Tonight Joey Garrison came out in the City Paper with a profile of Councilwoman Megan Barry in which I am quoted as the pompous pundit of record. When I was talking with Joey, I thought I would be a minor voice among many others, but since I’m above the fold in the story, I want to offer some additional clarification on the person I called “Megan” in the story but should have called “Councilwoman Barry.”
I want to say from the beginning that I have never had any dealing with Councilwoman Barry that was less than professional, helpful, and respectful regarding my issue of concern. She was an important voice in helping the Nashvillians for Metro General group that I am a part of think about how to help the Metro Council recognize the value of that institution for our city. Most of my direct dealings with her were around legislation in the Budget Committee regarding the economic development incentives and the Industrial Development Board, and she offered great insight into the process. She has never failed to respond to my inquiries, and although we don’t socialize in the same circles, I have little doubt that she is someone with whom could have a great talk over a class of wine.
And yet, among some of the neighborhood activists and leaders I chat with via e-mail, Councilwoman Barry came in for a bit of scorn for her uncritical support of the Music City Center project, and her demeanor and political maneuvering during the fairgrounds debates. I can’t speak to her motives for her positions on these issues for in all honesty we never talked about them. However, at times she seemed to be aligning herself with folks like Councilman Stein, a colleague who is clearly and deeply interconnected to the inner circle of the mayor’s office. There is worry among these activists, many who are fairly progressive, that Councilwoman Barry’s independence from the power center in the Metro Courthouse is suspect, and that she represents an unquestioning voice for a pro “development-at-all-costs” approach from the Nashville Chamber. The issue isn’t that she is on the same page with neighborhood concerns, but rather that each councilperson is willing to critically examine proposals so as to consider a variety of viewpoints, and to hopefully perfect imperfect proposals or protect the city from bad proposals. There is concern that her tight connections to the mayor and the chamber erode her independence and keep her from being the effective check and balance required in our system of governance.
While some can easily fall into sinister conspiracy theories about power and control in Nashville, I think Councilwoman Barry is representative of a group of folks (Mayor Karl Dean is another) who have come to power as relative newcomers to the city and who don’t fully appreciate the history and layers of understanding that is Nashville. This group has been affluent, progressive, and is pretty much clustered in just a few neighborhoods throughout the city. They are true “progressives” in their belief that the future of Nashville is to be found through economic progress, however I’m not sure they have a good sense of life outside their immediate circles, and the breadth of experiences and traditions that are a part of Nashville. This was demonstrated in the frustration expressed by Councilwoman Barry during the fairgrounds debate, for she was unable to connect with the depth of emotion and experiences shared by those persons for who the fairgrounds serves as a symbol, a reminder, and a celebration of a different type of Nashville than experienced in Hillsboro Village.
My council for Councilwoman Barry is similar to what I offered Mayor Dean in my previous post — Get out of Hillsboro Village, gentrified East Nashville, Sylvan Park, or Green Hills, and spend some time visiting with and talking to Nashvillians of another stripe. Councilwoman Barry is an “at-large” representative, representing ALL of Metro Nashville. Spend some time in the hinterlands. Come have breakfast at Pam’s Country Kitchen in Old Hickory. Start hanging out in Antioch and spend some time talking at the Cane Ridge Community Club dinners. Begin to develop a deeper appreciation for who we’ve been, and where we’ve come from.
In the end, I really can’t fault anything Councilwoman Barry has done, even though I disagreed with her on a couple of major issues. My hope is that she will continue to grow in the job, and begin to develop relationships throughout the entire region that we help her better serve the people of Nashville.