Members of Noon Rotary were honored Thursday with a visit from two-term Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. Dean was sworn in as mayor of Nashville in September 2007. Prior to his terms as mayor, Dean served as Nashville’s public defender and director of law.
Dean spoke about Nashville’s direction and what he has focused on during his years as mayor.
Dean said Nashville has been deemed as the new “It City” and a booming town by a series of national publications.
“Conde Nast magazine listed Nashville as one of the five cities in the world you have to visit in 2013. Those cities are Toronto, Ontario; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Seoul, South Korea and New Orleans, La.,” said Dean.
Dean said although he appreciates the recognition, that type of recognition is not his most pressing concern.
“What keeps me awake is learning about how we are to stay competitive when trying to move other people to our city, how to make our city stronger and safer. I think the issue that weighs on me the most is how are we to create a school system that gives all our kids, regardless of certain circumstances in life, a chance to succeed,” said Dean.
Dean talked about three priorities he has for Nashville and how all three priorities are connected. “You can’t do one without working on the other,” he said.
The priorities are public education, public safety and economic development.
“If you have a safe city, people are going to want to invest in your city. They are going to want to stay in your city and move to the city. If you have good schools, you are going to see a reduction in crime. You are going to see people who are gainfully employed and are doing positive things. You are going to see it as a more attractive place in terms of attracting jobs and attracting opportunities,” said Dean.
Dean used the analogy as thinking of the city budget as a pie. He said most important priorities will get a bigger piece of the pie.
“Sometimes the pie grows because the economy is growing and revenue is growing. But, in some years, like in ’09 and ’10 the pie actually got smaller.”
Dean said Nashville currently has the largest police department it has ever had and is completing its first DNA crime lab to allow the use of DNA evidence for crime solving much more frequently.
Dean has said crime has gone down for the six years he has been in office.
Dean talked about public education and statistics showing Tennessee as ranking near the bottom in ACT testing.
“We’ve had two governors who have focused on education. For us to maintain a competitive edge, for us to be all we can be and to give our kids the opportunities they deserve, I think we need to move farther, faster. In terms of the budget, we have continued to invest in schools even during the most difficult of times,” Dean said.
In terms of economic development, a report in May indicated the greater Nashville region in 2012 had the largest percentage job growth of any region in the United States. Dean said the biggest economic development project he has been involved in was building Music City Center, a new convention center.
Dean also credits tourism as a boom to the economy. “Nashville changed from a city in the ’80s and ’90s that closed down after 6 p.m. Now it is busy every night of the week. Those honky tonks on lower Broad are attracting people to Nashville,” he said.
Dean said the country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is being linked with the Omni Center, creating an integrated campus. He said downtown offers the Ryman, Bridgestone Arena and LP Field for entertainment.
“As a city we had not recognized our potential as a destination and we didn’t take advantage of it. We have certainly benefited from the fact we have an ABC show with the perfect title, ‘Nashville.’ I can assure you that my life is nowhere near as interesting as that mayor’s. The show is seen by 7 to 8 million viewers every week in the United States and is seen in 15 to 20 countries around the world. I think of them as potential tourists,” said Dean.
Dean said he loves being mayor and thinks of his job as a fun ride.
Dr. Wally Bigbee asked Dean his per capita funding for public libraries. Dean said he did not know the exact amount but he does believe public libraries are important. He told about a project started in Nashville called Endless Libraries linking public libraries and school libraries. The program allows any student in a Metro school to have access to any one of the 125 million volumes available in Nashville area public libraries.
“We see tens of thousands of books being checked out every year by school kids from our public libraries,” said Dean.
Former McMinnville Vice Mayor Everett Brock asked what Dean thought was the biggest challenge in Nashville. Dean said it was education.
“I want Nashville to be in a position where a young couple is making a decision about where they want to live, they look at education and education is a plus factor. We aren’t there with public education. Take it up a notch, if a business is looking to invest to expand its business or relocate its business, and they want a place where their employees will have access to great public education, you want public education to be a plus factor. If we get that right, we’ll be in good shape,” said Dean.
Mayor Dean will be in a half-hour Focus interview on public radio 91.3 WCPI. The program will air Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 5:05 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 5:10 a.m.; and Thursday, Aug. 29 at 1:05 p.m.