Friday, May 27, 2011

The Craddock candidacy post-mortem

It was a matter of time before CM Michael Craddock was going to bow out of the race for Mayor. His campaign really was like running a pump car up against a locomotive. And Craddock simply did not have any progressive chops to pull votes away from Karl Dean. He simply waged one too many culture wars over the years. I like the guy personally, but if he didn't lose my vote several years ago over the Kay Brooks/School Board fiasco or over English Only or on his latest vote against non-discrimination, there are any number of other votes documented on this blog that would have given me pause before pulling the Craddock lever.

Even the council member's attempt to play the populism card was not enough. I needed a nobler brand of populism.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

11,000 Nashvillians leverage August referendum that could check Mayor's power to demolish Fairgrounds

Supporters of a measure that would require any plan to demolish the Fairgrounds to get a supermajority of council member votes (27) got the minimum number of petition signatures needed to leverage an August referendum (6,700), according to the Metro Election Commission. And then some.

Not only did Save My Fairgrounds almost double the required number of signatures by turning in 11,000, but they got 22 times the number of petition signatures that Neighbors for Progress got on their petition in support of Karl Dean's demo plans. NFP, captained by former Tennessean reporter Colby Sledge, has a lawyer and appears to be posturing toward a court challenge. But their previous claims that Nashvillians do not care that the Mayor intends to tear down and sell off public property look embarrassingly false and stupid now. And their argument that the opposition, which turned out 3,000 people for a public hearing a few months ago, comes largely from outside of Davidson County was also an utter fabrication.

So, Neighbors for Progress (and behind the South Nashville Action People) are big losers in the MEC decision.

VIDEO: this drama just happened at the Metro Election Commission

CM Jamie Hollin captured this shouting match over the District 29 candidacy of Isaac Okuri-Baah, who wanted to be listed on the ballot as Isaac Baah. CM Hollin noted it would place Baah first on the ballot. Baah and his wife accused the Election Commission of racism. Security was called but the Okuri-Baahs left before being taken out against their will.

Re-elect Karl Dean solicits journalists to join his community steering committees

An eyebrow-raiser:

Don't know how many other reporters received invitations to jump on the Mayor's campaign bandwagon, and surely the reporters are not at fault for getting solicited by Karl Dean's campaign. However, this does not allay concerns that news about Mayor Karl Dean is managed and filtered rather than reported, and it does not help the journos maintain a level of detached neutrality, if not objectivity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Righting a past wrong and helping pay for environmental impact of growth

Two independent council members are bringing back up an initiative this Metro budget cycle that Mayor Karl Dean and his council marionettes fought the last time stormwater rates were considered:

Photo credit: EPA Smart Growth
Two Metro council members are working to help small businsses.

Emily Evans and Jason Holleman are working to restructure or remove a cap from storm water run-off fees that some businesses claim is hurting their bottom line. The fee covers the environmental concerns for disturbing nature by building.

There is currently a $400 cap for building above a certain size, which small business owners say is unfair, because it gives bigger businesses a break.

CM Evans already made an elegant case at her blog for why fair stormwater fees are good for all. Nonetheless "progressive" CMs like Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, and Erik Cole voted against fairness and with Karl Dean on this. We will see if an election year and less than satisfactory budget conditions cause the Dean Machine to back off giving big business water big breaks and saddling the rest of us with carrying a larger portion of the weight for water treatment.

This issue proved to be somewhat of an embarrassment for Megan Barry. Will she risk that again or incline toward a greater sense of justice?

Another Salemtown storm damage photo from yesterday

Backyard on 6th Avenue North

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More photos of Salemtown storm damage from overnight

When today's early morning storm blew in, winds knocked down the tree in the photos below. The tree uprooted sidewalks and landed on an elderly Salemtowner's house, also swallowing up the next door neighbors' yard. The disaster happened on 7th Avenue North.

Some of today's Salemtown storm damage

Sorry for the crappy quality of these photos. I departed from my habit of using a digital SLR for photos and used an iPad 2 camera, which is not exactly robust.

Limbs & power lines down in Morgan Park along greenway

Wind-destroyed tree on house on 4th Av N

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tennessee Chamber of Commerce: Wash, Rinse, Repeat

So, Tennessee's Republican Governor Bill Haslam has now quite predictably signed the Republican bill that quite predictably kills Metro Nashville's ordinance that would require all of its contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination policies. With the ballyhooed "twitter campaign" supplicating the Governor for a veto and thanking corporations for their support, things were setting up as another Democratic Party fight with the GOP with businesses, company-by-company, walking away from responsibility for the mess.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ballpark brass tacks: Chatter Class blogger notes who will absorb financial blows of construction

The news media is not bothering to examine Mayor Karl Dean's line item for a new Downtown ballpark in his capital budget, despite the facts that:

  1. the Nashville City Paper christened a "grassroots" movement behind a new ballpark
  2. the Nashville Civic Design Center, a regular partner with Metro in planning capital projects, hosted a forum for stadium design "proposals"
  3. Worth some schools, parks, & libraries?
  4. the Mayor's Office has issued a Request for Proposals for a new stadium site that includes studies that constitute the planning process

For now only bloggers are honing in on the $55 million proposal in the Mayor's 2011-12 capital budget, given that the process is clearly moving along this year unlike it has in others. Nashville Chatter Class blogger Richard Lawson lays out the possibilities for how the bills would get paid (note the risk to schools, parks, or libraries):

Sorry, but I just can't play nice with Tennessee Democrats

The state Democratic Party didn't ask me, but if I were to have designed the poster for their "values summit" this weekend in Jackson, TN, I would have tweaked it:

Yeah, I know. I used to help these boys and girls out. Just got to be too much of an echo chamber where values are "framed" in limited ways. For all of their accommodations to the red state, they aren't exactly snowballing toward success.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thanks for helping me reach this milestone

Quite a bit of web traffic over the past few years for a small, nondescript hyper-local blog in Nashville, TN:

$55 MIL ballpark included in Mayor Karl Dean's 2011-12 capital budget

The relevant excerpt from the 135-page budget before Metro Council:

No community plans. No neighborhood hearings. No assurances that Nashville can afford it.

Metro Council has until June 7 to amend the capital budget. If you have concerns I encourage you to contact your council members before then.

UPDATE: Is the City Paper's Metro beat reporter, Joey Garrison, who has latched on to the possibility of a new ballpark voraciously and breathlessly in the past couple of years, downplaying the 2011-12 stadium line item via Twitter? Nothing to see here, move along, eh?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Improbable odds and double standards

  • Save My Fairgrounds, the preservationist group, was required to turn in almost 16,000 petition signatures from registered Davidson County voters to leverage a referendum on a charter provision that would simply increase approval for any demolition by half-a-dozen CM votes.
  • News reports a week ago said that SMF had collected over 10,000 signatures in a matter of weeks. They maintained last Monday that they have more than the required number.
  • Last December South Nashville Action People set a goal of 2,000 signatures on a petition expressing support for the Mayor's plan to start Fairgrounds demolition in order to motivate the council to vote to demo.
  • According to SNAP leaders a few weeks later, they had only collected 500 signatures while bound by no limitations, rules, or deadlines. Nonetheless, they lost the council vote to demo by a whisker.
  • SNAP announced this week the "hiring" of a lawyer to challenge the authenticity of SMF petition signatures, alleging that SMF brought in "disruptive" agitators to influence local politics. 
  • The SNAP petition's legitimacy and authenticity never faced the same doubt or scrutiny that SMF's is. Despite the fact that SNAP never produced large public demonstrations or held transparent meetings, they received the benefit of the doubt in most cases, and very nearly pulled out a council win.

There is no way the preservationists should still be in the fight. The bar has always been set higher for them than for the South Nashville organization. In fact, the bar has been in perpetual motion, lofted higher every time SMF scratches out a victory.

The greater petition requirement is only the latest inequity. Assuming they got 10,000 signatures, they collected 20x more sigs than SNAP did. If they have enough to leverage a referendum they will have collected 30x more sigs than SNAP did.

But I tend to believe some other obstacle will be hoisted should they eek out another accomplishment. The small group on the other side shows no willingness to compromise and they have friends in high places.

We share no common frame of reference with 1961 thanks to the student catalysts of 1961

I have questioned before misguided attempts of some who misuse the Civil Rights Movement in the news media by comparing it to benign current events. A couple of weeks ago columnist Gail Kerr seemed to feel that the best way to honor the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides was to compare the Nashville students who risked their safety, their lives by testing desegregation on interstate buses with Nashville student movements today as they editorialize in campus newspapers and demonstrate on uncomfortably cold days.

Hardly comparable to sending protest emails or tweets
As far as I know, none of the Vanderbilt, TSU, or Belmont students protesting lately faced the risk of injury, death, imprisonment or expulsion from their universities. It is not denigrating the protest of today's students to argue that the protests of 1961 faced longer odds and more dire consequences than anything students face in 2011. It does not take away from the importance of contemporary causes to argue that the memory of 1961 needs to be safeguarded against trivialization through apples-and-oranges comparisons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More on the Mayor's lunch with neighborhood leaders: Bellevue library, Fairgrounds, David Torrence, Public Schools, legal options on nondiscrimination, Sulphur Dell

Earlier today West Meade neighborhood leader Mina Johnson published a report to the Nashville Neighborhoods elist on her exchange with the Mayor a couple of days ago during the lunch I mentioned in the previous post. She gave me permission to republish some of her Q&A based on her neighbors' feedback here:

Q: Could you reinstate the former brush pick up schedule of four times per year instead of current three times a year? If not, can special arrangement be made especially after the massive storm damage like we had recently.
A: Currently no budget to increase the regular schedule. However the emergency clean up should be placed and I think they have dispersed those services right after the recent storm.

Q: How about tornado warning siren in our neighborhood?
A: There is a county-wide evaluation going on right now regarding sirens to determine where new one should go.

Q: What is the plan for Bellevue Center and library? Can Metro buy [Dillard’s] building to put library instead of building a new one to save the cost?
A: We would like to put library in the Bellevue Mall and it is still our plan and negotiation is ongoing. However, we don’t know what the Mall management team wants to do with the site at this time. It is a private company and the Metro cannot just buy Dillard’s building or tell them how to redevelop the site. We need to wait what they decide to do and hopefully pick the best location for the library to benefit both.

Q: Why does Metro want to sell the Fairgrounds which makes money and bought flooded airport in east Nashville?
A: The council voted to create a master plan for the fairgrounds site. It will be determined when the master plan has developed. Although I am not convinced that the Fairgrounds making money. Cornelia Airport in east Nashville was bought because it was flooded and unsafe. It will be made to Greenway as a part of Open Space/Green initiative.

Q: What can be done to the elected official David Torrence? The report was unacceptable.
A: Yes. It is very bad. He sent me a letter of apology right after the TV interview. I told him to do the right thing as I don’t have authority to remove him. He can resign or needed to be recalled. Don’t quote me on this but I heard DA’s office is looking into the way. Also the judge he works for might be able to request some kind of disciplinary action or dismissive. Something has to be done for sure and will be done.

Q: Why did Metro Public School System fired 300 teachers in part to make way of new project “Teach for America”?
A: Teach for America is the one of the best project in the country right now. They are not fired because of Teach for America. Each year Metro School System looses 400 to 500 teachers. We may not be able to rehire them because there is no more stimulus money coming in.

Q: It won’t be fair to the experienced teachers to be replaced by freshly graduated teachers?
A: We need to choose what works best for the students.

Q: Can Metro School System do better to retain good experienced teachers rather than losing them to elsewhere?
A: Yes, we need to do better in our School System. We have made quite a bit of improvement, the graduation rate is up in all area and the test scores are getting better. We are on a right truck but still a long way to go.

Mina also discloses that the Mayor says he has no plans to pursue a legal remedy to the Tennessee General Assembly's crack down on Metro's nondiscrimination ordinance. That's news to me.

On the subject of the ballpark, Mina writes:

The location of a new ball park stadium was asked. The Mayor responded RFP was issued a recently to study and compare new stadium site. He said he is somewhat biased towards Sulphur Dell site because the location is supported by a lot of neighbors and it will be great to energize North side of down town.

"A lot of neighbors" may or may not support a Sulphur Dell ballpark without any qualifications or assurances or attention to community character. However, until bona fide community meetings are held this baseball fan is not buying the vacuous marketing or the campaign fodder. If I had been present I would have asked Karl Dean why a construction timeline for a new ballpark should jump ahead of the one for the Museum of African American Museum of Music, Art, and Culture, which is no less important for North Nashville's economic development and has been planned for a much longer time. Although, I fully grant that museums are not as sexy during election campaigns as ballparks are.

Neighborhood blogger: Mayor waiting on surveys and studies before moving on Fairgrounds, limiting feasibility study to Sulphur Dell stadium

The Lincoya Hills neighborhood blogger had lunch with Mayor Dean a couple of days ago and reports on several issues, of which two stand out to me:

Mayor Dean continues to believe that the Fairgrounds is and will be in the hole financially, and that the area can be put to better use, however, he is waiting on the current surveys and feasibility studies that are being undertaken before making any further decisions.

Mayor Dean is also very much pro sports, and for a new baseball stadium. He stated that they have just recently put out a RFP (Request for Proposal) to look at the feasibility of doing a stadium at Sulphur Dell

The Mayor said last year after having his Fairgrounds redevelopment plan rebuffed that he was in a holding pattern, even as his staff continued to make "Plan B" types of moves behind the scenes, so I'm not convinced that he has not already made up his mind.

And maybe I misunderstood, but didn't news reports say that the ballpark RFP was to study the feasibility of several possible sites, not just Sulphur Dell? Has the decision on a ballpark site already been made at the top as well with the RFP as formality?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MDHA and its embarrassing mention in a WaPo story on dereliction at HUD

Little wonder that I crack open a Washington Post story--on how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington has squandered millions on plodding projects and failed to hold accountable local developers and housing authorities--and I find Nashville's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) mentioned in connection with the dereliction.

MDHA has its own documented dubiosity in recent years, including:

  • allegations in an independent financial analysis that MDHA was either hoarding money, ripping off HUD, or underpaying its own workforce
  • the housing authority allowed a public relations firm to overtax the convention center marketing budget in order to sell the concept to taxpayers
  • hiring a Florida construction company for the new convention center with a record of being "most unproductive" and for generating an "inefficient mess" and an "uncoordinated nightmare"
  • dragging a streetscape out longer than the projected timeline by generally not staying on top of contractors, but entertaining shortcuts, and ignoring community input on lingering problems
  • regular inattentiveness to care and upkeep of Section 8 housing

So, reading that Nashville is among the communities that have black-hole housing developments and authorities that swallow up federal dollars while returning little for the millions concerned prompted no surprise. Here is MDHA's section of the infamous WaPo story:

$1.7 million in funding (2001)

Since 2001, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency of Nashville invested $1.7 million in this delayed project, meant to provide about 40 homes for low-income families. Federal money was spent to buy land and put in roads and utilities, but there is no money to start construction. "We essentially kind of moth-balled it for the moment," said Joe Cain, director of development. "We are holding it."

It's bad enough that the federal government does not oversee, regulate, or track the money it sends these local agencies, but MDHA is a bad seed and probably should not be the agency HUD relies on to manage its money in Nashville.

The real goal of the charter provision cannot be so gainsaid

South Nashville Life blogger Jen Trail misrepresents the effect of changing the Metro charter's provision on the Fairgrounds:

A group of neighbors of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds have engaged with a lawyer* to hold accountable the petition to add a referendum to the ballot that, if passed, would make it more difficult to do anything with the fairgrounds property other than maintain the status quo.

Here is what the proposed change says:

all activities being conducted on the premises of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, Expo Center Events, Flea Markets, and Auto Racing, shall be continued on the same site. No demolition of the premises shall be allowed to occur without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter

This provision does not stop the community planning process on the Fairgrounds started earlier this year by the Metro Council. It only says that any demolition that occurs on the premises requires a super-majority rather than a simple majority of the Metro Council to approve. I also wonder if it prevents a unilateral move by the Mayor to demolish (has happened before elsewhere).

During the past couple of years the chips have been stacked against those of us who opposed moving the flea market to Hickory Hollow, to hacking up the Fairgrounds and selling it to private developers, and to the Mayor's absolute power to make these moves unchecked by the community. The latest underhanded moves included stacking a neighborhood advisory group with representatives from demo-driven South Nashville Action People/Neighbors For Progress and giving them recommendation powers to an already Dean-friendly State Fair Board with unchecked fiat over the lease.

In that kind of scenario, it does not matter how many Nashvillians oppose Fairgrounds demolition. The game is rigged against broad, popular sentiment about a public property. What can bring balance to the process is the Metro Council, which can send any one-sided concepts back into the community planning process.

SNAP has had countless opportunities to try and influence the direction of Fairgrounds redevelopment, which can and should happen (in fact, it should have happened years ago while the powers that be were allowing it the property to deteriorate). Their lack of success should not place extra obligations on any one else with an opposing interest in the Fairgrounds issue. Likewise, It is not too much to ask that--whatever concepts eventually emerge from the community planning process--that they receive the support of 27 rather than 21 council members to verify that everyone had the chance to influence the final product.

I honestly fail to see why Jen and her SNAP cohort would be opposed to supporting the most democratic solution to a planning challenge, unless they believe that support for the Mayor's initiative for an office park is not popular to begin with.

Full disclosure: For the first time ever I signed a petition for a public referendum when late last week I signed and returned the petition to put this charter change on ballot the next election. I believe it encourages a more inclusive community planning process rather than narrowing the process to suit the exclusive ideas of those supporting Mayor Dean.

Vicksburg, Mississippi Flood: to crest on Thursday above 1927 record

Credit/Source: Marty Kittrell

Monday, May 16, 2011

Local Democratic Party official doesn't want issue decided by voters, alleges preservation group brings in outside agitators

With a new lawyer in tow, Colby Sledge, who leads the organization that lined up behind Mayor Karl Dean through each of his multiple attempts to sell off the State Fairgrounds as private real estate, told the media that he would not like to see the Fairgrounds issue decided democratically:

"Obviously, I'd rather not see it on the ballot," said Colby Sledge of Neighbors for Progress.

Sledge speaks for the neighborhood association.

If I only got 500 people to sign my petition in favor of demolishing the Fairgrounds speedway after aiming for thousands, I would not want to see a county-wide ballot initiative on preserving the Fairgrounds either. NFP does not have the numbers to win this.

In an NFP press release, Sledge also indicts opponents of Dean's redevelopment scheme as much less than homegrown talent:

the group involved with this petition has a track record of organizing protestors from outside Nashville and bringing them into our communities to be disruptive

I'll be interested to see how Sledge and his new lawyer substantiate the rash accusation that people who were interested in preserving the Fairgrounds brought agitators in to undermine the order of things.

I've observed and been involved with neighborhood organizing in Nashville for almost 20 years now, but I'm not aware of any neighborhood initiative that Sledge has led until Mayor Dean's Fairgrounds plan came along a few months ago. So, I am skeptical about his claims of representing the community, especially when NFP only turned out about 35 people to speak at a public hearing on demolishing the racetrack last January, after making it seem like they had the support of thousands.

It also bears mentioning that Sledge's boss, Democratic State Senator Joe Haynes supports blocking voters from making a choice on the Fairgrounds. Did Sledge lead on any other neighborhood initiatives before he moved from being a Tennessean reporter to Senator Haynes' communication director?

CORRECTION: As pointed out by Braisted in the comments below, Sledge is Press Sec'y of the State Senate's Democratic Caucus, which means his boss is the Caucus Chair, not Democratic Senator and Caucus member Joe Haynes.

UPDATE: Note in the screen shot above that the Neighbors for Progress webpage states they have hired the lawyer to oversee the petition process. This is preying on my mind. How many neighborhood associations do you know that can afford to pay a lawyer on a petition issue by themselves?

Last chance to protect public land from being sold off to private companies

Even though the fix seems to be in on selling the State Fairgrounds property to wealthy real estate interests, CM Jamie Hollin continues to fight the good fight striking a populist note on today's Tennessean opinion page:

Many people I represent ... face daily difficulties putting food on the table, paying routine bills and finding affordable transportation and gainful employment ....

[T]hey are not “connected” to the comings and goings of government, except when they’re not receiving routine services, or as has been the case this year, when one of the few entertainment venues that they can afford to attend with their families is threatened with extinction.

The venue in question is the fairgrounds, which currently operates for their benefit at no expense to the taxpayer ....

[The farigrounds] has recently come into the cross hairs of an administration that sees it as property to be sold for unnamed office park development for an unknown benefit or cost ....

Meanwhile, think about the other Nashville entertainment venues that are not threatened with closure, despite the fact that they indeed come at great taxpayer expense: LP Field, Bridgestone Arena, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, to name a few. Keep in mind that the majority of the taxpayers funding these venues cannot afford to participate in the activities held in these locations ....

I am struck not only by the sheer number of [flea market] attendees, but also by the diversity of the people in attendance: young, elderly, African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, gay, straight and any other descriptive characteristic you can imagine ....

Nashvillians are fortunate to have a resource like the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, and we should not let the jobs and sales tax dollars that it generates annually be tossed aside for a land speculation deal.

Please consider signing the petition to put the fairgrounds referendum on the ballot, which if approved by voters would amend the Metro charter to stop the privatization of this public asset. The deadline for those petitions is today. Jump to the petition. Volunteers will also pick up your signed petition if you have not been able to get it in the mail; call 915-2118 to arrange a pick-up.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

You like me. You really like me.

I found this Re-elect Karl Dean Facebook campaign ad without really trying last week. I had added it as an update to a previous post on Sean Braisted's affinity for Hizzoner, but malfunctions at Blogger late last week deleted it. As I mentioned, Braisted seems to be trying to out-Kerr Gail Kerr on campaign boosterism. However, the ad sums up the whacked rationales for terms of endearment, since Mayor Dean did not himself overcome the flood or the recession.

By the way, any comments Enclave readers made late last week were stripped by the Blogger malfunctions, not by me. If you left a comment that disappeared, you will have to re-comment.

UPDATE: I suppose the days are over when Democrats identified with liberal blueprints like the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. There was a time I can barely remember when being Democrat meant standing for social justice and civil rights more than economic expansion, when it meant singing protest songs like "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land" instead of patriotic hymns like "God Bless America."

Now being Democrat seems to mean posturing as conservative as one possibly can without actually joining the GOP. Case in point, Sean Braisted's response to a special Facebook contest of Tennessee Democrats that encourages its friends to complete the sentence "I am a Democrat because ..."

When I was young, this is the kind of stuff we heard from Reagan Democrats. Now worker and consumer protection, distributive justice, and common access to resources are afterthoughts to untrammeled growth, concentrated wealth, and trickle-down benefits. I guess the days when Democrats self-identified with critiques of the injustice, the classism at the heart of wealth generation and waging war are gone.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

CRIME ALERT: rash of thefts in Hope Gardens

According to the Hope Gardens elist this morning there have been a string of car break-ins and storage-shed thefts along the 900th block of Phillips Street recently. Police advise residents to lock vehicles and hide valuables, particularly GPS devices. MNPD will be stepping up crime reduction activities in the neighborhood over the weekend.

There is always the chance that stepped up police patrols in one North End neighborhood can lead to criminals relocating to other parts of the community. Hope Gardens' outbreak of crime should be cause for all of us to be vigilant for overflow illegal activity and to report any suspicious activity we see to MNPD.

We learned a long time ago in East Nashville not to keep valuables in our vehicles, but I am torn on the question of locking up vehicles. I would rather have someone rifle through my car and not find anything to steal than to have them damage my car windows in order to rifle through a locked car. I'm not advising that others should keep their cars unlocked, but only saying that I don't lock my cars because when I have they have been damaged during attempted break-ins.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Local partisan blogger walks back insinuations about two very different CMs

He's been attacking Karl Dean's critics for so long that yesterday's salvo against CM Jamie Hollin should have come as no surprise to anyone, but partisan blogger and aspiring candidate for big cheese of Tennessee Young Democrats, Sean Braisted clearly overreached in his latest digs.

Those of us who actually paid attention to the Metro Council meeting debate on Hollin's co-sponsored non-discrimination ordinance (and make no mistake that he was one of the primary architects of the bill motivated by the sad episode at Belmont) recall that Michael Craddock made no effort to argue against the bill. Now, I've been as critical of the Madison CM since 2005 as any other local blogger; but Craddock not rising to speak on a polarizing and controversial bill is about as regular as an Alberta Clipper through Ashland City in August. So, you long-time council watchers will note that Craddock's silence on nondiscrimination when given a golden opportunity is remarkable.

But the facts didn't stop Braisted:

Hollin [is] working to help Michael Craddock become Nashville's next mayor.  Now, its no secret that there isn't much love between Hollin and Dean, but while the mayor might've been a bit slow walking up to the plate on the Contractor NDO, Craddock was actively working to oppose this, and other measures intended to give gay men and women a certain level of protection in their jobs.

Everything about Craddock indicates a deeply homophobic man.  Why Hollin, who clearly has a disdain for this element of our political society, would actively work to help make the man mayor, is beyond me.

Glory be. Hollin is working to help Craddock beat Dean. In other news, politics makes strange bedfellows. Take Craddock's fellow conservative Charlie Tygard, who also voted against Hollin's ordinance: Tygard is widely acknowledged to be one of Karl Dean's staunchest supporters even going so far as to say so in a recent Tennessean story. But he opposes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And yet, none of Braisted's blog trolls are going after Tygard or Dean.

Moreover, Braisted played the good soldier and soft-pedaled Dean's actual slow walk to nondiscrimination. The Mayor's original stand was to oppose based on the misguided notion that "less regulation is good." Dean's come-to-Jesus moment on Hollin's NDO afterwards was patently arbitrary: Mike Curb told him he supported it. So, if Mike Curb told him he was ambivalent on it or opposed it, the Mayor would have fought Hollin, and thus, sided with council conservatives like Tygard and Craddock (who voted against Hollin on NDO).

So after blogging, Braisted vouchsafed an audience with Hollin whereupon learning that his information was wrong. Instead of writing the standard "Correction," Braisted wrote an update indicating to me that it was Hollin, not the blogger correcting misinformation. Note the mealymouthed wording:

*Updated: After a lengthy and informative conversation with Councilman Hollin, he rightfully corrected this statement about Craddock actively working to oppose the contractor NDO. In fairness, he didn't speak out on the matter as some of the other conservative council-members did. He has, however, actively opposed other pro-gay rights measures on the council.

As did Karl Dean's "deeply homophobic" man, Charlie Tygard. But Dean gets a pass from Braisted.

A couple of years ago I couldn't convince Braisted about the importance for neighborhoods of council meetings and of zoning and planning meetings. Nowadays he's in with both feet, never having met a developer's tear-down plan or a Mayor's growth scheme he didn't like. My guess is that his newfound interest correlates to his party aspirations and helping his Dem friends out where he can. I'm sure the Mayor's Office honchos appreciate his willingness to play whack-a-mole on their critics because they've made it clear that the Mayor won't be taking this kind of low road.

I just wonder if we are going to see Braisted ask Re-elect Dean to pay him as a campaign consultant in the same way CM Jerry Maynard did. He is certainly putting in the hours at his blog.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

At what point is it okay to ask, "Is this non-profit endorsing a mayoral candidate?"

Second Harvest Food Bank or Second Term for Dean?

(For the record: in 2007, I questioned the appropriateness of Habitat for Humanity allowing its "brand" to be used supportively in CM Charlie Tygard's campaign commercials, especially when the non-profit was the recipient of financial benefit due to CM Tygard's council initiatives.)

This Metro contractor discrimination brought to you by your Tennessee Chamber of Commerce

Odd that private lobby groups, like the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, so invested in bringing in more jobs from corporations outside the state have been so instrumental in pushing legislation sailing through the State Senate that increases the chances that companies that have progressive hiring policies might avoid us. Local author of a council bill that would have required Metro contractors to provide workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity reflects on current events:

It wouldn’t be as embarrassing if any of the arguments in support of the legislation held even a drop of water. They don’t. It’s been a campaign for the record books contrived on homophobia.

I am glad Nashville, for a limited time only, was able to show the world we are an inclusive city notwithstanding the acts of the majority of our state’s legislature. Options are being considered.

I look forward to the forthcoming data showing all the increased production of jobs and tax revenue as a result of its passage (at least the jobs saved as a result). The proponents of HB 600/SB 632 owe us that much.

The easy thing to do in this situation is to blame the Republicans. While they deserve a large part of the blame, they could not do what they do if it were not for a red-state culture that promotes or soft-pedals the regressive tendencies of growth and enterprise in Tennessee in the first place. But anyone who expects more from TNGOP is a socket-set short of a full toolbox.

Keep in mind that both the Nashville and Tennessee Chambers of Commerce, two of the more locked-in, mainstream lobbies, oppose the Metro initiative. That makes this prejudiced legislation legitimate. These bills are not just the anomalous products of fringe right-wingers on family and traditional values councils. They were belched from the very center of the wealthy business interests who fight every single regulation that comes down the chute, including ridiculously easy ones like requiring government contractors to obey some rules that nobody outside government has to follow.

On that score, Democrats share some of the blame, and not just those voting for the state bills. Social progressives, in particular, who refuse to see any inconsistency between their embrace of untrammeled, unregulated, unbalanced growth and the private sector's will-to-power that rejects obligations share the blame, too. Maybe if some Davidson County Democrats had fought for a few other healthy constraints on the "business community," the latter might not be so emboldened to do what they will. Naively given inches, they take miles.

GLBT community organizers have done nothing that I can see to work with other groups fighting discrimination and the ill-effects of growth on poor and minority communities. They have gone their own way and hitched their wagons to politicians who seemed to side with them even when they would not fight for others. As the Metro ordinance goes down at the hands of the General Assembly, they have no broad coalition to call upon for assistance. Don't pity them, because they've been good about taking care of themselves. Let them believe they can get along fine without the rest of us.

In the end, until we start approaching Chambers of Commerce as powerful special interests who lobby against workplace reform (that is to say, until we put them in check instead of deferring to their networking opportunities for individual achievement) they will continue to be brutish. Let's hope one day red-state Tennessee, excluding most Republicans, wakes up and reels in some of the latitude it gives these bullies.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Memphis Flood: The Mississippi River swallows Beale Street at Riverside Drive toward its historic crest

Credit/Source: Michelle at Notes from Memphis

It took a while but balanced minority opposition to the Mayor finally formed

Back in 2008 when it seemed like the only council member willing to take on Karl Dean publicly and assertively was Mike Jameson, I openly wondered whether this submissive Metro Council was even worse than the conservative-dominated previous council that battled former Mayor Bill Purcell at every turn. Then came the Dean plan (supersaturated with donor influence) for a convention center, which was not exactly popular, and more CMs stuck their necks out to oppose the Mayor. The Fairgrounds debacle, and the botched handling of it, finally made opposing Mayor Dean permissible and the council's minority opposition wing of liberals and conservatives solidified.

This morning's Tennessean ponders the unlikely coalition as it stands:

Hollin and Craddock are at the heart of a coalition of progressive and conservative council members who have regularly opposed Dean’s agenda on high-profile issues. It brings together pro-neighborhood, pro-environment council members like Emily Evans, Jason Holleman and Mike Jameson with social and fiscal conservatives like Eric Crafton, Jim Gotto and Robert Duvall, forming a vocal minority.

Evans said the pairing isn’t that surprising.

“The convention center (debate) was really about fiscal responsibility,” she said. “Being a fiscally responsible government tends to be a hallmark of both progressives and conservatives. I put myself in both categories. It’s just a common theme.”

The progressives Michael Cass lists in the story have generally been the ethical cream of the council bunch over time, even as unsubstantiated mud was slung at them in the print/online news media by the Courthouse innuendo hounds every time they dared to criticize a Dean plan. Cass also inventories the coalition--including the "progressives"--that appease and buckle to the Mayor's Office on every initiative that I can remember. Jerry Maynard and Ronnie Steine have had their ethical stumbles in the past and I'm not exactly inspired by the quality of their leadership even as the dogs of Dean give them a pass on any criticism.

That brings me to Dean spokesperson Janel Lacy's purported declination to "publicly criticize" the council's minority coalition. The Dean administration does not publicly criticize his critics because it does not have to. On just about every major policy initiative (the convention center being the most obvious), it has hired consultants and anonymous trolls to do the attacking for them. With a generally compliant news media, Karl Dean can take the high road and let the hatchet men do the dirty work. While the thugs and mercenaries have taken some below-the-belt shots at the council's independent progressives like Hollin, Jameson, Holleman, and Evans, the mud simply will not stick.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Ready to buy that Sulphur Dell ballpark idea? Nashville's neighbor to the north has a cautionary tale about new ballparks

Besides getting his open space plan back on track recently, another reason Mayor Karl Dean is paying part-timer and former Bredesenista Jim Fyke $60,000 is to recreate the appearance of progress on a proposed baseball field. Hence, this week's news from Southcomm's Field-of-Dreams reporter Joey Garrison that Mr. Fyke is leading a feasibility study that will explore possible sites in Riverfront Park, in SoBro, on the East Bank, and finally, at Sulphur Dell in the North End.

Word on the street is that the Mayor's Office is inclined toward Sulphur Dell and has been instrumental in fostering support in council and among some neighborhood leaders for it. Still unknown is whether Karl Dean's rumored support for the Sulphur Dell option is authentic or is a tactical position designed to leverage Nashville Sounds ownership either to make concessions or to quit pursuit of a new ballpark altogether. I'm hearing that the old thermal site at Riverfront is off the table because of preferences of wealthy donors for an amphitheater there.

This morning's front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Mississippi River flooding

A Sharper image

Click, but it just says the author is hiding the sigs of Sharp's haters
For daring to lead an organization that opposed the Mayor's pet convention center project, Kevin Sharp was targeted by Dean (and Bredesen?) backers who started a petition against his nomination for a federal judgeship. The petition's list of 102 signers are currently hidden. But according to a media blog, signers of the petition included convention center lobbyist and Democratic Party consultant Dave Cooley, Cooley's associate Mark Brown (also well-known in party circles), Convention and Visitors Bureau president Butch Spyridon, and Marc Barclay, husband of convention center lobbyist Krissa Barclay.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Top of the Charters

Reports the Tennessean:

Jeremy Kane, CEO and founder of LEAD Academy, one of Davidson County's earliest charter school organizations, said the school district came to him asking for a middle school in South Nashville. The original LEAD Academy is in North Nashville.

"We talked to the community and the district and felt we had learned a lot from our first school and had a lot of success there," Kane said. "The need was there for one in South Nashville."

Who from the school district asked him? Jesse Register? Alan Coverstone (who shares MBA connections with Kane)?

Public parks vs. pro sports stadiums

Charles Maldonado recently wrote one of the more important stories on the Metro budget that you will read from a local news source, but I want to draw one particular lop-sided comparison from his excellent article:

The land under LP Field was valued at $6.3 million at the beginning of the last decade, according to Metro Property Assessor records. It’s gone up to $6.9 million, an increase, but only 10 percent ....

On the other hand, the value of Riverfront Park went from $6.3 million to $23 million between 2005 and 2009. The largest individual infrastructure expense there was the $2.3 million station for the Regional Transit Authority’s commuter rail line the Music City Star, installed there in 2009.

Maintaining and improving public infrastructure that serves the broadest swath of Nashvillians is at least as important as serving the constrained and special interests of pro sports consumers. In this case, sustaining Riverfront Park has been a greater return for Nashville on property value than keeping up LP Field has.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Another compare and contrast of Hizzoner: Dean feels our pain now

A year ago this weekend Karl Dean appeared on NPR and he seemed to have relatively detached tones about the degree of the disaster of 2010 Nashville flood in an attempt to encourage tourists to come to Nashville:

Up Harbor Town and rising

Memphis Realtor Karen Soro took this photo of water rising in Harbor Town

Bennett is running as a red-state council member

So much for the idea that council members are nonpartisan candidates. Karen Bennett sent out invitations to a fundraiser sponsored by doctrinaire conservatives like Jim Gotto, Ron Ramsey, Jim Hodge, Robin Smith, and Lee Beaman.

What a difference a day makes

Compare and contrast our Mayor one day sounding all GOP-ish campaigning against the federal government, but then conceding the next day that the lion's share of the help of flood recovery did in fact come from the federal government.

Another great flood in 2011

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
The Mississippi River bordering the western edge of our state is going to continue to rise to historic levels through Sunday due to heavy rains there and upstream in the past few weeks. Families and businesses have already been displaced and damaged. Having come through last year's flood, Nashvillians should have a keen appreciation of what many Memphians are facing the next few days. The good news I'm hearing is that the Army Corps of Engineers expects the Memphis levees to hold.

One of the previous historic flooding catastrophes Memphis and Nashville have in common is the Great Flood of 1927, which hit Nashville first, setting a record not broken even by our 1,000-year flood last year. Here is a silent short film made by the U.S. Army in 1927 on the effects on communities down river from Memphis:

Monday, May 02, 2011

When the local news media continues to rewrite catastrophic history to a national audience, hindsight of the Nashville flood is not 20/20

The most frustrating characteristic of the Nashville news media is that they rarely ask critical questions of their interview subjects regarding even the most commonly held fallacies. Last May as local feelings were festering in the wake of our 1,000 year flood that national media attention that was due us was too focused on the Gulf oil spill, a popular meme surfaced comparing Nashville's flood response in rather grandiose ways to the New Orleans response post-Katrina.

Having been focused on New Orleans doggedly during those dark days of Katrina and having witnessed problems in with emergency response in Nashville as they unfolded, I felt compelled to write a minority report rather than join self-congratulations and the revictimization of our wayward neighbors to the south:
Implicit in this preoccupied reaction is a response to the old nemesis, New Orleans. It’s a slam against another American community by placing ours on a higher moral plane ....

What is most striking in the Nashville narrative is that at its base it is a disingenuous re-write of history. It is a judgment call based on a fabricated all-things-were-equal scale ....

The rub, the difference here between these two cities is precisely evacuation. Mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency and a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans two days before Katrina’s landfall and the failure of the levees. Consequently, 1 million people fled from the Big Easy in those 2 days. There was no evacuation in Nashville in advance of our 1,000 year storm event. Nobody knew what to do. Metro government was hamstrung because, unlike New Orleans and its recent history of hurricanes, we only had 2 or 3 other years in the last century to compare this event to. And hurricanes are not just big rain events. They are approaching monsters to coastal cities and the risk is certain.

We are here to take care of ourselves. And my suspicion of undue arrogance leads me to believe that had 1 million New Orleanians stuck around the Big Easy, they would probably be more competitive in showing a volunteer spirit. The people of New Orleans, outside of the lower classes who had no choice, would not be waiting on FEMA, which kept failing them so miserably, so spectacularly in spite of federal promises about rebuilding New Orleans to the contrary. Many would have been able to serve their community as enthusiastically as Nashvillians are serving theirs.

Source: National Geographic
Behind the Nashville hand-wringing is a tale of two cities, one moral and self-sufficient, the other unforgivable and incapable.

There were even more spot-on comments to my reflections on these fabrications last May:

This is really a tale of four cities. You are right on target with the implicit comparison of Nashville and New Orleans. But don’t ignore the explicit claim that people are nicer to each other here than in Los Angeles and New York City. This shows a fundamental ignorance of how people interact in those places. NYC is notable not only for people holding doors for each other; but you haven’t seen anything in casual neighborliness and helpfulness to strangers until you’ve seen how automatically passers-b help mothers with strollers up and down the steps to the subway there. But it, too, fits a narrative: the narrative that real human values can’t be found on the coasts.

Nonetheless, some in the local news media mark this anniversary of our disaster by continuing to implicitly transmit the grandiose meme that somehow, when the chips are down, Nashville is a cut above everyone else. The apples-to-oranges comparison with New Orleans continued over the weekend past to a national audience on public radio, and this time local reporter Blake Farmer maintained that Nashville serves as an inspirational "model for Alabama and other states" suffering under brutal weather.

There is a whole field of research out there called "non-profit and voluntary association studies" with social scientists without skin in the game who can be objective about why people feel motivated to volunteer in crisis situations. Volunteers have noble reasons; volunteers have less than noble reasons. The common denominator that they share is not their reasons, but their availability.

Likewise, there is no one reason why 20,000 Nashvillians volunteered to aid in flood relief last year. Some didn't want to wait for government. Some believed it was their moral duty. Some wanted to fight their own depression. Some wanted to feel useful making progress. Some wanted the networking opportunities. Some wanted to positively brand their business. Some were following the crowd. Some had ulterior motives of gaining an advantage over the less fortunate. Some wanted to maintain a favorable status with their employers who partnered with charities. Again, what these thousands shared was not their rationale for joining in the effort, but their availability. The NPR report reduced the reasons down to one and oversimplified local voluntarism to support the grandiosity of Nashville's flood narrative.

Full disclosure: I was among the 20,000 who volunteered. My family worked in two different aid distribution sites. When we heard that a South Nashville Egyptian community was suffering, we went out and bought supplies and nonperishable food, and helped their local leaders allot and distribute our donation door-to-door. I did not blog about this, because it seemed like self-promotion at a time when the attention needed to be focused on them.

But I blog on my own contributions a year later to say that I don't want to be a model for anyone else. As one of the volunteers "celebrated" by Metro government and the non-profit community today, my views ought to weigh in on this remembrance, too.

And in my opinion, it is presumptuous for NPR and self-aggrandizing for Nashville to trot us out nationally as a shining beacon for others who are suffering calamity right now. The last thing that Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Rome, Ringgold and everywhere in between need now is a celebration of Nashville's recent past. They just had a single history-making, beastly supercell tear through each of their communities. Memphis is about to be engulfed by one of the grand rivers of the world, the Mississippi. And yet, today, we're focused on us. It amounts to vacuous, hollow symbolism that draws our gaze away from our beleaguered neighbors.

If anything, our experience of coming out the other side of the hells of destruction that other people are in or just entering ought to give us pause, the humility to figure out what we can do to support them, not promote ourselves. And using New Orleans again as our own personal foil is both ignoble and revolting. We should expect more from ourselves and demand better from local journalists.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Remembering the Great Nashville Flood: unpublished photos from May 2-3, 2010

Today is the anniversary of the day it started raining to such a historical degree that the flooding around Middle Tennessee in the days that followed was referred to as a 1,000-year deluge. Last year I published a large number of pictures I took in my inundated north-by-northwest community during those days. Here are some that did not make on to the blog until today:

Country Music Marathon 2011 photos: North End spectators