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small town politics
by tim lockwood
10.1.03
news


I never intended to get involved in the city politics here in Hendersonville, Tennessee. And really, I'm still not involved. But the politics keep chasing me down and wearing me down, making me care about what happens even when I don't care. I've written a letter to the editor, and that's all I'm going to do. Really, I swear.

Hendersonville is a town of about fifty thousand or so people, give or take a couple grand. It's an overgrown bedroom town situated just northeast of Nashville, and our big claim to fame is that lots of famous country music people live here. This is where Johnny Cash lived - the east end of Main Street also goes by the name Johnny Cash Parkway.

Hendersonville was incorporated in 1969. I was born in 1966. There is something wrong with the chronology, and I can't put my finger on it.

Hendersonville, when you look at it on a map, looks like a spilled plate of spaghetti. City planning, although it had come a long way by 1969, apparently had never touched this corner of the world. A handful of old farm roads which meandered across two peninsulae nestled in a bend of the Cumberland River became feeder roads for subdivisions built by contractors who gave little thought to the navigation hazards they were causing, and zoning boards were too eager for new development to question the builders too closely.

The farm roads are now major thoroughfares. Well, not really. They are now just very busy feeder roads for a bunch of subdivisions, but it was a nice thought. Thank you for playing.

Hendersonville's city government has six wards, two aldermen each. The aldermen are voted to four year terms, staggered two years apart. The mayor is elected every four years. Sort of like the President, or the Summer Olympics, and during the same years. Only I suppose you don't really vote for the Olympics.

Collectively, they are known as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Or BOMA, as the faux cognoscenti would call them.

Al Sorrell was, up until last New Year's Eve, one of the aldermen for Hendersonville Ward Six, the northern area around New Shackle Island Road and Old Shackle Island Road. Al was, and is, an older fellow. Very intelligent, and very knowledgeable. He had some job with the CIA back during the Nixon years. I don't think he had anything to do with what you're thinking of, though. Not like I'd know, and not like he'd be allowed to tell me one way or the other, but still, I don't think so.

Al is an interesting guy. Apparently Al has lived in Hendersonville for a long time. He knows all the old skeletons in the city's closet, and could tell you about some of the more arcane things in town, like why Molly Walton Drive doesn't go through all the way even though it was clearly meant to.

I've picked Al's brain many a slow afternoon at the restaurant. Absolutely fascinating.

Al cast a vote one time in favor of the new mall which was to be (and eventually actually was) situated just north of the Vietnam Veterans Highway, which is nearly at the northernmost edge of Hendersonville and of Ward Six. It was not a vote he took lightly. It would certainly mean increased traffic on both Vietnam Vets and New Shackle Island Road, which would eventually mean dickering with the state to get them to widen New Shackle Island Road, which is also State Road 258. And increased traffic means increased noise for residents near those roads. However, a mall would mean an extra eleven million dollars in tax income annually which would not have to be carried on the property taxes of residents. Tough call, and Al voted for it.

Doug Buck, who resides in Ward Six, did not like the vote, and decided he could do better as alderman for Ward Six.

Doug Buck published, and still publishes, a monthly advertising flyer which goes out to all the homes in Hendersonville, and it features only local businesses. One of those businesses is the restaurant where I work.

Doug and Al know each other.

Doug and Al both ran for the same seat, and Doug won. Partly because Doug out-campaigned, and partly due to what Al called "alphabetical favoritism". In other words, most folks didn't know either one of them, so they voted for the first candidate listed on the ballot. Doug won partially because his last name was alphabetically superior.

Nothing against Doug, but I rooted for Al, because I felt, and still feel, that Al is more intellectually capable. Doug is not stupid, but Al is really that smart. Most of us around the restaurant felt that Doug would become the mayor's yes-man, since he had been the one to really encourage Doug to actually run.

There were hard times between Doug and Al for awhile, especially since Doug did the advertising for the restaurant, and Al had been a long-time friend of everyone at the shop. Sometimes Al would call ahead to make sure Doug wasn't there before he'd come in. It wasn't acrimonious, but it was awkward.

Things still aren't great between them, but it's mellowed some.

Al is not a politician in the stereotypical sense of the word, and neither is Doug. Al, however, was a multi-term alderman, so he understood something of dealing with people.

Doug has been one of the two aldermen from Ward Six since New Year's Day. It has not been easy. Doug is not really cut out for the job, mainly because he says what he thinks, and people want to believe that what he says is politically motivated. He does not have a political career to think of. He doesn't even want the political career he has now. He seems to have inadvertently alienated his fellow BOMA members with his habitual honesty.

Doug is no Einstein, but he has proven he is not exactly an intellectual lightweight, either.

His most recent fracas concerns the police department. Doug proposed that the police officers should get a pay raise. He was concerned that Hendersonville was losing officers to Nashville after paying precious tax dollars to train them.

Nashville pays better. Hendersonville police officers earn what my wife does as an office manager. Not to denigrate what my wife does, because she works very hard at her job and is very good at it. But I tend to believe that someone whose job is to deal with unpleasant people who may or may not try to kill them deserves more pay than my wife does.

No one besides Doug voted for the pay raise.

Doug was also concerned about morale. Rumor has had it for quite some time that morale was low. There were several possible sources of low morale, but I don't doubt that low pay was one of them.

So Doug, on his own initiative and from his own pocket, took it upon himself to conduct a survey of Hendersonville's approximately ninety police officers. Of these, thirty-four responded. As it turned out, morale was indeed low. I could go into it, but you can see it at his website. The results pretty much speak for themselves.

Doug gave the Chief of Police an advance preview of the survey and asked to meet with him before he was scheduled to release the results to the public at the above-mentioned website and elsewhere. The chief hemmed and hawed and never quite got around to it. So Doug released the results. Now the accusations are flying that Doug is on some sort of political vendetta, that he's "going after" the chief for one reason or another.

I'm telling you, Doug has no political ambition whatsoever. I think his wife would divorce him if he tried it, anyway.

The most recent shot at Doug has been an "open letter" to Hendersonville residents signed by ten of the remaining eleven aldermen, which reads in part, "We want to make it clear that Alderman Doug Buck is acting alone as an individual citizen. While we support Mr. Buck in the exercise of his First Amendment Rights, we do not condone or endorse his recent remarks or actions. Experience has given us great respect for the Hendersonville Police Department. We support the department and its officers."

I don't know about you, but to me, this is implying that Doug does not support the police department, and I know it's a lie. It's a lie that is obvious in its lyingness, which isn't a word, but you know what I mean.

Now, I don't normally follow enough of city politics to even know Doug's stand on most of the other issues, let alone anyone else's on the board. And I haven't even really thought through many of the issues I do know about. But I know a lie when I read one. And to me, liars and thieves go hand in hand. I felt like I had to say something. Undisputed lies are often accepted as the truth over time, and they give the liars courage to tell more lies to hurt more people.

So I wrote the letter to the editor. God help me, I didn't want to. I didn't want to care this much, but it really wears you down. It follows you. I only hope it doesn't lead to something worse.


ABOUT TIM LOCKWOOD

My life is an open book. A comic book, about a superhero with the amazing ability to make his nose hair grow. Oh, and someone's torn out the order form for the $2.99 X-ray specs.

more about tim lockwood

IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...

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COMMENTS

juli mccarthy
10.1.03 @ 10:34a

Local politics is fascinating, because unlike larger scale politics, you get involved and you FEEL involved. I can't stress enough how important I think it is to be aware and involved at this level.

john chase
10.1.03 @ 12:48p

What a gem. This is what American is all about. Too bad the networks have brain-washed so many into believing it's something else.

russ carr
10.1.03 @ 1:11p

The trickle down effect in all of this is, regrettably, a worsening of an already stagnant political system for the residents of Hendersonville. You have Al, who by implication is likely old enough that he would not consider running again in four years (or two) to take up the other Ward 6 seat. You have Doug, who (despite not being perhaps as bright or politically savvy as Al) is nobody's yes-man probably reaching a level of morale on par with that of the Hendersonville PD, a Chief of Police who isn't interested in the opinions of his own men (providing them even more reason to go to Nashville), and finally you've got a BOMA openly misrepresenting their...uh...representation.

Unfortunately, as John points out above, common culture has prevailed among the people if they're not rallying behind the police, and Doug, and railing against the BOMA for its negligence w/r/t public safety. Ultimately you'll be left with a disillusioned Doug, a shoestring police department and a bunch of fat and happy aldermen maintaining their rose-tinted status quo.

juli mccarthy
10.1.03 @ 10:23p

Damn! Have you people looked at the survey results in Tim's link?? How unbelievably sad that nearly one-third of Hendersonville's PD are responding that they must hold down 2, sometimes 3 jobs to live where they work. Good heavens.

TIM LOCKWOOD FOR MAYOR!

tim lockwood
10.2.03 @ 12:17a

Juli, the median household income in H'ville is about $60K annually. Property values here are, to my conservative midwestern background, very inflated. I live in a 3 BR, 1.5 BA house with 1200 square feet and a .67 acre lot - a fairly modest suburban home. We have a mortgage payment of just over $1,000 per month. We just had the house refinanced, and it appraised at about $108K.

I have not studied up on it for H'ville, but back when I lived in Ft. Wayne IN there was a rule that said police officers must live within the city limits. If that's the case here (I'll check with Doug), it's small wonder that many of the off-duty cop cars I see are parked at apartment complexes. Who can afford a down payment at $25K or so per year?

It's nice to see some interest in the affairs of a town that none of y'all live in. I'll be sure to post a sequel when I have more material - and I'm sure it will be forthcoming sooner than later, based on the way things have been going.

tim lockwood
10.2.03 @ 12:21a

Oh, and Juli? I'm not even considering running for mayor in '04, but if I can't talk Doug into it by '08, I may just do it myself.

The fact that I even entertain the thought ought to scare lots of people. ;-)

tracey kelley
10.2.03 @ 11:57a

Do the city council route first, otherwise you - or Doug - will never be taken seriously and will not understand the "powers" of Hendersonville.

You're instigating change. Good for you.

sandra thompson
10.3.03 @ 10:37a

If the BOMA really supported the police department they'd give them raises out of that new eleven million bucks they're getting from the new mall. Ironic isn't it, that Doug's issue of police pay raises could actually be accomplished by the undesirable mall money?

lila snow
10.3.03 @ 11:26a

Good for you, Tim... and maybe the something "worse" won't be so bad after all. Also, can I borrow "lyingness"? Thanks.

tim lockwood
10.3.03 @ 11:04p

I've had some requests for this, so here it goes - the actual letter to the editor:

I read with interest your article of September 26 regarding Alderman Doug Buck's police department survey.

I personally would like to chastise each and every one of the board members who signed the so-called "open letter". The letter implied that Doug Buck somehow does not support our local police department, which is an obvious lie.

The record clearly shows that Doug Buck has been the only alderman on this board who had the courage to make the decision to support a pay raise for our officers. Everyone else wimped out; he stood alone. He is, indeed, the only one to make a personal effort to contact the officers themselves to find out how they really feel about the department and its leadership.

According to the results of Alderman Buck's survey posted at his web site, sixty-two percent believe that their superiors' communications with them need improvement. Fifty-nine percent believe they would receive no support from their superiors in a tough situation. And, most telling, when asked how they rated the morale at the police department, a whopping eighty-eight percent responded that serious improvement was necessary.

I find the board of aldermen's "open letter" to be a shameful attempt to shoot the messenger in order to silence the message. I further encourage people to visit hendersonvillepublicrecord.com and read what your police officers really think. It is an eye-opener.


sigbjørn olsen
12.11.04 @ 6:13p

You'd probably make a good mayor, Tim. Why pussyfoot around the issues? I mean, don't get me wrong, sometimes some "diplomacy" is needed to get the best results, but for crying out loud - sometimes the problem and solution are there for all to see, and that someone might want to supress them simply boggles my mind.



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