I caught the important parts of yesterday's State Building Commission public hearing on Mayor Karl Dean's ballpark proposal even though I did not get there when the meeting started. I was late for several valid reasons. First, of all I do not get paid for lobbying for a new minor league ballpark or for rezoning to develop multi-use dwellings or for accruing campaign finance bling from influential sources or for reporting those who do. So, unlike most of the people in the committee room yesterday, I had to take time off my job to drive downtown, find a parking space, hike several blocks to Legislative Plaza and wander from place-to-place with a couple other average Joes looking for an outside entrance to where Tennessee keeps its committee rooms (found them in a bunker under the Plaza) before I finally settled into my standing-room-only spot at the back of the room next to bureaucrats and professional politicos about 20 minutes into the meeting.
The crowd was not standing-room-only because a flood of community-based types showed up for the hearing. Not hardly. It was standing-room-only because there were only about 50 chairs in the gallery and most of those were taken up by government and business-interest suits or journalists or lobbyists. I did not see any of the neighbors I saw at the Mayor's launch party at the Farmers Market. And, strangely, I did not see any of the red-shirted glee club of supporters of a new Sulphur Dell. That is strange to me because CM Jerry Maynard has pounded the proposition that the ballpark is wildly popular out here in the streets, and he has had the red shirt squad to show for it before. The legs on the initiative may actually have little to do with what those of us outside-looking-in actually opine about a new ballpark anyway.
But even if ordinary citizens were available to attend a meeting in the middle of a workday morning, there was no room for them either in space or agenda. The hearing ran like clockwork with representatives of business special interests (Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau) and government officials (CM Maynard, State Senator Thelma Harper and someone from the Sports Authority) all expressing predictable support for the ballpark. I asked one journalist if anyone actually representing a neighborhood spoke before JUMP did (which was when I arrived), and he said no. So, no one but those with a vested financial interest having little to do with quality of life spoke on the ballpark question.
In the end, I'm sure it was not unintentional to actually make the public feel out-of-place at a state public hearing. Barring some sort of groundswell of resistance to the Mayor's plan, it is fast tracked to win like a well-sired 3-year-old flanked by experienced stable hands. Any concerned community critics who are not organized are going to get trampled underfoot now that bill sponsors can claim red-state support.