Nashville is the picture of progress. It’s the city you want to live, play and work in. Music, hockey, football, soccer, art, restaurants, food trucks, old homes, new condos, great parks, hospitality. To outsiders, we have it all. But if you are moving to the area, the picture of progress abruptly shifts as a realtor paints another visual completely opposite of the one it plays on TV.
It must be a shock to the system for anyone new to the city when all they’ve seen is Keith Urban, Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators (Go Preds!), Vanderbilt, and Carrie Fisher; the “It” of us. Bless their hearts. Sorry, folks, that’s not the whole picture. It’s not even half of it. Behind the shine are an increasing homeless population, affordable housing crisis, a troubled local government, and a school system filled with thousands of kids who see the “It”, but can’t reach it.
The deception doesn’t stop with the marketing. Lies creep into the messages our city leaders want us to hear. ‘We need money for transit,’ they say. ‘We’re spending all we can (too much, even) on schools,’ they tell us. But it’s not true.
For the past three months, I’ve watched this city’s leaders and their friends pull out all the stops, a Hail Mary of sorts, to promote a monster mass transit tax increase referendum. Backed by more than one hundred businesses and organizations and their money, the former mayor and acting mayor paraded a facade of a plan donned with the message “just trust us.” Nearly $3 million was spent in as many months just to PROMOTE the plan that stood to benefit Nashville developers and residents living close to the downtown area. It’s important to note that the whole city of Nashville is more than 520 square miles. The referendum failed by a shocking margin.
Interestingly, the failed referendum inspires a renewed hope in my fellow Nashvillians, a hope that had been in hibernation. The direction of the city has been a source of stress to me for some time now but it was nice to be part of the cacophony of citizens that let out a resounding “nah, bruh.” Nashvillians rummaged through the BS to find the truth, voted accordingly, and in record numbers. One week later I’m still beaming with pride.
Pig Meets Lipstick
But as proud as I am of our people, I am equally incensed with our leadership. The manpower, funding, energy, changing strategies, the onslaught of TV and digital ads, and the hubris behind the four tax increases that was sold as everything but tax increases. In spite of it all, I learned a valuable lesson that I can never unlearn. Nashville will spare no expense for its priorities. It will even pay handsomely just to promote them. Because of this, I will never believe another local elected official when they say we can’t fully fund education. It’s not true. Still, Mayor Briley shaved off $40 million from the district’s budget request forcing the director to withdraw much-needed teacher and support staff salary increases.
Here is a priority for you:
Three-fourths of students do not read at grade level.
These numbers increase dramatically for students of color, in poverty, and with disabilities. If our leaders can’t muster the political will to make our children a priority, to match the wildly elevated importance of the recent failed transit campaign, we will pay one way or another.
If you don’t hear me, check out the great Madiba:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way in which it treats its children.”