The city’s two mayoral candidates, Shane McFarland and Ron Washington, both tout experience and leadership qualities as the April 15 election nears. But their plans for directing the city differ widely.
In his second term on the City Council, Shane McFarland says his first priorities will be developing small business rapport, focusing on workforce development and setting an education plan.
If elected, McFarland says he plans to meet early on with Murfreesboro City Schools Director Linda Gilbert to determine what areas the city needs to improve in its pre-K through sixth-grade education system.
Workforce development means working with the state, county mayor and private business to ensure students here are prepared for to take jobs or move on to college when they graduate from high school, McFarland said.
Owner of Shane McFarland Construction, the candidate points out that Murfreesboro has some 10,000 businesses, 9,000 of which are small businesses that employ the majority of the workforce here.
In an effort to “make sure City Hall is business friendly,” McFarland wants to create a liaison position to handle small business issues and economic development, someone who would “streamline things in dealing with City Hall.”
In his 16th year on City Council, Washington says his first step would be to meet with city department heads to get a better understanding of their daily operations and to let them know what they can expect from him.
“I plan to lead just like you would for a corporation or government operation,” Washington says.
One of his initiatives involves setting policy and procedures for “empowerment zones,” especially for areas in older parts of Murfreesboro where government can take action that encourages small business investments there. That includes the Main Street corridor, Maney Avenue and other areas surrounding downtown.
Washington also plans to propose a long-term plan for building sidewalks and erecting crosswalk signals to improve to improve safety for walkers and bicyclists.
“We need to look at becoming a more pedestrian-friendly city,” he says.
Prioritizing streets, such as Old Lascassas Pike, that already see heavy bicycle and pedestrian use is crucial to the plan, he says.
Staffing for public safety departments is another early initiative, he says, and could require an independent study to determine how police and fire and rescue departments need to fill positions in the long term.
It would also look at the need to increase patrols in certain parts of the city, for example west of I-24 where growth and traffic are on the rise.
McFarland declined to point toward a primary achievement during his time on the council, saying “the last thing I want it to be is the Shane McFarland Show.”
Rather, he prefers to work behind the scenes and let the council make the decision.
Still, he says one of the things he’s most proud of is that he began working on a city customer service program four years ago. He was among a group of city officials that visited Florence, Ala., and studied a program there that Murfreesboro used to improve services and relationships with city residents.
Washington says his shining moment on the City Council was the expansion and development of Patterson Community Center. When he got involved in the project, he wasn’t even on the council.
His other highlight, he says, “is all the people I’ve met in my government service career that I’ve been able to help in some form or fashion.”
McFarland contends he didn’t waver in a 2013 decision on extending the runway at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, though he acknowledged it was one of his most difficult decisions while on the council.
After hearing from consultants, McFarland said, the 5,000-foot runway extension “made sense.” But when he started hearing from residents during a public hearing, he felt they had valid concerns.
Ultimately, McFarland says, he liked the compromise of a 4,750-foot runway extension.
“I don’t mind standing by the decision as long as I’m getting the information I’m comfortable with,” he says.
A $4 million public improvement project to South Maney Avenue hasn’t yielded significant private investment yet, but Washington says he believes it was “an excellent investment” by city government.
The project incorporated drainage and street as well as streetscape improvement from Southeast Broad Street to a point just south of East Lytle Street. Washington likens the Maney project to the construction of Medical Center Parkway, which led to massive commercial development.
“We’re always looking at opportunities in older neighborhoods to draw that first good tenant,” he says.
McFarland says “leadership and hard work” set him apart from Washington.
“I’m not going to be outworked. I’m not afraid of hard work,” says McFarland, adding he’s not afraid of making difficult decisions either.
His experience as a small businessman, in which he meets budgets and makes payroll also differentiates him from his opponent.
Washington believes his 32 years working at Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. and more than 20 years of experience in city government, in addition to the many people he’s met across Rutherford County, provide him an edge.
He also touts his service on the Tennessee Municipal League and with the National League of Cities, lobbying on behalf of city government issues at the state and national levels.
Career: Owner, Shane McFarland Construction Co.
Family: Wife, Ashley, sons, Luke and Eli, 10, and Drew, 19 months
Education: MTSU graduate
Government service: City Council eight years
Family: Wife, Phyllis, children, Marques, 33, and Karmel, 15
Career: MTEMC corporate special projects manager, former district manager
Education: MTSU graduate
Government service: City Council 16 years, Murfreesboro Planning Commission