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.
Yeah, OK, that’s a pretty long title for the post. What it is, the Knox County Commission candidates were invited to a Meet and Greet last night hosted by the Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters (and a bunch of other organizations). We had a chance to do a short introduction and then we all answered three questions. It was a good event, although we were all crammed up there at a table elbow to elbow. My problem was we only had 60 seconds to answer the questions (11 candidates showed up). I think I did fine with my answers, but I felt like I had more to say on each of the questions. I hope I can find a way to excerpt my answers on video and, if I can, I’ll post those to my campaign Facebook page. Until then, though, I figure I’ll list the questions here and then provide the answer I would have liked to give, if I had more time and advance notice of the questions.
I knew there wouldn’t be many questions due to the number of candidates and the fact that the event also included a Meet and Greet after the questions. I predicted to myself two of the questions and had answered the third question in another forum, so I was prepared for everything. I got mostly positive comments for my performance. I’ve watched my answers again and am satisfied, except for the fact that I had more to say.
Question one was about land use in Knox County. I figured there would be something about this topic and I nailed it. As it happens, this is one of the two major issues I’m running on (along with taking a stand against the influence of money in Knox County politics). Development in Knox County is the main problem/challenge I see for the County and I said so last night. I have recently written about my thoughts on development and the fact that I favor reasonable and responsible development. In my answer last night, I tried to get as much of the stuff from this post in, but 60 seconds didn’t leave me much time. If you’re interested in the unabbreviated version of my criticism of the way Knox County is handling development, go check out that post. A fun postscript – the Compass did a round up of the nights events in their daily email this morning. I was happy to see that my line about how Mayor Jacobs is pursuing “development for the sake of developers” made it into the article.
The second question was about whether we would consider raising property taxes and, if so, under what circumstances. While on the first question, I was in the middle, so had plenty of time to prepare, on this question, I was the first to answer. I also expected a question about raising property taxes and had actually discussed how to answer this question with some of my fellow Democratic Commission candidates. I knew my main point was going to be that it’s irresponsible to take a pledge against raising property taxes. To my surprise, all but one of the candidates said something similar. Susan (my awesome wife, treasurer and unofficial campaign manager), though, pointed out that I never really answered the question. For what would I be willing to raise property taxes? I have gotten a version of this question in a couple of candidate interview questionnaire sheets, so I would have eventually gotten to the fact that Schools and teacher pay would be the things I would put a priority on and would most likely be the things that would prompt a property tax increase. Beyond that, though, I think a budget is a holistic thing, where a property tax increase might not be linked directly to one specific line item, but when you have a number of priorities for your County (as I think Knox County has) then I disagree with the idea that you get to a balanced budget by cutting (as one of the candidates last night suggested). I’ll leave this there, since I’m probably going to do a full post on property taxes sometime here on the ol’ campaign website.
Question three was a topic that I’ve addressed before in interview questionnaires, although I didn’t necessarily predict this one for last night. I’ve written before about the Knox County Charter Review Committee here. The question last night was in general terms about what the Committee should be addressing. I was middle of the pack in answers again, so I had time to think. Pretty early on in the answers, though, it became clear that most wanted to talk about the big issue before the Committee – whether the Law Director should be an appointed position, rather than elected as it is now. In the post I linked above, I argued strongly to keep it elected. My argument last night was essentially what I’ve written previously, so I won’t repeat that here. I did give another example though. I talked about my experience as a military lawyer. I noted that from that experience I know there are two kinds of lawyers who advise commanders. If a commander wants to do something, some lawyers go out and find some justification for doing that thing, no matter how flimsy the argument is. Other lawyers will just assess the laws, rules and regulations and tell the commander whether he believes the proposed course of action is legal or not. In military lawyer world, the mantra is that the lawyer advises and the commander decides. So the commander can still proceed regardless of the lawyer’s advice. But I always tried to be the second type of lawyer. And that’s the kind of lawyer that is best suited for Knox County. An appointed Law Director is more likely to be the kind of lawyer who will just find any old flimsy excuse for something because he knows the Mayor wants it (and he could be fired if he doesn’t). On the other hand, an elected Law Director is ultimately beholden to the voters of Knox County and will feel freer just to assess the legality or lack thereof and advise accordingly. That’s what Law Director Bud Armstrong has done in Knox County and I think it has served the County well.