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Monday, February 19, 2007

Lunch with Briley

It's been a good week. First off, my wife and I were seated next to Mayor Purcell for our Valentine's Day dinner on Wednesday, and today I participated in a lunch along with several other local bloggers hosted by mayoral candidate David Briley. Even better, unlike Purcell, Briley and I actually had a conversation while I was there.

My general impressions were that Briley is a well-spoken, open-minded person who would like to make Nashville a better place to live. I haven't made up my mind yet, but he appears to be someone I could vote for. At the very least, I don't think I would be upset to see him serve as mayor, and that's not insignificant with five months or so still remaining in the race. (In other words, that's a compliment with so much campaigning left to go.)

Thanks, Sean, for setting this up, and to everyone else for participating (Brittney Gilbert, Adam Kleinheider, Sarah Moore, Ned Williams and John of Salem's Lots). Here are some collected thoughts from today's discussion, which I found to be respectful and good-natured throughout despite a wide variety of thoughts and opinions on the issues:

Regarding fellow progressive mayoral candidate Karl Dean, Briley said, "Karl Dean is a friend of mine, and I have nothing negative to say about him." He did go on to say that he considers himself "better prepared after the past [nearly] eight years on the council" to serve as mayor, citing "broader experience" with budgeting, tax concerns, legislation, juvenile justice, crime and education compared to Dean's fairly targeted tenure as the city's director of law and as an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt.

When asked how to support Nashville's improving but still ailing public schools, Briley quoted Lamar Alexander's three keys to a successful school system: A good prinicipal, good teachers and good parents. He emphasized that involvement by parents is a major deficit right now and pledged to offer "unprecedented support" to encourage involvement by parents and by other role models. According to him, where our schools struggle most is in middle school. We do a decent job in elementary and high school, he argued, but not nearly as well for grades five through eight. Briley promised to get "every possible organization engaged in middle schools to get students through high schools in four years." He also noted that 10,000 young adults ages 16 to 24 in Nashville are responsible for 80 percent of our crimes, and that taking measures now to reach out to struggling students may help change this.

Briley acknowledged that reforming an organization large enough to serve 70,000 students will take some work. At the same time, he said that the school system "can't be one size fits all" and that it must be able to adapt to meet the needs of a diverse body of students. He emphasized the need for greater parental choice in the school system, stopping short of widespread adoption of charter schools but still acknowledging that parents are choosing now, for example, by moving to satellite counties when their children lose out in the lottery for magnet school slots.

Briley did say that he would like to see a "more objective" method for selecting charter schools and that the current system, where the school board has the primary say, is like "asking Wal-Mart to decide about putting a Target nearby." He would also like to provide more choice for parents within the public school system by allowing different categories of schools and granting parents the option to choose among them: He mentioned schools with uniforms, single-sex schools and Montessori schools as possible options.

When asked specifically about the fact that he did not vote in the final tally for the Metro Council's recent and controversial English-first bill, Briley explained that he voted against the bill on its second reading and had "nothing to gain by flip-flopping on the final vote." Even though he stepped out during debate for the legitimate reason of checking on his children by cell phone, he acknowledged that it was "a mistake on my part" and "I would have voted against it." He also claimed that he would have vetoed the bill, as did Mayor Purcell, if he had been mayor when it passed the council.

Explaining his stance on what he described as a merely "symbolic" bill," Briley noted that Nashville is "not a homogenous place" and that legal immigrants are "here to stay whether we like it or not." "We can't as a community act in a way that pushes everyone into a corner by label," he said. "We must empower immigrant communities to be a part of the culture." Briley also said that the bill "does zero legally" and went on to say that Nashville is "an inclusive city where everyone is expected to conduct themselves appropriately."

Philosophically speaking, I have the impression that Briley and I are in the same ballpark of many of the major issues. I did not have the impression during lunch that he ducked any questions, even tougher ones, but I will say that he has his talking points down pat. He did a good job of staying on his message without straying into territory that he didn't want to address, such as whether his tenure on the council would make him more or less effective as mayor. On that issue, he answered by saying, "It's up to the mayor to develop leadership in the council and to allow proactive, intelligent leaders [within the council] to raise issues ... Changing term limits alone won't solve the council's recent problems."

I'll close with what I thought was a genuine and respectable statement by Briley that I would say sums up my impressions following lunch: "I won't pretend to have all of the answers, but I will open up the doors for those who do." Thanks, David, for inviting a few of us in the blogosphere to sit down with you and for letting us fire away today.


john h said...

Briley's a smart likeable kinda guy. He is articulate and concise. I think his comment about intelligent pro-active council members had a hidden barb for some of his peers, but no way he's going to sound so impolitic or impolite.

I really liked the guy. It was also a pleasure to meet you. I wish I had had more time to chat with you. Maybe some other day in the blog-a-teria.

Ned Williams said...

Thanks for the link Rob and it was nice to meet you.

I thought that his comment about a Mayor's role in developing local leadership was excellent. Though I can't say whether Purcell contributed to Briley's development, I think that Briley has the temperament to--as mayor, not be threatened by energetic, creative leaders on the council. We all benefit from that type of environment. Thanks again for participating and contributing.

Kleinheider said...

Great to finally meet you.

I officially nominate you, BTW, to organize the Karl Dean blogger lunch.

Get to work :)

Rob Robinson said...

Thanks, guys. John, I enjoyed meeting you, too, and hope we do get to chat in person again someday soon.

You're welcome, Ned. It was nice to meet you, too. Hopefully we'll get more time to talk next time.

Great point about Briley's temperment. I wish we had thought to ask him what he has learned from Mayor Purcell.

You, too, Adam. It's funny you should mention Dean. I suggested the idea to his press secretary yesterday. We'll see. :)