One of the interesting and fun things about being a candidate for office is the fact that people come to you and ask your opinion on things. Makes sense, I guess. I’m trying to be elected to the Legislative Branch of Knox County government. In the course of the campaign, I’ve had the opportunity to offer my opinion on issues of the day in a few places. I’ll share more about those when they come out. But, I find that if I’m writing an answer to some question that is asked of me, I have more to say about some things than the venue permits. So I’ve had to provide some shortened answers in those situations. But here at my campaign website, the space is unlimited. Therefore, I’m going to take some of these questions I’ve gotten, do some long form answers to them and put them on the ol’ campaign website. Enjoy.
I have been asked and, I suspect, will be asked again what the biggest problem/challenge/concern is in my District and/or Knox County. There are a lot of things that we should pay attention to and work to improve in the county. Education, traffic, roads, climate change. And those are worthy answers to this question. But there is a bigger issue we face in Knox County and it actually encompasses all of those very important issues under its umbrella. It’s the pace and focus of how development (both residential and commercial) is pursued in the County.
When I have talked to friends and neighbors and people around the County, I’ve heard about the flooding and the traffic and school issues. What I haven’t heard is how hard it is for developers to deal with certain Knox County ordinances and regulations. I haven’t heard how Knox County government should focus on making good deals, rather than focus on making sure the government works for all County residents. As I’ve been doing research and attending Commission meetings, I’ve noticed a trend in how Mayor Jacobs, his administration and the County Commission have approached development in Knox County in a way that, I think, does not take into account the interests of all residents. Let me give you some examples, not necessarily in chronological order.
First, there’s the County plan to “buy” the TVA East Tower with the intent of moving the School Board there from the Andrew Johnson Building. I’ve written about this separately here. Opponents have raised a number of issues with this move, including the fact that requirements for increased security at the TVA East Tower will make it harder for Knox County residents to get access to their School Board. Even if legal issues will stop the School Board from moving, the Jacobs administration has a back up plan that still includes “buying” the Tower and moving other government offices there, because they say it’s too good a deal to pass up. This backup plan still allows the School Board to move out of the Andrew Johnson Building, probably to backfill the spots vacated by those other government offices which will be moved to the TVA East Tower. So, when you look at this deal full of red flags, what’s the real reason behind it? It appears to be because the administration has a deal with a Nashville developer to sell them the Andrew Johnson Building.
Second, the Jacobs administration has proposed a change to existing requirements for sidewalks to be included in any new development in Knox County. I wrote separately about that here. Despite the fact that many groups have publicly opposed this change, which requires sidewalks only in certain circumstances, the County Commission approved the change on its first reading. Two readings are required for the ordinance to be enacted. The reason behind the change? Complaints from developers.
Third, the Jacobs administration has been working for a year to amend Knox County’s Growth Policy Plan. The change to the plan would have removed a layer of protection for getting development approved in rural areas. I say would have because, fortunately, the Town of Farragut’s Mayor and Board of Alderman didn’t approve the amendment. Since all governments in the County had to approve the amendment, that did the whole plan in. It’s now being sent back to the Growth Policy Coordinating Committee for revision. So, what’s this all about? Despite concerns from the community about traffic and infrastructure being able to support the increased development this would bring, the Mayor’s amendment removed the section of the Growth Policy Plan which sets density limits and requires analysis of traffic and analysis and sewer and water infrastructure for new rural development.
Looking at these examples as a pattern, I see that the Mayor has placed an emphasis on development without regard for any of the issues raised by members of the community. The TVA East Tower “purchase” and the sidewalks ordinance are still pending final votes at the County Commission, but appear to headed to approval.
I strongly disagree with the Mayor’s (and what looks to be a majority of Commission) emphasis on development for the benefit of developers. I believe that Knox County needs reasonable and responsible development of the kind we’re not seeing right now. Residential and commercial development need to work hand in hand because each has an impact on the other. Traffic, flooding and placement of schools are all factors that should be included earlier in the process of planning for development. It appears the Jacobs administration’s plan is to get the development moving and work all of those other things out after the fact. That’s the wrong way to go about development. It’s not reasonable and it’s not responsible.
If I’m fortunate enough to be elected as Knox County Commissioner for District 4, I will not ignore the concerns of the community when questions of development come before the Commission. I will back reasonable and responsible development in the County. The County Commission is a co-equal branch under the Knox County Charter. If I think the Mayor is pursuing the wrong policies, I won’t hesitate to say so.