Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Every next big thing has a next big flip side

There is a lot of buzz in the mainstream media and local social media about food trucks. They are today's latest rage. While food trucks are fun and novel (for those who've never noshed at a roach coach), they also have unintended consequences for neighborhoods that require some forethought toward regulations. For instance, should food truck owners be held responsible for litter that their customers throw down? Should a food truck be allowed to blare Tijuana Taxi for hours straight? Can a food truck set up shop anywhere on or off the street? What obligations does the vendor have to protect public health?

Real life concerns may be a buzz-kill on food truck fun, but these are important issues to people who live in the vicinity of these good times. Jump to a draft of the regulations Metro Traffic and Parking is considering for mobile vendors.

What LaLonde's parting list says and what it does not say

Outgoing CM of the fairly affluent West Nashville district that encompasses part of Hillsboro-West End, Belmont-Hillsboro, and 12South, Kristine LaLonde, sent a farewell/thank you note out to constituents today (Burkley Allen will take the seat in the next term). Among her accomplishments she mentions:

Council work is not just making good things happen, it’s preventing bad things from happening. Collective efforts helped to prevent inappropriate developments in our neighborhood, as we work to keep the balance of housing, commercial development, and institutions.

Not only do I agree with Ms. LaLonde, but I'll go a step beyond her and maintain that the same prevention of inappropriate developments ought to also extend to less wealthy, more transitional neighborhoods in Nashville. We all deserve balance, but often times the communities here don't have power and influence, and they are forced to accept "growth" that other areas would not tolerate. Often times North Nashville is cut off from the power that other communities have to achieve a balance of housing, commercial, and institutions. Like unsmart growth, a sense of desperation, both experienced and encouraged, is unevenly distributed (e.g., "Jobs, jobs, jobs!").

One other unrelated but remarkable aspect of Ms. LaLonde's letter was what it did not say: she did not list her unqualified  support of the Mayor's convention center project among her accomplishments. It seems like most of the progressive CMs who supported Mayor Dean on building the Music City Center have been ducking rather than showcasing that construction project. It seems odd for the emphasis on economic growth that they put on it in the run-up to approval. Did the new convention center not resonate with District 18 constituents like it did with campaign donors?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Update on that $157,000 stadium feasibility project

My bets are on Populous picking Sulphur Dell as one of the two top choices (if not the top choice) on November 1 and on Populous later becoming the company picked to win the design contract as they have been in the past without much of a search by Mayor Dean who generally doesn't conduct open searches:

[Jim] Fyke said he expects Populous to narrow the field to two or three sites in the next month and recommend the best one around Nov. 1. The consultant, formerly known as HOK Sport, has designed numerous ballparks, from the new Yankee Stadium in New York to venues for AAA teams like the Sounds in Memphis, Indianapolis and Durham, N.C.

While Dean has expressed a preference for Sulphur Dell, a historic baseball site dating to the years after the Civil War, the Sounds have said they’d prefer to be at the thermal plant site, where previous ownership planned to move the team until a deal collapsed four years ago. The mayor has said he’d like to put an amphitheater there.

Fyke said the consultants will help the city understand the bottom line at each location after exploring topography, infrastructure needs, land prices, the availability of parking and other factors.

“They’ll separate the emotions and look at the economics of each site,” he said. “We want to make it an objective approach.”

It seems to me that "objective" approaches would also take community character and sustainability issues into account, too, but I'm not a really expensive part-time hire brought in to make a new stadium happen like Fyke is, either.

But this latest update got me to thinking more about the development projects emanating from the Mayor's Office. There are differences between the machinations behind the Fairgrounds redevelopment plan and the concept of a Sulphur Dell stadium: for instance, the concept is at this point more abstract than the plan was. However, there are some interesting similarities

  • Both initiatives were initiated and shepherded by the Mayor's Office
  • Interest groups historically connected to attached sports venues (speedway supporters and the Sulphur Dell preservation group lead by Skip Nipper) did not express support for the Mayor's plan
  • Both initiatives were given an aura of community support, led by individuals with Democratic Party connections (Colby Sledge and Jason Powell)
  • In the early stages of each initiative supportive community groups did not divulge the degree of support (or neutrality or opposition) in the community other than to claim that a number of neighborhood groups supported both
  • The print media did not bother to research or test claims of community support for each initiative
  • Both initiatives had an at-Large CM and a district CM following the Mayor and lending enthusiastic support rather than asking questions or inviting more scrutiny
  • Neither initiative was launched with a transparent process of community-based master planning that took into account traffic impact, parking provisions, existing community plans, smart growth/sustainability, complete streets including walkability, mass transit expansion alternatives, or environmental impact of run-off
  • Both initiatives were more informed by elites than by the grassroots subject to redevelopment impact

After the Tennessean story quoted above appeared, Jason Powell tweeted to reporter Michael Cass that 4 neighborhood groups in the area had already expressed unqualified support. Not among those 4 was Salemtown Neighbors, which responded to Jason's original invitation to join other "champions" for the Sulphur Dell cause with a more cautious openness. SNNA members expressed preferences to see plans, impact studies, and measures to protect our quality of life. Some here expressed the hope that the community would participate to the same degree that they did when a previous proposal for new baseball park was formulated several years ago. None of that has happened, yet, so Jason Powell cannot include us with the groups who adopted an untested idea with no questions asked.

Source: Tennessean
I hope that we will be fortunate enough to see whether the community support for a ballpark here--without any assurances or process--is as deep as claimed or whether--like the Fairgrounds question--there is a lot more ambiguity of community opinion on this than Powell's "champions" or the Mayor's Office are willing to acknowledge. It is noteworthy that the only poll of opinions on this topic is the Tennessean's online poll connected with the story quoted above, because Sulphur Dell is not the pick of a majority of reader/responders.

Let's be clear: the poll is not scientific or broadly representative. But it was promoted on the Facebook page started by Powell's group (not to be confused with Skip Nipper's Facebook group) to build a new stadium here in the North End. So, the poll's limitations actually benefit groups that can coordinate large numbers of people to shape perceptions by participating. Yet, expanding the strike zone to get a bigger hit is risky. Sulphur Dell does not have nearly enough votes to win after two weeks. Supporters of a new Sulphur Dell ballpark cannot mobilize enough respondents to draw close to the old thermal plant property (which is not to say that spot is better). Producing numbers would bolster those claims of popular support, but the numbers are not yet delivered.

We're probably going to get much more clarity on the future of a ballpark than we've had come November 1. However, the question of local community support is still up in the air as far as I'm concerned, and if supporters of the Mayor's preference for Sulphur Dell hope to motivate community buy-in, they would be better advised to take some steps toward incorporating community questions and concerns.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Predatory sports may be cheating Nashville out of money and jobs

NewsChannel5's Phil Williams is the only local journo all over the story on the propriety of Nashville Predators hockey intending to extend their no-bid contract with one NHL insider's concessions company to mid-century. Williams highlights the hockey club's contract with the Courthouse that requires them to hold a "competitive bidding process similar to that being used by the Metropolitan Government" for selecting concessionaires. In the video report Williams catches the Predators' president lying in saying that he checked with other concessions companies before deciding to extend the contract of Delaware North. Like a good reporter should, Williams followed up with other concessionaires who denied that the Predators had called them.

Here's Williams' entire report:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The social media brain trust at the Tennessean to "collaborate" with Seigenthaler PR on a new project designed to cherry pick legit community voices

A brainstorm: the scene inside Tennessean's social media
office as they attempt to reanimate the body of journalism
The Tennessean decision makers, obviously dissatisfied with the noble goals of the Fourth Estate, have decided to try to be an arbiter to determine which voices in Nashville are more legit than others. They are introducing an online initiative called "Brainstorm Nashville," which they describe as "a collaborative space for the community to brainstorm ideas for solving community problems". It is worth asking whether a top-heavy, hierarchical corporation can create a "collaborative space" (which assumes that all Nashvillians have the money to have access to the newspaper's space to collaborate).

But it is also worth pointing out that this looks like another excuse to continue to pass over the voices that are already being expressed around Nashville, in community meetings, in neighborhood elists and newsletters, and on local blogs. Local news media has constantly failed to get the potential of social media and of local blogging for reporting. "Brainstorm Nashville" looks like another attempt to put new wine in old wine skins. It seems to me to be an attempt to throw the weight of the corporate media behind some local voices friendly to Gannett projects while ignoring dissent beyond the "storm."

Consider a question posed on construction of the new convention center on a mocked up Brainstorm page at the document-sharing Scribd website. The social media mavens failed to disclose that their company donated $15,000 to selling the construction project to the public at the same time that they were supposed to be reporting objectively on it. But they went ahead and wrote a leading question that looks like it assumes the validity of buying into the convention center: "Is it worth $585M ...? If not, what is?" The implication: critics are expected to come up with some other bright idea for spending more money than has ever been spent on one project in the history of Metro government.

"Gripes or rants" not welcome; flackery approved.

I noticed on Twitter today that members of the Tennessean social media group had lunch at Seigenthaler PR to discuss Brainstorm Nashville with PR flacks and to "springboard to more collaboration." Well, what a coincidence. It wasn't too long ago that another PR firm was coaching another Tennessean employee and having telephone "conversations" with the paper's local beat reporter about how to brand the convention center. And Seigenthaler PR itself had participated in the selling of Music City Center.

I cannot wait to see leading questions on other issues springboard out of the collaboration. The question of whether the Music City Center will benefit all of Nashville is still open, but in their unabashed promotion of the project the Gannett family and their collaborators obviously have already decided the question for the rest of us, regardless of budget overages, regardless of the drain on Metro services.

This congenital coziness that corporate media has with corporate PR firms on questions of local governance is repulsive given that journos are supposed to offer intrepid disclosure and analysis as a check on power. Brainstorm Nashville (Twitter hastag: #BrainstormNashville) seems like a further attempt to manage dissent and cherry pick community voices rather than critically reporting the news that journalists are supposed to. The paper's social mediarites claim to be getting past community "gripes or rants," but they embrace mercenary flackery instead? The privileged voices in this venture will be those who echo the dominant PR talking points on the issue du jour.

Brainstorm Nashville managers claim to give you a voice you might not otherwise have, but don't buy a bill of goods. Social media, including blogging, remains a somewhat open, independent element that does not require the Tennessean's Brainstorm or their social media brain trust to get the word out and to try to eke out a little influence on public policy and local developments.

Putting the "Public" in Metro Public Works

I'm late on posting a portion of a very strong letter by West Nashville leader Trish Bolian addressed to the Planning Commission last April on the issue of re-designating streets and making them less pedestrian friendly:



I've found that unless you apply constant community pressure to Public Works they tend to be callous to neighborhood concerns. Trish is right. Neighborhoods should not have muster exceptional numbers at hearings each time they deserve to influence a decision affecting their quality of life.

PHOTO: Metro Action Commission's move out day at Salemtown's Fehr School Building

Photo credit: Donna Keeney

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A BZA engineered for LED

The Tennessean catches up on a story that's been brewing since the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed Zoning's disapproval of a request to install a brightly animated LED billboard:

The Metro Law Department sued in Davidson County Chancery Court on Tuesday to reverse the Board of Zoning Appeals’ ruling earlier this year that Richardson Outdoor Advertising can build a 50-foot-tall digital billboard to replace a standard board at Bell and Murfreesboro roads ....

The Metro Codes department initially denied a permit to Richardson Outdoor Advertising last spring. The denial relied on a legal interpretation that digital billboards must be at least 2,000 feet from other billboards.

The BZA ruled in June against the denial, but I could not find any media reports on the roll call. The Zoning minutes only tell that the vote was 4-2 but they are not transparent about how members voted. I called Zoning and finally received a list of names of the members who voted to overrule the zoning and allow LED signage:

  • David Harper
  • Chris Whitson
  • Mercedes Jones
  • Stacey Garrett

The Nashville Business Coalition used allowance for LED billboards as a litmus test for candidates 4 years ago. A sign industry influence broker and NBC member held a post-election fundraiser for the Mayor to pay back some of his campaign bills. A little later NBC darling Chris Whitson was endorsed by the Mayor and approved by the council for an open slot on the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Has the BZA been moving toward opening the door to LED billboards? To some it seems so. Earlier this year a neighborhood leader attended a BZA hearing on an applicant's attempt to make an appeal for an LED billboard. She came away with two primary impressions. First, the applicant appeared to her to be testing the waters to see if a LED appeal could pass. Second, she wondered if some BZA members might actually be intent on permitting LED appeals based on their leading questions directed at community opponents:

  • Why don't you want LED in residential area?
  • What make you think having LED billboard nearby will affect the property value?
  • The applicant is suggesting to lower the height and dim it at night, will you reconsider your opposition?

She wondered specifically about the propensities of David Ewing (voted against the appeal in June) and David Harper. Her perception proved right in at least Harper's case in the the latest appeal.

Whether or not Metro Law can turn this appeal around, the handwriting may be on the wall with regard  to the BZA's future intentions on LED billboards. The BZA does not appear to have been built to regulate or control Vegas-style signage dominating people's vistas. When a board is engineered to make it easier for industry to ignore community quality of life and do whatever they want, what choices are the rest of us left with?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hops (as other local produce) require dirt to grow. Who knew?

Last March the Bells Bend blogger at Sulphur Creek Farm hinted at the hop project they were working on with local micro-brewer Yazoo Brewing Company:

I came home from hospital rounds to an empty bean-pot, and at least eight bean-stained bowls. Tom, Jim, Keith, Keith's friend, Sumter, and maybe Joe spent most of the day in the drizzle, laying down mulch, planting hops, and hanging string vine supports

Fast forward to last week, which seemed like happy harvest time for both Sulphur Creek and Yazoo families:

Came home yesterday to hops harvest: Keith's second year crop looks really good. Tom hoisted someone with a machete up in the tractor's front end loader to cut the strings and bring the vines down.

By the time I arrived, folks were gathered in front of the shed (ok, around the beer cooler) pulling the flowers off the vines--fragrant green thumb-sized stacks of petals. Yazoo plans to use the hops fresh for a small run of Bells Bend Ale ....

Linus and Lila Hall from Yazoo Brewery, and their two blonde daughters, were on hand ....

First hops harvest! And our thanks to the good folks at Yazoo, whose products have promoted social interaction (and some fundraising!) at the farm for many years.

Supporting local agriculture and local business is a good thing. I checked with Yazoo owner Linus Hall who says that Bells Bend Ale will be available in about three weeks.

Would this unique venture be possible if the Planning Commission and Metro Council had approved Jack May's rezoning scheme to sprawl a "second Downtown" across his and other partners' large holdings on the Bend with contempt for the community plan? Would a rural-scale partnership producing for a small batch micro-brew be possible with large bridges providing choking vehicular traffic over the Cumberland River to the Bend via the Charlotte Park neighborhood and points farther west?

While it may not fit urban Nashville, this is the kind of diverse, locally structured enterprise that the Scottsboro-Bells Bend community plan seems to promote. So, why ruin a good thing with city scale and urban density? Maybe because you believe that Bells Bend's unique lifeworld does not rise much above the level of dirt:

May, the owner of lots of dirt in the rural West Nashville community, tried in vain last year to gain approval of the Metro Council to have a four billion dollar privately funded mixed-use development to be named May Town.
Guess the dirty hippies didn't get their invitations.
While the developer of that project decided it wasn't worth the hassle, May is stubbornly sticking to the plan of turning the sleepy Bells Bend community into a thriving mini-metropolis [instead of a venue for "dirty hippies"].

Maybe this particular commentator won't be purchasing Bells Bend Ale since it does not produce as many jobs as a corporate savior would, but I intend to buy some and not just because Yazoo makes great beer. This is an enterprise that I would like to see deepen and grow. Watch for Bells Bend Ale and support our local agriculture by buying some in a few weeks.

And do a little rain dance for our friends in the Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms project. I understand their crops could use some rain.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Salemtown shooting on 4th Avenue North appears to be isolated

Last Wednesday several guns shots rang out on the 1600 block of 4th Avenue North. They were heard by several neighbors. Minutes later around half-a-dozen police cruisers barreled into Salemtown toward one of our more blighted apartment complexes, which are also currently on the auction block (flying lead can't be good for the art of the sale) after a protected dispute between owners. By the way, this is not the first time we have been subject to a shooting at the shady property.

According to a police scanner Twitter feed, a male suspect shot a male victim in the leg. Later, a neighbor on the Salemtown elist reported that acquaintances of both men said that incident was "a heated argument that went too far."

Outside of a blurb on 3 people getting shot in their legs on the same day, the news media has nothing on the Salemtown shooting. Police have not released a crime alert or any details.

Metro Action makes big move from Salemtown this week

After years of broken promises, Metro is finally moving the Metro Action Commission's administrative and assistance offices to facilities Downtown that can properly accommodate the large number of people seeking utility bill assistance. With MAC's Head Start programs remaining, I'm counting this move as the Fehr School building reverting back to at least a derivative form of its original educative purpose. And now we need to work hard to preserve it.

Bon voyage, Metro Action, and thank you for being responsive to Salemtown when we asked you to help us keep the neighborhood cleaner on those high volume clientele days. It has been an uneasy relationship at times, but we part as friends and wish you the best:

Metro Action closes Wednesday to prepare for move to new location
Agency Director believes new space will allow better convenience and service delivery to customers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On Wednesday the majority of the offices and services housed at the main office of the Metropolitan Action Commission (1624 5th Avenue North), will close its doors in preparation for the relocation to its new office located closer to downtown Nashville.

Metro Action will move from its current location in North Nashville to the Clifford Allen Building, located at 800 2nd Avenue North. The agency will be closed from Wednesday, August 24 through Friday, August 26 to accommodate the relocation.

“We out grew our current location years ago due to the large volume of customers we serve and the need for better handicap accessibility and improved adult education classrooms and training space,” said Cynthia Croom, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Action Commission.

Metro General Services began a complete renovation of the 34,798 square foot Clifford Allen Building last year. Metro Action will occupy 20,275 square feet of the building. The Metro Action office features ample on-site parking, larger waiting room space for customers, enhanced Adult Education classrooms equipped with advanced audio-visual capabilities, a computer lab for on-site trainings and a wheel-chair accessible front entrance.

The agency believes the building will enhance their ability to serve the more than 200 customers they serve daily.

“Our new location more than satisfies the needs of our customers and provides greater convenience to other social and human services related agencies that are available nearby,” said Croom.

The agency will share the Clifford Allen Building with Metro Social Services, which also provides services to citizens with low incomes. The local Department of Human Services office, which also provides assistance, is adjacent to the new location.

Metro Action will re-open to the public on Monday, August 29 at the new location.

HT: Freddie O'Connell

Friday, August 19, 2011

A stretch to ignore all the factors that keep kids in poverty while emphasizing "access to great schools"

In this interview with the Stand for Children Executive Director on a New England morning show, both the journalist and the director seem to dance around the causes of rising childhood poverty to get to the SFC mantra of "access to great schools". Both overreach in their attempt to reconcile rising poverty with another poll of public school parents who express satisfaction for their local schools.

Public schools are prone to be used as a scapegoat for poverty in this country when in reality it is caused by broad systemic and market-based inequalities of opportunity in this country.

A representative with the foundation that conducted the poverty studies insisted on the PBS Newshour last night that childhood poverty can be fought with more a robust unemployment insurance system, child tax credits, vigorous pre-natal and childhood health care, and a commitment to education in a broader sense than "access to great schools". I would add to those remedies a more equitable wage system, perhaps a "living wage" for families with children. We should not underestimate the impact of our market system on the shrinking middle and working class as the wealthy continue to sock profits away for themselves rather than paying fairly for labor.

To a certain extent Stand for Children seems to thrive off dissatisfaction with public education and propensities, both conservative and liberal, to blame the institution for a host of ills in American culture. So, I'm not surprised that both the director and the sympathetic journalist were turning cognitive cartwheels trying to deal with the fact that parents are generally satisfied with their local schools.

The organization requires a state of crisis in need of superheroes in order to attract more resources, but the crisis of poverty isn't easily attributable to villainous public schools. We already have a better, more comprehensive explanation for the causes of increased poverty that is also more consistent with findings on attitudes toward schools.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Planting seeds of doubt? Keep an eye on Stand For Children Tennessee's next moves

Stand for Children Tennessee is an official partner with Metro Nashville Public Schools, which is reason enough to keep an eye on what they are up to, but the smaller moves they make via social media in what could be attempts to manage expectations and influence opinions should be watched as well.

Tonight on their Facebook page SFC posted a link to an article by Richard Whitmire, who seems to triangulate the conservative emphasis on teacher evaluations and the union opposition to subsidizied charter schools:

[Obama Education Secretary Arne] Duncan was a mere middle-of-the-roader compared to Joel Klein in New York or Michelle Rhee in Washington. Rhee rushed through reforms so fast, the unions hardly knew how to fight back: real teacher evaluations that used student test scores and a performance pay system that attempted to reward the better teachers. Most controversial was her willingness to fire teachers she deemed to be ineffective.

War was declared.

Meanwhile, billionaire reformers -- Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg -- were seen as aggressively applying business principles, such as accountability, to schools. Conspiracy theories abounded. It was all about privatization!

There's no going back. From the perspective of most teachers, poverty explains education problems. A valid point. Reformers insist that school quality, especially effective teaching, can make a sizable dent in the learning inequities we see across the lines of race and income. Also a valid point.

Mostly, however, the two sides no longer engage about their differences. They just glare and shout.

I cannot speak for the unions, but from my perspective Whitmire lapses into the centrist fallacy that ignores the practical act of staking out a position to keep certain principles in play in public debate or that confuses that act with inciting chaos. Many people I know who are fighting to save public education are pragmatists who give voice to the cause even as they are aware that they cannot possibly win much of what they fight for.

But back to SFC TN's use of Whitmire.

It is one thing to post a link to a pro-education reform article criticizing others opposed to education reform; it is quite another to post the article given that SFC in other states has expressed the same anti-union reform preferences. I worry that SFC TN is maneuvering subtly to make the same moves for education reform that we have seen other state branches make before.

These are Stand for Children's tactics in Oregon according to one former volunteer:

I quickly became a fan [of Stand for Children] ....

Stand’s primary agenda was focused on school funding, as was mine. Then a year or so after I was introduced to them, something quickly changed .... When I was looking at how to work on funding, they were talking about teacher contracts. Recently in Portland, Stand organized what they described as an Education Forum ....

No teacher representing the union’s position was on the panel ....

After watching the video of Stand’s national leader proudly attacking teachers and working to silence their voice in Illinois, I realized that was the same thing they were trying to do here in Oregon (Portland).

Stand for Children members in Oregon should be very disappointed. I encourage Stand for Children members and current coalition partners to look deeper into the organization’s true agenda and to pay close attention to its funders.

I wish I could naively take Stand for Children Tennessee at their word without reference to the organization's past. But the present in Tennessee looks like it is setting up like to be like Oregon: attack the teachers without reference to a system that generates a cheap, undereducated labor class.

Ostensibly, SFC TN could be honestly seeking feedback. However, SFC TN leaders have made no attempt that I am aware of to distance themselves from Jonah Edelman's recent embarrassments in Illinois or from the firestorm the Oregon branch came under in 2011 for starting out grassroots and ending up anti-union at voting time. I have blogged on these unpleasant events previously. Local SFC leader Francie Hunt even replied in the comments section of this blog in defense of the Tennessee organization without distancing it from Oregon's or Illinois's.

So, it is fair and reasonable to ask whether Stand for Children Tennessee is trying to plant the seeds of doubt among its volunteers by linking to the Whitmire article without linking to other articles that either agree with teachers or that are critical of education reform.

Buyer beware. We will see whether this is an initial small step toward dividing teachers from the "movement". Stand for Children already tipped their hand in Illinois and Oregon. It is not unreasonable or wild to worry that they may misbehaving soon in Tennessee, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gotto's stupid teabagger trick just barely nosed out the spoken inanities of a couple of progressives last night

There were some high-flying moments at last night's council meeting (like CM Mike Jameson quoting Christian political realist Reinhold Niebuhr during the opening prayer), but a couple of progressives' comments brought the meeting right back down to the lowest denominator. In my previous post on last night I underscored Jim Gotto's foot-in-mouth disease during discussion of honoring students for their "Don't Say Gay" protests.

But a couple of progressives did not exactly measure their words with respect to the truth before opening their mouths. First, in his speech to the council as a the shoo-in candidate for criminal court clerk, Howard Gentry said, as if it were a worthy goal:

I will run the office like a business.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the same logic that John Arriola used to run the county clerk's office and to run afoul of taxpayers. Arriola expressed an unfettered profit motive to bring money in. He marketed "gratuities" as "fees" (making people believe that they needed to pay for products and services they might not otherwise choose to pay for) and he monetized just about everything he did. He had stylish and hip new signs designed to lure more customers. He maximized and tricked out his ride to work. The profit motive runs business; the profit motive ran Arriola's tenure. In other words, Arriola was more CEO than clerk.

Shouldn't the officer of a Metro office be looking to run the office less like a business and more like an institution accountable for the public good? Gentry's comment was a clear pander to the business interests that dominate the Courthouse, but frankly the prospect is frightening.

The second inane progressive comment of the night came from Dean Teamer and outgoing CM Erik Cole, who contrasted Jim Gotto's self-reference of a Republican trying to hold a "corporate citizen" (assuming that corporations are individuals!) responsible, by trotting out this gem:

You now got a Democrat standing with developers!

Let's revisit CM Cole's recent past, shall we? He supported the Mayor's plan to build the most expensive capital project in Nashville's history, a developer's dream, the Music City Convention Center. He supported the Mayor's plan to sell off a huge tract of public Fairgrounds land to wealthy developers to make a lot of money on an office park. Even if Erik Cole ever stood against developers, those two projects alone bury any pretense of forward thinking opposition he ever expressed against untrammeled growth. But let's be clear: you do not get anywhere in the Davidson County Democratic Party without the habit of standing with developers. The most powerful and wealthiest Dems are in knee-deep with developers. For Cole to suggest otherwise is to concoct an urban myth. And it was pretty darn self-serving in what it implied about Erik Cole beyond its utterance.

I can always count on local progressives to give local conservatives a run for their money in the cringeworthy foot-in-mouth department.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hollin wins the final memorializing showdown and Gotto does not know when to leave well enough alone

A few weeks after conservatives CMs Phil Claiborn and Jim Gotto (a Republican) took down CM Jamie Hollin's attempt to honor some high school students who organized protest against the General Assembly's "Don't Say Gay" bill, Hollin struck back at his last meeting as CM tonight and won approval for the memorializing resolution.

Even this evening, Gotto got up to speak against the resolution based on the pitch that memorializing resolutions should not identify controversies with particular groups. He equated it with bringing MRs supporting the Tea Party. That is a rather convenient argument for the Republican to make given that in previous years he has sponsored MRs that express preference for parochial groups in controversial settings.

In 2009, CM Gotto joined other theologically conservative CMs and co-sponsored an MR endorsing the National Day of Prayer, which is an event promoted by a national evangelical Christian organization. Gotto's resolution promoted a sectarian group's agenda for wedding governance and religious observance. Anyone who maintains that religion is not controversial has never engaged in discussions about religion.

In happier times saving Christmas
for Christians
with memorializing resolutions
In 2005, CM Gotto co-sponsored the "Saving Christmas" memorializing resolution which "affirmed and supported the use of the words Christmas or Merry Christmas, instead of non-descript, generic terms such as Happy Holidays ... when referring to Metro Government events or activities traditionally associated with Christmas, such as the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony". Not only is the annual "war on Christmas" debate controversial, but it is often sensationalistic and designed to get press coverage. The same week that Gotto's MR was approved by the council, Gotto gathered with conservative talk-radio host Steve Gill to celebrate passage of the resolution in front of Metro's tree and voracious news media.

So, for Jim Gotto to oppose CM Hollin's resolution honoring some students because they stood up for GLBT is sanctimonious and cynical, especially given the context that council conservatives set for opposition to Metro's nondiscrimination regulations on contractors: nondiscrimination would burden "Christian business."

To deepen the hypocrisy, CM Gotto announced earlier tonight that he could not "in good faith" vote for Hollin's MR. However, he once proclaimed that memorializing resolutions in general were a waste of time and  not worth the paper they were written on. If these bills are worthless, then debating them is meaningless and there is not faith, good or bad, that would ever prompt us to consider them.

Cleveland Park notes: Highland Heights charter school building was not at risk of being torn down

Compare and contrast.

Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr in July:

[The historic Highland Heights school building] on Douglas Avenue just off Dickerson Pike, is partially occupied by KIPP Academy, a growing, successful charter school. But a plan [that is, Mayor Karl Dean's plan] to spend $9.54 million to renovate the building, part of which went up in 1930, may cost more and require another allocation from city coffers. The building is in horrible shape. Recommendations will be made by November or so on whether it can be saved, scrapped or some of both.

From the August Cleveland Park association meeting minutes:

Gracie Porter from Metro Schools
-Learned that the Highland Heights school was to be demolished from
the newspaper
Majel Carr from Metro Gov’t
-Building belongs to General Services
-10 Mil came out of Council and the mayors office
-Estimates more spent on the Highland Heights building in repairs than
Metro schools in the last year

Final Word: There is a plan to go forward and RENOVATE this building.
There was never a plan to demolish and build new.

So, Kerr seemed to be incorrect in saying that the building could be scrapped and insinuating that its "survival" was at stake.

Two other things to note in the minutes. First, consistent with criticism I have heard from other elected officials, news of Karl Dean's big plans tend to be conveyed first in Tennessean talking points rather than directly to officials. Second, after November Metro could spend more on a charter school facility than they spent on public school facilities last year.

HT: Mike Peden

Salemtown developer bringing zoning change appeal without community consult

A developer has requested a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals for planned duplexes at the corner of Coffee St. and 5th Ave., N. This request will be considered at 1:00 pm on Thurday's BZA meeting at the Howard Office Building:

CASE 2011-072 (Council District – 19)
Josh McLean, appellant and Kenner & Mclean Development Group, Inc., owner of the property located at 1829 5th Avenue, North, requesting a variance in side setback in the R6 District, to construct a new duplex.

A Salemtown leader followed up with the Board of Zoning Appeals for more details:

The BZA person says that there are 2 duplexes (4 residential units) planned for that site, and that because the lot is not geometrically even, they are requesting a setback for the rear unit (at Coffee). Permitted setback is 5' and they are requesting 2.5.' She does not have a drawing on file but says the plan is for single story units, 1400 square feet each, with porches and rear decks

The developer had not bothered to reach out to the community with regard to the variance, but he did respond to community requests for clarification thusly:

the variance requested is not to shorten the setback to the street, but to clarify the distance required between the two duplexes. One duplex will face onto 5th and the other will face onto Coffee. The street setback will be 10'. The design is like that of the new townhouses that face onto 4th Ave. in Germantown ("Germantown Station"), which looks to me pretty much like the duplexes on 1700 block of 6th, and elsewhere in Salemtown, only with (?) expanded porches

The reason that this is before the Board of Zoning Appeals is that Zoning has already denied this request once. It is unfortunate that some developers still do not feel the need to consult our neighborhood before making requests that may or may not be consistent with the North Nashville community plan, which we helped formulate.

UPDATE: The developer emailed me to disagree with a perception, expressed in August on the Salemtown elist, that his group received anything less than full support. He insists they had full, unqualified support of those with whom he met before the re-zoning hearing on August 18.

The troubling prospect that charter schools may be a wormhole to resegregation

A consortium of progressive groups including People for the American Way, Advancement Project, Center for Social Inclusion, and African American Ministers in Action produced a short video just posted to YouTube on how venture capitalists are bringing down a diverse and functioning school district in North Carolina by privatization; further indication that charter schools are not the answer to our problems. Metro Nashville Schools has firmly committed itself to charter schools and has also been under criticism for a redistricting plan that purportedly resegregates Nashville schools. We should be levelheaded about the priorities of venture philanthropy in propping up charter schools in our community.

Please share this video with others, especially with other public school parents.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Obama's education reformer comes to Tennessee bearing waivers, not much else

Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in the state last week failing to reassure teachers or education reform critics in his discussion.

Education blogger Jim Horn sees it as an occasion for public school stakeholders to consider more drastic measures:

Tennessee is already in eager pursuit of fulfilling all the criteria required to earn a waiver from Adequate Yearly Progress demands: 1) uncapped status on charter expansion, 2) uncapped expansion of centralized pre-K to Retirement testing systems, 3) bonus pay and teacher evaluation based on test scores, and 4) embracing the worthless turnaround strategies devised by the Gates and Broad technocrats who remain clueless about schools or learning.

We shall see how many states rush to get in line to now do for no money what large [Race to the Top] bribes could not make them do before. We shall see how many parents and teachers and students just say no to the testing madness this coming year. The movement is born and moral action now requires the sacrifice that comes with civil disobedience and non-violent resistance .... It is time to act and demand that educators be put in charge of educating our children for the most trying time in the history of our civilization. The fools and thieves of Wall Street have ruined the world’s economic systems—we shall not allow them to ruin our children any further.

Meanwhile, the teachers union rep says Tennessee teachers are worried:

The forum at Nashville's West End Middle School marked the first anniversary of Tennessee winning $500 million in U.S. Department of Education "Race to the Top" funding.

The money is for a variety of school reform measures adopted by the state in 2010, including a new teacher evaluation system effective with the new school year.

Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford said there's "a lot of anxiety among teachers," partially about the new evaluation system. She said teachers want clearly defined goals in the evaluation process so they know what they must achieve.

How long will Tennesseans put up with the lack of progress when so much racing to the top was promised?

History is written by the winners (with the help of journos)

To which CM might
that "Super Progressive"
label lead?
It wasn't too long ago that SouthComm writers labeled CM at-Large Megan Barry as a "Super Progressive," despite the fact that her only progressive chops were on nondiscrimination (eager support on Metro employees, hesitant support for Metro contractors) and on a "living wage" bill that helped a little more than a dozen Metro employees. At least we can be grateful that in their latest report she is cast not so much as a super progressive, but as one who has uncannily strong ties to local progressives while also keeping her business options open.

With interest I have followed the short but happy political life of Megan Barry for several years now I have yet to see her risk the same stances against the Nashville business junta that she has against the cash-strapped pro-neighborhoods wing in Nashville politics. I have always assumed that any strong leader has to at some point risk their political capital to show their character and the strength of their conviction to voters. Even if observers do not agree with her they may respect her for taking a stand once and a while against the odds. And that stand cannot be strictly symbolic. But I have yet to see Megan Barry lay it on the line. The truest passage of yesterday's City Paper spotlight on Barry had to do with the pure symbolism of the progressive agenda she's worked on:

Both of Barry’s key bills were also symbolic measures. The new living wage applied to only 14 workers who had wages below $10.77 per hour. And there hadn’t been many Metro workers who had actually cited discrimination in the government workplace.

“In a community where you’re starting with a baseline, and you have to make incremental steps, that’s how you bring people along,” Barry said.

At least CM Barry has the honesty to admit that these only amounted to incremental progress, but whether they build consensus is open to debate. Consensus assumes that all things are equal as partners each give up benefits to achieve something higher. However, the Nashville game is always rigged to favor industry, unsmart growth, and development over community and quality of life. So, while she may aim for consensus, in reality, neighborhoods are forced to take whatever they can get unless they stubbornly and tirelessly mobilize their numbers. Even then, they are accused (usually falsely) of being regressive, pro-status-quo, and NIMBY.

(By the way, the fact that Chris Sanders, Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, is playing up that consensus--given that his organization is steadfastly single-issue and hidebound not to consider other people's priorities--contains no lack of irony).

On questions that are more substantive, and not symbolic, CM Barry has either wavered, flip-flopped, or sided unabashedly with the business presidium, the admirals of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce:

  • She voted with Mayor Dean on a regressive stormwater fee structure that charged property owners who created less stormwater (mostly residential) more than those who generated more stormwater (mostly business) and then blamed keeping her promise to Rich Riebeling on the bill's sponsor
  • She enlisted neighborhood support in her bid to beat Charlie Tygard's LED sign bill that would have allowed Vegasesque signs in residential neighborhoods, then she disappeared quietly into the LED Task Force and walked-back her opposition. Her campaign manager emerged several months later to attempt to remind neighborhood leaders that she opposed LED signs
  • After sponsoring a community meeting or two on the proposed convention center, she supported it without making any demands on the Mayor or setting any perimeters for the project
  • She opposed a community-based master plan project for the State Fairgrounds and she supported Mayor Dean's bid to tear everything down, sell off 95% of the non-flood-risk public property and build an expansive office park that would have been a boon to private developers while increasing vehicular traffic further polluting Brown's Creek.

So, again, how has Megan Barry been anything more but superficially progressive or pro-neighborhoods? The latest SouthComm pin-up of the council member still seems like a re-write of history, because it ignores historical facts about her record. Swallowing the story would have been easier had it been strictly a matter watching a reporter weigh in with journalistic objectivity between Barry's critics and supporters. Instead, it becomes a matter of judging whether journo's own interpretation helps a winner frame the history that her constituents remember.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Further convention center drag on the budget underreported in local news media

While NewsChannel5 reporter Heather Graf filed a puffed PR piece on the progress of construction of the Music City Convention Center and while the rest of the local news media was ignoring the shaky state of the demands the convention center is placing on the Metro budget, WPLN's Blake Farmer at least inquired after the implications of the recent market roller coaster for Metro finances.

While few are talking about this and the Courthouse is taking pains not to be too transparent about it, Mayor Karl Dean's 2010 blueprint to refinance debt in order to avoid raising taxes or cutting services is in limbo at best and in trouble at worst. Such is Metro's undue dependence of the vicissitudes of Wall Street and the Mayor's high-stakes risk of starting the single largest capital project in Nashville history with no safety net except the revenues that go to pay for the really unimportant stuff like police, parks and schools:

Turmoil in the financial markets has temporarily put the brakes on a bond refinancing by Metro Government. The city is trying to get a lower interest rate on roughly $100 million in bonds, originally used to pay for construction projects at parks and schools.

Metro Finance director Rich Riebeling says as a policy, the city must save at least 3.5 percent to justify refinancing any debt.

“It’s all subject to market conditions, and because of the volatility in the market right now with the stock market and interest rates, everybody kind of up in the air, we want to wait and sit back a week or two, see how it shakes out.”

And who doesn't feel more secure knowing that the Metro Finance Director has staked Nashville's financial security and Metro's delivery of services on Wall Street uncertainty? And all in the name of lavishing our resources on tourists and of doing the greatest good for the smallest number of nobles.

UPDATE: A commenter below asks about rumored plans to deal with budget shortfalls by cutting retail slated for the Korean Veterans Boulevard side of the new convention center. Can anyone confirm or deny?

Black and white, poverty and wealth: side-by-side look at demographics at Eakin vs. North Nashville elementary schools

Germantown south of Monroe Street and Hope Gardens were once zoned for high-demand Eakin Elementary. Here are the West Nashville school's demographics:

Source: ProPublica. Click on to enlarge.

Compare to the demographics of three North Nashville public elementary schools recently maligned in the media:

Source: ProPublica. Click on to enlarge.

Source: ProPublica. Click on to enlarge.

Source: ProPublica. Click on to enlarge.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How I got my motivation for my next Enclave donation

You may remember my post the day before yesterday on a Facebook group called "Nashville Urban School Coalition" and their flirtation with the idea of a charter school for North Nashville to compete for resources with existing schools. That post seems to have kicked up some dust and too much stabby speculation on the NUSC page:

Brian L. Heuser .... Some local bloggers care much more about how many hits they receive on their sites than they do about strategizing workable solutions to the challenges that active citizens/parents face. Instead of philosophizing about and judging the motives behind why residents of the urban core are seeking improvements, said local bloggers could serve a real function in disseminating understanding about the nature of the challenges and suggest potential policy solutions. These ridiculous blogs (and those who write them) are a pathetic excuse for civic engagement.

Well, let me say initially that if my main goal is hits on my website, I'm an abject failure. First of all, I chose a hyper-local venue, which guarantees I will receive fewer hits than other pages. Second, all you have to do is compare my stats to the those of websites that have also been live for 7 years and you'll likely find that their hits blow mine out of the water.

Likewise with ad revenues. I've earned practically nothing blogging and the revenue checks I have received from Google ads have been donated to non-profits in my community like The Nashville Jazz Workshop, Fisk University, Second Harvest, North Nashville Flood Relief Group, the Nashville Neighborhoods Resource Center, and Friends of Nashville Farmer's Market. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn't a huge net for those organizations, but I have given back benefits to the local community that came to me because I wrote about that community.

But my purpose in blogging has never been maximizing traffic or revenues. Since day 1 my mission has been to blog as an advocate and a watchdog for my community. So, I feel no sense of inadequacy on the question of whether I've served my community. If anyone wants a full story on me in North Nashville, a sizable summary of that story is contained here in 6,500-some-odd posts for those who choose to read it.

In keeping with that sense of service, I am motivated to donate my latest revenue check (around $100) to Buena Vista Enhanced Option Elementary School, which the gentrifying parents here derided (sometimes unfairly so) in the Tennessean story that first publicized them. The North Nashville magnets were secondarily criticized as being an inadequate solution in these parents' minds to Buena Vista. We've already made donations to our daughter's magnet, and she is there because we participated in civic efforts with the Jones community to save the school several years ago, back when Salemtown kids were bused to the zoned school in West Nashville and we were interested only in neighborhood schools.

However, I also recognize that as goes Buena Vista, so goes the quality of life in North Nashville. So, rather than cursing the darkness and supporting a new magnet or charter (as have been proposed), I'll light one candle for Buena Vista to express support for them. After the Tennessean story one of their teachers attended our last Salemtown meeting to address any concerns or misconceptions falling out from the journalism. I admired that and I told her that it was exactly how we got involved in the Jones Paideia community years ago. It will make a difference if community and school stay mutually involved. I have yet to see anything on Facebook that promotes that involvement.

I regret that some parents feel like they got screwed after moving into Germantown and Hope Gardens as a backdoor into West Nashville's Eakin and the Hillsboro cluster. We didn't move to Salemtown with the same intentions because we knew moving here wasn't a short cut to a high demand school. We were of the mind that when our infant grew to elementary age we would have to scratch and claw so that she could succeed. And we have committed ourselves to being involved parents in day-to-day education, which is exactly what makes for high performance in the elementary years.

If a new school is built it will be high-demand and/or grasping-at-straws and it will end up competing for limited resources with our established public schools. As a public school parent, I view a new charter as a threat to my child's education. The parental instinct kicks in. It's nothing personal.

Now I'm not asking people to like my civic engagement.  We all have our own way of doing it. But to say that my blog is not about civic engagement is wrong. This blog is not a bulletin board or a newsletter. It is a forum. I engage my community by blogging and with few exceptions I permit responses good, bad, or indifferent.

And it is not an either-or. I both blog and attend many community events and meetings, and I engage people face-to-face. But Rosa Parks Boulevard runs both ways, and I've not seen any of the more apoplectic members of this Facebook group present at meetings on this side of the North End. They insist they care about educating everyone, even those who live north of Monroe Street (the former boundary of the Eakin zone). So, why do I never see them out and about up here, civically engaging across our community?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where is Dean's due diligence on appointments?

You would think with the recent IQT debacle, the Mayor's Office would be pausing to revise its commitments (or lack thereof) to due diligence of its executive decisions. Despite claims by uncritical supporters that Karl Dean exercised due diligence in the case of IQT, it is not clear that due diligence or process mattered.

I heard from a Nashville leader who had been corresponding with IQT that the company refused to supply Metro with "standard due diligence" items that could have allowed background and financial checks. According to that insider the city did not spend "a ton of time" on the IQT deal. Metro saw the prospect of new jobs, "got excited" and made it easy for IQT to move without the due diligence items.

That leader's perspective is consistent with a July 22 Nashville Business Journal report that the "unraveling" the IQT deal revealed "no consistent, coordinated effort ... for vetting companies that seek tax money in Tennessee."

Weeks later we are approaching what should be a strictly Metro Council appointment to replace David Torrence at Criminal Court Clerk. Yet, Karl Dean has already usurped control and anointed former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, who is generally above reproach, but he has few credentials for a job in Criminal Court and he might not even qualify for a short list of candidates to the position. This anointing sends a clear signal to the rubber-stamping Dean-wing CMs how to cast their votes during next Tuesday's council meeting; for the lazy, voting with Dean means CMs not having to be responsible for due diligence.

So, of course, Mr. Gentry will sail through next week without any objective procedure determining his selection. But this is not the first time Mayor Dean has picked people for departments, boards, and commissions because he knows them and not because they were objectively judged to be the best candidate for the position. The litany of cronyism:

  • Ana Escobar, Metro Clerk (was with Dean at Public Defenders’ Office. No one else interviewed.)
  • Rita Roberts Turner, Human Resources Director (was with Dean at the Public Defenders’ Office. Proved not to be a good fit as Dean's Chief of Staff. At job opening, Dean moved her, with no one else interviewed.)
  • Keith Durbin, Metro I.T. Director (moved up from Metro Council. No one else interviewed.)
  • Stephen Anderson, Metro Police Chief (promoted, with no national search conducted.)
  • Billy Fields, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods (no one else interviewed.)

While those appointments were Dean's to make, the Mayor's selection of Dawn Deaner to Public Defender (she was also with Dean when he was at that office), was the council's, but according to one source I spoke with, Dean cued the rubber stamps on his support of her appointment.

Compare Dean's record to that of Dean's predecessor, who had a thorough vetting procedure that included nationwide searches, pro recruiting firms based on competitive bids and finally, local selection committees. I found out that the selection process produced brochures describing relevant departments, positions, qualifications and duties. The firm and committee typically submitted a "short list" of candidates to the relevant Board or Commission, which then shortened the list further to finalists to present to then-Mayor Bill Purcell. Consequently, the appointments came from all over the country and went to highly qualified candidates:

  • Ronal Serpas, Metro Police Chief (recruited from Washington State)
  • Scott Potter, Metro Water Services (locally grown, but demonstrated qualifications)
  • Rick Bernhardt, Metro Planning Department (again, qualified and local)
  • Dr. Bill Paul, Metro Health Department (recruited from Chicago)
  • Roy Wilson, Metro Parks Director (recruited from Houston)
  • Rick Connor, Public Works Director (recruited from Texas)

If the Mayor is going to usurp what little power the Metro Council has, common sense would dictate that he should only do so to assure due diligence and procedure in selecting candidates for office rather than simply doing so to advance his own interest in surrounding himself with unquestioning loyalists. The lack of process sends a terrible message to the departments, boards and commissions that they do not have to exercise due diligence themselves. The appointment of Jennifer Cole, wife of Dean supporter, CM Erik Cole, to the Metro Arts Commission may have been mimicry of dubious diligence since Ms. Cole had no arts experience before her appointment. Not only does a lack of process expand cronyism, but it also increases the chances that leaders across the system will rush to IQT-like washouts again.

By the way have you noticed that the media is deafeningly silent on these hiring ethical dilemmas? I've heard that we may see stories raising questions about the lack of searches after Howard Gentry's appointment, but not until then. What are the journos afraid of?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"Urban core" Facebook group considers charter option in place of partnering with North Nashville public schools

Some would rather switch than fight:

It is worth noting that the North End feeder school, Buena Vista, is 97% reduced price lunch and 97% African American. A charter school may provide sanctuary for kids from gentrifying families here, but it will not change the dysfunctional class and race dynamics of the system. Our neighborhood quality of life will not rise without the quality of the schools rising and a charter will not help them rise.

Buena Vista demographics. Source: ProPublica

So, would a charter school essentially become an exclusive island apart from both Buena Vista and the area magnet schools?

Tennessee teachers' caucus "very contentious" on Obama endorsement

The Labor Notes blog mentioned the state's labor union contingent at a recent meeting of the National Education Association. Tennessee Education Association was reportedly more factious than they indicated on their website:

major controversies at the gathering in Chicago last month received national visibility. First was the early endorsement of President Obama’s re-election bid, advocated by the national leadership despite some resistance from several state affiliates, including the California Teachers Association.

Most of the debate occurred within the state caucuses, which was very contentious in some states, such as Tennessee ....

The context for the union’s debates is all too evident. Public education is the major battlefield not only over adequate funding for public services but also over the very ideology of government: How do we value government-run services and the workers and unions who provide them?

Teacher unions are portrayed as rigid and intransigent, attempting to protect members (often the most senior) who are “incompetent.” We are labeled as obstacles to “real reforms” that would help students and parents, many of them facing blatant economic and racial discrimination.

Rarely do we hear about how curriculum has been bastardized to conform to numbing standardized tests or about how charter schools are massively subsidized, taking public money while showing little accountability to the public and fighting teachers’ attempts to unionize.

Instead, the ills of public education are supposed to be solved by instituting divisive merit pay to reward “good teachers,” undermining seniority, and ousting “bad teachers.”

All this, while more and more working-class young people are pushed out of the education system and have their opportunities severely curtailed. At the center of these policies is the Obama administration and its Department of Education, using its “Race to the Top” funding mechanism to further this agenda.

Some of these themes that so concern labor are air-brushed into a Gates Foundation-funded marketing video, which includes comments from the TEA president, a gaggle of Tennessee Republicans and a few red-state Dems, and Francine Hunt, a leader with Stand for Children, which was one of the sponsors of this video.

That is quite a production. We will see if the glossy, feel-good expectations materialize or whether "education reform" saps resources, maintains a firmly stratified caste system that allows only a few without wealth scant chance to succeed and eventually lowers the boom on the teachers it includes in it marketing campaign now. And campaign is the right word. This is a political campaign and the teachers unions should be concerned if not just a little unhinged.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Maybe his manhood is a little threatened by women

For CM Buddy Baker it's a second strike in the game of gender politics. Today he was quoted in a story calling the woman running against him, Mary Carolyn Roberts, a "girl":

On Monday morning, Roberts said she would visit the Davidson County Election Commission to compare lists of those registered to vote in District 20, and those who voted in the district Thursday night ....

"This girl, I'm telling you the truth, she just cost me a bunch of money," Baker said of Roberts, referring to his decision to hire an attorney to represent his case. Baker has tapped attorney Stephen Zralek, who works at Bone McCallester Norton PLLC, to provide legal counsel.

This was not the first time someone in Baker's camp referred to Roberts as a "girl." Several days ago the president of Nashville Limousine Service, Inc. also caricatured Ms. Roberts with his own diminutives in a campaign letter sent to voters:

We don't need a Belle Meade thinking girl that has no idea of the history and thinking of this community. I urge you to vote Thursday and I ask you to vote for Buddy Baker for councilman.

I might not have as much of a problem with Baker's side calling Ms. Roberts a "girl" if, every time they did, they referred to Baker as a "councilboy." Otherwise, Ms. Roberts should be referred to as a woman. Who knows, she may end up being called "councilwoman."

Sunday, August 07, 2011

False equivalence at the Tennessean

For the past few months the political beat writers around the city have amplified the organization of supporters of the Mayor's plan to sell off the Fairgrounds, even though there was little or no evidence that they had a popular movement behind them. Even the ultimate test of a landslide referendum win seems to prompt no change in the reportage.

Michael Cass's report on last week's election keeps up the false equivalence as if demolition supporters swarmed the polls to the same degree that advocates of a community-based master plan did:

the century-old fairgrounds ... has divided neighbors and other residents throughout the city. The fight has pitted people who love the fairgrounds' history and affordable activities against those who believe it's mostly dead space and a noisy nuisance when cars are zooming around

Judging by the 71%-29% landslide of the referendum, the Fairgrounds no more divided neighbors than Karl Dean himself did. And yet, Cass never brings up Karl Dean's divisiveness in his report on the Mayor's race. Instead, Cass ponders how the popular Mayor will get the extra 6 council votes the referendum mandates.

Unlike the relatively positive media spin that Fairgrounds opponents like South Nashville Action People and Neighbors for Progress received during the past year, the Mayor's no-name opponents got next to none. There is no telling how media coverage of SNAP/NFP motivated people to vote against the referendum and there is no telling how low the percentage of "against" referendum votes would have been had SNAP/NFP received the same meager coverage that Karl Dean's opponents did.

Fact checking Nashville Public Radio

Even the local public news service has its problems with accuracy.

Last Friday WPLN's local politics reporter, Daniel Potter, completely mistook how the Metro Council dealt with Mayor Karl Dean's plan to sell the Fairgrounds in a story on the referendum results:

Dean had hoped to redevelop the fairgrounds, but the council rejected that plan. Fairgrounds activists then forced the referendum in hopes of protecting the property.

The council did not reject redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. They merely mandated a community-based master plan. I have yet to meet anyone who is opposed to any redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. And this is not the first time Potter has misrepresented opposition to mayoral initiatives.

Another WPLN reporter Rae Ellen Bichell, covering a Vanderbilt study on the influence of yard signs seemed to overstate conclusively that the signs have powerful influence in elections without regard to analyzing the Vandy researchers' methods or the merits of their claims. I read the PR piece from the university's flack magazine and I spotted several potential problems that Bichell does not address:

  • the authors themselves seem too conclusive about the study proving their hypothesis. Social scientific research first indicates conclusions; evidence is only "conclusive", as the researchers claim, when the study findings stand up to both time and scrutiny. Same goes for the claim that field experiments "confirmed" their lab findings.
  • the authors say they emailed their surveys to parents on a PTO mailing list. Were those parents part of the small percentage of "likely voters" (which is the more dependable survey set in elections)?
  • the authors' use of the survey rather than an exit poll seems itself problematic. Did the Vandy researchers factor out subject motives like name-dropping candidates whose signs they saw in order not to appear as ignorant about local politics? A survey may not tell researchers exactly what they want to find: a connection between a yard sign and pulling the lever in a voting booth. Instead, research subjects could be doing what the Vanderbilt magazine is doing: managing their public image.

It may be the case that Bichell does not have social science experience to challenge the Vanderbilt team on these questions, but that does not absolve WPLN from accuracy and balance in political reporting on studies of yard sign impact on voting patterns. Someone in the newsroom should have been asking critical questions rather than strongly repeating a hypothesis that yard signs have "powerful influence" over elections as if the questions are settled.

CRIME ALERT: vacant, neglected Salemtown house burglarized

According to the Salemtown elist earlier today the absentee owner of 1900 4th Ave N (Google maps streetview likely from 2008-2009) reported to a neighbor that that someone broke into the the long-vacant property and stole appliances, electric meter, ceiling fans, HVAC wiring and other miscellaneous metals. The property is notorious to neighbors as overgrown and unmaintained with broken windows, gang graffiti and a front door obscured from plain sight. The blighted conditions have been reported to Metro Codes several times without positive results, and the owner has been cited before. No one heard any suspicious noises during the break-in and neighbors believe it might have happened overnight. Salemtown had been enjoying a drop in crime over the past year, but unkempt blight will always lead to other problems like vandalism and theft. This owner's irresponsibility forces us to once again deal with crime spreading to the rest of the neighborhood.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The most disingenuous quote from Thursday's Metro Nashville ballot

From the AP:

Colby Sledge, a member of Neighbors for Progress, a group of south Nashville residents who have complained about the noise and pollution from the racetrack, said the next steps are to get more input on what residents want at the facility and try to reach an agreement that everyone can be happy with.

"We'll try to see if we can come to a consensus that's been elusive in this whole process," Sledge said.

I've heard preservationists say on several occasions that they have extended offers to Sledge's South Nashville Action People to work on neighborhood quality of life only to have their offers ignored. In the meantime, Sledge moved on supporting the plans to move the fleamarket to Hickory Hollow, to tear down the Fairgrounds and to replace it with a private office park built by wealthy real estate interests while relying on the assistance of Democratic insiders and the money of at least one political action committee.

If anything can be described as elusive in the process it is the authenticity of the SNAP/Neighborhoods for Progress group who talk as if they want a consensus, but walk as if they can only rely on partisan power from beyond the community to get exclusively what they want.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What tonight's election returns say to me

Several results from tonight's returns of this year's election suggest to me that Nashvillians are perfectly fine with how the Metro Council has moved toward holding Mayor Karl Dean in check over the last year or two:

  • A light voter turnout both during early voting and then in today's polling suggests to me that people were not mobilized to rally around a single philosophy of growth in Nashville nor were they motivated to come to the Mayor's aid as his agenda faced increasing opposition in the Metro Council.
  • Voters overwhelmingly supported the Fairgrounds charter amendment (71% "For" - 29% "Against") that would require the Mayor to get 6 more votes on the Metro Council before he can carry through with demolition plans at the Fairgrounds. That was a huge rebuff that eclipses the Mayor's wide margin of victory over 3 unknown, weak candidates. This result is vindication of the CMs who challenged the Mayor's redevelopment plan and leveraged a community-based planning process. The referendum win also sends a strong message to the newly elected class that they should check with voters before they decide to cave to heavy-handed growth designs of the Mayor's Office. If not, they may find their re-election chances at risk.
  • In three districts that the Mayor worked to flip votes against his capital projects to certain votes for them, he did not prove that his endorsements made much of a difference to voters. The biggest loss was Sarah Lodge Tally to CM Jason Holleman (by nearly 20 percentage points), where the challenger trucked in trailers full of outside cash and had former Dean and Bredesen insiders working her campaign. The second casualty was Tanaka Vercher, who was beat handily by conservative CM Duane Dominy. The third Deanie Baby, Page Turner, did not get enough votes to beat conservative CM Robert Duvall who himself did not get enough to avoid a run-off with Turner. Getting those three seats could have mitigated the referendum requirement of 6 votes to demolish. Predictably, Karl Dean is saying he has no Fairgrounds redevelopment plans tonight. He currently does not have enough committed votes because his coattails did not bring pocket votes in, yet.
  • One of Karl Dean's most loyal supporters, Anna Page, appears to have lost narrowly to her challenger. At least one mainstream reporter characterized her loss as having to do with running in a pro-Fairgrounds district. As of tonight, no incumbent that I am aware of has lost due to his or her opposition to Mayor Dean. The same code of loyalty that reportedly adheres in the Mayor's Office does not appeal to voters. I take that as an indication that they are comfortable with the Mayor being held in check.

Outside of the new class coming in, the defeat of Jim Hodge and a couple of run-offs, the voters stood pat on the current contentious balance between the Metro Council and the Mayor's Office. As long as the council continues to show increasing spine while demanding accountability on Karl Dean's projects, these are results that I can live with. We will need some new CMs to keep the referendum in view and step up to fill the vacuum of independent CMs who did not or could not run this time around.

After this ballot, the new ones have little reason not to.

Those donations ought to buy a blowout tonight at the Adventure Science Center

"I scored $500,000 in donations, politicized the flood and beat a homeless guy.
This is one historic election party!"

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Neighbors for Progress poses as community-based, but is fed by outside donations

Astroturf. That's what it seemed to me beginning late last year when the same small number of representatives from self-styled "neighborhood" organization, Neighbors for Progress, appeared at council meetings during Fairgrounds discussion. Then, they could only muster 35 supporters during the pivotal council public hearing against 3,000 advocates for racetrack preservation.

While the mainstream news media continued to spin Colby Sledge et al. as a neighborhood group, I continued to insist that NFP looked like an extension of Davidson County Democrats who had a financial interest in selling the Fairgrounds to private developers. While their website promoted a community-based movement committed to installing a park, in a pinch they were getting help from very powerful people including a lawyer last minute to try and derail their opponents before the referendum.

Not even handing out t-shirts could make them grassroots
So, now I'm not surprised at all that the media has finally dug up NFP's financial ties to partisan politicos (nor am I surprised that the embarrassing media reports are coming so late in the game to minimize the damage):

Campaign efforts of the fairgrounds area organization Neighbors for Progress aren’t funded by actual fairgrounds neighbors.

Rather, the group’s modest amount of money has come from former Mayor Karl Dean strategist Will Pinkston, investor John Cooper and a political action committee dubbed Building Nashville Together, financial reports submitted to the Davidson County Election Commission last week reveal.

The organization, which supports Dean’s vision for redeveloping the 117-acre property, has made only one political play during Metro’s election season: issuing a negative campaign mail-piece against District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman, who is trying to fend off challenger Sarah Lodge Tally and her army of pro-Dean supporters. Holleman has questioned the mayor’s handling of the fairgrounds issue.

“I think the disclosure demonstrates that Neighbors for Progress was a political attack operation, not any kind of neighborhood organization,” Holleman said.

Pinkston, a former aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen who briefly worked on Dean’s re-election team, contributed $1,000 to Neighbors for Progress. Cooper donated $700. Building Nashville Together contributed $1,500.

Neighbors for Progress is not very effective at organizing people so they have to rely on organized money given by some very powerful people in the Democratic Party, many of whom have ties to Mayor Karl Dean. Colby Sledge admitted to the City Paper that they cannot muster any influence without the help of these partisan sources. That admission does not allay my perceptions about NFP.

By the way, Building Nashville Together is a 527 organization whose chair is a former campaign manager for Jeff Yarbro, who is closely tied to Karl Dean, too. BNT has been paying people to canvass neighborhoods for Dean-friendly candidates for Metro Council, no doubt to grease the wheels on future projects like the Mayor's Fairgrounds "redevelopment" scheme.

Paid out $10,000 helping Deaniacs like Tanaka Vercher and CM Anna Page

If you can't organize people to help you at the grassroots you can always buy some influence to mobilize the voters you believe you need. And money spent now may just flip future council votes to Karl Dean.