Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Progress in the last Salemtown association meeting

That association meeting I attended last week went better that I thought it would beforehand. The officer seeking to rewrite sections of the by-laws dramatically only brought up one of her proposals for discussion, but the group seemed to lean strongly against it.

The proposal mentioned was to cut the number of membership business meetings from one per month to one per quarter, based on weak attendance in some 2011 meetings. 5 people present spoke against cutting meeting frequency, 4 were members and 1 was a police officer, who made the same argument I have before about regular meetings: they build strong ties between neighborhood watch and community policing. The point that cutting our membership meetings could weaken the association was particularly persuasive from MNPD officers who work constantly with associations across the city.

No one except the president spoke in favor of cutting the frequency of meetings.

I came away feeling positive about these events. While the discussion confirmed my belief that that monthly meetings are more productive than quarterly ones, it also reinforced to me that group process is more important than top-down fiat. I genuinely hope that people continue to come to association meetings each month and chart the course of Salemtown Neighbors as a diverse group.

Ravitch: Did anyone explain a failed Nashville education policy to Obama?

Education historian Diane Ravitch points to the self-contractions of the White House education policy and mentions Metro Nashville Public Schools as a cautionary tale:

Teachers must have been excited when they heard what the President said then because he showed that he really understood the dangers of high-stakes testing. He said:

"So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in. They're not going to do as well if it's boring."

Teachers must have been jumping for joy when they heard this, because they know that states and districts have been reducing the time available for the arts, history, civics, physical education, everything other than the tests of reading and mathematics. That excellent teacher-blogger Anthony Cody pointed out in his review of his speech that the President was "blasting his own education policies."

Do you think that President Obama just doesn't understand that Race to the Top has encouraged states to double down on high-stakes testing? Maybe he doesn't realize that the strategies of his administration rely totally on test scores. Do you think no one from the U.S. Department of Education has explained that merit pay has been tried again and again and has never succeeded? Did anyone tell him about the Vanderbilt study of 2010, in which Nashville teachers were offered bonuses of $15,000? Did anyone tell him that those big bonuses didn't lead to higher test scores?

Don't wait for anyone at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce or One Nashville to explain this to the President of the United States. I am sure that they're dumbfounded that the profit motive did not automatically transform teachers into magicians who could increase test scores like market ratios. Testing in Tennessee assures that our children learn at less profound and sustainable levels. Putting the onus all on teachers ignores the systemic problems that stifle childhood learning.

Ominous cops: not exactly community policing

Ominous and grim news from Los Angeles for all those concerned about free speech, assembly, and dissent:

The LA Police Department, known for its brutality and corruption over the years, and the U.S. military conducted joint “tactical exercises” in downtown LA this week ....

According to a Department news release on January 23, “Multi-agency tactical exercises are to be conducted during evening hours around the downtown area January 22-26, 2012.”

“The Los Angeles Police Department will be providing support for a joint military training exercise in and around the great Los Angeles area,” the release stated. “This will be routine training conducted by military personnel, designed to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments, prepare forces for upcoming overseas deployments, and meet mandatory training certification requirements” ....

“Lastly, safety precautions have been taken to prevent risk to the general public and the military personnel involved. As such, this training is not open to the public,” the Department concluded ....

Joint military exercises have also been conducted over Boston, Massachusetts and Little Rock, Arkansas over the past six months.

These joint military training exercises become very ominous in the wake of the repression of the Occupy movement by police departments throughout the nation.The crackdown on the First Amendment by the cities of Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland San Francisco and others across the country is apparently part of a nationally coordinated campaign by the Department of Homeland Security and other federal law enforcement agencies in collaboration with local police departments.

How long before we see troops staging military training with Metro Nashville cops?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Developer requesting mixed-use zoning change in Salemtown has not discussed intentions with the neighborhood

The Planning Department sent out a notice to neighbors in Salemtown affected by a request by the owner of two adjacent properties at 6th and Garfield. The developer submitted the application for rezoning almost 3 weeks ago, and this is the first time many of us are hearing about the request. I have yet to talk to anyone here who has heard from the owner or applicant. Metro Planning, which is currently reviewing the application relative to the community plan, describes the request thusly:

A request to rezone from the R6 to MUN district properties located at 1628 and 1630 6th Avenue North, at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue North and Garfield Street (0.27 acres), requested by R.J. York Homes LLC, applicant, Ray C. Nathurst, owner (case number: 2012Z-005PR-001)

Planning has placed the rezoning request on the Planning Commission meeting agenda for February 23, 2012 (at the Howard Office Building, 2nd Av, S). MUN ("mixed-use neighborhood") zoning requires structures to be built closer to the streetside of properties with parking in the back. While mixed-use sounds like a noble urban plan, it does not (as far as I can tell) specify the kind of retail (if any) allowable. Without knowing the developers' intentions it would be premature to support this plan. Moreover, we do not know whether it fits the last North Nashville Community Plan that a number of us living here helped inform.

I will post more information here as it is made available.

Allegations of wrongdoing taint the Farmers' Market

The potential for a black eye at a North Nashville mainstay:

The Nashville Farmers' Market Board asked for a detailed review by the Metro Department Finance Thursday after questions of how the market operates.

An examination found billing irregularities, inconsistent lease agreements, discrepancies in alcohol revenue and lack of policy enforcement.

But I thought Salemtown was the "next hot spot" 5 years ago

In 2007 real estate reporters called Salemtown the next hot spot, so hot, we were already "on fire":

Up-and-coming 27-year-old developer Jeremy Gearheart seems like a good match with Salemtown, an emerging neighborhood near downtown where he's building single-family homes and putting down roots by buying and rehabbing an old home.

Gearheart is finalizing plans for eight upscale brick brownstones at Fifth Avenue and Garfield. He recently finished three new homes with historic designs at Clayton on Sixth Avenue North.

Those homes go from $289,000 to $348,000 and recently won the city's Preservation Award for infill projects from the Metro Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County.

"This area is on fire," Gearheart says. "I'm fully invested in it."

Apparently, our status as the next hot spot in 2007 was just a false alarm. This morning the Tennessean reports that now it's for real; we are the next hot spot:

Salemtown [is] a long-neglected neighborhood near downtown Nashville being discovered by residents and home builders who see it as the city’s next redevelopment success story ....

“This is a very cool, exciting place. It’s the next hot spot,” says Josh McLean, a principal of Kenner McLean Development, who compares Salemtown to other neighborhoods that have experienced a renaissance, including Germantown and, across the Cumberland River in East Nashville, Lockeland Springs.

As I hear it, the real estate reporter at the Tennessean did not even know that Salemtown existed before he was contacted to do this story. We moved to Salemtown in 2004, and I can recall the news media discovering us at various times over the years: 2005, 20062007, etc. So, perhaps the journo is referring to himself as being neglectful of Salemtown. Nonetheless, they have discovered us again.

Pioneers & Manifest Destiny
More troubling to me as a Salemtownie is the reference in the story to our neighborhood as "pioneer territory" along with the screaming colonial headline: "'Pioneers' take over Salemtown". The idea of "pioneers" summons other ideas like civilizing natives and subduing frontier. Pioneers do not just settle, they also drive out other indigenous communities. Because of those connotations, I find pioneer metaphors for urban community redevelopment appalling.

Salemtown is not the wild west or Fort Apache. When we founded a neighborhood association here we sought to acknowledge and to celebrate the class, ethnic, and social diversity of Salemtown. The idea that those of us who have moved here more recently are "pioneers" is at odds with that purpose. I am fortunate to share Salemtown with people who have lived here all their lives, who can remember working at the old Werthan Bag factory, who remember walking to class at the old Fehr school, who have looked at the block-by-block march of hip Germantown northward with a keen sense of loss of their own community. I have no desires to "take over" the neighborhood from them. Recently I found working side-by-side with folk who have lived in Salemtown for decades on our 3-year streetscape project very meaningful. If I were a pioneer I would not even see the value of their perspective or at least I would extol economic growth as the value that trumps all other values, especially "old-fashioned" ones.

Salemtown has a community character beyond that of the "urban core" exalted by lifestyle wayfarers who see the neighborhood as a pass-through from one stage of their life to the next. Some of us have stood in front of the Planning Commission and the Metro Council and defended that character against homogenizing tendencies of the housing market. Whether or not it is (or was or will be) "the next hot spot" promoted by real estate reporters and developers, it is (and was and will be) our home, too. Any so-called "revival" or "renaissance" is always influenced by the past as well as the present and the future.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sulphur Dell commercial somewhat misleading

Dated last November, this commercial promoting a new ballpark at Sulphur Dell is listed as "made for The Friends of Sulphur Dell," a group led by Hope Gardens association president Jason Powell:

I already spotted a problem in the video regarding a website promoted at the end of the video: www.sulphurdell.com. The commercial is misleading at that point, given that the website is maintained by a group completely different than Friends of Sulphur Dell. Moreover, the Sulphur Dell commemoration group running sulphurdell.com has not embraced the new stadium concept at the old site and some of them have even expressed opposition when asked by the news media a couple of weeks after the commercial posted on YouTube.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Inconvenient questions about a new ballpark

Last month while blogging on TSU homecoming and Jefferson Street shootings, I left out an intriguing comment from a citizen concerned about increased crime when outsiders cruise and hang out in the North End. A police officer present was trying to assuage concerns that spikes in crime during TSU homecoming were more chronic than others by saying that even Titans' games regularly result in higher incidence of crime. There is no way around crime spiking with increases in numbers of people attending events. Police at the very least prepare to deal with more car break-ins during Titans games.

At that point the citizen I mentioned brought up the proposed Sulphur Dell ballpark. Despite the spin of the most vocal local proponents that the community unquestioningly supports a new ballpark here, she expressed concern that building a ballpark would actually attract some of the same problems that TSU homecoming and Titans games did. It was an honest concern about Sulphur Dell that exists, unprompted, unorchestrated, unscripted. However, it was also a question that the "friends" and "champions" of a new Sulphur Dell ballpark are ignoring in the name of raising property values and bringing any growth, even if the growth might not be balanced or smart or secure.

For any action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Building a new ballpark at Sulphur Dell creates a contrasting set of problems that should be addressed in the open and without the influence of lobbyists. If those problems can be mitigated by effective community-based planning, the inconvenient questions are less likely to come up in settings that have nothing to do with ballparks.

UPDATE: Another point for community discussion that needs to be considered is the relative cost of Sulphur Dell land, whose 14 acres would cost $14 million according to the site study. In contrast the East Bank's assessed value and site costs for 80 acres are $8.6 million. It will be hard to convince taxpayers that they're getting the better deal at Sulphur Dell, but the only spin I've heard from proponents is how much it will help Hope Gardens, Germantown and the Jeff St business corridor. I can see why Friends of Sulphur Dell may be cautious about opening this up to a broader community discussion. They just keep getting strikes called against them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is Florida about to lower the boom on predatory pro sports owners?

Thanks to a reader for pointing me to this refreshing story from the Sunshine State:

The pursuit of public funds for football stadiums carries with it certain obligations that wouldn’t apply if football teams would simply build their own buildings. In Florida, the powers-that-be previously passed a law requiring venues that receive public funds to discharge an important public duty: provide shelter to the homeless when the buildings are otherwise not in use.

To date, the three NFL stadiums located in Florida, along with numerous other facilities, have failed to comply. Now, a pair of Republican legislators hope to force the stadiums to comply — or to refund the public money previously received ....

It’s a great move. Florida has subsidized pro sports franchises with a clear expectation that the pro sports franchises will help the homeless. The pro sports franchises have pocketed the money while ignoring their obligations.

Can you imagine if the General Assembly or Metro government required the Titans and Predators to use the stadium and arena for broader public goods and for helping the disadvantaged when not functioning as sports venues?

Nope. Neither can I.

Here in Tennessee, we're so deliriously whipped by a dream that was pro sports Camelot that we will let them do anything they want with our buildings. They can decline huge concerts that would put money back in Metro coffers. When they do have concerts, they can pillage the sales taxes that should be going to Metro services with practically no popular backlash or legislative protest.

So, even the enlightened thought of catching up to Florida and attempting to require subsidized pro teams to give some of their publicly funded infrastructure back to the community seems like wild utopian ideation, unless we refuse to continue to go quietly into this imbalanced dystopia we've built handing team owners our money, no questions asked.

And don't expect to hear any talk of a new minor league baseball stadium being dedicated to anything public either.

Localizing President Obama's State of the Union

I listened to Barack Obama's latest SOTU speech last night and thought it was an effectively safe, garden-variety election year SOTU, promising many things to various interests across the spectrum. There are things I wanted to hear but never expected to, which I won't go into here. But given the focus of this blog I was particularly interested in the responses of those audiences focused on urban issues.

The President touched on infrastructure:

In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

One of the first reactions I saw after the speech was done was a statement from the President of the National League of Cities (via their Twitter stream):

In an election year, there is a tendency to put off hard decisions until the politcial climate is settled. But the American people and American cities cannot wait until next year for action. The economy has yet to recover, the middle class continues to shrink and Washington continues to play political gamesmanship.

"Congress and the Administration need to take a page from the nation's local leaders who are making very difficult economic choices everyday. We are glad the President agrees with us that it is time for Washington to work towards finding solutions and making the strategic investments in the infrastructure and human capital the nationneeds to remain competitive for decades to come.

“To everyone in Washington we say: Campaign on your record and not with people’s lives. It’s time to get to work.”

While NLC spread the responsibility for realizing high-minded talk about infrastructure around, the interest group representing the nation's Mayors laid most of the blame on Congress and gave the White House a pass.
Here is most of last night's statement by the U.S. Conference of Mayors President, who is also the Mayor of Los Angeles:

"Last week, nearly 250 mayors gathered in Washington, D.C. We conferred with President Obama at the White House and released a detailed report on the state of the cities.

"The report was clear. Nearly a fourth of the nation’s metropolitan areas – including my home of Los Angeles – will struggle for five more years to regain the jobs lost in the Great Recession.

"In his address tonight, President Obama showed the country that he will keep fighting for the investments we need to turn our economy around. At its heart, the speech was about renewing the basic bargain with the American middle class, especially those looking for work or struggling to pay their mortgage.

"Now it’s Congress’ turn. Congress needs to do its job.

"To put America back to work, Congress should start by passing the Boxer-Inhofe surface ransportation bill, a bill that includes the innovative America Fast Forward initiative.

"America Fast Forward is simple. It would accelerate the construction of locally-funded road and rail projects by providing flexible, low-interest loans from the federal government....

"Our cities cannot afford another season of congressional inaction."

The USCM response looked like it was written to compliment the President's speech, which also chided congressional inaction. It did not indicate that Obama could have addressed urban infrastructure more than he did. The Mayors may not have wanted to alienate the White House, while the League of Cities feels freer to stand for infrastructure on principal. Targeting Congress, which is less popular than communism, is safe right now primarily because they are so ineffectual.

But at least one commentator senses that Obama is not prepared to be bold on infrastructure either. The thoughts of a blogging urbanist came across my news reader early this morning:

The contributions of the Obama Administration to the investment in improved transportation alternatives have been significant, but it was clear from the President’s State of the Union address last night that 2012 will be a year of diminished expectations in the face of a general election and a tough Congressional opposition.

Mr. Obama’s address, whatever its merits from a populist perspective, nonetheless failed to propose dramatic reforms to encourage new spending on transportation projects, in contrast to previous years. While the Administration has in some ways radically reformed the way Washington goes about selecting capital improvements, bringing a new emphasis on livability and underdeveloped modes like high-speed rail, there was little indication in the speech of an effort to expand such policy choices. All that we heard was a rather meek suggestion to transform a part of the money made available from the pullout from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts — a sort of war dividend whose size is undefined ....

In the context of the presidential race, Mr. Obama’s decision not to continue his previously strong advocacy of more and more transportation funding suggests that the campaign sees the issue as politically irrelevant.

So, we are back to my first point that the speech was effectively safe, garden-variety SOTU focused less on what Obama will do for urban community and more on how he will navigate his re-election year. Those of us who live in cities will have to wager on the long odds that Congress will actually do something before November without the help of the White House.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Salemtown, Sulphur Dell, and Karl Dean

At some point I'll get to blogging on the details of yesterday's association meeting regarding concerns I blogged about this past weekend. However, there were two rather remarkable revelations divulged that deserve their own space here.

Apparently, our new president has jumped in with both feet to support the Sulphur Dell ballpark. Less than a month into her tenure as the chief, she has joined an effort with Germantown, Hope Gardens, Buena Vista to form a tighter consortium to try and shift Courthouse sentiment (assuming it has ever really waned) back to the concept of a ballpark near Bicentennial Mall. She told us they are looking to brand the group with a hip name like "North Core". They have political heavyweights working with them (politics consultant and PR stud Mike Kopp's name was dropped), and they have a budget (our neighborhood association has yet to even see any 2012 budget proposals).

Salemtown Neighbors is on record having expressed a guarded openness to the ballpark project in the past, pending assurances that increased vehicular traffic would not undermine complete, pedestrian-friendly streets or our North Nashville Community Plan. If the association is to take a more unqualified, enthusiastic response supporting a paid lobbying effort for Sulphur Dell, then we ought be discussing this in open meetings and voting up or down to change our previous stance.

Despite being on the Executive Board, I do not believe that this is a decision that should be decided by executives alone since it affects us all. It would be out of character for us to become top-down. Moreover, all of us would like to see our quality-of-life enhanced by smart growth, but common sense tells us that not all growth is smart just because it makes developers more money. The community needs to be involved to the widest extent possible, and it is imperative now that we not reduce chances for discussions by cutting the frequency of our meetings as proposed.

The second interesting revelation at the meeting was that two of our newly-elected officers have been meeting with Mayor's Office officials and they have an upcoming meeting with Hizzoner himself, Karl Dean, in the near future. I think it is wonderful that the Mayor's Office is reaching out to Salemtown as they have not in the past. It would be super if our officers can convince him to set aside more in his future capital budgets to upgrade our antiquated sewer system or designate more money to parks and recreation so that Morgan Park Community Center can stay open longer hours for our kids, teens, adults, and seniors.

I'll keep an eye on these rapidly developing stories, but please send me any news you hear, too.

Local blogger exposes sexist emails allegedly sent out by MNPS male supervisor

Over at Gemna Speaks, Gemna Holmes broke some rather provocative news regarding an email allegedly sent by Metro Nashville Public Schools Food Services Director Jay Nelson (I added the emphasis below):

Recently, a Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) male supervisor sent an email to female subordinates that has gone viral. In the food service department, the female to male ratio is 9 to 1. An email with a cartoon depicting a caveman telling another caveman that he has decided to teach the woman to talk and asking “what harm can it do?” is not funny. Period ....

I contacted several MNPS food service staff members at area schools to ask them about their work environment which the email made me question right away. No one wanted to go on record for fear of losing their jobs but all agreed that email that I read was a glimpse behind the drawn shades of a school system that has become synonymous with devaluing its support staff.

Jump to Gemna's blog to see the offending cartoon and get more details. These allegations are chilling for MNPS given that they come on the heels of a complaint filed against Jesse Register for "overreaching" and attempting to "silence" MNPS support staff. What kind of climate do service workers weather under the MNPS umbrella?

By the way, this is not the first time Director Nelson has had his oversight scrutinized. In 2004, MSNBC found conditions in Metro school cafeterias in bad shape under his watch:

...unlike last year [when new crews popped in], there were no mouse droppings under food service lines. But mice still roam other parts of some Nashville school cafeterias.

But the Nashville school district had its most serious problems with food temperatures, worse than any other city we visited. When checking hamburgers, one of the most dangerous foods if not cooked thoroughly and held at 140 degrees, inspector Steve Crosier couldn't believe his eyes as the thermometer needle fell. It finally bottomed out at around 78 degrees.

Hansen: "How quickly does bacteria grow, bacteria that could make a kid sick at 78 degrees?"

Prof. Berg: "It grows really, really quickly. 78 degrees, 110 degrees, these are optimum temperatures for bacteria. Not for us."

Cold pizza may be a staple around college dorms, but health officials say it could pose a danger for a young child if not kept at 140 degrees to kill bacteria. At 60 degrees the pizza was 80 degrees too cold.

Prof. Berg: "It is that cheese. It's almost like a Petri dish with bacterial growth."

At McGavock High, inspectors saw something a lot scarier than cold pizza -- shards of glass mixed in with fruit in a cooler. Apparently, the light shield, the metal cover that goes over the glass dome shield, fell.

Jerry Rowland, Health Director: "I can't remember the last time that I saw an inspection where there was glass inside a food in a school cafeteria or in a restaurant."

Inspectors also found a fifty pound bag of USDA-donated flour in a storage room infested with bugs. Jay Nelson is the head of food services for Nashville schools.

Hansen: "Don't the people look around and say, this needs to be cleaned. This has bugs. This is rotten. This is at the wrong temperature. Before kids come in to eat in these rooms?

Jay Nelson: "Chris, I would have fully expected that happens. But as we can see it doesn't."

Hansen: "How can you guarantee that the next time we come down here, we won't see some of these very same things?"

Nelson: "Chris I'd be a fool to guarantee you that you're not going to see some of the very same things. What I want to see is our total scores of all the schools improving, and continually improving."

Maybe it's good news that the MNPS dining services brain trust is no longer having to defend alarming food conditions in its cafeterias. Is it too much to expect that Mr. Nelson find a way to stop imposing demeaning cartoons on rank-and-file workers?

UPDATE: MNPS's cartoon fiasco hits the airwaves.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nashville schools as conduits for corporate revenue streams

This plan to start charter schools in the more affluent neighborhoods of West Nashville strips any of the pretense that education reform is about giving disadvantaged kids better chances to succeed. Education reform is primarily about maximizing foundation grants and federal dollars and channeling them toward private education enterprise through the oversight of private boards of community movers and shakers

West Nashville is like one big land rush for entrepreneurs and influence-brokers:

A steering committee has formed to advance discussions on the West Nashville charter school concept. Among members is Metro school board member Michael Hayes, who represents the Green Hills area ....

“Every charter school is open now to families of all incomes,” Hayes said. “It just so happens that the first handful that opened, opened under the previous laws, which required that their student body come from ... at-risk families. Now that the law has changed, every school can take applications from children of any socio-economic group.”

Hayes added, “Diversity will be a key in any charter school’s push in West Nashville.”

But school board member Ed Kindall, who represents schools in some of the county’s most impoverished neighborhoods, said he would have diversity concerns about the West Nashville charter concept if it were proposed.

“This is was one of the fears that I had when the recent law was changed to allow all students to attend charter schools,” Kindall said....

Education observer Jim Horn called the emergence of Karl Dean's education policy "the arrival in Nashville of the new movement to turn schools and school services into corporate revenue streams". If that is so, the genesis of charter schools for affluent kids is the maturation of that movement.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some objections to changes at Salemtown Neighbors

I've been a continuous member of Salemtown's first neighborhood association over the span of its relatively short existence. We have had our ups and downs over the years, and like many local voluntary organizations, we've often endured on the hard work of a core cadre of leaders who could always use more support from the entire membership.

2011 was perhaps our most trying and least successful year. There were successes. Salemtown Neighbors was able to act quickly after the historic Fehr school building was declared one of Nashville's most endangered properties to get our council member to support preservation zoning with the help of the Historical Commission. We also raised enough money to meet planning department requirements when the legislation eventually gets to that level. We hosted volunteer community clean-up days. We kept our financial house strong.

Nonetheless, we were weak in hosting social and service events that would have both given back to the community and grown our membership. Communication could have been better, and our business meetings were poorly attended. Our membership numbers did not shrink, but they were flat.

I believe that we have a lot of work to do in 2012 to strengthen this association, and I am committed to support reasonable changes to turn us around. I am on the Executive Board and I intend to do what I can to help make things better.

However, our new president is proposing changes to our by-laws that I believe are rash and lack diligence for group process. Originally our president proposed that only one members' business meeting, scheduled for tomorrow evening, would be designated for the membership to consider her proposals. Fortunately, at a January 7 meeting, the Executive Board agreed that more than a couple of weeks were needed to consider the changes. Now we may have 2 months.

My strongest objection is to a proposal to cut the number of membership meetings from 1 per month to 4 per year (the Executive Board added an option of 6 per year as a compromise proposal). The proposed change assumes that business can be conducted over the website and via email instead of in monthly face-to-face meetings. Online communication is a great tool that I rely on for networking with a lot of people, but it is not a substitute in a community where we live close to one another for face-to-face interaction. Moreover, not everyone is as comfortable with online communication and some might have less access than others.

I believe that the new meeting proposal also ignores the important connections SNNA has built with Metro's community police officers. One of the ways we serve our community is to provide Salemtown with a monthly point of contact with Metro police. Likewise, we convey to the police that we are engaged in our own safety and security. In my opinion shrinking the meeting structure weakens the community policing relationship we have built over the years.

I also object to the president's proposal to amend the membership dues by-laws to allow members to substitute volunteer hours for dues. My family volunteers consistently in our community, so I'm not opposed to the idea of volunteer hours being used to meet membership requirements. However, there is no plan or structure or volunteer coordinator to keep up with volunteer hours in this proposal. It is no more than a concept, and a wishful one at that. I'm also not opposed to suspending the dues by-laws for 2012 and pursuing this on a trial basis. But re-writing the by-laws on an untested impulse absent clear management plans is drastic and risky.

There are other proposals to re-write or eliminate certain parts of the by-laws that for the sake of brevity I will not address here, but I believe that any plan to re-write the rules governing our association should be submitted to a by-laws committee to be considered, studied, and discussed. When our by-laws were written, it took a committee months to conduct research, to consider feedback, and to draft them. It took several weeks more to allow members to consider and then vote on them. I fail to understand why we are not pursuing the same group process and timeline for these proposals.

In spite of our lapses and challenges of the past, I hope that we will continue to be an association that maximizes participation rather than overreacting and limiting participation. Any proposal to change the fundamentals of our organization ought to be slow-walked rather than rushed through in order to foster participation and to get informed consent.

Look forward to seeing members tomorrow night at this important meeting!

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are my own. The characterizations are not meant to be those of anyone but me. That should go without saying, but I also wish to make it clear.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Salemtown crime update

I learned yesterday from a developer that one of the neighborhood kids allegedly involved in a recent burglary spree here helped the other suspects by driving a motorized go-kart up and down streets and alleys, scoping properties, and tagging houses for break-ins. The teen worked with others to pass stolen goods along to a fence who allegedly would give the kids pot in return. The source of the information is Metro's flex unit.

I saw the go-kart kid a number of times in the past 6 months and didn't suspect him in those situations. Guess I'll change my tune.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Some had questioned the sincerity of the May Town proposal years before the project's own developers did

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.

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.

The partnership may have been damaged by the alleged dishonesty, but many more Nashvillians would have been damaged had the deal not been narrowly defeated. Many of us on the anti-May Town side warned without fail that this concept was a Trojan horse destined to bring more harm than good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Music City Center financier among the "10 Most Hated Companies in America"

Despite their rank reputation for ill-gotten gains at the expense of ordinary people, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean no doubt sees Goldman as golden:

Goldman Sachs’ ... poor reputation was cemented when the government sued it for fraud in 2010. The firm settled with the government for $550 million, but this was viewed as little more than a slap on the wrist because of the bank’s immense wealth. And the fraud accusations have not stopped — they have actually accelerated. Goldman faces a set of suits over mortgage instruments it sold worth a total of $15.8 billion. The Federal Housing Finance Agency in September accused Goldman of misrepresenting the quality of $11.1 billion worth of residential mortgage-backed securities. In the cases in which Goldman has settled claims, the press has not always been favorable. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Goldman agreed to forgive 25% of principal balances on 143 mortgage loans to borrowers in New York, or $13 million of a total principal balance of $52 million. The $13 million is less than a senior banker at Goldman might make in a year. Perhaps those homeowners are part of the Occupy Wall Street protests against big banks, for which Goldman is the poster boy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CRIME ALERT: police nab burglary suspects in Salemtown

The only news source reporting on the arrest last week of a suspected Salemtown burglar is WSMV's Kevin Young:

Metro Police say two teens they arrested Friday admitted to committing seven burglaries in the Salemtown area near downtown. The juveniles, ages 14 and 17, were captured by officers investigating a break-in in the 1700 block of 5th Avenue North. Police say the teens admitted breaking into seven Salemtown homes during the past three weeks while working with Timmy Bufford, a convicted felon, who would give them marijuana in exchange for the stolen items. Bufford, 40, allegedly would advise the teens of which homes to burglarize while he would wait for them in his vehicle, a Ford Expedition. Bufford would then sell the stolen items from his home in the 1700 block of 6th Avenue North, police said.

A West Nashville friend tipped me off about this. We've heard nothing from Metro Police or the neighborhood association on this development. The neighborhood elist did report the following in late December:

A neighbor in the 1800 block of 7th Avenue North experienced a break-in attempt on Christmas Eve. The perpetrators first tried a crowbar and then attempted to enter through a window, setting off the alarm and causing the would-be burglars to flee. The attempted burglary was reported to MNPD.

It is not immediately clear whether this attempted break-in was related to the other burglaries. I'll update as I learn more.

UPDATE: According to police reports, another suspect was apprehended for burglary near Salemtown:

In a separate case, acting on a tip Wednesday officers located Steven Howard, 41, who was wanted on an outstanding burglary warrant for breaking into a Cheatham Place home last July. A latent finger print from a window sill matched Howard, a convicted burglar, who also has previous convictions for drug possession and theft. Howard, of Tennessee Avenue, is charged with burglary. He is being held in lieu of $10,000 bond.

Is Jesse Register union-busting to save a buck?

Metro Nashville Public Schools officials won't confirm or deny, but Nashville's service employees' union, SEIU, charges that MNPS Director Jesse Register has tried to convince service employees to quit the union. SEIU has filed a complaint with the School Board:

"This is not a dispute over wages, funding, or benefits," said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. "Last year, the state legislature passed laws which affected teachers' right to bargain collectively. Dr. Register is now trying to use those laws – which do not apply to school support employees - as an excuse to overreach his authority and silence the voices of thousands of loyal city employees who voted to form a union."

Didn't Register already overreach a couple of years ago by using private contractors as advisers for privatizing public service positions, outsourcing the jobs, and effectively cutting the labor force after many workers were not rehired by those contractors?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Goldman Sachs exec sponsors opulent party in troubled times

Goldman Sachs is the primary financier for Music City Center construction and an adviser to the Karl Dean's office on the funding the project. Because the local news media did very little questioning of Goldman's background or their checkered history in the bursting of the housing bubble, it has been left to bloggers to write about the shady and embarrassing news on Goldman.

That we can trace stories on the low ethical character of major company players continues to be Goldman's walk of shame even if it is not directly related to the Music City Center. The caliber of the company Metro hired matters. We should not divorce the pattern of hubris of this company from their business dealings with Metro. Each Goldman misstep elsewhere should be localized at least with the question of whether they might be prone to so misstep here, especially when we have a news media who are prone to ignore bad news in favor of the press releases issued from the Mayor's Office.

The latest news is that a Goldman Sachs executive held an obscenely opulent tween party for his daughter in Denver:

[Jeffrey Verschleiser] ... heads Goldman’s mortgage division now. And after cutting a mile-wide swath of losses through the American economy, helping destroy two venerable firms in Bear and Ambac, bilking the taxpayer for untold millions more (he is also named in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency for allegedly speeding bad loans onto securitization before they defaulted), Verschleiser is now living the contented life of a proud family man, renting out a 94-room hotel for three days for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

It’s certainly heartening that Verschleiser is spending this money on his daughter instead of, say, hiring a busload of Jamaican hookers to spend the weekend lounging with him in a hot tub full of Beluga caviar. People ought to give their children the best, I guess. But there’s this, too: at a time when one in four Americans has zero or negative net worth, renting a 94-room hotel for three days for a tweenager party might already be pushing the edge of the good taste/tact envelope. Even for the most honest millionaire in Aspen, it would seem a little gauche.

We will see whether any lapses of good taste manifests around Nashville's trickle-down convention center project, a mechanism designed by and for elites without deep connections to the local community.

Still an arrogant nation on the wrong side of world revolution: an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam"

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression, which has now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisers" in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago, he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

Jim Cooper and the bloggers

`I'll start at the end of Jim Cooper's meeting with a handful of local bloggers at Bongo Java Saturday. As Rep. Cooper wound up the meeting and left I hailed his communications director, Katie Hill, to follow up with questions I did not get a chance to ask.

I referred her attention to this week's Nashville Scene interview with her boss where he responded to the Scene's questions about the long awaited federal court house by criticizing the line-jumping that more influential Congressmembers did to get their projects through. I offered the feedback that inside moves that members made to check and out-maneuver one another is really not an issue of principal. Whether Nashville moves up or down in consideration is really an inside-baseball issue and that many voters expect our elected representatives to make the inside moves we cannot make to give us more of an advantage.

Rep. Cooper had already told our klatch that he wanted to return to a Congressional era in the past less dictated by ensconced Congressmembers pulling strings behind the scenes. I asked Katie rhetorically what era he meant, given that the DC of Jim Wright, Tip O'Neill, and LBJ seemed focused on back-room arm-twisting and influence.

Rep. Cooper had already told us that he considered high-visibility and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to be ineffective on Capitol Hill. Right after he said that I chimed in that many in the Occupy movement referred to Sen. Sanders as effective at bringing more national attention to their cause. During my exchange with Katie, I suggested that some might consider Rep. Cooper's principled stand on the fight for infrastructure for their states and districts as ineffective. I was thinking in terms of the "Chicago Way": you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. I reiterated to Katie that these internal matches are not moral questions and to make them such might be considered "ineffective" by some who want to see infrastructure. However, I added, the issue of indefinite detention is a moral question.

Rep. Cooper had already responded to my question of whether he would support legislation to take indefinite detention out of the 2012 defense authorization bill by not really answering whether he would support it. He called indefinite detention a "murky, presidential powers/Supreme Court issue". He continued: "the current law on that is that if they are a proven terrorist or there are a lot of factors here that then they can be detained, but it is infinitely worrisome anytime it is a citizen." I would put it more strongly: it's not just worrisome, it's an absolute violation of basic human rights. Rep. Cooper called this a "gray area", and he argued that Congress has failed to make sense of this 'murky area". He mentioned the drone attack on Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen on foreign soil. He seemed to suggest that we have been down the rabbit hole since World War II. However, he also insisted that President Obama is trying to get us away from this by winding down the war in Iraq. I did not get how this connected with defending the rights of citizens who are more likely to be indefinitely detained, who are more likely to disappear under this act.

Rep. Cooper had already given the Occupy movement its due after I posed the question as to whether their focus on jobs and wealth distribution was a diversion from the focus on the budget deficit. He handled the pitch ably. He responded that Occupy "balanced the debate". He tied his priority of "getting the budgets right" with helping people, and he emphasized that solving the budget deficit is consistent with the radical democracy of Occupy Wall Street. Rep. Cooper indicated that the deficit numbers are only important if they help or hurt the common people. But he did not address the question of how banks and other powerful finance interests were hurting people, only how Congress's lack of accountability was hurting people.

And that gets me back to a question that I raised with Katie after our time ran out with Rep. Cooper: there are larger moral issues here than the internal mechanism of Congress. The moral issues involve even more of a clear ethical distinction regarding indefinite detention or wealth disparity than they do regarding the privilege of congressional pecking order. If there ever was a time when Congress worked equitably, it was not just a matter of the internal clockwork. It was also due to a healthier, more progressive democracy outside.

In my opinion Jim Cooper should do whatever it takes to bring home the bacon to his district, but he should also focus more broadly on larger civil rights and economic challenge that have brought American democracy to a watershed. That is what I tried to convey to Katie before I left on Saturday.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

19th Century neighborhood snapshots from newspaper archives

From the Nashville Banner, Monday evening, July 18, 1881 (in the Downtown Library archives):

North Nashville
There were several fights in North Nashville yesterday between drunken negroes and trifling white women, yet no one received any severe injuries.

Suppression of the Causes of Vice
Selling whisky outside of house from the Thirteenth Ward* to Fisk University.
[At a meeting of citizens of the Thirteenth Ward at Freewill Baptist Church:]
"Resolved, That the beer garden as conducted in this portion of Nashville is very corrupting to morals, and in some of them the boisterous revelry and utter disregard of out Sabbath, make them great nuisances in the community"

East Nashville
There is no abatement in the nightly throwing of terpentine or coal oil balls by boys both white and balck. If it is not stopped great damage may ensue to such property.

*From Nashville Directory, 1881:
THIRTEENTH WARD--Beginning at the Cumberland river, northeast along L. & N. & G. S. R. R. to Marina and city limits to Cowan av., south along Cowan av. to Dickerson, southwest along Dickerson to Oldham, west along Oldham to Cumberland River, south along said river to the beginning.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Do Realtors want government subsidies without government regulation?

Realtors need to be careful what they ask for. It is inconsistent to demand at once that government regulators need to drop oversight of their marketplace and that the government continue to pour in public money to secure the mortgages that supply Realtors more income. If you push hard enough to elect conservatives to help you release you to do what you want free of obligation to oversight, then there is no guarantee that those conservatives will not just keep going and take the government out of your business in the ways it benefits you too.

GOP Senator Bob Corker is a case in point:

Realtors in Nashville cheered when Senator Bob Corker told them the best thing government can do is “stay the heck out” of the housing market. But the applause stopped Tuesday as Corker outlined his plan to get the government out of the mortgage market.

It seems to me Realtors need to be more real about public accountability. They can't have something for nothing. If they want subsidies to prop up their industry by increasing mortgages, then they better accept regulations that protect consumers and elect the consumer-protecting progressives.

Democrat Jim Cooper celebrates conservatives supporting President Obama on charter schools

Congressman Jim Cooper has been making the interview rounds. Yesterday he met with the press and characterized the feather in Obama's domestic cap as charter schools:

In domestic policy, it's amazing what you find here. If you talk to folks in Nashville, some of the most conservative folks in Nashville who are, for example, charter school advocates, real education reform advocates, are thrilled with Obama. Thrilled. And [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan has done a great job, and this isn't just Race To The Top money, but it's an amazing change in policy at the federal level with very little fanfare, that Congress didn't have anything to do with, really.

Those of us who are not "real education reform advocates", that is those of us who question the warping influence of venture philanthropy wealth in public education, are not quite as thrilled as the conservatives and Rep. Cooper are with President Obama move to the right. (Photo credit: The Entrepreneur Center).

Occupy locality

While Occupy Nashville is having little or no effect on Metro politics, in other cities other occupy groups are at least motivating local officials to express municipal opposition to controversial federal issues:

Portland City Council chambers overflowed this afternoon with supporters of two resolutions that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street and anti-war movements.

Both are largely symbolic.

The first measure takes aim at military spending and responds to a call from local peace activists in October ....

A second resolution, piggybacking on efforts in Los Angeles and elsewhere, establishes "that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons do, that money is not speech and that independent expenditures should be regulated" in political campaigns. It takes aim at the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which allows unlimited corporate spending in elections.

Mayor Sam Adams, the sponsor for both measures, introduced the second rule by noting that not all corporations act the same. And, he said, "the world would be a better place," if more corporations in the world behaved like Portland corporations.

"This is about what kind of electoral system we want to devise for ourselves," Adams said.

Both resolutions passed 3-0.

20-30 years ago a number of cities not only made symbolic efforts to counter Republican policies of appeasement of apartheid in South Africa, they also made substantive efforts to divest themselves from companies that did business with the Afrikaners in power. Symbolic efforts like these by Portland are an important first step, which is more than Nashville is taking.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Interesting old map of North Nashville

Middle Tennessee State is working with a Texas university's Civil War map project to locate 150-year-old defensive earthworks that might still exist around Nashville. While looking at one of the old maps online, I found it interesting that an 1891 reproduction of a Civil War map shows that the East Germantown bluff on which the Neuhoff Plant was eventually built (now the location of several shops, including the Nashville Jazz Workshop) was a steamboat landing 150 years ago.

CM Erica Gilmore asks the Mayor's Office for "transparency and openness" on the ballpark question

Some of us have been raising red flags about negligible transparency in the Mayor's Office on a host of other issues (disaster response, education, Fairgrounds redevelopment, etc). Those of you who have been keen to the inappreciable openness should check out the third paragraph of CM Gilmore's letter to Karl Dean and prepare yourselves for the non-shock:

UPDATE: The Nashville Business Journal received a response to CM Gilmore from the Mayor's Office:

Dean press secretary Bonna Johnson said the decision on where the ballpark will go will depend not only on economic impact — the focus of the Populous study — but also the ability of Metro to acquire one of the three sites.

And that decision, Johnson said in a statement, will come after the administration decides whether to build a ballpark, for which there are “no firm plans.” A key part of any plan, she said, would be private participation by the Sounds in any financing deal.

“While we appreciate Council Member Gilmore’s input, it must be noted that we are a long way from deciding on a site for a ballpark,” Johnson said ....

On the issue of supporting north Nashville — a key aspect of Gilmore’s complaint — Johnson said the mayor has backed a number of public projects that benefit that area. The ballpark decision, she said, will “depend on what is best for the city as a whole.”

Wonder why the Mayor didn't respond to the CM's point about the need for more transparency and openness? So, the decision is still going to be staged on the closed set of the Mayor's inner sanctum, far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife? (Apologies to Thomas Hardy).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mayor's debt refinancing deal quietly coming to council

The Nashville Business Journal put it best when it said that Mayor Karl Dean is not only staving off cuts to the Metro budget by seeking to refinance Nashville's debt, but he is buying time in the hope that the economy will improve. The Mayor's plan to refinance finally comes to the Metro Council on Tuesday on the consent agenda, which means it stands to be approved with other first reading bills with no debate unless a CM pulls it off for discussion [see correction below]. As far as I can tell, no CMs have raised any questions about it and the press seems to be ignoring it.

As the plan proposes the refinancing of up to $280,000,000 as "in the best interest of the citizens of the Metropolitan Government," it is fair to ask how much the refinancing is going to cost us in the short-term. For instance, how much will the Mayor pay Metro's identified Financial Advisor, First Southwest Company, to pursue refinancing? What other costs or fees will Metro incur, and from what part of the General Fund will those costs or fees come?

These are lean budget times, but the Mayor did not help the our situation when he embarked on the largest capital project in Nashville history (Music City Center, which directly serves tourists, but not our local communities). For the time being he is paying for that construction with tourists taxes previously designated for the Nashville Predators. To compensate the hockey club, he has shifted money from our General Fund.

I have a hard time believing that the risk we face with current debt structuring is any greater than the jeopardy the Mayor put us in by embarking on the Music City Center project. Regardless, the refinancing proposal needs more consideration than either council members or news media is giving it.

CORRECTION: CM Emily Evans pointed out to me that this bill is actually a bond resolution, which means it will go on 1 vote rather than on a consent agenda for 3 votes. What that means to me is even less chance for council debate.

My hair cut

I have had the same barber for 20 years now. That's longer than my first marriage and still ahead of my second marriage. He's an affable guy, and we talk about lots of things: our families, trips, sports, the nature of hair, but our conversations regularly visit politics. He's firmly moderate. I never really pull out the stops like I do online or with wiseguys, so our political chats are good-natured and agreeable even as I claim to be farther to the left of anyone in the shop.

Today he was telling me about a bad boat accident in Tampa several years ago involving a major bridge that killed several people. He explained that since then whenever large commercial boats pass under the bridge they must have one particular individual, a man assigned by the federal government, on board to make sure they navigate the channel under the bridge safely. No boat can pass without him. My barber was amazed at this man's power.

I replied, "The Libertarians would not like that at all."

He looked at me quizzically. "What's a Libertarian?"

I said, "They're those people who believe that anything that the government does (sometimes with the exception of military defense) is bad. They believe that we should cut back government programs and depend on the 'free market,' which they say can take care of everything. They hate government regulations, so I'm pretty sure they would hate the idea of one g-man overseeing the navigation process."

He shook his head. "Oh, yeah. Those guys. That's just crazy. I have to tell you, I used to work in an ambulance company, and it would be total chaos if the government didn't tightly regulate the paramedics. Go over to the hospital. The medical staff will tell you it is good thing that paramedics have standards they have to follow. No way would they put up with different paramedics following different procedures."

I interrupted him, "So, would it be sort of like 'Mother, Jugs and Speed'"?

He shot back, "Yeah! Can you imagine Bill Cosby bringing in patients to VUMC? Ambulance drivers would be doing just what they needed to do to make money and that would be it. They would be cutting corners and taking risks with other people's lives. Nothing would stop them from selling drugs if they wanted to.

He segued to his current projession: "Even I'm regulated when I cut hair and I don't mind. Someone has to make sure that people are doing the right thing and not taking advantage of others just to make a buck. The free market can't make sure because its purpose is only to help us make the bucks. Who has time to make sure that every business isn't taking them for a ride?  I don't have that kind of time. That's why we elect a government: to do things we aren't able to."

I thought it was interesting that my not-so-liberal barber was able to articulate 2 or 3 activities that would break down into atavistic, avaricious chaos if a progressive government were not around to keep human flaws in check. Whenever I hear Libertarians speak they rarely address specifics, instead attacking the "nanny state" in vague generalities without any reference to the harm human beings can do other human beings outside of wicked government.

My barber is much more politically savvy.

Coffee with Coop


Congressman Jim Cooper has scheduled a coffee klatch with several Nashville bloggers this weekend and I've been invited. According to Rep. Cooper's spokesperson, this is intended to be "a frank conversation" where "no topics are off-limits" and "everything is on the record". I've got some issues I would like to raise if there is a chance, but if you have questions or comments that you believe should be posed to him, please either comment below or send me an email.

Part of my goal in blogging is to "crowdsource" important issues, so I'm always looking to the brainstormers who read Enclave because of their interest in hyper-local issues to help me out. As always, thanks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The "Keep Karl Dean in Office until 2016" Act

According to the Tennessee Leger Twitter feed the bill designed to extend Mayor Dean's last term of office (and use the higher visibility of the Courthouse as sweet leverage for higher office in 2016) was calendared today:

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, including any provision of a metropolitan charter to the contrary, the terms of the mayor, vice mayor and metropolitan council to be elected in August 2011 shall be extended to November 2016, or until their successors are duly elected and qualified in accordance with the provisions of this section. If any term limit would apply under a charter provision to a mayor, vice mayor or council member whose term is extended pursuant to this act, notwithstanding such provision, such official shall continue serving in such office as mayor, vice mayor or council member until a successor who is elected at the November 2016 regular election is duly elected and qualified. All candidates elected at the November 2016 regular election shall take office on December 1, 2016, and shall serve until their successors are elected and qualified.

Observers of Karl Dean's first bid for Mayor will recall that he was often marketed as the reluctant candidate who had to be talked into running. Ironically, the favorite attack tactic of unnamed sources in the Courthouse after his election was often to accuse his critics on Metro Council of aspiring to higher office.

I bet Hizzoner is not reluctant to be Mayor a little longer into the 2016 campaign season. The Courthouse will be his Middle Tennessee home-court advantage when he runs for Governor or US Senator.

Why the big mystery?

Earlier today reporter Joey Garrison tweeted:

Skimming the [Convention and Visitors Bureau's] updated list of [Music City Center] convention bookings. There's a number of "confidential groups" unwilling to disclose their identity.

The lack of transparency reminds of the time when former Dean official Alexia Poe would not disclose names of companies who were interested in moving to a new office park development proposed for the Fairgrounds property. If they can't be mentioned, should they be counted on?

Monday, January 09, 2012

The one who doesn't like government is gearing up to work on Metro government

Last autumn when media commentators were making rather strained analogies between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, placing the former as the left-wing counterpart of the latter, I tried to counter a lot of the spin in the social media by pointing to more significant differences.

The Tea Party broke with government establishment, but did not break with corporate establishment, which meant it really did not break with government establishment. The Tea Party was just the latest surge of right-wing political operations with lineage to groups like the Moral Majority.

Occupy Wall Street seems connected in time more with the international reaction (starting with the Arab Spring) to finance industry abuses and the hardships they've caused through puppet governments. OWS has yet to play government off against business as a Tea Party counterpart might. Many of the occupiers have exercised civil disobedience against government and businesses alike. Unlike the Tea Party, OWS has generally been organizing alternative governance ("General Assemblies"), not rejecting government altogether like the Tea Party libertarians. In many parts of the country OWS has even tried to stage alternative government within municipal government meetings with "mic checks".

In spite of this defending of Occupy Wall Street against spin that they are the Tea Party counterpart, I am baffled that in our city, the group that has been loud and clear about working to change Metro government is the Nashville Tea Party, while the group that is making no effort whatsoever to change Metro government is Occupy Nashville.

UPDATE: As if on cue, Occupy Nashville releases its 2012 plans, exclusively focused on the State General Assembly. No plans to focus on Metro Council or the Metro School Board. They appear to be ceding Metro government to the Nashville Tea Party.

Metro gives up plan to convert golf course to park

Metro Parks Director Tommy Lynch issued the following statement very late last week via CM Karen Johnson's website:

we will withdraw our staff recommendation to the Park Board for the acquisition of the Nashboro Village Golf Course.

The very reason we have public meetings is to get the chance for community feedback. After last night’s meeting with residents in the Nashboro Village area, we agree with them that it is in the best interest of the community and the Parks Department to give residents in the area the opportunity to pursue private funding for the continuation of golf in the area. As well, the council member [Johnson] representing that district has pulled the legislation to authorize acquisition of the property.

Metro Parks will continue our efforts to fulfill the Open Space Plan as well as the Master Plan for Parks and Greenways in communities that welcome such initiatives.

Of course, Nashboro Villagers are entitled to relinquish public conservation to gamble that private golf course owners will take no legal action in the future to try to shrink or eliminate the current green space. But they should not imply that our public parks and greenways in other neighborhoods threaten property values while private golf courses do not.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Nashboro Village residents prefer to give up control of green space to private owner rather than gain more control over it through flipping it public

Several hundred Nashville Village residents showed up at a community meeting sponsored by CM Karen Johnson:

A 144-acre golf course in Nashboro Village could very soon belong to Metro government, and not everyone's happy about it. That's because the city plans to turn all 18 holes into a park.

Those who live in the area feel that purchase and transformation will destroy their property values and ruin their neighborhood.

"I bought this house 11 years ago because of the golf course over there, and I really, I don't want a park," said Gary Petersen ....

2009 golf-course crime: Nashboro Golf Club witnesses
heard 4 shots before a 21yo was found dead on the 9th hole
"This is a nice, quiet neighbor-hood," said Peterson. "I don't want it to deterior-ate, and it will,"

I live within a stone's throw of a public park, and it has had nothing but a positive impact on Salemtown. It has a playground and a community center both of which provide all sorts of leisure opportunities for all ages. The park is a popular place for walkers as it connects to the Greenway system and has scenic points with different kinds of flora. We use the park all of the time. I believe our neighborhood would deteriorate without such an open, green space available to everyone.

The whole notion that parks make neighborhoods deteriorate is not only illogical, but it is not supported by facts. It was irresponsible for NewsChannel5 to repeat an opinion about parks without fact-checking what parks have actually been found to do. Walkable open spaces enhance the real estate values of nearby development. Hence, they do generate higher revenues from property taxes. A California parks and recreation video provides details on the positive economic impact of public parks:

But public parks also create a more direct means of accountability both for neighborhood watches and for community policing. Private owners are not required to be responsive and accountable for crime that happens on their open spaces. And a private owner can eventually pursue rezoning to reduce the amount of open space rather than conserving it. Some Nashboro Villagers are touting a potential new owner; they better be careful what they wish for.

We are more vigilant of our park than we would be if it was privately owned and if we relied on someone else to watch it. Any time something suspicious happens or vandalism occurs we report it to the police and the parks department officials so that they can respond appropriately. Therefore, parks create a greater sense of community ownership and they foster personal responsibility more than a private golf course owned by someone else would. Maybe the Nashboro Villagers who oppose a public park prefer to stay out of the equation and let someone else take responsibility for green space, but I don't see how that fosters any kind of self-reliance.

My disagreement with these opponents of public open space does not mean that I believe that installing a new park is a wise idea in these lean budget times. Our park's community center hours and programs have been slashed and slashed regularly over the past half decade. We've had to suffer bored kids idling about the community and sometimes being destructive because they lack the constructive outlets that park activities provide. The Mayor's Office should not act irresponsibly by adding new staff, program, and management expenses that would further cut into the budgets of parks in other parts of Davidson County. It is one thing to argue that neighborhoods need more public open space. It is quite another to devote the resources required to manage that open space without harming other neighborhoods.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Developments at Meharry

According to Historic Nashville, Inc. things are looking up for Meharry Medical:

Good news from Meharry! The storied medical college adjacent to Fisk University in North Nashville is in the midst of a $25 million building boom, including a $1 million, phased renovation of the historic Hulda Margaret Lyttle Hall, a former dorm for Meharry's now-defunct nursing school that stood vacant and deteriorating for the past 10 years. Established in 1876, Meharry was the first medical school in the South for African Americans. Funding for renovation of the 82-year old Lyttle Hall was provided by the National Parks Service, a stimulus-enhanced grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and private donors. For more info, visit


Historic Nashville, Inc. is a nonprofit that promotes the preservation of endangered properties in Nashville. Last year they identified Salemtown's Fehr School as one of the Nashville Nine most endangered historical structures.

As things stand, there is no "occupy the voting booth" in the lexicon of Occupy dissenters

The blogger at Occupy Online's tumblr page maintains that the people who want us to participate in the rigged voting process are the very people that Occupy Wall Street is protesting:

I don’t want to vote…

and that doesn’t mean I should shut up. It means I refuse to participate in a rigged game. That means that I refuse to fall for the illusion of choice and stay silent and hopeful that some fallible, corruptible human will step into a position of power and remain faithful to his promises. I refuse to muddle my brain with campaign rhetoric and disappointing lies.

I know I am not alone. Try as they might to shame us into voting in their rigged game to feel like we are accomplishing anything, Obama proved to me once and for all that anyone who gets into power under our current regime is a puppet. Otherwise…why would they have ever been allowed to be in power?

Elections create the illusion of free choice. You and I are not the ones who select a president because the choices we have between 2 parties amount to the political equivalent of selecting paper or plastic (to paraphrase George Carlin). What I find remarkable about the Occupy movement is that it is focused on self-determination and reclaiming the democratic process. It is independent in the strongest sense of the word.

That reclamation project is why these folks hold their own General Assemblies, why they interrupt scripted government events with "mic checks," and why they take electoral politics with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Flip the script

Despite the hype and drama with which the media builds up the primary election season, the gravity of electoral politics is countered by broader-based social movement politics. Matt Taibbi's analysis is on target:

It takes an awful lot to rob the presidential race of this elemental appeal. But this year’s race has lost that buzz. In fact, this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.

In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race.

Word is that Barack Obama is trying to redeploy the community organizers around the country whom he relied on to win his first term. However, if they joined in the 2011 occupy uprisings are they going to settle for another GOTV effort that primarily benefits the 1%?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Nashville Tea Party to take aim at Metro Council, and the Tennessee Equality Project wishes them well

For as long as I've been following Metro Nashville politics, Ben Cunningham has been floating around the Metro Council preaching his no-tax message. He was able to convince some council conservatives to sign no-tax pledges. He was the catalyst behind the referendum that requires higher property tax increases to be approved popularly. Lately, Ben has blogged exhaustively on Tea Party activities around the country. The Tea Party focuses exclusively on the "evils" of government without respect to the evils of economic power, and it advocates placing limits on government regulation of corporate power. Consequently, it is supported by corporations, unlike Occupy Wall Street, which challenges the wealthy 1% and draws attention to class.

So, it was no surprise to me that Ben's latest project is the Nashville Tea Party (which has received criticism for not being actually based here in Davidson County) and the pressure it potentially might bring to bear on the Metro Council. Yes, Metro Council, which is already stocked with both conservative and progressive members who seem willing to give big business every break imaginable while generally ignoring the large majority who create but don't capture most of the wealth.

So, the presence of the Tea Party is not good for those of us in the community who do not enjoy the patronage of wealthy donors, who have to rely more on organizing and mobilizing human capital, who look to the grassroots in the absence of deep pockets. The lawyers and the lobbyists of Nashville's elite are legion. They do not require the Nashville Tea Party working to leverage even more breaks that defy the general interest.

Then, there is the Tennessee Equality Project who seem to be welcoming the Nashville Tea Party because they seem to believe that the qualifier "Nashville" makes them friendlier on the social issues:

Chris Sanders, an organizer of the gay rights organization Tennessee Equality Project, released a YouTube video Tuesday in which he said he expects the Nashville Party to “take a slightly different approach and tone” than the Tennessee Tea Party. He said he believes the new group will focus less on social issues.

The Tennessee Tea Party was roundly criticized in November for how the organization weighed in on the resignation of Massachusetts U.S Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat who is openly gay. “Good riddance you perverted sodomite POS!!,” the Tennessee Tea Party wrote on its Twitter account.

“Only time will tell how they will get involved, but I would expect a different tone coming out of this group than we’ve seen from the Tennessee Tea Party,” Sanders said. “As with any group of citizens that gets engaged, I wish them well.”

Wish the Tea Party well? Metro politics is conducted as a zero sum game: convention center construction took tourism taxes from the Nashville Predators/Bridgestone Arena, which took revenues from General Fund programs for the rest of us. Challenging economic times don't mean the Chamber of Commerce will not get their subsidies from Metro. They mean that parks, sidewalks, and libraries will get slashed. Stormwater fees are capped for businesses and stormwater projects that affect everyone else lag. It is already local government by the wealthy for the wealthy.

So, the Nashville Tea Party showing up to leverage more plums for Nashville's elite class is not good news from where I sit. Wish them well? Hardly. And I intend to do what I can to help them fail. Because if they win it means less resources and less services for regular Nashvillians.

I am at a loss to comprehend TEP's welcome mat. Perhaps Chris Sanders and TEP are willing to welcome the Tea Party because they do not see them as a threat. Maybe when it comes to harrowing class disparities and economic inequality of opportunity, TEP and Tea Party share common ground. As long as the social issues are not raised, as long as the Tea Party focuses on money, there will be no fight. There is still a lot of cash and private growth opportunities to be leveraged from Metro Council that lobbyists can pass around without letting the culture wars wreck the gold rush.

In the meantime, the rest of us are going to have to scrap and fight for any crumbs that might fall from the power brokers' tea service. Wish the Tea Party well? I don't think so.