Legislation brought before the Metro Council this week would establish a workforce development and diversity program — a jobs-boosting effort much like the one Mayor Karl Dean's office deployed during construction of the Music City Center.
Should that encourage local workers or concern them? It's hard to say.
The new program, proposed by councilmen Jerry Maynard and Lonnell Matthews, aims to provide job training and placement for Nashville residents in projects that have received economic incentives from Metro. (As of press time, the legislation was expected to pass on first reading.) The program would set a goal of seeing 20 percent of the construction budgets on those projects spent go to small businesses owned by women and minorities. For local job-seekers, Maynard tells the Scene, the program would assess a person's skills, provide necessary training, and function as a sort of clearinghouse, connecting companies with a pool of willing local laborers.
From the mayor's office on down, the approach has been touted as one of the major successes of the convention center's construction. A release announcing the new program said the MCC "achieved 30 percent participation with small and disadvantaged businesses" and that the workforce program trained more than 1,400 Davidson County workers, putting 400 of them to work on the site.
But one union trying to verify the administration's claims about the number of local jobs created by the project — a major part of Dean's early pitch — has been fought at every turn.
Early last year, Martin "Red" Patterson of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 369 filed an open records request for payroll documents, including workers' addresses. The Convention Center Authority responded by releasing the documents with the addresses blacked out. When Patterson and the union sued for the uncensored records in Davidson County Chancery Court, they won, but the authority appealed. When the appeals court also ruled in the union's favor earlier this year, the authority appealed again, this time to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The fight is still going.
The new program, Maynard says, would have no minimum requirement for local workers used on a project receiving Metro incentives. On the MCC project, he says, "working in good faith" and showing "that we could produce great workers who happened to be Nashville residents" led to 400 local jobs. That's not bad, if we take Metro's word for it — which, frustratingly, is all the authority is currently willing to offer.
"It's more of a carrot approach as opposed to a stick approach," Maynard says. "The carrot is, you can hire great local residents who are eager to work and will be loyal employees."
But will a gentleman's agreement be enough to get Metro's corporate partners to eat their vegetables?
After The Tennessean ran a column last week claiming that Megan Barry's mayoral candidacy has the powerful business crowd at Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse fortifying themselves with additional martinis, the at-large Metro councilwoman is hosting a happy-hour fundraiser at her home Friday night.
The timing of the event — a benefit for the new political action committee Women for Tennessee's Future, or WTF, which seeks to advance progressive women in politics — is a coincidence, as the PAC and the event have been in the works for some time.
But could the timing be more perfect?
The aforementioned column, penned by former Scene editor-publisher Bruce Dobie, describes dissatisfaction among the men who apparently select the city's mayor over steaks and cocktails. They're the movers and shakers that Dobie frequently called "bizpigs" when he was at the helm of this publication, and he writes that this sausage party is none too happy with Barry (who, it should be noted, is the wife of longtime Scene political writer Bruce Barry).
Dobie explains that the business community has been pleased with the past three mayors, including Karl Dean, and that they "desire more of the same." Their beef with Barry, he says, stems from some of her liberal initiatives on the council, including her sponsorship of a same-sex nondiscrimination ordinance to protect city employees, and a proposal for Metro workers to receive a living wage.
No doubt Dobie's assessment of the crowd's misgivings is accurate, but they're nevertheless curious. Dean supported both of the council initiatives that apparently make this mostly unnamed cabal so anxious, and Barry has consistently backed his administration's plays, from financing the Music City Center to his favorite economic development tool, corporate tax breaks and incentives. Moreover, Barry comes from the corporate world — she is vice president of ethics and compliance for a health care company — and just this week received a perfect score on the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce's legislative scorecard.
There's no doubt that Barry's workplace proposals rankled some conservative business interests (which could only shore up her cred among liberals). But it's hard to see how she would not be, in many ways, "more of the same." Except, of course, for that one thing.
Speaking of which, WTF nearly emptied its bank account when the PAC wrote a $3,000 check to Barry's campaign last quarter. They'll be looking to reload with the happy-hour event this week at Barry's Belmont-area home. Attendees are being asked to donate $25 at the door — which would hardly cover the first round for the city's power brokers.
No word yet, though, whether the host will be serving martinis.
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