Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The MCC Passed...Now What?


Well, the Music City Center (MCC) is a done deal. I reached out to Mike Williams of Alpha Pest Control and said “Mike, when they start to shovel; rats are going to be running. Are your trucks ready?” I am not the one to try to haul off all the rats and critters by myself. Besides, I got to help the city reach the stated 20% goal of women and minority firms.

The construction of MCC still has a ways to go. There are several eminent domain issues that must be settled. I attended as many as the meetings as I could and tweeted and blogged every one of them. Not for fun (Oh, I had fun!). But as I stated in an earlier post, I asked many questions about the MCC Project. Do I believe out city leaders have the taxpayers money and the future of the city in their hearts? Sure, I want to believe that but there are no qualifications for a sound mind to get elected. What I saw and heard at some of the public hearings were long winded, lack luster speeches that did not educate the public on why Metro chose this plan as “the Savior” of the city when three entities of major importance were involved in lawsuits on similar projects, questionable reports, and a public image flawed beyond repair.

Clark Construction Group (CCG) will be the general contractor for the MCC project. CCG, a Maryland based company who touts 4.7 billion in revenues won a contract in a city that has general contractors galore. Interesting. Clark Construction Group created local diversity/minority partnerships to win the bid valued at nearly $350 million for the historical project. It’s hard to understand why our city leaders decided that an outside company was the way to create jobs in our city with so many general contractors starving for work. I looked into the Orlando Convention Center (OCC) project that was built by CCG who formed partnerships with local companies in Orlando as well.

After a few glasses of oranges juice, I learned several of those partnerships ended in disaster for the smaller companies who eventually sued Clark who was dba as Hunt/Clark/Construct Two and have been in litigation for six years after the construction of the OCCC. In October ’09, US Bankruptcy Judge Michael Williamson issued a 6.3 million dollar judgment against the Clark Construction Group, the folks Metro hired to build MCC.

In a 163-page order in a case that has dragged on since 2003, Judge Michael Williamson said the joint venture hired by Orange County to oversee the center's construction was responsible for "an inefficient mess" and "an uncoordinated nightmare" that was completed "in the most unproductive way possible."

"Somehow, in what appears to this court to be a state of chaos, a convention center was built," Williamson wrote. The Orlando Sentinel

Who interviewed these folks at Clark Construction Group? Did CCG reveal the problems that were STILL in the news during their interviews? How could multiple lawsuits for not paying subcontractors been over looked or explained away? Seriously, this is scary.

According to many of the subcontractors, the project stayed in budget simply because many of them were not paid. Note to Metro accounting department, please do not give Clark Construction Group a check to pay the vendors. Just saying.

Furthermore, Judge Williamson’s order stated the project plans were "bogus" and the city of Orland maintained a public relations front to show that everything was okay when in actuality the OCC project was tragic for the subcontractors. Metro launched a PR campaign for the MCC and it bit Metro on the butt when the fees for the PR firm were revealed. Flags from the Sunshine State were waving for some time to taxpayers and to our compliant Metro council.

If disclosure about Clark Construction Group is starting to make you feel queasy, then HVS, the hotel consulting firm, should have you looking for a bottle of Pepto Bismol. HVS was hired to do the feasibility study for the MCC. HVS was referenced several times at January 19, 2010 council meeting as a company that could not be trusted and not worth the money that was spent on them. Does that mean the taxpayers get a refund for the “work” done on behalf of the MCC? HVS's feasibility study is mired in controversy because HVS believes strongly in recycling reports. HVS gave the same report to other cities that it gave to Metro. HVS blamed that on a “computer” that spit out the same information to different clients. Side note…if I count ten roaches in the offices of 9 different clients and report that each roach was the exact same size, color, and breed; please feel free to be skeptical of my business ethics and qualifications as a pest control operator.

HVS’s feasibility studies have come under scrutiny in Albany, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; and Dalton, GA. Councilman Mike Jameson raised concerns in one meeting prior to the final vote that the analyses HVS completed for the metropolitan cities of Santé Fe, N.M; Milwaukee, Wis.; Columbus, Ohio and Omaha, Neb. were verbatim in each report that a dependence on local event business “provides a partial buffer against economic cycles and continued concerns with air travel.” He went on to single out a study commissioned for Sante’ Fe in which HVS appeared to accidentally provide information addressed to Milwaukee. HVS’s managing director, Tom Hazinski, defended the company’s work.


We did not have to go outside of Tennessee to find HVS in the news for their inferior work. In 2007,the Chattanooga Times reported:
“Word on whether a developer will build a hotel next to the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center may be delayed after trade center officials got back the first draft of a feasibility study and found multiple errors…”


Councilman Jameson came with the theatrics,but he raised legitimate concerns about HVS.Some council members say they sought other analyses when they made their decision to vote in favor of MCC. No companies were given when asked. If one of the primary factors for going forward was analyses by a hotel consulting group, would it not have been in the best interest of Metro to reassure the taxpayers that the figures used for the forecasting of the MCC were not completed by the sloppiest consulting company that existed. We can’t please every client, could be HVS’s argument. But when many municipalities are complaining about consulting work that resembled a port-a-potty after Bonnaroo, that consulting work should have been dismissed and a second or third company should have been asked to do the work. The
delay would have been worth the effort if it eased the concerns of the taxpayers and the blatant sloppy work of the consulting firm would not have been in question.

Paying attention now? If Clark Construction Group makes one queasy and HVS got you reaching for Peto Bismol, Goldman Sachs (GS) should have you running to the toilet with diarrhea. Goldman Sachs whose name is synonymous with Sodom and Gomorrah was chosen to work on the MCC Project. This should have taxpayers picketing the home of that person who made that decision. Goldman Sachs helped lobby for deregulation by Henry Paulson then Chair of the GS. Before 2004, the SEC required banks to carry a debt ratio of 12 to 1. With the lobbying efforts of Paulson during the Bush Administration, investment banks were allowed to carry a debt ratio of 40 to 1. The five investments banks were Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch. How many are still standing?

This very high debt-to-reserves helped lead to the financial crisis of 2008 by weakening the ability of these institutions to recover from losses incurred when the risky CDO and CDS bets failed. Goldman Sachs, a former investment bank, now a holding bank company practically defrauded our country and is now involved in one of the riskiest ventures in the history of our STATE and no one is sounding alarms. Goldman Sachs which is cloaked in secret dealings, helped undermined our financial standings around the world, has their hands in MCC. They will make money if MCC is a deal with the devil or manna from heaven. There is no incentive for them to do what is in the best interest of the city or the taxpayers. When Goldman Sachs puts greed above our country’s well being, should a local community believe GS will look after the interest of that local community and its taxpayers. Especially, a community that is a tier two city that is depending on tourists to visit and hoping they will spend money. That’s a tall glass of weak tea with no sugar to swallow.

Last year when the housing and financial markets were going to hell in a hand basket, many people had to choose between paying for utilities and buying medicine. However, Goldman Sachs folks received billions in bonuses. Let’s review their bonus payments from 2008-2009.

• Tarp funds received: $10 Billion
• 2008 Earnings: $2.3 billion, or $4.47 a share.
• 2008 total bonuses: $4.82 billion (includes $2.24 billion in cash)
• The top four received a combined $45.9 million
• The next four received a combined $40.81 million.
• The next six received a combined $56.40 million.
• Number of individuals that received more than $10 million: 6.
• Number that received more than $8 million: 21.
• Number that received more than $5 million: 78.
• Number that received more than $4 million: 95.
• Number that received more than $3 million: 212.
• Number that received more than $2 million: 391.
• Number that received at least $1 million: 953.
• Total work force: 30,067.

In the first and second quarters of 2009, the Goldman Sachs earned $5.3 billion in net income, the most profitable six-month stretch in the company’s history. By August of 2009, Goldman's stock had more than tripled since its low in November of 2008, to more than $160 per share. Goldman Sachs set aside $11.36 billion in the first eight months of 2009 in total compensation and benefits for its 29,400 employees. In 2008, while Goldman earned $2.3 billion for the year, it paid out $4.82 billion in bonuses, giving 953 employees at least $1 million each and 78 executives $5 million or more (although Goldman's top five officers, including Blankfein, made a public show of declining to take bonuses).


The company who gave 953 employees at least $1 million each was attending our local
council meetings and no one had them arrested? Insane!

As for the community of color, stop rolling over and playing dead with Metro. Our council members folded like lawn chairs at the end of a picnic with the MCC project. Several of the Black Caucus members, who questioned the intentions of May Town, did not show out about MCC. The May Town development never made it from the planning commission. The only two folks of color on the planning commission voted against May Town. Wait, wasn't May Town going to benefit the North Nashville community? If that is not using your own to kill you, then I don’t know what to call it.

Since I mentioned color folks, the community of color must speak truth to power and address how the majority trots out a few good black folks as the voice of reasoning for the entire community of color. It’s insulting and belittles folks with sound mind and judgment who can think for themselves. Metro must stop using folks only when Metro wants to show “diversity and unity” in Nashville. We have come too far to continue playing that game. When people are used in that manner, they are devalued and not respected behind closed doors by the very majority that pulls out their two Black friends when they need to be escorted into a room full of black folks.(My two Hispanics and three Kurdish friends made me write that paragraph!)

I am saying all this for what you may be asking? Get involved. Open your minds and your mouths. Do your research and ask legitimate questions. It does not mean you are against Metro Gov’t, the Metro Council, or the Mayor. It means you are not stupid. No one speaks for me. If you speak to me, I will answer you back. The MCC project has passed. Now what? We all must be watchful that mistakes, miscues and bad business practices do not plague this project. Political mind games with taxpayers money got us into the national debt crisis that we are in now, we must hold one another accountable to do what is right. And sometimes what is right may not sound popular. It is going to take rolling up sleeves and elbow grease to help this city do better by being better to all of its citizens not just a few selected individuals. I am praying for the success of MCC. May this project rise above political agendas and everyone involve work for the greater good of all the people of this great city.

At this point, we need to stand strong together, listen to each other, speak up to be heard and join in to be counted. If you a business owner looking to do services with Metro, by all means get on the vendor list. If you are minority contractor wanting to work with the city as a minority vendor, get your business affairs in order and work to build genuine relationships that can led to real partnerships with majority companies. Study, study, and study the plans, meet with members of MDHA, and attend any meetings that are being held for public. Often times, attending a public meeting can lead to a private meeting to discuss business goals or employment opportunities.

This was long. See what happens when you spend too much time blogging council meetings…one starts to ramble on and on and on. Be good and pray for Haiti.

For more info on MCC go to www.nashvillemusiccitycenter.com

Credits:
The Wall Street Journal
The Bloomberg Report
Time Magazine
The City Paper
The Orlando Sentinel
The Chattanooga Times
Rolling Stone
Business Week

The Washington Center Honors TSU


Dr. Melvin Johnson, President of TSU

College One of First Recipients of Higher Education Civic Engagement Award
WASHINGTON – The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars is pleased to announce the selection of Tennessee State University for a Higher Education Civic Engagement Award. Tennessee State was selected for integrating service with teaching and research, and engaging educators, staff, and students in activities that benefit their communities as well as themselves.

“Tennessee State University continues to demonstrate an exemplary effort in promoting leadership within the community for public service and civic engagement,” said Mike Smith, President of The Washington Center. “We have a network of more than 40,000 alumni who’ve gone through our internship programs, and these are values we’ve instilled in all of them. It’s gratifying to partner with a university that does the same.”

TSU’s plan to increase the civic engagement of faculty, staff and students by institutionalizing service learning and civic engagement will significantly increase research, outreach and public service efforts to impact the quality of life of all Tennesseans and ensure the life-long economic stability and viability of the State. As it fulfills these goals, the university aims to distinguish itself as a campus that creates interdisciplinary approaches to generate and communicate knowledge that meaningfully contributes to the well-being of society.

"Service learning and civic engagement are both an integral part of the tradition of excellence to which Tennessee State University has made a commitment,” said Dr. Melvin N. Johnson, President of Tennessee State University. “We know that to truly transform the nation and impact the world, we have to start at home by engaging and supporting our community with the help of students, faculty and staff. We are so proud to be a recipient of this prestigious award."

The winners of the Higher Education Civic Engagement Awards were chosen among a large set of nominees. The five winners represent some of the very best efforts to foster civic learning in this country. This year's Higher Education Civic Engagement Award honorees are: Cabrini College, Elon University, Tennessee State University, Villanova University, and Wartburg College.

The awards were given during The Washington Center’s annual Academic Affairs Awards

The luncheon was held at the National Press Club. The awards serve to honor many of The Washington Center’s academic partners, sponsors, agencies, faculty and other supporters who assist in providing strong academic programs for students.

About The Washington Center

The Washington Center for Internships and Academic seminars is an independent, nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States and other countries by providing selected students challenging opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C., for academic credit. The largest program of its kind, The Washington Center has more than 40,000 alumni who have become leaders in numerous professions and nations around the world. It was established in 1975.

(As National Mentoring Month comes to a close, thank you Dr. Johnson for your leadership and the mentoring opportunities you are establishing at Tennessee State University for your students.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MCC Hearings...Open Mic Nites in Nashville


I have attended several of the hearings regarding the proposed plan for the Music City Center. This project is epic and historical as well. The largest of its kind proposed in Metro’s history, physically and fiscally. Metro government rolled out this ambitious plan that will be voted on by our Metro Council on Tuesday, January 19, 2009.

One of the things that has amazed me while listening to both proponents and the opposition to this mammoth project is the wonderful citizens of Davidson County that have stepped up to the podium meeting after meeting to express their thoughts on the how they see the MCC will shape the future of our great city. I have called each meeting I have attended, tweeted and blogged about “Poetry Nights from the Ville”. The voters have become political savvy poets at the microphone.

Many of the words that have been spoken communicate the zeal and passion of the voters in the community. No matter what side of town you live on, the poets have spoken zingers that have left me speechless and in awe that their words were uttered in a public forum so boldly and with straight faces. The MCC project shows how serious voters have become and are not taking this project for granted. Some have asked very practical questions, while others have preached sermons and I have heard a dissertation or two on public policy. This city is not just filled with only musicians but we have amateur and professional rhymesters, writers, critics, and lyricists, clothed as voters that come in every shade and hue of the rainbow. I have captured questions and statements that have heard repeated several times or ones that left me wondering should I trademark a remark and sell it on a T-shirt.

Nashville is “Shovel Ready” on day one.
Music City Center will create 1,000 construction jobs.
I am for the MCC but I thought it should be on land the city already owns, why not the thermal site?
We really need a hotel.
Nashville will be the most desirable city to build a hotel; we just don’t have any takers at the moment.
We have more things going on in this city other than music!
We don’t have textbooks in our schools? What about Jefferson Street?
Nashville is a tale of Two Cities.
The only way to expand this is to expand our tax base.
The stated goal is to have 20% minority and women owned contracts for the convention center.
Why are we focused on MCC when we have 28% unemployment among Black males in Nashville?
What is a medical mart?
Don’t get your hopes up on your jobs coming to our community.
Please slow down, this will be the biggest decision you will make for this city.
No one has mentioned cost over runs.
Give us the tools to work with.
The government should not be in the business of owning hotels.
I am a libertarian.
I represent the SEIU of Meharry and Metro General, they are the only hospitals in the area they are union.
I am a metro employee I have not gotten a living wage increase in two years.
Please vote no and let the people decide.
I have not gotten a raise either but that’s okay, I want to know about how we are going to pay for this when we don’t have money for anything else.
Folks are losing their homes to foreclosure…that is tax revenue the city does not collect.
I believe in this city and I want what is best for the city of Nashville.
Why are we doing business with Goldman Sach?
Goldman Sach used bonds for the city of San Diego and the city sued them for fraud. Aren’t the Goldman Sach bonds being dumped by China?
Metro school employees’ majority are against this project…we had 400 layoffs for Metro employees last years.
Metro employees have not received their longevity pay for the 2nd year in a row.
I asked 15 council members if there was a risk to the taxpayers, they all said yes.
Nashville has three classes of people; the rich, the potential homeless, and the homeless.
If Metro council members vote for this convention center, they can hang up their political careers.
Professional people built the Titanic and an amateur built Noah’s ark. Which boat would you rather be on?
Nashville Airport spent 60 million on contracts and of that you spent 1.8 million with minorities and you feel good about that?
That’s what the paper said.
This is not personal.
We love to wave and shout and that gets us nothing, we do not need to leave hear without a plan of action.
We have seen the same thing for twenty years; people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
We have contractors that come into our neighborhoods on minority procurement and a Black contractor is never hired for the jobs.
Who will be policing the subcontracting?
1 million was spent on a disparity study that found Metro’s contracting discriminatory.
Another million was spent and the exact same time was said.
We must add goods and services, unbundle contracts, and offer legal and financing help.
Why are law firms that have not place a bid on MCC being paid, when I won the sub-contract as a minority lawyer and can’t get work from Bone?
I have veto power on financial payments.
The mayor left after fifteen minutes, he is going to have to stop that.
Are these the same folks who did not want May-Town but voting for MCC?
China is dumping Goldman Sach bonds…their bonds are not worthy to be toilet paper!


By the way, the lady who made the reference about Goldman Sach said that without any liquor on her breath and I did not see her sipping from a flask in the hallway. As I said before, folks have become poets about the MCC projects. Whichever way you lean on this issue, for or against, let it be known. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess but I do pray the Metro Council use discernment and common sense. Fancy verbiage is not necessary when one is doing right by the people and our tax dollars.

As for me, I want oversight, transparency, and no fuzzy math. The financing sounds iffy in a down economy to me. Watching how our federal government threw away taxpayer dollars to bail out the banks has me leary. The banks continued with their business as usual attitude and actions which makes me think long and hard of any government entity which says "we will work the details out later but we need this right now or else". We must learn from our mistakes and hold our elected officials accountable; federal, state, and yes, locally. If you are for this project, be proud not defensive. If you believe in the MCC, explaining why 1+1=2 on Monday, should not tie you in a knot on Tuesday. If you are against the building of MCC, don’t be ashamed. But please come with facts not Pius preaching. I know we are in the bible belt but quoting scriptures must not leave folks baffled. Lastly, if you are unsure about the MCC project, don’t be bashful about asking questions…I have. Lots of them!