Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to all candidates for Knoxville mayor. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way.
JOE HULTQUIST, candidate for mayor
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 the central city for the region, and is seen as such by all of the surrounding communities. It’s influence is disproportionate to its size in relation to the region around it. As someone who has built and cultivated relationships with government and political leadership in all of the surrounding counties, I know the importance of Knoxville’s leadership. With reduced support from state and federal governments, we’re going to have to be both creative and aggressive in pursuing effective regional partnerships. The Knoxville mayor is the only one who is in a good position to lead the development of those partnerships and the forging of regional alliances.
2.) Name three specific ways you would like the city of Knoxville to be different after your term(s) in office.
1. I have been very impressed with Rick Baker’s concept of a “seamless city” for St. Petersburg. It fits perfectly with my idea of what Knoxville should be, a city where every part is valued and supported by city government and the community at large. I intend to use the office of mayor to make that a reality for Knoxville.
2. I’m a big believer in learning from others, identifying and implementing best practices. I’ve traveled, studied and networked for years doing just that for Knoxville. I intend to implement great ideas, many of which I’ve already gleaned, to make Knoxville’s government more efficient and effective. I intend to leave a more efficient, less expensive and more effective government after serving as mayor. We could call it Knoxville 2.0.
3. Great mayors do more than just manage well, as important as that is. They change things for the better through their leadership. I intend to lead a rennaisance of our city, seeing it become a thriving, exciting, beautiful city that has an international reputation as a great place to visit or live. It will be well on its way to having the waterfront and every major highway corridor redeveloped as vibrant, mixed use communities. In short, my goal is to make it the best city in America.
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?
City government is extremely limited in what it can do alone to have an impact here, but it’s critically important. The likely diminution of state and federal funds will only make the situation more challenging. The mayor and the city can make an impact, though, through focused efforts and building partnerships, strengthening existing efforts and initiating new ones as needed. Good nutrition is critical, and programs such as community and home gardens are one element that can make a difference on a lot of levels. The city can help there. Playgrounds and play areas are another critically important area for healthy development. My goal is a playground within walking distance of every child in the city. Perhaps most important is education for breaking the poverty cycle. In getting out of the school business, the city government turned its back on education. the city doesn’t need to get back into the school business by restarting its own school system, but it does need to support the schools and the students that are within the city limits. There are some great models of how that can work, and partnerships and scholarships are key to their success.
4.) What should be the role of the city mayor in economic development, in respect to working with the county government, the Chamber of Commerce, and other economic development entities? In your opinion, is the city being well served at the moment by its economic development agencies? Is there anything that could or should be done better or differently?
I have pledged a thorough and comprehensive review of every city department and related agency. Those agencies that are involved in economic development will clearly be a part of that review. I’m not certain we’re being well served now, and I will make sure that we are as we go forward. I believe the city mayor has a critical role to play in economic development, as does the mayor’s leadership team. There must be free-standing capacity to address these issues within the city administration, as well as effective partnerships with Knox County government, the surrounding counties and towns, and the appropriate economic development organizations.
5.) 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 don’t think the city should encourage sustainable development, you can say that, too.)
As the city co-chair of the Hillside and Ridgetop Task Force, I have supported and still do support the goals of the plan. Its purpose is to provide guidance for rezonings within the protection area, which is a helpful and needed form of assistance. The key to finding the balance between what appear to be conflicting demands is protecting high value and fragile natural resources from inappropriate development while encouraging and facilitating high quality development in the areas where it fits best, particularly our aging arterial highway corridors. The most sustainable development will be the redevelopment of those corridors into vibrant, mixed use areas that are attractive, vibrant and prosperous. Good planning, including visioning processes with lots of community involvement and buy-in will be necessary. Also, the city should use the tools it has in hand to partner in the development of those key areas. My proposal to unify KUB with the city government will make it easier to facilitate these developments and do high quality place-making.
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.
1. Strengthening the building code to encourage energy efficient construction will be one priority. So much of our building stock is built for rental housing or leasable commercial space, and there’s little incentive for the developer/owner to do anything but minimize first costs. I will strengthen energy codes to reduce energy consumption, benefiting individual building occupants as well as the community in general.
2. I will aggressively pursue cost-effective and affordable transportation solutions, including public transit and walking and biking facilities (see answer to question below).
3. I will drive the literal greening of the city, including changes in the zoning code as well as other codes (stormwater, etc.) that will reduce air pollution and the heat island effect. I will push for a comprehensive plan to reestablish tree canopy over most of the city, including parking lots and streets. Those efforts will be combined with programs and incentives to establish green areas, green belts and privately owned parks to supplement public parks. The building code will be amended to encourage the development of practical green roofs.
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 mayor 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 represented the UT campus and Fort Sanders on City Council, so I’ve had significant experience dealing with the university. That isolation is a real problem, and it exists to the detriment of both the city and the university. As mayor, I will build on my relationships with the Chancellor and administrators, including the deans of various colleges, of the UT Knoxville campus. I will continue to pursue and broaden the Cumberland Avenue innitiative, which is a legacy of my time on City Council. That project has tremendous potential for improving both the city and the campus, and creating a strong partnership between the two. I will also develop a series of programs that will engage both faculty and students in city life and the work of city government. The university and its people are probably one of the two largest (mostly) untapped resources in the City of Knoxville.
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.
I’m known for being a passionate and committed advocate of public transportation, bicycling and walking in Knoxville. I intend to make Knoxville one of the most pedestrian friendly and bicycle friendly cities in the country. I will accomplish that by making sure that we develop bike lanes, sidewalks and shared paths (greenways) throughout the city, forming a functional network that encourages the residents of Knoxville to use their own mobility power to get around. It also needs to be good enough to develop a reputation outside of Knoxville, and help draw visitors from outside the city.
I’ve advocated for better public transportation for years. I believe the best way to get there is to establish a regional system that will serve the surrounding counties and towns that want to be a part of it. A state law was passed a couple of years ago enabling the creation of regional transit authorities with provisions for dedicated funding. For that to happen, the Knoxville mayor will have to take the lead, and that’s what I intend to do. There’s even the potential for low-cost rail transit and bus rapid transit to form the backbone of a regional system.
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 the city mayor do to encourage more communication and connection between races, communities, and neighborhoods?
First, see my answer to the second question where I talk about a “seamless city”. That concept is critical to this concern. I will work to make all of our neighborhoods more attractive and valued by all. Additionally, we must be very intentional about developing events and programs that will draw communities together and encourage folks to visit what’s happening in other parts of the city. As valuable and important as downtown events are, major festivals and events in other areas of the city are crucial as “hospitality” opportunities for inviting our “neighbors” from other parts of the city. The South Knoxville Arts and Heritage Festival, or Vestival, is a great example of that idea. Building relationships between neighborhood associations is also critical, and that will happen much more readily, especially across sectors of the city, if the mayor helps drive it. I plan to do just that.
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?
Opportunity, focus, partnership and commitment are the key words to describe what has happened to make our downtown the success it has become. The same ingredients are necessary to make great things happen in other parts of the city. Those who are already located in a particular community, and those who are prepared to move into that same community, have to be prepared to make a major commitment to fight for that community and invest of themselves to make it work. At the same time, the city government and the mayor have to be willing to make a commitment at an equal level in order for it to work as well as it can. This kind of partnership has to be intensely focused on both the vision and the commitment to make it happen. I know that from experience, and I intend to approach it that way.
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’m barely proficient in French, but only enough to keep me out of trouble. Beyond that, not much.