Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to all candidates for Knoxville mayor. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way.
MADELINE ROGERO, 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?
The City of Knoxville is the heart and hub of the region. It is the financial, cultural, and communications center. It’s the home of the University of Tennessee (and Volunteer sports), major regional events like Boomsday, and a vibrant downtown that draws visitors from far and wide. Even those who live in counties outside of Knoxville often identify as being “from Knoxville.” The city mayor must be able to work effectively with other leaders to help shape a comprehensive regional agenda.
Here’s an example of the role we can play: Last year, the Feds announced a highly competitive regional sustainability planning grant opportunity. As Knoxville’s community development director, I invited cities and counties in our region to come together to decide whether to submit a regional proposal. We agreed to do so and ended up receiving the fifth largest grant in the country - $4.3 million - to develop a comprehensive plan for a more sustainable East Tennessee. This is an equal partnership and collaborative effort among regional partners, staffed by MPC/TPO and administered by Knoxville’s community development department.
2.) Name three specific ways you would like the city of Knoxville to be different after your term(s) in office.
I would like the city to have successfully completed the exciting plans for Downtown North and Cumberland Ave, and be making significant progress on the plans for Magnolia and the South Waterfront. These actions will have revitalized critical commercial corridors that extend from downtown, resulting in new and expanded businesses and jobs.
I would like to have stronger tools in place for dealing with vacant and blighted properties and have significantly reduced the problem in Knoxville. One of our biggest challenges is that state law inhibits the city’s ability to take swift action and favors the rights of owners of abandoned and tax delinquent properties over the rights of neighbors. We initiated reform legislation this past legislative session which is being reviewed by the state comptroller. Meanwhile, the city and county are building statewide support for the desired reforms.
I would like Knoxville to be leading the state and country in living green and working green. This will translate into incredible environmental, recreational, cultural, tourism, and economic opportunities that will positively impact our overall health and quality of life and provide sustainable, good paying jobs.
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?
While social welfare and income assistance policies are the province of the state and national governments, the mayor of Knoxville must work to create economic opportunity for its citizens. Ultimately, the best way to help a poor child is to help his/her parents improve their skills and get a good job.
The second way is to make sure that each child is getting the education needed so he/she can get a good job in the future. The Knoxville mayor must be a tireless advocate for an excellent public school system. The city gives 72% of our sales tax dollars (about $90 million) to Knox County Schools. We are also contributing $225,000 per year for the next 20 years for the new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) High School at the old L&N building on the World’s Fair Site. I served on the board of Project GRAD Knoxville which is a school reform effort that provides educational support and social services so that children can learn, graduate from high school, and go on to college or vocational training. This is an important resource for many disadvantaged children in Knoxville.
It’s hard to focus on getting a good education if you live in an unsafe neighborhood. The mayor must also focus on making neighborhoods safe and secure and work with youth development groups to make sure that our young people have safe places to go after school so they can stay focused and on the right path. To reduce poverty, we must provide our youth and their parents with the opportunity to succeed.
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?
The mayor is the chief advocate for the city. She must make sure that we create a great business climate that encourages businesses to start-up, to expand, and to move to Knoxville. But this is also very much a team effort involving the city, county, state, Knoxville Chamber, Development Corporation, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC), the Industrial Development Boards, TVA, KUB, UT, Pellissippi, ORNL, Oak Ridge, other local governments and agencies, etc. I served on the economic development team that met biweekly with Mayor Haslam, the Chamber , senior city staff, KCDC, and others to track and make decisions regarding recruitment and development opportunities. As Mayor I will continue to work with the Chamber as our key economic development partner and expect appropriate accountability.
Our other economic development partners are those who help us create a high quality of life in Knoxville – a vibrant arts, culture, and creative community; the preservation of historic and natural resources; expansion of our parks and greenways, access to blueways, biking and hiking trails; and protection of our scenic beauty and environmental assets.
The Mayor must have an appreciation of all the qualities and opportunities that make a city great. My vision is a greener Knoxville that continues to grow while preserving our environmental assets.
One more thing. I will appoint a business coordinator whose job it is to help business people understand the regulations and steps required for inspections, licenses, etc. Similar to our neighborhood coordinator, the business coordinator will be a liaison between business people and city departments so that we are transparent and timely in our response while fulfilling our regulatory responsibilities. We know that time is money for a business, and we will be there to assist.
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 don¹t think the city should encourage sustainable development, you can say that, too.)
I support property rights at the top of the hill and at the bottom of the hill. How we develop our ridgetops and hillsides has serious and long-term impacts on our whole community. While I encourage compromise to move toward a final product, I support a strong ridgetop/hillside plan that allows for appropriate quality development and protects our greatest economic and environmental assets. We need to encourage appropriate development and provide certainty regarding the regulations to developers.
Here is a good definition of sustainable development: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The city should encourage sustainable development by putting in place the appropriate land use regulations, by enforcing environmental and storm water regulations, and by assisting developers and neighborhoods to find solutions that lead to outcomes that benefit all.
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.
Absolutely. Being green means saving taxpayer dollars, preserving our environment for future generations, and strategically positioning our city for the growing clean energy and green economy.
In 2006, my first action as community development director was to direct my staff to develop energy efficiency and sustainability standards in our programs. They embraced it wholeheartedly. We adopted Earthcraft Renovation standards for rehabs, Energy Star (at a minimum) for new construction, financed the construction of the first five LEED-Gold certified affordable homes in Tennessee, and installed a solar water heater in new construction. The result is that homeowners are realizing real cost savings and energy consumption is reduced. We also incorporated green development into the Downtown Vestal redevelopment plan, and built the first city-owned permeable parking lot.
As mayor, I will implement the Energy and Sustainability Plan produced this past year by Mayor Haslam’s Energy and Sustainability Task Force, which I co-chaired. We will continue to expand sustainability and green infrastructure development standards in city projects and promote energy efficiency, use of solar power, use of hybrid and electric vehicles, reduction in consumption, and recycling. I support the single stream recycling program that is now being launched for city residents. I support the Ameresco contract that is retrofitting city facilities with energy-efficient systems that will pay for itself and save millions of dollars for city taxpayers.
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 University¹s leadership, faculty, and students in the daily life of the city? Do you think that¹s important? Why or why not?
It is vital that the University and the City have a productive relationship. In recent years cooperation has increased and it must continue. A key is Cumberland Avenue; its success is vital to both parties. The mayor should meet regularly with the President, Chancellor, and student leaders and encourage communication at all levels. I will extend the practice under the Haslam administration of involving university personnel on key committees and work to establish a more extensive internship program.
I have experience in involving the University’s leadership, faculty, staff, and students in the daily life of the city. From 1994-1998, I served as executive director of the UT Community Partnership Center. My job was to connect university people with community leaders in order to work collaboratively to find solutions to specific neighborhood and community problems.
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.
For environmental and health reasons, we should encourage transportation alternatives. I support implementation of the Knoxville-Knox County Parks, Recreation, and Greenways Plan, the Complete Streets Plan, and the Knoxville Regional Bicycle Plan. We will complete the transformation of Central Avenue to become a model of the complete streets program. I support a good public transit system and sidewalks. The 1000 acre Urban Wilderness project led by Legacy Parks Foundation will add significantly to our connectivity, including the South Loop Trail with 30 miles of trails within 3 miles from downtown . By the way, this is a good example of the partnerships that are needed to realize these goals. The Appalachian Mountain Bike Club are building these trails with their own volunteer labor.
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?
The Mayor needs to take the initiative to reach out to Knoxville’s diverse communities and meet regularly in order to be aware of pressing issues and to keep communications open. The Police Advisory Review Committee (PARC) and the Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues (CODI) are examples of effective vehicles for communication. The Mayor and city staff should be aware and be inclusive in city initiatives and policies. We should review city purchasing and contracting policies to make sure we are not excluding small, women, and minority-owned businesses by unnecessary or excessive regulations. The Mayor’s own administration should be reflective of our city’s diversity.
We will continue to strengthen the inner core of neighborhoods that surround downtown. This will draw people of all races and income levels to the heart of our city. We will use the Office of Neighborhoods and Neighborhood Advisory Council to build stronger neighborhoods and improve the connections among neighborhoods. We should not talk about North vs. South vs. East vs. West, but all work together for the public good and our mutual benefit.
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 lessons of downtown are many. First, the entire approach was thoroughly vetted publicly and every major decision was explained and discussed through a public process. While this took a bit longer at the front end, we have accomplished more in less time than many failed approaches that short circuited the appropriate process. Second, the use of TIF and PILOT tools has been very transparent and very disciplined. Third, the public investment has been in key infrastructure but the major investments have been made by the private sector.
Each area is different. There is no “one size fits all” approach. The keys are a thorough public process keyed to the needs of each area of the city followed by action steps at the appropriate time with strategic, but limited, use of public funds to leverage private investment.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you read, write, or speak any language other than English? (Even partial proficiency counts, but please indicate your level of ability.)
Yo hablo un poco de Español pero muy despacio. Soy una principiante. Yo quiero hablar y entender mucho más. En 2004, yo estudié Español in Costa Rica por cinco semanas y viví con una familia costarricense por tres semanas. En 2010, yo fue en México por una semana para montar caballos y practicar español. Yo aprendió un poco de español cuando yo trabajé con los campesinos de California hace muchos anos. Yo estudié Español al universidad y otros tiempos in mi vida. Yo practico cuando posible con mis amigos. Es importante, yo creo, que nosotros norteamericanos aprendemos otre lenguas. Yo creo que una ciudad con muchas culturas y lenguas es una ciudad más rica y vibrante.