Tuesday, July 28, 2009

They Coulda Stayed Home

"The BOE candidates addressed the Nashville Council on Tuesday 7/21/09 prior to their voting to fill the open District 9 seat. The final vote was 9 for Elizabeth Merkel and 29 for Kay Simmons. After viewing the video I understand why Simmons was the easy vote. She's a known quantity, she wasn't shy about reminding them she'd brought $12 million into the system, she had touching emotional stories. Regardless, I'm very disappointed that other than Merkel, no other candidate got any votes at all. Obviously, this Council doesn't appear to have any issues with the current MNPS administration and is content to send to them another of their ilk. Council lady-at-large Megan Barry was quoted in the Tennessean as saying "I want somebody who's going to be challenging, but not somebody who's going to be disquieting to the board." She certainly got someone who wasn't going to rock the boat. Whatever we do, let's not 'disquiet' the board.

Simmons was head of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education. When she stepped down former BOE Chair Pam Garrett took her place. Now, Simmons is on the BOE and will likely end up taking Garrett's former position as Chairman if she's re-elected next year. Throw in the lack of seemingly promised change in the central office and one begins to realize if the best we can do is shuffle the deck chairs...the children are in serious trouble indeed.

Here's the video from last week for those interested along with my comments.

Paul Brenner started by apologizing for his casual attire. His excuse was that some of the candidates didn't the letter about the evening's proceedings. He also answered questions that were asked previously because, according to him, councilmen came late and didn't get to hear Brenner's answers. He accuses the system of picking people even before the interviews have occurred. (Something Kennedy also touches on later.) Brenner comments on school uniforms (all or none), mayoral takeover (going to do the best job I can), charter schools (I'm against), cell phones (not in classroom), Pedro Garcia 1-10 (2. Part of the reason Brenner retired).

Brenner's solid no on charter schools because they're not the same as regular schools, take money from regular schools and don't have certified teachers like regular schools is just the sort of party line statement that got him the MNEA endorsement in 2008. I wonder if he realizes that the man he was hoping to replace is now head of the charter school office that is going to be expanded. Brenner's is a completely wrong point of view for 21st Century education.

Rich Haglund starts with a quote from the band U2: "Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die." [Crumbs from your table for those that aren't up on your U2 lyrics.] According to Haglund all discussion of schools should be focused on children, teachers and schools leaders. As an attorney it's Haglund's opinion that the rules are tools to be used for the children's benefit. "The Board's job is to empower other people and then get out of the way."

Rich Haglund works for the Tennessee State Board of Education as their attorney. The number of potential conflicts of interest that could arise would handicap the MNPS Board in many ways. He should never have even considered holding both positions. Further, he leaves out parents and taxpayers as having standing in those discussion of schools. Since the MNPS BOE already knows how to "empower other people and get out of the way" I don't see that they need Haglund.

Martin Kennedy definitely unloaded on the Council regarding the process that Brenner also commented on early. This father of 5 MNPS students (one with autism) and economist makes it clear that there is a socio-economic bias at MNPS which says is part of a protected monopoly he calls the education blob. He asserts that low income parents should have education choice. "The public funding of education is not the same as public provision of education."

I already blogged my support for Kennedy and Kennedy blogged his prepared comments before the vote. He did vary from the text somewhat. I truly believe that MNPS needs someone that can look at the system from an econmic and marketing point of view and say the reason we're losing children (and so our customer base and reason for being) is X and Z. Let's fix that.

Michael LeHaie was the fellow that seemed most personable. He gave a nod to Martin Kennedy saying his "comments were excellent" which probably was when folks stopped listening. He's an assistant principal at St. Cecelia Academy and it looks like they're fortunate to have him. He does have some experience in MNPS schools. He supports charters, the rezoning and dress codes. He's wasn't keen on mayoral control. Obviously, a bullet dodged for now.

Julie Lamb begins her presentation by having her daughter Georgia speak first to tell council members "she'll fight for what's right". As a parent in the Hillwood cluster, a former Parent Advisory Council Chairman and a small business owner she feels she's right for the job. A litany of her activities was given as well as her assertion that she does know the needs and parents of District 9 and the issues on the table. She did say she was excited by former BOE member Alan Coverstone's new job overseeing charter schools.

Unfortunately, while obviously an involved parent I remembered her support for Pedro Garcia (who created the Parent Advisory Council) and her comment back in 2006 that the district had made "awesome progress since Dr. Garcia arrived". We all know better now.

Elizabeth Merkel's comments included all the right buzz words: I'm a new voice, the system is broken, I'm a coalition builder, implement change right away to impact the students right away, school board needs to support teachers, we need to engage the community... She did point out the absolute fact that people are leaving the system saying there are 32,000 in elementary schools, 19,000 in middle schools and 24,000 in high school. She also reiterated that the average ACT score in Metro is 19 which won't qualify students for the lottery scholarship.

Those statistics are some that no one really wants to be reminded of. Parents start out their children in MNPS elementary schools with high hopes and good words about the local school and then look toward the future and say "No way" and we never get 8,000 of those children back into the system. Until MNPS is willing to take a long cold look at the marketing end of this equation and is willing to deal with what drives all those families out that's never going to get better. MNPS is looking toward being the education delivery system for those that have no other options. That whole "educating children is the most important thing a community can do" bumper sticker campaign has got a pretty hollow ring to it about now.

And so the star of the show, Kay Simmons takes the microphone. She reminds everyone that she's been working with the MNPS system for 35 years, and through NAPE she's brought in $12 million to MNPS, she's got heart wrenching stories of her own personal interaction with needy children and many of the folks on the Council already know her. She went through the motions of asking for their vote but they'd obviously pledged them beforehand.

Citizens, parents and taxpayers didn't get much of a chance to weigh in on these candidates. It'll be a year until they do. I don't think Simmons was a bad choice. I just don't think it was the best choice. I don't see how MNPS can make the great strides forward that are necessary with merely good choices and essentially the same folks in charge. And every year it takes to improve is a year gone in the life of a student. They've got a finite number of educational years but the system, the educational blob, goes on forever.

AC Kleinheider has a great opinion piece at the City Paper this week entitled "Nashvillians need their truth candy coated". In it he writes of Martin Kennedy:
"You can't just wake up one day speak truth to power and expect the scales to drop from the establishment's eyes. It doesn't work that way. You have to prime the pump. You have to make the connections and form the personal relationships. Quite simply, you have to play the game. You don't have to like it, but you have to do it. Then you can hit them with a bit of truth."
"...with a bit of truth." Kleinheider's got it right. If you work exceptionally hard at making those connections, bide your time and play the game they might hear a bit of truth. They might even make some small symbolic effort at changing, but it doesn't last long and then there's a new director, new fad, new unfunded mandate from the Feds. The MNPS blob resents anyone outside their circle and if any dare point out the the emperor has no clothes the blob won't even examine the truth but react by attacking the speaker. They hardly tolerated truth from Board members like Murray Phillips, Mebenin Awipi or Kay Brooks (that interloper of the highest order) and they certainly weren't going to take it from CM Eric Crafton. The blob values the messenger and his delivery more than the actual message. It values its own preservation more than the education of the children.

And that exceptionally disheartening truth is why it's taken me a week to finish this post.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cartel

'The Cartel' Trailer from Bowdon Media on Vimeo.

"The battle to improve public education in America is pitting powerful special interest groups against the interest of children. In one corner we find a powerful coalition of teachers unions, lawmakers, and government officials bent on upholding the status quo while benefiting from the $600 billion education industry. In the other corner await 50 million school children whose lives are directly impacted by the decisions made by the education establishment.

This groundbreaking new documentary by Bob Bowdon investigates the condition of public education in New Jersey—the state that spends more per-pupil on public education than any other state in the country, and a microcosm of the issues plaguing American education. What Bowdon finds should trouble parents, teachers, and taxpayers across the country; it should trouble anyone concerned with the struggle to improve the educational opportunities for American children."

Don't make the mistake of thinking...oh, that's Jersey. It happens here too. Closets stuffed with perfectly good resources but they're last year's fad program. The rare teacher dismissal hearings. A well-paid top heavy administration and no copy paper for classrooms. Bathrooms you wouldn't tolerate in your own home (or the BOE office) but is 'good enough' for public school children. A Council that overwhelming votes in a player and not someone who'll help watchdog the system and advocate for real improvement. Legislators, mayors, Chamber of Commerce types who all have options for their children but limit the number of choices for those without means. Unions who are more concerned about keeping their power at any price. Parents thrilled the football team had a winning season and offended that others think the school isn't good based on test scores. Taxpayers willing to embrace the guilt driven demand for more money while withholding their children from the system because they know what their money buys isn't good enough.

I'll let you know when this movie hits Nashville.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hard fought battle won

So CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) has withdrawn BL2009-429 as promised last Thursday according to this morning's City Paper. It's been a tough fight and I don't envy the folks that will have to live with Murray for the remainder of her term.

A couple of errors in the City Paper report. Hollin is President of the West Eastland Neighborhood Association not the Maxwell Heights group and the property is own by both Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood and his wife Sheridath.

Here's Charles R (Friday) Blackwood's email to all council members. I'm redacting his email address.

Council Member:councilmembers@nashville.gov
Name: C.R. (Friday) Blackwood


Home Address: 304 Singer Dr.
City: Madison, TN
Zip Code: 37115

Daytime Phone Number: 615-305-7611

Comments: I am asking Councilmember Pam Murray to withdraw my rezoning request at 837 Cleveland St.,BL2009-429, scheduled for Second Reading Tuesday, July 21st.

It is obvious this has gone far beyond a rezoning issue. Councilmember Murray faces the impossible task of trying to represent the people in her district when there are those whose only goal is not what is best for the community, but to humiliate her before her colleagues in the council. She is responding with class and dignity, but we have chosen not to ask her to endure further abuse on our behalf.

Although I felt my proposal would have been a very attractive addition to that neighborhood, I have been unable to obtain the neighbors approval of my design, therefore, I will honor their wishes by withdrawing the bill and retaining the presently zoned single-family status.

Thank you for the time you devoted to this endeavor.


Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood
He was just the innocent victim of a 'get Murray' campaign? Not from where I'm sitting. He brought this on himself and said so himself. He said he created this mess and he was going to clean it up. Well, now he can. Of course, the rest of us, neighbors, concerned citizens, government entities, taxpayers won't get back all the time and resources we expended fighting his illegal activity.

Now the Blackwoods are faced with the choices of converting the property back into a single family home (and adding the threatened chain link fence for the safety of the children) or selling.

The offending property (the lower left one in this photo) is only one of three that the Blackwoods own on this busy little intersection on the one mile stretch between Ellington Parkway's Cleveland Street off ramp and Gallatin Road where East Nashvillians buy the bulk of their groceries. They admitted last Thursday they didn't have the money to develop it beyond what it is now. I know neighbors have made serious offers on the property so that others, who have the means, can develop this and help revitalize this neighborhood. If what's best for the neighborhood really is a consideration for the Blackwoods I sincerely hope they will accept a reasonable offer and be content with obtaining a sizeable amount of cash to use for maintenance of their other dozen or so properties and enjoying life generally. I will encourage selling to to someone who does have the cash and skills to create a neighborhood hub of commercial/residential mixed use that complies with the neighborhood plan and that will create jobs and opportunities for the neighbors far beyond a quadplex for transients. It's their call.

See also:
It was Uggglyyyy II
It was uggglyyyy
As Cleveland Street Turns
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Counter's at Zero

Today's day 7 of the new 'guns in bars' bill. I expect the Tennessean and the gun nuts at GunsAndAlcoholDontMix will be secretly disappointed that the count meter for 'shoot 'em ups' between legal handgun carry permit holders will read zero in the morning. They certainly won't say it out loud of course. But a few deaths between now and the court hearing would certainly bolster their case.

From RedHatRob: "You can’t stop people from carrying firearms into bars (or parks for that matter). You can only disarm the responsible law-abiding citizens, so they won’t be able to defend themselves."

"...won't be able to defend themselves." or the rest of us.

It's illogical thinking that causes a bar owner to never consider metal detectors and frisking patrons for weapons until carry permit holders (who've been better vetted than the POTUS) have their Second Amendment rights affirmed.

I told you they were gun nuts.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Excuse me? II

I promise it's not "Pick on Zach Wamp Day". It's entirely coincidental that the comment below and this one are back to back.

This also from the Tennessean political blog:

“Our children are not reading proficiently when they enter school,” Wamp said.
No kidding. I'm betting that most taxpayers and parents kinda thought that maybe they'd learn to read IN school.

The quote goes on:
“There needs to be a big effort early. Part of it is pre-K. Part of it is Head Start. Part of it is local and foundation support for early reading. Our children are not reading proficiently.
If Zach Wamp thinks an expansion of pre-K is going to be the answer...he's wrong. Following Gov. Bredesen in this path will be a waste of money...but the teacher's union will love him. Again, is this more Washington speak? Or is it misspeak?

Excuse me?

Just read this at the Tennessean political blog:

'Wamp criptically [sic] tweeted today,

Working people should be wary of candidates who’ve never had trouble paying their taxes, cause they’ll grow govt and raise your taxes.”'

I read this and thought…wait so is gubernatorial candidate Rep. Zach Wamp saying we should embrace folks who HAVE had trouble paying their taxes? Surely not. I’d rather have a governor that didn’t have any tax issues at all, actually.

Wamp shouldn’t make this contest anything close to class warfare. Is this what 14 years in Congress does to your thinking? I don’t fault Mayor Bill Haslam for being rich. Happy he’s got it. Hope he’s using it wisely. Hope he's sharing it.

What I need is a governor who understands clearly that the state budget isn’t their money by right and that every dime comes from hard working folks who also need it. They should look at those golf courses, party bunkers or higher ed expansion and say---are these even a legitimate functions of government and more importantly is it right to ask the Brooks to hold off buying shoes for the kids or tires for the car to pay for it?

Shrinking government and making sure we're only spending money where we must will go a long way toward ensuring lots of Tennesseans don't have trouble paying their taxes.

It was uggglyyyy II

It was a very contentious meeting last night at the East Branch Library. This was not what the relationship between a councilman and their constituents should be and everyone was frustrated that this zoning fight had gone on so long. Few people felt like there was mutual respect or that the other side was listening or actually trying to compromise.

I knew parking was at a premium so I got to the library about 5:15 p.m. I thought I was the first attendee but Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver was already there. He laid pens on the tables, got the scoop on what was going on from me and Larry Eaton and then had to leave for another event.

Nine Metro Councilmen were in attendance. I saw Bennett, Claiborne, Coleman (later), Craddock, Duvall, Garrett (and Mrs.), Jameson, Maynard (later) and Tygard. They should all be thanked for going above and beyond to ensure that previous conduct at meetings was kept to a minimum. It's at times like this (and long public hearings) that I think these folks don't get paid enough. There were about 70 people cramped into this space at the height of the meeting and not enough seating. Murray should have gone along with the original meeting place of the East Precinct for everyone's comfort. Anything to diminish frustration would have been a good idea.

CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) opened the meeting by asking everyone to sign in and write down their questions on sheets she provided. Having experienced this control tactic before one of the neighbors objected right from the start and Murray never really got the meeting back from that point on. Folks did raise their hands for recognition but it wasn't always given, there was plenty of cross talk and speaking out of turn.

The initial announcements included a late email from Bill Penn of Codes saying the court case against offending property owner Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood had been dismissed with the owner paying the court fees. Since the building was shuttered and vacant Codes determined he was in compliance and no further action was needed. Also there was a letter from the Historical Commission indicating that based on what they'd been told about proposed changes to the property no preservation permit was needed.

Blackwood provided a basic history of the property. This cement block building was 2 apartments, a salvage store and a wrecker service (yes all at once) when he purchased it. Back in 2006 after speaking to 'an inspector' he had the salvage store part removed from the property zoning which left it at being zoned for a single family. He admitted again that he'd failed to get permits for the quadplex he created but kept insisting that the group move on from that.

Blackwood was facing a pretty angry group of folks who had been frustrated by his illegal activity and lack of responsiveness from Murray. It quickly got heated and Blackwood's back was up almost from the beginning.

He brought the following proposed rendering of what he'd like to do with the property to try and make it more palatable for the neighbors. When asked he told the group gathered that it would take about $35,000 to make this change. 45 days for the exterior and 60 days for the interior. It was clear from nearly the beginning that he was not going to budge from his plan. It was going to be this quadplex or a single family building. Just those two options. I heard it as a threat when he said if he didn't get the quadplex he'd make it a single family home per the zoning and put up a big ole chain link fence to protect the children that would live there.

At this point a woman asked for a show of hands for those that approved and then disapproved of this plan. The overwhelming majority of hands were for disapproval. Murray said "I have a problem with that." The people that objected didn't show up at this meeting she explained. Why not? was asked. Someone joked that "They musta missed the bus." referring to the green shirted folks bussed in for the public hearing in front of the Council on 7/7/09. Laughter all around. If it wasn't clear before this, it was clear now, Murray was not going to get much respect from this group.

Someone pointed out that this current rendering was not the one Blackwood had provided before.

Considering his history of lack of compliance with current codes how could the neighborhood trust him to follow through with this new design? Blackwood responded that codes was all over him now and they'd make sure. Not very reassuring to residents when Codes has its own trust issues.

Someone asked where these residents were supposed to park. Blackwood responded that he'd "never had a person who owned a car live there."

Another neighbor wanted to know what Blackwood's plan for the corner was. It was obvious he'd bought up that entire corner (not just the offending property). There was a specific neighborhood plan to create a gathering place of mixed use on that corner that Blackwood's quadplex didn't fit. What was his plan for all this property? He insisted it wasn't going to be anything else. He didn't have the money for it. Mrs. Blackwood spoke up and was obviously upset and threw out that 'you should buy it'. Blackwood angrily threw out a $1 million price for all the property on that corner he owns.

Would Murray be willing, in the face of so much obvious opposition, to withdraw the bill? "No. No." was her response. She clarified by saying "If you were in his shoes I would fight for you." That wasn't received very well. Mr. Blackwood isn't a resident of the neighborhood and I got the impression that this group strongly believed that their residency should override his ownership of about a dozen District 5 properties and his campaign contributions to Murray.

Mrs. Blackwood speaks up again, quite angry, and states "We own it and you don't." She wants to know what the crowd suggests the Blackwoods should put in that building. A man who is working on his own development of property near this corner suggested a store or a coffee shop. Mrs. Blackwood responds by stating there was a store near there that went out of business just recently. A neighbor asked "You mean the numbers market?" which brought laughter. At this point the Blackwoods pick up their stuff, tell Murray to withdraw the bill and leave.

Murray is very reluctant to do that. She's trying desperately to convince folks that deferring is the better plan and that a compromise is possible. She cannot define what a compromise would be and instead defines the word compromise. That was the wrong thing to do and added to the already overflowing frustration. She insists that the quadplex is progress for that corner. She mumbles something about money involved. I assumed that meant money involved in beginning the process all over again. Not everyone makes that same assumption.

It's after the Blackwood's leave that Bob Borzack brings up the only other solution to this problem which is for Blackwood to sell the property to someone who does have the money to develop the property in accordance with the Neighborhood Plan. Bob has investigated what Blackwood paid for the properties. He compared it to what has been sold recently and suggests that a more than reasonable sale price would be in the neighborhood of $330,000. Jamie Hollin tells the group that Blackwood has turned down Hollin's three offers to buy the property.

Murray still wants the Council to vote to approve on Tuesday and then people can talk about what the 'development' will look like. She suggests that a development committee be formed consisting of 5 supporters from the Greenwood Neighborhood Association and 5 opponents, an impartial moderator and a Councilman-at-Large. She barely acknowledges the fact that a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood and specific plan for the corner is already in place after many, many meetings with neighbors. She doesn't recognize that there is no need for a development committee as a result---especially in light of the fact that Blackwood has told her to withdraw the bill.

Blackwood is back (and his wife eventually joins him) to get the rendering he'd left behind. Murray asks him if he's willing to defer the bill while a committee discusses it. He's not. "Go ahead and get through with this. [Let the Council vote it down.] I'm not going to spend a lot of money." He has no intention of doing anything else with the property other than a single family home or a quadplex. He again tells her to withdraw the bill.

Murray asks again "Are you sure you want it withdrawn?"

"Yes." Blackwood responds.

Murray says she'll withdraw it Tuesday. However, I ask Murray outside and after the meeting to confirm that she'll withdraw the bill Tuesday and she told me that she will defer the bill until she receives a formal letter from Blackwood requesting the rezoning bill be withdrawn. She told me this was at the suggestion of CM-at-Large Tim Garrett. I'm suspicious of this since she was the one fighting so strongly for deferral and not withdrawal. We'll just have to keep an eye on this.

I understand the frustration that the Blackwood's and Mr. Roberts from the Greenwood Neighborhood Association (which supports this rezoning) expressed. They own the property and they believe they should have the freedom to do with it as they will. In an ideal world that'd be optimal for property owners. However, not always for near by residents. In the long time they've both been alive the world has changed in this regard. We have many more laws about land use. Notice about proposed laws, regulations and restrictions are provided. It's expected that at that time the landowners participate in the process and make their objections known. If they fail to make their case and win it's expected that those rules be followed for the greater good of the neighborhood. It's not personal at all. No one wanted to see this 73 year old man shouted at and disrespected. At a time when he expected he'd be enjoying the fruits of decades of hard work he's fighting for this income. To Blackwood it's his property to do with as he wills. To the neighbors it's their neighborhood to defend. They see Blackwood's obvious desire to provide housing to a transient population as a threat to the peace and safety of their own backyard.

Hopefully, this bill will actually be withdrawn and after a bit of a breather Blackwood will accept a reasonable offer on the properties. Seems to me that $300K or so should go a long way toward enjoying your golden years with a tidy sum left over for the grandkids.

See previous posts:
It was uggglyyyy
As Cleveland Street Turns
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It was uggglyyyy

I'm just back from Community Meeting #12 regarding the illegal quadplex at 837 Cleveland Street. It was very ugly. Briefly the property owner insisted quite loudly that it was going to be a single family home (which it's currently zoned for) or, as a result of the Council vote, a quadplex. Nothing else.

The end result was that the property owner insisted that CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) withdraw the rezoning bill. He even left the meeting, came back for his drawing of his proposed renovation of the exterior, and said it again when CM Murray offered to just defer it until a compromise could be reached. He was adamant--withdraw the bill. She said she'd do it Tuesday.

However, I double checked with her outside after the meeting and she said she was going to defer the bill until she got a formal letter from the property owner requesting withdrawal. She told me that requiring a letter was CM-at-Large Tim Garrett's suggestion.

It's not right that a neighborhood should have to fight their own representative in order to enforce the law. Constituents should not have to be disrespectful and shout in order to be heard by their representative. No representative should so provoke constituents by their actions that they have no other recourse. The neighbors may have won but trust may never be regained.

And that really was the bottom line. After years of defying the law the neighbors have absolutely no trust in Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood and he could not assure them he would try and earn it back.

See previous posts:
As Cleveland Street Turns
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

Elect this Kennedy to the BOE

I first "met" Martin virtually because he had a blog following the TN legislature as an economist which I found very helpful in my own advocacy efforts. Despite that focus he would regularly post on education issues. Having five children will do that , I suppose. I usually liked what he had to write and we agreed on many, but not all, issues. Eventually, we both attended several meetings and I got to see the passion about education issues that doesn't always come through the pixels on a screen.

Martin has started a new blog http://mdpkennedy.blogspot.com/ where he tells us why he's running. All of you who lost the lottery for a magnet school or have children who can't get into a charter school or have been frustrated by your child's IEP certainly understand his statement:

"The parents of children attending Metro schools are not, for the most part, consumers. They represent a captive market. They are clients of the state. They are not empowered as consumers. Again, it is important to ask yourself – would you rather have someone buy something for you or the opportunity to make your own consumption decisions… when it comes to educating your children wouldn’t you prefer to be able to make a decision instead of being assigned to a school?"

Martin worked for Alan Coverstone in his BOE campaign. It's Alan's seat Martin wants to fill. I would hope Alan would reciprocate and let councilmen know how well qualified Martin is for this job.

I want to encourage Council members to consider what a good addition Martin will make to the team that is the BOE. If what they want is someone who understands the issues and has 'skin in the game' there isn't anyone better to vote for. Council members have an opportunity to impact the entire system for the better by voting Martin onto the School Board. I ask them to vote for Martin Kennedy.

Every Metro Council member will vote on this election. Here's their on-line email contact form: http://www.nashville.gov/council/feedback.aspx. Please contact them. We need a man like Martin who will be engaged and actually work toward making improvements that will benefit the children, the parents, taxpayers and staff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

As Cleveland Street Turns

As we anticipate community meeting #12 on the illegal quadplex at 837 Cleveland Street Thursday night at the East Branch Library (5:30 p.m.) I offer my overview of last Tuesday's Metro Council meeting where CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) introduced for second reading and public comment her BL2009-429 which would retroactively spot zone that illegal quadplex for her campaign contributor Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood.

I happened to get in line in the middle of a lot of green t-shirted folks while waiting to go through security at the courthouse. Standing next to me was former Metro Councilman Ronnie Grier. He asked the green group what they were here for. There being no response he pushed a bit and said that it was obvious they were all here for something...what was it? "Some building" was the only response he got. So I filled him in. His comment, born from years on the council and dealing with zoning issues was "It should have never gotten to the Council." I couldn't agree more. This whole effort should have been shut down long ago. It's as if the Metro Council is now the Planning Commission.

This first video is CM Murray introducing the bill for second reading and calling for public comments. Blackwood is first to speak for the bill. He admits again that he created this mess and he intends to clean it up. He promises if the Council will grant him this zoning change he'll be a good neighbor. Seems to me my children have tried this same tack several times. His line that no one at a community meeting had "any positive suggestions about what to do with [the property]" makes me think the real truth is no one wanted his quadplex.

Then comes Mary Copeland representing the Greenwood Neighborhood Association to dress down her 'new' neighbors telling them "Don't try to fix it." "Go along a while and see what you can do to help". She doesn't indicate how long "a while" is. People who testified after her said they'd lived there 5, 6, 8 and 29 years. Surely all of that is long enough. It's a little sad to hear her talk about how long she's dealt with the bad conditions in her neighborhood and know that the efforts of her new neighbors are intended to ensure that the forward progress that's been made continues.

The second video is testimony from neighbors against this rezoning. I've cut off a couple of 'me too' comments at the end to keep it within the YouTube limit.

Jamie Hollin, President of the West Eastland Neighborhood Association is first up. He had with him 151 petitions against this spot rezoning. 77 from Greenwood neighbors, 56 from Maxwell neighbors and 15 from other District 5 neighbors. "This is about the life and safety of the tenants, neighbors helping neighbors and the rule of law." He testified that Blackwood said "If I don't get zoning, I'll rent to MDHA."

Amy Bryson said she'd moved to Greenwood six years ago. She reminded the Council that the detailed neighborhood plan for this property was intended to be commercial on the bottom and residential on the top. She said there had been 7 meetings since January regarding this property. At them neighbors were forbidden to speak, ignored and marginalized. She attributed the success in the neighborhood to people who 'followed the rules, regulations and ordinances."

In this third installment Brian Huffine said he'd been in Greenwood since 2001 and had been on the Board of the Greenwood Neighborhood Association. He charged that lack of regular election of board members and their agenda kept Greenwood NA from be a real voice of the neighborhood.

Also speaking were Larry Eaton a 29 year resident and President of the Maxwell Heights Neighborhood Association and Marty Lang of the Dickerson Road Merchants Association both stating their organizations stand against this rezoning.

Sam McCullough of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Association reminds the Council that this rezoning goes against the neighborhood plan and that this building was formerly a junk shop and auto repair shop. That seems to emphasize the unsuitability of this building for actual living space. Something Blackwood seemed to understand when he said that without the rezoning the property reverts back to single family and it's a four bath, 5 bedroom building which would likely only be attractive to a large family with children. However, being so close to the busy street the children would be in danger.

This fourth video is the Council discussion after the closing of the public comment period. In this 9 minutes CM Murray repeats that the property is "technically in compliance" according to Metro Codes' Bill Penn 4 times and repeats that there is "a lot of support for this bill" 8 times. She repeats the compliance line, one assumes, because Blackwood has spent so many years out of compliance. To her credit she does mention that it's in compliance because the tenants have been evicted and the place is boarded up.

CM Karen Bennett (District 8) rises "as a property owner in the district" to say that this rezoning is "not in the best interest of the community or the residents who would want to live there". She further testifies that she's attended 4 out of 7 community meetings and has not seen one resident for this rezoning. She sums up by saying this effort is "taking unfair advantage of folks who cannot afford much".

CM Erik Cole (District 7) agrees with CM Bennett and seems to suggest that deferral pending the case against Blackwood in Environmental Court might be the thing to do.

It appears to me that CM Murray knew that despite "the support" in the room for her bill it was going down and she happily latched on to the the idea of deferring the vote one more time even thought it's not what Cole was really suggesting be done as he clarifies later.

CM Michael Craddock (District 4) states adamantly that this needs to be over tonight and says Murray moved to approve this change and then she changed her mind. "We're yanking these people's chains" by making them come back yet again on this same matter.

The fifth has CM-at-large Megan Barry asking the best question. "What additional information will we have next time?" Murray provides no real answer but does say that this has been going on for more than two years. There is a request for more information about the pending court case but no real details are available...or offered by Murray. CM Langster speaks to support Murray. "They seem like they're close together."

Finally, CM Harrison and Gilmore also rise in support of deferral and another community meeting CM Bennett opines this would be beating a dead horse and requests a roll call vote on the vote to defer as well as the bill itself if necessary. Murray takes umbrage with Bennett's comments and reminds us all that there have been "more than 11 meetings" in "over two years" on this issue. Which reminds us of CM Evan's questions above.

CM Jim Gotto (who is also head of the Planning Commission) straddles the fence and suggests that the vote be deferred so his Council Planning Committee can review this before the vote on second reading. He also suggests that SP zoning might be the answer.

The bill is finally voted on and is deferred one meeting.

As I was leaving I caught sight of the bus used to cart in the group of green shirted people. Considering their inability to articulate why they were at the meeting, the fact that none of them spoke (at Murray's request she tells us), and the testimony of neighbors saying they'd never seen the vast majority them before one has got to wonder what chits were called in.

The next act in this nearly unbelievable political play can only be titled 'Dueling meetings'. The next day Hollin schedules a meeting for Thursday, July 16 at the East Precinct, a smart idea considering the police were called after the last one, the space is large, in Murray's district and well appointed. But no. On Friday CM Murray objected and informs him that she's scheduled the meeting at the smaller, older, and not in her district East Library for half an hour earlier on the same night. Copies of the email exchange at the City Paper. Remember to read from the bottom up. Mr. "Holland" agrees to have the meeting THIS Thursday, July 16, at the East Branch Library, 5:30 p.m. CM-at-Large Tim Garrett has agreed to attend and assures neighbors that everyone wishing to speak will be heard.

Stay tuned for next week's episode. [Cue tension building organ music.]

See previous posts:
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cry me a river


"In a letter hand delivered to the Metro Planning Commission late yesterday afternoon, developer Tony Giarratana made a formal request for a July 23rd rehearing for the May Town rezoning vote held last month. Citing the late hour, tired commission members and confusing procedural irregularities" Nashville Post
Yadda, yadda, yadda.... shades of Tonya Harding. Puleeeze.

Can I call a do-over for 11/4/08?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Nashville can relate

The most unusual complaint 'letter' I've seen in quite a while. Hey, ya use the tools ya got to get the job done. Hope it works for him. I'll be humming the chorus most of today.

Hat tip: Lucianne.com

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Guidelines or rules?

Tonight the Metro Council will hear from neighbors regarding the retroactive spot zoning of an illegal quadplex at 837 Cleveland Street in CM Pam Murray's District 5 in East Nashville. A few councilmen will be afraid to vote against the sponsoring councilwoman's bill because she's black and many who will speak on behalf of the white landlord will also be black. Many of those speaking against the illegal actions of the white landlord will be white. The Council must not let councilmatic courtesy or racial fears keep them from focusing on the fact that if BL2009-429 passes it will invite every non-compliant property owner to demand that their property, that's been illegally modified, also be retroactively zoned to fit whatever they've created. The Council must see this issue for what it is--a complete thumbing of the nose at the rule of law in this county. No one, black or white, should get away with that.

The Planning Commission failed to hold Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood accountable for creating an illegal quadplex out of this property despite his own confession that he broke the law. He owns over a dozen pieces of property in this county. He's not unaware of his responsibilities. Despite that they voted to give him a pass and let the Council do the Planning Commission's job. It took Environmental Court to close the quadplex down and likely save the lives of the tenants.

Even after being told by the Environmental Court's Judge Jim Todd to shutter the building, and long before tonight's Council vote, signs indicating that the spaces would be for rent again appeared on the building. First in Spanish and then later an English version was added. Obviously, Blackwood felt confident about the outcome of tonight's Council vote.

Why bother having a permit system for building and health codes when the county won't enforce them? Why bother having an Environmental Court?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 8, Blackwood is scheduled to appear again before Environmental Court on this matter. I'd like to see that he has to appear hat in hand before Judge Todd and assure him that the building will no longer be a quadplex and that he will never again, upon pain of jail, willfully violate the health, safety and building codes of this county.

Here's the Council's feedback form. Whether you can attend the meeting tonight or not, let the Council know that you expect landlords across this county to respect the laws enacted for the safety of citizens. "The code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules" may be a great line in a movie but when the life and health of citizens is at stake...they need to be actual rules with consequences.

UPDATE: If you do attend the meeting opponents of BL2009-429 ask that you wear red to indicate your opposition. The meeting starts at 6:00 and this bill is early on the agenda.

See also:
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

Monday, July 06, 2009

Gun nuts

I've decided that 'gun nuts' is better defined as those who have an irrational fear of anyone carrying a gun. Gun nuts, based on their own fears and lack of experience with those who handle weapons safely instead of any factual evidence that safety is an issue, usually react in a knee-jerk fashion to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

We've got a new state law that on Tuesday, July 14 will allow permit holders to enter restaurants where liquor is served unless the proprietor hangs a sign announcing no guns are allowed. The law passed through the legislative process and is presumably, the will of the people. However, this isn't enough for gun nuts. Because of their irrational fear and apparent inability to simply provide prohibiting signage for their establishments, they choose to usurp the will of the people and get their way via a judicial process. They've decided that it doesn't matter how the people's representatives voted the gun nuts will have their way.

According to a post on the East Nashville elist John Egerton is trying to recruit 200 'silent witnesses' for Monday, July 13th's 1:30 p.m. hearing before Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman in order to let her know how they want her to rule on a request to keep the law from taking effect the next day. The lawsuit was filed by Randy Rayburn proprietor of Sunset Grill, Cabana and MidTown Café.

Further, to add irony to the mix they set up a website that tells us that in honor of Independence Day we should support their effort to quash the 2nd Amendment rights of fellow citizens. Further they call the site "guns and alcohol don't mix". Well, duh. We all know that. The law is already clear. No one carrying can consume. It's already against the law to be intoxicated and carry.

They quote that there are 80 guns deaths in America every day! What they don't tell you is how many of those were the result of a legal carrier v. a street thug or distraught girlfriend. They don't because it's an inconvenient truth.

They say their liability insurance will rise if they permit guns and that will increase the price of dinners. Again, a simple sign prohibiting carrying and that's done. Regardless, they've decided that we'd surrender our freedom for 50 cents off the price of a meal. I don't think so.

The fact is money is an important issue for them:

"If a patron is packing a gun, but not purchasing alcohol they are taking the seat of a non gun holder who could be purchasing alcohol, tipping the bartender and providing much needed business to the establishment."
So they'll throw the 2nd Amendment under the bus in order to encourage drinking. Yeah, that's the socially responsible tack. Now we know what they really mean when they say guns and alcohol don't mix.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sarahcuda's on the move

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made her own declaration of independence yesterday by announcing that she's resigning as governor of Alaska. It was another gutsy and smart move on her part that has confounded the experts and has many writing her political obituary. I believe it's just wishful thinking on their part and these folks have no clue what just hit them.

Since Sen. John McCain chose her to run as his vice-president she, her family, and her staff have been through the wringer as opponents have turned over every rock in hopes of taking her down. Every time she sneezed a FOIA request was filed demanding to know what kind of facial tissue she used, where it was disposed, a doctor's report on her health and who else was in the room that might become infected. Tennessee's own Rep. Mike Kernell's (D-Memphis) son David, entered into the battle by pulling the boneheaded move of hacking into Palin's email account. In this battle nothing was off limits. Absolutely, nothing. 15 ethics complaints were filed...all were eventually dismissed. The attack dogs had the deep financial pockets of various organizations and entities. The Palin's had their household income and a few friends to pay off $500,000 in lawyer fees. Politics saw a new level of dirty. Some made it their life goal to grind this family below ground.

The only thing that could be done to stop this most nasty warfare was to leave the political fishbowl that provided so much fodder for her enemies to cull through. Now that Palin's life is private she has the freedom to do a great deal. She has very effectively cut off that distracting and resource sucking nonsense. Hopefully, she'll quickly hit the speaker's circuit and bring in more than enough cash to pay off those lawyer fees. Then she can earn a tidy sum to care for the family. The best revenge, they say, is living well.

In the meantime she's making more and more friends and creating even more supporters across the nation. She'll be priming the conservative pump that will begin gushing and overfilling the pots that will steep all this TEA that's being brewed across the nation. Her enemies may have pushed her out of office but the result will be a stronger, freer and even more effective Sarahcuda.