Sunday, May 31, 2009

Breath-taking Gallery of an Endangered Land

Check out Ann & Paul Schatzkin's photo gallery of Bells Bend.

Local Newspaper Chooses Wisely

Did you see this morning's editorial?
[May Town Center] could work elsewhere in the county and make better sense. It doesn't take long, for example, to consider the uncertain future of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as a site for such development. Nashville is still on the upswing of developing downtown. The only reason to build in Bells Bend is to benefit the owners of the property.
And that's not good enough reason for me to support the paved-over notion.

Convention Center Debate Got Ugly from His Perspective

I was too occupied by housework to get away to see the convention center debate on the Vandy campus earlier today, but one commenter over at the Nashville Charrette did not like what he saw from the side he supports:
As a supporter of the project, I was embarrassed by [Butch Spyridon's] performance. He read off the same talking points including taking credit for the revitalization of Broadway, reducing our property taxes, stating the Civic Design Center "chose" the location, etc. Difficult as that was to listen to once again, it was his constant interruptions, his innuendo and out right snide comments under his breath about "Dr" [Heywood] Sanders (he made it a point to reference him as "Mr" - I wonder who had him do that?)that was most troubling. His inability to address inconsistent projections and how they counted 'events'(apparently a wedding party garners the same count as a convention) also spoke to the credibility of the projections. As I was leaving, I overhead a councilman commenting they couldn't believe how 'rude' he was. Individuals seated around me were audibly uncomfortable with Butch and his comments. "Shut up Butch - - puuleeaase!" was heard more than once. Sadly, as a Nashvillian, I wish we'd had someone more respectful 'representing' us.

'Dr' Sanders (Graduate of Johns Hopkins, PHD from Harvard), was collected. I expected some of the points he made, but he was always respectful of Butch and the crowd, with maybe one exception when Butch, after numerous slights, was continuing to accuse him of 'killing' a large hotel project, something Sanders said the market did. He did note the city funded another one later and it's occupancy is running in the 55% range and has affected all the hotels in the market by discounting it's rooms. I think Dr. Sanders probably scored some points and gave even the most ardent supporters pause.

CRIME ALERT: Car Thief out Early on Parole Wednesday

Report from the Central Precinct via the Salemtown e-mail list:
One of Central Precincts most notorious car burglars was arrested 4/30/08 and given a 4 year sentence and is being released on parole/probation 06/03/09. (My math must be wrong because that doesn't add up to 4 years, but I digress) His intended address is the Mission. Based on his past history there is a high probability that he will re-offend If you see him in the area keep a close eye on him and report any suspicious activity, 862-8600 or in case of emergency 911.

Height: 511
Weight: 150
Hair: BLK
Eyes: BRO
Driver's License:93762088/SUSP
DOB: 3/5/57


Arrest Date



























THEFT, PROPERTY, $1,000+<$10,000






THEFT, PROPERTY, $1,000+<$10,000


















THEFT, PROPERTY, $10,000+<$60,000






THEFT, PROPERTY, $1,000+<$10,000






THEFT, PROPERTY, $10,000+<$60,000


















THEFT, PROPERTY, >$500<$1,000



Not So Clean and Neat between Zoning and Any Other Vote

Last week Tony G's number one media booster Richard Lawson responded to one of my tweets questioning the rightness of counting the votes of parcels instead of the votes of voters in deciding the popularity of the idea of May Town Center. He counter me by asserting that zoning contests should be scored by parcels (thus, giving some individuals more than one vote) instead of by individuals.

Let's assume for a second that I don't take issue with Richard's argument (although I do). Even if I don't take issue with the idea of voting by parcel, expect to carry it out exclusively is still naive hooey. The MTC development team is now touting the support they get from CM Lonell Matthews, who was elected (we hope) by one-person-one-vote. CM Matthews will eventually carry the zoning request to Metro Council for introduction, which is populated by members who were elected and continue to be influenced (we hope) by one-person-one-vote.

Zoning votes cannot be strictly hived off from the liberal democratic process were majorities are not defined by parcels owned by a minority in the Bells Bend community. If they were, they would not be subject to popularly elected bodies. If they were, Tony G's team would not have turned out large numbers of bodies at two Planning Commission public hearings or prompted Bordeaux residents to write specific council members asking for their votes. If they were, MTC developers would not have dropped $50,000 for push pollers. Each of these occasions belies the need for MTC to get the support of a majority of people in Bells Bend at its environs.

So, it is disingenuous for Tony G to keep referring to a poll of parcels as they only way he can show that a majority of Bells Benders support MTC. It was obtuse for Richard to defend the poll of parcels as the only one that should count in this momentous decision Nashville leaders face.

Friday, May 29, 2009

My View from Inside the Media Snapshot

BILLY KINGSLEY / THE TENNESSEAN photo attached to Chris Echegaray's May 29 story:

That's Tony G. in the foreground explaining how if you count the vote of each parcel rather than each person in Bells Bend, May Town Center supporters win in a landslide. That's me in the background standing against the wall pausing from live tweets and wondering what it was like back in the day when the votes of propertied white guys counted more than everyone else's.

Nashville Is Not Among Top 10 U.S. Cities to Find A Job


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mayor Dean Reneges on Long-standing Commitment to Move Metro Action to Downtown Government Complex

Four years ago I relayed news that the Metro Action Commission would be moving out of Salemtown's old Fehr School Building to the Howard government complex on the less residential south side of Downtown. In a letter to CM Erica Gilmore sent on Tuesday regarding the social service provider's late demands on the Salemtown streetscape project, MAC executive Cynthia Croom disclosed that Mayor Karl Dean has backtracked on the plan to move MAC:
for the last five years we have been told that we were moving to a new location. Approximately every 18 months is our scheduled move out date. We have even made it as far along in the process as going to the new location and assisting in the design of the lay-out. We were scheduled to move last August and the date was changed at that time to March of this year. Six months ago we learned that not only would we not be moving but that the designated location had been given to another department. At this point only our new kitchen facility has been placed in the budget for approval by Council. If this passes and is built, we believe we will see some relief to the parking situation as well as to the delivery traffic as all of those functions will move to a new location.
Mayor Dean's flip flop on relocating MAC is now a de facto cause of costly delays to federally-funded Salemtown construction project because if MAC had moved to a facility that could have accommodated high-volume automobile traffic, they would not have put up late road blocks to our streetscape plan.

I have e-mailed the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods for details on the reasons for the flip flop and on which department was chosen to be moved to Howard over MAC. I'm waiting for a response.

CM Gilmore has scheduled a conflict resolution meeting for Salemtown leaders and MAC staffers away from our home court at East Nashville's MDHA building. The meeting is scheduled for June 3 at 3:00. She writes that she hopes we can come to a consensus on the project. I have already maintained that the neighborhood had reached a consensus on the project last year, but I agreed to participate. I also encouraged Ms. Gilmore to ask a Mayor's Office representative to be present since the Mayor's decision to kill the MAC move is partly responsible for the current project delays. Ms. Gilmore endorsed the Mayor in 2007, and I hope she uses some of that social capital to motivate the Mayor to send someone. Given what I interpret as Mayor Dean's detached indifference toward these kinds of neighborhood issues, I will be genuinely shocked if anyone from his office shows up on June 3 to offer long-term solutions.

UPDATE:  S-town resident Brian Newman comments his displeasure with the double standard with which Metro agencies treat the Metro Action Commission:
If I didn't want the streetscape in front of my yard, would I be able to halt the project and be granted a "conflict resolution meeting?" The truth of the matter is the MAC knew about the streetscape, but they didn't care because they thought they were moving. Now that it looks like they will be sticking around for a while, they want to be a little more say-so in Salemtown. If council member Gilmore continues to bow to the MAC and delay this project, Salemtown residents should seriously reconsider their votes next election.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Common Patterns in Letters of May Town Center Supporters

An observant Enclave reader suggested that I take a look through the 19 out of 100 or so letters on the Metro Planning website that support May Town Center sprawl for "interesting similarity."

Indeed, I found some rather interesting patterns:
  • Bordeaux is representin'
  • Almost all look formulaic and ghost-written to me, almost as if they were prepared not to reflect personal qualities of the signers, but to be autographed by any MTC proponent
  • The common formula: jobs, "smart growth," tax revenues
  • Addressed to CM Lonell Matthews and copied to CM Jerry Maynard and CM Walter Hunt
That last pattern is perplexing. Why only 2 Cc:'s? Maynard is not the only at-Large CM. Hunt's district is in far north Davidson Co., while the district CMs immediately across the river from Bells Bend are Buddy Baker, Bo Mitchell, and Emily Evans. The proposed bridge would run through Baker's district. CM Jim Gotto sits on the Planning Commission, which is next to consider the proposal. Why the consistent copying by opponents to Maynard and Hunt? What are the odds that random Bordeaux residents from Lonell Matthew's district would coincidentally copy Maynard and Hunt (who has no observable connection to the first district)? Am I missing some orchestrated strategy here that targets Maynard and Hunt as in themselves critical to approval?

And on this topic of orchestration, one of the MTC supporter letters refers to the May Town booster group "Job Opportunities for Bordeaux," a project that received front-page promotion by the Tennessee Tribune. Could the generally impersonal look of the bodies of MTC supporter letters be the result of JOB efforts?

The letters of support addressed exclusively to CM Lonell Matthews constitute a small fraction of the overall letters published at the Metro Planning website. So, I have a hard time seeing why he came out so clearly today in favor of May Town Center himself (incidently SouthComm reporters were less kind last July, calling him a flip-flopper for initially favoring it and then opposing it). Besides, Matthews told the Planning Commission last July that infrastructure cost questions needed to be answered before approval could be won. Have those questions been answered?

Metro Action Executive Defends Interruption and Alteration of Salemtown Streetscape Project; Blames Others for Lack of Knowledge

Responding to my e-mail to Council Member Erica Gilmore protesting the 11th-hour wrench her department has thrown into the Salemtown streetscape works, MAC Executive Director Cynthia Croom writes:
It is correct that we requested a temporary suspension of the work (one week) that was being done in front of our building, not for the reasons stated but because we simply had no idea what was happening. We learned of the street scrapes on Tuesday, May 13th .... We asked if we could have until the following Monday to understand what was going on and to attempt to request any adjustment as this was going to reduce available space for parking on the street in front of our building and we needed to see what impact this would have. We were told at that time that we had been sent notices for the past few years. We asked that they check to see who the notices might have gone to in our building. It was then that they discovered that we were never sent notices but that the notices had been sent to the Metro 222 building to a department in that location. It was possibly not forwarded to us as we were scheduled to move from our current property. Nevertheless, we made no request that a permanent halt to this project take place. We did ask that the streetscapes in front of our building not be added because we are a little more worried that this could create more traffic concerns for our neighbors as we have small deliveries made to the front of our building because the back stairs are steep and cannot accommodate deliveries to the upstairs without an increased possibility of injury. We were told that our neighbors would have to agree to that request.
Every day that our streetscape project is delayed eats up more block grant money. This is a clear example of one department, Metro Action, holding a federally-funded project hostage at the last minute because of the failures of either MDHA or the interoffice mailing system to deliver notices for over three years that Salemtown had a block grant and a construction project. It is not as if federal block grants are private matters or that the Salemtown grant was not publicized a year ago by another Metro agency, when it came up on the Metro Council agenda for approval.

This project as originally scheduled should have started a year ago and I'm beginning to wonder whether it will ever be complete as originally recommended by the elected neighborhood committee members. MDHA is now using this as a pretense to hold another meeting with the neighbors (further delay), and CM Gilmore has responded that she would like to bring the two sides together to reach a consensus (even further delay). I can't help but see these extra meetings as once again accommodating MAC's special interests that they should have communicated earlier. And the admission above that the Executive Director intends to last-minute cherry-pick certain elements of the streetscape--which was already approved by a consensus of neighborhood leaders--is bad faith on her part.

I mean, come on; if Metro Action was truly engaged with Salemtown to begin with would the mere misdelivery of a mailer have stopped them from knowing about the project and participating accordingly?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is the Planning Department Fixing the Contest to Give May Town Center Developers the Edge?

An Enclave reader points to a problem with the sequence in the Planning Commission's agenda that would approve the May Town Center alternative plan BEFORE the public hearing on May Town Center:
The Planning Commission agenda calls for the proposal for the ... Alternative Development Area [containing the May Town Center development] to be voted on by the Commission BEFORE the public comment on May Town.

Technically/procedurally this is ok, since the ... vote [on the alternative] was postponed after last year’s session, and so can be voted on without further comment. But from a "spirit of the rules" point of view this is pretty outrageous, since they would essentially be pre-approving May Town before all the studies are in and all comment. (Never mind that the ... staff was ready to vote yes WITHOUT a decent traffic study and WITHOUT an economic analysis) ....

I heard none of the commissioners realized that the ... [approval of the alternative] was on the agenda before discussion ... rumor has it that [Commissioner] Andrea LeQuire was pretty unhappy when she found out.

Another example of the planning department staff manipulating the process.
Sounds like a good time to flood the commissioners with e-mails, letters, and phone calls asking for a delay in voting on the alternative development area plan until after they hold a public hearing on May Town Center. The Commission already approved the Scottsboro/Bells Neighborhood Plan, which seems at odds with the May Town Center alternative. Commissioners thoughts on the alternative before they deferred it last August after the jump.

Past MDHA Wheelings and Dealings May Cost Nashville during Convention Center Land Acquisition

CM Mike Jameson tells the City Paper that in order to acquire some Downtown parcels for the Mayor's convention center, Metro will be buying back land it once held, and at much higher prices:
District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson said there are other previously owned MDHA properties in the footprint and asked MDHA Director Phil Ryan to provide a list last month. Jameson estimated that the agency would have to spend significantly more than $14.7 in order to re-acquire the land.

He also worried that the property values would plummet if Council ultimately didn’t approve the financing for the new convention center and was forced to find another use for the land.

“We could own land that is depreciating in value because we aren’t using it for what we originally thought,” Jameson said.
It would be interesting to follow the profits off MDHA's original sale of the land to see where they went. If the money went into their interest-bearing reserve fund, then essentially they are still enjoying returns on money garnished from their own old property, which they'll now reacquire by spending someone else's funds. That has to be a sweet line of work to be in. MDHA executive Phil Ryan is a veritable catbird.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The One I Wrote To My Council Member Asking Her to Discourage Daddy MAC

Not only did I write this to District 19's Erica Gilmore, but I copied to Cynthia Croom and Karen Crook at the Metro Action Commission, to Salemtown project leader Linda Howard at MDHA, and to Brady Banks at the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods (the Purcell MOON would have followed up on this; since it's the first time I'm corresponding with the Dean MOON on a neighborhood issue, I'm not sure what if anything they'll do to find a solution to the mess that has been made of the Salemtown block grant):
Council Member Gilmore:

I just found out disturbing news from our block grant community advisory chair that MDHA has halted construction on traffic bulbs that were approved for 5th Avenue between Garfield and Hume out of "deference" to the Metro Action Committee staff, who seem to be insisting that traffic calming measures not be installed in front of the old Fehr School Building in the public right-of-way. I have been an elected neighborhood representative to the CAC for three years, I have attended nearly all the public meetings, and I never witnessed or received feedback from a MAC staff member opposed to the project in all of that time. MDHA invited every Salemtown stakeholder to these meetings and MAC has stayed away.

With publicity, you sought and received Metro Council acceptance of the block grant over a year ago, at which time MAC had an opportunity to give feedback, and I see no evidence that they bothered to speak out against any part of the project until after construction has started. MAC is engaging in arbitrary and capricious behavior if the reports I hear are true.

Frankly, Metro Action has had three years and one council meeting to address the Salemtown streetscape project, and for them to come in last minute and object is bad faith and poor citizenship. It is a slap in the face of their neighbors who have worked so hard on this. I understand that MDHA halted work on the traffic calming measures as a special favor for a Metro department. Yet, no other occupant on 5th Avenue would be able to receive special favors if they protested. I'd like to know why MAC is more privileged than any of the rest of us who have invested our energies in this neighborhood, often without any assistance from MAC?

I pick up their clients' trash thrown from their cars in front of my house because they refuse responsibility for any litter off the Fehr campus. I have had to shield my 5-year-old daughter's eyes from MAC clients urinating on the sidewalks. If I have to put up with these indignities because of MAC's occupation of the Fehr building, it seems to me that they should put up with curb bulb-outs in the right-of-way that serve to calm traffic and to discourage Werthan Packaging's 18-wheelers from using the neighborhood as a cut through. We are a walking neighborhood with lots of kids, and we certainly don't require Metro workers who drive in from elsewhere torpedoing our efforts to slow down traffic and to enhance the quality of life.

I am upset that MAC has acquired this kind of control over our neighborhood. They seem to operate by their own rules and make no apologies for it. I have lived here almost 5 years now and I have been accepting of social services located in neighborhoods up until the point that the agency providing the services starts behaving callously and irresponsibly toward its neighbors. Giving them a special exception to step in and alter our carefully considered streetscape plan at will only empowers MAC to continue to be brazen and boorish toward Salemtown.

I'm asking you to step in and to prompt MAC to be more neighborly and to encourage MDHA to complete the plan endorsed by this neighborhood without any further delay using funds authorized by the Metro Council a year ago. We have lost time on this project because of the bureaucratic errors of another Metro department (Public Works, which misplaced our application). Please do everything you can to insure that we will not lose any more time due to Metro Action's errors in judgment.

Metro Action Throws Wrench into the Salemtown Streetscape Project

MDHA notified Salemtown leaders that staff members of the Metro Action Commission, which occupies the old Fehr School Building in Salemtown, asked them not to install traffic-calming elements that were recommended by the neighborhood's elected advisory committee after three years of study and approved by all of the Metro departments that had to approve them. I served on the committee for the duration and not once did I witness MAC staffers attending open block grant meetings. Nor am I aware of any attempt on MAC's part to contact the committee and express their feedback during the process.

And yet, MDHA has stopped installing curb bump-outs because it has a past history of "deferring" to the wishes of Metro departments. The fact that MAC can undermine the construction process at the 11th hour outside of the civic process to which every other Salemtown stockholder submitted says to me that they believe that they can operate outside of the rules and without consideration of their neighbors. MAC is doing absolutely nothing to build good will in this community, and we need to watchdog them very closely.

West Nashville Council Member Objects to Harm May Town Center Would Have on His Neighborhood

From the Nashville Post:
District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman, whose West Nashville district would be impacted by increased traffic from May Town Center, said the RPM analysis confirmed his concerns about the project.

Holleman added that he was impressed with the components of the May Town Center plans that encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic. But the side effects of the development would call for road widenings along the Charlotte Avenue corridor, which defeat the purpose.

“I have concerns that the marketing of this project is about green pedestrian-oriented development,” Holleman said. “But the recommendations in this study and in the [original] May Town study are for road widenings on Charlotte Avenue and turn lanes on 51st, which harms the pedestrian access in my neighborhood.”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deep Thought

Why are we raiding the cash-strapped Metro Water Services budget for $4 million a year to subsidize the Tennessee Titans when the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency has tens of millions of dollars stashed away earning interest that could be used to finance owner Bud Adams instead?

Sprawl More Manly than Density

Paul Krugman on conservatives' hatred of conservation in a metropolitan context:
The funny thing, though, is that these days it’s mostly the other way around. As I noted a while back, a lot of anti-environmentalism in America these days is about symbolism. And I think the same thing is true about pro-sprawl commentary. Consider the case of Portland, Oregon. Conservatives really, really hate on Portland; examples here and here. Aside from the tendency to engage in factual errors, the hate seems disproportionate to the cause. But it’s an aesthetic thing: conservatives seem deeply offended by anything that challenges the image of Americans as big men driving big cars.

Metro Planning Commission's May 28 May Town Center Agenda Item

The final item on the Metro Planning Commission's May 28 agenda is a public hearing concerning May Town Center. "Public hearing" means they'll be listening to you:
6. 2008SP-022G-03
May Town Center
Map: 079-00 Parcel: 002
Map: 090-00 Parcels:001, 002, 003, 010, 011, 201, 202
Bordeaux/Whites Creek Community Plan
Council District 1 – Lonnell R. Matthews, Jr.
Staff Reviewer: Brenda Bernards
A request to change from AR2a to SP-MU for properties located at 3886, 3920, 3924, 3992, 4068, 4072, 4194, and 4206 Old Hickory Boulevard and Old Hickory Boulevard (unnumbered), approximately 4,700 feet south of Cleeces Ferry Road (1,487.69 acres), to create a new mixed use SP district called "May Town Center" proposed for general office uses, commercial uses, hotels, residential uses, and open space, requested by Civil Site Design Group, applicant, for H.T.P.C. 2 Partnership and Bells Landing Partners, owners.
Staff Recommendation: A staff recommendation for the preliminary SP plan will be provided with the Staff Report for the June 25, 2009, meeting.

Joe "Do Bud's Bidding" Biddle Performs His Best Herkie for the Titans

When I was a high school kid each year at homecoming the girls at my school would form powder puff football teams and compete. It always appeared to me to be more of an excuse to get close to the varsity football players (who coached the powder puffers) than devotion to play or competition. Joe Biddle's latest homage Bud Adams and the Tennessee Titans strikes me a strictly powder puff in that sense: it's an excuse to ingratiate himself to team ownership and milk team popularity instead of writing thoughtfully.

He describes the suffering that wealthy owner Adams suffered in Houston in sympathetic tones:
The Oilers never had control of its revenue, operation or scheduling. Houston's city fathers made it clear they would ignore Adams' pleas for a new stadium.
Houston, which once again has their own pro football team, would probably have a slightly different take on Biddle's pro-Adams spin on the event.

While Nashville's sports journalists are basically homers anyway, Biddle drives the generally uncritical sports journalism pose to new lows in this piece by reimagining former Mayor Bredesen's deal-making with Adams without reference to cost. Joe seems too busy teasing up benefits to acknowledge that the stadium deal is draining $4 million a year from financially troubled Metro Water Services and will do so through 2026 (if the Titans hang around that long). And he makes no attempt to explore whether public schools have suffered as a result of Metro's financial commitment to pro football.

For a professional journalist, Joe Biddle seems to be a pretty good pro football media guide writer. Maybe Bud Adams will hire him instead of freeloading the gratuitous advertising that the Tennessean is giving the team under Joe's byline.

Friday, May 22, 2009

TSU Professor Says He Will Stop Using "May Town Scholar" Telephone Script

Here is Dr. David Padgett's latest comment at PiTW:
As of today I have asked my students to immediately CEASE and DESIST using the script in question. Why? Because it has been a poor tool for collecting data on stakeholders' environmental perception of the May Town Project. In order for us to be successful, we must have data. I estimate that 95 percent of the people we have called either have hung up immediately, or never answered at all.

We will move to more scientifically sound methods such as focus groups, qualitative observation, and a voluntary online survey. All future data collection methods will have to pass the muster of the TSU Internal Review Board evaluation process.
First, why wasn't this project submitted to a review board of research specialists to begin with, given its use of human subjects on a controversial political issue? The script is ethically questionable given its leading nature, and I don't see that great amounts of objective data could be culled from it. I question the prudence of using biased language on an issue of public interest, and the consequences of imprudence on human subjects could be harmful.

Second, I'm concerned that the damage has already been done by the "May Town Scholars." The prospect that human subjects may have been steered toward the developers' political persuasion on zoning, planning and development issues is troubling. The fact that Dr. Padgett would jettison the script so quickly under a firestorm of protest indicates to me that it might have already served its intended political purpose.

Finally, I don't think that the May Town Scholars should be allowed anywhere close to a serious academic research study involving May Town Center, Bordeaux/Scottsboro/Bells Bend, or Bells Landing Partners, LLC. They've received their reward: $50,000. They should take their money and walk away from this issue.

It Ain't Easy Being Green

Caleb Hannan reports that the Mayor's (and now Metro Council's) proposed Downtown convention center is likely to shed its grass chapeau. I guess the Green Ribbon Mayor no longer needs to hold down the environmentalist/conservation wing of his supporters to move ahead with the development. (Besides, where else would they go?)

And read more from Caleb on the incestuous relationship between Metro Council, MDHA (about whom I raised red flags yesterday), and PR firm McNeely, Pigott, & Fox. The perquisites between politicians, the shadow government authority, and private industry seem to be on full flow.

The Aggregator of Aggregators and Other Exercises in Redundancy

Remember when the Nashville City Paper used to report its own stories? That was cool.

Now it seems full of links to outside sources. Their online edition suggests to me they see their primary competition as Nashvillest.

Deep Thought

If the May Town Scholars at TSU base their research on phone calls they make to TSU alumni asserting the "opportunity" of building May Town Center what does scholarship at TSU even mean?

More Logical Fallacy from a TSU Prof

In this morning's Tennessean:
TSU geology professor David Padgett is conducting the research and coordinating the May Town Scholars. He's the one who drew up the contract with the developers, and he bristles at the suggestion that his students are doing something unseemly.

"It would go against everything I stand for, everything any researcher would do," to manipulate his research with a push poll, he said. "Absolutely not, I can't fix the numbers, and I have not been asked to."
Dr. Padgett continues to evade by defending his reputation rather responding straightforwardly to the question of whether using words like "exciting" and "opportunity" in reference to May Town Center--as well as providing a link to the developers' website--predisposes the research subjects to support the development. While I'm not exactly sure what he means by "fix the numbers" (which may be a red herring), I can say that it is misleading to argue that numbers can't be fixed. Any numbers can be fixed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

He should say, "I'm an environmental researcher who accepted $50,000 from developers to direct alumni towards the developer's website"

In a follow-up to the news that TSU is paying students to make promotional phone calls on behalf of the proposed May Town Center in exchange for a land donation, PiTW spoke with the TSU professor who accepted the developers' money.

What PiTW reproduces of the professor's comments seem to me to be a sell-out of academic claims to independence, impartiality, and fairness:
Under the contract, TSU's alumni office provides Scholars, six current TSU students, a database of 10,000 former students for them to call. Dr. David Padgett, an associate professor of geography running the program, told Pith yesterday that his only role in this is research.

"My primary interest is what's going to be the response of African Americans in this process," he said. "I'm not a lobbyist and I'm not a salesman. I'm just looking at this as an environmental researcher. Period."

But the script Dr. Padgett provided to May Town Scholars says otherwise...
When TSU alumni in North Nashville get a call from the May Town Scholars, this is what they hear:
1) Hello, my name is ________. I am a (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, grad student) at Tennessee State University .... I am not calling to ask for a donation, I just wanted to make sure that you heard the exciting news announced by TSU President Dr. Melvin Johnson on Thursday .... TSU has the opportunity to be part of May Town Center in Bells Bend .... Dr. Johnson is excited that these initiatives will create good jobs, world-class research and enhance the stature of TSU .... We would like to keep you informed as this development moves forward. Or you can go to for more information.
If Dr. Padgett is indeed conducting a research study rather than a promotional campaign for TSU, it is limited by the leading and prejudiced language of the script. Ending the call by encouraging study subjects to get more information at the developer's website violates any sense of balance. If there was a shred of intellectual honesty in this project, the callers would either not source the developers or would provide opponents' source data too.

In response to criticism, Dr. Padgett defends the project in a manner that looks like classic denial to me:
"we are NOT doing PR. For us to bias our subject pool in any way would taint our research! Scientists have to be OBJECTIVE, or we would invalidate our results."
Researchers do not arrive at objectivity simply by calling the project objective. Dr. Padgett does not demonstrate the objectivity of his research nor did he make an effort to demonstrate that those who object to the use of words like "exciting," "good," and "world-class" in research have misunderstood the meaning of objectivity.

Dr. Padgett's latest response in the comment section at PiTW is the kicker for me:
Our work is separate from any promotional efforts on the part of others in favor of the May Town Center Project.
The fact that Dr. Padgett's project is funded by May Town Center developers makes his denial disingenuous. The fact that the script ends by encouraging subjects to go to the May Town Center website for more information makes his denial self-contradiction.

Does Nashville Have Its Own TVA-Like Shadow Government in MDHA?

MDHA is much more than a traditional Public Housing Authority …. It’s an economic development authority as well, and as such it is an important political actor and buyer and seller of real estate …. MDHA is an empire.
Yesterday I had an enlightening meeting with SEIU Director Doug Collier. Among other information, I obtained a 2000 Financial Analysis of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.* That analysis (from which the empire quote above comes) found that MDHA maintains high reserve levels ($15 million in 2000; yesterday I was told that their reserve is up to $20 million in the middle of a recession) and earns over $1 million annually on the investment of reserve cash alone.

Even in years when the federal government could not fully fund other housing authorities, MDHA increased its base rate of subsidy according to increases in the cost of living.

MDHA is able to operate with a surplus because of
  • High occupancy rates, which generate larger reimbursements from the federal government
  • High return on Interest on reserve fund, which does not adversely affect operating subsidies MDHA gets from the federal government
  • Underspending on maintenance
After giving credit to MDHA, the report ponders more critical questions:
Are they cheating anyone? MDHA seems to collect more from Uncle Sam and the tenants than it spends. That at least raises the possibility that the program may be hoarding money by shortchanging the tenants somehow, neglecting to do extraordinary maintenance tasks, for example. Or it may be ripping off HUD by getting more reimbursement than it needs. A third possibility is that MDHA may be cheating its workers by underpaying them for services rendered. Fortunately, there is no evidence against the agency on the first two counts.
I am told that soon after this report was released in late 2000 and became common knowledge at MDHA employee pay went up from $11 per hour to $17 per hour and tenants received $6 million in MDHA rent refunds. The SEIU union representatives I met with criticize MDHA for focusing strictly on growth-oriented development to the neglect of maintaining housing and without regard for job-creating projects. They are concerned about how MDHA is going to spend the Obama Administration’s infrastructure stimulus funds in the pipeline.

There are a couple of things that interest me about this report’s findings beyond SEIU's concerns. One is the recent scaling back of the Salemtown streetscape project due to higher unanticipated costs. Put aside good questions about how construction costs could be higher in a market downturn. If MDHA is awash in excess funds through their own investments why can't they kick in some funds for planting some trees to enhance the quality of life in the North End? If they were at fault in not following up with Public Works and the private landscape architect on delays in the project then they should be willing to make amends by putting down some canceled parking striping. Is MDHA devoting all of the $589,000 block grant to the Salemtown project or is any of it shunted into their reserve fund? During the three year period that MDHA was holding on to block grant funds, did any collect interest that might be used now to meet unexpected costs? I sent in a request to the MDHA representative to the Salemtown project for a copy of the minutes of the relevant board meeting and an itemized budget for the project.

The other interest I have in this concerns MDHA’s leading role in acquiring real estate for the Mayor’s proposed convention center. Will the housing authority use the occasion to load more assets into its fat reserve fund and expanding its growing empire? Is anyone watching how MDHA itself conducts business during the land acquistion process?

MDHA seems to be accountable to no one locally or at the state level while it meets its obligations to the federal government well enough to keep the subsidies flowing into its coffers. But some interpret its response to the 2000 SEIU report as covering past actions by raising pay and returning rents. Are we living with a monster in our midst that poses many of the same accountability problems we see at the Tennessee Valley Authority? Will it take a catastrophe on par with the Kingston coal ash spill to reign in MDHA power? Or can a group of organized people delving into MDHA finances and once again asking critical questions force it up a higher road?

*The analysis was conducted by the SEIU International Research Department in Washington, DC and it relied on original MDHA financial data obtained upon request.