Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 8, 2011
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
METRO TURMOIL; FAIRGROUNDS ON INSIDE POLITICS; RISING; COMMUNITY LOSSES; A GRAND DEAL; LIKE FATHER LIKE SON;
What a tumultuous week for Metro government in Nashville!
You'd think it would be the upcoming city elections that would be rattling the foundations of the Courthouse but really it's the actions of a lot of other city officials outside the Mayor and the Metro Council (with one major exception) who are grabbing the headlines…and not for good reasons in most cases.
Bowing to the inevitable (including an ouster suit from District Attorney Torry Johnson), Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence has announced his retirement effective July 16. While taxpayers are likely to be outraged that the long-time public official is eligible to continue to pull in $80,000 per year under his pension, his removal from office does end a months-long controversy. It began when he was confronted by a local TV station whose investigation showed that Torrence was coming to work only three days a week and was using his city car for personal errands. He also hired his sons to high-paying jobs in the Clerk's office without any effort to advertise the positions or seek other candidates for the jobs. To make matter worse, Torrence not only confirmed his reprehensible behavior, he defended it by saying he didn't plan to seek another term anyway come 2014 so why should anyone care?
The public outrage that ensued included a unanimous vote by the Metro Council that he step down as well as a D.A.'s investigation that led to an ultimatum to Torrence that he either step down or face ouster proceedings. What a shame especially for the Torrence family. David's father, the late Joe Torrence served with distinction as Criminal Court Clerk for several years following an equally distinguished stint as Metro Finance Director from the beginning of Metro Government in 1963 until 1975.
It will be up to the Metro Council to appoint an interim Clerk to serve until next year's elections (a primary in either March or May and a general election in August). Already potential candidates are being mentioned, including outgoing Metro Councilman (and former mayoral candidate) Michael Craddock. Ironically, Craddock sought the Criminal Court Clerk seat last year but was soundly defeated by Torrence.
One of Torrence's top aides, Tommy Bradley, is also being talked about as a candidate to be the interim clerk. None of the controversies surrounding David Torrence had anything to do with the overall operations of the Clerk's office. That may well be because of the job Bradley has been doing despite Torrence's record of being AWOL.
But there is something of a history of the Council appointing one of its own, and even though Bradley is also a former council member himself, that could be an advantage for Craddock. Questions: Will the Dean administration get involved? If so, would the Mayor (as some suspect) likely support Bradley?
The appointment of the interim Clerk could also be tricky time-wise. Because of all time it takes to give notice and receive nominations, then have a couple of the local bar associations review the candidates, it will probably be the second meeting in August (August 16) before the Council can appoint a new clerk. That's also this Council's very last meeting. So if there are any unexpected delays in getting everything done in this selection process, it is possible that the decision could get bounced to the new Council, which won't be elected and sworn in until October.
Meanwhile, David Torrence is not the only Davidson County constitutional officer under fire in the media. NewsChannel5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams has been raising some serious questions about how County Clerk John Arriola is running his office. I am told there is more to come.
Anybody serving in public office (or seeking it) should know that you need to pay your taxes. After all, especially if you vote to set the tax levy, you ought understand you need to pay up on time (or face criticism in the media and from the public.
But a recent investigation by THE TENNESSEAN found a few Metro Council candidates and even two former Council members, now serving in the Tennessee General Assembly, haven't paid up. A couple have understandable excuses (just don't have the money right now). But sooner rather than later they need to pay up.
But perhaps the most talked-about development at the Metro Courthouse in recent days was a verbal diatribe issued by Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin after some of his colleagues objected to suspending the rules so the full body could vote on a memorializing resolution to honor some local high school students for their efforts in protesting the "Don't Say Gay" bill in the State Legislature.
Hollin was so upset he walked out the council chambers. Then (in the parking lot) he verbally and profanely confronted some of the council members who blocked his bill. The confrontation was captured on video by THE TENNESSEAN and remains the talk of the blogosphere.
Over the years, I have seen several council members get angry and walk out of the chambers, some even saying they quit. But this is the first time I can remember this much use of profanity. While in no way condoning what Councilman Hollin did (or said), in some ways, I can understand his frustration. This was the last time memorializing resolutions such as the one he had up for consideration, could be voted on by this Council.
Hollin is not seeking re-election so this was literally his last time to move this measure. Hollin also feels that some of those who objected did so for political reasons (being anti-gay Hollin says). But all of this could have been avoided had Hollin attended the council committee before the session.
Because he was not there, the committee, by rule, deferred the matter. That's why Hollin had to seek consent of the full Council to consider the bill and why he was left wide open to be stopped by the objections of just a few council members. Hollin says he was busy meeting with a constituent and couldn't make the committee meeting. That's an understandable reason. But that still doesn't measure up to the language and tone of voice that he used in reacting to all this. All in all, it was a very regrettable situation for everyone involved.
Councilman Hollin is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. And while discuss his recent outburst, we spend most of our time talking about the Metro Charter amendment he is pushing for approval on the August 4 ballot. The measure would say that neither the Mayor, the Metro Fair Board or the Metro Council could change any of the current on-going activities at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds (the annual State Fair, the monthly Flea Market or the Raceway) without a two-thirds (27) vote of the Council.
As our guest, on the other side of this debate is Colby Sledge, representing the Neighbors For Progress group which opposes the amendment as unneeded and bad public policy.
It's a good, calm, rational discussion of the issue, something you don't always see or hear when there have been public conversations about this topic. It also gives some insights into how the Fairgrounds proponents plan to run their campaign (look for lots of social media outreach along with some radio ads featuring folks like NASCAR stars Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin. On the other side, Colby Sledge says his group does not have the funds for that kind of outreach. Will Mayor Karl Dean and his mayoral re-election campaign step in?
Watch us. INSIDE POLITICS can been seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5 A.M. on the main channel (WTVF-TV) as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. The PLUS can be seen on Comcast & Charter Cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air 5.2 digital channel. Our airtimes for INSIDE POLITICS on THE PLUS are 7 PM Friday, 5 A.M. & 5:30 P.M., Saturday and 5 A.M. & 12:30 P.M. Sunday.
Mayor Karl Dean's has unveiled his latest TV re-election ad. It's called RISING and if you think it relates to the city's heroic rise from May, 2010 floods (and the mayor's leadership in that) you would be correct, although it is done in a very subtle way.
The ad says (as the Mayor has several times even before the flood) that Nashville is a city with its best days still before it.
Apparently, FORBES Magazine thinks the same thing. According to THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (July 7) the magazine ranks Nashville among "the 52-largest cities" in America as "the Number 3 Boom Town in the coming decade," exceeded only by Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina.
FORBES says the Nashville choice at number 3 is "perhaps less expected" than Austin and Raleigh. And some may find a few of the reasons the magazine ranks us high surprising, if not gratifying given the English-Only vote in this community just a few years ago. With comments that could have not been more positive about our area if they had been written by the Mayor's re-election campaign, FORBES says: "The country music capital, with its low housing prices and pro-business environment, has experienced rapid growth in educated migrants, where it ranks fourth in terms of percentage growth. New ethnic groups, such as Latinos and Asians, have doubled in size over the past decade."
FORBES says Nashville, like other southern cities like Charlotte, have "two advantages…a mild climate and a smaller scale. Even with population growth, they do not suffer the persistent transportation bottlenecks that strangle older growth hubs. At the same time, these cities are building the infrastructure—roads, cultural institutions and airports—critical to future growth."
Great stuff about Nashville, but when our temperatures go over 90 and so does the humidity I am not sure our climate is exactly "mild." And, speaking of transportation bottlenecks, please keep those magazine writers away from outbound I-440 in the afternoon or parts of the inner loop.
The recent deaths of longtime community leaders Betty Brown and Bill Wise are real losses.
Betty Brown left a legacy of volunteer public service that is truly remarkable. Her efforts to protect our environment and its green spaces (especially our trees) will serve this area well for many years to come. Betty was a founding board member and president of the Nashville Tree Foundation and her work in Re-Leaf Nashville after the 1998 tornado did a lot to begin to restore Nashville's urban forest especially in East Nashville.
And her community work went ever further. She was co-chair of the civic committee that proposed the development of Riverfront Park downtown. She was a founding board member of the Nashville Community Foundation and she served on the city's Historical Commission. She was also on the boards of Historic Nashville, the Nashville Civic Design Center, Alive Hospice and Ensworth School.
But whenever I think about Betty Brown, it always comes back to trees. In fact, the next time you see one of the many great large older trees we are blessed with all over the community, give it a great big hug. For Betty
As for Dr. Bill Wise, he was a rock of strength and stability during his thirty-plus years at Metro Schools serving as assistant superintendent, deputy director and finally, director of schools from 1997-2001. And the school system really needed him and his special talents. From almost the first day he came on board back in the early 1970s, public education in Nashville had to deal with the problems and difficulties that came from complying with court-ordered desegregation and a cross-town busing plan.
But he helped keep the system together during that difficult time and, then when he was schools director, he helped negotiate an end to the years-old court battle, having Nashville named a unitary system.
According to an article in THE CITY PAPER (July 7), it is clear Dr. Wise's contributions to education were well recognized even outside our city. Each year the Council of Great City Schools presents "The Bill Wise Award…to an outstanding education business manager who exemplifies professionalism, commitment, integrity and leadership."
I thought I saw another example of all of that in Bill Wise's obituary. Among his honorary pallbearers were Judge Richard Dinkins, one of the attorneys on the other side of the long-running desegregation case in federal court as well as retired federal judge Tom Wiseman who presided over the case for several years including its many emotionally charged court hearings.
God bless both Bill Wise and Betty Brown for what they did for Nashville. We were certainly blessed to have their leadership.
A GRAND DEAL
When lawmakers in Washington, along with President Barack Obama, couldn't come up with a deal over taxes, cutting the budget and raising the debt ceiling totaling about 2 trillion dollars, it seems hard to believe they could possibly come together over a deal totaling $4.5 trillion.
But that's Washington I guess.
According to an article in DRU VUES, TOO by Dru Smith (July 8), Tennessee Senator Bob Corker "predicts a grand deal on economic reform soon." Specifically, the Senator told a group of Nashville entrepreneurs that he recently spoke to House Speaker John Boehner who told him "there'll be a deal this weekend..it;s a grand deal of substantial size."
According to the article the deal "may include a substantial cut in discretionary spending, a fiscal straightjacket similar to elements of the CAP Act (Senator Corker is sponsoring) and what the Senator called real reforms in Medicare and Social Security entitlements. He also anticipates cuts in special tax breaks such as the ethanol subsidy to lower taxes and free capital."
Of course the article has continues this caveat about "an undisclosed plan B if there is no agreement this weekend. He (Corker) also said the deadline on raising the debt limit may be pushed …past August 2. "
"Solving" the nation's debt and spending problems (at least temporarily) would be a big boost for the President and he needs it given the continued terrible unemployment numbers (9.2%) and the anemic growth in jobs just reported (only 18,000 for the last month). The Republicans would likely get a boost too since they can legitimately claim credit for pushing the President and the Democrats in Congress into making any big budget/spending cut deal like this.
Maybe something "grand" is brewing inside the Beltway.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON
It's not often that THE NEW YORK TIMES focuses on Tennessee congressional politics, but in its July 4th edition it did with an article focusing on the number of rookie GOP congressmen facing possible primary re-election challenges next summer.
In Tennessee, one of those challenges would seem to be coming in the Third District (the Chattanooga area) where Weston Wamp, the son of former Congressman Zach Wamp was quoting as saying about the changes of him challenging Representative Chuck Fleischmann: "I am taking a serious look…my experience through my dad was seeing the very best of what public service can mean."
Tennessee does have a recent history of electing sons to follow fathers into Congress, including the Duncans in the Knoxville area and the Fords in Memphis. Could the next "dynasty" be the Wamps?
Frankly, it is way too early to handicap a potential race. After all, we still don't know exactly what the district boundaries will be after the General Assembly redraws them early next year. Depending on how those lines are redone, there might also be another GOP congressional primary fight with rookie representative Scott DesJarlais facing a challenge especially if fast-growing and strongly GOP supporting Rutherford County is put in his new district.