Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 8 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 8


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

May 8, 2009


If you grew up in Nashville in the late 1960s and the 1970s, you have to find a reason to go out to the old 100 Oaks Mall to see what Vanderbilt University has done to it by converting our city's first indoor mall into a medical clinic.

The result is a real showplace and a wonderful example of how finding an adaptive use for an out-of- date development (the old mall) can help to revitalize the whole surrounding area.

As you approach 100 Oaks (which will soon have 100 oak trees again planted on its property), you will see how what has been done there is already leading to new investment in the commercial neighborhood surrounding the old mall.

Inside, it doesn't look like a converted mall nor does it look like a medical clinic. It's a roomy, inviting facility with lots of natural light, along with many areas to sit and relax while you wait for your appointment. They even give you a pager like they do at some restaurants, so you can shop, eat or walk around  until you are called for your appointment. All of this sure seems to make going to the doctor (or to receive other medical services), a lot less stressful. That's particularly true with all the ample, free parking that surrounds the building. Free parking is something Nashvillians always like.

When I attended a recent Open House at the new 100 Oaks, I couldn't help but notice that the old entrance way, with escalators and stairs leading up to the second floor of the mall, is still there. The entrance was so prominent when 100 Oaks was a mall, it is one of the few tell-tale signs of its former use (there is also a model train exhibit that certainly also brings back old memories). Looking around from the escalator area, you can still try to remember and figure out just where was the old  Levy's men's store or John Simmons or Harvey's or J.C. Penney's

One of the dignitaries who spoke at the event was Mayor Karl Dean. He was looking forward. In fact, while he didn't come out and say it directly, you could tell he was just dying to point out that Nashville has several other parts of town with malls that have seen better days, and how wonderful it would be to see them somehow revitalized the way 100 Oaks has been.

If Nashville is going to continue to move ahead and grow, it is something we have to figure out, with the public, private and independent sectors each having roles to play in making it happen, and not just downtown or in the inner city.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Monroe Carroll Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Board).


Mayor Dean is also making it clear that he is serious about examining and likely changing the way Metro delivers health care to the poor. He wants system that has "a sustainable business model." The budget he has sent to the Metro Council already makes something of a statement about that, by cutting back the tens of millions of dollars in annual subsidy the city pays to keep its General Hospital operating.

Now, the Mayor has also followed through on an earlier promise to hire an outside consultant, in this case the national consulting firm, John Snow, Inc., to (according to a news release from the Mayor's office) "advise Metro Government on a more cost-effective method of operating General Hospital and the city's other health care facilities."

This is a politically, tricky question, since the issue also involves the city's ongoing relationship with Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution, which depends on the hospital to train its doctors. No doubt to help shield his administration from falling victim to the "race card" on this matter, the Mayor has also appointed a community advisory group to assist the consultants.

The advisory group has a strong representation of leaders from the minority community, including former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, long time health care executive Sam Howard and others. But perhaps the most prominent minority member is retired Tennessee Chief Justice, A.A. Birch, who about two years ago was Mayor Dean's strongest and more prominent supporter in the black community when he was running for office. Justice Birch is a co-chairman of the advisory board along with retired HCA chairman and CEO Jack Bovender. 

Clearly, if this group reaches a consensus with the consultant about how to change the delivery of indigent health care in Nashville (and that could be a big if), it will make it very difficult for opponents of the Mayor on this issue, such as Metro Councilman-At-Large, Jerry Maynard, to stop it. Meantime, the mayor's committee and consultant also provide some convenient political cover for Council members who aren't ready to get into a fight over this matter. They can say (and will say), "let's let the consultant and the advisory committee do their work over the next few months and then decide what we should do."

In the meantime, I think the Council is likely to go along with the mayor's budget for hospitals, which also includes Metro again forgiving a large portion ($32 million) of General Hospital's line-of-credit debt to the city for past cost overruns.  To do otherwise, and try to fully fund the annual subsidy to Metro Hospitals, would mean cutting millions of dollars somewhere else in a city budget that already anticipates layoffs and service cuts (although extra money for MTA or the arts might make attractive targets).

My guess would be if Council members are looking for money to move, it would go to restore the annual step raises for city workers, which the Mayor proposes to freeze for a year. But at a price tag of $4-5 million, that's going to be very hard to do for the same reasons it is to fully fund the hospital subsidy.

I understand city union leaders (Police, Fire and Service Workers) have covered up Metro Council members with e-mails protesting the pay changes (which also include a freeze on longevity pay and the perfect attendance bonus). They've also sent out some strongly worded news releases (although I have seen nothing about that in any of the media). Metro labor issues used to be a big story at the Courthouse. Not anymore I guess.


After being delayed for well over a year, largely because of economic uncertainties, Mayor Dean has finally unveiled his first capital spending plan for approval by the Metro Council. It's a large one, $560 million dollars. The Mayor says even in tough economic times it's important that the city continue to invest in itself, especially for priorities like education, public safety, economic development and quality of life. 

 Those are the priorities the Mayor ran on during his election campaign two summers ago. And the new plan represents his firm imprint on the city's capital spending, with $156 million for schools to add new classrooms and replace portables; $30 million for a new west police precinct, as well as new precincts in Southwest Nashville and Madison, a police DNA crime lab and the renovation of seven existing fire halls; $30 million for economic development, including it appears, all the plans for Riverfront revitalization (on both sides of the Cumberland downtown) that lower East Nashville residents demanded when they got into a bit of fight with the Dean Administration a couple of months ago.

There's also capital dollars for MTA to develop the new Bus Rapid Transit system (another proposal that was a big part of Mayor's Dean's election campaign) with a model program to go along Gallatin Road. There's more money as well for the new Museum of African American Music, Art & Culture and funds for planning the long-delayed 28th Avenue Connector, both projects with strong support in the minority community.

Finally, there's millions for sidewalks, bike lanes, storm water improvements (paid for with the new storm water runoff fee Metro is imposing July 1) along with funds for new parks, greenways, community centers and public health facilities, as well as a long-promised library in Goodlettsville.

It will be Christmas in Spring Time for many council members when they approve these projects. But this time, it will also be a little different. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the Council will also be asked to de-fund projects that were approved by the previous Council and Mayor Bill Purcell. The Dean administration says Metro didn't have the money to do those projects and so we need to start over with this plan. A number of the projects in the old Purcell capital budget are also included in Mayor Dean's plan.

But not all of them it appears. In fact, the list of the projects being ditched or left on seeming permanent hold ($171.8 million worth), was not included in the news release from the Mayor's office (May 7) outlining the new capital plan. It was announced by Finance Director Rich Riebeling in a letter to the Metro Council. Riebeling says most of the projects "are 10 years old and no longer a priority," while two of other projects (a new Health Department HQ and a new Bellevue Library will be funded by potential  public- private partnerships instead). I'd give that a maybe on the Bellevue Library, given current economic conditions in the commercial real estate business.

I also heard the Mayor say on WPLN (May 8) that a number of the formerly approved projects now being cut are ones that aided "Metro departments, not the people." Ouch! Are those bus tire tracks I see across the backs of Metro's department heads? J  


Coming into the middle of all these budget and spending debates in Metro is the newest member of the City Council, Kristine LaLonde. She just won a special election to serve the 18th District (parts of the Belmont and Vanderbilt areas).  Ms. LaLonde is one of my guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

With her fresh perspective, I thought it would be interesting to hear her views on what Metro should do about its budget and taxes this year, about the Mayor's Capital Plan, about the recent county-wide property reappraisal, about buying land for the Convention Center, and lots of other issues. I think she can also share with us what it's like to be thrown into the deep end of the pool in the Council and have to start swimming at full speed with all her colleagues through these tough issues during one of the busiest times of the year at the Courthouse. 

 My other guest is Nashville attorney, Tom Lawless, the former Chairman of the Republican Party in Davidson County. Lawless is one of those who feels uneasy about the current status of his party, especially nationally. He will share his thoughts.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays (May 8)..............7:00 PM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast, Channel 50

Saturdays (May 9)..........5:00 AM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays (May 9)...........5:30 PM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (May 10)............5:00 AM.........WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sundays (May 10)............5:00 AM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (May 10)............12:30 PM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Don't forget you can watch excerpts of past INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website. And you can sign up on this website to receive my CAPITOL VIEW Commentary each week by RSS feed.


It won't be long now it appears before at least a couple of those new "where you can take your gun" laws will be sitting on Governor Phil Bredesen's desk waiting for his consideration.  The "guns in bars and restaurants" proposal continues to enjoy huge support in the House garnering a two-thirds-plus majority, with a similar lopsided vote in the Senate expected early next week (week of May 11).

Then there's the "guns in parks" law also breezing its way through the committees of the Republican-controlled General Assembly (although some Democrats are obviously voting for these bills as well). All this gun law frenzy is set to be capped off by the "it's a public record, but it's a secret" bill that would close state gun records to both the media and the public.

So what will the Governor do? Sign them? I doubt it. Veto them? Maybe, some see Bredesen's political future in doubt if he does, especially, they say, if he ever wants to run for the U.S. Senate. I think the Governor would like to go to Washington one day, but I would more likely expect that to be in a Cabinet-type position, since he has always been most comfortable in a CEO-type job (but I could be wrong, I never thought Lamar Alexander would like being a Senator, but clearly he does).

Would the Governor also be tempted to veto the "guns in state parks" law because his own Health and Environment Commissioner, Jim Fyke, is so strongly opposed to it. Fyke and the Governor go way back to when Bredesen was Mayor of Nashville and Fyke was his Parks Director.

I would still think a veto is unlikely on any of these bills, primarily because they are getting such a huge amount of support in the General Assembly (the National Rifle Association is very strong in this state and this Legislature). Also remember, it only takes a simple constitutional majority (50 votes in the House, 17 votes in the Senate) to override a gubernatorial veto in Tennessee (not a super majority like a two-thirds vote).

So it would appear any veto would be a useless gesture and I have never known the Governor to be much into doing fruitless things. But I've been wrong before too.


It appears Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey was on to something when he said about a week ago that the Bredesen administration would soon be announcing that the state's budget is in such bad shape, because of the worsening local economy, and despite the federal stimulus money that still more cutbacks would be necessary.

Sure enough now the Associated Press (May 7) is quoting Governor Bredesen as saying that layoffs and employee furloughs are back on the table as possible new cuts in the state's spending plan. AP also quotes Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz saying that the state is still looking for the bottom of this economic downturn.

This comes as the latest sales tax figures show another decline of $200 million below projections and the State Funding Board is saying any revenue growth next year in Tennessee could be less than 1%. 


So how many more weeks does this add to the length of the current legislative session? And, getting back to Lt. Governor Ramsey, while he will be able to finally start raising money for his likely GOP gubernatorial campaign, how much will an ongoing session cramp his style to go around the state personally to campaign and raise campaign dough? 


Clearly there are those who now believe the H1N1 (swine) flu virus was all a bunch of hype. The pandemic has not occurred and there are those who are second-guessing the closing of schools for several days (it could have been up to 1 to 2 week) all because one or two children fell ill.

But when you are dealing with what appears to be an unknown, new strain of a flu virus, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Now the real concern for public health officials ought to be, will the public and the politicians pay as much attention to them this fall if the virus comes back, and comes back with a vengeance? And, by the way that's the history of some recent pandemics. It starts out in a mild version in the spring and then disappears (but mutates) over the summer months, to re-emerge in a much more deadlier form in an outbreak the next fall and winter.

One clue to whether we will be facing that kind of challenge, could come by watching what occurs in South America and the rest of the Southern hemisphere in the next few months as they begin their winter season.

Otherwise this flu outbreak will be remembered like the other "big" swine flu outbreak in the 1970s, when news anchors and other committee leaders all over the country set the example by getting their "swine flu" shots, only to have the flu never really materialize. I remember Chris Clark getting his shot, live, on the air during the 6 PM News. A few weeks later the story fell out of the news, except for a few folks left paralyzed from a side effect from taking the vaccine.


I saw a story on-line at CNN (May 8) that reports the name "Barack" for new babies has shot up in popularity in the last few years. It's not in the Top 100, but it's climbing the charts a bit.

That's not surprising given the name of our new President.

Now someone just has to teach Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter how to pronounce it correctly.

At a recent gathering where McWherter was a speaker, the son of the former governor said that he had lived through one of the most significant periods in American history with the election of President "Barrick" Obama. That's right. Check it out on YouTube, the bane of all politicians when they screw something up in public these days. J 


It's a little bit different topic.

But we have a great show coming up next weekend (May 15-18) on INSIDE POLITICS, especially if you are a history buff or grew up in this area.

Lee Dorman has written a very interesting and insightful book on the history of radio and TV broadcasting in Nashville. The book has also got a lot of great photographs.

I think you will find this program most entertaining and it will bring back lots of memories. The show will air at its usual times on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network (May 15 -18).

I also hear the strains of "Pomp & Circumstance" playing as my daughter Kelly prepares to receive her Masters Degree in Business Journalism from New York University. So there will be no column next Friday (May 15).

Look for the next CAPITOL VIEW on Friday, May 22.

Happy Mother's Day weekend, especially to my daughter Katie, who (along with her husband, Mike Rosenhagen) just presented my wife, Betty Lee, and I, with our second grandchild, and first granddaughter, Libby.     

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