Testimony: Chamber president showed no interest in rezoning

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 5:05pm

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."

3 Comments on this post:

By: dogmrb on 11/17/09 at 6:21

All their noses get longer and longer each time one of them testifies. I couldn't sleep at night if I were them.

By: Kosh III on 11/18/09 at 11:22

Most of them subscribe to the JR Ewing philosophy as exemplied by the following quotes

"Once you give up integrity the rest is a piece of cake."

""Never tell the truth when a good lie will do!"

By: nashpar on 11/18/09 at 12:40

Here we go with this and that with one paper verses another. Everyone seems to want to keep baggering this one lady who clearly is part of everyone's conversation. Karen Johnson said her vote was based on her contact with her appointment and the community feeback. But everytime I read Woods piece he wants to keep some information and leave out others. Never has he once said anything positive about this lady.
The Tennessean Reports in article titled "Witness says politics, race fueled Nashville schools rezoning" "Choi testified that during a phone conversation he had with Johnson she adamantly denied that the Chamber of Commerce influenced her.Majors, a former Metro councilman, said he and Choi had a casual conversation in which both men speculated about Johnson's possible motivations for voting against the plan, but he denies ever attributing such a statement to Johnson.
"We may have discussed why Karen did not support the bill, but that was not something I told him that she said," Majors said. "It looks like he has taken advantage of casual conversations we've had and made them a part of court record — and a lot of it is untrue."
Majors is still on the task force and still stands by the rezoning. "I take offense to anyone who says we didn't go through the process thoroughly and look at all sides of it," he said.
Now this article says this person called three board members and works with Ralph Shulz but did not ever speak to him at all. HMMM. Why not call all board members? This article doesnt mention the testimony yesterday of Cheryl Mayes who was the appointee by Karen Johnson. Why? Because reporting all the facts is not what gets people stirred up its the creating what could of should of or maybe is or maybe not is what increases readership.