Saturday, December 31, 2011

Enclave's 7th Annual Best and Worst Metro Services

In last year's Best and Worst I offered some New Year's resolutions for each of the Metro Departments I covered. None of them were realized, so I won't even try this year. I did stay with last year's form of picking the 3 services whose activities got most of my blogging attention. I also continued the idea of tacking the rest of the mentionable departments after the big three.

Without further adieu, the best and worst of the services that are supposed to be of some benefit to us.

Metro Council
Surprisingly to me, there was a lot more good than expected from the council whose term ended with last August's elections. That council launched the nondiscrimination ordinance in the wake of the Belmont soccer coach controversy. That ordinance, destined to be blocked by the right-wing Tennessee General Assembly, prohibited Metro contractors from discriminating. Also good was the joining together of both council progressives and conservatives to stop Mayor Karl Dean's unilateral plan to demolish the racetrack after a huge, historic turnout to the public hearing. Not even Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' draconian public hearing tactics could derail the results. To their credit, the council required any Fairgrounds redevelopment to include a bona fide, inclusive community planning process. Finally, CMs approved Mike Jameson to General Sessions Judge. Like I said, it surpassed my expectations.

On the other side, the council generally behaved like the cowed tools of Dean it has generally been. The Budget Committee followed the Mayor's budget hearing script, and they failed to properly review County Clerk John Arriola's inappropriate spending habits, which later blew up in the media, resulting in belated CM calls for Arriola's ouster. They also failed to do their due diligence on objectively filling a Criminal Court Clerk vacancy, instead approving the Mayor's hand-picked choice, Howard Gentry. Then there is the newly elected council, which looks like it will be more Dean-dependent than the previous council ever was. Having learned nothing from the Mayor's summer IQT debacle, the sheep herd moved to approve the Mayor's plan to allow LifePoint to pay no taxes for several years and reduced taxes up to 15 years in exchange for property that could have itself been incentive to relocate.

Noteworthy CM performances:

  • Emily Evans and Jason Holleman tried to bring back an equitable plan to remove cap on storm water run-off fees for businesses.
  • Jamie Hollin, who could plausibly qualify for Nashvillian of the Year, was the drum major for nondiscrimination legislation and struck a populist chord on the Fairgrounds preservation. He brought progressives and conservatives together in winning efforts, while being a gadfly for Mayor's Office and culture warriors alike. Any current CM who desires to be perceived as independent should look to Hollin.
  • Erica Gilmore expressed unqualified support for historic preservation of the Fehr School Building. She also took a leading role on the council's nondiscrimination ordinance. She finally put the African American Music, Art, and Culture back on the radar after being distracted by the Sulphur Dell ballpark concept.
  • Karen Bennett voted against nondiscrimination and then said she encouraged those who supported her vote not to take an online neighborhood poll on the nondiscrimination measure, even though the poll could be taken anonymously.
  • Jerry Maynard compared the Fairgrounds to crack houses and bristled when North Nashville talk show listeners called him the Mayor's "rubber stamp" on the air, prompting him to call them GOP "ringers". Also, Maynard had to scrub "lawyer" from his campaign website after it became clear that he was still suspended from practicing law.

Mayor's Office
The main feather in Karl Dean's cap had nothing to do with his re-election talking points to staged neighborhood meetings of "economic development, economic development, and economic development". It was signing the nondiscrimination ordinance over the protests of the local Chamber of Commerce and in spite of his past reticence to sign anything that regulated the "free" market. Sure: it seemed arbitrary and capricious given the story of his change of heart was a chance encounter with wealthy booster Mike Curb, but any time Karl Dean breaks from the Chamber it is beyond all doubt newsworthy and laudable. To his credit, Hizzoner also finally followed through on his longstanding promise to move the Metro Action Commission's main offices and utility bill support service to more accommodating facilities than Salemtown's old Fehr School.

And then there was the rest of the mess. Dean didn't visit Antioch after a February tornado, but he did carry on with a non-essential trip to Japan in spite of State Department warnings against non-essential travel. He announced a plan to reduce the size of North Nashville police force and to increase the size of the suburban force. The Mayor stuck to his plan to demolish the Fairgrounds Speedway despite mounting losses on Fairgrounds redevelopment and demonstrated public pressure against demolition. However, he never consulted the Fairgrounds staff for feedback before introducing his demolition plan. Obtained emails showed Dean staffers tried to exclude some preservationists from the public meeting process. When they were not trying to torpedo their Fairgrounds opponents, the closest Dean advisers accepted gifts of vacation lodging and other perks from a no-bid Metro contractor in violation of a 2008 executive order signed by Dean.

Meanwhile, the Mayor was expanding his staff. He hired former Bredenistas at prices that could have paid for more Metro services. He doubled his communications staff to "serve the needs of the media".  The hirings did not sit well with all, given that in 2011 less than 250 stormwater projects completed after 2 years and road maintenance and repair needs were lagging behind. The Mayor also cut back the concept of a green roof on his expensive new convention center to a small fraction of the structure to save money. In July the Mayor lost a jury decision and in December he lost the appeal, both of which guaranteed that the convention center budget was busted. Dean told the press in June that "our citizens" expressed "overwhelming support" for a new convention center, even though construction never enjoyed more than 37% support in polls; last year construction only got 26% support.

Dean, a politically connected lawyer besides being Mayor, plead ignorance on news that fellow Democrat Phil Bredesen had leveraged the transfer of millions of dollars in non-hockey-event sales from Metro coffers to the Nashville Predators hockey club. Dean raided funds designated for services to pay for streets, parks, libraries, and public safety in order to subsidize professional hockey in Nashville because he had to redirect tourist taxes earmarked for the Predators to construction of the Music City Center.  The Mayor's Office looked the other way while the Predators tried to extend a no-bid, noncompetitive contract with an NHL insider and while they lied about checking with other potential vendors. Finally on the sports front, Mayor Dean dropped $157,000 on a ballpark feasibility project, but he concluded in December that a new ballpark is a "luxury."

Karl Dean joined forces with GOP Governor Bill Haslam to offer the IQT company government subsidies, tossing 1,000 Canadians out of their jobs; because of their admitted failure to adequately vet IQT, they were shocked when the company declared it was not moving to Nashville. On the education front, the Mayor flung himself even deeper into privatizing, venture philanthropy trends in public education with Teach for America, charter school incubators, and "CEO Champions".  He earmarked $10 million for KIPP Academy (charter) while bona fide public school infrastruture continued to crumble.

As for his re-election, Dean supporters criticized any opponents who dared politicize the 2010 flood, while the Mayor held campaign events under the banner of "rising" from the 2010 flood. Shockingly, the Mayor's re-election also solicited journalists to join his "community steering committees".

Metro Nashville Public Schools
It is rather depressing, as a public school parent, to say that I found nothing good about MNPS this year. I wish I could find a half-full glass.

Director Jesse Register signed a letter with wealthy special interest group leaders from Nashville's Agenda to oppose the state's plan to streamline teacher evaluations. Charter school and innovation czar Alan Coverstone held a North Nashville "collaboration" and in private school fashion did not invite everyone with a stake in North Nashville schools. MNPS's advocacy partner Stand for Children gave subtle indications that some interpret as moving against teacher unions as other Stand organizations have done in other parts of the country. An embarrassing YouTube video appeared in June that showed the SFC CEO telling an audience that his organization used the best lobbyists in Illinois to jam proposals down the throats of teachers unions. SFC Nashville waged its own campaign by endorsing Karl Dean for Mayor, in spite of the apparent conflict of interest. While my kid's underfunded North Nashville school suffered for a lack of computers, a Boston charter school company was spending over $100,000 (stipend + benefits) on each of its twenty-something MNPS charter school founders.

The best and mostly worst of the rest in no particular order 

  • Metro Finance -- Rich Riebeling could not or would not project a cost for Fairgrounds demolition even though he was its most ardent advocate.
  • State Fair Board -- Emails showed that Buck Dozier lampooned a Fairgrounds redevelopment concept informed by the community and written by the Nashville Civic Design Center.
  • Convention Center Authority -- 10 months after CCA PR manager Holly McCall swore that the Music City Center budget would not go over budget, the Music City Center budget was blown by poor estimates on the value of land acquired.
  • Metro Water Services -- Scott Potter failed to respond to a West Nashville community leader who emailed her concerns about locating the West Nashville Police Precinct along the Richland Creek watershed. Only one community meeting was held on the matter after a number were promised to get feedback. And I learned some interesting information on vulnerabilities at Central Wastewater Treatment from a former security guard at MWS that makes me feel a lot more insecure.
  • Metro Health Department -- Cited Occupy Nashville for food health violations, then performed an about-face, telling the press that they should not have been cited.
  • Metro Police -- Stationed a not so inconspicuous van as "undercover dignitary protection" for former Bush official Donald Rumsfeld, who even after all of those years patronizing privatized black ops security companies can obviously no longer afford private protection.
  • Metro Night Court -- Magistrate Tom Nelson refuses THP request for arrest warrants on Occupy Nashville protesters, thusly defending their basic liberties.
  • Metro Planning Commission -- In Autumn, local company Yazoo Brewery teamed up with small Bells Bend farmers and produced their first line of beer made with locally grown hops, appropriately called "Bells Bend Preservation Ale". If it had not been for the Metro Planning Commission's narrow rejection of May Town Center, this buy-local project might not have happened. The rejection happened in 2010, but the ripples spread into the community this year.
  • Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods -- Played a Halloween trick on neighborhood association leaders by handing an alarm company all of the latter's contact info, which is now held by Metro under false pretenses.
  • Metro Historical Commission -- Kick-started the process to help Salemtown toward rezoning for the historic Fehr School building, a Civil Rights Movement monument.
  • Metro Planning Department -- Finally included a nondiscrimination provision on gender, gender identity and sexual orientations 2 years after Metro Council passed an ordinance requiring it and a few weeks after Mike Peden started emailing them, Megan Barry, and Jason Holleman about noncompliance.
  • Public Works -- Attempted to redesignate collector streets without any community input despite profound impact on pedestrian neighborhoods.
  • Davidson County Clerk -- John Arriola spent wads of public Benjamins on superfluous signs and SUV among other forms of malfesance.
  • MDHA -- Washington Post goes national with the agency's failure to start construction on low-income housing even after federal money was spent to buy the land and to build infrastructure.
  • Metro Legal -- Dismissed a spurious, stupid complaint by a supporter of Mayor Dean against Emily Evans after the supporter misconstrued a friendly chat as unfriendly.

Writing these each December becomes harder rather than easier. I keep looking for more progress in Metro, but it is a rare commodity.

Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods gives neighborhood leaders' contact info to corporate spammers

The administration preceding Karl Dean's collected community leaders' contact information in order to stay in touch with the community about problems. That's what Purcell's Office of Neighborhoods told us. According to the Nashville Neighborhoods elist, leaders started receiving spam from private companies in October because the Dean Administration is making contact information available to any private enterprise that asks.

Here is an example of spam received late this year by neighborhood association contacts:

From: Starner, Gary
Subject: Neighborhood Watch Joint Effort
Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 9:42 AM

Dear Neighborhood Watch Member,

I received your email address from the mayor's office since you are involved with a Neighborhood Watch program. I strongly believe in home security and taking preventative measures to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. I believe it so much that I became a representative of ADT Security Services recently and wanted to introduce myself personally through this email.

From my understanding, Neighborhood Watch programs in certain neighborhoods meet regularly, whether it be monthly or quarterly. Having known this information, I would like to propose a sort-of "joint-effort" relationship between the two of us, making security and safety a top priority in our neighborhoods.

I would like to talk to you personally about it more over coffee or lunch if at all possible, but briefly, my idea consists of presenting at some of your Neighborhood Watch meetings why security should be important to each individual, and the solutions that are available from ADT. Whether your meetings are small or large does not matter. And just to show you how important security is to me, I'll even talk about other security solutions besides ADT that can offer safety to homeowners. I have spoken with the area's Community Coordination Police Officer and we are in the middle of working out the details.

Please let me know if you or anyone you know would like to contact me to schedule a brief meeting in which we'll discuss more joint-efforts. I can't wait to hear back from you soon!


Luke Starner

615-566-0107 (Cell, preferred, leave a message if necessary)
615-743-0179 (Office, ask for Luke)
ADT Security Services
744 Melrose Avenue
Nashville, TN 37211

It may be perfectly legal to provide contact information to outside sources, but it also seems to violate the spirit of the advocacy role that the Office of Neighborhoods is supposed to be playing for neighborhoods. The Mayor's Office should be focused on effective public service delivery rather than on lending aid to commercial enterprise. And ADT is clearly exploiting the neighborhood watch alert system to pimp its services.

Susan Floyd, a long-time community leader, filed a protest with the Mayor's Office:

Oct 25

Dear Mayor Dean,

Apparently the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods gave their entire email contact list to a salesperson from ADT Security. I have had emails from several neighbors that received this same email, including our neighborhood group's email address. One neighbor contacted Scott Wallace from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and his reply was that they gave the list out to anyone who asked for it. (see email below)

Giving out an email list of neighbors trying to keep in communication with a government body created not only to serve the citizens, but to protect them, to a for- profit organization creates a breach of trust between the citizens and those they elected to protect them. It makes me wonder what other information has been given away to anyone that asks.

I would hope that the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods would rethink this policy and make immediate changes to prevent this email list from being sold or given out to other organizations.

Susan Floyd
Donelson-Hermitage Neighborhood Association

On 10/25/2011 12:45 PM, Wallace, Scott (Mayor's Office) wrote:
Good afternoon,

Our main list is available to anyone that asks. If you like I can keep you updated but not make your information to the public.

Thank you,

Scott C. Wallace
Community Relations Coordinator
Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods
1 Public Square
Nashville, TN. 37201
(615)862-6000 office
(615)862-6001 fax

Another neighborhood leader, Jennifer Pennington, replied to Susan that she was disappointed that she shared her contact information with MOON given that her "very private" email and otherwise unlisted phone number had also received solicitations.

Some on the Nashville Neighborhoods list countered that the laws of transparency allow the Mayor's Office to share its gathered information with anyone who requests it. Others, like Trish Bolian, insist that transparency does not include the goals of commercialism:

the argument regarding transparency applies to elected or appointed officials in government. It should not apply in the way it was used here to neighborhood volunteers. There is a huge difference in the application of this. Additionally, this is a private business using neighborhood folks to try to increase their business...not someone seeking support of neighborhoods for a cause in behalf of the city. Transparency, to me, in terms giving out e mails lists of neighborhood volunteers is a non-applicable argument regarding a sharing of information that should not have occurred.

To have the mayor's office (Scott) state that they give out the list to "anyone who asks for it" is totally inappropriate.

At the very least, not warning neighborhood leaders that their contact information was public record so that they could choose not to divulge certain information was inappropriate. However, I have to agree that transparency laws exist for the public good, not for commercial purposes. I've attended community meetings where I've signed up on contact lists under the stated and express purpose that the sponsors (whether they were MDHA, Council Members, Metro Planning, Metro Police, or the Mayor's Office) would use it to follow-up on the topic of the meeting. Never once was I warned that the contact list was also an opt-in list to receive sales calls and spam.

The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods under Karl Dean has consistently departed from service to the neighborhoods, and from 2011 going forward it looks like they are more willing to serve spammers than neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another year-end tribute from Tennessean reporter Michael Cass for Karl Dean

Cass ended 2010 with an homage to Karl Dean. His 2011 verse same as the first.

Last year he wrote the evocative tribute to the Mayor under the banner declaring Karl Dean "Tennessean of the Year." This year Michael Cass's retrospective on Metro politics is no less ingratiating. It places Mayor Dean at the center of the action, as vanquishing victor over any opponent, as well as the unqualified champion of several policy issues and one strictly personal one (you and me losing weight). Cass even minimizes the hits the Dean budget is set to take because of convention center land acquistion/construction overages that many have warned about.

Perhaps the most pandering and shameless homage to Karl the Conquerer is Cass's cast of the Mayor's Fairgrounds opponents as finally trampled in war despite an impressive series of populist battles won from 2010 to 2011:

[W]hen Dean didn’t lay out a specific plan for the property ... his proposal died at a Metro Council meeting that brought out thousands of people on Jan. 18 ....

While Dean lost that battle, he arguably won the war six months later, when Metro voters overwhelmingly supported his re-election bid on Aug. 4 and gave him another four years in office even as a large majority also voted for a Metro Charter amendment putting further restrictions on changes to the fairgrounds.

Cass's editorializing that Dean "lost the battle, but won the war", seems to assume that the only mission of Dean's Fairgrounds' opponents for the last half of 2010 into January 2011 was to beat Karl Dean in the August 2011 election. By any standard, let alone the journalistic standard, that assumption is a stretch. Many of us who opposed Dean's plan were clear about the victory in January. Few of us were looking for an alternative candidate to run against a wounded Mayor. So, where can Cass possibly get the idea that the Fairgrounds war was won by Dean in 2011?

In my estimation, Cass's reporting has tended to hedge against Dean opponents the longer this Mayor has pressed the Fairgrounds issue. First, he initially underestimated the turn-out of Dean's opponents at the Fairgrounds public hearing before conceding the actual high numbers that were being reported the night of the meeting.

Second after a 71%-29% landslide trouncing of the Mayor's demolition plan in August at the polls, Cass oddly reported that the Fairgrounds question divided Nashvillians while Karl Dean did not. Given the lopsided results, the Fairgrounds question was no more divisive than Karl Dean himself was. So, Cass is flat wrong about Dean winning the Fairgrounds war in August. He beat a handful of no-name candidates, one of whom was homeless (which hardly makes for a big campaign finance base to the obscene degree of Dean's). It is just as plausible to conclude that if the Fairgrounds question is the litmus test, Dean lost the battles of 2010-11 and the August war. And the community planning process that the council voted as the alternative to Dean's demolition is ongoing.

And readers should never let Cass live down that 2010 "Tennessean of the Year" homage. As much as it may have gained him friends inside the Courthouse, it should also be the context for whatever else he publishes on Hizzoner. It tarnishes his image.

The January victory of the Fairgrounds preservation group was almost a year ago. A long time ago. In my opinion, the Mayor's Office and the Dean supporters at the Tennessean are counting on the length of time passing and the shortness of public memory to bury the actual events leading to the defeat of the Mayor's demolition plans.

This history is contestable. Don't let them re-write it.

Occupy SouthComm: Nashvillian of the Year has overlooked skeleton in his closet

A month ago, I expressed my concern that SouthComm writers had a bit of a double standard when it came to populism: arms-length with Fairgrounds preservation minions; full embrace of Occupy Nashville. The one-sided love climaxed last week with the Nashville Scene's declaration of Night Court Magistrate Thomas Nelson, "Nashvillian of the Year, 2011".

Now, I applaud Judge Magistrate Nelson for turning back overzealous Tennessee highway patrol officers in their overzealous attempt to punish and violate protesters. In my upcoming Best and Worst Metro Services post I mention Night Court as one of the higher points of service delivery precisely because of Nelson's actions.

But SouthComm's relatively untempered allegiance to Occupy Nashville and those who have served it in government has tunneled them into a narrow passage on such an ambitious award as "Nashvillian of the Year". 

Today SouthComm writers appear to be walking back their supreme vote of confidence in Judge Magistrate Nelson, given a letter to the editor that disclosed a less-than-flattering picture of Judge Magistrate Nelson's handling of arbitrary and capricious bail he set for some demonstrators who were doing nothing more than holding an overnight vigil. Were they holding it on state property? No. They were holding it at the Metro Courthouse, which begs the question: if Occupy Nashville had occupied the Courthouse rather than Legislative Plaza, would the Nashvillian of the Year have granted a request to jail them?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Inconvenient authority member got the hook

SouthComm a few weeks ago on Sports Authority deliberations about LP Field upgrades:

The renovations — first proposed in October — will be funded through bonds backed by the $2 seat-user fee. The Titans have asked that the Metro Council add another dollar to that charge as well.

"In working diligently … we can get the best deal we can get. We commit to get the best deal for this building we possibly can. We will stay within this budget and get it done. We have always tried to do things … the right way without spending too much money," Titans Vice President Don MacLachlan said.

Nevertheless, authority member Rusty Lawrence pressed MacLachlan on whether the team would come out of pocket to pay for any overruns.

"There won't be a cost overrun. … We'll come underneath. Trust me," MacLachlan said. Later, Titans CFO Jeneen Kaufman said the team would come back to the authority in the event the project is over budget.

SouthComm today on said authority member:

It appears outspoken Nashville Sports Authority member Rusty Lawrence has not been re-appointed to the authority.

UPDATE: SouthComm walks the story back with comment about nebulous mayoral intentions:

Mayor's office doesn't have an announcement on whether Rusty Lawrence will be reappointed to the sports authority. His term ended Dec. 19.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nashville not ranked among most charitable cities

I take "rankings of cities" lists with an appropriate grain of salt, but local news media and city marketers inflate their importance when Nashville gets highly ranked and they ignore them when Nashville fails. So, it is important to point out news that you probably will not see in the local news media: Nashville did not make the list of "most charitable US cities," either in 2011 or 2010 (the year of our 1,000-year flood).

What is significant for me about our city failing to make the list in 2011, is that this year the news media marked the first anniversary of our flood with narratives about exemplary ways our city responded to the catastrophe. The celebration of local voluntarism does not bother me. What does is the comparative tone the media gives Nashville's volunteers, as if other communities are not as impressive or as strong.

Last May, for instance, WPLN reporter Blake Farmer speculated that Nashville serves as inspiration for rescue/relief response to tornadic catastrophe in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. I responded thusly:

If anything, our experience of coming out the other side of the hells of destruction that other people are in or just entering ought to give us pause, the humility to figure out what we can do to support them, not promote ourselves. And using New Orleans again as our own personal foil is both ignoble and revolting. We should expect more from ourselves and demand better from local journalists.

Likewise, for these national rankings of most charitable cities: the fact that we do not make them ought to give us a sense of modesty, perhaps a sense of shame that our journalists and PR flacks overestimated our comparative worth in the charitable world in the name of commemorating our response to the flood of 2010.

Just like we continue to believe that our volunteer and donor spirit has worth beyond these year-end rankings that do not include Nashville, so do we need to accept that the same spirit does not need to inspire other cities (and distract attention from their response) to have worth.

The real threat to our children goes ignored by education reformers' "report card"

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the preeminent and wealthy business lobby group, released their latest "report card" on Metro Nashville Public Schools. I only found one mention of poverty and it was in reference to Teach for America, which the Mayor indicated last May is a stop-gap for the loss of professional teachers due to budget constraints. The report's two comments on "low-income students" are relegated to an appendix and a glossary like footnotes.

Conversely, I found no references to wealth or the upper class. Such omissions insinuate that affluence does not have influence over the quality of education of truly advantaged students.

While the Chamber of Commerce may slight the ill affects of poverty on student achievement and try to shift more blame to teachers and families, some observers refuse to ignore destitution and pauperism as real threats to student achievement. Strong assumptions about and faith in the American meritocracy hinder real reform based on guaranteed equity of opportunity:

The first step to education reform, then, in the U.S. is to acknowledge some sobering realities about our society as we move further into the second decade of the twenty-first century:

  • Childhood poverty in the U.S. (about 22%) is both relatively high when compared to other countries similar to the U.S. and inexcusable in the wealthiest society of all human history.
  • Upward mobility in the U.S. has not materialized, and remains something to which we should aspire—but is not something we have achieved.
  • The economic and equity gap between the top 1% and remaining 99% is growing, and thus threatening our goal of meritocracy. That 1% maintains disproportionate control over wealth in the U.S. and by extension disproportionate control over politics, commerce, and (most significantly) public discourse. The 1% must perpetuate a faith among the 99% in meritocracy as a reality to preserve their status.
  • Childhood poverty is a subset of adult poverty, employment, and wages. Even if we decide to address childhood poverty and the conditions of those children's lives, to ignore adult and family conditions is to ignore childhood poverty still.

Ignoring the reality of the underdevelopment in the communities of many public school students and denying widespread paucity and the shrinking middle class, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce is not engaging in authentic education reform, but merely morphing a new separate-but-equal system oblivious to increasing income disparity. Rich kids will keep getting smarter; poor kids will be held back.

Occupy Nashville was never really Nashville to me

Both print press outlets, the Tennessean and SouthComm (via the City Paper), are giving generally sympathetic coverage to "Occupy Nashville" this Christmas season, in keeping with the dominant script about Occupy Wall Street.

Over at the City Paper reporter Steven Hale waxed melodramatic:

While Occupy factions around the country have continued to face harsh crackdowns, the Nashville encampment has endured. Having declared multiple victories over the state, their claim on the so-called “People’s Plaza” remains intact. And for the time being, Nashville remains occupied.

The Nashville occupiers have endured without ever taking on the machine of Metro Nashville. So, how can reporter Hale conclude that Nashville itself remains occupied? A state-owned square remains occupied in a national organizing context that may be shifting away from tent cities in municipal parks.

The Tennessean account is at least more realistic about the intentions of the occupiers in Legislative Plaza: ON is not focused on separating corporate influence on Metro at all. Instead, they are holding out for January, when the General Assembly will once again convene. Yet, the question remains, why call it Occupy "Nashville"?

If I may deviate from the media script for a second: before Occupy Nashville appeared on the scene demanding the separation of corporations and government while leveraging no observable separations, 11,000 Nashvillians organized to leverage a referendum to check Mayor Karl Dean's unilateral grab of the community planning process on the question of the Fairgrounds. The Mayor was set to make a lot of influential suitors in various industries richer at the expense of the democratic process. That was until he was turned back convincingly both by petition and by the ballot itself.

Those dissenters did not receive the sympathetic media attention Occupy Nashville has in the waning days of 2011, but they were no less grassroots, no less democratic, and no less significant than ON. I have been waiting for the Occupy movement to have an impact on Nashville remotely as large as the Fairgrounds preservationists did. I'm still waiting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Where will Stand for Children - Tennessee stand in 2012?

Earlier this month, Stand for Children - Tennessee had a strategic planning session for 2012, and then about a week ago they held a fundraiser/holiday party. I don't know exactly what they have up their sleeves for next year or how much money they raised to help them implement their plans.

But before you buy into this organization's stated commitment to children, take a look at how they operate in other states:

It seems to me that children's issues have been used as a Trojan Horse to sneak in other economic and education policy agendas that have little to do with children's issues. Stand for Children - Tennessee is a partner under the Metro Schools umbrella with the local business lobby group, Nashville Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has been influential in the growth of local charter schools, in increasing investment opportunities for for-profit initiatives, and shifting the discussion away from debilitating poverty and to teacher performance.

We need to pay attention to SFC - TN in 2012 and monitor whether they go the troubling direction of other Stand organizations and bow to local special business interests instead of to the grassroots.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

May Town team breaking down and confirming suspicions of some

Partners in the development team Jack May put together around two years ago to urbanize Bells Bend, build a "second downtown" on farmland, and suffuse the small community with automobile traffic with 1-3 bridges, allege now that Mr. May was committing fraud and exercising irresponsible conduct. Here is part of the account:

According to [plaintiff Jeffrey] Zeitlin, when he and William Kantz entered into a partnership agreement with the Mays, they were led to believe that Jack May was retired in Mexico and “would help fund the project.”

Zeitlin contends, however, several misrepresentations by the Mays ultimately led to the crumbling of the partnership and the development plan.

According to the lawsuit, the Mays made an “unconditional promise” to gift certain land in Bells Bend to Tennessee State University — land that the partnership didn’t own.

“The Defendants did not make the gift as promised to TSU and did not intend to make the gift when the Defendants extended the promise,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, the Partnership’s good will and Zeitlin’s interest therein was damaged.”

Zeitlin makes a similar claim involving a bridge that Jack May told the city of Nashville he would “write a check” for, to help boost the proposed development.

The lawsuit also claims that the Mays added partners in breach of the partnership agreement and failed to account for Zeitlin’s capital contributions to the partnership.

This is not the first time questions have been raised about the business dealings of Jack May or the advantages he enjoyed with the help from others. In 2008, we learned that long-time office holder Democrat Gary Odom was able to obstruct the Governor's Office from closing a tax loophole that allowed business partners who were related to each other to escape taxes in the billions on property and in the hundreds of millions on profits. Odom helped the May brothers make a killing on their business. A reporter observed, "May and the rest of the Bells Bend development crowd gave campaign cash to Odom, who then gave it to Democratic lawmakers running for reelection, who then voted to make Odom their new leader in the House."

When the Bells Landing team did not get the vote they wanted from the Metro Planning Commission after Jim Gotto (a GOP advocate for the Mays) called to end debate after a long public hearing in order to vote, they requested special consideration from Planning for another vote. May Town Center opponents squeaked by with a single-vote win, but if they had so lost, the chances were slim that they would have garnered the same reconsideration. Luckily, according to one witness present at the meeting to vote on a re-vote, the developers backed down when they saw they did not have the votes present:

Observers said Jack May stood in the audience talking on his cell the phone before the meeting and seemed to be scanning the commissioners present. There did not appear to be sufficient votes present in favor MTC. Immediately before the meeting started, he walked over to the staff table and asked that his proposal to reconsider be withdrawn. Shortly afterwards, some two dozen opponents from Bells Bend adjourned to the parking lot for strategy discussions.

After the 2009 Planning Commission vote, editorializing stories curiously appeared in a local African-American paper making claims about community support without reference to data. Likewise, some on Mays' team selectively applied polling data on the question of developing Bells Bend without reference to the whole picture. Advertisements went out indicating that Jefferson Street would be revitalized by May Town Center, but according to one neighborhood leader, Jack May seemed to distance himself from the ads during a West Nashville community meeting sponsored by Emily Evans.

These events have been characterized by bobbing and weaving by developers from the beginning. We shouldn't be surprised to see that, as the Bells Landing team fractures (we may never know the exact constitution of the team), they begin charging one another with deception. Many of us who opposed May Town Center insisted all along that we were being sold a bill of goods rather than a viable community plan.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Trading history for cash flow

Could hardly believe my eyes when I read this Texas story:

A city commission granted its highest historic designation to LaGrave Field on Monday, which will allow for property tax breaks if the minor-league ballpark is ever improved.

The Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission voted 8-0 to approve owner Carl Bell's request for the "highly significant endangered" designation, which has typically been granted to much older properties.

The current LaGrave Field, where the Fort Worth Cats play, opened in 2002.

Should Bell want to develop or renovate the stadium, the project would be eligible to receive an exemption on the city's portion of the property taxes ....

A city report said the property met the "cultural significance" criteria for the designation.

The current stadium was built in 2001. It has the 85-year-old dugouts and the base anchors at 2nd and 3rd base from the original field, which was demolished in 1965. Otherwise, there are no historical structures left.

If you have any regard for the importance of historic designation, this story ought to make your skin crawl. It's more about money than history.

(The stadium as of yesterday is now in foreclosure and it is scheduled to be auctioned off in a couple of weeks).

West Precinct constraints prohibit community development

Former Mayor Bill Purcell was not perfect. He made mistakes. Among those I would not include ignoring community-based growth. In fact, Mayor Purcell pitched the dramatic increase of associations as a feather in his cap. He backed it up with a robust Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

No so for our current Mayor.

The community-relations angle of the installation of the new Metro Police West Nashville precinct has been botched from beginning to end. The Dean administration was widely criticized for overpaying auto dealer Bob Frensley, friend of CM and Mayor's Office alike, for the property. Community leaders warned that the property was flood risk at a meeting where they were roundly dismissed by Dean's right-hand man, Rich Riebeling. Lo, and behold, a 1,000 year flood sent a clear message to everyone but Karl Dean, who remained unbent on the precinct placement.

The latest botch: the community affairs facilities of the new West Police Precinct can barely accommodate the West Nashville community groups registered at Metro. In their first outreach correspondence to West Nashville, Metro Police sound more like sheep herders than community affairs officers:

From: Chick, Twana D. (MNPD) []
Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 4:57 PM
To: Undisclosed recipients:
Subject: meeting with leadership teams at New West Precinct

Good afternoon:
I would like to schedule a meet-n-greet type of gathering here at the new West Precinct Community Room with the leadership teams of the various groups. I need to gauge how much participation there would be to see if we should have one meeting or two. There are 104 registered community groups. We only have 134 chairs in our new community room.

My first proposed date is February 7th from 5:00p.m.-7:30p.m.

Could ONE PERSON from each group please carefully respond by changing the subject line to: Feb 7, YES, 2 (if you wanted to bring a contingent of two from your group), Feb 7, YES, 4 (if you wanted to bring four people) and so forth. If your group leadership could not do Feb 7, then the subject line should be: Feb 7, NO. The term “group leadership” is intentionally broad and left up to your discretion.

All I am going to initially do is count persons and gauge interest. Sign in the email body with your group name only so I can tell which groups have responded. Don’t put anything more in the email body because I’m simply moving them to a folder for counting purposes.

If you are a business, I want to do businesses together at a later time.

I will tally responses until January 1. Don’t worry that you’ll get left out – I’m just doing this to gauge interest because I have no idea what to expect. I hope I’m not flooding your inboxes. One of the issues I hope to work on is getting email addresses organized so you don’t receive too much from me. Thank you for your patience.

Here is a sample:

Have a wonderful day!

Sgt. Twana Chick
West Precinct Community Affairs Coordinator

Given the stated capacity of the community, the precinct space seems inadequate to the task of accommodating local groups on occasions where they might need to meet together with the police. There is no room for growth of more community groups in West Nashville at the police precinct. While the blueprints for the new precinct may have included elements to stem any future tides from a flooded Richland Creek, they did not include provisions to spur a rising tide of community organizations.

Maybe that is because Karl Dean, unlike Bill Purcell, appears to take no pride in stimulating the growth of community-based organizations.

HT: Mike Peden

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

LifePoint sails through our tamed Metro Council

Ronnie Steine, who in the past has been the Mayor's own little straw boss on the Metro Council, is fond of repeating the mantra over and over that council should not debate bills on first reading, but let them get into the committee meeting process and then debate them on second. The problem with that option is that the hand-picked, loaded committees where the really important stuff gets decided tend to discourage disagreement and dissent. Like some out-of-sight-out-of-mind, coal-stoked furnace in the basement, they are engineered to burn off anything not beneficial to the Mayor's Office. By the time the important ordinances get to second reading, unless there is a well-organized popular front against them, opponents who are not silenced are pushed aside by the lotus eaters on the council.

The LifePoint legislation, up for second reading last night, is a case in point. It is a bill that affects all of us in that it hands land to a private company tax-free for a number of years on the illogical basis that it will increase our tax revenues. Questions that CMs raised earlier were put to bed last night:

The Metro Council, on a unanimous second of three votes, gave preliminary approval of millions in financial incentives to Brentwood-based LifePoint Hospitals as a way to lure the company’s headquarters and its 400 employees to Nashville ....

Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, some council members were skeptical whether the deal constituted true economic development worthy of a significant tax break.

No member even bothered to go through the motions of the challenge for the good of democratic process. They just rolled over for Karl Dean, perhaps the most undemocratic Nashville Mayor in memory. His little straw boss on council is wrong: the only process operating at the Courthouse is the figurative cinerator in the bowels of the Mayor's Office, fueled by outside lobbyists. The committee system is an extension of that, designed to kill resistance.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What counts today as front-page journalism at the Tennessean

There are so many stories of import to our local communities that the local daily could have put on the front page today. What did they lead with? Klout scores.

Do you know what Klout is? No? You don't count then.

Jesus! Well, you gotta have Klout this instant! 
The highest attainable Klout score, 100, is owned by only Justin Bieber. If he is the ideal you strive for you got to go out and get more Klout now. Don't wait. Never mind that this is the "next big thing" marketed to a fickle clientele that yesterday preached that you needed a stable of Facebook friends, a bevy of Foursquare badges, and whatever else you do, GetGlue.

But I'll wager that this Tennessean story has nothing to do with reporting news and more to do with what seems to be a pattern which I noted last August of the newspaper picking and promoting the voices in local social media it assumes to be legitimate. Instead of conducting investigative journalism to excavate news that actually affects us, the Tennessean is using these select voices to promote itself and, admittedly, "to protect its brand". The editorial thrust at the Tennessean seems to be networking and generating a web of influence that will support Gannett's corporate wish list. In September a Tennessean editor even indicated that one of the reasons her company sponsors a local social media conference was to poach other companies' employees.

If you are focused on rising up the pecking order of influence in this town, the Tennessean is defining how you can do that and providing you free publicity fluff as you do. In the mean time, the newspaper is ignoring legitimate local news and is generating a vacuum that those of us who are not plugged in are going to have to step into if we want to disseminate news and information here. And the fact that the Tennessean is defining which voices count most in Nashville's echo chamber of influence makes our work that much more marginalized, and hence, that much harder.

But if Justin Bieber is your ideal and you want some clout at the local paper, you got to have your Klout this instant.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Police, TSU working on changes for 2012 homecoming in wake of 2011 Jeff St violence

I arrived late at tonight's North Nashville community meeting due to a conflicting neighborhood association function, but I was at CM Erica Gilmore's meeting long enough to learn of several changes that will be made at next year's festivities. We already knew from the last Salemtown Neighbors meeting that Metro Police are planning on closing down significant parts of Jefferson Street to auto traffic. That plan was reiterated at tonight's meeting. Police representatives also told the meeting that any time large groups of over 8,000 gather in Nashville, they always encounter higher incidence of crime, regardless where the gathering is.

The biggest news tonight is that TSU officials told those present (I estimate around 50) that they are already working towards making changes for next September's homecoming festivities. A TSU committee is said to be focusing on possible changes, with few specifics to share now. However, they do intend to contract the time of the parade from its current 3-hour duration to something shorter and to lower the number of entries marching. They also plan to move the reviewing stand to allow easier access and egress.

Recommendations also came from the community:

  • Eliminating bottlenecks that cause delays in crowd moving up and down Jeff St
  • Designating side streets off Jeff St "one way" to discourage "getaways"
  • Working on changing culture & values in neighborhoods; confronting kids' misbehavior
  • Increasing community policing in the neighborhoods

I continue to believe that TSU can make its most positive contribution by including neighborhood leaders in the process and by finding productive opportunities to involve North Nashville high school students in the events. TSU needs to work on community buy-in to mitigate chances of crime at future festivities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

President Obama made history today for all the wrong reasons

Barack Obama went today where no one to the left of Joe McCarthy has ever gone before in refusing to veto the controversial National Defense Authorization Act, which destroys our constitutional protections against being detained indefinitely (even for life) by military forces, and it guarantees that any of us can be apprehended without just cause or guarantee of due process. Once this becomes law none of us is free:

“By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “In the past, Obama has lauded the importance of being on the right side of history, but today he is definitely on the wrong side.”

The far-reaching detainee provisions would codify indefinite detention without trial into US law for the first time since the McCarthy era when Congress in 1950 overrode the veto of then-President Harry Truman and passed the Internal Security Act. The bill would also bar the transfer of detainees currently held at Guantanamo into the US for any reason, including for trial. In addition, it would extend restrictions, imposed last year, on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to home or third countries – even those cleared for release by the administration.

Truman never caved to McCarthyism. Obama is poised to do so. My sense is that people most likely to be violated by US military forces are not conservative critics of government, whom Obama has courted and appeased, but progressive dissenters of current federal policy. I fear for social movements the likes of Occupy Wall Street.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

West Police Precinct opens Wednesday amid unresolved questions about flood risks

One community leader not likely to get a personalized invitation to Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Police Precinct is Trish Bolian.

In spite of the fact that Trish was prescient about the fall out of Mayor Karl Dean's decision to locate the precinct in a refurbished car dealership near Richland Creek, her requests for information on plans for the police station and flood plain mitigation have been ignored both by the news media and by the Dean administration.

Trish, one of the neighborhood leaders who correctly warned the Mayor's Office that a major flood would would be catastrophic for the building (as it ultimately was on May 2, 2010), read Tennessean reporter Michael Cass's story last March on a flood team that the Mayor put together to gather information and make recommendations under the direction of Metro Water Services' Scott Potter.

Trish responded to the Tennessean story the next day by emailing the following to Cass (CC'ed to Potter):

Michael, I am writing to you both to commend you for the article you wrote yesterday "Flood team seeks way to keep city safe" and to ask that you do another article on this topic to answer some questions that have not been answered till now regarding the relocation site of the West Nashville Police Precinct to the former Frensley property on Charlotte.

I have included photos taken on May 2 at this site (and would be happy to share a video also shot that day with the full sound effect of raging water) if you would like to have it.

The questions I would like to ask about your article are these:

1. Is this "team" the same one that was referred to in an article by S. Toone regarding "Agencies unite to develop flood preparedness plan"? That article mentioned that the meeting was to be held on Feb. 22. No mention was made of time, place. It also mentioned that "government officials will meet with....neighborhood associations on Feb. 22 to begin the process of developing the plan". I am the President of the Hillwood Neighborhood Association and a founding member of an organization connecting many neighborhood associations together. I never got any notice nor did anyone post any specifics regarding this meeting on the multiple neighborhood associations website leading me to form the conclusion that no one was notified. Kathy Baker, former president of the Hillwood Neighborhood Association for 4 years, placed many calls, sent multiple e mails regarding specifics of this meeting. No specifics were ever obtained despite much effort. I placed a call to the Mayor's office and was told that I would be connected with the person in that office coordinating this meeting. This was on Friday before President's Day. Till now (though I left a detailed message) I have never gotten a call back. Needless to say, from my perspective there was no input from neighborhood associations on Feb. 22 or any follow-up meetings on this topic.

2. In yesterday's article you state: The Metro Council voted unanimously in December to ban development in the floodway, and any new construction in the flood plain now has to meet a "no adverse impact" standard, meaning it won't result in increased flooding. The new police precinct is partly in the floodway and in the flood plain. As it stands now, a wall is to be erected around the front of this building to try to keep this site from flooding in the future. At the Feb. 2011 meeting at Cohn School regarding this police precinct relocation, I asked how construction of this wall would affect areas on the other side of it such as Pep Boys (where people were rescued by boat) and subsequently down into the Nations where eventually 81 homes are to be bought by the city due to flooding. Answer: basically that no one knew but they didn't think it would create a problem. Common sense dictates that if flood water can't go where its force is pushing it (against a stone wall) it will keep moving to the place where there is no stone wall...right into Pep boys and that shopping area and into The Nations.

How can construction of this police precinct at this site meet this Metro council ban?

3. Your article goes on to say "Potter said the city will look at ways to store and absorb water ......and move critical services out of harm's way, including utilities, POLICE STATIONS....".


Of course, the NES station on Briley totally flooded as well, people were rescued from the roof and 27 bucket trucks were lost there and I constantly watch the rebuild there on the same site..looking more and more each day like it did before the flood.

I really would urge you to write another piece regarding this matter. As late as today, crews are busy at work at the former Frensley site spending tax payers money to build a police precinct (2nd largest in the county) and where the new police chief says that there will be enough parking to store extra police cars! How can any of this happen when the flooding prevention folks say "we are moving critical services OUT of harm's way...including POLICE STATIONS"!

I asked Trish if she ever got a response from either Cass or Potter and she told me that she never did. Having the reporter and the MWS bureaucrat ignore her after she specifically detailed for them how she and other leaders were ignored earlier strikes me as insult to injury. For her part, she continues to feel that people in influential positions cannot tolerate inconvenient questions. I cannot help but agree with her. Unless it fits the dominant narrative, generated by Dean's communications office and parroted by journalists, reality-based dissent is ignored.

As best I can tell, the "community meetings" played up in the reporting actually amounted to just one meeting held in late July for the purpose of making a PowerPoint presentation (which made no reference to the West Police Precinct in sections on Richland Creek). It appears that the primary means of collecting public feedback is not meetings but an online SurveyMonkey survey that allows people to to rank "five main criteria used to evaluate damage reduction solutions". It seems predetermined, minimalist, and controlled. If it does not mistakenly assume that everyone concerned has online access, then it is designed to limit rather than to encourage public response.

Wednesday Mayor Dean will go on ignoring West Nashville concerns about the flood-prone building on Charlotte Pike by tying it up with a pretty ribbon, which he will then cut in order to open the precinct up to whatever the future holds. And somebody from the Tennessean will no doubt be there to convey the festivities exactly as they are staged.

UPDATE: Trish's email mentioned the mitigation efforts at the new police precinct possibly pushing future floods on to surrounding properties in the Charlotte Pike area. Here is video of the May 2010 flood that hit a Pep Boys franchise near the precinct property. All of the water that flooded the old auto dealer in the still photos above would have to go somewhere else.

Rather than treating the Charlotte Pike flood plain as a natural barrier and not encouraging further development, the Dean administration seems content to build and then displace future flood waters elsewhere. [H/T Charles Maldonado]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Those who commemorate Sulphur Dell do not advocate building a new one

When City Paper reporter Joey Garrison interviewed me for this story, I told him that it was strange to me that the Mayor reportedly favored building a new ballpark at the historic Sulphur Dell stadium site, and yet, the community of fans, players, and aficionados associated with the ten-year-old Sulphur Dell nostalgia group remained largely silent on the concept.

The group founded to promote a new Sulphur Dell ballpark did not seem to have connections to old Sulphur Dell fans. "Friends of Sulphur Dell" seemed to operate on its own (unless you count a reported connection to the Nashville Civic Design Center) while the commemorative Sulphur Dell group chugs along reminding us of our history in North Nashville.

So, I was not surprised to read in today's Tennessean that a number of Sulphur Dell old timers do not support a new Sulphur Dell ballpark.

I still find it curious that the Mayor's Office expressed early support for Sulphur Dell when there was relatively shallow community support for it; unless, it was negotiating misdirection intended to take attention off the thermal site or off the rising expense of moving PSC metals off the East Bank. In those cases I get it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011: the year Occupy joined the American mass protest tradition

A year ago this month civil disobedience began in Tunisia and then suffused other Middle East cities. By autumn Occupy Wall Street dissenters marched across most major American cities. What a year 2011 has been.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

It is not as simple as "Take me out to the ball game"

I'm working my way through these ballpark proposals that were made to the Mayor's Office recently, and I'm thinking through them before writing a response, although my views on financing are predictable.

Speaking of financing ballparks, for those of you remotely interested in these issues, take a look at the attention that City of Miami has drawn from the SEC for allegedly agreeing to finance 80% of their pro baseball team's new stadium without first doing their homework on the team's financials:

SEC subpoenas to the city and Miami-Dade County are seeking a long list of documents and records, including those involving meetings and communications between government officials and executives with the Marlins and Major League Baseball ....

The $634 million retractable-roof stadium, set to open for the 2012 season, has been controversial from the start because more than three-fourths of its costs are being borne by taxpayers. More recently, Miami city officials raised concerns about having to pay the county $2 million in property taxes for adjacent parking garages operated by the Marlins ....

Investigators also want records about the Marlins' ability to contribute to the stadium complex's financing, the team's revenues and profitability, and whether any Marlins employees gave "any payments, loans, campaign contributions or any offers of anything of value" to city, county or state government officials ....

Stadium deals generate a baroque labyrinth of financing, cash-flow projections, and financial impact models that hide more truth than they reveal. They require time, resources, and specialized intelligence to digest. Shielding the time-consuming, energy-sucking financial jargon is the thin veneer of trite, peppy messages prepared by PR firms, repeated by politicians and blindly recapitulated by "Friends for [Whatever] Ballpark" that never really explain exactly what is happening in the maze of legalese that is a nearly perfect money distribution system when not watched.

Yahoo! Sports' writer Jeff Passan is even more pointed and direct about what happens to the money in the maze:

Until now, the Marlins were another rich corporation trying to get richer on the backs of its fans. Teams everywhere do it. Cities kowtowing to those that want them to pay for stadiums is as commonplace as it is abhorrent.

The Marlins pushed the limits on exactly how much a team can hold its city hostage. They cried poverty and threatened to move unless they got a new stadium while refusing to disclose their financial records – records that were later leaked and showed a team swimming in tens of millions of dollars in profits and funneled millions more to a corporation run by team owner Jeffrey Loria.

Miami-Dade County commissioners nevertheless voted 9-4 in favor of taking out loans that will cost the county $2.4 billion over 40 years to help build the stadium .... Critics across south Florida panned the deal, which gives the Marlins all stadium-related revenue.

The cautionary tale for Nashville is that instead of acting like the wealthy and influential partners who eventually do build a new ballpark are doing us favors, we should be observant of how the deal plays out and who the winners and losers are, especially in those neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity.

Beyond the bumper-sticker slogans we encounter as these plans pan out, what we don't know can hurt us.

Road trippin'

Nashville's mean streets:

One of every two county roads is littered with potholes and is in need of repaving, according to a report provided to Metro Public Works in October. While 47 percent of the county’s roads are in poor condition, just 22 percent are in excellent condition, according to the report.

Public Works officials say they were not caught off guard by the news and have a plan in place to aggressively begin patching potholes across the county next year. But even with a significant increase in the department’s paving budget by Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, Metro continues to fund only a fraction of what is necessary to keep the county’s roads in good shape.

Translation: the Mayor's Office increased the paving budget in the wake of 2010 flood damage but not nearly to the degree (alongside federal funds) that was needed in light of a 1,000 year catastrophe.

While the knock out blow might have been the Great Flood, the Metro budget has been pummeled by cuts since Karl Dean took office. Even when Public Works gets enough money to try to catch up, someone else's department is losing to compensate.

And if we cannot even raise enough money to patch potholes, how can we ever expect to implement complete streets projects that accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic in a more sustainable context?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The larger point

One thing you can say about the debate over Mayor Karl Dean's paradoxical plan to give LifePoint tax breaks for a move over the county line to get back a few tax revenues: at least it hasn't been conducted like last July's IQT relocation debacle. Before Canada realized it, Nashville offered IQT subsidies to lay off 1,200 Canadians. Before the news media realized it, social media reported that IQT shuttered completely. Before Karl Dean realized it, IQT announced that they would not be coming to Nashville.

At least in the case of LifePoint, it feels more transparent than it did with respect to IQT, which finally declared bankruptcy in November, and is now facing government pressure to meet its financial obligations of worker compensation.

While LifePoint does not stand to be the same unmitigated embarrassment, the buckling blow to the Mayor's narrow, unexamined thrust of economic development, it generates a new set of obstacles that can hurt an administration that just claimed that it had no clue that the state orchestrated the diversion of sales taxes from Metro coffers to the Nashville Predators. For all the times we're admonished to trust the Mayor's access to information, he seems to come up clued out when the chips are down (cue IQT).

The most glaring obstacle is the Dean Administration's readiness to overbarter in order to sate commercial desires even at the expense of the balance that reason brings. One prominent Nashvillan described the LifePoint deal to me thusly, "Giving away an eroding resource to move less than a few miles into our county. If they needed consolidated space, then that alone should be enough incentive." But Metro is bound and determined to pile up special-interest incentives at greater future risk to service to the rest of us.

Consistent with past unwillingness to rock Rich Riebeling's boat, the Tennessean reporters editorialized the move as a "victory for Davidson County" and a "significant boost" for the area on north of the Williamson County line.

They also claimed the move will "boost" Metro tax revenues, even though the Mayor's bill before the Metro Council (co-sponsored by CM Sean McGuire, CM Brady Banks, and CM Karen Johnson) requires LifePoint to pay zero property taxes the first 4 years, markedly less than half of property taxes the 7 year after that, and only 75% of property taxes until year 15 of their lease. At that rate how can the Tennessean reporters claim that LifePoint is going to "boost" our revenues with any journalistic credibility?

Incidently, The council could also give LifePoint a break on personal property taxes for roughly $50 million worth of computers, software and other equipment (like "supplemental HVAC," a.k.a. "extra air conditioning for computers") that will go into the data center that it plans at the new building. What computer equipment lasts 15 years?

So, the other obstacle to this project is the Mayor's own logic behind how revenues work. With a decade and a half of paying no or very few property taxes on their property, how is LifePoint supposed to be bringing new revenue into Davidson County coffers? Depending on when LifePoint takes up occupancy, Karl Dean could be done with his last term as Mayor by the time the healthcare company starts paying any revenues to Metro.

But Hizzoner insists to all those media who will listen with unconditional regard that deferred scratch is better than none at all:

“If this project didn’t exist – if we didn’t do this arrangement, they would be paying no taxes. So you’re talking about taxes that only exist because we’re doing this deal. And then you start talking about the things that come from this deal.”

Dean says jobs will flow from construction of the headquarters, spurring restaurants and shopping that could lure other investment. And Dean says jobs in the healthcare sector build on one of Nashville’s core strengths, saying “LifePoint could be anywhere they want to be.”

Again with benefits for the restaurant industry? That was a talking point used to sell Music City Center, too.

This seems like just another expansion of the Dean bubble, a small chimera in a sequence of capital plans--convention center, fairgrounds redevelopment, new ballpark among them--that form a slickly marketed, yet profoundly ungrounded dream of a common good.

LifePoint looks like one more notch on the baton of a Mayor who would someday be King. But after IQT, can we have faith that the Mayor has thought out this process carefully or that Nashville won't be fooled again?

Silence is golden

Longtime Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Michael Silence is among dozens of people laid-off in a pre-holiday style that one media commentator aptly described as "Scroogified" on Twitter. I have had the pleasure of reading his column, "No Silence Here" for years, meeting him face-to-face on one or two occasions, and I can say without a doubt that Michael's support and even promotion of my blogging has been a personal buoy to me.

Having said that, I also acknowledge that he and I do not see eye-to-eye on a host of issues. Nevertheless, if you ever read his responses at to something I've tapped out you would barely be able to see that.

When I heard that his entire compendium of work at No Silence Here would eventually disappear into the ether, as if his good work had never been done, I went looking for a memento, a keepsake for myself to remind me of what a noble man Mr. Silence is.

Posted below is what I am keeping for myself. I'm posting it not to use Michael's words to convince readers that I am a nice guy but to show you all what I am going to miss: Michael's nobility toward a lightning-rod blogger with whom he disagrees.

Journalists and social media

I'm hardly the brightest bulb on the planet. In fact, on a good day I'm only dimly lit. But it didn't take me long in 2002 to figure out blogging was a great listening post. And it was clearly a forum to give people a voice who otherwise were voiceless. In 2004, we expanded that forum for online voices by creating No Silence Here, which cruises along to this day.
So I took interest in a posting by Mike Byrd of Enclave, a blogger I've respected and followed for years. His post criticizes his hometown newspaper, The Tennessean. I'll comment on the subject more broadly. I know little of the issue he writes about.
Byrd writes: "The more journos use social media to defend their product rather than act for the sake of the common or a principled good, the more they slip from a seat of legitimate gatekeeper of information. Hence, we need social media and blogs in particular to get information past the disingenuous branding and the flackery of the Tennessean. Reporters already crowd Twitter for specific reasons and hawk their product to many, many audiences. If we fail to strive to keep social media an authentic alternative then it will be colonized via this generation of acquisitive journalists by government power and corporate money. It will be sapped of its peculiar and distinct potential."
A valid point, but I would argue instead we need both. Social media and the traditional press are checks and balances and ferrets for news and information. And that makes journalism better. Do we need to sell some stuff along the way? You betcha. I've got a seven-year-old to feed and educate. That's a reality, too, for the wide array of bloggers who eagerly accept advertising. Byrd raises a valid concern, though: Don't lose sight of the mission: keeping people informed with facts, not spin. And I would add along the way, the kissin' cousins make each other better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Metro Council finally gets its Meals for Deals back

My blogging on Metro Council's Meals for Deals goes back 6 years, when I argued that prohibiting organizations and individuals from providing CMs meals was not a be-all-end-all for guiding CMs to conduct becoming, but it is a fair expectation. The lion's share of Metro employees do not expect to be catered to by outside agencies looking to network. They either bring or buy their own meals.

So, I have never understood the resistance from CMs like Charlie Tygard, Ronnie Steine Greer, Rip Ryman, etc. to being required to provide their own food, too. It is disingenuous and naive to act like influence would not enter into the equation, but Meals for Deals is definitely not the worst CM entitlement.

Well, tonight, the council approved on third reading a bill co-sponsored by CM Tygard, CM Phil Claiborne, and CM Anthony Davis to bring Meals for Deals back:

This ordinance would allow the acceptance of meals, beverages, and food of a value not to exceed $25 from a single source in any calendar year. The acceptance of the free food or drink would be required to be disclosed on the annual benefit disclosure statement filed with the Metropolitan clerk. The provisions in the ethics ordinance regarding the acceptance of promotional items not to exceed $25 in value and the acceptance of tickets to events not to exceed $100 in value from a single source in a given year are not changed by this ordinance.

Go buy a famished council member a meal. You've got 25 days left in this calendar year to spend $25.00 on each. Some of them have been working so hard for a half decade to get this perq back.

Lurking in tonight's council consent agenda

Even as the NBA is about to start a truncated season, our neighbor to the west, Memphis, has positioned itself to sue its professional basketball team, the Grizzlies and the league for any revenues it loses to this year's work stoppage should the loss require extra taxes to pay expenses. In the past few weeks, the Nashville news media has covered Metro Nashville's plan to fund improvements to LP Field without reference to the real question of how we would pay for these improvements in the case of an NFL/Titans work stoppage.

Here is the council analysis of the bill for stadium improvements on tonight's consent agenda (the latter term means that the bill will be lumped in with other bills on first reading and passed as a bundle rather than debated)

This resolution approves the issuance of taxable public improvement revenue bonds in a principal amount not to exceed $28 million to finance improvements to LP Field. The original bonds to finance the construction of LP Field were issued in 1996. The Titans have identified a number of capital improvements they believe are necessary to keep the facility comparable to other similar facilities ....

The total cost of these new projects will be approximately $25 million. The estimated useful life expectancy for the improvements, averaging 18 years, is as follows:
• Elevators and Fan Hospitality Areas – 30-plus years
• Sound System – approximately 15 years
• Video Boards – approximately 15 years
• LED Ribbon Boards – approximately 15 years
• Control Room – approximately 10 years ....

The new bonds to be issued for the capital improvements will be taxable since they will be paid from the ticket tax revenue .... In order to build a capital fund for future needs, the Titans have requested that the ticket tax be increased to $3 effective for events scheduled on or after August 1, 2013, which is the subject matter of Ordinance No. BL2011-40 on third and final reading. This will allow funds to accumulate at a rate of approximately $900,000 per year for future improvements. The council would need to issue additional bonds if and when the seat replacement project is initiated.

In the event the ticket tax revenues are insufficient to pay the debt service on these revenue bonds, Metro is pledging its non-tax revenues. These revenues include, but are not limited to, permit fees; franchise fees (cable, gas, and telephone); fines; court clerk fees; forfeitures and penalties; charges for services; and revenues from the sale of surplus property. This is the same backstop revenue pledge for the convention center debt. However, the pledge of the non-tax revenues for the convention center bonds is subordinate to the pledge to the sports authority for stadium and arena revenue bonds. Further, this resolution provides that the additional one dollar tax levied by Ordinance No. BL2011-40 effective in 2013 would be used to pay any debt service deficiency before the non-tax revenues are used.

Because the quasi-public capital expenses on the Mayor's agenda continue to expand and because money is often shifted around in a kind of shell game where insider knowledge brings greater influence and fiat, it is important that we keep up with these details.

UPDATE: Council approved as expected. Disappointing to me: council progressives seem to cede all questions of equity in capital spending to conservatives, a couple of whom raised questions regarding future drops in ticket demand and getting greater obligation from the Tennessee Titans to assume an equitable amount of risk to that which the public assumes. If council progressives are not afraid of the wrath of the Mayor's Office what are they afraid of in seeking greater equity?