The Chamber of Commerce took no position and its president, Ralph Schulz, held no interest in the student assignment plan that ended cross-town busing in Nashville, the organization's chief education officer, Marc Hill, testified Tuesday. But Hill admitted he lobbied school board members for the plan and made a phone call to Antioch's Karen Johnson, the only black member to vote for it.
Hill insisted he lobbied the board members, not as a Chamber of Commerce official, but as a citizen serving on the community task force that recommended the plan to the board.
He said he phoned Johnson "because she's the one who made the motion to create the task force."
"I said. 'I'm calling as a member of the task force you created. We've worked hard. We've created a unanimous recommendation from the process that you started. We hope you'll support that recommendation.'"
Hill testified in the NAACP-backed federal lawsuit against the school board. It accuses the board of discriminating against black children by ending cross-town busing from north Nashville to Hillwood. The plaintiffs contend white school board members conspired with the Chamber of Commerce to resegregate schools.
For her 2006 campaign, Johnson took $10,500 from business PACs--almost two-thirds of what she raised altogether. Johnson took $2,500 from the Chamber of Commerce's Success PAC, $5,000 from the Excellence for Public Education PAC and $3,000 from the Fund for Nashville Families PAC.
The school board adopted the new student assignment zones by a vote of 5-4 in July 2008, with Johnson joining the board’s four whites to make the majority.
Won Choi, a political activist, testified earlier about his conversation with Don Majors, another member of the rezoning task force. According to Choi, Majors said Johnson voted for the plan because she wanted the Chamber's support for her run for juvenile court clerk. She's running for clerk now.
Hill said he phoned two other board members--Marsha Warden and Gracie Porter--to ask them to vote for the plan.
Hill serves on the board of Success PAC, which gives Chamber cash to school board candidates who win the organization's endorsement. Metro lawyer Kevin Klein asked Hill whether rezoning issues ever came up when Success PAC was making its decisions.
"No, it's not on the radar screen," Hill testified.
"Does Success PAC lobby board members on specific issues?" Klein asked.
"No, our process ends once the endorsements are made."
Hill said he talked about rezoning only once with Schulz, and that was merely to notify Schulz that Hill was joining the task force.
"I don't recall him ever asking me any questions about the task force's work," Hill said.
Asked whether he occasionally updated Schulz on the progress of the task force, Hill said, "Didn't think I needed to. Didn't think he'd care."