It’s a story straight out of a political potboiler. A tough-minded government bureaucrat trying to enforce zoning rules crosses swords with two developers—one the chairman of the city planning commission and the other the vice mayor’s husband. The mayor’s office intercedes, and the bureaucrat loses his job.
According to Metro Council member Mike Jameson, that’s what’s happening now in Nashville. Planning Commission staffer David Kleinfelter has been told his contract won’t be renewed at year’s end. Jameson says it happened because Kleinfelter tried to force Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors’ husband Steve and commission chairman Jim McLean to build sidewalks in front of an apartment complex they’re constructing in South Nashville.
Kleinfelter learned of his demise after a May 1 meeting between Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote, Planning Department executive director Rick Bernhardt and Eddie Latimer—Steve Neighbors’ partner in the development.
At a Planning Department budget hearing this afternoon, Jameson confronted Bernhardt, and Bernhardt essentially acknowledged the chain of events laid out by Jameson—that Hinote interceded on behalf of the developers, and that Kleinfelter is losing his job in the aftermath.
After that meeting in the mayor’s office, Jameson says, "Bernhardt came out of there and told Kleinfelter, “ ‘I just can’t defend you anymore’ and advised him that he’s gone at the end of the year when his contract expires.”
Jameson says the developers, over Kleinfelter’s objections, won Planning Department agreement to build a sidewalk less than half the length of what regulations require.
The council’s budget committee chairman, Erik Cole, cut off Jameson’s questioning of Bernhardt this afternoon. “This is a budget hearing. It is not a deposition,” Cole told Jameson.
Jameson then launched into an attack on the Dean administration, suggesting the new mayor is tilting unfairly toward developers. Dean has appointed a new planning commissioner who is seen by some as too cozy with developers.
To look at the “seas of asphalt and pavement” across Nashville, Jameson said, and “to suggest that the neighborhoods are somehow winning these wars” and then “to take from us one of the few advocates we have on the planning staff to help us win reasonable negotiated compromises is a real, real setback.”
More to come on this story if anyone ever returns our phone calls.
: Steve Neighbors and Eddie Latimer are both denying trying to exert any political influence in the controversy.
Latimer says, “It would be flattering if I had such power but I’m just a very little fish in a big sea.”
Neighbors points out that he’s personally no longer actively involved in the construction project, which began in 2003. The developer was Affordable Housing Resources, which was working with a sidewalk construction company owned by McLean, the planning commission chairman. In 2007, Neighbors, who had been president of AHR’s construction arm, became president of 5th & Main corporations, a wholly owned subsidiary of AHR.
“I consider David [Kleinfelter] a friend,” Neighbors says. “I don’t have any reason to go after his job, nor does she [his wife, the vice mayor]. I don’t know where all this is coming from but I just think it’s completely inaccurate and outside of who we are and the way we conduct our business.”