What could be called ‘The Bragg Era” in Murfreesboro government will be coming to a close Thursday, May 1 when Mayor Tommy Bragg will participate in the swearing in of his successor, Shane McFarland, in the City Hall Rotunda.
Bragg, a three-term Murfreesboro Mayor, decided not to seek reelection this year, leaving a legacy of growth and accomplishment for the City of Murfreesboro during his 12-year tenure.
It is a tenure that has included no city property tax increases or additional city tax burdens, even though the city’s services have grown from serving approximately 70,000 residents in 2002 to more than 130,000 residents in 2014.
He is a lifelong citizen of Murfreesboro, having been delivered at Rutherford Hospital and discharged to the home his parents rented on East Main Street at the time.
Ms. Jeanne Nieslen’s private home-operated kindergarten served as his first schooling and he went on to attend the Middle Tennessee State College Training School, now Campus School, Hobgood (through the 8th grade), and the old Central High School, now Central Magnet School, Class of 1965.
Voted “Most Outstanding Senior Boy,” Bragg played in the band, joined the Thespian Society and was a member of the National Honor Society.
The Bragg family had long been involved in the local newspaper business with grandfather Minor Bragg owning and operating the Cannon Courier, Rutherford Courier and Courier Printing.
Both Minor and father John Bragg served as presidents of the Tennessee Press Association in the 1940s and 1950s, so it was only natural that Tommy became the editor of High Lights, the Central High School’s student newspaper.
And a degree in Journalism from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville seemed a logical step, and Bragg’s leadership skills began to take shape with college ROTC training, which he later honed in the Tennessee National Guard, retiring in 1997 as a full Colonel and advisor to the Adjutant General.
A UT vs. Vanderbilt football game was the occasion of his first date with future wife Jeanne, a native of Knoxville, and she followed him to Murfreesboro after graduation, working first at the Cotton Patch and then State Farm.
Tommy’s late father, State Representative John Bragg, ran unsuccessfully to unseat Congressman Bill Anderson in the Democratic Primary of 1968, and both he and Jeanne worked hard in that campaign.
Representative Bragg was known as a very fiscally conservative Democrat who chaired the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, and stories continue to be told of him quoting each line item of the state’s budget from memory, expounding upon the nature and importance of each.
“Dad always said ‘Don’t give any one entity too big of a stick,’” Bragg said. “He made sure that the County and City governments across Tennessee remained separate, each with their own taxing authority, so that neither was subservient to the state or to each other for funding.”
It is not surprising that Bragg himself became an expert on the City of Murfreesboro’s budget and finances.
In an interview with The Post, his continued stream of budget facts and tax figures ranging across two decades (too many to print or adequately comprehend) required this reporter to write feverishly just to have any hope of keeping up, as he spoke without any notes or reference whatsoever.
After graduation in 1969, a June wedding, and two years of active duty Air Force service, Bragg began working in the family business, Courier Printing, in 1972, which must have required a mind for figures and business acumen.
“We focused on commercial printing - providing statements, ledger sheets, and business documents for large corporate clients,” he said. “We printed 13 million Bell sheets for South Central Bell each month, and we printed all of Cracker Barrel’s menus for many years.”
Bragg sold Courier in 1998 to Consolidated Graphics and retired in 2000.
He soon began receiving encouragement to succeed Richard Reeves as Murfreesboro’s Mayor, fielding calls from former MTSU and NFL football coach Ken Shipp, Congressman Bart Gordon’s Field Representative Jim Stubblefield, and local businessman Terry Haynes.
“I told them I was not interested,” Bragg said, “but I thought about it some more and announced my intent to run in late 2001.”
Reeves then decided not to seek reelection, and Bragg won a tight race with Councilman Jack Ross to succeed him in 2002.
At the time, the city had purchased right of way and large tracts of land along Manson Pike and Thompson Lane, which would later become the Gateway along Medical Center Parkway.
“My first job as mayor was to get those 400 acres back on the tax roles,” he said. “We needed to finalize a contract with St. Thomas to move the hospital to a new location in the Gateway and we needed roads and other infrastructure on the vacant land.”
Those goals were realized, and what was then vacant farm land owned by the city through eminent domain became a home for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, The Avenue Shopping Centre and a medical complex including St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital.
“The Conference Center alone pours every dime that we invested in the project back into the budget every four years.” Bragg said. “We have already gotten our $5.5 million back from the project, and our agreement means that additional payments of that sum will continue again each four-year period.”
During his mayorship, Murfreesboro has added the Medical Center Parkway and Joe B. Jackson interstate interchanges, attracting large job creators such as the most recent Amazon Fulfillment Center and NHK Seating Inc.
“I ran in 2002 on a platform of increased economic development, building cooperative partnerships with MTSU, and making our city schools the best they can be,” he said. “I also wanted to improve our road system with the new interchanges, rerouting Fortress and widening Cherry Lane, all of which have been accomplished.
“I hope to see the section of Middle Tennessee Boulevard between Main and Greenland improved as planned in the near future,” he added.
Bragg followed through on each of his initiatives, attracting TSSAA Spring Fling, basketball and football tournaments with a $5.5 million investment to fund a 100-acre soccer complex, providing $1 million over three years to MTSU’s new Science Building project and more than quadrupling the city’s allocation to Murfreesboro City Schools.
“We’ve also purchased over $800,000 in technology equipment for city schools, built three new schools and expanded Mitchell-Nielsen and Hobgood,” he said.
When he began his first team as mayor, the city’s property tax rate stood and $2.29.
It is now $1.27.
“Many of these things were envisioned by previous city councils and mayors of Murfreesboro, and they simply came to fruition during my terms,” Bragg concluded with ample humility.
“I know future mayors will realize the visions we had as a council during my mayorship, such as a park in West Murfreesboro, enhanced public safety efforts, greater use of technology, an enhanced downtown area, more economic development in The Avenue area, completion of a new comprehensive growth plan and a revised compensation study for city employees,” he added.
Bragg also leaves a $116 million pension plan for city employees which is now 85 percent funded, with no net increase in the number of city employees.
“We have increased our numbers of teachers, but those paid out of the General Fund has not increased in my term,” he confirmed.
Bragg has entered the race for Executive Committeeman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, but says he will enjoy his retirement for now.
He and Jeanne have three children, John III, Beth and Anne, and two grandchildren, Jeanne and Mary Malcolm.
“Jeanne and I plan to be seeing much more of them now,” he said with a grateful smile skyward.