Thursday, December 27, 2012

Latest Enclave donation supported the Cheatham Place Christmas Party for kids

I have a long-standing practice of donating any Google Ad revenue checks from this blog to worthwhile local non-profits who give so much back to the community. Past causes I've donated to include: Fisk University, Buena Vista Enhanced Option School, Cumberland River Compact, Second Harvest Food Bank, 88.1 WFSK FM, North Nashville Flood Relief Group, Nashville Jazz Workshop, Friends of Nashville Farmers' Market, and the Nashville Neighborhoods Resource Center.

My unpaid earnings with Google Adsense are getting to the level where I expect compensation soon, and I already turned that around and made a donation to a charitable cause down the street from where I live. Former Werthan Lofts resident, Kimble Bosworth, contacted a group of us and asked for donations to her chosen cause:

Y'all may know I have been making sure the children of Cheatham Place, across the street from Werthan, have gifts and food for their Christmas Party for the past 7 years. Every year, this act of giving fills me with that the holiday spirit. This year, even though I am no longer living in Werthan, I am just as committed as ever to make their holiday party a special event for these kids ....

In 2006, when Boz and I moved to Werthan Lofts, Germantown was new to us. I did not know anything about the public housing across the street - Cheatham Place. So, when I heard sirens there during our fist week in our new 'hood, I called MDHA to find out what happened.

Turns out, their housing office administration was just across the street. And a nice lady, Peaches Manning, offered to meet me and address my concerns in person.

She took me on a tour of Cheatham, introduced me to the on-site property manager and several members of the community association. She showed me the plaques announcing that Cheatham Place is on the National Historic Registry.

As we walked the grounds, I noticed that their landscaping was nicer than much of ours in the gated community across the road.

She waved at children as she explained there were currently 120 kids in residence. She also explained, "Honey, most of the sirens you hear around here will be ambulances. We don't tolerate misbehaving and we have a waiting list to replace anyone who does."

I learned a lot that day - about poverty, about judgment, about assumptions and prejudices. And I wanted to do something special for my new neighbors. So, when December came around and Peaches called to invite me to the Cheatham Christmas Party; I decided to bring gifts. Called all my Werthan neighbors and asked for donations. Gathered up about $1000 and headed out the day before the party to go shopping ....

I grabbed a cart and borrowed a few boys and girls and parents at Big Lots to help me pick things out. The manager even went to the back of the store and pulled 50 radios from inventory and sold them to me at a discount for the kids.

So there I was, standing in line with two carts full of toys, holding up everyone behind me at the checkout line. A lady behind me asked, "So who are you anyway? Why you got all those toys."

"I'm nobody." I answered.

The manager, who had been helping me and had heard the story of why I was doing this chimed in and told the curious shopper, "She's buying all these toys for some poor kids in her neighborhood who may not get anything this year."

"Well," the lady said, "They you ain't nobody. You're Santa Clause."

That's when I realized what Christmas spirit feels like. And I was hooked. The people who participate every year have learned, as I did, that the gift is really from Cheatham Place to us, not the other way around.

I was moved by Kimble's story, and so I sent $100 over to help her out with the costs of her project. She posted an update for her "Cheatham Place angels" last week on Facebook:

Your donations purchased food for the event which over 200 people attended. There were more than enough presents for all the kids and even some Kroger gift cards for the adults. Santa made an appearance with Mrs. Claus and got to catch up with the kids. They were so cute when he came in the room. They ran and hugged him. Some were afraid and stood at arms length. Others had their parents carry them over to him. But they all had a great time.

One heart-wrenching story came up this year. A mother of two boys was struck and killed by a car driving at night with no lights as she crossed the street a week before the party. Her boys, 9 and 4 years old, are left with no mother. They are now living with their grandmother, who recently lost her job as an in-home caregiver. They have so little. Well, now they have a little more. Thanks again to your generosity, they each have some warm winter clothes, shoes and a few other necessities. And more help is on the way. Tonight, after an impromptu invitation from Kia Jarmon to join her at an event; I met another angel - Yuri Cunza. He asked if anyone knew some deserving children to receive some of the collected donations of toys from the event. Yep. I do. And tomorrow, we will be bringing some new angels to meet these two boys. You cannot imagine how grateful I am to Yuri and the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for making this possible.

Thanks for clicking on the blog ads and making my modest donation possible. I hope that you will keep Kimble Bosworth's Cheatham Place party in mind as Christmas 2013 approaches. It is a worthy effort organized by an invested leader who expresses care for needy kids and families living in our diverse North End community.

Friday, December 21, 2012

All Hale the power of teachers

What stands out to me in this year's Nashville Scene Person of the Year is not the admittedly excellent individuals they selected to honor but the way the individuals served the writer's tidy triangulation by casting plagues on both the seeming monoliths of charter school supporters and charter school opponents:

the Scene would like to refocus the discussion of public education not on differences and squabbles, but on the enormous asset that charter and public schools have in common: the teachers who are the most active, direct agents of hope Nashville's children will face outside the home.

Reporter Steven Hale is not being any more postconventional about public education than is either the Nashville Chamber of Commerce or Jesse Register's school administration. Both of the latter strive to get the news media to frame school reform, a.k.a. privatization and tax wealth transfer, as a "bold" partnership that weds market-model charters with public mandates for education.

Hale frames the issue exactly as they have. Following two teachers as illustrations to soften the debate merely supports the dominant line in the district now.

The fact he's merely echoing their drive to privatize education is made clear by the high fives they're giving him for what amounts to free advertising for their project. Federal, state, and local governments fund what Hale is advocating. Democrats and Republicans already agree on it (to the point that Democratic officials, sustained by Gates and Walton family wealth, are abandoning teachers unions across the country). To overplay rancor on the subject among powerful elites is disingenuous. His editorial advocacy hits dead center of the power matrix of education policy. Wealth flows to that center like iron filings line up in a magnetic field.

Hale's framing mechanism is symbolic: teachers, that is, "the enormous asset that both charters and public schools have together". About the only exception that charter school advocates would have to that value-framing is to insist that charter schools are thoroughly public schools.

Otherwise, education reformers are consistent and evangelical in the emphasis placed on the role of teachers in the education process. I have found them loath to talk about the role of parents, the difference that socio-economics and income inequalities have on learning, or the simple matter of children getting enough food for breakfast before they come to school in the morning. They put their speculative, peppy views of the influence and optimism of teachers on such an unrealistic plane that it often defies logic and detracts from the real impact of more profound, everyday drags on student performance. That idealism fits hand-in-glove with the emphasis on calls for "quality teachers" and on demands that testing be the stick by which quality is measured.

Within Hale's writing, current school board member and former Bredesen henchman Will Pinkston pays lip service to the teaching pedestal Hale erects (Pinkston's claim that the "teacher-quality camp" has been missing from the debate is disingenous. I've heard that saw spouted by reformers constantly for years as well as in PTO meetings and in the halls of my kid's elementary school).

The Pinkston seal of approval.

Hale's writing seems like it strives to amount to Pinkston's "teacher-quality camp" myth and to provide an echo chamber for education reformers who scale up the influence of teachers and downplay other factors that affect achievement. Hale also neglects the irony that counsels that if we have or hire high quality teachers they should be proficient enough to organize for their own self-interest without being criticized as self-serving by reformers. More importantly, they should have more influence in determining student achievement than testing does.

But Hale's pedestal is beset by the same ironies that plague the reformers' arguments. It is notable in a tribute to teachers that Hale mentions teachers unions only once (and then as a foil). He also says very little about giving "great teachers" a freer hand in determining performance. While I can only think of one objection that reformers might have with Hale's framing of the issue, I can think of many that union members might have. One is precisely the point that he does not address the positive influence unions have for teachers and the civics lesson provided to students. Another is that part of the "innovation" that charter schools advocate is not really innovative at all: charters are not regulated to hire certified teachers and they are "free" to use practically anyone they deem as qualified. A third is the drag that flooding public education with less skilled, cheaper workers has on the salary and benefits that may attract qualified teachers who are skilled at navigating government bureaucracy to begin with. The list of objections could go on and on.

And most of these objections defy the Nashville Scene's oversimplification of their views of charter school teachers as "moonbeams". I may be a charter school opponent, but I'm not surprised by anecdotal evidence that there are good teachers in charter schools. But that is hardly the larger point that I am trying to make.

The tribute that Hale pays to teachers is consistent with the idealism of education reform driving both Register's office and the Chamber of Commerce lobby. I'm not saying that the two individuals he lauds are unworthy. They read like outstanding individuals. I do not deny Hale's grasp of their characters. But there are many outstanding individuals in the teaching profession who don't fit squarely in Hale's value frames that box out larger questions that matter in public education and the process of privatization, which he apparently has come to embrace (does he have children in public schools, by the way?).

Those of us who are not journalists rely on reporters to write more level-headed, critical and investigative analyses than Hale's narrational, sentimental riff, which triangulates as if it actually departed from the school reform project. It does not. In spite of his claims, separation is never really achieved, which is exactly why Metro and Chamber flacks have not shivered his commentary. It frames their values perfectly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How do we know the Chamber of Commerce poll on charter schools is legit?

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce has made a habit of introducing its yearly "report cards" on Metro public schools with terms like "bold" to the point that it means very little: when every report card is bold, then no report cards are bold. Nonetheless, the special interest group whose main purpose seems to be to lobby and leverage policy favorable to it from Metro agencies trotted out another report card with rather interesting "poll" numbers:

Armed with a poll taken in May, chamber officials insist Nashvillians want “school choice” in the form of charters. A survey of Nashvillians, featured in the report, found that 43 percent of respondents believe the city should have as many charter schools as possible, and 39 percent say it should operate a limited number. Eleven percent believe charters are not necessary here.

Any marketer know that you can call just about anything a poll, because there are no rules governing the Chamber when it gathers its "findings". Too bad the journos at the Tennessean do not seem to heed it enough to probe into methodology.

We can assume that the "poll" was paid for by the Chamber, which makes it suspect to begin with. Money changes everything, including claims to objectivity, which brings me to my next point. I searched high and low for information on a polling agency that the Chamber could have contracted to conduct the study, but I could not find that information. Assuming that they hired a pro polling agency (I give them the benefit of the doubt that they did not just phone bank a bunch of their own volunteers asking leading, push-polling questions), I would like to know if that agency acted independently to cull these numbers in the same way an independent auditor would turn over objective balance sheets and neutral assessments. I would also like to see sample questions to test their objectivity. It is only fair. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce has not been bashful about questioning the methodology of more objective media polls at odds with their priorities.

Otherwise, I have serious doubts that nearly half of Nashville would like as many charter schools as possible. If the numbers are accurate and based on operationalized data gathering, then I can only feel sorry for a city that seems bent on going from foundering public education to mediocre privatized education that hands over tax dollars to entrepreneurs who have little or no obligation to taxpayers.

UPDATE:  Local reporter J.R. Lind tracked down the info that I could not find initially on the MNPS website. Appendix A has the questions asked and the results, but J.R. underscored the following paragraph in response to this post:

The following graphs represent results from a telephone survey commissioned by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. The survey was designed, written and analyzed by McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville. The Parker Consulting Group of Birmingham, Ala., randomly surveyed 545 Davidson County registered voters May 8-9 and 13-14, 2012. The survey has a margin of error of approximately plus or minus 4.2 percent for the total sample.

Essentially, a special interest lobby group commissioned a survey designed, written and analyzed by a public relations firm (which itself has ties to local election and policy campaigns, most notably those of our pro-charter Mayor) and conducted by a marketing consulting business. The matter of whether the framing of the questions as well as of the answers offered to subjects is a legitimate one that I do not want to pass over lightly (for instance, it can be leading to frame the "unlimited charters" question by mentioning state legislative action), but more important for me is the fact that at no point along the process is the research conducted by neutral, independent firms that would be more exhaustive about objectivity and fact gathering.

The Birmingham consulting firm markets their phone surveys to get "accurate information" from their client's "target audience" and to "manage to specific quotas" in the target audience. What the appendix does not say is how the target audience was selected. It also does not delineate controls in place to keep callers from phrasing questions in leading ways or straying from a strict protocol of asking the same question in the same way to each subject in the target audience.

In my opinion a more neutral and objective survey of attitudes about charter schools should be formulated and conducted by a research (not marketing) firm without skin the game or financial connections to a local special interest group that has invested years and money clips on getting answers it expects. If the results are legitimate and objectively gained, I would like to see more qualitative data on what the 43% who support unlimited charters schools believe they are supporting and why they support such a market model for public education when running government like a business has not consistently worked.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sale of Werthan Packaging to developer finalized

An Atlanta developer, who has proposed a huge mixed-use apartment complex with preservation of some of Werthan's historic structures, closed on the property:
SWH Residential Partners has closed on its $7 million purchase of a 13.75-acre site at the historic Werthan complex in Nashville's Germantown neighborhood. SWH Residential Partners plans to kick off a 282-unit, $40 million mixed-use apartment building on the site at 1515 5th Ave. North. The seller was Werthan Packaging Inc.

Memphis education reformers make a mint

The blogger who "keeps an eye on the corporate education agenda" observes the very lucrative business of privatizing public schools in Memphis, in spite of neighborhood opposition:

Less than a year into the New Orlean’s style rephorm-over, the Achievement School District’s numbers are off the charts. By numbers, I’m referring NOT to student test scores at the 6 ASD schools —they ranked in the 16th percentile in reading and math —but the eye popping salaries that district personnel are pulling down. Tennessee may be called the volunteer state, but in Achievement land, the “sweet salary state” might be a more accurate nickname. District head and TFA alum Christopher Barbic takes home nearly $18K —a month. A little perspective: that’s more than the governor of the state makes, and, believe or not, a hair more than Kevin Huffman, TFAster turned former Mr. Michelle Rhee turned chief rephormer for the state of Tennessee ....

Within the next few years, the Achievement School District will swallow up schools all over Memphis, eventually covering more than 20,000 students. And there in lies the dry spice rub. You see not everyone is cheering the rephorm train as it speeds down the tracks. The neighborhoods whose schools are being targeted for takeovers have responded with protests—even anti-ASD billboards. Tomorrow, parents and other supporters of the Treadwell School, a one-of-a-kind dual language school located in the heart of Memphis’ Hispanic neighborhood, will submit a petition signed by 1,000 people, all saying “¡keep your manos off our escuela!

There is too much private money and powerful influence in the education reform industry for it to be anything other than a get-rich-quick racket funded and legitimized by elected officials, themselves beholden to wealthy campaign donors. Talk about a vicious circle. It will take massive community organizing to turn back this wave of young hipsters--many with Teach for America backgrounds--coming into a struggling education market with designs on huge salaries at the expense of old-guard, experienced educators. I am not sure enough people are angry at how corporations are daily looting the state budget to muster the mass organization required to turn off the money spigots before the young and the restless reformers parachute out to other endeavors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Legal loan shark" to occupy prominent North Nashville intersection

I was disappointed to read that a development going in at the corner of Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard is Advance Financial, a payday loan business that profits on working-class desperation and houses itself in tedious buildings:

“We’re trying to rebrand and reinvigorate a community,” Kwame Lillard, a community activist and owner of property off Jefferson Street, said. “That’s a sign of regression.”

There’s not much critics can do because the Advance Financial site was already zoned for commercial use and the storefront will meet requirements under the historic district overlay for that area. [CEO Mike] Hodges hopes to eventually win over hearts and minds with the design of the planned building — which includes a glass-and-brick structure with 15 teller windows and a drive-through window ....

“Part of that is a perception issue — our industry has done a very poor job of curbside appeal,” Hodges said. “You’ve got a historically underserved Jefferson Street and we just think it’s a great location. We do well where you have high-traffic intersections.”

Some of their "high-traffic" intersections do not exactly have what I would consider "curbside appeal" (images via Google Maps):

Clarksville Hwy

Tusculum Road

Gallatin Avenue

The concept of a "glass-and-brick structure" does not sound attractive when I see pictures of Advance Financial structures of the same materials elsewhere. Bad enough, they are located on parking lots at odds with walkability but their strip-mall styling is out of character with high density urban character.

Contrast Advance Financial's status quo with the development scenario for Jefferson Street near Rosa Parks Boulevard laid out by the 2010 North Nashville community plan that many of us here helped formulate:

In this development scenario buildings are shown with shallow setbacks sitting close to Jefferson Street with parking placed behind the building. Parking is also located beside the building, and in some cases off-site in other parts of  the Community Center to facilitate shared parking between businesses. New buildings along Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard should be among the tallest and most urban in the area. As a transition between mixed use development the existing residential development, new residential building types such as townhomes and multifamily are located on the edges of the Community Center.

How the community plan envisions Jeff St at Rosa Parks
Here's hoping that Advance Financial will not follow its standard practice of showcasing parking lots, especially on a corner dominated by a drug store and gas station with parking in front. However, the 2010 plan also recommends innovative building types compatible with existing residential patterns and increasing neighborhood density. I do not see Advance Financial offering much in the way of innovation given their low-profile, cookie-cutter, convenience-store layout with screaming signs disproportionately mondo to the modest size of their buildings.

In fairness, I have not seen any drawings of the new building, but the current Advance Financial holdings do not offer me much hope that it will fit the community plan or the character of the North End as it has developed. And frankly the existing outlets look trashy and unkempt. The last thing Jeff St needs is the scruffy and dirty look of what passes for "curbside appeal" on Tusculum or Gallatin.

Furthermore, council member Erica Gilmore's comments to journalists do not give me much faith that Advance Financial will bring the quality of life of our community up to what we expected in participating in the planning process: “You don’t want it to be predatory or whatever, but if other banks or businesses aren’t coming in, you have to have something at the end of the day. They’re not going to set up anywhere where people have adequate banking needs.” That's not exactly a ringing endorsement or assurance that the development is going to amount to what the major, historic intersection deserves. (Will the National Museum of African American Music ever be built so that its patrons can stop across the intersection and pick up an Advance Financial loan first for admission and souvenirs?) The fact that CM Gilmore cannot at least throw us a bone to discourage us from feeling like we are a leeward dumping ground for industries that prey on systemic poverty and community hardship is astonishing (Advance Financial will have a bail bonds business as a neighbor).

I do not know whether Advance Financial greased the skids for this deal by donating $7,000 a few months ago to Historic Germantown, Inc. for their October street festival, but I have not heard complaints coming from their affluent end of the community. I did receive a forwarded email exchange in which one festival organizer defended the donation to a critic who called the loan company a "legal loan shark". The festival organizer called the critic "assuming" and offered to send him an invoice next year with their expenses to see how much he could finance before they start soliciting other donations. Hence, I am not expecting bold opposition from Germantown leadership on this question, which means they may get the ugly that they deserve for $7,000. Some living there already complain about their Autozone.

The rest of us free from the Advance Financial dole deserve better, and by better, I mean something along the lines of the community plan that caters to people's everyday lives instead of scoring on their lowest moments.

Friday, November 30, 2012

North Capitol

In a recent commentary on development around old Sulphur Dell, the Nashville City Paper comments on the status of public and private development:

Until a group of private investors announced earlier this year the rehabbing of two buildings at the southeast corner of Jefferson Street and Third Avenue North, Leibowitz’s District Lofts and Craighead Development’s two-building Harrison Square and conversion of Riverfront Apartments to a condominium building essentially had been North Capitol’s only significant private development since the Bicentennial Mall opened 16 years ago.

And if private development has been modest, the construction of civic structures on the multiple acres of state-owned property within the district has been nonexistent.

Plans for the public-private $47.5 million National Museum of African American Music, now pushing 10 years in the making, seemingly have stalled indefinitely. The most recently available tax return shows the nonprofit had only about $2.57 million on hand at the end of 2010. The tax records also indicate the organization tasked with spearheading the project operated at a deficit that year.

Support for a new home for the Nashville School for the Arts magnet high school has gained minimal traction. Progress has been painfully slow on a new Tennessee State Museum building. And a Nashville Sounds baseball stadium on the old Sulphur Dell site doesn’t appear likely.

I wasn't aware of any proposals for a new magnet high school. The last I heard was that the Nashville Civic Design Center was pushing the idea of a charter school for the area. While the journalists maintain that a new ballpark does not appear likely, I keep hearing about the prospect of it here in the community. Some here don't seem to be as willing to let it go. The prospect of the African American Music museum sadly lists in malaise, and in my opinion it could have been prevented if the Mayor's Office had put more of its own energies into it. The concept has dropped off the radar here in the North End. Chatter I hear from the associations shows no hint of political will to work on it.

I think that "North Capitol" is a much better moniker than "Capitol District" a name recently pitched by association officers here in Germantown and Salemtown. The term "district" is hackneyed and trite; NoCap is more attractive, less sterile and stale. In the past I have pitched the idea of calling our area "Capitol Downs".

One exception that I take to the City Paper is that the Bicentennial Mall area is "eerily people-free". We go to the area on a regular basis at all times of the day and we see quite a number of people, especially neighbors who live around the Mall using the common spaces and the Farmers' Market. Granted, it is usually not as densely packed with tourists as Downtown is (for some of us that makes it more attractive), but the park area has been consistently used in the 8 years we have lived here. My next door neighbors even had their wedding ceremony at the Bicentennial Mall chimes this year. The times we have seen denser crowds of tourists in the area include the Music City Marathon and the National Folk Festival (an event cancelled this year due to neglect from corporations and courthouse).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Government subsidized soap opera

You cannot pay for this kind of advertising for Nashville, but it looks like we are going to any way:

producers say “Nashville” will need additional state and local incentives to justify the cost of filming in its namesake over other areas. They’ve estimated $44 million in direct spending in Tennessee and say costs continue to crop up.
Music City welfare queens

“We’ve already spent a lot of money on the infrastructure here,” the show’s producer, Loucas George, said, adding that he’s “discovered a lot of costs since coming here” compared to other common film venues.

The basic issue: Music City offers an authentic environment and musical talent that’s key to the show, producers said, but it doesn’t have a market of other film-related professionals, businesses and infrastructure to be a natural long-term fit — or enough government tax incentives to offset such costs.

"Discovered a lot of costs ... compared to other common film venues"? In one of the country's most affordable cities? And what other common film venues could possibly be cheaper than Nashville, which perpetually brands itself as a relatively low-cost alternative?

Maybe Cleveland? After all, there is some indication that producers might not require the "authentic environment" of Nashville. That claim could be a canard, a head fake that allows wealthy people to skip on meeting their civic obligations beyond fuzzy "economic impact". Producers of the motion picture The Avengers set their film in New York City, but replicated NYC with green screens and on location in Cleveland, Ohio:

For some of the character close-ups, they recreated the signature Big Apple bridgeway in front of a giant green screen inside an abandoned train station in Albuquerque. For the bulk of the street scenes, they relocated to a city not commonly mistaken for America’s most prominent metropolis: Cleveland.

Cleveland, a struggling Midwestern city with a population that has steadily declined from more than 500,000 in 1990 to 393,000 in 2011, got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to act as a body double for Manhattan, central borough of the city that never sleeps, population 8.24 million and rising. But not without a makeover: The movie’s production designers imported New York taxis, building facades, and street signs—along with a healthy supply of premade rubble—in order to replicate the look and feel of an invaded midtown Manhattan.

Why Cleveland? The decision to film in the Forest City can be explained in two words: tax subsidies.

Likewise, ABC producers could easily mimic Nashville's environment with CGI or sets. And there is no guarantee that if state and Metro officials cave to their demands and subsidize the soap opera, that producers would not locate another city that offered bigger subsidies where they could easily replicate Nashville's environment. Once state and local government starts down the road of subsidizing TV and film projects, there is nothing to stop competitive bidding and secondary markets to lure bottom-line producers away from "authentic environments".

And the true risk of this subsidy is worse. As if the fuzziness of economic impact were not significantly discouraging enough, there does not seem to be clear evidence that "investing" tax dollars itself guarantees returns:

But state-based film tax credits are a big idea without a big payoff. Currently 43 states offer the subsidies, which are worth a total of $1.5 billion. Multiple government reviews of those credits in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts have concluded that the subsidies typically fail to pay for themselves. Instead, states end up losing money paying for film productions that in many cases would have happened with or without the tax incentives.

Hence, the producers--always hell bent on cutting costs to free up revenues to put somewhere else--can generate their enterprise without tax incentives. As dire as they make their situation sound, as much as they beg poverty (a farce when one looks at the high-price marketing that goes into the production) they likely do not need the money. They likely sense that Tennessee and Nashville give cash away to people who already have huge amounts of it. They may just want a piece of the action. They sure as hell do not need our tax dollars as much as we do to pay for our schools, sidewalks, and parks.

For his part, Hizzoner seems to be straddling the fence:

The state has already extended $7.5 million to the show by reimbursing expenses. Metro Government has yet to offer tax breaks or cash grants. Mayor Karl Dean says he’s happy to talk about it.
“’Nashville’ – the show – you can’t buy that, you can’t get that for our city. I mean, we’re a city that is getting a lot of attention nationally, and ‘Nashville’ is a big part of it. I’m not commenting either way if we’re going to be a part of any sort of economic incentives. I’m just saying it is a big plus and a positive for Nashville.”

But if he lives up to his past habit of passing out corporate welfare with reckless disregard for the future delivery of Metro services, then ABC's "Nashville" producers are going to get what they want, whether it is good enough or not. The show should be called "Cashville".

Monday, November 19, 2012

What do you call 100 developers at the bottom of the ocean?

Once again with the old bait-and-switch:

Developers promised something different. Residents thought they were getting a development that included buildings and a green area. Instead, they now live beside a dump.

"It's supposed to be a greenway, a little pond and trees and benches to sit on," said James Mullins.

He and others near the Antioch community feel deceived by what is on the 44 acre tract of land beside Mullins' home.

There are huge mounds of concrete and gravel.

Neighbors claim property owners are gaming the system.

"This is unacceptable," said Metro Councilwoman Karen Y. Johnson.

Johnson said she attended a public meeting last year in which developers promised to build homes, industrial properties and a green area with a pond.

"There was no talk in the meeting about the operation that is occurring there today," Johnson said as she looked over the site.

Unless developers are willing to put their promises in writing, always verify before you trust. Caveat emptor.

By the way this story included comments from the developer's engineer, Roy Dale, who has also been working with developers in Salemtown:

Now, tanker trucks can legally dump things like drilling fluid on the site.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked a spokesman for the owners when the recycling and dumping will stop on the property.

Roy Dale responded, "I don't know that I can answer that question."

Dale is the engineer and represents the owners in front of Metro Boards.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do the owners have a clear vision for what is going to be here?"

Dale responded, "I think yes. At the end of the day it's going be a commercial industrial site no doubt about it."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do they have a clear vision on a timetable?"

Dale responded, "Probably not."

He admitted the recycling facility is the main focus on the property right now, but insists he is trying to get the owners to start building what they originally promised soon.

"I think that's something they should do. And I think it's something that ya'll have probably helped to happen, and I think that's a good thing," Dale said.

We shall see whether this is savvy public relations or a good-will expectation of promises fulfilled.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The lily white Scene

Genma Holmes observes that the Nashville Scene's coverage of the Belle Meade Country Club's acceptance of its first African American also caters to a culture to which the publication is already predisposed:

The Scene and its commentators have debated in depth the merits of David Ewing, Darrell freeman and others becoming members, or not, of the exclusive club located in West Nashville. What I find more interesting is the lily white makeup of the media outlet that is reporting on the lily white complexion of a social club. I also find it ironic the number of events around town that are sponsored by The Scene and NFocus that caters to the constituents of Belle Meade Country Club. Now compare that to the number of events that have a more diverse, modest income crowds that are not sponsored. Hmm.

Every once in a while Scene writers will try on an article of populism or two, but it always comes across as awkward given the way the publication trains on and caters to Nashville's high bold-and-beautiful society running the West End-Warner Parks corridor. I have never understood why the the racial make-up of the Belle Meade Country Club matters so much to the kids blogging for the Scene. Surely, there are more pressing progressive challenges that this city faces, and the Nashville Scene seems generally slow to consider them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What the market will bear II

It's a classic story of seduction and betrayal. Major league baseball scion Jeffrey Loria insisted he needed money from the city of Miami and Dade County if he was to keep his team in South Florida. Miami blinked, caved and financed 80% of a new stadium for Loria, who feigned poverty:

Well, the whining finally worked in 2009, and construction of Marlins Park began. Overall, it cost the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County over $500 million. However, counting debt and interest payments, the cost will in the end amount to $2.4 billion. Oh, and remember how Loria claimed the team couldn't afford to build the park themselves? The SEC has been investigating the stadium deal, specifically the claims that public funds were necessary.

They were particularly unnecessary as of today because Loria has embarked on a fire sale, sending all of his high-priced players to Toronto for prospects with modest salaries. The players he traded were pitched last winter as a chunk of the world class team designed to fill the subsidized stadium and stuff city coffers. The owner appears no longer willing to lavish salaries on superstars to pay back public subsidies he lobbied for.

Nashville is not considering building a major league ballpark, but the lesson for minor league cities is no less real: the spin of pro sports owners (and the politicians who enable them) is not to be taken naively.

UPDATE: Bob Nightengale minces no words in underscoring the criminal intent of this stadium con:

The Miami Marlins pulled off the ultimate Ponzi scheme, getting South Florida taxpayers to pay for a new ballpark to watch a product that simply doesn't exist.

Bernie Madoff is spending the rest of his life in prison for his con job. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and President David Samson get to walk free, enjoying the fine artwork, fish tanks and swimming pools in their $634 million facility....

These guys conned taxpayers into paying $409 million for their retractable-roof stadium, and there's a cool $2.4 billion service debt. They told their public they would be the New York Yankees of the South, only to become the same ol' Marlins. The dollars they've committed beyond 2013? Zero.

What the market will bear

The question of a minor league ballpark has been lately lurking on a back burner here in Nashville, but in news from other minor league-level cities, ballparks are at the forefront. For comparative purposes, I give you El Paso, Texas and their bid for a Padres affiliate:

For a minor-league stadium deal, the El Paso one is crazily complex: The city will have to tear down its City Hall to make way for the stadium, which means city government will need to pay about $30 million to acquire new buildings to do its business in. Also, the city won’t share in any stadium revenue, but will get rent payments and a 10-cent-per-ticket admissions tax. How much El Paso taxpayers will get stuck with at the end of the day, in other words, will depend less on the hotel/motel tax approved [November 8] and more on the picayune details of the lease.

No major obstacles standing in the way of Fehr school building preservation

The ordinance that would apply a "Historic Landmark Overlay" to the Fehr school building properties in Salemtown and prevent demolition or alteration with few nebulous exceptions was approved by the Metro Council tonight on second reading. There was a public hearing, but no one got up to join the debate for or against. That was the last major hurdle toward preserving a significant landmark in Nashville civil rights history. Once past public hearing, passage of bills on third and final reading is generally a foregone conclusion.

I've been blogging and working on this cause for years. In spite of the bill's limitations, it is a big step in the right direction for our neighborhood, Nashville, and history.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I was an Obama voter in 2008. Why I will not be voting for him again this time

My daughter has gone with me to vote since I toted her as an infant to the polls. She is now 8, and she looks forward to going with me. Barack Obama is her favorite for president, and she looked on last time when I voted for him. She will be going with me again this week to vote, and it will be hard because I will have to let her down gently and explain to her why I will not be voting for President Obama for re-election.

When I think of the choices determined for me in this election I feel a fatigue very close to that I hear in the voice of this 4-year-old, whom I met this morning on YouTube:

I'm tired of them, too, Abby. Indeed, they are tired choices. And yet, the politically-plugged-in adults chat up Obama's race with GOP challenger Mitt Romney as if they are so far apart on so many issues that this is a clear, black-white moral decision. The reality is that regardless of which two of these privileged men take the White House, little will change.

I believe that because I see that little changed from George W. Bush to Obama. It was not like I was unaware of this risk in 2008, but I put my concerns aside and enthusiastically voted for Obama anyway. Risk realized.

No bankers went to jail for the 2008 economic melt down. In fact, the banks are bailed out and bigger than ever. Obama did nothing to make them smaller and to shelter us from Too-Big-To-Fail Syndrome. Obama has not even reformed his own economic policy, continuing the Bush practice of hiring advisers from the finance sector, some of whom dismantled the regulations under Clinton that paved the way for our economic crisis and malaise. Obama's is a conservative economic policy. He did not spend as much on economic recovery when he had the clout to act boldly as great presidents have, choosing instead the failed path of trying to entice resistant Republicans to join him. I consider any chance he had to be a great president gone.

Given where we've been
where else could he go?
Bush's human rights abuses are not only still in play with GITMO detainment, but Obama doubled down by signing a defense appropriation bill that gives him and any president who follows the power to arrest any American without recourse to their constitutional and universal right to a trial. Likewise, Obama has out-Bushed Bush on the use of drones: the Democratic president does not share Dubya's relatively thoughtful concerns that using drones opens us up to grim political consequences in the future. So how wrong I was 4 years ago when I bought the logic that Obama was less likely than John McCain to use unmanned drones on Muslim targets and manufacture more terrorists in the process. And Democrats in general have been a lot more negligent in counting Obama's drone kills than they were in tallying Bush's Iraq War causalities, which smells like cynicism to me. In his three bipartisan debates with Romney, Obama refused to address his use of the "flying robots of death", but Romney said he supported Obama's droning practices, even though it has caused civilian casualties. That endorsement tells me all I care to know on the abuses of this president's foreign policy.

On the domestic front, Obama did pass healthcare legislation, although it was modeled after healthcare legislation that Romney passed when he was governor of Massachusetts. And Obama has departed from the Bushian ineptness of disaster response, choosing instead the Clintonian realism of generating political capital by quick and decisive aid and relief. Given the side that Romney's bread is buttered on as well as his recent red-meat tirades on FEMA, I suspect a Romney White House would return to crass indifference in disaster relief. Obama is funding charter schools and privatizing public education around the country at a clip that must only dissatisfy Republicans insofar as it does not include the next logical step: vouchers for private schools. Outside of his foreign and justice policies, Obama's education policy is the biggest failure of them all and disconcerting to me as a public school parent. His commitment to charter schools is an abdication of progressive principals on education open to all. Stylish and in-fashion business models of innovation do not guarantee equal access to education for all and behind them lays the Republican will-to-kill public schools.

Hence, I am tired of this choice. I want to be able to say to my daughter, "We have a game-changer, someone who will shake up the board, not just shake up the etch-a-sketch." I long for a choice whom I believe will follow up on progressive campaign promises rather than governing toward the fence-straddle, and hence, toward the Republicans, like Obama has. There is no chance I'll ever vote Republican, and President Obama is not the viable option for me that he was in 2008 because his GOP-lite approach is realized. The last (but not only) straw for me was Obama signing away our civil liberties.

Try to convince me that a vote on a third option is a vote for Romney and a vote for things to get worse than they have the past four years. That is no less an attempt at voter suppression than is requiring a picture ID. If enough people are persuaded by your argument then they won't vote for more progressive candidates and liberals stand less of a chance of winning and influencing the political process. Hence, we keep our status quo. That is not change we can believe in.

Some of the same Obama supporters who claim that things would get worse under Romney claim that Mitt is a flip flopper. But they can't have it both ways: either he is an dangerous extremist who will use more fully Obama's fleet of flying robots of death or he is a equivocator who, like George Bush the Elder, is opportunistic and willing to sacrifice his scruples on the altar of expediency. I tend to think that Romney is more of the latter, and I think we would see a retread of patrician Bush I with the same sort of Bush II we have seen with Obama. Outside of disaster relief and vouchers, I just do not see the vast difference between Obama and the Republicans that Democrats project, and part of that is Obama's fault for stubbornly striving to embrace rather than to fight the GOP even when he had numbers on them in Congress.

I intend to vote for someone. Most likely it will be Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, who is saying what I want to hear from a presidential candidate on ending the drone wars, resurrecting habeas corpus, human rights and social justice, correcting and regulating Big Finance, guaranteeing healthcare for everyone, and pursuing diplomatic solutions first in foreign policy. Rocky Anderson, of the Justice Party, emphasizes many of the same course changes as Dr. Stein, plus he was a two-term Mayor of a major American city, so he will likely be keen to the affects of federal policy on metropolitan issues. Those are the two I've narrowed down to. Those are the two I endorse in 2012, and if I vote for either one my vote will not be wasted because it will be cast for change I can believe in, change hoped for in 2008 and change that can be achieved.

The hard part will be trying to explain the complexity of my vote to my daughter somehow when she has been influenced already by the false dichotomy of this two-party system.

UPDATE: Well, I voted for Dr. Jill Stein, who was arrested on Tuesday for trying to take food to protesters in a sit-in protest against Big Oil's Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. Dr. Stein, again a bona fide presidential candidate, was arrested previously for trying to attend the presidential debates. Third parties may get no respect in our flawed system, but at least one of them got my vote for the first time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That 2010 chip is still on your shoulder?

Photo credit:
Anthony De Rosa
New York City (and several other East Coast cities and towns) suffered one of its worst natural disasters yesterday when Hurricane Sandy barreled ashore. The "frankenstorm" killed a number of people, flooded subways, knocked out the power in Lower Manhattan, caused neighborhood destroying fires in Queens, and created a toxic spill of a designated Superfund site in Brooklyn. Well-known boardwalks were destroyed in Atlantic City and Rockaway. Countless building in multiple communities were flooded. Tunnels in and out of Manhattan were inundated and obstructed by floating cars.

Many of us here in Nashville watched from afar, expressed concerns and sympathies for New Yorkers and other east coasters. A few here filed on to social media and used the occasion of the spotlight turned on the Big Apple to vent their spleens about what little media attention Nashville got in 2010. As if Nashville's flood did not have to contend with the largest oil spill ever caused by BP off the Gulf Coast in 2010 as their platform hemorrhaged crude for days.

Nonetheless, some here chose to make the catastrophe in the northeast all about us while Gotham fell into cold darkness.

New York City is an international city. People from every corner of the globe live and visit there. If you travel the world over, you'll meet all kinds of people who know what New York City is but who may be more challenged to say what Nashville is. That's no slight against us. It's a simple reality. When one of the world's major cities is flooded it is paramount news. When a large city in Middle Tennessee is flooded it is big enough to warrant national attention, but to compare it to the attention New York City should get is unrealistic, whiny, and foolish.

And given that a big-city broadcasting corporation has given Nashville's music industry a gratuitous spotlight via a primetime weeknight soap opera, the resentment over someone else's tragedy makes us look like ingrates.

Mayor Dean insists that we look on the bright side of personal tragedy

Homicides in Davidson County this year have surpassed the total number of 2011 homicides. Karl Dean, who has showcased two election campaigns with the promise of lowering crime, attempts to draw our attention to his silver lining:

[In a prepared statement Karl Dean told the Tennessean, "]Last year's homicide total was the city's lowest in 45 years, and the number of homicides this year remains below the city's trend for the past 10 years[."]

Hizzoner is adept at side stepping accountability for lack of follow through. If he wants credit when the crime rate is down, he should be willing to accept the responsibility when the crime rate goes up instead of shaking the stats until his own talking points drop out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The wrong message to send on dealing with neighborhood crime

This year the Salemtown neighborhood association has made a troublesome shift on dealing with suspicious behavior that appears to me more about image-control of the brand than about effective community policing and crimewatching.

In previous years association officers encouraged neighbors to call the police directly at their urgent, but non-emergent phone number (862-8600) if any suspicious behavior was observed in Salemtown. The reason members were encouraged to call police on their own was that it usually got faster response and all calls were logged, which helped MNPD determine where future patrols were needed most. Notifying the association was encouraged as a second step, and I do not recall officers attempting to manage how witnesses reported back to SNNA.

In September of this year a message with the title "keeping it local" went out to the association from the SNNA board encouraging association members to contact board members instead of the police directly. The message prescribed "discretion" without "overreacting", and it advised that the "close contact" that the president had to the MNPD liaison for Salemtown could bring more police patrols.

In my opinion Salemtown residents are better advised to call the police directly at their "urgency without emergency" phone number to make sure that witness reports are recorded at the precinct. I do not believe that the association's officers should be filtering witness reports, soft-pedaling, or otherwise judging the validity of people's perspectives for MNPD.

In 8 years here I have watched crime cycles and police response. With two recent murders in or near Salemtown and suspicious activity on the rise, I would encourage my neighbors to bypass the association whenever they witness troubling activity and go straight to the police. Only afterwards should they report the activity to SNNA. And by no means should they abide insinuations that they are overreacting, unless they actually believe that they are or can be reasonably persuaded otherwise.

CRIME ALERT: Cabbie shot dead in Buena Vista

From WSMV:

A longtime Nashville cab driver was shot and killed early Friday inside his vehicle near the Germantown area.

Henry Moore, 69, was inside his Yellow Cab van just before 3 a.m. near the intersection of 10th Avenue North and Garfield Street.

Police said Moore had just been dispatched to pick up a fare at the intersection, and neighbors then reported hearing gunshots.

After he was shot, Moore's van crashed into a retaining wall nearby.

Investigators have not released any details on possible suspects or a motive in the shooting.

Memphis raises taxes to subsidize privatized schools

Shelby County is raising taxes on the backs of its most vulnerable so that charter school operators are subsidized to ply their trade in Memphis:

The County solution: raise the sales tax another penny, which will push this most regressive tax (which includes taxing food) to over 10% (TN is #1 in the nation for highest sales tax).  Oh yes, and in the meantime, reduce property taxes so that the immeasurably unfair tax on the poor will be even more so.

Projected take?  About $54 million, which would cover the annual amount estimated by the State to cover the loss of revenue to fund the new charters.  Meanwhile, the charters under the new State Recovery School District (RSD) (think NOLA) will get to take over the school buildings that are being closed to create charters.

The corporations that run these charters, then, will have huge advantages over non-RSD schools, so the State, in effect will be the ultimate decider on which of these "market-based solutions" get to thrive as the 21st Century solution to the "white man's burden" in Memphis.

Bill Gates and Tennessee Stand for Children also had a hand in Shelby County's raising of taxes for resegregating schools as orchestrated by red-state Tennessee. Things are getting ugly in Memphis.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The better part of valor is discretion

We have met the enemy and he is definitely not us.
Local blogger Jamie Hollin doses political realism to Metro Nashville Public Schools should they have second thoughts about taking on Tennessee's state education commissioner for attempting to punish their denial of Great Hearts' charter application:

...if the money [$3.4 million withdrawn by the State of Tennessee] is deemed by MNPS to be immaterial and the vote is against litigation, then they will have one heckuva time explaining to the citizens of Nashville why our property taxes went up to fund schools. Their next trip to the Metro Council for funding might meet the proverbial buzz saw in their next budget request—to the tune of at least $3.4 Million.

Public officials should choose their battles. Future fights over Metro funding, complete with public hearings and letter-writing campaigns, look like slow, uphill slogs of attrition compared to the blitz they might launch in court to defend their legal rights.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ingram uses charity as a weapon, and the casualties are likely to be children

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce is now threatening the Metro Nashville Public Schools for denying a charter school. While in my opinion charter schools are usually about class warfare (or at least about class "police action"), the latest Chamber behavior seems to me to ratchet the clash to a visceral level of "shock and awe". Why? Because the gilded blueblood who penned a letter to MNPS on behalf of the Chamber threw down his own personal philanthropic weight:

Ingram elite
The chamber, a key partner with Metro schools that had previously stayed out of the feud, characterized the board’s “mishandling” of its fiduciary responsibility as “especially galling” for those in the business community who have advocated for tax increases to “fully fund” the district's budget.

“...ultimately the accountability for the school system resides with the Metropolitan Board of Education,” reads the letter, penned by businessman Orrin Ingram, who chairs the chamber’s Education 2020 program.

“Accordingly, the school board is responsible for the restoration of the $3.4 million to MNPS from the state in a way that does not waste further effort and taxpayer money.”

Ingram, an affluent philanthropist and CEO of Ingram Industries Inc., concludes with a pointed handwritten note to school board chair Cheryl Mayes: “Until this issue is resolved and the $3.4 million is reinstated, my time, money and support will stay on the sideline!”

The words “time,” “money,” and “support” are each underlined for emphasis.

We live in a climate where schools have been systematically stripped of public revenues (which increasingly go to subsidize business start-ups and relocations, as well as to underwrite lobby groups like the Nashville Chamber of Commerce) and wealthy philanthropists and private enterprises are asked to take up the slack with voluntary donations under the auspices of "public-private partnerships". The Chamber's volley across the public school bow shows the real risk of these partnerships: delivery of underfunded public education to Nashville's children is threatened by the withholding of private donations that those children have come to depend on.

Crossing the line: let the kids eat cake
Given that Nashville public schools are disproportionately working- and lower-class compared to the private schools that Mr. Ingram is now more comfortable supporting, it seems to me that the philanthropist is ramping up class war with his money and power. Whether he cares or not, the public school kids are going to be the casualties of the shots fired. This tirade also exposes the distinct possibility that his charity is a cynical tool for currying influence and leveraging the political ends that he deems beneficial to him and his class.

Such philanthropy belies commitment to Nashville's children; instead, it smacks of venture philanthropy, which is intended to configure the political landscape in one direction and consolidate power in the hands of a few. Ignoring the class dimensions of this threat is to approach it from a sense of denial. MNPS's conflict with the state has spiraled out of control and upset patricians are trying to rein in a popularly-elected, spit-the-bit board, even if kids fall.

Charter schools cinch permanent underclasses who receive something akin to vocational education. "Creaming" (or skimming the best performers off the top of traditional schools for charter schools) along with Nashville's Chamber-influenced founding of "Academies" provide the assist.

Then, the kicker: middle-class charter schools like Great Hearts calcify class stratification and provide one more barrier between the elite, concentrated power of Nashville's wealthy and the unwashed masses. That is essentially what aristocrats like Orrin Ingram defend by threatening to withdraw charity from Nashville public schools. Most pathetically, the gentry are willing to use public school children as pawns, essentially re-victimizing them to get what they want.

The state victimized the kids once by withdrawing $3.4 million. Nashville's elite follows by flexing its muscles, and it victimizes them again by withholding private donations until MNPS backs off its defiance of the state. It is merely the dark side of the public-private partnership: a sinister expression of the union we want to believe is benign, benevolent, and beneficial. We should rethink our assumptions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A tale of two cities, one of which being Nashville

At the behest of an "invite-only" nonprofit Germantown resident and Cool People Care President Sam Davidson, describes how Nashville is staking fresh claims on emerging, young-adult-oriented industry:

Nashville may be a bit new to the startup game, but it’s growing quickly. Having been known for primarily launching music or health care companies, it’s now growing tech companies, consumer products, and entertainment ideas.

Kudos go to organizations like Nashville’s new Entrepreneur Center, working hard under the leadership of Michael Burcham to provide incubation, knowledge, and pathways to funding for people with a great idea. Chapters like the local Social Enterprise Alliance are also helping to network and support entrepreneurs with a desire to make a profit while making a difference.

Top-notch schools like Vanderbilt and Belmont pump young talent into the local economy. Belmont offers a major in entrepreneurship too. Wonderful climate and affordable living are icing on the cake!

Not sure I agree that we have a "wonderful climate". This past summer was brutally hot, and our extreme storms seem to be more extreme than usual (the 2010 flood, a case in point). But that is not the point on which I want to dwell here.

Instead, I want to draw out a couple of things. One is that Sam evokes the name of the Entrepreneur Center, which almost exactly one year ago took up an extreme right-wing Twitter campaign and called upon Nashville entrepreneurs to protest the popular grassroots movement Occupy Wall Street. People are still scratching their heads over that one. That EC would veer to one extreme gives them less credibility in my book.

The other point is that the startup industry seems to dominate online buzz here in Music City, and the spin is constantly promotional and echo-chamberish. The reality at the moment is that the venture capital enterprise is contracting, spelling a belt-tightening future for entrepreneurs. Hence, the more heavily Nashville relies on startups, the greater the chance our economy will contract with it.

Compare Sam's glowing representation of a wide-open Nashville to The Atlantic Cities' consideration of "slow-and-steady" San Antonio, Texas shortly after that city's Mayor, Julián Castro, gave the key note speech earlier this autumn at the Democratic National Convention. It provides a more sober, chastened assessment about the economic diversity required for recession-proofing:

In our interview, Castro acknowledged that the bedrock of San Antonio's economy was not in bright shiny venture capital industries (in fact, the city's information sector is shrinking), but rather in safe and conservative industries that were largely non-cyclical, and therefore recession-proof. He further conceded that the city was blessed by the most uncontrollable factor of all: geography. "We've got lots of affordable land," he told me, which helps keep housing prices low. The proximity to the border creates a "constant supply of labor [that] feeds the hospitality industry" and keeps wage levels down ....

The upside of slow-and-steady growth is that when the world is falling apart around you, you look pretty good. In fact, San Antonio was perhaps the most resilient city in the 18 months after the crash precisely because so much of its activity revolves around government. The downside of slow-and-steady growth is that, well, it's slow. San Antonio is not a rich metro.

Nashville is not a rich metro either, a fact borne out by declining revenues for Metro services in spite of increasing taxes and the prospect of a budget crisis that a number of locals agree is immanent. Time will tell whether Nashville and its startups are more resilient than San Antonio. But naively buying sanguine assessments about the future of startups here may be self-deceptive and wishful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The best? Really?

The Nashville Scene writers awarded the Belle Meade Country Club a "Best of Nashville 2012" award for "Best Breaking of Barriers" for slightly eroding its exclusive old rich white boy membership practice and stooping to accept its first token woman.

A country club, which by definition is exclusive, finally does a single thing right after a century of plantationesque wrongs, and the Nashville Scene gives them an award? Might the journalists be dumbing down the meaning of the term "Best of"? And do rich Nashvillians really need any more honors for hubris from the news media?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Businesses lost in Germantown

It has not been an easy autumn for food places that anchored mixed use at the intersection of Madison and 5th Avenue, North in Historic Germantown. At the end of July, the Cocoa Tree closed. At the beginning of September, Drinkhaus closed, and earlier plans owners had to reopen the business in a larger Germantown space folded as well (I had intended to blog on this closing weeks ago). This week a Germantown resident tweeted news that Zackie's hot dog business had closed (they had previously cut their operating hours). Today Zackie's had brown paper blocking the view through its large picture windows.

On a side note, the Silo restaurant recently opened at the same intersection, and it joins several other eating establishments that are still in business in Germantown. However, the retail space at the 4h and Monroe mixed use development is still empty as it has been for 4 or 5 years.

The 3 closures were all businesses that we patronized consistently and we are sad to see them go, especially at a personal level. Their walkability was also an incentive for us. The closing of Drinkhaus in particular leaves Germantown without a coffee shop, which makes no sense to me.

Hopefully, Salemtown residents who were keen to rezone our mostly residential properties for mixed use preemptively, without any developer plans, should take note of Germantown's trends. These closures should give all of us pause before rushing to rezone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Buh-bye, Med Mart. Look Nashville, you have two convention centers!

Last February, readers, I told you that the Medical Mart, which Mayor Karl Dean promoted as a vital, job-creating replacement for the Nashville Convention Center and virtual compliment for the new Music City Center, was dead according to Cleveland news sources.

And, just like that, eight months later, Mayor Karl Dean is confirming that the Medical Mart deal is dead, with breathtaking lack of query now from Nashville's media, which breathlessly, seemingly unanimously, promoted Hizzoner's plan for a Medical Mart when its staging meant leveraging approval for the new Music City Center.

As bleated by WPLN and no doubt sponsored by the Mayor's Office:

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean sounds like he’s all but given up on the so-called med mart ....

Dean says the Renaissance Hotel, which is attached to the city-owned convention center, is interested in taking over some of the space. Dean says it’s a desirable piece of property that he’s not worried about sitting vacant long.

Not quite the optimistic narrative spouted out of the Mayor's Office and the media when the Music City Center was pitched to us. Now Nashville is simply "moving away" from the Medical Mart (even though 8 months ago we were limping toward it) according to the article by Blake Farmer, as if Karl Dean had never made certain promises under the pretense of building Music City Center. Would Music City Center have received quite as much promotional spin if Dean announced that his vision included the Renaissance Hotel shacking up in part of the old convention center? Doubtful.

Supplement: Jamie Hollin sees IQT lurking in the loss of Medical Mart. Given the Mayor's checkered past with IQT, Holins insights might not be far off.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Revolving sticker shock: unforecasted costs of Music City Center keep rising

I agree [the risk to other Metro services is] the downside of [building a new convention center]. But it's not the thing you go out there and tell people.
--Music City Center chair Ron Samuels in 2009

Despite our red-flag-waving common sense that projected costs for capital projects have a tendency to be low-balled for the sake of selling those projects to a reluctant audience, those of us who questioned Mayor Karl Dean's plan to embark on the largest capital project in Nashville history were scolded for our "negativism". I'm wondering whether Ron Samuels thinks now that it is okay to talk about skyrocketing expenses:

The cost to run the Music City Center in its first fiscal year of operation will be about $4 million more than previously projected, according to a budget approved by Convention Center Authority members on Thursday.

The increase is linked to the expected doubling of the Music City Center’s projected utility bill, which is estimated to total $5.3 million from July 2013 to June 2014. The authority had been working under the assumption that it would pay about $2.5 million in utilities in that one-year period, based on a demand and feasibility study of the Music City Center project generated by hospitality consulting firm HVS in 2010 ....

The variance exists because the HVS study was conducted around a building that had not yet been built, said Nashville Convention Center Executive Director Charles Starks, while the more recent number includes newer estimates from Nashville Electric Service and District Electric Service using more accurate information about the 1.2 million-square-foot building.

Remarkable that unflinching MCC spokesperson Holly McCall was not trotted out again to point fingers at Metro Council (and the constituents whom they represent) for the latest bad news. The traction to that rationalization must be missing.

The revenues to meet these obligations have to come from somewhere, and I doubt the bigshots in the tourism industry are going to take up a collection among themselves to bridge the gap between fairy tale and balance sheet. Besides, they have future election campaigns to finance.

Nashville broke ground on this big box and we bought it. And those of us who were realistic and didn't lose ourselves in the wet dreams of Music City Center boosters were right. Now we can only hope and pray that their fantasies will not continue to endanger the General Fund paying for most of what the people who actually live here enjoy.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Hizzoner casts his lot with the state: not exactly a profile in courage

Apparently, Mayor Karl Dean could not put aside his own personal fondness for the Great Hearts charter school company in order to lead a Metro agency out of a mess the State of Tennessee engendered. A Tennessean reporter tweeted Hizzoner's response to state action in September:

Mayor Dean said in interview that loss of state funds [due to declining one application for one charter school] is [Metro school's] problem. "They created it, and they need to figure it out."

Gadzooks. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the school board made a mistake. If you were the elected head of Metro government, the person who makes all of the budget decisions for all departments and agencies, is it the wisest course of action to cut loose an entire department or agency for a misstep? The alternative expression--"Regardless of what happens, we will find a way through this together. Let's pick up the pieces"--seems the proper course for those looking for a high road even when one has the opportunity to say, "I told you so."

Consider the fact that those adversely affected by the actions of the State of Tennessee are not powerful business interests who should be able to weather the lack of state funds, but the most vulnerable segment of the population: Nashville's public school children. Was it prudent for Hizzoner to take an adversarial posture with the state against a Metro agency when the latter had not violated anyone's civil rights and had not conducted themselves in an unethical manner? Was it wise to endorse the idea that the state should be spending less money on all Nashville children because a few middle class parents, who already have charter options, did not get the plum charter school they wanted close to their predominantly white neighborhoods?

How many times has this Mayor attempted to be our local Oprah with efforts like encouraging us to lose weight or to join his book club? He can weigh in touchy-feely over our personal lives, but he cannot have some compassion over the real risk to kids of red-state action?

And let's not forget one more thing: Karl Dean's campaign claims to fight tirelessly for full funding of Nashville's schools is fundamentally compromised by his stubborn willingness to side with the state and punish Nashville's school kids over a charter school application.

But let's end the dumb assumptions and let's get one thing straight: the school board made no mistake. For once, they did something right with a charter school application. And how much worse does Hizzoner's callous indifference appear in that light?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Did the Tennessean's education reporter tweet her meltdown at a teacher?

Journalistic professionalism ain't what it used to be:

In another tweet, reporter Fingeroot called the teacher and her companion "rednecks", and she seemed to suggest that the teacher was the cause of her son's absences.

Rather than projecting hostilities about after-work margaritas on Twitter, why not play nice while doing some sort of hard-hitting, investigative exposé that substantiates her claims that her son's absences are due to how his class is being taught?