Jeff Yarbro grew up in Dyersburg — a small town in northwest Tennessee. His dad was a farmer and his mom was a sexual abuse investigator for the state. He attended Dyersburg public schools, graduating in 1995. Along with federal student loans and grants and help from his parents, Jeff worked as many as three jobs at a time to pay for college at Harvard University. He graduated with honors in 1999 with a degree in Government. After college, he worked for Al Gore’s presidential campaign from the announcement in June of 1999 through the end of the Florida recount. He attended law school at the University of Virginia, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Law Review.
After law school, Jeff and his wife Tyler settled in Nashville. Tyler, who grew up in Birmingham and also went to UVA law, worked as a Metro Assistant Public Defender for seven years before entering private practice. After a clerkship with a federal judge, Jeff has worked as a lawyer at Bass, Berry & Sims, where his practice focuses on civil and appellate litigation, consumer financial services, constitutional law, and government contracts. He has represented businesses, non-profits, and individuals in state and federal courts. Jeff has consistently devoted over 10% of his time as a lawyer to working on behalf of clients that cannot afford legal representation and helped organize the firm’s formal pro bono program, which has successfully implemented a number of policy changes to foster greater firm-wide participation in this service.
Over the last decade, Jeff has spent over 1,000 hours volunteering in Nashville public schools, where he has shown a commitment to expanding student opportunities and an ability to work constructively with public school educators, non-profits, businesses, philanthropies, parents, volunteers, and students. He served as the co-chair of the superintendent’s Transformational Leadership Group for high schools. In addition, he served as an education advisor to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean from 2007 to 2009 and is one of the founding board members for East End Prep, a charter elementary school in East Nashville. In 2010, he was recognized by the Pencil Foundation as an MNPS Volunteer of the Year.
From 2009-14, Jeff served on the board of Nashville’s Metro Transit Authority, where he chaired the Finance committee, the East-West Connector committee, and the full board. He’s also been a disaster response volunteer for the Nashville Red Cross, a Stewardship Chair and Sunday School teacher at Christ Church Cathedral, and a volunteer for St. Luke’s Community House. He is the co-founder of Nashville’s Kitchen Cabinet and serves as co-chair for the Conexion Americas capital campaign for the Casa Azafran community center.
Elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 2014, Jeff now represents over 200,000 Nashvillians in the legislature. In 2018, Jeff was elected Democratic Leader. His legislation on behalf of Tennesseans has focused on a wide range of issues including affordable housing, public transportation, health care access, criminal justice, open data, election reform, and the environment. He has also been a leader in the ongoing, bipartisan effort to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
Jeff and Tyler live in the Sylvan Park neighborhood of Nashville with their children, Jack and Kate.
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As a starting point for a safe city, we need to have a fully-staffed, well-trained, and well-compensated police force — and we need our police officers to be able to afford to live in the city they work to protect every day.
Our next Mayor needs to work hand-in-glove with both the Chief of Police and the people who are out working in the field. And part of that is looking at the responsibilities we put on the police. Because we have a lot of police officers, we tend to ask them to do everything. But we need to have a real conversation about when there are other people who are better suited to step into a situation, like mental health services professionals. By focusing on and investing in wraparound services, we can allow our police officers to focus on the work they are trained and equipped to do.
Nashville also needs to be much more intentional about having a trauma response strategy, especially for instances of significant violence. The tragedy at the Covenant School is a clear example of where more support on the trauma inflicted was needed, but it’s not just the obvious examples — if there’s a homicide on the street, we know from the data that kids’ test scores go down on that same street. There’s a broader effect of crime and violence, and we need to holistically respond to the trauma caused by lack of safety for our kids and families.
The next Mayor of Nashville has to make affordable housing a city-wide priority. In the state legislature, I helped author the legislation that allows Metro to invest in the Barnes Fund and appropriate dollars to acquire properties to build affordable housing — and that’s all well and good, but the reality is that as things stand, we are losing affordable housing units faster than we’re adding them.
Not only does pricing people out of our city clash with our values, it’s also an economic imperative for the city, from our tourism sector to almost any employer you’re talking to. We’ve got to be able to house more people in our city affordably if we want to have a thriving and inclusive Nashville.
To do that, we have to start with preserving more housing and improving property tax freezes so we don’t lose the affordable housing we’ve got. We also need to better utilize the Barnes Funds and public properties to bring the private sector off the sidelines on this issue. And finally, we need to clean up and speed up our zoning, permitting, and code process to ensure that you can make money by building affordable housing — because if we’re not bringing the private sector into the solution, we’re not going to solve this problem in Nashville.
Part of building a Nashville that works for all of us is getting a handle on growth. The growth and development of our city is moving at an exponential rate, but our housing and services are growing much more incrementally — and it’s in the distance between those two spots that the frustration and anxiety of people in this city lives. For many people, it feels like the growth is happening to us, not for us.
Buying a house that you can afford in the neighborhood you love shouldn’t feel like you’re winning the lottery. And dropping your kids off at school or driving to work shouldn’t feel like you’re navigating around road closures and dodging potholes constantly. But that’s what we’ve got right now.
We need to take advantage of density where there’s demand and infrastructure for it so that we don’t have constant spread. We also need to have a laser-focus on what’s happening in people’s neighborhoods. Because where we run into problems with growth is when there’s no place for families to take a walk in their neighborhood, or no place to take their kids to play. We need to improve pedestrian infrastructure and small-scale infrastructure where people live their lives.
And finally, we need to get real about our transit problems. We are one of the only major cities in the country that doesn’t have a built-out transit system, and we’re about 30 years behind on this. The most important thing when it comes to solving this problem is thinking in terms of decades — not four-year mayoral terms. We can’t come up with a new vision every time we elect a new Mayor. Instead, we need to think about the long term and start making incremental improvements to our systems — making them more reliable, more frequent, and easier to use — while we collaborate with the people around us to think about transit regionally, too.
Providing a top-notch education for my first-grade daughter and eighth-grade son is the most important thing Nashville does for my family — and I think that’s true for a lot of families. If we don’t get public education right, we’re going to fail the families of our city. The Mayor can’t micromanage our public education system, but there are a few critical things our next Mayor has to do, starting with investing in our teachers.
Right now, in Nashville, across Tennessee and around the whole country, we’re facing a teacher shortage. This makes sense when you look at what teachers are paid and the chronic underfunding of education, not to mention our affordable housing problem here in Nashville. So our next Mayor needs to be a full partner with the school system in recruiting and retaining our teacher corps — because you can’t invest in public education unless you’re investing in public educators.
The Mayor also needs to take a good look at what we can do to help families before kids even get to school, and after they leave school, too. We need to focus on high-quality child care options and pre-K, and we need to look closely at how we can transition kids out of high school, into community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and technical and vocational schools — and into the workforce.
Jeff believes this city is at its best when we come together – and right now we have the chance to shape our future. Make a grassroots donation to power Jeff’s campaign to become Nashville’s next mayor.
To contribute by check, please address to:
Jeff Yarbro for Mayor
P.O. Box 90785
Nashville, TN 37209
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