Tennessee: No more freebies for him, councilman says

Metro Councilman Harold White holds VIP cards that offer free parking and golf and movies for $1. White says if he can't pay his own way, he's not going. He doesn't plan to use the perks, will return the ones he has received and won't accept any more.

The Tenneseean Staff Writer

Harold White, tired of hearing criticism of perks, is mailing them back

Councilman Harold White has had it with people criticizing the city's legislative body for the perks it receives. So he's giving them up.

The Donelson-area representative is mailing back his movie pass, free Nashville International Airport parking pass, free bus pass and free golf pass for city courses. And he doesn't plan to use free parking at any other city lots a perk afforded to the 40-member council when they show their council identification cards.

For anyone who has any intention of sending White any more perks or gestures, he said, don't bother. If he can't pay his own way, he's not going. He encourages other council members to decline free passes and mail them back.

''I will not use any more freebies. I just think to get a good thing for the public to understand I would like to recommend that everybody turn them in. That's just me.''

White said he will probably make one exception: He'll still eat the free meals served to council members every other Tuesday by local businesses and organizations.

The reason for declining the free passes, he said, is he's tired of hearing the scrutiny and criticism the council has received in the public for receiving freebies. White said the criticism is overblown, but he wants to do his part to cut out any public perception that council members are on the body to enjoy perks.

The final blow for White came this week when he saw news reports that Metro Parks Department Director Roy Wilson has ended free city golf rounds for most elected officials, but not for the Metro Council.

White doesn't golf, never asked for any free passes and didn't like Wilson's tone in news reports. A television report that he saw quoted golfers saying the council should pay its own way.

''The public shouldn't have the idea that the council is getting a bunch of freebies,'' White said. ''First of all, we didn't ask for these. They were just given by these departments. And second, a lot of us don't even use them.''

Wilson said he didn't care to respond directly to White's comments. However, Wilson said he thinks the councilman may have misunderstood what he said in the news report and that he wasn't trying to disparage the council. He wants council members, who make decisions for the parks department, to visit golf courses and other facilities.

''I want their feedback,'' Wilson said. ''Their feedback is important to me. I want to know if employees are being effective and doing a good job.''

White said other council members have talked about declining the passes. Some, however, said their colleague's gesture doesn't go to the heart of the problem.

Councilman John Summers said he uses the parking privileges at the airport and city lots but doesn't think that costs Metro anything. He said he doesn't use the other perks.

Summers doesn't see minimal benefits received by the council from city departments as a big deal. He said the real problem of influence peddling on the council comes from campaign contributions and gifts and meals given by people wanting to do business with the city.

''Put a ban on all meals and gifts from people doing business with the city,'' Summers said.

''The meat of the issue is the council influenced by gifts, contributions by people, private businesses, doing business with the city. That's the greater impact on the budget.''

Brad Schrade can be reached 259-8086 or bschrade@tennessean.com.



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