There are some accurate points made and an analysis of the style and type of City governance that Nashville Mayors possess, qualities that have enabled them to climb the ladder of political strategies that another Mayor from another "it" city that never gets mentioned, Chattanooga, has that enabled his rise to national politics, Bob Corker. There is a stupidity that they call believe demonstrates reflectiveness or intelligence that comes from the expression, “it is better to let people think you are stupid than to open your mouth and prove you are stupid”
The other day I kept thinking about the show Petticoat Junction and wondered if they still aired them on some cable channel and viola I found it. That is what Nashville reminds me of, the village of idiots and others who aspire to do other things and others who like it just the way it is. Fear of change and fear of discovery dominates the culture in shows like that, Green Acres and Beverley Hillbillies where they had the fish out of water shoved in with the rubes to try to figure out survival skills. I am in all three shows simultaneously as a guest appearance.
The author does make note of the role of the Chamber of Commerce and their indefatigable role in defining the city, from ensuring who is elected to the public schools and the roles business plays in defining the city scape. They work with the Office of Tourism to ensure massive tax cuts that have allowed Nashville to become a large conference draw to the massive events from CMT to the 4th of July fireworks. The massive city events that literally close down the core of the city and the costs of such are in fact paid for by the city coffers to the point that those overtime hours were the reason that drew attention to the Barry "affair" in the first place. It was the news channel 4 investigative reporter, Phil Williams, who had been tipped about overtime of certain officers and through that found the number one offender of this - the slatterns bofo/bodyguard.
Then we have the hotels all with huge tax breaks that run for decades all engineered by the true power behind the throne, Rich Reibling, who has since retired/resigned/fired or pushed out after being the architect of all of this through the last three Mayors. The writer neglects to mention him and his role in all of this. As for Briley's election that it was not just he and Carol Swain running, it was large motley crew of Reverends, Activists, City Council folks and one white male conservative other than the current white male in charge, Briley. It was like watching people come out of a clown car during the debates.
Then we have the City Hospital and their scandals, with board members resigning, and questionable payments made to an individual and raises approved without review for the CEO which has now led to the medical school, Fisk-Meharry, to layoff staff to meet budget demands. A very similar pattern is emerging in the public schools with the current Director throwing down race cards as a response to a request by board members who are no longer smiling and signing off on one request after another. Ask questions in Nashville you will hear lies behind smiles, ask too many questions rocks will get tossed in your direction.
What I do like to note in the article is the concept of "Carpetbagger" and that regardless of how long you live here, your ties to the community and service you are an outsider. And yet almost all of the elected officials are from elsewhere, possess degrees from out of state Colleges and have personal wealth that they gleaned from the swamp they now want to drain. Wealth matters here as the most critical element of determining worth here, that and being a good Christian.
Nashville city core was designed to be a chocolate city as the public housing rings the city like a bracelet and now this valuable real estate is the issue that divides it in ways that city planners could only wish. Nashville is a perfect concentric zone and the core is undergoing some change, yes the first was the infamous Gulch. What is not mentioned is that area is marked by a busy day business, overpriced apartments and restaurants that after six are dead zones. There is another hotel in the works to build more traffic as the Thompson there with its $400 dollar rooms cannot sustain it alone. And what was not mentioned was the bridge to nowhere that was proposed to further pedestrian traffic to the area and the bizarre tax cuts that were to aid residents in an area that needs little such. And all of it signed and sponsored by Black City Council members.
The hotels that are being build rival any in a major city with room rates that match. But again are those the tourists that come to Nashville or are they working class people who cannot afford Vegas and this is the next best thing? This is not a family friendly city in the least even for families who live here.
The schools here are garbage dumps and again by design historically and reinforced when the Chamber became involved to ensure that tax dollars by the varying standards set into place by first G.W. Bush and later Obama and that too widened the divide. Again broken record here is that the book, Unmaking the Great Metropolis explains this in detail. There was a book group formed to read and analyze this and like everything here it fell apart after one meeting. They formed the day of the Nashville Marathon, another day of many that shuts the entire city down, to meet at the Downtown Public Library and of course once you have that hurdle here dealing with parking and traffic, it ended that right away. I have never met people dumber and lazier than the people here. Funny how the prosperity pulpit and the work hard one is preached as gospel its just happens to be written by the Apostle no one remembers.
Permits are approved here without sufficient inspectors available let alone qualified technicians in which to meet standards, so houses are built like shit and the failure to meet the infrastructure needs many neighborhoods flood when it rains. This is city like a baby where you flash shiny keys and they look in that direction as across the city sits holes where developments were promised while the new "it" section of the city gets the attention for that hot minute until some new shiny object is flashed. It is laughable and pathetic.
In turn it is why you see the outlying areas such as Bellevue, Donelson and even the home of the Beav as in Mae, approaching development as transit friendly, walkable and affordable. Gosh who would a thunk it! I love Bellevue and Donelson and spend as much time as I can frequenting businesses to encourage growth. There is little to no reason to do so in Nashville, despite the hysteria about the 5th and Broadway development and the Nashville Yards, these are on the scale that once again cannot support residents who live here due to the costs to construct these, the rents and businesses that will eventually come into them will have prices that again can only be supported by a transient tourist not a resident, which explains why many businesses, both long term and new have had problems succeeding despite the boon and are now closed.
And all of this fails to include the very residents who ring the city. They are being passively aggressively pushed out in the very Nashville way by making it impossible for them to live and work in the community. Wages are stagnant here, the Legislature that is the biggest industry in the town makes sure that minimum wages, rent control, and infrastructure bills are unfunded. Transit was and is a massive issue here and has been for decades, the lack of sidewalks, crosswalks to street lighting are all part of this. Add to the fact that we don't have enough Police and in turn they are busy making overtime to cover the varying events that happen on a daily basis takes them out of the issue of truly monitoring neighborhoods and without that overtime their wages are too low to actually live in the city where they work. So again the areas outside the city that the Author mentions are doing a better job of enabling them to have a home and in turn lends to further traffic problems and issues. It is a nasty circle of pain.
And that is why the crime is surreal here. There is so much violence that one Council member called the City, Beruit. This comment upset Beruit, Lebanon, not the city of Lebanon which is just up the road and is better than here. Everywhere is better than here.
I cannot point out enough that the crime is largely perpetrated by teenagers and they are almost always exclusively black. All of the crime is with guns and those are stolen out of vehicles as that is the number one complaint here about car theft, car jacking and break ins. Almost all of them are cars left unlocked and with guns. Again the residents of Petticoat Junction has more smarts.
Nashville has no direction, no core, no true plan, it is decisions pulled from a hat by a white man who tells whoever is holding the hat and the person pulling the ticket to do whatever he and his buds want. The current Mayor was never a member of the boy's club so he will be used to do the heavy lifting that no one does here unless you are an Immigrant who is disposable once used. The reality is it is only about money and mo money. There is little concern about long term needs of the citizens and of the the city itself. The Author compares the ambitions of the city to be like Seattle. Wrong again, there is nothing here that could be anything like Seattle. That is insane and they need to be realistic and stop quoting that bullshit made up number of 100 people a day moving here. The Author should have validated where that came from and what that actually means demographically. But no just like all the facts in Nashville, they are just ones that are lathered, rinsed and repeated. Validated and vetted? Nope.
The title says it all, I don't think anyone knows here. They just want to be rich. That is what matters here.
WHAT KIND OF PLACE DOES NASHVILLE WANT TO BE?
by John Buntin | July 2018 | Governing The States and Localities
Earlier this year, Nashville’s Frist Art Museum suffered an embarrassing episode. The museum had just opened a new exhibit on ancient Rome, showcasing art and artifacts from the British Museum in London. But just six weeks in, the British Museum notified the Frist that it was pulling the exhibit. Seismographs put in place to protect the art had detected excessive vibrations. Museum staff in London worried that the shaking could damage the artworks on display.
Curators at the Frist were stunned. Their museum is housed in an 84-year-old art deco building that formerly was the city’s main post office. It’s a substantial structure, all marble and granite, sitting on a foundation of solid limestone. But that wasn’t enough to shield Rome’s ancient artifacts from Nashville’s relentless growth. Across the street, developers had started work on a 4 million-square-foot, mixed-use development modeled on LA LIVE in downtown Los Angeles. The sensors had picked up vibrations from blasting for a new hotel at the site. So the antiquities went back to London, and the construction went on.
Nashville is booming. Some 5,000 hotel rooms are currently under construction, with new high-rise hotels by Marriott and Westin soaring over the 2.1 million-square-foot, guitar-shaped Music City Convention Center downtown. Visitors to the city have swelled from 2 million a year in 1998 to more than 14 million today. On weekends, pedal taverns clog the streets of downtown while bachelorette parties crowd the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway, where free music plays 24/7. Not long ago, the city’s Department of Public Works commissioned a study to measure the foot traffic along Lower Broadway and on First Avenue on a typical Thursday and Saturday. Planners were shocked to discover that the number of pedestrians using those streets was comparable to foot traffic in Times Square.
People aren’t just visiting. Every day, roughly 100 people move to the region. Whole new neighborhoods have risen to accommodate the growth, most notably The Gulch, a lively high-rise district near downtown that, not too long ago, was nothing but an open rail yard. East Nashville has emerged as a kind of Brooklyn South, a mix of farm-to-table restaurants, backyard recording studios and historic bungalows. To the west of downtown, Germantown is growing into one of the city’s densest neighborhoods, with a mixture of restaurants, corner stores, restored brick Victorians and new low-rise apartment buildings. In the process, Nashville has become something it never was before -- hip. Affluent Nashvillians once flew to New Orleans for fine food. Now Nashville chefs regularly appear as James Beard Award nominees, and trendy eateries in New York feature such Nashville specialties as “hot chicken.” On screen, the hillbillies of older shows such as “Hee Haw” have given way to the heartthrobs of “Nashville,” the musical network drama that premiered in 2012 and ran for six seasons. Nashville’s hockey team, the Predators, is an NHL powerhouse, with home games that effortlessly blend country music glamor with on-the-ice excitement.
Nashville’s recent rise is not accidental. It reflects a concerted quarter-century effort by mayors to encourage investment in the city center -- and a half-century-old bet on what at the time was a unique, strong mayor form of government, one of the nation’s first consolidated city-county governments. “I’ve visited a lot of other cities,” says Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, the city’s most prominent African-American politician. “Everybody envies the fact that we [as a typical county-level entity] can go sit down with the mayor and police or fire chief and the school superintendent; we can have a meeting and everyone is around the table so we make a decision for the city without having to deal with other jurisdictions.”
For decades, the system has worked well. “Nashville,” says Steve Cavendish, the former longtime editor of the local alt-weekly the Nashville Scene and an astute observer of local politics, “has kind of been blessed with good managers. Almost all of them have been these slightly progressive, good government sorts of leaders who have gotten business buy-in for what they wanted to do.” And what they wanted to do was create a vibrant, growing city that welcomed visitors and residents from around the country and the world -- Nashville has the largest population of Kurds in the United States -- while also avoiding the sprawl and traffic of Atlanta.
When Megan Barry was elected mayor in 2015, she seemed to be yet another leader in the familiar Nashville mold. Barry, a former corporate ethics officer and at-large city council member, was a proud progressive -- more progressive than anyone who had come before her, perhaps—but she’d also worked hard to be business-friendly. Where her predecessor as mayor, Karl Dean, had been reserved and businesslike, Barry was expressive and charismatic. The Dean administration had frequently benchmarked Nashville against other “peer” cities such as Austin. Under Barry, some progressives began to imagine a new Nashville that resembled Minneapolis or Seattle. Those cities, says Jennifer Carlat, vice president of metropolitan policy at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, “have understood what growth is coming and have tried to guide it to specific locations supported by infrastructure and transit.” By 2030, Nashville will have roughly the population Seattle does today. Why, then, shouldn’t it resemble Seattle in other ways?
Barry rallied the city council and Nashville’s business establishment around the idea of raising the already high sales tax to fund a $5 billion transit plan that would expand bus service and build light rail. With a 70 percent approval rating and a national reputation as an emerging Democratic star, Barry seemed well positioned to make the argument for transit.
Instead, earlier this year, it all fell apart. In January, reports appeared that Barry had been having an affair with the head of her security detail and improperly using city funds. In March, she resigned after negotiating a plea deal with the local district attorney. As Barry was stepping down, problems began to appear on Nashville’s balance sheet. Revenues fell short, and the city was increasingly unable to meet its needs. Two months later, voters roundly rejected the $5 billion transit plan.
Meanwhile, Nashville’s needs are becoming urgent. Violent crime rates remain stubbornly high. Housing affordability has become a major problem. Debt payments are consuming an ever larger part of the city’s budget, and transit is still an unmet challenge. Addressing these needs will require money. Yet despite a boom that is everywhere evident, Nashville’s government is facing a $34 million budget shortfall and dwindling reserves.
All of this raises some very big questions about where the city is and where it’s going. How, in the middle of unprecedented growth, did Nashville’s government run short of funds? If Nashville isn’t willing to raise taxes to build a transit system like Seattle, then how can it hope to harness growth in the way those cities have?
The challenge of answering these questions has fallen to the new mayor, David Briley, who took over the position when Barry stepped down. He is an accidental leader, but someone with deep roots in Nashville politics: His grandfather, Mayor Beverly Briley, presided over the merger of city and county governments in 1963 that laid the groundwork for strong regional leadership to emerge. Can Briley help Nashville figure out what kind of city it wants to be? Or will the problems he’s inherited derail Nashville’s unique mix of progressive growth?
"We've had mayors with bubbly personalities, and we've had mayors with hardly any personalities," says Court Clerk Howard Gentry. "David [Briley] is just the steady hand."
It’s important to put Nashville’s growth in perspective. First, it’s not just the city of Nashville, population 680,000, that’s growing. It’s the entire 14-county region, population 1.9 million. Those 100 people moving to Nashville every day? Only about 15 of them are going to the city proper. The rest are moving into surrounding jurisdictions, some of which have invested in excellent public schools and developed commercial hubs that rival downtown Nashville itself. The city currently has 1.5 million square feet of class A office space under construction. Next-door Williamson County, which is home to Nissan’s North American operations, has 7 million square feet planned or being built. In short, growth of the region remains primarily a story of suburban growth, a trend the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization expects to continue. Between 2015 and 2025, the organization predicts that Nashville will add 50,000 residents. During this same period, it estimates that Williamson County will add 80,000 people; and exurban Rutherford County, another 65,000 residents.
Nashville itself grew by harnessing the post-World War II surge in suburban growth. In 1963, it became one of the first cities in the United States to completely merge city and county governments, creating a new municipal government, known locally as Metro. Prior to consolidation, Nashville was a compact city with a significant minority population surrounded by fast-growing, predominantly white suburbs. Some observers believed the city would eventually become a majority black city, much as Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., had. Consolidation ensured that white suburbs did not compete with a black central city. Former county chief executive Beverly Briley became Metro’s first mayor, a position he held for 12 years.
Briley looked to suburban parts of Metro for growth. The city’s downtown started emptying out in the 1960s; even the Grand Ole Opry radio variety show, which in the 1930s had become the nucleus of the country music industry, decamped from its longtime Ryman Auditorium location downtown to a more suburban part of the county. In the city center, poverty and crime rates remained high. Most of downtown was given over to adult bookstores and “massage parlors.” A few stalwart honky-tonks remained, like Tootsies Orchid Lounge, where singer Willie Nelson was discovered. But for the most part, says Butch Spyridon, the longtime head of the Convention and Visitors Corporation, downtown Nashville “was not for the faint of heart.”
Things generally continued that way for the next two decades, with the center city languishing while the suburbs kept growing. That all began to change in 1991, however, when the city elected the first in what would turn out to be a trio of transformational mayors.
Phil Bredesen was a Harvard-educated physics major who grew up outside of Rochester, N.Y. He’d moved to Nashville in the mid 1970s, after his wife, a nurse, got a job with the Hospital Corporation of America, which today is the world’s largest private hospital company. Bredesen himself soon made a fortune in health care, which he used to run for political office. His first campaign for mayor faltered after his rival accused him of being “a Yankee.” After the previous mayor’s tenure ended in controversy, voters took another look at Bredesen. In 1991, he handily won election.
Bredesen immediately focused on downtown. He leapt at an opportunity to bring the Houston Oilers to Nashville—and rename them the Tennessee Titans -- and he oversaw the construction of a new football stadium just across the Cumberland River. He also focused on making downtown the cultural core of the region, championing an elegant new main public library in the heart of downtown, as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Frist Art Museum. However, his most important initiative was the push to bring a sports and concert arena to lower Broadway. The arena opened in 1996 and soon attracted an NHL expansion hockey team, the Predators. A major test of this new strategy quickly followed. In 1997, Gaylord Entertainment abruptly announced that it was shutting down the main engine of Nashville’s tourist economy, the Opryland theme park. By default, downtown Nashville became the city’s new tourist attraction. It also became a challenge for Bredesen’s successor, former state Majority Leader Bill Purcell.
Bredesen had focused much of his energy on jump-starting development downtown. Purcell took office on the promise of focusing more on neighborhoods and on improving education, safety and quality-of-life issues. He saw downtown as a neighborhood. Purcell thought that the government had spent 40 years trying to address downtown’s problems by removing people from it. He wanted to do the opposite -- shut down the massage parlors, improve public safety, create mixed-income housing in and near the core, and bring residents back. For help with this task, Purcell turned to the city’s law director, Karl Dean. Dean and his office cracked down on illicit businesses and activities in the area.
Purcell also wanted to rezone downtown for mixed-use developments. He recruited a planning director from Orlando, Rick Bernhardt, a New Urbanist who overhauled the zoning code for downtown and encouraged dense development in the city’s first new close-in neighborhoods, including The Gulch. Together with local preservationists, Bernhardt also put a break on plans, drawn up by the city’s department of public works and the state department of transportation prior to his arrival, that would have put a six-lane interstate connector through the heart of downtown. Bernhardt eventually whittled it down to a four-lane surface street that he insisted must have sidewalks, a decision that effectively extended the city’s grid to the east. Purcell also supported a private philanthropic effort, led by another local billionaire family, that of Martha Ingram, to build a $120 million symphony concert venue downtown, just a few blocks away from the honky-tonks that were starting to spring up on Lower Broadway.
When Dean succeeded Purcell as mayor in 2007, those sidewalks became useful. (Dean was a Massachusetts native, continuing Nashville’s tradition of turning to outsiders for leadership.) Dean greenlighted the most expensive project in the city’s history, a $600 million convention center. Building during the Great Recession kept the cost lower than it would have otherwise been and moderated the recession’s impact on Nashville. Dean also worked with local businesses to turn Lower Broadway into a full-fledged tourist destination. These efforts laid the foundation for the boom that followed. “That investment in a new convention center provided a level of confidence that caused developers to reconsider downtown Nashville as a priority,” says Tom Turner, who heads the Nashville Downtown Partnership. “That confidence led to a resurgence in downtown investment that continues to this day.”
As the national economy recovered from the recession, the city’s growth kicked into high gear. Nashville became cool. Tourists and new residents began pouring in. Bachelorette parties began showing up. (No one is quite sure how Nashville became one of America’s biggest destinations for bachelorette parties over the past decade. Spyridon, the convention corporation head, says bridal parties come “because we are authentically American and unique” -- and nice. Austin, he quips, “can stay weird.”) At any rate, sustained investment in downtown over the tenure of three unusually effective mayors, plus a dose of zeitgeist luck, had turned downtown Nashville into a growth machine.
As in other urban areas, Nashville’s breakneck growth didn’t guarantee that everyone would share in the city’s economic boom. Sure, it currently has the lowest unemployment of any U.S. metro area with more than a million residents. And according to the Brookings Institution, between 2006 and 2016, Nashville ranked seventh nationwide in the number of overall jobs created. But on other, more nuanced measures, the picture isn’t as rosy. Take Brookings’ measure of prosperity, which divides gross municipal product by the total number of jobs, creating a crude measure of overall productivity. Nashville ranked near 16th in the nation through about 2016. Since then, its level of prosperity has fallen to 73rd place, as annual wage growth has stalled. Or take another measure: Stanford University economist Raj Chetty has proposed “intergenerational mobility” -- namely, what percentage of kids born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution make it to the top 20 percent -- as a potential indicator of success. Like all Southern cities, Nashville does a poor job promoting intergenerational mobility. Only 12 percent of counties in the U.S. see a lower percentage of poor children move up the income scale.
These and other cracks in the veneer of Nashville’s growth had started to become more and more visible by 2015, when Barry was sworn into office as Metro Nashville’s seventh mayor -- and its first female leader -- in September. Relatable and articulate, she seemed the perfect face for the new Nashville. However, she also inherited real problems. The city had a large and seemingly intractable homeless problem. Violent crime rates were rising, particularly among young people. Rents were rising at more than twice the rate of wage growth. Housing advocates estimated that the city needed to develop or preserve 30,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. Nashville’s public hospital was bleeding funds.
Solving these problems required money. But the city’s budget wasn’t growing fast enough to meet its needs. Part of the problem is a quirk of Tennessee state budget law: Legislation requires that the city’s property reassessments, which must occur at least every four years, must be revenue neutral. When assessments rise, property tax rates must fall accordingly. That means Nashville’s red-hot real estate market doesn’t translate into a huge boost in municipal revenues. Properties in Nashville were reassessed in 2017. Assessments shot up by a record median 37 percent, so, accordingly, the property tax rate fell to its lowest level in Metro history. The only way for a mayor to raise real new revenues was to pass a property tax increase, something Barry didn’t want to do.
Another quirk: Nashville property owners can appeal their property tax assessment. And following the record 2017 reappraisals, a huge number of them did -- 55 percent -- more than the number of appeals after the previous reassessments in 2013. The reductions blew a $25 million hole in the budget going into 2018.
The most talked-about problem in the city, though, was traffic. For most of the auto-era, Nashville was a city where you could drive everywhere in 15 minutes. As the region grew, that ceased to be the case. Commutes were getting longer. Yet the city’s bus system was anemic, and even walking places could be hard. Only a third of the city streets had sidewalks.
To address this, Barry unveiled a sweeping $5.4 billion transit plan in November 2017. Her “Let’s Move Nashville” proposal was monumentally ambitious, with 26 miles of light rail on four different lines, new bus rapid transit service, bike lanes, sidewalks and a massive transit center tunnel beneath downtown. To fund it, she proposed a sales tax hike and an increase in taxes on hotel stays, rental cars and businesses. The controversial plan was never going to be an easy sell to residents, who were set to vote on it in May. But Barry planned to stake her political capital on it. And with a 70 percent-plus approval rating, there was reason to think she could be successful.
But then her administration fell into chaos. In January, Barry admitted to the affair with her security officer. Questions soon emerged about whether taxpayers had been billed inappropriately or even illegally for travel and overtime expenses. In March, as part of an agreement with the district attorney, Barry agreed to resign and plead guilty to one count of felony theft; she reimbursed the city for $11,000 and agreed to three years of probation.
Barry’s resignation set the city reeling. After 25 years of scandal-free mayoral stewardship, her resignation left Nashville leaderless before the most important local referendum in more than a decade. In a city that depends on strong leadership, that was a problem.
“It took us 20 years to get to a vote on transit,” says Court Clerk Gentry, who endorsed Barry for mayor and supported the transit referendum. “Changing leadership in the midst of it affected us.” Barry was the face of the pro-transit campaign. Backers expected her to lead the effort in rallying support. Instead, says Gentry, the charges against Barry created “a question about public trust.” Subsequent events heightened public suspicions. Problems appeared in the city’s balance sheet as Barry was departing. In addition to the $25 million gap from the property assessment appeals, Metro had dipped into reserves to fund modest initiatives such as expanding sidewalk construction and putting $10 million into an affordable housing fund. It also fell to Briley, the new mayor, to sell the divisive transit vote less than two months after he took office. He tried gamely, but with yard signs across the city declaring “No Tax 4 Trax,” it was an uphill battle. Voters rejected the plan by a resounding 2-to-1 margin.
Briley’s tenure has gotten off to a tepid start. At his first State of the City address, the soft-spoken mayor began by quoting his grandfather Beverly Briley on the need to act today for the sake of tomorrow. He then proceeded to present an austerity budget. “The budget that I presented to the Metro council earlier this week was not the budget I would have presented to the city in an ideal world,” Briley declared. “But it’s my job, and it’s this government’s job, to manage the circumstances that we’ve been dealt.”
Nowhere was there any acknowledgement that the cuts were necessitated by Barry’s decision to forego raising property tax rates the previous year. Instead, Briley announced that he was rolling back cost-of-living pay increases for city employees that his predecessor had promised. He gave brief remarks about expanding pre-K programming. There was polite applause from the audience. After the speech, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph issued a statement that criticized Metro for cutting funding for education by $14 million. (The mayor’s office disputes that characterization.) It was, in short, a shaky showing.
Nashvillians don’t insist on charismatic mayors. “We’ve had mayors with bubbly personalities, and we’ve had mayors with hardly any personalities,” says Gentry. “David [Briley] is just the steady hand.” But to some close observers, he’s been a curiously passive figure. That’s been particularly true on the subject of his first budget. Budgets are the means by which Nashville mayors exercise authority. Yet Briley has treated his first budget as if it was something he was forced to agree to, not something that he shaped.
Briley himself insists that fiscal discipline is necessary but rejects the idea that Nashville faces a fiscal crisis. “It’s not a crisis by any means,” he says of the $34 million shortfall. “It’s not going to categorically change the way we provide services.” In a sense, that’s true. Nashville’s overall budget of $2.2 billion is significantly larger than the budget was just a few years ago. But it’s also the case that by not raising property tax rates, the city is limited in its ability to address important needs for tomorrow. Briley acknowledges that if the city had voted to keep the old property tax rate in place, “we would have somewhere close to half a billion dollars in new revenue this year.” A fiscally conservative mayor could have used those funds to replenish reserves and invest in water and sewer upgrades or jump-start transit improvements. A liberal mayor could have used those funds to spur the development of affordable housing.
Just two months after he took over as mayor, Briley faced the public in a special election called to fill the remainder of Barry’s first term. He entered the race with a huge leg up -- a familiar name and a sizable financial advantage that came from the nearly unanimous support of downtown businesses interests. Yet as the election approached, local Democrats worried about an apparent surge from a controversial Republican, Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor known for her appearances on Fox News and her criticisms of Islam. She knocked Briley as an ineffectual leader. As Swain signs sprouted around Nashville and Tea Party notables rallied to her side, Democratic politicians worried that Swain, an African-American woman, could win some Democrats to her side and force a run-off election. In the end, she didn’t. Briley won with a comfortable 55 percent of the vote. Swain came in second, with 23 percent.
All of this brings uncertainty to what the future holds for Music City. With a transit plan off the table for now, and with Briley’s scaled-back budget setting the tone, the city seems to be retreating, at least temporarily, from sweeping changes and large-scale projects. “Nashville,” says Spyridon, the convention corporation director, “has never been afraid to do big things.” But at this particular moment, for the first time in recent history, it is.