I’m taking the rest of 2019 to spend time with family and focus on some behind the scenes preparation for the campaign, which will start in earnest in January. One of the things I’ve started with this month and will continue at least until the election (and hopefully thereafter as well) is I’m attending County Commission meetings. I was at the Commission Work Session last Monday and, tonight, I was at the Commission’s regular meeting.
You can really tell a difference between the two meetings. Much heavier attendance tonight, as compared to last week. Heavy dose of media were in attendance tonight, although that may have been because of the topics that were set for discussion and/or vote tonight.
I’ll write a couple of paragraphs about some of the substantive topics that came up tonight below, but first I wanted to mention that I got a chance to meet one of the Republican candidates against which I could be running next August – Scott Broyles. I’d previously checked out his social media and his campaign website, so I recognized him immediately. I, on the other hand, have been playing incognito at these meetings, so tonight I was wearing a Spider-Man shirt, shorts and my red Christmas Crocs (tis the season). Since I didn’t think he’d know who I was, I decided I should go up and introduce myself. He was friendly and we exchanged some small talk. I probably won’t be able to get away with the incognito stuff from here on out, so maybe I’ll dress up a little next time. Maybe. A little.
Anyway, it was good to get to meet the man I may be facing off against in August. He seemed to take it seriously and I know that I am too. I hope the third candidate in this race, Kyle Ward, can make it out to some Commission meetings as well. I think it’ll be important for whichever of us comes out of this as the winner, that we’ve done our homework and gotten to know the hows, whats and whys of the Commission’s business. I said up front that I think voters deserve a choice. I’ve gotten on the ballot, so that’s a win of sorts. Another thing my presence in this race is going to do is make sure that the Republicans I’m running against can’t just skate on to August 6 and expect to win this race. Mr. Broyles and Mr. Ward should expect that I’ll be at every possible public Commission meeting. If they don’t want to give me the advantage of saying that I’m attending regularly and they aren’t, maybe they’ll feel the need to attend as well. That will make for a better group of candidates from which the voters can choose. I count that as another win.
Now, on to the substance of the meeting. The big issue that a lot of people were there for was the controversial TVA East Tower issue. But, the mayor got up early in the proceedings and announced that he wanted the issue pushed back til January so they could iron some things out. It sounds like they may be going to get an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office on the legal issues raised by the Law Department. I think that’s a good idea, but I’ll be curious to see how they do that. According to the AG’s website, “The Attorney General cannot issue opinions to county or local government officials or to private citizens.” Maybe I misunderstood what they’re going to try to do. In any case, it seems like there are too many unresolved issues on this matter to have voted last night. I’m inclined to favor the Law Director’s position right now. I get the sense that there is a lot of pressure on the Commission from the Mayor on this issue, so I’m glad the Commission hasn’t rushed ahead without getting all of the issues addressed. I’ll plan on being at the Commission meeting(s) in January to see what happens next.
A lot of the five hour meeting was spent discussing what to do with the Knoxville Center Mall. There is a clear divide between some Commissioners who would like to see more government involvement in developing the property, up to and including moving government offices there, and some Commissioners who want a completely hands off approach from local government. Based on the limited amount I know currently about the project, it seems like there’s definitely a place for Knox County to be involved in helping revive the area. But, I’m not sure a full move of county government offices into those buildings makes economic sense. This isn’t to say that I support the TVA East Tower option either. It may be that neither proposed move is the right way to go. At the end of the day, I think the Commission and the Mayor settled on a good resolution to the issue. A study to look at how to develop the entire area, not just focused on the Mall itself and not just focused on trying to move government offices out there. I would have voted for that resolution.
One other issue caught my attention during the meeting. There was a pretty rancorous debate about a zoning issue at 1617 Andes Road. This issue pitted a developer who wants to build houses (about 150?) up in that area against some of the local property owners. A lot of the discussion centered on how narrow the roads leading up to the property in question is. The main road, which is already pretty narrow, is Andes Road. But there’s a smaller road which connects at two points on Andes Road, called Old Andes Road. Much of the worry seems to be the increase in traffic that both roads, but especially Old Andes Road, will see with these new homes. In talking about Old Andes Road, the various speakers described the road as either 7 feet wide or 13 feet wide. This area is pretty nearby, so I decided to go up and check it out for myself. And that road is narrow. I didn’t get out with a tape measure, but some parts of the road were only about as wide as my Honda Odyssey could fit. As I looked along the side of the road, I struggled to see how this road could be made into a two lane road. I think the Commissioners eventually voted to approve the zoning change by trusting that the rest of the County planning process would be able to put a halt to things if the developers could not show that they could bring the roads up to the required standard. After the Commission voted, I noticed some discussion between one of the homeowners and the developer or representative of the developer. They went on so long that they were eventually shooed out of the Assembly Room. These are the things that go on at Commission meetings. Buckle up.