As an activist, one of my guiding principles is that, according to the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people. At the heart of that purpose is the notion that it is the people, not government, that know best what they want, need and should have.
For this reason, politicians pay more than just passing service to the practice of checking with constituents for their input, especially when the issues are big. Which makes it all the more confusing to note that Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, especially when it comes to the big issues, has purposely refused to consult with or consider the expressed wishes of the citizens of Nashville.
The very first time he did so, he wasn’t even Mayor. As the attorney for the city, he advised that the proposed amendment of the city’s charter to require a vote of the people to raise property taxes over a specified amount was unconstitutional. The numbers from the time showed that 77% of Nashvillians thought it was a great idea. The Supreme Court had upheld similar notions. Dean has never backed off his opinion.
Once elected Mayor, he continued in this theme. His first major test was the downtown Convention Center. Again, despite numbers of Nashvillians opposed to the matter reported to be in the 75% range, Mayor Dean rammed the measure through the Council anyway. Years later, no one has forgotten and the Convention Center remains a sore spot and point of contention between Hizzonor and citizens.
Next up was the Fairgrounds. This time Nashvillians were more aware of their Mayor’s proclivity for ignoring them when he wanted something. The Mayor wanted to sell the Nashville Fairgrounds and turn the area into even more greenway. Despite an avalanche of phone calls and protests, the Mayor continued to push ahead against a groundswell of opposition that eventually made it a campaign issue for 2011 Metro Council races.
The Mayor lost this fight when, on the final reading of the bill to sell the beloved location, literally thousands of Nashvillians descended on the Council. No room remained in the Council chambers and each floor of the courthouse was occupied by multiple hundreds of citizens opposing the sale. Despite the Mayor’s wishes, the Council listened to the people and the issue failed to pass.
That made the Mayor 1 and 1.
Now the issue is the Mayor’s $0.53 property tax hike; the largest tax increase in Nashville history. The Mayor’s biggest announced purpose for the increase is to give teachers and Metro employees raises. Metro employees are to get 2%-4% raises. Some teachers, recently hired at $35,000 will see their pay jump to $40,000, an almost 15% increase. The response of Davidson County taxpayers was immediate and clear.
DO. NOT. DO. THIS!
Had Mayor Dean talked to his city, he would have known we would respond this way. He had months to prepare his budget. He could have invited those paying the bill to be part of the discussion. He could have laid out his plan early and made his case to taxpayers. We are not unreasonable people. If we absolutely MUST have this, explain why and we will understand. We are smart enough to recognize necessity when it comes calling. He did not.
Instead, despite being publicly asked for well over a year about his intentions concerning a property tax increase, the Mayor “Aw, shucks-ed!” his way out of addressing what has clearly been his long term intent. He waited until May 1 to announce his intentions fully aware the matter had to be resolved by 6/30 by law. He delayed two more weeks in providing the Council the information needed for any alternative budgets.
This served to limit both the debate itself and the time available for it. Clearly, the Mayor was hoping to avoid having to deal with the people of Nashville. It is yet another ignoring of Nashville citizens and taxpayers.
The last time the Mayor went up against the people, he got his ears pinned back. He wants this tax increase badly. Speculation is that he sees it as a step to running for higher office after his term as Mayor is over. Having bought the votes of thousands of teachers and Metro employees would serve his campaign well. But to get it, he has to bypass the rest of Nashville that aren’t getting perks and raises but will be forced to endure pay cuts to pay for them.
Mayor Dean could have talked to us and treated us like adults. He did not. Instead, he is treating us like ATMs. It’s the way he’s interacted with us for all his political life that I can recall. The question is, “Why?”