Thursday, September 30, 2010

District 17 CM contests fellow CM's fairgrounds legislation in District 17

The following memo from CM Sandra Moore was sent out to her constituents by Elise M. Waller at the Metro Council office today:

Metro Council Office


to: Constituents of the 17th Council District
from: Sandra Moore
Council Lady – District 17
date: September 30, 2010

RE: Fairgrounds Legislation

As you have probably heard, legislation was filed this week by Councilman Duane Dominy of the 28th Council District that, if enacted by the Council, would essentially require the Board of Fair Commissioners to continue to hold an annual state fair on the fairgrounds property.  The legislation would also require the Fair Board to make the property available for other events, including “a monthly flea market, annual lawn and garden show, annual gem show, annual car show, motor sports, and such other activities and events that took place on the property in Fiscal Year 2009.” (emphasis added).  I want to make it perfectly clear that I was not asked to co-sponsor this legislation nor was I even informed that it existed until after it had been filed.  I have worked for the past three years to ensure that any future use of the fairgrounds property is in the best interest of the citizens of the 17th District and the city as a whole.  I am frankly disappointed that another district councilmember felt it appropriate to file legislation regarding property that is located solely within my district, but it is within his purview to do so.

Please know that I will be reviewing this legislation closely in the coming days and will take whatever action I deem to be in the best interest of the 17th District when the bill comes up on first reading at the October 5th Council meeting.  As always, if there are any concerns or comments please give me a call at 386-9246, or you may email me at Thank you for your continued support as we work together for the benefit of the community.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Biosolids fail neighborhoods: forward to the past with Metro Water Services' water treatment

That old stink we were once subjected to in Salemtown has been on the rise again over the past few months. In spite of years of promises from Metro Water Services, there are mornings we walk out our front door or evenings we get home from work and we are hit by noxious odors from human waste sludge treated a few blocks away at Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. Now, it is not as bad as it was in 2005 and 2006, but that is little solace to neighbors who were told that the funk would end once the new biosolids facility went on line and their end product started selling like hotcakes.

Then last week WSMV journalist Demetria Kalodimos contacted me bearing the news that the biosolids facility had not been meeting standards it had told us it would in 2005. She asked me for an interview, which we did last Friday. Given that this community had received no information from MWS that anything was amiss, I believe I had as many questions for Ms. Kalodimos as she had for me.

I learned from this veteran journalist that not only had the biosolids facility not been fulfilling its purpose of generating less smelly biosolids since last May's flood (which might be understandable), but they had not been doing so since going on line [see update below for clarification of Ms. Kalodimos's point]. She told me everything she put into an April story that I had completely missed. The biosolids produced were rejected by the contracted buyer for failing to meet industry standards. Instead of selling those biosolids, Metro Water used private contractors to continue to truck them to landfills, and those trucks were usually dangerously overloaded. Biosolids drying tanks had overflowed near a greenway on several occasions. Biosolids facilities have a dubious reputation elsewhere of catching on fire during the drying process. The pellets produced may not be safe for fertilizer use even with market standards in place.

Perhaps the most disconcerting disclosure of all was that once again Metro was not converting dewatered sludge into biosolids, but instead it was sending it down conveyor belts as it had before [see update below for clarification of Ms. Kalodimos's point]. Then it was loading the sludge into large rigs and trucking it out to landfills. Those landfills, according to Ms. Kalodimos did not accept sludge shipments every day, which is why we could smell it on certain days more than others. That again was consistent with what we had experienced 6 years ago. Incidentally, when I raised the issue at the Salemtown Neighbors meeting last night, a number of other residents shared that they smelled noxious odors, too.

On Friday, I told Ms. Kalodimos during our interview that Metro Water Services officials informed us in 2005 that biosolid production would be replacing a system suitable to the 1950s. With due incredulity and proper frustration I asked her rhetorically whether the return of sludge hauling was a return of the wastewater plant to the 1950s. If Metro Water is moving backwards in their treatment of downtown sludge then the quality of life in every North End neighborhood is also regressing.

Also in 2005, I observed how long-time Salemtown residents responded to Metro Water's presentation with suspicion. They noted that promises made that measures would be taken to abate odors before the previous major plant renovation had not been realized. On Friday I noted that I understood that suspicion and sense of betrayal, particularly because Metro Water had failed in 2010 to inform its neighbors about its mistakes. While angered at the lack of MWS transparency during the biosolid bungling, I understand now why water officials were so defensive about public feedback and the idea of working with the community: they do not seem to want to be open and accountable to our community when the process goes pear-shaped.

I am thankful that WSMV seems to be properly investigating this problem. There was no press coverage of the actual roll out of the concept to the local community. City Paper reporter, Craig Boerner, who later went on to become an information officer at Vanderbilt did not report on the 2005 community meeting proceedings at all, choosing instead to write copy that looked a lot like regurgitated PR from Metro Water's own information officers. This blog contains the only public, published record that I have seen of that community meeting and the indications of the future problems Ms. Kalodimos is now investigating.

Maybe if more critical investigative work is pursued by local journalism, we will get some reform and a strategy consistent with quality of life issues within the water treatment process. In the meantime, those of us who live in neighborhoods proximate to Metro Water should start making our presence felt in the politics of water treatment, because it smells like we are back at the drawing board on odor control here.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Demetria Kalodimos e-mailed and asked me to clarify my interpretation of what she told me during our interview. I overstated a couple of points she made. Here are the points she intended to make:
My information is the pellets had not been SOLD since going on line, but they indeed have been produced. I have some of the finished product.
Also…the de-watering conveyer belt is said to be a temporary fix that might be corrected as of next week (they were to finish repairs this week) so we shall see. Still, it has been 5 months of portable de-watering that neighbors apparently were not prepared for.
I would encourage Metro Water information officers whom I know are reading this to contact me directly in the future about problems they have with my reportage of media reports. To MWS employees who have issue with information, I am responsible for what is written here.

Mayor Karl Dean's bean counter investigation has become an obstacle to community policing

The subject of increasing crimes just outside of the Central Police Precinct in areas north and west of Salemtown came up during last night's Salemtown Neighbors business meeting. During that discussion a police officer mentioned to the group that the Metro investigation of crime stat collection (which was launched by Mayor Karl Dean after former Chief Ronal Serpas left to take the helm of the New Orleans force) has left some MNPD confusion on how to document some crimes, so they end up defaulting to one category like burglary with the idea that they can go back later and change it to comply.

I indicated before that I believe that this investigation was started because two elected officials in particular--Jim Gotto and Karl Dean--have political aspirations for future elections. Allow me to suggest that raising doubts about local law enforcement in the absence of lightning rods like Serpas gives them both greater visibility and the appearance of the mantle of reform. What is not adequately reported by the local press, which has its own penchant for pre-election melodrama, is that Nashville joins other Tennessee municipalities with statistics gathering methods at odds with those of TBI. The investigation looks like a distraction.

Also underreported in Nashville is news that the new New Orleans Chief of Police is enjoying the same skyrocketing public-satisfaction numbers that he got here in Nashville in spite of some controversial policies on traffic stops and his hard-nosed tendency to challenge governing officials at the local and state levels. The positive numbers do not help Mr. Gotto's and Mayor Dean's witch hunts locally, which is probably why no one is calling attention to them here.

However, if last night's Salemtown meeting is any indication, Metro's investigation of the police department's crime-gathering methods is actually hurting neighborhoods like Salemtown. There was a palpable air of confusion last night given that all burglaries reported might not actually be burglaries because state and local bean counters cannot agree on how crimes should be categorized, as if that matters to victims and potential victims.

Mayor Dean, who ran his last election on lowering crime in Nashville not on analyzing how that crime gets reported, needs to stop using the police and their number crunching as a political football in a match to win a second term. Honest discrepancies with the TBI can be worked out. At a neighborhood level I have not sensed that anyone really cares about whether what Metro Police call a robbery TBI calls a burglary after the fact.

Neighborhoods do care about clear communication from the police about crimes impinging on our communities. And we do care that career politicians keep from obstructing that communication.

Chinese news agency covered Nashville oil spill story Nashville media ignored

After the historic May flood, I documented the oil and/or chemical spill in East Germantown around the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. As far as I knew no news service covered that spill. But I was wrong. There was an agency in China that covered our hyper-local environmental crisis.

Reporters with the Xinhua news service were on the scene last May 4 corroborating with photos what I witnessed and giving more behind-the-scenes details (though not much more because Metro still did not divulge analysis):
Xinhua reporters at the scene saw workers in Metro Water Services uniforms laying fabric-like material and boom in the water and on the shore. The slick has darkened grass on the shore.

Workers at the scene said they are not authorized to speak to media, and phone calls to Metro Water Services went unanswered.

Rachel Vance, a spokeswomen with Nashville Emergency Operations center ... confirmed to Xinhua it was indeed an oil leak, and authorities were still trying to determine its origin ....

"They don’t know why [oil sludge spilled] yet, they are just trying to get a remedy as quickly as possible,” she said, noting more information could become available Wednesday.

The Coast Guard was assisting local authorities in their efforts. Jason Kuriaen, a Coast Guard member said they are trying to identify the source of the spill, as local workers focused on mitigating the impact of the oil spill.

He said the spill seemed to be a mixture of waste oil and oily sludge, and they are still in the process of making contact with companies in the area and gathering information.
I am not aware of any disclosures to the public about the nature or degree of the spill across the Downtown Connector Greenway. NewsChannel5 covered efforts to contain a spill on the East Bank, but no local news media covered the East Germantown spill. They left it up to the Chinese.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nashville's corporate welfare kings on ice skim money off concert ticket sales and violate Metro lease

It's not enough that the Nashville Predators are subsidized $8,000,000 each year by Metro Nashville taxpayers as revenues for our services continue in a perennial free-fall. According to Michael Cass and Nate Rau, one of the hockey club's managerial partners is skimming more money from Bridgestone concert ticket sales than the Metro lease allows:
Powers Management, which runs the arena for Metro, has routinely charged a facility fee of $2.50 as part of the price of a concert ticket, despite a stated cap in the lease of $2 for ticket surcharges on "non-team events." Powers executives said the additional 50 cents from each concertgoer, which they described as a standard industry practice, has netted the company $150,000 to $200,000 a year since at least 2002 to help pay for building maintenance.
If the heavily-subsidized Predators ownership team cannot meet their financial obligations without cheating the system and overcharging consumers of non-hockey events, then Nashville should re-evaluate whether it is in our city's best interest to continue to prop up a flagging business interest.

The rationale the Preds execs use to violate the terms of the lease is dubious. Leases are arbitrary and capricious, open to violation at the whim of industry? Unquestioning and uncritical Predators supporters I encounter encourage submission to team owner interests and they seem loath to stipulate how many millions of dollars in government assistance are too high a price to pay for waving pom-poms.

Phil Bredesen, our former sports-and-entertainment Mayor, conceded that he could not make a case for his hand-outs to pro teams based on direct economic impact when there is no direct economic impact for the local community and the benefits are at best "intangible." I do not have a problem with chasing intangible benefits. My problem resides in the brutal reality that we throw tangible dollars that could have direct economic impact after them. And the thanks we get from sports owners is not direct returns on our investments, but news of finessed, ulterior and self-serving schemes.

New post on political blogging at Enclave's sister blog | local knowledge without a net.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This month a historic 53rd anniversary for Salemtown, but local historic preservation community ignores us

While the news media is celebrating Historic Nashville, Inc's second annual list of properties endangered and in need of preserving, nobody that I am reading is holding HNI accountable for the properties it has not cited.

One of those unmentioned structures has been standing at 5th and Garfield in Salemtown for 86 years, and yet 53 years ago this month it came very close to being bombed by segregationists who descended on this neighborhood to protest Nashville's attempt to desegregate schools. The stories of mobs in the hundreds running around Salemtown and of little children harassed by white thugs while walking down Garfield toward their appointed classes can be found both here and here.

Fehr is not listed among HNI's historic schools. Moreover, in last year's list of endangered neighborhood schools, HNI made no reference to Fehr, even though they cited another school building that like Fehr was no longer being used as a school. If preservation leaders refuse to mention Fehr, it might as well be invisible to potentially sympathetic audiences.

Nonetheless, in September 1957, weeks before the National Guard and the national news media immortalized the "Little Rock Nine," four of Salemtown's eighteen African American first graders showed up for their first day of school amidst bomb threats, hurled epithets, and at least one school employee assaulted by white mobs. There were no federalized troops around for extra protection.

In spite of Nashville's forgetfulness, these events should be commemorated by preserving, honoring, and repurposing Fehr school for education as a living museum in honor of those first graders. Historic Nashville, Inc is doing local history a disservice by failing to acknowledge the role Fehr school played in the steady American march toward racial equality and justice September 1957.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Metro Health goes to the dogs

Goodness knows, I have documented my inability to convince Metro Animal Control (a subsidiary of the Metro Health Department) to respond to my reports of stray dogs in Salemtown. So, I have not been surprised to see reports coming in lately that Animal Control will not give neighborhoods relief or satisfaction from wanton strays.

The Salemtown e-list tells of unchecked strays and unreturned phone calls, even from Metro Health. Salemtown officers have invited Animal Control to business meetings, but have been jilted. Recently, the Highland Heights neighborhood association received a commitment from Animal Control to send a representative to their business meeting, and as elsewhere, no controllers showed.

Neighborhood leaders are corresponding on how to deal with Animal Control neglect, but in the meantime, the Metro Health overlords seem to be too preoccupied with running interference for an attempt to permit dogs in restaurants to concern themselves with preventing the mutts from running the streets:
[According to a proposed dogs-in-diners bill] dogs must be kept on a lease and will not be allowed on chairs, tables or other furnishings ....
"The restaurant would have to be constructed as such the dogs can enter [the outdoor dining area] without have to go through the restaurant, there can be no co-mingling of food bowls to food preparation products from the dogs to the restaurant itself," Brent Hager with the Metro Public Health Department explained. [Incorrect spelling in the original online story left unchanged]
The shame of this laughable proposal is that allowing dogs in eateries requires oversight and enforcement, which in turn require resources and administration. At a time when Metro Health officials neglect community complaints about strays and fail to muster an ambassador of good will or two to be available to neighborhood associations, their attention to the petty conveniences of canine canteenery is queer.

The signifying tug-o-war in North Nashville

One thing that I did not touch on in my previous minority-report response to Jason Powell's Tennessean op-ed on Sulphur Dell was his reference, which remains unresolved in a larger context, to our area as "uptown." Jason opines:
With the addition of a ballpark in Sulphur Dell, you would have a winning environment to make the uptown area one of Nashville’s treasures and gateway to a revitalized North Nashville.

I have engaged this issue several times before when it arose, most recently a little over a year ago. I have not changed my mind. "Uptown" is goofy:
Calling this area "Uptown" makes no geographic sense .... Historically, "uptowns" were those areas at the opposite end from "downtowns" with "midtowns" in between. Or "uptowns" were parts of towns where the street numbers rose (like "above 59th St." in Manhattan). By both of those definitions, Nashville's Uptown should not be in the north end of town, but in west Nashville.

So, if we're going to call the area we live in "Uptown," one of two things happens. One improbable scenario is that Nashville's Midtown moves to the Bicentennial Mall area (formerly "Sulphur Dell," now "The Market District," in hackneyed-haute fashion), and streets above Broadway should be numbered instead of named. A more likely scenario is that we acknowledge that we name communities now with no meaning or purpose, other than that which people contend over. To paraphrase political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain communities are "floating signifiers." In that vein, you could call this area "Rural Free Delivery" and enough power and/or money could probably make it stick ....

But if logic won't suffice and you truly require someone more "official" to legitimate the name "North End," look no further than Metro Planning. They used the term "North End" on one of their 2005 maps (look left). And I played no advisory role in that process (read my inset disclaimer). In fact, I liked their use of it, I thought it logical, and I simply followed suit.
Hence, not only do I disagree with Jason on his views of a new ballpark, but I also disagree with his labels for these downtown-proximate neighborhoods to the north.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ballpark in North Nashville: the sound of inevitability?

Hope Gardens president Jason Powell made quite the splash in a recent Tennessean op-ed selling a new ballpark idea in the Bicentennial Mall area as brilliant to the point of self-evident:
The neighborhoods, businesses and developments around Sulphur Dell are vibrant, supportive of a new ball park and poised for further growth. Downtown work­ers and residents, in addition to the surrounding neighborhoods of Germantown, Buena Vista, Salemtown and Hope Gardens and condos in the Sulphur Dell area, have the popula­tion to anchor attendance at games.

Jefferson Street is bustling with energy, and a Sulphur Dell stadium would boost the corridor’s economic development potential ....

The location is already well-suited for professional baseball. Imagine grabbing a meal in Ger­mantown or at the Farmers Market, then relaxing at Bicentennial Mall before strolling to the ballpark to catch a game ....

Sulphur Dell’s location in the northern urban core is ideal in terms of transportation. It is bor­dered by Jefferson Street, which intersects two interstates. Rosa L. Parks Boulevard runs on the opposite side of the Farmers Market and connects to another interstate. Parking is abun­dant and space exists for added parking spots ....
As an elected representative from Salemtown on Jason's ballpark committee, I guess I have some latitude to write a minority report, because our association is not as unquestioning in support of a ballpark as this op-ed seems to suggest.

During our association discussions, Salemtown Neighbors expressed concerns about traffic flow, pedestrian elements, and developments consistent with community character. We did not express unqualified support. On the contrary, we iterated our wish that the Nashville Civic Design Center organize community town hall meetings to give neighborhoods a chance to give feedback and to have an opportunity for informed buy-in.

Since Jason's one meeting for neighborhood leaders just before the May floods, both CM Erica Gilmore and I have e-mailed NCDC to organize these community meetings. However, we received no replies. It is kind of startling to me that Jason does not bring up prospects of any meetings consistent with the charrettes that NCDC sponsored a few years ago when a ballpark was proposed for the thermal site. In my opinion we cannot assume that the North End neighborhoods support Sulphur Dell until meetings are held. No amount of PR can change that.

There are two other important points that should be made about Jason's booster piece, one that is inherent in his argument and one that I have discovered since the op-ed appeared. First, there is the tension (perhaps even contradiction) between Jason's pedestrian idyll about strolling to the ballpark and his vehicle-oriented views about access. One of the obstacles to economic development on Jefferson Street is that pedestrians are deterred by the car-centered intersection of Jeff St and Rosa Parks. Building a ballpark will likely require expanding vehicular access to this intersection, which will in turn further deter pedestrians from "strolling" down Jeff St to eat at Garden Brunch Cafe before games, for instance. I mentioned these problems at length to Metro Planners at last week's North Nashville Community Plan meeting.

Second, I was told by sources I consider reputable late Friday that the Sounds ownership recently met with the Mayor's Office, and they made it clear that Sulphur Dell was out of the question for a new ballpark as far as they are concerned. If the Sounds hold pat against Sulphur Dell and the Mayor stands pat against the old thermal plant site, then the only option left is the East Bank. I heard word several weeks ago that the Sulphur Dell proposal was one that was initiated not from the grassroots in North Nashville, but from within the Courthouse itself. My first question upon hearing that was whether Sulphur Dell boosterism was being used by the Mayor's Office to sway the focus away from the old thermal site. If the East Bank is the fall-back site, the North End should not restrict its options by going all in on a site the team will not accept.

From community to Courthouse, there are so many variables that have to fall into place to make pro baseball in North Nashville fly. And yet, so little has occurred on the ground. The signals I am reading suggest a ballpark here is remote but, even if it were more real, the local community needs to be brought along, assured that community character and quality of life will be protected in the process.

UPDATE: I e-mailed Nashville Civic Design Center honcho Gary Gaston the e-mails CM Gilmore and I sent during the past year to a NCDC board member requesting assistance for community meetings per his request in the comments below.

MDHA neglect of Section 8 property mars Salemtown streetscape

A perennial recurrence in Salemtown since I moved here 6 years ago is the failure of Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency to properly care for its Section 8 housing properties. Once again this year MDHA, which manages Housing and Urban Development-subsidized housing, is allowing some of the grass on its properties to rise to a codes-violating height.

The irony in this instance is that the offending 7th Avenue North and Garfield Street property adjoins streetscape elements--crosswalks, period street ID signs, traffic bulb flora, lamppost--that were funded by a HUD block grant. The construction of those elements, which are intended to enhance rather than obstruct neighborhood quality of life, were also managed by MDHA. What QOL MDHA might giveth it also taketh.

Yesterday a band of us went around weeding and cleaning up the traffic bulbs, which in some cases are overwhelmed by the curb-side thickets on 7th Avenue. Today I reported MDHA to Metro Codes for keeping tall grass and the garbage that gets caught there. If you would like to report MDHA for violating Metro Codes, you can do so online after the jump.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Metro School Director's quid pro quo?

I received a couple of tips overnight that Metro School Director Jesse Register has anointed school board member Gracie Porter to be board chair in exchange for her swing vote to support Register's privatization of Metro Schools service workers. She will be elected today.

This is not what I had in mind when I originally supported Ms. Porter over Kay Brooks, whom Davidson County Republicans helped appoint over the wishes of voters. Of course, as a conservative, Kay Brooks could have just as easily voted to bust up the local service workers union, cut wages, erode benefits that Metro employees enjoy, and subsidize private corporations.

Another progressive success story plays out today, because "progressive" turns out to mean anything anyone wants it to mean.

As board chair maybe Ms. Porter can help Mr. Register take down the teachers union next time. Kay Brooks would not have it any other way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

NEON suddenly switches on after Tennessean reports its outage

Despite President Marcellus Brooks telling the Tennessean last week that East Nashville's North Edgefield Organized Neighbors was no longer offering any services, fliers have started appearing at District 5 homes:

Is it just me or does President Brooks' addition on this flier look like an afterthought to former CM Pam Murray's name?

Will the Mayor be able to hold this upbeat aura when Morgan Stanley comes back for our parking meter revenues?

While Mayor Karl Dean is trying to generate some feel-good press with his latest photo-op bolting down parking meters for private-public homeless relief, news of synchronous parking meter dust-ups in other cities risks reopening old Metro budget wounds from last January. Last winter the Mayor's Office considered privatizing all parking meters to help pay for Music City Center construction. It also made clear that the Mayor deems it a viable future option, which Mr. Dean will not rule out because he would consider any "serious proposal."

Last January the proposal the Mayor's Office deemed "serious" came from Morgan Stanley, one of the brood of bailed-out banks who boorishly brought us to the brink of oblivion. You'll remember that the Mayor's Office was already making deals with the devils of Goldman Sachs, another Wall Street fencing outfit, to find financing for construction of the Music City Center. So, the idea that Morgan Stanley is "serious" only means that they are serious about making Nashvillians the mark in the next confidence game designed to separate us from our tax revenues.

Morgan Stanley was already playing Chicagoans for fools thanks to Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, who traded short-term recession relief in his 2008 municipal budget for long-term blood-letting in which Morgan Stanley walks away with increasing parking revenues tied to the Consumer Price Index for 75 years. Yet, our own Mayor Dean is willing to consider serious offers from self-serving Morgan Stanley, perhaps on Windy City terms. The latest Morgan Stanley chump is the city of Indianapolis, which has handed the bankers the revenue potential of its own public space for the next 50 years under otherwise Windy City terms. However, Morgan Stanley paid Indianapolis only a fraction of what they paid Chicago. And the bankers could walk away with $1.2 billion. They are glorified racketeers, shored by government bureaucrats.

So, when Karl Dean invites the Wall Street bankers next budget time to make serious proposals and play Nashville for meter chumps, how much lower will bailed-out Morgan Stanley set the bar to pay to set us up to take billions of parking revenues from future generations? While Mayor Dean did not finance Music City Center construction with privatized meters this year, next year he may do it just to bolster the General Fund from the hits it takes from the new convention center costs. Hopefully, today's spotty philanthropy of bolting a meter will not lend the Mayor's Office aid in that endeavor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Neighborhood leaders dedicate themselves to greater community organizing in advance of 2011 elections

A bit of news that I failed to relay over the summer because it occurred while I was on vacation was a June meeting of neighborhood leaders designed to help plan in advance of next year's Metro Council elections. Besides looking to promote more "neighborhood-friendly" candidates to run, the group also intends to support one another on planning issues. Here is one description of that intention from the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:
The consensus of neighborhood advocates was that they needed to band together on principle to help protect each other’s adopted community plans. This because they said city officials with regularity try to sneak through SP (special project) plans that favored certain property owners at the expense of the greater community.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Salemtown's Brownstones at 5&G: "Development with a Respectful Approach"

In 2006, developer Jim Creason did not have to build three art-inspired detached single family homes in Salemtown on 6th Avenue, North. Most of the neighborhood is zoned for duplexes, and he could have chosen to do what lots of conventional, recalcitrant developers do here: build attached townhomes that few families could or would choose to live in.

But Jim seemed to subscribe to the idea of a dwelling concept as an ideal. And then he involved neighborhood leaders in the realization of that ideal. And then the next year Jim became the first and, as far as I know, the only developer building in Salemtown to win a Distinctive Preservation Award from the Mayor for the new homes on 6th. When he accepted the award, Jim expressed his commitment, which is more than one-dimensional, to Salemtown's quality of life:
Salemtown is a great neighborhood and we are excited to be a part of the positive transformation taking shape in the area. This award comes at a time when developers in the neighborhood have a choice between quality-oriented development or "hoe-hum" projects that put profit before all else.
Jim carried through on that commitment by holding a community meeting to announce his plans for a new residential development at Salemtown's most important intersection, 5th and Garfield. However, Jim did not just have a community meeting to introduce the concept, he also asked us for our feedback on the what we thought should go into the new development. While it is not rare for developers to show Salemtown residents their plans in order to leverage support, what is rare is developers soliciting our feedback.

Now that the new development is starting to be marketed, I can see that Jim incorporated the community feedback that the development provide a mix of detached and attached homes. At a recent neighborhood association meeting Jim expressed an interest to attract more families with children to Salemtown to live, and thus he planned The Brownstones at 5&G to include a diversity of stock, including detached homes large enough to be family-friendly.

Comprised of 2 single family residences facing 5th Avenue North and 3 units with 2 units per structure; one facing 5th Avenue North giving it a single family appearance and the remaining 5 units facing Garfield Street. The project has a total of 8 units ranging in square feet from 1,610 to 2,285.

Jim's demonstrated commitment to Salemtown and his mission to develop "with a respectful approach" motivate me to write this encouragement to others who are looking to buy quality real estate. Jim is not paying me to post this and I will not benefit any more than anyone else in the neighborhood does when our quality of life is enhanced with diverse offerings. Nonetheless, The Brownstones at 5&G are a development Salemtown needs. I have no doubt when it is built, Jim will continue to receive the accolades and the recognition he deserves.

For more info, check out the 5&G website.

A false choice for Greer

Originally posted at Nashville Metblogs on March 1st, 2006 by yours truly. Its appearance here 4 years later is part of a project to preserve my blogging contributions at other websites.

Note that the previous Mayor went ahead and unilaterally expanded the Fort Negley tourist attraction when the Sounds failed in their plan to build a Downtown ballpark.

The Nashville Americans of the Southern Association in 1886.

What to do with the plot of land on which old Greer Stadium sits once the Sounds move Downtown? Tear down the stadium and build an extension of Fort Negley as a Civil War tourist attraction or build to suit a women’s fast pitch softball team? Why not “yes” to both? Baseball and the Civil War seemed to be so intertwined that soldiers often stocked bats along with their firearms. One of my favorite Civil War-baseball anecdotes comes from Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns:

A Union soldier named George Putnam recalled playing between the lines in Texas when “suddenly there came a scattering of fire of which the three outfielders caught the brunt; the center field was hit and captured, the left and right field managed to get back into our lines. The attack … was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our center field, but … the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.”

The historic connections justify both future uses.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Another privatization horror story: subsidized neighborhood organization allows historic building to ruin

Chickens continue to come home to roost from the Metro Council's year-long spending spree on non-profits of several years ago. At the time CMs flipped collected delinquent property taxes into their own windfall slush funds, which they misleadingly called "infrastructure" funds, and earmarked most of the money for private organizations. (I have exhaustively documented their outlays and organized the posts under the label "2006-07 Infrastructure Funds").

One of the patrons who garnered a lion's share from those funds was East Nashville's NEON, which has failed to follow through on a commitment to convert a historic firehouse into a community center and provide after-school and art programs:
Instead, the 80-year-old brick building on Gallatin Avenue has become a makeshift homeless camp inside and out with broken windows, discarded cigarette butts, piles of 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, blankets and garbage littering the property.

The building has sunk into disrepair under the care of North Edgefield Organized Neighbors, a nonprofit organization that has received more than $189,000 in grant funding from Metro since the 2005-06 budget year.

East Nashville community leaders say attempts to reach NEON regarding the firehouse have been unsuccessful, leaving the future of the would-be community center in doubt. The listed phone number for NEON has been disconnected, and the organization's offices on Meridian Street also appear to be inactive.
Not only did NEON benefit from the 06-07 property tax windfall, but they also received $56,666 directly and $28,333 indirectly to be spent on their art program from Metro General Funds with a resolution co-sponsored by former CM Pam Murray and current Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors.

We are continuing to see how the 05-07 free market model of Metro Council patronage of non-profit organizations under the auspices of public "infrastructure" failed us. A historic building in East Nashville is now little beyond blight, and the community there has no programs to show for all of the money Metro mislaid NEON's way.

Time will tell if Mayor Karl Dean's more patrician model of selecting a fewer number of associations to accept General Funds will cure the abuses. I'm skeptical of both old and new attempts to privatize services and programs by paying local non-profits tax dollars that could more effectively be spent on Metro services already provided.

How many more park community center programs could have been developed with the $200,000 wasted on a non-profit?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Higher risk of gang racketeering part of the vicious cycle of privatization

For the last four years I have tried to preach about the higher risks and lower returns of privatizing government services even in the face of the popularity of the non-profits who often benefit financially from the public-private deals cut in the halls of Metro government.

Maybe it is going to take news of even more insane non-profit-based crime for more people to question the cozy patronage between politicians and their non-profit clients. For neighborhoods dealing with youth gang crimes, this ought to be scary enough:
According to the federal indictment, Galaxy Star founder Lonnie Greenlee allowed the Bloods to use the nonprofit's building as a sort of headquarters, where gang members organized, coordinated efforts to acquire guns, plotted a takeover of East Nashville's drug trade and even nearly beat a man to death.

Among the allegations in the indictment was that Galaxy Star worker Rodney Britton provided fake community service hours in exchange for money. Sometimes Greenlee arranged the deals, records show. Other times, it was his son, Lonnie Newsome.
I am not so naive to think that malfeasance could not happen under a government service provider, but it is reasonable enough to assume that checks and balances provide for better regulatory oversight than do services built on voluntarism. Oversight is bound to go lax where volunteers are involved. Because community services depend on volunteers and not on government workers with budgetary obligations to elected officials, obligation to the taxpaying voters is removed and the chances of abuse increase.

It is difficult to convince people of these risks because we are predisposed to view community service groups as intrinsically good and free from the taint of abuse. We often project our own warm feelings associated with donating and volunteering on to non-profit providers. And Metro politicians want this because it allows them to cut budgets, to buy influence, and to curry deniability in these critical moments. Nonetheless, we continue to privatize government oversight at peril to our own local communities.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Germantown's Gateway design winner

Germantown leaders have incorporated both residential and industrial inspiration in their new Gateway concept:

What I liked about the original Salemtown ID signs were their muted industrial look. The final product from the designer regrettably sacrificed the industrial look to overly bright colors.

The winning Germantown design looks like it has those classic industrial overtones. It is a winner.

MDHA is tourism industry's, Mayor Karl Dean's pocket ace for winning tax revenues where there are none

As you watch Metro Council start discussing (with little debating) Mayor Karl Dean's proposal to bankroll a private hotel chain, Omni Hotels, to lend more credence to the Music City Center, keep in mind some important information that Tennessean reporter Michael Cass passed along today:
Mayor Karl Dean wants to use property taxes from as many as two dozen downtown developments to repay $25 million the city would borrow to buy land for a convention center hotel ....

Some council members and citizens are questioning this particular use of the tool, known as tax-increment financing [TIF], saying it uses money that might otherwise be spent improving streets and other urban infrastructure.

Usually in tax-increment financing, new tax revenue from the development being funded is used to pay back the city. But in this case, because the city has already offered Omni Hotels a substantial discount on its property taxes, there is little left to reap, so the city proposes to turn to taxes from other properties to pay for the land.
Unlike the tourism taxes, which the state requires Metro to spend on a new convention center, these property taxes are a windfall that could be spent on any public infrastructure that might serve the broadest common good. Instead, the $25 million is going to subsidize a hotel which will serve the hotel first, the local restaurant and entertainment industry next, and the business special interests in general next. Any service that might be provided to the public by these property taxes comes in a distant last.

Dedicating our tax dollars to the Omni corporation even serves Karl Dean personally before it serves Nashvillians. By maximizing corporate dollars with property taxes, Mayor Dean is keeping campaign promises he made to wealthy donors to build the Music City Center. Likewise, he is maximizing his chances of getting more campaign donations for his re-election. Leveraging $25 million from MDHA serves Karl Dean's own political career. The return to his war chest will likely be abundant. Outside of short-term construction jobs, common Nashvillians outside of business interests will not see much in the way of improvements in their communities as time goes by.

One of the purposes of TIF is progressive: to provide opportunities for investment and economic development in communities that are underserved and present riskier opportunities for growth. However, the progressive purpose is nowadays stripped away. In its place a trickle-down rationalization is attached suggesting that pouring tax revenues into already developed areas awash in assets and revenues provides jobs to workers who may not otherwise have employment. That is the best the Dean school of progressivism has to offer: a few indirect gains.

The selected So-Bro site is saturated with entertainment money proximate to Bridgestone Arena, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Symphony Hall and swank condos. The neighborhood is knee deep in money. Any one of the three other possible sites recommended by Nashvillians before the Dean Team selected So-Bro would have been a been a truer progressive justification for TIF because each one is more transitional than Lower Broad.

As CM Emily Evans tells Cass, Metro government is changing the public purpose of financing development with extra property taxes to fit the narrow interests. I would add that those are the interests of the party elites who drive politics in this city. We've shifted TIF from funding that assures that all boats rise to funding that protects the interests of a privileged few crumb chuckers. And the damage could be collateral in the Metro budget, as CM Jason Holleman warns Cass: Downtown streetscape improvements may have to be pulled out of the General Fund, which is supposed to be used for neighborhoods across Davidson County. There will be no trickle down for neighborhoods.

I have spent the last few years working with MDHA managers on streetscape issues. I am not surprised that MDHA intends to lavish money on Omni Hotel (like they did when the overspent their PR budget on McNeely Pigott & Fox) to the detriment of even a utilitarian approach that would commit the greatest amount of money to the greatest number of people. They become spendthrifts on matters involving streetscape development that makes a community better, because that community has little or no power to sway Courthouse politics.

The Omni Hotel episode should underscore to voters that we really have two local tax collecting agencies in Metro. One is the bona fide Tax Assessor's Office, which must operate transparently and be accountable to property owners. The other is the Metro Development and Housing Agency, which can collect and hoard taxes beneath the surface, and which can channel money in ways that do not serve the greatest good. As Metro Council discusses Mayor Dean's proposal to use MDHA to channel money to the Omni Hotel corporation I hope that you will think over contacting your council member. I hope you will consider asking them to hold the Mayor accountable for spending public tax money for the genuine public good.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Vice Mayor won't send council serious studies on Music City Center for all of the PR filling inboxes

It's been several days since Mayor Karl Dean with flourish and fanfare brought the Omni Hotel proposal for the new convention center to public attention. Even so, the Metro Council members cannot get even obtain a copy of the hotel study themselves, as if they will not eventually have to approve the proposal themselves.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and Executive Director of the Nashville Convention Center Charles Starks have been teaming up to push pro-convention center PR fluff via e-mail for over two months. Some of the titles of the Music City Center spin:

From: "Starks, Charles (NCC)"
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 07:00:17 -0500
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Subject: Today's Tennessean

Good morning,

I wanted to share the following article from this morning's Tennessean with you.

Gail Kerr: Country Music Hall of Fame is big winner in Omni hotel deal

Date: August 26, 2010 3:51:59 PM CDT
To: Council Members

Subject: Fw: On-line Business Journal Article from today

Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

From: "Starks, Charles (NCC)"

Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 15:28:39 -0500
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Subject: On-line Business Journal Article from today

Good afternoon,

I wanted to share the following on-line from the Business Journal this afternoon with you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010, 7:57am CDT | Modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010, 1:20pm
Rowling steps down from Gaylord board

Nashville Business Journal

Charles L. Starks | Executive Director
Nashville Convention Center | 601 Commerce Street | Nashville | TN | 37203-3724
P:615-742-2002 | F:615-742-2104 |

350,000 sf exhibit space | 18,000 sf junior ballroom
57,500 sf ballroom | 57 meeting rooms

Click here to check out the construction webcam!

Date: August 26, 2010 3:51:27 PM CDT
To: Council Members

Subject: Fw: Nashville Business Journal Article

Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

From: "Starks, Charles (NCC)"

Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 15:24:43 -0500
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Subject: Nashville Business Journal Article

Good afternoon,

I wanted to share the following Medical Trade Center article that appeared in last week's Business Journal.

Friday, August 20, 2010
Nashville may get later start in race for Medical Trade Center

Daugherty: Medical mart still on track to open in 2013

Nashville Business Journal - by Brandon Gee Staff Writer

Date: August 26, 2010 3:50:45 PM CDT
To: Council Members

Subject: Fw: Someone has sent you a message from

Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

From: "Diane"

Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 14:34:34 -0500

ReplyTo: "Diane"

Subject: Someone has sent you a message from

Message from sender:


Published on Nashville City Paper: Nashville's Online Source for Daily News (

Music City Center leaders reach out to Hispanic construction workers

By sphillips
Created 08/26/2010 - 10:09am

Vice Mayor Neighbors seems to be playing an advocacy role of communications liaison from the convention center effort to Metro Council rather than being an official independent of the process. And the media, unwittingly or not, continues to be the public relations arm of Music City Center.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Former council member Pam Murray accused of door-to-door harassment, intimidation of those who signed recall petition

Stay classy Pam Murray:
A recall election ousted the six-year Metro Council member last year. Some people who helped boot Murray from office said she's holding a grudge and knocking on doors demanding to know why they voted for her opponent.

Sannithia Hendricks said it used to be a challenge keeping drug dealers and other criminals out of her East Nashville community. But these days, Hendricks and others said, they are fearful of their former Metro Council member.

"I mean, I know you're upset because you lost, but when you came to my door, you intimidated me, and that makes me feel bad," said Hendricks.

Hendricks was one of numerous District Five voters who signed a petition last year that led to the contentious recall election. Murray lost the historic election by three votes to Jamie Hollin.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Scratch our back and we will scratch yours: The Food Network comes courting free advertising for a Nashville casting call

A few days ago I received the same solicitation e-mail that other local bloggers did about a casting call from Food Network (owned by Scripps Networks Interactive). While Mr. Pink bit down at Nashville Scene's Bites blog and the East Nashville Blog rolled over for the media publicity hounds seeking free local advertising, I tried to turn the inducement (from a casting assistant into a mutual service project by replying thusly to the corporate foodies and reality show recipe mongers:
Thanks for considering my blog. I generally don't advertise gratis, but I have a proposal for the Food Network. I will be happy to publicize a casting call for The Next Food Network Star if your company would match a donation I recently made to a flood relief organization here out of revenue my blog generated from Google Ads . I recently made a $150 donation to the North Nashville Flood Relief (, which organizes volunteers and donations for recovery of neighborhoods along the Cumberland River in North Nashville. As you probably know, Nashville suffered catastrophic 500-year floods in the early part of last May and many communities still need help.

So, how does this proposal sound? In exchange for a $150 donation from CBS or The Food Network to NNFRG, I will blog the invitation to your casting call, including all of the important information in the press release.
Not sure the proposal sounds very good to The Food Network, because they have not even acknowledged receipt of it. It seemed to me to be a square deal wherein the suits could have given a little back to my local community in exchange for some free local exposure. I guess the food-oriented entertainment industry figures it can swipe more smoochy on the house from other Nashville bloggers.