Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Feb. 16, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
February 16, 2017

THE WORDS NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR; THE NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME PLAYERS; HARRASSMENT ISSUE RETURNS WHILE PROTESTORS MAKE THEMSELVES HEARD; THE SHERM; FORMER GOVERNOR WINFIELD DUNN ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE PAST AND FUTURE OF METRO PARKS;
THE WORDS NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR

It’s the sentence that law enforcement and other local officials in this country dread to hear these days.
“There’s been a fatal officer involved shooting between a white policeman and an African American male.”

Such incidents have made cities all across the country ongoing battlegrounds for protests, arrests, even violence as investigations into what happened and why slowly unfold.

Fortunately Nashville has avoided these kinds of tense situations. That is until last Friday, when a black motorist was stopped by a white policeman for running a stop sign. A confrontation ensued, a gun allegedly emerged from the motorist. He was then shot by the officer and later died from the wounds.

In following days, we have seen a continuing release of surveillance videos, police radio traffic, details about the shooting victim’s past criminal record, as well as the officer’s personnel files and the disciplinary issues he’s faced while he’s been on the force.

The scene of the shooting is quite familiar to me. It’s a parking lot in the James A. Cayce Homes in East Nashville. It is also right across the street from the administrative offices of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. I spent many a day parking in that lot and walking back and forth to meetings with MDHA officials, both while I was in the Mayor’s office and while the Agency was a PR client of mine. I am not what the situation was back then, but I must say I am surprised at how much video of that area is now available, and of course, with today’s technology, I-Phone video has surfaced too.

The Metro Police Department began an internal investigation of the incident, even as several leaders in the African American community openly said they were not comfortable with that process even with assurances by Police Chief Steve Anderson and Mayor Megan Barry of fairness and transparency. There were protest marches convened and community vigils held. But there has been no violence and it appears the lines of communication have remained intact despite rising tensions in the city.

Finally at the end of the week with the FBI/ Justice Department now monitoring the investigation and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) taking the lead in the case to make it an outside, third party, independent probe, there is hope the matter will be resolved without the negative outcomes that have given more than a few cities and their police departments, the kind of publicity and reputation nobody wants.

It already appears significant changes are coming from this incident. Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk says he will ask the TBI to investigate any fatal officer involved shootings in Nashville in the future, while Mayor Megan Barry is renewing her call to buy body cameras for officers to wear. These devices could be major important tools to investigate any such unfortunate incidents in the future.

I think these moves are both excellent ideas as are the additional steps the Mayor outlined in a community-wide e-mail sent from her office.

“Later this month, we will convene a Community Advisory Group of criminal justice experts, community leaders and police to develop policy and procedure recommendations in relation to collecting and releasing body-camera video. Additionally, my office and the MNPD are looking at protocols being used by other major cities. We need sound policies in place addressing how video is used and released if a body-camera program is to succeed.  

We all want immediate actions and results. The reality is that investigations and policy implementation take time and we will continue to work closely to address issues and concerns openly, honestly, and as quickly as possible.”
For years, Nashville has prided itself for being a different kind of city in dealing with racial issues. This is our next big test.

Already some lines are being drawn. One African American activist group says Metro Police make too many unneeded traffic stops of black drivers. They claim what happened on Friday, February 10 was “murder” by Metro Police.

Meanwhile the local Fraternal Order of Police welcomes the TBI’s involvement and believe the officer’s shooting was justified. The Union also believes the TBI inquiry will come to that same conclusion.

THE NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME PLAYERS

It’s not a scoop to say that President Donald Trump is not fond of Saturday Night Live.
But as our nation’s Chief Executive reaches his first full month in office in a few days (February 20) I am reminded of the original cast of that show in the mid-1970s. They billed themselves “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” I think that’s a pretty apt name for the Trump administration so far.

No message, off message, stepping on its message or even contradicting itself, the Trump team had perhaps its worst week yet the past seven days. Still trying to decide exactly what to do about their Appeals Court judicial defeat staying the administration’s immigration travel ban, this week the President lost his first Cabinet nominee (fast-food magnate and Franklin, Tennessee resident Andrew Puzder).  He withdrew from consideration after at least four Republicans senators said they couldn’t support him. His demise seemed to come from his failure to pay taxes for his personal housekeeper who is an undocumented immigrant. Puzder is not the first Cabinet nominee to lose his post because of non-payment of taxes for a personal employee, but it sure meant in this case that being the next Labor Secretary for the nation just wasn’t in the cards.

But both of Tennessee Senators stayed in Puzder’s corner until the end. “Andy Puzder has the experience and ability to make an excellent Labor Secretary, but I respect his decision,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), who himself served at Education Secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

“He understands the difficulties American workers face in a rapidly changing workforce and I look forward to continuing to hear his insights,” Alexander said.

“More than three years ago, I had the opportunity to assist Governor Haslam in recruiting Andy Puzder to the Volunteer State, and we are fortunate that he and his company now call Tennessee home,” said Senator Bob Corker. “Andy’s career as a successful businessman and deep knowledge of economic and labor issues made him well-qualified to serve as secretary of labor, but I respect his decision and know he will continue to be an important voice on issues that directly impact American workers.”

Then there’s the debacle this week for the Trump White House over the resignation, dismissal (or unfair media coverage says the President) of General Mike Flynn, who is no longer Mr. Trump’s National Security Advisor. His was a departure that just kept creating headlines this week and it blew lots of new life into a controversy that has dogged The Donald since before he was elected in November. That would be his relationship as well as that of his campaign team and his some of his White House staff with Russia. Of course it’s all fake news says the President which is his standard theme anytime he sees or hears a news report he doesn’t like.

But it was no fake news (just a poor choice in judgment) when the President conducted a normally secret national security meeting concerning recent developments in North Korea in the full view (and even ear-shot) of guests and diners at the President’s Mira Largo resort in South Florida.

New presidential administrations often have their gaffes and early shortcomings. But all these missteps combined with the typos, the misspellings, the late night tweets are starting to be more than a distraction or a source of amusement. They are building doubts even among some Republicans in Congress about the president’s ability ability to get anything done.

Of course, during his hour-long news conference on Thursday, the President claims his administration is functioning “like a well-oiled machine.”  And that he’s already accomplished more than other presidents. And yes, I watched the replay, and his nose didn’t grow when he said it.

HARRASSMENT ISSUE RETURNS WHILE PROTESTORS MAKE THEMSELVES HEARD

Less than three weeks into session, the issue of sexual harassment squarely smacked Tennessee lawmakers in the face again this week.

With disgraced Representative Jeremy Durham ousted last year after an investigation by the Tennessee Attorney General found he harassed or improperly had sexual contact with 22 women on the Hill, it appeared the 110th General Assembly would be different with new rules in place for how to handle harassment charges and new mandatory training required for the elected officials.

But then a freshman Republican, Mark Lovell from the Memphis area, announced he was resigning his office. He left just as reports came from THE TENNESSEAN that there an investigation underway that Lovell had engaged in “inappropriate touching” of a woman.

Lovell said the charge was “100 percent false” adding: “I’m taking away from my family, I’m taking away my business and now I’ve got accusations of improperness and it’s like you know what, I just need to focus on my family and my business and I don’t need people throwing stones at me when it’s not necessary,” Lovell said.

But then the situation got even stranger. There was a dispute by Republican legislative leaders that an investigation had even been started, with House Speaker Beth Harwell adding that now that Lovell had resigned she had no jurisdiction to look into the matter further. Democrats of course disagree and even suggested the local Nashville District Attorney step in.

Then THE TENNESSEAN reported that Lovell had told a Memphis TV station that he quit after being advised by a member of the GOP leadership that if he stayed he was going to be for a rough time from the media whether he was innocent or not.

Here’s what he reportedly said in his TV interview: “I get a phone call from the Republican leadership. And they just basically said, ‘Look, it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not…you’re going to get drug through the mud and so is the Republican Party.”

One final note, the Nashville morning daily says more than a third of lawmakers have still not completed the required new sexual harassment training which doesn’t seem to be much more than watching a video. The deadline for House members to comply has now passed.

So maybe in some ways, things haven’t changed much regarding this issue on the Hill. One issue that might be impacted by Lovell’s resignation is school vouchers says THE TENNESSE JOURNAL. Lovell was thought to be a yes vote and vouchers supporters have delayed moving their legislation to see who his interim replacement might be. It looks passing vouchers in the House is a challenge again this year.

One thing that is a bit different this year is the ongoing presence of protestors in the Capitol and Legislative Plaza. This week, they even showed up and busted up a news conference being held by GOP lawmakers pushing “The Bathroom Bill” and a “Defense of Marriage Act” which seeks to void in Tennessee the recent Supreme Court gay marriage ruling. The result was must see TV.

Capitol Press Conference Interrupted By Protesters

But as you might expect the Republican Super Majority is already looking at how to keep such incidents from occurring again by talking about tightening security. 

Security Increase Discussed At Legislative Plaza

THE SHERM

I was saddened this week to hear of the passing of longtime Tennessee Capitol Hill radio reporter Sherman Novoson. He’s was a one of a kind. As you can see from reading this AP article below. Yes, I remember seeing him come to a news event in a full tux with tails because he had a gig with the Nashville Symphony later in the day. And yes, he did try to interest me in buying penny stocks along with sending me e-mails about stories involving my out of town clients who were having difficulties just to make sure I knew it (o, I did).

Longtime Radioman, Former Cellist Sherman Novoson Dies At 70

The Sher would be so happy his AP article got picked up as far away as the MIAMI HERALD.

Sherman’s passing also reminds me again how much the size of the Capitol Hill Press Corps has decreased in recent years. And how we have lost so many of the characters who were once part of our ranks. When you worked every days with folk like Sherman Novoson, Drue Smith, Eddie Parker and other life was never dull even on days when the news was.

FORMER GOVERNOR WINFIELD DUNN ON INSIDE POLITICS

We are honored this week to have former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS. Governor Dunn was our state’s chief executive from 1971 until 1975. While the Volunteer State may be deep red in its politics today, Winfield Dunn was the first Republican to hold Tennessee’s highest position in 50 years when he took the oath of office.

During our conversation, Governor Dunn reflects on how he was the change agent for politics in Tennessee four decades ago and how that compares and contrasts with what President Trump is trying to do in Washington. There are also some similarities from back in his day to what are the hot topics in the Legislature now, so we will get his take on that as well.

Tune in! I have never known a nicer man in public service during my time observing and following politics. He turns 90 in July.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.
THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR if those live times don't work for your schedule.
The shows are also later posted for viewing on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website under NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS’ Inside Politics link.

THE PAST AND FUTURE OF METRO PARKS

The city’s Parks & Recreation Department had a week dealing with not only its promising future (and the challenge to fund it) but also trying to solve a mystery about the circumstances surrounding how and for whom an existing park was named back in the 1930s.

For the first time since 2002, the city unveiled a new Master Plan for its parks system. The draft involved over 9,000 participants and seeks to address inequities to park amenities as well as prepare for the area’s strong growth over the next decade.

So what does that project to in terms of new facilities needed?

According to THE TENNESSEAN:  “The study say the city needs 4,541 new park acres added over the next decade, 130 acres of new greenways, 53 miles of new paved trails, 50 more miles of hiking trails, 50 new basketball courts, five new outdoor swimming pools and eight new dog parks.”

And the costs will be? Again reports THE TENNESSEAN: “Over the next 10 years, the study recommends Nashville spend $667 million on capital investments such as new community centers, trails, athletic fields, tennis and basketball courts and other amenities. Metro should spend $67.6 million annually on operations, the study says, and an additional $534 million for future park acreage. Though the cost is high, Metro officials and consultants point to economic benefits of parks they say total $550 million.

But the toughest sell in the new Master Plan might be changing how Parks get its funding (or more correctly how much more of the revenues it now collects it can keep). THE TENNESSEAN explains it this way:
“The study also says Nashville Parks & Recreation should consider keeping a greater share of revenue it generates from golf courses, recreation centers and other parks programs and facilities.

It would mark a major change for Nashville's parks department, which currently keeps just $360,000, or 3 percent, of the $12.1 million in non-tax revenue it collects each year. Operating costs of Nashville's parks instead depend on annual budgeting by the mayor and Metro Council, while revenue collected by the parks department goes to Metro's general fund.

Nashville is an outlier among peer cities in how the department is funded. The parks system of Portland, Ore., keeps 93 percent of its non-tax revenue. Charlotte, N.C.'s system keeps 67 percent; Denver, 63 percent; Louisville, Ky., 55 percent; and Austin, Texas, 54 percent.”

So will the Metro Council give Parks more of the funds it already generates? My memory tells me the Council has always been much better at providing funds for new facilities but not nearly so diligent at providing the funds for operations and maintenance. Especially when they could take the extra funds that Parks generates into the General Fund each year and use it for other Metro needs.

Then there’s the mystery of Douglas Park in East Nashville. Created in the 1930s as a park area for Nashville’s black community, was it named for the 19th Century black abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglass? If so why was the first name Fred scribbled into the Parks Board minutes of the time? And why is the last name spelled with just one S not two? Finally, if the park is not named for the abolitionist who did visit and speech in Nashville during his career, who is the park named for? What other prominent Fred Douglas was known in Nashville in the 1930s.

The mystery waxed hotter in the public’s mind because President Donald Trump recently mentioned Douglass in some recent remarks surrounding Black History Month. But really I think WPLN Nashville Public Radio had already started airing news stories about the mysterious and the comments by the President just stoked the fires of interest and led almost every news outlet in town to jump in on the story.

So where do we stand? Based on this NEWSCHANNEL5 story linked below, there is still no definitive word about for whom the park is named. However local historians now believe Fredrick Douglas did sometimes go by just the name Fred, and the second s in his last name was added late in his life.

History Mystery: Officials Search For Man Behind Name Of Fred Douglas Park

Everyone knows I am a history buff. So this kind of story I find really fascinating. And I am always amazed how people have a real hunger to know about their personal and/or local history. Very cool.

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