Franklin Mayor Ken Moore keeps an eye on city’s future and a listening ear to constituents’ concerns

 By Linda Bryant

Physicians don’t have a lot in common with politicians—at least at first blush.

But Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, a retired orthopedic surgeon, says the two professions have least on major skill in common—the ability and willingness to listen.
Moore has been listening to people for decades, whether it’s a child facing critical surgery in Central America or a constituent complaining about traffic problems in Franklin.
“They say if you listen to the patient they will tell you what’s wrong with them,” Moore said. “So much of what I do as an elected official is listen to people and try to understand their feelings about issues. The only difference is that when I was practicing orthopedic surgery I could put them to sleep.”

Moore has overseen Franklin during a time when the city of about 63,000 has experienced dramatic growth as well as lavish attention—regionally and nationally— for having one of the highest ratings for quality of life in the country.

For Moore, the goal of his work as mayor is making sure his community remains exemplary when it comes to its quality of life while still maintaining low taxes. He has worked to make government more accessible to a wider variety of people, creating YouTube video segments known as “Moore with the Mayor” where he discusses everything from historical preservation to local events and festivals to arts and culture to healthy living to his own furry friends.
Moore has focused on making city departments more effective and efficient. And under his leadership, Franklin’s online presence has become quite savvy and now includes a vigorous presence on social media and videos highlighting the behind-the-scenes work of municipal employees, educational videos about city issues and policies and showcasing the lighter side of city leadership.

With his extensive medical background, Moore is also proud of the growth in healthcare services in Williamson County. He also remains a staunch warrior for improved education.
“Ken Moore is honest, grounded, inclusive, and he really knows how to give back to the community and mankind,” said fellow orthopedic surgeon Eslick Daniel, MD, who met Moore in medical school at the University of Tennessee and practiced alongside him at Middle Tennessee Bone & Joint Clinic in Columbia for almost three decades. “He’s a born politician, and in his case, that’s a compliment as far as I’m concerned. He’s a born leader.”

TT&C: You enjoyed a career as an orthopedic surgeon, retired and then went into local politics. What got you interested in politics to begin with?
Ken Moore: I got involved in state politics and the General Assembly when I was practicing orthopedics. I was president of the Tennessee Orthopedic Society when the Tennessee Medical Association contacted me and said they had three scope of practice bills they wanted my help with. All three of them were pretty contentious. They were [about the] scope of practice for physical therapists, chiropractors, and podiatrists. I worked with the General Assembly for two years in full session on those bills to craft legislation that was acceptable to both sides.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was a family friend. When he was running for president, he contacted me to help him raise money from doctors. I was extremely successful so that put me in the crosshairs to help raise money for other candidates and be involved with other campaigns. I was also one of two representatives with the Board of Counselors for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. A lot of our role was dealing with health policies. We would visit Washington once a year.
One morning one of my friends I had worked with on a campaign and I were having breakfast, and he said, “You ought to run for alderman.” It just hit me at the right time. I ran the first time in 2007. There were 14 people running for four spots, and I ended up getting the top votes. I was pretty content to be an alderman-at-large. My second year as an alderman I was vice mayor. The fourth year that I was vice mayor our mayor, John Schroer, resigned to become the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. I finished out his term and then ran for mayor in 2011. I have had one other election since which was in 2015. My next election will be next year in 2019.

TT&C: You’re probably in one of the most enviable small cities in America. Can you reflect on what it’s like to be at the helm of such a popular town?
KM: Franklin has been taking off for a number of years. You can date our popularity back to the1990s when streetscapes occurred downtown. That’s when the merchants got together and took down all the aluminum siding that had been covering up some of the most beautiful buildings in America. They had tried to make it look like a strip mall and that process of removal was a very big leap of faith by many leaders in our community.
Last year we were designated the fourth best place in America to live and the second best place in the South. We are known for the great quality of life. We are known for doing the best at whatever we do. For example, if we are building a new wastewater plant we are going to use the latest technology and techniques. If we’re building a new fire station, we are going to build to be a place where people from all over the country would want to come.
It’s not unusual for Franklin to be out ahead of the state legislature and other cities as far as our policies go. Many communities across the state look to us as an example of what can be done.

TT&C: Can you think of an example of another policy where you are on the leading edge?
KM: I believe we are a leader in sustainability. When I was working as an alderman, I went in to see Mayor Schroer. I told him that I was just on a flight and read a magazine article about the top 25 greenest cities in America—and we weren’t even on the list. Then he looked at me as only John Schroer can and said, “That’s a good job for you.” So, I led the initiative along with the staff to create a sustainability initiative in our community. Not only did we create one in our community but our city operations [department] created a sustainability plan. Since that time we have seen a lot of improvements as far as energy efficiency, lighting in our community, and recycling. We have been recognized as a Platinum Level Sustainable Community by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Another area is health. We were tagged as one of the initial pilot communities for Healthier Tennessee. We were honored, and we were designated the year after the pilot program as one of the healthiest communities in Tennessee. We work in tandem with a non-profit in town called Franklin Tomorrow to help improve the health of our community by raising awareness about the things we need to be doing. In particular, we have focused on physical activity, smoking cessation and obesity. The other area we have targeted is mental health. We have a quarterly Get Fit Franklin that we call Walk Moore with the Mayor.

TT&C: What are the challenges of such a fast-growing city?
KM: We are the eighth-fastest growing city in America. With that comes a lot of challenges for a great city team with a large workload in every single department. It creates challenges for us in meeting deadlines. But we do meet those deadlines. I think the biggest challenges that confront many citizens are traffic and attainable housing.
We have the lowest unemployment in the state of Tennessee. For five quarters in a row we were No.1 in America in job growth. Right now we have a very talented workforce. We are already at the goal the governor set for us. We need to continue to make sure that we have the most educated people to be competitive as a city.

TT&C: What are some of the more recent accomplishments as far as businesses and industries in Franklin?
KM: We are a headquarters destination for many businesses. I think we have 13 of the 25 or 28 of the publicly traded companies on the Fortune 500 list in Middle Tennessee—Nissan North America but more recently Schneider Electric, Mars Petcare, and CKE, which is the parent company of Hardee’s. CKE recently announced another 125 more jobs. These are great wins for our community.

TT&C: What’s a typical day like for you?
KM: Our charter says I am a part-time mayor. But there is so much happening here that I need to be involved with that I pretty much work full-time every single day. I have someone who runs the city—that’s my city manager, Eric Stuckey. I try to wean away from the job on Fridays as best I can but I still work a lot of weekends.
For example, I read part of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July [for a community event]. There are various duties I’m involved in like that—a lot of meetings with citizens and meetings on issues that are confronting the board. I am involved in a lot of planning and in regional issues with the Greater Nashville Regional Council. I serve as their president right now. I am on the executive committee of MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization], and I’m on am the committee for the Regional Transit Authority.
I’m still active in the Middle Tennessee Mayors Caucus, although I stepped down as the head. It’s a great opportunity to work with 40 mayors from the Middle Tennessee area to talk about challenges and issues that are in common for us. One of the things that we have been working on for many years is the gasoline tax and money for roads. So we were very active in that discussion and made our opinions known for the IMPROVE Act. I’d like to think the Mayors Caucus had an influence [in the bill’s passage in 2017.] We certainly made phone calls and visits to the hill.

TT&C: Why is the regional vision and leadership on that level so important?
KM: Good examples are when companies like Nissan North America, Schneider Electric or Mars Petcare come here. They don’t look where the county line or the city border ends, they look at the entire region. I think it’s imperative that we all work together to make this a great region. We share a lot of common issues. Transportation is one of them. We can’t solve the issue just in Franklin. We can do our part but we all have to work together.

TT&C: What regional issues are on the horizon?
KM: Solid Waste is going to be a big challenge going forward because it’s harder to permit a landfill and a lot of the landfills are filling up. Another issue will be water. I’m serving on the steering committee for Tennessee H2O. We’re looking at water for the next 20 to 25 years in the state of Tennessee.

TT&C: What do you hope happens with the region’s transportation issues?
KM: If you look at what the economists and think tank people are predicting, our population is going to double in the city of Franklin by 2040. The county will double by 2040, and the whole region is going to have more than one million more people. We have to focus on transportation, and evidence shows that you can’t build yourself out of traffic congestion. If we don’t do anything by 2040, we are going to be in gridlock. The solution to the transportation issue is not any one thing but a whole bunch of things. Certainly, technology solutions to the problems are going to be an evolving thing. Some type of mass transit is going to be needed. It could be rapid bus transit, a light rail system or the use of existing rail line. We just don’t know yet.

TT&C: What are some key accomplishments that you are proud of?
KM: Franklin continues to be a community. It’s a very special place where people want to live, work, and raise their family. It’s just got that special sense of place. The sustainability issue in our community has been very important. It’s led to a lot of dollar savings for our city.
I’m also proud that we have a new campus for our Columbia State Community College. I practiced orthopedic surgery in Columbia so I was very familiar with the community college. When I moved here I was appalled with the campus they had. But even with the old, dilapidated campus they still had one of the highest retention rates in the state. They were pushing out some great students, and they were going all over the country. My involvement really got heavy when Dr. Janet Smith became president. I worked very closely with Dr. Smith to help her find property in Williamson County.
At that same time, we had a very receptive legislator in the House – Rep. Charles Sargent, who had a lot of passion for the college. We were able to get funding for a new campus and build three of the nine buildings that will be constructed there. It’s a gem and has already surpassed my vision of what it would do. The school’s programs have great synergy with the students and with the health care programs through Williamson Medical Center. It’s now one of the top destinations for some of our brightest students. The school has created a lot of programs with our high schools. One important one is information technology which has had a real deficit as far as needing more people.
We are very successful in job creation. We have a friendly environment and a very low tax rate. A lot of people in the Nashville community are coming to work in Franklin. We are the only county in Middle Tennessee with an equal “in and out” everyday. The same amount of people are coming from Davidson County to Williamson County are going from Williamson to Davidson. All of the other counties are just going to Davidson.
Another thing I’m pleased with: We just received an award from the Tennessee City Managers Association for our land use plan. Our planning and sustainability department got the top award this year for our land use plan.

TT&C: Can you speak to the way Franklin’s city government is structured and provide a couple of highlights from your departments?
KM: Eric Stuckey is our city administrator. He’s doing a great job, and he has created an amazing team from our 700-plus employees. Every department seems to work well together; I think they are all exemplary. I get a lot of emails and letters talking about and praising our employees.
Pretty much everyone in our Planning and Sustainability department has at least a master’s degree. Franklin’s Police Chief Deborah Faulkner has a Ph.D. She is a great leader in our community. Our police department and firemen deserve a special shout out. They never know what they’re going to get into when they get a call, particularly now that we have the opioid crisis.
In our development services area, which has to do with inspections and improving planning, 90 percent of the inspections can be scheduled now online for the very next day. If you bring plans in, we have deadlines to get things done and our staff is meeting those deadlines.

TT&C: What are some of your personal hobbies and interests outside of serving as mayor?
KM: My wife and I love to travel. I enjoy golf. In fact, I just got back from a golf trip to Ireland with a group of friends. I like to take photos, so, whenever I travel, I take a lot of pictures. I enjoy reading biographies of great people. Right now I’m reading the book Parting the Waters, which chronicles the Rev. Martin Luther King years, and it’s been very revealing. I like music, and I’ve learned to play the acoustic guitar in the past couple of years. We have five children between us and six grandchildren. Three of the grandchildren are grown and three of the grandchildren are young. They are 6, 11, and 13 years old.
We are regular churchgoers, and I teach Sunday school at Franklin First United Methodist Church. I am very active in the Shalom Foundation, an organization that works in Guatemala. I am the medical director of a surgery center there. We do free pediatric surgery for Guatemalan children. We have 30 full-time employees, and we take the best surgeons in America to our Guatemalan facility to operate.
John Brock, who is the head of Monroe Carroll Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, is getting ready to go down there with a team in the next few months. We work with a pediatric plastic surgeon from Denver Children’s Hospital and perform every type of surgery except for heart and neurosurgery. I am on the phone with Shalom on a regular basis. I have already travelled there once this year, and I was there four times last year.

TT&C: Can you share some lessons learned or important takeaways from your time as mayor?
KM: I have learned to be a better listener because in a community of our size there are lots of different opinions. I’ve learned to take everybody’s opinion into consideration as we work through things. I’ve had to do that all of my life but I think I’ve had to do that more since I have been mayor. I have also learned to be more considerate of other people’s feelings.

TT&C: You were recently elected to the TML board as third vice president, and you were also named TML’s 2018 Mayor of the Year. Through the years why has it been important for you to have a relationship with TML?
KM: TML is an extremely important organization because it allows community-elected leaders and their staff to get together and have an organization that advocates for them. We are able to create a much larger voice together than we could separately. And most of us have very similar issues such as infrastructure, growth, jobs also legislative issues. It’s important for cities to participate and send their leadership staff to these meetings so we can build better communities in Tennessee and also build a better state that way.

TT&C: If you could wave a magic wand what would Franklin be like in five years?
KM: I hope that five years from now Franklin still has that special feeling. I hope it’s a place where people want to live, work, and raise their family. We’ve got something really special here. I feel like I have to work very hard to make sure that we keep it!