Nick Pavlis, 54, served as an at-large member of City Council from 1995-2003. He is now the director of government relations for Charter Communications in Tennessee and Louisiana. Prior to that, he worked for A&B Distributors, a local gourmet food distribution company, for 26 years. Pavlis is married and has lived in Knoxville his entire life. He has been in District 1 for almost four years.
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?
Pavlis: I would support it because of one of the reasons you’ve mentioned. As long as people are not obstructing foot traffic, to tell people where they can or cannot sit, I just have a real problem with that right there. I also have a problem with it because it was specific to certain areas. And at the end of the day, I do not think it’s enforceable.
I’ve been through that area four or five times this week, and there seem to be an inordinate amount of people sitting on sidewalks. So we charge them $50. I believe that probably we’re not going to get that $50. Meanwhile, we’re taking our police off the streets for whatever amount of time it takes to get them booked. They’re taking up administrative costs with our city courts. And I can’t agree with it for those reasons.
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?
Pavlis: I don’t specifically know because I’m not privy to all the real estate listings or what have you. I do know, for example, that over there off of Northshore Drive, there’s a vacant apartment building with 60 units. It’s close to the bus lines and other services they say that they need.
My whole thing is this. I think that we should sit down and talk about the Ten Year Plan. We’re in the front end of it, the first third of it. And like any good plan, it has flaws. With the amount of controversy that is following each of these zonings for each of these places, obviously the stakeholders have not sat around the table and spoken to them. My thought is this: Without being discriminatory, abiding by federal law, we need to sit down again and say, “Okay, we need to do this just like we do the road-paving.” It should be equally spread out throughout the districts.
I’ve been involved with this Flenniken thing for months, practically since its inception because it’s in the 1st District. 95 percent of the people over there have compassion in their hearts for the issue. The issue is not going away. It’s not about them not wanting homeless people there. It’s just that South Knoxville is struggling right now. It’s struggling to have people move in and not move out. And that could really hurt that.
Now, we have to face this problem. I’m not saying there is none. But let’s get these in units of eight or less, and let’s figure out where else we can put these in the city. And the county. It’s not just a city issue. The city and the county, it’s their joint plan. So, let’s go to the county. Let’s have them come to the table.
As long as you keep these projects smaller—like I said before in units of eight or less—you may not have this sort of uproar. Hey, Joe Bailey said he was willing to have one next door to him, so, there you go. He’s offered it up. 48 units is just too big. It’s not manageable. I think, and I’m not in real estate, it would be a heck of a lot easier to find eight units or less than it would be to find 48 units or greater.
Of course the need is there. We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not there. I understand the arguments against it, but the issue is not going away. So we’re going to have to face it. We can do this in a better way and a non-discriminatory way. We have attorneys. They’ve been down this road. They can lead us on this issue. We can figure out what’s the criteria, how do we do this? I understand the business concerns and the political concerns here, I do. At the end of the day, the problem’s still there, and we’re going to have to address it.
I saw one of the neatest things today. I went over to the Mechanicsville Homecoming today [August 29], and I stopped by Joe Neubert’s auto body shop on West 5th Avenue there. And do you know what he was doing? He had a line of 50-60 people from the Mission District. He was feeding them lunch. He’s talking to them. He’s addressing them. I wish I had taken a picture. They were lined up. They were smiling. They were talking. That’s how you do it. I don’t know of any project or anybody from the city who’s spoken to Joe Neubert.
With that in mind, you go and talk to people on the front line, and you explain things to them. Now, I think [Ten-Year Plan Director] Jon Lawler has a tough job, and his team, they’re all good people, but I don’t think they handled this well politically. Any good business person can stop in a five or ten-year plan. For me, at Charter, we do this all the time. We go in and we reassess.
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?
Pavlis: I think TIFs, number one, should be used as a last resort, if it’s the only way that a project will go forward. In addition to that, I want these projects to be part of a master plan. When I was on City Council before we gave TIFs out for things like downtown revitalization. I would support it for that. I would support it for the Broadway/North Central project. It’s wonderful what’s going on up there. I think it needs to be for a larger, more encompassing project that the city is behind, not individual projects. These projects still provide jobs. They still have an economic benefit.
Now, in this market, real estate—residential real estate—is where it is right now. And considering that, it would have to be an awfully good project. I would have a really hard time supporting a TIF for any residential development. Obviously, Cityview’s the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner. I can’t think of anybody who’s looking to do anything like that right now, though, to be completely honest.
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?
Pavlis: Fire and police, anything related to public safety.
What about non-essential services and budget items like, say, parks or the city’s nonprofit grants? Are those ever worth a tax increase?
Pavlis: The last thing that I would want to do is cut back services or personnel. If it meant looking at grants, extensions of greenways, new parks, these are things we can live without if we need to. Those would be last resort efforts. But when it comes to personnel and services, I think everything else in front of that needs to be looked at. I think people understand that right now. And as much as I hate it—I love the arts, these nonprofits are all great causes—but at the end of the day, the city is here to serve its constituents. That’s the ultimate thing.
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?
Pavlis: I agree with the plan. Like I mentioned earlier, I was in the Mechanicsville area today where they took down College Homes. The yards were nice; the homes were kept up. It just seems to be such a huge success. It’s changed the whole nature of that neighborhood. What was a very difficult situation in that part of town now looks revitalized. It’s nice. It looked so clean. People were saying hi to their neighbors in the street. There’s just more of a sense of community there. Now, I don’t know all the details of the plan, but I am very supportive of this concept.
I think, yes, trying to keep the same number of units is important. I don’t know where else they can go. Again, I support this project. It’s going to encourage development, individual home ownership, it’ll encourage new businesses to establish themselves. At the end of the day, it strengthens the neighborhood. I don’t care if it’s the 1st District or the 6th District or wherever. As City Council members, we’re all responsible for the well-being of the whole city, not just your district. I see that as a betterment for the city as a whole, and I support that.
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?
Pavlis: The 1st and the 6th Districts have a number of the same issues. I’ve walked around in the 6th District as well. They both suffer from codes violations. There’s a lot of rental properties—number one—that aren’t kept up very well. There’s a lot of blighted properties, and with that comes crime.
This plan is obviously a very positive sign. Beyond that, I’d like to see more codes enforcement, the clean up of blighted areas. The infrastructure seems to be pretty good over there. I don’t see a lot of need right there. But, again, same thing with the 1st District. You take care of these blighted properties. You encourage home ownership. You get people moving back in instead of moving out of.
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?
Pavlis: No, I don’t. People have a right to gather peacefully, as long as they’ve got whatever permits they may need. So long as it’s not violating zoning ordinance or building code, a business has a right to be where it wants. That’s it as far as the city’s concerned. Beyond that, I don’t think that’s the city’s role to mediate that sort of thing at all.
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?
Pavlis: No, I don’t think that’s the case. I served during the Ashe administration for eight years. I saw what that was about. This Council is open, it’s transparent. They discuss issues. I think they vote their conscience. I don’t see that. I served in an environment where I was an outsider in that I couldn’t be counted on as a vote for the mayor. I don’t see that in this Council or in this administration. I commend them. I don’t always agree with them, but I really think they’ve discussed things. Council has had a lot of input. There have been numerous, numerous workshops.
Knowing Bill Haslam as I do, I don’t think he’s the type of person who pushes too hard. But, you know, if he has an agenda he believes is right, he needs to push it. I admire him for going out there and getting five votes, but I don’t think they use their political—sure they’re powerful people—but I just don’t see Bill operating that way. I just truly don’t.
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?
Pavlis: I’m a huge supporter of hospitality and tourism. And Knoxville—the whole state of Tennessee—really relies on tourism dollars. That’s a huge amount of money coming into our town. And people come to East Tennessee for its natural beauty. So, I think we’ve come to a time where we’re going to have to be very creative to preserve people’s right to maximize their property, but also, we also have to say that it’s our hillsides and our terrain that bring people to East Tennessee. It needs to be preserved.