Q&A with 3 Mayors

 

What important decisions must you make during your first 90 days in office?

RB: During the campaign, I talked with citizens throughout Lebanon, and three areas of concern emerged from those conversations. In the first 100 days, these need to be addressed.

City of Lebanon Mayor, Rick Bell

First, I will work closely with the Finance Director to better manage the budget. I will also ask each department head to look for cuts in their respective budgets. With many homeowners and local business owners facing difficulty and with an unknown economic future, it is essential that we relieve any unnecessary tax burden.

Second, I will work with the Planning Commission to implement a plan of growth management. This will include a deep study of the Comprehensive Plan that has yet to be approved. We must use the compiled data to create a multi-level strategy to tackle immediate concerns and plan for long-term goals.

Third, we must create a plan to attract restaurants and other amenities to Lebanon. I will work with the Economic Development Director to implement a plan to promote our city to regionally and nationally known businesses and to
incentivize the investment in locally owned businesses.

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Watertown Mayor, Mike Jennings

MJ: As I am continuing in office with another term, I don’t know that I can identify any new decisions that must be made during the first 90 days. We will continue to pursue funding for the installation of the railroad turntable and
identify our source of long-term funding for the major sewer project about to go to bid.

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City of Mt Juliet Mayor, James Maness

JM: Board and committee appointments, selecting a replacement for the open District 2 seat.

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WL: What long-term goals are you coming into office with?

RB: My first long-term goal is to ensure that Lebanon runs financially efficient. We must spend citizen’s tax dollars wisely and in areas that enhance quality of life. This includes, but is not limited to, keeping everyone protected in their homes and neighborhoods; improving the infrastructure of the city; and
creating recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Second, we need to take advantage of Lebanon’s strong position as a place where people want to live. With the proper strategy, we should be able to choose the type of development that we want and where we want it to be located.

Third, we must promote Lebanon’s assets to attract the types of businesses that we want. We have several things – Vanderbilt Hospital, Cumberland University, Music City Star, Lebanon Municipal Airport – that make our city unique in Middle Tennessee. Instead of waiting for someone to come to us, we will go to them and show them why they need to invest in Lebanon.

MJ: I have pretty much the same goals I have always had. I want to offer our citizens as many things as possible while continuing to maintain our small-town atmosphere.

JM: Reducing the fire ISO rating to a four in the city, completing our transportation projects, adding additional park land and greenways.

WL: What do you believe your city’s biggest challenge is right now? And what are your plans to find a solution for this issue?

RB: Lebanon faces several challenges, but I believe that growth is the biggest. Over the past four years, the city has grown tremendously. However, we have experienced the challenges of growth without reaping the benefits that should
come with it. As I stated previously, we must implement a plan that will prepare us for both. The first step is to study the Comprehensive Plan to determine issues that need to be addressed immediately and to map a strategy for the future. With the proper strategy, growth can be managed, and we can choose the type of community that we want to be.

MJ: The biggest challenge is always money. Many people may not realize that citizens of a small community like Watertown expect you to offer the same services that larger towns and cities do. Police and Fire Protection. Parks and
Recreational opportunities. Safe drinking water. An efficient, working sewer system. Paved streets. Codes enforcement. Opportunities for employment. Many of the expenses to provide these things continue to increase with inflation, increases in population, etc. The challenge is to do the most
you can in the most efficient, economical manner.

JM: Our biggest challenge is transportation. In 2019 we passed our long-term transportation plan. We have to ensure staff has the resources they need, and the funding is there to present shovel-ready projects to the state.

WL: How do you plan to manage the inevitable growth that is coming our way, with the “small town” quality of life many citizens want to retain?

RB: During the campaign, I talked about protecting Lebanon’s identity as a place where we can spend our lives; raise families, and watch as our families grow. Protecting our historic core is an important way to do this. For over 200
years, the square and downtown area has been the heart of Lebanon. We must ensure that it continues. We must also protect our established neighborhoods
throughout the city. There are many neighborhoods where people have raised families and are spending their retirement years. These areas have to be protected from the encroachment of higher density subdivisions.

Also, we need a traffic plan. For people in some parts of Lebanon, they can get to Mt. Juliet quicker than they can get across our city. Better traffic flow can make life less frustrating. It can also help people better enjoy the attributes
that make Lebanon a special place.

MJ: It’s difficult because there are just so few things that you can have input on or manage. We have been fortunate in Watertown to have slow, sustained growth. That offers you more opportunities for input and control. Folks who live in Watertown daily may think they don’t see any change. But, if they will look back 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and more they can see what I mean.

JM: One thing we have pushed for is lower density growth. There is a high demand for the area, and we try to balance the demand to develop an area with required open and green space. It’s also important for the growth to be compatible with the area and add value. It’s important we do not settle for just anything and continue to demand high standards.

WL: What will you do to bring more, higher-paying jobs or industries to the area in order to keep our younger citizens from moving away to larger cities with more opportunities?

RB: When businesses relocate, quality of life for their employees is an important part of the decision-making process. As I stated earlier, we must promote the assets that will put Lebanon at the top of their list. We have Vanderbilt Hospital, which has a reputation of providing excellent medical care. We have Cumberland University that creates a skilled workforce. We have the Lebanon Municipal Airport for convenient corporate travel. We have the Music City Star that provides public transportation to downtown Nashville. However, we must also improve our recreational facilities Businesses want to be in cities that provide greenways, parks, and athletic fields. These are places that provide recreational activities but also provide ways for people to be part of the overall community.

MJ: We will continue to look for those things. But, it is more difficult to do in a town that is 10 miles from the interstate system, rather than having multiple interstate exchanges available like Lebanon and Mt. Juliet have. But, we will
continue our efforts. We have some very good small industries here with some fair paying jobs. I think we have the opportunity for more of those. And, I have always tried to identify the businesses that will be “good corporate citizens”. It
needs to be a two way street between government and industry.

JM: One thing we are actively working on is the recruiting of white-collar jobs to Mt. Juliet. Providence Central was recently approved and will provide long-term traffic relief to the Providence area while having the space set aside for the type of jobs many of us commute to other cities for. Mt. Juliet was recently found to be the most cost-effective local government in the state. Keeping taxes and fees low, proximity to the airport, and a great workforce are some
things we offer to attract jobs.

WL: Under your leadership, what will the city do to improve the quality of life for both younger families as well as our Seniors?

RB: Quality of life can be defined in several ways. For some people, it is more places to dine and shop. For others, it is navigable sidewalks and greenways that provide opportunity for exercise and a way to move around the core of the city. For many, it is parks and better athletic fields for their children. For a lot of people, it is a place like the Senior Center, where people can congregate and socialize. For most people, it is a city that places importance on beautification. I will work in each of these areas, and more, to ensure that quality of life for the citizens of Lebanon improves.

MJ: I will continue to lead, and encourage, our City Council to pursue the things that blend into, and compliment, the things already in our community. I have been blessed to have a very cooperative and, I think progressive, City Council over the years who want the best for their community. Many people may not know that none of us receive a salary, or stipend, for what we do. We do it for public service seeking the best for all the citizens of our community.

JM: One thing we recently did was donate land for the senior citizen center. We also have required age restrictive communities to donate to the senior citizen capital fund so they can construct a new center. We are also actively looking
to expand our park land. Recently, in the last few years, the city opened several smaller parks and expanded our greenways. I also plan to explore ways to encourage family activity centers, such as skate centers, bowling alleys, etc. to
build in our city in ways that are not cost prohibitive.

WL: In your role as Mayor, what can you do to improve our education system?

RB: The Lebanon Special School District is independent from the City of Lebanon. However, we know that growth greatly affects the school system. I have asked the Planning Director to speak with LSSD officials when he is researching a potential development. Understanding the impact of a development on the school system is an important part of the process. If school officials say that a development will place a tremendous burden on them, then that should be taken into account when the Planning Director recommends approval or denial.

MJ: Continue to cooperate, and assist, them in any way we can. We have had a long, proven track record of working with all our schools (we have three inside the city limits) to assist with traffic flow, safety, and, through our recreational leagues primarily, provide some part-time employment for students.

JM: I think our parents, teachers, and school administrators deserve the credit for our great school system. One thing the city has done has been to encourage, when possible, the building of age-restricted developments (i.e. 55 and over) which pay into our schools without increasing the load on the school system. We can also work to streamline the building process for our school system when they need to build schools in the city.

WL: Where do you see your city 5 years from now?

RB: In five years, Lebanon will have a plan that manages growth and ensures that it is positive for everyone. It will also be a place where people have a variety of options in dining, shopping and entertainment. It will have a vibrant
downtown core where local residents will gather and people from other cities will travel to spend money. It will be on its way to having a sidewalk and greenway system that connects the entire city.

MJ: I see the slow, steady growth continuing trying to meet the challenge of providing 21st Century businesses, employment, etc. while continuing to maintain our small town image that we have come to be known for. Especially
around our Square and Central Business District.

JM: We will have our third fire station opened and operational, a reduction in our ISO safety rating. Many of our proposed transportation projects will be started and some complete within five years. By that point, we will see the
addition of some needed park space.

WL: Where do you see your city 20 years from now?

RB: In twenty years, Lebanon will be a place that provides a high quality of life for its residents. There will be a completed greenway system that connects neighborhoods and parks throughout the city. That quality of life will help
make it a hub of high-tech jobs. While some people will ride the Music City Star to Nashville for work, others will ride to Lebanon to enjoy our historic downtown and other amenities. It will be a city that prides itself on beautification and strict building standards. It will be a city that its founders and the generations who have lived here would be proud of.

MJ: Very similar to where I see the city in 5 years, however, I do think the urban sprawl that has affected Mt. Juliet over the last 20 years, and to a lesser degree Lebanon will become more of a challenge to future leaders. In school, we learned from the 19th century the encouragement “to go west, young man.” Here, in our County, over the last 20 years or so, it seems the encouragement, and actuality has been “to go east, young man.”

JM: We will see the completion of some major transportation improvements and see Mt. Juliet positioned as not only an edge city but a destination city offering diverse jobs. Mt. Juliet will be a city people commute to and not from. In 20 years, one thing that won’t change is Mt. Juliet will still be one of the safest and family-friendly cities in the state.

 

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