Monday, June 30, 2014

Local news media prompts more questions instead of hunting down answers

The hemorrhaging of strong writing continues in the traditional news media.

On the one hand, the Nashville Scene reports that the Tennessean just lost their best investigative journalist, which is sad since the Tennessean rarely bothers investigating much of anything any more. Tough questions are left to be asked by outsiders.

On the other hand, the Tennessean's business section has an intern running down stories and writing copy. Part of that copy regarding the AOL founder's recent visit to Nashville's Entrepreneur Center was "mistaken":

The startup locations Case toured — Bow Truss Building, Marathon Village and the Trolley Barns — were historical buildings left in disrepair for years and just recently renovated by the newly founded Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

To get government funding to renovate these buildings, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center raised funding from private sources and then asked the city to match this funding instead of asking for city funds first.

"(That made it) an easy yes for the mayor," Burcham said, "because there was no risk involved."

To their credit, the Center quickly responded when I tweeted about the intern's mischaracterization of the history of Nashville's historical buildings:





The Tennessean's business section editor came to the defense of his intern saying that the center did raise a lot of funds, which is not the same thing as getting millions in federal aid, a new office above the 2010 flood stage from Metro's own powerful real estate broker (MDHA) and a lot of help from the Mayor's Office. Government seems to have had as much to do with the renovations (not excusing them for their decades of inexcusable neglect of the trolley barns) as did the Entrepreneur Center itself. It seems like a seasoned reporter might have recognized that, and been less likely to leap to the conclusion that EC did it all (as well as Marathon Village renovations!)

Beyond the inaccuracies in the story, other questions prey:
  • The original print media stories reported connections between the Entrepreneur Center getting grant money and the purpose of the grants being to support Tennessee flood recovery. The EC moved from its 105 Broadway offices (which flooded and which continue to be occupied by other tenants) to the trolley barns (which did not flood). I don't understand why a government grant dedicated to flood recovery would allow EC to move rather than to repair its Broadway location. The Tennessean editor responded to me yesterday that the EDA did not require flood damage to get the grant. So, why did the original reports link the grant and flood damage as if the latter were a rationale? And why were other businesses allowed to take up space in the Broadway offices that flooded after EC left rather than Metro condemning the property as flood plain?
  • In the 2011 coverage of the grant award, the partnering organizations that joined EC in the trolley barn promised that in return for government funding, they would create 300 new jobs in 3 years in Nashville. It is 2014, and I can find no independent source proving that they have created 300 jobs. Did they? If they did, how many of those jobs stayed in Nashville? How many left before the 3 year timeline was used up? I followed up this morning with both the Tennessean business editor and the Nashville Business Journal asking whether EC partners followed through with promised job creation. Neither have responded. It seems to me that independent proof that the jobs were created is vital to taxpayers believing that public funds were appropriately spent on private enterprise. EC received a staggering amount of public financing. Have they paid us back for our investment in them?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

In Tennessee, innovation and corruption seem to go hand-in-hand

Recent visits from two notable figures, AOL co-founder Steve Case and Salon writer David Sirota, rendered two different takes on how we spend our money in Tennessee. Mr. Sirota cited a study that indicates that the Volunteer State is one of the more politically corrupt due to how it spends most of its revenues: on construction and police protection instead of on education, health, and welfare. The writer also mentioned Nashville's penchant for throwing our tax revenues at private corporations, which don't appear to find our city itself enough of a lure to decline to payola to stay put:

“Cities and counties in states with troubled political cultures demonstrate the greatest willingness to offer business development incentives.” And again, comparing Tennessee’s corruption with its economic development policies seems to confirm this.

According to the watchdog group Good Jobs First, Tennessee is at the top of the list of states offering so-called “megadeal” subsidies to corporations. Likewise, the Nashville City Paper reports that in the name of economic development, the city has been dramatically increasing its subsidies to corporations, including a $65 million outlay for a minor league baseball stadium.

During last December's ballpark debate when suggestions were made that Metro lessen the moral hazard of handing Nashville Sounds owners our revenues by making them more obligated for spending the money responsibly, the Mayor's minions on the Metro Council called it a "poison pill" that would kill the deal. I would add such false provocation to Mr. Sirota's list of indicators of political corruption in Tennessee.

The city's legislative branch expressed shaky ethics in defending Mayor Karl Dean (who has turned private subsidies into an art form) with its outrageous slurs about entirely reasonable requests concerning how public money is spent.

One council member defended the ballpark funding scheme by insinuating that she might retaliate in any future projects in other districts:

Erica Gilmore
If you think about the way I have supported you in the past, your different projects so that your particular districts can thrive and survive. And I think I've been good at doing that. So, I ask that you would support my district tonight, my community, not just for me but for Nashville. We have to make sure things are equal. We have to make sure all communities work, and before I have never stood up on big projects and talked about fiduciary responsibility, taxpayers money. We just trusted it in the past and now we have a question with it.

It is the height of councilmanic privilege to hold future votes over the heads of other CMs in order to push through a ballpark plan despite questions on how public money will be spent. It must have worked, because she did it again last February regarding a different proposal in her district:

Please know that in order for us to work together you have to support me, because if you bring something for your constituents you expect me to support you and you can't support me I can't do it as well.

For his part Mayor Karl Dean acts like it a badge of honor that Metro is making no money off the lucrative ballpark naming deal with First Tennessee Bank and that the only big ticket item Sounds owners are paying for without government assistance is the guitar-shaped scoreboard. No wonder that Hizzoner wanted to push it through with as little public input as possible; Nashville ends up on the short end of the financial stick at almost every point.

Mr. Sirota is on to something in our state. His observations also provide the political backdrop for Steve Case's visit and comments about Nashville's startup businesses. Discussions about startups in Nashville seem to occur in echo chambers at the expense of evidence that the startup industry is contracting. So, Mr. Case's appearance may be an attempt to shore things up.

The Nashville Business Journal reported:

Looking forward, Case said, that entrepreneurial spirit will be needed to continue growing, competing globally and creating jobs.

“If we’re going to create jobs, we have to back our startups,” Case said.

And those startups can’t just be emerging from Silicon Valley, he added. As technology enters its “third wave” and focuses on integrating the Internet into myriad processes – health care, transportation, etc. – other regions of the country with experience in those sectors should emerge as leaders.

For Nashville, Case said, that will mean seizing the opportunity to remain the biggest innovator in the world of health care.

NBJ did not elaborate on what Mr. Case meant by "we have to back our startups". What that has meant in Nashville under Mayor Dean is kicking in corporate welfare for private businesses, even as public services suffer under his budget knife.

I worry about Mr. Case's exhortation to fund disruptive innovation in health care. Tennessee already flirts with corruption in that it spends less public revenue on access to health care than on subsidizing private business. Encouraging technological expansion in health care is not the same as investing public dollars to expand broader access. Dumping money unregulated into the health care industry simply translates to writing executives blank checks to do anything they want. Startup businesses are not beholden to anyone but themselves and the corporations to whom they may or may not eventually sell out to.

Unchecked innovation will only encourage more corruption in Tennessee regardless of how redundantly stylish it has become for techies to claim they "make the world a better place".

Mr. Sirota deftly rebuffed claims that on-the-dole innovation leads to greater economic development:

Do those subsidies result in job-creating technology and innovation hubs? While many locales ramping up their subsidies certainly hope so, the jury is still out — and that’s being generous. Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence that subsidies do not create the economic development their boosters promise, and instead they merely cannibalize already-existing economies. Meanwhile, a lot of those subsidies end up being awarded to politically connected firms, calling into question whether they are really designed with any kind of coherent economic development plan in mind.

So, the growth that happens here is not caused by the disruptions prompted by government redistribution. The growth would have happened somewhere. All the corporate subsidies do is favor some industries over others and cement political influence and cronyism.

A paycheck
One more note of irony to close this out: Mr. Case's visit was hosted by Nashville's Entrepreneur Center, which is housed in the refurbished Trolley Barns on Rolling Mill Hill. Those Trolley Barns are publicly owned (by MDHA, which bought the property for $10 from the county in 2006). The barns were built as part of the Works Progress Administration, the largest New Deal program that pulled our country out of the Great Depression, not by privatizing and outsourcing the work, but by the government directly hiring and paying people to build. Whenever governments promote job creation nowadays, they come across as a faint shadow of the bold New Deal. Likewise, Mr. Case's chatter about startups providing jobs is a negligible projection of what the government could actually do free from the networks of crony capitalism that fund so many political campaigns.

The political corruption that we see rampant in Tennessee and in Nashville with the giveaways is neither necessary nor inevitable, but until there is tectonic shift in political culture here, the corruption will continue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

She simply will not acknowledge that shrinkage is a wash: everyone has less of a challenge

CM Emily Evans continues to respond with specious claims in defense of the campaign she supports to shrink the Metro Council. Here's the stretch and the pitch:

If you are either the mayor or let’s say you are a special interest, you’re a lobbyist, and you’re lobbying on behalf of XYZ waste management company .... The lobbyist and the company are going to get whatever resources are necessary to make sure that they get passed what they need to get passed. They’re going to apply the resources necessary whether there are 100 council members or there are five council members. So the paid professional people are going to get what they need done because when you look at the cost of lobbying the council versus a large council that they may try to get approved, it’s inconsequential.

Now, let’s say you’re a neighborhood group and you are trying to get a conservation overlay group or you’re a neighborhood group that’s trying to stop bad development. You don’t have unlimited resources. You have very limited resources. So, to me, the balance in that situation doesn’t go to the lobbyist or the mayor with unlimited resources, it goes to the people with less resources. Because now suddenly, they have less of a challenge.


The prevailing fallacy, naturally, is that private enterprises like pro lobbyists have "unlimited resources" to burn through. Granted, they may have a lot more to burn through than neighborhood groups, but suggesting that shrinking the Metro Council will catch neighborhood groups up to the power of lobbyist to influence legislation is ridiculous.

Slashing the council to 27 members will be a net savings in the expense column for lobbying firms. They operate on an annual budget just like any other organization. The windfall they get from not having to lobby a dozen more CMs can be spent in other ways: lobbying the remaining CMs harder as community-based efforts ramp up, lobbying a host of other pieces of legislation that that can effectively undermine popular influence, sending lobbyists to the General Assembly to push for top-down legislation to impose on Metro government, etc. The human capital currently allocated to service a large council will be redistributed with a small council. Cash flow will be maximized.

To quote a shrinkage supporter: cutting the number of CMs would be "a slam dunk" in savings for lobbying firms. I have a hard time believing that lobbyists would be anything but delirious over the financial savings for their income-expense reports in having to leverage fewer votes.

But let's turn the tables on CM Evans. Is it really logical to believe that it would make no difference to a private firm, which has a bottom line and managers to keep costs down, whether there are 5 CMs or 500 CMs? We are supposed to believe that lobbying firms are willing to risk insolvency to lobby giant legislative bodies? This logic is supposed to persuade us? Really?


UPDATE: On second thought, my title above is not entirely correct. Not everyone will have less of a challenge. Individual voters will have less representation on the the council and they will have to compete with increasing numbers for constituents for council members' shrinking attention and action.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mayor Dean's big, fat staff

We are going to be bombarded in lead-up to the the next local election by messages buoyed by funding from special interests who lust after a smaller, more pliable Metro Council to lobby. While there are segments of our community that are willing to seriously consider their bid to rewrite the Metro Charter in order to constrict popular representation at the Courthouse, I'm more worried about revenues Mayor Karl Dean dumps into a ballooning executive branch. This is a bloated staff:




Mind you, if the bid to reduce the size of the council is successful, district voters will only have 8 more people representing them than the Mayor has on a staff he pays to advance his pet projects. We're so busy pondering the question of whether a city Nashville's size needs one of the largest councils in the country that we're not bothering to ask harder questions about the financial drain of the Mayor's large staff. Here are three off the top of my head:

  • Why does the Mayor need 2 (and in many cases 3) people to run his PR campaign? Janel Lacy had worked for Karl Dean for several years before former journalist Bonna Johnson was hired in 2011 as Press Secretary. Add to those two Courtney Wheeler, hired to direct the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, who seems to coordinate the Mayor's PR in the digital social media. The times I have seen Ms. Wheeler attend community meetings, she spent a lot of time talking to the news media rather than to neighbors. That's three people coordinating the Mayor's talking points. Why does he require that many? Why are public revenues spent on 3 people to broadcast messages?
  • Why do we need an "Office of Innovation" when the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and Mayor's Office of Economic and Community Development have been charged before with the duties of the innovation office? This looks like a duplication of services, unless my past concerns about MOON have come to pass, and Courtney Wheeler is spending more time on pitching the Mayor's agenda and less time on coordinating service delivery to the neighborhoods. The other troubling aspect concerns the disruptive connotations of innovation, which Jill Lepore described this week in The New Yorker: the innovative culture advocates an "idea of progress jammed into a criticism-proof jack-in-the-box". Mayor Karl Dean is not tolerant of criticism and he rewards loyalty. For his administration to plug into disruptive innovation is both predictable and alarming. For all the good this office might do, how is it disruptive to those of us not in power?
  • Speaking of loyalty: what in the world is a "Director of Financial Empowerment" and why does Erik Cole qualify for the position? Never mind. I just remembered why.

Our Mayor is an executive who every spring questions whether Metro departments could operate on less money than what they had received the year before. Watching the way his own staff grows, I have to wonder whether he brings the hard questions to bear on his own department.

If he won't, then we should; especially as we are being lobbied to vote to cut our representation on the Metro Council.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Metro Public Works has not picked up brush in Salemtown since January

I don't know why it has been so long since Public Works has picked up brush in Salemtown, but by July this will be a tender box ready to explode due to wayward fireworks or a stray cigarette thrown from a car:


Our pile of brush after 6 months of accumulation

I notified CM Erica Gilmore three weeks ago, but no MPW trucks have appeared. I have to wonder whether their absence is due to the Mayor's budget cuts.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Sulphur Dell" relegated to the bleacher section of "First Tennessee Park"

According to the Nashville Business Journal:

When asked about what role Sulphur Dell will play in the new park, now that it’s been named, [the ballpark project's general manager] said a design element is being considered near the batter’s eye (the dark green rectangle space behind the center field wall) that would feature the Sulphur Dell name prominently. He also said the greenway, which runs just outside the stadium, will feature Sulphur Dell history, from its Native American roots through its more modern baseball ties.

History will occupy the cheap seats of the new Nashville Sounds ballpark.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boston will be Nashville's favorite mistake

It's just a matter of time for before the snowjob to expand convention centers hits Nashville, too:

The [Massachusetts] House overwhelmingly passed a $1.1 billion expansion bond last week. The Senate is scheduled to take up the legislation Thursday, after trimming $110 million from it over concerns of a giveaway to hotel developers.

President Therese Murray is a strong supporter of the expansion. So strong, in fact, that in a speech last month before the Boston Chamber of Commerce, she quoted verbatim the talking points of Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Jim Rooney, who says the expansion will vault the state into the top five convention destinations in the country and create thousands of jobs and $184 million of additional economic impact every year ....

Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration...said in a phone interview that convention space in the United States grew from 40 million square feet to 71 million square feet between 1990 and 2013, but tradeshow demand has been flat since 2000. Moreover, Boston’s expansion would occur alongside expansions planned or proposed in cities such as Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

“There is nothing Rooney can do to make Boston a top-five convention destination,” Sanders said.

Joan Eisenstodt, a Washington-based national event planner, said competition sometimes prompts convention centers to virtually give away space to lure conventions, which pokes a hole in so-called economic impact. She also said a bigger Boston center may actually amplify Boston’s current weaknesses, such as our growing congestion.

Nashville faces a perfect storm of 1) post-sexy-beast debt that will plague the next administration and drag down the Metro budget, 2) image-conscious politicians who will be tantalized by pretty new capital projects to pad resumes, 3) outside competition from foolhardy cities like Boston who are trying to keep up in the race to the next big thing. That convergence assures that Nashville will be before long looking to expand its brand new Music City Center.

Also, consider for a moment some of the logic behind the Mayor's new plan for an east-west bus rapid transit connector to serve the convention center. Music City Center has created more Downtown traffic congestion. The Amp is designed to alleviate that, which in turn, provides another rationale when MCC expansion is proposed by a future mayor. The Amp will likely free up room for even more congestion caused once future MCC expansion is approved.

These capital projects look more and more like vicious circles within which Nashville is suspended and within which taxpayers are trapped. When does it stop? Where do we reach the tipping point where the costs destroy the few benefits that trickle down to us?

And how long before Music City Center starts giving away space because their competitors are doing it? Not long. Try August. A convention of convention planners is getting a free ride from Metro:

Cities trying to keep their massive convention centers busy bend over backwards to bring Graham’s group to town.

Nashville isn’t charging a dime for using the new Music City Center. And the Convention and Visitors Corporation is spending roughly $1.5 million to provide everything from private concerts with country music superstars to Nashville-branded air fresheners in taxicabs.

CVC president Butch Spyridon says it makes sense to waive the rental fee and go all out.

“You’ve got to build a mousetrap to capture the money,” he says. “And if you want to be in the game, you have to be competitive.”

Convention planning. Nice work if you can get it, thanks to the sweetheart treatment planners get from municipal governments who choose to remain willfully ignorant about independent studies on convention trends. Money buys other "studies" to the contrary.

In the meantime, the drag on Metro services caused by Music City Center, the expensive albatross that many of us have been concerned about, is already here:

In its first year of operation, the Music City Center convention hall failed to meet projections for hotel bookings, saw its surplus revenue fund drop by nearly $8 million and had its bond rating downgraded ....

At a cost of $623 million, Music City Center, which opened in May of last year, is the most expensive civic project in Metro's history. The center, overseen by the city's Convention Center Authority, also triggered $245 million in public spending for the headquarters Omni Hotel.

The project's supporters remain confident and paint a different picture of Music City Center. They point to a self-reported economic impact of $125 million through March in addition to a wave of expensive hotel renovations and potential new downtown projects ....

However, the real challenge for the Convention Center Authority appears to be lurking in the next three fiscal years, when incentive payments for the Omni and debt payments for the center will escalate, while hotel bookings in those years continue to lag behind expectations. Hotel bookings are important, because the Music City Center and Omni incentives are funded with a series of tourist taxes.

Cheerleaders for Music City Center can spin their own "economic impact" numbers any way they wish. When Nashville's Mayor annually proposes slashing the budgets of Metro departments, we are not fooled by the spin. The benefits are not trickling down. Any impact is negligible for those of us on the outside of tourism looking in. The cheerleaders make their money off the taxes we kick in to provide free conventions for tourists. Of course, they are not going to acknowledge reality. To do so would cut against their financial interests in keeping public money flowing to their coffers.

In the meantime, get ready for future build outs. The tourism industry has an addiction to feed. The rest of us are the saps backing these transactions, watching our money flow into a bottomless pit of big boxes in need of future expansion. The spin cycle won't stop any time soon.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Another tear-down builder rumbles in 12 South

Before [via Google Maps]

After


A dispatch I received from the 12South neighborhood:

an enormous orange excavator drove (scraped/slid/whatever) up our street, marring up the pavement with the huge metal treads as it turned and moved to squeeze between our cars. Aside from not being street legal, this thing was huge and loud - if a kid ran out in front of this, I doubt very seriously they would see it before something bad happened. Why these things are driving around the streets, I have no idea. It really bothers me that the developers have such little regard for the neighborhood. That excavator is now demolishing a historic home on 10th ave. They're tearing it down from the back, my guess is to keep a low profile.

They do it because they can. As many times as I have talked to builders over the years, I don't recall a single one asking about the welfare of my kids or inviting an open discussion about the impact of their developments on children in the neighborhood.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blue Angels over Salemtown

This morning the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels flew over Downtown Nashville to take team promotional shots. From my vantage point they took three passes over the Downtown area. The first one included a path 500 to 1,000 feet over Salemtown during which I took these shots (click on to enlarge):






Saturday, June 07, 2014

Unearthed in Salemtown: artifact connected to Germantown pharmacist and former political leader in Nashville



Earlier today I was doing some yard work and found a small medicine bottle near the back alley with the name "Gus A. Blodau" embossed on it.

Here is what I found out about Gus Blodau with some initial research. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Gustave Aldophus Blodau was born somewhere in Tennessee in 1868 and married to Linda Hoff Blodau. He owned a pharmacy at the corner of 5th Ave. N. (at one point named "Summer St. N.") and Monroe St. The records seem to suggest that his father, John, and a son, George, died around that same intersection. Perhaps in the family home?

Here is what the 1913 Bulletin of Pharmacy says about Gus Blodau:

... a well-known pharmacist of Nashville, Tenn., has for years been conspicuous in the political life of the city. In 1889 he was elected to the City Council. He was re-elected to the Council three times, and during his last term was president of the body. Following this service, he was appointed a member of the Board of Education by one mayor, and reappointed last January by the present mayor. In this capacity Mr. Blodau has made several trips of inspection to different cities around the country, and has made a particular study of manual training. Much credit is due him for the excellent provision now being made for manual training in the new half-million-dollar high school under erection in Nashville [Hume-Fogg?]. Incidentally it may be said the Mr. Blodau is a firm believer in public ownership, and during his service as a member of the City Council he assisted Mayor Head in the installation of a municipal lighting plant, which has made Nashville one of the best lighted cities in the South.

I dug up interesting local history with the little bottle.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Council member defends reducing size of Metro Council: "You're less represented every time somebody is born in your district"

Today's Nashville Scene reports that CM Emily Evans is taking a presentation (this conservative one?) around to small groups in the community.

Parenthood ≠ power
The spin over at the Scene is that her proposal is not so much emphasizing shrinking the Metro Council as it is trading long-term CM term limits for shrinking the Metro Council. The newspaper's spin also casts the question of whether we might trade less representation for CMs being able to stick around longer (including the ones whom we find appalling).

Sound appealing? Less representation, less influence alongside longer term limits for bad and good apples? What will control freaks do when bad CMs stick around longer and feel emboldened to ignore constituents because they are insulated by higher numbers of them?

Oh, I forgot their leap of faith: a smaller Metro Council automatically attaches to quality leadership. Bad apples will not bob to the top. Voters in larger groups make better decisions. Or at least that rationalization is what supporters tell me when I ask for good reasons to back their cause.

As for the justifications for the grand bargain of Emily Evans, they continue to defy common sense:

"You're less represented every time somebody is born in your district and every time somebody new moves into your district," she tells the Scene

Wow. Did she really say that our newborns cause us to have less representation on the Metro Council? Is she really insinuating that voters who live in districts that grow have less representation, that those who live in districts people flee have more influence over the political process? Less representation is "natural"?! What?!!

There is defying common sense, then there is stripping and shaming it:

"The Metro model will always inherently favor the mayor, but she says a smaller council would have some more muscle."

The way to have more muscle is to become smaller? Does that muscle analogy apply to literal muscles, too? Smaller muscles have more muscle than larger muscles?

Before we agree to a referendum to rewrite the Metro Charter to reduce our representation, let's be more level-headed and plant our feet firmly on the ground, free of temptation to join these leaps in logic.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

While Metro Planning trains neighborhood leaders, in other places neighborhood leaders do the training

For all of its hype, Metro Planning's attempt at developing a community-influenced county-wide plan, called "NashvilleNext", has always felt like a do-over to me. Years ago when we worked producing community plans (like North Nashville's) it seemed like Planning Director Rick Bernhardt was attempting to involve the community. I have never understood the reason for leaving behind the community plans that many of us gave a great deal of time and energy to develop.

When the planner in the NashvilleNext video below talks about how she and others have worked the past year with community meetings to bring us to the current NashvilleNext plan, I'm left with the sense that if they can so easily replace our community plans with NashvilleNext blueprints based on gimmicks like post-it notes and spinning wheels, why can't they just abandon the NashvilleNext plan behind once it is written? Sticky notes are easily misplaced.

And what troubles me deeply about video on the NashvilleNext plan is that community leaders have to be trained to be "better engaged". Leaders are already by definition plugged in, aren't they? Rather than finding out from leaders what they need, it seems like Bernhardt's department is doing a total about face.

 


Compare Metro's classroom-style treatment of neighborhood leaders to a neighborhoods conference recently held in Oregon, where neighborhood leaders trained other neighborhood leaders.

The risk of simply allowing Metro government officials to "train" Nashville's neighborhood leaders is that the expectations of the latter may not be effectively communicated to the former. The power equation causes government leaders to manage the expectations of neighborhoods rather than respond to them with good service. Neighbors are more than trainees, and planners should approach them with their own open, teachable hearts.


UPDATE: The Nashville Civic Design Center did not mean to say only what appeared in their Twitter stream about Metro Planning's intentions in NashvilleNext "trainings," but part of the problem of feeding Twitter their messages from other social media applications is that the 140 character tweet truncates and distorts the message. The casual observer scanning their Twitter feed might be left with the impression that, again, planners are educating the community about themselves:




While a purely innocent in intention, the tweet does communicate a flawed message.

Council member opposes plan to shrink Metro Council

I have yet to see a strong argument that persuades me that shrinking the Metro Council will make that body a force with which the Mayor will have to reckon in the future. The arguments in favor are either partisan, histrionic or contrived. On the other side, opponents of shrinking the Metro Council issue all kinds of intelligent warnings about the risks entailed so that even at my most open moments to being partial to a smaller council, they pull me back to rationality.

Take CM Fabian Bedne who posted his opposition yesterday on Facebook:
Some people are tempted to change the size of the Council because they believe that the larger numbers contribute to the perceived weakness of the Council as compared to the power given by the Metro Charter to the Executive (Mayor). Although there could be an argument made that the Charter slants the balance of power toward the Executive, a reduction in the number of council members would do little to alter the perceived balance of power.

Our Metro system of government allows regular citizens to run for a council seat. We elect members from all backgrounds with deep roots in the community, that understand what really needs to be done to make communities flourish -- both large and small. If we need to change anything, it should be in the direction of how to encourage more of our neighbors to run for Metro Council.

If the concern is to strengthen the Council there are better ways to do so. An increase in the Council's budget could provide staff members to do research about proposed legislation that would be a tremendous benefit to council members. Additionally, funds from a budget increase could be used to educate council members about issues and processes.

Cannot argue with the logic. To believe that size alone is cause of council weakness is foolishness. CM Bedne sees that from the inside.

Flag this tweet for future reference



Context for this tweet: Nashville Scene reporter Steven Hale and I were debating whether District 23 CM Emily Evans should be consuming time working on resolutions to shrink the council as well as on a PR effort outside of the council to persuade neighborhoods to sign her petition on the question. After pointing out that I have read some constituents' concerns that this initiative is becoming a drain on time CM Evans might spend on their issues, I alluded to the possibility that a PR firm (like The Calvert Street Group) might be being paid to do the time-consuming campaign so that CM Evans might not have to. Steven Hale's reply to my speculation is the tweet posted above.

A PR firm describes what they do.
I'm just making note of his reply in case at some future time we find out that a PR firm is indeed being paid to shape public perceptions on CM Evans' wish to shrink the council.

One other point: it is cheaper for the lobbyists at any PR firm to have a smaller council to influence and leverage rather than a larger one like we have. If a PR firm is getting paid for working this campaign, it would be like double dipping to win it.