Friday, June 30, 2006

Kay Brooks: The Only Board Member Who Asks Questions?

In an obvious attempt to draw herself out from among the other School Board members, Kay Brooks wrote the these comments on her blog after Tuesday's Metro Council meeting:
There was a short [Board of Education] meeting before the [Metro] Council meeting. Sometimes I feel like the only one who questions anything on the agenda.
Sounds to me like Kay may see herself as the only critical thinker on the Board of Education or at least the only one conscientious enough to get more information. Here's an alternative possibility: maybe she faces a steeper learning curve than others, having little or no experience with public schools. That's why those volumes of reading materials in boxes that they sent her can be a little overwhelming. And that's why she has more questions than others. But to suggest that she is the only member who questions anything sounds farfetched to me.

Sometimes I feel like the only one who tries to come up with the top ten questions that I would ask if I were in Kay Brooks' position:
  1. Since I don't support slavery ... errrr ... I mean, public education, why am I here again?
  2. Can Michael Craddock put votes together for me in August like he did in May?
  3. Since feeding children does not really count as education, can we cut the budget and just bring them ice water at lunch time?
  4. You thought I was serious when I advocated open meetings? Do you understand irony?
  5. Will you please watch your language?
  6. Why did I ever request that laptop in the first place?
  7. Are my meetings with Pedro becoming too much like victory jigs with Satan?
  8. If I don't need a nurse for my home school, why does Metro need them in public schools?
  9. Did I thank dear Ludye nearly enough for his courageous vote for me in exchange for a back alley?
  10. Why do I have to keep hearing about my predecessor's accomplishments?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Demolition Man: 6th & Hume Development

One of the More Vexing Results of the Metro Council Budget Process

My Council member, Ludye Wallace, is going to get $50,000 in discretionary funds to spend on his pet projects. Why? Because,
the council created a $1.95 million discretionary fund that members could use to pay for infrastructure improvements in their districts, nonprofit agency grants or other needs the council has not yet defined.
I learned from watching the budget and finance discussions that the fund comes from past years' delinquent property taxes collected this year.

I am troubled that the conservative horde hypocritically accepted the windfall funds rather than each committing to return their share to taxpayers, which would be consistent with their proclaimed anti-tax values. I am bothered that Charlie Tygard did not use his $50,000 to fund his Habitat Love-In Project. But most of all I am anxious that Ludye Wallace--who allegedly trades votes for alleys and lost $2,000 while visiting constituents in a gambling house social club--is running around with $50,000 to spend on his pet projects. God help us all in District 19.

Sales Tax Issues with the Music City [Convention] Center

Wage asked a critical question of members of Nashville Charrette this week regarding the convention center coalition's promotional literature on taxes. Chris's query spurred some discussion, which did not get entirely off the ground for what seems to be a lack of information. So, I'll raise Chris's question here: what is the breakdown for Nashville sales tax revenue as far as its source, residents vs. tourist dollars? I would think that only a lion's share of tourist dollars flooding back into Nashville proper would justify a new convention center.

Also important was the list administrator's response to Chris that local sales taxes--even though collected at high percentages--account for less that 20% of Metro Nashville's revenues, while property taxes account for half of all revenues. He also asks the logical question: why eat up six blocks on behalf of a non-property-tax owner, when Metro could spur mixed-use development that would bring at least twice as much revenue into Metro coffers?

Charlie Tygard's Broadside Against the Arts

Council member Charlie Tygard told the Nashville City Paper that, because he could not get some department cuts that he wanted, he went after Arts Commission. That was popular with the conservative horde in Council chambers, who no doubt see Piss Christ in every statue that doesn't resemble Billy Graham and a cross. Council responded by slashing $258,400 from Arts, sending it instead to the Sheriff's Office. The spirit of Fate Thomas was no doubt lurking around the chambers near Tygard's corner when he hatched that misdirection. An extra cheap jail clean-up detail or two make a few constituents happy; meanwhile Nashville's relative poverty of public art will continue.

Tygard also raided the Mayor's Office and leveraged $50,000 so that Council members could build one single Habitat for Humanity home and feel closer. Now, I'm not down on Habitat. They are an effective private charity that makes a real difference in people's lives. But Tygard's primary intentions are not to build a house for a needy family; his primary intentions are to sponsor a bonding event for current Council members. The buzz is that the event is also self-promotional: Tygard is running for Vice Mayor. So, why raid the Mayor's budget so that Charlie Tygard can promote a Kumbaya Council and his own electability? Seems to me that he should have worked for that $50,000 the old fashioned way: by lobbying his cohort for pledges of private donations, which actually may be ethically done in back rooms. Instead, Tygard lazily used Council prerogative to channel public money to this private charity. This may end up costing those of us who benefit from Metro services like the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

Council member Erik Cole called Tygard's amendment and the conservative horde to the carpet:
I don't vote on the budget to make a political statement about who's in the Mayor's office.
No, Mr. Cole, but apparently the conservatives do. Though in the final analysis, Charlie Tygard's single Habitat House will amount to nothing but ground clutter compared to a Purcell legacy that leaves us sidewalks, community centers, and a beautiful downtown public square.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Water Under the Bridge And Over the Curb

So, last night Metro Council accepted the Mayor's hook-up fee raises on developers with the caveat of a "sunset clause," which will require that they reconsider the fees next year. I watched parts of the discussions during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting and the general Council deliberations themselves, and I grew tired of hearing over and over again how council members wanted to make sure that Nashvillians understood that they were not going to vote to raise fees for residents. Raised fees were going to get passed to some residents regardless, so any vote was a vote against the interests of the constituents to some degree last night. That's exactly why I said they stood to come out looking like saps.

But I had no idea just how sappy they would look until they took an extra bite out of the budget that is likely going to hurt some neighborhoods. Council members Jim Shulman and Ginger Hausser were able to amend the budget to extract the Mayor's proposal to eliminate discounts that customers with multiple water meters receive. Multiple water meters do not involve your garden variety single-family home. They involve the big companies and big universities around the area. So, continuing to discount Nashville's big operators means that those of us who live farther down the food chain are the ones who have to pay for the lucky breaks of the few at the top.

Oh, we may not have to pay more in the form of actual monthly payments to Metro Water. But the trade-off for us is that stormwater run-off projects will be put on hold to make up the loss that Shulman, Hausser et al. left in the Mayor's budget. So, those of us who live in neighborhoods that require solutions to our stormwater run-off problems--like the one in this picture of a Salemtown intersection--will lack the services we need. That may not seem like a huge problem now to Metro Council members, but it stands to daisy-chain to other problems, like the potential for property-damaging floods in torrential rains, increases in insurance premiums, the threat of mosquito-borne diseases spreading in neighborhoods where water is allowed to stand, and drops in property values in neighborhoods that have chronic stormwater run-off problems. Are those potential threats worth the risk so that Vanderbilt or Belmont are not inconvenienced by the loss of a discount they get for being large? I bet people who watch rivers run down their street and eat into their yards or seep into their basements for lack of adequate storm sewers don't think so.

Is The Insider "The Insider"?

Council member Michael Craddock may not be living large at the moment. The Nashville Scene, armed with a writing analyst and information from another unnamed Council member, maintains that the backroom deal-maker is "The Insider," the author of an anonymous attack blog called Word on the Street (WOTS), even though Craddock denies it. The Insider promoted school board seat-filler and candidate Kay Brooks, for whom Craddock mustered Council votes, and performed a couple of hatchet jobs on candidate Gracie Porter. So, it would not be too surprising if Craddock was the blogger.

Enclave got drawn into this controversy after Craddock told the Scene that the only blog on which he had taken time to comment was this one. (Scene reporter William Dean Hinton erroneously stated that Craddock "blogged" on Enclave). While I am flattered that Enclave would actually attract various stripes of people, I have got to wander wonder why a conservative would mention a progressive blog as the only one on which he took time to comment (the comment was tame: just that he reads Enclave regularly). The mention seems even more fishy to me in light of the fact that, at the end of May and beginning of June, Enclave conveyed some uncomfortable, unsettling information about Craddock's baby: the lined-up, traded-for votes for the Brooks appointment.

Nonetheless, who am I to question link love from whatever quarter it comes? Thanks to Michael Craddock for sending more readers my way. Don't feel too small if you were outed. You should feel worse about the Council's backroom wheeler-dealer meetings. That's the kind of "Insider" that I don't care for.

And thanks to the Scene for linking Enclave, even though Hinton should learn more about blogging vs. commenting. After all, I have already had to deal with a pro-Kay-Brooks troll who masquerades as the author of Enclave; I do not want readers thinking that Michael Craddock is blogging on Enclave, too, unless of course Michael Craddock is also the Enclave troll, which would make him a very busy Insider who deserves to be outed.

06/28/2006, 10:45 p.m. Update: Catherine McTamaney, the writing analyst interviewed by the Scene, left a thorough explanation in the comments below of the process by which she identified Michael Craddock as the author of WOTS. Here's an exerpt:
What impresses me most about the number of commonalities between Mr. Craddock's writing and the anonymous blogger is that these similarities come from a very small sample of original text. In other words, it just wasn't that hard to find so many exact matches.
Go read her entire comment. It's very enlightening.

Democratic Voter Disgust with Congress and with the Democratic Party

The Pew Research Center study to which I just referred also found that the anti-incumbency among voters is stronger now than it was in 1994, when the Republicans swept into control of Congress.
  • 38% of independent voters want their Congress members to be replaced in 2006; in 1994 only 27% of independents wanted their members replaced.
  • In 2006, 66% of Democrats want their members of the Republican-controlled Congress replaced; in 1994, 64% of Republicans wanted their members of the Democratic-controlled Congress replaced.
  • Far more voters (38%) than during the Reagan, Bush I, or Clinton mid-terms say that their vote this year is a vote against the incumbent president (George W. Bush).
  • 45% of voters say that Congress has accomplished less than usual; 38% of voters in 1994 said that Congress accomplished less than usual. Of those saying that Congress has accomplished less now, 56% blame Republican leaders, 24% blame both parties leaders, 17% blame Democratic leaders.
According to the same poll, Democrats are more enthusiastic than Republicans are now and than Republicans were in 1994 to vote in the mid-term elections; and Democrats are more optimistic than pessimistic that their party will do better in November. However, only 34% of Democrats or independents who lean Democratic believe that the Democratic Party is doing a good job standing up for its traditional planks on protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and the needy, and representing working people. (Take note, you blue dog Dems like Jim Cooper). 64% say that the Party is doing only a fair or poor job fighting for those planks.

Sounds like to me that the Democratic Party is as due as the U.S. Congress for an overhaul.

The Frist Maneuver: Blame CNN for the Senate's Low Public Regard

Republican Tennessee Senator Bill Frist told CNN that the shrinking regard that the public has for the Republican congressional majority going into the November elections is CNN's fault. Perhaps Senator Frist should pay more attention to polls that show the low priority that Americans place on his pet projects like flag burning, gay marriages, and the estate tax. According to a Pew Research Center study just out, education, the economy, health care, social security and Iraq are the top five priorities for Americans. Blaming CNN is ludicrous when you refuse to allot the necessary time and energy to issues about which Americans are most concerned.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Water Rates to Rise or Not?

Metro Council votes for the final time tonight either to break with the Mayor's raise of developers' water/sewer hook-up fees (thus, assuring that residential water rates will rise) or to back-track to the Mayor's plan to raise developers' water/sewer hook-up fees to the level of suburban fees (thus, leaving residential water rates alone). The only real choice here is whether the Metro Council wants to help developers look good to homebuyers because, either way the cat herd votes, the costs will be passed down to consumers. If they vote to keep hook-up fees low developers will not pass the costs on, but homeowners and tenants will pay Metro Water more money each month. If they vote for the Mayor's raise on developers, then homeowners and tenants will be spared, but homebuyers get stuck with the bill on the front end.

This has never been a cost problem for developers, because they certainly would not eat the extra expense of a hook-up fee raise themselves. So, on that score it does not make too much sense for them to lobby council members as hard as they have in the last few weeks to keep receiving what amounts to public charity in their relatively miniscule Metro hook-up rates. This can only be a PR problem for them, but it is a problem of their own making. It is unrealistic to think that you can go on paying a little over $350 to hook up each house in a major metropolitan area when you are paying anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 in surrounding communities for the same service. The laws of the dollar dictate that your good fortune must end some time (unless suburban governments start lowering their hook-up fees and raising taxes elsewhere). The developers are not going to be the altruist or the patsy in this situation; they'd rather charge someone else than pay the karma they've enjoyed forward.

I do not pity the poor developers. Their recent lobbying efforts show that they are not only able to take care of themselves, but that they also have a significant council contingent who would seriously consider raising the service rates of their more numerous residential constituents before bringing hook-up rates to a more competitive level. Only the council members are going to come off looking like saps in this equation. If they vote with the Mayor, they vote to raise consumer prices; if they vote against they Mayor, they vote to raise consumer prices and they appear to be in the pocket of pro-business special interests. Until that day when the lion lays down with the lamb and when developers come to accept paying their fair share for increased utility costs, I would call the vote with the Mayor the lesser of two evils done to consumers (however, in the interests of ethics I should disclose that I am a property owner with a selfish interest in not paying higher monthly water bills).

Monday, June 26, 2006

City Paper Rolls Out "Rex"

Rex! Sit!

- - Wrigley to Rex Rexroth in Intolerable Cruelty, 2003

It looks like a blog-in-print, but the Nashville City Paper started publishing its "Rex and the City" column today, full of pseudonymous intrigue and juicy innuendo. I guess that Rex will provide cover so that no one reporter or editor at the NCP has to take responsibility for hearsay or facts-not-checked. Can the NCP actually veer any farther away from truth unconventionally than it has at times conventionally in the past? I'm sure if there is a way, Rex will show us the way.

The Point Where Christians Become Tools

Conservative political operative Grover Norquist moved $1 million in Jack Abramoff client money in 1999 to Ralph Reed, who--as leader of Christian anti-gambling groups--was working to defeat lotteries and casinos that would have compteted with Abramoff's tribal and Internet gambling clients [Source].

Just when you thought those evangelical groups like the Christian Coalition were based on moral principles, you come to to find out that they were a merely front for helping to eliminate the competition in an unfree marketplace.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ballpark Geometry

In her recent Nashville Scene article, "Soundsville" (I think "Soundstown" has a much better ring to it), Christine Kreyling mentions three aspects of the new plans that she is less than satisfied with. I want to address two of them:
  1. From a "design perspective" the residential and retail components (including the "too tall" condo tower next to Gateway) are "wedged willy-nilly onto the site."
  2. The ballpark's form is diluted by the awkward turn of the corner at Gateway and 1st Avenue, where a square porch juts out from the stadium's rounded home plate wall.
In my opinion, point #1 is somewhat off base and worth a critical response. Point #2 seems an entirely valid criticism of the Struever Bros. master plans for the corner.

Let's consider Kreyling's "willy nilly" wedge criticism first. One of the charming strengths of the planned ballpark that I have emphasized before is the classically urban manner in which it and the surrounding developments are being shoe-horned into a space without altering easements or fabricating faux impressions of unusual angles. I'm no design specialist, but it seems to me that part of the trade-off for literally building a park like the old ones is that regular geometric architecture will seem wedged in and somewhat forced. I'm not sure how the buildings could look unwedged.

Moreover, baseball is unique in the sporting world insofar the different urban landscapes forced the homefield boundaries to be asymmetrical and variable, rather than congruous and identical to any other. Baseball's order also entertains some chaos. The basic lines (baselines and distance from pitcher to batter) internal to the game may be uniform, but the boundaries of the game vary from field to field. Contortion and wedging are central to baseball's design. Surrounding architecture is going to be affected by that design.

Besides the practical limitations of this unorthodox fit I do not see aesthetic problems in the initial plans. When I look at the architectural renderings of the field-box view of the proposed parking garage behind the left field fence, I see a shorter, smaller version of the long lateral warehouse feature behind the rightfield bleachers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And design-wise, the Shelby Street Bridge seems to extend that sense of latitude over center field in the sketches. The Camden Yards ballpark is widely acknowledged as one of the more attractive ones in baseball, rather than as one attached to a building wedged willy nilly.

On the charge of willy nilliness, though, I wonder if one cannot look at another attractive park and judge the same of the neighborhood bordering it. The neighborhood standing behind the outfield bleachers at Wrigley Field in Chicago provides a backdrop of various kinds of buildings of different scales that might be considered willy nilly. There are low-rise brownstone townhouses on Waveland Avenue and behind them the high-rises and skyscrapers of vintage and contemporary style that dot Chicago's Northside. The skyline is scattered and varied, but no less snug than if it had been so planned since Wrigley was built almost a hundred years ago. It might be a designer's nightmare, but I bet you would be hard-pressed to find any baseball fans who see it in any other way but beautiful. As long as the buildings themselves on the Soundstown property are attractive and appropriate to the ballpark, I do not see their layout as some kind of random eyesore.

While I fail to see the wedge problems Kreyling does, I absolutely agree with her about the design of the external wall behind homeplate at the corner of Gateway and 1st Avenue. One of the problems I have with many of the new baseball parks designed to look old is that I find one or two prominent elements just off kilter, like the cheesy, strip-mall-inspired "spires" of Ameriquest Field in Texas. (Incidentally, Ameriquest also deconstructs itself by self-presenting an "urban park" in a suburban strip-mall district).

In the plans for the Nashville ballpark, the squared corner that the architects seem to have stuck on the rounded edge behind homeplate is ugly and actually detracts from the ballpark-feel of the place. It is a contemporary sharp geometric point that masks the softer, more nostalgic lines of baseball grandstands, which themselves mirror the outfield bend of the infield dirt. The homeplate entrance being at an intersection is a natural marquee, especially in a walkable neighborhood less reliant on car cultures. The architects would have done better to look to the past for their inspiration for the homeplate entrance. Kreyling mentions Yankee Stadium as a guide.

I would refer them again to Wrigley Field, whose marquee sits at a bustling Chicago intersection. The natural rounded shape of Wrigley Field provides a center and orienting point around which the rest of the neighborhood shops and restaurants radiate. It is a marquee building because it does not exactly mirror the angles of the street like other buildings do. The new downtown ballpark here would only benefit by matching Wrigley's character, even if not exactly duplicating its exterior. People go to Wrigleyville even in the off season just to gawk at Wrigley Field's facade. The Sounds and their architects should drive for the same sort of visual impact at the corner of Gateway and 1st Avenue.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cottage Living's "Top 10 Cottage Communities"

No Tennessee neighborhoods made the list of what Cottage Living magazine called its "Top 10 Cottage Communities." In fact, no Tennessee neighborhoods made the publication's honorable-mention list. When it comes to "places with porches and gardens, parks and playgrounds; streets where you can stroll to locally owned shops" Tennessee seems to have come up lacking or seems to have plenty of rivals to its own "cottage communities," because it was shut out.

Cottage Living's criteria for judging "cottage communities" included:
Homes (30 percent): vernacular architecture, cottage-y scale (not sprawling, in line with original neighborhood design—no teardown zones), affordability (as related to regional income levels and real estate prices), walkability

People (30 percent): diverse and caring neighbors, well-organized community network, social events for fun and good causes

Shops and Hangouts (20 percent): colorful, independent retail stores and eateries within walking distance.

Greenspace (10 percent): parks, playgrounds, nature preserves.

Cottage Twist (10 percent): signature characteristic that brings a smile.
Communities closest to Nashville making the list were in Asheville, NC and in Indianapolis, IN.

Republican Guv One State to the North Bans Progressive Political Speech

Kentucky's Republican Governor, Ernie Fletcher, has apparently blocked the 34,000 state employees from viewing any liberal blogs.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why I Won't Be Voting for a Democrat in the 5th Congressional District This Year

That Congress hasn‘t exercised ... any meaningful oversight .... Whether we‘ll have a change in parties and will that make a difference ... I have a really low impression of both of these parties. I think that we are going through a political devolution.

- - George Washington Professor Jonathan Turley on MSNBC last week

And the answer to political devolution is not doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Middle Tennesseans have re-elected a Democrat to the U.S. Congress in District 5 every term since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Keep in mind the definition of "insanity." Those of us who are progressive Democrats cannot keep voting for the blue dogs of the world like Jim Cooper just because they are not Republicans but then expect different results than their general support for conservative causes.

So, I cannot in good conscience vote for Jim Cooper again. He failed to take a clear stance on net neutrality and then he voted to cow to the corporations who fund him, which killed it. That's not too surprising given that nearly 83% of his PAC contributions come from pro-corporation PACs. Mr. Cooper consistently votes for policies that side with corporations and insurance companies on issues of bankrupcy law and medical malpractice compensation. He has made his allegiance clear: he seems to prefer corporate regulation of industry over common people's access to it. The Republicans are comfortable enough with Cooper that they are only running token opposition in the form of an extreme rightwing candidate, who does not seem to be enjoying Party Chair Jon Crisp's own promotion.

So, this year I will be voting for progressive independent candidate Ginny Welsch. Being a political pragmatist about third party candidates, I do not make this rare decision lightly. Ginny made the effort to contact me personally, and we sat down over coffee and had a thorough conversation about her campaign and the issues. I came away impressed with her ideas. I came away impressed by her savvy. I came away believing that she is a viable alternative for Democrats disillusioned with the status quo.

Let me give an example of Ginny's savvy on the issues currently facing average Tennesseans. I have been a proponent on Enclave of raising the minimum wage, because since the 1970's (when minimum wage earner made over $9.00 an hour in adjusted-for-inflation dollars) the minimum wage has been depressed with the purpose of creating a wage class of teenagers with summer jobs rather than with the goal of supporting a baseline living-wage class just trying to feed their families. Ginny understands that raising the minimum wage to a living wage is an investment (and all investment have costs on the front end). I would call her approach to the minimum wage "trickle out and up." Raising the minimum wage generates more disposable income spent more broadly across the economy. Money does not stay locked in the premium tier of industries, but through the increased spending of lower-income classes, it more broadly benefits diverse kinds of small and large businesses. Also, as Ginny points out, raising the minimum wage sets the bar higher for the wages above. So, all boats rise on the higher tide below. This is all common sense to me, but the current crew of federales seems to lack common sense.

So, my vote for Tennessee's 5th Congressional is locked in. Only it is not locked in for a blue dog this time around. I'm voting for Ginny.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Middle-Income Neighborhood

Are we witnesses to the death of the American Dream? A Brookings Institution analysis just out of the 1970 t0 2000 census data for neighborhoods in the 100 largest metro areas finds that middle-income neighborhoods are an increasingly endangered species. Staggering to me is how the decline of middle-income neighborhoods in three decades has lead to class polarization and segregation as lower-income families become more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods and less likely to have the opportunity of a growing stock of middle-income neighborhoods to move into. 55% of lower-income families lived in middle-income neighborhoods in 1970; by 2000 only 37% lived in middle-income neighborhoods. Middle-income neighborhoods as a proportion of all metropolitan neighborhoods dropped from 58% to 41% over the same period. That is an incredible sign of the times.

Southern Republicans Block 2007 Renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Have southern Republicans become so cocky and complacent that they no longer need to prove to impartial judges that they are committed to protecting the voting rights of minorities in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia?

Yesterday's NY Times Article on Downtown Nashville Development

The "City Living in Nashville" story came across to me as mostly a marquee PR piece for Tony Giarratana. It is getting some necessary constructive criticism at the Charrette.

It stands to be one of the topics of discussion during darts and draughts at tonight's Charrette meet-up at Mulligan's Pub on 2nd Av. (7:00).

The Race Card

Writing on media coverage of ghastly murder and mutilation of Eritrean refugee and Downtown Nashville fixture Freweini Gebremicael, Nashville Scene reporter P.J. Tobia noted:
[T]hough local business owners, musicians and artists have teamed up to put on benefit concerts to raise money for the children she leaves behind, her strange and gruesome death has gone largely unnoted in the local press. Aside from a paid obituary, The Tennessean ran only a 48-word news brief (headline included) that was essentially a press release copied from the Metro police’s website. WKRN—Channel 2—did a short piece about her funeral that her family says was attended by more than 250 mourners. For one of the most shocking local murders in recent memory, this paucity of coverage is remarkable, especially considering how well liked the victim was.
Just try and convince me that the paucity of coverage of this horrid and suspicious murder/mutilation has nothing to do with the fact that Ms. Gebremicael was both black and African, and therefore less significant in the minds of local reporters, editors, producers, and publishers. Try and convince me of why her death and remembrance require any less attention than the murder of Janet March or the disappearance of Tabitha Tudors, whose only common denominator beyond achieving complete media saturation was the lightest color of skin. I dare you to even try.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bad Choice of Words

In a Nashville City Paper "news analysis" this morning, Jared Allen chose some bad phrasing about the 2000 presidential election "view" of Tennessee son Al Gore:
The [friendly, personable, passionate and very witty] Gore who appears in the film [An Inconvenient Truth] to outline his dedication to educating the world about the dangers of global warming could not be further from the person America saw running for president in 2000.
Al Gore was not just seen a certain way. He was also mercilessly spun by conservative talk show hacks. And the main- tamed-stream media tended to channel that spin without so much as a critical second thought.

From the misuse of a 1980 Tennessean misquote about Erich Segal's Love Story to the perpetuation of New York Times and Washington Post misquotes on Gore's claims about investigations of Love Canal to the deliberate and willful obfuscations of Gore taking credit for fighting for funding for Arpanet (the emergency military precursor that became the Internet), Al Gore was spun and misrepresented by the media as some kind of blowhard that he was not. And the 21st Century political climate being the dystopia that it is, any hint of stiffness on top of alleged false braggadocio becomes a mortal sin for the viewing audience.

During elections Americans seem to allow the media to strap them down like Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, drugging them with news as entertainment and with the staged world as the real world while manipulating the pictures to produce aversion and attraction (in Gore's case, the images produced were largely averting). The campaign action projected in front of us in this Ludovico Technique stands or falls on whether it is pitched in a "believable" way or if the actor can at least lower our expectations and distract us by intentionally bumbling words and screwing up aphorisms (as George W. Bush did so masterfully).

That fundamentally tilted the election of 2000. News was pitched through a haze of entertainment and contorted imagery, and large numbers of people submitted themselves to proverbial straps and eyelid retractors. As image/information gatekeeper, the press was only happy to oblige. NCP's Jared Allen only alludes to this when he talks about the berating Gore got in the press, but Allen's earlier bad choice of words, and his later blame of Gore for not fighting a mechanism he did not maintain show that Allen seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Minimum Wage Amendment Kept from Vote; Replaced with Estate Tax Cut Vote

Republicans in the House of Representatives took a minimum wage amendment off of the House schedule in order not to have to cast an up-or-down election-year vote on it. They replaced it with a bill to cut the estate tax. Wealthy win; commoners lose.

BellSouth's "K Street Project" Connections

Our friends in charge of the Batman Building supplied U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)--who with Tom Delay, Grover Norquist, and Jack Abramoff lead the "K Street Project"--with their corporate jet earlier this year two days before he spoke from the Senate floor against elected officials accepting rides on corporate jets. On board with Santorum was BellSouth's top Washington lobbyist. Santorum had also accepted ten other free flights--some on BellSouth's jet--during 2004 and 2005 when he was advocating for legislation favoring BellSouth.

My guess is that the extra costs for jet-setting, or what now amounts to helping Senator Santorum get re-elected in November, were either passed on to BellSouth's customers or are being claimed as business-related deductions on BellSouth's tax return. Either way, we are subsidizing and supporting K-Street sleaze.

Alley Exchange

Suburban Governments Ringing Metro Charge Developers Much More for Water Connections

Is everything cheaper in the 'burbs? Not according to this morning's Nashville City Paper:
A study commissioned by the Water Department shows though Metro currently collects only $366 in fees per new water connection from a typical 162-lot single-family subdivision, Brentwood collects $2,500 [and] Franklin $2,224 .... For sewer connections, Metro collects about $1,049, although other cities, again, charge considerably more.
Without wading into the debate over whether developers here in Metro should be charged more than the bargain $366, I would say that Brentwood and Franklin tax by other means on the front end. Hence, they do not need the reduced wholesale water and sewer deals that Metro has given some of them in the past. We need to end those suburban subsidies.

Democracy for Tennessee Endorses School Board Candidate Gracie Porter

Progressive group Democracy for Tennessee included District 5 candidate Gracie Porter in an announcement today. Here's their release on Porter:
GRACIE PORTER is running for the Metro School Board in one of Nashville's most controversial races in many years. Gracie, a former principal who has spent 34 years working in Nashville's public schools, is running against a right-wing opponent who homeschools her children and does not inherently believe in public education. The District 5 race is the opening volley of a coordinated Republican Party attack to politicize Metro Government and "take over" Nashville. Gracie is dedicated to ensuring quality, diversity, and excellence in Nashville's schools.
They left out the most important part of the info on Brooks' appointment: that she was appointed by a group of conservative Metro Council members who allegedly made unethical backroom deals with a couple of other Council members to get her in. When are Michael Craddock and his gang going to be investigated?

Tennessee General Assembly Has Not Yet Preempted Local Food Control

According to Environmental Commons, 15 states have already passed legislation to preempt and prohibit local regulation and restrictions on seeds and plant species. These laws are the result of a two-year effort on the part of lobbyists with the American Farm Bureau Federation and biotechnology industries to stop local communities from specifically regulating genetically modified foods (GMOs).

The harshest restriction of local autonomy seems to be a Texas law, which states: "a political subdivision may not adopt an ordinance or rule that restricts the planting, sale, or distribution of noxious or invasive plant species." Texans cannot even stop "noxious" or "invasive" plants from being put upon their municipalities and neighborhoods?

I searched for evidence of trends in the Tennessee General Assembly that might suggest that the agribusiness and biotech lobbyists were trying to generate legislation, but I could not find any. The most I could find was a passing reference to the controversy around GMOs in a January 2004 Economic Report to the Governor (p. 33). Even if there is no indication of a drift that way, one would have to assume that Tennessee is probably in play for these lobbyists, especially with the corporate-friendly environment that exists up on the Hill. Three states bordering Tennessee have either passed preemption laws or flirted with doing so.

Environmental Commons has a continuously updated bill tracker for each state. We need to keep our eye on it and challenge any GMO-related bills that come up in future sessions. I've added the tracker to my sidebar for your convenience.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Palette Change from "Love Ya Blue" to Chartreuse on Crack

An already unsightly corner store in Salemtown getting repainted: there are some things uglier than a satellite dish bolted to one's porch.

It's a New Raw Deal: The Federales Are No Federalists

For all of their talk about "New Federalism" and "letting the states decide" policy matters, the Republican powers-that-be in the U.S. House and Senate have done more to remove the prerogative of states to determine their own policy than any Congress in recent past. A minority report from the Committee on Government Reform is just out identifying several areas that the U.S. Congress has preempted state laws and regulations to advance a conservative cultural agenda from the top and to strengthen conservative executive power over local, democratic initiatives.

Since 2001, the House and the Senate voted 57 times to overrule state authority. The multiple preemptive provisions in those bills amount to 73 total against state authority. President Bush has signed 27 of these bills into law, amounting to 39 distinct preemptive provisions against states. In most cases, these bills focused on areas where the Republican leadership's policy preferences differed from the polices adopted by state government or the decisions of state courts:
The preemptive bills passed by the House and the Senate nullify a wide array of state laws and regulations and significantly erode the authority of state courts. Some of the bills federalize traditional state authorities, such as state land-use decisions and issuance of state drivers' licenses. Others prevent the states from protecting their citizens from emerging threats, such as computer spyware or the growing problem of unsolicited email.

Some of the preemptive bills are narrow in scope but represent an unprecedented intrusion into purely state and local matters, such as the law that stripped Florida state courts of jurisdiction over the end-of-life decisions of the [Terry] Schiavo family. Other bills would overturn a huge swath of existing state laws and regulations, such as the House-passed bill that would block state regulation of food safety. Some of the bills advance the interests of large Republican campaign contributors, such as the law that preempts state regulation of information-sharing among affiliates of large financial institutions. Others impose social values held by a minority of Americans on communities across the nation.
Tennessee Senator Bill Frist figures prominently in the report, especially on attempts to override states not passed by the Congresss.

It would seem that the "let-the-states-decide" mantra in the Republican Party is actually a trojan horse designed to hide the many ways that they are actually taking power from the states and concentrating it at the federal level. New Federalism Federales are paradoxically undermining our republic.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Jury Is Still Out on Effects of White Gentrification on Black Communities

Monday's Washington Post has a relevant article on the loss of historic core black communities in northwest urban cities (originally the result of race-restrictive covenants in white suburbs in the 1950's and 1960's) due to white gentrification, high demand for property in urban corridors, and the ease with which African Americans can now move to the suburbs due to integration gains. It's a fascinating look into the various dynamics of our neighborhoods.

HGTV Comes to Salemtown

Two of my relatively new neighbors, Jeff and Morgan, found their house in Salemtown with the help of HGTV's production, House Hunters, so they've been spending time lately with film crews. They invited us to a house warming party, which was being filmed for the last segment in their episode, (to air at some undisclosed date later in the year). Did you know that HGTV was based in Knoxville? I just found that out today.

I wasn't jealous at all of Jeff and Morgan getting the air time. They are a vibrant couple who look good in pictures. I was completely jealous of how great their grass looked. I couldn't find a single weed.

The guests were well-fed and well-behaved. The man in black at the deck rail is the renowned John H. of the blog Salem's Lots.

I was amazed that the rain held off for the filming.

It must have been meant to be; apparently, there are no accidents on HGTV.

Morgan chats it up with her captivated audience in real time and for broadcast time. I think that their dog, Stinky, stole the show.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


One of the Stronger Justifications for a Metro Nashville Public Wi-Fi

Our children are at a disadvantage compared to others. Less than 50% have home internet access.

A Williamson County administrator says, "[Williamson County's 89% student internet access] shows that parents value the ability for the children to have information at their fingertips." Or it may show that Williamson County parents have more disposable income per capita than Davidson County parents, who value the ability for their children to have the same information no less than Williamson County parents.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Will Metro Council Vote to Secure North and East Nashville?

Neighborhood associations are asking the Council to add $250,000 more for police overtime to deal with drug-dealers. Will the social conservatives on the Council torpedo this request or nullify it by shifting the $250K from other police budget items? Seems that they are faced with a clear choice of taking a bite out of neighborhood crime versus merely nibbling around the edges.

Riddle Me This

A dilemma for your consideration:

A pastor of a church is elected to serve on a committee vested with recommending to local housing authority how best to spend federal money earmarked to address neighborhood development needs. During the process of identifying and evaluating neighborhood needs, the pastor tells the other committee members that his church has acquired land right next to their building. He recommends that the committee advise the housing authority to buy this parcel of land from the church in order to put in a playground for the children on the street where the church sits. (A playground already exists in a public park in the same neighborhood, three blocks from the church. The pastor is concerned that children on his street must cross busy streets to get to the public park). The pastor says that the neighborhood association that he and several others in his church membership belong to will oversee maintenance, upkeep, and security of the private playground and park once installed. When another committee member asks the pastor what agency would take over management of the park if the neighborhood association ceased to exist, the pastor replied that the church would.

Does this request constitute a conflict of interest? Is it appropriate for the committee to advise the housing authority to spend federal money to buy land from a church and hand it over to a neighborhood group whose membership reflects the membership of the church with the possibility that the church might one day re-assume ownership of the land should the neighborhood association cease to exist?

Every Silver Lining Has a Dark Cloud or How the Giants Kiss and Make Up

So, American Airlines and Southwest are now back on colluding speaking terms since they met for hours in a Las Colinas luxury hotel room, kissed and made up, and put the "Wright Fight" to rest for the next several years, unless Congress balks or the "armistice" falls apart.

Conservatives with aspirations are already spinning this decision as promotion of a "free" market and of fair competition, rather than calling it what it is: two proverbial bull elephants in a land of mice taking a break from tusk-sparing over turf. Nobody but small rodents ever stood the chance of actually being hurt, before, during, or after the strife.

Nonetheless neighborhood groups located around Love Field seem delighted with the decision:
Although these leaders were not on the stage or asked to make public statements during the hourlong unveiling of the plan, they were smiling broadly in the audience.

"This is a very, very impressive point in history," said Lori Palmer, founding president of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee and later a Dallas City Council member.

"My most important goal was to protect the neighborhoods, and this package does that," said Ms. Palmer, who lived under the airport's flight path from 1973 to 1999. She lives in Kaufman County but continues to serve as a consultant to the committee.
Joyce Lockley, another longtime neighborhood leader, was also smiling as she clutched her copy of the proposed changes to the Love Field Master Plan.

"When we helped write this plan six years ago, we thought everything was settled," she said. "Now we have a new plan that's supposed to settle things again. I'm feeling cautious but hopeful."

Pat White, who co-chairs the Citizens Action Committee, said it was her group's idea to reduce the number of gates at Love Field – from 32 to 20 – if the Wright amendment flight restrictions are lifted in eight years. Fewer gates would keep the impact of larger airplanes and more flights "virtually neutral" on the surrounding residential areas, she said.

An analysis of the airport noise, for example, estimated that allowing 32 gates without the Wright amendment protections would blanket 31,874 airport neighbors with noise levels of 65 decibels or higher.

With just 20 gates and no amendment, the noisiest levels would affect 23,665 people.

The gate reduction also would hold down air pollution around the airport and cause less traffic congestion, concluded the study by DMJM Aviation and GRA Inc.

"It's a good agreement," said Ms. White, who has lived near the airport for 24 years.

"If everybody sticks to the deal, it's going to work."
All doctrinaire conservativism aside, neighbors are probably getting the most balanced and fair agreement that they may when titanic corporations clash. But at least one neighborhood organizer called it exactly what it is:
William H. Foster, a spokesman for Friends of Love Field, another neighborhood group, was frowning and sharing negative comments with anyone who would listen as the event concluded.

"What about the return to freedom and competition?" he implored after hearing that fewer gates would be shared by three companies, Southwest, American Airlines and Continental Airlines.

"That's a monopoly," he said. "Make that a triopoly."
Back to business as usual. And it's still not clear in the agreement that Nashville's musicians are going to be able to fly Southwest straight into Dallas rather than to Dallas via Austin or New Orleans or Houston, as they have to under the Wright Amendment.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Salemtown Block Grant Citizen Advisory Committee Reprioritizes Slate of Possible Projects

As I reported last month, the Salemtown CAC culled a new list of possible projects on which to spend federal block grant monies based on our previous meetings with Metro Public Works. Last night after what seemed to be the most vigorous debate the committee has had in the past year, members voted to reprioritize the projects left after Metro Public Works identified those that fell under its jurisdiction. Here is a list of the remaining possible projects the committee voted on and the votes that they received last night:

  1. Distinctive street I.D. signs (name blades) -- 8*
  2. Trash receptacles on streets -- 7
  3. Traffic slowing, decorative bulb curb extensions -- 6*
  4. Decorative crosswalks -- 5*
  5. Speed bumps -- 5*
  6. Roundabouts -- 5*
  7. Seed money for children/elderly programs -- 5
  8. Decorative street lights -- 4
  9. Decorative neighborhood entry signs -- 3
  10. Tennis courts -- 3
  11. Microparks -- 3
  12. Lamp posts w/banners -- 2
  13. Public art on 5th Av. -- 2*
  14. Medians -- 1
  15. Purchase blighted lots -- 0
  16. Bury power lines underground -- 0
*I voted for these

Yesterday's results were somewhat different than January's. Street signs remain the favorite in both votes. Entryway signs dropped precipitously from the top to the bottom of the first 10 items. Traffic calming seems a concern as both speed bumps and roundabouts, neither of which got votes in January, each got 5 strong votes last night. Traffic bulbs also jumped in voting. Trash receptacles only got one vote in January, but flipped 6 more in June. Morgan Park tennis courts and decorative street lights were gainers. Public art got 2 more votes than it did in January. Staying about the same were seed money, lamp posts w/banners, purchase blighted lots and buried power lines. Medians lost the most votes and dropped out of the running on concerns that the fire department might oppose the reduction of navigable street space.

If so inclined, please do comment on the June vote results and share your thoughts either here or via my e-mail.

Things Might Have Gone From Bad to Worse at the City Paper

My primary concern used to be that the Nashville City Paper correctly report the basic facts in their stories. Now I've heard, via the Nashville Scene's Bruce Barry, that the NCP is veering immoderately conservative. Now readers must contend with both rightwing bias and error-prone writing. Bad combination and bad start under new management.

Orpheus Schermerhorn

One of the panels on the still-under-construction Schermerhorn Symphony Center downtown. I am guessing that this panel depicts the Greek myth of that musical charmer, Orpheus, who went down to the world of the dead to bring back his wife, whom herself had been killed by a serpent. The three-headed dog at the top would be Cerberus, Hades' (lord of the dead) watchdog, whom Orpheus lulled to sleep with his lyre in order to get in. The story ends tragically as Hades, impressed by Orpheus' musical prowess, allowed him to take his wife, but not look back; Orpheus, of course, looked back and lost his wife again. The male figure on the right may be Hades pulling her back. So, what does this tell us about musicians? That they are quite charming but otherwise foolhardy and incontinent?

By the way, this is the second piece of recent large public art in Nashville to depict nudity (the first being "Musica" over on Music Row). I wonder if it will generate another outcry among the prudes?

"AC" May Not Necessarily Mean "All Clear"

Over the weekend our downstairs air conditioning unit stopped blowing cold air, so we called the AC repair guy in today to check out what we thought would be either a compressor or a Freon leak. The repair guy found that we indeed had a Freon leak in one of the coils, which would have to be replaced (parts under 5 year warranty; labor not under warranty after the first year).

However, he discovered more problems. He noticed water dripping from a secondary condensation drain pipe from the eave. At first he was concerned that it was the primary drain pipe, because it would be bad for a builder not to run the primary drain inside a wall to the ground, so that the water does not have to freefall from any height. But when he discovered it was the secondary drain, it meant that the primary drain was clogged. Unclogging it would, of course, cost us more.

He finally located the primary drain exiting the house in a place no less troubling to him and to me when he showed it to me. The currently clogged drain exited out of the foundation under our deck. This would not be a problem if the water had a place to flow once it left the drain pipe, but because the builder had graded our back yard, ironically, so that water drainage from the yard would flow away from the deck and the foundation, the condensation from the AC unit had been simply exiting the pipe (when unclogged) and had been pooling under the deck and against the foundation, forming a rut in the ground. That rut is lower than the backyard ground level. So, he recommended and I agreed that the primary drain should be shunted away from the deck and out the side of the house to meet up with the natural water runoff.

When we bought the house new in 2004, nobody caught this problem. And he explained why. The location of the drain pipe was just too small of a detail to be noticed. The builder probably trusted the AC installer to put it in the correct way, so he probably didn't check on the exit. The AC installer put it in before there was a deck and he situated the drain out on what he thought was just one of the sides of the house. The deck builder was focused on building a deck and not on what pipes lead where. Once the deck was built, the pipe was out of sight and mind and the backyard was landscaped to suit rainwater runoff. The inspector we hired to check the condition of the house would not focus on where the drain exits, but only confirm that there was a primary drain to deal with condensation. Basically, an AC guy concerned about condensation flow would have thought to locate the pipe, but how many home buyers hire an AC guy to find the condensation flow pipe?

So, now we are paying about $1,000 to fix our leaking Freon with incidentals plus to re-route our condensation drain, lest we pay more later in possible damage/erosion to our house's foundation. While the labor on replacing the coils is not under warranty, I'm kind of glad we had it happen; else we would not have discovered the pipe problem. Do you know where your AC condensation pipe exits your house? If not, you better check!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Today's Oxymoronabundance

During today's NewsChannel 5 Midday, anchor Harry Chapman told his audience that President George W. Bush "boldly" flew into Iraq "under a shroud of secrecy." Setting aside the obvious dereliction of journalistic objectivity in Chapman's use of that first promotional adjective, I would have to call that about as oxymoronic a statement as the Nashville City Paper's description of the Swan Ball as a "grassroots effort."

Predators Get Predatory

It's amazing to me that the [Nashville Predators Hockey Franchise] would talk about Metro's lack of support for the [GEC] when, in fact, taxpayers have spent large sums of money on that facility, and the mayor has just recommended $7.8 million [in his proposed 2006-07 Metro budget] to address virtually every issue that they have requested be addressed.

- - Metro Finance Director David Manning to the Nashville City Paper

As a big "thank you" to Nashvillians for their support of the team, the Nashville Predators are demanding $1 million from the city in what seems to have become a petty bicker. What makes it so petty is that, as Manning points out, Mayor Bill Purcell has budgeted (pending Council approval) the money for their precious new scoreboard and other upgrades that seemed to be in question for awhile; and I thought that they should still be in question. The Preds' panties are in a wad it seems because Council member and Vice Mayor candidate David Briley asked an honest question: should the city support the upgrades if the Predators are not fulfilling their end of the contract to provide the city with a baseline figure of "tangible assets"? The local hockey syndicate needs to unhitch those garters. The mayor is with them, and stirring the pot by demanding more money because their pride was hurt by Briley will only turn popular sentiment against them. They now seem like ingrates, intent on merkin' the city. If they keep acting like this, we're going to have to stop permitting Buck Dozier to shirk his council duties in order "to support them a bit."

In the final analysis, it is not clear to me why the Preds are so ungrateful. Professional sport is not the most lucrative business. This hockey team has a deal in which they assume little risk, because Nashville is footing so much. Nashvillians are the ones assuming most of the risk for the financial success or failure of the Preds off the ice. You would think that might cause the Preds to pause and stick-check their own pride before demanding so much more.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cavalcade of Capitalists: The Fat Oil Cats II

In April, I introduced you to Lee "Fat Bastard" Raymond, retiring Exxon CEO, who--thanks to our dependence on petroleum products and his own sense of excess--is receiving the largest retirement package in history ($400 million). Now come to find out from Jim Hightower that taxpayers will be subsidizing Raymond's rather luxurious retirement until he dies, which gives us the opportunity for the second installment of our sporatically running series, "Cavalcade of Capitalists."

How is Raymond shaking this sugar tree? Exxon is on the hook, being under contract, to pay Raymond's country club fees, provide him their corporate jet, fund personal tax advisers, furnish his security guard and a security system for his palatial home, and supply him with a limo and driver so that he can arrive at the country club for tee time. He also will receive an extra million to serve as "consultant" to the corporation. In return, Exxon gets to deduct these "business expenses" from its corporate income tax, which lets it off the hook and puts the rest of us on it. Thanks, Fat Bastard. Thanks a lot.

Thursday's School Board Candidates Forum Update Updated

Last night I posted the League of Women Voters' list of school board candidates who have committed to the League to attending the candidates forum on Thursday. Today I received a much shorter list from Stands for Children with the names of candidates who have given a "definite yes" to attending. Here is the SFC list:
  1. Jo Ann Brannon (District 2)
  2. Steve Glover (District 4)
  3. Lawrence Hart (District 5)
  4. Gracie Porter (District 5)
  5. Kathleen Harkey (District 8)
The rest of the candidates on the NLWV list have not returned SFC questionnaires, and thus, may or may not be expected to attend. They include:

District 2:
Terri Harris
Michael Kerstetter

District 5:
Kay Brooks

District 6:
Karen Johnson
Duane Dominy
Mebenin Awipi (whose name is misspelled in the NLWV list)

District 8:
David Fox

If the candidates in your district are on the second list, you may want to follow up with them to verify whether they are going to attend the candidates forum, since the NLWV and SFC co-sponsors seem to differ on who is definitely going to be there on Thursday.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Tennessean Interview with Sharon Hurt on Jeff Street Redevelopment

For an update on what Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP) is doing in north-by-northwest Nashville, check out today's Tennessean interview with Director Sharon Hurt.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Kathleen Harkey Confirms Her Attendance at Thursday's School Board Candidates' Forum

Kathleen Harkey, who is the school board member for District 8 (central-south Davidson County, including Eakin and Percy Priest, which my oldest attended when she was younger), is up for re-election in August, and she e-mailed me saying that she has committed to attend Thursday's forum for the school board candidates.

She was also kind enough to recommend an article on public involvement and education that she says is very applicable to this school board and that reflects her own philosophy of public service. It is a PR primer with solutions for overcoming the interface problem between conventional "quick sale" market approaches and essential aspects of public engagement in education. In this article, Scott Widmeyer outlines a dozen lessons learned during decades of reform:
  1. Publicity and promotions are not enough to make a real difference or a lot of money in education;
  2. Invest time and talent to create informed education consumers;
  3. Be patient and prepare for fallout from unintended consequences;
  4. Listen carefully to what the public is saying -- and use polling data wisely;
  5. Beware the perils of pandering to public opinion;
  6. Gain support by behaving like experts;
  7. Help people ask good questions;
  8. Paint a variety of pictures of success;
  9. Take time to educate the education reporters;
  10. Keep corporate leaders at the table;
  11. Be willing to consider real structural changes; and
  12. Make communications an engine of the learning enterprise.
Kathleen Harkey looks like a strong candidate deserving to be returned to the Board of Education. For those interested in getting to know more of her, she is having an ice cream social over in Dragon Park behind Eakin from 4:00 to 6:00 tomorrow. You will also be able to ask her questions should you attend Thursday's candidates debate.

Can You Hear Me Now? School Board Members with Cell Phones, Updated

In a front pager in this morning's Tennessean, we learned that a couple of school board members are not just using cell phones as a benefit at taxpayer expense, but misusing them with overages, too. George Thompson (who represents the district that includes North End schools like Jones Paideia, Buena Vista, Hull-Jackson, and John Early) and Ed Kindall are both identified for overuse of their Metro cell phones. Kindall's offence was particularly bothersome, since he not only went over his 600-minute monthly allotment, but also downloaded ring tones, screensavers and games to the phone. To his credit, Kindall is paying the overage charges back, but even so, do screensavers and games belong on a Metro-assigned cell phone? Thompson regularly exceeds his 600-minute monthly allotment, but he moved his plan to an employee-shared pool of minutes, which means that his overage is absorbed by someone else's lower degree of cell-phone use. Yet, one has to wonder whether using more than 600 minutes on a cell phone means that the phone is being used for more than just school board business.

And now Kay Brooks, fresh from her council assignment to the board, distinguishes herself as the only other school board member to request a cell phone. This is the same Kay Brooks who drew attention to herself in protest at and after the Mayor's State of Metro Address by asking a server to clear her place at a dining table beforehand and to bring her nothing but water to drink. Refusing a one-time expense for breakfast seems trivial when compared to the money that the district would save month-to-month should Kay Brooks have declined her gratis cell phone. It would have precisely saved taxpayer's money, which had been something Kay Brooks demanded vigorously on her blog up until Council member Michael Craddock and the Davidson County Republicans helped her into her seat. So, now she gets a tax-payer funded cell phone and if legitimately elected in August, she will help decide which public school programs--based on a list of services that she has already claimed as unnecessary--should be cut. I suggest, for the sake of her own credibility, that she give back her cell phone and demand before the election that free cell phones should be cut out. If she's going to demand that others scrimp and save, then she needs to show her willingness to do likewise. By the way, she has also requested a lap top computer.

Kudos to the rest of the school board members for refusing a Metro-funded cell phone. I do not take issue with members receiving pay or getting insurance for themselves or their families, because heaven knows we all need insurance, and the pay seems small for the time that members spend on their work. However, cell phones should not be included in the benefits of the school board, especially because those who abuse the benefit only give the whole board a black eye from a taxpayer perspective.

06/10/2006, 5:20 p.m. Update: Kay Brooks has responded to this morning's Tennessean article on her blog. She writes:
Since that initial conversation [with BOE staff about benefits] and a conversation with the Board Chair on 5/23/06 I decided that I'll not ask MNPS to supply any of those resources. It seems the cleanest way to operate and doesn't require any of my time or the staff's in accounting for their use, upgrade or, heaven forbid, their loss or damage. So that's no cell phone, no laptop, no second phone line, no fax machine for BOE member Kay Brooks.
That's responsible decision-making, Ms. Brooks. Good to hear that you are changing course and taking yourself off the "requested" list. Now are you going to attend the school board candidates' forum this Thursday or avoid facing the voters like you did the first forum?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Will Kay Brooks Appear at the June 15 School Board Candidates Forum? (Updated)

The Nashville League of Women Voters and Stands for Children are sponsoring a forum for Metro school board candidates for office in Districts 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 on Thursday, June 15 at 7:30 at the television studio at Nashville State Technical College. A reliable source tells me that District 5 candidate Kay Brooks has not committed, despite the fact that the forum is less than a week away. I have not been able to find reference to it on Kay Brooks' blog, campaign site, or District 5 listserv, so at the very least she is not publicizing to District 5 voters that she will be more personally available to field their questions. I have followed up with the NLWV to verify, but I have yet to receive a response; I'll keep you posted. If she fails to attend a public forum a second time, especially due to feeling "overwhelmed," one has to wonder whether she is seriously up to representing the 5th District.

06/11/2006, 11:20 p.m. Update: I just received the list of confirmed forum candidates from the NLWV. Kay Brooks is on it. Here is the list:

District 2:
Terri Harris
Michael Kerstetter
Jo Ann Brannon

District 4:
Steve Glover

District 5:
Gracie Porter
Lawrence Hart
Kay Brooks

District 6:
Karen Johnson
Duane Dominy
Mebanim Awipi

District 8:
Kathleen Harkey
David Fox

This is your chance to address the candidates on the issues and on the future of our public schools in Nashville. Make your voice heard. If you can't be there, they say it will be televised and taped for replay on public television.

Cooper Caves to AT&T

The signs of U.S. Representative Jim Cooper's looming abdication to telecommunications corporate interests were all over the letter from him that I posted on Enclave a while back. Yesterday he joined 200 Republicans and 100 Democrats to vote with the lobbyists representing AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast for a telecommunications bill that allows the corporate net providers to determine which websites open easily on our computers based on whether they pay AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast more money. The Telecoms seem to have Mr. Cooper in their pockets; meanwhile, self-professed progressive, and former Nashville Scene--you know, that publication which claims to "root for Everyman"--reporter John Spragens has joined the Cooper re-election campaign. I wonder what he would write about that vote if he were still acting as the champion of liberal causes at the Scene? At one time Spragens via the Scene was quite willing to co-lecture Everyman about stomping their trash for the sake of the environment; did he try hard enough to encourage his new boss, Cooper, to stomp out corporate influence on his voting record? Or does money simply matter most?

Let us hope that the U.S. Senate turns corporate constriction around. If not, you better enjoy the wide latitude of net neutrality in the short remaining time that you have it. In the brave, new future--when big business beats small business to display on your computer--we may be talking wistfully about the days before privatization of the public bandwidth, and we'll all have blue dog Democrats like Jim Cooper to thank for acting to cause us to wax nostalgic about the past rather than to enjoy our internet accessibility of the present.

HT: Ginny Welsch

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Jason Hart's Lack of Interest "on the Safe Side"

Council member Jason Hart, who allegedly lied in a letter to a constituent about being contacted by a low number of people who asked him to vote for candidate Gracie Porter to fill a vacant school board seat until August 3, seems to be stretching the truth again about checking out Ms. Porter's personnel file. At least so says reporter William Dean Hinton of the Nashville Scene.

Hinton tells us that we do know that someone requested a copy of her file. Further:
Jason Hart first insists he has no interest in viewing Porter’s file, though he says it would be a “good idea” if somebody did. Then comes confirmation from city attorneys that they’re waiting for Jason Hart to look at the file, which they’d received through [Metro Clerk Marilyn] Swing’s office.

After a second call to Jason Hart, he says he didn’t request it but knows who did: a constituent who had a dispute with Porter. “He called me two or three weeks ago because he wanted to find out what her deal was,” says Hart, whose son Bradley attends Metro schools. “I told him to call the clerk’s office and pull the record.” Hart muses that he might decide to view Porter’s file as a precursor to voting. “I should take a look at it,” he says, “just to be on the safe side.”
Mmm-hmm. First he says he has no interest, then when confronted with the truth that the file is waiting for his attention he claims an interest. That's a little reckless for the son of a candidate who has a history of shoplifting and wanton spending as a Council member.

And do you think that Kay Brooks-coach Michael Craddock stayed above the fray? Nope. He climbed right down into the political swill by insinuating something nasty to Hinton about Ms. Porter without any evidence simply because someone had requested her file. No chance that someone like Jason Hart could be requesting it for political purposes there Mr. Craddock? Any chance you'll find any sense of humility any time soon?

As for her record, Hinton says that there was one critical evaluation in an otherwise stellar personnel file. That critical evaluation came late from Director Pedro Garcia. Hart, Craddock, and Brooks have made it clear that they care for little if anything having to do with Pedro Garcia, so let's just watch to see if they sink to the hypocrisy of using his comments to dig at Porter as August 3 grows closer.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Odor Control and Biosolids Conversion to Progress in Spite of Metro Water Budget Problems

Some of you who read the City Paper piece yesterday on Metro Water's budget challenges may have been troubled as I was that the Mayor's Office plans to delay certain water/sewer projects around Nashville as a partial remedy (raising outlying rates to be the rest of the remedy). For those of us concerned with the progress of the odor control measures and the conversion of the Central Water Treatment facility to a biosolids complex, NCP reporter Bill Harless's vague reference to the delays without any specifics was rather disconcerting.

So, I sent an e-mail off to the Mayor's Office yesterday asking if the Central Project was to be put on hold and whether the recent increase of smelly odors was due to that delay. You may be glad to hear that the odor abatement project has already been funded and will move forward in spite of the expected budget shortfalls. What Harless failed to stipulate and what a Purcell spokesperson clarified to me was that the programs the Mayor mentioned yesterday as candidates for delay have to do with storm water projects. However, that news may cause even more concern for those of you who were expecting storm water improvements in the near future.

Know When To Fold 'Em: Ludye Wallace Caught Visiting His Actual Constituents

He might be innocent until proven guilty in the courts of law, but in the court of my opinion, Metro Council member Ludye Wallace getting cited for high-stakes gambling in a "social club" over on Buchanan Street fits right in with what I see as a lack of character and lapse of ethics he regularly exhibits. Whether it is defending gang graffiti as art, ignoring ethics rules and accepting gifts from companies that could benefit from council action, sponsoring the notion of cluttering our neighborhoods with Vegas-style video billboards, holding closed meetings about important votes with other Council members, trading his vote for school board summer substitute Kay Brooks for a back alley, or ignoring the values of those of us in his district, Ludye Wallace has consistently shown himself to be of low moral caliber as a public servant. While Ludye can also be criticized for conducting his Tennessean interview on his gambling citation during Tuesday's council meeting, it is not necessarily a bad thing; he cannot do too much damage to the community if the press is distracting him from his council responsibilities. I find it much more troubling that he identifies the home (a.k.a. "social club") of a suspected illegal numbers bookie as a routine councilmanic visit in his district.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Simply Stop Suburban Sewer Subsidies

According to this morning's City Paper, both sides in the suburban sewer fight are lining up their own consultants to argue the merits of the idea that Metro does not charge non-Metro customers enough for their water/sewer usage. There is one piece of information that cuts through all of the crap:
Metro does not bill all wholesale wastewater customers [in outlying suburbs] based on metered flows: “As a result, actual flows delivered to [Metro] for treatment are higher than billed flows,” the study says, recommending uniform meters be installed throughout the system.
Metro's mistake was failing to install uniform meters for all customers, in Nashville or out. No good deed goes unpunished, but why should suburban leaders now believe that they are entitled to the same utility for which they pay much less than Nashvillians, for which Nashvillians make up the difference?

Brentwood, the land of four-car garages and vast tracks of acreage, seems particularly ingracious about the special treatment it has been getting for years. To quote the Brentwood City Manager: "We’re always willing to pay our fair share, but we’re not going to pay for costs that go beyond that." Fine. Don't pay it and build your own sewers so that we Nashvillians can stop handing over our hard-earned cash to pay Metro Water to continue to pamper your spoiled bums. There's nothing fair about a share that doesn't equal what the rest of us pay for the service. I hope the Mayor gives you Brentwood & Belle Meade brats the ultimatum: pay up or be immediately cut loose to finance your own infrastructure. And good luck convincing your already taxophobic "red" majorities that they need to generate a revenue stream to flush your efflux.

Sprawlatious Recoil: New Suburbanism Emerges

Downplaying any competition with New Urbanism, a guru of emerging "New Suburbanism" speaks out in defense the potential of a green, strip-mall-less, and "heavily wired archipelago of villages." He question's New Urbanism's assumptions about the demise of auto-dependent suburbs, based on his view of migration patterns in "multi-polar cities" and his belief that the slack caused by higher gas prices can be taken up as jobs move out to the periphery. But as jobs and industry moves out to the periphery, don't suburbs in fact increase density and transform into "edge cities" in their own right? That seems more consistent with the ideas of New Urbanism.

Gentry Chat

Vice Mayor Howard Gentry's campaign manager stopped by to chat recently while we were working out in the yard. When the conversation inevitably turned to his candidate (we were acquainted before Gentry's candidacy), I told him quite frankly that I was a little disappointed that no one in the field had taken up the mantle of "neighborhoods mayor," yet. I pointedly said that I hadn't expected it from Bob Clement and especially not Buck Dozier, but I told him that I had hoped that Gentry would at least attempt that appeal to neighborhood leaders. The G-man replied that when the time was right he would. He also said that Gentry does believe that neighborhood groups are important, but that he also wants to expand the emphasis so that neighborhood groups work together with "other groups." He tried to reassure me that Gentry would make that larger appeal soon. I also got his word that Gentry would keep the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods as it has been under Purcell.

I came away from our chat not certain of exactly what Gentry would do to continue to promote neighborhood interests the way that Mayor Purcell has. But so far, he seems at the very least the lesser of three evils; as in, "the least imbalanced toward big business development irrespective of neighborhood interests." As I told the manager, though, we're still waiting to hear something from him. If an honest to goodness neighborhood candidate steps into the race, Howard Gentry will lose any chance at my vote. He had better get on his horse.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Link Love

Enclave's coverage of a marketers survey of city nicknames was mentioned by Thomas Wood and Milt Capps in today's Nashville Post "Morning Links" piece. Thanks for the link, guys. And welcome to all of those readers who followed the link.


"5" is the number of times in 2006--but before her May 16 public school board appointment--that Kay Brooks used the term "monopoly" when referring to public school education at She also used "protectionism" (a variation on "monopoly") with reference to the school board in 2006. "0" or "zero" is the number of times since her May 16, 2006 appointment that Kay Brooks has used the term "monopoly" when referring to public school education. Has she changed her mind about public schools or is she holding her tongue until after the August 4 election?

On a side note: according to Kay Brooks' few blog updates since May 16, her involvement in public schools has increased dramatically. Or maybe I should put it this way: in light of the fact that there is next to no blogging evidence of it beforehand, Kay Brooks' involvement in public schools and parent-teacher organizations has actually started. I think it is fair to ask the school board candidate why it took a political appointment for her to take interest enough to involve herself in local public schools? But there is no guarantee, given her continuing lack of responsiveness to fair questions, that she will respond if asked that question.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Tagline Guru: Nashville's "Music City" Not Among the Top in Nicknames

While the leader from the Music City Center Committee (and now "Coalition") was telling us the other night that conventioneers are overwhelmingly attracted to Nashville because it is popularly considered "Music City," a Tagline Guru survey of advertising, marketing and branding professionals from 80 cities and 38 states found that "Music City"--though nominated--did not even make the top 50 nicknames for various cities. In fact, the nickname that did show up in the top 50 for Nashville is "The Protestant Vatican," which was ranked a pretty high 14th in the survey. I can see that nickname ranking causing a guitar face or two around the MCCC. Here are the top 10:

1. The Big Apple (New York City, NY)
2. Sin City (Las Vegas, NV)
3. The Big Easy (New Orleans, LA)
4. Motor City (Detroit, MI)
5. The Windy City (Chicago, IL)
6. Beantown (Boston, MA)
7. Baghdad by the Bay (San Francisco, CA)
8. Tinseltown (Hollywood, CA)
9. Mistake on the Lake (Cleveland, OH)
10. La-La Land (Los Angeles, CA)

As far as I know Nashville does not have a slogan, but the Guru also surveyed the top city slogans. Here are the top 10:

1. What Happens Here, Stays Here. Las Vegas, NV
2. So Very Virginia. Charlottesville, VA
3. Always Turned On. Atlantic City, NJ
4. Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland, OH
5. The Sweetest Place on Earth. Hershey, PA
6. Rare. Well Done. Omaha, NE
7. The City Different. Santa Fe, NM
8. Where Yee-Ha Meets Olé. Eagle Pass, TX
9. City with Sol. San Diego, CA
10. Where the Odds Are With You. Peculiar, MO