Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Little Rain on Their Parade

Both Sean Braisted and Adam Kleinheider deserve the kudos they got from the Nashville Scene for "Best Political Blogger," and I cannot add anything more profound to the tribute that Scene Writer Roger Abramson did. Their efforts are those of yeomen.

However, I was disappointed that each of them in run-ups to the first significant Metro Council Meeting wrote last night's agenda off as nothing "too exciting" (Sean offered the opinion and Adam noted that Sean's opinion was "saying something"). On the one hand, not every meeting is going to be extraordinary; that would pretty much destroy the concept of extraordinary meetings. On the other hand, I thought that Sean's conclusions were unwittingly encouraging constituents not to watch. My view is that the last thing we want to do is discourage people from watching just because the agenda looks ordinary (or less than) to some who lack the interest.

I watched the 40 minute meeting, and I was able to find several noteworthy moments of which to write. But Sean and I have always disagreed about what is important about council meetings. Sean doesn't seem to like zoning issues, and yet, that is the overwhelming bulk of items on any council agenda.

Rarely do we see issues cross council's docket that look sexy from a state or a federal or a party perspective (like English Only or immigration or benefits for gays and lesbians). There is a good reason: the main focus of the council is less on social issues, which they can do little to solve, and more on neighborhood issues to which the council is bound to respond. There is nothing sexy or remotely stimulating about the latter issues until your eyes are opened to their impact on the life you live in this community.

And that "glut" of zoning issues is important to the everyday lives of the constituents affected by zoning, which is most of us in Davidson County. You can bet that the people with the money, the influence, and the land--the developers, the brokers, the investors, the Realtors, the builders--are keeping tabs on most of these zoning issues that seem to bore Sean and that fail to attract Adam's passing glance.

And if we simply lull ourselves into the preconceived idea that these zoning decisions don't affect us directly because we cannot out-shout or out-blog somebody else like we do on social issues, then we are going to find ourselves at a political disadvantage in the Metro Council, especially when the time rolls around to speak our minds about a zoning issue in Public Hearing. If you don't listen to the council now, you won't be heard by them later.

That is why, at the very least, last night's meeting should have been characterized as our first chance to see how the new Council would be starting to pay back their campaign financiers and to get a feel for any sense of balance in their deliberations. If some don't see that possibility, then--and I don't care if the Nashville Scene ensconces them in velvet and christens them alt-weekly-laureates--they should not be heeded. Planning and zoning issues are important, even and especially when we don't think they are.

Such issues have effects:

  • on family issues like affordable housing
  • on quality of life issues like whether a market will be built or traffic calming measures will be enacted to serve and to protect a community
  • on the environment and water conservation, like whether Franklin will have to restrict water use
  • on diversity issues like accommodating our elders with housing and community services
  • on so many other issues that ripple out to other people's pet projects
The zoning issues that Sean and Adam may not see as important to them now are still important and someday they may see their importance.

Until that point the boys deserve the accolades they get with limits: those of us who occupy what Roger Abramson oversimplified and lampooned as "the vast wasteland of the local political blogosphere" will continue to consider the low-hanging and mundane details, because those are the very issues that the mainstream press largely ignores, like they ignore most council meeting proceedings.


  1. Yikes. That hits home with me. Part of me understands why this is so true. I think they are both young, trying to make their mark (and doing nicely) and won't fix in place a core audience talking about easements or zoning. Heck, they may not even own property yet, so these issues may well stay below their radar.

    That said, you are so right about coverage of these meetings. Actually, there are good stories to be told, all the important elements are there, greed, power, corruption, etc.

    I just find it hard to fault to young guys that try hard for not doing things that the Tennessean and what passes for our "alternative" paper won't do.

    Especially when I'm guilty of it as well. ;)

  2. Well, let me start off by thanking you for thinking I have any sway over whether or not people are going to watch the Council Meetings. Personally, I think people are, or aren't, depending on their personality types. Although I didn't find anything extraordinarily exciting about the agenda (especially because nearly everything was coming in on first reading, which nearly always passes without much debate...perhaps I should've articulated that better), I still ended up paying three bucks in parking because I tried to go to the actual meeting, unfortunately, I didn't get there until about 7:15 (I didn't know about the time change) and the thing was pretty much over (which generally doesn't happen if there is anything of great importance happening).

    Now, I linked to the agenda, and if there was a zoning issue of particular importance to an individual, they were more than welcome to check it out...but I generally write from a macro perspective on the City, and so unless there is a particularly contentious zoning issue (say, Sylvan Park) then I'm generally not going to pay much attention to them...besides, according to the website the zoning matters are open for public discussion on the first Tuesday of odd-numbered months, so wouldn't they be more interesting then?

    I appreciate what you do in focusing on hyper-local issues, the City needs more bloggers like that...hopefully next year the Scene will recognize that.

    Personally, right now, where I live, I couldn't really care less about the zoning issues, because they couldn't really get my area more mixed, with expensive apartment/housing next to run-down ones, crappy liquor stores, and Wal-Marts.

    I guess I'll end with a question, you said, "That is why, at the very least, last night's meeting should have been characterized as our first chance to see how the new Council would be starting to pay back their campaign financiers and to get a feel for any sense of balance in their deliberations."

    So, what did you learn from the meeting in regards to that?

  3. And we also had our first chance to see how the Vice Mayor would balance efficiency and debate, as Nashville is Talking pointed out. If deciding who does and does not get to ask questions based on how prepared they are is "nothing" then not much happened.

  4. So, what did you learn from the meeting in regards to that?

    I blogged on several things that I thought were noteworthy during and after the meeting.

    The issue of the affects of campaign financiers is an on-going project of which last night was one piece. We will need more time to consider the significance of last night, if there was any.

    With regard to balance, I pointed out that Eric Crafton seemed to be picking up where he left off last year. We'll see if that trend to the past continues, but it was important to observe Tuesday night.

    I conceded that you don't care about zoning issues, even as I tried to point out how they affect the community in "macro-" ways. I'm not trying to convince you to care, but I am trying to make a case that the general citizen ought to care.

    The fact that the Germantown Overlay was deferred last night is significant for more than just Germantown residents. I don't know the reasons why it was deferred, but I wonder if some very influential people caused it. But the overlay itself is not just about Germantown when you pull back to a "macro-level." This is the fourth attempt to pass a significant overlay bill in the past year or two (the other 3: Sylvan Park/Whitland, Belmont/Hillsboro, and Downtown). Metro Council's deliberation and handling of these overlays taken together is significant not just for the constituent neighborhoods, but for the community as a whole insofar as they involve tensions between growth and infrastructure (a relationship that David Briley raised in his campaign for Mayor) and how Nashville will balance those.

    Zoning is not just about struggles at the block level. It also concerns the direction of our city in general. I've tried to stress that over and over, but it doesn't help when other bloggers who right about Council either ignore zoning issues or minimize their effects. I felt bound to point that out, even as I agreed with Roger that you and Adam deserved recognition the Scene gave you.

  5. Yes, but aren't zoning issues more interesting when public comment is allowed? Or when there is debate? And I notice that generally, when you talk about zoning issues, they often are ones that effect your area or Council District, with a notable exception of the Car Wash bill. Perhaps if and when I move to that area, I'll become more interested in the zoning issues of my area, and thus more interested in zoning altogether, but unless I adopt East or North Nashville as my home...there isn't that much interesting going around the areas I've lived.

    I also posted on issues I thought might be of importance, such as the election of the committee chairs, and a couple of the bills...I didn't happen to catch the grant resolution about AIDS, and I appreciate you pointing out Crafton is up to his same old tricks.

    Ultimately, I stand by my original description of there being nothing too exciting about the last meeting. I didn't say there was nothing of importance, just nothing exciting...did you find yourself excited?

  6. Yes, but aren't zoning issues more interesting when public comment is allowed? Or when there is debate?

    Not necessarily. For instance, when 50 residents go to the microphone and repeat the same rehearsed script over and over, it isn't necessarily interesting.

    And why is the election of Jim Gotto to the Planning and Zoning Committee significant? Not simply because he is a social conservative. His support for English Only or Kay Brooks had little to do with zoning issues. It is important because his stance on the Evergreen fiasco indicates that he may vote for growth over infrastructure/community: the very issues that you don't view as exciting from a macro-level. The real problem with Jim Gotto relative to Planning has nothing to do with his bill regarding illegal immigrants last term; it has everything to do with whether he would endanger balance in development.

    I really don't give a rat's ass whether a committee appointment furthers Jim Gotto's political aspirations and makes him a potential force with which a political party has to contend. I care whether his appointment gives a leg up to untrammeled growth at the expense of our neighborhoods.

    I don't blame you for not being excited about that issue, but it still excites some of us because of its importance.

  7. Mike,

    From a Macro-level, I too see zoning issues as terms of how they effect our city as a whole or how they effect large areas (for instance, an historic overlay).

    Individual zoning matters, say, a property changing 1402 Rural Hill from AR2a to RM9, not so much.

    As for Gotto, I didn't know much about his past zoning efforts, but I did know that Megan Barry and others were thinking about challenging him for the Chairmanship, which indicated to me that likely he wasn't a great candidate for that spot.

    Generally speaking, I look to you to for news on the zoning matters, because I've never been involved in a neighborhood association, therefore I'm not nearly as well versed on the subject of zoning matters....thus making the internet great, everyone can find their own little niche and rely on other people's abilities to make for a better blogoshpere.