A mess. That’s the only way to describe what has been happening over one employee’s job at the Metro Planning Department.
And what’s worse, the big, bad developer accused of being the prime executioner trying to behead the guy is a nonprofit that builds housing for people at lower income levels and gives credit counseling to prepare the buyers for homeownership.
The guy is David Kleinfelter, a former councilman from Green Hills and an attorney. The developer is Affordable Housing Resources (AHR).
This whole affair easily could be painted as influence peddling and heavy political arm-twisting on both sides of the mini controversy. Across the board, everyone could be made to look bad because political appointments and elected officials in Nashville mirror the dating scene here. Chances are you know or have a friendship with someone in your date’s prior dating history and conflicts arise.
It’s one big circle.
Builder James McLean is chairman of the Metro Planning Commission and a partner in the development in question. The timing of his appointment to chairman hasn’t helped, particularly as he has let it be known in his role as Commission chair that Kleinfelter’s job is in question.
The issues with the development — sidewalks next to the Rose Monte development in south Nashville and a phase of that project known as Swiss Ridge —took place before he was named chairman.
Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and her husband Steve were pulled into the public fray largely via media reports because Steve is in management at an affiliated company of AHR and at one time oversaw the Antioch development in question.
Based on the logic used in questioning the conflicts of the Neighbors’ family and of McLean, no one experienced in anything related to development should ever be involved with deciding how the city should develop. Why? Simply for fear that conflicts may arise or that there’s the potential for political influence.
Whether real or perceived with politics in the matter, there seems to be general shock that there’s gambling in the casino.
The issue began in earnest when Councilman Mike Jameson brought it up at a budget hearing recently. The biggest issue for Jameson is potentially losing the main neighborhood advocate in city government in Kleinfelter. If Kleinfelter loses his job, the councilman worries that the next neighborhood advocate to go is Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt.
The concern heard from Jameson suggests there is a fear that if one or both are gone developers will ride roughshod over the city. He doesn’t believe there is a single neighborhood advocate in Mayor Karl Dean’s circle.
A lot of this would make more sense if the developer in question was a for-profit company or if the Metro Planning Commission chairman had a bigger name in commercial development or if the commission was loaded up with developers. Nashville attorney Chris Whitson’s appointment to the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals has unnerved neighborhood advocates citywide as well.
In the latest imbroglio, however, it’s a company that has to occasionally scrape for cash to do developments. That’s why AHR is in partnership with McLean.
Not all the housing falls into the “affordable” category. Some of it is market-rate housing, which helps pay for the affordable units. One of its most notable developments, Row 8.9, rose across from the Farmers Market.
AHR’s motto is “creating affordable homes and strong neighborhoods.”
Interestingly, former Mayor Bill Purcell was a strong advocate of affordable housing, so much so that he put in a requirement that all residential projects in redevelopment districts receiving tax-increment financing include a certain level of affordable housing.
This was part of his way of building neighborhoods. A better neighborhood had a mix of incomes and housing.
Affordable Housing Resources has invested in Jameson’s district with housing. Currently, it has the 5th & Main project, a large mixed-used development, under construction.
Does AHR Chief Executive Eddie Latimer really have more power to nix a guy’s job in Metro Planning working through Mayor Dean than he has influence over the councilman in a district in which the organization has invested millions?
It seems that Latimer didn’t go through proper channels, according to those on the Council concerned with this situation. He first should have gone to Councilman Parker Toler, whose district the disputed development is in, who could have intervened with Bernhardt and so on.
So Latimer broke protocol by going to the big boss. Is it a political power play or is it like you getting poor service and bypassing the manager to complain to the owner?
Latimer has said he didn’t call for Kleinfelter to be canned. He just wanted Kleinfelter to do what he said he would do and that was to put the development on the agenda. Jameson’s view is that e-mails between the organization and planning prove the developer caused the delay, not Kleinfelter.
It’s difficult to determine. The e-mails make it all look like a complicated mess with more people at planning involved than just Kleinfelter.
Still, developers have wanted Kleinfelter gone for years. The view is that Purcell planted Kleinfelter in Metro Planning seven years ago to help fulfill his promise of being the Neighborhood Mayor. Prior to Kleinfelter no such position existed in planning.
As a young attorney in the mid-1990s, Kleinfelter fought hard against Metro, which was working to strike a deal to land what would become the Tennessee Titans. He thought the city was growing too quickly.
At the time, he was an attorney with Doramus, Trauger and Ney. Kleinfelter fought against one of the firm’s partners, Byron Trauger, who championed bringing the team to town. Now, Paul Ney is director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development.
Since being in the job, Kleinfelter has been hailed as a great neighborhood advocate. It looks like just ticking off developers is enough to please the neighborhood advocates. He’s been described as abrasive and arrogant to developers. Commissioners have thought that as well as developers.
Perhaps the attitude is if the developers are mad and complaining, he must be doing something right. As one observer put it, developers complain about anything and everything anyway.
The real question is whether or not there is any conflict of interest on anyone’s part? Or perception of conflict? Or is perception of conflict enough to constitute conflict?
The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org