VOL. 8 | NO. 29 | Saturday, July 11, 2015
Cardwell a Link to Metro’s Past, Present
TIM GHIANNI | The Ledger
Metro Trustee Charlie Cardwell definitely is a member of the “good old boys” network that ran Nashville for decades.
Just ask him.
But he also knows that era is long gone and he continues to serve Nashville, as he’s done since 1958.
“There has been a style change,” says Cardwell, who remains among the most dedicated of the city’s public servants. “We have gone from a good-old-boy style – and I’m a good old boy – to an approach we have to use to move forward.
“The new approach is you have to include the movers and shakers of the city and the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Partnership and quite a few different organizations that have helped the mayors achieve what has been achieved” in the years since Phil Bredesen brought a square-cornered style of government to Metro.
It should be noted that Cardwell served as an early and eager bridge from the “good old boys” to the present.
Dave Cooley, who managed Bredesen’s successful run against the “courthouse crowed” and the old ways in 1991, praises Cardwell as a good man who helped the young, new administration.
“Charlie actually stayed with Bredesen as a senior adviser … He had the institutional knowledge (and) he helped the new mayor better understand the complex ins and outs of Metro Nashville,” says Cooley, who served as Bredesen’s chief of staff.
Cardwell, who has worked in every administration since the pre-Metro days of Mayor Ben West, has good things to say about all of the folks he’s worked with and for over the years.
“I went to work under Ben West under the old city,” recalls Cardwell, who served in a variety of accounting and auditing positions under West and Mayor Beverly Briley until he became finance director for mayors Richard Fulton and then Bill Boner.
“We started Metropolitan government,” says Cardwell, looking back. “We had a mayor in Beverly Briley who was the first mayor of the Metropolitan government.
“He was a talented, bright, young person who loved government and he surrounded himself” with others who helped direct the growth of the government into a form that took care of all of the former satellites.
“We had issues as far as water utility districts in the GSD (General Services District) parts of Nashville. The city had to purchase those water and utility districts.
“And we had the other issue. We didn’t have any fire houses in the GSD area. The fire departments were privately held volunteer fire service.”
He says sorting out those difficulties continued up until Mayor Dick Fulton took over in 1975.
“I think Dick Fulton helped set the stage as to what Nashville is today as far as downtown Nashville. He built the infrastructure that started what we have now downtown on Broad.
“There were a lot of businesses on Second Avenue and on Broadway that were boarded up,” Cardwell continues. “He (Fulton) convinced the developers” to begin investing in what has over the years become sort of a honky-tonk Disney World, a neonlit tourism Mecca that also includes the new Music City Center convention hall.
“Nashville is great today,” he says. “It’s a shame. Dick Fulton is still alive, but he has Alzheimer’s and I don’t think he really realizes what he has done.
“He opened the first convention center. And I’ve been with him downtown when they opened up the new convention center. He was pleased. When we did talk about it, he realized how small the first convention center was to the one built this time.”
From the Fulton years, the dedicated public servant went on to work for Mayor Bill Boner. While Boner brought his share of controversies to the city, particularly in his personal issues, Cardwell does not want to utter anything but praise.
“Bill was good to me. He didn’t ask me to do anything that wasn’t above board. He brought parity to the firemen and the police department. He took care of city employees as far as pay increases.”
He also oversaw a tax increase that Cardwell said was needed in the last year of Fulton’s administration, but that the outgoing mayor “didn’t want to saddle the council” with that increase during the election season.
Of course, elections mattered any time in the tenuous world of elected officials. But Boner didn’t steer clear of it.
Boner needed the increase “to care for the central needs of Metropolitan government,” explains Cardwell. “He was able to sell the new council on it. They weren’t termed-out yet back then (meaning they could run as many times as folks would vote for them), but they were able to ask for a tax increase and survive that.”
Cardwell says “In spite of everything, this government has stayed on the right track and has been very successful and probably more successful than any government I’m aware of during that period of time.
“During Bill’s administration there was a little bump but everyone survived the bump and continued on.”
Cardwell credits then-Mayor Phil Bredesen's deal to bring the Tennessee Titans to town as a turning point for the city. “We saw people come together (like never before)," he says.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
The son of a policeman (who himself became a long-time Metro councilman after he retired) whose mother ran Cardwell’s Market, a grocery that now is leased out up on Rutledge Hill (the neighborhood where he still lives, today), Cardwell embraces the course set by Bredesen and continued by mayors Bill Purcell and Karl Dean.
“I think the city is on the right track,” he says. “And I’m hoping the next mayor will continue on the right track, and the good thing about it is we have got seven good candidates who can carry this city on to the next level.”
He has seen and admired much about the mayors and the new way of doing things, but one thing sticks out.
“Other than the growth of the city in the right direction, I will say the best thing that ever happened to Nashville – and it was under Phil Bredesen – is he was able to bring the pro football team to Nashville.
“I think of all the things that have been done, that’s probably the best thing we could have done.”
He says the evidence of the importance of The Tennessee Titans’ arrival here is obvious.
“We saw people come together (like never before). I know the first few times I went to the ballgames, I saw people who were blue-collar employees and I saw executives. I saw every level of person living in Nashville,” he says.
Looking at this then-unique cross-section of folks cheering for the two-toned blue, he realized that “we all have something in common: A football team.”
He goes on to say that “Phil Bredesen was the only mayor that could ever have made that happen. I believe he had the ability to sit down and negotiate with a team to bring a team to Nashville.”
He says Bredesen’s “background as a successful businessperson” was crucial in making that deal succeed.
“The people he was dealing with knew (about his business skill) and they were not going to be able to say ‘we can’t give you this’ or ‘we can’t give you that….’
“It’s been the backbone of the growth of the city.”
Dave Cooley, who helped Bredesen during the referendum to bring the NFL to town, agrees with Cardwell that his old boss is the only one who could have made that happen.
“I think the difference was that Phil Bredesen approached the NFL opportunity as if it were a major business deal, which it was, and he understood the magnitude of the business opportunity,” says Cooley.
“He had been there in his business career. He had been in huge deals, taking companies public, and I think from the NFL perspective, they knew they were dealing with a seasoned business executive.
“And from the city perspective, Phil was sophisticated and seasoned enough to not allow Bud Adams to come here and use Nashville as a leverage point to drive up the stakes in Houston or somewhere else.”
Cardwell can see Nissan Stadium from his Rutledge Hill condo. (He says he closed the sliding doors at about 10 p.m. June 17, when The Rolling Stones were playing there. An hour or so of Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie was plenty for this dedicated public servant).
And while he proudly praises the direction the city is going, he does not think that the days of the good old boys – that pretty much ended with Sheriff Fate Thomas jailed and the curtain lowered on Bill Boner’s sideshow – should be completely disregarded.
“Back then, if you ran for any public office, the first thing you needed to do was go to Fate and get his support and pick his brain as how to run a campaign,” says Cardwell.
“We lost Fate under a cloud of doubt as to what was going on in his office, but he still has to be remembered as someone who helped people. He had a good heart. He just got caught up in some of the issues that take you down.”
Two other long-time public servants have similar views of the shift in leadership direction and how it has benefited the city.
Billy Fields (a failed journalist despite my best efforts as his editor in Clarksville) first got involved in local politics when he went to work in 1986 as press secretary for then U.S. Rep. Bill Boner.
He returned to Nashville and began a long career in local government after Boner left Congress to become mayor in 1987.
He filled in various capacities for Boner until the mayor decided in 1990 not so seek reelection. Fields went on to work for Juvenile Court Judge Andy Shookhoff, then served in several other Metro government capacities.
Currently director of transportation licensing – overseeing everything from taxis to carriages to those pedal pubs – he professes loyalty to all the mayors and to the dynamic growth of the city.
But he does admit a personal warm spot for Boner, his old friend. “He was hands-on. He was not afraid to get out in the field and meet with people. He started inviting people to the courthouse for Mayor’s Night Out … in trying to make sure people had access to government.”
He praises Boner’s work in Metro salaries and in budget work. The biggest failure was his inability to get a new landfill for the city, a problem that still lingers.
“Bill Boner’s a good man. He worked hard for the citizens of Nashville,” says Fields, adding “He had a weakness for women. And they liked him, too.”
Another man who witnessed the transition of Nashville over the decades is former Police Chief Joe Casey, 88.
Casey, who joined the police force in 1951, became chief under Mayor Beverly Briley and helped the department grow to serve the new Metropolitan area.
He finally left public service in 1989 to work in security and personnel for Tennessee Wholesale Drug. “I decided to get out and build up my Social Security,” he says by way of explanation.
He said that beginning with Briley, the mayors “were smart people. They pretty much let me run the police department, and I didn’t have any much problem with any of them.”
He says all the mayors were supportive of him when it came time for personnel or equipment needs.
All of the chief execs he’s worked for have performed well in helping the city develop, according to Casey.
And he gives high praise to the trio of men – Bredesen, Purcell and Dean – who have taken the reins in the years since he turned in his badge.
“I don’t have any qualms with any of them,” he says. “I knew them all and they always are respectful to me. I run into them at different times and see them.
“I think they had a part in bringing this city to where it is today.”