Checking In On A Campaign Pledge – Driving District 4

Back at the beginning of January, I made the pledge to walk, bike, and drive as much of District 4 as possible. In that post, I speculated that I could get the driving part of that pledge done by Primary Election day, March 3, 2020. Yesterday, as a matter of fact. So, how did I do?

I think I completed my pledge, so let me tell you about it.

I started off trying to do the driving by myself, as I documented here. I found it hard to drive and pay attention to the roads and also take notes where necessary. Also, that first drive was before I had started to make my list of roads and streets that I’m going to use for the next phase of the campaign. So I took note of all of the street names there. Rookie mistake. Not productive, not efficient.

Next I took the time to break down the map and look at neighborhoods and streets where I would endeavor to knock on doors and meet and talk to voters in the coming months. Once I had made that list, I was able to take detours off of my usual routes in just normal driving around town and I started to see things that I hadn’t seen before. For instance, one Sunday, I had to take the grandmas to get their hair done, so I took some back roads to get there. Another Sunday, I let the college kiddo drive the van back to campus and I took notes as we went through neighborhoods I had never seen before. Then, this past weekend, I did the driving and had the love of my life in the passenger seat taking down notes for me. We pretty much finished all of the areas of the District I had left to cover, with a little time to walk around Lakeshore Park when we were done.

I found that I couldn’t drive for more than two hours at a time before all of the houses and neighborhoods started to blur together. We also noticed a serious lack of walkable areas, some flooding and some streets and roads that could use some TLC.

I’ve also had a chance to experience some of the traffic challenges we have in the District, like around Northshore Elementary School at certain times and the intersection of Morrell and Westland at rush hour. Not to mention the flooding issues we’ve had in the last two Februarys, which require significant re-routing to be able to get from point A to B.

The rules of the road for my drive were that I was going to focus on residential areas, although I saw plenty of business areas, as well. I didn’t drive into any gated areas or super narrow roads. I didn’t drive down all cul-de-sacs. I tried to observe any unusual features and check them out against Google maps or KGIS maps. I observed the speed limit. In fact, I probably drove too slow for some of the people that were unlucky enough to be following me at times.

Here are the areas I covered:

  • The roads from Northshore down Keller Bend
  • The roads from Northshore down Toole Bend
  • The roads from Northshore down Lyons Bend
  • The streets bounded by Northshore to the south, Hart Road to the west, Bluegrass Road to the north and Ebenezer to the east.
  • The streets between Northshore and Nubbin Ridge, east of Ebenezer, up to Sanford Day
  • The streets between Westland and Northshore, over to Morrell. Also the streets between Gallaher View and Morrell, bounded by Gleason to the north and Westland to the south.
  • All of the streets between Morrell and Lakeshore Park on the east and between Northshore and Westland.
  • Everything between Morrell and Northshore to the east, with I-40 to the north and Westland to the south.
  • Everything in Sequoyah Hills, south of Kingston Pike
  • North of I-40 from about the RecSports Complex up to Middlebrook Pike and over to Gallaher View.
  • Also, a small section north of Middlebrook bounded by Creekhead Drive and Francis Road.

There’s one other thing to note about District 4 that I was able to check out during my drive. I have some questions about how this District was drawn. Specifically, I wonder about why the line was drawn the way it was up in the Westborough area, on Hunterhill Drive, north of Middlebrook Pike. The line between Districts 3 and 4 was drawn to include two houses from Hunterhill Drive in District 4, leaving the rest of Hunterhill Drive in District 3. It looks like it’s going to be up to the Commission to look at the District lines after the 2020 census, so you should expect to hear more from me on this.

Anyway, that pretty much gives you the outline of District 4. And I think I hit about 92-95% of the district in my van. I’ll give myself an A-.

Let me know what you think.

An Election Should Include A Choice

It’s the day before Primary Election day here in 2020. If you haven’t already early voted, I hope you’ll go out tomorrow and make your choice. Even if you’re not voting for me. Or can’t because you’re in a different district. I just hope you go vote.

I looked back at the first thing I wrote here on the ol’ campaign website and it was about why I’m running. I think I’ve refined my message a little bit since then. And I suspect I’m going to continue to do so up until the election in August. I think as a candidate, I owe it to the people who might consider voting for me to be open to new ideas. Or change my focus if I spot something that I haven’t looked at before.

But, my original three things stand up pretty well – Choice, Money, and Service. I’ve kept to my pledge to take a stand against the influence of money in Knox County politics. And I’ve got a background in public service that I’m trying to continue with being a candidate for County Commission. But, perhaps the single most important thing about my candidacy is that I want to make sure that voters have a choice.

You can see it on Facebook or in the media. You can hear it when you talk to people. So many people have told me that you can’t get anywhere in Knox County running as a Democrat. The primary election is the only one that matters. Sometimes that’s because the winning Republican ends up running unopposed in the general election. Sometimes there’s one Republican running and no Democrat (as is the case in County Commission, Districts 6, 8, and 9 this year). And sometimes, it’s because people just write off the Democrat before the election even starts.

This is the situation I find myself in. My friend Kimberly Peterson is facing the same uphill battle in her race for the County Commission, District 5 seat. We both have two Republicans running in the primary. They’ll have to face off against us in the August election, but many assume the winner of the primary will end up being the Commissioner.

Maybe they’re right. The voting history in our districts shows that they’re lean Republican at the least. And it’s on us to put up a fight so that the winner tomorrow can’t just assume that he (yeah, they’re all guys) will cruise to victory. In my race, the Republicans have raised about $50,000 between them to win this $1,000 a month job. I disagree with making it about campaign contributions, but it’s on me to make them have to raise twice as much as that to beat me.

Because here’s the point. No matter what happens tomorrow in my district or in Kimberly’s, the race isn’t over. And anyone who says that it is is taking your vote for granted. No matter what you think of the guy who wins in the 4th or 5th District, you’re not stuck with him. You have another choice. We’re Democrats and part of that means that we believe in small “d” democracy. You have a choice in this election. Both tomorrow and in August. You’ll be hearing from me a lot over the next 5 months. Stay tuned.

Big Money Is The Problem In Politics – My Race Edition

I have decided that I’m taking a stand against the influence of money in Knox County politics. I have written previously about how the current District 4 Commissioner raised about $78,000 in his race for the seat 4 years ago. I saw the amount of money he raised and from whom he raised it and I decided that I need to highlight this problem in my race.

Well, now I have data from the candidates running in the March 3 primary election for the Republican nomination for the County Commission, District 4 seat. All candidates have had to submit Financial Disclosure forms in January (Year End Supplemental) and in February (Pre Primary). They’re available for the public to view at the Election Commission website. Mine are there too, but I’ve also written about my finances here and here. So, it’s not just a theoretical exercise any more. Let me give you some numbers.

Between the two them (and not counting the loans they’ve given themselves), the two Republican candidates have raised almost $53,000. One of the candidates has a total of about 49 donors, with an average donation of $515 and the other has a total about about 56 donors with an average donation of $491. Between the two of them and their total 105 or so donors, they’ve had 41 donations of $500 and 18 donations of $1,000 or more.

That means, over half of their donations are the “big money” type of donations which I have sworn off. I won’t take big money donations. Heck, I’ve only taken one $5 donation to this point. I’m not not taking donations, but I just see too much downside to being a candidate who goes out seeking money from the rich and powerful in Knox County. I’m just not going to do it.

You know, all three of the candidates for the District 4 Commission seat have campaign websites. I have to admit that their websites are pretty polished and mine is a little more…not. But there’s another big difference between our sites. They have prominently placed on their sites “donate” buttons. You’ve not going to find anything like that on mine. It’s a little thing, but I think it’s important.

Aside from the amounts of money being raised by the Republicans in this race, there’s also a question of from whom that money is coming. I’ve been attending Commission meetings, so I’ve been able to see what kind of business is conducted there. And then I look at the people who donate to County Commission campaigns and I can do the math.

When you get a donation of more than $100, you have to include information about the person, including their occupation and employer’s name, if you can get it. I looked among the Republicans’ donors just for people who looked like they have a connection with development, real estate, or building. Between the two of them, about 39 of the 105 or so donors have this connection. And one of the candidates accounts for 29 of these 39, from his 56 total donors. 51%!!!

I’ve said previously that I believe the Republicans in my race are in it for non-cynical reasons. I’m not alleging anything shady or illegal on the part of the candidates. What I am saying is that they’re continuing in the fine tradition of politics in Knox County. Got get big checks to fund your campaign from the people who can afford $500 or $1,000 and who are inclined to give those amounts to Commission candidates. Considering the business of the Commission, it should not be a surprise that that particular Venn diagram includes a lot of developers and builders and real estate interests in Knox County.

There are certainly downsides to the path I’ve chosen, but you know for sure that campaign money is not going to influence me in any way. I’m not taking big money or Political Action Committee money. My career of public service has been focused on helping people who don’t have money. Who need help against moneyed interests. That’s what I want to do on the Knox County Commission. The Commission sorely needs some new voices. Someone who will pursue reasonable and responsible development, not development for the sake of developers. The Commission needs someone who will vote his conscience and not be influenced by anything other than what he thinks is the right decision. I believe I am that candidate. I am all about transparency and showing my work. Read any of the posts I’m putting on this website and you’ll see. I’m here for you.

Where I Answer Questions

The latest set of questions I answered was a phone interview I did with Alan Sloan of the Farragut Press. He put together the interview into a piece he did on all of the candidates for the 4th District County Commission seat. You can find that here, and also below.

By my count, I’ve responded to questions from six different media platforms or local organizations. I’ve also sat in interviews with two different Political Action Committees. I’ve answered a wide range of questions and many of them have been published online and, perhaps, in written form as well. I thought it would be good to consolidate all of these into one easily accessible post on the ol’ campaign website. Here you go:

Knoxville Focus – I wrote a whole post about the questions submitted by the Focus. They didn’t publish the answers to all of the questions they asked, but I did here.

WBIR – Beware of the auto play videos at this site. I also gave all of my answers here.

League of Women Voters – I answered questions at a panel with a bunch of candidates and also answered some questions from them for their 411.org website. You may have to go through a decision tree to get to my answers, but it’s not too hard if you work at it.

Bike Walk Knoxville – They did a survey of candidates in the commission races. You can find all of the answers here.

Farragut Press – I did the phone interview with the reporter last Friday from the Avis rental car lot at Dulles International Airport (IAD). You can read about why I was in Northern Virginia (if you care) here and here. The interview went fine, but I can tell that the distance didn’t translate too well, since he got a couple of small details wrong. I worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), not a “financial protect bureau.” And when he quoted me as saying “I got to help consumers there fight,” that’s not exactly what I did. I was able to help individual consumers fight back against big banks and other consumer financial companies. The way he quoted me makes it sound like I was running an underground consumer fight club. For the record, that’s not what I was doing :-). He also asked me for a photo, but I don’t see any photo in the piece (maybe in print?). He asked for my contact info and I gave it to him. I noticed that they printed that info for another of the candidates, but not for two of us. In any case, I appreciate the opportunity given to me by the Farragut Press to get my message out. Thanx, Alan.

Who I Would Vote For In Knox County – March 3, 2020 Edition

I was very happy to be able to vote for myself in early voting for the March 3 primary. I’m running as a Democrat, so, naturally, I pulled the Democratic ballot. The thing is, though, the only options I had were for President and the County Commission, District 4. I talked about those votes here, if you care to see.

There were important races on the Republican ballot too. There was the Republican Presidential primary (spoiler, I wouldn’t have voted for the incumbent). There are the two Republicans also running for County Commission, District 4. I have thoughts here, but I’ll keep the amateur punditry to myself for now.

But, a few of races on the Republican ballot also serve to be the actual elections in some races, since there is no Democratic candidate waiting to take the winners on in the August 6 general election. Your next Knox County Criminal Court Judge, 6th Judicial District, Division II; Public Defender, 6th Judicial District; Assessor of Property; and County Law Director will be decided by the Republican ballot on March 3. So, I thought I would offer my “endorsement” and state who I would have voted for if I had taken the Republican ballot.

Criminal Court Judge is between Kyle Hixson and Wesley Stone. I’m friends with the former on Facebook and I heard the latter speak at an event where I also voted. I assume they’re both competent lawyers capable of doing the job. Hixson is a former prosecutor and Stone did criminal defense. I was once the military equivalent of a public defender and am partial to criminal defense. Didn’t like doing the prosecution stuff. If I have the choice in these type of races, I always vote for the defense over the prosecution. I think we need more defense perspective on the bench, so I would vote for Stone.

Public Defender is between Eric Lutton and Rhonda Lee. I met Lutton at a Campaign 101 class I took and he was friendly. He has worked in the Public Defender’s office. He also went to Ball State University (shout out Prof Mondo). Downside is the name dropping of endorsements on his campaign website and the fact that he was appointed by Governor Lee to the job. I don’t know candidate Lee, except what I’ve read on her campaign website. She seems qualified to do the job. I have a rule that, all other things being equal, I vote for the female candidate, because we need more women in elected office. I think both would be good choices, but things aren’t exactly equal and, with the experience in the office, I would probably vote for Lutton.

Assessor of Property is John Whitehead and Tina Marshall. I know that Whitehead is the incumbent and seems to have more experience than Marshall. I met Marshall at an event where we were both speaking. Whitehead has the experience, but minus points for being an incumbent. I would vote for Marshall.

Law Director is between David Buuck and Cathy Quist-Shanks. Buuck is Chief Deputy Law Director. But he doesn’t really have an online presence. Quist-Shanks was previously Deputy Law Director in the 90s and, more recently, she was the County Circuit Court Clerk for 20 years. All else being equal here, I would vote for Quist-Shanks.

How about in four years, we get some young Democratic attorneys (and assessors) to run so that everyone can have a choice in these important positions?

My Campaign Financial Disclosure Statement – Pre-Primary Report

The latest letter from the Knox County Election Commission came in the mail the other day. This one told me I was required to file a “pre-primary campaign financial disclosure report covering the period from January 16, 2020 through February 22, 2020.” I submitted my report to the Election Commission on Monday, February 24, 2020. You can find it at their website. As I did with my Year End Supplemental Report, which I had to file back in January, I’m giving you the details of my report here.

As I started to write this post yesterday, though, I was sitting at my desk and I spied the $5 donation I received back at the end of January. The only donation I’ve received from anyone other than myself. I had filled out my original Financial Disclosure Form in another room and ended up leaving out that information. It was too late to get the new form to the Election Commission yesterday, so I finished it up last night and took it over today around lunchtime. They’ve already scanned it and it’s available for your review here.

I note on the updated Financial Disclosure, I could have just updated page 2 and included the $5 among the unitemized contributions of less than $100. But, I’m trying to be as transparent as possible, so I itemized the donation and included it on page 3.

As with the last disclosure, I’m going to put the info in a post like this with what I’m filing. Here you go…

My Donations:

  • In addition to the $5 donation, I donated $495 to myself. I made it equal $500 with the single donation because I’ve been keeping track of my campaign funds in my separate bank account for those purposes. I’ve still got the $5 bill that was given to me sitting here on the desk. I may frame it some day. We’ll see how the campaign goes.

My In-Kind Contributions:

  • I had no in-kind contributions.

My Expenditures:

  • I used supercheapsigns.com to buy yard signs. Cost was $469.16.

There were pages on the form for Itemized Statement of Loans and Itemized Statement of Obligations. I didn’t have any of those this period.

The Summary page shows that I had $500 in receipts this period and $469.16 in expenditures. My cash on hand is $436.55.

I could have avoided detailed disclosure because both my contributions (including in-kind) AND my expenditures were below $1000. I’m not hiding anything, though, so I just filled out the full form.

One last note here. I didn’t do it after the last disclosure, but I’m going to do it this time. The Republicans I’m running against raised about $30,000 between them in the last report and did the same this time. $60,000 dollars raised to try to win a job that pays $1,000 a month. I’m going to write a full post before the election on March 3 talking about the money raised and where it comes from. Because big money is the problem in politics. And there’s some serious big money being spent in this District 4 race. Stay tuned for that.

Knox County Strategic Vision: Knoxville Chamber v. Sidewalk Master Plan

As the campaign goes on, I’m constantly running across new things that concern me about our County government. I discovered recently that the Jacobs administration, as soon as the Mayor came into office in 2018, cancelled a contract for a Sidewalk Master Plan for Knox County. I’ve also discovered that Knox County helps fund the Knoxville Chamber’s Innovation Valley every year, to the tune of anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 annually.

It was just happy coincidence that I learned about this Innovation Valley thing. I’ve been attending the Commission meetings every month because I think if you want that job, you should learn about it as much as possible. At the working session a week ago, they talked about an extra $200,000 going to the Knoxville Chamber for its strategic vision. Since I had just read about the canceled contract for the Sidewalk Master Plan and the amounts were similar, it struck me as an interesting comparison of priorities, or lack thereof. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, so I wrote about the issue on the ol’ campaign website here.

But, let’s be honest, I get about 20 views a day here at fro4knox4 dot com (see also todd frommeyer dot com). I thought I should try to express my opinion in a larger forum. So, I signed up to speak in the Public Forum section of the Commission’s regular meeting last night. I was first up and did my thing. It made no difference, since the Commissioners approved the money in their consent agenda – “the ayes have it,” with no roll call vote. I was glad I could do it. The Commissioners were there and the Mayor was in the room and I spoke my peace. Just another citizen speaking his mind.

In the future, maybe I’ll be up on that dais. You know, if I get enough votes to win in August. I can assure you, my vote will be different on an issue like this.

Also, I’ll be keeping an eye on this issue. We’re getting near to budget season and I suspect the Knoxville Chamber’s Innovation Valley is going to get another $400,000 from Knox County in the Mayor’s budget. I suspect I might want to speak again at Public Forum on this issue.

In case you’re interested, I’m including the text of what I said last night. It might be worth your while, since there’s info in there that I didn’t include in my previous post on the subject. Yes, I did read it. Speakers at Public Forum have a 5 minute time limit and I didn’t want to stumble through my points and not get everything in. As it was, I read at a pretty quick pace and only had about 15 seconds left.

Maybe tl;dr, but here you go anyway:

Public Forum speech

Mr. Chairman. Commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

I was doing research on another matter and I came across an article in the Compass. It said that, in May 2018, the Commission had approved a contract in the amount of $265,000 for a Sidewalk Master Plan for Knox County to identify priorities and long range improvements.

In the Fall of that year, shortly after Mayor Jacobs came into office, Knox County Government canceled the contract. According to the Compass article, Jim Snowden, the county’s senior director of engineering and public works, said the $265,000 that had been budgeted for the study would be spent instead on sidewalk construction.

Fast forward to last week, I attended the Commission’s working session and noticed the resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Nystrom and Mayor Jacobs, to approve an appropriation in the amount of $200,000 from the General Fund Balance to the Knoxville Chamber in support of their new strategic vision. Based on a vote of the Commission, the resolution was added to the consent part of today’s meeting and Chairman Nystrom offered the opportunity to all of the Commissioners to be co-sponsors of the resolution. Which you all apparently agreed to.

The next day I learned more about this appropriation from the Compass in their daily email. It noted that the fellow who spoke on that resolution was none other than the new Knoxville Chamber CEO, Mike Odom. It looks like the money is earmarked for Innovation Valley, which is, as you know, a regional economic development partnership. It appears that Innovation Valley was slated to get $400,000 in the budget, but the Mayor cut this amount in half until he got to see the direction of the Chamber’s new leadership. Now this $200,000 from the resolution is to get Innovation Valley back up to the originally planned $400,000.

At that point, the thought comes to my head that it’s curious that the Mayor and the Commission think that $200,000 of taxpayer money is a good idea and warranted to fund the strategic vision of Innovation valley, but not a good idea or warranted for developing a strategic vision for sidewalks and walkability in Knox County.

Then I did a little more digging. I wanted to look into the question of why any money is going to Innovation Valley. And why so much? So I looked at previous budgets. I found that, in the 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16 budgets, Innovation valley got $250,000 annually from Knox County. In 2016-17, they got $300,000. In 2017-18, they got $350,000. In 2018-19, it went up to $400,000. Then last year it went back down to $200,000. Except, here we have the Commission approving this extra $200,000 to get them back up to $400,000 for the current year.

At this point, I will give the caveat that I understand the budgeting process is complicated. And I grant that comparing these annual Innovation Valley appropriations every year, ranging from $250,000 to $400,000 is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison when looking at the one time contract for a Sidewalk master plan, even though the amounts are very similar.

But, the more I have looked into this, the more I think the County government’s priorities are…off. I think this points to a troubling pattern with this Mayor’s focus on rewarding business and development in Knox County, at the expense of ordinary citizens. I disagree with this focus. I believe a sidewalk master plan is no less important to the county than the strategic vision of the Knoxville Chamber. If I’m being honest, I probably think it’s more important.

I believe this is the case if you compare the cancelled $265,000 contract for the sidewalk master plan to the $200,000 appropriation that the Commission is going to approve today. It is especially the case if you look at the fact that the contract would have been a one time expenditure of $265,000 and that the County has sent over $2 million dollars to Innovation Valley over the last 7 years.

This is a matter of spending taxpayer money wisely. It’s about where your priorities lie in spending that money.

I found it interesting how Mr. Odom was questioned about the Chamber’s accountability and its transparency. According to the Compass, the Knoxville Chamber’s board approved this new strategic vision in December. It appears that the Mayor and the Commission have seen this strategic vision. But it won’t be publicly rolled out until April. That’s not a lot of transparency to my mind. On the part of the Chamber or this Commission.

I think most people would agree that $200,000 is a lot of money. I’ve chosen to compare this appropriation to the canceled contract from 2018, because I think it shows how the Jacobs administration has its priorities wrong. I mean, according to Mr. Snowden, the County could build about 3000 feet of sidewalks for that amount. I doubt there are too many people out there who wouldn’t love to see some more sidewalks in the county.

But really you can pick a lot of items from the budget and say the same thing. I’d like to see the Commission take seriously the idea of transparency in how taxpayer money is spent. I know this resolution is on the consent agenda. I’m asking the Commission to take this item off the consent agenda. Don’t approve these additional funds to Innovation Valley without some explanation for why this additional $200,000 is being spent now and what it’s being spent for.

Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

I wanted to take a pause in writing about other campaign stuff, to say a word about civility. I don’t believe in civility for the sake of civility. But my political Golden Rule is:

  1. Be nice. It doesn’t hurt anyone to be nice.
  2. Help if you can. Everyone needs help at some point.
  3. If you can’t help, at least don’t be a jerk.

So, if you’ve been reading here at all, you’ve probably figured out the two main points in my campaign. Big money is the problem in politics, so I’m taking a stand against money in Knox County politics. And, I think the Jacobs administration is pursuing policies that amount to development for the sake of developers. Instead, I think we should pursue reasonable and responsible development.

I was looking at the Farragut Press and noticed that Mayor Jacobs was doing an event for his program Read City USA. I think that’s a good program and the Mayor should be lauded for all he does for reading. And I have no problem giving him those kudos and still pointing out that, in the area of Knox County development, the Mayor has us on the wrong path. And I’m going to call him out on those policies as much as possible.

Similarly with my potential Republican opponents, I’ve met them both and they seem like good guys. They’re both running for County Commission for non-cynical reasons. Because they want to serve and do what they can to help. By the same token, I know that, between them they raised $30,000 for their campaigns during the last period and, I suspect, I’m going to see that number is much larger tomorrow when the next financial disclosure numbers come out. Big money is the problem and I will call them out for the list of $1000 checks they have already received and will receive in the future.

I don’t see a problem with this dichotomy. I’m going to stand my ground and defend my positions, because that’s the lawyer in me. But, throughout this campaign, I’m going to try and be nice, help when I can and not be a jerk. That’s the least I can do.

I Voted

It’s a big day for me. I know now that I’ll have at least one vote for me in the primary. In the Democratic Presidential primary, I had been toying with the idea of voting next week so that I could see the outcome of the Nevada caucus before I chose someone here in Tennessee. Instead, I voted with my heart for President. If you care to hear about my vote in that race, I did a short post here.

I have to admit that I paused a second when I got to the point where I was voting for myself. We’ve got a long way to go in this campaign and I’m probably a pretty big underdog in the general against whichever Republican wins on March 3. And, yeah, I get to vote for myself at least one more time (August 6, 2020, in case you were wondering). But this was the first time my name has been on a ballot like this. It was satisfying. And frightening. And exhilarating. I’m glad I’m on this ride. And I’m thankful to all of the people who have supported me to this point and who will be supporting me for the next 5 months. Thank you.

I also wanted to point out one thing I noticed. I’m in Precinct 69E. The races on the ballot for me were: President; County Commission, District 4 (my race); Criminal Court Judge; Public Defender; Assessor of Property; and County Law Director. The only Democrats I could vote for were for President and me. This is one of the reasons I’m in this race. Even if I turn out to be the worst candidate in Knox County history (hopefully I’m better than that), at least the voters of District 4 have someone to vote for. On the other hand, if you chose the Republican ballot, you didn’t have much choice for President, but you had two candidates running in each of the other races. And now, in the August election, while the Commission race will be contested, the rest of those local races are mostly uncontested (there’s an independent running in the Law Director race).

Voters deserve a choice!

Priorities?

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.