NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Mayor John Cooper has been in office for one year. It has been a year full of challenges, including a pandemic, a tornado and a controversial tax increase.
What happened to the campaign promises and what lies ahead for the second year?
Cooper campaigned on shifting the focus away from corporate handouts to attract new business to Nashville, instead, he said he would invest in employees pay raises, build sidewalks, bring in affordable housing and bring a new transportation plan.
“It’s all on hold really, pending COVID,” said Cooper.
Then a tornado hit, and then COVID-19 on top of a financial crisis from Day One.
“There was no cash, no rainy-day fund. Zero,” said Cooper. “We were going to really, I thought have trouble paying policemen in July.”
Metro Council approved a 34% property tax increase in June. A citizens group wants to give the public the chance to vote. The Cooper administration is trying to stop it, saying it’s not legal and that only the Council can set the tax rate.
“Well it’s a million-dollar election for something that our legal director feels is not actually a choice for voters,” said Cooper. “Maybe you’re going to have it, maybe it’s going to pass, and then a court is going to say that’s just not a choice in how Tennessee does thing, and then people will be upset about that.
“If we fooled people into thinking that really in Tennessee, you could go to a referendum-style government, halfway through the year, retroactively, Tennessee is not set up that way.”
Nashville’s tax increase is a lot for people to swallow, and that has been the biggest challenge of the Cooper administration during his first year in office.
Shortly after Cooper took office, he approved plans for the new soccer stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville that included 10 acres to the team’s owners for private development. The development was to be a mixed-use development with stores, offices and a hotel.
“Well, COVID is challenging for everybody and I think the soccer folks are trying to get through the season, and franklin Nancy, real estate is changing in front of our eyes. What is office in the modern era? What is retail in the modern era?”
News4 asked is the mixed-use development would continue at the fairgrounds.
“COVID is going to make everyone who is thinking of building something in Nashville do a check. Where is the demand? What’s going on? Are we serving the community? Are we building this for a society that is pre-COVID?”
“You’re not answering my question,” replied News4’s Nancy Amons.
“Sorry. Nobody showed up in my office and gave me an update that anything has changed, to answer your question. My lengthy answer is I’m not sure that they know.”
The lawsuit filed by the group Save Our Fairgrounds is still going through the court system.
In the midst of the pandemic and racial unrest in the country, there have also been challenges in Nashville.
A night of rioting in June left the historic courthouse in flames and covered with graffiti.
Steve Anderson, Metro’s long-time police chief, was encouraged to retire early after he had announced his retirement.
The city is now engaged in the search for a new chief.
Interim police chief John Drake is one of 57 candidates for the position.
Cooper was asked if he’s backing Drake to be the next police chief.
“I’m backing a national-level process for identifying the very best chief to serve Nashville,” the mayor said.
The new chief will be chosen by Cooper, but he has appointed a citizens group to review the applicants and select the finalists to be interviewed.
“The truth is there is more demand for super great police chiefs than there are super great chiefs,” said Cooper. “There are a lot of cities looking for police chiefs right now.”
The new chief takes over a city that has had its share of controversy, such as how much power to give the new Community Oversight Board, which was approved by citizens in a special election. There’s also been a lot of criticism about the city’s slow progress in rolling out body cameras.
Cooper was asked if he was pleased with the rollout of the body cameras.
“I am, ahead of schedule, I’m told,” said Cooper. “We did a great job negotiating a much better price.”
West Precinct officers and a special operations unit are currently equipped with the body cameras.
Small victories in a year full of conflict over the tax increase.
“I have learned a lot. I have a great community to teach me, but we were hired to fix problems and that’s what we tried relentlessly to do, even though the problems seemed to get bigger and bigger,” said Cooper.