by Daniel Horwitz
Given the steady drumbeat of embarrassing headlines that Nashville’s Transportation Licensing Commission has generated over the course of the past year (e.g.: staggering incompetence, racial and religious bigotry, criminal impersonation of police officers, etc.), absolutely nothing surprises me at this point. Yes, Rhonda Marko's new partnership with Grand Avenue Chauffeured Transportation raises some real concerns about corruption, but anyone who has even casually followed the TLC in recent months knows that corruption runs rampant in both the limousine and taxicab industries here.
Importantly, the fact that Rhonda Marko was appointed to the TLC board last May seemed like a potential conflict of interest long before this most recent report that she has acquired a subsidiary of Grand Avenue, and that she and Carl Haley are now "joining forces." That she is now increasing her influence within Nashville’s transportation industry merely confirms that sentiment. It also raises some new questions, however. For example, TennLA’s facebook page suggests that there is a connection between Ms. Marko’s company Destination Nashville, Carl Haley’s company Grand Avenue Chauffeured Transportation, and the now-notorious Tennessee Livery Association (TennLA)— the trade lobbying group that proudly claimed credit for convincing Metro to pass deliberately protectionist legislation that crippled industry competitors and continues to shield its members from competition. Did Ms. Marko have anything to do with that lobbying campaign? And does the fact that her new business partner benefits financially from the city’s protectionist livery regulations (and still employs two Metro lobbyists) prevent her from being able to cast an impartial vote recommending that they be repealed?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but the real joke here is that the private consultants who were recently commissioned to study Nashville’s transportation industry explained that “because of the potential for conflicts of interest,” “[e]stablishing a requirement for driver representation on the TLC board is not recommended.” Of course, if a 2008 report to the TLC hadn’t also concluded that “Nashville’s taxi drivers are among the lowest paid workers in the United States” and earn a profit of only $2.40/hour, the fact that the industry’s business owners just got another TLC voting member in their corner while taxi and limo drivers continue getting hung out to dry might be a whole lot funnier.
Daniel Horwitz is a third year law student at Vanderbilt University Law School, where he is the Vice President of Law Students for Social Justice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.