|INAUGURAL ADDRESS 2007
December 15, 2007
I want to thank you for coming. I realize that all of you have other things that you could be doing on a Saturday right here in the middle of a busy Holiday Season, so I am personally very grateful that you chose to come.
I also want to thank all of our elected officials that are here today.
I really appreciate the way that each of you has chosen to serve in
what can sometimes be a thankless task. I also want to thank members
of the Knoxville City Council and our city employees. It has been
a treat to work with you for the last four years and I am looking
forward to continuing to work together in the coming four years.
Finally, I want to thank my family. A lot has changed in the last four years. I have gone from having two daughters in high school and a son who had just started college, to a son who is married, to a wonderful daughter-in-law, I might add; and two daughters who have left us for college, leaving Crissy stuck at home with me.
I really want to thank my extended family as well. They now have to read the morning paper, just like I do - nervously hoping that I haven't done something to embarrass them.
The main thing that I want to do today is to thank you for the privilege of being Mayor of the City of Knoxville. I really do mean that. Last week, I was walking down the middle of Gay Street during our annual Christmas Parade and I kept thinking about how much I love this job. Not because parades are my favorite thing, but because this is a city full of people who care about this wonderful place that we call home. It is hard for me to express to you how much it means for me to have the opportunity to be the Mayor of Knoxville for four more years.
Four years ago, on another cold and blustery day, a lot of us gathered for our first inauguration. I had just completed a campaign in which I stressed the fact it was "Knoxville's Time." I meant it then, but I know it now. I didn't really know what I was in for on that day four years ago. All of us, returning council members, new council members, and the new administration knew that we had challenges.
We faced financial challenges to be sure, but our greatest challenge was to build a different culture of local government. A culture of respect for each other, despite political party or differences of opinion, a culture of openness and participation. A culture of inclusion, and most importantly, a culture of confidence in who we are and optimism in what we can be. In many ways, I think our most significant accomplishment over the last four years is building that culture of confidence and optimism.
There's a reason that I really wanted to have this inauguration in the Tennessee Amphitheatre. It is a great example of four principles of good government that I firmly believe.
First, good government is about remembering who we are and being proud of our past. It just always seemed wrong to me that the Sunsphere and the Tennessee Amphitheatre, our most visible symbols of the 1982 World's Fair, were closed to visitors and fenced off in the Tennessee Amphitheatre's case.
Second, it is about sound financial policies. This area had been a financial drain and now it is a great park that is open to everyone, with the Sunsphere and the Tennessee Amphitheatre open again and without costing the taxpayers any money.
The third principle of good local government is that it adds to the
quality of life. Since the World's Fair closed, we have had endless
debates and discussions about what we should do about the World's
Fair Site. We finally decided what we are going to do with it. We
are going to live in it. It will be a gathering place before events
like the Race for the Cure, or the Buddy's Run. We will have kids
playing Frisbee and soccer on the lawn. There will be 60,000 people
show up for the Fourth of July Concert with the Knoxville Symphony.
We will build a Veteran's Memorial to honor those who have fought
for us in the past. Knoxville's Museum of Art up on the hill will
continue to attract people to our area. Kids will play in the fountains
as moms with strollers sit on beach towels and watch them. There will
be parties in the Sunsphere. In short, it will be another location
that helps us create a unique sense of place right in the heart of
The fourth principle of good government is it all happens because
we have a city council that is willing to consider all the alternatives,
evaluate the cost and benefits of each, hold public meetings (which
sometimes seem endless), and occasionally catch heat for the decisions
they make. All in the interest of making this a better place to live.
So, to me this is a symbol of how we want to do government.
Four years ago as we gathered, downtown's renaissance was already underway, and we were all beginning to see what downtown could be - another one of those places that made Knoxville unique and added to our quality of life, while also providing financial benefit, or at least lessening the burden of taxpayers. Working with council, we have all increased the momentum of downtown. From a new Regal Theatre and working with Knox Heritage to save the S&W space next door, to the Bijou and Tennessee Theatre hosting concerts and entertainment almost every night of the week. From the Emporium providing great public space, to a new Mast General Store, Market Square in the center of it all, and soon to break ground, a new Transit Center that will ease transportation costs, parking issues and
air quality concerns. Together we have continued to push downtown to new heights.
Now, our challenge is to expand downtown's success to our inner ring
of neighborhoods and businesses. I think everyone knows how excited
we are about the South Waterfront Project. Our goal in short, is to
have one billion dollars in new investment in the next 20 years. For
those of you who think that might be a bridge too far, we have already
begun work or announced plans for over 100 million dollars worth of
construction in the first year.
There is a new focus in the area that we call Downtown North, the area just to the north of downtown. We are seeing thriving neighborhoods and increasing businesses. Cumberland Avenue and Fort Sanders is an important part of our city that will get more attention in the next four years. Five Points and the Magnolia Avenue Corridor have new reasons for optimism. If I could put a word to all of that - it would be connecting. That's what great cities do;
they connect parts of the city to each other, instead of building geographical islands.
A critical challenge for us in the coming years is to continue making progress with our local economy, creating new jobs at higher wages. We have seen some successes through the location of Sysco, through Scripps Network's plan to expand their headquarters in Knoxville, or a small company like Protein Discovery deciding to be a high tech company that is located right on Gay Street. We have to continue making progress if we are going to create the jobs that we want for our kids in the future and if we are going to keep taxes low by bringing in new investments to keep our economy strong.
That is one way to keep taxes low by bringing in new investments. Another way is through responsible stewardship of public funds. One thing all of us know, it is not our money. It's yours. Recently, we were able to announce that we had a surplus in funds in our budget from last year. We asked council and council agreed to spend money on some items that we all felt were necessary. Now, a lot of people came up to me and said, "Haslam, you're supposed to be a conservative Republican type, why didn't you just send the extra money back to the taxpayers?" Well, we thought about it and quite frankly we could have done it and been heroes for a year, because who ever heard of government sending money back? But the reality is, we had some outstanding obligations from a pension plan that was under funded, to needed new fire equipment, to sidewalks and road paving that was either a case of "pay me now or pay me more later." So, we were like the family that received a year-end bonus check. Rather than spend the money on a new boat or increasing our entertainment budget, we used that money to pay down our mortgage. I think because of that, future city councils and administrations will have a much more manageable budget.
You don't have to be here long before you realize that for most citizens, well, all the downtown and south waterfront stuff is nice, but what have you done for my neighborhood, my street, my property values? That is why we have worked hard to address much needed issues like flooding, increasing our schedule for paving streets, and
adding more sidewalks. We have also tried to add some innovative government. Ideas like 311 that make it easy for citizens to contact their government. Since we have already had over 500,000 calls, and the week before last we had 8,000 calls in one week, I think the citizens have figured out how to get a hold of us. We have also put together groups to address things like chronic problem properties, those few pieces of property in a neighborhood that were dragging the rest of the neighborhood down through code violations or illegitimate activities. Our Fifth and Broadway Task Force helped address the stress that was developing between neighborhoods, businesses, and some of our area missions and ministries that were ministering our homeless population. The net result of all that, we believe is that we are helping these inner core of neighborhoods and businesses move from disinvestment to investment.
Two of the key players that rarely get mentioned are the Knoxville Police Department and the Knoxville Fire Department. I can honestly say that they are two great departments.
I can brag on them because quite frankly, they were great before I got here and they will be great after I am gone because of the amount of committed men and women who fill their ranks.
However, I want to make one very important point: there is nothing
more important in building great neighborhoods than having great schools.
The city currently contributes 96 million dollars to Knox County Schools
through our sales tax collections. This is in addition to the 41 million
dollars that our city taxpayers pay in their county taxes that go
towards the school system. The sales tax money represents 72% of the
sales tax that we collect. If we were to contribute only the state
minimum, 50%, that would mean the schools would receive only 66 million
dollars. I don't point this out so we can be the heavy to throw our
weight around with the schools. I say it to represent the commitment
that Knoxville's city taxpayers have made to great education. We want
to be partners with the school system in doing everything we can to
provide great schools for folks who live in the city. Our message
to the school system is - we put great value in the work you are doing
and we want to do everything we can to help.
For government to succeed it needs to listen and it needs to lead. Quite frankly, sometimes in government it is hard to figure out if it is leading or listening that's called for at that moment. But, I do know this, you listen first, and then you lead. For government to succeed it must be open and transparent and it must get things done. I have also learned that government has to have a strong sense of the financial realities with which it is dealing. There is no magic box called government where we can put in all of our wishes and desires for things that we would like to see happen, and then have the money magically appear to take care of all those needs. Good government involves making hard decisions about valid but competing needs. It means getting great value for the taxes that our citizens pay.
I am excited about continuing to work with this city council to move Knoxville forward.
I think we have a unique chance to think bigger in terms of whom we are as a city and more importantly what we can be. We have a lot of things working for us right now to make that happen. Everyone in the administration or on council has served in that position for at least four, and in some cases, six years. Hopefully, we have moved up the learning curve we've gotten better from some of the mistakes that we may have made in the past. Secondly, the city is in strong financial position. It's a lot easier to make decisions when the "wolf is not at the door." We really can think about what is best for the city for the next 10 or 15 years. Finally, it helps that all of us are term limited and none of us will be running again for the offices that we now enjoy. We can think bigger. We can think longer term. We can truly do what is in the best interest of the City of Knoxville.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the classic "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." There is one moment when the posse is chasing Butch and the Kid and they have them trapped. Butch and the Kid's only possible outlet is to jump off a 200 foot high cliff into a roaring river below them.
Butch keeps urging the Kid to jump, but the Sundance Kid will have none of it. Finally, Robert Redford looks at Paul Newman and says, "I can't jump, I can't swim." Newman looks at him, laughs and says, "Swim, are you crazy? It's the fall that's gonna kill you." Sometimes I feel like Knoxville has always been worried about the wrong thing. Well, not any more. Now we really can face the real challenges that are out there in a very competitive world. However, I feel good about facing these challenges. I love the team that we have here, both the city administration and city council and more importantly, this special city that we all live in. Let's lift our community spirit and confidence by doing government in the right way. In the open, competently, respectfully, always with civility and guided by the better angels of our nature.
May God bless each of us as we celebrate this wonderful season of light and anticipation and may He bless our city.