Long-time Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald announced March 22 that he will be running for re-election in November 2018.
He is still recovering from his Feb. 16 neck/spinal disc surgery to relieve arthritic pain from pinched nerves. After suffering with chronic and worsening pain for three years, he acquiesced to the surgery and is now feeling better. He commented on his improved condition in his candidacy announcement.
“After receiving positive results from a recent surgery, I feel that I am in a strong position to continue working on behalf of the citizens of Bartlett,” McDonald wrote. “I have heard from many Bartlett residents and business leaders who have encouraged me to run and pledged their support.”
He continued, “I am very proud of our accomplishments as a city, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to help lead Bartlett and make it a great place for our future generations. With the establishment of Bartlett City Schools, a cornerstone of our community, we have seen an increase in home values, continued growth in the new home sector and continued interest from businesses who wish to call Bartlett their home. We will continue to strive to attract strong industrial development and retail business that will make our tax base stronger and provide jobs for our citizens.”
McDonald also expressed appreciation for the leadership team he counts on.
“I commend our Board of Aldermen for their steadfast leadership, and department directors and city employees for their outstanding effort in maintaining superior services for our good citizens,” he said. “Together, with proven experience and integrity and with your blessing, we can build on this positive momentum to attract additional investment in our community.”
In closing, he added, “I look forward to meeting many of you, and I humbly ask for your support. It takes team work, and together we can continue to make Bartlett one of the safest and most desirable places to live in Tennessee and the Mid-South.”
The Bartlett Express offered McDonald the opportunity to respond to basic questions about himself and the city’s issues and opportunities.
List three significant issues in this election. And how do you plan to deal with each of these issues, if re-elected?
1. Housing availability for the city. McDonald explained the demands on the city’s housing stock: Bartlett is a diverse socioeconomic climate with affordable housing that attracts younger families with school-age children. The city also has multi-generational families who occupy many of the established homes. New college graduates who return home to Bartlett want an inexpensive place to live, often without the demands of lawn and home maintenance. Empty-nesters who are downsizing are also looking for smaller residences with few maintenance demands.
McDonald sees the greatest housing gap for people who are in the years between when their children leave for college and when the parents retire.
2. Education investments. McDonald said the city’s school district was fortunate to inherit its existing buildings, but the maintenance on many of the structures was deferred for years. It requires skilled management to balance the funding for those investments alongside all the other services the city offers.
The city also is supporting the upcoming location of a Tennessee College of Applied Technology within Bartlett. The goal is to make sure jobs come to the city and that the workforce is well trained to fill those positions. While Bartlett doesn’t have high unemployment, it does have quite a few people who are under-employed and who would be helped by more education, he said.
“Workforce development is very important to me.” McDonald said.
He also noted that he places a high priority on all forms of education, including continuing ed, in the public sector, in the private sector, and in the home. “Wherever you’re going to educate, I believe our children need to have the tools to be productive adults.”
3. Transportation and other infrastructure issues. Road conditions are an issue nationally, and there is talk about a state gas tax, McDonald said. (Editor’s note: See the March 23 issue for an editorial column on Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax.)
Federal funding is dwindling. Where Bartlett used to get enough to pay for all its paving and light bills for its street lights, now it doesn’t even pay the light bill, he said. That means the city must do municipal bonds to fund its paving projects.
“Compared to others, we’ve got really good roads,” McDonald said. “But it’s getting harder and harder to do that because the funding just isn’t available like it used to be.”
The overall infrastructure is aging in a city as old as Bartlett, he said, and leaders must stay on top of that while also considering the needs of any future annexation. As Tennessee State Route 385 grows in usage, there will need to be more access, too (both going up Austin Peay and going out Brunswick Road). The city can also expect new residents who work on the Navy base in Millington or at the Megasite in Brownsville, and that will affect the city’s transportation and other infrastructure needs.
“So planning and having vision to see those future needs, I think is an important piece in the next election — who’s got the experience and connections to be able to really do some important planning that needs to go in,” he said.
He also added a fourth issue — public safety (both police and fire). McDonald said people often come to Bartlett for the schools and stay because it’s a safe, clean city with stable property values. With the city surrounded on three sides by Memphis, which is known for its higher crime rate, Bartlett has to work harder.
“Because the bad guys don’t know city limits,” he said. “They know opportunities. And most of the crimes we see here are crimes of convenience.”
He continued, “We have a great community, and it is safe. But we still have to take precautions because people are looking for crimes of convenience, and we don’t want to offer them that. We want enough police officers out there to make them think twice, and we also need a safety-minded community that’s looking out for each other.”
That means that public safety personnel need the best tools, and that might mean getting new ambulances and fire trucks as needed, as well as watching for new developments in technology. Police officers now can enter their reports from their in-car computers, and modernizations like this help to keep the community safe.
“That’s important, but it’s not cheap,” McDonald said.
It requires an investment in trained personnel, and salaries/benefits are among a city’s largest expenses.
What do you think is the biggest concern facing Bartlett at this time, and why?
“I think there will be a lot of discussion in the near future about schools and about transportation and about safety,” he said. “I think all of those are going to be really timely issues.”
What specifically makes you the best qualified candidate for the position you are seeking?
“Well, I obviously have a lot of experience,” McDonald said. “I hope people see me as being trustworthy. I do a lot of study before I come to a decision. Now it’s not always easy to explain to everybody how much background information you had to have to reach it, and if you’re in a board meeting trying to explain why you’re doing something and you spent weeks, months and in some cases years getting to that point, trying to articulate that is always challenging. You know, the communication piece of it. But I hope people see me as somebody that has integrity. And while I won’t always be right or you won’t always agree with me, that I will do something sincerely because I believe it’s the best thing for Bartlett.”
McDonald, 63, is a career insurance man and Bartlett mayor since 2003. He founded McDonald Insurance and Financial Services and retired December 2013 after more than 30 years. Previously, he was active in retail and in radio broadcasting. In earlier elections, he was chosen to be a Bartlett alderman and served two terms — for 1997-1999 and 2000-2002.
He is a graduate of Clarksville High School and attended Freed Hardeman College and Memphis State University.
Some of his civic activities include:
- Tennessee Municipal League, 2012 Mayor of the Year and past Board of Directors member
- Member of the National League of Cities’ Board of Directors, 2011-2013
- Suburbs Council Committee member for the National League of Cities First Tier (chair 2007-2008)
- Vice Chairman for the Transportation Policy Board of the Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)
- Past President of the West Tennessee Mayor’s Association
- Former member of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR)
- Member of the Board of Directors for the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission
- Delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business, 1986
- Past president of the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, 1985-1987
- Past chairman of the Bartlett Industrial Development Board, where he played a major role in the recruitment of industries such as Brother and Richards (now Gyros)
- Former liaison alderman for the Bartlett Parks and Recreation Advisory Board
- Co-founder of Leadership Bartlett
- Chairman of the Local Government Planning Advisory Committee, 2016 to the present
- Former member of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) Advisory Board, 2016
- Service on various education commissions and committees for Shelby County and Bartlett (in particular, being instrumental in the formation of the Bartlett City Schools district)
His honors include:
- Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Award, 2008. The Rotary Club of Memphis East gives this award to recognize distinguished work by public servants of the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County.
- Memphis Most Awards recipient as “Most Beloved Leader,” 2007. The Commercial Appeal gives out this honor.
- “Man of the Year” in The Bartlett Express Readers’ Choice Awards for 2004, 2008 and 2014 and also an honoree as “City Employee of the Year”
His achievements and contributions also include:
- Member of the first Bartlett Stage Coach Days, now known as the Bartlett Festival
- Service as a major force in the conversion of the old Ellendale School to the Singleton Community Center
- Service as co-treasurer on the Parent Teacher Association boards at Oak Elementary and Appling Middle schools
- Founder of Cub Scout Pack 261 and Boy Scout Troop 261. McDonald took all training for adult leader of scouting, including the wood badge.
- Active member of the Republican Party
- Recipient of several leadership awards within the insurance industry
- Inclusion in several Who’s Who publications
- Recipient of multiple national honors, including a proclamation from the State of Tennessee
- Coach for Bartlett children in baseball, basketball and soccer
- Leader for mission trips and relief programs to the Caribbean for more than a decade
“It’s just my nature — the way I was brought up — to be involved in volunteer work,” said McDonald, who is the son of a preacher.
He and his wife originally settled in Bartlett because of their affiliation with a local church that is no longer open, and the friendships he made there introduced him to the idea of becoming a civil servant.
This year, he and his wife, Patty, will celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary this August. He is a member of Bartlett Woods Church of Christ, where he leads a Bible class. The couple have two grown sons, Ryan and Brooks, and four grandchildren. They also have served as foster parents for many newborns in the past.
Editor’s note: Comparable coverage will be offered to other declared Bartlett candidates for any elected office. To request an interview and story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.