Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh, SNAP! Did "Make the Fairgrounds Green" always really mean "Make the Fairgrounds Green Hills"?

While South Nashville Action People leader Keith Moorman is now styled as a community spokesman in the Mayor's project to sell off the Fairgrounds, his mission to move the State Fair under a banner of pro-developer greenness was viewed with skepticism in 2007 by some in his own neighborhood. Pith in the Wind blogger Steve Haruch provided an early illustration of Mr. Moorman's mission, which included a website now scrubbed off the net:
Rachel, of Women's Health News, responds cautiously in the comments:
The lack of identification makes me skeptical as well, especially given all of the "developers aren't so bad!" language. The only thing I can tell is that the site was registered by a Keith Moorman. I'm also interested in knowing whether they have been in contact with any existing neighborhood groups, like South Nashville Action People, who have been talking about and involved with the Fairgrounds issue for a while now (haven't received a response to my email inquiry). While I'm all for improvement because I live nearby, it's hard to know right now who these people are or what their real intentions are.
We asked around a bit, and no one seemed to have heard of the group or the website. Shannon Hornsby of Walk/Bike Nashville said she had never seen the site before. An email to the Middle Tennessee chapter of The U.S. Green Building Council was unanswered as of this writing.

We were, however, able to catch up with the site's creator. Pith in the Wind spoke to Mr. Moorman by phone yesterday. Mr. Moorman said that the website does not represent any organization, per se, but, rather, "It's just me .... The project's done. I just wanted to put my opinion out there—just to get my point across," he said. "If the city goes forward...if something comes of it, great." That shoulder-shrugging statement seems to sell short the mission expressed on the website:
The mission of makethefairgroundsgreen.org is two-fold:
One, we advocate for an alternative use of the current Fairgrounds site. Of course, right now no one knows what that will eventually be, and besides, whatever happens to a redeveloped Fairgrounds is for all of Nashville to decide. Our single, simple goal for the Fairgrounds is to see a green development that includes pedestrian-friendly spaces, plenty of trees, and no entertainment venues that create noise and draw excessive traffic.

Two, we advocate for relocating the Fairgrounds to an alternative site in Davidson County that can continue the great tradition of the Tennessee State Fair, but with updated facilities, better interstate access, and a more suitable topography for hosting the Fair.
And though the Keith Moorman PITW spoke to called makethefairgroundsgreen.org a "committee of one," he said that his wife, a Nashville attorney, would be filing the papers of incorporation necessary to gain non-profit status.

Moorman seemed eager to ward off the "tone of suspicion" he said he had picked up from some of the emails he had received. "The prevailing attitude seems to be, 'Who are these people? Is there something shady going on?' People think I'm a developer. I'm just a citizen." Later in the conversation, he added, "I'm not affiliated with any developer."
There are a couple of interesting background points that need to be underscored.

One is the early involvement in this project of Keith Moorman's wife, who is employed by a law firm with a primary lawyer for the Mayor's convention center project and close friend of Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling. When I raised this possible conflict of interest two weeks ago, the blogger from South Nashville Life accused me of reaching and she maintained that Mr. Moorman's wife has been "out of the picture" on the Fairgrounds issue. The Pith post hardly placed her out of the picture in 2007.

The second point is that Mr. Moorman's green vision for the fairgrounds no longer includes a primary emphasis on tree-filled, entertainment-free, auto-limited quiet spaces. On November 9 he told the Metro Council he wanted another Green Hills, 5 Points, or 12South at the redeveloped Fairgrounds. With the Mayor only expressing a willingness to devote around 5% of the land that he is not compelled to devote (because of flooding risk) to green space, it appears that Mr. Moorman's vow to making the Fairgrounds green is much weaker than it used to be. However, his talking point that developers are not so bad still looks strong.

Building new office space 2 miles south of Downtown may sustain the drain of businesses out of Downtown

Here’s the issue: the fairgrounds is located two miles from downtown. It has access to all the infrastructure that you need to have a successful business growth area.

That is the issue in more ways than the Mayor intended when he attempted to compare the Fairgrounds to May Town Center. The mayoral pitch for selling off the Fairgrounds to the highest real estate bidders (no developers are lined up yet) is the creation of 1,000,000 square feet of "Class A" office space that might attract businesses.

However, the current total of available Class A office space Downtown, just 2 miles from the Fairgrounds, is 1,050,919 square feet. Moreover, I am told that a large percentage of available square footage is sublease space that was vacated by companies that relocated outside of the Downtown market. So, developing 1,000,000 more square feet of office space to the south would merely serve to tempt the flight of more businesses out of Downtown.

It would be one thing if the Downtown market were saturated by businesses. That is not the case. The irony here is that commercializing the Fairgrounds park lands would likely have the same aggravating effect on Downtown development drain that critics of May Town Center argued urbanizing Bells Bend would have. Nashville cannot even fill the Class A office space that exists in the urban core. It is not in our common interest to tear down and sell off Fairgrounds property, thusly putting Downtown markets at a greater competitive disadvantage.

More special council hearing privileges for SNAP leaders?

It does not seem to be enough that South Nashville Action People leader Keith Moorman enjoyed the privilege of his own special council hearing time next to Mayor Karl Dean on the Fairgrounds question on Nov. 9. Now another SNAP representative--expressing his displeasure with Metro Council granting a public hearing to those attending first reading on the issue Nov. 16th and with Fairgrounds preservationists' new request for a public hearing during second reading on Dec. 7--is lobbying council for an exclusive "public hearing" only for those who support the Mayor.

Here is an excerpt from SNAP's Fred Agee to all Metro Council members, which was forwarded to the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:

I would respectfully ask the Council Members to reserve any consideration for another public hearing to those who support the Hickory Hollow Leases that may want to have a public hearing. If SNAP wishes to request a public hearing you will hear from our leadership.

Either Mr. Agee does not understand that a "public hearing" on Dec. 7 would give all sides time to address the council or he believes his group is entitled to continue the same exclusive access that Keith Moorman scored back on Nov. 9. If the former, hopefully someone in South Nashville will help him see that Dec. 7 is his side's opportunity to flex their muscles. If the latter, how many Fairgrounds opponents have Mr. Agee's inflated sense of entitlement that they do not have to play by the rules that everyone else does?

Either way, if Metro Council caves to this request and offers an exclusive SNAP hearing, which could not be called "public" in any sense, then it would be out of order and unfair to all sides.

What the Mayor's Office is not telling us about the Fairgrounds plan

While Fairgrounds preservation opponent Keith Moorman was given 4 minutes to express his support to council members for the Mayor's plan to privatize public property, Fairgrounds preservation supporter and attorney Lewis Laska was told he could only count on 3 minutes to present his case against. That was not sufficient to capture to the breadth of Mr. Laska's published analysis, most of which involves details that the Mayor's Office will not acknowledge openly:
  • If two consecutive State Fairs are not held on Fairgrounds property, the land will revert to those who sold it to the County in 1911. The land will not “revert” to the County (which already owns it) as the Metro Law Department asserts. So-called title opinions are limited and moot.
  • The Fair Board is the only semi-autonomous Metro department. As such, it has the power to mortgage the property, that is, borrow as much money as it needs to operate the State Fair and continue operations for many, many years.
  • The blockbuster issue is that the Mayor's budget is rigged to manufacture Fairground failure. The Fairgrounds investment fund was taken over by Metro Finance several years ago and bled of its earnings.
  • Another budget rig: original Fairgrounds depreciation totals are blown up between original numbers and final reports.
  • There are mysterious, untransparent accounting practices shuttling money out of the Fairgrounds budget and overcharging the budget for services rendered. Mr. Laska documents the oddities.
  • The fair board outsourced the 2010 State Fair but did not demand any accountability from the private contractor, which kept the entire gate revenue. If there was a plan, it was rigged to make the Fairgrounds look like a loser.
Mr. Laska reports that he called the Mayor's Office requesting a meeting with the Mayor, but they never returned his phone call. Instead, three Metro lawyers agreed to meet with him.

If Mr. Laska's analysis is accurate, these matters are in the public interest and should be acknowledged by the Mayor's Office. They would have an influence on popular perceptions about the wisdom of selling off public land as well as whether the current stewards of the Fairgrounds have exercised proper and thoughtful oversight beyond setting everything up for liquidation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A dispatch from blogging council member Hollin on his trip to the Fairgrounds

You did not see news media accounts of CM Jamie Hollin fact-finding mission at the Fairgrounds flea market over the weekend, because he did not go with the publicized group of CMs at the Expo (some of whom may just be pandering before voting with the Mayor's planned move to Hickory Hollow mall any way). He struck out on his own and, instead of staging comments for a television audience, CM Hollin blogged his impressions and video-taped feedback he solicited from Expo vendors, which lends a more authentic feel:
Not everyone wanted to be on video, but everyone wanted to speak. I listened. I learned. I searched desperately for someone who supported the move. Couldn’t find such a vendor. I am sure there’s some as Mr. Dozier stated, I just couldn’t find them in the time window I was there. Of course, there is Christmas Village. They have publicly announced their support for the move and had letters spread on all the council members’ desks at the last council meeting. The “everyday” vendor is a little more my style even though I went to Christmas Village this year and bought gifts. They exhibit the entrepreneurship not taught in any school. This is survival of the fittest. In other words, the “everyday” vendor is feeding his or her family on this flea market weekend (and others here and beyond).

Again, I am sure there are vendors who want to go to Hickory Hollow Mall. You will not find them on the videos below. Instead you will find (1) a retailer of made in USA fashion apparel from 37205; (2) a lifelong Nashvillian selling jewelry; (3) a collectibles vendor from Antioch; (4)an environmentally-friendly vendor of household and commercial cleaning supplies from Joelton; and (5) the better half of a wife/husband team selling high-end jewelry and collectibles from Mt. Juliet
Jump to see videos (1), (2), (3), (4), and (5). Each contains some poignant disclosure of how Mayor Karl Dean's Hickory Hollow lease plan has already negatively affected small businesses in Nashville.

We hear a lot of lip service for supporting small business from civic leaders in government and the private sector. That chatter is going to be tested when it comes down to voting for or against Mayor Karl Dean's proposed Expo exile to Antioch. These small business owners are asking for minimal support: being allowed to continue to conduct their business in the same venue as they have in the past. Is that too much too ask anyone outside of the Mayor's Office?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Off the reservation: Hickory Hollow lease critics inside Metro

Over at the anti-preservationist South Nashville Life blog, a Berry Hill small business owner has been putting up a strong, reasonable defense of keeping the flea market and other vendors at the State Fairgrounds. A few days ago he related an experience he had during a meeting within a Metro Nashville government department:
I was at the Metro tax assessor office today on business and asked the representative about the Hickory Hollow lease plan.

A roll of the eyes was the first response followed by the following question, "Why would anyone spend $5.00 sq/ft for mall space that values at between $2 and $3 sq/ft?

It is not a fiscally sound plan that will hurt future development in the mall and surrounding area by setting an unreal precedent."
I found that comment interesting, given that a little over a week ago I received an e-mail sent from someone in that office to council members with the statement:
I was in full support of saving the fairgrounds until we were blackmailed last night with the threat of a property tax increase, what do you all think about that?
It sounds like some Metro bean counters are less than satisfied with the idea of moving small businesses from the Fairgrounds to Antioch.

Council members reconsidering, pandering or hedging bets on Mayor?

The "Save the Fairgrounds" preservationists sent out the following news release the day before yesterday:
Council Members Charlie Tygard, Robert Duvall, Parker Toler, and Tim Garrett will be visiting the fairgrounds this weekend to talk with vendors. We appreciate the past support given by Council Members Tygard and Duvall as evidenced by their vote on November 16, 2010 to make sure BL2010-770 survived the Mayor’s extraordinary effort to have the bill defeated through parliamentary rules of procedure.*

The sudden interest by Council Members Tim Garrett and Parker Toler is shocking. Both voted with the Mayor to kill the Fairgrounds. Fortunately those votes were not successful. If they were successful, this trip to the fairgrounds would be patronizing to the vendors and seem like pandering, perhaps it still is. Or, perhaps the packed courthouse, impromptu public speakers, and thousands of emails and calls in support of saving the Fairgrounds moved Councilmen Garrett and Toler. Regardless, the least they could do while they’re visiting is open their wallets and make some holiday purchases for their friends and family. Better yet would be if they started casting votes in favor of saving the fairgrounds.
If anyone was present for the CM visit, please e-mail report to me or comment below and I'll update.

UPDATE: News 2 has an update on the CMs' visit:
Among the thousands of shoppers at Saturday's flea market were several Metro Council Members who were there to get opinions of shoppers and vendors about the potential move.

"These people don't want this place to be closed," Councilman Robert Duvall said.

Despite shoppers and vendors not wanting the flea market moved, some area residents have complaints about the fairgrounds.

"Their biggest problem is with the noise from the racetrack; at least with the folks that I have talked with," Duvall said, adding, "Some would like to see some development. They believe that development would increase property values, and there's no reason not to want that, but the noise from the racetrack, that's fixable."

UPDATE: Channel 4 has even more of the CMs' responses to flea market vendors and shoppers opinions:
Four Metro Council members spent their Saturday morning at the Nashville flea market listening and asking questions -- for example, would shoppers still go to the flea market if it moved to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch?

One shopper told Councilman Parker Toler she hasn’t been to the Hickory Hollow Mall area in years and doesn’t go to that area of town.

Vendor Tommy Turner told Councilman Charlie Tygard he’s against moving from the fairgrounds to an area that has a history of retail failures.

"Hickory Hollow has become a crime scene anymore. It's gone down," Turner said.

Others, like Charlene Johnson, told Council members it's not about Antioch's reputation; they just like to shop in the fresh air.

“I just don't want to go inside a mall. No, not for a flea market,” Johnson said.

In the past, several Council members have spoken out against Mayor Karl Dean's efforts to shut down the fairgrounds. Saturday's group included two longtime Council members who had voted before to support the mayor. That's important, because the Council is split on this issue, and every vote is critical.

Council members like Tim Garrett are balancing what they heard at Saturday’s flea market with the concerns of neighbors who are tired of the noisy fairgrounds racetrack.

"What you want to do as a councilman is listen to the public and keep an open mind as much as you can," Garrett said.

Toler got an earful from vendors and shoppers, who asked him not to relocate the events currently at the fairgrounds. Some vendors have had booths for more than 25 years.

"This is a very valuable piece of land now. So we're just going to have to listen to as many people as we can and try and make a good decision," Toler said.

Dean has said the fairgrounds land has great development potential as an office park, but he hasn't said who, if anyone, wants to buy it.

"Everybody would like to know the plan. This situation hasn't been handled very well from the very start," Garrett said.

UPDATE: NewsChannel5 has a blurb on the visit, but did include comments from CM Tygard:
I think there are other ideas both the redevelopment of this site, improvement of this site or possibly looking for other accessible locations and rebuild from scratch a modern facility that would serve the same needs.

UPDATE: Not waiting around for any "intrepid" reporters, CM Jamie Hollin struck out on his own fact-finding mission and blogged his impressions, complete with video documentation of vendor views on Mayor Dean's attempted Expo exile.

Friday, November 26, 2010

CM Jerry Maynard is one slick at-Large

An e-mail I received from a fairgrounds preservation supporter indicates that ethically troubled CM Jerry Maynard was using council rules to kill a bill for the Mayor. When Maynard's effort failed CM Adkins did what he could to try and force a vote without consideration:
The Mayor’s extraordinary effort began when Council Member Jerry Maynard signed onto BL2010-770 in Budget and Finance committee for the purpose of having the bill defeated. He signed the bill without talking to the primary sponsor, Council Member Duane Dominy. Then Council Member Greg Adkins attempted to pass a Motion to Table the sponsor’s request for indefinite deferral. It ended when the Council voted against the Motion to Table 19-18-2.
Whenever journos start accusing CMs like Mike Jameson of "obscure parliamentary maneuvers" the least they could do would be to acknowledge CM Maynard's own slick moves are based more on power than on principle. I will be posting more on that e-mail shortly. Any moral high ground supporters of the Mayor's plan might have claimed after CM Dominy introduced his bill involving CM Sandra Moore's district without talking to her was lost in CM Maynard signing on without talking to Dominy.

The cloak-and-dagger tactics seem to occur on all sides with the Mayor giving an executive boost to those on his side.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Suffer the little children to come to unchecked retail gentrification at the Fairgrounds

I received an e-mail this week from an insider who pointed out that ending the current events at the State Fairgrounds would adversely affect nearby Fall Hamilton Elementary School, which uses those events to fundraise by charging for parking on its grounds. Leaders at Fall Hamilton have not waited on the Chamber of Commerce's One Nashville to raise money for their school. They created their own source of funds.

While the predominantly white gentrifiers in the SNAP neighborhoods might reduce the community concerns here to racetrack noise, this predominately African American neighborhood school is concerned with providing educational opportunities for its kids. Given the state of Metro Nashville Public Schools, those opportunities have to be bought with outside money. Office parks provide their own parking, so the Mayor's plan could spell the extinction of Fall Hamilton's fundraising efforts.

Where is that money supposed to come from? What plans do neighborhoods who support Karl Dean's plan to move fairgrounds events to Antioch's Hickory Hollow mall (which garners strong Antioch opposition ignored by some leaders in South Nashville) have to help Fall Hamilton make up the financial losses? Or maybe those losses do not enter the equation for supporters. Nonetheless, Mayor Dean needs to come up with a Fairgrounds redevelopment plan that suits community interests not limited to those of gentrifiers and developers.

Depends on whose council member is being gored

During his tenure as a Metro beat reporter first at the City Paper and then at the Tennessean, I do not remember a discouraging word from Nate Rau against controversial CMs like Charlie Tygard (whom Rau once defended as "blogged to death") or Eric Crafton (whose English Only initiative Rau handled sensitively, nearly generously). But consistently with non-ostentatious CM Mike Jameson, Rau breaks out the critical analysis, regularly referencing what the Mayor's Office dislikes about him.

My issue here is not with evenhandedly treating CMs critically. I simply do not think that Rau's treatment of Jameson in particular has been the highest quality criticism.

It is no different in Rau's recent blogging on Jameson's reservations about privatizing the public Fairgrounds.  Rau blogs a somewhat rambling, disjointed, and loaded criticism of Jameson:
Jameson’s indignation could be seen as some what puzzling. He’s been a councilmember for more than seven years. He knows the ugly ins and unseemly outs of city politics.

I’ve heard it said that former Mayor Bill Purcell never used petty tactics like calling down department directors on district council members.

Somebody should tell that to Charlie Tygard and Chris Whitson, because I believe they would paint a different picture.

Since Dean was elected mayor, by my count he’s had five tough votes go through council – the Predators lease, the stormwater fee, the convention center land acquisition, the creation of the Convention Center Authority and the convention center bond resolution. Jameson has voted against three of those proposals; the lease agreement at Hickory Hollow would make four out of six.

It is fair for observers to wonder if Jameson’s opposition, no matter how eloquently justified, is rooted in politics, not policy, especially considering the weight of his stance just a year ago.
Someone needs to tell Nate that his wonderment is only fair if he goes back and actually analyzes Jameson's arguments and points out the logical fallacies point-by-point. I never remember him doing that, and I was reading the City Paper long before he was hired.

The problem is that in previous stories reporter Rau seemed to transmit what mayoral staffers either believe or spin about Jameson. The Mayor's Office told reporters that Mike Jameson was an opportunistic grandstander seeking a judgeship. Rau simply passed that judgment along without expressing any journalistic critical thinking or probing curiosity. When Jameson used the same parliamentary rules that other CMs (including Tygard) have used, Rau assumed without a second thought (or as if it had been spun to him) that Jameson used "obscure" tricks to shut down an unquestionably legitimate policy brought at an unquestionably impeccable pace. Jameson conducted council queries of Dean staffers in ways that casual observers called "polite" and "professional," yet analyst Rau was prompted to call the same act a "deposition" as if Jameson was not able to perform as anything but a slick lawyer.

But politics is an end game. If someone is playing politics then they make a rational choice for benefits that outweigh the risk involved in taking on a popular Mayor under this Metro Charter which relegates CMs to a ridiculously weak position from which to make legislative checks on the executive. While I am not happy with acquiescent CMs, I can understand that in this system their choice is either to be a Dean supporter or to find oneself isolated to the Mayor's dog house. And the fawning print media does not help break the servitude by repeating whatever their Metro PR sources tell them.

So, the insistence that a maverick is somehow gaining more than losing in opposing the Mayor on most of the most contentious issues is absurd. And yet, that seems to be exactly what Nate Rau is insisting. If it's just politics, then what is the benefit to Jameson of continuously sticking his head out of the council trenches only to face Karl Dean's howitzer? Given the Courthouse disdain he faces from the perfect storm of council conservatives, sovereign Mayor, and cynical reporters, what chance does Jameson have to win the end game that Metro politics is? Rau doesn't say, but he doesn't seem to be required by anyone to do so, either.

In the end Nate Rau fell into the same trap as many bloggers: he put up a post based mostly on anecdotes with few warrants, making a flawed case, nonsensical when judged rationally. Granted, it may make airtight sense inside the Courthouse.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finally facing his Waterloo?

Most of us do not know what kind of deals Mayor Karl Dean is making with various Metro Council members to get their support for his State Fairgrounds plan (maybe a Sulphur Dell ballpark promise to CM Erica Gilmore?) or what kind of threats to service for dissenters' districts might be be floating around (Tennessean bloggers seemed to give assists to the Mayor's Office offensive, especially that against Mike Jameson, who has been a courthouse target since Dean took office).

Richard Lawson notes that while strong opponents to the plan currently outnumber strong supporters, the council finds a way to cave:
The big question, however, arises over whether the Council’s bark is worse than its bite. For a very long time, Councils have wrestled with mayors over big projects only to eventually cave in the end and vote in favor of whatever the mayor has proposed, though with some changes brought by the barking. There has been some discussion of whether the fairgrounds issue could become Dean’s Waterloo; that the council gets a rare win, giving Dean’s Council critics confidence to buck him on other projects.

If he indeed wins the tough battle, you would think the well is getting quite shallow for additional big projects. With a downtown ballpark for the Nashville Sounds on the horizon, a Council shell-shocked by project after project could stand strong and make that process difficult by saying enough already. The flipside, however, is Council members are so weary of fighting that they roll easily on the next one, cementing a beat-them-into-submission tactic.
To no one's surprise the 4 of the 5 at-Large council members seem in the Mayor's pocket and recalcitrant to community concerns about large capital projects that benefit a fewer number of Nashvillians. So, the votes are going to come down to district CMs. If you have not contacted your CM and asked them to delay the sale of the public Fairgrounds to private developers or to stop the madness of paying $10 million for Hickory Hollow retail space on the market for $3.5 million, please do so before the Tuesday, December 7 council meeting.

Help them locate some backbone to stand up to the Mayor's Office.

Mayor Karl Dean saved May Town Center for a time such as this

Let's revisit Mayor Karl Dean's attempt a couple of weeks ago to wrangle the Fairgrounds redevelopment plan from spiraling out of his grasp via one of his rare news conferences. At that time he reanimated the May Town Center monster:
Dean reminded reporters about May Town ... during a news conference to unveil a new Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce report that claims retrofitting the fairgrounds property off Nolensville Pike to suit 1 million square feet of corporate office space would generate 6,500 new jobs, $200 million in capital investments and $2.5 billion in overall economic impact for Davidson County.

“Here’s the issue,” Dean said. “The fairgrounds is located two miles from downtown. It has access to all the infrastructure that you need to have a successful business growth area.

“Go back to the May Town debate,” Dean continued. “When folks talked about May Town — and that debate is behind us, and we probably don’t even need to be talking about it, but I will for a second — the debate became about [how] we have to have an area where we can develop and expand our tax base in order for this city to succeed. You can’t sit back and say, ‘We’re never going to do anything anywhere in all of Davidson County. We’re just not going to expand our tax base. We’re not going to be welcoming to new businesses.’ ”

The fairgrounds doesn’t pose the same problems — infrastructural, environmental — as May Town, Dean said, invoking it again. Instead, recasting the fairgrounds would include boosting a neighborhood, restoring polluted Browns Creek, and creating a new 40-acre park.
First, it is totally disingenuous for the Mayor to insinuate that he does not intend to reopen old May Town Center wounds in this press conference. Of course, his comments were calculated to impel community fear at a new prospect of sprawl and to redivide neighborhoods against each other. The momentum of controversial developments like May Town Center and like the Fairgrounds thrives on community acrimony. We should not be talking about it, but the Mayor's case for the Fairgrounds requires it, so he would not forswear the chance to use the wedge.

As calculated as the timing of these comments may be (Jack May announced new plans to pursue a scaled-back May Town Center shortly after Karl Dean's press conference), they are also misleading. Metro does not hold any of the back country in Bells Bend that Jack May intends to urbanize. The fairgrounds is entirely public property, and the Mayor intends to hawk almost all of the non-flood-risk land to private developers to create an office park in spite of the fact that there is a large amount of unused office space in nearby Downtown. Expanding the tax base in Bells Bend would require the wholesale destruction of one of the largest urban green spaces in the US, and building bridges that would contradict the community plans of several different neighborhoods. If Metro owned the Bells Bend properties, May Town Center likely would have been dead on arrival.

Hence, the greatest deception in Mayor Dean's comments is that opponents of selling the Fairgrounds oppose development anywhere in Davidson County. I opposed May Town Center on its demerits, not on the question of development in general. I oppose selling the Fairgrounds on its demerits, not on the question of development in general. While I oppose any urban sprawl in Bells Bend at all, I can see myself supporting sensitive and balanced mixed-use development with a higher percentage of green space and with Metro maintaining control of most of the Fairgrounds property. I'm not a strict preservationist here, although I have more in common with the "Save the Fairgrounds" group than I do with the Mayor's Finance Director, Rich Riebeling, who has been lobbying to sell the Fairgrounds since the Purcell administration.

I could get behind an initiative for Fairgrounds redevelopment that would protect the public interest rather than pander to wealthy business interests in the run-up to the mayoral election.

Who knows? Maybe the Mayor has been silent on May Town Center so that he could use it as a wedge for a time such as this. But his mislead on the motivations of those who have concerns about both should not pass without correction.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Antioch community leaders insist that the Mayor torpedoed their task force

Despite the positive marks Mayor Karl Dean receives from the media for involving community leaders in task forces to inform a few of his policy measures, Antioch leaders contend that the Mayor ignored their task force decisions about the placement of a health clinic.

The Mayor's Hickory Hollow lease bill for fairgrounds exiles, which is set for second reading (of three) at Metro Council on Pearl Harbor Day (Tuesday, December 7), includes the placement of the WIC clinic within the mall itself. I am not aware that placement of federal services for lower and working class families within shopping malls is a standard practice at other such retail complexes around the country. And given the possible exposure of healthy Hickory Hollow patrons to those infected with more virulent strains of influenza, I would question the wisdom of the clinic's placement in an enclosed facility with other stores inside.

But those seem to be issues that Antiochians have already discussed and resolved. These quandaries are no longer the issue. What is at issue is that the Mayor trumped the task force commissioned to come up with community-based solutions that could be supported by the Metro Council. In an e-mail, Concerned Citizens of Antioch express their frustrations:
On a daily basis we are finding out more and more information that we feel is very important for you to know as to why this [Hickory Hollow lease] Bill is an unfavorable deal for Antioch/Southeast Nashville ....
[Several involved Council Members] knew of the opposition to bring a low economic program, WIC in the mall that would further deploy our means of re-establishing our future to bring in higher end stores and more retail business to Antioch. All were in agreement that they would not support a WIC clinic in the mall, or in any retail center. Sam Coleman deferred the bill indefinitely .... A task force was selected of volunteers from the community to work with the Health Department to find a more suitable location for a WIC center.
The task force location selected was the Tusculum Hill Center on Nolensville Road .... The council accepted and passed the proposed new location in February and the negotiations were to be worked out by the Metro Director of Finance. The clinic never opened. Despite the opposition, the Mayor undermined the people of Antioch and the Director of the Health Department. Bill Paul waited for the right opportunity with the Mayor’s plan to move a Health/ WIC Clinic to the Hickory Hollow Mall retail center.
We are discovering more as time goes on about the surly manner the Mayor has toward regular Nashvillians whenever they question his more inflexible intentions. We should not be surprised that the Mayor has low regard for the Antiochians who express legitimate concerns about the lease.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tennessee Titans greedily take, give few Metro revenues back

It was a golden opportunity for the Tennessee Titans to demonstrate that they can return money to Metro Nashville coffers and have the positive PR of hosting one of the great international pop bands. But instead they denied a request by U2 to play at LP Field next July. According to the Tennessean, LP field would have afforded 28,000 more seats than Vanderbilt Stadium (where the concert will happen), which could have translated to that many more sales taxes for the city. But each U2 ticket for an LP Field concert would have included a $2 user fee, which would have gone to fund stadium maintenance and upgrades. This loss needs to be thrown back in the Titans face when they come demanding upgrades in the future, which you can bet they will.

What the Tennessean story does not say is to what lengths Mayor Karl Dean went to persuade the Titans to work with U2 on making an LP concert happen given the tourist taxes that will not be made from thousands more music fans who could have bought tickets and stayed in Nashville hotels. Tourists taxes are dedicated to fund in part Mayor Dean's pet Music City Center. Karl Dean could have helped shelter the General Fund from taking hits to pay for his project by encouraging the football team to host the concert. The Titans endorsed the new convention center and joined the Music City Center Coalition, so they should make more efforts now to support Dean's monument to tourism.

Nashville hands the Titans $4,000,000 from the Metro Water System each year as part of the agreement that got them here from Houston. That is $4,000,000 that does not go annually to pay for upgrades in our aging water system. Yet, they fumbled this opportunity to generate more revenues that would have been a minimal cost to them. Their defense about grass is goofy, given that 4 other teams are hosting U2 after July 2.  For his part Mayor Dean is angry about the fairgrounds sitting unused most of the week, but otherwise he seems comfortable enough with a more expensive LP Field never having non-football events outside of CMA each summer.

Both the football team and the county government should have done more to get U2 to LP Field and to generate more revenues into the Metro budget. That neither side felt an urgency about it is shameful with the economic challenges we face locally.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Channel 4 investigates Metro Water's inability to follow through on biosolids promises

I attended the original neighborhood discussions with Metro Water Services years ago on the construction and operation of the biosolids facility at the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. At that time, one of the selling points MWS used beyond the odor abatement that would finally benefit the surrounding community was the ability to make money by selling the dried biosolid pellets produced by the de-watering and drying process as fertilizer.

Local television journalist Demetria Kalodimos did an effective job yesterday at underscoring the optimistic projections of MWS spokesperson Sonya Havat and contrasting them with MWS hedges after a year of producing pellets that fail to meet fertilizer industry standards:
Those sewage pellets it was producing were eventually supposed to be sold.

"We were paying $30 a ton. We're paying Manco $20 to use it on reclamation sites, so when we have the final product, we'll be selling for $7.50 a ton and not paying for the hauling," Harvat said in April 2009 about the cost of hauling sewage versus baking it into pellets. "It will be a true savings."

A year later, it's a softer sell.

"We haven't sold pellets, but again, selling pellets was not our goal; it was definitely a sidebar, and it's something that we aren't counting on, and it's something that has never truly been counted on," said Harvat.
As a neighbor of Metro Water Services treatment facility, I can accept that projections may be flawed and have to be re-evaluated. I can accept interruptions due to the May flooding. What I have a difficult time accepting is the lack of communication from MWS. That we had to find out about this from the media rather than directly from our own neighbor is galling, and it makes me less sympathetic to the stark contrast in sales assessments from 2009 and 2010.

Metro Water Services should have been communicating with Salemtown on their mistakes and on the reasons why noxious odors emanated from their plant well into September. Otherwise, it just looks like a pattern of covering their collective butts for unrealistic assessments cynically used to get our support.

A vintage Nashvillian questions the truthfulness of the Tennessean's coverage of the Fairgrounds/Antioch debate

George Gruhn, guitar town's guitar man and a rock star at last Tuesday's public hearing on the Mayor's Hickory Hollow lease bill, challenged reporter Michael Cass's characterizations of happenings during council proceedings in a letter to council members:
Based on what appeared in the article, readers would assume that this was a total victory for the mayor’s proposal. What in fact happened was a most unusual turn of events. Bills are routinely approved on first reading without debate. It is virtually unprecedented for a bill to receive a public hearing on first reading. This bill was approved by the Council on first reading only after vigorous debate and with the stipulation that the bill must be modified to separate the three leases for individual approval rather than bundled together and that the leases would need to be renegotiated with better terms ....

Mayor Dean announced his plans to close the Fairgrounds without prior public hearings or consultation with the Metro Council. Although the article goes on to state “Dean wants to clear the 117-acre fairgrounds site a few miles south of downtown so it can be developed. City attorneys say he can do that without council approval.”, in view of very clear public sentiment expressed by a great outpouring of e-mail messages to Council members as well as a council chamber packed with opponents of the mayor's proposal, there are clear indications that it may not be politically expedient to oppose the very clearly expressed wishes of the vast majority of Davidson County residents.
While Mr. Cass did report that "around 40" opponents spoke during the public hearing, I do not recall him observing that the gallery was packed with opponents. And the reporter did make that inexplicable beeline to convey Dean supporter Keith Moorman's indignation at not having foreknowledge of the chance of a public hearing even though so many opponents had come prepared in case they got their chance.

I have already commented that the Tennessean needs to report these events less slanted toward or lead around by Janel Lacy's county-executive talking points and that the newspaper should be more critical and independent. But Mr. Gruhn's comments with a considered gravity that I simply do not possess.

That trashy North End Kroger

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deep Thought

What has Hickory Hollow owner CBL done for Nashville that would warrant Metro government bailing their lackluster mall management out by subsidizing the Fairgrounds Expo in the old Dillard's building and by leasing space for a controversial public community center and a government health clinic?

Troubled by two details on the periphery of the James Weaver lobbying unpleasantness

Numero 1CM Megan Barry has been mum on the question of James Weaver and the possible conflict of interest between being the Fair Board Chair and a lobbyist for CBL, which is negotiating the Hickory Hollow lease to take Fairgrounds refugees slated to be exiled by Mayor Dean.

However, CM Barry has been a professional ethics officer and a business ethics professor at Belmont. She campaigned for her office as the ethical alternative to Metro Council's status quo. So, why does it not behoove an ethicist qua CM to question Weaver's lobbying interests in the context of his Fair Board actions?

Numero 2: When a reporter asked Metro Legal Director Sue Cain about Weaver's possible conflict of interest, she replied that she did not know he was a lobbyist registered with Metro. Is Metro Legal not supposed to show more proactive curiosity about the lobbyists who have also been asked to be public servants on Metro boards? If the lawyers are not keeping up with this who is supposed to? Lowly bloggers?

UPDATE (Numero 1): CM Megan Barry is one of the co-sponsors of the Hickory Hollow/CBL lease bill that is up for 2nd reading on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7). Is her sponsorship keeping her from engaging the ethical dilemmas of CBL lobbyist James Weaver's Fair Board duties?

Single-issue endorsers

Tennessee Equality Project looks like it is veering dangerously close to be a special interest PAC without reference to progressive issues in general, without interest in broad-based coalition. They already held their first campaign fundraiser for Mayor Karl Dean, which is pretty much a signal to any progressive challenger that they would not even entertain a vote of confidence.

I support non-discrimination in the workplace but let's be clear: the ordinance sponsored by CM Megan Barry, approved by the council, and signed by the Mayor helps a small number of Metro employees. In the meantime, Metro privatized the custodians and bus drivers who worked in public schools, sticking 200 employees with 30% pay cuts and throwing hundreds more out of their jobs. Discrimination in the workplace is a painful injustice, but joblessness and union busting are also harmful.

One of the problems with strict social progressives is that they are prone to this; like they are blind to class and the economic realities that working people have to face in a thankless economy. The Metro employees who are helped by the non-discrimination ordinance may be working class themselves. I am betting they are not. But even if they are, what kind of measure urges us to protect the few and sacrifice the many? How is it anything but narrow-minded and myopic to endorse and to fundraise for Karl Dean when his only progressive credentials are on social issues: English Only and non-discrimination? Progressives are never going to get working class people to support them by writing off their interests or welfare.

When the ordinance passed, I pretty much resigned myself to the probability that it sewed up the social conservatives progressives for Karl Dean and Megan Barry (non-discrimination seem to be her sole signature cause as a liberal), but the fact that this fundraiser comes so early in the campaign cycle is disappointing. And frankly the Mayor has done the bidding of so many wealthy Nashvillians, that it wasn't like he needed the money. But maybe that's what this endorsement is about: another wealthy special interest staking their claim to the Mayor's attention.

It seems to me that TEP will not be needing their back scratched in the future by progressives who think in larger terms than an ordinance that has the smallest degree of impact on jobs and that is not really emblematic of 95% of what Metro Council actually does. TEP can obviously take care of itself. They will not be needing our support or help as much as they suggest.

Fair is as fair does: finding that elusive level playing field at the Fairgrounds

South Nashville Action People leader Keith Moorman got to speak 4 minutes to Metro Council members in a video of his address to Chamber of Commerce leaders and press (you can access the video by clicking on the Council Committee Presentation, November 9, 2010 link here; Moorman speech begins around 50:00). Mayor Karl Dean introduced the SNAP leader so that the latter could express support of the Mayor's plan to move State Fairgrounds vendors to Hickory Hollow mall and to sell all but 5% of the non-flood-risk Fairgrounds public land to private real estate developers.

No community leaders who question the Mayor's plan were invited to speak to council members with criticism until the council voted overwhelmingly last Tuesday to permit a rare public hearing on the 1st reading of the Mayor's plan to lease Hickory Hollow for Fairgrounds refugees. It should be noted that there are also angry Antioch leaders who report that they were told by the Mayor directly to accept the mall lease or expect no other improvements. They were not accorded Moorman's chance to address a press conference. Hence, they are invisible to the media.

For his part, Mr. Moorman was in attendance during Tuesday's public hearing and he vented his spleen to reporters about not being notified of the public hearing:
But lease supporters who live near the fairgrounds said they felt sandbagged because no one had discussed the possibility of holding a public hearing.

"This is a total shock, and it's not a fair situation," Keith Moorman of South Nashville Action People, a neighborhood group for the Wedgewood Houston area, said in an interview outside the chamber. "It doesn't give a level playing field."

Moorman spoke at a news conference held by Dean last week to tout the fairgrounds' economic development potential. Video of his speech was shown to council members during a committee meeting the next day.
It is worth asking whether anyone complained in shock when Keith Moorman took 4 minutes to describe how he would like for the Fairgrounds to become the next Green Hills? Keep in mind that during the public hearing on Tuesday, individuals only got 2 minutes to speak. I listened to all 40 of the Mayor's critics, and not a single person whined about the fairness of only getting half the time that Mr. Moorman was given to address council members. I fail to understand why Mr. Moorman is so indignant, although I do get that it is in the Mayor's best interest for him to be.

In all honesty, it was not a level playing field back when Mr. Moorman got to speak directly to the press and then had his own little public hearing on November 9. And with Mayor Karl Dean backing you up with courthouse fiat, the playing field could never be level. So, please do not cry for Keith Moorman. I doubt his cause was damaged in the least, and Karl Dean got some free insinuations via journalism that the deck was stacked against him on Tuesday.

A final note of full disclosure: Keith Moorman's spouse is employed by a law firm which also employs the main attorney for the Mayor's convention center project who is also a close personal friend of Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, who has been lobbying to sell off the fairgrounds for years. Perceptions that might result from those facts unstack the deck quite a bit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Details from last night's council meeting you will not read in today's daily newspaper

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Technically, Tennessean reporter Michael Cass is correct: Mayor Dean's plan to lease out Hickory Hollow Mall for former fairgrounds expo tenants passed its first test last night by being approved on first reading. However, Cass put too much positive English on the spin by referring to it as a "major" test and by very nearly insinuating that it stood a chance of being defeated last night.

Three remarkable things happened last night that were setbacks for this Mayor, as much as the Tennessean might attempt to gild the lily or make lemonade.
  • The lease plan did not breeze through on consent with every other bill on 1st reading to be subject to the head gates, squeeze chutes, and crowding tubs of the Metro Council committee process, which tends to corral rather than expand preferential options for community input. For a Mayor's bill not to breeze through 1st reading uncontested and undebated is the biggest news of all. Even a journo cannot not gainsay that given this strong executive form of government.
  • A rare public hearing, an opportunity that the stingy Mayor's Office seemed intent on avoiding, was overwhelmingly approved and allowed to happen (take note: North End CM Erica Gilmore voted against allowing it); a reflection of the furor Karl Dean has wrought with redevelopment plans? Without question, the opposition to any relocation from the fairgrounds was better organized in South Nashville and Antioch (x10) than were the gentrifying supporters who would like to see haute boutiques hawking couture in place of lowly flea markets.
  • The only legislative attempt to counter Mayor Dean, in the form of CM Duane Dominy's bill to "preserve" the fairgrounds could have been beaten, but 19 CMs voted to defeat Greg Adkins's attempt to kill it outright with parliamentary finesse (again, CM Gilmore voted with the Mayor against the opposition to kill Dominy's bill). An alternative to leasing out Hickory Hollow Mall survived.
I would think that opponents to the Mayor's fairgrounds redevelopment folly are encouraged by last night's events regardless of approval on first reading. If they're not they should be. They exercised some leverage over the debate and influenced events. The Mayor's aura of inevitability was shaken. If you told me Tuesday afternoon that would happen I would have called you overly naive, optimistic, and deaf to the Agent Smiths of the Metro Matrix.

Organized community leaders, some of whom probably seemed rough and ragged to the courthouse gentry, were able to make the Mayor's prized pooch, the Metropolitan County Council, sit up and stray from its master in ways that convention center construction opponents could not.

Was it a fluke? Was it a sign that Nashville's overextended honeymoon with Karl Dean is finally ending? Or will the sleeping giant otherwise known as the gentrifier collective wake up and rally to Karl Dean's side? We will see how this plays out. In the meantime, I imagine that outside the usual PR the Mayor's office might be sending out about it, they are not pleased with last night.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

That is a super-sized footprint of public land Mayor Dean would hand to private developers

It looks to me that if Karl Dean has his way (which he usually does) on the future of the fairgrounds, Metro will sell off nearly all of the non-flood-plain land to private real estate interests while trying to get credit for cleaning up flood-risk creek basin that would not be real-estate-amenable anyway. The big chunks of public property the Mayor intends to privatize for short-term sales tax relief are highlighted below.

I don't have a dog in the fight on the questions of auto racing or an expo center, I just do not think that Metro should jettison valuable public land wholesale to private special interests. And as a taxpaying Nashvillian, I do not appreciate the heavy-handedness used to ram this through, especially with no consideration of Antioch neighborhoods.

A tough year for CM Jerry Maynard, Esquire

CM-at-Large Jerry Maynard saw his law license suspended by the Supreme Court last January because he failed to respond to a complaint of ethical misconduct. According to the Nashville Post, the grounds of the suspension lie in Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr's disclosure that Maynard worked in a legal capacity for a North Nashville health center while serving an earlier suspension.

Then last July a petition for discipline was filed against Reverend Maynard (yes, he is also a senior pastor of a Clarksville congregation as well as a former professor of law and ethics and member of the Democratic Party Executive Committee). I cannot find any details on that filing, but reportedly, CM Maynard appears to be in the more formal stage of the disciplinary process at this point. Here is how that is said to play out:
At the end of the informal phase, disciplinary counsel will reach a conclusion about what should happen next. If you have not been able to convince disciplinary counsel that the matter should be dismissed, then the informal, investigatory phase of the process is going to end one of two ways: either the Board, through Disciplinary Counsel, will propose some form of public or private discipline on your license, or the Board will publicly file a formal petition for discipline against you thereby beginning the second phase of the process. Are you convinced you need a lawyer yet?

The second phase looks a lot like the pursuit of a civil lawsuit with a three-member hearing panel playing the part of the judge and jury. You will have to file an answer to the petition, the hearing panel will enter a scheduling order, there will be discovery including the right to take depositions, and ultimately you will try your case to the hearing panel. The hearing panel’s ruling can be appealed to circuit court or chancery court and, from there, directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Because of a change in disciplinary procedure a few years ago, once the petition for discipline has been filed, the whole proceeding is public like other civil lawsuits. Significantly, this also means that the respondent lawyer’s ability to walk away with a private reprimand is now gone. Once this Rubicon has been crossed, a lawyer has to either win the case completely or face some form of public discipline, as the lowest form of discipline that can be imposed by a hearing panel is a public censure.
I cannot imagine this is good news for the CM, who was elected to represent all of us as "at-Large," but it should be a consideration if he decides to run again.

I have heard that CM Maynard is going to lead the Mayor's effort at Tuesday night's council meeting to beat the opposition to selling the fairgrounds to private developers. His checkered ethical history will not exactly give a boost to that cause. Actually, his deal to be one of Karl Dean's advocates for redevelopment may be an extension of his seeming penchant for misconduct.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A council member's unrequited request for public hearing with Antioch neighborhoods affected by Mayor's fairgrounds plan

Did the Mayor respond to a request for public feedback on the move of the fairgrounds expo to an Antioch mall?

Perhaps Hizzoner was too busy having a rare broadcast media interview in his office to try to scare up (literally) support for the move by uttering the "t" word. Didn't Karl Dean promise during his election campaign said he would not raise taxes? Now he is saying he will if his fairground privatization scheme does not go through.

The Antioch Protest Chicken crashes the Mayor's Library Foundation party

When last we saw the Antioch Protest Chicken, it was outside the Bridgestone Arena during the CMA Awards. I was able to be available for the chicken's coming out at CMA, but I could not attend Saturday night when old Antioch protested outside the downtown library while Nashville's muckity mucks, including the Governor and the Mayor, threw down hors d'oeuvres and champagne. A correspondent in the field tells me that the chicken was noticed by big shots and got some party buzz going. Here is the tape someone else posted on YouTube:

There is a fairgrounds rally scheduled at the Courthouse tomorrow before the council meeting in which the Mayor's lease plan comes up. I'm betting the Antioch Protest Chicken will make an appearance.

Mission accomplished: Metro Nashville Public Schools leaves their service workers in rubble

Some of us warned months ago that Nashville's public school service workers would be worse off once Schools Director Jesse Register's secret mission to outsource jobs and to bust the union was accomplished. It did not take very long at all:
Hundreds of former Metro School custodians now working for a company outsourced to do the work said they're getting a raw deal.

One woman, who didn't want to be identified, worked for Metro Schools for nearly a decade.

In June, when the custodians were laid off and the work was outsourced to GCA Services, she was hired back on.

In exchange for the contract with Metro Schools, GCA Services promised that it would hire on some of those laid off custodians.

But out of 600 workers, only 200 were given jobs. GCA also promised to pay comparable wages, and offer benefits. But workers who were hired saID they took a 30 percent pay cut.

"I can't afford to pay the bills it's a drastic cut from 16 all the way down to 13 that's a drastic cut," the woman who didn't want to be identified said.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Riebeling writes the budget and authors the bleak narrative of fairgrounds financials

CM Emily Evans pointed out in the comments section of a previous post that when the fairgrounds budget was written, the impossible projections were the cause of the bothersome results that the fairgrounds board reported last Tuesday to the council:
I gotta say that I am sort of amazed that, so far, the press did not write about the manufactured losses of the fair. Rich purposefully set the budget to lose money for the three years he has been finance director. In government, as in life, if you plan on losing money you most likely will. Someone will have to educate me on how blowing a wad of the people's cash is the "right thing."
No surprise in the press uncritically assuming the validity of the Mayor's Office projections. It's not right, but they keep doing it and there is not much we can do to stop it.

However, we do need to pass the word around that these low revenues may be "bleak" because the fairgrounds projections were originally rigged to fail. Budget projections are less determined by some invisible hand of the market and more by the very human, self-interested hands in Metro Finance.

Council has had the opportunity to question the fairgrounds projections every spring since Karl Dean replaced Bill Purcell, who refused to use the fairgrounds performance as an excuse to convert public land to private real estate for the sake of developers. But I do not remember members demanding realism from Mr. Riebeling in that time. Most of them seemed to go along with Mayor Dean without protest.

That attitude continues. One of Mayor Dean's courthouse loyalists, CM Erik Cole, did not bother to question Metro Finance's formula even as he gnashed his tweeth over a fairgrounds performance that did not live up to Mr. Riebeling's forecast:

What is much bleaker is the probability that Rich Riebeling, who has been lobbying for privatization of the fairgrounds since the Purcell administration, cooked up numbers that were designed to sink the fairgrounds as a public facility.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not exactly Father Christmas

One group of Nashvillians concerned about Mayor Karl Dean's plan to move fairgrounds events to Antioch's Hickory Hollow Mall is the Nashville chapter of the Pi Phi alumnae, who have organized and sponsored Christmas Village as a charitable event for half of a century. Their proceeds go to fund a number of Vanderbilt's medical services and programs of a Gatlinburg arts and crafts school.

I obtained an e-mail sent from leaders of Christmas Village to parties affected by the Mayor's proposal. That correspondence discloses that these leaders met with the Mayor in August to iterate to him that they were not a part of the preservationists with "Save the Fairgrounds," but that they were concerned about the effects of moving Christmas Village to Hickory Hollow. The e-mail describes Mayor Dean as starting "very angry" after hearing that the alumnae group was going to "wage a war in the media" if he did not meet their expectations.

The e-mail says that the leaders tried to assure the Mayor that the unnamed council member who lead him to expect a war was wrong, but that their membership was merely "very concerned about the future of the Christmas Village." They also communicated that perpetuation of their charitable cooperation required solutions "very soon." The leaders asked the Mayor to keep the Fairgrounds Expo operating until an alternative site could be developed.

Reportedly, Mayor Dean refused to discuss any other shows beyond Christmas Village with them, and he suggested that the Pi Phi alums "relax" and wait until September for more answers. On the one hand, while Mayor Dean refused to make them promises, the leaders wrote that they got the impression that he was working on a solution. On the other hand, they disclosed that they believed that Karl Dean could "suspend all efforts if he is angry about tension with council."

I must ask at this point: wouldn't it be wrong for any Mayor to throw a wrench into the plans of everyone connected with the Fairground Expo--including a charity that raises a lot of money to help people--simply out of what seems to be petty anger and retaliation? Don't we expect more from a Mayor than suspending all fairgrounds efforts for any reason short of it being in the best interest of Nashville/Davidson County as a whole to do so? Why should long-standing organizations be forced to tiptoe around the Mayor for fear of pissing him off? I know Nashville's Mayor operates as a CEO might, but the reports from this meeting do not exactly make Hizzoner sound like a benevolent dictator.

Gender Curiosity

After watching a replay of Tuesday night's council fairgrounds debate, I think that the City Paper's Metro beat reporter singled out only one curiosity at the expense of a host of others:
Councilwoman Emily Evans offered the most curious line of attack last night when she referenced Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling’s former role as a commissioner on the fair board during portions of the Phil Bredesen and Bill Purcell administrations.
However, Mayor Dean's Economic and Community Development Director, Alexia Poe (who was introduced with the news that she was taking time away from her maternity leave to promote the Mayor's plan to move fairgrounds events like the flea market to Hickory Hollow mall) even more curiously brought up her maternity leave a second time in the middle of  her discussion. The manner in which she brought her personal situation into the policy discussion struck me as an insinuation that she thought the mall proposal so important that she was willing to sacrifice her right to be with her newborn.

It seems to me that maternity leave is mentioned once as a point of polite deference and respect. I do not question the nobility of sacrifice or the appropriateness of calling attention to it in the introductory remarks. But for the new mom to bring it up a second time smacks a little too much of piling on, that is, an emotional appeal that had nothing to do with the merits of the discussion about the fairgrounds.

Hence, it was most curious to me. And it was out-of-order.

I did not see the same level of curiosity that reporter Joey Garrison did in CM Evans noting that Karl Dean's Finance Director approached former Mayor Bill Purcell to lobby for privatizing the fairgrounds. Noting that Riebeling had been carrying the torch rather than responding to community priorities was evenhanded, and more importantly, it was on the subject of the merits of the proposal.

Why Garrison did not note the curiosity of Poe's reference to maternity leave in the middle of the debate is beyond me. I plan to watch the replay again on Metro 3 just in case I am missing something here. However, if my interpretation holds, I would reply to Ms. Poe that many of the people in the room were likely making personal sacrifices with respect to family members to spend 3 hours listening and discussing the fairgrounds proposal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is the Mayor's Office sending department heads to lobby Metro Council on the fairgrounds privatization plan?

I cannot wait to see the replay of this week's council committee meeting on Mayor Karl Dean's plan to help fulfill Finance Director Rich Riebeling's dream of privatizing the fairgrounds by converting it for real estate industry royalty. I've never really been strongly opposed to converting the fairgrounds to something more in tune with surrounding South Nashville, I just oppose the means the Mayor's Office uses consistently to ram through capital initiatives that serve Karl Dean's cohort while leaving the rest of us to enjoy whatever scraps are left over.

I want to see the replay of the meeting because I look forward to CM Emily Evans pointing out that Director Riebeling has been "carrying the torch" of fairgrounds privatization since he was with the fair board. That confirms my sense (which I've had since the Mayor's Office ran interference for CM Sandra Moore on a shadow neighborhood meeting) that the fix was in on the fairgrounds future from the beginning.

But what I most want to see is CM Mike Jameson rail against the lobbying effort that seems to be coming from on high (as related by Joey Garrison):
Jameson said [Metro Public Works Director Billy] Lynch called him last week and asked for his stance on the fairgrounds issue.

“You don’t need to go there,” Jameson said. “Had it just been me, I would have chalked it up as just idle conversation. But, in talking to some of my colleagues on the council floor –– none of whom I will name –– but all of whom said they got the call and started getting arms twisted and references to yellow trucks in their district. That doesn’t need to happen.

“I know the public works director,” Jameson added. “He’s a phenomenal public servant. I know he doesn’t do this out of his own volition. I know he follows orders.”

Jameson requested Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite, who chairs the council’s Codes, Fair and Farmers Market Committee, ask Lynch for any vote tally list that he may have obtained.
Metro 3 and IT Director Keith Durbin willing, I will get to see the drama unfold on tape someday soon.

UPDATE: Metro 3 did play back the 3 hour meeting Thursday night, and Mike Jameson's disclosure about Public Works' lobbying effort was even more spectacular than depicted in The City Paper. CM Jameson made a point of saying that the Director's phone call was not made personally, but with the Director's assistant. If I could transcribe Jameson's entire body of comments I would. It was impressive.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CMA demonstration against Karl Dean's fairground plans

A chicken (name changed to protect the innocent from Davidson Co Democratic Party or Mayor's Office blacklists) appeared at the CMA Awards ceremony tonight to protest Karl Dean's plans to sell off the public fairgrounds to the highest private real estate bidder. I am told the Mayor was attending the CMA festivities.

The Antioch Protest Chicken

Monday, November 08, 2010

Nashville Neighborhood PAC drew a distinction without a difference

The leadership of Nashville Neighborhoods Defense Fund makes a point of telling us that if we really want positive change for neighborhoods, we have to participate in their mission to fund candidates for office who will pursue such change. The problem is that the NNDF PAC does not always endorse candidates who make an appreciable difference for neighborhoods. A case in point was their shilling for CM Sam Coleman (Democrat) over CM Jim Gotto (Republican) in the race for the 60th legislative district won by Gotto last week.

I do not take issue with the PAC's conclusion that CM Gotto has been unsupportive of neighborhood concerns. Jim Gotto is one of the most pro-development, growth-accommodating CMs that I know of. However, I have yet to see how Sam Coleman has distinguished himself as a progressive community advocate. As CM, Mr. Coleman:

  • championed foolhardy attempts to allow guns in Metro parks
  • co-sponsored ethically dubious meals-for-deals legislation
  • seemed anti-immigration and supportive of English Only
  • sponsored a bill to ease restrictions on cellphone towers in neighborhoods
  • ignored neighborhood opposition to relocating the West Precinct police station to a flood-prone car dealership, voting to support the re-location, which the Mayor's Office reconsidered after the May flood inundated the site.

CM Coleman also attempted to discourage opposition to a bill to allow LED signs in residential neighborhoods. Curiously, in e-mail correspondence sent to the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list, NNDF based their opposition to CM Gotto in part on the rationale that he sponsored LED sign legislation:

Note that the NNDF co-founder did not list a single council initiative that Sam Coleman lead in counterpoint to Jim Gotto's shenanigans.

Regular readers of Enclave remember that I have not been shy about excoriating Jim Gotto or the Republicans. But we should not buy the latest PAC scheme to airbrush Sam Coleman into something he never was just because he ran as a Democrat. I cannot think of a single progressive initiative on behalf of neighborhood quality of life that CM Coleman initiated during his tenure on Metro Council, and the NNDF endorsement is puzzling.

Another CM pointed out that the NNDF needs to focus less on negative advertising on behalf of potential allies and more on raising money and fighting for neighborhoods. I would say that if the PAC wants my support that is the least they could do. Stronger endorsements would not hurt either.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Hizzoner's task-force surrogates show a shallow community reach, notwithstanding the news media's view

In recent analysis, City Paper reporter Joey Garrison seems to take a critical eye toward Mayor Karl Dean's use of task forces on various issues, but I believe he falls into the trap of mistaking task force leadership with direct and broad representation of community issues. Some of us on the outside looking in detect a leap in the reporter's logic:
With the creation of task forces and other groups, Dean deflects such charges [of an insular mayor's office]. He creates community buy-in, ownership over major projects and issues. Some people believe they have a direct voice inside the mayor’s office. It would be naive and inaccurate to point to Dean’s various groups as the primary reason for his political success, but creating a line of communication between voters and his office doesn’t hurt.
While reporter Garrison provides no warrant for the claim that the task force has created community buy-in (other than a comparison with a city where an unpopular mayor operates without task forces), lets assume for a second that there is evidence to support. The task forces do not bubble up from the grassroots leadership in Nashville. They are hand-picked by the Mayor's Office. They seem to function more like a House of Lords (to the Metro Council's House of Commons), an upper house of unelected specialists on favorable terms with the courthouse class.

I remember reading a long time ago that there are at least two sets of leaders: those who are the leaders who operate in office and those who continue to lead outside of any recognized office. In order to be a community-connected executive, Mayor Dean would have to have mechanisms to connect with both formal and informal leaders. Task forces allow him to connect with a few formal leaders unlikely to criticize his leadership. If the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods were not a shell of the robust unit it was under the previous administration, Karl Dean would have a means of connecting with community leaders who are organic and independent, but who would nonetheless bring a broader vision.

I cannot exactly be sure; maybe Karl Dean prefers not to have a broader, more critical vision. The path of least resistance is appointing a surrogate task force to project the image of community connection. However, it seems jumping to conclusions to argue that the task force keeps him from being insular, when in all probability, this select group of volunteer advisors may be helping him stave off demands and expectations that rise from the rest of us in the unwashed rabble. Moreover, the campaign finance potential of the task force leaders is likely a sweet lock.

My own experience tells me that Joey Garrison probably overstated the case when he referred to the Mayor as having achieved community buy-in with task forces. The first neighborhoods meeting Karl Dean held after his election was branded as "Connecting Communities." The discussion was fairly tightly controlled and even the audience feedback questionnaires were narrowly framed with leading questions limiting neighborhood issues to school drop-out rates and youth crime, both of which were Dean-for-Mayor campaign staples. Both also precluded any feedback on zoning, developers, and a host of other issues affecting communities.

Getting community buy-in requires a little something more than putting organic concerns of local leaders (like rezoning or growth that flies in the face of community planning) on the back burner and using task force leaders as surrogates for everyone else. Neighborhood concerns with growth and development, with the declining significance of services and infrastructure are just as legitimate as the non-threatening issues that the Mayor's Office cherry picks to promote itself and pre-position for the next election.

There is no guarantee that Mayor Dean will follow up on the task force recommendations, worthy or not, and task force leaders may be so thankful to have semblance of an advisory role that they may not press questions about unrealized recommendations. As bad as that might be, still worse is the prospect that broader community-defined issues will be overlooked or ignored because the task force system gives the Mayor's Office a measure of deniability against charges that they governed without regard to community concerns.

UPDATE: Matt Pulle comments on the weak tea of task force governance:
Recently, Garrison, whose work I normally appreciate, penned a piece on Mayor Karl Dean’s penchant for appointing approximately 934 task forces and committees (I’m exaggerating slightly) to address some of Nashville’s more entrenched problems. Though the story worked from a promising premise, it inexplicably failed to explore whether the mayor’s strategy fits in with his irritating reluctance to take bold, definitive stands on key issues.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tennessee Republican lawmaker says she did not know that blackface was offensive and "Some of my greatest friends are black"

Gospel-singing, white General Assembly legislator Terri Lynn Weaver posted a picture of herself and a pastor on Facebook. In that photo, captured by WSMV before being being scrubbed off her site, the pastor is shamelessly dressed as an old-school "Aunt Jemima," which was a Jim-Crow era mammy caricature.

Rep. Weaver initially responded to media queries defensively, seemingly insulted that someone (like State Senator Thelma Harper) would accuse her of being racially insensitive, even as she resorted to the cracker cliché about her best friends being black. That was yesterday. Today the General Assembly's Black Caucus called for Rep. Weaver to appear before the House Ethics Committee and she is apologizing, although she is pleading ignorance and defending her intentions.

Once again red-state Tennessee is embarrassed by Republican stupidity as the story is national via Wonkette:
doesn’t everyone have a pastor who dresses up as offensive caricatures like this. And in response to the furor over this offensive stereotype, the woman is now defending herself in the most stereotypical way possible. Yes, that’s right: “I’m the least racist of anyone. Some of my greatest friends are black.” Problem solved.
Yes, stand strong, white lady! There was probably no other costume for her pastor to wear, anyway. 
Besides that wince-worthy moment where another white person justifies their insensitivities with the virtue of friendship, it is remarkable that another Tennessee conservative who claims to embrace "values" feels comfortable with disparaging caricatures of our bygone Jim Crow era. It is beyond regrettable. It is valueless.