I’ve done a couple of campaign related things recently which has brought into focus for me the screwed up priorities of some of the members of our county government.
I was doing some research for some questions that I’ve answered for Bike Walk Knoxville. I talked a little bit about that here. In doing so, I came across an article from the always excellent Compass (sub. req.) from November 2018. They reported that, almost immediately after Mayor Jacobs came into office, Mayor Jacobs canceled a contract that the County Commission had approved for a sidewalk master plan. The contract was for about $256,000 and was intended to identify locations for sidewalks to connect the County’s schools, parks, and libraries to each other and to grocery stores, retail locations, and neighborhoods. The administration’s rationale was that they could use that money to build sidewalks instead.
Then, last night I was at the County Commission working session and item number 45 – R-20-2-905 caught my attention. This agenda item was brought forward by the Mayor and Chairman Nystrom. This is a resolution for the Commission to approve “an appropriation in the amount of $200,000.00 from the General Fund Balance to the Knoxville Chamber in support of their new strategic vision.” There are lots of agenda items with spending attached at these meetings, but this one stuck out to me because I had just seen the article I referenced above. The speaker from the Knoxville Chamber had some discussion with the Commissioners about this resolution and then, curiously, Chairman Nystrom asked if all of the Commissioners wanted to be co-sponsors to the Resolution. It passed last night to get a vote at the Commission’s regular monthly meeting, next Monday.
I also note that this issue got some mention in the Compass’ morning email (seriously, they’re awesome, you should totally subscribe). This filled in some blanks for me. Evidently, the Knoxville Chamber has a new CEO – Mike Odom. I guess he was the one who spoke last night, although I didn’t catch his name at the time. It appears the Chamber has something called Innovation Valley, an economic development partnership. The Mayor had previously cut the Chamber’s allocation in half in this year’s budget. This resolution was intended to give that money back. The Compass also noted that Odom said that the Chamber needs to be more transparent. I guess they weren’t so transparent in the past? I don’t know about that. But transparency is in the eye of the beholder, since this new strategic vision that now warrants, in the eyes of the Commission, $200,000 from the Knox County general fund was approved in December, but won’t be publicly rolled out until April.
As the title of this post suggests, I have a problem with the Mayor’s priorities. While these two items from the Knox County budget really don’t have any relation one to the other, it’s very interesting to note which things the Mayor and the Commission think are deserving of about $200,000 of taxpayer money and which are not. For all I know, the Chamber’s new, yet to be unveiled strategic vision is a game changer for Knox County. But I disagree that helping local businesses come up with a long term plan is more important than coming up with a long term plan for improving walkability in the County.
Based on what I know now, if I were Commissioner and both of these items came up for vote today, I would probably be a yes vote to both. But with the history of the sidewalk plan being cancelled by the Jacobs administration, I would not be a co-sponsor to this resolution and I would vote no.