The Lady Problem. Judging from intelligence and anecdotes circulating among well-placed Vanderbilt sources, the much anticipated Wall Street Journal story expected to detail corporate governance efforts (or problems) at Vanderbilt University may wind up being as much about Chancellor Gordon Gee’s wife Constance as the types of spending controls the Board of Trust has been wrestling with lately. It’s been no secret for a while now that Constance Gee is a bit of an oddball, an eccentric liberal who lowered the American flag to half-mast at the 20,000-square-foot Belle Meade mansion that Vandy provides for its chancellor after the 2004 defeat of presidential contender John Kerry. (Her husband subsequently told her to raise the flag back, which she did.) But, depending on what’s included in the forthcoming Journal story, the question may become, how much of a liability is the chancellor’s wife? An even more important question is how will the Board of Trust react to the story? Will it feel the need to make some sort of sweeping change to indicate it’s paying attention? The story has been expected to run anytime now for several weeks.
Immigration Watch. The weather has cooled off, but the immigration issue has folks plenty hot under the collar here in Middle Tennessee. In Nashville, law enforcement officials announced plans this week to enforce federal immigration laws when it comes to criminals. Pending federal approval, the Sheriff’s Office will install an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database so that it can identify and, when appropriate, start deportation proceedings against inmates who are in the country illegally. Sheriff Daron Hall, with Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas and DA Torry Johnson, concluded in a press release, “It is important for us to emphasize that this program will affect only those illegal immigrants who have a blatant disregard for laws in Davidson County.”
Meanwhile, in Clarksville last week, city council member Wallace Red drafted an ordinance that would make life very unpleasant for undocumented immigrants and those who do business with them, specifically landlords and employers. The sinisterly worded law would punish any company that hires or “aids and abets” undocumented immigrants by revoking their business license for one year. And that’s just for the first offense. Subsequent aiding and abetting would get businesses a five-year suspension. If Red’s ordinance passes, landlords will be fined $1,000 if they rent to an undocumented immigrant. This ordinance is similar to one passed by a small Pennsylvania town intended to repel immigrants from settling there, but so far it has been better at attracting something else: lawsuits. Two suits have already been filed against the town, one of them by the ACLU.
Next is scenic Springfield. This town has a pretty main street and some lovely parks, but if you’re a Spanish speaker it might be best if you just stay indoors. That’s because town alderman Ken Cherry would like to ban undocumented immigrants from setting foot in the town’s parks. This is particularly problematic because the Latino population makes good use of the parks on weekends. He told WKRN-Channel 2 that he’d like to see every illegal “holed up in a barbwire tent” until he could “haul them up to where they came from and turn them loose.” He assumes that all Spanish speakers are undocumented. “If they are speaking Spanish, I tend to think they are illegal.”
Rick Casares, a Hispanic activist who lives just outside of Springfield, is frustrated by these proposed laws but knows they’re the product of ignorance. “These municipalities don’t have a lot of experience dealing with a rapidly changing demographic,” he says. “Unfortunately, they’re offering a one-size-fits-all template that doesn’t offer their community a chance to embrace this change with a fair and equitable solution.” He thinks that these policies may end up costing these rural communities some serious legal fees. “Most of this legislation is going to run counter to federal law. They’re going to spend a lot of time defending it in court.” Springfield’s assistant city manager Gina Holt has sought to blunt some of Cherry’s rhetoric by saying that he hasn’t officially proposed anything yet and, besides, the rest of the aldermen aren’t necessarily in agreement. “Talking to the different aldermen, I know that they have varying opinions,” Holt tells the Scene.
The Metro school board’s final decision on a new school uniform policy is still at least a week away, but students may soon be wishing they had already joined the khaki-clad army of polo-shirted clones.