On Wednesday, Sept. 2 early voting began for this year's City Council district primaries; 14 candidates are competing for the nominations in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th Districts. Our Sept. 3 print edition features (edited) interviews with the four candidates from District 3 (Northwest Knoxville, currently represented by term-limited incumbent Steve Hall). In subsequent weeks, leading up to election day on Sept. 22, we will be running the rest of the district Q&As. Here is a lengthened version of the print edition's article.
Read the full candidate interviews at our complete 2009 Knoxville City Council Election Guide.
District 3 City Council Candidates:
Joel Bond, 39, 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 for nearly seven years.
Gerry Holman, 66, is a native Knoxvillian. He graduated from Central High School and the University of Tennessee. Now semi-retired, he spent his career in advertising and marketing, working as vice president of timeshare corporation Fairfield Communities. Holman is married, has one son and five grandchildren. He's lived in District 3 for 25 years.
Joshua Nelson, 24, is a student at the University of Tennessee and works as a real estate agent at Century 21. He has lived in District 3 his entire life.
Brenda Palmer, 63, is a graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where she got her bachelor's degree in history. She has a master's degree from the University of San Diego in history education. Now retired, she was involved in education as a teacher or administrator for over 30 years. She has recently served as an alternate on the board of the County Tax Equalization Board. She has been living in Knoxville since 2003. Palmer is married with two children, two step-children, and three granddaughters.
At the August 27 candidates' forum, many candidates said we ought to "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 as those who live near the Flenniken School site?
Bond: The private and public sectors need to get together, and they have to agree on some principle. 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.
Holman: I don't think there are many of us that wouldn't want to see a better deal for the homeless, but there's a balance to be struck. I don't think we want to rob from the rich to give to the poor so that home values would be impacted adversely. That's going to impact the amount of money that goes to the homeless. Since I am a homeowner in the 3rd District, I'm very sensitive to anything—including the encroachment of developers—that would impact our equity value and our property value.
Nelson: I think we need a program to get people off the streets rather than just a place to put these people. Supportive housing is a step in the right direction, but it's still a work in progress. Yes, I think it should be spread out, but at the same time I believe that putting them in places is not the right thing to do. We need to help them get off the street.
Palmer: I can't say that it should go here, it should go there, it should go someplace else. What I do know is that whenever any kind of a project that can cause neighborhood unrest or concern—whether it's residential areas or businesses—there needs to be a great deal of dialogue. We have a Ten-Year Plan that includes both the city and the county, and one of my concerns is that the city is doing far more than its share to address chronic homelessness. I would be very interested in seeing when the county is going to step up and get involved with this seriously and not leave it up to the city.
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. 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: 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. We have professionals, the best in their field, who review these incentives before they go forward. I rely on their judgement. In a neighborhood that's already stable, I think it's more of a draw. 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.
Holman: I'm not against developers, but you can make a deal with a developer that only works for the developer and may not work for the city. I am for bringing in more business, not just more developers. I want more industry to come up for this city. I'd like to see a whole new stream of revenue coming in from new business, new industry, and not leaning on these TIF deals with developers that are too iffy. That to me is too iffy.
Nelson: I think I would support TIFs for projects like that in the future, but there needs to be a certain percentage of funding dedicated before they go in and get that kind of financing. They need to have at least 50 percent of the property paid for or bought, or a promissory note, so we don't see them get to the point where they're 80 percent done and have to quit construction.
Palmer: I can certainly understand taxpayer concern about these, and I have shared those concerns in the past. I can't comment on past practice. In the future every one should be carefully examined. If these projects are not going to produce what they're supposed to produce, I'd have to think long and hard about voting for it.
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: 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.
Holman: I would cut services before I would ever go near a tax increase. What services would I cut? It would probably be a little here and a little there. You can't go in and just start chopping stuff. Then you get into an area where you disable a department. First though, I would want a freeze on new programs.
Nelson: Police and fire, bottom line. Otherwise, before I'd like to see anyone laid off, I'd like to see an across the board decrease in salary. I hate to say that, but if it comes down to cutting everybody's salary in the city by 1 percent, I'd rather see that than let anybody go. And, I'd support that before I'd support a tax increase.
Palmer: Well, I can't give you a threshold per se. Obviously we need to feel safe and secure in our city, and those services would have to be the last to be chopped. I'm not a person who can say I would do this or that. Until I can see what all the options are, I'm not going to back myself into a corner by saying we should chop this or that. I don't know the entire operations of the city, and I don't know the circumstances under which something like that would happen.
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.
Holman: I'm pro-park. I'm pro-greenway. It takes some money to fund those things. But that would be an area we might have to look at. If we had to delay building a new park or a new greenway—a project that would add on to what we have now—that would have to be delayed. Another area you might look at is freezing hiring in certain departments, and I think that could be done.
Nelson: It's hard to say. I love the parks. I love the greenways. I love those services; I use them every day. It's one of those things that I couldn't say for sure. I'd hate to cut anything. I wouldn't want anything to be let go. I would not support raising taxes, but if it came down to something having to go, it would depend on what would be at risk.
Palmer: Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I would not fund this or not fund that unless, once again, I have the particulars. It's difficult. If I say now that I would do this or that, it may not be the appropriate circumstance at the time. I realize you want specific answers to these questions, but I am a fair and open-minded person. I want to look at the big picture.
I've done that before when I was in a school district and I was managing budgets and when I had grant programs I was managing. If we had some issues, we would always weigh the best possible scenario and what would be the worst. I don't see why I wouldn't continue that practice.
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.
Holman: I have seen so many areas around this town transformed by what the mayor has in mind, and I am for that. As far as keeping the same number of units is concerned, we may not be able to do that as quickly on the financial end as we've done in the past. Things might have to slow down a bit.
Nelson: I do think it's a good idea. What's been going on over there, it's a generational thing. People have just fallen into this kind of resolve where that's where they grew up, that's where they're from, that's what they're going to do. And it's not good. There's crime, there's drugs, and there is a lack of responsibility in that area. If we put people in their own homes, then they'll move forward in the right direction, and I think that's a good thing.
Palmer: Obviously, the Walter P. Taylor project needs some attention. We'd obviously need to proceed with this plan and hope that it will do the best it can do. Do we need to maintain the same level of housing? I do not know the need for public housing, and this is something I'd need some input and some workshops on before I could answer that question.
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, if anything, should the city, as a public entity, be doing beyond Magnolia to improve infrastructure, the economy, or simply the standard of living in this part of town?
Bond: 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.
Holman: Every city looks for a way to build a corridor through a certain section of the city that transforms that area into a place with higher property values, less crime, more involvement with investment. So, you can't argue with success that's already there in other places. As to neglected in the past? Yes, to some degree. There are other areas of the city that have gotten more attention than Magnolia Avenue. I think that's a fact. Now, there's a lot of areas out there, like the zoo, or Chilhowee Park, that area of town has every reason to expect that they should benefit.
As to what else we could do beyond that corridor, I would have to go out there and talk to people. I know some people out in that area I could talk to, and I have no reason not to expect candid answers, but they live with those problems. But I don't pretend, especially in the Sixth District, I don't pretend to know what people's concerns are.
Nelson: That's a blighted area, and I want to see more done for the Magnolia area, yes. But, there's a lot of programs over there already. KCDC supports a lot of them, but there's only so much the city can pay for. It's low income housing. It's low income families. It's people who can't do for themselves, and the city does an awful lot for them. I would like to see more done, but there's only so much that the city can do.
Palmer: Hold on, I don't know that it's been politically neglected in the past. The needs of the Magnolia Corridor are no different than the needs along Western Avenue in the Third District or along Clinton Highway that borders both the se and the Fifth Districts. I'm assuming that Magnolia is just one of those corridors that will all be addressed—like Broadway or Cumberland—in some kind of order so that they're all addressed so these arteries are attractive, inviting, and get people into our great city.
Planned Parenthood recently backed out of a move to a new facility in Bearden following a large and well-organized protest. 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: 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.
Holman: I know both sides really well on that issue. I don't think bringing anyone to the table is going to solve any problems. I see that nationally, and I see very little chance of that ever being negotiated.
Nelson: That's a touchy subject, isn't it? Well, people are going to do what people are going to do, and the city can only step in and mediate so much. Just let people do what people are going to do. I'll just leave that alone.
Palmer: I don't see as a City Councilwoman how I'd have any role in that dispute. That is between two private parties, and I don't see how the city should have any part of that. There are plenty of private entities that could have played a role in helping these two parties come to the table.
An attendee at the August 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 too popular for our own good?
Bond: 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. 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, yeah. But based on many conversations I've had with Council members, I've never heard that worry, and I've never heard that reaction.
Holman: To begin, I think the mayor's an excellent ambassador for the city. And frankly, I would love to see a governor from East Tennessee. But I think you separate things in your mind that the role of City Council is to be a check and balance on the mayor. I think you can love the mayor and disagree with him.
I think that's the role that we should play, the role we have to play, and I don't see any problem with separating those things in your mind and being able to do that on a regular basis. Now, I remember when this question came up. I remember the lady asking it, and I know there are some council members who have that reputation. But from what I can see from the candidates that are running this time, I think it's clear that across the board, we're independent.
Nelson: No, I don't think the mayor's too popular for our own good. I think everyone gets their own voice, and we shouldn't let what one person says influence us any more than what any other person says. So, the voice of what the common man says should weigh equally as what the voice of the mayor says.
Palmer: This question, I just don't know where this is coming from. The mayor's the mayor, and City Council is City Council. And each needs to do what is best. It's the mayor's job to run the city. It's City Council's job to either set the guidelines and to work within those parameters. So, whether or not the mayor is running for governor, as long as he's running the city and the city is moving forward with momentum it has, City Council needs to consider everything issue by issue.
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.
Holman: I haven't seen it, but I am a personal friend of [City Councilman and Task Force co-chair] Joe Hultquist. I talk to him all the time, and I know what they're doing. He and [County Commissioner and Task Force co-chair] Tony Norman are doing an excellent job.
You see, you can word a law any way you want to, and it has some latitude within it. In general, I come in on the side of the environment. I lived in Los Angeles once, and they have some of the worst problems concerning hillsides. It gets burned off on a regular basis. They can't reforest it fast enough, and then they have rains. And I've been there and seen the mud on the streets. You will not find a better example of what we're trying to avoid here than Los Angeles County. My concern about developers is they deforest an area and just leave it, and we have these gully-washing issues that become a real problem. It can impact the purity of our water and our air. I think it is a very timely environmental issue.
We need to talk about what we're going to say in this ordinance that may limit property developers. We ask, can we put a 12 or 14 story building on top of a hill? And that's a good question. I am kind of a visionary person, and I'd like to imagine I could visualize what this law could look like. Maybe there can be enough latitude in this ordinance that wouldn't entirely tie a developer's hands. I'm not only concerned about that I'm concerned about what farmers are doing in these areas, when they use pesticides that may run down a hill. In general, I think it's a very far-sighted thing they're doing here, and I am definitely in favor of it.
Nelson: We need to preserve the environment for future generations, but I support the idea of bringing new housing in new areas, if those will help bring new jobs and growth into those areas. Ultimately, this ordinance needs to be created in such a way so that it will preserve the environment for everybody. It doesn't need to just level it and make it how we need it for construction. It needs to be environmentally friendly. I think that it's good for the city. Hillside development is fine if it's watched very carefully. So I support what they're doing.
Palmer: I have attended the presentation, and I've lived in other parts of the country in which developers have made excellent use of hillsides and ridge tops, using the best practices in doing that. Until that group comes out with a very specific policy, it would be very premature of me to say, "Yes, I would do this" or "No, I would do that." It's being studied. We have a task force that's given a presentation at public hearings. Now we need to let them get back to work and see what they've come up with based on the input they've received.
For the full interviews, please see the Related Stories at the top of the page for individual candidate Q&As.