Another Flood Story — Jason Holleman and the Legal Warriors
I just finished reading Steve Goerge’s piece in the Nashville Scene regarding the race for Council District 24 (Sylvan Park) between Jason Holleman and Sarah Lodge Talley, and how the opposition to Jason seems connected to his not toeing the line 100% with the Dean administration. I am not a resident of District 24, although I call it home. In 1978, when I graduated from a certain West Meade area high school, I actually lived at the corner of 46th and Colorado. I spent my teen years as a member of the Park Avenue Baptist Church, and the first house that my wife and I lived in after we were married was on the 4200 block of Nebraska Ave. I remember when I could have bought many of the houses in that area for $40,000 and was amazed when we tried to move back in to the neighborhood 7 years later that those same house were selling for well over a quarter of a million. Sylvan Park is home, even though there is no way that I can ever afford to live there.
So I keep an eye on the happenings there, and have watched from afar as Councilman Holleman has attempted to wade the murky waters of the district, trying to balance the desires of old-timers who are resistant to change with the newcomers who think they have all the answers. He’s had ups and downs . . . as any local councilman will experience. However, according to George’s article, he seemed to be a shoe in for re-election . . . until the Dean machine decided to “punish” a councilman who was willing to take seriously his role as a check and balance on the mayor’s power, and not rubber stamp the decisions from City Hall.
It’s no secret that I have been critical of the current administration, and so I find myself unbelievably frustrated by stories like these. It’s not like the Democrat, progressive leaning folks in Nashville don’t have folks to fight against. In case they haven’t noticed, there is a large, well funded, extreme right wing movement in the state that we could direct our attentions toward. But no, we have to beat up on one another — especially those who are on our side but are willing to think on their own on occasion. There are much more important things to address than whether one of our own supports ‘da mayor 85% or 100% of the time.
I don’t know Sarah Lodge Talley. I have no doubt that she is qualified and may do well be the district, although I think she will be surprised to discover that the district has folks in it who aren’t the well healed, upwardly mobile, wealthy folks like herself. She is, I’m sure, very capable.
However, it’s Jason that I know and Jason that I’ve worked with, and I feel that there is something in Jason’s story that has been overlooked. Since Karl Dean has spent much time and attention to building up his reputation as the flood relief savior (a reputation that is assumed but not often proven in practical terms) I want to share my experience of another public servant who was a key player in the early days of flood recovery.
One of the untold stories of the flood relief efforts related to legal issues involving rental properties and trailer parks, especially among immigrant communities. The poster child of this was the Millwood Manor Apartments on Murfreesboro Rd., a complex filled primarily with Egyptians who worked in temporary positions at the Opryland complex. On the night of the Mill Creek flood, they were evacuated, and many of the ground floor units had water several feet high in the apartments. When the residents were allowed to return, they came home to damaged apartments and a property management office that was empty. No one knew if their apartments were going to be repaired, or if the property owners were going to comply with laws that placed some responsibility on themselves for relocating these residents. It was made more complex by the close knit nature of the Egyptian community, for these residents often could not nor would not leave the supports systems they had developed in that community. They needed help, both in meeting the immediate needs for food, clothing and shelter, but as importantly someone to wade through the legal morass.
And that is where Jason came to the rescue. Councilman Holleman brought together a team of lawyers which offered legal advice in the drop-in center, but who also came out to Millwood to wade through the details to get folks in homes. Their legal pressure led the property owners who lived out of state to send a team of staff to help on-sight, and expedited repairs which they had been reluctant to do beforehand. That team was crucial to working through the legal details at Millwood, and the flood survivors moved into restored apartments much, much quicker because of Jason’s work.
We had similar issues at Country Meadows, a trailer park in Southeast Nashville along Mill Creek filled with Hispanic immigrants. Here there were questions about who could rebuild, the ownership of the trailers, and attempts by the management company to continue to collect rent on properties that were uninhabitable. Jason and his team came and met with area residents and began to deal with the property owner in Illinois, working through the legal issue, but most of all putting the property owner on notice that someone was watching and would be making sure that their response conformed to the local laws and statutes.
Jason never got any recognition for this work, but he was a major help during the crisis. I had him programmed into my phone, and knew that I could call him or his team at any time when questions arose. He was one of those unsung heroes that allowed us to recover far faster than many thought possible.
I don’t know if Jason was a good councilman. From what I’ve seen, he tried to be responsive to the needs of his district. He showed up at meetings. He evaluated all proposals on their own merits, and was willing to be critical in his thinking. Given what I’ve seen from some, that sounds like a pretty good council person to me.
But don’t anyone suggest that Jason Holleman hasn’t served our city with distinction. I saw him standing in the middle of a group of Arabic speaking immigrants, trying his best to understand their stories, and giving his time to help them in the midst of their pain. From my perspective, he served our city well.
Look, the nature of my position means that I can’t make endorsements. The voters of District 24 should choose who they think is the best candidate. That may be Jason, or that may be Sarah.
But, as a friend, I can tell a story that wasn’t widely reported. And it’s that story that I wanted to share today.
Thanks Jason for your service to our city.