Once again, all eyes are on Nashville because of an email. An email! An email has cost Walt Baker, former CEO of Tennessee Hospitality Association his job; his partnership with Mecatus Communications is on the ousts and needs to hire a crisis management team to help its clients; and Mayor Dean who convinced Metro Council to borrow $600 million to build a convention center to persuade tourists to visit is having to explain why the email came from one of his drum majors. If I was a betting person, I would swear this was a cartoon on the Cartoon Network. Damn folks, Nashville is in trouble. This time, folks are really going to pay attention to our piece mill diversity we have here in town because this email got some folks rushing out to find a new black friend. The email, Michelle the chimp, will be in every competing city’s presentation on why one should choose their city over Nashville for convention business.
If you are wondering how an offensive email can hurt convention center business, just browse around the internet. Blogs about the email are on every major website; AOL, Comcast, MSN, New York Times, Washington Post and every cable news outlet. Tennessee is making national news because of a trilogy of emails that had racial undertones hit the World Wide Web. The first email in this disastrous trio was the 44th President Spook email sent by the now infamous secretary Sherri Goforth. The email depicted President Obama’s picture as a black face with only his eyes showing. The President Spook email was explained away with an, “Oops, the wrong list got the email” by Goforth. It was a negative ugly email but the there were no real consequences from it. Other than bad press, business resumed as usual for our state legislative branch and no one lost an election or a paid job. The cost of that President Spook email was mandatory diversity training for all legislative staff which Sherri Goforth did not attend. She was told she could view the training on video at a later day after she returns from paid medical leave.
That incident got media attention but because the sender was a "lowly" government employee that answered the phone of an elected official, the emphasis of the email was diminished. A government employee on government’s time, dime, property, and equipment was allowed to shrink out of sight in her state representative’s office to the firestorm burned out.
We barely digested the actions of Sherri Goforth, when a 2nd email surfaced from a different sector of Tennessee’s government. Tennessee Highway Trooper Brent Gobbell sent an email that said “proud to be white” to 787 recipients. There is nothing wrong with white pride except, he ranted how sick he was of ethnic groups and their ilk. A guy with a badge and gun who looks like he leads a militia hate group one finds hidden deep in the woods, was spouting off racial epithets that even law enforcement could not ignore. The state suspended him with pay for 15 days while they conducted an investigation of Hate-a-Brother email Part 2. After an investigation, the state of Tennessee sent out a press release to make sure everyone knew the State of Tennessee did not support the rantings of Trooper Gobbell.
The investigation determined that at approximately 10:39 a.m., October 9, 2009, Trooper Gobbell sent the external email to himself so he could print a copy. At that time, he inadvertently sent the email to 787 state email system recipients by striking a wildcard key using his GroupWise email account. During an interview, Gobbell told OPR investigators that he intended to forward the email to himself and was not aware he had forwarded it to other state employees.
Unlike State Rep. Diane Black secretary’s “oops” email, his email was not swept under the rug. Trooper Gobbell was reprimanded but he kept his job and ordered to take a mandatory diversity class. His picture and all the details of the investigation were made available to the public. After reading the details of the investigation one can conclude Trooper Gobbell is not the brightest trooper with a badge and his rant fed the national media’s narrative that we are backwards and crazy in the Volunteer state.
With our third national email scandal, the sender comes from Nashville’s pedigree stock. This is not a secretary that many labeled a hick or a prick with a badge and gun who hate color folks. No, this email put millions of dollars on the line. The state’s tourism industry is under scrutiny because of Walt Baker’s itchy finger. Our city leaders’ entire argument around the dearly needed ½ billion dollar MCC was visitors, tourists mind you, flocking to our city in the next two years to save us from the brink of disaster. This is what we were sold/told by our Mayor and our compliant Metro Council. Tourism dollars would come by the plane loads if we signed on the dotted. And with the flick of a switch, our council members voted 29 to 11 to start digging ditches. Walt Baker was one of top drum beaters for the MCC Project; he gave us the tourism viability angle at every opportunity. We were given the do or die scenarios at every turn. The former leader of the state's tourism industry is turning off tourists because of an email. The cost for Baker’s email is already being felt economically starting with the sender himself. He lost his six figure income, credibility, and reputation. The Tennessee Hospitality Association fired him quicker than he could draft an apology letter to anyone who would receive an email from him. There is no mandatory diversity class training this time. Diversity class is for a much lower pay grade and social rank.
The email was sent to select prominent friends. Several of those close friends vouched for Walt Baker’s goodness in message boards on the first few days of the scandal. Upon reading the email that was sent to the press, my immediate thought was what kind of conversations they are having with each other that Mr. Hospitality felt comfortable enough to send a Michelle the chimp email to them. I have plenty friends and I forward different things to different ones. My church folks get the miracles can happen and praying for you emails. My girlfriends who are dealing with cheating men get the nutcracker emails. My political friends that know my love of politics get emails that represent my views and theirs. Some of my emails are good and some are just plain awful, I must admit! A few folks from Walt Baker's chimp email list that initially defended Walt Baker are now defending themselves. The glare of the national media is asking questions not only about Walt Baker but the recipients of the email who are deemed as prominent leaders in our community. Because no matter how the case is being made on the comment section of a website “I don’t think like that” or “an email does not make me or him a racist”, folks are giving the favorite friends from the email the side eye. Yep, I said it. The comment section on the website is damaging but nothing can compare to the comments that are being said over coffee, tea, and margaritas. The public is wondering who sent the original email to Walt Baker and why did Walt Baker select those who received email. Inquiring minds are dying to know.
Now that our state and the city of Nashville is on every “don’t visit” website, how are we going to continue to sell the tourism angle as a meal ticket when we are not willing to accept we got some real diversity issues that we must overcome quickly in order to bring tourists here? I suggest we start with that big ditch downtown that will be the site of the MCC Project. The Mayor needs to make every effort that true diversity contracts are represented in building of the MCC Project. It should not be delegated to folks who have no power. If the Mayor, the leader of our city, became active in building relationships with as many people of color as possible, it would set the tone for others to follow. This may not stop emails from being sent that are viewed as racists but at least people from every background would be willing to come forward stand up for our great city. Real conversations must be discussed among each other and not on message boards.
In a previous post, I have addressed the 'two black friends’ issue that plagues many leaders in this city. Good honest hard working folks from every background and square inch of our city are being painted in broad strokes because we, collectively, are not being the people we want to attract. In order for our national media to stop referencing Nashville when it wants to show an example of ignorance, we must be willing to talk and educate each other first before we can reach out to others. That is the making of a great city that can attract businesses from every corner of the globe.