Mayor stays true to his word

Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:45pm
Photo by Matthew Williams for The City Paper

There are bad mayors in every corner of the country.

In Seattle, a seemingly popular two-term mayor, who was actually president of the national league of mayors, lost a bid for re-election because of the city’s poor response to a large snowstorm last winter.

In Kansas City, a mayor elected to clean up corruption at city hall, is now suing the city government for barring his sometimes-vulgar wife from the courthouse grounds.

And in Hoboken, N.J., the FBI arrested a promising young mayor in July on corruption charges.

In Music City, no such problems even remotely exist.

In fact, with a few isolated exceptions, it’s difficult to find public figures who have really opposed Mayor Karl Dean during his first two years in office. Mostly, Dean’s so-called opposition has either been too timid to issue on-the-record criticisms, or has offered such vague critiques that one needs a doctorate in reading between the lines to figure just what, if anything, he’s done wrong his first two years in office.

Dean is now halfway through his first term as mayor of Nashville and so far he’s been true to his campaign promises of 2007.

And, given the opportunity to review his first two years in office, Dean expressed pride in the fact he’s worked on fulfilling the promises he made when running for office.

“We’ve concentrated on what we said we would concentrate on, which is schools, public safety and economic development,” Dean said.

It’s true that the mayor has focused much of his attention on improving Nashville’s public schools, where he’s spent political capital on issues that don’t lend themselves to attention-grabbing, war-font headlines.

Nashville’s special education policies, specifically bus monitoring and inclusion in the classroom, have been updated thanks to a task force Dean appointed.

The city has two new teacher recruitment programs thanks to fund-raising efforts spearheaded by Dean. And charter schools, which have seen clear success at KIPP Academy and LEAD Academy in Nashville, will soon be expanded to accept more poor children from all parts of the county.

The Dean administration also kept its promise on public safety, where the Metro Police Department is fully staffed and crime is down for a sixth straight year.

For better or worse, on the issue of a new convention center for Nashville, Dean has kept his campaign promise, too.

The mayor joined his fellow candidates during the 2007 campaign in supporting a new convention center. Thanks to an incremental approach, the $600 million Music City Center is one Council vote away from becoming a reality. A financing package figures to be presented to Metro Council soon.

As one might suspect would be the case when a city is about to spend nearly $1 billion, the convention center is the issue where Dean has received the most pushback. When the municipal bond market went haywire last year, Dean didn’t send the convention center project back to the drawing board. Instead, his administration chose a slow-walk approach, electing to push the project incrementally, against opposition from Council members like Emily Evans, Mike Jameson and Robert Duvall, among others.

“He had an out, and he didn’t take it when the markets went bad,” Evans said.

Already, Metro has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities for Music City Center and set aside another $62 million to buy the land in SoBro. All this progress has come despite the fact the project has yet to be given the official green light. It’s also come at a time when supply for convention space has grown at a rate much faster than demand for business tourism.

Dean simplifies his continued support for the complicated project to his “believing in Nashville and believing in downtown.”

His inheritance

While Dean has kept the attention on his pre-stated top priorities, other issues were making their way through the mayor’s office no matter who was elected in 2007. One of them was the Nashville Predators’ uncertain future at the Sommet Center. Immediately after taking office, Dean began negotiating an amended lease agreement with the team’s new local ownership group.

The compromise that was eventually reached saw Metro pay out $7.4 million in subsidies annually to help the franchise make ends meet and to help the downtown arena maintain an anchor tenant.

Dean also had to tackle the issue of water reform. The water department had seen its bonding capacity for capital projects evaporate and a rate increase was needed to remedy the problem. Dean instituted increases for water and sewer rates, while also instituting a brand-new stormwater fee in order to create dedicated funding to pay for a backlog of hundreds of stormwater projects across the county.

Despite the complexity of each of these issues, Dean and his staff were able to get Metro Council on board. Pushback did come on the stormwater fee, where Councilman Jason Holleman presented a proposed amendment aimed at discouraging paving by Davidson County’s largest property owners. Holleman’s amendment failed 24-14, making it the closest Dean has come in two years to losing a vote on Metro Council.

“Had we structured the stormwater legislation to really encourage less paving in Nashville, we could have made greater progress in terms of improving our city's water quality and encouraging better infill development,” Holleman said.

Metro veterans like Councilmen Tim Garrett and Walter Hunt say Dean deserves credit for successfully advancing his agenda and for leading the city during a time when the economy took a historic dive.

“There’s only five or six votes during a mayor’s term that are really dramatic, important types of things,” Garrett said. “I think his relationship with Council has been a good one. There are few Council members, less than the fingers on one hand, who seem to be not in agreement with most of what the administration wants to do.”

Hunt pointed out Dean has managed to maintain city services without raising property taxes — which was another campaign promise. Dating back more than 20 years, Nashville mayors have raised the property tax rate in the same year as reappraisals. With the economy in its worst recession since the Great Depression, Dean broke that cycle.

“He came in with a horrible budget,” Hunt said. “I think he’s done a good job in terms of leveling it out and making the city work with the money we had.

“No mayor likes coming in and raising taxes on the first term. Most would have liked to raise taxes during their second year, but he didn’t have that luxury with the economy the way it was.”

Dean called the notion of taking money out of the private sector and putting it in the hands of the government during difficult economic times “fundamentally wrong,” and said he decided early in this past year’s budget process that a property tax increase would not take place.

“He deserves credit for that,” Hunt said.

What about Bells Bend?

But for all of Dean’s legislative successes, he’s frustrated some by choosing to stay out of big picture issues where his bully-pulpit opinion was sought.

Over the last 18 months, developers wanted to turn 500 acres in rural Bells Bend into a massive mixed-use corporate headquarters/retail/residential development.

The notion of transitioning rolling green pastures into a new Cool Springs would seem to run counter to Dean’s goal of making Nashville the greenest city in the south and one of the greenest cities in the nation. However, Dean refused to express a firm opinion on the issue, insisting the zoning process needed to play itself out.

With the proposal seemingly on ice at this time, Dean was asked again what he thought about May Town Center and still maintained his neutral stance.

Although he pointed out his vision for Nashville’s future focuses on downtown and infill development, Dean reiterated “serious zoning proposals deserve to be heard.”

The mayor has remained out of the fray on the schools rezoning issue, even as a lawsuit by the NAACP alleging racism advances through federal court.

“The rezoning issue was something the board was handling and the board handled it,” Dean said. “I think I’ll leave it at that.”

Despite Dean’s preference to stay out of the fight on those issues, he took a firm stand on the most divisive battle to come to Nashville during his term — English Only. When Councilman Eric Crafton first brought the idea of making English the government’s official language, people wondered what role Dean would play in opposing the referendum.

Dean went on record immediately against English Only, but he followed up by conducting national television interviews, filming opposition advertisements and making one of his staffers available to the opposition effort.

English Only failed at the polls 58 percent to 42 percent, giving Dean a critical political win.

Too true to be good

If Dean has been guilty of anything, it might be staying too true to his campaign promises. But some think those promises may not have been as far reaching as they could have, or should have, been.

At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard, while complimenting Dean for keeping his word on his priorities, said that at the same time the mayor has neglected north Nashville and northwest Davidson County.

Hunt agreed with Maynard on this point.

“I see certain parts of the community not getting attention and services they deserve,” he said.

Maynard also called the scope of Dean’s priorities “narrow.”

“He has very narrow priorities, very limited priorities and he has worked on those limited priorities,” Maynard said. “My thing is we need to expand those priorities to include other issues such as job creation, economic development. Affordable housing is another issue that needs to be addressed.”

The mayor pointed out that his capital spending plan calls for a 28th Avenue connector between West End and Jefferson Street, which he said would spur economic development along the corridor.

Looking forward, Dean said he isn’t stopping to admire his accomplishments his first two years, but turning his attention to the new issues that will face his administration between now and when his term ends in 2011.

Besides the pending convention center financing, Dean will have to address potential changes at Nashville’s public safety net health care provider. Metro General Hospital at Meharry is operating with an annual deficit that is no longer sustainable for Metro government.

Dean has led the discussion on expanding mass transit in the Nashville-area, pointing out sister cities like Austin and Charlotte have added light rail in recent years.

“We have to keep up,” Dean said on the future of Nashville’s mass transportation system.

And Dean’s attention figures to stay on Metro Schools, which turned in No Child Left Behind test scores just good enough to avoid a potential mayoral takeover this year. Another reprieve in 2010 is no guarantee.

On top of all that, a property tax increase seems likely for the next fiscal year. Otherwise, it will take a hatchet to balance the budget, instead of the scalpel Dean has used the last two cycles.

“Our focus is going to remain on schools and public safety,” Dean said. “Those are the two areas that are so important to the future of our city.”


• Brought two new teacher recruitment programs to Nashville
• Helped improve special education policies
• Advanced new convention center project
• Negotiated new leases for Predators at Sommet Center and Sounds at Greer Stadium
• Instituted water, sewer rate increases and new stormwater fee to fund capital projects throughout county
• Led coalition against English Only


• Pushed convention center project incrementally instead of one comprehensive package
• Stayed out of controversial issues like May Town Center, schools re-zoning
• Focused too little attention on North Nashville and Whites Creek/Bordeaux area

Filed under: City News

44 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 9/21/09 at 12:09

Sounds like Dean sends a shiver of Nate's leg.

This reads like campaign propaganda.

By: idgaf on 9/21/09 at 12:11

of is up, but I suspect most of you were able to figure that out.

By: bfra on 9/21/09 at 2:25

Wonder if Dean dictated this or wrote it in longhand for Nate to copy?

By: govskeptic on 9/21/09 at 5:21

If the main council members Walter Hunt & Jerry
Maynard tells me through Nate that all is well in
"Gotham City" then count me onboard!

By: Kosh III on 9/21/09 at 5:56

Dean is also the headline story at the Tennessean today.

By: Kosh III on 9/21/09 at 5:59

Madison has also been neglected, there is a Greenway which is still unfinished 2 1/2 years after it "opened." And it won't take much to finish it either. I guess "Green " only counts for downtown and the trendy(rich white) parts of town.

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 6:47

Economic development is spending 1.5 to 2 billion on a convention center
and hotel that the taxpayer will personally have to pay for ?

They've already spent a huge chunk on this fiasco.

They're buying back land for $20+Million that Metro sold
for $4Million just a few years ago.

The land swindlers and builders are the only ones who profit from

...ok, it's the cockroaches and termites turn.

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 6:50

Kosh, when they say 'green' in Nashville government, they mean dollars.'s a southern thing.

By: sidneyames on 9/21/09 at 7:12

Pandabear, get off the "southern" thing. It's a national thing. Anybody and everybody who thinks they can make money off a "craze" will jump on board - north or south!

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 7:39

A beautiful and well written opinion piece from another U.S. city:

Costs and benefits of monuments to our civic pride

By: airvols on 9/21/09 at 8:11

Let me say I think Dean has done a good job in this economy. Nashville is still a leader in the South and will be for a long time. Before the same 5 negative people comment on the convention center let me say. "Build it and they will come" The Governor just said tourism was the only sector in Tennessee's economy that showed growth and gains in revenue. Just think when we have new convention center how much more that will help. I love it when a plan comes together!

By: Time for Truth on 9/21/09 at 8:18

Before the same other two supporter of the convention center weigh in, let me say "build it and we will sink".

Dean is smart to stay out of the Maytown debate. He is smart to try to avoid raising property taxes. But he was likely tasked with cramming the MCC down our throats before he took office. The sneaky, heavyhanded and sloppily managed approach to building this thing does not bode well for it. This alone will make Dean a one-term mayor.

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 8:24

A list of the convention center successes in the recent news (many with blame placed on the over construction of new facilities):

Apparently Indy tourism officials were playing a game with city officials where they would get their building then announce they needed even more money to promote the place just as construction commenced. They are demanding even more "investment" to ensure that the first "investment" performs as it is supposed to do. When the losses roll in (they ALWAYS do with these faculties even though the consultants promise other wise -see Honolulu and Atlanta) they then have a scapegoat.

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 8:29 National Harbor is making its mark in region - Convention center, hotels taking their share of market Convention Center anticipates fourth straight deficit - More groups coming to N.O., but businesses are cutting back while host competition grows Raleigh Convention Center in red after first year,0,5214443.story Orange County Convention Center faces $18 million deficit Cities Chase Ghost Conventioneers in Space Race: Chart of Day,0,1823339.story Downtown Hilton hotel faces tough economy in first year - Baltimore's city-owned convention hotel opened to much fanfare and high expectations last August

By: artsmart on 9/21/09 at 8:33

Mayor does a great job as long as he wins. If the plan hits a problem or there is something uncomfortable to deal with he and the entrire staff go into hiding. They have done some good things for special ed but don't dare point out problems. The entire group goes into hiding never to be heard from. These are supposed professionals that won't return calls or e- mails when they find the contact is about a problem.

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 8:36

I will add that the Baltimore case is amusing because the city there borrowed extra money to cover the operating losses and still make the debt payment. The losses are so bad that they expect that cushion will be gone well before the losses do. St Louis all over again.

We will not be that lucky. We cannot borrow enough money to even meet the construction costs right now. A cushion is definitely out of the question. Council will have to put a promissory into the bond agreements to meet any deficiencies with sales taxes and other revenues. They will not put in property taxes since that will trigger an election they do not want.

By: Time for Truth on 9/21/09 at 8:40

The short version of the argument from Dean and three convention center advocates here is this:

"We know it will lose money but we will make money from it so let them (taxpaying citizens) eat cake."

By: Hollowhead on 9/21/09 at 9:39

Even if our property taxes haven't gone up, everything else from water/sewer, which I don't have but pay for cause I have 2, to appraisals going up. Who needs a tax when they can get hands down our pants (pockets) when no one should be looking?

By: Kosh III on 9/21/09 at 10:23

"The Governor just said tourism was the only sector in Tennessee's economy that showed growth and gains in revenue. Just think when we have new convention center how much more that will help."

Rebuilding Opryland would do it too, probably better and cheaper.
"Hello Ms Parton? How would you like to build a successful theme park for us?"

By: bfra on 9/21/09 at 10:38

Kosh lll - Just last week. it was reported, in the paper, that tourism was way down. Dean must have made a few phone calls ($$$) to get that changed,

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:21

" By: sidneyames on 9/21/09 at 8:12

Pandabear, get off the "southern" thing. It's a national thing. Anybody and everybody who thinks they can make money off a "craze" will jump on board - north or south!"

Take a pill sid. You don't even live here !

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:24

" By: Time for Truth on 9/21/09 at 9:40

The short version of the argument from Dean and three convention center advocates here is this:

"We know it will lose money but we will make money from it so let them (taxpaying citizens) eat cake."

Amen to that !

By: MusicCity615 on 9/21/09 at 11:25

Thank you Mayor Dean for everything you have done so far. You have been a fantastic mayor. I wish you the best of luck.

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:27

I've met 2 kinds of people concerning the convention center
(not on this blog, but real people in real life ...(can't wait on the feedback from that one :))

The first kind are against it.

The second kind are "huh?".

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:29

"By: MusicCity615 on 9/21/09 at 12:25

Thank you Mayor Dean for everything you have done so far. You have been a fantastic mayor. I wish you the best of luck."

...and thank you for the sweater and the marbles....oh yeah, and the paycheck....

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:29

reminds me of "Jedi mind tricks"...

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:30

cockroach no 1 has spoken !

By: pandabear on 9/21/09 at 11:33

Just wait. It's gonna go waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up.
That's how they're gonna pay for it.
And you're right. If you live here, there's nothing you can do about it
after they build it.

...except pay through the nose.

Nashville will make an interesting ghost town.

By: govskeptic on 9/21/09 at 2:31

producer2 being on vacation or contract cancelled I have to speak up for him. The numbers are all correct on this project-we can compete with Vegas on conventions-it
will not cost 1 penny of property tax dollars-"We need it" otherwise we will all have to sale our cars to pay the property increases that will result.

If not built there will never be another convention come to Nashville to occupy the existing center. Oh! and if you oppose it you are just a redneck!

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 2:53

Stop it stop it, I am laughing too hard at the 'Need' word.

I too was wondering why conventions would suddenly stop coming to the paid for center just because we did not build a new one like all the other cities currently losing their shirts.

Seriously people read the editorial I linked to above. It describes the "need" for convention centers, monorails, and commuter rail and where it originates. These are not logical civic items, these are the things mayors beat their chests about at the League of Cities meetings. Every day I apologize for everything I thought or said about the previous mayor. He was able to lead without falling into these "mine is bigger than your's traps".

By: producer2 on 9/21/09 at 3:53

I am here, just not interested in the same old rhetoric, same people, different day. Let me know when you come up with something interesting... but everyday I do get a little something to laugh at:

"I too was wondering why conventions would suddenly stop coming to the paid for center just because we did not build a new one like all the other cities currently losing their shirts."

I was unaware that cities were actually going broke because they invested in tourism. Did I miss that article? Maybe you missed this article from just a couple of days ago...

"Tourism is one of Tennessee's leading industries, and Wednesday leaders will meet to discuss how to keep tourism strong in today's tough economic climate.

The latest statistics show tourism brings more than 50 million visitors and $14 billion into the Volunteer State."

By: producer2 on 9/21/09 at 4:00

Oh I am sure you will have a way to dispute this info. It's not real, It never happened...something to say that you could not possibly be wrong.

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 4:20

Imagine if the same time and energy was invested in high paying industries. That $14 billion could be Trillions based on the wage and benefit disparities between tourism and every other industry.

San Diego (a city investing heavily in tourism) is broke. To fix it their tourism leaders have suggested (get this) more investment in an even larger convention center. Seems the only way to stem the tides of convention center losses, in the community and on the income statement, is to spend even more money.

No city has reached economic prosperity by investing in tourism. All the cities that have bet heavily on convention centers are losing money now. All but two have lost money hand over fist for over ten years now. Total attendance levels at convention centers are at 1998 levels, dropping steadily every year. Yet the consultants say every city who pays them is losing not because of a change in economics or technology, but because their facility is not big enough to draw in the next tier of meetings.

I will add that the only method for increasing revenues from tourism is to increase the tax rate charged to its participants. San Diego even after spending a billion on the current facility that promised dramatic increases in revenues must finance any future increase with additional tax rate increases. The revenue increase never materialized. Not one bit. Yet Nashville with all it klitchy draw still thinks hotel/motel and rental car tax revenues will increase dramatically over current levels. It has to, the consultants (who have been guilty of overstatement 200 times in a row) says it will.

Which show or meeting that has been pre-sold the MCC is too big for the current facility? Several meetings have been mentioned but none that have been publicized have an estimated attendance of more that 12 to 15 thousand. There have been countless meetings of that size in the current center, I have even been to one or two. We are being bait-and-switched hoping no one will look behind the curtain and see that the capacity is already in place. Even if one was too big for the current center, is it too much to ask if 1 billion in debt with another half billion in interest is justified or prudent.

Based on the problems of new centers all across the country, I have to believe that there are some elected officials who regret the ledge their cities crawled out on with these "investments in making _______ a world-class city." This is stuff that doesn't usually make it to the ears and eyes of the next city's elected officials (Nashville's turn now) on the convention center merry-go-round. The articles linked above show a lot of regret coming out of Honolulu (tropical paradise is not a sellable brand after all) and Baltimore. Indianapolis officials faced with layoffs at their facility seem pretty apprehensive about their decisions.

By: JeffF on 9/21/09 at 4:24

sorry my bad, the conferences I attended were in the 6000-9000 range.

By: govskeptic on 9/21/09 at 5:04

Study says 50 million visitors & 14 billion dollars. I suggest the state paid some professor approx 50-75,000. dollars for this study and it's worth about what it cost.

These studies aren't renered for facts-they are produced
for numbers or outcomes to please the government agencie that is the payee!

By: MusicCity615 on 9/21/09 at 8:17

right.... but if an article comes out where it supports your theory, the facts are correct!

Build the convention center!

By: producer2 on 9/22/09 at 11:24

You cannot reason with a person who writes anything he wishes. Here is an example:

"No city has reached economic prosperity by investing in tourism. All the cities that have bet heavily on convention centers are losing money now. All but two have lost money hand over fist for over ten years now"

Where in this statement are there any discernible facts? All cities is quite a statement...where does he come up with this stuff...

OMG now we will get 50 more headlines from DesMoines and Hartford........

By: MusicCity615 on 9/22/09 at 11:30

hahaha I live in Dallas right now, where the taxpayers voted in FAVOR of building their convention center hotel, and I went to the cowboys game in Arlington. I saw the Arlington convention center, and reasoned with myself that there really is no need for Arlington to build a convention center, but Dallas definitely should. However, people on here would link us an article about how arlington is losing money (go figure), therefore Nashville, a city with a great tradition in tourism, should not invest in a new convention center.

NO PANDABEAR I am NOT going to make any money off this convention center. I simply think it is good for Nashville.

By: JeffF on 9/22/09 at 12:24

Was there a Arlington article? Oh yeah, Arlington, Virginia was in an article. Living proof that proponents do not read anything that has bad news for their "industry". That was an article about a PRIVATE convention facility that was a success while the nearby PUBLIC facilities in DC and Baltimore are bleeding TAXPAYER money and greater than expected rates. You see out of all the articles I find on Google, the onle ones with good news are the ones about PRIVATE facilities.

Score card:
Honolulu (a bigger tourism destination than Nashville) Loser
Baltimore - Loser
St Louis - Loser
Raleigh - Loser with a brand new building
Indianapolis- Loser (and they have the layoff slips to prove it) also with a new bldg
San Diego - Loser that wants to lose some more
Dallas - Loser that thinks a hotel will turn it around
Portland - Loser that thinks a hotel will turn it around if only someone would give the the $

Please let me know of a "winner" that is actually seeing the promises increases in tourism revenues after a new convention facility opens. That is the money that the "investment" is supposed to be paying off to the government. Since there isn't one that should be an indicator of what I mean by "losing money" since the only money coming in is simply going toward debt reduction and operating losses.

By: producer2 on 9/22/09 at 1:01

How do you define success? Is it by the number of room nights booked at the facility owned hotel?

Show me articles where those convention centers cannot pay for the build out of the facility. Actually do you even have a clue as to how much of the hotel/motel funds are used for building and how much goes into the General Fund?

By: producer2 on 9/22/09 at 1:09

Here let me give you the answer:
Ordinance BL2007-1557 specifies how HOT receipts collected by the County Clerk
are to be allocated. Specifically, taxpayers are charged a six percent privilege tax
plus and an additional two dollar ($2) privilege tax upon the occupancy of each
hotel room for each night of occupancy. The ordinance requires the six percent
privilege tax proceeds to be allocated in the following manner:
 1/3 of the proceeds are to be allocated for the direct promotion of tourism
 1/3 of the proceeds are to be allocated to a reserve fund to be used
exclusively for the purposes of modifying, constructing, financing and
operating a convention center
 1/6 of the proceeds are to be used for tourist related activities
 1/6 of the proceeds are to be deposited into the Metro General Fund
The additional two dollar ($2) privilege tax upon the occupancy of each hotel room
for each night of occupancy is required to be deposited into a separate convention
center fund, where the proceeds are to be used towards the construction of a new
convention center.

This just funds from the collection on hotel rooms and has nothing to do with any other tax money generated by people attending meetings in Nashville. The total number has been stated as $100 million in tax revenue collected per year but I am sure you dispute that.

By: arkay61 on 9/22/09 at 4:32

I am still looking for all of this decrease in crime they keep talking about. The shooting, robbing and mayhem seem to be increasing to me. Crime going down for six straight years???? I don't think I buy that one......

By: Time for Truth on 9/24/09 at 7:44

....and a giant empty building near an area already dealing with crime and adjacent to expensive condos will only make the problem worse. Think of what could go into that space instead. Something that would produce real jobs, a needed crosstown roadway (albeit compromised by some new condo construction).

Nashbeck, you moved to Dallas and changed your name to Music City615? I've been to Dallas several times and their citizenry (just barely) voting for more convention center dollars is not a recommendation that needs to be followed. I would welcome a chance to vote here though.

By: Time for Truth on 9/24/09 at 7:47

$1000 mil per year when the current take is $14 mil? You bet I will dispute that !