make Metro Parks and Recreation a pariah, in spite of the fact that budget overages occur in other Metro departments, look like they are coming apart at the seams. One does not have to be a fan of the way Director Roy Wilson has run the Parks to acknowledge the dishonesty of Metro Finance holding his department to a stricter budget standard than they do other agencies.

And Rich Riebeling's rationale that Parks' problem was not that they were over budget, but that that they did not keep his office apprised of the overages was contradicted by a Tennessean story yesterday:
Wilson said Mayor Karl Dean's administration knew about his budget problems months ago and even directed him to keep open the park facilities that contributed to the overages ....

E-mail records obtained by The Tennessean show that officials in Dean's administration knew about the department's budget issues in April, when a Parks staffer expressed the need for an emergency appropriation to make ends meet ....

In a series of e-mails April 1 and 2, Parks Assistant Director James Gray told the Finance Department that Parks needed a supplemental appropriation of $501,000 to balance its budget.

The Finance Department responded by demanding an explanation for why Parks not only missed its savings target, but also needed an emergency appropriation.

That appeared to contradict an assertion made earlier by Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling who has indicated there was a lack of communication between Wilson and the Finance Department about the overrun.

So, Riebeling could have dealt with this last April instead of waiting until October to make a spectacle of problems that could cost Nashvillians park programming.

Between you and me, I wonder if this whole sorry episode of tying Wilson to the courthouse whipping post for sins that other department heads commit was orchestrated to take attention away from months of criticism that Metro Finance was getting over budget overages and fiscal challenges of the proposed convention center. If that was the case, it seems to have backfired with a late-breaking press finally excavating damning correspondence, instead of letting Gail Kerr frame the debate for the Mayor's Office.

Here's the Tennessean's video coverage of the council committee meeting last night on Parks overages. You're in for a treat at the end, as Roy Wilson finally gets his chance to go toe-to-toe publicly with Rich Riebeling, who seems both smug and rattled by the charge that his department once approved what they now question:

UPDATE: The embedded video above was a Gannett production, and as with most things in the Tennessean (except advertising and those annoying "free" Wednesday paper deliveries) it seems to have either gone behind their pay wall or been wiped from the website all together.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sheriff Daron Hall once again embroiled in charges of cavorting with prejudice

Aunt B has deeply-held concerns about the company the Sheriff's Office is seeking to keep with news of his latest anti-immigration faux pas concerning the controversial Center for Immigration Studies:
This marks the second time that Hall was scheduled to speak to white supremacist groups (the first being his lovely trip to the CCC) ....

But let’s bear in mind that, if he had not been called on it, our sheriff was ready to fly to Washington D.C. and speak about 287(g) on a panel in which he was the only non-CIS participant (Steven Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies, and Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies, were scheduled to be the other two panelists and Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies was to moderate). His participation gave that panel legitimacy and a hook that would have brought the media. And he would have been sitting there talking about the wonders of 287(g) while Camarota and Vaughan were prepared to speak about how studies may show that there’s less criminal behavior among immigrants than there is the general population, but really, immigrants (of all stripes) “have relatively high rates of criminality.” (Quote directly from the press release touting Hall’s appearance.) ....

That old stereotype set off NO warning bells in the Sheriff’s office?

This is exactly how CIS is designed to work–to mainstream noxious ideas.

You knew somebody from the Mayor's staff would wear the white hat and save the day for beleaguered Parks staff

Here Rich Riebeling comes to save the day:
The board approved a plan that will layoff off five Parks workers, while also asking Metro Council for an emergency appropriation of $850,000. More workers could face layoffs in the near future, as the Board will decide in the coming weeks how to cut $200,000 from its recreational and cultural wellness programs.

Most of the cuts approved by the Board are administrative and lead to no layoffs or service reductions to the public. In fact the plan, presented by Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, one of Dean’s top aides, will lead to no service reductions at parks facilities.

A parks board member kindly sent me the details on staff cuts as well as some rather cryptic references to line item cuts that make me wonder how programming at the community level will be affected. It's great to hear that park-level staffers are not going to lose their jobs, but are the patrons of our parks going to lose community center hours and programming options because of this schedule of budget cuts?

It's only fair to ask, did the Mayor's office put this much effort into convention center budget line item cuts when MDHA allowed the intangible public relations budget to run hundreds of thousands of dollars overbudget?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mayor's Office takes near north Nashville out of TDZ

Originally the state and Metro Council approved a Tourist Development Zone to capture extra sales taxes for the proposed convention center with a northern boundary of Jefferson Street, like so:

This made no sense to me, since convention goers wouldn't be likely to stray too far north of Downtown. It's not like Farmers' Market is a tourist destination; it's mainly for the locals.

However, the Mayor's Office has recently proposed to shorten the northern reach and extend the western reach of the TDZ to pay for the Music City Center:
The seven-member building commission Thursday approved new boundaries unveiled by Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling that exclude these areas, establishing the Cumberland River as the eastern border, Charlotte Avenue as the northern boundary and the Interstate loop as the southern edge.

The zone’s western border, meanwhile, has moved approximately two miles down active West End Avenue, as project leaders aim to collect revenue from the numerous hotels that dot the corridor. Collectively, the territory now encompasses 2.8 miles, but it exempts car dealerships and other businesses that clearly don't cater to tourists.

Seattle news site gives up advertising for non-profit journalism

Inevitable in many discussions I have about local journalism are quizzical responses to my suggestion that an untried model for sustaining good reporting pioneered at a few places elsewhere is 501-c-3. Last month Seattle's local news site announced its conversion to non-profit status and enumerated the benefits:
In the summer of 2008, I began to suspect that an advertising-only model for revenue was not going to support high-quality journalism. The migration of advertising to the Web had slowed and the rates were staying low. The board weighed further investment against other models, notably the public-broadcast, member-supported model. We engaged Mike Crystal, my longtime colleague as publisher of Seattle Weekly, to look into the nonprofit model, noting encouraging examples in other cities .... Late last year, the board and owners voted to shift to this new model, and the owners of Crosscut LLC generously donated all assets of the company to the newly formed Washington state nonprofit corporation, Crosscut Public Media.

Setting all this in motion has taken some time as we assembled a new board, the case statements, budgets, and business plans, as well as securing our tax-exempt status and lining up early seed funding. Last November, we had to furlough much of the staff while we regrouped. Our contributing writers, now about 40 strong, continued to produce fine stories, and you readers have stayed with us and helped the site to grow. Another factor during the past year has been the very unsettled media landscape, particularly after the Post-Intelligencer stopped its print edition and many journalists were cut adrift by layoffs at other publications.

That landscape is still tossing about and discovering new fault lines, but I do think that one clear model (among several) that has emerged is the Crosscut model: serious about quality journalism, independent, nonpartisan, broad in its range of topics as well as geography and demography, and dedicated to "journalism in the public interest" as a mission-driven, community-supported nonprofit. This model has greater stability from three sources of income: annual memberships, grants and major gifts, and advertising and sponsorships. (No government funding, though; a difference from public broadcast.) Diverse sources of revenue translate into greater sustainability and flexibility. Community ownership means mission-driven and not tempted to be sold to other owners or out-of-town companies.

As an editor, I love the new framework for picking stories and writers and focusing coverage. In the commercial context, particularly in Web journalism, there is great pressure to run stories that get a lot of hits (gossip about Sarah Palin, for example), and also to do stories that reinforce a niche that advertisers covet (technology breakthroughs, for instance). Now those pressures are reduced, and we can think primarily of running stories that the public needs to know, including somewhat longer and therefore more nuanced stories that lead people out of their comfort zones.
Nashville really has a limited number of alternatives to the traditionally funded media. The Tennessean still operates on the wilting advertisement and subscription model of news gathering. So, does its competitor SouthComm, which also may be leaning on the state to infuse its source of venture capitalism in the near future.

We don't have a non-profit alternative news source here in middle Tennessee but there are plenty of models for founding one:
There are similar efforts around the country. The closest parallels are Minnpost in Minnesota; VoiceofSanDiego in San Diego; the St. Louis Beacon; the New Haven Independent; NewWest in Missoula and other Rocky Mountain cities; TheTyee in Vancouver, B.C.; and Chi-Town Daily News in Chicago. The general definition of these sites is: all-local, Web-only, locally owned, news-oriented (as opposed to ideological sites), publishing daily, and broad range of topics.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Private investors won't assume the risk of the new convention center, so why should Metro government when it doesn't directly serve Nashvillians?

Blogging CM Emily Evans cuts through the finance jargon and gets down to economic brass tacks on the undue risk Nashvillians will have to assume with a new convention center:
Goldman Sachs preliminary financing structures clearly articulate how much risk professional investors are willing to take. They seem to think that the hotel and tourism revenues will only support about $200 million in debt. For the rest of the purchase price - about $400 million - risk must be transferred to someone else. In the case of the convention center, the someone else is the Metro general fund.

The hotel "best and final offer" demonstrates a similar amount of risk aversion .... they are reducing their risk to a level they find business-worthy and are not willing to assume full responsibility for the profit and loss of the enterprise. With the hotel manager/developer unwilling to take risk, someone must be found to whom we can transfer it ....

A convention center and a hotel are now for the most part deemed too risky for professional investors. They are unwilling to invest because they see the possibility that they may lose all or some of their money. The reason they would lose all or some of their investment is because the project will not produce the necessary revenues to support operations and debt service without some sort of external support .... The fact that a project like this cannot support itself makes it, by definition, not feasible.

3 votes ahead and tweeting like its 300

Council District 5 challenger Jamie Hollin finished last night unofficially 3 votes ahead of Pam Murray (542-539), but he responded to the news that there are still 4 provisional votes remaining to be counted today with some misplaced swagger:

As unethical and presumptuous as incumbent Pam Murray has been over her tenure, I took note of her measured and circumspect response to the Tennessean overnight, which stands in marked contrast to Hollin's overconfidence:
It's close, and I'm thankful to all my neighbors, and I'm just waiting for the outcome.
Even if Murray's attitude is staged, she still presents herself with more grace in possibly losing her long time seat than Jamie Hollin does in possibly taking it from her.

Whose votes are they again, Mr. Hollin? Yours? We'll see when votes are certified and we get past any possibility of legal challenge. And even then, doesn't your service on the council actually belong to all of your constituents in District 5?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NewsChannel5 rushes to judgment on District 5 race?

NewsChannel5 seems guilty of declaring the District 5 race when only 3 votes separate Jamie Hollin and Pam Murray with possible provisional ballots left to count. Just throwing "unofficial" in the headline doesn't change the misleading message that CM Murray has "lost her seat," when she's 4 provisional votes, a recount, or a court challenge away from keeping it:

The news channel refers to provisional ballots in the text of the story, but the headline is over-the-top and irresponsible.

UPDATE: NewsChannel5 should take some journalistic accuracy pointers from WSMV, which declared the District 5 race most accurately as "too close to call," and wrote a headline consistent with those results:

CP tweaks rush-to-judgment headline with 3 votes determining District 5 unofficial results

SouthComm reporter Joey Garrison appeared to be the first reporter to call the District 5 results even though only 3 votes separate challenger Jamie Hollin from recalled incumbent CM Pam Murray. I called the Metro Election Commission around 8:40 p.m. and asked them if the unofficial results (542-539, Hollin) broadcast on Metro Channel 3 represented all the votes cast. The official who answered the phone told me that the results were unofficial because there still might be uncounted provisional ballots yet to be received. So, it appears that the City Paper's initial headline was more of a rush to break the news first without consideration of possible provisional ballots:

After the question of the rush-to-judgment was raised on Twitter, the CP lords quickly tweaked the headline to be less a projection that Hollin had won:

This looks like the election is going be a long drawn out process to me, and we may not know who wins for some time with a 3-vote-margin preliminary result and possible ballots still uncounted.

Why blog about council members anonymously?

The polls closed in the Nashville's first recall election several minutes ago, and we're waiting to see the results of the challenge to Pam Murray's tenure on Metro Council. In the meantime, consider the Districtfive blog, which is dedicated to addressing Murray's foibles and vices. The latest post answers questions on why its authors prefer to remain anonymous:
if you have been paying attention, you will note that there have been allegations of harassment against Ms. Murray, even prior to the beginning of this recall election. CM Karen Bennett had concerns for her safety after she stepped up to assist District 5 residents that were not getting adequate representation from Ms. Murray and filed a police report. Additionally, as tempers flared during the rezoning debate about Cleveland Street, a rash of cars parked in and around the condominiums where her opponent lives came up with broken windows. Meeting participants that challenge Ms. Murray have found R-rated comments written in the dust on their vehicles when they exited to the parking lot. As juvenile as this seems, it does send a profound message about the personal level to which Ms. Murray takes disagreements and raises concerns about how rational future responses may or may not be.

Ms. Murray has, of course, filed counter claims. One of her claims is that a constituent called her employer in Detroit about her. Nevermind that a constituent has little other option than to call Detroit if they want to try to reach Ms. Murray.

Interestingly, Ms. Murray has actually engaged in the very behavior she accused others of. One constituent reports that both the boss and the Board of Directors at that individual’s employer have been contacted by Ms. Murray to discourage the constituent from speaking out against the Council Member.

These intimidation tactics can be effective. It is our hope that anonymous blogging can be, too.

BONUS: An Enclave retrospective of coverage of Pam Murray's tenure on Metro Council.