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Dean for Mayor – Holleman for Council

Back in 2008, when I was still recovering from the 2007 Mayor’s race, I had a conversation with a department head in the Purcell administration.  As a member of the Council, I had been a particular thorn in the side of this department head.  On a couple of occasions,  I had come close to the edge of civility with him;  I had challenged presentations he made to the Council; and I had tried to organize the Council to oppose the Mayor on a couple of issues for which he was responsible.  So, this department head had no reason to treat me kindly.

Our conversation, focused on how Mayor Dean was doing in his first year; which Council Members were likely to give him the most trouble, etc.  In that context, I asked whether it was true that I had occupied a special place on Mayor Purcell’s shit list.  This department head shrewdly denied that there ever was a shit list – but went on to say that if there had been a shit list there would have been a place designed specifically for me.  Then, in what I believe was a moment of frankness permitted by the change in our roles, the department head admitted that even though he sometimes was not happy with me, my challenges and willingness to oppose the Mayor made him more cautious and rigorous in what was proposed to the Council.  I hope that’s true.

In May, I had an event for Mayor Dean’s re-election at our home.  At that point in time, my neighbor Michael Craddock was contemplating a run for Mayor.  Michael has his strengths and no doubt will continue to be involved in Nashville after his service on the Council, but he was not my choice for Mayor.  Looking at Karl and Michael it was clear to me that one had the experience and vision to lead the City forward and the other did not.  The decision was easy.  Nevertheless, my support for Mayor Dean is not an endorsement of every decision he’s made.  I am a lawyer after all – how could I agree with anyone on everything?  Nor is my support a rejection of all who have opposed Mayor Dean.

Over the last 12 years, the Metro Council has lost almost all its institutional knowledge.  Term limits – whatever their merit – have done that.  The loss of institutional knowledge has gradually weakened the Council.  No longer is there a Charlie Fentress who knew as much about the budget as anyone in the Mayor’s office.  No longer is there a council person with Ludye Wallace’s ability to use the rules to his advantage.  Marilyn Swing’s imminent departure will be the latest step down that road.  A result of this trend, there has been a string of lopsided victories for the Mayor in the last decade.

Lopsided victories should make everyone a little nervous.  While Nashville has always been very fortunate to have an honest well-meaning Mayor, the lack of dissent on the Council could as easily mean that people are not paying attention as it could mean that people agree with the Mayor.  As soon as the Council stops paying attention, the quality of the work coming out of the Mayor’s office will decline.  It’s human nature.  That’s why, in my opinion, having  smart, skeptical, rigorous Council Members who are willing to oppose the Mayor is imperative.  It makes the Mayor better.

Having said all that, whether to re-elect Jason Holleman is boiling down to the most important decision the City will make in August.  His race has turned into a referendum on whether a Council Member should oppose the Mayor.  Jason’s opponent put it this way:

 “In terms of larger citywide issues, this district is overwhelmingly — like the city in general — supportive of the mayor and his plan for Nashville and what he’s done for Nashville in the last four years,” she says. “Councilman Holleman has not been supportive of that agenda, particularly with respect to the fairgrounds and the convention center. And folks in this district are generally supportive of the mayor and his plans, so they’ve been unhappy to know about the lack of support from Councilman Holleman.”

With all due respect, that’s just wrong.

I know that Jason and the Mayor disagreed on the convention center and the fairgrounds.  The former was the City’s biggest project ever.  The risks and rewards had to be weighed.  The fairgrounds – I confess I don’t understand  – either side.  I do know that Jason sponsored legislation that enacted one of the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee recommendations.  He also fought to protect Bells Bend and worked with the Mayor and Nashville For All of Us to defeat Crafton’s English Only proposal.  Sounds like an engaged, diligent council member.

Jason’s not perfect and people can disagree with his conclusions or his method but to deny him re-election because he was not supportive enough of the Mayor is to misunderstand what the Council is supposed to be about.  It’s my belief that sending him back will challenge Mayor Dean’s staff and the Mayor himself to rise to their highest level.  That’s a good result for all concerned.

Jason Holleman deserves re-election.

2 responses

  1. Well, you are obviously a Democrat, David. ;-)

    Good piece, and illustrates the core beliefs I have – i.e., that differences aren’t deficiencies and unity doesn’t require uniformity. Groupthink is the enemy of sustainable progress and tends to generate weaker outcomes, even if it’s more expedient.

    The ultimate question, when it comes to Holleman v. Tally (or whichever council race you want to pick out), is about constituent service and avoiding mission drift. Voters have a chance to decide in a month who is best positioned and best equipped to serve their community’s interests.

    An argument could certainly be made that Sarah Tally has “institutional knowledge” in spades, due to her work experience and family connections. But there’s another question here – which is, “What kind of diversity/experience leads to synergy that creates better outcomes, and what kind of diversity/experience just creates gridlock and frustration?” For example, congressional Republicans have certainly had ideological and substantive disagreements with the Democratic leadership in Washington DC, but I’m not sure that their approach to disagreeing and debate have produced better outcomes.

    A couple thoughts on what distinguishes each candidate: Holleman’s a graduate of Metro Public Schools, has a keen interest in environmental law, and has built solid relationships on the council for 4 years. Tally’s a graduate of Harpeth Hall (and still actively involved with alumnae), and works with healthcare and employment litigation. (Does gender balance on Council make a difference here? If so, how?)

    June 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

  2. David, very well put and something I’ve been trying to say for many months. I frankly don’t understand those who equate critical analysis with disloyalty and personal attack, something that I think has been a true in the Dean administration. The “if you aren’t with us you are against us…” mentality that seems to be happening at the political level is not helpful to making Nashville a just and prosperous place. Thanks for your willingness as an important voice in our city to speak the truth in an intelligent way.

    June 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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