Monday, August 09, 2010

Salemtown frustrations with neighborhood-based social services continue to be misplaced on Metro Action

There can be no doubt that with increases in federal aid for utilities and rent to help more people who have lost jobs in this recession, tensions between neighbors and Metro Action (corner of 5th Av N and Garfield in Salemtown) are on the rise. Salemtown residents are frustrated with large numbers of outsiders driving in from as far away as the suburbs, lining up as early as 3:00a, playing loud music, leaving trash, and sometimes even urinating in yards.

Metro Action is shoehorned into an 86-year-old elementary school building with Head Start, an education and nutrition program for low-income children and their parents. It has no parking for its clients and sits on residential-scale streets that cannot accommodate its high-volume service. The building deserves to be both the school it was meant to be and a museum to the local Civil Rights Movement. But providing assistance for thousands of clients from all over Davidson County outstrips smaller scale good that it could be doing (a stand alone Head Start for starters).

Metro Action had been slated to move to larger, more accessible facility for the past seven years. However, Mayor Karl Dean first strung along MA leaders by setting a moving date, and then a few months later he reversed course completely and moved someone else into Howard School Building offices that the MA leaders had even advised on design. So, as frustrated as we in Salemtown are with the collateral indignities of constricted government service, we are wrong to blame Metro Action. If we are honest about solving the problem, then the Mayor's Office is the responsible party for these unacceptable conditions.

I emphasized this to my neighbors at our last association meeting as some were once again venting at Metro Action officials who attend our meetings. The association moved to form a committee to explore ways to help Metro Action achieve their goal to get a proper facility. As I told the group, I believe a committee is a waste of time. Metro Action would not be in Salemtown if the Mayor did not want it here. We do not need a committee that Metro can use to continue to stall. We need direct action on the Mayor's Office that demands accountability and makes breaking of past promises uncomfortable for the Mayor.

There is one reason why Metro Action keeps getting stiffed and ignored by Mayor Karl Dean: it serves poor and working class people. If Metro Action were the Convention Center Authority, it would get everything it requires by hook or by crook. The same year Mayor Dean was requiring Metro departments to cut their budgets 10%, he rationalized spending millions per year building the new convention center calling it "our own economic stimulus." If Metro Action were dedicated to benefiting the wealthier business community, Mayor Dean would give it exactly the facility it needs.

Despite the clarity about exactly where the buck stops, some continue to aim at the easy target, Metro Action. In interviews with the Tennessean after the Salemtown Neighbors' gripe session, none of the Metro Action critics mentioned the fact that the Mayor is the final arbiter of what happens with Metro Action's facility. Likewise, no one--not Metro Action staff, their clients or the neighbors who live around the facility--is going get any relief until scrutiny and the pointed comments are brought to bear on Mayor Karl Dean.


  1. Hear hear..It should also be noted that the new appointment system has made a BIG difference in the early-morning crowds (hand-full), even in the first days of August - normally prime line time.

  2. To be fair, we don't always get the benefit of choosing which of our remarks get quoted. I did highlight to Andy Humbles, the Tennessean reporter, that we were waiting on a decision from the mayor's office about moving Metro Action Commission to a more suitable permanent location.

  3. Freddie: Fair enough. However, you would also have to concede that it would not be unusual for Karl Dean to get a pass during the interviews. Generally, Mayor Dean gets a free ride on most issues, in spite of the fact that Metro govt is a strong executive form of govt.