Friday, October 17, 2014

Being a council progressive means shielding the corporate polluters

False reporting? New anti-litter ordinance won't prohibit that yellow roll of spam litter.

Less than 24 hours ago WSMV reporter Patrick McMurtry contacted me to get my views on a council ordinance to regulate the delivery of non-subscription materials to homes (like when the Tennessean throws their "free Wednesday edition", which is full of advertising circulars). He asked me to call him. I reminded Mr. McMurtry via Twitter that the ordinance to discourage the Tennessean from littering our neighborhoods was defeated in June.

I didn't blog about the ordinance in June because I was more concerned about the move to shrink the council. That is where I put all the writing energy that I had. Several years ago I blogged at length about a similar ordinance that was designed to regulate the proliferation of news racks in neighborhoods, so readers can imagine my response to the latest news media hijinks.

Mr. McMurtry's request prompts me to return to the question of whether the Tennessean should be allowed to litter neighborhoods like Salemtown with paper that few people read let alone subscribe to. In June, the Metro Council voted 21-10 to kill the proposal that would have enforced our requests not to have the circulars thrown every Wednesday at our homes. Almost farcically, the council's bill would have placed stupid demands on people like you and me to stop the Tennessean litter: we would have to send our request to Gannett by certified letter and we would have to swear out an affidavit with Metro Codes that the Tennessean is violating the agreement. Who should have to do that?

In June, the Tennessean responded to the bill by making some "concessions" to the council. Those concessions included two phone numbers given to each council member providing a direct line to managers in the circulation department who would see that constituent opt-outs were being honored. Why should we need to lobby our council members to get the Tennessean to do the right thing? Again, it's adding extra steps that many people don't have time to take, especially with unresponsive council members.

Another Tennessean concession was that they would audit the distribution and opt-out lists to make sure that delivery people were only delivering to subscribers. The paper also promised to ride around with delivery people and clean up litter that had previously been left. As far as I'm concerned, those concessions never materialized. I can remember at least 6 deliveries of the "free edition" deposited on the sidewalk in front of my home since June, none of which were cleaned up by the Tennessean. All of the editions were kicked out into the street. Over time 2 were pulverized by auto traffic. The remaining editions were picked up out of the street by a volunteer last week before Germantown's Oktoberfest. Gannett/The Tennessean is not keeping their promises; the same promises 21 council members used as an excuse to defeat the ordinance.

And look at the list of progressives who voted against attempts to discourage litter in neighborhoods: Ronnie Steine, Lonell Matthews, Brady Banks, Scott Davis, Peter Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Burkley Allen, Erica Gilmore, Jason Holleman, and (last, but not least) Megan Barry. CM Barry spoke out against the ordinance, but she did not focus on the question of stopping litter in neighborhoods. Instead, she zeroed in on the bill sponsor whom she alleged was trying to force the Tennessean to write an article:

The conversation has led to some really good things that the Tennessean is doing. Having said that, I … think that this is an overreach and I am incredibly uncomfortable that we as a body would ever compel a newspaper to write a story. I heard a colleague of ours earlier tonight talk about the fact that he had actually lived some place at one point where the government could tell newspapers what to write and that was called “a dictatorship,” and I know that that’s not the intention of the sponsor here but tonight I am going to go ahead and say, “Let’s just put this to rest” and I’m going to vote against it.

On the heels of Ms. Barry's comments, CM Fabian Bedne rose to say that he was the one who related his experiences of living under a dictatorship, but he added that CM Barry's use of his own comments against this anti-litter ordinance was "missing the point." While he wholeheartedly disagreed with forcing a newspaper to write a story, he would vote for the ordinance to protect neighborhoods from "trash and litter". Phil Claiborne, the sponsor of the bill, added that he was not trying to force a newspaper story.

To CM Barry's clipped and obfuscating remarks that the Tennessean is doing "really good things," I would respond that the Tennessean has done absolutely nothing "really good" from where I sit in Salemtown. Again, folks, Megan Barry is a 2015 mayoral candidate who claims to be a progressive. How can a progressive stand with a big corporate polluter against the wishes of a community? We are getting a glimpse of what kind of mayor Megan Barry would be.

Before closing, I want to circle back around to WSMV's request for an interview. Patrick McMurtry told me that the ordinance "is back on the agenda." That is not exactly true. The ordinance on the agenda now would regulate any advertising materials except the Tennessean's. The bill's sponsor, Sheri Weiner, believes that controlling some advertising is better than none. And yet, the biggest litter nuisance at my house is the Tennessean. CM Weiner was absent from the June vote, but her bill is toothless on arrival and would actually give the Tennessean a monopoly on un-subscribed advertising litter. The council had its chance to regulate litter and they failed.

By the way, I never called the reporter back, I have better things to do with my time than waste it on a bill that would not make a dent in the Tennessean's misbehavior or on a reporter who does nothing to hold the 21 council members who voted no in June accountable for enabling the Tennessean's misbehavior. After seeing Patrick McMurtry's story, I have no regrets. My time was well spent doing something else.

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