Jill Burgin currently serves just over 40,000 Williamson County residents as the vice mayor of Brentwood. Find out what she says is Brentwood’s best-kept secret and how you can get involved in the community. Welcome, Jill, as today’s FACE of Williamson County!
As a native Memphian, how did you make your journey to Williamson County?
My husband, Tim, grew up here, and we met as students at UT-Knoxville. I first came to Williamson County in 1986 when I drove up to meet his family. While I have always been a fan of my hometown of Memphis, the rolling hills and stacked stone walls of Middle Tennessee made a strong impression on me.
Tell us about your background.
I’m an only child. My parents and I did most everything together, and they encouraged me to be interested in learning and in my community. I attended an all-girls high school, and after three years at UT-Knoxville, I transferred to the University of Memphis, where I finished my journalism degree. After graduation, I worked full time as an associate editor at Memphis Magazine, which was a great environment because I could use my skills as a writer and editor while learning all about my city.
Once Tim and I married, we first settled in Franklin, and I worked briefly as an editor at an outplacement firm here in Brentwood. That job, in which I edited executive resumes and cover letters, led me to want to teach writing. So I got a master’s in English education at Vanderbilt. After working for a couple of years in Metro, I found out I was pregnant with twins, so my life as a (mostly) stay-at-home mom began.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have always had an interest in community, and I guess my job as a journalist put me in a position where I had learned a lot about how the various levels of government here operate. Because of that, neighbors and friends would come to me when they had questions about stuff. One day, as I was discussing an upcoming election with a friend, she said, “YOU should run!” So I did. I doubt I would have thought of it had one person not suggested it to me. You never know how your encouragement will help people.
What would you say is the best part of your job as Brentwood’s vice mayor?
There is so much more to running a city than I ever imagined. All the stuff people think about the most, like land use and zoning and what goes where, is interesting and difficult and controversial and necessary. But then the less sexy stuff that we can’t live without, but don’t talk about that much, like water, sewer, sidewalks, traffic lights and even disaster prep, has to be considered constantly. Add to that our incredibly popular library and its changing role as technology advances and our thousand acres of parkland and all that goes on there, and then factor in the 300 employees and their pay, benefits and well-being, and you have a job in which you have to learn a little about a whole lot very quickly. That doesn’t even take into account the constant and varying concerns voiced by residents in their own neighborhoods.
Do you represent Brentwood in other parts of the state/country?
I don’t spend much time out of state, but I do work hard to be sure Brentwood’s interests are represented on a regional level. I am the mayor’s designee on the Metropolitan Planning Authority, Regional Transit Authority and Greater Nashville Regional Council, and I like to represent the city at county government and chamber meetings.
How have you seen Brentwood grow since the start of your first term?
Of course, Brentwood has grown in the literal sense since I was elected in 2011. In the 2010 census, our population was just over 37,000. Earlier this year, we completed a special census and determined our population to be just over 40,000. But we have also grown in ways to add to the quality of life for those who live here. In November, we opened Smith Park, with more than 300 acres of beautiful hiking trails, and there has been some revitalization in our Town Center area, bringing many new dining and shopping opportunities for residents.
What do you say when people say Brentwood is growing too fast? And what are the best and worst parts of that growth?
My goal for Brentwood is to keep it a choice place to live by making sure it is a beautiful, safe city with upscale amenities and a low residential tax burden, which is what the residents want. I know many people believe Brentwood is growing too fast, and the census numbers show that people do want to be here. We have the top-rated public high school in the state, so people who value education pay a premium to live here, and then employers and business owners want access to that demographic, so they try to locate their businesses here. I know the value of what we have here. It’s difficult to deal with the fact that many people think we city commissioners have control over every single thing that happens in Brentwood. But we do not. The truth is that the government sets the zoning and building standards here. We cannot stop a property owner from selling their land to a builder who wants to put something there that is legally allowed.
The worst part of the growth is that it makes folks nervous, obviously, about Brentwood changing because they fear it won’t be the Brentwood they chose as their home. Everyone wants to close the gate behind them. But the City Commission and staff try very hard to manage the growth by limiting our zoning so the community has much to offer residents without damaging Brentwood’s uniqueness. You can feel the difference when you drive into Brentwood proper from south Nashville.
What would you say is Brentwood’s best-kept secret?
Probably Deerwood Arboretum: it’s tucked away in the western hills of Brentwood with nice trails, a miniamphitheater and a pond, and the longest pedestrian bridge in the city.
If I am a new resident in Brentwood, how can I get involved in the community?
Most people who live in Brentwood get involved in the usual ways, through their school, church or neighborhood communities. But any resident can apply to serve on one of the volunteer boards that are voted on by the City Commission, such as the Tree Board, Park Board, Library Board and Environmental Advisory Board. The Friends of the Brentwood Library group raises money for all the programming that goes on at the library. There also are many citizen groups to join, such as the Brentwood Woman’s Club, the Morning Rotary and Noon Rotary, and the Martin Center, where lots of senior citizens find community.
What was the most challenging part of campaigning for your position as vice mayor?
The most challenging thing about campaigning is that it has nothing to do with how well a candidate would do in the office itself. The process is necessary in order to get the end result, but it is not an actual reflection of whether you have the skills to be a public servant. It’s similar to the difference between planning a wedding and being married. You have to do one to get the other, but what kind of ceremony I plan is not an indicator of what kind of marriage partner I will be. Likewise, collecting campaign donations, planning events and “getting my name out there” is not the same thing as being an accessible, open-minded representative who will listen to and take into account the desires of the residents you represent.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would never presume to predict my future. In fact, 10 years ago, I would not have said I would be an elected official, and it has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I am a big believer in faith and fate. I know God has a plan for me, and I trust Him to lead me through it. I find not knowing to be much more exciting.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and from whom?
Once as a child, I asked my dad to help me with an art project, and during that process he kept using one word that still resonates with me: “Restraint.” You have to know when to stop fooling with something and let it be finished, and I have carried that with me in many aspects of my life. When communicating with people, I don’t want to use more words than I have to, and I don’t think people want to hear that either. So I try to distill problems to their simplest form and seek solutions that are simple, as well.
Who has been your mentor?
I have had a lot of “accidental mentors” over the years who never formally signed up for that position, but acted as role models for me. The greatest official mentor I ever had was during my teaching education at Vanderbilt in the 1990s, when I was a student teacher at McMurray Middle School in Nashville with Mrs. Carolyn Dobbins. She now teaches English at Brentwood Academy, and she generously shared her knowledge with me without the slightest trace of competition or impatience. She also taught me how to respect kids as people, especially when you may be the nicest face they see all day.
What inspires you personally?
Creativity. My dad is an artist, my mom is a great cook, I am a writer, and I absolutely love being around people who create. Cooking, painting, gardening, music, whatever. If I need inspiration, I try to spend time listening to and learning from folks who follow that urge to let out whatever it is God put in them.
What are a few of your favorite things to do in Brentwood?
Eat on the patio overlooking the pond at Mediterranean Café on Ward Circle, drive down Old Smyrna Road, walk on the paved trails between River Park and Crockett Park, grab lunch after church at Mazatlan, watch a baseball game at Civitan, go see my kids working at Baskin-Robbins!
Are there any local events you are looking forward to attending in the next few months?
With my twin boys heading to college in the fall and my youngest starting at Brentwood Middle, this summer will be focused on college and middle school orientations. But I really look forward to the Crockett Park Summer Concert Series the city puts on at Eddy Arnold Amphitheater. I love welcoming the crowd and introducing the bands.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Internet, red wine and music.
Thanks, Jill, for giving us a look at all of the thought and effort that goes into making Brentwood so wonderful!
Photos by Heather Sisemore Photography