Monday, February 08, 2010

Today is Enclave's 5th Anniversary

Five years ago today I launched Enclave with a quote from and reflection on Peter Taylor:
As one walks or rides down any street in Nashville one can feel now and again that he has just glimpsed some pedestrian on the sidewalk who was not quite real somehow, who with a glance over his shoulder or with a look of a disenchanted eye has warned one not to believe too much in the plastic present and has given a warning that the past is still real and present somehow and is demanding something of all men like me who happen to pass that way.
I am pleased to launch this weblog with an eye on the past. Elsewhere in A Summons to Memphis, The Narrator’s mother explains that the demands of the past were the legacy of an old Native American curse put on the first settlers who slaughtered the local tribes around the Cumberland River. She may be right. The past may hang in urban Nashville like a curse; but many times I only see a world of curses because curses challenge me to get beyond the veneer of the plastic present, which has made me complacent and foolish.

When I strip the window-dressing, the fa├žade of the present, I can often see that the curses were not so accursed after all. To live in an urban enclave is to welcome the challenge of the past as a blessing. With an eye on the past, I see life in north-by-northwest Nashville as a blessing, even if a blessing at times in the disguise of a curse.

While considering the blessings and curses of living in Salemtown over the past half decade, writing, shooting, cropping, and chopping Enclave hyper-locally was a productive endeavor:
  • Over 6,000 posts
  • 3+ posts a day on average
  • Currently averaging about 400 visitors/100+ returners a day (550+ page loads a day)
  • Almost 100% of my Google ad cut given away to local non-profits:
    • Nashville Jazz Workshop ($200)
    • Fisk University ($190)
    • Neighborhood Resource Center ($100)
    • WFSK 88.1 FM -- Fisk University jazz radio station ($100)
    • Second Harvest Food Bank, St. Paul's Lutheran Food Partner ($100)
    • Friends of The Nashville Farmers' Market ($100)

Thanks to all of the readers who stopped by over the years and thanks to the cadre of bloggers who linked, aggregated, tweeted, quoted, and otherwise blogrolled Enclave.

Look forward to seeing you somewhere down the road.

About that recent Twitter fight with a reporter

It really does not matter whether anyone at the Tennessean ever told Michael Cass what or how to report on the Mayor's Music City Center project. What matters is that the Tennessean donated $15,000 to the Music City Center Coalition and that Mr. Cass wrote stories on the project that were part of a free publicity portfolio complete with air-brushed galleries of the MCC concept.

Michael Cass is a member of the Tennessean family (at least until they decide they can't afford to keep him any more or until he gets sick of taking unpaid vacations because of their spending decisions). He does not have the latitude to hive himself off from the business side and shelter himself from criticism. That is exactly the same tactic his publisher used to excuse their political donation to the Mayor's cause in the first place.

Their "business" decision opened their reporters up to suspicion and criticism, so it makes no sense for Mr. Cass to echo the same defense. Ignorance of unethical action, especially when part of his job is supposed to include investigative reporting, does not shelter his journalism from reasonable skepticism or critical questions of influence. He is not independent. His political beat is a Tennessean beat, and the Tennessean has bellied up to the bar of political influence and put $15,000 down for its own shots. If he doesn't want the albatross hung around his neck on every MCC story he writes in the future, then he needs to stop participating in the MCC public relations campaign and find other things to write about.

A synchronal problem is that Michael Cass's writing on the Music City Center has not been complete or balanced with regard to reporting information that might hurt the project. He has been quick to conform to the hack that Gaylord is fueling the opposition in its own financial interest. One is hard-pressed to find any original Cass reporting that hit the convention center booster side hard. He was late to and sparse on news of the $400,000 overage to McNeely, Pigott, and Fox PR. He has not brought the ethical questions about convention center financier Goldman Sachs into the debate. He was not particularly revealing about problems that MCC construction contractor Clark Construction Group had in an Orlando convention center project.

While he is arguably Nashville's best local beat reporter, what critical piece does Mr. Cass have on his mantle that would mitigate, let alone offset, his publisher's $15,000 donation? How has his reportage been hard-hitting on those who stand to benefit from the building of the Music City Center? From that perspective his journalism has been soft; a pillow fight with MCC boosters does not dispel the perception that Tennessean reporting is as slanted as their donation is flagrant.

In the end the whole Tennessean approach to the Music City Center is like a puzzle that fits snug. The $15,000 is a piece. The biased headlines generated by copy editors are a piece. The air-brushed picture galleries are a piece. And Michael Cass's tame reporting is a piece (and let's not leave out reporter Nate Rau who did his part to fluff the throw pillows on the side). Regardless of the reporter's best intentions, they all fit together to supply the Music City Center Coalition with sweet marketing that they never had to purchase, but in fact were paid for.

Columnist overplaying hand on race?

Is Metro General the African American budget line item and is Vivian Wilhoite the African American choice for Juvenile Court Clerk? Does a certain mainstream media columnist write of certain ethnic communities as if they are monolithic special interests?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Neighborhood files last-resort class-action suit against frat boy sackings

What nightmares youthful indiscretions can cause in other people's homes:
Tired of years of public urination, assaults and vandalism, residents near UC Berkeley's southern edge last week sued dozens of the university's fraternities.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court against more than 70 groups and property owners, contends that the fraternities make life miserable for neighbors by encouraging underage drinking, littering sidewalks and streets, partying all night and shooting pellet guns at residents. The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and an end to the noise and destruction.

"Every resident of Berkeley has the right to live in a peaceful and safe neighborhood," said lead plaintiff Paul Ghysels, who lives in a 100-year-old house next to a fraternity on Durant Avenue. His wife grew up in the house, he said, and the couple does not want to move.

Here is video footage neighbors produced of some of the frat wreckage; it also documents police involvement and lack thereof:

That which makes an economist go "Gah"

Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman on constant whining about assumed market fragility:

Gah. I hate, hate, hate it when people say that we have to do something, not on its merits, but because otherwise we would damage market confidence. Nobody really knows how the markets will react.

New study finds that charter schools are segregation redux

Mayor Karl Dean's best answer to fixing Metro schools has been to promote the charter school fad, the hot latest big distraction in public education. Well, a new report on charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia reveals information about them more ominous than the probability that they cause governments to take their eye off the ball:

The report found that charter schools continue to stratify students by race, class, and possibly language, and are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the country ....

The study's key findings suggest that charter schools, particularly those in the western United States are havens for white re-segregation from public schools; requirements for providing essential equity data to the federal government go unmet across the nation; and magnet schools are overlooked, in spite of showing greater levels of integration and academic achievement than charters.

"The charter movement has flourished in a period of retreat on civil rights," stated UCLA Professor Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project. "The vision of a successfully integrated society - one that carries real opportunities for historically excluded groups of students to enter the mainstream - ought to be a defining characteristic of charter schools. Federal policy should make this a condition for charter school support and should support other choice programs which pursue this goal."

The study offers several recommendations for restoring equity provisions and integration in charter schools, including establishing new guidance and reporting requirements by the Federal government; federal funding opportunities for magnet schools, which have a documented legacy of reducing racial isolation and improving student outcomes; and incorporating some features of magnet schools into charter schools.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Crowdsourcing CM Vivian Wilhoite's campaign donors

According to CM Wilhoite's latest campaign finance document in her run for Juvenile Court Clerk, convention center lobbyist Dave Cooley gave her a donation. CM Wilhoite voted for the Music City Center budget package.

I'm wondering if anyone knows if any prominent convention center opponents have donated to her campaign. Heard anything? See the list of those since last July after the jump.

Website publishes Metro Council members campaign finance reports

Having made several trips to the Election Commission to track the finances of Metro Council members, I can say that it is neither easy nor convenient. It reminds me of intensive library research limited to hard copies in the stacks. The Election Commission provides no online database containing council campaign finance records. That makes no sense, and it weights the system against an informed electorate. Most of us can't take off work to trek down to the commission and dig through official papers, unless our work is journalism (journos already have sketchy ties to politicos). We should be able to click a link and pull up a .pdf form showing a Metro Council member's donation sources.

Mike Peden is putting forth laudable effort to publicize the big money flows to sitting council members by scanning finance records and putting them on a website:
[2013 editor's note: Mr. Peden has taken down finance records from this website]

Thanks to Mike for taking his own personal time to track this information. Here's hoping that the Election Commission might enter the 21st Century at some point soon and utilize their paid staff to make public records online-accessible to the public.

Brazen Bank of America about to pay out $4.4 billion in bonuses to bankers

Wouldn't you hate to see what the bonuses they lavish on bankers would be if they weren't trying to balance greed with a "general concern" for ridiculous Wall Street compensation levels? Using that claim to balance as pretense, Bling of America is set to dole out bonuses at a clip of $400,000 per person.

This is the same BofA that paid $3.6 billion in bonuses in 2008 to employees who oversaw losses of $13.8 billion in one friggin quarter in 2008. It's the same BofA that paid out preferred dividends when it should have been making cuts. That would be the same BofA that balked at paying its low level employees on Main Street what they earned one Christmas. You know: the BofA that coaches its debt collectors to deceive relatives into believing that they are obligated to pay the loans of the deceased.

Thank goodness they are doing society a favor with those bonuses. I would hate to see how they would behave if they were trying to take advantage of us.

CEO of convention center financier to get $100 million bonus, thumbing nose at President Obama

Goldman Sachs must be encouraged by the speed with which Metro is moving to build the Music City Center, since the primary financier of the project has a $100 million bonus to pay to its CEO alone. That astronomical bonus will set the benchmark for other finance industry CEOs. It also shows Goldman Sachs' contempt for President Obama's calls for greater corporate responsibility in this recession.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mike Turner, coal bearer

There's an old British expression meant to convey the futility of some action. A futile action is said to be like "carrying coal to Newcastle." In the 15th century that English town became famous for its coal mines and export of coal. Hence, carrying coal to a place rife with coal is a monumental waste of time.

Democratic state legislator Mike Turner is carrying coal to Newcastle by introducing a bill to allow Nashville's Mayor to appoint the Director of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency instead of the decision being left up to the MDHA Board. Turner's attempt is both empty and disingenuous as it seems to suggest that the Mayor has no control over MDHA. On the contrary, the Mayor's Office appoints MDHA Board members, so there is already some control. Perhaps the Mayor should consider appointing board members who critically question the MDHA Director rather than rubber-stamping decisions. The attempt to give the Mayor more control is empty symbolism and a distraction to solving what is wrong with this administration.

Now, if you reject the Newcastle metaphor as archaic, I've got another one for you. Mike Turner is simply carrying Karl Dean's water. However, giving Karl Dean appointment control over the MDHA post is only carrying his water in a sieve. It is a monumental waste of time that fools the local mainstream media who seem charmed by that crap.

Class, the State Fairgrounds debate, and our unattuned Mayor's Office

According to Jay Vorhees, Mayor Karl Dean can neither articulate the big deal at the heart of the State Fairgrounds debate nor grasp the sense of ownership of the fairgrounds' loyal following:
As I’ve been watching the debate since Mayor Dean first sent his letter to the Fairgrounds Board telling them to close down (something that he has since said was a recommendation and not an order, since he has no authority over the Fair Board), I have sensed that the mayor was providing a solution without really articulating a problem ....

The fairgrounds has always been a place for middle class to working class folks, often with a rural background and mindset, and not a particularly high faluting kind of place .... I frankly can’t see our Mayor wandering around the fairgrounds in a t-shirt and jeans chomping on a fried Goo-Goo cluster while watching the racing pigs. And yet, there is a large population in Nashville who enjoys those activities, who sees them as a connection to the past, part of our heritage, and not easily discarded. These folks wonder why we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars advocating for a new convention center, but aren’t willing to even entertain a substantial conversation on the worth of the fairgrounds to our city. They recognize that roller derby and gunshows may perpetuate media stereotypes about the south, but they really don’t care, for these things are as much a part of who we are as the gentrified East Nashville club scene.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Benign neglect of neighborhoods in the Mayor's Office

We're going on 3 months since Brady Banks left the drivers seat at the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, which used to coordinate proper service delivery to neighborhoods. Not only has a new Director not been hired, but the Mayor's office has neglected to remove Brady Banks' name from the contact page.

This is the red-state dystopia in store for us

Colorado Springs is experiencing the contraction in store for Nashville with budget cuts, resistance to revenues, and the artificial wedges driven between "macroeconomy" (for example, primary focus on "regionwide development") and "microeconomy" (balance between local infrastructure and top-down growth):
Residents constantly complained about how high their taxes were yet seemed unable to comprehend the very high level of service the city provided. Aren't the nice sidewalks, big parks, and good schools the reasons they moved to the suburbs? I was reminded of that when I read that Colorado Springs and its tax-averse citizens are about to see what taxes actually pay for:
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
Colorado requires a referendum to raise taxes, and the voters of Colorado Springs recently rejected a proposed property tax increase that would have helped cover a budget gap, after the recession lowered sales tax revenue by $22 million since 2007. So now, voters will see how good individuals are at protecting the common good.
With declining public revenues, higher service costs, and the suction of growth & development money out of communities with little trickling back down, we're going to see the same erosion in Nashville. The Mayor is already ordering Metro departments to cut budgets 7.5% in the next year even as he assumes a new post focused more on the Middle Tennessee region and less on Nashville's neighborhoods.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lessons I've learned in 5 years of working with MDHA on a community development block grant

In 2005 I started working in an advisory position with the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency on a large block grant designated for improvements in Salemtown. Now that the end of the project is in sight 2 years late, I am ready to share some lessons I learned from working with MDHA. Those of you who work with MDHA community development in the future might want to take note:
  • Do not have faith that MDHA is thinking first about the best interest of your community. MDHA is acting on behalf of itself first; benefits for your neighborhood are at best second, and sometimes third or fourth.
  • You can count on MDHA showing preferential treatment to other Metro departments and agencies without necessarily telling you until much later when they have to explain delays in the project to you.
  • Anyone can halt your community development project at any point in the timeline. If a single person protests privately to MDHA planners, the process to which you devoted you valuable time and energies can grind to a standstill until resolution is reached.
  • The success of your project cannot be left solely to MDHA or the contractors they hire. Citizen advisors and other neighborhood leaders will have to make nuisances of themselves to planners by checking on the status of the project on at least a weekly basis. Someone somewhere in the system will drop the ball. Start screaming, "Fumble!" until someone picks it up.
  • Do not trust what MDHA says you can or can't do. Whenever possible research the rules on federal grants yourself. When an MDHA official attempts to discourage an idea, it's not clear whether the idea is something that is actually prohibited or just something they prefer not to get into. There is a difference.
  • Do not assume that whatever an MDHA contractor demolishes will be rebuilt. Just because they demolish sections of sidewalks to install lampposts does not mean that they will reconstruct them. In fact they are more likely to cut corners and costs by not repouring them. You should not assume that they will put the things that did not need fixing back they way they were. You'll have to demand it. Take pictures before demolition of infrastructure so that you can show them exactly the way things were.
  • If you don't keep shoving forgotten, unfinished projects back on the MDHA radar, then they will remain invisible. Stay on them until they follow-up if for no other reason than to get you to go away. But do not go away until you are satisfied.
  • The MDHA community liaison who meets with your community leaders is less likely assigned to be a catalyst and more likely assigned to manage you and filter information. If you want action outside the glacially plodding MDHA timeline, then you have to contact supervisors.
Working with MDHA has been an eye-opener. These have been frustrating lessons to learn, but I'm passing them on just so others are not blind-sided by the dysfunctions.

Monday, February 01, 2010

If this family had been a public strategies firm they would have been untouchable

A family linked to a major U.S. university elsewhere is in hot water over anonymous internet tactics that are common practice for the guerilla-style sock puppetry of Tennessee's Cooley Public Strategies:
Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at Chicago, has been mostly a sideline figure since his son, Raphael, was arrested last March after allegedly creating dozens of Web aliases and using them to harass and discredit scholars who disagree with his father’s theories about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But new court documents point to evidence suggesting that Norman Golb, his wife, Ruth, and their other son, Joel, were aware of the alias-based campaign and may have assisted in carrying it out.