Commentary: What Happened to Williamson County?

Williamson County

by Ira Weiss and Don Barnett


As you travel about Williamson County you can’t help but notice the construction sites everywhere. Maybe it is time to take a closer look before you wake up one morning to find you no longer live in the suburbs or exurbs, but live in an environment that looks more like a city replete with tall buildings, massive traffic – including commuter rail and heavy bus and truck traffic, and other urban necessities.

What is driving the higher growth in Williamson County?

In 2012, the Williamson County Commission contracted with the Williamson Chamber of Commerce – which also calls itself Williamson Inc. – to promote growth. The result has been growth on steroids.

In fact, the Chamber is contractually obligated to secure a minimum of 25 corporate relocation and expansion projects for the current fiscal year alone.  As part of its mandate it must achieve a level of job growth in Williamson County that is at least 25% higher than that of the national county average.  And all of this deal-making is happening in private with almost no input from county residents.

For its efforts to promote hyper growth the Chamber has received nearly 1.5 million dollars over the past 5 years from Williamson County taxpayers.

To make sure it has the political support it needs the Chamber spun off a PAC which supports pro-growth candidates. The PAC also supports candidates who support giving the Chamber more money.  In its July, 2018 meeting, the county Commission increased the Chamber’s annual payment from $295,000 to $400,000.

The Chamber claims the PAC is a separate entity, but the chairman of the PAC is also on the Board of the Chamber. Three individuals are in leadership positions in both the Chamber and the PAC.

Further, in at least one case, a PAC Board member reports to the chairman of the Chamber Executive Committee in his day job. The Williamson  Business PAC is clearly attached to the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, and will push its goals.

While Chamber and PAC members can caucus all day in closed-door meetings, the disempowered Williamson County Commission is saddled with ‘sunshine’ laws which prevent any 2 members from even taking a coffee break together in private. Not that they could achieve anything by meeting for coffee. The powerful county executive, the main force behind handing the store over to the Chamber, picks most key committee posts for the commission, and seems to direct many commission members on how to vote.

Why is the Williamson County Commission paying the Chamber of Commerce to promote growth which enriches a very small number of landowners and developers, but which will result in higher taxes and a lower quality of life for most county residents?

Hidden behind all the buzz about ‘regional solutions’, ‘new urbanism’ and ‘integrated’ mass transit plans is the simple fact that we can’t even get development to pay for the costs it is imposing on the county today.

A modest impact fee on new development to cover part of the cost of new schools, required by that new development, was met with a lawsuit by developers and, so far, is dead in the water. No surprise, these same developers – some of whom are headquartered out of state – make contributions to the PAC as well as direct contributions to county commissioner and city aldermen campaigns.

The inevitable financial shortfalls will have to be made up by higher taxes and more borrowing.  The county’s more than $650 million of debt makes it the 2nd highest in Tennessee based on a per capita level of county indebtedness. Bond rating agency Moody’s says the county’s debt burden is “moderately above-average” and warns that further debt could imperil the county’s AAA bond rating.

Why are we even talking about more of this kind of growth before calculating the costs and figuring out a way to pay for it?

Meanwhile, the Chamber is planning taxpayer-funded ‘fact finding’ trips to Fairfax county, VA and Montgomery county, MD.  Apparently, these counties are to serve as models for Williamson County. They have among the highest rates of property taxes in the nation as well as all the problems that come with congested urban/suburban environments. Even with their regional mass transit systems they have traffic jams that would give any Nashville commuter pause.

Maybe a group of independent citizens should take a trip to these places to see if that is the future we want.  Maybe we should look into who is really benefiting from the planned growth in Williamson County. Maybe the nearly 1.5 million dollars county taxpayers have paid to the Chamber to promote unfunded and unwanted growth is enough already.

– – –

Ira Weiss is a retired security executive with 28 years of experience servicing U.S. government agencies, DoD, foreign governments, high-profile corporate, commercial and industrial clients, and property management companies. Certified Protection Professional (CPP-ASIS), Certified Master Anti-Terrorism Specialist (CMAS – ATAB), Analytical Risk Management Certified, NRA Certified Instructor, Jurisdictional Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Certified who migrated from the Washington, DC area.

Don Barnett is a retired IT professional and freelance writer living in Williamson County.









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20 Thoughts to “Commentary: What Happened to Williamson County?”

  1. Sandi wells

    Many of us agree. If you’d like to get involved, please contact me.

  2. Bruce

    Exactly why I moved to Maury County. All the money in the world is not going to provide relief from the gang violence at Centennial High School or the cocaine and heroine traffic at Tin Roof 2 or the most every weekend knife fights at Drakes.

  3. Lightning Bug

    How come no one on this thread mentioned that Williamson County just increased its annual budget by a staggering 33%??!!

  4. Billybob

    “Meanwhile, the Chamber is planning taxpayer-funded ‘fact finding’ trips to Fairfax county, VA and Montgomery county, MD. Apparently, these counties are to serve as models for Williamson County”. Are these guys clueless, the growth there is driven by the proximity to Washington and the free flowing tax dollars that firms there receive.

    1. Clarence stubbs

      Yes, This is the beltway area Metro went to find it’s current School Superintendent, Joseph.
      Poor experience, no accountability on competence nor budgets! There is nothing about
      that entire area Williamson Co. needs to deuplicate!

  5. KW

    We need citizens involved in local government and to take interest in voting. It’s a shame to see the turn out at the polls. The apathy is so very sad. Our county debt is horrible without any dedicated source for funds to give us roads, fire protection or even police protection. Some county residents are tired of all the money going to schools and not getting these other services that are needed also. We must slow growth and make our representatives fiscally responsible in all their decisions.

  6. cannoneer2

    “There are those who make things happen, there are those who watch things happen, and then there are th those who wonder what happened.” I think many of us who were paying attention in the first place saw this coming.

  7. Donna Locke

    This is what happens when Republicans in the state legislature take power away from local communities and won’t allow towns and counties to make decisions and require impact fees, etc., on development. Our legislature is controlled by the business lobby.

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell, as Abbey said. Growth does not pay for itself. The already-existent residents pay for it.

    1. Tomas Rose

      This is an excellent point. Some of our problems relate to the fact that the Tennessee General Assembly overrides the prerogative of local communities to govern themselves. A good example of this is the air bnb mess. The Tennessee General Assembly has told communities they have no right to disallow this even if a majority of the community has said they want to disallow air bnb expansion.

    2. If it weren’t the republicans, as you say, it would be the democrats. You need to realize they are all the same. A little letter after someone’s name is meaningless. Try to stay focused.

  8. Kelly

    There has been explosive growth with little thought on the impact of traffic and the preservation of our beautiful county. The County does need to concentrate on lowering debt and supporting new schools instead of promoting more development without the proper infrastructure to support it..

  9. Austin

    We had to move from Williamson County, Brentwood as it just became unlivable! Traffic and northern would be new money snobs moving in and taking over —-

  10. lb

    People need to be informed and STAND UP.
    These “Chambers” should be renamed: ANTI TAXPAYER groups. They do nothing but burden the every day taxpayer for the enrichment of a small group of Developers/Pollitical ELITES

  11. Kevin

    GREAT ARTICLE! The EXACT situation is playing out in Sumner County, and I suspect other ring counties as well! Conniving politicians are fast learners!

    One of the strategies employed by these “crooks in suits” is to expend available capital and debt capacity on frivolous projects. Then when a real need is encountered, like a new school or a major road repair, they claim that there’s no money. So they raise taxes, to secure more debt capacity. Equally sinister, is that when property values rise, they don’t reduce the tax rate to be “revenue neutral” as required by State law. This way they can blame the increased tax bills on the Assessor of Property! And don’t you know, it’s always “for the children!”

    The other component leading the degradation is called “Strong Schools”, or in Williamson County it’s called Williamson Strong (same goals, same MO). Take over government, meld the School Board with the supposed check and balance of the County Commission, run up debt, and forever shackle the citizen to high debt service payments.

    And what’s the end goal? Turn the ring counties “blue”, and assure that the next President of the US is a Democrat! Don’t believe me, Strong Schools Director Andy Spears has on his Facebook page and was recorded on Channel 2 calling President Trump all sorts of things.

    1. 83ragtop50

      Kevin – I was planning on commenting about Sumner County’s demise but you beat me to it. With Executive Holt at the helm and a commission overloaded with big city mentality it will not be long before all of Sumner County – not just Hendersonville – becomes unrecognizable. I live just outside of Portland. The city board spent $29 on a dog park, about $250K on a run down 9 hole golf course that was owned by several local citizens (then spent tens of thousands more to renovate it) among with several other unnecessary expenses. Oh, and of course Portland needs millions for a new city hall. Now they asking the citizens to pay a higher sales tax. Common sense has fled Sumner County. Or more correctly common sense has been overrun by those from elsewhere that fled these kinds of problems but just brought the same mentality with them.

    2. LB

      Excellent! It’s very clear you know what you are talking about. This is happening in cities and counties all over the country. If only the people would wake up and get involved before it’s too late. Please do your research before you VOTE!

  12. Gary ONeal

    “Fact finding trips?” Sounds like another word for “lets party on the taxpayer dollar.” This is often the result of explosive growth: a corresponding growth in greed, graft, and corruption paid for at the expense of the taxpayers who often have a harder time coping with growth than the politicians and officials who seek to profit from it. Prices everywhere in this area are going up – it always happens with growth and should be expected. Why should taxes also have to go up just so Chamber members can wine and dine and be wined and dined.? Growth in the economy is good. Growth in graft is not.

  13. Kyle Am.

    The same group that endorsed Mark Green. It seems Mark can’t recognize the swamp in his district why would he be able to recognize it in DC?

  14. Donna Locke

    I remember driving through Franklin at night on the way home to Columbia from Nashville and hitting one stoplight in tiny Franklin and seeing no traffic whatsoever. It was so quiet and peaceful.

    It is very painful for many of us natives to see what has happened to the hills that looked Ireland and to lose the rural life we grew up in. We have lost so much beauty and a wonderful way of life rhat my grandchildren in a hellhole called Atlanta will never know.

  15. Very informative! I would really like to see the money given to the Chamber being spent on more urgent needs like paying down our debt, schools, etc. It’s disappointing to see that this is occurring.