I've just returned from Germany - just last night. I was there with County Mayor Claude Ramsey and Trevor Hamilton of the Chamber of Commerce. We were joined by Tennessee State Commissioner of Economic Development Matt Kisber and Revenue Commissioner Regan Farr. Also at our primary gathering in Hanover were officials from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi - including Georgia Commissioner of Economic Development Kenneth Stewart.
It was a gathering of potential suppliers and others seeking opportunities related to Volkswagen and more. The subject was economic development in the Southeast U.S. and - without being boastful - Chattanooga is in the spotlight. Currently, we are the stars.
I mention this now because in this time of financial turmoil and economic distress, we are seen as a special place with much to look forward to....
I mention this because we are seen as a community entering an age of opportunity; and age of change - but change for the better; an age of unselfish cooperation and teamwork.
It's not just about Volkswagen or Alstom Power or other recent successes; it's about a community that stands to gain an entirely new family of enterprises - entirely new avenues of investment.
And I mention this because it is team work - team work that brought us to this enviable place in our history.
Our most transformed city has seen many changes - and this wonderful historic Tivoli Theater has been a witness. More change is coming.
There are new faces on this stage - and new faces in the audience there are veterans of the old "Commission" form of government and the new "Council". There are those who recall the old parochialism and division that kept us apart and held us back. But we all have seen the positive effects of unity - unity of vision and purpose and how much more we can achieve together.
So at the dawning of this new administration, what is the agenda? I would say to the new members of the Council and to those old members arriving with fresh energy and enthusiasm, certainly you will represent your constituents, your neighborhoods. I welcome the council's participation in policy making and budgeting. That's how it's done. But be aware that during this term, following completion of the census next year, we must redraw district lines. So look beyond your current district boundaries and consider the greater needs of the total community. Following the census, the same difficult task awaits the County Commission.
It is time to undertake difficult tasks - necessary tasks to position us and to prepare us for greater benefits.
One key project is the library. Our library is important as an institution and as an indicator of our commitment to knowledge and culture. But it is also a test of our ability to work together on matters of mutual interest and a proving ground for further community cooperation. In that regard, we must move forward with a new arrangement between city and county government for operating and funding our library system. Some might see this as a single issue with limited application, but at the heart of the matter is something more sweeping and daunting - the need to renegotiate the city and county sales tax agreement on the funding of certain joint functions and agencies - and agreement from the 1960's due to be reconsidered before the end of this four year term.
Secondly, our new industrial success has uncovered a weakness in services by local utilities - specifically in this case water and sewer services. There is unnecessary complexity and sometimes confusion about who provides service. We have a city sewer system that includes the Moccasin Bend Treatment Plant and hundreds of miles of sewers including some very large interceptor and collector lines. We also have the Hamilton County Wastewater Treatment Authority providing service to suburban communities. In water we have a patchwork quilt of local authorities and - of course - the Tennessee American Water Company with inadequate interconnects to serve our future needs. This situation might have been tolerable when we were a more rural community with few prospects for new industry and development, but now it is time for unity.
And so, during this term, working with the county and with our state representatives, let us create a regional water and sewer authority - not unlike the Electric Power Board - with the reach and responsibility to offer services effectively and efficiently. A growing region with the promise and opportunity of Chattanooga deserves nothing less.
Next, we must prepare to extend the reach of urban services in addition to water and sewer facilities. We must extend an urban level of fire and police services, sanitation, neighborhood codes and storm water management.
In this undertaking, there is no need to construct parallel departments providing almost identical services to different geographic areas and fussing about who will serve what - it's time for unity.
We began more than a decade ago. We prepared a plan with the county and other municipalities participating. It was a plan mandated by state law and it was something of a long and sometimes contentious process. It was back during the administration of Mayor Jon Kinsey and we all ultimately agreed on how our municipal boundaries would grow. It's time to implement the growth plan - all of it. All of it.
There is a common thread running through all of this - a thread relating to opportunity and readiness and unity. That thread relates to the governmental structures of our community. This is a unique time in our history - our greater community. Consider these points:
1. Political restructuring is inevitable. In fact, it is legally required and the task will involve the city, county and state legislative offices.
2. We have the "pull" of economic opportunity during a time of rather sever economic distress - providing a "push" toward focused effort to promote positive change
3. We have administrations in both the city and county with a demonstrated ability to put political egos aside and work toward a common goal. Mayor Ramsey and I work well together. The key staff members of the city and county work well together. It hasn't always been so and, just change a few personalities and unity could evaporate very quickly.
It is no secret that Mayor Ramsey and I will not always be in the positions that we now hold. Many of our senior professionals in key positions are at the zenith of their careers - nearing retirement.
Well, I'm not speaking for Mayor Ramsey - I wanted him to be here but he needed to stay in Germany to follow-up with some prospects that we recently met with here at home - he and Trevor Hamilton are following up while I, of course, needed to be here. Anyway, Mayor Ramsey and I have talked over the months and we want nothing more than to leave this community better than we found it - not just with new industries but with new structures of government and enterprise for the future. I don't know whether Claude Ramsey will seek another term. I hope that he does and I will certainly support him and campaign for him. I would like for us to see the next few years through as a team. But I do know this: neither of us is seeking a higher office. We have been blessed to work in numerous capacities in local government over the years - and blessed more recently with an opportunity to show what unity and joint effort and institutional knowledge can make happen.
People will say, "Oh my goodness. He's talking about Metro Government." Not necessarily, but I am talking about refinements in our local government to be more efficient, effective and economical. I'm talking about more representative, modern and responsive government.
We last considered and rejected unifying city and county government a quarter century ago and much has changed since then. We have transformed our downtown and riverfront and made great strides in restoring our neighborhoods - and such will continue. We've grown and as a city we are actually growing in population for the first time in decades.
Residential patterns have changed. Voting patterns have changed and leadership has changed and is changing.
Some months ago, I wrote a piece for the local paper noting that it's now not so much a question of "what's next" but it is a matter of "who's next.' And, perhaps even more important is the question of what sort of community will the next generation of leadership inherit?
We have a unique window of opportunity. During the quiet moments of these industry recruiting trips, Mayor Ramsey and I have talked about the future. We know from what we have already seen that in 5 years we will be a very different community. In 10 years we will be almost unrecognizable - and it should be in a very positive way.
The next four years will be critical. Building a city is a multidimensional project - more a Rubik's Cube than a jigsaw puzzle. Most significantly, we have the pieces, we understand the linkages, we have the knowledge and ability, we have the talent locally and we have this special age of opportunity.
We have every reason at this particular time in history - with all that is occurring locally and in the world - with all the planets in alignment - with all the right players at the table - to rearrange the pieces in such a fashion that we leave the next generation (the "who's next") with what we've always been seeking.
A city worthy of the magnificent setting that God gave us.
A city of achievement and promise.
A green and clean city.
A compassionate and reasonably crime free city. As the Bible says, "A city upon a hill."
A diverse and interesting city.
An efficient and economical city for business and government
A city that jealously holds onto its talented youth and holds out unique attraction to the ambitious, artistic, inventive and creative.
Just what we've always been seeking:
The best midsize city in America - Make that the best city in America of any size.
We've taken our oaths of office. We have four years to do great things. Let's go to work.