Miscellany From The Campaign Trail

I wanted to keep everyone up to date on my campaign activities for the last week or so.

I’ve spoken previously about questions I have gotten from various places here. I’ve also noted that the series of posts I’ve written about “My Platform” are inspired by some of the questions I’ve received. Well, I’ve responded to two more sets of questions in the last week or so. The Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters put together a voters guide at VOTE411 where you can compare the positions of the candidates in various races. Those answers are up at the website now. I’ve also answered questions from Bike Walk Knoxville. I don’t think the answers to those questions are up yet. I plan on writing a post with my full answers to those questions in the future, so stay tuned.

I attended the meeting of the Knox County Charter Review Committee last Monday. It was more or less a preliminary meeting to chart out the schedule for their meetings and how much of the Charter they’ll review each month. They’re planning on meeting the first Monday of the month for the next few months, except in March when they’re meeting on March 9 because the first Monday is the day before the election. At the March 9 meeting, they’ll be discussing Articles I and II of the Charter, which covers Powers and Functions and the Legislative Branch. The April 6 meeting will be interesting as they’ll be covering at least Article III, which will include the discussion of whether the Law Director should be appointed or elected. I will be attending these meetings and I’m considering whether I will ask to speak on the Law Director issue. They spent some time at this meeting discussing how they’ll allocate the “public forum” portion of the meetings. I’m still looking for the promised on-line signup to be able to request that opportunity. It’s a month or so away, so I have time.

Last Thursday (Valentine’s Day eve), the Democratic County Commission candidates were invited to come to the Knox County Democratic Party’s County Assembly. We got a chance to talk to the assembled local Democratic leaders about our campaigns. We also heard from reps for some of the Presidential candidates (Pete, Bernie, Joe, Mike, Elizabeth). It was a good night and I was glad to be invited.

Most of Valentine’s weekend was low key. Dr. Frommeyer was laid up with something approximating the flu and, since the weather was nice, the rest of the house was filled with kids running around. The college kiddo also came over and he drove me around some of the neighborhoods in the district, so that I can keep my pledge to do so by March 3, 2020. We were down along Northshore and over in Sequoyah Hills. Last night I was driving around a little along Sutherland, Weisgarber and Middlebrook. I’ll do a full post on some of my driving observations at a later point. Just a little more to go.

Last night, I attended the quarterly meeting of the West Hills Community Association. There were a lot of candidates there to speak. Maybe 8? All three candidates for County Commission, District 4. A Circuit judge candidate, property assessor candidate, a couple for Law Director. It was a full house and we were limited in our time. I got a chance to chat with one of the Republicans running in my race. I think it’s a good example for how politics ought to be. I find both of the guys to be nice and thoughtful. I just disagree with them on the issues. In this case, it’s easy to follow the model of disagreeing without being disagreeable. And I have to say, I’ve only found one of the candidates running this cycle (I’m talking locally) that I find to be an odious turd. I’ll keep that name to myself, though, for obvious reasons. I had to leave a little early because I was on cheerleader pickup duty last night, but it was a good forum. I hope to get back there at another meeting when we’re in the general election mindset.

Questions, Questions, Questions

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!

KNOXVILLE FOCUS

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

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.

My Platform – Part 9: Yard Signs

When I started this process, I talked to a few people about how to run and what to do during my campaign. One of the stances I thought I would take is that I would not use yard signs. I’ve always thought they can end up a blight in neighborhoods and at street corners. I understand the need for them on some level. There’s a need to get your name out there to the voters and yard signs are an efficient way of doing that. And they’re not that expensive it turns out. But, I still thought it would be a good line to draw. No yard signs.

Except, I’m especially in need of getting my name out there. I’m new to all of this. And the fact that I’m trying to do my campaign differently, I don’t really have many options for increasing my name ID. So I’ve decided to do yard signs.

But, if I’m going to do yard signs, I’m going to do to try to do it the right way. It’s the lawyer in me I guess, but I figured I need to start with the idea that my signage has to comply with the Knox County rules. Code of Knox County, Tennessee, Appendix A, Zoning – Section 3.90.2(H)(6) allows temporary signs advertising a political candidate to be erected without securing a building permit. It says that such signs “shall not be over thirty-two (32) square feet in size, shall not be displayed for more than thirty (30) days and shall be removed within five (5) days of the election.”

If you drive around Knox County, you’re seeing a lot of political signs popping up all over the place. Many are in yards, but a lot of the signs seem to be in the neutral zones at street corners or intersections.

We have a Presidential preference and County primary election on March 3, 2020. For the winners of the County primary election, there is a County general election, which coincides with the state and federal primary election on August 6, 2020. Then there is a federal and state general election on November 3, 2020. If I’m reading the regulation correctly, it seems like signs could start going up around February 1, 2020 and then would have to come down by March 8, 2020.

While these rules would apply to all of the races, I’m most concerned with the County primary and general. In Knox County, there are three races where the winner of a March 3, 2020 primary election will go on to have a competitive general election race. The other County races either don’t have a primary opponent before having a competitive general race (District 2 where my friend Courtney Durrett is running) or the primary race is competitive, but there is no opponent waiting in the general.

There are three races where there is a competitive primary race and then the winner of the primary will face an opponent in the general. District 1 has two Democrats facing off in a primary and then the winner takes on an independent candidate in the general. District 4 (mine) and District 5 (where my friend Kimberly Peterson is running) have competitive Republican primaries and then we Democrats will face the winner in the general.

So, take my race as an example. The candidates can have been putting up yard signs since about February 1, 2020 and then should taken them down by about March 8, 2020. Then, whichever Republican candidate wins the primary, they should be able to start putting up signs again around July 6, 2020. But will the winning Republican in my race and the winners in the other primary races take down their signs around March 8, 2020? If anyone does take their signs down in compliance with the rules, are they giving their opponents a competitive advantage in their races?

Another thing I think about with my yard signs is where I can put them. I already mentioned that many of the signs going up now are at street corners and near intersections. As long as your signs don’t obstruct, it appears they can go in these locations. But will they stay there past March 8, 2020? It seems more objectionable to try and keep your political signs up in these locations for the 6 months from when they can start going up in February to the general election in August, as opposed to putting them in the yards of people who have affirmatively consented to their placement.

So, Mr. Candidate, what are you actually going to do with your yard signs? I’ve decided that I still need to put up yard signs, despite the limits placed on us by the Code of Knox County. Since I don’t have a primary opponent on March 3, 2020, I’m not going to try and match the Republicans in my race in placing signs in all of the public locations that I’ve seen their signs. I’m going to focus trying to get supporters to place signs in their yards. After March 8, 2020, I will monitor the situation with yard signs in Knox County and consider how that will affect my yard sign placement until the general election. I hope all of the candidates in all of the races will work to keep their yard signs from being a public nuisance and comply with the spirit and the letter of the law.

A Little About Me – TV Edition

Community Television of Knoxville gives candidates for local office the opportunity for “Equal Time” on their channel. I got a letter from them inviting me to record a five minute piece about myself and my campaign. I recorded mine two days ago (Wednesday, February 5, 2020). I had originally scheduled my taping (which is funny to say because it’s a digital camera) for the week prior, but I had a little cold and figured it would be better not to be sick for my big moment.

The rules of the road were that we would get to speak for five minutes max. We had the opportunity to take two tries to get the best possible recording. They say that the segments will start airing “extensively” on their local channel today (Friday, February 7, 2020). It’ll also be available on their website.

One thing I should have paid more attention to was the fact that mention of a website was prohibited. I had drafted my speech and rehearsed it pretty extensively. I made reference to my campaign website twice in the final third of the speech. I also referred to campaign websites in general (which they also said was a no-go). So I had to rework the ending of the speech while I was standing there at the podium. Referencing your email was deemed ok, for some reason.

I did my first run through and I thought it was OK. A couple of stumbles and the ending was kinda blah. They said I could do a second and choose the best one. Since I had an acceptable product in the can, as they say, I went for another run through. It was better, I think I sounded more confident and the re-jiggered ending worked a little better the second time.

The setup was interesting, at least for someone who doesn’t do this stuff. I was in a very small room standing at a lectern. There was a Sony digital camera mounted on the wall straight ahead of me and a flat screen TV up and to the right of the camera. There was also an LED timer set to 5:05 (5 seconds to count me in). In the opposite corner of the small room was the board where the technician adjusted my level and centered me on the screen. The goal was to look directly and the camera and not look at myself on the screen. I think I ended up looking down at my notes a couple of times, but mostly I think I was successful in looking straight ahead and doing my thing.

I’ll embed the video here if they allow it. Or I’ll hyperlink it in this post at the very least. I figured, though, that my performance is going to be much less dynamic on the video than it was in my head or on the page. So, I’m going to share the text of what I wanted to say (including the part with the website that I had to cut out at the last second). Let me know what you think.

CTV Speech

Hi!  My name is Todd Frommeyer and I’m running for County Commission – 4th District.

I’m grateful to Community Television of Knoxville for the opportunity to talk to you directly and tell you a little bit about myself.

You know, this is only the second time I’ve been on TV – that I know of.  There’s a story behind the first time and I’d like to tell you about it.

I’m a 20 year military veteran and retired lawyer.  But back in the early days of my military career, I was a Navy Russian linguist.  I was assigned as a Russian interpreter on Arms Control Inspection and Escort Missions.  START, INF Treaty, Nuclear Testing.  So, when the Russians would come here, I would be part of the team to escort them around the site and do some interpreting.  Likewise, when we would go inspect Russian sites, I would go on those teams as well.

Around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, I spent about 5 weeks in the city of Archangelsk in Northwestern Russia.   We were there to scout out locations for food and medicine that the US and its allies were sending to parts of the former Soviet Union in order to help with their transition to capitalism.  And it was there that I had my only other TV appearance.  The local Russian news was interviewing our Team Leader and they needed someone to do the interpretation from English to Russian for the report.  I have no idea how I did,  and to be honest, it’s all just a blur now.  I never even got to see the final product.  Still, it’s something I’ve never forgotten.  

So now, about 28 years later, here I am again on the small screen. I can tell you – It’s still as nerve-racking as it was then. 

As I look back on my lifetime of military and public service, two of the jobs I’ve had represent how I will approach being a Knox County Commissioner.  It’s the lessons I learned from these two jobs that will, I think, make me the best choice to be your representative on the Commission.

So, after my 8 years in the Navy, I used the GI Bill to help pay for law school and, after graduation, I was fortunate to be selected to become an officer in the Air Force – a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).  A military lawyer.   I had some interesting assignments as a JAG.  I was stationed in Japan.  I was deployed to the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar.  I was also deployed to Baghdad, where I was the Interrogations Law attorney assigned to Camp Cropper.  But, the best assignment I had as a JAG officer was when I was the Area Defense Counsel (ADC) at Tyndall Air Force Base.  The equivalent of that in the civilian world is a Public Defender.  If an Airman is in trouble with his commander or the AIR FORCE, the one person on the base that is there to help that Airman is the Area Defense Counsel.  If you’ve ever been in the military, you know that the military can be tough for young servicemembers.  I got to be there for them.  I was the one person who could help defend young Airmen from the system.

After I retired from the military, I went to work for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – otherwise known as the CFPB.  There, I was in the division of that Bureau where we took complaints from consumers who had a problem with big banks, their mortgage servicing company or credit card company or credit bureaus or debt collectors.  The CFPB as an entity has done a lot of good for all consumers across the country.  But the job I did was hands on with the people who just didn’t have any other recourse against big banks and other consumer financial companies.  I feel like I made a difference in the lives of the some of the consumers I helped.

So that’s where I’m going to put my focus as County Commissioner.  I’m going to stand up to the influence of money in Knox County politics.  I’m here for all of the residents of Knox County.  I’m here for the little guy.  I’m here for the people who don’t feel like their voices are heard.

There have been candidates in the past who have funded their campaigns with $500 checks.  With $1000 checks.  With Political Action Committee money.  But I’m not going to do that.  I’m not going to go out knocking on doors asking for donations.  I’m going to go knocking on doors and introduce myself to people and ask what they care about.  

I’m not going to blow through 10s of thousands of dollars on my campaign.  That’s not what politics should be about.  That’s not what my campaign is about.  

When you check out other campaign websites, what do they all have in common?  A Donate Now Button.  It’s a small thing, but it represents so much more.  So, yeah I’ve got a campaign website – toddfrommeyer.com.  But you’re not going to find anything like that on my website.  

Here’s what I’m using my site for.  I’m writing about my experiences.  I’m talking about what I think.  How I would act and vote as a Commissioner.  Just the things I’m doing on my campaign.  I’m trying to be as transparent as possible.  

So, If you want to read more about me and my family, or what I think or just what I’ve been doing, it’s all right there on my campaign website – toddfrommeyer.com.  I hope you’ll come take a look and I hope you’ll consider voting for me on March 3 and August 6.  Thank you.

My Platform – Part 8: League of Women Voters Meet And Greet Questions

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.

A Little Drive Around Westmoreland Heights

The District 4 Democrats were kind enough to let me speak a little at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. I had a chance to tell a little bit about myself and my platform. I also got a chance to meet people and answer some questions. I think I mentioned the event in this previous post.

One of the meeting attendees came up to me after I spoke and asked if we could meet the next day to discuss some things. I was glad to do it and met him at the Food City near the corner of Kingston Pike and Northshore. He said he was interested in my views about development in Knox County. He told me about how some ongoing development in his neck of the woods had come to be approved and warned me about something that could come in the future. I’m going to keep the specifics of that conversation between us for now. But he also agreed to drive me around his neighborhood to show me some things. It was an area that Google Maps describes as Westmoreland Heights. I drive past the neighborhood all the time, via Westland, but I confess I’ve never had occasion to drive down the streets. He has lived in the area since the 70s, so he pointed out some very interesting aspects of his neighborhood.

Looking back at Google Maps, I can see we drove down Sherwood and Stone Mill Drives. We also drove along Baum Drive and Lawford Road. It’s a neat section of Knox County and I certainly plan on getting back there when I start walking and knocking on doors.

Some of things he told me caused me to want to look into the Planning Commission. I have noticed that the Knox County Commissioners seem to give deference, at times, to the decisions made by the Planning Commission. Perhaps to a fault. The gentleman I met with told a story of how the Commission might be inclined to favor the wishes of developers over the people near where the development is being made.

So I went to the website. It says the 15 Commissioners are appointed by the Knoxville Mayor (7) and the Knox County Mayor (8). Their bios are available on the website. On the one hand, the gentleman could be correct. There seems to be a 9-6 majority of Commissioners who might have a strong bias in favor of development, looking just at their backgrounds in real estate, development or building. On the other hand, it also seems to me that you might want people with this kind of experience and expertise on the Planning Commission, where preliminary decisions about development are made. So, I’m not sure.

There are two things that I am sure of. First, this is an area that I need to learn more about. To me, there are red flags in the steps that Mayor Jacobs is taking in the area of development. And the current County Commission is not doing enough to slow or stop things where I think they ought to be slowed or stopped. I’ve decided that I need to to attend a Planning Commission meeting in the coming months to see how things run.

Second, I have heard more than one time how County Commissioners in their meetings seem to want to defer to the fact that the Planning Commission approved something “7-0” or thereabouts. There’s a reason these things come to the County Commission for final approval. If I am elected Commissioner, I won’t be relying solely on the fact that something sailed through the Planning Commission first. If there is public objection to a zoning change or anything else, I will not be bullied or coerced into voting one way or another. The fact that the Planning Commission approved something doesn’t mean there isn’t still a problem. I pledge that I will ask the questions that need to be asked and will not vote to approve anything until I am completely satisfied with the answers I get. If I am not satisfied, then my vote will be no.

A Look At The Next Two Weeks In The Campaign

I’m sitting up late on a Sunday night doing some campaign research and prep. I’m fortunate that I don’t have a primary opponent for the election on March 3. I think my life would be a lot busier than it is right now, which is pretty darn busy.

Speaking of candidates with a primary opponent, we had a knock on the door this afternoon from a volunteer canvassing for one of the Republicans running in the County Commission, District 4 race. My awesome wife answered the door and sent them on their way. If I had answered, I probably wouldn’t have given away that I’m his potential Democratic opponent like she did. I would have taken the opportunity to ask some questions. Probably just as well that the treasurer, rather than the candidate answered the door.

It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks in campaign world. Not just mine, but for all of the candidates. The primary is 36 days away. Early voting starts in 16 days and runs from February 12-25. But even for a guy with no primary opponent, there are things to be done and events to be attended.

Tonight, January 27, 2020 (it’s after midnight as I’m writing this), the County Commission has their monthly meeting where they vote yea or nay on things. And there are going to be some big votes taken this month. It’s a can’t miss meeting, so I’ll be there from 5 p.m. til they’re done (or I have to leave to pick up the cheer kiddo from practice).

On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, I’m attending the 4th District Democrats meeting. It’s at 6 p.m. at the Bearden library. I guess I’m the main course, as I’ll be talking about myself and answering all the questions that I can. I’m anticipating some tough questions, so I’ve been researching and preparing as much as I can.

On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, I’ll be visiting Community Television of Knoxville to record my 5 minutes of equal time. I’m a retired lawyer, so speaking in front of people isn’t too much of a challenge. But speaking into a camera? I’ve done it once before and that was 28 years ago. I’ve been writing and rewriting and practicing for this one, as you might imagine.

On Thursday, January 30, 2020, I’ve got a couple of tentative meetings with friends and colleagues to do some campaign strategizing for the next 8 months or so.

On Friday, January 31, 2020, there’s a Support Your Candidates Kickoff, hosted by Indivisible of East Tennessee from 5:30 to 8 at Barley’s in Knoxville.

Then after a weekend of cheer competition fun and campaign/life balance, next Tuesday, February 4, 2020, I’ll be attending the Knox County Commission Candidate Meet and Greet, hosted by the League of Women Voters. It’s from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Knoxville News-Sentinel Building. It’s not structured like a debate, since we won’t be going back and forth at each other. But I’ve been preparing for this one like a debate. It’s an interesting process trying to anticipate all the questions, general and specific that might be asked. There will also be introductory and closing remarks that are timed. I don’t know yet how long those remarks will be, so it’s hard to be prepared for it. I feel like this is a big deal event and I’m treating it as such. The good thing is that I have all of these other events where I’ll be speaking and talking. By preparing for those, I’ll also be preparing for this event.

I’m going to end this with a shout out to my best friend from high school, who is Professor at Newberry College, a fantastic author and a self-described “garage rocker.” He’s got a story in a collection of short stories edited by Lawrence Block coming out soon – preorder here. He’s taken the time to read most/all of my campaign website posts and gave me some good ideas and insight. He even used a little Aristotle on me and I figure I should share it with the small world of readers of my campaign website. “Remember, Aristotle says that while it’s best to have the facts (logos), establishing trustworthiness (ethos) and engaging the audience’s emotions and values (pathos) are also critical.” Good stuff. That’s why he’s the Prof.

My Platform – Part 7: Reasonable And Responsible Development in Knox County

[You might have been directed here from an advertisement. If you’re interested in my views on development in Knox County, even though this post was written back in January of this year, this is a pretty good summary of my thoughts on the matter. If I am elected as Commissioner from District 4, I will cast a skeptical eye toward any development that appears to be rushed through by the Jacobs Administration for the sake of developers or which is not taking into account the interests of the residents of Knox County.]

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.

My Campaign Financial Disclosure Statement – Year End Supplemental

I got the letter from the Knox County Election Commission that they promised would come. Clifford Rodgers, Administrator of Elections, tells me that I have to file a year-end supplemental campaign financial disclosure report. The report needs to cover the period from the date of filing of my Appointment of Political Treasurer form through January 15, 2020. I have to file the Financial Disclosure with the Knox County Election Commision no later than January 31, 2020.

My Appointment of Political Treasurer form is dated November 24, 2019 and it was stamped received by the Election Commission on November 25, 2019. I’m going with the former date, just to be safe. If you want to check out the original, you can look my filed forms up here. Once the Financial Disclosure form is filed, they’ll scan it and put it there as well.

I’m going to be as transparent as possible about everything in my campaign. Yeah, the forms are available at the Election Commission website, but I’m going to make it super easy for you. Every time I have to file with the Election Commission, I’m going to do a post like this with the same info that I’m including in the form. Here you go…

My Donations:

  • This one is pretty easy, since the only donations my campaign has received are two $500 transfers I’ve made to myself. The first on November 27, 2019 and the second on January 9, 2020.

My In-Kind Contributions:

  • In addition to cash/checks a candidate receives, we must also put down any contributions of stuff, rather than just money. I’ve had two of those.
  • On November 26, 2019, I paid $18 to wordpress for the URL that I’m using for my campaign website – http://www.fro4knox4.com. You know that one, because that’s where you are now. I paid this amount just on one of my credit cards, rather than from funds I had donated to my campaign, so that’s what makes this an in-kind contribution.
  • On January 5, 2020, I paid $12 to Google for the other URL I have, which redirects to my main page. That one is http://www.toddfrommeyer.com. Same deal here, I just put it on one of my credit cards, not from campaign funds.

My Expenditures:

  • I used Vistaprint.com for some campaign business cards. Cost – $132.94
  • I used Vistaprint.com for some campaign door hangers. Cost – $193.06
  • I used Logojoy (looka.com) and did some logo design. Cost – $74.74
  • I went back to Vistraprint.com for a self-inking stamp. Cost – $18.55
  • I made the required donation to the Tennessee Democratic Party, in order to be given access to the Democrats’ database, VoteBuilder. Cost – $175.00
  • The total amount of expenditures for the period was $594.29

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 $1030 in receipts this period and $624.29 in expenditures. My cash on hand is $450.71.

I note that, according to the rules, I did not have to put the expenditures of more than $100 on my Itemized Statement of Expenditures. I could have, instead, put them in Section 19 (page 2) of the form and just categorized them generally. I had so few expenditures and I’m trying to be super transparent, so I didn’t see any need to do that.

I also think it’s interesting to note that I would have been exempt from detailed disclosure if I had kept my contributions (including in-kind) at $1000 or less AND my expenditures at $1000 or less. So, if I had just made the second donation to my campaign $470 or less, then I could have gotten away with submitting a 1 page form.

Like I said, interesting, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I would have put all the info out there in any case.

So, now the form is filled out, I just need to get my signature, the signature of my treasurer (the fantabulous Susan Beth Frommeyer, M.D.) and a couple of witnesses (probably my mom and my mother-in-law, both of whom reside with us). Then I turn it in to the Election Commission before Friday. I’m going to the County Commission meeting on Monday, so I may try and stop by there first, if I can get there before 4:30.

If you’ve been reading the posts I’ve been putting here on the ol’ campaign website, you no doubt read the one titled My Platform – Part 2: Big Money is the Problem in Politics. You can see from my financial disclosure that I’m trying to do things differently. I may get some donations other than from myself as the campaign goes on, but I doubt it will be much. I’m not accepting the big money donations and PAC money that other candidates are taking. If I’m out knocking on doors, I’m not going to be asking for money. I’m going to get to know people and ask them what they think. You won’t see a “donate now” button on my campaign website. But I want to say a couple of things about my finances.

First, I’m not in this race just to be a name on the line. I am in this race to win it. Knox County needs some Commissioners who will listen to all of the people, not just the ones who can write $500 and $1000 checks. So, yeah, I’m not going to raise big money and I’m not going to spend big money. I’m going to meet people and learn the issues and outwork whichever Republican comes out of the primary on March 3. And, hey, maybe I’ll get some help along the way. Help to knock doors or to make phone calls or just to spread the word. I hope you’ll join me.

Second, just as my financial disclosure is going to be online soon, so will the financial disclosures of all of the candidates running for County Commission. And other races too. I have worked on the assumption that the Republicans in my race are going to do what I’ve seen pretty much all of the Republican candidates do for the last two election cycles (2016, 2018). They raise a bunch of money from people who can write the big checks and spend that money in the traditional ways. If the Republicans in my race do that, you can be sure you’ll hear about it often from me.

My Platform – Part 6: Miscellany

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.

Some of the questions I’ve received and responded don’t necessarily require a full post on the ol’ campaign website. They’re still important questions, of course, but either my response is straight forward and doesn’t need too much explanation. Or at the present time, there may not be much to say. So, here I’m going to throw in some of these questions for your interest and review.

1. I was asked about the Knoxville Center Mall and whether it should by bought by and used for County government. As you probably know, 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 farther east 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.

2. I have been asked about the proposed plan 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.

3. I have also been asked for my thoughts on Historic Zoned neighborhoods. I know there is an ongoing concern about historic overlay in the Oakwood-Lincoln Park neighborhood. 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.