Wednesday, March 30, 2011

All the Mayor's men: no apologies for possible ethics violations

The last thing Mayor Karl Dean needs since kicking off his re-election campaign with a couple of rebranding efforts called "neighborhood gatherings," designed to frame him as in touch with communities, is embarrassing news that smacks of elitism. However, news did crop up today that Dean's closest advisers appear to be keeping sweetheart relations with a Metro contractor.

Dean signed an executive order in 2008 reiterating and amending the ethical rules of his predecessor:

This order applies to the Mayor and employees of the Mayor's office ....

No employee shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, on behalf of himself, herself, or any member of the employee's household, any gift, gratuity, service, favor, entertainment, lodging, transportation, loan, loan guarantee or any other thing of monetary value from any person who:
  • has, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with the department or agency of Metropolitan Government by which the individual is employed, or
  • conducts operations or activities that are regulated by the department or agency of Metropolitan Government by which the employee is employed, or
  • has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

The order also says that employees should seek the advice of their departments on these questions.

Today's Tennessean has an important but understated story that Dean staffers Rich Riebeling and Greg Hinote accepted gifts of entertainment and lodging from a contractor with which the Dean administration has financial relations. In essense, Larry Atema of Franklin recived a $300,000 no-bid contract last summer to manage the managers who manage the subcontractors working on construction of the new convention center.

Atema also owns a 3-bedroom, 4-bath home at the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis resort in Wyoming that he paid $1,600,000 for. Currently, a similar house on the same street at the resort is on the market for $2,250,000.
A house on Prickly Pear Lane, Jackson Hole resort
Riebeling and Hinote stayed at Atema's Jackson Hole home last fall although they will not say exactly when. So, the Mayor's men are used to running around in some tall cotton.

Perhaps the fat wallets they are used to running with explains Riebeling's hardened response to questions raised by scrutiny of their possible ethics violations:

Larry was nice enough to invite us out, and I thought it would be great. I'm entitled to a little bit of a personal life as well .... We work hard, and getting a couple of days of enjoyment doesn't seem too much to ask.

The Mayor's Office, which is responsible for advising Riebeling on such an ethical dilemma, gave an even more arrogant and condescending reply than Riebeling's:

Dean spokeswoman Janel Lacy said the Wyoming trip was nothing out of the ordinary.

"It's common to be friends with people you work with and to socialize with them outside of work — that's all this is," Lacy said. "To suggest anything different is more than a stretch."

This is not just a couple of guys going out for happy hour after work. It is a matter of appearing to accept a gift explicitly prohibited in a policy that Mayor Karl Dean himself signed.

CM Jamie Hollin effectively defined the problem that the Mayor's Office seems loath to acknowledge:

Isn't it now reasonable to conclude that it is highly suspect whether the director of finance, deputy mayor or chairman of the authority will be able to hold Mr. Atema accountable if he fails to perform? It creates the appearance our local government is being run by privileged elite in violation of Executive Order No. 7. The ordinary taxpayers of this city–especially those whose months outrun their money–don’t even have a remote chance.

You and I will never be able to compete with Mr. Atema to get Mayor's Office attention. This episode strengthens the perception out there that Mayor Dean is more tuned into the wealthy power elites that influence courthouse policy than he is to the rest of us lower down in the pecking order. Likewise, the Music City Center is more of a boon for Riebeling, Hinote, Atema, and Dean than it ever will be for average Nashvillians like us.


  1. Dean could learn something from the likes of Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Kesha or any other famous and wealthy Nashville star.

    Even though the aforementioned have great wealth and fame, their fans don't mind. Why? Because these stars continue to keep in mind the people who got them there.

    Yeah, they keep their team close, but ultimately, they know that the "voters" (people who buy tickets, t-shirts and albums) are the ones who helped get them there.

    Dean is more like the snotty-nosed, kid musician who gets propelled into the limelight with a big hit and automatically assumes his second single will also be a smash.

    He hangs back stage at the Grammy Awards acting like an ass and refuses to sign autographs for his new fans as he dashes across the red carpet to his stretch limo to hit the Vanity Fair after-party.

    He continues this behavior for months.

    When his second single peaks at number 89 on the Billboard chart, he blames it on management and the record company.

    Then one night, he flips off his fans on some late show when he gets a lame ovation and a few heckles.

    True stars remember who got them there.

    Losers forget.

    And then find their albums in the 99 cent bin at the used record shop.

    At some point, even the "boys in the band" are gonna walk away.

  2. To continue my music business analogy (and I have worked in the biz), you also have those who grab the coat-tails of the snotty-nosed musician.

    They often tend to behave in the same manner. Though only part of the entourage, they get caught up in the same limelight.

    They catch a whiff of the fame and get caught up in the moment. They may even experience a few favors from the star of the moment and even be asked to help out is some form or fashion.

    These coat-tail grabbers too, lose sight of those who helped them (yeah, council members who got voted in and then became infatuated with Dean and the whole power trip).

    Some of them wake up, and decide to do the right thing. They become the ones who really do something by going out on their own.

    Others become the people you try to avoid at record release parties, because all they wanna talk about is the washed-up "star" they used to hang out with, even as they deliver your late-night pizza.

    (My apologies to all pizza delivery folk, unless you are a council-at-large , or council person who continues to support Karl "Don't Step On My Over-Sized Loafers" Dean. Also, apologies to the late, great Carl Perkins).