Thursday, October 28, 2010

Council member files Freedom of Information request with Metro Finance for Fairgrounds income/expense report

Council Member Michael Craddock sent the letter below (click on image to enlarge) to Mayor Karl Dean's budget director noting that a recent long-term profit/loss analysis of the Fairgrounds contained no details on actual income and expenses. The public records provision that CM Craddock mentions as the warrant for his request reads:
All state county and municipal records ... shall at all times, during business hours, be open for public inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless provided by state law
While asking for accounting to the penny may be a bit over-the-top, CM Craddock's request for a full accounting is justified. I find it breathtaking that the Mayor's Office can send out reports with no real numbers, whether rounded-off or to-the-penny, attached.

UPDATE: I am told that the Mayor's Office delivered a DVD with a copy of the 12-year income and expense report to CM Craddock, still with no full accounting to the rest of the Metro Council.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Noteworthy news from Nashville Neighborhoods network

Leaders from Nashville's grassroots community-organizing effort to preserve and protect community quality-of-life met face-to-face over dinner last week to bolster their work. The minutes have been published to their Nashville Neighborhoods e-list. A couple of points bear mentioning here.

The possibility of inviting Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods Director Billy Fields to the group's January 2011 meeting was introduced and discussed. There seems to be an interest in having him discuss how MOON can help neighborhoods. Given MOON's poor track record under the Dean administration, I would expect that discussion to be long on possibilities, scarce on commitments, and inauspicious on follow-up. The last time we saw Director Fields here was beneath an Office of Emergency Management monitor, which seemed to be broadcasting the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament instead of flood emergency information; not that there is anything wrong with golf.

Another matter that came up in last week's discussion was the question of whether community plans, like the North Nashville plan we have been working on for the past few months, should be given sharper teeth:
Research shows at least one subarea community plan, Madison Community Plan: 2009 Update, was submitted to Metro Council for adoption through a resolution (RS2009-768/May 19, 2009). Confirmation from Jennifer Carlot, Planning Dept, indicates all Council members have the option to submit a resolution to MC for adoption of subarea community plans. Apparently the Madison Community Plan: 2009 Update is the only one that has been adopted by MC through resolution. Resolutions may not be enough to require MC to honor community plans when voting on conflicting issues, but it is a start and better than nothing.
In my opinion any council action giving these community-based plans sharper teeth to protect neighborhoods and the democratic process against the lobbying, patronage, and influence of unscrupulous developers is worthy of pursuit. Of course, Metro Council can still ignore their own adoption of community plans, but they do so with less impunity than if no resolution was adopted. It would be good to be able to hold them more accountable for caving to attempts to except developments away from plans and to use neighborhoods to carry profits out while giving the bare minimum back to the communities.

Once the neighborhoods have participated in the public information process on the community plans, they have every reason to express their support for them and ask that their CM sponsor council resolutions to adopt them. Personally, I believe Salemtown Neighbors should ask Erica Gilmore to so sponsor adoption of the North Nashville community plan once it comes out of draft form.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vista Germantown update: the old switcheroo

Ever on top of developments in his neighborhood, Madison Square leader Joel Bezaire makes a nice catch, missed by the Nashville Business Journal's recent coverage: the Bristol Development Group, which recently suffered a "friendly foreclosure," is not the majority interest in Vista Germanown, as previously reported:
Commencement of construction of Vista Germantown, which will occupy a nearly three-acre corner site on Madison Street, comes shortly after Associated Estates purchased the property and development rights from Bristol Development Group. However, Bristol, which first conceived the apartment community in 2008, has not walked away from the project; the company maintains a minority interest in Vista Germantown. “We have had a relationship with Bristol for several years and with their local market expertise—they are based in Nashville—it was beneficial to keep them on as a partner,” Jeremy Goldberg, senior director of investor relations and corporate finance with Associated Estates, tells MHN. Bristol has developed several multifamily communities in Nashville and in four other Tennessee cities including Memphis.
So, Bristol will not be handling Vista Germantown, but they also have not walked away from the project like they did from Velocity in the Gulch.

Perhaps this is better news for the North End, but how did NBJ get the news on this development so wrong?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau: nice work if you can get it

A NewsChannel5 investigation found out what?!
Metro council members have demanded answers about the budget of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau following a NewsChannel 5 investigation ....

The CVB receives more than $10 million a year from Metro to promote the city.

CVB President Butch Spyridon said the organization will repay [a $300,000] loan within three years and the money was needed to keep conventions in Nashville after the flood ....

The investigation revealed the total combined compensation for the top four employees was more than $925,000 last year.
A handful of CVB employees make almost a million dollars a year in salaries and they require a huge loan from Metro to pay of their convention expenses? Ten million Metro simoleons a year isn't enough to take care of their business? Why don't they take up a collection from the local corporations who benefit from Nashville tourism and who helped bankroll the PR effort to convince Metro Council to pay off their obligations? It sounds like time to pass around the private plate to me.

While the state may legalize the Convention Center Authority to subsidize private interests at will, without council support, that power is inherently oligarchic and it runs counter to taxpayers having some input on how their money is spent outside normal Metro operations. I am not suggesting that we have micromanagerial control over funding Metro services that provide for a common good. However, it is entirely fair to argue that when atypical money is going to an Authority associate in the wake of a 500-year weather event, it ought to have to pass some kind of broader public test.

The question of CVB not meeting its own financial obligations is not a momentous one for the rest of us. It does not require hierarchal decisions in the public interest that the public might not otherwise make. We are handing out alms to a few big wheels who seem quite capable of spinning on their own. The Convention Center Authority should not enjoy this kind of lending power with our funding, at least not without an astronomical interest rate that would pour exponential returns into the General Fund like it was La Cosa Nostra coffers.

The CVB also seems to have misplaced priorities outside of its mission. As one CM pointed out, the CVB is in the business of marketing the city, not maintaining the convention center. But at the rate of four salaries drawing nigh to $1,000,000, maybe the CVB managers believe they can do anything and everything.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Multiple Choice

Musing over how low we set the bar for CM Eric Crafton.

2010 Nashville Scene (J.R. Lind):

Crafton's a nice guy who, at the very least, hasn't advocated secession or suggested Islam's a cult.

2008 Nashville Scene (Caleb Hannan):

With the superficial change in [Crafton's] legislative language came a shrewd change in the argument's focus. No longer was the bill aimed at illegals.

2008 Enclave (me):

[Crafton] uses any tactic, from moment to moment, that he believes will help get him want he wants, and he does not manuever shrewdly, but with wholesale, like a sledgehammer demolishing dry wall.

2007 Eric Crafton:

I'm going to let Mayor Purcell have his way for a short time.

2007 Eric Crafton:

The U.N. recently adopted English as its working language — the only people that objected were the French ... That made it an added bonus in my opinion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Being the sprawliest sprawler limits Nashville's options

Keeping the theme of the previous post on sprawl, another new study of census data 2000-2009 indicates that Nashville sprawl contributes to higher reliance on automobile usage (obviously) and lower interest in non-automobile options that are consistent with pedestrian-oriented, walkable neighborhoods (needing to be underscored):
Automobile usage continues to decrease in the nation’s older, densely developed cities: The places recording the largest declines in overall car share were, in order, Washington, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago. Those with the largest declines in non-automobile share were largely sprawling cities, including ... Nashville.

The places recording the largest increases in transit modal share were Nashville, Washington, Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Boston. All but Austin, Boston, and Nashville have spent hundreds of millions of dollars investing in expanded rail transit system ....

The minimal nature of Nashville’s Music City Star means I won’t include it as a "significant" rail investment here.
So, our sprawling town continues to depend largely on private autos for commutes, but our mass transit system, which strictly means bus use, has increased over the last decade.

But buses are not good enough to prompt large-scale non-auto reorientation. Because we lack significant a rail system, non-automobile options in Nashville have declined. This is bad news for Nashville's nascent new urbanism: biking is down nearly 25% and walking is down nearly 40% in commute mode share, according to the census data. Biking and walking to work do not seem to be growing trends in the past decade (telecommuting is included in non-automobile shares).

Sprawl hurts us, as does the lack of a rail system, because they limit rather than expand our transportation options.

Nashville tops inglorious list of sprawliest sprawlers

While putting regional sprawl and transportation in an original and important perspective, a new comparative study of sprawl, Driven Apart: How sprawl is lengthening our commutes and why misleading mobility measures are making things worse, is not good news for Nashville:
A new report from CEOs for Cities unveils the real reason Americans spend so much time in traffic and offers a dramatic critique of the 25 year old industry standard created by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report (UMR) - often used to justify billions of dollars in expenditures to build new roads and highways. The surprising analysis by Joseph Cortright, senior policy advisor for CEOs for Cities, says the solution to this problem has much more to do with how we build our cities than how we build our roads ....
Driven Apart ranks how long residents in the nation’s largest 51 metropolitan areas spend in peak hour traffic, and in some cases the rankings are almost the opposite of those listed in the 2009 Urban Mobility Report.
For instance, the UMR depicts Chicago as having some of the worst travel delays, when it actually has the shortest time spent in peak hour traffic of any major US metro area. In contrast, Nashville jumped from 31st to first on the list of those with the longest peak travel times.

Did I mention this is not good? Nashville sprawls like it was head-smacked by Cortland Finnegan. It is malaise that local devotion to untrammeled growth minus commitments to thoughtful and inclusive planning brings Nashvillians. We deserve better.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

That Omni Hotel may cost us more for the Mazel Tovs

CM Emily Evans as usual cuts through the PR spin and exposes the risks and expenses we will bear for the tourist industry that neither the Mayor's Office nor the Convention Center Authority want us to talk about:
[The hotel feasibility consultant] concludes that the difference in hotel and sales tax collections with a hotel and without a hotel is almost precisely what we will pay OMNI in annual subsidies. In other words, the much ballyhooed "surplus" in tax revenues created by the construction of the hotel will be OMNI's surplus, not Metro's. One year, 2013 looks like it will go into the red about $3 million.
Also, much of the additional tax revenue derived from the hotel will not be hotel occupancy taxes but rather sales taxes. Of the $9.9 million extra we are supposed to collect in 2015 as a result of building this hotel only about $750,000 will be a result of more heads in hotel beds. The rest, according to Mr. Hazinski, will come from sales taxes at the OMNI hotel and the convention center or in the downtown Tourist Development Zone ....
we have to conclude that the OMNI will instead do a booming business in weddings, proms, bar mitzvah and pay parties for people who already live here. And that, of course, is bad news for every other hotel in town that does not have the luxury of fat government subsidies...unless of course Mr, Hazinski is wrong.
Whether we consider the exposure of Metro services and infrastructure funds to support Music City Center construction or we consider the sales taxes Nashvillians will pay in the future to bankroll the adjoining hotel, the subsidized deal looks sweet for tourists and the industry that accommodates them. It seems a short stick on our end.

Once again, and despite promises, the convention center is headed to bust the budget

"This project is not going over budget."
--Convention Center Authority's Holly McCall (Sep 30, 2010 Tennessean)

At stake is whether the convention center project can remain on budget amid increasing litigation over land prices. The Convention Center Authority has spent $52 million out of its budgeted $57 million for land acquisition. But four property owners have contested the city's estimated value of their land, and those cases won't go to court until 2011.
--Reporter Nate Rau (Oct 13, 2010 Tennessean)

01/07/2011 CLARIFICATION: Nate Rau replied to me today on Twitter that the $52 million he mentioned above in the October 2010 article included a projected purchase of one of the four properties headed for court in 2011. Hence, his above observation "But four property owners have contested ..." is inaccurate and confusing given the sentence preceding. While four are going to court this year, one of those (which was decided this week) was already figured into the expense by Rau in October. The reporter also tweeted that he expects the remaining three to come in under budget.

I will continue to follow Music City Center construction expenditures.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is the "Re-elect Karl Dean" campaign underway or not? And was he the only man who could have saved us from the May flood?

Any political realist will acknowledge that the campaign for mayoral elections never really ends. Nonetheless, the news media seems to require harder proofs for demonstrating campaign mode, like overhead and paying their media corporations advertising revenues that helps journalism float. But sometimes the media hedges bets.

One the one hand, according to one recent Tennessean story, Karl Dean hasn't even begun to fight:
There's been no formal announcement, no full-time campaign staff, no office, no advertising, no Facebook page.

"I've raised some money, but I haven't organized a campaign or done anything," Dean said in an interview last week.

On the other hand, Gail Kerr, in what looks to me like an attempt to soften any perceptions of unpreparedness that come with reluctant candidacy, 24 hours later repackages Michael Cass's reportage:
The obligatory staff, balloon-laden announcement, daily e-mail missives and Facebook page do not yet exist.

Who can blame him? Why bother yet? With the exception of the endless back-and-forth over the state fairgrounds, every thing on Dean's to do list is steady-as-she-goes. Watching Dean's development as a civic leader has been fascinating. He came into office with staffers who were pretty good at getting their guy elected but not necessarily skilled at governing. They go into next year's re-election as a cohesive team that knows how to do both.

Gail Kerr continues to regale us with the legend of grooming the reluctant candidate into the ultimate governator. Accordingly, Mayor Dean may lack a certain savvy that comes with running a campaign, but that also makes him innocent of any cynicism that plagues political decision-making. In Ms. Kerr's narrative he might as well be a Clark Kent character who dons the cape of politics when forced to. And the May floods forced him to:
He has worked through his tendency to act only after a lawyerly exploration of every angle. Dean is still deliberative, but he turned a disaster into triumph with quick action after the flood.

Can you imagine any of the men who lost to Dean leading Nashville through that? The image that comes to mind is a city without drinking water for months. Makes you shiver, doesn't it?

Gail Kerr did not stop with deftly flipping the checkered image of practicing law into an appealing alternative (see: Atticus Finch), but perhaps she strained credulity by planting the ridiculous notion that Karl Dean was the only person who saved us from catastrophic thirst for lack of drinking water. That ignores the good fortune that both Nashville and Mayor Dean enjoyed last May and it minimizes the role that other leaders did and could have played. I distinctly remember witnessing mistakes in flood calculations and seemingly uninspired Metro workers pacing at river's rising edge unsure of what to do next. But history is written by winners, especially those who have story tellers who seem more like Stephen Root playing "Suds" than independent, critically reflective journalists.

It is confusing enough that journalists are waffling and spinning on the question of whether the Dean campaign has actually started. Karl Dean's own e-mail correspondence confuses the issue. He sends out newsletters from the "Office of the Mayor" that are paid for by the "Dean for Mayor" campaign:

Mayor's Office e-mail or Dean re-election campaign e-mail? 

The truth is that the campaign has been going since the last election despite the news media's naked attempts to write Mayor Dean's political aspirations out of the governing equation. While it may not be illegal for the Dean Team to use the or other resources in the Nashville Mayor's office to help the Mayor get re-elected, they tend to confound the office and the campaign with an opportunism that may not interface with our general welfare.

Monday, October 11, 2010

With faltering velocity, Bristol Development Group tries to deliver Vista Germantown

I sit at Germantown's Drinkhaus this late October afternoon watching construction crews demolish the old Overton Distributors warehouse on 6th Avenue, North near Jefferson Street in order to make way for Bristol Development Group to build a super-sized apartment complex called Vista Germantown (VG-town). This development was originally supposed to have been built in 2008.

Madison Square homeowner Joel Bezaire sent me a link to the news that VG-town is getting on track, which put me at Drinkhaus today watching the demo beyond a fenced-off parking lot that used to accommodate vehicles of Madison Square residents as well as those of patrons of Drinkhaus and Germantown Cafe.

Joel also pointed to a troubling aspect of the news: Bristol Development is launching the North Nashville project after suffering a "friendly foreclosure" in The Gulch. Instead of being embarrassed by a conventional bank-directed foreclosure on their credit record because of inability to assume the risks of ownership of Velocity, Bristol Development was able to convey all rights to the condo/retail tower to the lender Compass Bank, which will now market their product. Bristol seems to enjoy a latitude that many of us could not possibly imagine.

As a North End resident, I find it troubling that Bristol Development can so quickly move to construction of a massive new complex in our community on the heels of a foreclosure in the Gulch. Bristol's Velocity failure is another example of how halcyon concepts of developers regularly go unrealized. In two or three years will Bristol deliver what they promise? Or will Germantown be left with VG-town in receivership, or worse, with a crater like the one on West End?

But the pressing question is how was Bristol able to overcome the troubling Velocity news to get financing for such a massive project, especially when smaller developers with more modest, yet "respectful" goals do not enjoy such free access to loans? The large developers are fresh off a gigantic failure. Why not lend more modestly to spur developments that contribute more substantially to North Nashville? Bristol is not the only party assuming the greater post-Velocity risk of VG-town. With respect to our quality of life, our neighborhoods are, too.

Friday, October 08, 2010

By the numbers

Part of the process of updating Enclave with "new" Blogger changes has labeling any of the 6,200 posts that I failed to in the past (there was a time when Blogger did not offer labels for posts). I have organized some of the more interesting, recurring labels in a "cloud" list at the bottom of the right-hand column.

A couple of things stand out to me. As of this writing, Metro Council dominates the subject matter when it comes to politics and government. The Mayor's Office (358) only gets a fraction of the attention that I have paid to Metro Council (1,015). My posts about various CMs are spread evenly across several individuals. I do not appear to be overly obsessed with any one member, although to use the word of another blogger, I am unrelenting on specific issues upon which they act or fail to act.

Here are the CMs receiving most of my attention:
  1. Eric Crafton (103)
  2. Diane Neighbors (82)
  3. Emily Evans (74)
  4. Charlie Tygard (73)
  5. Megan Barry (48)
  6. Ludye Wallace (47)
  7. Mike Jameson (45)
  8. Erica Gilmore (25)
While the length of CM tenure definitely affects these rankings, more determinative are the issues the CMs are involved with. For example, Eric Crafton received more attention than any other CM mainly because my opposition to English Only continued from the time I was among the first outspoken opponents after he introduced EO legislation in council through the failed EO referendum's aftermath.

The issues I focus on most parallel the CMs who receive my attention. Here are the local controversial issues I have blogged most:
  1. English Only (176)
  2. Bells Bend Zoning (157)
  3. New Convention Center (157)
A distant fourth place on that list are the council LED billboard proposals, facilitated by CMs Tygard and Barry.

Thanks for indulging my interest in these numbers. Hopefully adding these labels will assist Enclave readers with the subject matter.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

She's the best political blogger in Nashville, too

Thank goodness for the prospect of lots of beer at Germantown's Oktoberfest this weekend to help drown out the annual rumpity-rumpus that is the Nashville Scene's "Best of Nashville: Politics and Media Portion." But they do get high marks for one blog-worthy pick via Jeff Woods:
Emily Evans watches out for taxpayers by asking tough questions of people in power. She took the lead in criticizing Mayor Karl Dean's financing plan for the new convention center, calling it a "riverboat gamble." She fought for a fairer stormwater fee system, one that didn't let big run-off producers like Opry Mills and Wal-Mart off the hook. She lost both battles, and her persistence has rankled some colleagues, who accuse her of grandstanding for publicity. Of the convention center debate, the council member from Hillwood says, "This was a policy debate, not an election. ... I still disagree with the policy, but I hope it's successful."
What Jeff fails to mention is that her diligence and persistence probably cost her a spot on the right-hand side of Diane Neighbors' throne with the sheep who were appointed to powerful council committee spots this year. And what about the time the "progressive" Mayor's Office sent out a booty call to Eagle Forum for a neo-conservative candidate to run against the insolent West Nashville CM?

I haven't always agreed with CM Evans and I thought she was flat out wrong on a couple of issues, but I have enthusiastically documented here her loyal opposition in the fight to try and leverage spots for all of us at the Mayor's table when the pie is divvied.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

About my Twitter fight with a SouthComm editor

Same Twitter stream in which the City Paper editor sized me down to a kid with Mentos and Diet Coke after I suggested that journalists accusing bloggers of conspiracy theories is pot-meet-kettle. It's actually club soda or nothing for me, thank you.

Local news editors continue to show that they just do not get it. Down these years I have been blogging, one editor after another has at one time or another taken swipes at certain bloggers who do not merely link their editorializing but who dare to question their balance, who raise the question of bias.

In spite of the fact that blogging has made its own contributions to understanding local politics, over and over it seems a remarkable number of editors cop a tone of arrogance whenever a blogger dares charge bias and self-interest in reporting and "analysis."

Being a blogger who will not blindly promote or otherwise genuflect to the corporate generation of pro journalism, I'm now catching heat from Nashville's newest editor, Stephen George, who hasn't even been here a year but already knew enough about the local convention and tourism industry (as well as risks of encumbering Metro's General Fund to support that industry) to write a shill editorial in support of Music City Center construction months ago.

After I challenged his support of the Davidson County branch of "Government Goldman" (a term that captures the pandering, patronizing relationships that governments develop with finance industry brokers like Goldman Sachs, which is the primary financier for Music City Center), the editor characterized my views as conspiratorial. I did not ask, but I'm sure that branding was meant to lump me in league with those society lampoons with references to black helicopters, UFO probes, and the grassy knoll.

As if criticism of the lop-sided power of the banking and lending industry, which undeniably brought this country well-nigh to its knees, amounts to paranoid speculation or a lunatic fringe.

Frankly, that's rich from a local journalist. The news media here has not given a second thought to performing conspiratorial hatchet jobs on out-spoken opponents of Mayor Karl Dean's policies. Courthouse class savaging of Mike Jameson for speaking out on East Bank Riverfront development and of Emily Evans for questioning broken funding promises on the convention center was abetted by the media echo chamber.

Both were rumored to be over-politicizing opportunists. Both have been generally above reproach. They just were bold enough to dare to block the bandwagon, unlike Nashville's newspapers.

Moreover, it is not conspiratorial for me to challenge self-interested "4th estate" promotion of Music City Center within this constellation of government power and private, special-interest wealth. We live in a world where the journalists we used to read and listen to end up as communications directors in government and information officers in industry or they move to start their own public relations firms with intentions of using connections to garner deals with government and industry. We live in a world where journalists are coached by PR flacks to write columns and where newspapers donate money to the cause of Metro launching its largest capital project ever to serve the smallest number of Nashvillians ever.

It is entirely reasonable and realistic common sense to argue out loud and in print that journalists' motives in promoting Music City Center fail objectivity and neutrality tests given the rewards for so shilling. Mr. George would have acted more honorably by not writing an editorial following the chatter class crowd down the road of growth and development.

Because, you see, the insider access the news media enjoys at the Courthouse also seems to bind them to pass on unchecked, speculative innuendo that damages reputations even when refuted. And their guild gives them a sometimes unearned cloak of balance and fairness. They end with the mantle of official gatekeeper for news even when they behave more like Courthouse information curators.

Hence, editors like Mr. George cannot without self-contradiction charge informed, engaged bloggers of "humping conspiracy" for expressing common sense suspicion toward elite power moves while defending journalism's co-dependent relationship with Courthouse sources.

In the end I do not think the news media should ignore innuendo. But raising the specter of ignorance is missing the point. Journalists should admit that they have "humped" a few conspiracy theories themselves and looked more like PR flacks than seasoned pros who refuse to stand to post at the government house threshold.