Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Compare and contrast the Metro beat coverage of last night's council debate on the Fairgrounds

It would be difficult for me to imagine more divergence between Metro beat reporter accounts than I read in this morning's print media on last night's council meeting.

Exhibit A is the Tennessean's Nate Rau who leaves the impression that things went according to script with only minor diversions:

Metro Council took a step Tuesday toward demolishing the fairgrounds racetrack, although council members promised to give the public a chance to weigh in on the issue next month.

Well, tra-la-la, and never mind that a couple of the Mayor's loyalists on the council blew gaskets when their end-the-Fairgrounds bill did not simply sail through without the threat of a public hearing. That threat aroused CM Ronnie Steine from his composure and into a kanipshin fit of yanking every single 1st reading bill off the consent agenda (customarily, bills on 1st reading are passed without debate). Rau ties the story up with a nice little Christmas bow at the end in the form of Finance Director Rich Riebeling's insistence that the Mayor had wanted a public hearing all along.

Exhibit B is the City Paper's Joey Garrison whose account of last night's meeting approaches something closer to the truth of what I witnessed last night:

Ultimately, Barry’s bill cleared first reading by a 34-6 vote, a misleading reflection of the council’s true stance on the ordinance. Most were simply trying to advance the bill to the council’s committee system, allowing the new public hearing to take place.

Since the unprecedented November 16 public hearing on the Fairgrounds bill, the Metro Council has been dogged by sustained popular opposition to Mayor Dean. They were dogged when Dean opponents filled the gallery on December 7, even though there was a snowball's chance in hell of another public hearing. And they were dogged last night by another full gallery of people who vow to keep coming back to council meetings, public hearing or no public hearing.

Garrison's account more accurately reports the mood of Metro Council that came across to me last night. It is an account more ambiguous, uncertain, and unscripted. What happened last night in council chambers was messy. What happened was democracy attempting to check and to balance an executive. Rau seems to have missed that part (that and the irony that CM Mike Jameson, whom Rau once described at the City Paper as having "a flair for the dramatic" disliked by the Dean Team, was the least theatrical in his appeals to stop the fighting).

The Mayor's plan may currently have 9 sponsors, but 6 opponents voted against allowing it to even get past first reading. During a paradoxical twist of Chapter 5 of the Developer's Playbook, Steine and Megan Barry looked red-faced as they tried to fight back Duane Dominy's attempt to allow a Christmas week public hearing on their bill. Steine's parliamentary stunt of pulling every 1st reading bill violated the very process he preaches. In intending to be symbolic, he looked cynical in the most hysterical sense.

So, when the Tennessean leads this story by minimizing the fractures and fissures that resulted in council over the Mayor's new bill, by denying the desperate theatrics performed by Mayor's council diehards, and by generally sticking to Karl Dean's script, their account is not worth your time.

Read Joey Garrison, who was much more even-handed, much more attuned, and much more accurate, although I would disagree with him that CM Steine is a stickler for council rules. Relative to the long record of council 1st readings, the bills pulled last night were the exceptions, not the rule. Nothing that happened on 1st reading last night violated council rules as much as they violated Ronnie Steine's own preferences for habits and process. Then again, CM Steine's performance makes him seem much more a stickler for process than for people.

1 comment:

  1. S-Town: There is no camaraderie amongst the Deanistas on Council. They feel they have the superior intellect and are burdened when they have to confront the people who care. They talk about respect for the process. The process? RESPECT THE PEOPLE!!!! WE WANT THE FAIRGROUNDS TO STAY!!!!