Joel Bond, 40, is a lifelong resident of Knoxville, attending Bearden Elementary School, Bearden Middle School, and Bearden High School before going on to the University of Tennessee. He is an independent contractor for Verizon Wireless and is married with three children. Bond has lived in District 3 (Northwest Knoxville, currently represented by term-limited incumbent Steve Hall) for nearly seven 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?
Bond: If I'm elected to city council, I'd like to be more involved with the issue of homelessness throughout the area. It's a huge issue, and it's not going to go away. As I said the other night, you've got people's heartstrings on one side and you've got business owners on the other. It's a very touchy issue. There's a lot of emotion involved. Now, I've spoken with several people about it, and I am a proponent of business. I think business should be heard. People are trying to increase job growth, and with job growth, I think we may be able to decrease the homeless population. But, on the other side, I don't see how fining somebody would actually do any good if they're homeless. The fine seems like a token gesture.
Now, this ordinance allows law enforcement officials to issue a warning or issue a citation. I think the authorities, law enforcement, out to have a right to judge if what they're doing is legal or illegal. I have a lot of faith in our law enforcement professionals who are out there on a daily basis, who are in touch with the community more so than most. I think they should have the say-so in what is or is not appropriate.
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?
Bond: Right now, I'm not going to push forward any of the ideas I have of what areas we could put this kind of housing. I don't feel comfortable doing that before it's put before any housing committee or before any neighborhood committee.
I believe there ought to be responsibility in all districts. I hate to say "burden." It's a responsibility, this issue and we ought to spread these resources out. Now, I have talked to some people about some possible areas for it. There was some talk a while back about shuffling these people outside of the city. That's just like putting them in prison. But, if you condense them in downtown Knoxville, you'll have some tough issues in that district. If you move them out to South Knoxville—you, know these people aren't cattle. They're human beings. This is something that needs to be worked out. The private and public sectors need to get together, and they're have to agree on some principle.
We need to talk to these neighborhood groups and we need to lay it on the table. I think some neighborhood groups would be more open to it than others. I think it's a process of elimination, ultimately seeing who would allow the possibility of doing this if it was done the right way. We have to make sure that people are given the chance to be fully educated about these projects. What's frustrating is I know that a lot of people will turn a blind eye during that process until it's actually in their backyards. At that point it's more argumentative than problem-solving.
There are a lot of people against the South Knoxville project. There are a lot of people against the Fifth Avenue project. Ultimately, we have to talk to business owners, but we need to find a financially efficient way to put something together where we can house these folks. In theory, we want this to be temporary for everybody, but you have to look at the likelihood that it won't always be temporary. For some people it will be permanent. We have to find a cost-efficient way to do that, number one. That is of utmost importance.
This is an issue on everybody's mind. You can go down the street. I mean, you know how it is downtown, you've driven down the street there. It's a very sad thing.
There was a man who came to one of the City Council meetings about a month-and-a-half ago when they were talking about some of these things. They were talking about KARM and how they have that center for people to associate and how they have that center where people can associate, hang up their bags and rest and so forth, and there were some homeless people there. A man walked up. He had traveled the railroad line from Dallas to Knoxville. And he made one of the most logical statements of the evening. He said that what we have is not big enough. We think it is, but it's not. And he knows plenty more about it than them.
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?
Bond: I think it's on a case-by-case basis. In regards to the Cityview project, I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be in the construction capital equipment industry a few years ago. I actually had equipment down there, and I saw firsthand the building process of it. What you're going to find is that there has to be some accountability for the developers, the builders themselves. Okay, it's sitting there vacant, and it's not doing anything. We're not getting any revenue from it.
I think TIFs have been good. When reviewed on a case-by-case basis, they are necessary. They are a viable option in order to eventually increase your revenues. We have professionals, the best in their field, who review these incentives before they go forward. I rely on their judgment.
Talking about a neighborhood that's already stable, I think it's more of a draw. If you have a nice influx of people buying properties moving in, homeowners paying taxes, I think you need to look at, weigh it against some outlying areas where the neighborhoods are now struggling. Maybe we need to focus our efforts there.
I think downtown has been a wonderful project. It's brought attention; it's brought excitement. I'd like to see something like that extended into my district. I have a lot of empty, vacant buildings in District 3 that I'd really like to see filled in with small businesses, with new businesses. If downtown can do this, if District 2 can be the success it has been, I know that District 3—it's a beautiful district. I know we can do the same thing.
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?
Bond: That's hard to say. I don't want to raise any taxes. I'm not saying that it can't be done, but I'm not a proponent of tax increases. I'd actually have to do some more research to come up with something I think would be favorable.
Essential services, making sure our streets are clean, that our garbage is picked up. These are the things that people expect. But look at it this way. Right now as I understand it, the city is using less powerful and less energy-utilizing light bulbs and equipment than it could be so as to keep costs lower for the public service sector. Could we not also maybe do more, say alter routes and the way we're doing things, as opposed to cutting services. That's what I think the idea is, making things more efficient rather than cutting.
Now, to say something I would raise taxes for, you've put me to the dogs on that. Basic city services that folks expect? Well, I would have to do some research first. I am not for higher taxes.
What about non-essential services and budget items like, say, parks or the city's nonprofit grants? Are those ever worth a tax increase?
Bond: I'm serious about nonprofits. I worked on the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee. So I know how nonprofits can struggle during times like these. I thoroughly enjoy the parks. I certainly think that Parks and Recreation are important to us. They are important to all the people moving into the area. But if it comes down to nuts and bolts I would rather cut a small portion of Parks and Recreation than I would Fire or Police.
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?
Bond: I think it's a fair enough project. Do we maintain the amount we have now? I would say so. We wouldn't want to do anything that might lead to more homelessness.
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 can or should be done beyond Magnolia to improve infrastructure, the economy, or simply the standard of living in this part of town?
Bond: I have talked to other candidates from that district. They are very excited about the prospects of this and the results that could be forthcoming. I believe we need this. Knoxville is our home. It's a wonderful city. Who wants to see any part of a place they love neglected in any way? I think it's a good thing that we're focusing some of our efforts in that area.
Like I said earlier, we need to make sure that downtown revitalization spreads out in all directions, over there or here in District 3. Let's spread it out. Let's ride the momentum and get Knoxville more spectacular than it already is.
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?
Bond: That's a pro-life vs. pro-choice question. I'm running for City Council member for District 3 to represent the people of my community with regard to their well-being, their homes, their neighborhoods, and employment and crime.
You said that what Planned Parenthood is doing is legal and that what the protestors were doing is legal. So I'm not at liberty to bring the city government into a situation like this. If you really want to know, I don't think that City Council should be involved. Now, if you're going to print that you should print that I am firmly, firmly representative of my district and what I want to achieve for District 3. This is an issue, this issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice, that doesn't play a part in city government in doing what is right for my neighbors.
I think they could have probably brought this to the table themselves. Now, I am firm pro-life, okay? I think you could go around suggesting that certain groups or certain parties sit down, but I'm not sure if affecting it would be productive. You can always ask that people sit down, and if they don't want to sit down, they're not going to sit down.
An attendee at the Aug. 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?
Bond: I don't think so. I remember this. The woman stood up and asked if City Council always goes with the mayor. I think these accusations are going to fly about people being puppets, people being on a string, but I don't think it's that way. I don't think the mayor's too big or things get rubber-stamped or what-have-you, however she put it. I think the mayor's done a good job. I think City Council's done a good job.
As for myself, I am trying to represent my district and be the best City Councilman they've ever had. I am here for my district. People know I'm independent, and I want my constituents' voices to be heard. And the City Council members I know, they listen to their constituents. I tell you, I was kind of shocked at first because I never thought this idea had been out there. Obviously, you've heard it, though. When I heard it, I thought about it, but based on many conversations I've had with Council members, I've never heard that worry, and I've never heard that reaction.
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?
Bond: I will say that I haven't actually read their recommendations yet, and this is something I'd like to take a closer look at. Now, I answered a similar question recently from the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. And here's what I told them. I think there needs to be a dialogue between the public and private sectors in order to reach some kind of agreement. I believe there's a fine line when you start crossing into property rights. You're telling someone what they can do with their property, and land ownership—owning a piece of land—it's a powerful thing. I know some people who own land for agriculture that they're not allowed to use for agriculture. So I would have to research this a bit more before I can give a complete answer, but I do believe in protecting property owners' rights.