Metro Council member Harold White, whose footprints trace nearly every council debacle, is stumbling and bumbling once again, this time telling two of his colleagues that he had been ignoring a group of his constituents because, well, they didn't vote for him.
"Why should I do anything for them if they didn't do anything for me," he apparently told fellow Metro Council members Mike Jameson and Erik Cole.
It's yet another low point for this Metro Council, which, among other things, has wrung its hands over the sanctity of its bottled water, argued for special parking privileges benefiting only them and banded together to torch the appointment of former Metro Council member Eileen Beehan to the Metro Traffic and Parking Commission as revenge for her support of gay rights legislation last year.
White led the opposition against Beehan and has been an outspoken critic of the Metro Planning Commission, which regularly disapproves of his proposed zoning changes. Last week, during the council's public hearing, a group of residents in White's Donelson/Hermitage district spoke out on a pair of the member's latest zoning proposals along Central Pike. After they had finished speaking, White walked past East Nashville council member Mike Jameson, who tugged at White's shirt and suggested that White meet with some of his aggrieved constituents. To which, White replied, "Let me tell you something about those people over there," referring to those who opposed his zoning changes. "Half of them didn't vote, and of the other half, only five voted for me. Why should I do anything for them if they didn't do anything for me?"
White vehemently denied that he ever made such a comment, before angrily hanging up on the Scene. But Mike Jameson later confirmed the account, as did Inglewood council member Erik Cole, who was standing with Jameson at the time. Both Cole and Jameson declined to comment further.
While the Metro Council certainly has been known to be a cesspool of cronyism and hot-headedness, members are charged with representing all sides of zoning matters. In fact, it's incumbent upon members even to file proposed zoning changes they don't agree with if constituents ask for it. Members also generaly allow opponents of their measures to air concerns, whether in district meetings or in less formal settings. Moreover, members who let petty political concerns dictate their positions on district minutia don't generally admit in open chambers that they're doing so. Fellow council members say that's what makes White's actions most surprising.
White later called the Scene back, admitting that he told Jameson that the people who spoke out against his proposed zoning changes were from the Hermitage Hills Baptist precinct, which he lost during the August elections by a handful of votes. "Those people fought me like a dog, and they told lies about me like a dog, and I didn't expect to win that precinct," White says. "That doesn't mean that I'm not accommodating the people."
The people seem to disagree, however.
Jim Burnett, who spoke out against White's proposed zoning changes last week, says that while many of the residents who appeared at the public hearing campaigned for one of his opponents, they still expected that he'd give them a fair shake. But Burnett says that White never discussed with them the proposed changes, which would rezone two residential areas to encourage more development. The Metro Planning Commission disapproved one of the changes, which would allow for a warehouse, gas station or maybe even a landfill in a largely residential area, by an 8-1 vote. Burnett says that White promised them that, on zoning issues, he'd defer to the will of the neighbors who, in this case, overwhelmingly oppose the changes.
"All I want him to do is be our councilman and be just like Phil Ponder and Bruce Stanley," he says, referring to White's predecessors, who represented parts of the district. "They were reputable people. They gave their word, and they kept it."
Kim Wall, who lives within a mile of the two parcels that White would like to rezone, says that just about everyone in her neighborhood signed petitions opposing the rezoning. Like Burnett, she says that White made no attempt even to discuss any of the proposed changes with the neighborhood.
"It's shocking that you would hear your council member actually say something like that," she says. "I'm disappointed that he feels that it's not his responsibility to represent his constituents. In spite of the fact that some of us might not have voted for him, he is still supposed to represent us. That's how democracy is supposed to work."
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