Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#MayoralChatter: Will Howard Gentry Enter The Race?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Everywhere Pith goes these days, we hear the same question: Is Howard Gentry running?

After missing the runoff eight years ago by just half a point, a Gentry candidacy would make sense for a number of reasons. First, as the current criminal court clerk, he's a high-profile, countywide office-holder. Second, he would be an African-American candidate in a lily-white field. And third, he's got deep political roots in the community.

So we picked up the phone and called him and got a pretty nuanced answer: Yes, he's interested, but he's always been interested; yes, he thinks he can win; but he's in a great place personally and professionally and doesn't know yet if he wants to run. In fairness, here's the whole conversation:

There are a lot of people mentioning your name as a mayoral candidate right now. Are you interested in running? Will you run?

Well, I wouldn't have run eight years ago if I wasn't interested in it. Losing a race doesn't cause you to lose interest. But I have not made a decision to run yet.

What goes into making that decision? What factors are you weighing?

You could ask that question of everybody running.

Well, that's what we've been trying to do.

The truth is that … [laughs] I hate to do this because I've never been a "no comment" person, but I'm not even in a "no comment" position. I'm in a place where I haven't decided to run for mayor. Any conversation I have with you about those things would just be answers to your questions and not detail about what would or wouldn't cause me to do it or not do it. Because I'm not sure that I know it. If I did, I'd probably be making a statement right now. What I'm trying to say is that I don't want you to write [that] I'm still thinking about running for mayor. The fact is that it just hasn't happened.

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Three Things to Know From Last Night's Metro Council Meeting

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 8:50 AM

With the One Direction mob clamoring just down the street, the Metro Council convened Tuesday night at the Metro Courthouse. Here are three things to know:

Lonnell Matthews elected speaker pro tempore:

Lonnell Matthews
  • Lonnell Matthews
Councilman Lonnell Matthews was elected speaker pro tempore by one vote over Councilman Phil Claiborne. Council members voted to make Matthews the designated substitute in the event of Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' absence by a vote of 19-18.

The vote was interesting for a couple reasons. First, it puts Matthews in yet another visible position in the council, ahead of his run for an at-large seat next year. He was also chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee the year before last.

Secondly, Claiborne, in remarks before the vote, made it clear that the end of his council term would be the end of his political career. What's interesting is that, having previously spent 31 years as an art teacher, Claiborne said he plans to spend more time on his art work after he leaves the courthouse. Neat.

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If the Tennessee Firearms Association Would Hold a Consistent Position for a Second, We'd all Appreciate It.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 8:00 AM

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Firearms Association sent out this press release. The headline is alarming, even to a good liberal like me—"TN Government Targets Conservative Advocacy Groups: Attempts made to inspect records of political opponents." That sounds really bad.

Except that, when I read the press release, the headline isn't actually true. There's no "groups" mentioned, just a group — the TFA. By their own admission, no attempt has been made to inspect the TFA's records, only that the state government's actions "might also might be a pretext to obtain increased oversight and perhaps even for the basis to claim the authority to inspect the books of organizations critical of Governor Haslam and the state legislature." So, no actual attempt, just circumstances that "might also might be" a way for someone to do this.

According to the press release, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, John Harris believes "this is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle political opposition." Political opposition to the Governor?! There are many things you can say about our governor — he's acts like a big baby, he doesn't seem to like crucial parts of his job, he seems surprised to learn that he's not just the handsome spokesmodel for Tennessee's brand, etc. — but he's not stupid. Why would a man who's running virtually unopposed need to muzzle his political opponents?

The press release goes on: "In a tactic similar to the recent federal IRS attacks on tea party groups the Charitable Solicitations Division arbitrarily set a deadline of August 1 for the TFA to register as a 'charity.' The timing of this is in line with the primary election cycle where the TFA and the affiliated TFA Legislatiive Action Committee played heavily in multiple state legislative elections."

I think all deadlines are, in the end, arbitrarily set. But whatever. Let's take a look at this nefarious Charitable Solicitations Division and see what onerous burdens they're putting on the TFA. It looks like, if you're an organization that takes donations, you have to register with the state.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Daily Links: Ferguson, a Boring Startup, and Print Newspapers

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Every day we read a lot of stuff. If it's interesting, thought provoking, funny or being shared by everyone we know on the Internet, we share some of it with you. Happy reading.

From The Atlantic: Reparations for Ferguson

From The Intercept: A Night in Ferguson: Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas, and a Jail Cell

From Pacific Standard: DIY Diagnosis: How an Extreme Athlete Uncovered Her Genetic Flaw

From Code Switch: In Ferguson, Mo., A City Meets The Spotlight

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Mayor of Nashville Called Out in ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 2:42 PM

You can hear it wafting across the Internet today, the backlash to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

But whatever. If people fighting a disease raise a ton of money and awareness, I'm all for it. Plus, the failure videos are fantastic. Are you not entertained? It's not like we're asking you to put a Twibbon on.

We wondered how long it would take for the mayor to get challenged, and sure enough, the folks over at DVL did just that today in a well-done clip:

No, no. Not that mayor. The real mayor.

Your move, Mr. Mayor.

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Ferguson Has Happened Here

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 7:00 AM

With all due respect to Bruce, Nashville isn't protected from having something similar to what's happening in Ferguson happen here, even if how Metro Nashville is set up is much different than how the greater St. Louis area is set up.

We're not that much different. Our police force is better about being well-integrated with the community, but it'd be naive to think that we're immune to the same kinds of long-term institutional racism we see on display in Ferguson. Of course people here in Nashville are tired of being treated all the time like they are, just by virtue of their race or ethnicity, some kind of criminal. There are plenty of people here in Nashville who are terrified that their kids don't have the same leeway to be terrible as teenagers and then pull their shit together the way white kids do and that that lack of leeway might cost their kids their lives.

Nashville has erupted into racial violence already a number of times. Descriptions of the '67 North Nashville riot and the resulting police presence are not completely different than what we're hearing now. Much like Michael Brown's parents are afraid his death will never be properly investigated, we've had black kids killed in broad daylight—like in December of 1924, when Samuel Smith was killed by the K.K.K.—and the paper read "No arrests will be made." Really, the main difference between Nashville and Ferguson is that if we pretended like all our racial strife was caused by unruly black people, we'd be laughed off the face of the planet.

Our worst racial violence has been perpetrated by white people — from the person or people who planted a bomb in Z. Alexander Looby's house to try to thwart integration to the people who rioted against the streetcar strikers in 1905 to the people who rioted when free black Nashvillians tried to open a school for their children in 1856, not to mention the Klan or the whole institution of slavery.

I am not the first person to say this — check out Ida Wells-Barnett or James Baldwin — nor will I be the last, but the reason white people around the country are sitting around fretting about whether Ferguson could happen here is that, somewhere in the back of our minds, we are confused about why we have never been met with the same level of violence we have historically meted out on our fellow Americans. We keep expecting and suspecting minorities of being on the verge of seeking catastrophic revenge on us.

We ask "can Ferguson happen here?" but we don't mean "Could our dumbass sons out being dumbasses one sunny day before their grown-up lives start be gunned down in the streets of Nashville by a cop?" Because, for most of us, the answer is "Not even if he were armed." What we mean is "How angry could black people really get and could I be hurt by it?"

I think the second question is silly, but, really, white people, if you want the answer to the second question to be "no," work toward making this a city in which the answer to the first question for everyone in this city is "probably not."


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Daily Links: #Ferguson, 'Black on Black' Crime, and Vacation Time

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Every day we read a lot of stuff. If it's interesting, thought provoking, funny or being shared by everyone we know on the Internet, we share some of it with you. Happy reading.

From The Atlantic: Black People Are Not Ignoring 'Black on Black' Crime

From Poynter: How St. Louis’ alt-weekly is covering the chaos in Ferguson

From Vox: Americans are taking fewer vacations than they used to

From The New Yorker: A Movement Grows in Ferguson

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Evans Pauses Effort to Shrink Metro Council

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM

For the current issue of the Scene, we spoke with the Metro Council's Minority Caucus about Councilwoman Emily Evans' effort to extend term limits while at the same time reducing the size of the council to 27 members.

The caucus was strongly opposed to the idea, warning that a smaller council would mean less representation for minorities that are already underrepresented in city politics. They promised that a counter-movement against Evans' petition drive was on the way.

But now, The Tennessean reports that Evans has hit pause on the effort for now:

Evans said her campaign organization, CouncilNext50, gathered 7,197 signatures, about 5.5 percent more than the 6,817 that were needed, based on voter turnout for the Aug. 7 election. She said that wasn't enough of a cushion to ensure the petition would include enough registered voters to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

However, Evans tells the daily that will try to get the proposal on the ballot next August, to go along with council and mayoral elections. If voters approved, she says the new arrangement would go into effect in 2019. While that halts the effort temporarily, it means the debate continues for another year at least.

One interesting point to note: Opponents of Evans' proposal, and members of the Minority Caucus, have wondered where financial support for the effort is coming from. But it's a question that can't be definitively answered yet. The organization formed to push for the referendum, CouncilNext50, isn't required to filed financial disclosures with the election commission until the question officially makes it on a ballot.

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Can Ferguson Happen Here?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Ferguson can theoretically happen anywhere, obviously. But there are some structural differences between metro St. Louis and metro Nashville in the way local and satellite governments are configured that are important to understand. An insightful New York Times op-ed today by political scientist Jeff Smith (previously a Missouri state senator from St. Louis) explains some of the history behind the geographic and demographic configuration of inner suburbs in St. Louis — history that is quite different from ours here in middle Tennessee:

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.

This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.

This governmental fragmentation, Smith notes, translates into large numbers of small towns with independent police forces and too much reliance on traffic stops for revenue:

St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines....Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent. Municipal reliance on revenue generated from traffic stops adds pressure to make more of them.

Ninety! And that's in a county whose population outside of the city of St. Louis is roughly the same as Davidson County. As Smith explains, because the white-to-black shift in racial demographics in many of these suburbs has occurred only fairly recently, "fewer suburban black communities have deeply ingrained civic organizations," which is part of how it comes to be that places like Ferguson have majority white power structures (city council, school board, police force) in majority black communities.

Smith sees a remedy, one that should sound vaguely familiar to Nashvillians: consolidation.

Consolidation would help strapped North County communities avoid using such a high percentage of their resources for expensive public safety overhead, such as fire trucks. It could also empower the black citizens of Ferguson. Blacks incrementally gained power in St. Louis City in part because its size facilitates broader coalitions and alliances. Another benefit of consolidation is the increased political talent pool. Many leaders just aren’t interested in running a tiny municipality....Consolidation could create economies of scale, increase borrowing capacity to expand economic opportunity, reduce economic pressures that inflame racial tension, and smash up the old boys’ network that has long ruled much of North County.

Obviously the kind of consolidation that might bring surburban communities together in 21st century St. Louis County doesn't mimic the experience or the experiment Nashville and Davidson County launched 50 years ago. And certainly there are other factors that make St. Louis and Nashville very different places. But it is instructive during a period of searing civic tension in a metro area that in many ways qualifies as a peer city to think about structural similarities and differences when pondering the inevitable question: can it happen here?

A version of this post also appears at

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We Try Again to Fix Our Domestic Violence Problem

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 7:09 AM

Brian Haas over at the Tennessean has a brief story about the pending arrival of a new domestic violence court here in Davidson County.

For the first time, all domestic violence cases will begin in this courtroom, with judges, prosecutors and security staff specialized to handle those issues. The large majority of cases will stay there, while more serious felony cases would likely end up being sent to Criminal Court.

“We’re going to see a major change in how the cases are handled,” said General Sessions Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton, who will be the first in a three-judge rotation to run the new court. “The justice system is taking it seriously.”

This is good news. Don't get me wrong. But here we are, in 2014, and just now we're taking domestic violence seriously. It's hard to be very enthusiastic about that.

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