Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tennessean Wakes Up to Council "Infrastructure" Spending Race; Calls It "Good"

It is beyond me why the local print media are not running tote boards on Metro Council discretionary fund spending, but at least the two dailies have published at least one story a piece on where the money is going, after 3 months of allocating. The Tennessean joined the City Paper this morning. (When a few Nashville Scene staffers beyond Bruce Barry lose their zeal for emo-stylized "graffiti royalty" and for arriving at happy hour in time to rip spirits and to burn an alt-weekly buzz, maybe they'll hard-copy this developing story, too).

The Tennessean piece points to the fact that the council is on track to spend only about a third of the total $1.95 million before their June deadline. Reporter Michael Cass also includes quotes from council members--like Erik Cole--who question some uses of the tax money. Cass cites at least one misguided utilitarian defense of the non-profit, no-infrastructure money dump; to paraphrase: sending money to a private senior citizen center helps more people than fixing a ditch, which only helps one person (but what about spending the money on upgrades to community center facilities used for senior programming, Councilman Loring? Why compare apples to oranges? And where did we ever get the notion that fixing problems in a neighborhood only benefits one person in that neighborhood?). The story also refers to the council's unfulfilled promises to replace funds that it took from the Metro Action Commission earlier this year.

Despite the holes in the logic of spending tax money on private affairs, even at such a small clip, Reporter Cass seems to forget his journalistic balance when he refers to the private senior center spending as a "good use." It might be good use, but the question remains is it the best use of those tax dollars? Is there an even larger community than those in the private center whom they could have helped? We don't know because Mr. Cass did not ask those questions in the story.

He did quote the Senior Citizens, Inc. Director as saying that the $101,000 in Metro funds that she is receiving means that she doesn't have to do as much fundraising next year. But, of course. If the council sent my neighborhood association a hundred thousand dollars we wouldn't have to take donations or charge membership fees next year or the decade after that. But non-profits are expected to raise funds rather than rely on public tax dollars. That also goes without saying. To paraphrase Nathan "Unpainted" Arizona: isn't that their raison d'etre? However, when the Metro Action Commission doesn't receive its funds, they have to cut public services meant to address the widest community needs. But public services matter less to this council than the narrow missions of private organizations.

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