Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Nashville's most whipped, domesticated Metro Council ever

The Metro Council passed the Mayor's plan for an $18 million Gulch sidewalk on second reading tonight without a lick of the resistance they showed last winter when the proposal was expressed to them in other terms.

Besides the $2 million spending gap, there is little difference between plan 1 and plan 2. In plan 1, Mayor Karl Dean was going to give his friends in the downtown business class $16 million from everyone else's infrastructure funds to build the Gulch bridge. After council members pointed out that they need their sidewalk funds because they don't have enough sidewalks, Hizzoner came back with plan 2 a few weeks ago: $18 million collected from Gulch businesses would pay for the bridge, meaning that the money would sheltered from broad use (like to defray the cost of sidewalks in other neighborhoods). As I said before, it's a shell game played with tax money that belongs to all of us, not just to downtown businesses.

Either way, Karl Dean reserved his preferential option for the rich at the expense of the working classes who generate the wealth Davidson County enjoys.

He threw the challengers in the Metro Council some bones, trotting out his Finance Director to say that they had put more money for sidewalks elsewhere in the Mayor's budget. and would do so until the Mayor's last term is over.

His term is over a year from now. How many sidewalks can he build us in a year? And how many will not be built that could have been built in the past 8 years?

Mayor Dean bristled last April at suggestions that he might be a lame duck. Just to prove it he dangled a few sidewalks in front of this council that he should have built years ago, Naturally, they folded like a cheap suit. Maybe there was arm twisting. Who knows? I doubt it took much pain to get this project through this compliant council.

It was remarkable to watch tonight. Much like the passage of ballpark proposal a few months ago: moving quickly to minimize questions and to steamroll any attempts to even express "no" by recorded vote. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, ever Karl Dean's catalyst, asked only for a voice vote, which does not register no votes.

Only a handful of CMs made their opinions clear, and one was mayoral candidate, Megan Barry. In unrelated events, Ms. Barry got in touch with her inner populist last month and declined to attend a campaign debate due to its posh price tag:

I was disappointed to learn yesterday that this forum will be a high-dollar fundraiser for the Nashville Business Coalition PAC instead of being an open forum with a diverse
audience. While I understand the need to cover costs of the event, I believe that Nashville needs to be an inclusive city where our community can join with business leaders to openly discuss the issues that matter to everyone.

Regretfully, I must decline to attend this event unless an effort is made to make the forum more accessible to the hard-working men and women who have helped to grow our economy and enabled our businesses to thrive.

I find it outstanding that CM Barry is finally standing up to the Nashville Business Coalition rather than appearing before them at beck-and-call as she did during her council campaigns. However, declining an appearance at a PAC's forum demands little risk. Candidates decline to appear at forums all the time. Where is the risk?

If Megan Barry truly intended to lay it on the line against Nashville's exclusive elites, she could have spoken against and voted against at least one of Mayor Karl Dean's big-ticket capital projects. But to the very end she refuses to do so. From the convention center to stormwater fee structure to Fairgrounds redevelopment, Megan Barry has persisted in her support of the wealthy over "hard-working men and women." (And the wording of her letter above is troubling: working people do not simply "help" someone else grow the economy. Their labor is the primary cause of the wealth that gives people like Karl Dean more power.) She did not depart from that path regarding the Gulch bridge.

So, how did Megan Barry justify an $18 million sidewalk this evening? By saying that "connecting Nashville" (Mayor Dean's slogan to generate public support for the bill) is a "necessity". Well, of course, connecting our communities is a necessity, but the Gulch bridge does not do that. It connects niche luxury hotels in the Gulch to tourist venues downtown with terraced seating and lots of plants. It is another tourist stop in a city of tourist stops. In places far from stylized downtown chic, parents have to walk their kids to and from school without sidewalks dangerously close to auto traffic. So, excuse me if I do not shed a tear over out-of-towners forced to cross the Gulch on Demonbreun Street's existing sidewalks. Excuse me if I do not buy bogus claims that a lone $18 million Gulch sidewalk helps Madison families. Megan Barry's insinuation that the Gulch bridge meets the pedestrian needs for more transit options across Nashville is false. To call it a piece of a larger "transportation policy" is not grounded in the reality of Nashville politics.

Her claims sound a lot like the Mayor's justification for building bus rapid transit only for west and east Nashville, while promising that neighborhoods north and south would one day--in some great, gettin' up morning--win their own BRT. And we believe that snake oil, don't we, North Nashville? Likewise, why should we ever believe that a new pedestrian bridge for the Gulch would serve anyone but the people who can afford to live and to lodge there?

As long as she rejects any resistance to Karl Dean's policies, Megan Barry's claims to aim for a more inclusive city will never materialize. She has tied her fortunes to his.

In the larger picture, CM Barry's vocal support for Karl Dean is symbolic of this docile Metro Council, which looks pathetic as a representative body at times. They do not act boldly. They do not take chances. They never ever lay it all on the line at the risk of great loss. So now we're going to get a token number of sidewalks that Mayor Dean should have built (and more) since day 1 of his first term.

Promising sidewalks to the council was the right thing to do years ago. Now it just looks cynical. And the council along with it. For the inconvenience, we are getting an $18 million bridge that most of us cannot enjoy unless we actually buy the con that downtown belongs to and benefits us "inclusively". Thus, the bridge is already built on a trickle-down lie.

UPDATE:  Megan Barry has been voted "Best Current Council Member" at the Nashville Scene. Maybe there is some pride in being the best member of one of the worst representative bodies Nashville has had.


  1. Mike,
    Appreciate your blog, and link it to Nashville friends often.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Why shouldn't Barry support the wealthy elites? She's their representative--where does she live?

  3. Ms. Barry will be a continuation of Karl Dean. I had hope for her, but her stupid stance on the Gulch bridge has removed my interest.