Mayor David Briley's 2019 State of Metro Address
Thomas Mulgrew 615-862-6461
On April 30, 2019, Mayor David Briley delivered the 56th annual State of Metro address for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. The text of that speech is reproduced here as prepared for delivery:
A year after facing one of the most challenging moments of the Metro era, Nashville is a city that is strong, widely admired, welcoming and resilient. I am proud and privileged to lead it.
At the outset, I want to note: This is not going to be a speech about promises. This will be a speech about progress.
Good morning. Thank you for being here today. Nashville Public Library is full of stories. What better place to talk about Nashville’s still-unfolding story of challenges, opportunities and ambitions?
So let’s talk about that story. And though I hate to jump ahead, I feel obligated to give you a quick spoiler alert: Nashville will keep growing. In the last year, four leading companies have announced plans to add more than 8,600 jobs to our economy. Metro issued more than $1.4 billion worth of building permits just in the first three months of 2019. That’s more than $300 million above the old record.
Even our growth is growing.
Another spoiler alert: The state of Metro is strong. While some people seek attention by saying otherwise, the truth is that our credit rating remains high; the average wage in Nashville is growing faster than all but 3 other big cities; our revenues are up more than 4 percent; crime is down in nearly every category; and 15 million people visited our city in 2018 – I think there were almost that many here just this past weekend! People want to be here, and our city is better off as a result.
I am very optimistic about Nashville’s future based on where we stand today – and how we are moving forward. When we prosper as a city, we can do more for the people who live here. It’s simple – prosperity gives us more resources to build a stronger Nashville.
But we have to work every day to ensure that every resident of Nashville can participate in our city’s prosperity. As our skyline continues to grow, we have to do everything we can to put our people in a position to grow along with it.
That is my top priority.
When we do that, when we work to create equitable prosperity, to invest in our neighborhoods, to take care of one another, we build a stronger Nashville – together.
This boils down to four priorities: Education, public safety, building economic prosperity, and quality of life. Those are the biggest keys to our progress – and we’re making a lot of it.
Education will always be priority number 1. There are few things more essential to building a strong Nashville than having great public schools. But the truth is, we have a ways to go. First, I want to be clear: We have pockets of success across the county.
For example, 35 Maplewood High School students have worked tirelessly for the past 3 years to build a national literacy movement called Project LIT, which now includes 750 schools across 48 states. These students are leading important change around equity and access to books, and 13 of these seniors earned full scholarships to Belmont University. We thank all of these students, as well as their English teacher, Dr. Jarred Amato, for all their work. Dr. Amato is also a member of my Education Kitchen Cabinet, which is looking at the best ways for Metro to support our lowest-performing schools.
Dr. Amato, please stand and be recognized.
Amazing things are happening in Metro schools and classrooms, and we have some of the hardest-working teachers in our nation. But we have a school system that has for many years been riddled with in-fighting among adults, and this has fostered a systemic lack of forward thinking.
Funding is part of the solution. A big part. And it falls on us. While the state of Tennessee will be putting more than $100 million of new money into K-12 schools across the state this year, Metro Schools will get just $587,000 of that.
Every year, by far the largest portion of our budget is dedicated to education, and schools will continue to be the largest single area we support in our budget.
This increase in funding will allow the administration and school board to give all teachers and support staff a 3 percent raise. The Metro Charter does not allow either the Council or me to tell the school board how to spend the money we give them this year or any other year. But we can urge them – and I have urged them, and I’m urging them again today – to use this new money to increase teachers’ and other employees’ pay.
I recognize there is a growing sense that teachers should get a much larger raise and that Metro Schools should get a much larger budget increase. I’m recommending as much of an increase as possible for education this year. And I am committed to a multi-year approach to make teachers’ salaries better reflect their value and importance.
We know it’s not just about the money. It’s also about culture, and I’m as committed to changing this as I am to increasing pay for our teachers.
We’ve seen what a change in culture can do for our lowest-performing schools. We’ve seen it at Napier Elementary School, which I visited a few weeks ago. I want to publicly thank the principal of Napier, Dr. Watechia Lawless, for her great work in getting the school off the priority list by bringing the community together and increasing community investment. She and her team rewrote the narrative of Napier and showed the progress that’s possible when we work together.
Dr. Lawless, please stand.
We've also seen this level of leadership at schools like Whitsitt Elementary, Fall-Hamilton Elementary and Madison Middle, which I visited earlier this month. We must find additional resources to improve every school – no matter its status. We need to have a much bigger conversation about what that looks like and how to get there.
Through a memorandum of understanding, I will be taking a stronger role than any previous mayor in the school district’s finances, operations and human resources. We need a multi-year strategic plan for the district, and over the next year I’ll work to develop one with the school board and the district administration, led by Interim Director Dr. Adrienne Battle.
Dr. Battle is a testament to what Metro Schools can do. She is the first graduate of the district to come back and lead our schools. Dr. Battle, you’ve taken on the hardest job in the city. I hope you know we’re all rooting for you, and we stand ready to help. I’d like to ask you to stand and be recognized as well.
We want to get more of our students through Metro Schools successfully, but we’re not going to forget about them after they graduate. To do this, we need to help our young people cover some of the costs of attending Nashville State Community College or TCAT, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. This is because Metro Schools graduates attend Nashville State more than any other postsecondary institution – more than Tennessee State University and Middle Tennessee State University combined.
But not many of them graduate – not many at all, and we know why. This is why I’m calling this scholarship program Nashville GRAD – that stands for Getting Results by Advancing Degrees – because the power of graduating with a postsecondary credential is huge: It increases lifetime earnings by approximately a third.
We’re talking about changing a young person’s trajectory, and no one should have to quit school because her car needs new brakes or he can’t afford textbooks. With academic advising and financial assistance, Nashville GRAD will put students on a pathway to prosperity. When we can make that happen by investing $1,000 or $2,000 in a teenager’s future, that’s a very smart investment for our city.
HCA kick-started Nashville GRAD with a $100,000 lead donation earlier this year, and my budget will include $1 million for the first year of the program. Thank you to HCA for your great generosity.
I’m especially grateful to Dr. Shanna Jackson, the president of Nashville State Community College, who couldn’t be with us today, and Dr. Julie Williams, dean of social and behavioral sciences, for working with us to get Nashville GRAD off the ground.
Dr. Williams, please stand so we can all recognize you.
When I spoke to you here a year ago, we were in a much different position. I said from this very spot that sacrifice leads to success. We had to get Metro’s budget under control by living within our means, and departments throughout Metro stepped up and did just that.
Our plan worked. As a result of those sacrifices, the $2.33 billion budget I’ll submit to the Council will include a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for Metro’s police, firefighters and other employees. Most employees also will get an additional increase based on merit or longevity.
I also will recommend that we increase starting pay for Metro police officers by 6.4 percent. We need to pay our officers competitively for the challenging work they do.
And with the 3 percent cost of living adjustment and proposed pay plan adjustments, all full-time employees in Metro’s general pay plan will make at least $15 per hour.
And while we’re here, let me say something about last weekend – and the starring role Metro employees played in it. In case you somehow didn’t hear, the NFL held its draft in Nashville for the first time, and it was the biggest and best ever, with 600,000 people attending over three days and 47.5 million viewers. It was the most attended, highest rated and most watched draft in NFL history.I want to thank all the people who made that possible.
Our police, firefighters, Office of Emergency Management staff, Public Works crews, Emergency Communications Center, WeGo Public Transit, Metro Parks, the Sports Authority, and many others played big parts in managing not just the draft but also the marathon, three nights of outdoor concerts and more than 18,000 Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads. It was a weekend of sports, music and Nashville’s famous hospitality that showed our city off to the world in a wonderful light.
The police presence downtown throughout the weekend made everyone feel safe, whether they were running, cheering for their favorite team, listening to music or working. We took another big step to make our city safer in January when we launched Project Safe Nashville. Project Safe Nashville brings together local, state and federal agencies to track guns used in crimes. While homicides are down more than 20 percent, I am concerned about the young people getting their hands on guns in our city. Project Safe Nashville is the largest ever interagency effort to address this problem.
Safety is also about healing and justice. My budget includes a $100,000 direct appropriation to the Sexual Assault Center, a Nashville nonprofit that opened its new Safe Clinic last fall. The Safe Clinic expected victims to request 75 rape kit exams in the first year; instead, they’ve needed 120 exams in the first seven months. This funding will ensure we have the resources to take care of victims and survivors.nThe Metro Family Safety Center, which we opened this year next to the new police headquarters on Murfreesboro Road, also is doing great work for survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse and sexual assault. We are stronger when we take care of one another, and this is one way to do that.
Building a stronger Nashville also means ensuring that everyone can have a shot in our economy. This is why we are working to level the playing field for minority-owned and women-owned businesses so they can have an equal opportunity at competing for Metro contracts. When you’re running a business, your race or gender shouldn’t matter.
Once again, I thank the members of Metro Council, especially Council Members Sharon Hurt and Tanaka Vercher, for unanimously approving the Equal Business Opportunity Program, which my administration put together after completing a much-needed disparity study.
My budget will include $442,000 to implement the Equal Business Opportunity Program starting July 1.
For decades, Metro was a passive participant in discrimination, but because of the hard work we all did together, that era is over.Nashville is also the first city in the South to recognize LGBT-owned businesses in its procurement process. I was extremely proud to sign that executive order, because, again, when you’re running a business, it shouldn’t matter who you love or how you identify. And I encourage our state legislators once again to reject bills that are unfriendly to the LGBT community.
By opening up Metro procurement, we’re giving more small business owners – black and white, gay and straight, Nashville-born and foreign-born – a chance to thrive. That’s the kind of progress that allows people to grow their businesses and build wealth.
Prosperity gives us more resources to build a stronger Nashville. We’re making an investment in affordable housing unlike any we’ve ever seen. With my new plan, which is called Under One Roof 2029, we will invest $500 million over 10 years – and ask the private sector to invest another $250 million – so that Nashvillians can afford to stay in the city they love. Our growth, and the revenue it brings, increases our capacity to make that kind of investment.
This investment will help MDHA and other developers build more than 10,000 affordable and workforce units. It will de-concentrate poverty by creating mixed-income communities – the kinds of communities where police officers, downtown office workers, young families and teachers can live together near the core of our city.
In addition, we’ll be announcing $9.8 million in Barnes Fund grants to nonprofit developers later today. These awards will fuel the construction and preservation of hundreds of affordable housing units. And HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is excited to help us build even more deeply affordable units, which will increase our stock by almost 20 percent.
This approach is going to stand out among our peers across the United States.I can tell you, other cities would love to be able to tackle their affordable housing needs with as many tools and as many public, private and nonprofit partners as we’re bringing to the table. So, I have a confession… I don’t always answer my phone.
A few weeks ago, I was glad I didn’t. I had a message from U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren congratulating us on Under One Roof, and now I’ll always have that voice mail! Senator Warren is joined by the mayors of D.C. and Boston, as well as Atlanta, in their praise of our bold approach.
We’ve made a lot of progress with housing. We’ve been innovative. But we have more to do. There is nothing that does more to preserve our community’s quality of life than affordable housing, and we’ll keep working to make it available to everyone who wants to live here.
So, here’s the best part: Our work on public safety, public education and economic development will create the conditions necessary for our neighborhoods to thrive. Earlier this year, I met with more than 1,000 Nashvillians from 36 neighborhood groups from Bellevue to Bordeaux, from Antioch to Old Hickory. Before I started putting together the budget, I needed to hear their priorities for the city.
They told me we were on track, focusing on schools, safety, the economy and transportation solutions. My operating budget will reflect those priorities, just like the capital spending plan we submitted last fall.
That was a $351 million plan to build and improve infrastructure across the city with:
- affordable housing,
- a new branch library in Donelson,
- a new park in Antioch,
- and much more.
We’re already working on next year’s capital spending plan, which we’ll announce in the fall.Again, prosperity gives us more resources to build a stronger Nashville. Consistently staying on top of the city’s infrastructure needs is necessary so we can sustain strong neighborhoods and raise our quality of life.
But we have to be responsible about those investments. My budget also makes debt service a priority, with a 15 percent increase in the funds that will go toward retiring Metro’s debt. While it’s critical that we continue to invest in our city’s future, we have to be responsible about paying back what we borrow in a timely manner.
Sustaining strong neighborhoods also requires staying on top of the issues that crop up every day: the two-bedroom pothole that could swallow your car, the stoplight that’s stopped working, the short-term rental owner who’s good at disrupting the neighborhood – and bad about following the rules.
To that last point, my budget will include funding to add two full-time inspectors to the Codes Department who will focus exclusively on short-term rentals. We also will be raising the fees for short-term rental permits so the general fund doesn’t take a hit to pay for those new inspectors.
We rely on citizens to help us stay on top of these issues, and now it’s easier than ever with hubNashville. It’s a terrific one-stop shop you can find at hub.nashville.gov or by downloading the app. The Hub has been averaging 11,000 cases a month in 2019, compared to less than 7,000 a month a year earlier. And Metro is resolving the average request almost 40 percent faster. That’s why I am making an increased appropriation to Hub to keep up the great work.
Now, downtown is a neighborhood, too, and we’ll continue to invest in it as well. The National Museum of African American Music, which will be on the ground floor of the Fifth and Broad mixed-use development, will tell a great story. That story stretches from the early days of our nation to the Fisk Jubilee Singers, from Jimi Hendrix playing the clubs on Jefferson Street to today’s hip-hop and R&B. I told Jay Z about the museum when he played at Vanderbilt last summer, and I also told him about my own “99 Problems.” I’m pretty sure 50 of them are scooters.
The museum will tell a national and even an international story, and it will have an audience to match. It’s a story that’s worth the city’s investment.As this new museum goes up, Greer Stadium is coming down. After the demolition is complete, our former baseball stadium will be replaced by green space that will honor the history of Fort Negley and the slaves who died building it. That history is a 150-year-old scar on our city, and we need to acknowledge it. That was my first major announcement as mayor, because I know how important it is that we work towards racial reconciliation and towards increasing green space in our growing city.
While we’re thinking about the past, we also need to focus on the future and confront climate change. Cities have to lead in this area, and Nashville is. Last fall we announced Root Nashville, a campaign to plant half a million trees across the city by the year 2050, and just six months later, we’ve already planted more than 5,000. Early next year, we’ll increase curbside recycling from once a month to every other week. We doubled the number of solar panels on city buildings. And Metro General Services continues to make its buildings and its vehicles more sustainable.
We also can do a lot for our environment through multimodal transportation. Let me translate that: Transit is still a major priority. Twenty years from now, we don’t want to look back – through a haze of smog and a sea of gridlocked traffic – and say, “We blew it. We could have done something.”
What we need to do now is get something on the ground to show how effective transit can be, and a great place to start is Dickerson Road. We have a willing partner in TDOT, which has agreed to explore funding strategies to make big changes, including transit along the corridor to Vietnam Veterans Parkway. And we have an opportunity, for once, to get the infrastructure in place before the waves of development roll in. Our Planning and Public Works departments, along with WeGo Public Transit, are already engaged on this project, and we are making progress.
Getting around our city is hard now, and it will only get harder if we don’t make smart decisions. Technology can help. This is why we are modernizing our on-street parking system in downtown and Midtown. It’s a change that will bring in $300 million in revenues over 30 years and still allow us to have the final say over any policy changes. Better yet, this money will go directly back into transit-related improvements like Vision Zero projects, because no pedestrian should lose his or her life on Nashville streets. It’s a smart policy. We stay in complete control, and everyone wins – except for the guy who likes to leave his car at a meter all day without paying. I’m sorry, sir.
Before I close, I want to thank Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, Council President Pro Tem Burkley Allen, Budget and Finance Committee Chair Tanaka Vercher, and every other member of the Metro Council for being my partners in the work of leading the city. We’ve done a lot of good things together in just a year, and I look forward to much more.
Thank you to all of the other Davidson County elected officials, our Metro department heads, our state legislative delegation, Congressional staff and our judges for your service to our community.Thank you also to the Metro Nashville Police and Fire Joint Color Guard; our youth poet laureate, Mumina Ali; the Whites Creek High School Cobra Concert Choir; Kasar Abdulla; Pastor Darrell A. Drumwright; our announcer, Sharon Kay; my staff in the Mayor’s Office, and everyone else who has worked on this event.
And thank you to Nashville Public Library for hosting us in this beautiful public space again today.
After I graduated from college, I spent another 10 years or so living in other cities – and even other countries. I learned another language, and I learned a lot about what doesn’t work to build stronger communities. Jodie and I moved back here because I knew Nashville had changed for the better while I was gone, and we thought we could contribute to the life of this great city and help make it an even more progressive place.
In 10 years, Nashville will be 250 years old. What do we want to do with those 10 years? When 2029 comes around, I want to see a city in which every child can get a high-quality education; a city with fewer gun crimes; a city with many more affordable housing options; and a city with more transportation solutions for residents and commuters. That’s what progress looks like to me.
That might seem like a lot for a decade. But I’m not worried about that. We have the vision. We have the energy. We just have to do the work.All of you who are here today are already engaged in the success of our city. Many others who couldn’t join us are just as passionately engaged. All of you will play key roles in building a stronger Nashville.I’ve visited three of our city’s lowest-performing schools in the last month. I’ve talked to students at each one, and the stories some of them have told have been both inspiring and heartbreaking. I found out after one school visit that my speaking just a little Spanish made a big impression on a fourth-grader who had recently moved here from Guatemala. I hope she knows how much her smile lifted me up that day.
But I also heard stories of children experiencing trauma that prevents them from reaching their full potential. That’s who I’m working for. It’s the kids who don’t have the opportunities they deserve that I’m fighting for. That’s why we work to create jobs. That’s why we work to improve schools and give students the tools to succeed.
That’s why we’re doing the things I’ve talked about today. I’m eager to fight that fight for a long time.
Nashville is one of the greatest places to live in the whole world. We’ve been called the friendliest city. We’ve been called the “It City.” But those labels came from outside. It’s time for Nashville to earn a new label, a label we give ourselves: the most equitable city.
Earning it won’t be easy. Our work must continue. And I’m ready for every minute of it.