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A Post Election Letter to Mayor Karl Dean

August 13, 2011

Dear Mayor Dean,

Congratulations of succeeding in your re-election effort. Of course, it really wasn’t much of a surprise, for you had accomplished your goal of squashing serious competition months ago, but you were successful in obtaining a second term and while I may question that strategy, we have to move on from here as we work together to build up Metro Nashville.  It’s in the spirit of unity and cooperation that I want to share with you some random thoughts about the next four years, and my hopes and dreams for our city.

You have made no secret that your priorities for your administration are education, public safety, and and economic development. Certainly you have kept to those priorities, focusing the most on the economic development piece of the pie, with a few things thrown to education and public safety, usually at the expense of the social safety net. I’m not sure that I agree totally with those priorities as they have been practiced, for I continue to believe that the effectiveness of our educational and public safety system is deeply connected to our ability to help folks out of poverty, and to provide basic needs as a means of creating a better climate for education and preventing crime. This is especially true among our children, who often remain voiceless in the halls of government (or if not entirely voiceless, are given crumbs but not real resources that can effect change in their lives). I wish there was a valuing of the marginalized in your administration, but I understand that poor folks usually don’t make political contributions nor vote, and there are much more “important” people who have your ear, so I won’t hold out much hope that social needs will ease into your priority list.

However, it is my hope that you might pivot away from focusing on big economic development projects such as Convention Centers and Fairgrounds redevelopment toward a serious consideration of the needs of our schools and police departments.

Oh I know that you campaigned that you were able to fully fund our schools. That was, of course, a bit disingenuous for while you indeed were able to fund the amount requested by the school board (an amount predetermined through conversation with your finance office and school officials), the fact is that the schools actually experienced huge cuts in teaching personnel due to cuts in federal spending. Take McGavock High School, where my daughter attends (by the way, why DON’T your kids participate in public education?). This year McGavock is trying to make do with 30 fewer teachers than last year, which has made it difficult for my daughter to get the classes she needs for graduation from her specific academy. The school system has made this big push toward the vocational academy model, however last year my daughter attended a class in which they were unable to do anything in the particular topic (audio technology) because the school couldn’t afford to purchase needed equipment until mid year. The fact is that we didn’t fully fund schools, because we gave them a predetermined figure of what we could afford rather than truly evaluating what they need to carry out the task. It’s my hope this year you will sit down with Jesse Register over lunch (I may be willing to pay for it if you want) for an honest conversation about what the school system needs regardless of the cost, and then you will take that dream to the people of Nashville for an honest conversation about what’s really needed to transform our school system.

You’ve done pretty well maintaining the level of police protection, and in building two new precincts with additional officers enhancing public safety in Nashville. And yet, much of those additional officers are funded through sources outside of the Metro budget, which puts us at risk in an environment in which those funds are being radically cut. The fact is that we have a police department that is being asked to patrol very large service area with a minimum of officers, leading neighborhoods into battles regarding policing priorities. Juvenile violence continues to increase (see my second paragraph) and perceptions of safety continue to be eroded, especially in the second and third ring suburbs to the South and Northeast which have become pockets of poverty in their own right. Simply put, we need more officers and more resources to deal with ongoing issues of crime, both in prevention, protection, and prosecution.

It’s my concern about those two important issues that leads me to ask that you put things like a new stadium for the Sounds or a downtown amphitheater on the back burner. Yes, I know that they are economic development opportunities that “expand the tax base” (a phrase that my research shows is often used by rarely true), however we are at a point as a city where we need to help folks recognize their part in supporting the basic functions of government — education and police protection. It’s hard to make that sale in a climate where they see city dollars focused on big ticket projects that have little connection to their daily lives. Schools and police presence are daily reminders of the place of governance, and the main interest of concern for those of us out in the hinterlands beyond Briley Parkway.

It’s time to get out of the courthouse and engage in honest conversation with leaders whose offices aren’t in downtown. When you walk the streets of Old Hickory Village or Priest Lake, you’ll discover that the most important thing for most residents is to see police patrolling the neighborhood, the need for police and fire to have quick response times when called, and neighborhood schools which are helping our kids to better themselves and offer hope for the future.

I look forward to seeing what you have in mind in the coming months. It should be an interesting time.

Sincerely,

Jay Voorhees

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