Friday, June 11, 2010

Bad form: CM Lonnell Matthews sends constituents combined flood relief meeting info and Steven Turner campaign fundraiser ad

Thanks to Mike Peden for forwarding the e-mail below that CM Lonnell Matthews sent to his District 1 constituents. I am not sure whether this violates campaign ethics laws, but pigging-backing a fundraiser for a candidate for General Assembly with a mailer on North Nashville flood relief seems crude to me. Isn't sending out campaign material under the Metro government insignia plainly unethical?

Click on image to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The false sense of connection in Metro Nashville Public Schools' social media & Twitter

I don't waste too much time analyzing why people follow me and then unfollow me on Twitter. I have my own reasons for following and I respect that others have their reasons for following me (or not).

But just this once I'm going to bust the chops of the Metro Nashville Public School PR flacks who maintain the district's regular blog and their micro-blog via Twitter.

MNPS started following my Twitter stream in early May and they even sent me direct tweets. I was impressed with the breadth of the coverage of many different meetings. I even defended them on Twitter when it was suggested that this single agency approach to blogging was limited.

It seemed like a good match: a committed public school parent, PTO member, and engaged family guy following the local public school blog effort. And things were fine between @MetroSchools and @micchiato as long as I re-tweeted them and complimented them. But shortly after I started criticizing MNPS for being insular and suggesting that privatization through charter schools was not a wise course of action for public schools, they unfollowed me.

I don't take their choice as a personal affront. For me it is confirmation of my perception that the local public school system is thin-skinned, insular, and walled off from the regular families it is supposed to serve by its own bureaucratic and marketing agendas. Hence, it doggedly follows local media, celebrities, influential politicos, the latest hip non-profits, non-government organizations who generally don't rock the boat, and a slew of sexy people without kids in public schools.

Meanwhile, I do not doubt that it imagines, spins, and markets its social media as tools that public school families can themselves follow for information. However, since the writers of @MetroSchools are not following the tweets of more public school families, theirs is a fake exercise in connection. MNPS on Twitter is just another tool for keeping their actual clients, public school kids and parents, distant from two-way lines of communication that give people a sense of participation in and ownership of public education.

Where do Convention Center Authority minutes reflect the decision to relocate the Greyhound bus terminal northward to make way for Music City Center?

After pointing out that the Convention Center Authority meeting agendas do not clearly notify the community of action to move the Greyhound bus terminal to Charlotte and 11th, I went back and looked through all of the minutes to see if the official CCA records reflect authorization for a new lease with Greyhound (signed on May 5).

I cannot see any record of authorization in the minutes; in fact, I cannot find a single mention of Greyhound in any of the minutes of CCA going back to October 2009 or in those of CCA's Construction Committee going back to February 2010. The Tennessean provides an unofficial written record in an op-ed written by CCA's Marty Dickens and MDHA's Phil Ryan, who along with CM Erica Gilmore tried last Friday to tamp down North Nashville frustrations over the hushed and veiled signing of the relocation lease. Here is what they wrote:
All these factors were thoroughly discussed at a meeting of the Convention Center Authority’s construction committee, before a recommendation went to the full authority for approval of a 13-month lease, with the option to extend the lease for an additional three months.
Note that these Courthouse insiders had problems recalling dates themselves, and they obviously could not depend on the meeting minutes to get their timeline straight between them.

Other actions CCA took are specifically described:
  • "Mark Arnold made a motion to approve the Commonwealth Development Group, Inc. and Bone McAliester Norton, PLLC contract amendments" (misspellings not corrected)
  • "Leo Waters made a motion to approve the lease agreement between MDHA and the CCA memorializing the Convention Center Authority's right to be on MDHA's property"
  • "Leo Waters made a motion authorizing the Authority to accept the guaranteed maximum price in an amount not to exceed $415 million"
It seems curious and strange to me that the minutes would reflect in copious detail the other actions of the CCA and its committees, and yet not refer specifically to the Greyhound decision. Can you find any specific reference in the minutes?

There are a number of vague transcriptions where I guess the relocation discussion could be hidden. Here is one passage that tells us next to nothing and looks like a waste of space:
Leo Waters, Chair of the Construction and Development Committee, was then asked by Mr. Dickens to report. Mr. Waters gave an overview of what the committee had discussed. Larry Atema was asked to give a project update. There was discussion about the project and land.
Unless the Greyhound bus terminal situation lies somewhere between "project and land," there is no official evidence in the Metro meeting minutes that relocation or a lease were authorized. If the authorization happened, why was the CCA so bashful about publicizing it before the media found it and the community dragged the details out in the May 27 meeting? Did the Music City Center honchos figure it was so toxic that any mention of it would draw undue and unfriendly attention to it?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Neighborhood concerns about increased crime around Greyhound bus terminal supported by media's statistical analysis

SouthComm's Stephen George has the numbers comparing the old Greyhound site to the new one at Charlotte & 11th:
in blog posts and at public meetings, many have argued that the Greyhound station will be a magnet for crime in their area. According to statistics The City Paper obtained from Metro police, it seems they’re right — at least to some degree.

A comparison of crime statistics stretching from Jan. 1, 2009, through May 27 shows that nearly 17 times more crimes and potential criminal activity were phoned in to Metro police from the current Greyhound location than the area around the proposed new one.

Most of the 314 reported incidents at Greyhound involved public intoxications, thefts and assaults. The 19 incidents at the new site were similar in nature.

Monday, June 07, 2010

What I learned from tonight's cover-your-ass-in-public meeting on the Greyhound relocation lease

My impressions of Erica Gilmore's public meeting on Greyhound's relocation held earlier tonight:
  1. The best way to control imagined "You lie!" incivility in controversial zoning issues is to treat the few locals yokels who show up (a large number of attendees seemed to be Metro employees, politicos, and news media) as if they are in detention, restricting them to 1 minute each to ask questions and make comments.
  2. If urban neighborhoods wanted to stop this specific Greyhound/Music City Center relocation, they had their chance during the Downtown Code community meetings a few years ago.
  3. Given #2: any future community plan (e.g., the North Nashville Plan) better be formulated only by those leaders in the community who are psychic and can predict exactly where and when the Mayor's Office will be relocating businesses they don't want to see by their tourism attractions Downtown.
  4. Neighborhoods lost opportunities to be informed by not being prescient enough to attend public meetings of the Convention Center Authority (CCA) where they could not give feedback, even if they were not informed by CM Gilmore (who has said that she only heard things in passing and found out about the decision in the media rather than by attending CCA meetings).
  5. The CCA publicizes their agenda; community leaders can look at the agenda and clearly see when the Greyhound bus terminal relocation will be discussed if they exercise extrasensory perception (note an example agenda below):

  6. The CCA meets the first Thursday of every month, and if working Nashville citizens want to burn vacation or sick days away from the job each of those Thursdays after 8:00 a.m., then they have the chance to find out more about controversial relocations by attending.
  7. Greyhound has picked an undisclosed permanent location; you still don't have any say over it; your 1 minute for a question is up, next question.
  8. I don't know how to interpret the conspicuous absence of Hope Gardens neighborhood leaders (who organized the well-attended and angry May 27 public meeting) at tonight's meeting.
  9. CCA rep Holly McCall failed to follow through on her May 27 promise to release the Greyhound lease to the public. Instead, she sent it to CM Gilmore.
  10. Given #9: I'm disappointed that CM Gilmore did not forward a copy of the lease to me given that she should have a May 27 e-mail from me requesting a copy of that lease from MDHA's Joe Cain as well as Mr. Cain's reply saying that CCA had it. Nevertheless, she promises to release it tomorrow.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

CM Gilmore compares local Greyhound relocation critics to indecorous heckler, blames MDHA, MCCC for lack of transparency

In a Friday opinion column in the Tennessean, CM Erica Gilmore responded to those constituents who have been critical of the Greyhound bus terminal relocation and the seeming lack of transparency in zoning approval and in the lease signed with the Convention Center Authority. The first thing that leaps out at me about her self-defense is her comparison of the more expressive of her own constituents to Republican U.S. Congress member Joe "You Lie" Wilson:
“You lie” are the words that rang out in our nation’s capital this year as a member of the House of Representatives heckled the president during his address to Congress. Epithets were spit on several of our representatives and senators during the passing of the health-care reform bill. Need less to say, distrust is at an all-time high while civility is at an all-time low.

So in an environment where everyone is looking for someone to blame, about two weeks ago I received a barrage of calls and e-mails sharing every type of sentiment under the sun about the relocation of the Greyhound bus terminal.
CM Gilmore starts off with patent exaggerations about the blow back Metro is getting over this relocation. Everyone is not looking for someone to blame. Overgeneralizing about legitimate concerns, questions, and comments Ms. Gilmore should listen to as an elected official will not satisfy people who feel excluded from power moves affecting their community.

Ms. Gilmore herself has sent mixed messages to alarmed constituents on what she knew when. In a May 22 letter, Ms. Gilmore told neighbors that while there was some confusing back-and-forth over whether Greyhound was going to move to Charlotte and 11th, she did have prior knowledge. That letter seemed to be written with a air of reassurance rather than defensiveness.

However, in Friday's column she refers to her prior knowledge as based on something more fleeting and cursory, a "mention in passing." Results that were a "little unclear" to Ms. Gilmore on May 22 became "shocking" the day-before yesterday, and the opinion piece seems self-defensive. In spite of her own indictments of relocation critics as blamers, she herself points the finger of blame for the artful, finessed decision at other parties: "MDHA, Music City Center Coalition [Authority?], and Greyhound."

But Erica Gilmore was not delivering the State of the Union as the American President when she drew community ire for not doing more, and relocation critics are not indecorous hecklers like Joe Wilson shouting in public that she is a liar. As an elected official she should be held accountable when Metro seals deals in her district, under her watch. And she should not try to confuse public accountability with coarse incivility. Her opinion piece is ironically disparaging toward constituents at this point.

Finally, she falsely insists that the only challenge with Greyhound is whether they keep their word that the lease is only temporary. There are a host of challenges beyond that, but let us assume for a second that every challenge with relocating to Charlotte and 11th is met and dealt with satisfactorily. There still remains one more test to pass: if they used the Downtown Code once to relocate temporarily, will they use it again to relocate permanently, perhaps farther north on Jefferson Street, closer to neighborhoods like Germantown and Salemtown? CM Gilmore has a long way to go to convince us that she is on top of affairs like this surely and critically enough to appreciate the risks to our neighborhoods.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sometimes late is not any better than never: now that Greyhound signed a lease to relocate, CM Erica Gilmore schedules a public meeting

Since the Convention Center Authority's bid to sneak the Downtown Greyhound bus terminal to Charlotte Avenue and 11th Avenue North on the Q.T., the District council member, Erica Gilmore, has issued ever more formal media advisories. Today's is consistent with CM Gilmore's recent pattern of communication:

The release calls the relocation a "proposal." This is misleading if we are to believe what we were told at the Hope Gardens-sponsored community meeting last week: that Greyhound has already signed a lease. The Greyhound move to the old Hansen Chrysler dealership is a done deal. In fact renovations have already started and parking stripes have already been painted.

The first question that needs to be asked is why are the Metro media flacks who crafted this advisory for CM Gilmore spinning and distorting this as a "proposal" when the parties have all signed on the dotted line? I cannot see our neighborhoods having any influence at all now that the deal is contractual.

Therefore, the ostensible purpose of next Monday's meeting is to try and influence community opinions that seem to be weighing against the relocation and to try to soften the shock over the growing perception that CM Gilmore knew about the terminal agreement and chose not inform her constituents until reporters discovered the story. If the purpose of the meeting is to allow public feedback and influence, the timing of the meeting could not be worse. It should have happened before the lease was signed.

As it is, it would be more honest not to have another public meeting about Charlotte and 11th at all outside of those to which Greyhound has agreed in order to work directly with neighborhood associations to keep crime and blight in check.

After missing last week's meeting, MDHA is sending their executive (the beleaguered housing agency still controls business relocations in the convention center project). Police Commander Huggins was kind enough to attend last week's meeting, and his input will be welcome on Monday. The Metro planner still needs to produce a valid explanation for how the Downtown Code allows special relocation privileges for the Convention Center Authority without any input from community "stake-holders" affected by cynical Courthouse power moves.

However, it is a mystery to me why the Director of Room in the Inn is attending, other than the offices are near the Music City Center site, too, and hence, subject to relocation. One rumor I heard--denied by an CCA spokesperson last week--had either or both the Campus for Human Development and the Men's Rescue Mission being considered for relocation to Jefferson Street near Germantown. Other than considering other possible moves within the urban core what will Father Strobel be there to do Monday? Vouch for the way Greyhound terminal enhanced the quality of life on the block?

Finally, note that the Mayor's Office has still not committed to attend (they were invited to last week's Hope Gardens event), but maybe someone there wonders as I do where they will be allowed to park at the Downtown TSU campus. I have no idea where I will be able to park or if I need to load my pockets full of change to feed meters or parking attendants. That has me wondering why the powers-that-be did not schedule this meeting in a church or a neighborhood center with plenty of parking that people do not have to vet before they go. Why did Metro leaders not provide a more user-friendly venue for this public meeting?

Probably because it will not amount to a hill of beans anyway.

CM Gilmore needs to work more diligently with the North End neighborhoods to come up with solutions for tightening the Downtown Code so that neighborhoods receive early warning and proper notice from a transparent government in future planning. Otherwise, Monday's meeting looks like window dressing to me.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

West Nashvillians to Mayor Dean: "Floodplain. We told you so. Time to reconsider police precinct plans."

This is what the Charlotte Avenue lacation for Mayor Karl Dean's planned West Precinct Police Headquarters (the old Bob Frensley car dealership) looked like on May 2 as flood waters around Nashville rose:

During the controversial planning stages of relocating the headquarters, neighborhood associations and a Richland Creek watershed group warned the Mayor, Finance Director Rich Riebeling, and former police chief Ronal Serpas that the old Frensley plot was in danger of flooding, but the Mayor's Office ignored the warnings and pushed past the public opposition.

Instead of pausing in the wake of the flood to reconsider, Mr. Riebeling is now suggesting more expensive, environmentally insensitive plans to build a new headquarters on the flood-prone site, even as Nashville accumulates private property that sits on floodplain elsewhere to stop future destruction and even as those plans might violate the Mayor's own green initiative.

Neighborhood leaders are once again organizing to oppose Courthouse foolishness. West Nashvillian Trish Bolian writes GCA News:
As most know, that part of Charlotte was under torrents of water when Richland Creek became the equivalent of a raging river. Buildings on the former Frensley site elected for the relocation of the police needs addressed above were flooded and surrounded by raging water. Almost right next door at Pep Boys, employees and customers had to be rescued by boat and this was on Saturday before the full force of this water was felt on Sunday.

Here is what security cameras inside that Pep Boys caught of the creek flood overwhelming their building:

Trish continues:
The first action then taken was to ask for an easement of that area violating the mayor's own Green Initiative and pledge to protect the creeks and waterways! Then the floods. Note: not only is this in the flood plain much of it is in the flood way! Taxpayers are on the hook to spend $10 MILLION more to erect this building! Had the precinct been opened there, police cars would have been totally under water, the building greatly flooded, equipment and computers lost, DNA evidence washed down Richland Creek! Basically the second largest police precinct in the county would have been "down".

Another leader, Kathy Baker, reminds the Metro Finance Director in a direct e-mail that he ignored community warnings:
If nothing else you owe the citizens of West Nashville a debt of gratitude. We got this purchase deferred and later got the creek buffer variance deferred so the building process could not move forward. We knew all along it was a bad decision to purchase this piece of property but you wouldn’t listen. Council wouldn’t listen. If you had your way the building would have been in progress and what construction had been done would have been lost ....

When Richland Creek Watershed came to our meeting and told you about the issues with the creek you said “don’t worry about it, we’ll figure that out as we move along.” In their application to the stormwater committee, the engineers said:

“we have not submitted an alternate plan because we see no option to fully restore the buffer and still provide the facilities required for the new precinct and crime lab.”

Really? No one checked that out? We warned you ....

We showed you maps and pointed out that this property was in a flood plain and what happened? It flooded.

What would have happened if the precinct had been built according to your plans? ....

The people of Nashville would have wanted to know “what were you thinking building a police precinct in a flood plain?” You might be tempted to say (and some have said) – this is a 500 year flood and, chances are, nothing like this will ever happen again. But this is not a 500 year flood plain, it’s a 100 year flood plain and parts of it are in the floodway and it will happen again ....

I’m mad at you for not really listening to us. I’m mad at you for standing in the doorway at our meeting with your arms crossed refusing to come into the room and engage and hear what we were saying. You thought that we were simply upset about the precinct moving away from our neighborhoods, and said as much, when what we were actually saying was that this property, in particular, had not been properly vetted ....

It’s time for you to admit you made a mistake....we don’t even have an architect’s drawing or a budget, stormwater would not give you a variance on the creek buffer (and you shouldn’t have even asked for one), and the place has flooded. We must at least consider the possibility that the precinct should not be built here.

Finally, West Meade leader Mina Johnson appealed directly to Mayor Karl Dean via e-mail:
I ask you if it is truly our best option to build a new West Precinct police station and DNA lab on currently proposed 5500 Charlotte Pike?

We know more that 4.2 million dollars has invested into this location thus far. Regardless is it absolutely our best option to spend another 10 million plus dollars to continue the project on the current location despite of Metro's Floodway and Floodplain buy out plan underway[?]

What exactly has to befall the Mayor's Office before it will start listening to the wisdom of the community and watershed specialists or start abiding by its own green initiatives? What reason outside of sweetheart ties to auto dealer Bob Frensley does Metro have for steamrolling this ill-fated police precinct plan? If colossal floods do not turn Rich Riebeling's boat around what will?