So Mary added an item about the recent Diane Neighbors car wash kerfuffle (hat tip: Enclave) to our agenda for this past Monday’s show. I moved to have the item stricken from the record because I did not want to become a part of the echo chamber about what could likely become a non-issue. I didn’t feel comfortable being a repeater for something that might not be news. Discussing an issue that others are discussing merely because others are discussing it is one of the most pernicious forms of lazy journalism in today’s professionalized world of mainstream media (see Suskind for potential pitfalls).
My position is this: we have enough corrupt, incompetent white male elected officials that, if we were investigative journalists (which we’re not… yet!), I’d rather spend my time revealing true corruption and removing stupid white men from office (regardless of partisan affiliation) than contributing to the taking down a peg of someone who has (thus far) struck me as a competent non-male figure in local politics merely by commenting on what might be little more than nasty rumors created by special interests who disagree with her. Note that I’m not anti-neighborhood (in fact, I’m generally pro-neighborhood and pro-neighborhood-association), nor do I have any truck with the Nashville Neighborhood Alliance, nor am I pro-car-wash. In fact, I plead significant ignorance on this particular issue, and that’s part of my point. I’ve been getting my information from the same blogs and news sources that everyone who’s discussing this issue has, and I haven’t spoken to anyone from NNA or Councilperson Neighbors or S-Town Mike or any journalists who’ve written about the story. I haven’t even taken the time yet to read the resolution. So I don’t feel appropriately equipped to comment decisively.
Right now, what I see are some allegations and some defense against the allegations. I am not in a position to pass judgment on whether the allegations have merit or whether Ms. Neighbors might have erred in her responsibilities as a representative. I try to reserve my judgment for when there is damning evidence or when someone says something egregious, which might be patently offensive. Thus far, I don’t have the evidence.
However, I have a tip for Ms. Neighbors: be as transparent as possible throughout this process. Do not get mired in bureacratic, procedural justifications for any of your actions to date. In a letter to the council, you state, “As you know, I have not contacted any of you in support of the bill or against it. My true feeling is that it should stand or fall on its own merits. More importantly, ample time for public input has been given.” and “Lastly, since I inherited this bill, I have the luxury of a perspective that points to some larger issues that are very important to me.” If these things are true, would you mind sharing with us, your constituents, what you see as the merits (or demerits) of the resolution? Also, share with us your luxurious perspective, and let us know what’s important to you and why regarding this issue.
Since my own run for public office in 2002, I have said that representation is about balancing opportunities for listening with opportunities for leadership. I think it is occasionally appropriate for elected officials to take leadership on unpopular issues of which they have special understanding that might not (sometimes because it cannot) be shared with their constituents. Generally, though, I think public policy should be in the public interest in a way that is visible to the public and often that represents public opinion. One of the pitfalls of democracy, however, is that the public might not always collectively understand what is in its best interest, particularly on actuarial budget details or tax policy. But in this very local circumstance, I think Ms. Neighbors would do better by her constituents as well as by herself by making a substantive public statement (not based on procedural rhetoric) explaining her position and her decisions.