Thursday, December 31, 2009

Enclave's 5th Annual Best and Worst Metro Services: The Highlights and Lowlights of 2009

Another year past, another list of high achievers and low sliders:
  • January
    • Council highlight: CM Mike Jameson challenged beer industry lobbyists to provide solutions for "better" law enforcement, given that the top 10 intoxication offenders had been arrested a whopping 1,350 times. Big brewski was baffled but still brassy.
    • Council highlight: CMs acknowledged police assertions that safety issues were more important than some fabricated right of club owners to blast bad karaoke as far down Broadway as sound would travel. Drunk Barry Manilow wannabes were pissed.
    • Public Works lowlight: This one's a holdover that should have made the 2008 list of shame, except that MDHA did not divulge the bad news until January. The federally-funded Salemtown streetscape plan was already making the torturous route through MPW's approval process late last fall, when someone there lost the designs for 2 or 3 months. Doh!
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Karl Dean proposes that all Metro services be cut 10% as the discussion of a new convention center is starting to heat up.
    • Metro Legal lowlight: Courthouse lawyers bend to a former county Republican Party chair and refuse to release English Only's donor list, based on the farfetched and unfair notion that EO donors could be the subject of threats if publicized. Once we found out that EO had received 90% funding from a group in Virginia, Metro Legal was hard pressed to explain how an organization could suffer bodily harm.
  • February
    • Metro Police highlight: Chief Ronal Serpas confronts red-state Tennessee over why it lets convicted rapists go free over and over. In the meantime, officers tell Salemtown that burglaries in the area dropped from 10 in January to 0 in February.
    • Metro Sheriff lowlight: another 2008 holdover. We learn that Daron Hall met with a white supremacist group in late 2008 and we find out that he is doomed to make the mistakes of the past, given that he confused them with a Republican group.
    • Metro Council lowlight: LED signs rear their ugly mugs in almost exactly the same form as they were previously deferred and CM Michael Craddock nudges the door open for them a little by spot-zoning an LED in the name of Jesus and all that's holy.
  • March
    • Highlights? We don't need no stinkin' highlight.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Dean's goon squad twists council arms to rubber stamp his regressive stormwater fee scheme while using the recession as an excuse to cut fat cats with more black top breaks while the rest of us with permeable yardage pay more.
    • Metro Council lowlight: if dealing with the last council was like herding cats, dealing with this one is like punching kittens. CMs cave to Karl Dean. They defeat Jason Holleman's amendment that would have equitably distributed higher water fees. 14 CMs cutting against the grain is not enough as progressives like Erik Cole and Megan Barry pony up to the Mayor's pander bar. Ms. Barry rationalizes her vote afterwards by saying she was keeping a promise to the Mayor even though voters put her into office. Yeah, and let them eat cake.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: The two river banks that the Riverfront Development Plan brought together, Karl Dean put asunder. With the recession again his pretext, Karl Dean suggests that he may delay planned and public-informed East Bank development and focus instead on the Downtown side. In the wake of predictable community blowback, Dean bobs and weaves before acting like starting with the East Bank was his plan all along.
    • Metro Council lowlight: even though legal opinions indicate that spot-zoning a tiny sliver of property for a private Christian school's LED sign would open the door to spot-zoning elsewhere, CMs approve the spot-zone.
    • Planning Department lowlight: Planning ties its own hands by letting securities expire. Due to software and staff shortages as well as communications snafus, Planning renders itself powerless to force developers to finish stalled projects.
    • Metro Council lowlight: abandoning a cause she once championed, CM Megan Barry, bails on LED sign opponents and votes with CM Charlie Tygard in support of the LED sign task force's proposal to allow signs in neighborhoods.
  • April
    • Metro government highlight: a dismal March finally ends.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Karl Dean markets campaign on the expensive wavy box decorated like a cliche of the music industry even as he tells police they're in for budget cuts.
    • Metro Council lowlight: Instead, they should have just declared that God only hears the prayers of Protestant fundamentalists.
    • Metro Parks lowlight: Yeah, right, Roy Wilson. Sure they will.
  • May
    • Metro Council highlight: Jason Holleman attempts to fast track stronger regulation--any regulation--of the expanding use of LED signage.
    • Mayor's Office highlight: Karl Dean puts development of the East Bank back at the top of the priorities list in the Riverfront Development Plan, right where the public wanted it.
    • MDHA highlight: after a year's delay in construction of the Salemtown streetscape, surveyors finally arrive in the 'hood.
    • Metro Action commission lowlight: no sooner does streetscape construction start than MAC derails it with MDHA approval. MAC doesn't help its reputation with Salemtown by refusing a request by an adjacent property owner to work a parking and insurance agreement for MAC clients illegally parking on his land.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Karl Dean reneges on a longstanding plan to move Metro Action out of Salemtown's Fehr School building to a facility suited to handle its high volume clientèle.
    • MDHA lowlight: the one where I learned that MDHA operates like a local shadow government; portents of things to come at a larger scale later.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Karl Dean signs on with a parochial deity, only afterwards to pull a Daron Hall by pleading ignorance.
    • Metro Council lowlight: Pam Murray. Need I say more?
    • Metro Codes lowlight: The officials who are supposed to respond to complaints about squatters in empty building failed to respond to numerous complaints by Germantown residents about squatters in a local warehouse, which eventually caught fire and burned.
  • June
    • Metro Planning highlight: in a shocker the Planning Commission does not give the May Town Center proposal enough votes for approval, and Planning recommends disapproval to the Metro Council. They redeemed a lowlight Planning staff that had recommended inexplicably paving over Bells Bend.
    • No lowlight: the defeat of May Town Center in Planning made the rest of June all good.
  • July
    • Metro Parks lowlight: Roy Wilson breaks his word on Morgan Park, yet again.
    • Metro Parks highlight: Curt Garrigan meets with Salemtown, apologizes for unrealized promises on Morgan Park upgrades and provides a definite timeline for completion.
    • Metro Planning lowlight: planners, welcome to the doghouse again. The community-informed West Nashville Plan bumped by possible May Town do-over.
  • August
    • All of this month's lowlights are Mayor's Office lowlights with a little help from MDHA and McNeely, Pigott, and Fox: Karl Dean's convention center PR budget runs almost $400,000 over its $75,000 budget. His convention center hotel budget runs over $200,000 over budget. However, not to fear, since state law authorizes the Mayor to raid school funds to pay for expanding costs, even as his 2009 budget cuts help eradicate school music programs. And if you want to attend a Mayor's Night Out event to convey your concerns? You have to wait until after the event is held to find out where and when it is.
  • September
    • Metro Council lowlight: Vice Mayor Diane "Hammer the" Neighbors reserves leadership positions on council committees for commerce-friendly, growth-focused, developer-blinded CMs
    • Mayor's Office highlight: Karl Dean parlays political capital into win on non-discrimination ordinance for gay and lesbian Metro employees, placating progressives who favor social issues.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: Dean staffers cozy up to right-wing organization Eagle Forum in an attempt to unseat a progressive CM who simply asks too many questions.
  • October
    • Metro Council highlight: CM Megan Barry decides to rejoin the effort to defeat LED signage even though earlier in 2009 she voted with a task force to allow LEDs in neighborhoods. Since neighborhood leaders went on without her and leveraged a check on the LED bill, she's got a lot to prove. She'll have her chance in 2010.
  • November
    • Metro Police highlights: officers tell Salemtown that the Central Precinct leads others with a 16% crime reduction.
    • Metro Police lowlights: Chief Ronal Serpas gets surly with West Nashville leaders who have concerns about purchase of a former car dealership for the new precinct headquarters.
    • Public Works lowlight: One year after misplacing designs for the Salemtown streetscape, MPW once again is caught dragging its feet on the project.
    • Mayor's Office lowlight: the exit of the Office of Neighborhoods Director Brady Banks hardly makes a ripple.
    • Metro Council lowlight: CM Sam Coleman, reacting to the defeat of permitting guns in Metro Parks, moves to allow guns in rural parks and on exurban greenways, where they are probably needed even less.
  • December
    • Metro Nashville Public Schools lowlight: They need new roofs and there is no money in the Mayor's budget to pay for them. But Karl Dean's solution for education? Building new charter schools: more roofs in our future to go without repair.
    • Metro Finance lowlight: Rich Riebeling dismisses with a smile questions about which cuts are coming to Metro services in 2010 to pay for the convention center.
Based on my count the strongest performers among the Metro service providers were were Metro Police and the Metro Planning Commission (which came through on behalf of the Bells Bend/Scottsboro community in June and which seemed to take seriously neighborhood backlash against LED signage). Bringing up the rear were MDHA, Public Works, and the Mayor's Office. Perennial bottom-feeder Metro Council lagged somewhere in between in 2009.

May year 2010 be a better one for service delivery to the Nashville community. We still deserve better.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Erica Gilmore's valiant attempt to oppose Mayor Dean's slashing of Metro Parks last summer

Since tomorrow is Parks Director Roy Wilson's last day, I thought I would turn the clock back to last May when Mr. Wilson made his budget appeals to Metro Council in the face of Mayor Karl Dean's plan to cut over 50 Parks employees, effectively eroding public services to the quality of life in our hyper-local communities. While no great fan of Roy Wilson's leadership over the years, it struck me that his resignation from his position was leveraged at the Courthouse and in the local media in spite of the arbitrary double standards various Metro departments seem held to.

However, I don't want to use Mr. Wilson's departure to showcase his presentation in the video footage of those wrenching budget decisions. Instead, I want to underscore the performance of my CM, Erica Gilmore, who after Roy Wilson spoke, represented her constituents admirably as she publicly opposed the Finance Director and Mayor's plans to dissect and discard local services:
Gilmore: How many people have we laid off across the city-wide?

[Rich] Riebeling: It is a work in progress. My guess is that will end up being less than 100.

Gilmore: Under 100, and you have 89 coming from the parks?

Riebeling: No, that's not right. You have 52 coming from parks.

Gilmore: Okay. 52 coming from parks and how many coming from librar--

Riebeling: A number -- and I add a number of those are probably part time positions. [To Roy Wilson] Is that correct?

Wilson: Several of them are part time positions.

Gilmore: Okay. 52 coming from the parks and how many came from the library?

Riebeling: I believe she said, "9."

Gilmore: Okay. 9 from the library and then how many come from Public Works?

Riebeling: Can't remember off the top of my head, but about a-half-a-dozen, less than 10.

Gilmore: Okay. It seems like a great percentage are coming from Parks and Recreation, and it seems like if it's something that benefits the constituents--I really feel like this is something that benefits kids, and especially in the summertime I'm really concerned, because we always talk about crime, and we know that this is a way that kids go out and play, and they get access to free programs and they're able to get help. I even went to something last week where the kids had a double-dutch something for the first time and they held it at our parks. I would just hate to see us do that, especially when we talk about senior citizens ... so, I would just like to express that I really am concerned that such a great percentage is coming from the Parks ... I think we can do a better job.

Should CM Wilhoite abstain from voting on the new convention center?

Based on what I'm hearing from last night's Antioch community meeting, District 29 CM Vivian Wilhoite is going to have some explaining to do to constituents if she votes in favor of the largest capital project in Nashville history: the Music City Center. There seems to be remarkable outspoken opposition to the Mayor's proposal in Antioch.

However, given CM Wilhoite's employment ties at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to the wife a major Music City Center lobbyist, I'm not so sure that she can vote at all on the measure. Concerned citizen Mike Peden pointed out to me that Ms. Wilhoite has a somewhat beholden relationship to lobbyist Dave Cooley's wife, Melanie Cooley, who is the advisory head of Personnel. Mike described what he found out yesterday in a phone call to the state:
I called the TRA yesterday and asked if there is any reporting relationship between Ms. Wilhoite and Ms. Cooley. I was told there is. Both report to the Division Chief, but as Personnel Director Ms. Cooley advises the Division Chief in all personnel related matters, including any issues that concern Ms. Wilhoite.
Given these circumstances, I don't see how CM Wilhoite can vote on the Music City Center without appearing to lapse into a conflict of interest, especially if she votes for the MCC. Her primary source of income depends in part on the feedback of Melanie Cooley who stands to gain financially from a successful lobbying campaign for MCC by her husband.

Have I overlooked something here?

When bankers try to be made men

You're crazy. The bulls are across
the street. They're watching
everything we do ....

Didn't I tell you not to get
anything big? Didn't I tell you
not to attract attention?

Can you believe this shit?
- - Pileggi & Scorcese's Goodfellas script

Just like the wisest wise guys in Goodfellas, Wall Street executives are looking for a way to deflect attention and public blow-back from any attempt to share the wealth of their heists of predatory lending, government subsidies, and accrued, ill-gotten profits:
Wall Street's efforts to quell public outrage over its pay practices could in fact be setting up its top executives, bankers, and traders for even bigger payouts down the road, which in turn could reignite the outcry.

To align pay with the long-term performance, banks are giving executives a larger proportion of their compensation in stock and are spreading the equity payouts over more years.

Wall Street is working hard to tweak the terms of compensation packages to ensure that traders, bankers and executives are not incentivized to take out-sized risks ....

these moves do not necessarily presage a new era of reduced pay in the financial sector.

If banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs continue to rebound from the financial crisis, their shares could surge and their newly designed compensation plans could mean extra big paydays years from now ....

That in turn could lead to more public outcry over pay in the financial sector, which received more than a trillion dollars of government support in 2008, experts said.

But experts said that what is upsetting many Americans is the notion that whatever the formula that major Wall Street firms use to pay employees, their losses are socialized while their gains are privatized.

"Main Street doesn't care whether it is deferred stock or restricted stock, or whether 75 percent of it is kicked down the road," said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University. "All they care about is these guys are making tens of millions of dollars."
Note that Goldman Sachs, the underwriter of the Mayor's plan for a new convention center, figures prominently in the deception.

Dispatch: "overwhelming" opposition to convention center at public meeting and 2 CMs ignoring high volume of constituent emails

Mike Peden sent me the following report on the community meeting held in District 29 and he touches on the appearance of failure of CMs Vivian Wilhoite and Sean McGuire to read constituent emails:
I attended Vivian Wilhoite's Convention Center meeting last night in District 29.

The audience seemed to be overwhelming against the Convention Center.

Ms. Wilhoite says she will vote how her constituents want her to vote.

I recently did a Public Records Request to Metro Government to obtain the number of unopened emails in each Council member's inbox. Keith Durbin's office provided the information to me.

On December 21, Vivian Wilhoite had 8497 unopened emails in her inbox.

How can she possibly know what her constituents want when she does not read the email they send to her?

I spoke to her about this, and she said she had just "gotten behind" in reading the emails, but that she has now read and responded to all of them. All 8497 ....

Most Council members have their email automatically forwarded to another account, so it is not possible to tell if the emails have been read or not. That's not the case with Ms. Wilhoite. Her email in not forwarded to any other accounts.

Sean McGuire also had a large number of unread emails. You will recall there was a zoning issue in his district several months ago, and he abruptly changed his position and withdrew the zoning bill when he suddenly realized the community did not support what he was doing. The bill got all the way to third reading though. Maybe if he had read some of those emails he would have known much sooner

UPDATE: WSMV corroborates Mike's assessment that public opinion was decidedly opposed to a new convention center at the Antioch community meeting:
A large crowd attended a meeting on Tuesday night in Antioch to ask questions and hear details about the proposed downtown convention center.

It was designed so constituents could ask questions about the proposed project.

For the most part, the crowd was against the project.

They applauded a suggestion that the public should have the right to vote on the Music City Center.

"I'm concerned that we are jumping into this without enough information. The industry across the nation is suffering. Why do they think Nashville will be any different?” said retired Realtor Robert Kane.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Florida State Legislature gravitates toward subsidizing receding Grapefruit League

The fact that Florida is broke is not stopping them from entertaining dreams of subsidizing Spring Training:
"The Legislature is starting to realize that we must protect our remaining spring training industry and become more aggressive in recruiting some of the teams back from Arizona that we have lost over the years," said Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill ....

Legislation being drafted would create a pool of money the state can use to award matching grants to communities and teams that want to build stadiums or renovate existing facilities ....

In 2001 and 2006, lawmakers set aside $75 million to help keep teams in Florida, but the money didn't last. In the next five years, about eight teams will begin to renegotiate leases ....

Lawmakers are feeling more confident after a recent economic impact study showed spring training baseball generated $752.3 million for the state in 2009.

"What it tells me is that even in a down economy … we have a very good story to tell about tourism and Major League Baseball spring training in Florida," Mark Bonn, the study's author, told a legislative committee in November ....

Bonn's analysis came under fire earlier this year when the Baltimore Orioles moved from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota after the Cincinnati Reds left for Arizona.

"Our government was telling us things that can't be supported by evidence," said Cathy Antunes, leader of a Sarasota citizens group opposed to spending tax dollars on a baseball stadium.
Meanwhile a blog billing itself as the "web's definitive guide" to Spring Training is making the Chicago Cubs out as mavericky and bold in a world where city governments are expected to pay for ballparks. What makes for cutting edge in the Majors is offering $100 million up front to leverage state money Florida doesn't have to pay for a ballpark complex that could channel future restaurant and hotel revenues toward the Cubbies' brass.

Latest numbers indicate only 2 Metro areas in Tennessee in recovery

According to MSNBC, Tennessee still languishes in recession with only two Metro areas "in recovery", and even there, conditions are not great:
In most states the recovery has so far not taken hold in the largest metro areas. In New York, for example, the three areas in the recovery category are Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Ithaca and Utica-Rome. In Tennessee, the only two are Clarksville and Cleveland. Five metro areas are in recovery in North Carolina, but not Charlotte ....

"Recovery" doesn't mean that an area's economy is above where it was at the beginning of the recession, just that the area has begun to dig its way out of the hole.

No metro area yet is shown in "expan-sion," the most positive category; that label is triggered when a metro area's economy grows past its previous peak. Most of the recovering areas are far from that level.

A Times Square tea party: You look to your right and you wonder how do Dems keep losing these fights

I don't know how the New Years Eve Party at Times Square on Thursday could even approach the feel-good party of last summer along Broadway. Doing it, big teabagger-style:

Maybe someone can explain to me what learning Chinese salutations has to with passing health care reform.

CRIME ALERT: Last night's 12th Av shooting has no suspects

According to NewsChannel5:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Police spent Tuesday morning trying to figure out who was behind a deadly late-night shooting in North Nashville.

Police were called out to the 1900 block of 12th Avenue North around 8 p.m. Monday. The victim, a man in his 20s, was found shot to death, lying in the street.

So far, police said they do not have a suspect or a motive in the case.

Police asked that anyone with any information to call police.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Democrats' new jobs bill evades Wall Street, but sprawls away from Main Street

Congress of New Urbanism CEO John Norquist gives President Obama and congressional Democrats higher marks for not patronizing Wall Street as they did with the stimulus, but he also explains how federal money still won't make it to the local communities that need it most:
It's progress this time that the funds will be flowing away from, not toward, Wall Street. And the legislation will keep some people working, especially in local and state government. But will funds from this bill really reach Main Street, as its name implies? Well, not so much. When it comes to the largest spending item in the bill — $27.5 billion in highway spending — Main Street is missing.

The $27.5 billion isn't targeted to rebuild streets at the heart of older cities and towns, the cherished settings for Memorial Day parades and holiday light displays. No, the money will primarily go to projects that government knows best —the expansion of wide, motor-vehicle-only highways that go hand-in-hand with energy-wasting sprawl. This follows the earlier stimulus bill that favored massive highway projects, including a batch of expensive "highways to nowhere" that an examination by the Infrastructurist website concluded "make no sense."

The new bill does reserve $8.4 billion for transit and $800 million for Amtrak. But just when U.S. real estate markets are turning to Main Street and traditional neighborhood design, Congress throws $27.5 billion at the infrastructure — road widening — that supports sprawl.
Inasmuch as Republicans are generally heartless toward Main Street, their Democratic counterparts are generally clueless about it.

Majority of likely Nashville voters said "no" to a new convention center in mayoral election opinion poll

Music City Center proponents keep straining to embrace the claim that when Nashvillians elected Karl Dean as Mayor, the voters were voting to support building a convention center. As if you can even make that claim absent a poll specifically asking about support for a new convention center.

Oh, wait. What? You say we have results from an independent poll of likely voters? What? That poll was taken in conjunction with the mayoral election in 2007? So, we can actually judge separately from Mr. Dean's polling numbers whether or not a majority of voters supported or opposed building the Music City Center? And MCC proponents never mention it because they didn't like the results?
New Convention Center Opposed: Of likely voters in the Mayor contest, 37% say Nashville should build a new convention center; 51% say Nashville should not.

Asked of 547 Likely voters
Margin of Sampling Error for this question = ± 4.3%

I can bet those are terrible gifts to get

Subsidized sports stadiums: "train wrecks" happening and waiting to happen

Via former Nashville reporter Caleb Hannan, cities around the country rue the day that they mortgaged their municipal services for the sake of seducing pro sports teams. Encouraging voters to take an undue risk on an unbending, obscenely wealthy entertainment industry is no way to run a city. Nashville, take note:
From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona, the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Cincinnati. In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront.

But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money.

The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.

“Anyone looking at this objectively knows it’s a train wreck,” said Dusty Rhodes, the county auditor. “I told them they were making a big mistake, but they didn’t want to hear me.”
They could have added Nashville to the list of sports-rich, service-suffering cities.

Assuming they stay that long, the Tennessee Titans will be sponging off Metro Water Services revenues for the next 2 decades. Meanwhile, our stormwater infrastructure crumbles and the Mayor authorized a regressive stormwater pay structure, which hits the middle class and working classes harder, to curb the crumbling. Mayor Dean makes lists of Tennessee power brokers partly because he cuts millions from local services, even after writing a new sweetheart deal to woo the pro hockey team to stay.

And, by the way, the same promises that Cincinnati revenuers made about tax increases paying for everything at little risk to taxpayers are the kind of things we're hearing from convention center supporters. They promise to take care of every Nashville need up to tucking our kids in and keeping vigil over them every night. If it all sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Every single potential private investor is sitting our dance with the Music City Center out. In the case of the convention center, we're a dip in tourist demand or taxes away from our own train wreck.

Good Cop

Mayor Dean sets himself apart from the courthouse Purcell haters:
"Bill Purcell is a friend. We have known each other for over 25 years," Dean said. "I worked in his administration for seven years. The way I view it, Nashville is the great city it is today because of his leadership and the leadership of the mayors that came before him."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deep Thought

Seriously; was there ever really a snowball's chance that CM Erik Cole was going to vote against the Mayor's convention center plan?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

CM Emily Evans responds pointedly to CM Erik Cole's strained WPLN analogies

An an email to Erik Cole obtained by the Tennessean's Michael Cass, Emily Evans takes the District 7 CM to task for a couple of strained analogies:

I listened to your WPLN interview and was appalled at the implication that those who oppose the convention center, like the SEIU, can somehow be equated to those that opposed Civil Rights for African Americans or those who opposed intervention in the European theater during World War 2. There is no excuse for mentioning those things in the same interview let alone the same sentence.

The convention center is opposed and the petition drive is supported by working men and women who, after being abandoned by their traditional advocates in Council, now have to rely on more unconventional approaches to get their message across. The working people of this city know how the convention center will end up – costing them money and jobs – and they feel the need to speak about it.

When placing the relative trivia of municipal activities on the same plane as watershed events in human history you demean and diminish the achievements of the men and women who lived and died for their cause.


I said my piece on the WPLN interview, so you know that I agree with CM Evans wholeheartedly. I'm also glad at least one CM is standing up to the steamrolling PR process of selling the convention center, even when the PR is high-minded platitudes about "populism and democracy."

CM Cole responded to Cass that those of us who are criticizing his analogy are failing "to see the caveats." On the contrary; his cautions were clear to me. I understand that he is warning against blindly following public opinion, but convention center critics like me are not suggesting that.

So, he's impugning us again. Not only do we have a mob mentality, but we're saps that don't grasp the nuance of his sophisticated claims about populism.

It's not that I don't see Mr. Cole's warnings about referendums. It's that I don't buy his linkage of popular concerns about the budgetary affects of a new convention center with segregationists or Nazi appeasers.

He appears to think that if he prefaces his remarks with the statement that he is in "no way" drawing a link that it somehow magically clears him to go ahead and make the link. The WPLN reporter did not introduce the subjects of civil rights or of World War II into the discussion. Mr. Cole did. Once they are out there on the table, the comparison is de facto regardless of any other rationalizations about what he actually meant.

The unchallenged utterance creates misperception. Blaming us by saying we don't get him won't change that brutal fact.

Nashville law student strives to organize other budding legal eagles to oppose the Music City Center in the name of jobs

A progressive Jew from the Bible Belt interrupts her adventures and calls her cohort to fight City Hall and the dirty tricks in the designs for a new convention center:
While I have generally refrained from taking a side in the convention center fight, able to see the merits of both sides of the argument, something has come to my attention that makes me want to fight the pro-convention center PR flacks with all of my might. It's something that I must also call to the attention of my fellow Tennessee-based law students, because it adversely affects all of us .... we must all stand together in opposition to the Music City Center

....for many of us based in Nashville, applying to clerk for Tennessee judges is our only realistic option. And that option is being hurt by the antics of the Cooley Public Strategies pro-convention center crowd.

You know how long these judicial nomination processes, and pretty anything else that goes through the Senate, take. They can't even do something simple in a reasonable amount of time, like pass healthcare reform. If the process is forced to slow down even further, we may not have the seat filled by the time applications are due over the summer.

In short--the convention center people have come between hyper-ambitious, gunner-licious law students and the chance at a federal clerkship. We must all unite to show them how dangerous of a place that is to be!

Monday, December 21, 2009

WPLN interview with Erik Cole only lacked allusions to torches and pitchforks

Last week's WPLN audio interview (attached to this story) of District 7 CM Erik Cole by reporter Daniel Potter sounded more the dance of two Music City Center sugar plum backers than it did a hard-hitting and revealing piece of journalism:
WPLN: So, another question that I think is interesting that comes up when we talk about democracy and populism is whether the council is elected to choose what's best for the city, and maybe in some cases what's popular in the city isn't necessarily what's best for it in the long term, sort of making people take their medicine even if it taste bad or something like that. Um, what's your thought there?

CM Cole: Well, I mean, I am in no way equating this decision to the monumental decisions of history, but, you know, if you were to look at civil rights and had taken general referendums in the 60's in this city we would not have had the kind of results we would want.

Let's just pause the tape right there. First of all Daniel Potter framed this line of query with a leading philosophical question (and assertion) about the risks of populism without any specific reference to any risks of allowing public opinion to inform the actual question of building a convention center.

Many of us who assert the need for public input into the most ambitious and risky capital project in local history would agree with the proposition that what is popular isn't necessarily the best. So, why did the WPLN reporter assume us all to be an uncritical mob of populists who believe unwaveringly in majority rule?

This is not a pointy-headed question of tyrannies of majorities. It's a practical question: how is Metro going to provide services to its clientele if it commits to building a convention center for tourists?

Worse still, reporter Potter already seemed biased to the idea that the convention center is our medicine. It's a leap for him to suggest that MCC is good for what ails us, when the treatment may make us sicker.

Initially, CM Cole seemed to deflect the question with the rational point that the issue of whether Nashville builds a new convention center or not is not morally momentous such that a mob might menace a minority. However, it all headed south with Mr. Cole's "but", after which he cited the Civil Rights Movement. In so doing, he minimized the human progress of enfranchising and empowering previously exploited minorities by equating their stride toward freedom with building a convention complex based on trickle-down economic models that keep Metro's wealthy patrons ahead of everyone else.

Erik Cole is a savvy legal services director who probably knows that a more appropriate historical comparison would be between responses to a present capital project and responses to a past capital project. It is patently ridiculous to even mention responses to any capital project in the context of attitudes toward a constitutional issue like universal human rights.

But he didn't stop with the pejorative comparisons. Next CM Cole implicitly compared convention center critics to anti-war isolationists and Nazi appeasers. Cue the WPLN audio:
CM Cole: If you took a referendum in the early 40's about whether or not we should go into World War II, you know, the result would probably have said, "Don't go."
Never mind that bankrolling a convention center is nothing like conducting hard-nosed foreign policy. So many soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice of dying in World War II, and to even introduce this in a cerebral dissertation on the limits of populism, instead of focusing laser-like on a pragmatic debate on MCC, seems a bit revolting.

Erik Cole seemed to understand the disjunction and he walked his argument back at the end of the audio:
And, of course, this decision is nothing like either one of those "monumentous" decisions but it does illustrate that there are times when you have to be able to weigh pros and cons with the best available data that's in front of you, and make a decision, and I feel like that's why my constituents elected me.
Or maybe he walked his argument back and then shoved it into the ditch. Why should the best available data exclude public preference for certain Metro services and citizen concerns about the negative affects of a capital project on those priorities? Convention center critics don't want to take CM Cole's responsibilities out of his hands, so I'm clueless as to why CM Cole fell back on trite council idiom that merely evades questions about price tags and risks to Metro programs.

Some gifts Santa has lined up for some of us

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And with hedging of vision by the feasibility study, the blinders are complete

Blogging CM Emily Evans would have us stop dreaming the dream of a convention center and start thinking like level-headed investors who have too much to lose to rely an imagined future:

the administration produced a feasibility study by HVS (complete with math errors) that predicted taxpayers will never have to be called upon to make good on the debt. The offering document that accompanied the financing program, however, tells a different story. It says stuff like this (emphasis added):
Although the Issuer believes that the expectations reflected in the APPENDIX D • “HVS MARKET STUDY” are reasonable, there is no assurance that those expectations will be achieved. Inevitably, some assumptions used to develop the forecasts will not be realized, and unanticipated events and circumstances may occur. Therefore, the actual results achieved during the forecast period will vary, and the variations may be material.
And this:

The collection of Tourism Tax Revenues in the amounts projected herein (see “HVS MARKET STUDY” herein) is affected by and subject to conditions which may change in the future to an extent and with effects that cannot be determined at this time, including, without limitation:
· the failure to complete or a delay in completion of the construction of the Convention Center
· the failure to construct or a delay in the construction of a headquarters hotel · general and local economic conditions that affect the convention industry and/or the Nashville convention market
· competition from other convention centers in
Nashville and in other cities

And this:
The statements contained in this Official Statement, and in any other information provided by the Issuer, that are not purely historical, are forward-looking statements, including certain statements in “Appendix D – Market Study” and other statements regarding the Issuer’s expectations, hopes, intentions, or strategies regarding the future. Readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements.
While I know that these statements are addressed to investors, they should be heeded by issuers as well. If a buyer of our convention center bonds should not rely on the HVS study to protect their investment neither should my constituents rely on it to protect their general fund.

Curby ain't as green as posed

So, glass is not recyclable by Metro standards and shouldn't be put into Metro recycling bins. But should Metro's Recycling program workers respond to customer mistakes by dumping the bottles from the recycling bins into the alley, especially when Metro garbage bins are sitting right next to the recycling bins?

Last week Curby workers reinforced my decision not to participate in Metro's recycling program because they dumped a bunch of bottles that my spouse washed and designated as recycling to the ground behind our house. It's not the first time Curby workers have littered the alley and I doubt it will be the last. At the same time they claim to be promoting deep green lifestyles, Metro Public Works is proving to be pale by illegally dumping trash.

Read more on Curby's checkered history in Salemtown here and here and here and here.

No peripheral views in the Music City Center vision

Bruce Barry points out that convention center backers do a lot of question-begging by circumscribing the discussion:
[Music City Center] was put on the table four years ago as a near-inevitability, or at least as a convention center solution to a convention center problem. Alternatives and opportunity costs have never been part of the discourse. MCC advocates insist that the project's merits have been thorough aired and debated, but it is only the merits of the project in relation to some other version of the same narrow notional objective (sustaining and expanding Nashville's trade show economy) that have been in play.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

There are exceptions to every rule; prudence is the ability to embrace the good ones

WPLN reports:

Council Member Mike Jameson agrees the city can’t conduct a poll on everything. But he argues the downtown convention center deserves extra input, calling it Nashville’s most important, and expensive, decision in the next decade.

“If there was ever any one issue that begged for an opinion poll, a referendum, some sort of survey, this is it.”

While I have been disposed to oppose popular referendum on singular budget issues in the past, I've never remotely advocated an absolute stand against the idea of referendums. Those who forced the referendum issue on Metro have a different agenda: they would cut off revenue streams to spite any services and programs.

Under most circumstances I would oppose a referendum to kill attempts to pay for police services, infrastructure maintenance, and programs that serve Nashvillians at many levels, but I also realize that we work with what we've got before us. If the referendum initiative can be turned to serve the common good by revealing actual public support or opposition to Nashville's largest capital project ever--dedicated to tourists and the businesses that serve tourists--then it is no self-contradiction to support holding that referendum.

And attempting to show contradiction between support for an election on the convention center and opposition to an election on English Only is just as short-sighted and lame. Passage of English Only would have been much more of a threat to local communities and our quality of life than expressing non-binding, but significant public opposition to a convention center would. The English Only referendum presented the worst face of referendum initiatives because it was an attempt to solve a problem that didn't exist based on anti-immigrant sentiment that would have generated more tension in our neighborhoods.

Opposing the English Only referendum cannot be remotely correlated to supporting a referendum on the convention center. English Only was about culture war; the convention center is about economics and civic life.

The same can be said of charges of contradiction between criticizing the cost of the English Only referendum and accepting the cost of a convention center referendum. I argued that Eric Crafton should be accountable for costing Metro taxpayers extra money to hold a referendum that was designed to make the jobs of able Metro employees harder and to drive cultural wedges between neighbors in Nashville.

The arcs of English Only and convention center criticism look nothing like one another. On the one hand, English Only had been Eric Crafton's baby from 2005 on. he proved himself willing to ignore public opposition and bolt over any obstacle and whip up a mobilized minority of voters to win. He should have counted the cost.

On the other hand, many of us with misgivings about the convention center believe that neither the Mayor nor the Council has made room for public feedback that could influence decisions on Music City Center. And yet, with the General Fund potentially obligated and $14 million out there hanging to be taken from other services, we're the major stakeholders in the project.

We've watched Metro indenture itself to two large budget-busting capital projects in the form of sports venues, and then come back later to say "we don't have a choice but continue to fund these back-breakers while other Metro services suffer." Bankrolling a third time does not make it charm. Even so, criticism of the convention was late and slow in developing, and it is not connected to personalities leading a reactionary faction of voters.

These initiatives to hold referendums couldn't be farther apart.

Thus, we agree with responsible critics like CM Mike Jameson: if there was ever a single cause to hold a referendum, building a new convention center, when expenses are a millstone for Metro in a sea of economic uncertainty, is a huge one.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another MDHA deadline missed in Salemtown

December 15 was supposed to be about the 4th or 5th completion date set during the last 3 years for MDHA and its private contractors to finally finish the block-grant-funded Salemtown streetscape. However, stretches of sidewalks are still being repoured and traffic signs are still being installed. Crews still have a way to go to finish.

As an elected member of the advisory committee working with MDHA for the last 4 years, I took it upon myself to do a quick survey yesterday, and I noted the following unfinished conditions in an e-mail to MDHA:

1) crosswalk stamps have yet to be painted

2) 3 lampposts are not functioning
  • Northeast corner of Garfield & 5th
  • Last post on north side of Garfield before Rosa Parks
  • Last post on south side of Garfield before Rosa Parks (behind the church, at the alley)
3) Crews have not cleaned dried cement splatters off of the lampposts wherever they repoured the sidewalks (some of the splatters are marble-sized concretions and difficult to knock off)

4) Long-damaged bulb at 5th & Hume (northeast corner) has not been repaired

5) Neighborhood ID sign at 3rd & Coffee is missing

6) "No truck" sign at 7th & Garfield stuck in the dirt on a traffic calming bump-out at the southwest corner. Construction crews merely filled the sidewalk curb with dirt and reseeded the spot where the sign used to stand.

7) Tree branches still rest on neighborhood ID sign at the corner of 3rd & Hume. Also, one of the lamp posts on the north side of Garfield between 5th and 6th was erected up into the branches of a tree, but branches are sitting on it and should have been trimmed back, lest strong winds damage the light.

8) Concrete still needs to be repoured up to both alley heads on Garfield between 5th & 6th.

9) Planned neighborhood ID sign on the east side of 3rd at Hume (Water Services) has yet to be installed.

Tonight we heard from MDHA that these conditions are being addressed and that they are setting a new completion/dedication date for January 15. This has been a long, drawn-out process that should have been over first in mid-2008 and then at several points this year, and I'm hoping it doesn't stretch out too far into 2010. Even though it hasn't been easy, it has been important for us to stay on top of MDHA lest important factors fall through the cracks.

While the advisory committee for all intents and purposes held its last meeting tonight, we are still communicating with MDHA, so please continue to contact us with your concerns if you live or own property in Salemtown. While it's disappointing that MDHA didn't wrap up today, the end is thankfully in sight. We just need to make sure they get it right.

$300,000 for an election sounds like a bargain after Metro spent $400,000 on a private PR campaign

Before you start heeding the memes, refrains, and mantras of Music City Center proponents that a referendum on the Mayor's plan will cost Metro $300,000, bear in mind that their side has already overspent an initial convention center contract much more; over $100,000 more than an election would cost, to be exact. Metro's convention center backers failed to stay within their $75,000 budget and instead paid a wealthy PR firm $458,000 to influence public opinion. That included $10,000 for twittering and blogging on behalf of building the big box.

Heaven forbid we spend tax dollars on actually getting the public pulse on the convention center rather than burning vital Metro revenues on twittering and blogging.

Salvation Army and Marine Reserve to kids at Christmas: "Achtung! Your papers, bitte!"

But what's most important ... is that the community knows "we're able to validate the information that we receive."

What she said and more:

The family's papers seemed to be in order, so the Salvation Army gives the tot a toy.

Nice catch, local media

The symbolism of launching an effort to involve the public more in a construction project that will hit them the hardest in front of the main library, which was closed to the public due to mayoral budget cuts, was not lost on at least two reporters yesterday.

Brandon Gee at the Nashville Business Journal framed the story thusly at the start:
On the steps of the downtown Nashville Public Library — closed on Mondays due to Metro budget cuts — Nashville’s Priorities President Kevin Sharp announced today that the organization has launched a petition drive.

Nashville’s Priorities is a group that opposes Mayor Karl Dean’s plans for a new $585 million downtown convention center. By including the bond issuance costs and assuming the project will ultimately be accompanied by a $300 million, publicly financed hotel, Sharp called the project a $1 billion mistake.

Meanwhile, Michael Cass alluded to the irony of launching a huge capital initiative when we can't even keep our libraries open further down in his story:
"I think the council really cares about what the people think," Sharp told reporters at a news conference in front of the downtown Nashville Public Library, making the point that the facility is closed on Mondays due to Metro budget cuts.

"They want to do the right thing, and there has to be a mechanism for letting them know what that is."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Will sign the petition for a more democratic Metro budget process

Mayor Dean has motivated me to do something I never thought I would do: support a referendum on an individual Metro budget item, albeit the largest capital project in Nashville history. I'm going to sign the petition that with enough signatures could leverage public input into this project.

I have two reasons for setting aside my general aversion to budget referendums and signing this petition. One is that no attempt has been made by the Mayor's Office to seek public feedback or to inform through the use of community meetings. It's been all top-down nose-thumbing. My second reason for signing this petition is that it is clear now that other Metro services are going to be cut in order to build a new convention center. Further stripping down limping Metro programs that more closely serve the local community than the Music City Center will is bad policy and it's detrimental to our quality of life.

I am not opposed to the idea of a convention center, however, I have serious reservations about this one. Yet, I believe the Mayor's Office could care less about listening to questions about their "signature project." If like me you have reservations or if you have stronger misgivings about the project as it has manifested itself, please click on the blue "Let's VOTE ..." button to download a petition, or e-mail me to sign the petition I've downloaded. This initiative will need over 25,000 legitimate signatures to be considered.

Disclaimer: despite my support for this petition, I've received no payments or gifts in exchange for posting Nashville's Priorities images and supporting this movement. I'm passing it along as a public service. The project deserves more public input than has been allowed.

Petition drive to give public say in convention center starts today in front of empty, locked library

The symbolism is not lost.

Convention center critics have organized a drive to get more than 25,000 signatures to leverage a public referendum on the Mayor's plan.

The drive kicks off at 1:00 in front of a powerful symbol of Nashville's sober economic reality: the Downtown library, which is closed on Mondays due to previous mayoral cuts to Metro services.

Progressive parental guilt

A writer deals with her struggles with sending her daughter to Seattle public schools and the less than ideal decision made to remain true to her commitment to integration:
The irony is that we’re probably as much a part of the problem as we would have been taking that Seattle principal up on his offer: We're officially participating in white flight. My daughter referred to one of her classmates as “the black guy,” and what she meant was he was the black guy. She later clarified: There are three African-American students in her school of more than 1,400. But there is only one in her grade.

Don’t worry. We got ours: .... we’re sending our daughter to a school where she is learning about books but not — at least to our way of thinking — about real life.

The outcome is that my husband and I, after only five months in the Pacific Northwest, have made a decision. We’re taking our daughter back to Minnesota where she can live and attend classes among a racially mixed population while getting an education of the quality we want her to have. This will mean living apart and maintaining two residences.

Pittsburg Mayor moving to tax university tuition

According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette Mayor Luke Ravenstahl argues that area universities should help pay their "fair share" for city services even as universities decide "thanks, but no thanks":
He said yesterday their decision leaves him no choice but to ask for approval of the tax by City Council, where five of the nine members have said they will support what he calls the Fair Share Tax.

"I hope they reconsider and re-evaluate their position. If they truly want to protect their students, then they will accept this very reasonable proposal," the mayor said in a statement about his $5 million request [for contributions in lieu of taxes on tuition].

"But as it stands, their actions have left this administration with no choice but to pursue its only legally available option: the Fair Share Tax."

Council twice has delayed action to allow more talks about the tax, which would be 1 percent of a college student's tuition bill and is projected to raise about $16 million a year for the city. The tax would be the first of its kind in the country and is sure to face a lengthy legal challenge if it is implemented.

TVA has too much too lose not to remain willfully, blissfully self-ignorant

Sour Persimmon has a theory on the probable cause of the Kingston ash spill last Christmas that also likely explains why it's not TVA's theory:
When there is a hard freeze, ice forms on the surface of mud or soil. The expansion of water as it freezes causes a pressure drop that pulls water from below the surface. As the photo above illustrates, this pressure can draw out a considerable amount of water, which freezes into crystals or ribbons. The rupture in the ash pile started in the northeastern corner of the pile where the curvature maximized the surface area, providing more exposure to the cold air. The wicking pressure would be strongest in the corner, and the flow created as ice formed on the surface of the pile is just the sort of trigger engineers were looking for. Since they failed to consider the cold weather, they were unable to find a cause.

Why does it matter? Just a couple years prior to the spill, an outside consultant warned TVA of this danger and recommended that they lower the water content in the pile during winter months to prevent a freeze-triggered collapse. They did this the previous year, but TVA cycled managers to other plants during a reorganization in 2008. Apparently institutional memory was lost and the pile was not dewatered last winter.

The unbearable lightness of informed consent in the convention center debate

The City Paper provides a broad survey of where council members are on the convention center this morning. One looming concern for CMs is the lack of independent study of public opinion toward the Mayor's "signature" project:
Council members have been left to gauge support on their own.

Councilman Sam Coleman, who said he’s undecided, estimated half of his constituents in his Antioch district support the project.

Meanwhile, [Mike] Jameson, who lives in East Nashville, says he senses that “the average guy on the street is at best skeptical of this.”

Even Metro Councilman Rip Ryman, a supporter, says public input to the Council is overwhelmingly opposed.

Between now and the final January vote, many Council members are scheduled to hold community meetings to bring the case to their constituents to measure support.

The City Paper has confirmed at least five such meetings, most to be held jointly by several members.
If District 19 CM Erica Gilmore has scheduled any community meetings on the convention center project, I'm not aware of any communication from her office to that effect. It would be a real disservice to constituents not to hold at least one public forum to inform and to gauge public opinion in the 19th.

But leave it to the Mayor's loyal aide-de-camp Ronnie Steine to exaggerate our opinions on the matter:
“If you, on the other hand, are just generally skeptical of all numbers and have at least a skeptical view of Nashville’s future and our ability to grow and to continue to generate interest and visitors, then you would naturally be skeptical of all this,” Steine said. “That’s just two basic fundamental points of view about the future of our city.”
So, if we declare our concerns about (let alone our opposition to) the new convention center project in this configuration we are skeptical about Nashville's future? I started out as lukewarm but open to the idea of a new convention center. I was non-committal. But the design, community impact issues, exclusion of public input, and budget mismanagement issues have made me a more vocal critic of the Mayor's plan. And I've become a critic because I care about Nashville's future and the economic hit Metro budget could take in that future. So, when CM Steine characterizes honest questioners like me as "skeptical of Nashville's future," he only shows how he betrays his own independence, objectivity, and yes, honesty.

Mayor's Office admits no plan for dealing with budget shortfalls due to convention center

Rich Riebeling told Metro Council last week that the Mayor's office is not going to deal with the question of making up a $14 million deficit caused by plans for the Music City Center until they consider the 2010-11 budget at the end of next spring (council will probably vote to approve the convention center long before those talks begin):

It seems curious to me that Mr. Riebeling would speak about reassigned old convention center funds as belonging to the new convention center, given that they were reassigned when the old one was paid off. Once the facility was paid off, by definition, those funds are unencumbered so, unless the charter creates a permanent convention center fund, why would we assume that those revenues automatically go to an unbuilt new convention center? It sounds like accounting tricks and mind games to me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blogging can be an excuse for lazy journalism

In a Friday post on domestic assault charges brought against a former TNGOP spokesperson published shortly after those charges were publicized, Tennessean reporter Jennifer Brooks seems to make a leap before confirming her conclusions. Not long after commenters with the names "Bill Hobbs" and "Anna Hobbs" replied to posts on charges against Bill Hobbs, Ms. Brooks writes that Mr. Hobbs and his wife were "telling their stories."

However, Ms. Brooks gave no indication that she had confirmed with either Mr. or Ms. Hobbs that they were the actual commenters. Let's hope blogs are not making journalists as dilatory as journalists accuse bloggers of being.

Nashville PR firm still not converting federal recovery funds into public benefit

Two months ago, I broadcast information from that Nashville's McNeely, Pigott, & Fox had received stimulus funds for a green initiative for which they had created zero jobs. Via Post Politics, Stimulus Watch continues to note the lack of progress with taxpayers money by McNeely, Pigott, & Fox:

How much longer do we have to wait to see tangible community benefits from this award?

Neon lights, a nobel prize. The mirror speaks, the reflection lies

Glenn Greenwald on Barack Obama's cult of personality as a counterpart to those on the right:
Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Maybe one day Metro will adequately fund public schools and lobbyists will have to hold a bake sale to build a convention center

34 Metro Nashville public schools need leaky roof repairs (and at least one has rats in its vending machine):
However, there's a lack of funding in a bad economy, and that seems to be the problem for half of the schools on the list.

Tuesday's torrential rain made the roof leaks at Bordeaux Enhanced Option Elementary School so bad that Dora Curtsinger thought “it's bad enough to where it should have been fixed already."

Even the students wondered what was with all the water inside their school.

“Obviously, other schools may have a leak, but nothing to the extent of what you may have seen at Bordeaux,” said Metro Schools spokeswoman Olivia Brown.

Even schools that are having success in the classroom are behind in repairs. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Martin Luther King High School as 30th on their list of America's Top 100 Schools.

In the same article, the principal, Shunn Turner, is quoted as saying the roof leaks, kids have to eat lunch in the hallways because the cafeteria is too small and rats sometimes raid the vending machines.

When asked where MLK ranks on the renovation list, Brown said, “It is not at the top of the priority list for renovations.”

And it all comes down to money.
But note that money is no object when it comes to building new convention centers.

And the brightest idea for education in the Mayor's office is to build charter schools. Metro can't afford to maintain the schools it has, but the Mayor wants to build charter schools.

Caveat emptor: council member warns Metro buyers to beware of lobbyists bearing artificial public opinion

According to this morning's City Paper, Mike Jameson e-mailed fellow council members warning them of the push-PR tactics of the mercenaries of Dave Cooley, a former McNeely, Pigott, & Fox principle who as a Bredesen staffer was no stranger to receiving special government treatment:
the East Nashville representative points to attempts at influencing public support for the project, carried out by Cooley Public Strategies — a public relations firmed hired by the Music City Center Coalition, a group lobbying on behalf of the convention center.

“Regardless of our individual perspectives upon the proposed convention center, we have a collective interest in an honest assessment of public opinion,” Jameson wrote. “Tactics which seek to manipulate polling data or to create artificial appearances of public support have no place in this discussion.”

What apparently pushed Jameson over the top was a mass e-mail sent Thursday morning from Mark Brown of Cooley Public Strategies to folks believed to be supporters of the Music City Center, which encourages them to vote in a WSMV-TV poll.

“WMSV has an online poll on the Music City Center,” Brown alerted his e-mail list. “Could you take a second and vote in favor and then get a few other people to do the same?”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Metro employees union polls members and then opposes Mayor's convention center

Just sent out from the SEIU offices to Metro Council and the Mayor's Office (and note that they explicitly describe how their polling method was conducted in order to avoid push polling):
Dear Councilmember,

While you and the rest of the Council continue to hear from the Dean Administration’s experts on how “feasible” the Music City Center is for Nashville, we wanted to share some data we collected from Metro employees.

On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, SEIU Local 205 ran a telephone poll of our members who work in Davidson County. These are people who work across all the General Government departments (Parks, Libraries, Public Works, Social Services, etc.), the various agencies that the city oversees (MDHA, MAC, Sheriff’s Office, Hospital Authority), and in Metro Schools. And while the sample we used did include some workers who live outside of the county, approximately 3/4ths of this poll’s respondents pay taxes (and vote) in Davidson County.

This was what is called an “automated poll”, which means that participants got a recorded message and were asked to push a button to indicate their preference. The official wording of our poll was: “A lot of politicians and experts have been talking about the Downtown Convention Center and its impact on Nashville. But we want to hear from you – Metro employees. If you oppose the new Convention Center, press 1; if you support the Convention Center, press 2”. You’ll notice that this was a very simple question and we deliberately asked it this way to avoid charges of it being called a “push poll” by people who disagreed with the results, as was the case with a recent professional poll commissioned by Nashville’s Priorities.

In any case, the results we saw were conclusive. We found in our poll that 72% of the respondents were against the Music City Convention Center project. And while we only polled our Union’s members, we can safely say that this result would be consistent among all Metro employees, regardless of whether they are in the union or not, based on past polling and experiments we have done with voting patterns, elections, and other referendums.

For this reason, and for other reasons that have to do with cost, the Mayor’s financing package, and the risk to taxpayers by using a General Fund Pledge, SEIU will not be supporting the Music City Center project as it is structured right now. What also concerns us – and should concern you – is the statement last night at Council chambers by Richard Riebeling. When he was asked by your colleagues about how $13.8 million in Hotel/Motel taxes that fund many General Government programs (including police & fire overtime and public transportation programs) would be replaced if it had to go to debt service on the MCC, Mr. Riebeling said that “there will have to be a different source of funding for these services” or the city would have to “cut expenditures”. He refused to say whether that meant cutting those funds out of the budget altogether, making cuts from other departments to make up the difference, layoffs, or a tax increase. It is now obvious to us that the Administration has no plan for replacing the funds for these programs or for reinstating the COLAs for city employees. That is a great concern to our members and it should be a great concern to you too.

Over the next several weeks, SEIU will engage in this debate until such time as the Mayor can present a specific plan to fund his $585 million project without putting taxpayers on the hook and without putting Metro services and employees at risk. As always, we look forward to hearing feedback from you and other elected officials on the proposals and we hope that you will continue to keep an open mind about the very real threat to Nashville’s long-term economic security from this project.

Thank you for your time.

Doug Collier
President, SEIU Local 205