Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mayoral Impressions So Far

The mayor's race is heating up a little, and I'll be honest, I've yet to see the candidate that combines the leadership and inspirational qualities our schools need with the fiscal sense and experience that our city as a whole needs. Let's face it: the schools are funded by the Council, and those funds are administered by the School District's Administration. The School Board has important work to do in holding the Administration accountable, so the two bodies that should know and care the most about successful public education are also systemically at odds with each other. Their conflicts open the door for Council members to play shallow politics with the school budget, making the mayor's job (defending the money and overseeing its use) very difficult most of the time.

I have investigated the Mayoral candidates according to the standards I laid out in My Conversation with Bob Clement's Campaign. To remember, my hopes for an education mayor include:

1. Creativity, innovation, and ideas (specific ones) for helping the public schools meet the unique challenges of educating for the next century rather than the past.

2. A willingness and ability to work the legislative and bureaucratic process to secure significant and well-managed monetary increases to support those good ideas.

3. A charismatic personality and the passion to inspire the people of the city to support public education.

My thoughts are informed by a range of inputs: personal contacts, careful reading of position statements, and discussions with other voters, including those who attended the teen forum last week. My impressions are just impressions, and I welcome your feedback, but I have always maintained, that this blog will chronicle my decision-making process, so these impressions make up the latest step in that process.

Bob Clement - My impression of Mr. Clement is that he is surrounded by good people, has a good heart, and can generate good ideas. His 30 ideas in 30 days show his capacity for bold vision and creative thinking. His political prowess begins and ends with his contacts.. He can raise money, and that indicates that he is supported by a lot of powerful people and groups. Unfortunately, he has yet to convince me that he can connect with the people he needs to connect with to address the concerns I have in #'s 2 and 3 above. I have not spoken to too many inspired people who see Mr. Clement's ideas as inspirational. Has he displayed first-hand knowledge of our schools? Personal understanding of the concerns of parents? Has he formed a good working relationship with Dr. Garcia? the School Board? How will he relate to the brand new Council?

David Briley - While one has to acknowledge that Briley has Council experience on his side in that equation, many of the same questions linger. Mr. Briley does seem to do a better job of listening and reaching out, and for good or bad, his ideas show a vision for the future of Nashville. Some seem to think that vision is too far in the future, but I am more inclined to believe that moving forward the way he details might be worth it, given that sitting tight will not likely prevent changes and instead increasers the chances of botching the opportunities inherent in change. Regarding the schools, however, I am still waiting to determine my opinion about his ability to inspire and celebrate schools while also working effectively with the Council, Board, and District. He did seem to connect better with the students at last week's forum than the other candidates, but whether he can lead effectively remains to be seen. I am still looking for better indicators.

Karl Dean - Mr. Dean is interesting because he is fresh and new enough to inspire curiosity and hope, and there can be little doubt about his fiscal sense and government/management experience. I rate his pure abilities as a mayor ahead of Purcell's (whom I thought was good in those areas) and even Clements given the uncertainty I have about how his experience will translate to city/county government. I read with interest Mr. Dean's plan for education, however, and he still has some work to do in this area as far as I am concerned. Specifically, his plan, while displaying a broad grasp of many significant and necessary reforms or trends in education lacked the coherence of a plan that would satisfy the three criteria I am using to identify a successful education mayor. Either his priorities really lie elsewhere, or Mr. Dean will need to show how all of these detailed suggestions will actually be implemented. Without charisma, confidence, and strategy none of these ideas will become reality (ditto Clements'). The mayor who drops off this "wish list" will make quick enemies on Bransford Avenue. He may bring the administration and school board together, but they will join forces against the Mayor. What we need to hear in the next round is how Mr. Dean will build support for public education among the public at-large, cultivate confidence among parents, nudge the school administration and school board to move strategically and consistently in smart directions, and stand up to the Council for the money they need to do so when the time comes. That is a hard job, and Mr. Dean may be the best man for that job, but I haven't seen that side of him yet.

Howard Gentry - He is a good man with a good heart, but my early impression of him is that he is leaning too heavily on his experience as vice mayor without explaining how that experience will help him meet the challenge outlined above. As I composed this entry, I received an outline of Gentry’s Schools Initiative in my email. I will say that my quick initial read reveals it to capture a greater sense of the challenge of marshalling support and cooperation from a host of different quarters while simultaneously inspiring and celebrating the good yet identifying and fixing the bad that what I have seen from the other. I would love to see the debate move in that direction, and I would love to hear more from Gentry fans, and perhaps his experience there DOES qualify him to work with the stakeholders I mentioned above, but he has not made that case to me yet.

Buck Dozier - He has alot of signs up near me. I saw a bit of his TV commercial. I am not sure where he stands on education, and I haven't seen any ability to rally the stakeholders yet. More to come? I doubt it.

Those I may have left out have not met the inspirational test yet, so their policies on education seem unlikely to dominate or drive the improvement of public education over the next 8 years, but we'll see. Maybe one of these candidates or someone yet to become well known will give me what I am looking for and what we as a city need. For now, I will focus on continuing to investigate these options and see how they do.

Agree? Disagree? Let's get the discussion going. This person will likely lead our city into 2015. It really matters. If you are 18 now, you will be 26 then. If you are 35 now, you will be 43 then, and if you are 55 now, you will be 62 then. The public education system matters to us all. The mayor has an important job.


Anonymous said...

So, Mr. Coverstone, what about Kenneth Eaton? Where does he factor in as your education mayor? *wink**wink*

Alan Coverstone said...

A fair question. Who can help me see Mr. Eaton's position on education? I have to admit that I don't have a clear view of where he stands on anything. That's what the campaign and this discussion are for. So, help me out. Anyone know anything about how Eaton would stack up?

Alan Coverstone said...

Here is what I have so far (from

"Schools: I realize that our children represent the future of Nashville, and quality schools are a necessity and an important function of the Government. As mayor, I will continue on the successes of the prior administrations with respect to providing adequate funds for education, better pay for teachers and a focus on neighborhood schools. I will also ensure the schools receive the benefits of technology including computer upgrades , high-tech classrooms and advanced technical training for teachers and students."

Doesn't pass any of the three tests yet. Maybe there is more, but I haven't too much to go on. His website talks alot about merging politics and government with business, and that can either make great sense or undermine good ideas. The devil of that slogan, as they say, is in the details.