Clarksville, TN – Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan gave her State of the City address at the Customs House Museum today. The Mayor started out speaking about the challenges she has faced since taking office in January 2011, the economic growth of the city, and new programs that are being planned to improve the quality of life for all Clarksville residents.
New programs include: a new parking facility located in downtown Clarksville, along with refurbishments to the existing parking garages; public transit services from Clarksville to Nashville for commuters, bringing a riverboat back to Clarksville; a Summer Night Lights Program keeping Clarksville Parks open after dark to provide safe places for Clarksville Teens; along with a public-private partnership to bring a new convention center to Clarksville. For full details continue reading as a transcript of her speech is included below.
The Mayor’s Speech
Good afternoon. I want to welcome all of you and thank you for being here today. Before I begin, I want to recognize all of the elected officials who are here and those who could not be with us because of work schedules or previous engagements. I also want to publicly thank Mayor Carolyn Bowers although she could not be here today.
A new year always presents a time of reflection and planning for me. As your Mayor, I want to share with you my thoughts of our successes over the past year and the promise for Clarksville’s future. It is bright with opportunities and growth, a time of working together and becoming stronger, and a day to recognize the hard work and dedication of so many people who make Clarksville the best place to live, work and raise our families.
Quite frankly, I have the best job in the world. When you elected me as your Mayor over a year ago, I was both honored and humbled. Public service is my chosen profession and I believe, after many years as an elected official, that voters understand the difference between someone who wants to be called mayor and someone who wants to serve the people through the office of mayor. Is it what I expected? Absolutely and not at all. I knew that the people of Clarksville, the people who matter most, are involved, dedicated, creative, independent, and self-sufficient. That has been proven to me daily. I did not expect, however, to spend the majority of my first year as Mayor with lawyers, lawsuits, bankers and bond agents. Nor did I realize how much my first year would sound like a weather forecast — especially on days when storms were predicted.
When I took office, I immediately realized that the City was facing a number of lawsuits, and more were threatened. Except for a handful of cases, those have now been resolved. Those lawsuits, however, took more than time. They threatened other projects, like the marina, which is now back on track and projected to open in the near future.
After the storms of litigation came the rains of Woodstock. Drainage issues and water run-off aren’t usually the most exciting issues of the day but when they present a safety and livability issue for a number of Clarksville residents, they certainly deserve attention. We have begun the process of resolving the Woodstock drainage problem by working with several departments and planners and, most importantly, residents of the neighborhood and property owners.
One of the issues we continue to deal with is the revision of Clarksville’s Charter. As you know, I recently proposed a revision that would have addressed the issues the General Assembly identified while encompassing the changes that the City Council had already approved, twice. Although my proposed resolution passed with a majority vote, it did not receive the two-thirds support that would be needed when a second vote is necessary after the revised Charter is sent back from the General Assembly. The City Council also declined to pass by a two-thirds vote the single issue revision which would have allowed us to address the conflict of interest issue so that qualified citizens could once again serve on important city boards and commissions. I won’t give up on these issues.
First, I intend to reintroduce the single issue revision. Even if the City Council continues to insist that more time is needed to address the comprehensive Charter revision, this conflicts issue is prohibiting dedicated and talented Clarksvillians from participating on boards and commissions. I believe that the business community has a real interest in making sure that these appointments are filled as quickly as possible and, while we have managed to continue with the City’s business, this is an issue that can and should be addressed quickly.
For the remaining Charter provisions, I will be appointing a new Charter Revision Commission immediately. This Commission will be made up of City Council members and members of the public. The Charter is the city’s constitution; it serves as the very basis for our government, our foundation and our direction. Changing it should not be easy. I am also committed to the fact that changing it must include direct participation by those who should always have a say in how they are governed: the citizens. It would be wholly irresponsible, in my opinion, to change Charter provisions based solely on the requests of a handful of people who will not be in office in ten years. These changes, if carefully considered and written, will direct our grandchildren’s children through the business of government and leadership. I cannot, and I don’t believe the City should, make these changes without including citizens in evaluating proposed revisions.
In addition to responding to these problems, I have undertaken some important proactive actions to help our community, our employees and our economic future.
I recommended, and the City Council passed, a “no new taxes” budget. As I said in my report to you in June of 2011, the budget we passed is a plan that expects and manages growth in a way that continues to provide excellent City services at an affordable level and confirms that Clarksville is a top tier city. Working with the City Department Heads, we submitted a budget that recognizes that quality of life is a hallmark of our city and to continue to enhance that, we must preserve our infrastructure, provide quality service and plan for a growing a vibrant business community.
In my very first council meeting as Mayor, I was faced with the adoption of a comprehensive pay study for city employees. The pay plan had been in the subject of years of discussion and formulation but adoption had been left to my administration. I am pleased to report that we passed the plan. Prior to the adoption of this plan, approximately 63% of our employees’ pay was not in line with the market. This was a vitally important issue for me. I have taken the opportunity to meet with employees in almost every department over the last few months. I can tell you that Clarksville’s city employees stand head and shoulders above any other cities. Let me give you a couple of examples.
During last month’s City Council Meeting, I had the opportunity, along with Director Jimmy Smith, of recognizing Linda Travis. Ms. Travis is retiring from the Clarksville Transit System after having spent 25 years working for the City. Along with Mr. Smith, she is the only employee to have worked for CTS since its inception. Her dedication and reliability exemplify the kind of attitude and care Clarksville’s employees provide every day.
At that same meeting, David Smith, the Parking Manager for Clarksville, presented a request for maintenance and repairs for our parking infrastructure. His request was less than half the amount originally requested by the Authority. When asked for the reason behind the reduction, Mr. Smith answered that he had whittled the “wants from the needs.” In other words, he looked at the budget expenditure as I have asked all Department Heads to do with an eye towards going where Clarksville needs to go as efficiently as possible. Mr. Smith’s resolve to do what needs to be done today so that we can meet the opportunities of tomorrow is appreciated by all of us and, again, serves as a great example of the commitment to service that our employees have.
I must also mention that five firefighters from Clarksville Fire and Rescue received recognition for their heroic work in rescuing a fire victim who was trapped on the second floor of a burning building. Our firefighters and police officers are among the best trained and most prepared emergency service personnel in the State. I was very proud to join the ceremonies in opening a new fire station in the North part of town near the airport and, very recently, a new community policing station in New Providence. These stations provide cutting edge equipment and facilities and provide our police and firefighters a new way to engage with these communities and to provide even better service to our City. I want to thank the brave men and women who are ready to respond on a moment’s notice to serve and protect our citizens on a daily basis. I appreciate their hard work, their commitment to excellence and their willingness to face dangers most of us will never know.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank our heroes, the soldiers who are such a vitally important part of our community. The service members stationed at Fort Campbell, whether they’re here for a year or a career, should know that they will always have a home in Clarksville. I appreciate their valor and their sacrifices more than words can say. As more of these courageous men and women return from deployment, and in recognition of those who will not return, I thank you for making our Nation safe and our community strong.
Our people are without a doubt Clarksville’s best resource. Whether it’s the police, firefighters, teachers, volunteers, city employees, engineers, business owners, or students, everyone makes a contribution to our success. By working together creatively and collaboratively, we have seen some major successes this year.
2011 brought economic opportunity and we seized upon it. For example, Jostens announced the establishment of a new state of the art memory book facility in Clarksville. This new development, including the jobs it will bring to Clarksville, is a $47 million investment into the community.
Another example is the Clarksville location of Bridgestone Metalpha U.S.A., Inc. who is planning a $75 million expansion to their site in the Clarksville-Montgomery County Corporate Business Park. This location serves as the US Corporate Headquarters for steel cord production. Again, in addition to the monetary investment this will bring to the City, there will be jobs to be filled in our area.
This economic development and growth through business expansion is possible because of the collaboration of the County Mayor, the Economic Development Council, the Aspire Foundation, my office and many others. All of us understand the needs of existing industry and I am committed to continuing to provide the best resources, quality of life and opportunities for those companies who already have an essential place in our community as well as the newcomers we will continue to bring in.
Our good economic news, unlike most of the rest of the country, isn’t just dependent on business development. For example, sales and lodging tax receipts exceeded more than $180,000 in August and September, according to Brenda Radford, Montgomery County Trustee. In fact, the August sales tax collections reached $5.34 million, which is more than we have collected in any other month. Landlords also report that their properties are approaching full capacity. Some of these successes must be attributed to the thousands of contracts associated with the Hemlock project as well as Josten’s, Bridgestone and other projects that are ongoing. Much of it, however, is because of the ongoing growth at Austin Peay State University, the return of our troops stationed at Fort Campbell, and a renewed interest in business and residential development in the downtown area.
Clarksville has been recognized by national publications as one of America’s best places to raise a family, start a business and retire. We offer a successful education opportunity for students of all ages. We have a diverse, growing and enthusiastic work force. We host the fastest growing University in all of Tennessee. We have one of the largest industrial developments in the State and have been recognized as a major player in the expanding green industry sector. We are home to one of the largest and, by far, the finest military installations in the country. All of this adds up to the undeniable fact that we have an extremely positive quality of life. And this is the reason people want to live, work and raise their families in Clarksville.
Over the next few months, you will see the culmination of some of our most exciting projects. You will also see the planning and commencement of several others.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the new Marina and development at Liberty Park. When I took office, a contract existed with a developer who suddenly faced financial difficulties and had to bail out of the deal. In the last year, we offered the project through a bidding process, selected a developer from those bids, revamped the idea to include a restaurant at the site, presented new contracts for the marina and restaurant to the City Council, signed the contracts and submitted and received approval for the project from the Army Corps of Engineers. We have taken a project, that will serve as a unique recreational opportunity for Clarksvillians as well as tourists, from the brink of default and gotten it back on track. The marina and Liberty Park work are on schedule to be completed and opened this summer and fall for all of us to enjoy.
Clarksvillians are known for their love of the outdoors and we certainly have the resources to enjoy an active lifestyle. In addition to the marina and Liberty Park, we are working to expand the Greenways and to add more biking lanes. We are working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to include bike lanes on Riverside Drive and sidewalks that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many of these improvements are being made at no cost to the city. We are also considering the opportunities for “blueways” with launch points, camping locations and points of interest for canoeists and kayakers. And we are in negotiations to bring a riverboat back to Clarksville. With two rivers, abundant hiking opportunities, outdoor recreation facilities and our city managed recreation centers, Clarksville will continue to be recognized as one of the best places to live a healthy quality of life.
On that note, I want to congratulate the Department of Parks and Recreation for their Adaptive Sports and Recreation program. This program, which has already gained national attention, is making a real difference in the lives of our physically challenged citizens. It is this type of program, initiated by the creative staff of Parks and Recreation that sets Clarksville apart from other cities.
I am now considering a new initiative to take place in the summer months. The Summer Night Lights program, a program I was introduced to by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a leadership meeting for the U.S. Conference of Mayors last summer, will be held in the city’s parks and will offer structured programs and activities for Clarksville’s youth. The program has been shown to be very successful in helping to alleviate gang-related problems that seem to increase during the summer months when school is not in session. I am committed to finding ways to address this problem and the Summer Night Lights program combines that effort with an opportunity to create new alliances in our neighborhoods and a greater sense of community. This program is only in the formative stage for Clarksville but it is something I believe in and I look forward to working with the departments, agencies and volunteers who can combine resources to make this happen.
As you know, Clarksville has become a tourist destination. From the annual sports tournaments and events the City currently hosts, to the River Fest and River and Spires concerts and events such as the Fireball Run, Clarksville is becoming a go-to city. With that in mind, we are exploring several opportunities to facilitate a public/private partnership to build a Convention Center that would increase tourism opportunities and revenue for both the City and County. Our team, the City, County, Economic Development Council and CVB will work with a private developer to create a convention center that matches Clarksville’s unique resources and maximizes the opportunity for measured and planned economic growth. Our team is also identifying the possibility of becoming designated as a “Tourist District” under a new state law. This designation would allow us to minimize the financial risk associated with tourist development. I believe the convention center is an idea whose time has come and that it will be an important step as we move Clarksville forward.
I am also excited about the renewed interest in expanding the downtown area as a vibrant business and residential area. Several new retail and commercial ventures have opened their doors recently and new living areas are being developed. As you know, downtown Clarksville offers a distinctive combination of traditional charm and increasing modern opportunities. Bringing people downtown to live, shop and visit is a goal of many of our newest and most established business owners alike. It is my intention as mayor to do what we can to continue to revitalize this important part of our city to increase the economic and quality of life opportunities that will result from a dynamic downtown.
Of course, bringing more people to the downtown area also creates some challenges. Parking, for example, will become an increasing problem as we continue to grow. I believe Clarksville is ready to begin a study to identify the best location, type and design for a new multi-level parking facility. The Council has begun the process to allocate funds for this study. The Parking Authority is committed to make the most of the parking options that currently exist. However, there is only so much space to work with. We have a plan in place to provide needed maintenance work on the existing lots and we are reviewing additional opportunities to enhance our current capacity. But there is no doubt that as the number of people who live and work in Clarksville increases, additional parking will be required. It is time to begin preparing for that day and I plan to begin the process within the next year.
Other improvements to our infrastructure are already completed and more are being planned. The work done at the intersection of Second and College is a good example. As you probably recall, while work was being done in this area, an old and broken pipe was discovered which caused a sinkhole. We immediately went into action to get TDOT, the Street Department and Gas and Water to repair what could have been a dangerous problem for anyone who traveled through that intersection. It always amazes me what people can accomplish, and how quickly and well it can be accomplished, when no one cares who gets the credit and everyone pitches in to do the work. Second and College is repaired, the people who travel in that area are safe, and our infrastructure has undoubtedly been improved. Plans are also in place to improve intersections at Madison Street at SR-76, Madison Street at Richview Road, US41A By pass at SR 48/13, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard at Dunbar Cave. We are also continuing to work on safety projects at exits 4, 8 and 11.
To alleviate parking issues, wear and tear on our streets and cars and to offer a much needed alternative to our residents who work outside Clarksville, I am happy to announce that we will soon begin commuter service to Nashville from the long-term parking lots at exits 8 and 11. Two buses will offer transportation to Nashville each business day with return service at day’s end. Specific details are still being confirmed but the overall plan is in place and the service should begin in the next few months. With well over 10,000 Clarksvillians travelling to Nashville daily for work and with a waiting list for the current shuttle vans, I believe this will alleviate a great deal of traffic and frustration while improving our air quality. This is a common sense approach that will resolve several issues and I am very glad we are able to bring this idea to fruition.
We are also moving forward with the building of a second natural gas pipeline for Clarksville. The primary purposes of this second line are security and redundancy. We want to be certain that we have continuous, uninterrupted access to our natural gas source and that will be possible with this second line. Another benefit, however, is that a second line will offer the kind of competition between providers that often results in lower prices for consumers. This second pipeline is already in the design phase and will likely require 18—24 months for completion.
These are just a few of the projects we are developing. Growing our economy and business opportunities, maintaining our infrastructure, keeping our citizens safe and involved and working through a process that is transparent and open requires cooperation, vision and dedication. Fortunately, we have a strong foundation to build on.
Since starting my term as mayor just over a year ago, I have consistently promised that my administration will be open and transparent about our priorities and goals. I established open budget hearings so that everyone would know how the City is spending and investing its resources. You can also watch City Council meetings on our website and I encourage every citizen to do just that. There is no better way to hold your government leaders accountable than to make sure they are keeping your interests at the forefront and doing so in a way that you appreciate and respect. My plan is to offer live streaming via our website in the next few months so you’ll be able to watch the action and decisions of the City Council as they happen.
It is imperative that I hear from you about your concerns and ideas for our growing city. I was fortunate to serve as your elected Representative in the Tennessee General Assembly for 12 years and to serve on the administration and faculty at Austin Peay. The success I had in those positions was primarily due to two factors: first, I believe in Clarksville and, second, I know the value of collaboration and cooperation.
Over the past year, we have faced big challenges and created new opportunities. We have laid the groundwork for growth and removed many of the distractions that dissipated our time and energy. As I look to this next year, I know that our future is limited only by those who believe that collaboration is an outdated notion and who confuse politics for public service. In any community the size of Clarksville, disagreements are expected and delays will, regrettably, occur on occasion. My experience has taught me that these disagreements are just an opportunity to learn and refocus our efforts on the goal at hand. Harry Truman once said, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
My commitment to you, the people of Clarksville. You deserve a city where progress is occurring that will enhance your life and create new opportunities for your family. We have weathered the storms together and I see blue skies and calm winds in our future. We will continue to build together, to grow together and to celebrate together because Clarksville is the very best place to live, work and raise our families.