Thursday, March 31, 2011

Doing it for the kids (the bling ain't bad either)

I received copies of emails that crossed between Mayor Karl Dean's office and officials of Building Excellent Schools, the contractor selected and paid $250,000 to start two charter schools in Nashville. I loaded these emails on Google Docs and you can view them or download them after the jump.

A number of questions arise from these emails:
  • Why is the Mayor spending $250,000 on BES for two single, young adults (BES Fellows) from outside of Nashville to start charter schools?
  • Did any of the $250,000 go to BES for writing charter applications for the Fellows? If the BES Fellows are not writing their applications, does Alan Coverstone or the school board know it?
  • The influence of these charter management companies on Metro government is growing. Is the Dean charter school program an attempt to check public unions? Will independent charter schools have a level playing field to compete with the BES charters?
  • Were the BES applications given extra time last year? Did the Metro department overseeing the selection process show favoritism to BES?
  • How much money does Linda Brown at BES make? Is BES committed to non-profit transparency?
  • Why wasn't the charter incubator open to all applicants? Are there no qualified leaders in Nashville?
  • How will Metro insure that BES Fellows do not artificially produce higher test scores by getting rid of underperforming students and drilling others?
  • Why did Alan Coverstone move to get the BES schools in quickly? How were the local applicants judged against the BES Fellows?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

All the Mayor's men: no apologies for possible ethics violations

The last thing Mayor Karl Dean needs since kicking off his re-election campaign with a couple of rebranding efforts called "neighborhood gatherings," designed to frame him as in touch with communities, is embarrassing news that smacks of elitism. However, news did crop up today that Dean's closest advisers appear to be keeping sweetheart relations with a Metro contractor.

Dean signed an executive order in 2008 reiterating and amending the ethical rules of his predecessor:

This order applies to the Mayor and employees of the Mayor's office ....

No employee shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, on behalf of himself, herself, or any member of the employee's household, any gift, gratuity, service, favor, entertainment, lodging, transportation, loan, loan guarantee or any other thing of monetary value from any person who:
  • has, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with the department or agency of Metropolitan Government by which the individual is employed, or
  • conducts operations or activities that are regulated by the department or agency of Metropolitan Government by which the employee is employed, or
  • has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CM Gilmore announces her re-election bid to Salemtown Neighbors, expresses her intention to lead with zoning variance

I wasn't present last night when CM Erica Gilmore addressed the Salemtown neighborhood association, but I got word from others who did that CM Gilmore announced her re-election for office and then expressed her willingness to support a zoning variance requested by a local developer for a 5th Avenue project. As I understand it she also expressed the concern that she might end up the target of criticism on this blog by risking support for the development in question.


Cumberland River Compact works with South Nashville neighborhoods on small but not insignificant steps to protect the Browns Creek watershed

Rain gardens can make a significant difference in controlling stormwater run-off and in naturally treating that water in the process. CRC's work in South Nashville matters if neighborhoods are on board with the project:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Boston's present may be Nashville's future

When the Music City Center is finished, Nashville will have 3 convention centers with 3 sizes, which will in theory attract more conventions. However, the city of Boston has 2 convention centers--1 large and 1 small--which cumulatively are not attracting more conventions. In fact, Bean Town's newest one seems to be killing business for the older, smaller one:

while the growth of the South Boston exhibition hall is undeniable, much of that business has come at the expense of Boston’s other convention hall, the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. Since 2006, five of the Hynes’s largest events have relocated to the newer, bigger hall, shifting visitors across town instead of bringing new ones from elsewhere.

And in those past five years, the number of hotel nights from visitors to the two halls combined is up only 9 percent, according to data provided by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. The new convention center alone was projected to have increased hotel nights by 18 percent in the same period, according to a 1997 study commissioned by a state-appointed panel, which also predicted the Hynes would not be hurt by the larger convention center.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Recovery of the Richland Creek watershed continues

Volunteers weathered cooler temperatures and the threat of rain to continue the project of restoration of Richland Creek in West Nashville:

The volunteers worked tirelessly and retrieved about 4 tons of flood debris. Many large floatable flood remnants easily could have made their way back into the stream, met up with the sewer line just downstream and created a blockage to stream flow. Volunteers from the Nations neighborhood understood the potential flood hazard and expressed gratitude for our event. Beside filling the roll of dumpster below, volunteers seperated out tires and hazardous materials for proper disposal and Metro trash receptalces to be returned for reuse ....

Our next Richland Creek flood recovery project is scheduled for April 9th at Charlotte Avenue and we need volunteers with canoes to help retreive debris from the steep stream banks. Contact us at if you can help.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jerry Maynard running as "attorney of integrity" with ethical misconduct questions and suspension of his law practice

I still cannot find any reports that the suspension of CM Jerry Maynard's law license has ended. Not long ago CM Maynard expressly and in no uncertain terms told his fellow council members during one of their business meetings that he was no longer practicing.

Yet, he seems to have no reservation calling himself a lawyer on his re-election website, and he indicates that his practice is characterized by integrity while neglecting to mention the ethical misconduct questions alleged about him:

Meet Jerry

Pastor. Educator. Community Leader. Businessman. Lawyer. Political Leader.

These words all describe Jerry L. Maynard, II

....Inspired by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the impact an attorney of integrity could have on a community, Maynard chose law as his profession. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana..

Friday, March 25, 2011

Casting the net more widely on the census changes proposed in Metro Planning's "Alternative A"

A round-up of reactions to the first round of proposed changes to Nashville's council & school board districts, which were introduced a couple of days ago:
  • According to one Nashville Neighborhoods elist report, Metro Planning promises changes to "Alternative A" even though next week they will be introducing an "Alternative B"
  • I have posted the spreadsheet of Alt A district numbers with population and race/ethnic stats that a Nashville Neighborhoods elist member obtained
  • One of the oldest neighborhood associations, Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors, already wrote a letter to Planning opposing Alt A saying that having 2 council members would disrupt their work. (But wouldn't having 2 CMs give Belmont-Hillsboro twice as much influence as say Salemtown, which would only have 1 under Alt A? I do not understand the concern with the inconvenience, when the payoff might be more).
  • Likewise, CM Anna Page erroneously refers to new council lines "dividing neighborhoods" in her current district. This is backward thinking. Council lines do not determine neighborhood boundaries. Neighborhoods define their boundaries. Or perhaps CM Page could show us how neighborhoods that are currently divided by existing district lines are disadvantaged by them (which would open a whole new can of worms about the disadvantaged in this council term).
  • Blogger Mr. Pink at the Nashville Scene worries about either the logic or the aesthetics of putting one side of Hillsboro Village in one district and one side in another. But he ignores the fact that the main campus of Vanderbilt currently sits in one district while the university's residential college campus at Peabody right across the street sits in another with no apparent ill effects.
  • Ever consumed with beauty-contest elections one local party insider/long-time Dean shill is hind-sighting and second-guessing the decisions of council candidates to focus on existing district boundaries in their run for office. Read at your own risk: grooming candidates for the Democrats often becomes more important than weightier matters of politics affecting our everyday lives.
  • Alt A would put the State Fairgrounds in a different district than the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. Currently, both are in the same district and the most vocal opponents of the Fairgrounds seem to come from that neighborhood.
  • CM Erica Gilmore, whose run for re-election could be substantially affected by Alt A is "still processing" the proposal.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Subtraction by addition: Metro Planning shares their first recommendations for redistricting

Metro Planning Department's first proposal ("Alternative A") for council redistricting based on changes in the 2010 U.S. Census was put online yesterday. It caused a buzz in the social media. Planning's suggestions for District 19, which includes Salemtown, are substantial and significant for a district that had been considered within the allowable range for an "ideal population".

Here is a superimposed map of 19 and the new alternative, District 13:

Current Dist 19 is outlined in purple. Proposed Dist 13 is outlined in red.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Metro paying top dollar for young charter starters

A Boston charter school company is dropping almost $100,000 of what Metro is paying them on each of the nuclear-family-free twenty-somethings hired to get new charters running. Nice work if you can get it:

Nice press if you can get it. In the meantime, my kid's unglamourous, underfunded North Nashville public school suffers for a lack of operating personal computers in the classrooms.

If the Metro Council had been more progressive on stormwater fees 2 years ago, how many projects would be done now?

I wonder how those self-styled progressive council members, Megan Barry, Erik Cole, and Ronnie Steine feel about their vote 2 years ago this month against a real progressive attempt to remove Mayor Karl Dean's arbitrary stormwater fee cap on businesses. I wonder what they think about the fact that less than 250 stormwater projects have been completed in 2 years. I wonder how many of the 3,200+ undone stormwater projects might be completed now had they opposed the regressive Dean fees and helped Jason Holleman and Emily Evans drum up more votes to draw the demands on paved-over businesses equal to less-paved residences:

Two years ago, Councilman Jason Holleman proposed a fee structure that would have charged commercial landowners in direct proportion to the amount of impervious surface they own.

While the current system caps the monthly fee at $400 for landowners with 1 million square feet of paved surface, Holleman's proposal would have removed the cap.

"Put simply, the more you pave, the more you pay," Holleman said, adding that his proposal would also reduce the monthly fee for owners of small and midsize commercial properties ....

"Obviously we need to do more, and the May flood highlighted how much infrastructure work there is to do to meet the backlogs and meet the needs of our citizens," Holleman said.

Finally, I wonder why the news media won't hold CMs who vote with the Mayor accountable for unrealized expectations.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CRIME ALERT: Salemtown burglaries

Via the Salemtown Neighbors e-list:

Just wanted to let everyone know that my garage was burglarized last night. They got lawn equipment and tools. Unfortunately, they chose the one window in the garage that did not have an alarm sensor when they entered the garage. Be on the alert. Someone also broke into my neighbor's garage two doors down from me a couple of weeks ago and got some of the same type of items. If we get any leads I will let you all know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Community leader disputes council's minority candidates

Local Nashville blogger, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and fashion specialist Genma Holmes challenges those council candidates running for re-election on the claims that commitment to minority spending on the convention center project has been met (you may remember that I recently posted a podcast of Jerry Maynard making those claims):

local elected officials who represent the poorest residents in Nashville voted to fund a project to bring visitors in a down economy with tax payer dollars based on property taxes when a large number of Nashvillians have lost their homes to foreclosure. Brilliant!

The [Music City Center] Project has had its share of controversy which is being swept under the rug now that 2011 elections are around the corner. We are being given the three-piece-chicken-and-biscuit-special speeches while ignoring what the community of color has really gotten from the project. A wing, a dash of hot sauce, with prayers on the side. “We are getting 20% in minority spending”, I have heard a few potential candidates say lately. No one has asked the obvious follow up, “20% of what actual dollar amount?” Please.

The Mayor’s chief cheerleader for the MCC, Walt Baker, was revealed as a racist, at least in his emails. The PR firm debacle was all over the place. And very recently, Metro Finance Director, Rich Riebeling, one of Mayor Karl Dean's top advisers, failed to disclose fully personal business dealings with a prominent attorney and a local engineering firm, which have both won large contracts for the downtown convention center project. Wonder if any color folks bid on those contracts?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A local news media outlet finally asks critical questions about Karl Dean's Japan trip

As published in this morning's Nashville Scene, Liz Garrigan asks the same questions I've been asking of the Mayor's decision to go to Japan since he left last Friday:

Dean is in Japan, of all places — commingling an economic development trip with a spring break family getaway. Think about that for a minute. The country first suffers an earthquake, then a tsunami that causes more damage than the earthquake. So the mayor's response is to call and ask whether he should postpone his economic development trip? "The mayor conferred with the consul general of Japan in Nashville before proceeding with the trip," a mayoral press release Friday read. "Consul General Hiroshi Sato ensured Mayor Dean he would not be in the way."

So Dean packed up his iPod and his rep ties and hopped aboard a flight to Asia, a move any freshman political science student would find misguided.

"Karl Dean, our little ol' mayor, is over there running around the Japanese countryside!" Craddock practically exclaims. "I just don't understand that to save my life. I just told my wife, I don't know who advises the mayor, but surely they'd have told him, 'Postpone your trip, brother. This is no time to go to Japan.' There is a pattern to this kind of behavior."

That may be the first time I've ever agreed with Michael Craddock.

Now I understand the difference between an editorial and reporting, and I acknowledge that Garrigan is making claims that reporters cannot make. But reporters did not have to make editorial assertions last week to simply ask the question: "How is an economic development trip (assuming it was really that) or a family Spring Break vacation to Japan essential during quakes, tsunamis, and nuclear plant failures?"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Compare and contrast: Karl Dean's Japan "junket" not for economic development opportunities after all?

The Mayor's press release on March 11:

Mayor Karl Dean is traveling to Japan as a guest of the Japanese Government today through March 20 to explore continued economic development opportunities between the city of Nashville and Japan ....

“Nashville is increasingly becoming an international city and international companies play a significant role in our local economy – Japanese companies specifically,” Dean said. “This visit ... will hopefully allow me to bring back ... new opportunities to our city as we continue to stay focused on economic development."

The Mayor's comments to the press today from Tokyo via Channel 4:

The mayor said this is not specifically a business recruiting trip, so no big economic development deal or announcement should be expected.

So, did the Mayor go to Japan for new economic development opportunities or for a family Spring Break vacation?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The radiation catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi and Mayor Karl Dean's "essential" travel

Since I last posted on Mayor Dean's trip to Japan on Friday in the immediate wake of earthquakes and tsunamis, things continue to get more critical for the island nation with the number of Japanese missing or dead topping 5,000. Tonight at a nuclear power plant 135 miles from Tokyo (where Mayor Dean and his family are staying) plant workers and news media have been ordered to evacuate because radiation has reached 400 times the legal limit. To compound the disaster, winds are reportedly blowing from the leaking plant toward Tokyo, and Geiger counter readings in Tokyo rose to "worrisome" levels at one point.

As the situation gets more and more grave in Japan's crisis, the questions a handful of us have been asking about the wisdom of Karl Dean's mission to Japan become even more poignant.

I am not the only blogger raising these issues. Catherine McTamaney blogged an impressive list of reasons why Mayor Karl Dean's trip to Japan right now is outrageous. They are all worth a read, but I particularly wanted to draw your attention to her point that Japan's cultural code of honor would have obligated Mayor Dean's hosts to say "yes" if he had asked whether he and his family should have come to Japan last Friday in the wake the quakes. The ball really was more in the Mayor's court to take the initiative and postpone this ill-advised trip while assuring Japanese officials of support during these catatrophes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mayor Karl Dean left for Japan today. What part of that trip is essential given earthquakes and tsunamis?

Visiting Japan after an earthquake is essential. Visiting Antioch after February tornado, not so much.

Common sense dictates that, after the 5th largest earthquake in international history hits Japan producing destructive tsnamis and causing the declaration of emergency at 5 different nuclear reactors, travel to Japan at this time might not be the wise choice. But you do not even have to have common sense. The US State Department advised American citizens to avoid "non-essential travel" to Japan today.

Late crime report regarding Germantown mugging

Kim Unertl sent me this report back at the end of February and I simply forgot to post. Sorry to all, and especially to Kim. It is from the Historic Germantown newsletter:

The priest at Assumption [Church] was mugged at gunpoint Saturday night [February 19] while walking back from Kroger. There were several similar incidents around us. The police do not know if it is a male or female, but believe the crimes are drug related.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

North Precinct police officers to be "proactive" in community over Spring Break to "root out gang influences"

School Spring Break is a good time to focus on youth crime prevention in North Nashville, because a lot of kids are in the 'hoods with not a lot to do. Too bad Metro Parks couldn't have coordinated expanded community center hours and programming in tandem with this increased community policing effort announced by North Precinct Commander Anthony Carter:

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Urbanophile not feeling the love for Germantown

In a February post generally high on Nashville, urban analyst Aaron M. Renn seemed less than impressed with Historic Germantown:

North of downtown is a small historic district called Germantown. This was rather unimpressive if you ask me. I didn’t see much that was German about it. It sure isn’t Columbus’ German Village, that’s for sure. There were some restaurants there. I had lunch at one of them which, fortunately for them, I can’t remember the name of because it was terrible. This area is mostly older single family homes.

Mayor and Metro Police reducing the size of the North Precinct police force to increase suburban force?

The neighborhoods of Nashville's North End sit just across the interstate from MNPD's North Precinct. While we are in the Central Precinct, we are often keenly aware of the crime and police response to our north. At a recent Salemtown Neighbors meeting, a police officer compared the boundary between the central and north precinct as the line between crime-prevention neighborhoods like ours holding out increased criminal activities across the interstate.

The North Precinct was built 7 years ago, about the time we moved into Salemtown, to provide better security, more crime prevention for North Nashville neighborhoods. It stands to reason that building that new precinct represented a commitment by the previous Mayor's Office to devote public safety resources more equitably.

So, I do not know what to make of a report just coming from the Belmont-Hillsboro association that the more affluent suburban neighborhoods south of I-440 will be getting a new precinct seemingly at the expense of the North Precinct. Mayor Karl Dean's plan was announced at a crime prevention meeting held at Christ the King Catholic Church Monday night:

Sunday, March 06, 2011

WWJD: Jerry Maynard tells 92Q of his plans to run for re-election in 2011

This morning Council Member at-Large Jerry Maynard was guest on Ernie Allen's regular Sunday morning show. Here is the entire podcast offered at 92Q:

Several points from the interview stand out to me in this election year:

Friday, March 04, 2011

Mayor's green public-private arrangement in limbo?

Curiously, over 2 months ago the blogger for the public-private partnership between Metro Nashville and The Land Trust for Tennessee teased us into expecting an open space plan by the end of January.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Spring Hill plans for Festival Tennessee without planning

Almost as long I have been blogging here at Enclave I've periodically written about Spring Hill, Tennessee. Or maybe I should say that I've blogged about the way Spring Hill has been used in local media as a conservative symbol for what is wrong with Nashville, what is wrong with property taxes, and what is wrong with urbanism in general. Since the beginning of the recession Spring Hill has suffered like many in Tennessee, and I have not heard those Spring Hill-as-beacon memes lately.

The latest news on Spring Hill makes its conservative Nirvana look desperate: the Mayor has an understanding with a developer from Las Vegas, who has a checkered past, to build a huge amusement park, NBA facility, charter school and meth rehab center in the community, collectively called "Festival Tennessee". The deal comes with no strings attached for Spring Hill and promises thousands of jobs in a facility rivaling Disney World. Something for nothing probably sounds sweet to those who have taken their lumps. For a community that has been reeling like the rest of us with housing market collapse and unemployment, chasing promises of a new Nirvana looks like clutching at straws.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"The Anatomy of the Sulphur Dell Sales Pitch" or "How Ballparks Become More Important Than Museums"

I am a huge baseball fan. I love the history. I love the game.

I have been to many Sounds games in the last 20 years. We were Sounds season ticket holders at one point. One of my prized possessions is a homerun ball hit out of Greer Stadium by Prince Fielder. Nelson Cruz's record-setting Major League extra-base hits in the 2010 playoffs reminded me of how he hit the league-winning homerun in 2005 as a Sound.

I participated in riverfront development community charrettes on locating a baseball field in places like the thermal plant site and the East Bank. I eventually grudgingly endorsed the ill-fated plan for the Sounds to move to a mixed-use development at the thermal site based on what seemed to be a minimal maintenance cost to Metro while keeping baseball in Nashville.

Quite logically this might lead you to believe that I would be a natural fit for a "Friends of Sulphur Dell" (whose main purpose is to, in the words of founder Jason Powell, recruit "champions" to promote a ballpark for the Sounds on the historic site). If that is the case, think again. I am a fan, but I do not forget that building a baseball field pretty much amounts to politics not to be treated blindly or uncritically.