Friday, March 13, 2009

Balking on the Question of Being a Go Along Guy for Mayor Karl Dean

CM Mike Jameson, who has been a strong, progressive advocate for ordinary folk in our community is also showing himself to be reasonable, diplomatic, and an all around nice guy in spite of the troubling-making reputation that a few in the local mainstream press have tried to pin on him in standing up to the Dean administration. How is he showing himself to be such a prince of a fellow? By meeting with the Mayor, after Karl Dean's mouthpieces sent mixed messages on the Riverfront plan, and then encouraging Riverfront plan advocates to avoid criticism of this Mayor's Office.

Here is CM Jameson's letter that he sent yesterday to the proponent blog of the Riverfront plan:
This afternoon, I met with Mayor Karl Dean to discuss the Riverfront proposal. After a frank and cordial exchange, the Mayor asked for the opportunity to assess the possible scenarios for the development sequence. More importantly, he suggested that, during this review period, all interested parties strive to avoid heated email exchanges, blog entries, and disparaging commentary.

It is, of course, still appropriate to register your particular preference regarding the riverfront on the MDHA website at But otherwise, I would urge everyone to refrain from disparaging emails or other heated public commentary.

The Mayor is trying his best, in uncertain economic times, to dedicate $15-$20 million dollars toward Riverfront development. The exact sequence won’t ultimately be decided until the Mayor presents a capital spending plan to the Council. He indicated he would like to do so before the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2009.

We have waited this long. Another 2 ½ months isn’t much to ask.

I would be grateful if you would distribute this to your respective listservs and personal contacts.

Thank you,

I'm not going to say a word against the genuineness of Mike Jameson's call for restraint nor will I say a word to those who choose to follow Jameson's advice out of what they sense to be respect for the council member. Jameson's camp has earned the benefit of the doubt on that score.

However, as an advocate and participant in the original discussions on this plan two years ago and as an observer of Mayor Dean for going-on two years, I am not about to stop criticizing simply because Karl Dean does not want to catch flack from social media while he is formulating a capital budget. No disrespect is intended to either the council member or to the Mayor when I say that.

One of the lessons we should have learned about Mayor Dean's handling of the Metro Water bill is that he is willing to ramrod and to rush decisions before the council in order to evade critical scrutiny or questions about the fairness of his policies, rather than taking the time to convince constituents to buy in. To put it bluntly, he has seemed unwilling to do himself what he demands from his critics: give controversial policies time for public feedback.

So, if we now are supposed to wait to dissect and reject obvious inconsistencies expressed by the Dean administration or ways that he appears to deviate from the Riverfront mandate of two years ago, how can we be sure that we will get that opportunity this summer when budget time is upon us? And if the mainstream media continues its penchant for avoiding conflict with the Mayor's Office and its ambivalence for asking critical questions, then who is going to step up and take a stand save the rest of us?

I cannot be sure, and I'm not willing to abdicate or cede the ground of critical questioning to anyone. So, I am not going quietly into that good night. Outside of faith in Mike Jameson's ethos, I can find no valid reason why I should pipe down when criticism of the Mayor is called for. However, Jameson's good name is not enough to overcome some of the lessons learned about the hardball played by the Dean administration so far.

Perhaps it is telling that the Courthouse is concerned with emails and blog posts flying about its public statements. No one is forcing the Mayor to read anything written online, so why should he care about cyber-dissent from his policy? If someone can explain to me rationally how dissent may endanger the mandated, funded Riverfront plan, I'll consider a cooling-off moratorium at Enclave.

Let's not forget that this is a public and civic debate about the direction of our city. Why should we submit to have it reduced to a glorified poll at a[ernment] instead of expressing ourselves with the dignity that we already have? Weblogs, neighborhood listservs, twitter hashtags, and email lists represent a legitimate forum for ideas and opinions on the Mayor's handling of the Riverfront plan, and they should not be replaced at the whim of the Mayor's Office by the MDHA website, which is a sealed, controlled, and untransparent medium. Instead of trying to co-opt and neutralize social media dissent, the Mayor should be playing to it and trying to persuade.

So, no offense intended to Mike Jameson, but I do not intend to abide requests to go easy on this Mayor. These may be tough budget times for him, but they are tough all over for many Nashvillians. Metro Nashville has the type of government that places most of the power in the executive's hands. Therefore, it is dangerous not to watchdog the Mayor and bark when necessary, especially at a time when a whole bales of federal bailout money are due to roll in. As long as Karl Dean makes contradictory, self-serving public statements that he will not play ball on the Riverfront based on how we previously chose up teams, then someone has got to challenge him. And if no one else does, then let it be those of us at the netroots without the remotist connection of influence to Karl Dean.


  1. I understand the perspective, Mike, and the suspicion. The Mayor's Office has some work to do in rebuilding the faith and optimism that we felt when we elected him.

    I read the request to play nice as more of a call to give the Mayor the opportunity to study the Riverfront Plan. I don't believe that MDHA had thoroughly studied the original plan before they floated their alternative. There are too many strong economic reasons, too many strong tourism reasons, too many strong environmental reasons, needless to say the history of public investment in this project, for them to recommend any other sequence than the one Hargreaves recommended. But they need to come to that conclusion on their own.

    In the meantime, I don't think anyone is discouraging folks from making their voices heard. We'll still reprint letters to MDHA and letters to the Editor on the blog. The plan has been out of the spotlight for a while now, and the traditional media has been so focused on some perceived Jameson/Dean smack-down that we haven't had any of the real facts out in the press about why it is that the original plan makes the most sense. We need to keep pushing for that. We can do so gracefully, though. We can certainly do it without name-calling, though, and, to some degree, we're better off for it. What I want most of all is for our entire community to understand why the Riverfront Plan works as well as it does, to feel strongly and optimistically about supporting it, and to move forward toward a new vision for the waterfront that we can all embrace.

    From your neighborhood pollyanna (and occasional thorn-in-the-side),

  2. I think your point that there should be online discussion and, where appropriate, criticism, is valid, Mike.

    My reading of CM Jameson's message is that it's a call to be civil more than a call for digital silence. I think that's reasonable, if I'm interpreting correctly.

  3. "Heated" and "disparaging" are two entirely different ideas, both in meaning and quality. Part of the problem is that the two are often confused.

    And as for the suggestion "to avoid ... blog entries," well that's just not going to happen. People will determine whether a blogger's criticism is appropriate by choosing to read/link them or not.
    We don't need a top-down directive to stop the rough and tumble of social media.

    Just as surely as Socrates descended to unwashed Pireaus, Karl Dean can descend to social media.