Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gus Puryear on Belle Meade Country Club's Lady Problem

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 3:56 PM

click to enlarge Belle_20Meade_20Country_20Club.jpg
If you want to be a judge, you should think about being as honest as possible. But this week Gus Puryear, who was nominated by President Bush to be a judge in Tennessee's Middle District and now faces vigilant opposition, is being purposefully vague, if not flat-out dishonest, in his correspondence to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the topic of whether the Belle Meade Country Club discriminates against women. The short and plain answer is that it does—but Puryear refuses to concede that point. In fairness, he's placed himself in a tough situation. If he admits that the club does not allow women to vote on club matters or hold official leadership positions, then he outs himself as a member of an antiquated, backward institution. But if he says anything else, well, he’s lying—or all but. After his unimpressive hearing before the judiciary committee, Puryear fielded a series of written questions from several senators, including Ted Kennedy, one of the three of four most powerful legislators in the country. Now turning his gaze on a 39-year-old Nashville attorney, Kennedy flat-out asked Puryear the following question: “Is it true that the Belle Meade Country Club does not permit female club members to vote?” My answer: Yes, it is true that the club does not allow women to vote. In fact, women have their own class of membership—they're called “lady members”—and lady members can't vote or hold office, even Martha Ingram, who is listed on the club's membership rolls. The only people who can vote are the club's resident members and, lo and behold, all of them are men. The club's “constitution,” which Puryear, as a judicial candidate essentially completing a take-home test, must have reviewed before answering Kennedy's questions, notes the following about resident members: “They alone, to the exclusion of all other classes of membership, shall have the right to control, manage, vote and hold office in the club.” So that means that non-resident members, associate resident members (younger members like Puryear) and, of course, lady members can't have any say in the governance of the club. Of course, if Puryear used this (my) answer in his response to Kennedy's question, it would have opened him up to further scrutiny. Here, instead, is his Clintonesque response: “I understand that the only category that may vote is the ‘Resident Member’ category. (I am not a Resident Member, so I may not vote, either, nor may I propose new members. I am also not permitted to be involved in the governance of the club.) At present, there are no women who are in this membership category; however, I understand that the bylaws of the club do not restrict eligibility for the ‘Resident Member’ category except by age (18 years and older) and geography (within 100 miles of Nashville). Thus, I do not believe there is a policy to restrict a woman from being proposed as a ‘Resident Member.’ I am not aware, nor have I been made aware, that any woman has been proposed or has sought to be proposed as a ‘Resident Member.’ ” Do you understand any of that? I don't. I think my answer above, in addition to being coherent, had the additional advantage of being honest. Then again, I don't have to defend my membership in a discriminatory institution before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So it's a little easier for me to be so scrupulous. More after the jump. Kennedy also asked Puryear about the “racial diversity of the Belle Meade Country Club?" Here's my answer. Well, no one who belongs to the club and attends its functions ever sees a black person at the club unless they're busing tables. The club, however, does have a single black member who conveniently enough lives out of town. Here's Puryear's answer: “I am advised that the club does not track its members based on race, nor does it respond to such requests. I am personally aware that there are minority members, but I do not myself know the number. Should the club respond to my inquiry, I will forward any such response.” I'm sure the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are going to love hearing that the Belle Meade Country Club may or may not be answering any questions about its racial diversity to members of Congress. It's looks like a lovely little drama is unfolding before us: A local judicial candidate won't come clean about his country club's discriminatory practices, setting the stage for the likes of Ted Kennedy to ask why exactly one of Nashville's most exclusive and prominent social institutions can't move past the 1950s.

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