David Dupree, 49, is an attorney. He was born and grew up in Knoxville, but left to go to Howard University, where, as an undergraduate, he majored in computer science and accounting. He went on to get his law degree at the Howard School of Law. He practiced law in Washington, D.C. for a number of years before moving to District 6 in Knoxville three years ago. Dupree is married with two children.
Read other candidate interviews at our 2009 Knoxville City Council Election Guide.
On July 14, the city passed an ordinance making it illegal to sit or lay on public sidewalks downtown. One month before that, Judge Stephen Bushong in Oregon ruled that a similar Portland law was unconstitutional. He based his ruling on Oregon state law, but he also told the city’s attorneys that enforcement of the law could very well be challenged as a first amendment violation. Similarly, the lawyer arguing against the ordinance and citizens seeking its removal said that it was discriminatory, since it was specifically designed to target the city’s homeless population. If you are elected, will you support any action to repeal this ordinance in Knoxville?
Dupree: I would not oppose an action to repeal it. I think that the law in the form that I’ve seen it has a lot of possibility to be seen as discriminatory. It’s definitely designed to point toward a particular section of the population. Laws should be directed toward the whole population.
Converting South Knoxville’s Flenniken Elementary School into a supportive housing facility has been a controversial project since its inception. In the candidates’ forum on August 27, many candidates said we ought to, so to speak, “spread the burden” of supportive housing throughout the city rather than concentrating it in a few core areas. Do you have any ideas as to places where we could put more supportive housing? What happens when its neighbors almost inevitably have the same concerns? Does the need for this type of housing and the fact that the Fair Housing Act does not seem to permit the city to deny this type of housing simply based on these types of objections outweigh business and political interest here?
Dupree: I don’t have a lot of ideas for locations at the moment, but I know one thing that I believe should be done. Other parts of the city need to be looked into. Hopefully, we’ll have something that will be palatable to the citizens of those other areas. By palatable, I mean something they would like. I don’t know what that would be. One thing that’s going to be crucial is that they participate in the process and that they understand that a lot of the homeless are not imports. A lot of the homeless are long-time residents, just as they may be. They have some vested interest in wanting to stay here, and as such, if we can think of something to help them find some potential housing, we should try to do that for them.
I don’t know if what you mentioned outweighs those concerns. I think that those arguments are very important and need to be taken into consideration. There’s a lot of strong concern on both sides, and there needs to be a balancing act here.
You’ll be coming in to an iffy real estate market if you’re elected. Foreclosures continue to be high in the area and around the country, and recently, City Council lowered the property tax rate from $2.81 to $2.46 so as to be in accordance with state tax equalization law. On top of that, a lot of people continue to be unemployed or at least a bit more careful with money, leading to decreases in sales tax revenues. All of this seems to spell potential revenue issues in the future. Given all that, are local incentives, particularly for higher-end projects, a wise idea right now, especially considering the recent foreclosure of a partly TIF-financed project like Cityview at Riverwalk?
Dupree: One of the things that’s important is that we continue to develop the city where possible. If there are incentives that are going to help the builders continue to keep their employees and not contribute to the unemployment situation and the homeless situation, there might be some merit to continuing at least some measure of incentives. Of course, that all would need to be looked at, maybe revisited, to make sure that it’s fairly done so that some of the less stable neighborhoods can get these projects, too.
I think the question is will these be applied across the board, applied fairly. Plus, we need to ask what will be the relative benefit. If we can help it so it sells faster or rent faster, then there maybe some benefit to that. But, if we’re going to give out this money so buildings will sit there empty looking for residents, that’s not going to be something that needs to be done.
Give us a for instance: What would have to be on the chopping block in order for you to support a tax increase in a budget?
Dupree: Police and fire protection. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
What about non-essential services and budget items like, say, parks or the city’s nonprofit grants? Are those ever worth a tax increase?
Dupree: I would think that it depends on the relative impact on the budget. If there’s a lot of things that need to be done to the parks, then sure there might be an indication that a temporary increase might need to be the thing to balance that out. I can’t say that I would rule it out totally, but I would have to weigh it out extremely carefully. Extremely carefully.
Is the city’s plan for a HOPE VI replacement for the Walter P. Taylor homes a good one? Is it a priority for you to maintain the same level of KCDC housing units as we have now?
Dupree: I don’t think it’s a priority that they maintain the same number of units. Population trends show that there’s some empty units now over there at Walter P. Because of the shifting of populations, urban sprawl, what have you, some people have been moving out, away from these inner city places. So, in that regard, they move out into non-KCDC housing, more power to them. There’s less KCDC housing needed. Still, some move out and others move in. I don’t think there should be a hard and fast rule that the number be maintained. As long as the need is shown, then sure, maintain it.
Is the Magnolia Avenue Corridor plan a positive sign that the city is putting its attentions toward an area that has arguably been politically neglected? What else, if anything, should the city, as a public entity, be doing beyond Magnolia to improve infrastructure, the economy, or simply the standard of living in this part of town?
Dupree: I don’t know that it’s been politically neglected in the past. It may have been economically neglected. I hope this shows that there’s some commitment to economic development that is needed in East Knoxville.
What else can the city do? I hope that they would include streets that branch off of Magnolia, such as the Cherry Street corridor, as well as the streets over by the O’Connor Center there. There are lots of businesses in that area stretching from there going back over toward the Juvenile Center, toward Martin Luther King, as well as businesses on Martin Luther King. These areas need to be looked at, developed. We need to make sure—well, there are a lot of police patrols there—but we need to make sure our senior citizens are safe, as well as our children going back and forth to school. I guess we need to make sure our police patrols are in the right places at the right times.
Planned Parenthood recently backed out of a move to move to a facility in Bearden following a large and well-organized movement protesting its move there. Now, before I get to the question, let me present two givens so they will not have to be included in your answer. (1) People have every right to protest Planned Parenthood if they feel that what they do is wrong. (2) What Planned Parenthood does is perfectly legal. So should city government have taken a greater role in perhaps mediating this dispute?
Dupree: I don’t know if the local government should have played a bigger part because even though this is a local issue we’re dealing with right now, it’s really a national issue. Its effects are far reaching. While it seems to be a simple dispute over where to put a business, the actual rift here is about much more than where to put a business. It is, of course, the whole abortion rights question. Whether or not the city could have gone in and been able to stick to the issue of the relative right of a business to set up or not, you know, it’s questionable.
An attendee at the August 27 forum expressed some concern that, as she sees it, City Council is too often a “rubber stamp” for mayoral policy. It was a comment that really seemed to resonate with the audience. In your opinion, have what some have categorized as an overly friendly media environment when it comes to the mayor, as well as his family’s deep and significant connections, and now his gubernatorial campaign, produced a situation where it is politically difficult for City Council to go against mayoral policy? In other words, is it at all possible that the mayor's too popular for our own good?
Dupree: I don’t think so if I’m understanding your question correctly. I’ll give you an example of an issue in dealing with the Flenniken School situation. I think the mayor stands in favor of it, but I was there and observed a lengthy, lengthy discussion that took place in the last Council meeting. He stayed quietly out of it, and he stayed within his role as chairman of the meeting. He followed protocol on who should speak when and basically allowed them to speak when they needed to say something. It seemed to be pretty much even, his doing that, on both sides of the issue. I can’t say anything seemed overbearing, and that’s just one example. In other meetings or from what I’ve read in the paper, I can’t see that he’s outgrown this city or gotten to the point that he has an overwhelming effect that causes Council to role over or play dead.
You know, I will admit that I’m definitely newer to the inner workings of the political scene in this area. I’m sure there’s a lot of scope that I don’t know about. I don’t pretend to know about it. I don’t know who’s buddies with who, or who goes golfing with who, or any of those types of things. I believe in a Biblical principle based on Scripture that things are pure to those who see things as pure. That’s kind of my guideline.
Have you seen the Hillside-Ridgetop Task Force’s preliminary recommendations? Would you be in support of policies that, in the interest of the long-term benefits of environmental stewardship, might limit a property developer’s ability to “maximize” a hill or ridge property?
Dupree: I haven’t seen it. I’m not entirely familiar with this issue.
It’s hard to say. That would have to be on an individual, almost case-by-case basis. It depends on a lot of things. It depends on the type of development you’re talking about and the type of sloping or hillside that’s going to be destroyed or modified, or whether there will be adequate erosion protection or adequate landscaping that would ensure that it’s still an aesthetically pleasing area.
A lot of stuff is already limited because they need these plans approved under current ordinances. Again, I think it would depend on the type of plans. I really don’t want to limit, to blanketly limit, a developer or an architect’s creativity. I’ve definitely seen some very creative things that have been done to slopes or hillsides. Sometimes those types of things make for efficient use of land that may otherwise just sit there. I’ve seen in other areas with some beautiful houses that have been built inside hills or the side of a hill so that all you see is front door, front porch, and maybe a chimney.
If somebody wants to build a house like that and it doesn’t upset the environment for that to be built, I think that’s pretty creative. I don’t know if I want to blanketly limit that type of development when it might be something that’s aesthetically pleasing that conforms to current code, and doesn’t contribute to erosion, and doesn’t denigrate the beauty of the countryside or the city.