Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Higher risk of gang racketeering part of the vicious cycle of privatization

For the last four years I have tried to preach about the higher risks and lower returns of privatizing government services even in the face of the popularity of the non-profits who often benefit financially from the public-private deals cut in the halls of Metro government.

Maybe it is going to take news of even more insane non-profit-based crime for more people to question the cozy patronage between politicians and their non-profit clients. For neighborhoods dealing with youth gang crimes, this ought to be scary enough:
According to the federal indictment, Galaxy Star founder Lonnie Greenlee allowed the Bloods to use the nonprofit's building as a sort of headquarters, where gang members organized, coordinated efforts to acquire guns, plotted a takeover of East Nashville's drug trade and even nearly beat a man to death.

Among the allegations in the indictment was that Galaxy Star worker Rodney Britton provided fake community service hours in exchange for money. Sometimes Greenlee arranged the deals, records show. Other times, it was his son, Lonnie Newsome.
I am not so naive to think that malfeasance could not happen under a government service provider, but it is reasonable enough to assume that checks and balances provide for better regulatory oversight than do services built on voluntarism. Oversight is bound to go lax where volunteers are involved. Because community services depend on volunteers and not on government workers with budgetary obligations to elected officials, obligation to the taxpaying voters is removed and the chances of abuse increase.

It is difficult to convince people of these risks because we are predisposed to view community service groups as intrinsically good and free from the taint of abuse. We often project our own warm feelings associated with donating and volunteering on to non-profit providers. And Metro politicians want this because it allows them to cut budgets, to buy influence, and to curry deniability in these critical moments. Nonetheless, we continue to privatize government oversight at peril to our own local communities.


  1. Mike, I'm not quite sure what you are asking for in this post. Are you proposing that we throw out the community service option for judges in favor of incarcerating individuals by the government? Or are you suggesting that we hire more caseworkers to audit these services. I agree with you regarding the move to privatize government services, but the community service option has never been a governmental function and has depended on the honesty and good will of the non-profits who both benefit, and supervise these workers. As someone who has overseen community service workers let me say that it is a mixed blessing. While there are some benefits in gaining some volunteer labor, this can be offset by the administrative requirements and the need for supervision. It is a two edged sword for my experience suggests it is as much a gift to the community to take on supervision of community service workers as it is a benefit to the agency. Yes, there needs to be a better system of reporting and oversight, but be careful not to tarnish all non-profits because of the actions of one group of persons abusing the system for profit.

  2. Hold on. Did any of you ever meet Clemmie? Did she buy her Nasvillian of the year for 2007 from the Nashville Scene? How do you explain the filmmaker from Forest Hills and the other volunteers that work for that organization? I met them all and so did 29 of my friends. I think we could have seen through that ruse in a second. They got a large donation of money back in March. At the award ceremony for this money, every board member and high level volunteer was there. Except for Lonnie.
    Don't use Galaxy Star as an example solely based on the actions of a single bad apple.