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Farewell Address of Mayor Bill Haslam
Mayor Bill Haslam
Mayor Bill Haslam
January 5, 2010
8:30 AM

Good morning, let me start by saying that I have really loved being mayor of Knoxville. It's a great job, in a great city, working with great people.

We have accomplished a lot over the last seven years.

I want to first say that I am incredibly appreciative of all the hard work and great attitude of city employees. It has made my time as mayor a pleasure and it should go without saying that I owe so much to all of you.

When I first took office in 2003, I knew that I was going to have the opportunity to work with good people. I was wrong. Working at the City has afforded me the opportunity to work with great people who care so much for our community. Each of you has set the bar high, consistently doing more with less, not losing sight of the vision we set for an even better city. I'm proud to have had the opportunity to work with each of you, and proud of the things we have been able to do together.

It's been seven years since I was sworn into office on Market Square on a really cold December day. I could not have told you at that time exactly what this administration would accomplish. However, I was sure of two things I hoped would change. Knoxville had carried a chip on her shoulder for way too long. We compared ourselves to other cities, always wishing we could be more like somewhere else.

Secondly, we spent way too much time arguing about stupid stuff. There is nothing wrong with good arguments - they should just be about stuff that matters.

We don't really get the opportunity to judge our own performance. Of course there is no shortage of other folks more than willing to do that. But I am so proud of all of us - city employees, the press, the public, and I want to also emphasize City Council - we have worked hard at government and it has been very rewarding. There is a new sense of pride in our City and confidence in our great potential.

I've heard it said during campaigns before that "the road to victory is long, but the road to good government is even longer." I think that's probably pretty true. But the road to good government is a lot shorter when we do things the right way - remaining committed to cooperation, even when we've disagreed. I think we've done that here, and it has worked.

The way we govern matters. It matters a lot and it has taken all of us, both inside and outside of government, supporters and critics, to help create a culture of governing that works. As I look back there are five points that keep coming back to me.

(1) We have learned as a community that good government, government that works, is open and collaborative. Time and again we have seen that taking the time to hold meetings, listening to folks' concerns, and listening to suggestions while explaining why we sometimes might go in another direction, leads to better outcomes.

Those of us in a position to govern are there because people have placed a tremendous amount of trust in us. They put us there to get it right for the community, not for ourselves. In other words, it is more important that we have gotten to the "right answer" than to "our" answer - the answer we started with.

(2) Good government is for the long term. Our decisions have consequences that reach well into the future. A friend told me when I first came into office- "Be careful. The decisions you make will be around for a long time." He was right.

We have to make sure future mayors and future councils do not find themselves bound by poor decisions made just to get something off of our plates or for short term advantage. Thinking only in terms of the next quarter's stock price has led a lot of companies to eventual failure. There are real lessons for us in government.

(3) We have all stayed well focused on the fact that we are constrained by financial realities. Expenditures and revenues must match up and we often have to say "no" to great projects. Council and City directors and employees, and citizens have used great discipline in helping us keep from getting carried away during the good times. It sure has helped when times got tough.

(4) We have concentrated on the core of the city. It has become increasingly apparent that healthy cities have healthy cores. An economically sound heart of the city provides jobs and cultural and social life to folks all throughout the region. It provides an economic engine rather than a drain on local resources.

(5) Most importantly, we have never forgotten that citizens are our customers. They pay for government and our services have to be responsive, fair, and, above all, effective.

We still have challenges to face. And I am optimistic that we are up to the task. Four stand out.

(1) We have to continue to use great discipline with our budgeting. We live in a competitive environment. Families choose where they live and businesses choose where to locate. Our goal is to make Knoxville America's greatest city to live, work, play, and raise a family. To do this we have to be financially strong with a solid infrastructure. We must provide excellent city services.

We have a growing challenge with the City's pension plan. We all need to work together on this, for we all have a stake in the outcome. It is essential that we honor commitments, respect our employees, and that we do not place an unfair burden on the taxpayers. We must have a sustainable pension system or we all lose.

(2) We must keep our eye on the prize in developing the core of the city. Working in tandem with private developers, we have had great success downtown. The core of the city provides us with great opportunity to use existing infrastructure to provide great living and working space. We are making great progress, with Cumberland to the West, our housing and infrastructure improvements to the East, and the growing success of Downtown North.

Our efforts on the South Waterfront must continue. It has been the most visible casualty of the bad economy, but it is poised for greatness. The recently opened Riverwalk and upgraded Blount Avenue demonstrate the possibilities of our public - private approach. South Knoxville is primed for success, from the waterfront to beyond.

(3) We must continue to find the best practices to effectively deal with homelessness. It is a major issue for our city and our community. I believe that permanent supportive housing is the right approach. We must not forget, however, that it is not the only tenet of the Ten Year Plan. The Plan has given us better ways to work at effectively dealing with the problem of homelessness in our community. And it is working. It is essential that we continue to search out and implement methods to prevent and address the day to day challenges homelessness presents, and we must not let homelessness become an issue that divides us and appeals to the worst of our impulses.

(4) Finally, one of the greatest challenges we face is to keep from pitting one area against another and one group against another. If we look at success as a zero-sum game, where one's gain is only at another's loss, we all eventually lose. I think we've really worked to maintain a delicate balance, recognizing the importance of individual neighborhoods, while not ever losing sight of the greater good. I am hopeful that will continue, and I believe that it will.

When I took office one of the bits of conventional wisdom floating about was - "You have to learn to count to five" - a majority of council. I urged my administration to always try to get to nine. We knew we would often not get there, but that was not the point. This helped us from slipping into an "us versus them" mentality and governing style. Doing things this way forced us to come up with the very best approaches and policies we could and to work with each councilmember to explain and hopefully convince them that our proposals had merit. It helped us listen to the public and to council.

Together we have all grown as a community. We have not only learned to agree and work to get some really great things done; we have also learned to disagree in civil and constructive ways. Both are critical in developing a culture that works. We must never lose sight of that. My most disappointing council meetings were those in which a difference of opinion appeared to reflect a lack of respect.

Last month I had the experience of walking in my last Christmas parade as the Mayor of Knoxville. It was my ninth parade, going back to 2002 when I first walked as a candidate for Mayor. As I looked at high school bands and Knoxville police officers and families crowding the parade route, I confess to being more than a little misty-eyed. We walked past the new transit center, reopened and remodeled Bijou and Tennessee Theaters, the brand new Regal Cinema, and a wonderful old S & W Cafeteria.

Like everything else that we work to do, all of these took a lot of effort, creativity and more than a few disagreements. But in the end, doing government the right way - not just my way - produced some wonderful results.

I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to every one - employees, members of Council, and citizens of Knoxville for making this experience incredibly rewarding. Being mayor really is the best job I've ever had. I am moving on to other challenges but my heart will never stray far from Knoxville, the city that will always be my home.

Thank you!
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