Friday, December 31, 2010

Enclave's 6th Annual Best and Worst Metro Services

Another year coming to a close, another chance to look back and consider high and low points of Metro service delivery from a hyper-local and neighborhood perspective. If you are among the major players in Nashville, it has been all cake and a lot of icing in 2010, even with a flood and continuing recession. Not being in that inner circle, I think I have some perspective from the side of those whom the Dean Machine leaves behind. So, here is the 6th annual retrospective on 2010:

Mayor's Office
This week I already posted my impressions of Karl Dean's performance during the May flood in reply to local journo's proclamation of him as "Tennessean of the Year." When I think of award winners, I think of those who exceeded all expectations or those who went above and beyond the call of duty. Did the Mayor's Office operate effectively to deal with the flood? Yes. Was it award-winning? Nope.

Otherwise, the Mayor demonstrated his commitment to local special interests above all. Neighborhoods remained invisible unless they served his out-of-wack commitment to untrammeled growth. He thought about a parking meter plan to add to Morgan Stanley's piles of money earned from Chicago and Indianapolis meters. After ignoring West Nashville community leaders warnings about the flood risk at the former car dealership designated to become the newest police precinct, he watched the May floods prove him wrong. He acted as champion to Wedgewood-Houston, but behaved like a dictator toward Antioch in the name of selling off the Fairgrounds for some walking around money.

Karl Dean's vision of a convention center bonanza was muted by water main bursts around Downtown last year, underscoring that growth needs to be balanced by infrastructure spending. His mortal sin was to obligate the General Fund to pay for construction. Finally, when he did not get his way on the Fairgrounds he tried to stampede the herd by threatening to raise taxes and by reintroducing the prospect of May Town Center.

New Year's resolutions should be: kill the hubris; at least look like you're a diplomat on community-based issues; not all growth is good: cancer, for instance.

Metro Council
Both Erica Gilmore and Buddy Baker sponsored controversial zoning/planning plans with little feedback from affected constituents (former: Greyhound terminal relocation; latter: alley closure/business deal). Both were forced to hold community meetings after angry community outcry. Both responded in less than effective ways to the controversy they helped cause. At-Large members Megan Barry and Ronnie Steine could have advocated public input in both these cases but did not, choosing instead to save their righteous indignation for the false assumption that community groups supporting the Mayor's Fairgrounds proposal were being ignored.

Jerry Maynard struggled with ethics problems all year resulting from his alleged malpractice of law. Lonell Matthews threatened to resurrect the May Town zombie for the 10,000th time, and sent out a flood relief information e-mail from his Metro account that included a campaign endorsement for state house candidate Steven Turner. Sam Coleman ran against conservative Jim Gotto for state office although there was no substantial difference between the two on Metro legislation. An unnamed CM called a community group and apologized for holding a public hearing. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors blackballed Dean project critics in the committee selection process.

However, in spite of the low lights, the Metro Council outperformed the Mayor by conveying the voice of community concerns. In particular, Emily Evans and Jamie Hollin expressed skepticism about convention center/hotel funding and alarm about the risks to other Metro services. Michael Craddock challenged the Fairgrounds cash flow numbers that were not being fully disclosed by Rich Riebeling. Mike Jameson called out the Mayor for having Metro department heads lobby the council on the Fairgrounds. These members also were out working hard in their districts after the May floods when the Mayor hunkered in his bunker.

New Year's resolutions should be: the tools need to climb out of The Dean's box of hammers; the challengers need to keep fighting the good fight; stop making us wait for a different, more ethical culture in council.

Metro Schools
Schools Director Jesse Register and his school board backers held their band-aid of privatization and charter schools in 2010. Allegedly, Register met with private contractors on the plan to outsource school service workers jobs months before actually bringing his recommendation. It has also been alleged that the Director agreed to make board member Gracie Porter chair in exchange for her vote to outsource.

The district promoted its new Twitter feed as best source of breaking MNPS info, but it was generally used strictly as a PR tool with a short list of influential people it followed.

The year ended in the expected flames for service workers as a report came out that only a fraction of the promised number of employees to be rehired were actually rehired. Moreover, the private contractor was paying the retained much less compensation than proposed, which many of us predicted.

New Year's resolution: stop throwing public money to private interests and plow it into public-use schools.

The Rest
  • Metro Police -- experienced a remarkable drop in crime in the Central Precinct, which officers attributed to community policing and strong ties between neighborhood watch groups; North Nashville leader penned editorial maintaining that MNPD must be less focused on crime suppression and more on community policing
  • MDHA -- hired convention center construction company that engaged in work in Florida that was described as "inefficient," "uncoordinated," and "unproductive"; allowed Salemtown streetscape project to continue to languish without closure
  • Metro Water Services -- investigation found that MWS never followed through on its promise to sell pellet fertilizer from its biosolids facility near Downtown; failed to communicate the failures to North Nashville and to warn us that treatment odors would spike again for several months after the flood
  • Metro Health -- cannot contain stray dogs in neighborhoods, but has the time to support ordinance to allow dogs in restaurants
  • Convention Center Authority -- in spite of claims that meetings discussing move of Greyhound bus terminal were open, no evidence from meeting agenda or minutes that it ever happened openly
  • Metro Planning -- held community meetings on North Nashville Plan and seemed to incorporate many of the recommendations I heard in those meetings, but jury is out on whether we will see those wishes realized

I will not pretend that this list is exhaustive. After all, I did take 2 months off from blogging in 2010, so if you have any bests or worsts yourself, add them in the comments. After expressing the wish 365 days ago for better services, I am disappointed that this list is more one of low points than high points.

Please, please, please do local communities better in 2011, Metro government. That's a blanket New Year's resolution for you all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

If this is the Tennessee Democratic Party's new champion our electoral future is a real drag

The less regulation we do of businesses, the better.

We've been slogging our way through a recession for the last 3 years due in large part to unfettered corporate irresponsibility. We have a Mayor who wants voters to give him credit for leading Nashville through that slog. Yet, Karl Dean seems intent on defying logic, common sense, and scruples in order to reduce progressivism to economic expansion without protective reforms.

It's the best imitation of GOP I've seen since Phil Bredesen. My question for Democrats: if you're going to vote for Republican-lite, why not just go authentic GOP?

Monday, December 27, 2010

This award would be even more exceptional if it were impartially bestowed

You would think the Tennessean could at least put up a front to avoid the appearance of promoting Mayor Karl Dean, but they do not even bother any more. Even highly regarded, usually reliable reporter Michael Cass seems to have sold out with Sunday's seeming pulp circular awarding Mayor Dean Tennessean of the Year based on the most idealistic interpretation of his performance during the May floods and the convention center approval process.

This is a trend at the paper snowballing as we move closer to the next elections. Just like George W. Bush got his free ride from the national press after the 9/11 attacks, Karl Dean is getting fluffy and friendly treatment from local reporters since May. This is a point that Cass missed as he was busy parroting Dean deputy Greg Hinote's strained analogy to Allied Forces chasing Nazis across Europe (a slight upon the Greatest Generation). The Dean administration has been more like the Bush administration emphasizing loyalty based on false assumptions and embedding unquestioning reporters along its 2003 "Operation Iraqi Freedom" sweep.

A Tennessean op-ed by a PR specialist in May praised Hizzoner for the sheer volume of press conferences he was holding at the time while some of us were wondering where he was. Gail Kerr was waging her own editorial battles writing columns that amounted to love letters to the Mayor and hate mail to his critics. Reporters rarely asked critical or probing questions of the Mayor, but generally published whatever spin the Communications Office fed them. The paper even declared Karl Dean a winner of the 2010 off-year elections, which were otherwise considered a loss for Tennessee Democrats. The editors did so without regard to the fact that the candidates the Mayor promoted, like Jeff Yarbro and Sam Coleman, were actual losers.

Sunday's effort by Cass looks like dictation taken from insiders who have a material interest in uncritical press. The one-sidedness of that account defies what some community leaders experienced in May. Cass seems to be trying to overwrite experiences that some of us remember of a bunker mentality in the Dean administration. In the wake of the destruction local blogger Jay Voorhees maintained our city has a kind of ADHD about responding to need. If so, then the Mayor's Office seems to be using the Tennessean to stimulate local memories in a direction devoid of truths that some of us refuse to forget.

I distinctly remember the Mayor laying low and putting news conferences and non-profits like Hands on Nashville (not mentioned once in Cass's report) between himself and the relief effort. HoN did a lot of good, but it also took a lot of heat from some of us that Hizzoner chose not to face: because private agency-led relief efforts lack the same broad coordination as effective public campaigns led by government leaders, neighborhoods outside of West Nashville did not get immediate attention.

HoN President Brian Williams, who deserved to win an award before Karl Dean did, lost his composure at news that neighborhoods were frustrated at the seeming neglect. Protest with low blows as he might, non-profits simply cannot be held as accountable like government can for delivery of flood relief to neighborhoods.

Even as East Nashvillians mobilized 1,500 volunteers on their own to rescue neighbors and bring relief to their community, they watched Metro resources head west. Karl Dean may be Tennessean of the Year at 1100 Broadway, but he had very little impact at Moss Rose or near McFerrin Park outside of photo-op appearances when, according to Cass, he decided to shed his "businesslike" style to get out and walk the neighborhoods where people suffered outside of business-as-usual.

My family enthusiastically participated in Hands on Nashville events, but we also remember the problems that Michael Cass glosses over. I watched TV reports of volunteers and Metro officials streaming into West Nashville, but then I drove Bordeaux neighborhoods that had huge piles of debris stacked at the curbs with no volunteers or Metro officials in sight. We took a car load of food and supplies to an Egyptian Coptic Christian community in South Nashville, where we saw few relief workers from Metro or Metro's non-profit contractors. It seemed like Metro-lead relief arrived late to and left early from poorer northern and southern neighborhoods.

We cannot totally blame HoN. As President Williams asserted to one community leader in an e-mail inquiry about accounting for actual volunteer hours, HoN "didn’t, can’t and shouldn’t manage all volunteers in an emergency." Their role "is to manage those that can’t find a volunteer home." However, Metro is responsible, and the Dean administration used volunteer organizations as surrogate service delivery, which let the Courthouse off the hook for the difficult process of accounting to the dollar and to the hour Metro relief efforts, although they were pleased to stand before the news media with celebs and take credit for large donor checks to non-profits.

The thing is, I never saw the Mayor's "businesslike" approach give way to the Deliverer that the Tennessean is bound to turn him into. Less than a week after the 1,000-year flood, Karl Dean was on NPR whitewashing the destruction by claiming that 80-90% of Nashville was "untouched" by the disaster in an attempt to maximize future tourism revenue. It bears asking at this point: if only 10-20% of the city was "touched" by floods, why was the Mayor's performance heroic enough to be lauded as "Tennessean of the Year"?

Part of the Dean administration's problem is that he holds regular communities and the business community to different standards. They did it last year with stormwater fees. They seemed to be doing it with water rationing after the flood. Many of us followed their calls for water rationing even though we heard maddening reports of Downtown hotels using tap water to wash off door mats. I squealed to Metro Water on a Midtown hotel who had a parking lot island sprinkler on perpetually so that water ran off into a nearby gutter. Even so, the waste went on for weeks with no abatement. Part of what militates against giving the Mayor an honor on any other grounds but his own regal fiat is that his penchant for being "businesslike" intrudes on good governance.

But the preferential option for business only extends so far. Even in describing Dean's "setbacks" in ending the Fairgrounds as a public entity in the name of redevelopment and tax revenues, Michael Cass refuses any critical repartee with Hizzoner. Cass chants Dean's mantra on Expo flea market business owners, whom he says only oppose Dean because they have a "material interest" in their business.

And it never occurred to Cass to point out that the Mayor has a material interest in ending small business, converting the Fairgrounds to private real estate, and bringing in corporations who also serve as the potential campaign donors that small businesses simply cannot? And is it supposed to be an indictment of small business owners that they have an interest in the survival of their own enterprise?

The final, fatal blow against any presumption of pro journalism in Cass's reporting is the fact that he failed to add a disclaimer that his publisher donated $15,000 to the effort to lobby for construction of Hizzoner's acknowledged pet project, Music City Center. That project is one of the rationales Cass uses to justify calling the Mayor "Tennessean of the Year." There seems to be a clear conflict of interest in judging a statewide award for an individual whose capital campaign you contributed to.

But the paper does not seem too worried about appearances of impropriety, especially when they are not too concerned about their partial appearance of promoting the Mayor.

UPDATE:  The online version of the Cass article no longer has the Fairgrounds "setback" paragraphs on p. 4 that quotes Mayor Dean disqualifying flea market small business owners for having "material interests" in not being moved to make way for corporate development. I do not know whether they were removed intentionally or accidentally, but according to the original article, the Mayor was uncontrite and dismissive toward popular opposition to his plan. If I would have thought that the paragraphs were going to disappear, I would have taken a screen shot to keep it in the online record.

As you can see from the screenshot of p. 4 below, the current section title is practically nonsensical given the paragraph following. It's because the rest of the section has been removed from the page:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

He who wins by any means must nonetheless face challengers

Jay Voorhees examines the formidable machine being pieced together to rebrand Dean (the Deliverer) in the next Mayor's election, and he appeals to the dictates of a principle higher than power:

Dean’s financial resources are pretty much limitless, and it’s clear that his willingness to do the bidding of the Nashville Chamber and the development community in town makes him a formidable candidate. Anyone who wants to have a political career that lasts beyond Karl’s tenure knows that they would be facing a group that has been quick on the draw with personal attacks, willing to do pretty much anything to win the battle, and the chance of being spit out and left in a puddle on the ground is pretty great ....

So [Gail] Kerr may indeed be right . . . no one may have a chance to unseat Karl Dean . . . especially when they are they are told by a local pundit that the race is over and we should go ahead and have the coronation today ....

And yet Kerr is absolutely wrong and dangerous to our city in setting forth the narrative that no one should challenge Karl.

The genius of our political system is based in part in the ability of an electorate to make a choice between competing visions of governance.

Jump to JustNashville for more of Jay's view of why Mayor Dean needs an election-year challenge even when self-anointed pundits judge it folly.

Do cities matter?

Kaid Benfield insists that cities may not matter as much as we think they do given regional and neighborhood scales, but that neighborhoods provide a quality regional dynamics tend to obfuscate:
If the region represents the economic scale of real cities, the neighborhood represents the human scale.

Neighborhoods are also the scale at which land development takes place, where new buildings and facilities are proposed, debated, and constructed.  They are where development decisions actually occur, and where we must pay attention if we want to have influence.  In fact, one of the best ways to reduce regional emissions is to revitalize older neighborhoods, because their relatively central locations reduce transportation emissions and they require little if any increase in runoff-causing impervious surface.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fairgrounds charitable event raises almost $500,000 for VUMC, faces an uncertain future with Karl Dean's Fairgrounds plan

Each year for the last 50 the women of Christmas Village raise beaucoup money at the Fairgrounds for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and other charities. This year they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars despite the buzz generated by the Mayor's Office that their facility was being closed and sold off to private developers:

When they met with Hizzoner to discuss their concerns several weeks ago, he acted like a boorish Grinch toward them. Undeterred, they raised an impressive amount of aid regardless.

How much did Karl Dean's lack of support cost them in donations? Given that they have just one more year at the Fairgrounds if the Mayor's latest sell-off plan passes, what will be the impact on future donations?

It's beginning to look a lot like Crisismas

Many Nashvillians would prefer the joy of the season overcome memories of May flood crisis. However, as long as there is an election campaign coming to town, the Mayor's Office will not deviate from its appointed rounds of jogging local memories of May with shameless holiday greetings in December. Above all the bustle you hear:

The prettiest sight to see is the flood line that will be on your own front door!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Compare and contrast the Metro beat coverage of last night's council debate on the Fairgrounds

It would be difficult for me to imagine more divergence between Metro beat reporter accounts than I read in this morning's print media on last night's council meeting.

Exhibit A is the Tennessean's Nate Rau who leaves the impression that things went according to script with only minor diversions:

Metro Council took a step Tuesday toward demolishing the fairgrounds racetrack, although council members promised to give the public a chance to weigh in on the issue next month.

Well, tra-la-la, and never mind that a couple of the Mayor's loyalists on the council blew gaskets when their end-the-Fairgrounds bill did not simply sail through without the threat of a public hearing. That threat aroused CM Ronnie Steine from his composure and into a kanipshin fit of yanking every single 1st reading bill off the consent agenda (customarily, bills on 1st reading are passed without debate). Rau ties the story up with a nice little Christmas bow at the end in the form of Finance Director Rich Riebeling's insistence that the Mayor had wanted a public hearing all along.

Exhibit B is the City Paper's Joey Garrison whose account of last night's meeting approaches something closer to the truth of what I witnessed last night:

Ultimately, Barry’s bill cleared first reading by a 34-6 vote, a misleading reflection of the council’s true stance on the ordinance. Most were simply trying to advance the bill to the council’s committee system, allowing the new public hearing to take place.

Since the unprecedented November 16 public hearing on the Fairgrounds bill, the Metro Council has been dogged by sustained popular opposition to Mayor Dean. They were dogged when Dean opponents filled the gallery on December 7, even though there was a snowball's chance in hell of another public hearing. And they were dogged last night by another full gallery of people who vow to keep coming back to council meetings, public hearing or no public hearing.

Garrison's account more accurately reports the mood of Metro Council that came across to me last night. It is an account more ambiguous, uncertain, and unscripted. What happened last night in council chambers was messy. What happened was democracy attempting to check and to balance an executive. Rau seems to have missed that part (that and the irony that CM Mike Jameson, whom Rau once described at the City Paper as having "a flair for the dramatic" disliked by the Dean Team, was the least theatrical in his appeals to stop the fighting).

The Mayor's plan may currently have 9 sponsors, but 6 opponents voted against allowing it to even get past first reading. During a paradoxical twist of Chapter 5 of the Developer's Playbook, Steine and Megan Barry looked red-faced as they tried to fight back Duane Dominy's attempt to allow a Christmas week public hearing on their bill. Steine's parliamentary stunt of pulling every 1st reading bill violated the very process he preaches. In intending to be symbolic, he looked cynical in the most hysterical sense.

So, when the Tennessean leads this story by minimizing the fractures and fissures that resulted in council over the Mayor's new bill, by denying the desperate theatrics performed by Mayor's council diehards, and by generally sticking to Karl Dean's script, their account is not worth your time.

Read Joey Garrison, who was much more even-handed, much more attuned, and much more accurate, although I would disagree with him that CM Steine is a stickler for council rules. Relative to the long record of council 1st readings, the bills pulled last night were the exceptions, not the rule. Nothing that happened on 1st reading last night violated council rules as much as they violated Ronnie Steine's own preferences for habits and process. Then again, CM Steine's performance makes him seem much more a stickler for process than for people.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fairgrounds supporters motivate council to hold televised, legitimate public hearing in January

Megan Barry and the "Gang of Five" (now the "Gang of Nine") brought the Mayor's second attempt to end the Fairgrounds as we know it quickly after a November 16 rebuff of the original plan; so quickly that it was almost like they were trying to maximize holiday distractions. If that was the case, their plan backfired as red-clad "Save My Fairgrounds" proponents filled the council gallery for the third council meeting in a row, even though the Barry Gang's bill was only up for 1st reading. Typically, bills on 1st reading generally pass without debate, but a motion was made to hold a 1st reading public hearing on this bill, which seemed to rattle CM Barry and to enrage CM Ronnie Steine, both avid Dean supporters.

Imagine what a difficult position the Mayor's bloc on the council are in. First, they have already seen their fellow CMs vote to approve an unorthodox public hearing once in November, and tonight they faced the same prospect again with a full gallery of citizens watching over their shoulders. Second, they faced that prospect at an unusual time, four days before busy holiday when most folk are too distracted to attend a piddling council meeting. And yet, people still showed up, and with a vengeance. Third, if they kept appearing resistant to allowing public hearings on bills that directly affect citizens they risked looking like despotic straw bosses. As one person put it on Twitter: "What decent CM votes AGAINST public hearings?"

Fairgrounds supporters in the gallery made it clear that they wanted a public hearing in a televised council meeting rather in a low-visibility, tightly controlled, and unevenly stacked sub-committee meeting on January 10. When all was said and done, that is exactly what they were able to get. Megan Barry put up a half-hearted protest about there being some problems with publicizing the 10th and then cancelling, but in the end the council voted to hold the 2nd reading and public hearing of the Mayor's latest bill as well as Duane Dominy's previously deferred "Save the Fairgrounds" bill during the regular January 18 regular council meeting.

This is how it should have been in the first place. Controversial capital development proposals to radically alter historic properties should be considered free and clear from heavy travel holidays and they should happen with the widest possible public exposure and transparency rather than controlled from inside in committee meetings. This seemed to me to be a clear win for race enthusiasts, state fair preservationists, Expo small businesses, and local neighbors who support any of those. It was also a win for those of us who believe that community development ought not be dictated from the top down.

Craddock reports Fairgrounds supporters were treated rudely without warrant by Courthouse security staff

Madison CM Michael Craddock gave an impassioned speech accusing Courthouse security staff of treating "Save My Fairgrounds" supporters "rudely" after the November 16 and December 7 council meetings and before tonight's meeting. Craddock, who did not go into specifics during tonight's comments, insisted that those people who choose to attend council meetings deserve to be treated with more respect.

If you were in attendance during 1 of the 3 meetings and you were either the object of security rudeness or a witness of disrespect to someone else, please share your experience in the comments below or e-mail me, and I will update this post with that information.

Fairgrounds redevelopment plan exaggerated for the purpose of effect?

Richard Lawson, blogging at Nashville Chatter Class, passes on some realism about the Fairgrounds' privatized potential that he learned from insider sources:

[T]here’s downright skepticism [in the real estate community] that 1 million square feet of mixed-use space could be developed on the site to attract or create 6,500 jobs, or that the site is a good location for Class-A office space. Generally, the view is that the possibility of 1 million square feet is outlandish, but equally outlandish as the $60-million economic impact claim of the fairgrounds being touted by opponents to redeveloping the site.

“When pigs fly, this development will create 6,500 new jobs in Davidson County,” one real estate industry insider said. “The density of occupancy/development will be closer to 700,000 square feet and 3,000 jobs with no guarantee any of the jobs are new to Davidson County.”

Jump to Richard's article for more interesting alternative perspectives not being reported by a news media that seems too dependent on political PR.

Does the pollution of Browns Creek result from the race track or from larger Nashville negligence?

One of the claims I expect to hear over and over at tonight's council meeting during the Fairgrounds discussion is how the race track pollutes Browns Creek and that is the reason to support what is the first step in Karl Dean's plan to redevelop. That seems logical conjecture until one considers the huge watershed that feeds Browns Creek upstream from the Fairgrounds. This Metro map highlights in green the entire watershed of Browns Creek:

Upstream from the Fairgrounds, the two forks of Brown Creek cross residential, business, and industrial areas with their surface streets and stormwater run-off. They cross under a maze of roads that make up two interstate mixmasters, and the East Fork parallels I-65 closely from its headwaters near a large railroad yard.

With all of that distance Browns Creek has to travel in contact with the leavings of exponentially larger volumes of auto traffic than the Fairgrounds Speedway could ever produce, with its course through a web of streets and industrial nodes, including a rail yard, is it even feasible to believe that Browns Creek's pollution problem will be scrubbed simply by closing the race track as the Mayor's supporters--who will no doubt seem like a new waterkeeper alliance--will argue tonight?

The outside in

On rare occasions where they finish in the money, I give anonymous and pseudonymous commenters their due. These points are too good to pass up without passing on:
Karl Dean ... is more focused on what outsiders think of Nashville, himself being an outsider.

We have a convention center for outsiders; are giving away $59 million in TIF funding for an outsider to build a hotel for outsiders; we are getting rid of Nashville small businesses at the flea market so we can build an office building for outsiders; we are getting rid of the racetrack because enough outsiders don’t use it; and now we are even retro-fitting the IBD formulas to “attract” (read: give tax dollars away to entice) more outsiders.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Tennessean gives Karl Dean another assist with the bait-and-switch-via-blogger

I must admit: it might just be a new day when journos no longer ridicule bloggers as posers, but instead treat them with the gravitas that comes with broader audiences. Regardless of the fact that some of us in the blogosphere are not the next hot new thing, we remember it was not that long ago when the journos treated our presence as a punchline.

But times change and people do, too. So, maybe, just maybe, the Tennessean takes a South Nashville blogger seriously enough to give her a sounding board beyond her Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.

Or maybe the journos are sticking to the Mayor's Office script of dangling a park before car- noise-weary neighborhoods to pave the way to privatization of more viable parkland. Picking blogger Jen Trail's commentary fits the angle of the Dean dangle.

Photo of Karl Dean credit:

If Ms. Trail could assure me that the greening of the Fairgrounds would not just stop at the 40 acres that Hizzoner must limit to parkland because of its flood-risk, I might not be so quick to judge her commentary as a rather pawnish fawn to pipe dreams the Mayor's Office wants us to assume implicitly. However, the Mayor has made it clear that he intends to convert the remaining 80 acres of non-flood-risk property to corporate campus/private office complex development.

Jen commented on my blog that she believes that Mayor Dean may still allow some of the the 80 acres to be designated as public use, even though he has given no indication that he would do so. The Mayor's plan proposes 1,000,000 square foot office space for 6,500 jobs created. And where will those 6,500 people park? Can the Mayor really afford to devote any of the 80 acres to public use, given employment demands?

And when the thousands of new campus employees park their cars in thousands of new parking spaces, where will polluted stormwater run-off from the parking lots run, if not back into a reclaimed Browns Creek, which the Mayor is using to leverage those parking lots?

This irony of commercial development doing nothing to stop the pollution of Browns Creek intimates a problem not as exclusive to the racetrack as Ms. Trail suggests in her Tennessean column. This problem is articulated by a commenter on her blog responding to her newspaper argument:
Do you honestly think that the Race Track was responsible for [traffic cones, plastic crates, PVC pipes, car parts, shopping carts, and plastic bags found in the creek]?

Sounds like unwanted items brought down stream by the flood.

As a person who has been a member of the racing community since 1987, I can assure you that we have always treated the creek with respect. I have cooled off in the creek on many hot summer afternoons over the years.

We have asked MANY times what we can do and offered to do clean ups of Browns Creek.

We were told by Fairgrounds maintenance staff "NO! We can not touch the creek. The Corps. of engineers will not even let us mow around it"" It is a protected water way"

So we did what we were told we could do with the creek. Nothing

Although, we continued to ask with the same continued answer offered to us year after year

Jen, We are in favor of cleaning up the creek! ....

You have not one shred of evidence that the race track pollutes the drinking water.

Racers are very conscious of cleaning up spills. The track uses environmentally approved clean up materials and requires all fluids to be dumped in approved recycling collection containers

Browns Creek has many storm water drains feeding it.

Mrs. Grissoms salads has been fined more than once for improper dumping.

The storm water that runs into the creek carries so many chemicals from industry, roof and roadway run off that any slight spill at the track would offer only a small percentage of the troubles in Browns Creek ....

Jen, I have been asking you for weeks via Email and your well written blog to sit down and discuss the issues that surround the Fairgrounds ....

I am asking you once again to sit down and discuss a plan of action for our Fairgrounds that can meet everyones needs. and will not require bulldozing part of the very fiber of Nashville.

We can live, work, and play together. The olive branch has been extended.
Regardless of how the Mayor's supporters may spin Fairgrounds redevelopment into a green dream to mitigate environmental degradation, it seems an illusion encouraged by Nashville's daily newspaper and filled with self-contradiction and naivety about what Karl Dean actually intends.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are there any limits? SNAP moves too easily with Mayor Dean from relocating the flea market to dismantling the race track

The aspect of the debate over the Mayor's plans for the Fairgrounds that I find most perplexing is the unwillingness of some community leaders to acknowledge that he has linked demolishing the race track and moving the State Fair and flea market after the racetrack is gone. I do not blame community organizations for choosing certain strategies to pursue without others.
Former journo speaks at public hearing in favor Mayor's plan
of moving Fairgrounds flea market out of his neighborhood
However, South Nashville Action People, the Mayor's primary base of neighborhood support, overplayed their hand in November when they told the Metro Council that they supported the Mayor's plan to move the flea market to Hickory Hollow mall to make way not just for a park and greenway at the fairgrounds, but for commercial development on par with those of Green Hills or East Nashville.

Former journalist, current Democratic Party public relations specialist, Colby Sledge stood during the public hearing then representing SNAP and a group called Neighbors for Progress and spoke in favor of the exile of the Expo/flea market out of his neighborhood to Antioch. Never mind the hardship that move might put on the flea market businesses. Never mind that practically every one of those small business owners opposed the lease without respect to the racetrack question. Never mind that as neighbors they may not be allowed to have a say in SNAP's decision making process. Never mind strong Antioch neighborhood opposition.

When the Mayor dropped his Hickory Hollow plan under pubic pressure and had Antioch CM Sam Coleman withdraw the lease bill, Hizzoner prompted a new bill focused exclusively on demolishing the Fairgrounds race track, but permitting the Expo and State Fair only one more year. Sledge did not miss a beat. The same guy who stood in front of the council and told them he thought Antioch would benefit from a flea market that his association was so willing to jettison out the backyard, ditched his concerns about the Expo/State Fair and put on a deep green environmentalism, insisting that he supported the Mayor's plan to bring a flood plain park to the Fairgrounds.

Sledge sent a new message to council via e-mail, which his former co-worker at the Tennessean, Michael Cass seemed enthusiastic to commend to us. The gist of Sledge's message:
I noticed that last night [Dec. 7] the Coun­cil passed on sec­ond read­ing a bill to pro­vide for free park­ing for envi­ron­men­tally friendly vehi­cles in down­town park­ing meter zones. I hope that you will show the same sup­port for our envi­ron­ment in your upcom­ing vote con­cern­ing the demo­li­tion of the race­track at the fair­grounds. The race­track cre­ates air, noise and water pol­lu­tion — all of which can be not just reduced, but elim­i­nated with the clos­ing of the speed­way. Even bet­ter, the race­track would be replaced with a 40-acre park, instantly adding to the pub­lic green space avail­able to our residents.

One coun­cil mem­ber was reported as call­ing the park­ing bill the “low­est of low-hanging fruit” for mak­ing Nashville a greener city. Reach one branch over, and you’ll find your next oppor­tu­nity: close the race­track that pol­lutes our city, and cre­ate a park for our fam­i­lies while restor­ing a pol­luted creek that flows into our drink­ing water.
The earnestness with which Sledge preached the welfare of Antioch has given way to a rather convenient environmentalism, a rearrangement that reporter Cass failed to note (Cass was in attendance Nov. 16 when Sledge spoke at the public hearing). The departure and dissociation are just too convenient to be believable.

Again, I do not take issue with organizations choosing their battles but, perhaps to avoid the appearance of opportunism, Sledge should have advocated the park all along and he should have refused to stand against the flea market so publicly. Now watching SNAP not advocate for the flea market, I get the sense they intend to bide their time until Mayor Dean prepares in a few months to dump the Expo and State Fair somewhere else. Then we will see Colby Sledge step forward once again sans environmentalism advocating the need for trendier businesses in what remains of a privatized fairgrounds.

What kind of definition of progress includes eradicating small businesses in a community to make way for either industrial park (the current private zoning), an office park (if rezoned), or chain boutique stores (if rezoned)? What kind of progressivism rips up parking lots just to put more down to accommodate a different set of jobs? SNAP is not even mentioning the possibility of keeping the Expo longer than Mayor Dean's timeline. What kind of progress is it that uproots people under the auspices of shielding others from the noise pollution that many of us wouldn't blame them for wanting to eradicate or at least minimize in the first place?

Because SNAP leaders like Colby Sledge seem willing to treat the fairgrounds with total abandon, because they are likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I cannot support them in backing the Mayor's latest initiative. After informing myself about the plans, I am certain of Karl Dean's end game and in my opinion it has little to do with community quality of life, little to do with progress beyond the narrow bounds of maximizing real estate, little to do with environmentalism or preservation of history. While I do not support keeping the racetrack in and of itself, I fear that abdicating to obliteration will mean one less barrier to running off the Expo and the State Fair, one less obstacle to parceling out what's left to private interests who will be much less obligated to the community than the courthouse is supposed to be.

I can choose either to support Colby Sledge's neighborhood and watch the Mayor sell off 100 acres of parkland while developing only parts he has to as green space or to oppose his neighborhood and hope that every acre will remain Metro park land to be developed as such some future day. To me it is the second cause that is the best one, even if by no means perfect.

That said, I'm willing to support SNAP to get race enthusiasts to make accommodations to support the quality of life. But I cannot go any further until they guarantee support for the businesses already at their doorstep. I'm not willing to advocate taking race enthusiasts out of the equation and thus freeing the Mayor to do whatever he wills to the Fairgrounds, which belongs to all of us in this county.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Has Gail Kerr been coaxed or coached to merchandise the Mayor's Office?

Last Sunday's column by Gail Kerr on possible challengers in the next mayoral election perpetuated the perception that the Tennessean writer is in no sense of the term an independent journalist, but a professional PR flack functioning as the sounding board of the increasingly powerful Metro government executive.

Karl Dean goes into the next election with a campaign machine firing on all cylinders. Those cylinders include his administration, the private sources of wealth and influence behind his administration, and the corporate media, which moves too easily between political parties, press, and PR enterprise. This synthesis, this syndrome of kingmaking is on display practically every time Kerr writes a column on Metro politics, every time the Tennessean neglects pushing ahead less than flattering stories about this Mayor.

However, perhaps it was never more on display than in 2008. Kerr's Tennessean was caught in that web between a prominent Nashville PR firm (founded by former pro journalists) and the Mayor's MDHA boys, who were vested with working with that firm (McNeely, Pigott, and Fox) to hard sell a new convention center to a Nashville community reeling in the throes of economic recession. At the time--with Tennessean reporters and columnist doing interviews and meeting with McNeely Pigott, and Fox spin merchants--it wasn't the paper that broke a story of huge Metro budget overages to MPF, but NewsChannel5.

And after the NewsChannel5 story broke, we found out that PR pros had huddled with Gail Kerr to coax or to coach (depending on whose interpretation you buy) a story favorable to Mayor Dean. I obtained a copy of the MPF statement billing MDHA for hours worked on selling the Music City Center to Nashvillians. I extracted the sections of the bill that include the hours spent on work aiding and abetting Kerr, and they are posted below (I highlight her line items and inset her picture):

Was Kerr merely coaxed or coached? I have a hard time believing that if this were merely a matter of MPF working for its client Metro government to inform the media then so many hours would be spent with Kerr. Does it take more than a lunch or a couple of phone calls to inform a journo? Also, there seems to be at least one coordinated meeting between Kerr and major Metro players, MDHA's Phil Ryan and Finance Director Rich Riebeling. If MPF is only helping her with research, why have meetings with Metro officials, other than to make sure that everyone is on the same page? Coordination goes beyond education.

Finally, that manufactured letter to the editor does not pass the smell test for me. Even by itself a PR staffer paid to write a letter to the editor seems like a scheme that violates the community spirit of "Letters to the Editor." However, the appearance that the letter was synchronized with a lengthy series of prep events for Gail Kerr is even more unsettling. Was there ever a chance such a letter would be rejected, and thus an investment lost? Other investments were made. The marketing organ for Dean's capital project had received donations from the Tennessean. The newspaper had skin in this game, so what are the odds that a professionally prepped letter would be published? And later, the Tennessean endorsed the new convention center as if they were doing so merely on the merits, if not on principle. It all smells rotten.

This entire context of government, media, and corporate intermingling makes unsavory Gail Kerr's continuing efforts to brand the Mayor's office in the next election run-up. The PR firm predictably insulted our intelligence by denying influence on Kerr via Twitter. The Tennessean editor predictably insulted our intelligence by denying influence on Kerr via editorial page.  But you cannot look at the bill of goods and eliminate the probability of some form of influence, some form of cribbing, some form of action coordination.

We really should not look to Gail Kerr for an independent and reliable account of local politics. She is perhaps the most dependent, most unreliable of the bunch.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

About Gail Kerr's batty attack on reputable council member

Has Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr finally gone around the bend in her tireless quest to run editorial interference for Mayor Karl Dean? In this morning's harangue she seems to have lost her mind (and likely someone else's) by berating council member Emily Evans on behalf of the Mayor's Office, even to the point of smearing Evans' impeccable public service. In so doing, Kerr does news consumers who may not know Emily Evans well a disservice.

Here is Kerr's strange rage posing as political sapience:

Councilwoman Emily Evans [whom Kerr cites as being courted by Karl Dean's foes to run in 2012 2011]: Oh, she wishes. Dean probably does, too. Evans, for whatever reason, fancies herself as Dean's antagonist. No one is sure why she is so blatantly hateful to the current administration, but she makes no bones about it. If there were a Metro Council flag for "taunting," she'd draw repeated penalty markers.

To her credit, Evans has positioned herself to be a person who asks tough questions and looks at the fine print on deals the Dean administration brings to the Metro Council. The problem is that she often comes across as the class know-it-all who revels in media attention.

She has spent her first term on the council paying less attention to district-centric issues than countywide ones — her expertise is in the bond market, so that's a natural inclination. But it's been hard to see past that to find her vision as an advocate for anything.

It's easy to be against everything. It's harder to run for mayor and be for something. And that would be her downfall in a race against Dean.

Plus, who would finance her campaign? She would watch her Belle Meade district constituency dry up like leaves on hot air if she ran against him. Try her again in 2015, perhaps for an at-large seat or, if she can moderate her tone to be a tad less shrill, vice mayor.
Note that the apoplectic commentator did not bother to check with CM Evans to ask if she was a possible candidate for anything in the future. Ms. Kerr calls herself a pro journalist but she did not adhere to the basic journalist principle that counsels confirmation of speculation.

In fact, she does not show a lick of curiosity about CM Evans' initiatives, launching instead into a unrestrained and groundless assault rather than recalling how Evans championed several causes including stormwater fee increases that the Mayor's Office itself deemed important. I certainly remember CM Evans attending a Salemtown Neighbors meeting to discuss the fee increase and to address concerns some of us had about it. But she did not just go along blindly with fee increases, either. When it became clear that the Mayor would charge high-volume corporate stormwater generators less than the rest of us, she balked, showing an independence that many of us expect from our representatives.

Emily Evans enthusiastically supported stormwater fee increases to repair our decaying old infrastructure, but she also insisted that those fees be fair.

Contrast that to Dean supporter CM Megan Barry who blamed Evans for her own choice not to exercise independence against a flawed stormwater bill. Barry's general compliance and low profile does not inspire the disrespect of local journalists like Gail Kerr. In my opinion, that has something to do with gender bias. As local blogger Aunt B points out, Kerr is smacking Evans for being uppity and too intelligent when she would not do so to outspoken, independent men. I would argue that Kerr is willing to give CM Barry passes, yes, because she chooses to trail Karl Dean, but also because she is not unallied or bold on the big issues. That is consistent with gendered stereotypes.

As important as gender is in this attack, I continue to believe that the Tennessean as the press giant in Middle Tennessee is either going after any Dean opponent (especially when the arguments against the Mayor are gaining traction) or uncritically amplifying Courthouse innuendo without regard for neutrality or independence themselves. Just like Kerr impugned Evans this morning while insinuating without any substantiation that she wants to run for Mayor, other Tennessean writers have a history of uncritically transmitting ambition innuendo about outspoken CM Mike Jameson who was critical of Karl Dean's East Bank waffles. I will not deny that gender bias makes women easier targets; reporter Michael Cass did some research and development over a year ago on the-woman-is-an-uppity-showoff themes that presaged Kerr's invective today.

The big squeeze of the Tennessean's reportage is that research and development tends to mutate into search and destroy.

Evans at West Meade community mtg.
I am a regular reader of Emily Evans' blog and I have listened to some of her constituents who describe her service as tuned in and attentive to District 23 issues. She regularly attends meetings with neighborhood associations and she has worked with district stakeholders on zoning questions and greenway development. I rarely witness Tennessean reporters highlight those events. And frankly, it is fair to ask if Gail Kerr (or whoever might be co-writing her screed from the Courthouse) has ever attended one of those neighborhood meetings. How can Kerr accurately accuse Evans of neglecting "district-centric" issues from her editorial seat on Broadway without ever having observed Evans in action in District 23?

I wish I could say that I believed this hit job were all of Gail Kerr's volition, but I honestly do not. At the very least, some insider somewhere is feeding the columnist capricious speculation with no shred of evidence in a mean attempt to smear. This is attempted character assassination pure and simple by someone who has something to lose from Evans' combination of constancy and honesty. Someone with despicable political habits, a grudge, and too much latitude is targeting Evans because her service is somehow a perceived threat. It serves none of us well.

By the numbers: race for petition signers heated up in District 17 this weekend

E-mail correspondence from South Nashville Action People (SNAP) indicated a few days ago that they have set the goals higher than they seem to have in past council debates over closing down the Fairgrounds.

Here is an excerpt of an e-mail SNAP leaders sent to other District 17 neighborhoods:
We are asking for your help Saturday to spread the attached petition among your neighbors. Can you commit to helping us walk your neighborhoods from 9-12 on Saturday morning, or 1-4 on Saturday afternoon? We are asking that neighbors from your communities go with us, because we want this to be a neighbor-to-neighbor drive. Ideally, we would have about five neighbors from your neighborhood who could pair up with five of ours.

We are hoping to hit a lofty goal of 2,000 signatures by the Dec. 21 Council hearing. Your neighbors will also be able to sign an online petition ....
Last night the South Nashville Life blogger tweeted that the online petition was just short of 100 signatures. I have not seen any reports on how many signatures SNAP collected on Saturday.

However, Save My Fairgrounds organizers, who in a press release say they were emboldened by Mayor Karl Dean's comments Friday night that the neighbors living around the Fairgrounds are "uniformly opposed" to preservation, sent out their own teams around District 17 with petitions. If their numbers are accurate they seem to have made their own progress with signers:
Goal (In Households): 1,860
Total HH Knocked: 1,387 (shortened due to light rain)
Total HH Not Home: 723
Total HH No Opinion, Won’t Sign, or Ag. Fairgrounds: 182
Total Individual Signatures: 511
Yard Signs Placed: Dozens (we lost count)
If the cycle of the past returns this week, the preservationists will tout their large numbers of supporters, and SNAP will question the legitimacy of those numbers without divulging details of the strength or legitimacy of theirs.

If the numbers are reliable it looks like neighbor vs neighbor at this point, which is precisely a result of the Mayor's Office divide and conquer strategies.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This prospect will not please Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors at all

One of a large throng of red-clad Fairgrounds supporters packing the pews at last night's Metro Council meeting even without any opportunity for public input: "We’ll be here the next meeting and the next and on and on until we get some common sense going on around here." If that is true then it will be the most formidable community organizing mobilization against Mayor Karl Dean since he took office.

From NewsChannel5:

Despite the fact that both local newspapers were live-tweeting last night's meeting, neither one observed the scope of the community turnout, nor did print beat reporters refer to it in hard copy this morning.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Crunching the numbers on the opponents of the Mayor's plan to sell off the Fairgrounds

Richard Lawson with the deets in a revealing article:

Some 35,000 Nashvillians have signed petitions to save the fairgrounds, albeit that’s according to proponents of keeping the place intact. Whatever the actual number, the number is looking like a lot. Save My Fairgrounds is working through thousands of pages of petitions now with many signatures on each page.

Richard also compares those numbers to perceived convention center opponent numbers and explains why the Fairgrounds opposition is much stronger than the Mayor expected.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Mayor Dean tips his campaign hand with holiday invite

Another campaign event in the run up to August 2011 elections indicates that Karl Dean will be running on the theme: "Omohundro and I saved Nashville from total water disaster last May"*

*Gail Kerr also floated this theme last October in the Dean-friendly rag, the Tennessean

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Opposition neither the Mayor's Office nor the Nashville Scene's website were willing to acknowledge

The Mayor took the wind out of this story by waffling on his Fairgrounds plan the night before, but last Thursday the "Save My Fairgrounds" group announced the results of a poll they conducted of flea market vendors on the question of the Mayor's proposed move of the Expo. The Nashville Business Journal reports that 98% of the flea market vendors opposed the Mayor's plan to exile them to a Hickory Hollow lease:

Of 280 vendor responses, 274 said they wanted to stay, and just two supported Mayor Karl Dean’s plan to move them to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch.

Dean dropped that part of his fairgrounds plan Wednesday after facing stiff opposition and questions about whether the Hickory Hollow move might be a money-losing proposition.

The Dean machine may have gotten in front of this story by announcing a divide-and-conquer plan to extend the flea market's Fairgrounds' digs for one year and cut out the racetrack, but we will see whether he has any regard for the vendors next autumn. My bet is on more divide-and-conquer next year. Egg-on-the-face averted last week, but if the Mayor has his way the flea market's days are numbered. Small business be damned.

By the way, this Nashville Scene post looks silly and over-emphatic in light of this survey. Or should I say it looked silly and over-emphatic. Pro journo and Scene blogger Jim Ridley (with the assistance of colleague Steve Haruch) posted a YouTube video of a purported, but unnamed flea market vendor praising Karl Dean's Hickory Hollow lease plan. If the vendor survey numbers are accurate, then she would have to be one of the two vendors who said they supported the Mayor.

However, the YouTube user who posted the video has as of tonight wiped it off the YouTube site. If the removal is permanent, this looks embarrassing for the Scene journo. Moreover, the video's disappearance in the wake of the vendor poll and the Mayor's flip flop makes its authenticity somewhat shaky. Did Ridley embed it without confirming that the woman on the tape was truly a supportive vendor?

At the very least Ridley posting it without any contrasting footage from what appears to be overwhelming vendor opposition looks slanted and biased. I even commented with a link of 5 other YouTube video interviews of vendors who opposed the move shortly after Ridley blogged the post, but he never made the time to post any of the videos. If the Nashville Scene was trying to report the views of the vendors accurately, they failed miserably on their website.

Tennessean editor fabricates urban myths concerning Mayor's flip flop on Fairgrounds flap

Reading this morning's Tennessean editorial page reminds me of how much I enjoyed reading the funny paper on Sundays when I was younger. Not long ago this same paper declared Mayor Karl Dean the new Democratic Party darling. So, my guess is that they are needing to muster all of the editorial spin they can to brand the Mayor as Nashville's hottest new thing. Their editorial cred is on the line. And it's not like they haven't gone all in before, what with the coaching of columnist Gail Kerr and the reliance on Dean's newspeaker, Janel Lacy, for proper angles.

But I digress.

Back to today's Tennessean shillery: Ted Rayburn's editorial, in which he paints Karl Dean in broad strokes as a Mayor of compromise in the midst of controversy, a benign, judicious executive who both listens to neighborhoods like those in South Nashville (SNAP) and meets the needs of others like Antioch.

Though not insignificant, let's put aside his employer's vested interests in Karl Dean's political fortune. The merits (and lack thereof) of Mr. Rayburn's contortion of events around the Fairgrounds/Hickory Hollow lease controversy are what make this editorial as laughable as a Doonesbury spoof.

  • Graphic from
    Rayburn myth: Mayor Dean compromised. If Karl Dean put so much emphasis on compromise he would not have had Megan Barry write a bill sponsored by the Gang of Five as an alternative mirror to Duane Dominy's "Save the Fairgrounds" bill. He would have started discussions with Dominy and his bill co-sponsors. We also would not have seen any of the council rancor that we did this weekend if the Mayor had compromised anything.
  • Rayburn myth: equivalence between SNAP opposition to race track and Antioch's need for services. A grand total of 5 neighborhood folk spoke to council hearings in favor of Karl Dean's plan to move Fairgrounds operations. 40 neighborhood folk spoke against the Mayor. The Mayor ignored Antioch leaders task force recommendations and he embraced SNAP's. Karl Dean conveniently selects neighborhood feedback regardless of how well organized either side is. Rather than face another embarrassing lopsided public hearing on 2nd reading next Tuesday, the Mayor's "time out" was pragmatic face-saving that also served to help the press extend this dream of equivalence.
  • Rayburn myth: Mayor Dean imposed a cooling-off period to listen. The Mayor appointed the Fairgrounds task force months ago under the wing of GOP wonk Alexia Poe, and the PR effort at that time spun it as a time he would listen. But the way he comported himself to opponents and concerned citizens suggested that he only heard supporters. Any realist should see that "cooling-off period" is code for sheltering his council voting bloc in the run-up to next year's elections. Once past August 2011, the Mayor will be free from posing the placater. His current waffle amounts to securing his future political fortunes.
It never ceases to amaze me how journalists give themselves license and latitude to re-write history and gloss the unfolding events. I have to laugh.

UPDATE:  City Paper reporter Joey Garrison expresses a less candy-coated, more realistic analysis of the machinations behind the Fairgrounds episode. His entire report is the best coverage I've seen, but here is a small part of it that supports part of my argument above:

The outcome, signaling the council’s uneasiness with Dean’s plans, certainly played a role in his administration’s fairgrounds reversal. With the Hickory Hollow leases poised to go before the council on the second of three votes this week, there was increasing uncertainty whether enough votes were there. Not all of Dean’s traditional allies were on board. Some council members were even calling for another public hearing, which likely would have evolved into another public relations disaster for the administration.

Garrison also quotes CM Ronnie Steine making the ridiculous point that the community debate about the Fairground has not been civil and insisting that it provides the community more time to consider the options. The debate may not have been to his liking, but if he wanted us to take time to consider the options, CM Steine should have stopped the Mayor's lease plan (sponsored by CM Sam Coleman) and facilitated that debate.

Again, Garrison alludes to other motivations the Dean Team likely has beyond those for civil community debate:

But the proximity of Dean’s re-election bid in August has some skeptics positing the obvious: Is this change of course just a way to prevent the fairgrounds from becoming an obstacle in an otherwise clear path to victory?

“I’m not sure I see how trading a politically unpopular move before the election for a politically unpopular move after the election is a better plan,” Councilwoman Emily Evans said. “We’re not coming up with a solution.

But whoever said the Mayor was interested in solutions for small Fairgrounds business owners or for those us concerned about selling off public property to donors and friends?

Read the rest of Garrison's article after the jump.

Friday, December 03, 2010

All's fair in this council war: Barry replicates Dominy's initiative to save the Fairgrounds excepting the racetrack

CM Duane Dominy is not pleased with Megan Barry (a member of the Metro Council Dean Team, which includes Ronnie Steine, Anna Page, Rip Ryman, and Sandra Moore, also referred by local reporter Joey Garrison as the "Gang of Five"). CM Barry is bringing a bill that essentially saves the Fairgrounds another year, which was the purpose of a bill CM Dominy sponsored and deferred on November 16. The main difference between the bills is that CM Barry wants to demolish the racetrack and CM Dominy does not.

CM Dominy sent a letter to the Nashville City Paper and to the Council office for distribution late today. The letter is reproduced below (click on the images to enlarge), but the money section is the paragraph where he points out that the "Gang of Five" not only showed discourtesy not allowing deferral of his own bill, but they voted as a bloc to try and table his ordinance (which would essentially have killed it).

The council office e-mail to members is time-stamped 30 mins after the City Paper story reporting (but not reproducing) CM Dominy's letter appeared on the paper's website. A few minutes later Megan Barry replied by e-mail to the council membership, seeming to bristle about CM Dominy mentioning "courtesy," and she insinuated that his correspondence with reporters "hours before" she received the letter was an act of discourtesy.

It seems to me indignation flows both ways. Despite her statement to the Tennessean that the coterminous news of her bill and and of the executive memo stating the Mayor's plans were coincidental, the Gang of Five probably tag-teamed this bill with the Mayor's Office. Council action around big mayoral projects has moved like Secretariat, that is, like a "tremendous machine," since Karl Dean took office. To think that there was no behind-the-scenes action-coordination strains credulity.

I don't agree with CM Dominy on much, but I do agree that there is some Gang of Five hypocrisy (and I would add cynicism) here. They criticized Dominy for what they are doing with the latest bill, which not only resembles his, but compliments complements the Mayor's plans to privatize the Fairgrounds eventually.

Each one of the Gang of Five has advanced the Mayor's agendas with few questions asked the last 3 years, and this common commitment has meant an easy ride for Karl Dean up until now. For the new Fairgrounds bill not to be coordinated out of the Mayor's Office would be out of character. CM Barry would have to think us naive to believe that the Gang of Five and Mayor coming together so exactly was fortuitous.

UPDATE: In a pointed e-mail reply to Megan Barry's mockery of his "courtesy" last night, Duane Dominy counters that not only did she also go to the news media without consulting him on the Gang of Five bill on Thursday, but she also collaborated with the Mayor's Office in writing it. Dominy also reminds Barry that elections are over and he invites her to leave politics out of the Fairgrounds discussions. He also presses her again for a work session on the two bills together.

Like I said before, I would have to be a chump to believe that the Gang of Five did not work with Rich Riebeling and other Dean staffers on writing an ordinance the same day the Mayor's Office "called time out" on the Fairgrounds.

Music City Center omens realized

SEIU representative Mark Naccarato lists the many predictions about new convention center construction made by critics that have come to pass:
We have been proven right on nearly every claim we’ve made about the MCC. The city’s bond rating has fallen because of it, nearly all of the construction and sub work was given to out-of-state firms, and minority- and women-owned business contracts were not awarded at the levels your people promised the council and the African-American community. We also predicted that you would get played into handing out major tax breaks (i.e. lost revenue) to try and close a deal on a hotel. Looks like that’s happening too. Every other city in the country is ditching Convention Centers and TIF’s, but not Nashville.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

State Fairgrounds preservationists deem Barry's Fair Board ordinance unacceptable

From an e-mail blast of the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group:
The mayor has blinked, he has not capitulated. He obviously has immediate plans to destroy the racetrack, and longer-term plans to destroy and develop the Fairgrounds property.

Further, the proposed ordinance is unlawful-- it assigns new duties to the Fair Board that are at odds with their duties assigned in the Metro Charter (one of the same objections Metro had to Council Member Dominy's proposed ordinance to protect the Fairgrounds). Metro Council cannot lawfully modify the charter simply by passing an ordinance.

Among other things, this proposed ordinance requires the Fair Board to turn part of the property over to the Parks Department, while the Charter gives "complete charge and control" of the Fairgrounds property to the Fair Board, and gives them no authority to subdivide the property or divest themselves of it.

Here's a novel thought-- when it comes to the Fairgrounds why don't we just follow the Metro Charter and Acts 515/490 of the legislature (which are included in the Charter) ? Probably because the Charter does not provide for Metro control of the Fairgrounds or it's funds, except by the Fair Board of Commissioners!

Copy of Megan Barry's new ordinance to legislate the Mayor's revised plan to keep State Fair going one more year, demolish racetrack

I just received a copy of the new ordinance to be introduced to replace Mayor Dean's plan to exile Fairgrounds flea marketers to Hickory Hollow:

ORDINANCE NO. ______________

An ordinance amending Chapter 2.78 of the Metropolitan Code to require the Board of Fair Commissioners of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County to hold a state fair on the fairgrounds property in 2011, to continue operating the expo center at the fairgrounds until a suitable relocation site has been identified, and to oversee the demolition of the existing racetrack facilities for use as a public park.

WHEREAS, Chapter 6 of Article 11 of the Charter for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County provides for a Board of Fair Commissioners (“Fair Board”) to exercise all the powers and perform all the duties imposed on the Fair Board by Chapter 490 of the Acts of Tennessee for 1909 and Chapter 515 of the Private Acts of 2923; and

WHEREAS, the private acts referenced in Section 11.062 of the Metropolitan Charter provide that the Fair Board was established for the purpose of maintaining and operating a fair for the people of Davidson County; and

WHEREAS, section 11.602 of the Metropolitan Charter provides that the Board of Fair Commissioners shall perform such other duties as may be imposed upon the board by ordinance; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Council has determined that it is in the best interest of the Metropolitan Government that a state fair be held on the fairgrounds property in 2011, and that the expo center functions traditionally held at the fair grounds should continue until another location is identified.


Section 1.      Title 2 of the Metropolitan Code is hereby amended by adding the following new Chapter 2.78:


2.78.010       Additional duties.

In addition to the duties provided in Section 11.601 of the Charter of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, the Board of Fair Commissioners (hereinafter “Fair Board”) shall have the following duties and responsibilities:

A. The Fair Board shall negotiate with the Tennessee State Fair Association to hold a fair in 2011 to be called “The Tennessee State Fair” on the existing 117-acre Tennessee State Fairgrounds site located in Council District 17.  Any agreement negotiated between the Fair Board and the Tennessee State Fair Association shall provide that the Metropolitan Government shall not be liable for any financial losses associated with the operation of the State Fair. 

B. The Fair Board shall continue to operate the expo center and related facilities on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds property at such times and in such ways as to not interfere with the operation of the Tennessee State Fair until another suitable location for these activities has been identified and approved by a resolution of the Metropolitan Council receiving twenty-one (21) affirmative votes. 

C.  The Fair Board shall oversee the demolition of the existing racetrack, grandstands, and associated facilities on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds property.  Once the racetrack, grandstands, and associated facilities have been demolished and the site has been cleared, the Fair Board shall transfer control of this area, as well as the floodplain area along Brown’s Creek, to the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation for the development and operation of a public park.  

Section 2.      It is the intent of the Metropolitan Council that the expo center functions held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds property will operate on the revenues generated by such functions at no cost to the general government.  In the event the revenues generated at Tennessee State Fairgrounds property are insufficient for the operation and maintenance of the facilities, the Council intends to appropriate the necessary funds from the State Fair fund balance to cover any shortfall.

Section 3.      This ordinance shall take effect from and after its final passage, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.

APPROVED AS TO                                  INTRODUCED BY:

Particularly troubling to me is that the bill writers put in an explicit prohibition against using the General Fund to pay for any overages in the Fairgrounds budget. The same rule should have applied to the building of the new convention center, but the council Dean Team was perfectly fine with exposing general government revenues to certain new construction overruns. These council members--Barry, Ronnie Steine, Rip Ryman, Sandra Moore, etc.--are pitching this action as pro-neighborhoods, even as neighborhood services are threatened by the much larger Music City Center.

I'll have more extended comments on this as I reread it, but take a look at it and as usual share your feedback below or via e-mail.