Get It Together 

”In my almost 14-year career in public service, I’ve taken great pride in overseeing open, honest and ethical administrations, both as mayor here in Nashville and as governor,” Phil Bredesen told the Tennessee Press Association earlier this year.
“In my almost 14-year career in public service, I’ve taken great pride in overseeing open, honest and ethical administrations, both as mayor here in Nashville and as governor,” Phil Bredesen told the Tennessee Press Association earlier this year. “When I first became mayor, I was astonished and, to be honest, critical of the extreme openness that Tennessee mandated; it was so different from what I was used to in the business world. It is an issue on which I turned 180 degrees. I learned quickly and fundamentally believe that while it may make things more difficult in a narrow sense, government works much better in the larger sense with great transparency. I am committed to this; it has become a fundamental part of how I believe one should approach public office.” What a load. What could be less transparent than the way Nissan came by nearly $200 million in state tax breaks? The legislation that made it happen was passed by a clueless General Assembly whose members had been repeatedly stonewalled by Bredesen administration officials when they asked questions about the bill. We expect backward lawmakers to pass crap they’ve not read or don’t understand. Nothing new there. But we don’t think the state’s top elected official should dole out candy-coated incentives under the cover of darkness. Of course, the Scene and other media across the state are culpable for failing to notice the implications of this bill and expose them before it was too late. But what the state’s media have illuminated since then is that Tennessee appears to be easier than a drunk co-ed at Mardi Gras, at least as far as incentive packages go. (You wonder whether Bredesen’s ever bought a car under invoice.) The Nissan relocation is important, worthy, an economic development coup that perhaps we could be proud of—if there were any evidence that the incentive package represented true negotiation. Instead, it seems as though Bredesen—the drunk co-ed in our metaphor—just handed all his beads to the lusty company officials and climbed wantonly into Nissan’s backseat. This week, on a topic just as interesting, if less grave, the Scene and other media outlets queried state officials about a state computer IP address in an effort to discover the identity of a blogger known as Hitman. The author’s point of view is consistently pro-Bredesen, particularly as regards TennCare, and Nashville’s network of “citizen journalists” has been prolific in its theories about the person’s identity and motives. Perhaps not surprisingly, state information officers won’t provide the information. “This address is a shared publicly addressable exit point that exists in order to deliver State services across our telecommunications system,” spokeswoman Lola Potter wrote in an email to the Scene. “It is not assigned to any one particular service or user. Any additional information could potentially compromise the State’s telecommunications system security….” Another victory for transparency. Responses like that only fuel conspiratorial suspicion that the administration is so desperate to counter dissent that it’s got a message spinner on the payroll, hunkered down somewhere in the state Finance and Administration Department. If flimsy claims of a gossamer government aren’t enough, the governor also seems not to know what the hell is going on within his own government. He suffered from this same lack of curiosity—or attention deficit disorder or whatever it is—as mayor of Nashville. His eyes would glaze over at the very mention of the Public Works Department. He much preferred the excitement of inking a deal over the day-to-day minding of the store. He doodled in physics problems but found the minutiae of running a government boring. These days, as The Tennessean goes about aggressively reporting on state politics, Bredesen is reading a lot about his government in the newspaper. Toy badges? He didn’t know about those. Ticket fixing? He’s disappointed in his deputy governor. Playing politics with Tennessee Highway Patrol promotions? Shocking, and not at all how he wants state government to run. Shredding? It’s going to stop. We actually believe the governor when he claims ignorance or indignance about these practices. But where is his head? Why hasn’t he aggressively communicated a value system to his cabinet, and why is he so unaware of what’s going on under his nose? Were the governor anyone else, perhaps none of this would be a surprise. But we expect a lot from Bredesen. More than we’re getting now, anyway.


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