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. 10 print edition features (edited) interviews with the three candidates from District 2. In our Sept 17 issue, leading up to election day on Sept. 22, we will be running the District 6 Q&As. (Since District 4 and 1 candidates are going straight to the general election, we'll be posting those only online.)
Read the full candidate interviews at our complete 2009 Knoxville City Council Election Guide.
District 6 Candidates:
Daniel Brown, 63, is retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He has been an election poll worker for the past eight years. A fifth-generation Knoxvillian, he has lived in District 6 most of his life, leaving in the 1970s to attend Tennessee State University in Nashville, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history. He moved back in 1979.
David Dupree, 49, is an attorney. He was born and grew up in Knoxville, but left to go to Howard University, where, as an undergraduate, he majored in computer science and accounting. He went on to get his law degree at the Howard School of Law. He practiced law in Washington, D.C. for a number of years before moving to District 6 in Knoxville three years ago. Dupree is married with two children.
Charles Frazier, 54, is a pastor at New Friendship Baptist Church and host of the Community Television program "Community Report." He also co-owns an advance check cashing business in East Knoxville. A Knoxville native, Frazier is a graduate of Carter High School.
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?
Brown: I do not support that law. First of all, this law, as I understand it, allows police to fine people $50. The people they're fining do not have $50. These are mostly homeless people. You're not going to collect on that. All you're going to do is fill up the jails with homeless people. I was at the City Council meeting when someone went up to the podium and talked about the situation in Oregon. I hadn't actually read about it, but I did hear about it at that meeting. That's the first thing. The second thing is the sidewalks are public. These are public sidewalks. So I'm not in favor of that.
Dupree: I would not oppose an action to repeal it. I think that the law in the form that I've seen it has a lot of possibility to be seen as discriminatory. It's definitely designed to point toward a particular section of the population. Laws should be directed toward the whole population.
Frazier: Yes, I would. Just to put it in perspective, say that we keep that as an ordinance. 10 or 15 years from now, and you and I are talking and I tell you, "I'm not feeling well. Let me sit down for a minute and gather myself." You say, "Do you want me to call 911?" "No, this is just a blood pressure issue. I'm going to sit down and have myself a little drink of water. I'll be okay in about 10 or 15 minutes." Then a police officer comes by and writes me a ticket. Come on now, that's un-American!
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?
Brown: I say spread it around. I say north, south, east, and west. I don't know West Knoxville, I'm not sure if it has any type of facilities or places for homeless people right now. But it's a more affluent area of the city. Often, more affluent areas tend to not receive these types of things versus less affluent areas. That's an unfair balance.
There's concern about the value of the property. However, those fears could be unfounded depending on how homeless housing is dealt with. If you're going to have smaller settings rather than such a large congregation of people which we could do if this were spread out. As to the legal issue of the Fair Housing Act, I might have to study that a bit more, but we have to be very careful about that. We have to take the legal advice of the people we have so as not to violate the Fair Housing laws. Then the city would wind up being sued, and we'll end up spending money fighting that.
Dupree: I don't have a lot of ideas for locations at the moment, but I know one thing that I believe should be done. Other parts of the city need to be looked into. Hopefully, we'll have something that will be palatable to the citizens of those other areas. I don't know what that would be. One thing that's going to be crucial is that they participate in the process and that they understand that a lot of the homeless are not imports. A lot of the homeless are long-time residents, just as they may be. They have some vested interest in wanting to stay here, and as such, if we can think of something to help them find some potential housing, we should try to do that for them. I don't know if what you mentioned outweighs those concerns. I think that those arguments are very important and need to be taken into consideration. There's a lot of strong concern on both sides, and there needs to be a balancing act here.
Frazier: In terms of building housing for homeless people and addressing that need, you know, I'm in the 6th District. That seems to be a place where people say, "Let's build it in the Sixth. Let's put this issue in the Sixth District." Now I can't represent my district well if I allow it to be a dumping ground. The other thing is that we know Flenniken was in the First District. So what we see are these issues in the First, the Sixth and the Third. So if we are going to address the issue of homeless housing, it has to be throughout the whole city. It can't just be these three districts that are the ones that have to do the housing.
I'm going to go out and I'm going to meet with homeless people and I'm going to learn something from them. This is because we're going to have a workshop on homelessness in City Council really soon. But how many homeless people are going to be at that workshop to help people understand the reality of homelessness and how it should be addressed.
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?
Brown: Development incentives have to be studied very, very carefully. We were asked a question the other night about TIFs. My idea about that is that I'd like to see more—if there are going to be these incentives—I'd like to see them go to small business owners rather than large developers. I would prefer to work with the smaller business owners on those types of things.
Dupree: One of the things that's important is that we continue to develop the city where possible. If there are incentives that are going to help the builders continue to keep their employees and not contribute to the unemployment situation and the homeless situation, there might be some merit to continuing at least some measure of incentives. I think the question is will these be applied across the board, applied fairly. Plus, we need to ask what will be the relative benefit. If we can help it so it sells faster or rent faster, then there maybe some benefit to that. But, if we're going to give out this money so buildings will sit there empty looking for residents, that's not going to be something that needs to be done.
Frazier: That's a Catch-22 because even large projects and large businesses are employing lower and middle-income people, and the only way we're going to change this situation is with investment. But the toughest part for a councilperson in the next four years, in terms of the economic part of it, is the revenue base is shrinking, and we're going to have to discriminate in order to have a balanced budget for the City of Knoxville.
I do think we need to give tax breaks and incentives for new businesses and for projects. I saw two projects that were voted in by City Council to the tune of $600,000 a few meetings ago. I was in agreement with that. Both of them were in Lonsdale. Now, I'll be candid with you about something like Cityview. I think that project was $38 million, and the city put in over $2 million. Do we need to do that? Well, we don't need to have them vacant. We don't need to have them unfinished, but ...[sighs] hoo! I'll say that think each one of them needs to be looked at individually.
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?
Brown: That's a difficult question because I don't want to support any tax increases. Nobody wants a tax increase. Well, I think it would have to be something like police or fire protection. Those are key things. Those are very, very important things. After that, I don't want to mention the schools because that would be under the county. So, off the top of my head, I'll leave it at those two things.
Dupree: Police and fire protection. That's the first thing that comes to mind.
Frazier: I hate tax increases. I don't think that helps anyone in an economy like this. Now, we have to support a tax increase to make sure we're providing basic services of the city: fire department, police department.
What about non-essential services and budget items like, say, parks or the city's nonprofit grants? Are those ever worth a tax increase?
Brown: I really would not like to cut back on cultural things in the city. And there are many other needy nonprofits of other kinds throughout the city. Still, I'm going to stick with trying to avoid a tax increase if at all possible.
Dupree: I would think that it depends on the relative impact on the budget. If there's a lot of things that need to be done to the parks, then sure there might be an indication that a temporary increase might need to be the thing to balance that out. I can't say that I would rule it out totally, but I would have to weigh it out extremely carefully. Extremely carefully.
Frazier: We might have to have a cut in the operating budget of Parks and Recreation. But, you know, in order to provide basic services to the community and to provide them at a high-level and give people a good quality of life, we might have to have one for that. But I hate to increase taxes. I don't want to increase taxes. Talking about nonprofits, I think we have to look at what kind of money we're contributing to things. What's going to happen is we're going to have to get down to the basics. I think in terms of funding, we're going to get to a point where $10,000 counts, $200 counts, $100 counts. I think that, sure, we need to have some things that encourage socialization in our community, but then we have to balance the budget. Yes, I think things like nonprofits might have to take a hit in the future.
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?
Brown: The Walter P. Taylor Homes have been there for a number of years. They're now out-dated, but the first things I'm concerned with is that the people who are residents there, who live there, that they will have some housing to go to. We don't want to add to the homeless situation. I don't know if replacing every unit is going to be realistic. I'm not sure of the details of it. I would have to look at the scope of it. But I think it's a needed thing. Based on how it's been done before, I'm confident it will be done correctly. I hope nobody will be displaced when this happens, and I hope some of the people who are there will be able to afford these new homes.
Dupree: I don't think it's a priority that they maintain the same number of units. Population trends show that there's some empty units now over there at Walter P. Because of the shifting of populations, urban sprawl, what have you, some people have been moving out, away from these inner city places. So, in that regard, they move out into non-KCDC housing, more power to them. There's less KCDC housing needed. Still, some move out and others move in. I don't think there should be a hard and fast rule that the number be maintained. As long as the need is shown, then sure, maintain it.
Frazier: I think it's a wonderful plan. I don't like housing developments. Not only am I in support of the demolition of Walter P., I look forward to it looking like HOPE VI in Mechanicsville. Still I know in this economy, one of the things that's going to be very important to me will be to make sure of the energy of the new houses that are going to be built. I've been knocking on doors in Mechanicsville and asking people what they need. One of the things they've complained about is, you know, "My utility bill is $500. My utility bill is $600." One of the things I look at specifically is that energy efficiency is part of the plan of how these things are built. Do I think that every unit should be replaced? Well, you know I asked the number. I asked how many people are living in Walter P. I already know when the new project is built it will not accommodate that many people. That's just because of the way that old complex was built.
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?
Brown: I'm excited about it because I think that will make that particular area look better and help to bring new business in. Now, I'd like to see Martin Luther King—which runs parallel to Magnolia—be included as part of that corridor plan, as much as can be done financially. Martin Luther King is a mix of businesses and houses. So I'm hopeful that once the Magnolia is completed, that some funding—if there is any funding available considering our financial situation—some would be sent over to Martin Luther King.
Dupree: I don't know that it's been politically neglected in the past. It may have been economically neglected. I hope this shows that there's some commitment to economic development that is needed in East Knoxville.
What else can the city do? I hope that they would include streets that branch off of Magnolia, such as the Cherry Street corridor, as well as the streets over by the O'Connor Center there. There are lots of businesses in that area stretching from there going back over toward the Juvenile Center, toward Martin Luther King, as well as businesses on Martin Luther King. These areas need to be looked at, developed. We need to make sure—well, there's a lot of police patrols there—but we need to make sure our senior citizens are safe, as well as our children going back and forth to school. I guess we need to make sure our police patrols are in the right places at the right times.
Frazier: One of the things I've built into my platform is that I want to build a retail shop near Austin-East. Austin-East is one of the most visited places in our community. I want to see the young people from Austin-East High School not only work there, but also I want to see them learn about entrepreneurship, the accountability that comes with running a business. They should know that labor costs are supposed to be 22 percent. Food costs should be 15 to 17 percent. That's one of the things I want to see.
Also, since we're demolishing Walter P., we have a lot of housing changes. On Castle Street, we have new housing being proposed there. They're going to put out a Request for Proposals for new property development there. But, you know, East Knoxville is old. It's an old community, an old part of Knoxville. East, North, and South are old. West is new, and growing. You know, I've been candid about this before, and I'll say it again. I am in favor of affordable housing, but I don't want all the affordable housing to be in my district. I want to see it spread throughout the city more. I want to see more private developers and I encourage that. I want to see upper-middle-class development in our community.
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?
Brown: I don't think that the city government has a role to play in that. No.
Dupree: I don't know if the local government should have played a bigger part because even though this is a local issue we're dealing with right now, it's really a national issue. Its effects are far reaching. While it seems to be a simple dispute over where to put a business, the actual rift here is about much more than where to put a business. It is, of course, the whole abortion rights question. Whether or not the city could have gone in and been able to stick to the issue of the relative right of a business to set up or not, you know, it's questionable.
Frazier: Yes. Communications brings around understanding among people. I think we would have to meet with these groups and work out the details of how to coexist in the city.
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's too popular for our own good?
Brown: I think that anybody on the Council—and this isn't easy for me to say, I'm not on Council—I think it's important for people to maintain their own integrity and their own independence in their thinking and in action. And that they cannot be swayed by political influence. Whatever comes before the Council—whatever questions, whatever issues—people on Council must maintain integrity. I remember the lady asking that question, and I think we all responded to it. I can't answer any more than what I just said. It may be easy for me to say this being on the outside looking in, but if I'm elected, I'm going to maintain my integrity.
I will not be swayed by the fact that we have a mayor who may become governor in the future. Maybe some people look ahead to that based on some political ambitions they have for themselves. But when it comes time to vote, those kinds of things should not be primary, nor even secondary. They should vote on an issue on its own merits.
Dupree: I don't think so if I'm understanding your question correctly. I'll give you an example of an issue in dealing with the Flenniken School situation. I think the mayor stands in favor of it, but I was there and observed a lengthy, lengthy discussion that took place in the last Council meeting. He stayed quietly out of it, and he stayed within his role as chairman of the meeting. He followed protocol on who should speak when and basically allowed them to speak when they needed to say something. It seemed to be pretty much even, his doing that, on both sides of the issue. I can't say anything seemed overbearing, and that's just one example. In other meetings or from what I've read in the paper, I can't see that he's outgrown this city or gotten to the point that he has an overwhelming effect that causes Council to role over or play dead.
You know, I will admit that I'm definitely newer to the inner workings of the political scene in this area. I'm sure there's a lot of scope that I don't know about. I don't pretend to know about it. I don't know who's buddies with who, or who goes golfing with who, or any of those types of things. I believe in a Biblical principle based on Scripture that things are pure to those who see things as pure. That's kind of my guideline.
Frazier: I don't know. I think that if I were sitting on council and dealing with the issues and taking votes for a while, if I were in that position that I would know the difference between how it was before I was there and how it has become. I've been going to city council meetings for over a year, and I've seen things debated, discussed. I've seen workshops. I really think I wouldn't be able to assess it until I've seen things for two or three years, to see how things have changed. Really, I don't know.
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?
Brown: I haven't seen it. I have basically followed that in the news. I have not been to the meetings.
At this point right now, I think I would support those policies. There's a balance that will have to be achieved. And these kinds of questions can come back to haunt you, so to speak, but I'll just tell you my thoughts on it at this point. We have to be good stewards. I'm not—what do you call it—a tree-hugger. I'm not, but I do respect the environment. We have to be good stewards of where we live, and we have to do it in a balanced way because we need development. But it has to be done right. That's how I look at it. I think I would tend to support this if it had been properly researched. Now we're not saying we should stop development, but over the past many, many years a lot of this development has occurred without any thought about the future. Now we are where we are, and we have to do something about it.
Dupree: I haven't seen it. I'm not entirely familiar with this issue.
It's hard to say. That would have to be on an individual, almost case-by-case basis. It depends on a lot of things. It depends on the type of development you're talking about and the type of sloping or hillside that's going to be destroyed or modified, or whether there will be adequate erosion protection or adequate landscaping that would ensure that it's still an aesthetically pleasing area. I really don't want to limit, to blanketly limit, a developer or an architect's creativity. I've definitely seen some very creative things that have been done to slopes or hillsides. Sometimes those types of things make for efficient use of land that may otherwise just sit there.
Frazier: I would support those policies because, to my perspective, it gets down to this: Are the slopes, the hillsides, the beauty of this community to be preserved? What's more important, a project for money or preserving the natural beauty of our community? So, I'm on the side of preserving our community over some type of economically driven project, whether it's a condominium development, a shopping mall or whatever.
I'm sitting here now having lunch with a guy who was reared in Dayton, Ohio. But, I'm sitting here with him, and one of the things that he was really impressed with about this city was the beauty of the city. He moved back here from L.A. and he still tells me about the beauty of this city. And I think those of us who were raised in the hills of Tennessee, we take this for granted a lot.