Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to all candidates for Knoxville City Council. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way.
PAUL BERNEY, 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 matters because of the economic impact and quality of life that city affords for the region. By looking at Cumberland Avenue and UT football, Chilhowee Park, the Worlds Fair Park, and the Zoo, the coffee shops and restaurants in the Old City and along Gay Street and all of the events, festivals, and concerts – we can see that Knoxville is the area’s center of entertainment. Then there are all the shops and businesses in Fountain City, and Kingston Pike, and various shopping centers and malls that buttress our regional economy.
City leadership effects our region in many ways. One example would be the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s PlanET. PlanET is a five-county regional planning effort that intends to make this area a more “vibrant, economically attractive and livable community.” This is an example, as PlanET’s website explains, of regional planning efforts by MPC and by local governments to integrate “housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union counties.”
2.)Name three specific ways you would like the city of Knoxville to be different after your term(s) in office.
I want the city of Knoxville to: 1.) have more jobs and a stronger economy, and 2.) to have cleaner air and water. Currently there are 45,000 Knoxvillians that live at or below the poverty line. Also Knox county registers some of the highest numbers of days for harmful levels of particle pollution and ozone among all counties in the state. Knoxville also ranks as the fourth most challenging place in the country to live with asthma.
I would also like to see the greenways completed by the time I leave office. Diabetes, heart disease, and childhood obesity rates have risen sharply within this region. By offering an attractive means of exercise and encouraging different forms of transportation, we can affect the air quality as well as our quality of life.
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?
Currently there are a number of agencies, private and governmental, that provide resources to impoverished children and their families. From Helen Ross McNabb, Community Action Committee, The Boys and Girls Club, to the Department of Human Services these different groups offer different services for poor children. Often, the most important thing our local government can do is to help those in need navigate their way through these different organizations. Also our government can help these different groups better coordinate their services and communicate with each other. Beyond that, the city can assess what needs aren’t being meet within the community, and then seek solutions from the public and private sectors.
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.)
Yes, I support the goals of the plan.
How often we hear scenic descriptions of mountains and hills used to evoke patriotic sentiment. From the “purple mountain majesties” of America the Beautiful to Lee Greenwood’s “the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee” we are told how lovely and precious our country is. Here in East Tennessee, we have beautiful rolling hills and ridgelines, but now we are being asked to measure a short-term gain against several long-term consequences. If unrestricted and unfettered development happens all along Knoxville’s steep slopes, then the economic resources that we gain from this short-term stimulus should be set aside to deal with the inevitable consequences caused by an increase in storm water, erosion, and mud slides. The city will assuredly receive complaints form property owners that live down hill from these developed areas every time we experience a severe storm. Also, as KUB customers, we pay millions of dollars every year dealing with current storm water issues. These cost will only increase as we build more and more impervious surfaces on our step slopes and hills. We should also remember one of the main reasons for the plan – the South Knoxville water tower that KUB built. With unfettered development, our views of our surrounding hills would be forever altered, and will forever impact the property values for all of us. Protecting these hills for future generations, so that they may enjoy them as much as we have is one of many reasons why our children should be “proud to be an American.”
I would define sustainable development as growth that meets our present needs while acknowledging and preserving the needs for future generations.
Currently our economy is suffering, and the construction industry has been hit especially hard, but our city still needs to encourage sustainable development, by promoting the development of brown fill areas, and the rehabilitation of existing structures. This can be done with the use of Tax Increment Financing and other incentives.
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?
I believe that council should work with the mayor. Even though the mayor is the administrator or executive of the city, there is a place for Council to take a leadership role. Together, we are wiser and smarter than we are as individuals.
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.
Yes, it is a priority of mine to make Knoxville a “greener” city.
I would work to achieve this by: 1.) taking greater advantage of our status as a Solar City. 2.) By completing the greenways and repairing and building more sidewalks to encourage walking and bicycling, and 3.) by encouraging more “green” start-up companies like Efficient Energy of Tennessee, and Sustainable Future, and by encouraging research and development of “green” products and technologies by working with TVA, KUB, the University of Tennessee, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville Area Transit, and the Public Building Authority.
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?
I do think it is important for the city to engage the university. The UT campus and the surrounding area is the first impression that some receive of our city. The city needs to work with UT to solve many of the problems that uniquely exist there.
Literally, one of the biggest obstacles dividing the city and UT is Henley Street. We need to deal with this barrier that divides us. The buildings that run along Henley don’t engage the street. Even the new convention center’s main entry is off of Clinch Avenue. The speed of traffic, and the width of the road makes walking across it a very unpleasant experience. James White Parkway, Neyland Drive, and Alcoa Highway exist to move vehicular traffic through and around the city. Henley Street could be used to deal with local traffic. With wider sidewalks and bike lanes, Henley can be recreated to draw people to downtown, instead of pushing them away.
I would also like to involve the university’s facility and students in some of the decision making processes that go on with in their city. To get their input on the issues that effect them, and let them see how local government works.
The success of mayors night out, would be another way to engage UT. The mayor and council members should spend more time on campus and within Fort Sanders. Perhaps by having some meetings on campus, and by walking through the area more often we can get a better handle on issues like crime, blight, and parking that effect this significant gateway into our city.
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.
It is important for me to make the city accessible to other forms of transportation. Doing so is a quality of life issue. By improving our public transit system, we will improve the air quality, and eliminate the need for more parking, and by creating more opportunities for safely walking and bicycling, we will do that and improve our health.
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?
I can tell you what my neighborhood has done to encourage greater racial interactions. For years, the two areas of Mechanicsville didn’t interact with one another despite the attempts of various well meaning individuals. Then in the summer of 2009, our neighborhood experienced several shootings. These horrible experiences galvanized the two different parts of our community. The Greater Mechanicsville Neighborhood Watch was formed and it became a catalyst of communication between our two neighborhood groups. I have witnessed how two groups of people, from different backgrounds, can work together through the creation of an origination that both groups become invested in. Our different communities have since organized social events, and community clean-ups. Today there are several people that even worship in the other community’s churches.
As a member of City Council, I will be able to offer solutions that affect the different communities in our city by encouraging different community leaders to work together. By working together, we become invested in the goals that we have created, and it is then that we become invested in the lives of one another.
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?
Downtown is successful because previous city leaders and developers worked together to accentuate the area’s intrinsic qualities while focusing on the needs of businesses and residences. What worked downtown wont work for Central Avenue or Magnolia because those are different places, with different populations with different assets, and different qualities. By identifying those different qualities and accentuating them, those areas will still poses the unique attributes that we value while offering an attractive environment to live and work in and an attractive entry into the city.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you read, write, or speak any language other than English? (Even partial proficiency counts, but please indicate your level of ability.)
Partial proficiency might be a bit of an overstatement, but I took two years of Spanish in high school and a semester in college. I had a roommate when I was in college that was from Mexico and we sometimes spoke un poco español.