In the second of three question from WPLN, the candidates for Metro’s at-large council seats discuss one of the most prevalent Nashville struggles: the tension over which neighborhoods are receiving the most investment and services.
This subject has motivated local policies and multiple political campaigns this year, and it was also a topic that surfaced often when WPLN asked listeners for questions to ask this year’s candidates.
For this article, the question was: There’s a perception that Nashville neighborhoods compete with one another for Metro investments and services — and that downtown competes against everyone else. Does this ring true to you, and what do you think is the key to leading for the county as a whole?
Candidate answers follow below in alphabetical order.
It is important to make data available and understandable about how much money is spent in each district and how projects are prioritized. The council has worked to create a budgeting process that would allow each council member to designate key projects in their district that the local community has identified as important to them. This should be compared with objective metrics of need. Those metrics include physical assessments for school buildings; road conditions for paving priority; sidewalk priority scores based on proximity to schools, parks, bus stops, and libraries; flood zone ratings. The decisions on where to spend capital funds should be made taking all these factors into account with clear priorities established at the outset.
The perception is there because we have not addressed the impact of our growth. As we just saw with the scooters, even downtown is lacking appropriate infrastructure. Nashville’s size makes it harder to build the needed infrastructure for all our residents. Therefore by using the participatory budgeting process, we can rely on community feedback to prioritize how to use our resources.
I do not think that it is a perception. I believe it is fact. For too long neighborhoods have been neglected for the sake of downtown. One of the main reasons for this is money. Always follow the money and the money is downtown.
Case in point. When the Ingrams wanted an amphitheater, we got the Ascend. When the Ingrams wanted a soccer stadium, we got the soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. Always follow the money.
Nashville neighborhoods are funded based on the tax revenue they bring in, in more affluent neighborhoods, where the property values are higher, more tax revenue is spent, and so it is with Metro Schools. The schools are a little more complex than a simple transparent budget, it could take a group of parents willing to sue Metro Public Schools with the intent to change a Supreme Court decision called San Antonio Independent School District vs. Rodriguez. This decision is what allows school boards like ours to have no oversite in their budgeting.
Downtown could be paying more. We all know that incentives like tax-free loans were used to fund downtown development, that means they are not paying into our tax base as much as they could be, we may need to recoup in some form of sales taxes.
This perception seems to be true to me. The downtown area is booming and the fact that people are living, working, and entertaining there shows well that Nashville is a live and vibrant city. Older, outlying neighborhoods do feel down town has had the main focus for several years. My answer to question No. 1 runs true here.
As for different neighborhoods competing for investment and services, I feel this is very true. I was a two-term District 9 council member from 1995 to 2003. One thing that our councils then would do is appropriate infrastructure money yearly and sometimes twice a year, the same amount for each district, so that the council member for that district working with metro departments, could designate what capital projects (sidewalks, storm water, road paving) would be done with those funds. That went a long way, because now every part of town had projects being done and they didn't feel left out. Not sure why the councils after my terms stopped appropriating these funds. But when they did the control of when and where to do these type projects fell solely on the mayor and Metro departments. We should bring this back.
Based on a person’s experiences, their perception of reality is determined. Just four years ago in 2015 we saw an administration of our local government seated. After many challenges, on Aug.1, 2019, we face the choice of seating a new mayor, vice mayor and entire Metro Council. In the 54 year history of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Government there have been many good things to happen. However, with growth comes change and sometimes pain. Within the last four years too many native and new residents of our city have felt the troubling effects of the economic tide that has hit Nashville in recent years. The unintended consequence of Nashville’s rapid growth has resulted in tension between the interest of many taxpaying citizens and the tourism industry. Additionally, the lingering challenges of our public schools, growing concern for public safety, persistent pockets of economic disparities and budgetary short falls trouble all of us. This leaves citizens seeking major change in how we are represented in local government over the next four years. With your vote I will be a voice of calm and reason, moving forward in the council over the next four years. See my full biography https://www.constituentadvocacy.com/meet-rueben-dockery.
Of course there is competition between neighborhoods and districts for investment and resources. And I do believe that there is a perception that downtown tries to get as much as possible. But I think we’re missing the big picture. The reason I am running “at large” is to supply the entire county with the public safety personnel and resources the entire city desperately needs.
Yes. Insist on infrastructure improvements for all areas other than just the core downtown area.
My answer is very much like the answer to the first question. There needs to be balance and political will. We obviously have a thriving economy, managed the budget pretty well, businesses and people are moving here in record numbers everyday. However, we all know that concentrated poverty increases crime. This city belongs as much to Dante who lives in Cheatham Place as it does for Dillon in Green Hills. Each of them should feel cared for and holdfast to their dreams, for this city should make them believers that their dreams can come true.
Yes, there is a competition among neighborhoods and downtown. However, there should be equity and we should be equitable because we are Nashville.
We must have leadership that is willing to focus on all citizens in all parts of the county. Just as we welcome visitors, we must also honor all citizens. There should not be a competition among neighborhoods. Traffic and transportation, safety, and security, among other issues, are concerns of every citizen. Long-term and short-term solutions must be identified to ease and eliminate pots of poverty in some area, while others are prospering. Every neighborhood will prosper and have a good quality of life when we work together.
I see how this plays out every day in my mother's neighborhood where I grew up in East Nashville. While developers are receiving incentives and giveaways downtown, people like my mother are being harassed for alleged code violations by the city while they're being pressured to sell by developers. If they do sell, it's not for a fair price, and then building permits get fast tracked through approval to build expensive condos and AirBnBs. We need equitable investment in Nashville so that families can stay in their homes, musicians and artists can afford to live in the city, and local businesses can thrive in every community. That means finding innovative ways to encourage growth that brings neighborhoods up without pushing people out--especially in black and brown communities where too many families and businesses are being squeezed out to clear space for high-end developments.
As things stand today — yes, there is competition for resources between different parts of the city. During the last two years, the mayor has been clear that there isn't enough to go around and has demanded that the city government have successive rounds of "belt-tightening." That's not a sustainable model for a growing city.
It's clear that we need more transparency for how economic development incentives works in Nashville. I believe that there is a place for economic incentives – but that Nashville needs to get much better about setting publicly known goals and then measuring the results. Both of these would lead to a better use of incentives.
Economic incentive reform alone won't fix the city's budget issues though. Today Nashville has the lowest tax rate in its history and the lowest tax rate of any large city in Tennessee. But the city has fallen into a decade-long trap where tax revenue is being driven by politics rather than by the needs of a growing city.
These issues are tied. It would be easier to break away from leadership being afraid of tax rate politics if Nashville were more committed to deep, thorough financial transparency.
I think it is not just a perception, but a reality that neighborhoods (councilpersons) compete for resources. Once again, the two-tier tax system dictates some of that. However, each councilperson represents the relative same number of citizens and we all should be treated equally. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix because some districts are more populated with more businesses that generate more revenue. However, if we followed the example set by the United States government and Tennessee government we could have both contributory and recipient council districts. In simple terms, share the wealth with all council districts and eventually, hopefully, all districts would be equal.
Downtown does somewhat compete with everyone else, however; I think downtown drives the economy for all of Davidson County and should not be considered competing but rather supporting the rest of the county. With that said, I am aware of the Downtown Partnership and understand it was created to revitalize downtown. I must say they succeeded — just look at the thriving downtown! I think it is time to reevaluate the partnership and ask them to share in more of the downtown expenses at all the special events as it relates to public safety and public works.
Yes, this is the perception by many residents. It is time to look at a priority shift for our city. We have done an extensive job of building up our downtown area, now we need to shift the focus to our neighborhoods and to the infrastructure for those who live here. We have communities without safe places for children to walk down the streets. We have neighborhoods that are still experiencing flooding during heavy rains. We have whole areas of town that don’t have a grocery store to get fresh food or a library for children to continue to learn and do research. We have schools with limited computers and textbooks. The issues of our neighborhoods need to become a priority.
A tool that can be used is my proposed community-based budgeting. This is a budgeting mechanism that prioritizes and takes input from the community. It ensures that government funding reflects issues that are important to the citizens. The importance is that the prioritization of issues of funding is based on community input.
When I was elected to represent Bellevue’s core in 2011, it was clear from my conversations with the area residents that my task was to redevelop/renovate this community. Long-suffering from the dead mall in our midst, home values were dropping, businesses were leaving, and families were moving when their children reached middle school age. The key to success — a public-private partnership, a destination and people. The transformation of that dead mall into One Bellevue Place, which has been the catalyst for Bellevue’s growth and what the community is today — home to the 2nd Ford Ice Center, new community center, firehall, library, renovated Red Caboose Park and Playground, and the relocation of Hillwood High School to Bellevue. With public-private partnerships to secure land and commitment to the destination/public amenity, the return on that investment is already reaping rewards — jobs, increased sales and property tax revenue where there was none, increased home values, and a great place to live, work and play. As councilmember at large, I will be a resource and partner in helping district councilmembers reap the same rewards of Nashville’s downtown successes and resulting prosperity.