Balance and civility are principles a memorializing resolution asks Council members to uphold when discussing Nashville’s proposed $585 million convention center, along with other topics, at forthcoming community meetings.
The non-binding request, filed by Council members Mike Jameson and Darren Jernigan, calls upon Nashville’s elected body to follow recommendations outlined by the nonprofit Neighborhoods Resource Center when hosting public gatherings to confer on potentially divisive issues.
Suggestions, dubbed the center’s “Top 10 Guidelines for Holding Controversial Community Meetings,” include maintaining neutrality, alternating the order in which opposing views speak and soliciting questions from the public in advance.
“It’s a helpful reminder in terms of those considerations to have in the back of your head when you’re scheduling meetings on contentious issues,” Jameson said. “I know Council members are looking at several community meetings regarding significant issues, primarily including the convention center.”
The Council’s consideration of the resolution comes in the same week as the Dec. 3 unveiling of the Music City Center’s finance plan. Its release could kick off the definitive debate over the largest financial investment in the city’s history, as a series of Council meetings are slated that may decide the fate of the project by Jan. 19.
The period between those dates offers Council members perhaps their last chance to bring the case to constituents to measure stances on the proposal. So far, The City Paper has confirmed two finalized community meetings, with several other Council members in the process of organizing future gatherings.
Council members Jason Holleman, Sean McGuire and Kristine LaLonde will discuss the convention center with residents at West End Middle School, Jan. 12, from 7-8:30 p.m. The meeting will feature both proponents and opponents of the proposed convention center.
Meanwhile, East Nashville Council members Jameson, Karen Bennett, Erik Cole and Jamie Hollin, will co-host a community meeting Jan. 12, from 6-8 p.m. at the East Police Precinct. Again, opposing sides will be present.
“Obviously, I want to vote how my community wants me to on specifically this issue,” Bennett said. “For them to make an informed decision, they need to hear both sides of the issue to make that call.”
The resolution may be an attempt to turn the chapter on a series of meetings in which Council members raised concerns when casual sit-downs with citizens turned into presentations by paid lobbyists organized by Music City Center Coalition.
As reported by the Nashville Post in October, for instance, Bennett said a constituent contacted her about discussing the proposed convention center with her and few friends at a neighborhood restaurant. To her surprise, the day before the meeting she learned Terry Clements, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s vice present of government and community relations and registered lobbyist for the Music City Center, would be attending and giving a PowerPoint presentation on the case for a new convention center.
“I was uncomfortable in that situation,” Bennett said. “I felt like the community had felt I had set the meeting up, and I had not.”
According to Molly Sudderth, director of communications of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Music City Center Coalition has conducted more than 100 community and civic presentations concerning the convention center, with 10 past presentations organized at the request of individual Council members.
Asked about the confusion surrounding Bennett’s meeting, Sudderth said it’s her understanding that the hosts of the gathering had invited Clements to attend.
“They’re always events that we’ve been asked to come to and speak,” she said. “Some of the events have been coordinated by the Music City Center Coalition, some have been coordinated by Council members, and some outside of that have been coordinated by (neighborhood associations).”
In a written statement, Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “This project has been publicly scrutinized for the past four years and we have consistently provided fair and accurate information about what the proposed new center would mean for Nashville.
“We will continue to make presentations and offer accurate information to the public as this debate progresses,” he said.