By Mike Steely
Early voting for seven Knox County Commission seats is less than a month away. On February 12 voters begin going to the polls to select seven new commissioners, a public defender, law director, property assessor, and four school board members. That primary election will end on March 3 when nominees from both political parties will be chosen.
Since The Focus has asked questions of District 1 candidates we now turn to District 4, which has Republicans Scott Broyles facing Kyle Ward for the primary nomination. Democrat Todd Frommeyer will face the winner in August. The winner will replace Commission Chairman Hugh Nystrom who has chosen not to seek re-election. We asked the candidates the following questions and here are the replies.
What’s the largest problem in your district?
The condition of basic infrastructure such as roads, sewer, etc. is a major challenge for many locations in the 4th District as our community continues to grow, but the need is perhaps most critical in and around the areas of Northshore Dr., Kingston Pike and around Lakeshore Park.
Accessibility and communication will be one of my top priorities as 4th District county commissioner. The concerns I hear most when talking with voters in the 4th District at their door are the importance of upgrading infrastructure, particularly maintaining our roads and improving traffic flows, enhancing the quality of our schools, and keeping taxes low.
The single biggest problem in District 4 specifically and West Knoxville in general is how commercial and residential development has affected the area and how to make sure that future development takes into account things like traffic, flood prone areas, and schools. Climate change is the biggest issue we face in the country and in the world. We’ve seen the effects of climate change here in Knox County because of the severe flooding we’ve experienced and could expect to see even more frequently in the future. Any future development should take account of this fact.
One of the best examples of development without forethought is the traffic problems that exist around Northshore Elementary School. Anyone with elementary school age children knows how traffic around schools gets backed up at drop off and pick up times. There was a failure in planning either to place the school there in the first place or to account for the traffic issues and make adjustments accordingly. I would use my voice and my vote on the commission to try to alleviate problems like this that already exist and to help prevent new problems from occurring.
Should the law director be elected or appointed? Please explain
The law director should be appointed. I believe the mayor should have the freedom to pick an attorney that he or she believes can best serve in the role of law director.
Any citizen when dealing with legal issues has the freedom to choose their own attorney, and I don’t see why the county board and mayor’s office should be any different. As previously stated, from talking with many voters at their door, I have not had any citizens in the 4th District bring up this issue.
It appears that the Knox County Charter Review Committee may be looking in 2020 at whether to make Knox County’s Law Director a position appointed by the mayor. Currently, under the Knox County Charter, the law director is elected by Knox County voters. If the law director becomes an appointed position, then he or she loses some independence to offer unvarnished legal advice to county officials and loses the accountability and connection he or she would otherwise have in being selected by the voters of Knox County.
If I am fortunate enough to be elected by the Knox County voters as District 4 commissioner, I would oppose (and vote accordingly) any attempt to make the law director an appointed position. I hold the same opinion for attempts to change any other position in Knox County government from being elected to appointed by the mayor.
What type of business or industry is needed in your District?
The 4th District is home to a fantastic array of businesses. Large and small as well as local and nationwide organizations call the 4th District home. However, there is one sector that is of unique concern. The population of Knox County is growing and there has been significant increases in the population of senior adults. Over the past decade, the number of those aged 90-94 has increased more than 30% and the population of those aged 95 and older increased over 25%. To fulfill our obligation as a community, we should continue to look for ways to care for and serve all of our residents, especially our senior citizens.
As someone who owns a small business serving over 2,500 families every week and has employees, it is important that Knox County welcomes businesses and does not create obstacles to job growth. My district would welcome good paying jobs from a wide range of businesses. In particular, I have heard from residents who would like more restaurant options in the area.
The 4th District is very fortunate to have a wide variety of successful companies, businesses, stores and restaurants located within its borders. As commissioner, I want to do everything I can to support the very vibrant business community that exists within the district and to encourage policies that allow for continued responsible commercial development. I see two challenges that the commission should take into consideration.
First, with the closing of the Knoxville Center Mall in January 2020, the West Town Mall becomes the only mall-type shopping center in Knoxville/Knox County. This could lead to increased pressures on the neighborhoods surrounding the mall, especially with regard to traffic. Likewise, heavier traffic might deter shoppers from wanting to go to the mall for fear of having to fight traffic.
In addition, I have seen many small businesses come and go in certain areas in the 4th District and in West Knoxville. Part of that is just market forces and there’s nothing we can really do about that. But traffic and residential development also affect where businesses can be based and, ultimately, be successful. I think we can help these businesses thrive if we pursue smart and responsible policies for development in Knox County, taking into account how the residential and commercial sectors impact one another.
How do you feel about Historic Zoned neighborhoods?
Keeping the character of older neighborhoods must be balanced with allowing homeowners with the freedoms provided by virtue of individual ownership. Any requirements must be well defined, implemented fairly and kept to a minimum.
Older neighborhoods have character to them, and they need to be maintained within reason. However, we need to make sure we are crafting our zoning laws in a commonsense manner that balances preserving our heritage and expanding our future.
I don’t believe there are any neighborhoods in District 4 which are under consideration for Historic or Neighborhood Conservation zoning overlay. However, I believe that any decision about imposing such an overlay on a neighborhood should be done in a way that takes into account the concerns that residents would be driven out by rising property values or expensive home repairs.
How do you feel about the effort to revamp Chilhowee Park?
Government should provide extensive public meetings and allow community members in the area of Chilhowee Park to have a large say in the park’s future.
I think Chilhowee Park is a great part of our community, and it needs to be maintained. Being fiscally conservative and keeping taxes low is a priority for me so with any spending my focus will be to make sure the needs of the community are met first.
I have reviewed the strategic study of possible future uses of Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center that was released last fall. I think it’s a fantastic blueprint for something that could be a great attraction for Knoxville, Knox County, and all of East Tennessee. I disagree with the critics who call this a pipe dream. This plan, or something like this, is what Knoxville should aspire to.
However, there are unanswered questions. Flooding in that area is a big problem and should be addressed before any final decisions are made. In addition, the plan would require the Tennessee Valley Fair move to another, as yet to be determined, location. If the city council decides to go ahead with this project or one like this, I see potential for (and would support) county commission involvement in the way of a city/county partnership to find a way to keep the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knox County.
How do you feel about greenways in the county?
Greenways are a great community asset. The associated cost of each must be considered and balanced alongside other priorities, such as the condition of more basic infrastructure.
My wife and I enjoy the greenways like most Knoxville residents, and I think they are a great part of what improves Knoxville’s quality of life.
An expanded and connected greenway system in Knox County could improve the quality of life for Knox County residents. Such a system can provide alternative routes of transportation for some and an opportunity for exercise and fun in the outdoors for others. Improving our existing, mostly disconnected greenway system could be a draw for people to come visit and/or live in Knox County.
I attended the commission meeting when the Knox County Greenway Corridor Study was presented and have reviewed the full study as well. The commission voted to adopt the study and I agree with that vote. I am very much in favor of any expansion and improvement of the greenways in Knox County along the lines of what was presented in the study.
I also think that the question of greenways is connected to the idea of improving walkability in the county in general. The commission is set to vote on a proposed change to an ordinance that will result in easing the requirements on developers to build sidewalks in new developments. I am concerned that this is another example (in addition to the TVA Tower deal) of the Jacobs administration siding with developers at the expense of the residents of Knox County. I would vote against the proposed change.