Marks his Final State of the City address; an Historic Moment
The 101st, and final episode of Mayor Tom Carlson's, "Mayor's Roundtable," as aired on "TV23," was taped for broadcast on March 5, 2009. The program also served as a bit of a different venue for the Mayor's 6th and final State of the City address.
Carlson, who will have served the City for 25 years, has set a record as the longest serving elected official in the history of the City.
This transcript is intended to mark an historic moment in Springfield's history and serve as an expression of appreciation, to Mayor Carlson, for his willingness to serve on Springfield's City Council and as Springfield's Mayor for a total of 25 years of voluntary service.
Carlson described one of the tough lessons he had learned in his 25 years of service: "Well, if you make a mistake, it's in public and remains in (public) and will get repeated. You'll wear it for a long time."
Jim Anderson, of the Chamber of Commerce, switched the table with the Mayor and hosted the last episode of "Mayor's Roundtable," interviewing Mayor Carlson. This transcript picks up after introductions, at the time the Mayor and Mr. Anderson began their discussion.
Mayor Tom Carlson's Final State of the City Address
Jim Anderson (JA): Well, Mayor, Good morning.
Mayor Tom Carlson (TC): Good morning, Jim.
JA: ...and welcome to the Mayor's Roundtable.
TC: Final edition.
JA: The final edition, and we're going to do this a little different, if you don't mind, because you're not going to be the interviewer, you're going to be the interviewee. I'm going to play Mayor and you're going to play guest. How's that? (Anderson turns to guests) Let's switch the tables on him this morning. He's, for many shows, done the asking of questions and had someone else on the hot seat so, (speaking to Mayor again) I'm going to turn the table, it's a round table but, I'm going to turn the table on you, this morning, for this, final edition of the "Mayor's Roundtable," and obviously, Mayor, in your honor, I had to dig this out of the closet (Anderson pulls at his bow tie).
TC: Is that a clip on?
JA: It is not a clip on....
TC: Okay. (Laughing)
JA: ...but, it's not a tie either, it's sort of, it's sort of in between, it's sort of in between. I thought about trying a tie, a bow tie, and I knew I'd get that done about a day later so, I decided not to do that because that is an art and a science. I'm not sure which.
We welcome you, this morning, for this 6th and final edition of State of the City, in terms of your role as Mayor. I think the previous State of the City's have been extremely informative, in terms of what is happening in our community, and, again, we thought we'd do a little bit different twist this morning. Instead of the "State of the City," as we've known it before, we would do this "Mayor's Roundtable" program, and, I think, cover in that time period some of the information that you'd want to share.
Mayor, let's start, and I'm not starting in terms of being negative, but, let's start with the big 800 pound gorilla in the room, the big elephant. Obviously, just last month, I know Springfield voters turned down a very important proposition, and I know you were very disappointed regarding that so, the obvious question is, what happens next, as it relates to the police and fire issue?
TC: Well, I think it is on everybody's mind and, Jim, I think the big message that I want to convey about that is that, the problem is solvable. We came really close, getting 48 percent of the vote in a time when our economy is in the worse condition since the great depression. The fact that we got that close tells me that whatever solution, whether it's the same one or some hybrid, that comes back, that, eventually, we're going to deal with that.
Right now we're soliciting names of people, I encourage anybody in this room who is willing to commit some time over the next few months to review different approaches to solving the problem, and come up with a recommendation that we can get the community behind.
We're going to model it (police/fire pension task force) after what we did with the citizens committee with the power supply task force, after the first failed vote, as it relates to the power plant. We went back and tweaked it, and made sure that the concerns that the people had were addressed, and we came up with an ultimate solution. We're going to follow that same model, and, I'm sure, that the input of the new City Council, that's an issue that we'll get behind us.
I would like to tell you some good news, if I may, in connection with that.
You know, we got a lot of criticism in the last couple of years because there was, for a couple of years, there, we did not put in all the money that the actuary said that we should put in on the pension fund.
Real quickly, we made some changes, and we thought the changes in how the portfolio mix was done made that unnecessary, and, then, secondly, we had an ice storm that cost us $35 million, and it just wasn't sensible, in our mind, at least, to put the money in there when we had people that were freezing in their homes but, the amount of money that the City did not pay for that 4 year period, in there, with interest, should be paid here in the next couple of weeks, now, because, we have settled one of the law suits with the phone company this past week.
There's still two more out there, (referring to continuing litigation with the landline company previously known as SBC, and Alltel) so, that's going to take that issue off the table, and if you'll permit me a little gloating, our critics on that a couple years ago, at the state legislature, they tried to force something down our throat to take about 1/5th of the amount that we ended up settling for. The newspaper put a lot of pressure on us through the editorial board but, your Council stuck to its guns (and) as a consequence of that, we are going to get enough money in here to make the full payment that we owe, with interest.
JA: That is tremendous news this morning.
TC: I'm real proud of that because, we stuck to our guns. It was a principal-driven process, Jim, because the Council felt that big companies should have to pay their taxes just like the little guy.
JA: Well, that is tremendous news, and, as you suggest, Mayor, it was an issue, certainly, during the campaign. It's been an issue that's out there. That does take it off the table, and the good news is, that's several million dollars, obviously....
TC: That number is $10.2 million that'll be recovered, and the phone company had to pay the attorneys' fees.
JA: That is tremendous. I think that, another round of applause on $10.2 million.
TC: Thank you.
JA: That's a tremendous shot in the arm.
TC: Well, I'm pleased about that.
JA: Mayor, not withstanding that, and that is tremendous news for you to share with the group, this morning but, I know there are other budget challenges. It's not just the pension fund.
Obviously, sales tax revenue is off everywhere, including our community, so, how are you dealing with those budget challenges that we have because of declining sales tax revenue, primarily?
TC: Well, one thing we're not doing, Jim, is kicking the can down the road. Just like everybody in this room, whether it's your household budget or your company and its enterprise, we're living within our means. We're not borrowing. We're not filling jobs right now, as they come open. We're not giving pay raises, and (we're) doing what we have to do to live within our means until the economy turns around.
Last time I checked our sales tax collections, which is what we live and die on, were about 2 percent under previous year, and normally, you hope for a growth rate of 3 percent or better so, our city manager Greg Burris, who, I must say, has done a fabulous job, has exceeded the Council's expectations, is on top of it, and we're going to come out the other end of the tunnel in good shape. We're going to be better and stronger for the experience, and we'll do well because of the things we've put in place over the years.
JA: The President signed, just a few weeks ago, the Economic Recovery Act. How is our community poised to respond and take advantage of that, quite frankly?
TC: Well, we're trying to find out.
I was in Washington about 3 weeks ago on that very issue, and they're not sure how they're going to distribute the money. Money is going to be funneled to the states in two ways, either through government agencies or directly through the state, and so, they're trying to figure out just exactly how they're going to do that.
We have learned in the last week, we get, I think it's $550,000 that can be used for summer youth programs so, that'll help some kids having some work this summer, and, then, we got about another $400,000, I think it was, for some housing things but, there'll be bigger numbers coming down there.
Marc Thornsberry is working with our city manager to tee up so that we'll be ready when they tell us exactly what's there but, they're trying to figure it out, themselves, right now.
JA: Oh, they are, and transportation, certainly, is a major part of that, and, as you're well aware, the day the President signed the bill, the Highway Commission awarded four projects. One of those four was Highway 60 from Republic to Monett, a shared four lane, and, literally, just yesterday, the Highway Commission awarded 65 & 60, which is a huge project for all of us, a $58 million project. That work will take about 2 1/2, 3 years but, 2 new fly over ramps, and, obviously, improving the intersection, which is a major regional priority, and, I believe, thanks to the Economic Recovery Act, in about 2 weeks, we'll be able to announce we're going to let bids on 6 laning 65 from 44 to 60 so, all of that is happening because of the Economic Recovery Act.
TC: Well, and another factor that doesn't get significant recognition, Jim, is your service on the Highway Commission, what it's meant to Springfield and Greene County, and this part of the state, and I know how hard you work, and it's appreciated, and it makes a difference.
TA: Thank you, it's been a privilege, I guarantee you.
Mayor, let's shift to some personal issues.
What drives your commitment to do public service, and for 25 years, and to, literally, go on the history books as the longest serving elected official in our community's history? What makes that happen?
JA: Insomnia, okay, that would do it, that would do it. That, or insanity, and, whatever. Okay.
TC: It's the same thing that I share with all the people in this room. I think a lot of us are kind of type A personalities, that's part of it, I suppose but, you like it, and you feel that, if you've been blessed, you're supposed to put something back, and the opportunity to work with people that are trying to do that sort of thing, like Dave Coonrod, like a Jim O'Neal, the Council people that we've worked with, people like you, to make your community better, hey, that's about as good as it gets.
JA: Well, we appreciate that, certainly.
How do you think you're leaving Springfield a different place from having served as Mayor, and again, I'm not asking you, necessarily, to brag but, I'm asking the questions so, I want to hear your response. How's this community different from when you first started serving as Mayor?
TC: Well, I think we need to be careful that, it's different because of what a whole lot of people have done, and I've just been lucky to have been around during that time but, you know, I think one of the main things that has changed is sort of a seismic shift in how we view ourselves, and how we view the way in which we engage dealing with problems that face this community.
Twenty five years ago we looked at it in sort of a much more traditional, laissez faire sort of approach. There was the public sector (and) the private sector. The public sector provided police protection, and tried to keep the roads patched, and the private sector did economic development, and that model has changed a lot.
There's a spirit of collaboration in our community that is so much stronger than it was 25 years ago. You know, I like the definition of collaboration, it goes, "Collaboration is what we're able to do together that we couldn't do on our own," and if you look at some of the challenges that this community has successfully addressed, it's only through that sort of partnership, the private sector has been such a big part of it but, it's how we work together.
When Zenith closed back in the early '90s, there were 1,200 people put out for work, and the chamber, the utility, and the city government came together to develop the Partnership Industrial Park that resulted in over $200 million in development, 2,200 jobs, I think it is, and doubled the economic impact, and gave long-term, permanent jobs, and, then, that model, of course, was carried over to Partnership Industrial Center East. It was carried over and we're looking at how to do another industrial park, that's on the planning board.
You can look at the way the University and the City, Missouri State, have engaged downtown development. We've worked together on that, and that's been a big driver in why the downtown area has done so well. Interestingly enough, if you drew a circle around the downtown, the sales tax that's being generated, there, is up, where, in the rest of the community, it's down. It shows you what focused development can do.
I imagine, if you were going to add it all up, there's been $250 million, or more, in development in the downtown area, and then, a big thing, too, Jim, is of the initiatives we've been able to put together to improve the community over the last 20 years, with the 1/4-cent capital improvements program, the level property tax that funds fire stations and so forth, the 1/8-cent transportation tax, the parks program, that, too, has been a big driver for economic development in our community.
You're famous for saying the two things you need to emphasize are education and transportation, this community has done that very successfully in the last 25 years and I think a whole lot of that is because you are principal-driven in how you approach things.
TC: You know, the approach has to be inclusive. You have to prove that you're going to do what you say you're going to do. You have to keep your promises, and you keep reinforcing that, and when we first passed those things (tax initiatives) a few years ago, or initially, (they were) barely getting passed, and, now, they get up around 80 percent and, as an aside, you know, there was a little flurry lately about the thing about wayfaring signs, and George Santayana, a philosopher, is credited with a saying that, "Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it," and how many hits do politicians get because they don't keep their word? And, so, interestingly enough, in this circumstance, because we wanted to keep our word, we got a lot of criticism. Now, maybe we're not explaining things that well but, I mean, that's the bed rock. Do what you say you're going to do, and I think those are the kind of things that have changed, and, then, the last thing that I'm very, very excited about, and I hope it'll take off, is this whole emphasis on young people, and, particularly, children, and the importance of getting kids off on the right track in the 0-5 age group, early childhood development. We've had Nobel prize economists tell us that, if you want to make your city a better place, there is no place better than to emphasize in that area, in terms of economic development, and, so, I think, we're ahead of the curve in a lot of communities like that.
JA: Focus is, certainly, there.
TC: Yeah, it is.
JA: Tom, I'm sure there have been some disappointments. What are some tough lessons you've learned in that 25 years of service?
TC: Well, if you make a mistake it's in public, (laughed).
JA: It is in public, it is in public and remains in public.
TC: And remains in (public) and will get repeated. You'll wear it for a long time.
I think some of the things I've learned is, if you do make a mistake, own up to it, and people, if you're honest about your failings and mistakes, you own up to them, people are willing to, if you're sincere, forgive and let you go forward.
It's interesting, as you deal with people, the surprises you get, both good and bad. Some people that you thought wouldn't be in your corner, or you just looked at them a certain way, and they come out that, in fact, you have a lot to learn from those people, and that they really come through in a pinch, and you never would have expected it, and the same thing's true with other folks that you thought would be there, aren't, and, of course, we all learn those life lessons.
JA: You see the best and the worst.
TC: You do. The thing is, too, you know, I think there's probably not a limit, there's no limit to what you can really accomplish if you can really encourage people to bring out the best in people, you know, appeal to their most noble instincts. People want to be challenged in that way, and, you know, I said last year, and I'll say it this year, we've got that element really strong in our community, and don't bet against Springfield.
JA: Amen to that.
Mayor, Obviously, we're doing a different format this year on the State of the City but, how would you summarize, how would you characterize the state of the city in 2009?
TC: Well, it's no news to anybody here, it's tough times but, I think that the main thing is that, if we just stay the course, we're going to come out of this okay, and much better than other communities that haven't done all the hard work that we've done to put in the safety nets and keep the lines of communication open. I think we are blessed, because, we have a community that has a lot of empathy for other folks, and, I think we, as John Kennedy said, you know, "A rising tide raises all ships," and what they mean by that is, we're all in it together. We have that shared sense of purpose here, and so, we're going to be okay, and we're, certainly, better off than a lot of places in the community. I think, if we don't panic, just realize that this will be over, too, which it will, we'll be just fine, and we'll be stronger, we'll learn some lessons from it, and, hopefully, we'll remember them.
JA: (The) Story goes that President Bush wrote a personal note to President Obama and put it in the top desk drawer of the oval office as he left the presidency in January. If you were going to write such a note for Springfield's next Mayor, what would your advice be to Springfield's next Mayor, and, hopefully, he's listening.
TC: (Laughs) It's interesting, my predecessor, Lee Gannaway, did the same thing...
JA: Oh, really?
TC: ...and when I opened my empty desk drawer there was a letter from Lee, and it had some good advice.
You know, I think, if you are lucky enough to be elected Mayor, you've, obviously, got some great personal qualities, and don't forget who you are, what got you where you are, and humility's a good thing, if you don't have it, you'll get it.
So, develop your positive qualities and be aware of your frailties and call upon the people to help you out because, everybody wants to have you succeed.
The thing too, about being Mayor, is you have to remember that you speak for the whole community. If you're a Council person, you can have the luxury of having your particular, secular focus but, as Mayor, you have to represent the whole community, and your job is to pull everybody together, and develop solutions. We've been pretty lucky, and some people will say, "Well, gee, you're a rubber stamp," I don't look at it that way. We've been pretty lucky to, on the major issues, to have major consensus, and that's a consequence, in my opinion, of people understanding the issues, study them well enough that.... If you understand an issue, really, really well, the options tend to narrow quite a bit, and some people like to see 5/4 votes, and I don't... that's fine on some things but, on major issues that really effect the long-term direction of this community, if you're having a 5 to 4 vote, tells me somebody hasn't done his work, hasn't done his or her homework, and the job of the Mayor, I think, is to bring people together until you do that, and I like to say that process determines outcome, Jim, and if your process is faulty, it'll show that. You know, I've served on many boards over the years, and if we have a split vote on something, that's not something to celebrate, that's, almost, suggests there's a lack of leadership.
JA: I see.
Mayor, it strikes me that the down side of a bowtie, and the plus of a necktie, is a necktie can hide the gut so, I'm not sure I'm going to wear bowties on a regular basis.
Yeah, you're just making me look good.
JA: What are your plans after April the 7th, and I teased the Mayor this morning, I told him the media was going to be here in force about 8:30 because, the Mayor would be announcing this morning, he, like so many other people, is going to run for Congress.
But, is that what your going to do, Mayor?
TC: I hear Doug Pitt's going to run.
JA: Well, that's a ....(undiscernable).
TC: I couldn't beat him on my best day but, I'm probably going to retire from public life. I don't have any plans along those lines.
I'll take some time. I've got some ideas out there. I want to spend a little time down in Mexico, my wife and I have found a place we like to be, and, you know, I think you, for me, you've always got to be doing something or you're not relevant so, for me, I've got to feel like I'm relevant. I've got to feel like I'm doing something that makes a difference so, I don't know how that'll translate but, I'll be engaged in something.
JA: There'll be something, there'll be something.
Any parting comments? We're winding down this morning, on this special edition of the "Mayor's Roundtable." Any parting comments that you'd like to say to the audience in this room, as well as the extended audience who's listening?
TC: Well, I hadn't thought about that but, I guess what I would say is, the people in this room really do determine what kind of community we have.
Margaret Mead once said that, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world because, indeed, that's the only thing that ever has," and you folks are engaged, and you can make a difference, and it's probably been the greatest feeling I've ever had, is to be able to be associated with people like you that try to make our town a better place to be. Thank you.
JA: Thank you, Mayor.
The extended applause speaks for itself but, I know, on behalf of everyone here, as well as who's listening, we thank you for your dedication, and your commitment, and your service, and your leadership to this community.
You are our community's longest serving elected official and it's not just tenure or seniority, it's made a difference. It's leadership that's made a difference, as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we need one more round of applause for his honor, Mayor Tom Carlson.
Tom, thank you very much.
Mayor Carlson, Mayor Tom Carlson.