Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Officials at Jefferson Street church accused of sexual exploitation and abuse

Sex abuse scandals in religion tend to be assumed to be a Catholic and not a Protestant problem, which some diligent observers insist is an exaggeration. We should not be surprised to hear allegations of sex abuse emerge from various congregations from time-to-time, especially in personal counseling situations, where parishioners are in vulnerable situations and ministers exercise increased influence.

The latest allegations involve Mount Zion Baptist Church, a historic and prominent church on Jefferson Street (which also has congregations in Antioch and far North Nashville):

The claims were made on behalf of four former female parishioners. According to the suit, the women were sexually exploited and abused during counseling sessions sponsored by the church. The lawsuit goes on to claim that this abuse was not an isolated incident. The plaintiffs accuse the church of recruiting woman for exploration, sexual battery and psychological and spiritual manipulation for nearly ten years.

The charges were filed against the church and specifically against Bishop Joseph Walker III who one woman claims participated and aided the abuse.

One of the four women went on TV with specific allegations:

"It's not right. It's not right. That's why I'm doing it, at whatever cost," said Valencia Batson in an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News. "It's not right and it just needs to stop."

Batson said until now, fear kept her from coming forward with explosive allegations against Walker and Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

"Church is not to get sick," said Batson. "It's to get better, to be better."

Friday, the 42-year-old real estate broker filed a civil suit claiming she was sexually abused and spiritually and psychologically manipulated at the hands of the bishop and other church leaders.

"When you're in a position of power, you're not to misuse that power," said Batson. "It is not for you to take control over another person and have them do things for your benefit or your pleasure. That is abuse because you're damaging that other person."

Batson wouldn't speak in detail about the alleged abuse, but claimed it started two years after she joined the church.

Batson and three other women listed as "Jane Does" in the suit claim they would meet with Walker and other leaders for counseling and were coerced into sex at a time when they were most vulnerable.

"There is an incident where I was forced to do something while someone else watched," said Batson.

Still, Batson stayed at the church for 11 years.

"All of me was trapped there. My spirit was in that place and I didn't know how to get out," said Batson. "I didn't know how to leave."

"It's a secret society where you don't say anything, but you know what's going on because you're either arranging it or you're participating in it," she said.

Batson said she was afraid to call police, but one time told a church leader about her concerns and was threatened.

The church is denying the charges.

Developers blindside small 12South businesses by pushing up their deathline

The developers at H.G. Hill Realty Co. and Southeast Venture continue to sow a little ill will in a community where they stand to make a financial killing:

Blackbird Tattoo & Gallery, Rumours Wine & Art Bar and Middle Tennessee Roofing Co. had a deadline of today to shut down their 12th Avenue South operations to make way for construction to begin on a high-end apartment building/retail project.

Construction is expected to begin by April on the project ... on the 2300 block of 12th Avenue South in the 12South neighborhood. H.G. Hill originally had given the businesses until March 15 to move out, but recently pushed up the deadline to today, said Shannon Wages, Blackbird’s co-owner ....

Wages said she was blindsided by the sudden mandate to move.

“We were told to leave with really no warning,” said Wages, 32. “At first it was, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the greatest location ever and we’re about to lose it.’ We had no idea what to do.”

I can't say why the developers would be in such a sudden rush to push these small business owners off the land two weeks ahead of plans. Perhaps they are trying to get a head start over organized popular opposition that has been growing since January to their plans. Jump to my recent post for the background on this development and the community backlash.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Charter school with 25% turnover rate flips revenues into irresistible capital projects

Despite their funding by the charter-happy Bill Gates Foundation, the PBS News Hour did what actually seemed to me to be a balanced report on a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania last week.

Chunks of the revenue the charter company is generating (in part by means of education tax dollars) are not going back into actual classrooms with teachers for their students but into electrifyingly sexy capital projects at big payouts for developers and politicians:

JOHN TULENKO (reporter): Last year, Nick Trombetta earned $163,000. However, since its founding in 2000, P.A. Cyber has collected a total of $45 million in profit.

And the question is, what is P.A. Cyber doing with leftover money?

NICK TROMBETTA (charter school CEO): Well, we're investing it back into research and development. We're investing it back into our program. We're investing it to multiple centers across the state to serve more children. We're investing that back into P.A. Cyber.

TULENKO: Most of the money has been spent within a 12-block area of tiny Midland, Pa., a former steel mill town where P.A. Cyber is based.

Midland now boasts its own performing arts center, also designed to house the company's offices, for which P.A. Cyber paid $10 million. A few blocks away, $12 million more built the virtual teachers center in what had been a steelworkers union hall. And close by, the money is also funding construction of new corporate headquarters, in addition to $5 million in other properties recently purchased in Midland.

To critics, hiring more teachers and creating more live courses would have made better use of taxpayers' education dollars, but Trombetta defends his choice.

TROMBETTA: We do need buildings for our employees. I mean, it costs money to lease them. It costs money to build them. And the dollars that we do receive, we were able to squirrel away some dollars over the course of the years and invest in that.

TULENKO: P.A. Cyber also spun off its own not-for-profit business, developing online curriculum to sell across the country.

Together, the nonprofit and the school have grown to employ 694 people in what was a dying steel town.

TROMBETTA: We decided to create a new industry. And it was an industry that replaced the old. And you're right, and it was to create opportunities for children across this commonwealth and across the United States. This has been huge for this area.

TULENKO: The town's comeback even earned it a nickname, the Midland miracle, though not everyone believes.

RON SOFO (public school superintendent): Wait a minute. I didn't know that public schools and the funding of public schools should be an economic development strategy for one small section of one county. I don't think that's the purpose of public education in this commonwealth or in America.

Economic development has become the be-all and end-all. Quality and culture and education are no longer intrinsically good. Instead, their value is only determined by the wealth maximized and the power generated. And charter schools are the latest vehicle of economic development, which is why they ultimately fail in frameworks and lifeworlds where education is inherently good.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Scrambling to stay ahead of last week's children in poverty report

Friday I passed on news of Tennessee's inglorious ranking as one of the worst states for large numbers of children in poverty. There has not been much news media coverage of the report here in Tennessee; at least the coverage has not been proportional to the scope of the calamity. The Knoxville paper quoted a state official whose response was predictably conservative (Nashville's daily merely reprinted it instead of reporting on poverty in Davidson County):

The concern is there are reduced opportunities they have to be successful in school and in life," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

"I think it's important for us to realize we have be strategic to help families and children to be successful ....

"This tells us where we need to provide these kinds of investment, like parents need jobs, and other things that will help families and children," O'Neal said.

Some of the areas where help is needed are family resource centers and supplemental nutrition programs, she said.

People can help the problem, O'Neal said, by volunteering, mentoring, talking to their legislatures to make sure resources are receiving proper funding.

Wow. What an uninspired plan.

The national advocacy association for municipalities, the National League of Cities, attempted to get out in front of the report by emphasizing existing community services intended to address the problem:

Despite the severe pressures on municipal finances in the wake of the recession, cities are continuing to lead the way in efforts to reduce concentrated poverty and help families become economically self-sufficient.

For instance, a number of cities are central players in local, neighborhood-based initiatives that seek to replicate the innovative poverty reduction strategy developed by the Harlem Children’s Zone, even when they have not received funding through the federal Promise Neighborhoods program.

Other cities have taken comprehensive approaches to financially empowering local families by connecting them to key tax credits and work supports, mainstream banking services, savings and asset-building programs, alternatives to high-interest payday loans and financial education.

While sounding a little more inspired than the State of Tennessee's tenuous response to the exploding problem of children in poverty, NLC showcases a program in Harlem that is focused mostly on an education reform hybrid: half charter schools and half public schools. But even that program is made to wait on federal funding.

Trickle-down solutions like enlisting more volunteers and expanding charter schools (which sap resources from existing public schools) are little more than timid and flawed diversions to funding quality education programs and safety nets for less fortunate families.

Quote of the day

From Jeff Woods:

[A]long with Gail Kerr, [Michael] Cass is the Nashville PR world's go-to guy for puff pieces. With media watchdogs like Cass, we can all sleep peacefully.

A number of people have asked me over the years for references to contact in the news media to draw attention to an issue or a plight. I used to recommend the Tennessean's Michael Cass without hesitation or qualification. Now I wouldn't do so to save my life. In my opinion, Woods's criticism is spot-on.

A culture war on the unions: a common tongue

In her state of the the state address last month, South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley asked legislators present to give businesses that located to her state a standing ovation, and then she ripped into unions who in her mind discouraged business relocation. Note how she plays the culture war card against labor organizing to defend its interests:

Our agencies have taken strides ... to change the culture so that every single employee understands that if government is costing our businesses time, we are costing them money .... I love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country. It is an economic development tool unlike any other .... the unions don't understand that. They will do everything they can to invade our state.

Contrast the appeal to culture on the union question with Jesse Register's more candid comments to a TV reporter last week, comments that he thought were not on-air and which he said he would not publicly express. Register himself insinuates the same language of culture war against unions on behalf of municipal government:

I don't guess I'll say this publicly, but [the decision to end the school district's Labor Negotiations Policy with service employees' and bus drivers' unions] it's really a culture change. It's going from a system where people really felt entitlement [in labor contract discussions and negotiations].

Who would not be repulsed by misanthropes intent on killing growth or in believing they are entitled to what many people feel lucky to have? Under such logic, this is not just a simple matter of balance sheets and cash flow. It has been conflated with a primordial struggle between deeply held value frameworks in the expressed logic.

However, appeals to culture ignore more straightforward explanations. Unions can never effectively defend the rights of laborers unless they organize people to defend rights. They don't seek to kill growth, but insure that workers enjoy a fair share of the wealth they generate. If critics want to reduce questions of fairness to claims of entitlement, I acknowledge their right to be wrong, because they are wrong.

But, then again, those who wage culture wars should be ready for some blowback. If that is entitlement, then it is just as much entitlement when executives lay claim to what they believe is their share of the wealth. Register's base pay alone is in the hundreds of thousands. Is that an entitlement? If not, then how can that of a cafeteria worker--making a minuscule fraction of his salary and not enjoying raises at the same clip he has--be entitlement? So, maybe Director Register is the savvier pol in stifling publicly what he really thinks about his workers.

In her speech Governor Haley also mentioned Tennessee as one of her state's primary competitors for economic development. She was emphatic about maintaining a competitive advantage by any means necessary. When it comes to enmity toward hard working people banding together to protect themselves from being taken advantage of, the competitors must have to resemble each other to compete. The main difference between South Carolina's governor and Nashville's schools director is that the former is simply willing to be more transparent in her hostility toward unions.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A 12South timeline: residents vs. developers

Two months ago, H.G. Hill Realty and Southeast Venture announced to the media plans to build a mixed-use four-story complex that will include one- and two-bedroom apartments in order to fill what they called "a much needed niche" in the 12South neighborhood. One commercial building and two old houses used for small commercial (the zoning is currently commercial) are to be demolished. This particular kind of growth has not brought the neighborhood together in support of the proposal. In fact, there is a group that has been organizing since January to fight the development team.

There seemed to be bad blood from the beginning. The co-owner of Blackbird Tattoo, one of the small businesses affected, told concerned neighbors:

In September 2011, we were informed that our building was most likely going to be demolished and that we should find a new building .... I do not know how we could have fought this ... in effect we WERE forced. We were told we could purchase our building for $500,000, an astronomical price for our small business.

A 12South blogger vented her frustration early in January:

I’m not one of those rabid listserv purists who goes nuts every time somebody proposes a new development in my neighborhood. And although the proposed construction project at 2310 12th Avenue South (the property between the 12South Taproom and Rumours Wine Bar) does appear a bit overblown and disproportionate at first glance (67 apartments and 4,200 sq. ft. of retail), I was ready to keep an open mind.

But when I found out last week that that the owners of the Rumours property right next door had exerted a little deep-pocket muscle on Rumours restaurateurs to strongly “incentivize” them to sell their lease with four years left, I felt frustrated and not a little bit angry.

12South neighbors who are otherwise supportive of growth in their community utilized their elist to express incredulity at the deviation from community character and anger that the process seemed less-than-transparent in its early phases (it did not help that they learned about it in the media). Some expressed opposition to 12South becoming an "extension of The Gulch". Some pointed to the distraction of the holidays (introducing controversial zoning requests during holidays or vacation seasons is a time-honored ploy many developers use to mitigate public backlash). Some pointed out to the quality of preserving the older houses along 12South and wondered why the developers did not pursue other properties for sale along 12th Av S. Some objected to paving over properties with surface parking.

Even those who supported the project emphasized that the community should have a "constructive voice" in the planning of the project.

The frustration and ambivalence about developers extended deeper into January:

When the bulldozers come, I am going to weep shamelessly. And that means that suddenly, the stakes went way up for me. Consequently, I’m going to judge what rises from my favorite wine bar’s ashes much more harshly than all previous building projects here. It’s going to take a whole lot for what comes next to be a net gain for me, an improvement in my quality of life. And that’s kind of a big responsibility, You Developers. Please do well. And do good. Don’t make our little corner of the world worse.

The neighborhood association attempted to reassure members in an elist posting:

The 12South Neighborhood Association has some concerns about this large-scale project, and has been diligently working together and initiating discussions with the development team.

We want to assure you that we are actively involved in reviewing the schematic design and voicing the concerns of everyone in the neighborhood and adjoining communities.

We have called on the Metro Planning Commission and The Mayor's Neighborhood Representative, and have thoroughly reviewed the zoning/planning overlays for this property to ensure that what is being proposed is within the guidelines established.

Southeast Venture has agreed to listen to a smaller representative group from the neighborhood in the schematic design phase...and would also like to meet with the neighborhood at-large in a subsequent meeting to present the project to the community .... The initial meeting with Southeast Venture will include members from the 12South Neighborhood Association Board, the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighborhood Board, the Sunnyside Board as well as councilwomen, Sandra Moore from District 17 and Burkley Allen from District 18.

We are cautiously optimistic that our concerns will be heard while recognizing that from a practical standpoint we are not in a position to stop a project that meets current zoning and codes requirements.

The initial meeting occurred on January 20, and the officers emailed association members to tell them how they believed residents' concerns were addressed:

The major points of concern from the 12South Representatives & Council Representatives were:
  • How will traffic be affected and how will the designers address the additional influx of cars with a single point of entry/egress? Answer - A traffic study will be done/is being done and will dictate anything beyond what is currently shown in the design in regards to traffic flow. The parallel spaces along 12th should provide some traffic calming as well.
  • How is the design team approaching the selection of exterior materials? Answer - the exterior materials are being selected based on the contextual materials in the 12South area.
  • How is the size/scale/mass being dealt with in order to stay within the context of the neighborhood? Answer - the design along 12th is not a solid wall/facade but is broken up with pieces being pushed back off the street to break up the facade. Also, the 4th floor being pushed back from the lower 3 floors will help minimize the height of the building at street level.
  • What are the lease/rental rates for the retail/restaurant spaces? Answer - the rates will be consistent with the rates in and around the 12South area.
  • Are the developers seeking any zoning variances? Answer - not at this time and there is no plan to do so.
Overall, the major concerns of the neighborhood were discussed and we are optimistic that they will be met as the design process moves forward. We will be working with SEV, HG Hill & Council-lady Sandra Moore in the coming weeks to schedule a neighborhood-wide meeting.

While officers met with developers, a group of residents held strategy meetings to recruit volunteers to fight the proposal.

Those aiming to fight the developers did not seem satisfied with answers they got back from the association officers' meeting with the developers. Dissent seemed to come to a head last week when an opposition letter signed about around 50 people in advance of the large community meeting was sent out through the neighborhood contact list:

We the signers believe the four-story, luxury apartments proposed for the sites of Middle Tennessee Roofing, Rumours Wine Bar and Blackbird Tattoo are a poor fit for the 12th Av So neighborhood. First, the vehicle traffic associated with 95 living units plus retail, all moving through a single 12th Av entrance, will exacerbate already-stifling 18 hour per day congestion. Second, the size and privacy of the structure will dwarf historic landmarks, obstruct viewscapes, and foreclose integration of the business district center with the larger community. Third, the gentrification entailed - upscale, gated, high-turnover rentals replacing small businesses and manageable leases - will reverberate in higher costs-of-living and diminished diversity throughout the locale.

The structure is planned for dead center in the old-and-new community. In the immediate vicinity of 12th Av intersections with Elmwood and Caruthers are “worthy of conservation” ... churches, commercial buildings, school, and homes, including the Rumours and Blackbird cottages and many residences in the Belmont Hillsboro Conservation District west of 12th. For three decades, entrepreneurs and residents have invested heavily in these buildings and in the prospect of “new urbanism” based on century-old development patterns.

The neighborhood’s documented periods of balanced self-sufficiency should be guiding new growth. The original village combined streetcars, distinctive and affordable homes, farm produce, dry-goods, elementary school, and churches. By the 1940s, additions included groceries, pharmacies, service stations, meat & three, tavern, hardware, bookstore, middle school, and Sevier Park. After crippling outmigration in the 1970s, government, business and homeowners initiated re-birth under 1221 Partners banners of “neighborhood strategic district” and “cultural marketplace.” Later studies – the 2005 Plan of Nashville, 2006 Future of Neighborhoods, 2008 12th Av So Detailed Neighborhood Design Plan (DNDP), Mayor Dean’s recent Green and Healthy initiatives - touted “human-scaled,” “complete neighborhoods.”

While the precedents cited above do not legally constrain new construction, they are socio-economically compelling. They suggest the following responses to the proposal:

  1. Quoting the DNDP, “auto-oriented development … conflicts with business center mixed use.” The SV/Hill project is less “mixed use” than high density “mixed housing” and thus should be located on an exterior, larger thoroughfare. In either location, however, it would merit rear access by alleys and side streets, and shared parking, in line with original and contemporary best practices. The developer should do its part to “(re-) create an alley system parallel to 12th Avenue South along the east side.”
  2. Nevertheless, the more fundamental problem is inappropriate “mass, scale and orientation.” The height will be twice, and length and depth three times, that of vintage structures. The rear extension will invade the former alley. Rumours and Blackbird cottages will be demolished. The developer should consider a 3-story, more modest “urban design” paralleling the street, with less rear extension.
  3. This upscale, limited access project introduces aspects of exclusivity that are alien to democratic “smart growth.” Gated apartments for the wealthy are not uniformly a priority for diverse neighborhoods. Currently, destination attractions for disposable incomes overshadow basic services for residents. The project will abut the old school yard, affording private green views and precluding planned pedestrian movement from 12th Av through the school to 10th. The developers should embrace the crucial urban connections between the neighborhood center and the surrounding residential, civic and recreation areas. Specifically, the new project should, according to authentic mixed use, diversify living options, complement possible futures for the school, include more revenue sources, and help create a local sense of place.
  4. While this project will significantly raise the bar in traffic, mass and scale, and gentrification, these issues have long been simmering. “Permissive building codes,” responsible for sprawl in suburbia, now enable excessive “bulk” and lot coverage and insufficient parking and green space in our urban community. The resident and business associations should recognize and nurture the existing constituency for conservation, small community life, and sustainable growth. This could begin simply with defining the distinctive essences of our “place,” and then promoting them to homeowners, employees and customers. It might – or might not - later involve the adoption of one of several guidelines for “appropriate” land use and development character. By whatever means, though, we should unite in taking care of the “golden goose” that brought us here in the first place.

Last December developers told the media that construction would start in April. It looks like they may have a showdown with their new 12South neighbors before the groundbreaking. It seems to me that they should have started having larger community meetings months ago about this, especially if they are seeking rezoning from commercial to mixed-use. Public hearings at planning and council meetings can always turn nasty with controversial developments that do not strive for transparency and compromise.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tennessee among the 10 worst states for children living in poverty

The Anne E. Casey Foundation released news of a study of US census numbers from 2000 and 2006-2010 that finds that concentrated poverty has been on the rise as has the number of children who live in the areas of concentrated poverty.

Even more troubling for us is that the study finds that southern children are more likely than kids in other parts of the US to live in areas of concentrated poverty.

Most troubling for us is that, with Tennessee having 13% of its children living in areas of concentrated poverty, we are among the states exposing the highest number of children to concentrated poverty. And Tennessee almost doubled its exposure of kids to impoverished areas in 10 years.

It is also worth noting without surprise that there is a racial component: only 3% of all children living in areas of concentrated poverty are white.

Try as we might to sell Tennessee as an attractive destination for families to live and to work, our state is becoming an increasingly risky place for children to live.

Council member comes out of hiding to sit in council chambers for 15 minutes but remains mum about MetroCenter hooker hook-up

Photo credit: WKRN
Brentwood CM Brady Banks sidled into last Tuesday's council meeting after it had already started, sat at his desk for 15 minutes, and then left before it was over. Why did the man even bother, given that he is supposed to be focusing on repairing his private life with his family before putting on a public face again? The City Paper hints at a couple of reasons:

Banks’ exit, more than anything, created confusion. Attending Tuesday’s council meeting seemed to signal an intention to keep his council seat. But council members weren’t sure why he departed early. Perhaps he wasn’t ready to face the cameras, many concluded, or he wanted to keep his perfect-attendance council-meeting streak in tact.

None of these is a valid reason to show up at a Metro Council without intentions of taking care of the people's business. Each reason is self-serving. If CM Banks is going to make symbolic public gestures to subtly cue that he is stiffening his back against the firestorm, then he can also respond directly to questions about what the hell he was thinking when he arrived in North Nashville last week to pad our crime statistics. If he treats his council attendance as a self-aggrandizing game, then he does not appreciate the seriousness of his current situation.

The council member's apologists complain that it is too soon to criticize him and he needs a private period to work with his family. But they did not utter a discouraging word on Tuesday, when their champion appeared in public in his official position of council member and sat mum. The Banks entourage should not get to have it both ways. Either he shows up at council and performs, and he addresses questions about why he engaged in illegal behavior (that should have landed him in jail for a mandatory 7 days), or he stays at home and works on keeping his family together.

But his appearance at Metro Council indicates to me that Brady Banks is likely more focused on rehabilitating his future electoral chances that suit his political aspirations. Otherwise, where was the appearance of contrition on Tuesday night?

UPDATE: In a 2010 United Methodist article on pre-marital cohabitation, Brady Banks said that faith is the "central dynamic at play" in his marriage.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Planning Commission defers Karen Johnson's bill to allow public process on billboard conversion

Antioch CM Karen Johnson
Earlier this evening Metro Planning staff recommended approving CM Johnson's bill (BL2012-109) that would allow property owners abutting billboards a public process with the Board of Zoning Appeals when a billboard owner wants to convert a conventional billboard to a tri-face billboard. The only person to speak against it in public hearing represented a corporation with a chunk of wealth and heft of influence in Tennessee: Lamar Advertising. He is also the Executive Director of the special interest lobby, Tennessee Association of Outdoor Advertising. Commissioners responded by deferring a decision on the bill until the next commission meeting, saying they want to know more about the legal implications elsewhere of regulation of billboards.

For their part, the staff advised commissioners that state law did not specifically address tri-face billboards, which gives Metro some leeway to require corporations to demonstrate that the conversion to more advertising would not have negative impact on property values.

The billboard merchant opposing Johnson's bill told Commissioners that it violated state law and that a similar measure had been overturned in Johnson City. He also maintained that determining whether billboards have a negative impact on adjacent property values is "subjective at best". This may be true, but not in the sense he meant. It is not subjective because being objective about billboard impact is impossible. The outdoor advertising industry would like us to believe being objective is impossible so that we will surrender and submit to their demands. To the contrary, judging negative impact is subjective because objective studies have not been conducted on the impact of billboards on adjacent properties.

At least no studies had been done until an urban planner in Philadelphia completed one two months ago. Jonathan Snyder's analysis concluded:

In Philadelphia, there is a statistically significant correlation between real estate value (as measured by sales price) and proximity to billboards. Properties located within 500 ft. of a billboard have a decreased real estate value of $30,826. Additionally, homes located further than 500 ft. but within a census tract/community where billboards are present experience a decrease of $947 for every billboard in that census tract. Income for strict sign control cities is higher than that for not-strict cities. Furthermore, the home vacancy and poverty rates for strict control cities are lower. Having strict sign controls does not negatively impact the economic prosperity of a city.

Nobody challenged the billboard lobbyist when he claimed that judging negative impact is subjective, and my guess is that is what he is used to. During Commissioners' comments, former council member Stewart Clifton indicated that property owner feedback might be reduced simply to whether or not they liked or disliked the look and colors of certain signs. He seemed to indicate that the public would not give reliable feedback on property values outside of aesthetic taste. That seemed to reinforce the negative-impact-is-subjective-at-best mantra. Again, nobody was around to challenge this characterization that a public process would produce unreliable data.

Adkins & TNGOP-in-Chief
Commissioner Greg Adkins responded with the deference to big business that he developed a reputation for when he was on Metro Council, arguing that there is no difference whatsoever between conventional bill boards and tri-face billboards. Without the slightest nod to democratic process, Adkins told the group he was going to vote against including public feedback because, "Advertising is advertising". Never mind that tri-fold billboards triple the volume of advertising and risk reducing a community's reputation to advertising space.

When challenged by fellow commissioner Phil Ponder to clarify what he meant by the statement, "Tri-face billboards do not change use", Adkins did a fairly poor job of clarifying. He merely repeated several times, "They do not change use", as if it were self-evident, even as Ponder gave examples of how all advertising is not the same. Assuming that Adkins was not just communicating poorly, I concluded that he had simply rehearsed some pro-industry talking points on use without critically reflecting on the meaning of "use".

Unfortunately, there was nobody available to counter what seemed to be a shared ambivalence for democratic process informing regulation of outdoor advertising, which is dominated by loads of money and by swarms of lobbyists. The staff seemed unprepared to deal with questions about legal ramifications. However, they were not entirely to blame, since it was a public hearing. Nobody spoke during the hearing for the bill. CM Karen Johnson was not in attendance. There were no community leaders present to speak in favor of approval. The meeting became an echo chamber for pro-industry talking points and uncritical questions.

Planning Commission approves 6th & Garfield rezoning with other consent agenda proposals

I attended the Metro Planning Commission meeting earlier this evening. I was going to fill out one of the paper slips they ask those who are going to speak in the public hearing to fill out just in case I wanted to speak. When planners found out that I might speak against the rezoning, a couple of them seemed to take an interest in why I might try to have it pulled off the consent agenda (the agenda which allows the Commission to pass several items at once without discussion).

I talked about my concerns, particularly the one I spoke of earlier today that the addition of parallel parking on the driveway might make for the suburban appearance of cars parked in front of homes. The planners said that there is a buffer designed into the plan where builders can put trees and shrubs or a fence between the driveway and the adjoining property.

One of the planners also went into the meeting room and pulled out former CM and current developer Roy Dale to talk with me about their designs. He gave me the sketch above and told me that there would not be parallel parking along the driveway, and that all of the spaces would be marked behind the building. I told him that was my biggest concern at this stage and that I would not have it pulled from the consent agenda for public debate.

As you may be able to see from the sketch, the buildings look like they also have several square feet in front for plantings or small yards. That should mitigate the distance offset of the other homes on 6th. I told him that I thought that generally the rezoning is consistent with the both urban design and the community plan. I also expressed no opposition to higher density at the intersections.

I also learned that, after discussing whether or not to install decks in back of the homes, the developers are probably going to leave them off to allow buyers who want to have small gardens to do so. Mr. Dale also assured me that the development team will be having more community meetings to allow us to give feedback on design and materials. If they follow through on that promise, it will be above and beyond what they are required to do, but it would be a constructive gesture toward Salemtown.

Incidently, planners told me that someone else had called them this week with concerns about the impact of on-street parking after the build is finished.

With no one else present wanting to speak on the rezoning, the Planning Commission passed it unanimously on the consent agenda.

Public hearing on Salemtown development this evening at 4:00

I am still undecided as to whether I will speak for or against developer R. J. York's request to rezone properties at 6th Av N and Garfield street for higher density townhouses at this evening's Planning Commission public hearing. Unfortunately, the development team, which includes former council member Roy Dale, did not meet with the community but once. Even then they were nebulous about the site plan other than describing it in standard high-density terms.

One significant question for me arises from a Metro planner's conclusion that the request includes the removal of parking from lot frontages, which creates a more walkable neighborhood. The lot does not have access to the alley in the back, so the developers are proposing a driveway from the front. However, that driveway is wide enough to allow parallel parking, which seems to me to bring cars to the front. Here is how the planner responded yesterday when I asked about access:

a driveway from a street frontage will most likely be necessary to account for the lack of alley access. Any proposal for driveway and parking will have to meet the standards of the Zoning Code (chapter 17.20), which is administered by the Metro Codes Department. A driveway serving multiple dwelling units is normally 24 feet in width. Parallel parking on a driveway is one of the options offered by the Zoning Code for parking space orientation along a driveway.

Developers I've met generally (with a couple of exceptions) do not concern themselves with issues of walkability or pedestrian-friendly design. Instead, they are concerned with maximizing bodies and vehicles per square foot to get more bang for their buck. So, I do not expect to hear the development team address sustainable issues in parking this evening.

However, I am concerned that allowing parallel parking toward the front will have the same effect as having surburbia-style driveway placement. Is this not conflicting with the character of urban neighborhoods outlined in the North Nashville Community Plan?

UPDATE: Metro Planning's person working on this rezoning emailed me a few minutes ago with a response to my follow-up on my question about parallel parking in the proposed driveway:

For the site at 6th and Garfield, the RM20-A zoning district would not permit the placement of parking between a building façade and a street-side property line.

Note that in the satellite photo above the south side of the lot, where the driveway is set to be placed, will open up to the small front yard of the house next door. If the plan calls for the townhouses to have small front yards (unknown, but unlikely), and if those front yards are roughly the same size as the adjoining property (extremely unlikely), then parallel parking to the front of the building façade will not be seen from 6th across the adjoining front yard. Hence, the urban character will be assured.

However, if developers maximize square footage and put the townhouses against the 6th Av property line at the sidewalk, any vehicles parallel parked in the proposed driveway will give the lot the appearance from 6th Av of a suburban-style parking configuration. I guess if the developer plans a privacy fence against the adjoining lot, then the suburban-style problem would be solved.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nashville about to be a city of two convention centers? Medical Mart rumored headed to Ohio

A Cleveland reporter notes that since his town threw its hat in the ring to be the home of the country's "first permanent medical showroom complex", it has had two worthy competitors in Nashville and New York City, neither whom look worthy any longer:

Now, almost four years later, it looks like the last of our competition could be circling the drain.

According to sources on the ground, med mart boosters down south are whispering that the Nashville project, already pushed back once over funding delays, is about to limp off to boondoggle heaven ....

The Nashville rumors are news to Jeffrey Appelbaum, an attorney hired by Cuyahoga County to oversee the project here.

“It goes to show you the value of the signed leases,” he says of Nashville. “We were constantly beat-up here because they were supposedly farther ahead because they had signed leases. Obviously, the signed lease is pretty meaningless without the go-ahead on the overall project.”

If Nashville has pulled up lame, that city’s tenants could become fair game for Cleveland, which thus far has taken a decidedly modest approach to lining up actual paying tenants for the $465 million play house you’re paying for. Technically, they haven’t mentioned any.

“I don’t know that anyone ever felt constrained from looking at some of the [Nashville] tenants anyway,” adds Appelbaum. He has no idea whether Cleveland’s developer, MMPI, has been in contact with the six companies locked into Nashville contracts....

In the process of selling Music City Center construction to a skeptical city, Mayor Karl Dean at times tied it to the Medical Mart as if the two were integral and coordinated rather than distinct and requiring separate work. The Med Mart was also sold as a major Downtown job engine and an effective repurposing of the Nashville Convention Center. But if Cleveland got it without putting a lot of the leasing work that Nashville did, does it indicate that our focus was off? Did we fail to get our budget together on a project that probably would have more immediate impact on local communities than the Music City Center will? Did MCC sap attention and resources from the Med Mart bid?

Buena Vista Elementary defended at Salemtown Association meeting

Last Monday night during a neighborhood association discussion with Buena Vista Enhanced Option School leaders, the subject of the rather one-sided 2011 Tennessean article in which predominately white North End parents objected and balked came up. One Salemtown resident who volunteers weekly at Buena Vista bristled at claims that the kids who go there--predominantly poor and African-American--could not perform or behave.

The side I heard on Monday that did not get reported last summer by Nancy DeVille was that the Buena Vista students are well-behaved, enthusiastic and eager to learn in spite of the absence of advantages and resources that children in wealthier parts of Nashville enjoy.

I'm looking forward to us continuing to build a strong partnership with Buena Vista in order to continue to help bring it up where it belongs rather than bailing on it.

Jones Paideia Magnet to hold open enrollment for Kindergarteners

At last night's Jones Paideia PTO meeting, the PTO President announced that because the magnet school did not receive enough applications for the Kindergarten class, empty spaces would be filled through open enrollment.

It occurs to me that the lower demand for this magnet school might make a concept for a new magnet school proposed last summer by the Nashville Civic Design Center (to be situated a few blocks away on Jefferson Street) obsolete.

Council member tells former council member she can join community meetings just like every other constituent

Just when you think that the shameless shenanigans of former East Nashville CM Pam Murray are finally behind you, here comes news of her latest foolishness. She has a special place in her heart for NEON; hence, CM Davis should have a special place on his calendar for her:

From: PAMELA.MURRAY [rest of email addy removed]
Sent: Friday, February 17, 2012 5:13 PM
To: Davis, Scott (Council Member)
Subject: Request A Meeting

Councilman Davis,

As newly elected President of NEON, I am requesting a meeting with you regarding the status of NEON, ArtsWorks!, and info relating to programming in our community that NEON will be sponsoring. Thanks, Pam

CM Davis handled her highness's request deftly:

From: "Scott Davis (Council Member)" <>
To: "Pam Murray (Council Member - Fwd)" [and a long list of other East Nashville leaders, also removed]
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 12:37:50 PM
Subject: RE: Request A Meeting

Hi Pam,

I would be more than happy to meet with you, however I will be inviting other neighborhood leaders to attend the meeting. I feel that Neon is an East Nashville organization.  How does Monday the 27 or Thursday March 1st  look on every ones calender.

"Everyone's calendar". Got it? No favoritism toward thorn-in-the-side former CMs.

HT: Mike Peden

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Metro Nashville Public Schools Director caught on tape saying modestly paid MNPS employees have sense of "entitlement" he intends to change

Via Joey Garrison comes a video of Jesse Register speaking plainly when he does not realize he is caught on tape. He also seems to suggest that he would not own up to his more honest characterization on tape. The Human Resources Assistant Superintendent even enables Mr. Register by agreeing openly that he should not say "entitlement" with reference to employees on tape, even though that is what he really means.

Despite the public relations machine at the school district, once in a while brutal honesty cannot be contained. That was a Reaganesque moment. He might as well have called cafeteria workers "welfare queens".

UPDATE: NewsChannel 5 had YouTube scrub the video on the basis of copyright violation. Let's hope that this wasn't an attempt to bury Jesse Register's belittling comments about MNPS workers.

News media. They just don't get it.

They can scrub the video, but they cannot scrub the fact that many of us witnessed the Metro Schools Director and Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations make the following comments:

Jesse Register: "I don't guess I'll say this publicly, but it's really a culture change. It's going from a system where people really felt entitlement. Uh, I don't know whether I'll say that on the air or not, but that's what it is, isn't it?"

June Keel: "I wouldn't say that on the air."

Brentwood council member arrested in close proximity to North Nashville public schools, but not charged with the proximity code violation

I have obtained the affidavit and arrest warrant of CM Brady Banks, who was charged last week with soliciting sex in a North Nashville hotel during a police prostitution sting. The details are in the document I post below. Click on the image to enlarge:

The law (TCA = "Tennessee Code Annotated") cited in the affidavit distinguishes between "Class B" and "Class A" misdemeanors; the latter prompting a stiffer penalty of at least 7 days of incarceration due to the illegal solicitation occurring within 1.5 miles of public schools. Metro Police charged CM Banks with the less severe misdemeanor, which allowed him to bail out of jail within hours of his arrest:

(a) A person commits an offense under this section who patronizes prostitution.
(b)  (1) Patronizing prostitution is a Class B misdemeanor.
         (2) Patronizing prostitution within one hundred feet (100') of a church or within one and one-half (1.5) miles of a school, such distance being that established by § 49-6-2101, for state-funded school transportation, is a Class A misdemeanor.
        (3) A person convicted of patronizing prostitution within one and one-half (1.5) miles of a school shall, in addition to any other authorized punishment, be sentenced to at least seven (7) days of incarceration and be fined at least one thousand dollars ($1,000).
        (4)  (A) Patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age or has an intellectual disability is a Class E felony.
                (B) Nothing in this subdivision (b)(4) shall be construed as prohibiting prosecution under any other applicable law.
(c) As used in subsection (b), "school" means all public and private schools that conduct classes in any grade from kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12).

There are 2 public schools roughly within .5 mi of the hotel where Brady Banks was arrested:

Hull-Jackson Elementary & John Early Middle close to Marriott

There are 3 more public schools within a 1.5 mile radius of where Brady Banks was arrested:

Jones Paideia Elementary, Buena Vista Elementary,
and Robert Churchwell Elementary are within 1.5 miles of Marriott

I do not understand why Metro Police charged the Brentwood council member with the lesser charge. Maybe some of you legal types can help me understand what I am missing here in my reading of the code, which seems straightforward. Should Brady Banks have spent 7 days in jail with a "Class A" misdemeanor before his release or not?

Postscript: jump to the MNPS map of the schools in and around MetroCenter.

Planning staff recommends approval of 6th & Garfield development, calls location "West Nashville"

Posted below are images of the Planning staff's report on the proposed 6th & Garfield rezoning. Note that they approve the request based on the community plan, but they seem to confuse the North Nashville community with West Nashville. Let's hope it's just a clerical error and they have not actually drawn conclusion based on the West Nashville Community Plan.

Still not sure whether I will speak for or against this rezoning request at Thursday's public hearing before the Planning Commission. While the developer seemed open and honest in the one community meeting held on this project; he also seemed unclear as to what the development would look like. The raggedy condition of the vacant lot the past few years suggests to me that the absentee property owner could care less about the quality of life in Salemtown. So, I am definitely torn on this proposal, without firm assurances from the development team.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gail Kerr with the talking points on the "self-mutilation" of Brady Banks

Tennessean political columnist Gail Kerr has apparently received her talking points from the 1 Public Square Glitterati on the whole affair of the council member who allegedly attempted to traffic sex in MetroCenter.

The shorter Kerr:

  • He was stupid to get caught at indiscretion.
  • Only time will tell whether the short but happy political life of Brady Banks and his potential as the next hip thing in the Tennessee Democratic Party are ruined by his alleged peccadillo.

It makes for a rather interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "shallow") tractate on moral reasoning in politics (or in Kerr's case the absence of moral reasoning in politics, since the moral question seems only raised by Banks getting caught).

However, what becomes apparent is that the chatter class intends to fill the void caused by its own immediate silence after the transgression with more uncertainty about ethical questions and wobbly reputations.

One thing is certain: the political rehabilitation of Brady Banks begins by holding him up to come-back-kid stories like Bill Clinton and Ronnie Steine, and Kerr obliges. The power calculators downtown (and on Capitol Hill?) no doubt intend to keep any future options open.

UPDATE: Consider the contrast between the license Gail Kerr gives the council member to her morally loaded description of the other possible person engaged in the black market transaction as a "whore". She calls Banks an "idiot", but that does not have any of the indelible sexist baggage that "whore" does.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Despite an unforgiving political context, the council's resident reverend preaches forbearance for Brady Banks

There has been practically no backlash at CM Brady Banks' arrest during a prostitution sting coming from the Courthouse elite. Typically council members have done far less than soliciting sex and still raised righteous indignation Downtown. Opposing the Mayor's capital plans or yelling at each other in the parking garage has gotten council members labeled opportunistic, out-of-order or inappropriate by fellows in Metro government.

But the Banks affair has prompted little response outside Reverend CM at-Large Jerry Maynard preaching love and forgiveness in a letter--based on the gospel of John (the question of casting stones at the woman caught in adultery) and on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans (the strong showing restraint toward the weak)--responding to District 4 criticism:

I hope that at this time you will pray for the Banks family and not throw stones at Brady .... There will come a time to address whether he can continue serving your district .... But, now is not that time. For those of us who believe in the Holy Word of God, the Bible says when a man finds himself fallen down in sin, those of us who are strong must bare the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves.

What I find interesting is that the preacher totally ignored the context for both Christian passages, and in so doing applied the prescription for apples to the problems of oranges.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, she had no power whatsoever to fight for herself due to the gender double standards of the period. Jesus's challenge to the men to cast the first stone was turning the power equation on its head. Brady Banks (who himself has a divinity degree) worked for 2 governors and this mayor; now he is a Metro Council Member with a campaign war chest of $14,000 according to the Election Commission. His power status bears no resemblance whatsoever to the woman about to be stoned in John.

It is a similar context for the Paul's letter encouraging the strong bearing the infirmities of the weak: Jews, including Jewish Christians, were being persecuted by Rome, and Paul encouraged the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians to put aside their differences and support the weaker members who faced persecution and animosity. Once again, Brady Banks may be facing some criticism, but he is hardly persecuted or weak in terms of real power equations.

That is some tortured exegesis on Reverend Maynard's part.

And the thing is, Jerry Maynard has not always modeled self-restraint and forbearance for people weaker than him in the past. Take his attacks on inconvenient questioners on a North Nashville call-in show last year.

Despite the selective application of Christian forbearance, CM Maynard serially claims that he fights for North Nashville. It seems to me that fighting for North Nashville in the current context is holding one's influential colleague accountable for pursuing criminal activity here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Crime Alert: home invasion in the Buena Vista neighborhood

According to NewsChannel5 and police scanner reports, there was a home invasion on 9th Av N near Garfield St (in or near the Cheatham Place housing complex) his morning. Police used a helicopter to search for 2 suspects (I do not have descriptions). Victims were not injured. Nearby Buena Vista School was put on lock-down for a while to protect students, teachers, & staff from the invaders

Metro Police shut down single Occupy Nashville tent protest on the Courthouse Square

According to Occupy Nashville protester, Mark Hamill, when he tried to occupy the Metro Courthouse Square, Metro Police sent 7 cops to remove him from his outpost on municipal public property. This is how he related his story to Tennessean reporters:

An attempt to move the Occupy Nashville protest from the state Capitol to the city’s Public Square ended after several hours early Tuesday morning.

One tent was set up on the lawn of the city government headquarters Monday night. Early Tuesday, a Metro Nashville police officer told tent dweller Matt Hamill a local ordinance barred camping there. Hamill packed up his tent and left ....

Protestor Jason Steen said Metro Police arrived at the Public Square shortly after 5 a.m. and asked Hamill, the lone protestor there, to leave. Steen said the encounter was amicable and Hamill left without incident.

Occupy Nashville's legal team is looking into the required permits to move the protest to the Public Square

Right idea, too little and too late for execution.

The Metro police response was overkill: it looked more like a drug bust when all they needed to clear a guy in a tent out was a couple of constables in one cruiser. The response indicates to me that Metro government had set itself, had Occupy Nashville targeted city hall, to act heavy-handed, to be overbearing just as other cities forces have been.

Now ON does not have the bodies both to occupy the Courthouse and to maintain a beachhead at the General Assembly. It is unfortunate that Occupy Nashville (that is, Nashville proper) will probably only amount to one tent hauled off willingly by a guy who didn't want to be subdued and arrested by a half-a-dozen-or-so police officers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crime alert: this one involves a council member

MNPD staged a prostitution sting at a MetroCenter hotel tonight mere blocks away from Salemtown, and officers arrested 3 people, one of whom was District 4 (Brentwood) council member Brady Banks, who was also Karl Dean's manager of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods a few years ago. According to WSMV:

A Metro councilman was arrested Thursday for allegedly patronizing prostitution during a sting at a motel in the Metro Center area.

Councilman Brady Banks, 33, is accused of paying $100 to a female undercover officer in exchange for sex, police said.

Banks allegedly met the officer Thursday just after 4:30 p.m. while responding to an ad posted by the police department on the Internet.

Banks is married to a Methodist minister and is a new father.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Banks was released on $1,000 bond tonight after being booked.

CM Banks has been considered an up-and-coming young Democrat who was being marketed and groomed as a viable challenger to Tennessee Republicans. I was never concerned about his partisan chops, but I was fairly underwhelmed by his tenure in the Mayor's office in what was supposed to be an advocacy role for neighborhoods.

Now I question his judgment and his willingness to bring alleged criminal activity to my North Nashville community rather than risking it in his quiet suburban hamlet near bucolic Radnor Lake.

UPDATE: I can always count on Mike Peden to point out the interesting coincidences in Metro politics. He referred me to the fact that CM Banks, arrested at a MetroCenter hotel, received 2011 campaign financing from the Greater Nashville Hotel and Lodging Political Action Committee.

UPDATE: Is any criticism of CM Banks's alleged criminal activity a partisan or hateful "game" or "relish" in damaging news?

I don't experience anything close to satisfaction, joy or catharsis in the news that a council member may have misconducted himself in my North Nashville community. Just like folks who live in Brentwood, we want a safe and crime-free community, even though North Nashville is popularly depicted, especially in the news media, as a nest of criminality and violence. If Brady Banks trafficked sex in MetroCenter he contributed to those narratives. And he is not just someone's personal friend. He is an elected public figure who should not be entitled to a moratorium on scrutiny because he may or may not have wreaked havoc on his own personal life to boot.

Stand for Children - Tennessee brings in big gun from bygone Bredesen days to lobby its "education reform" cause

You may remember Mack Cooper as the former Bredesenista in so much hot water that he was demoted without recourse to public knowledge of the exact nature of his alleged harassment:

In swiftly demoting his chief lobbyist, Gov. Phil Bredesen proved that his administration will not tolerate workplace harassment ....

Bredesen provided no detail last week as to what persuaded him to demote Robert "Mack" Cooper. The governor's statement concerning the matter said little more than he "will not tolerate any form of harassment."

The only notes taken during the course of the investigation were shredded by chief investigator Kae Carpenter, who acknowledged that the notes could have become public under the open records law.

One of the booster groups of education reform and privatization, Stand for Children - Tennessee, apparently did not think so slightly of Mack Cooper to curb themselves before hiring him as one of their lobbyists [source: Tennessee Ethics Commission]:

Stand for Children - Tennessee has not tipped their hand yet with regard to Nashville schools, focusing instead on Memphis schools. However, they are still listed as the "advocacy" division of "One Nashville" an arm of the education-reform obsessed Nashville Chamber of Commerce that enjoys VIP status at Metro Nashville Public Schools, particularly with Director Jesse Register. Moreover, in other parts of the country they seem hell-bent on backing legislation that scapegoats teachers, promotes school vouchers, and redistributes public money to shadow-government private boards.

So, even in the uncertainty of the moment, a public school dad like me is very concerned about how hard SFC is willing to push these hot-button privatizing issues in league with a hired gun who has a morally ambiguous, inscrutably cloudy background to the degree that even Phil Bredesen--a governor who made "pragmatism" paramount to the slightest bleat of a call of duty--demoted him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Facebook is not a good neighbor, which is not good business

It is bad enough when relocating companies make it sound like they make your community better simply by relocating along side you without reference to the quality of jobs they provide, to the risk to your quality of life from their by-products and to the quality of neighbors they are after they move in (keeping in mind that the executives will not likely be living among you).

But when an incredibly wealthy company moves in and promotes itself not as primarily profit-driven but as a catalyst for the sake of community, and then it exploits everyone else in the neighborhood, it is beyond stupid:

It should thus come as no surprise that when it comes to dealing with governments and communities, Facebook is just as self-serving as any corporation not pretending to be on a social mission. This is demonstrated most clearly at its data centers.

These facilities, also known as server farms, are large collections of computers that power online networks. They use vast amounts of power and thus are located in rural areas with cheap electricity. Being highly automated, they create few jobs -- yet Internet companies take advantage of the desperation of local officials for investment of any kind to obtain substantial economic development subsidies.

Facebook announced in January 2010 that it would build its first data center in central Oregon, choosing a location in the economically depressed town of Prineville that was part of an enterprise zone, thus making it eligible for property tax breaks for up to 15 years. The company later began expressing public concerns about how its intangible property would be taxed. In recent months it has been pressuring state legislators to restrict the ability of the state revenue department to assess data centers as utilities.

Even in social media, especially with wildly popular Facebook, there is marketing and then there is the truth. Communities who commit to these companies may think that they are on the cutting edge, on their way to becoming the next big tech bubble. But tech companies are not any further above any other company at head-faking with the novelty and driving to bling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

There is a power in naming

Earlier tonight from the Twitter stream of the Nashville City Paper's local politics beat reporter

Occupy Nashville should lead on public education

New York City occupiers look behind the wizard's curtain.
I found it curious during the past few days that Occupy Nashville welcomed students from Lead Academy, a local charter school, without so much as a protest against what the corporate influence behind charter schools is doing to public education. Maybe local occupiers do not see like occupiers in other cities how privatization, under the influence of the Bill Gates Foundation and campaign-financed politicians, is not positive for the general welfare of public school kids. It seems to me that the Nashville protesters could have provided a civics lesson for the students simply by dissenting on the tokenism and selectivity that drives the charter school model.

I do not know if Occupy Nashville is simply avoiding the question of charter schools because they're catering to Tennessee Democrats or if they just do not grasp the income gap disparities driving the charter schools movement, but if the latter is the case, education blogger Jim Horn lists the top 10 reasons that those who claim to represent the 99% ought to think more critically about public education:


1. Urban charter schools require minimal public investment in physical plants, library programs, the arts, science labs, athletics, personnel, and transportation infrastructure.

2. Urban charter schools are cheaper because they depend upon an endless stream of young beginning teachers with few benefits, no retirement payouts, and no collective bargaining.

3. Urban charter schools make it easy to segregate based on race, economics, gender, and disability.

4. Urban charter schools allow for the exclusion or dumping of problem students whose abilities, behaviors, or test performance that could damage to the charter brand.

5. Urban charter schools make it easier to hide the problems of the poor by pointing to testing success by those who survive the charter gauntlet.

6. Urban charter schools allow for the imposition of cultural and psychological control techniques in urban areas that are not subject to public scrutiny.

7. Urban charter schools put decision-making and control into the hands of unelected executives with no oversight beyond hand-picked board members.

8. Urban charter schools (not for profit CMOs) allow corporations and wealthy donors to reap huge tax benefits for their generosity to corporate charter schools.

9. Urban charter schools (for profit EMOs) expand business opportunities for the education industry & testing-industrial complex.

10. Urban charter schools make it possible to take the state tax dollars saved from the forced choice of urban charters and use that money to enrich suburban public schools without raising taxes.

I am still waiting for Occupy Nashville to address local issues. Metro's wholesale sellout to charter schools is a good place to dive in locally. But embracing a charter school is a big belly flop of a failure.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Official Metro Planning announcement about Salemtown rezoning

The mailed announcement below seems like short notice on Metro Planning's part given that the developer of the properties at 1628 and 1630 6th Av N told us, in a single community meeting, that he does not really even have a clear design yet. Here is background and history on this request.



Knowing so little about the project, being disappointed in the past lack of maintenance the owner of the property has shown the lots when vacant, having no clue as to how it fits the community plan, I'm not yet sure what I'm going to say to the Planning Commission as an affected neighbor at the public hearing on February 23. I do not remember ever knowing so little about a rezoning request in Salemtown going into a public hearing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jefferson Street's deferred progress finally coming back around

Buzz about a possible ballpark at Sulphur Dell had eclipsed promotion of the long-awaited National Museum of African American Music, and it seemed to push aside Jefferson Street's Gateway to Heritage public space development. Now the latter is starting to get media play with excuses made for the 3-year delay include that multiple government agencies had to analyze and approve:

While not ideal public recreation space, areas under highway overpasses can be made hospitable. Here are some photos I made of greenways and public art under and on overpasses in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, TX.

There was never a good reason for any government agencies to allow government-owned properties along the Jefferson Street corridor to fall into the blight that it did. And our community is long past due for the improvements that would have likely sailed through in less time for more affluent parts of Nashville.