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Mayor gives inaugural address

Inauguration Speech of Mayor Madeline Rogero

Saturday, December 19, 2015
City County Building
Knoxville, Tennessee

Thank you, Vice Mayor Pavlis, for that wonderful introduction. I have truly enjoyed working with you these past four years and I appreciate your leadership and your friendship.  

Congratulations to our re-elected City Council members -- George Wallace, Marshall Stair, Finbarr Saunders, Mark Campen -- and to City Judge John Rosson. It has been a pleasure to work with each of you for the past four years, and I’m looking forward to the next four together.  

I want to thank all of you for being here today to celebrate with the six of us as we begin our next terms in office. I can’t believe that it has been four years since I gave my first inauguration speech. The time has flown by and I continue to love my job as Mayor, and I am indebted to the citizens of our great city for giving me this tremendous opportunity and responsibility.

Please join me in thanking all of the participants in this ceremony today. They were asked to participate because they each contribute in a very special way to the rich tapestry of our city and they represent the talent and commitment of our people.   

And though they have been recognized already, I want to thank all current council members and other current and former elected officials for your willingness to serve.

Thank you to our City employees -- my senior staff, our uniformed officers and Public Service workers, engineers and recreation center employees, our fleet mechanics and codes inspectors and 311 operators, all of the 1,600 people who work so hard every day serving the citizens of Knoxville.

It is a privilege for me to work with all of you and to see up close the dedication and commitment of City employees in all departments and at all levels. You are there when people need help in the middle of the night, when roads need to be plowed, when children need a place to go after school, when a family needs decent housing – you do all of those things, and so much more. Thank you!

And, finally, I want to thank my family for their love, support, and encouragement: my husband Gene Monaco; our five children Damian, Carmen, Meg, Joan, and Jacob; and seven grandchildren Jada, Silas, Maylah, Aria, Vera, Lucas, and Julian. My 88-year-old mother and my sister Mary had planned to join us but my stepfather is now in hospice in Ohio. So please say a prayer for him and our family. I am grateful that my brother-in-law Marvin and his sister Sylvia were able to join us from Ohio. And my son Damian will be getting married in May, so it’s great to have his fiancée Trieste and her mother Kathi with us today.

At my inauguration four years ago, I asked a question: What makes a great city? The answer then, and the answer now, is -- people: The people who live here, who work and invest here, who visit and play here -- more than anything else, it is all of us working together who make a great city.

It is our job as leaders to set the stage, to make sure the right rules are in place, to make sure the right issues are before us, and to make sure the right discussions are engaged.  

But the question I want to ask today is – why? Why do we do it? Why make a great city?  After all, we can be comfortable with where we are now.  Why make things difficult for ourselves by pushing ahead with projects that might disrupt our lives for a bit or public processes that will take our time and energy?  

Next year marks the 225th anniversary of Knoxville’s founding. In October of 1791, a group of residents of what was then the Southwest Territory of the United States came together here on this hill, overlooking the Tennessee River, and established the city of Knoxville. 

They didn’t have to. This was an entirely voluntary effort, to encourage development and settlement, to establish a center of trade and regional governance. The families and merchants who purchased those 64 original half-acre lots were partners in a shared venture – because they knew there were things they could accomplish together that they could not do on their own.

That is still true today. Knoxville is still a shared enterprise, and a voluntary one. Some of our legislators occasionally remind us that cities exist and are granted charters only by permission of the state. That is true, and we appreciate it – but it is only part of the story.

Knoxville exists primarily because the people who live here want it to exist. A city is not just a place on the map, it is a place in our imagination -- a realization of the needs, dreams and passions of its citizens. It was created as an act of collective will, and it exists today as an extension of that collective effort. 

Everything that we do as a City is built around those needs, dreams and passions.

The daily details can seem routine or unexciting – fixing potholes, collecting yard waste, or building sidewalks. Our City Council meetings and public hearings can bog down in endless details of ordinance changes and rezoning requests.

But all of those details matter. The reason all of us – public officials, neighborhood groups, business owners – are willing to invest so much time and effort in debating and weighing a thousand small, difficult questions – the reason that people are willing, for example, to serve on a sign task force for three years -- is that we know this is all part of something much larger. Week after week and year after year, those details add up to the life and quality of a city.

When we plan and invest in road paving, sidewalk construction, curb cuts and bridge repairs, we are investing in the physical infrastructure that supports that life.

Those are the roads people drive on to get to work or the grocery store, to take their children to school or the doctor’s office. The sidewalks they use to get to the bus stop or the park. The curb cuts that allow people of all ages and abilities to move safely around their neighborhoods.

When we expand our parks and our Urban Wilderness, when we invest in bike paths and greenways, we are investing in the health and happiness of our community. Go to Ijams Nature Center any weekend and watch the families hiking together. Go to Lakeshore Park or the new Sansom Sports Complex and watch the games being played and the life lessons being learned on the baseball or soccer fields.

When we promote and encourage local arts and culture – whether it’s in the form of the symphony and opera, the WDVX Blue Plate Special or the Market Square Farmers’ Market – we are investing in the social and creative life of our community.

Those are the shared experiences that bring people together, that enrich our knowledge of ourselves and our neighbors. A city is a crossroads, literally and metaphorically, where the density and diversity of people and ideas create the potential for chance encounters, surprise and innovation.

Come downtown on any First Friday or football Saturday and just see how many old friends and new ideas you find in unexpected places.

And when we invest in economic development -- whether it’s through bringing a corporate headquarters downtown or façade grants in distressed commercial areas – we are really investing in human capital.

Economic activity means jobs and careers. It means University of Tennessee graduates staying in Knoxville to open their dream business, or business owners moving their companies here because they like what they see happening. It means people investing in neglected neighborhoods and blighted corridors.

It means people at work building anew or rehabbing and putting life into older structures. We use our powers as a city to help bring that about, to set the stage for investment and the optimism to attract investors.  

We nurture and build that human potential through the Community Schools initiative, through organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Emerald Youth, and through the Save Our Sons effort to address the needs of young men and boys of color.

We nurture it through the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, which helps turn aspirations into reality.

In all of this, we have a common goal: To provide greater opportunities for the people of Knoxville to be successful, happy and healthy. That is why we have a city.

We have great momentum already. In my second term, I promise to build on it, in smart and sustainable ways. We have to make sure that as we grow, we respect and strengthen the things that make Knoxville special.
We are a city of great neighborhoods. As we continue to redevelop from the center out, we connect these great neighborhoods to our core and to each other. We must remain committed to the kind of development that keeps neighborhoods strong. 
Our growth must also continue to reflect a commitment to civic engagement and public processes. We have shown that we can make tough decisions as a community, through civil dialogue. Every advance we have made in recent years has reflected a willingness to listen, to be flexible and open to ideas.

We have learned that there is no conflict between doing the right things and doing things the right way. The best results come from the best processes. 

Knoxville is on a great trajectory. We have come a long way from a time when we often limited ourselves through an inability to make decisions, to take responsible risks, and to think big.  

We no longer want to be Chattanooga or Asheville – or even Nashville! They are great cities and they offer much from which to learn. But we have become a great city as well, and we have done it our own way -- by building our own identity and learning to value our own heritage – whether that’s in our historic buildings, our rich musical legacy, or our scruffy Appalachian pragmatism.

The strongest leadership is rooted in confidence. As we begin the next four years, I have confidence in my administration and staff to continue to bring energy, creativity and dedication to their work.

I have confidence in our Council to make decisions based on thorough consideration, discussion and public input.

I have confidence that the vision that drives us is absolutely the right vision for our time.  

It is a vision of a dynamic, optimistic city reinvesting where there had been disinvestment, rebuilding out from our core, involving all who live here. 

I have confidence that our citizens will continue to engage with passion for their city, with a spirit of generosity and compassion.

Let us make sure that our city is a city where social justice matters, where inclusion matters and where every single child sees opportunity. 

We know that a great city opens its arms to celebrate and nurture the diversity of its people – from white collar to blue collar; from labor to management; from every neighborhood north, south, east, west, and downtown; people of all races and colors; people of all abilities; gay and straight; people of all faiths; from the youngest to the oldest; from the richest to the poorest. 

That’s how we have governed the past four years and how we will govern for the next four.  

In just a minute, we will hear the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus. Here is a verse from one of their songs:

“There’s a dream in the future
There’s a struggle we have yet to win
And there’s pride in my heart
‘Cause I know where I’m going, 
And I know where I’ve been.”

Knoxville – we know where we’re going and we know where we’ve been.  I look forward to continuing along on this road with all of you. 

Thank you again for the honor to serve you, and the opportunity to share with you in the work and life of our great city.

Madeline Rogero
Mayor of Knoxville