Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to all candidates for Knoxville City Council. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way.
JOHN STANCIL, candidate for At-Large Seat A
1.) The city of Knoxville holds less than half the population of Knox County, and an even smaller percentage of the total metropolitan area. Why does the city matter? What role does city leadership play in setting or shaping an agenda for the region?
Knoxville is still the reason that so many of our neighbors have chosen to live in Knox County. Bedroom communities to the west would have little reason to gather without the economic life, social experience and public leadership that Knoxville offers. Life experience in and around an urban setting will draw creative people and gives community members an opportunity to be in close proximity to work, worship and schools. City living affords neighbors the opportunity to choose to support arts, entertainment and adds quality to the overall social experience that is not affordable in smaller communities. Experiencing events such as Live After Five at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Sundown in the City on Market Square, Booms Day Celebration and Farmer’s Market on Market Square on Saturday speaks to the draw of Knoxville to Knox County and beyond. Building on the success of smart growth that has revitalized the core of Knoxville will build a stronger city and region.
2.) Name three specific ways you would like the city of Knoxville to be different after your term(s) in office.
First and foremost, making universal application of Codes enforcement a priority will demonstrate respect for neighborhoods and demand self-respect from our neighbors. A professional Codes Department staff, properly trained, properly identified by uniform in the field will show both respect and a serious nature.
Second, drawing neighbors together in community activities of planning our future as well as social interaction will make Knoxville stronger. When we demand more of ourselves as citizens, we will engage our neighbors with a true sense of place that will improve our neighborhoods and city.
Third, maintaining a sound fiscal environment for Knoxville will allow us to live with a degree of certainty and plan for a vibrant future. As with each of us personally, freedom from crushing debt is a liberating experience that gives us options.
3.) About one out of three children in Knoxville lives near or below the poverty level. What specific things can or should the city government do to serve their needs?
Neighbors in Knoxville now volunteer time to make possible the backpack weekend meal program for school age children. The capacity of Knoxville for caring for and helping those in need is a tribute to the sense of volunteer spirit that is a theme of people from Tennessee throughout our history. The best thing local government can do is provide the atmosphere for growth in our small business community. When our neighbors who own and manage businesses expand and grow, the result will be jobs for our neighbors and less poverty.
4.) Do you support the goals of the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan? More broadly, how should the city balance long-term concerns about sustainability with short-term demands of developers or builders? What does "sustainable development" mean to you? What are some specific ways the city can encourage it? (If you don¹t think the city should encourage sustainable development, you can say that, too.)
The goal of the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan is to value the beautiful place in which we all live, and I support that goal. The task of City Council will be to balance that protection while allowing development of our built environment.
The beauty of the terrain of east Tennessee has held families for generations and served to attract many of us to Knoxville as a place to make our home. Placing protection on ridge tops and hillsides is a valuable tool for keeping that which we value about Knoxville, while allowing for the built environment for future generations to live and work. Much is made of property rights, and I support those rights. I also support the right of quality of life for those living downhill and downstream. I have seen creative ways in which some states and cities have worked with transferable development rights to help community value natural assets without totally penalizing individuals or groups with property. Transferrable Development Rights are the exchange of zoning privileges from areas with low population needs, such as farmland, to areas of high population needs, such as downtown areas. These transfers allow for the preservation of open spaces and historic landmarks, while allowing urban areas to expand and increase in density. Knoxville has opportunities and challenges in brownfield (land and structures previously used for industrial or commercial uses) and greyfield properties (those shopping areas with large paved areas surrounding). Those buildings and properties that are empty, underutilized or even abandoned can be renovated and brought back into use and onto tax rolls.
Once again, City Council must set the atmosphere of valuing Knoxville as home and encourage each stakeholder to respect our community and neighbors. Balance in bringing economic success to Knoxville while honoring our history and scenic beauty is needed. We have example in communities close by that have restricted growth and development to the point that workers in those communities are no longer neighbors. Those individuals can scarcely afford to live close to their town or city, much less within the city limits.
5.) What is the proper role of City Council in dealing with the mayor? Should Council members mostly let the mayor lead and react to the mayor's initiatives, or should they take leadership roles themselves in setting the city's agenda?
We most certainly need a strong Mayor at this critical juncture for Knoxville. Under the city charter, the mayor chairs council meetings and brings the agenda. But for the mayor to get anything done, the math is quite simple: five votes carries a program to implementation or drags it down to defeat. Council members need to be partners in the process, providing guidance and input. That is why neighbors need to know their council members. Candidates who represent special interest without community involvement may take the community in a direction that does not serve us well. We, as citizens, need mature leadership willing to take a hard look at programs, departments and policies within Knoxville and without consideration of any other political agendas.
When we consider changing the Charter, we must consider the consequences. Strengthening Council would require, in my opinion, a larger Council staff and, possibly, full time Council members. That, I feel, would change the dynamic of the current citizen public servants who give of their time and effort to guide our city.
In our current make up of strong Mayor and City Council, we should all be partners in service to community.
6.) Is it a priority for you to make Knoxville a more "green" city? If so, name three specific ways you would pursue that goal.
It is a priority of mine to spend less, where possible, and waste far less. We also need to remember that all that is labeled “green” is not inherently so. Marketing certainly has recognized the appeal of selling that image and label. Earlier in the spring I saw a ride on lawn mower with a green label due to a percentage of recycled metal used. I believe that is a bit of a stretch to refer to an internal combustion engine powered lawn mower as green.
The filter through which ideas must pass, for my service on Council, is quite simple: Does this serve Knoxville, and that means all of Knoxville, well?
The few things government does we should do remarkably well. City Council can set an attitude for fostering achievement through contribution of the private sector. Allowing our neighbors to develop products and services that will save Knoxville dollars, social capital and eliminate waste is worthy of supporting as a community. Currently, Knoxville is promoting curbside recycling for City residents with a goal of 20,000 participants. This effort will serve to reduce the amount of solid waste that we send to our landfill in Anderson County and pay to bury.
7.) The University of Tennessee sits within city limits, but has often seemed like kind of an island, culturally and geographically. Are there any steps the city can take to more actively engage the University's leadership, faculty, and students in the daily life of the city? Do you think that's important? Why or why not?
The University of Tennessee is a remarkable asset to our City. As the Land Grant higher institution of the State of Tennessee, University of Tennessee draws talent for research in all areas of life and human experience. We, as a City, should capitalize on the knowledge of those neighbors on staff and in teaching positions at the University. Greater cooperation between the University and City of Knoxville in the ongoing Cumberland Avenue Plan would be an immediate example. Taking advantage of life experience from outside Knoxville can give us, as a City, a new take on solutions of traffic calming and cooperation between City and major educational institutions.
In practical experience, we have to admit, the University, at times, can be a fairly poor neighbor in honoring the sense of place that surrounds the University. I know graduates of the University of Tennessee who return to Knoxville for ballgames or Alumni gatherings and are amazed that the buildings in which they lived, and for some, took classes no longer exist. I have heard the thought expressed that when asked to contribute to their University, those Alumni find little as a reminder of place from that college experience outside of the football stadium and a small number of buildings. Knoxville and the University of Tennessee both need to come to terms with exactly what being neighbors should look like as we grow and develop. The City of Knoxville should call on our University neighbors more often as we develop and plan for community growth and development since we as a City and a University hold so much in common. It may be that we feel we have no cooperation with our University of Tennessee neighbors because we do not ask for that cooperation and mutual respect. Each City department, I feel, should identify the departments that directly relate and seek dialogue that will benefit knowledge and operational improvements.
8.) Knoxville remains a difficult city to get around via any means other than automobile. Is it important to you for the city to become more accessible via public transportation, bicycle, or foot? Why or why not? If so, name three specific transportation-related programs or projects you would like to begin or expand on.
Knoxville has a remarkable system of greenways that allow for recreation and cycling about our community. In the matter of public transportation: Let me be clear, I am not a KAT rider. KAT, however services major arteries of our City and allows for transporting a riders’ bicycle in the bargain. Bicycle lanes are incorporated into many of the streets of Knoxville. Due to topography, some of our streets are a major hazard to drive, much less walk or bicycle about our City. Public transportation is spoken about much but the perception of many of our neighbors is one of empty busses. Examining what we hope to accomplish through public transportation should be a first step. Running a route is easily planned. Running a route that is meaningful and helpful to our neighbors will require planning with input from those who are, or would become, customers. For those neighbors who wish to take advantage of walking and cycling, Knoxville has an abundance of affordable housing in neighborhoods in the Heart of Knoxville.
9.) Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement, Knoxville remains fairly segregated in terms of where people live, work, and play. What can or should At-Large Council members do to encourage more communication and connection between races, communities, and neighborhoods?
Each neighborhood and sector of Knoxville has a unique character and flavor. The character should be honored and preserved while bringing neighbors together on larger issues and questions. Keep in mind that neighbors will find a level of comfort in both place and association with other neighbors. Socializing with a group is neither bad nor good, simply social interaction. Forced exclusion is wrong and always has been shameful. My own neighborhood of Parkridge, in the Park City part of Knoxville, is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our City..
10.) What are the most important lessons from the successes of downtown development over the past decade, and how can they be applied to other parts of the city?
The most important lesson is that it is possible, and profitable, to reclaim a downtown area long abandoned. The cycle of neighbors returning to an urban environment is not a surprise to most. Placing value on close proximity and shared sense of place helps us draw strength, encouragement and occasional assistance from our neighbors. City government can provide the atmosphere, safety and infrastructure as well as help with identifying creative renovation finance from private lenders. Private developers step in and help neighbors realize their dreams of how individual space should look and function. I feel that a larger of pool of risk takers should be invited to participate. That will provide varied thought on design and use of space.
Lessons to be learned: Plan, Plan and Plan. Review the plan, as it unfolds, with community and speak to concerns. Hold nothing in secret and never run from controversy or difficulty. Finalize the plan and engage neighbors in the process. Begin implementation carefully and thoughtfully. Respect long time residents and balance with the anticipated new arrivals to the planned development. We may never again see the near blank canvas that was downtown a decade ago.
In many areas we have seen the way to kill development, smart of otherwise: meet in secret, disclose little and never involve community. That will, and probably should, doom any effort.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you read, write, or speak any language other than English? (Even partial proficiency counts, but please indicate your level of ability.)
I am limited to English only. I do, however, know neighbors who can and would readily translate Spanish, Greek, Polish, Arabic, Russian and Hebrew. I also know and am known by professionals in the area of legal advice, financial advice and investment and public policy. Occasionally we all can use a reference without being the single source of knowledge.