Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Metro Council stops the Mayor's Fair Board appointment and a council candidate takes it personally

I, like many, received an email blast last week from Save Our Fairgrounds, one of the few groups that has organized and defeated Mayor Karl Dean soundly on one of his major sell-off plans. The blast warned of Hizzoner's latest bid to appoint Eric Malo to the Fair Board. SOF called our attention back to 2011, when Mr. Malo advocated demolishing the Fairgrounds racetrack, which he pinned as the culprit for the pollution of nearby Browns Creek. He also supported selling off the public property to private interests for construction.

The irresponsible claim that the racetrack is the cause of the pollution of Browns Creek, whose watershed parallels railways, crosses under roads and intersects interstates, is enough for me to wonder whether Mr. Malo can fairly serve on the Fair Board. After 4 years, I am still waiting to see some of the negative energy vented at the Fairgrounds turned into a positive collaborative watershed alliance between Mr. Malo's group and other community groups. Something like the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance is what I have in mind. If I had read somewhere that Mr. Malo had taken part in real watershed preservation since 2011, I would have a launch point for parting with Save Our Fairgrounds on his appointment.

However, there was nothing in the present coverage of the council debate last Tuesday (I watched the debate myself) to make me think that Mr. Malo had made moves beyond Karl Dean's plan to some larger vision. The council defeated the mayor's appointment to the Fair Board, and I have no problem with that. It is actually refreshing that the council debated one of the mayor's board appointments for once. They typically rubber stamp them.

As if on cue, another player from the 2011 unpleasantness, Colby Sledge, insinuated himself into the council decision not to appoint the mayor's man to the Fair Board. Mr. Sledge is now running for the council seat of district 17, and I guess he sees the board appointment as important to his current campaign because he tweeted:

What was the petty political agenda? Seriously? A grassroots group--opposing the mayor's plan to tear down first the Fairgrounds and then the attached racetrack and sell them to private developers--organized once again to oppose one of his appointments to the board charged with oversight on the basis of that person's support for the mayor's plan. They petitioned the council harder than Mr. Malo's supporters did. It is politics, but how is it petty?

It is surely nothing like the pettiness of Mr. Sledge (who again lives in council district 17) in inserting himself four years ago into the district 24 race to try to torpedo Jason Holleman's campaign because CM Holleman opposed tearing down the Fairgrounds. The pettiness was compounded by the already expressed sentiment that no one outside of Mr. Sledge's anti-Fairgrounds group, Neighbors for Progress, should have a say in what happens to the Fairgrounds.

But Neighbors for Progress, who launched a website that no longer exists to promote a tear-down petition that only garnered 500 signatures (after thousands were projected) and turned out 35 speakers at council public hearing as the other side turned out 3,000, appeared to be astroturf.  I have my doubt's that Mr. Sledge's group was ever anything but marginally "grassroots," particularly since under his leadership, the group's agenda seemed to shift with whatever tactical moves the Mayor's Office was making at any particular point of popular resistance, including Karl Dean's advocacy of Sarah Lodge Tally over CM Holleman in 24.

Maybe Colby Sledge could not muster any more popular support for Mr. Malo than he could for demolishing the Fairgrounds and then the attached racetrack. Thus, his "friend" lost a board appointment as a statement about the future of the Fairgrounds. But there was never a need to personalize this as candidate Sledge has. Maybe he should direct his anger at council "progressives" like Ronnie Steine, Megan Barry and Jerry Maynard, who could not line up the votes to appoint.

As for CM Steine, he could not line up votes because he was too busy concocting false analogies: Mr. Malo's past opposition to the racetrack versus council opponents of Music City Center construction who nonetheless support it now. Well, if any of the latter wish to seek an appointment to the convention center authority and CM Steine wants to organize community opposition to them, you won't hear complaints here. Good luck with that, councilman.

The irony here is that the council followed proper procedure, stunt-free, to defeat the mayor's appointment of Mr. Malo to the Fair Board; CM Steine has a track record of pontificating on following council process. He also has a knack for breaking with process when convenient for him to do so.

So, spare us the crocodile tears, Mr. Sledge.

Again, this was not about Mr. Malo. The mayor lost this appointment because he tried to place someone who previously echoed his own will-to-demo and penchant to sell off valuable Metro resources. Loyalty tends to trump rationality in his administration. This was also about Mr. Dean and his preference for running end-arounds on democratic process. The track record is clear: the convention center, a Hickory Hollow flea market, the Fairgrounds, the Sulphur Dell ballpark. Those are just the ones that come off the top of my head. (For what it's worth, there are rumors circulating that the Fairgrounds question was deliberately kept out the Nashville Next planning process to avoid the recurrence of embarrassment in the Mayor's Office; I guess there was not as keen an interest in sparing Mr. Malo disappointment).

Karl Dean's decisions express a disdain for democratic process when it does not line up with his growth agenda. Checking this board appointment is not petty. It represents one of the few instances where grassroots organizing keeps the mayor from overreaching and padding the incomes of wealthy developers.

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