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VOL. 129 | NO. 112 | Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nashville Mayor Maps Issues Similar to Memphis

By Bill Dries

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The Nashville mayor who was once Davidson County's public defender says schools in his city aren’t meeting his test for success in public education.

He is concerned with attracting talent to the city and touts diversity as a key component of that. And his city has a critical need for a “more robust” mass transit system, he said last week.


Nashville Mayor Karl Dean touted Memphis as the center of education reform and the importance of education reform in his own city’s future during a visit to Memphis.

He views success as “when a young couple is deciding within Middle Tennessee where they are going to live, that they pick Nashville, and they say public education was a positive factor in that decision.”

“That’s not happening right now,” Dean said, adding that he has been watching education reforms in Memphis closely as his own city searches for answers.

Dean spoke Friday, June 6, at the annual “A Summons to Memphis” luncheon by Memphis magazine and Contemporary Media.

He was introduced by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who was Shelby County’s public defender before being elected county mayor in 2002 and then Memphis mayor in 2009.

The idea of a 7.1-mile bus rapid transit system called “The Amp” was touted heavily by Dean as necessary to continued growth of the city that makes it more dense.

Dean said the impact of future growth projected for Nashville is being felt now. He cited new construction spending in 2013 that was the highest on record for the city with permits for such construction so far this year tracking ahead of 2013.

“And yet not a single subdivision development is pending in our planning department,”

Dean added. “The growth is infill development. This is a good thing. Infill development is more environmentally sustainable. It helps to preserve green space. It increases property values and it helps to remove blight.”

Dean also said tolerance is increasingly important as Nashville becomes a more diverse city with foreign-born residents constituting 12 percent of the city’s population.

“If people don’t feel welcome in a city being who they are, they will find someplace else to go. And from a moral standpoint being welcoming and open is just the right thing to be done,” he said.

“Immigrants make a city strong. They bring culture. They bring ideas. They strengthen the work force with young talent. By moving to a city, immigrants should have the opportunity for upward social mobility.”

Dean also touted his city’s ability to devote capital funding to anti-flooding and water control measures in the city as essential to the city’s continued growth.

“We also pay down our debt quickly,” Dean said. “Nashville pays $100 million or more in debt a year. We set 20-year amortization levels meaning that half of our debt will be paid off in 10 years. All of this is to say we can afford these investments.”

The ability to use such capital funding contrasts sharply with the financial problems facing the city of Memphis.

Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson questioned the city’s continued refinancing of its bond debt used to finance capital or construction projects last year and threatened to withhold approval of a 2013 refinancing until the city met certain conditions.

“We did a refinancing during the recession. It was the ability for us to reduce some of our debt payments so we were able to put more money into operations during a time when the city wasn’t receiving much revenue,” Dean said after his remarks. “It’s worked out I think fairly well.”

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