Thursday, July 26, 2012

A familiar ring in this politics of non-profits

I have been reflecting on an interesting parallel, which I assume is purely coincidental, between the question of whether Moving Nashville Forward is a non-profit or a political action committee and confusion expressed here in 2011 over Stand for Children's (a non-profit) endorsing Karl Dean for Mayor.

According to MNF leader Erik Cole, his group is pursuing non-profit status that would permit them to keep the $26,000 that "Dean for Mayor" donated to their efforts to market Karl Dean's budget proposal in the run-up to the Metro Council vote earlier this summer. Cole told reporter Joey Garrison yesterday that his organization is listed as a 501(c)(4). Garrison could not find confirming evidence of MNF's non-profit certification. A source told me that according to the Tennessee Secretary of State's records, Moving Nashville Forward is not certified here as a 501(c)(4).

501(c)(4) is exactly the non-profit status that permitted Stand for Children to endorse Karl Dean for Mayor in the last election. Last year readers were wondering how a non-profit can endorse political candidate and keep its tax exempt status. SFC does it by maintaining two organizations under one roof: their 501(c)(3) cannot campaign; their 501(c)(4) can.

Incidentally, Moving Nashville Forward's co-principal, Francie Hunt, is the former Nashville Director at Stand for Children.

UPDATE: I cannot find Moving Nashville Forward listed in the Internal Revenue Service's Exempt Organizations Master File for Tennessee. That list includes 501(c)(4) organizations reporting to the IRS.

Ronnie Steine tries to pierce the rotten one more time

The Mayor's Office has long enjoyed the services of Ronnie Steine on the Metro Council. He has been Hizzoner's apologist and gofer. So, of course, he is defending Karl Dean's donation to Moving Nashville Forward, as if his words alone can cut through the fishy smell:

The mayor has a campaign fund that he has the right to spend however he wishes .... Generating public education about an issue seems to me a perfectly appropriate use of that money.

First of all, this is a paternalistic defense. CM Steine takes it upon himself to assume that we are looking for education instead of seeing influence and prerogative for what they are in the game of local politics.

Second of all, it is disingenuous. Calling a public relations blitz "public education" truly dumbs down the meaning of education. Although in an era where "public education" can mean almost anything, including the newspeak-opposite of its traditional meanings, I guess the CM feels free to apply it where convenient.

Finally, I guess if money can be speech and corporations can be persons, political donations that serve to advance a short but happy political career can be education. However, it is no less a cynical claim on CM Steine's part.

Oh, and by the way, we still do not know whether the Dean for Mayor campaign donated to a non-profit or a PAC. The difference seems lost to Dean Team apologists.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is Moving Nashville Forward a non-profit organization or a PAC?

The Nashville City Paper caught wind of Karl Dean's $26,000 contribution to Moving Nashville Forward, which greased the Mayor's agenda by rebranding it as popular. The journos focus on the question of whether MNF is a non-profit organization (which would legitimate the huge Dean contribution) or a political action committee (a.k.a. "PAC", which would make the Dean donation dubious):

Moving Nashville Forward did not organize as a political organization [PAC] and is therefore not required to submit its list of contributors to the Davidson County Election Commission. None of its membership registered as Metro lobbyists either.

Rather, [Erik] Cole said the group is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit and would be filing a financial report with the Internal Revenue Service at the appropriate time ["would be" filing a financial report after the questions are posed?!]. He was unable to provide The City Paper with a full list of Moving Nashville Forward donors but said it represents the various stakeholders who publicly supported Dean’s tax increase. (Efforts by The City Paper to locate the group’s nonprofit certification online were unsuccessful.)

Moving Nashville Forward originated on May 14 with a press conference hosted by three of its members, including Cole, who issued an “invitation to any and all who want to join the effort.”

Leading up to the council’s definitive tax hike vote, the group’s activities included encouraging citizens to email council members to vote for the mayor’s property tax increase. The coalition also rallied supporters to pack the council chambers for the budget’s public hearing.

We're in line-blurring territory here, with non-profits-that-are-not-yet-non-profits packing council chambers in a fashion that that either PACs or grassroots organizations would with supporters to lobby Metro Council on a controversial budget proposed by a Nashville mayor whose political aspirations for higher office in Tennessee necessitate as many wins as he can notch.

Here are conditions, according to the state's Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, under which Karl Dean is allowed to contribute his campaign funds to other organizations:

Whether an expenditure of campaign funds by a candidate is made for a political purpose depends upon all the facts and circumstances surrounding the expenditure.  An activity engaged in between elections by a candidate which is directly related to and supports the selection, nomination or election of that individual to public office is considered political activity.  An expense which would be incurred by an individual regardless of that person’s candidacy for public office is considered an expenditure for a nonpolitical purpose, except as allowed for the expenditure of surplus contributions.

ALLOWABLE USES.  A candidate with surplus campaign funds from an election shall allocate unexpended funds to one (1) or more of the following:

a.)    The funds may be retained or transferred to any campaign fund pursuant to Tennessee’s reporting requirements, except a candidate for local office shall not transfer surplus funds from such an account to a campaign account for the General Assembly or governor.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(1)

b.)    The funds may be returned to any or all of the candidate’s contributors as set forth in a formula or plan specified in the candidate’s disclosure of the allocation.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(2)

c.)     The funds may be distributed to the executive committee of the candidate’s political party.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(3)

d.)    The monies may be deposited by the candidate in the volunteer public education trust fund.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(4)

e.)     The funds may be distributed to any organization as described in 26 U.S.C.  170(c).  (Examples - church, schools, school booster clubs, veterans organizations.)  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(5)

f.)     The monies may be distributed to any organization which has received a determination of exemption from federal income taxation pursuant to subsection (3) or (4) of 26 U.S.C. 501(c), if such organization is currently operating under such exemption.  (Section 501(c)(3) includes any non-profit organization that operates exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, public safety testing, literacy, or educational purposes, or to foster national or amateur sport competition, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.  Section 501(c)(4) covers any non-profit civic organization operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare and also includes certain local employee associations when the associations’ net earnings are devoted to charitable, educational or recreational purposes. [emphasis mine])  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(6)

g.)     The funds may be used to defray any ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the office of the officeholder.  Such expenses may include, but are not limited to the cost of advertisement, membership fees, and donations to community causes.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(7)

h.) The funds may be distributed to any institution of public or private education in the state for the purpose of supplementing the funds of an existing scholarship trust or program. Please remember that state law requires that the organization to which you are making a contribution must have an up to date exemption from the Internal Revenue Service, in order for your contribution to be proper under this provision.  T.C.A. § 2-10-114(a)(8)

After seeing the Dean donation, an Enclave reader checked with the Tennessee Secretary of State and found out that Moving Nashville Forward is indeed not currently registered (as required) as a non-profit organization. If, in fact, MNF had been interested in the "promotion of social welfare", why would they have failed to register with the state in advance of the highly publicized campaign to pass the Mayor's budget? And, given the ethics rules, how do they qualify as a non-profit organization eligible to receive Karl Dean's $26,000 donation in the first place?

Look what leaps out from Mayor Dean's mid-year finance report

Moving Nashville Forward, the astroturf organization promoted most vigorously by former CM Erik Cole as a grassroots, organic community effort to support Mayor Karl Dean's tax increase, received over $25,000 from the Dean campaign to advance his mission:

That's a slab of simoleons.

I wonder who sprung for pizzas at Mafiaoza's earlier this month? Machine politics is alive and well in Nashville.

HT: Mike Peden

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How I plan to vote in the District 1 School Board race

As a North Nashville parent, I am generally unenthused and unenergized by the campaigns in the District 1 School Board race. Ed Kindall has faced ethics questions in the past, including the cell phone drama of a few years ago. Sharon Gentry has struck me in the past as undiplomatic. She was a little too cavalier about and dismissive of parents' concerns at one community meeting in Hope Gardens for me to take her at her current promise that she will be a voice for "ALL parents" (emphasis hers) if we vote for her. At least one parent wrote me feeling ignored by Ms. Gentry after a personal appeal.

While both Kindall and Gentry did the right thing two years ago and voted against Jesse Register's plan to privatize Metro Schools service workers, the union representing those workers unambiguously endorses Mr. Kindall:

“He’s often the only one in the school board meetings who asks the tough questions and tries to hold Dr. Register accountable,” said Cordelia Howard, a school secretary, in the SEIU’s announcement.

Lately, Sharon Gentry has said and done nothing to change my sense of ambivalence about her, and she seems less willing to speak truth to power. In fact, she talks about public schools as if she is now one of those ideologues who believes the school district should be managed like a business, right down to reciting jargon about "portfolios":
What are your priorities for the Metro School system as a whole?

Fostering more proactive methods for including charter schools into the choice portfolio for MNPS that focuses on identify charter school programs that help address the needs within the district.
It is straight out of the Chamber's school reform playbook. Keep in mind that Ms. Gentry is also married to Howard Gentry, who has had close professional ties to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. She received large campaign donations from Chamber big shots in the past. This all seems to beholden her to an organization which is setting up shop and hawking its products in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

The goal of maximizing private profits is not always commensurable with democratic values of public education. Financial and personal ties to the Chamber of Commerce suggest to me that a candidate will be more prone to cow to the special business interests who treat children as more a future compliant labor force than a potential democratic citizenry. In that vein, John Dewey knew what he was talking about 100 years ago in Democracy and Education:
Democracy cannot flourish where the chief influences in selecting subject matter of instruction are utilitarian ends narrowly conceived for the masses, and, for the higher education of the few, the traditions of a specialized cultivated class. The notion that the "essentials" of elementary education are ... mechanically treated, is based upon ignorance of the essentials needed for realization of democratic ideals. Unconsciously it assumes that these ideals are unrealizable; it assumes that in the future, as in the past, getting a livelihood, "making a living," must dignify for most men and women doing things which are not significant, freely chosen, and ennobling to those who do them; doing things which serve ends unrecognized by those engaged in them, carried on under the direction of others for the sake of pecuniary reward.
It is pecuniary reward (plainly put, "the big money score") that the Chamber of Commerce is committed to and the means by which it sells others on supporting its narrow goals.

I believe a school board candidate should strive toward a larger vision of public education than selling it to private charter school companies or reducing it to "Academies" for vocational training. Sharon Gentry strikes me as just a bit too zealous about charter schools and a lot too embedded with the Chamber's business class to exert herself toward the larger vision. I'm not saying that I believe fervently that Mr. Kindall will not resort to old-school political patronage or to supporting charter schools, but I do believe that the Chamber's influence begs to be checked and balanced, that Jesse Register ought to continue to be held accountable and that Mr. Kindall is more likely to do both than is Ms. Gentry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Buena Vista School has three years to fail

I'm not going to neighborhood association meetings due to a previous Executive Committee ambush. But the wife attended tonight. When she returned she conveyed news dropped there that Metro's Buena Vista School, a few blocks over from us, has 3 years to improve or it will be flipped charter.

My prediction: 97% African American/97% reduced lunch Buena Vista will be allowed to fail in the next three years. Then it will be flipped to a charter school (which can weed out and turn away students) more palatable to the nervous hipster parents gentrifying the area. Otherwise, nothing about a system in our community that creates a permanent, poorly educated underclass will change.

Look, MNPS has been criticized for its partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to exercise school reform as vocational training:

in recent years, some have questioned Metro’s commitment to intellectual rigor, particularly in criticizing The Academies of Nashville — the chamber of commerce-supported high-school model that bridges coursework with career-oriented themes through private business partnerships. Skeptics have labeled the program “vocational education.”

A charter school at Buena Vista will only be window dressing to attract the predominately white voting bloc at the Nashville Urban School Coalition. Otherwise, it will be as effective as vocational education. In the context of North Nashville's unequal access to education, "choice" will not amount to much more than paper or plastic (to paraphrase George Carlin).

MNPS is set up to fail North Nashville. A truly public school at Buena Vista will be the casualty. Mark my words.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

People only have so much recreational money to spend

So, the city of Seattle is purportedly doing something revolutionary in the field of building stadiums by proposing to pay for only (?!) 41% of the cost of a new arena with taxpayer dollars. Even so, experts are not buying the unsustainable PR myth that pro sports facilities are huge financial windfalls for municipalities:

Economists agree that the proposed $200 million in public financing for the $490 million arena is a good deal — and in line with the national trend for less taxpayer investment in new facilities.

But they're skeptical that these facilities generate much new spending. Rather, experts say, cities see a "substitution effect" as people spend money on a pro basketball or hockey game rather than a restaurant and movie or a college basketball game.

"The economic impact is approximately zero. All you're doing is recycling fans from one game to another," said Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Chicago who specializes in the business of sports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Capitol District": the latest candidate in the North End name game

So many attempts over the years to brand neighborhoods of Germantown, Salemtown, Buena Vista, Hope Gardens and Harrison Square have not stuck with the community: "Uptown", "Urban Core", "The Market District". Typically, prompted by realtors, brokers, and developers, these monikers were typically formulated to reflect marketing strategy instead of community character.

A "district"? That's it?
The latest entry in the race to brand our area top-down is "The Capitol District," which reportedly has been agreed upon by all of the association presidents and which has a logo and website designed by Rob Williams. Unlike the previous attempts, "The Capitol District" has a slick, glossy design, which makes sense, because a designer has worked on it. We will see if the latest attempt to brand across the neighborhoods holds. In ubiquitous, "We are Nashville" fashion, they offer t-shirts, which is farther than previous marketers went.

I've been calling these neighborhoods collectively "the North End" for nearly 10 years because that was what I first saw it called on Metro Planning maps. Nashville's planners have community meetings with the neighborhoods and so I figured they were in touch with us and knew what they were doing. Plus, the title makes sense; even more sense than either "West End" or "East End", both of which sprawl rather than "end".

However, I'm not opposed to defining ourselves with respect to our proximity to the Capitol, but I'd beg the designers to come up with something less stale, less overused than "District". Downtown is already "The District". The "Market District" really never caught on broadly. We have councilmanic districts, school board districts and US District Courts. "District" even figures prominently in the US Army Corp of Engineers Nashville Twitter feed.

Everywhere we turn there is a "district" in Nashville place titles. Can't we come up with something more original than "District"? How about "Capitol Downs" (after all, we do all sit at the base of Capitol Hill) or "Capitol View" or "Capitol Rim" or "Capitol Quarter"? How about anything less boring, less commercial than another "District" reference?

UPDATE: one thing I should have asked is whether this is veiled attempt to extend the fight for a Sulphur Dell ballpark?

Mayor Dean appears to be against state intrusion whenever it is convenient

City Paper Metro beat reporter Joey Garrison via Twitter this morning on inconsistencies of Karl Dean's political agenda and state government intrusion:

Joey GarrisonOn state's overturning of Metro's CANDO bill, Mayor Dean last spring said, "Now is not the time to abandon our belief in local government."
But in urging the state board of education to authorize Great Hearts, Dean is asking the state to overturn a local, Metro decision.

Such intrepidity on the part of the City Paper reporter is not going to earn him the Mayor's most favorite journo status like the Tennessean's compliant stable seems to enjoy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Because the "Music" in "Music City" is defined narrowly by Nashville

At the National Music Festival in Nashville, 2011

Last year I braved the unrelenting heat and the threat of severe storms to catch several shows at the National Folk Festival held at Bicentennial Mall. The international scope of the music was significant, but it also suggested commitment of the Courthouse class and the business "community" to the development of North Nashville.

Apparently, Nashville's will to branch out and pull in all kinds of music, build an event with a view to long-term growth and likewise support the North End is feeble:

The National Folk Festival set to happen in Nashville this September is cancelled. One official blamed what she called “timing problems and acts of God” for sabotaging the event last year, and leaving it in debt. Now the festival hopes to regroup for 2013.

The National Folk Festival moves from city to city in three-year stints. Nashville beat out dozens of competitors when it won rights to host the festival from 2011 to 2013. But barely a month after that announcement, the city flooded. Organizers say the result was a huge setback for planning and fundraising.

Another report underscores a corporate community that looks less than bold. The flood was blamed for the anemic fundraising. However, recall how nobody thought twice about the necessity of moving forward restlessly with country music's big Fan Fair event weeks after the 2010 flood when we were still drying and and trying to recover.

There is no doubt that CMA brings in millions for the local tourist industry, but you would think that a corporate community would use its windfall from guitars and fiddles to broaden our global horizons by encouraging diverse forms of music in Music City. And where better than in North Nashville, which could use these events, even if they do not deliver CMA's bang for the buck in the Downtown commercial areas?

From small things big things one day come. But they will not be coming with the help of the National Folk Festival, because Nashville has apparently made up its mind that only a narrow-band of popular American music is good enough for us. And this embarrassing failure also shows that the powers that be are not as interested in the development of North Nashville as they tell us they are.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The only game in town: lay odds that Nashville was scammed by the banks, too

I've been a critic of the new convention center project in the past because the Mayor's Office was unwilling to go the extra mile to incorporate a 24/7 neighborhood south of Broadway into the project and because Metro funds for our services were obligated as insurance to get financiers to approve the project. Since the bank-induced recession set upon us a few years ago, I've also warned that the Music City Center's main financier, Goldman Sachs, should be suspect in its handling of financing for the project. Where is the caveat emptor?

June's Rolling Stone politics piece by Matt Taibbi on the conspiracy by the banking "cartel" to pilfer wealth from municipal bonds issued out of places like Nashville makes me even more concerned about our capital projects, and especially the largest capital project ever launched here, MCC:

these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from "virtually every state, district and territory in the United States," according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime ....

In the years since the economic crash of 2008, we've seen numerous hints that such orchestrated corruption exists. The collapses of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, for instance, both pointed to coordi­nated attacks by powerful banks and hedge funds determined to speed the demise of those firms. In the bankruptcy of Jefferson County, Alabama, we learned that Goldman Sachs accepted a $3 million bribe from J.P. Morgan Chase to permit Chase to serve as the sole provider of toxic swap deals to the rubes running metropolitan Birmingham – "an open-and-shut case of anti-competitive behavior," as one former regulator described it.

More recently, a major international investigation has been launched into the manipulation of Libor, the interbank lending index that is used to calculate global interest rates for products worth more than $3 trillion a year. If and when that case is presented to the public at trial – there are several major civil suits in the works here in the States – we may yet find out that the world's most powerful banks have, for years, been fixing the prices of almost every adjustable-rate vehicle on earth, from mortgages and credit cards to interest-rate swaps and even currencies.

Taibbi goes into detail describing the charges that cities and towns were gored for revenues slowly and deliberately for years. As the federal prosecutor put it, banking grifters colluded to lie to and cheat municipalities through a bidding process that was supposed to protect the latter.

So, I ask again, should we just blissfully assume that Nashville, especially during Karl Dean's tenure of breathless capital spending and bond issues, has not been the mark in the banks' confidence game? Why does Goldman Sachs get the benefit of the doubt, given their checkered past?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blog chatter: are charter schools faux reform?

I've been frankly disappointed by the deafening silence among Tennessee Democrats on the question of privatizing public education by means of charter schools. As far as I can see very few are bucking the White House, which is firmly committed to "education reform" via charter schools. Instead, they seem more interested in the partisan game of slamming Republicans for vouchers rather than acknowledging that their own milquetoast party often offers nothing bolder than GOP-lite education policies.

So, I sit up and take notice when a Tennessee Democrat goes against the grain. Trace Sharp has honest questions based on her rural experience for her fellows who advocate charters and others:

  • Was collective bargaining for teachers dispatched out of the way to set charter schools in place? (In my opinion, the answer is absolutely yes.)
  • Why would a for-profit company be better for school children than public education?
  • How will data on the actual retention skills of information of students be measured? If charter schools don’t have to follow the regulations of public schools, what is their model and WHY is it better?
  • Once again, if a county only has one or two high schools, what determines which one will be a charter school, which one won’t and how will public funding be distributed? There are a lot of counties with only one or two high schools that go back back to the consolidation that occurred in the early ’90s where small, community schools closed and moved to larger-based schools.
  • Who will monitor the profits of the charter schools? Who will regulate the curriculum?

It is clear to me that privatization of public schools is the extension of Republican logic that business models are the solution to social problems and policy challenges. Democratic support of charter schools strikes me as a kinder and gentler form of rejection of government services, the utter resignation of the idea that public education is by definition guaranteed to all comers. They may use buzzwords like public-private partnerships, but privatization is more like leveraged buyout. They may shroud it with non-profit philanthropy, but it is remains private enterprise with all of its limitations. The Godfather of charter school philanthropy is Bill Gates:

[Bill] Gates' leveraged philanthropy model is a public-private partnership to improve the world, partly through targeted research support but principally through public advocacy and tax-free lobbying to influence government policy. The goal of these policies is often to explicitly support profitability for corporate investors, whose enterprises are seen by the Gates Foundation as advancing human good. However, maximum corporate profit and public good often clash when its projects are implemented.

(And I won't even go into the problem of the reactionary funders of school reform as Trace ably did; go read her post for that). Business models for education do not simply solve problems in public education.

As Molly Ivins used to say, business excels at creating wealth. That does not guarantee that it does everything else well (although it can buy enough public relations experts and political strategists to brand it a cure-all). Business models also invite new problems, like treating people strictly as either consumers or commodities, like reducing all good (classically a broader moral and social idea) to financial goods. Private companies and wealthy individuals buy greater influence while besieged and beleaguered communities, parents, teachers and students have only their own bodies with which to fight, assuming they have the time and energy to do so.

The private enterprise end of the private-public partnership naturally pushes the process to let entrepreneurs take control. As a result public education gets sold off to the highest bidders, who like Bill Gates, also wield political clout. Nashville lawyer Jamie Hollin underscores the problem:

No matter how nice candidates are, how long or how little they’ve lived in the community, whether their kids go to public school or not, whether they work for a company already receiving public tax dollars through contracts, how brilliant they may be, who they’ve worked for or with in the past, or who endorsed their candidacy, the ultimate goal of the monied-interests behind them is privatization. And, there’s lots of money to be made in privatization ....

I am not willing to completely dismantle the public school system in Nashville like the individuals and groups supporting these candidates are so hell-bent to achieve.

While Nashville abdicates to a kinder and gentler form of school reform, other cities like Philadelphia are moving with ruthless, heartless efficiency to privatize public schools. In a letter to Philly's school district "recovery" officer, a mother of children in district and charter schools calls education reform what it is, a conservative expression of the shock doctrine:

You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested, and drastic action couched as “solutions.” You’re not speaking to me when you invoke language like “achievement networks,” “portfolio management,” and “rightsizing” our schools – and say not a word about lower class sizes or increasing the presence of loving support personnel or enriching our curriculum.

You’re not speaking to me when you plan to close 25 percent of our schools before my son graduates high school. You’re not speaking to me when you equate closing down 64 schools – many of them community anchors – as “streamlining operations,” yet you’ll expand charter populations willy-nilly despite a national study showing two-thirds of Philly charters are no better or worse than District-managed schools.

You’re not talking to me when your promises of autonomy come minus any resources, and when the best you have to offer parents is “seat expansion” – which just means larger class sizes without extra funds.

You’re not talking to me when you say all schools are public schools. They are not.

We are indisputably facing a real crisis in education. As author Naomi Klein points out, crisis destabilizes communities, throws people off their guard, forces us to grasp desperately for answers, and in some cases, to panic, which gives wealthy, powerful and patient special interests the chance to rush in with sweeping "reforms" that tend to favor them more than the grasping masses. Likewise, conservative agendas rush in to fill the vacuum. School reform is no different. It is not a community-based, democratic or (regardless of what its adherents claim) progressive model of education, but a business-oriented, charity-bent, venture-philanthropy-funded model of keeping underserved populations compliant to the larger social structures that define their place in the first place.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

On the question of saving Salemtown's trees

2008 wind-related tree damage at 5th and Garfield
On Friday I made the observation that old growth trees falling in extreme weather like we continue to have over the past few years in North Nashville has become almost common place. After high winds blow through, I usually hike around the hood with my camera because I can generally find damage here and there. The photos posted here show some of the disaster people have experienced due to weak trees and strong storms. We have had arborists from several local tree companies in to diagnose diseased trees and to clean up others knocked down in storms. I have yet to meet one who is optimistic about the chances of the neighborhood's oldest trees.

May 2011 7th Avenue storm damage
I found out that one developer, Jim Creason, has been catching heat from some of the residents here about old growth trees he cut down at his development at 5th and Garfield. I have yet to find a developer who when faced with large trees on their lots has not opted to cut them down. I am rarely accused of supporting developers, but in the event I would be, let me start by saying that any responsible developer would ask professional arborists to evaluate the health and condition of old growth trees on their property before cutting some of them down.
Morgan Park tree damage
As best I can tell, that rarely occurs. Developers usually take down whatever they want to. But responsible developers should try to save every part of the healthy canopy that they can. If saving their trees is beyond hope, they should broadcast the arborists' conclusions to concerned neighbors.

Undated S-town wind damage
As I understand it, Jim did have a Metro arborist in to evaluate the large trees on his lot. That professional told Jim that the trees were beyond saving. He tells me that it was not good enough for neighbors who kept on him to keep the trees up even though he risked damage to his buildings in extreme weather. It seems to me that concerned neighbors should bring in their own arborists to evaluate the trees if they are not happy with the justifications a developer gives. But arguing that trees should be kept up just because there is something unquestionably good about trees without regard to their condition and risk of falling is naive.

May 2011 6th Avenue wind damage
While watching a large tree cut down is a harsh reality to accept, it is not unreasonable for neighbors to request that developers plant a hardy, indigenous tree for every sick and weakened tree that they feel led to take down. The best developers will acknowledge their responsibility, even in higher density urban builds, to go the extra mile to fill in the holes in the neighborhood canopy. When Jim told me about this altercation with others, I asked all of these questions about him fulfilling his responsibilities, and he addressed my concerns to my satisfaction. A few days after our discussion the large tree caddy-corner to Jim's 5th and Garfield property blew down on a home. I don't believe that trees coming down justify any developer's clear-cutting property, but I do think if the nice old tree had been judged to be ill or frail by an arborist, I would certainly understand the owner taking it down.

March 2011 storm-generated tree damage to our home
And I say that as a property owner who last year had similar damage to my home by a storm-tossed old growth tree that once had been an attractive edition to our yard. Sure it cost us thousands to repair our house, our fence and our back yard, but we were lucky that no one was hurt by the disaster. I would like to save all of the healthy trees that we can, but not any cost to our personal lives. We will continue to have pros evaluate the health of our large trees, but whenever we have an old tree that literally hangs over us waiting for the next strong gale to fall, we will take it down without any apologies to anyone else for our prudence. Moreover, we will replace what we take out with better trees. I expect no less or no more from developers.

We replaced our weak, fallen hackberry with
a hardier pin oak and a rain garden 

UPDATE: Sunday night's round of storms over North Nashville brought down another tree. Ostensible roof damage to a home on 5th Avenue near Garfield, and perhaps minor damage to a car parked in the street in front:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Salemtown's latest storm damage

It seems like every time high wind comes through Salemtown we lose some old growth trees. Yesterday's gust front was no different. The base of an old maple tree at 5th and Garfield was shattered and the tree fell into a neighbor's house damaging at least a balcony and the porch railing. No one was hurt and my neighbor is out of town although I did email him this morning.

We had such damage in 2011 due to high winds and, according to arborists with whom I've spoken, chronic lack of rain that has weakened the canopy.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Mafiosi a Mafiaoza's

Boss Tweed, an American symbol
of machine politics.
The day before yesterday we stopped off at Mafiaoza's for pizza on our way to the Sounds baseball game and Independence Day fireworks show. During our dinner, we noticed that Mayor Karl Dean entered and joined a table of around 8 to 10 others we could not see from our table. We finished our meal and exited for the short drive to Greer Stadium. Curious myself but trying not to be to conspicuous as I left, I glanced around the table and spotted principals from the pro-Dean lobby group, "Moving Nashville Forward", including former Council Member Erik Cole and former Stand for Children staffer Francie Hunt.

Despite insinuations that Moving Nashville Forward was a grassroots effort of support for the Mayor's tax increases bubbling up from the community, I've tended to believe that they are a more cosmetic attempt to project the Dean Machine (which includes the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in my book) agenda as organic and hyper-local. I also concluded that MNF is an astroturf attempt to influence public opinion top-down without the appearance that the branding is engineered like a campaign. The endgame: clear any popular brush that might inconvenience Hizzoner.

The fact that Karl Dean was out celebrating with Moving Nashville Forward came as no surprise to me. Seeing the group festively together after easy passage of the property tax increase also seemed natural to me. Karl Dean should be breaking bread and giving thanks with the minions. The machine of Nashville politics is chugging along nicely for the man who aspires to offices higher than Mayor.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

More media marketing of gentrification

Developers and real estate pros tend to use the Tennessean to market the communities they build in as the "next big thing" in Nashville to maximize their revenue potential. The Tennessean went along last January in a piece on Salemtown's latest "pioneer" class. Developers pitched our neighborhood as the "next hot spot," as a number had done before.

Six short months later, it's Cleveland Park that the Tennessean is reporting as the next "it" neighborhood boosted by the branding efforts of real estate pros. But at least the July 1 piece on our East Nashville neighbor is not a one-sided shill piece prompted by pro-development representatives as it was in Salemtown. Reporter Nancy DeVille at least got the more moderating views of Cleveland Park association leaders, who are concerned about the impact of unchecked, unreflective gentrification on long-time residents:

While many believe gentrification has revitalized several Nashville neighborhoods, Cleveland Park community leaders want to avoid it. Ben Jordan, co-chair of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Association, says it forces some residents out who can’t pay the higher rents or property taxes.

“We have been very sensitive about things that would create an environment for gentrification, one being historic overlays that could create a hardship on the people that have been here a long time,” he said.

Salemtown: no longer the next big thing Nashville? This may be sacrilege to developers, but I personally don't care whether it is the next big thing. Just like they don't always care about the exclusive effects of unsmart growth in neighborhoods. Besides, every time the Tennessean declares an urban neighborhood the next hot spot, I grow more jaded about the marketing ploys that reduce us to lemmings and lab rats.

Update: Germantown Commons cohousing group sets timeline for upcoming meetings

The new cohousing project on 5th Av N has a name, Germantown Commons and they appear to have reserved a new domain for their website. In the meantime, the Germantown cohousing website has a timeline that includes rapidly approaching meetings:

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, July 18-20 2012, 6pm – 9pm

Wednesday: Open Meeting
Common House Presentation | Free Event
Hatcher & Fell Photography Studio
1208 7th Avenue North
Nashville 37208

Thursday, Friday: Planning Meetings
Neighborhood Center Resource Center
1312 3rd Avenue North
Nashville 37208

Jump in and explore if this community is right for you. The group will establish the goals and priorities for the Common House as well as the specific activities to take place there. The purpose of this programming workshop is to establish specific agreed-upon guidelines that will be included as the basis for the design criteria for individual spaces within the building. The program will be used to develop schematic floor plans and elevations for the Common House.

Recommended Workshop Fee: $1,000
Deadline for Reservation: July 15
(Your workshop fee goes toward home equity and is matched with an additional $1,000 discount to give you a total benefit of $2,000 in your home.)