Franklin is “not out of the woods” yet when it comes to COVID-19, according to Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, but city projects are moving along in spite of the pandemic.
Moore and City Administrator Eric Stuckey joined Dave Crouch Friday for the monthly Policy Talks event presented by Williamson, Inc. to discuss the current state of Franklin, including a look at the effects of the pandemic and updates on current city projects.
Moore said active COVID-19 cases are slowly decreasing in the county, but so is the frequency of testing. The virus is still out there, he said, encouraging people to wash their hands often, wear a mask in public and stay out of large crowds.
However, he also shared small businesses have taken significant hits due to the pandemic, and while many have been able to return to work, those businesses aren’t “out of the woods” either.
“I encourage our citizens to support our local businesses right now,” Moore said. “The majority of our businesses are not our Nissans and the Mars (Petcare). The majority of them are small businesses, so that’s what gives us such a unique community.”
He said those small businesses are also part of what draws tourists in, sharing that tourists are looking for safe places to go during the pandemic — another reason to continue wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing, he plugged.
Last year, visitors spent over $497 million in Williamson County, averaging about $1.36 million per day and saving each household about $530 in taxes.
“We need to continue to be a safe city for people to visit,” Moore said.
With Halloween coming up, Stuckey said traditionally celebration plans have been left up to individual neighborhoods, and the same will likely be true of this year, though Moore cautioned families to take health and safety precautions while in public.
“There’s some real increased risk for exposure to COVID-19 the more people you put together and the more contact people have,” Moore said. “Whatever the neighborhoods choose, I hope they’ll also choose to encourage wearing facial coverings and the other things that we do.”
Fuller Story recognized outside Franklin
Crouch pointed out that Confederate monuments and battle sites have been the center of recent controversy, and Stuckey said the community’s work around the Fuller Story initiative has been noticed and commended by people beyond Franklin.
With markers explaining experiences of African American people in the county before, during and after the Civil War around Franklin’s Confederate monument, known as “Chip,” and a United States Colored Troop statue to be installed in the Public Square next year, Stuckey shared Franklin’s approach to showing a more complete picture of its history will serve the city well as it provides “a more interesting story to visitors” and is “more sustainable” perhaps than taking the monument down.
He added that Franklin received a shout-out for the Fuller Story effort, which has been in the works since 2017, during this year’s International City/County Management Association conference. The initiative also stands as one reason the city was named an All-America City by the National Civic League last month.
“That made me really proud to hear that other people are talking about it, not just locally, as an example of how to address these issues in maybe a more constructive way,” Stuckey said.
Despite the Fuller Story’s progress, though, several protests calling for the removal of the Confederate monument have taken place recently in the Franklin Public Square, and the square remains a popular location for demonstrations of all subjects. The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen have recently been considering an ordinance that would require citizens to obtain a permit before demonstrating on public land. The ordinance was first introduced in November.
The ordinance would require gatherings of 20 or more people for the purpose of public expression to acquire a permit, at no cost, from the city at least two days before the event.
“We really see it as an effort that facilitates the exercise of First Amendment rights — your right to speak and your right to peaceably assemble,” Stuckey said, adding that the permit would primarily serve safety purposes and that the content of a protest would not be restricted by the city.
On Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen held its first of two readings of the ordinance and voted 7-0 to advance the item to the final reading, which will take place at the board’s Oct. 13 meeting. Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon was absent from the meeting.
Increased walkability coming down the pike
Moore and Stuckey also discussed various capital projects in progress throughout the city, including the streetscaping on Franklin Road.
From the bridge over the Harpeth River near downtown Franklin to the Factory, Franklin Road will include three lanes and sidewalks on both sides. Stuckey said the city has approved a monetary incentive to complete the project within 18 months.
Moore shared one of his greatest disappointments is the fact that Franklin has not historically scored well in terms of walkability, and sidewalk and trail connectivity has been an emphasis for him during his nine years in office.
Another project in the works is sidewalk designs for Lewisburg Avenue and Lewisburg Pike with eventual plans to connect a sidewalk from the train tracks near Stewart Street over to Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway — another road currently seeing improvements.
Mack Hatcher is in the process of growing a new leg on the northwest side of town, stretching from the Westhaven area to its current end on Hillsboro Road, and the construction is on track to finish next fall. That stretch of road will include two lanes and a multi-use trail.
“We’ll be thrilled to have that open. That has been the No. 1 capital project priority since well before I got here,” Stuckey said about the Mack Hatcher extension.