The Davidson County Election Commission has long been known as one of the most shamelessly political and petty departments in Metro Government. That’s a sobering truth, given the commission’s role in administering elections.
Because of the way it’s appointed, the five-member commission is contentious by nature. Commission members are nominated by the state Legislaturetwo chosen by the county’s minority party and three by the majority party. Those names are then forwarded to the state election commission, which typically rubber-stamps them.
But in 1993, when the commission hired current election administrator Michael McDonald to replace a controversial predecessor, there seemed to be a rare moment of calm. Everyone seemed to like the fresh-faced McDonald, and he was viewed as Metro’s best hope for clearing up the scandals and back-stabbing that had been part of daily life at the commission’s offices.
McDonald has had a tough challenge, but he has proved himself a skillful staff mediator and has gained a reputation for fairness in an office that has been rife with problems.
That’s why staffers and election commissioners are somewhat disillusioned by the way McDonald has chosen to spend funds allocated for a partial renovation of the election commission’s offices in the Howard Office Building.
Staffers, and now commission members, are grumbling about a new men’s bathroom installed inside the offices as part of a larger $35,000 renovation project. According to Metro budget documents, the project was intended to “improve safety and security for employees” and “improve efficiency of limited office space.” But only two menone of whom is McDonaldwork full-time at the election commission. What’s more, a men’s staff bathroom is located just a few paces from the commission’s front door.
“I’m a little concerned when he talks about improving efficiency of limited office space, then he takes existing office space to create a bathroom for two men,” says Patricia Heim, one of two Republicans on the Election Commission. Heim also was the only commission member to vote against funding the renovation project, which was lumped in with other budget items. She describes the bathroom incident as “continued poor stewardship of taxpayer funds.”
McDonald defends the addition of the men’s bathroom, noting that the commission approved the funding, as did Metro Council. “I think that just having a restroom in general is something we thought was important,” McDonald says, adding that bathrooms may become “unisex in the long run.” He says, since funds were available, he seized “an opportunity for us to have a second set of restrooms” without “encroaching on the public [bathrooms].” There was already a women’s restroom within the offices.
McDonald says the nearby men’s staff bathroom is frequently used by the public, particularly during election cycles. He also notes that other departments have additional bathrooms in their offices, adding that “this is not something that’s new. It was never intended to be my personal restroom or anybody else’s.”
Gif Thornton, the other Republican on the commission, says he isn’t pleased either, although he did vote for the funding as part of a larger budget request. “My reaction is that I know where the men’s room is down the hall, and it’s not far, and there aren’t many men who work in that office. In light of those facts, it seems a questionable expense. I would rather the money have been spent someplace else.”
Commissioner Jennifer Murphy, a Democrat, says, “We had potty inparity in that office,” adding that the staff bathroom in the hall is “pretty far” away. According to Murphy, “It’s not a scandal or anything.”
Some taxpayers might disagree.
Chatter that matters
It’s a slow time of year in politics. Nevertheless, there are some interesting theories floating around Metro about the next mayor’s race.
They’re the kind of rumors elected officials and their friends chat about at parties and lunches but wouldn’t dare talk about on the record. They are simply theories, raw and maybe even reckless, but they’re tantalizing anyway. Here’s a sampling:
* Former state House Majority Leader Bill Purcell may be the only feasible candidate in Nashville likely to run against Phil Bredesen. But Purcell is a very smart man, so he hasn’t said whether he would challenge Bredesen if the mayor decided to run again. In fact, Purcell has avoided the question, maintaining his belief that Bredesen won’t run again in 1999. What Purcell hasn’t said is just as important as what he has said. He’s the only candidate in the field who hasn’t issued an “I won’t run if Phil does” statement.
* Meanwhile, Bredesen is remaining open to the idea of a third term, provided the term-limits question can be straightened out ahead of time. “Certainly, an amendment to the charter is something we are considering,” Bredesen told the Scene last week.
* Some insiders think Purcell might be able to cash in on what many Metro Council members and others see as a growing anti-Bredesen shift in Nashville.
* Other insiders, like Democratic political strategist Bill Fletcher, are predicting a movement among the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders to re-elect Bredesen to a third term. “I think there’s going to be a draft movement,” Fletcher says, adding that it’s unlikely anyone in his crowd would run against the mayor and that such a movement might even be an opportunity for Fletcher, traditionally anti-Bredesen, to be on the mayor’s side for a change.
* While acknowledging predictable business support for a third Bredesen term, others don’t think there’s a grassroots community out there anxious to re-elect him. Those skeptics say the public is frustrated by the mayor’s tendency toward executive decision-making rather than consensus-building, and they complain about his positions on issues such as the controversial downtown thermal plant. Even some of Bredesen’s early admirers are talking about “looking to a new era.”
* In the highly theoretical eventuality of a Bredesen vs. Purcell campaign, some argue that Purcell would be dwarfed, if not scared away, by Bredesen’s wealth. Others say Bredesen can’t buy any more support than he already has. Everyone in Nashville already knows who he is, those observers say, and everyone already has an opinion about him.
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