I’ve talked a little in previous posts about the fact that candidates get asked to answer questions on various topics from various entities. Some of the “My Platform” posts here on the ol’ campaign website were prompted by these questions. Two of those entities have now published the answers to my questions. The Knoxville Focus and WBIR. A question or two that the Focus asked seems to have been OBE (Overcome By Events in military lingo), so it doesn’t look like they published all of the answers. WBIR published everything, as far as I can tell, but their website has a super annoying autoplay video thing. So, in the interest of giving you the full answers to all of the questions they asked and so you don’t have to sit through the videos, I’m going to reproduce them here. On the other hand, you can see all of the answers from my Republican opponents and other candidates as well if you click through.
Fair warning, there’s a lot of content below. I understand if it falls into the tl;dr category. Sometime after the primary election, look for a post where I summarize “My Platform” down to its core. But, for now, here you go!
1. What’s the largest problem in your District?
The single biggest problem in District 4 specifically and West Knoxville in general is how commercial and residential development has affected the area and how to make sure that future development takes into account things like traffic, flood prone areas, and schools. Climate change is the biggest issue we face in the country and in the world. We’ve seen the effects of climate change here in Knox County because of the severe flooding we’ve experienced and could expect to see even more frequently in the future. Any future development should take account of this fact.
One of the best examples of development without forethought is the traffic problems that exist around Northshore Elementary School. Anyone with elementary school age children knows how traffic around schools gets backed up at drop off and pick up times. There was a failure in planning either to place the school there in the first place or to account for the traffic issues and make adjustments accordingly. I would use my voice and my vote on the Commission to try to alleviate problems like this that already exist and to help prevent new problems from occurring.
2. Should the Law Director be elected or appointed ? Please explain
It appears that the Knox County Charter Review Committee may be looking in 2020 at whether to make Knox County’s Law Director a position appointed by the Mayor. Currently, under the Knox County Charter, the Law Director is elected by Knox County voters. If the Law Director becomes an appointed position, then he or she loses some independence to offer unvarnished legal advice to County officials and loses the accountability and connection he or she would otherwise have in being selected by the voters of Knox County.
If I am fortunate enough to be elected by the Knox County voters as District 4 Commissioner, I would oppose (and vote accordingly) any attempt to make the Law Director an appointed position. I hold the same opinion for attempts to change any other position in Knox County government from being elected to appointed by the Mayor.
3. Make a statement about Knoxville Center Mall and its possible use by county government
The Knoxville Center Mall is scheduled to close January 31, 2020. The Knox County Commission has discussed options of what to do with the property, including leaving it to the private sector to deal with and having Knox County purchase the property outright and moving County government offices to the location, after suitable renovation. The Commission eventually agreed to fund a study of the highest and best use of the area and how the government can assist in its redevelopment.
I agree with the decision of the Commission to fund a study. Moving County government offices to the Knoxville Center Mall area would adversely affect the ability of the residents in the western part of the County to access their County government. In addition, a proposal to purchase and renovate the property is very expensive and not an effective use of taxpayer dollars. At the same time, the County government might be able to play an effective part in helping make sure that the Knoxville Center Mall property becomes a vibrant commercial center for East Knoxville. I think the study that the Commission approved is an effective use of taxpayer money to that end and will pay off exponentially in the long run.
4. How do you feel about moving the school offices to the TVA Towers?
Much of the discussion from the Mayor and his administration of the proposed “purchase” of the TVA East Tower and Summer Place garage and office space has been that it is a good deal. Just looking at it as a good deal in financial or business terms misses the mark, though.
Part of the reason behind this deal is the fact that the County government is trying to move the School Board out of the Andrew Johnson Building (AJ) in order to sell it to a developer. The financial benefit of a good deal, though, should not outweigh other interests that the voters might have. For instance, moving the school board from the AJ to the TVA East Tower will make it harder for Knox County residents who have business with the School Board to get access to the Board. This is because this “purchase” comes with the requirement that federal security must remain in place in the building, even after the “purchase.” My opinion is not changed by the idea thrown out by the Mayor that this is such a good deal, he would move other Knox County government offices to the TVA East Tower if the School Board votes against the move or is not permitted legally to make the move.
It appears that the Commission will vote on this issue at their January 27 meeting. I attended the working session meeting on January 21 and I was not convinced by the administration’s arguments in favor of going forward at this time. I am especially concerned that the Commission is proceeding with this vote before they have gotten an opinion from the Attorney General regarding a move of the School Board to the TVA East Tower. I hope the Commission votes against the TVA Tower deal. If I were a Commissioner, I would vote no.
5. What type of business or industry is needed in your District?
The 4th District is very fortunate to have a wide variety of successful companies, businesses, stores and restaurants located within its borders. As Commissioner, I want to do everything I can to support the very vibrant business community that exists within the district and to encourage policies that allow for continued responsible commercial development. I see two challenges that the Commission should take into consideration.
First, with the closing of the Knoxville Center Mall in January 2020, the West Town Mall becomes the only Mall-type shopping center in Knoxville/Knox County. This could lead to increased pressures on the neighborhoods surrounding the mall, especially with regard to traffic. Likewise, heavier traffic might deter shoppers from wanting to go to the Mall for fear of having to fight traffic.
In addition, I have seen many small businesses come and go in certain areas in the 4th District and in West Knoxville. Part of that is just market forces and there’s nothing we can really do about that. But traffic and residential development also affect where businesses can be based and, ultimately, be successful. I think we can help these businesses thrive if we pursue smart and responsible policies for development in Knox County, taking into account how the residential and commercial sectors impact one another.
6. How do you feel about Historic Zoned neighborhoods?
I don’t believe there are any neighborhoods in District 4 which are under consideration for Historic or Neighborhood Conservation zoning overlay. However, I believe that any decision about imposing such an overlay on a neighborhood should be done in a way that takes into account the concerns that residents would be driven out by rising property values or expensive home repairs.
7. How do you feel about the effort to revamp Chilhowee Park ?
I have reviewed the strategic study of possible future uses of Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center that was released last Fall. I think it’s a fantastic blueprint for something that could be a great attraction for Knoxville, Knox County, and all of East Tennessee. I disagree with the critics who call this a pipe dream. This plan, or something like this, is what Knoxville should aspire to.
However, there are unanswered questions. Flooding in that area is a big problem and should be addressed before any final decisions are made. In addition, the plan would require the Tennessee Valley Fair move to another, as yet to be determined location. If the City Council decides to go ahead with this project or one like this, I see potential for (and would support) County Commission involvement in the way of a City/County partnership to find a way to keep the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knox County.
8. How do you feel about greenways in the county?
An expanded and connected greenway system in Knox County could improve the quality of life for Knox County residents. Such a system can provide alternative routes of transportation for some and an opportunity for exercise and fun in the outdoors for others. Improving our existing, mostly disconnected greenway system could be a draw for people to come visit and/or live in Knox County.
I attended the Commission meeting when the Knox County Greenway Corridor Study was presented and have reviewed the full study as well. The Commission voted to adopt the study and I agree with that vote. I am very much in favor of any expansion and improvement of the greenways in Knox County along the lines of what was presented in the study.
I also think that the question of greenways is connected to the idea of improving walkability in the County in general. The Commission is set to vote on a proposed change to an ordinance that will result in easing the requirements on developers to build sidewalks in new developments. I am concerned that this is another example (in addition to the TVA Tower deal) of the Jacobs Administration siding with developers at the expense of the residents of Knox County. I would vote against the proposed change.
WBIR Questions – Frommeyer with header
What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?
The biggest issue in Knox County is how the Knox County government is approaching development. Mayor Jacobs has tried to push through changes to the Growth Policy Plan which would remove the Plan’s authority over development in the unincorporated areas of the County. The Mayor was behind a successful change to a sidewalk ordinance which previously required sidewalks in all new developments, but now doesn’t. The Mayor also pushed through a controversial “purchase” of the TVA East Tower which was driven, in part, by a desire to move the School Board out of the Andrew Johnson Building and then sell that building to a developer from Nashville.
I am for reasonable and responsible development in Knox County. As County Commissioner, I would plan to be a voice AGAINST development without planning and FOR a process which takes into account all people who are affected by the development, not just the people who stand to make money from the development.
2. Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.
I believe it is irresponsible for any elected official to pledge that they would never raise taxes. It does a disservice to the residents of Knox County to try to balance a budget on cuts alone, as the Mayor did last year with his cut to the indigent care program.
I think if Knox County is going to consider increasing taxes, it should be done through a property tax increase, rather than through sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive and hit hardest the poorest among us.
I would not tie a property tax increase to any specific item in the budget, although schools, teacher pay, and infrastructure are big needs. Instead I would evaluate the need for a property tax increase based on whether the needs in Knox County are appropriately funded. If they cannot be paid for by existing revenue streams, I would advocate (and vote) for a property tax increase to balance the budget for all needs. I would strongly oppose any attempt by the Mayor to make cuts to programs to balance his budget.
3. What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.
I have disagreed with a few of the Commission’s votes this past year. These include the 11-0 vote in favor of the “purchase” of the TVA East Tower; approving Mayor Jacobs’ proposed change to the sidewalk ordinance, which lessened the requirement on developers to put sidewalks into new developments; and deciding, by an 8-3 vote, not to restore the 30% cut to the indigent care program in Mayor Jacobs’ 2019 budget.
However, there are two votes that I think the Commission got right. First, their vote to approve the Greenway study was the right call. It remains to be seen whether they will follow through, but that was a smart vote.
Smarter still, though, was the Commission’s decision not to pursue a purchase of the Knoxville Center Mall for a move of County government offices to that location. Instead, they approved funding for a study that will allow the County government to play an effective part in helping make sure that the Knoxville Center Mall property becomes a vibrant commercial center for East Knoxville.
4. Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.
Mayor Jacobs’ main focus has been to pursue development that benefits the few at the expense of a large majority of the residents of Knox County. The Mayor’s pet project, the “purchase” of the TVA East Tower will make it harder for citizens to get access to their government. The Mayor’s change to the sidewalk ordinance is mostly a boon to developers, and his attempts to change the Growth Policy Plan are aimed at removing government oversight from the development planning process. On top of this, the Mayor balanced his budget last year at the expense of the Health Department’s indigent care program with a cut of that program’s budget by 30%.
If your goal is to make sure that development proceeds unchecked, with no regard for anything else in the County, then you probably think the Mayor is doing a great job. I, on the other hand, believe in reasonable and responsible development. So, I think the Mayor has us on the wrong path.
5. In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight.
I believe the most pressing issue facing Knox County is the Jacobs’ administration’s focus on development that benefits the few, at the expense of a large majority of the residents of the County.
Two good examples of how the Jacobs administration has us on the wrong path with regard to developers are the changes to the sidewalk ordinance and the proposed change to the Growth Policy Plan. The County Commission approved the Jacobs’ administration’s change to Chapter 54 of the Knox County Code to lessen the requirements on developers to put sidewalks into new developments. The Jacobs administration also attempted (unsuccessfully thanks to the Farragut Mayor and Aldermen) to change the Growth Policy Plan to remove the Plan’s authority over development in the unincorporated areas of the County.
I’m for reasonable and responsible development that takes into account how development affects everyone. I am concerned with how fully the current planning process takes into account questions about traffic, flooding, and schools. If I am elected to the Commission, I would use all of the power at my disposal as Commissioner to make sure that these things are addressed fully by the planning process.