By Mike Steely
The August election will see at least three new members chosen by voters to take a seat on the Knox County Commission. In the race for the At-Large Seat 11, three candidates will face off to replace Justin Biggs and become one of the new faces on the commission. Republican Kim Frazier and Democrat Vivian Underwood Shipe know and respect each other, both having been involved in various community organizations and causes. Donald Bridges is also on the ballot as an Independent candidate but didn’t respond to Focus questions.
The Knoxville Focus asked the candidates to answer a series of questions and here are the questions and replies:
What do you see as Knox County’s largest needs or problems?
Kim Frazier: Inadequate and/or aging infrastructure, lack of affordable housing options, citizen disengagement, mental health/opioid epidemic, homelessness, retention of officers and teachers and career exploration for students
Vivian Underwood Shipe: I see the growing lack of affordable housing, mental health, the growing number of homeless, and the educational disparities as Knox County’s most pressing issues.
Tell us about your family, please.
Frazier: I grew up the daughter of two working class parents on a 120-acre family farm in Alabama. From a very early age, I was taught the value of hard work and the importance of faith and family. I had the childhood that everyone deserves, but few get to experience and that is not lost on me. I attended the University of Alabama in Huntsville on an academic scholarship where I balanced my studies with two, sometimes three, part-time jobs. I moved to Knoxville in 1996 after I met and married my husband, Russ Frazier, a lifelong public servant who is the current chief of Knox County Rescue, president of MMC Anesthesia, and a tactical physician contractor.
We are a family committed to serving others and try very hard to do our part in our community. In my 25 years here, I have worked as a healthcare administrator, HR director, nonprofit consultant and a spokesperson. Russ and I have served and continue to serve on numerous boards, committees, and stakeholder groups advocating on behalf of service organizations, citizens, and communities. Russ recently returned from a mission in Ukraine with a non-governmental organization, Global Surgical Medical Support Group, where he provided both direct medical care and training for the military and civilians.
We attend Fellowship Church where our two teenage sons serve on the worship team for the high school ministry. We made Hardin Valley our forever home over 25 years ago and our boys, Jackson and Maddox, attend Hardin Valley Academy.
Shipe: I am the oldest of five siblings. We were born and raised here in Knoxville. I have three children, two sons and a daughter, eight grandkids and five great-grandkids. I come from a family of public servants. My mother taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in the mountains. My uncle Paul Underwood was one of the first 12 Black US Marshals, my father, George Underwood was a WWII and Korean War vet and was one of the first African Americans hired into the postal service. My son-in-law is in the Air Force and he and my ex-husband both served as county police officers and my godson currently serves with the city police department.
What qualifies you to represent the entire county as an at-large commissioner?
Frazier: Both my professional and civic experience have prepared me to represent all citizens in Knox County. In my almost 26 years in Knoxville, I have worked as a healthcare administrator, human resources director for a global company, a non-profit consultant and a spokesperson. I have been an active volunteer in a number of organizations in Knox County over the years, and I have a good understanding of the capabilities and limitations of local government. As a community advocate, I have initiated discussions on behalf of communities countywide for intentional growth with coordinated infrastructure, road improvements, building new schools and updating existing ones, expanding utilities, enhancing recreational areas, and advocating for better land use and planning processes. I have helped educate dozens of neighborhoods in every corner of our County on zoning and development processes and have built relationships with many county department staff and elected officials, including current Knox County Commissioners and the Knox County Mayor, as well as many members of his administration. I have been showing up when it was about people and community, not a campaign or an election and that is what local government should be about, serving the people.
I currently serve on the Advance Knox Advisory committee as a representative of a countywide community group that I co-founded, Knox County Planning Alliance. Advance Knox is an 18-month effort to define a vision and create a plan that will guide growth, land use, transportation, economic prosperity, and quality of life in the county for years to come.
In addition, I have served on the Knox County Ethics Committee, founded Hardin Valley Planning Advocates, completed service on the Knox Education Foundation and Knox County Schools Ford Next Generation Learning Program Stakeholder Committee, currently serve on the High School Advisory Board, and recently helped organize and launch the Hardin Valley Business and Community Alliance. I was a member of the Community Action Committee Leadership Class 2020, and attended The University of Tennessee, Municipal Technical Advisory Service, Elected Officials Academy, a four-week professional educational program focusing on municipality foundations, charters, ethics, open meetings, public records, conducting effective meetings, finance, human resources, risk management and strategic planning.
These experiences and the knowledge that they have provided me have equipped me for this job, and in order to best serve the people of Knox County this would be my full-time occupation.
Shipe: My belief in the power of relationship and partnering has given me success in many of my endeavors to help others. As a lifelong citizen of Knoxville, I have been a community advocate for over 50 years. My community and board activities over five decades have given me great awareness of the needs of the county. I have long been aware of the needs and issues. (I have been) a public servant for 35 years with the postal service, 25 of those years as union president. I also served as a recruiter and supervisor with the 2020 census. Our efforts to make sure everyone was counted resulted in an 8% rise in the number of citizens enumerated in the city and county through a special zip code concentration I created. I founded a nonprofit – I AM The Voice of the Voiceless 15 – years ago to provide resources and serve as an advocate for those most vulnerable of our population; many of those being the elderly, abused, mentally ill and homeless. Many of the issues on my platform I am personally aware of, especially in the areas of mental health with family members suffering from the disease. I am currently raising two of my grandchildren, so education issues are of great importance to me and from my work as boots on the ground I see every day what the lack of affordable housing and resources is doing to our people. There are whole families out here on the street, there are working homeless living in their cars and the number of (homeless) youth and elderly is growing at an alarming rate. I have been actively involved in supporting our county. I was part of the team effort to open the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, on the state level, I have been working for the last six years on the task force to get more funds for mental health across the state, and I was part of the investigative team that was successful in getting a group home closed (that) was abusing its residents.
When would you, as commissioner, vote for a property tax increase and why?
Frazier: Raising taxes or implementing new taxes should be an absolute last resort. The only way I would consider voting for a property tax increase proposed by the mayor is if substantial evidence was provided that there was no other option to raise needed revenue. This would require a comprehensive deliberation of adequate, essential government services provision and a thorough review of current spending.
Shipe: When we have finally spent down some of the massive dollars sitting in our coffers, then I believe we can take a hard look at what is needed to continue the growth of the county.
Knox County is booming and more and more farmland is becoming subdivisions. How do you feel- should we have easier development or continue with some restrictions?
Frazier: We have a lot of work to do when it comes to land use. It starts with updating County plans to determine where we can and want to grow, where natural urban boundaries are, and how we can protect rural areas. Intentional growth with coordinated infrastructure promoting a more proactive approach to growth and development should be the goal of our local officials. Our reactionary approach is costing us both financially and in prime farming soil. After years of being active in the local land use processes, I feel that we are on the right path with the Advance Knox initiative. This process to create a long-range vision and policy framework for economic and physical development will address many of the issues that have negatively impacted our land use decisions. Until we have an updated plan that has been adopted and implemented, I would like to see the land use classifications identified in the 12 Sector Plans upheld.
Shipe: Knox County is now the number nine most desired place to move into in the United States. I feel we need to continue with some restrictions.
Do you support the current Knox County Sheriff’s Merit System and why?
Frazier: Yes. I think it is very important that employees have a fair and equitable grievance process and believe they should be protected from political retribution and maneuvering regardless of who is elected sheriff.
Shipe: To be fair, currently, I do not have an opinion about this question. I would have to talk to those affected by the current system in order to gauge its successes or needs for improvement.
What would you propose to help with the county’s homeless population?
Frazier: Homelessness is a complicated issue with layers of contributing factors. Sadly, there is no quick solution and although Knox County is blessed to have numerous community partners working to assist and care for our misplaced citizens, the current need for services outweighs service provision. Having met with Knox County’s Department of Community Development director, I can tell you that the county under this administration is committed to doing more than ever before. There is a dedicated effort to identify and expand community partnerships and services that will better address issues that result in homelessness like mental health, drug misuse, affordable housing options and job loss. The focus must continue to be on providing our citizens with opportunities to live productive, fulfilling lives, and in turn, reducing foundational causes of homelessness. That means broadening our reach into communities with boots on the ground initiatives to connect citizens with services and I will get out there and do the work. Knox County is working hard to find real solutions and I will continue to support the work of our Community Development staff in any way that I can.
Shipe: First, we need to understand that Knoxville sits in Knox County. There are homeless in all parts of our county, from Hardin Valley to Gibbs. I believe we need to work in partnership with the city in any undertaking so that all our homeless can be served.
If Knox County experiences another serious Covid surge what would you propose?
Frazier: Public health and safety are important and should always be at the forefront of our decision making. We know more now about this virus and I believe that every citizen should have the choice to respond in a way that is best for them based on whatever method of decision making they choose. As a community, I hope that we all understand that our responses impact not only ourselves and our family but others.
Shipe: As a member of the Faith Leaders Church Initiative and having helped to vaccinate over 80,000 citizens, I feel being proactive about the health of the people should be paramount. I don’t believe we need to shut down the businesses and schools for extended periods of time. There are now several medications and ways to fight this disease. We need to continue with basic core sanitation practices, medicines and vaccinations to stay ahead of any variants that may arise in order to quell any surge.
If elected which committees or subcommittees would you prefer to serve on?
Frazier: Finance, Rules, Legislative Affairs, Ethics, Joint Education, Insurance Benefits, Fire & Rescue Task Force.
Shipe: Legislative Affairs, Rules, C.A.C., Joint Education, Parks and Rec, Knox Education Foundation, Metro Drug Coalition, and Community T.V.
Tell us about the organizations, causes, or groups you are active in.
Frazier: In addition to the organizations and activities listed above and those mentioned at electkimfrazier.com, I am active in the following:
Ford Next Generation Learning, Knox County Schools focus group member. Appointed group to engage in discussions regarding education that nurtures the talent and full potential of our youth preparing them for whatever future path they choose with solutions that leverage the power of community and partnerships to prepare and support ALL.
Junior Achievement Miss Business Event Host and kickoff speaker: honoring high school juniors in our region interested in becoming future female business and community leaders, 2020, Board Member: global nonprofit youth organization working with local businesses, schools, and organizations to deliver experiential learning programs in the areas of work readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship to students ages 5 – 25.
Paws & Badges, Inc. organizing member and board chair: non-profit organization providing free mental health support canines and training to servicemen and women.
Knox County Rescue board, committee chair. Nonprofit organization providing comprehensive emergency rescue services for all of Knox County.
Hardin Valley Academy Counseling Department Advisory Council member. An appointed committee to ensure that the school counseling program is providing every student with comprehensive school counseling centered around an engaging curriculum that encourages growth in academics, career, and personal/social/mental health domains.
Powell Business and Professional Associationmember, event volunteer. An association of business and professional men and women either living in, owning, or operating a business or service in the Powell Community.
Hardin Valley Academy Foundation community outreach. Nonprofit organization supporting teacher-student educational and professional development, facility improvements and enhancements, and increasing technology resources for teachers and students.
Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission Stakeholder Committee member – Planned Residential Zoning Review and Update. A group of county professionals, officials and community leaders appointed to review and revise the Knox County Planned Residential land-use zoning ordinance.
Farragut Rotary Club member. an international service organization bringing together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.
Shipe: I am a graduate of the best class ever, Leadership Knoxville Class of 2021. I am honored to serve on the KUB Advisory Committee and on the board of directors of Knox Renaissance and the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee. I am a charter member of the East Knox Lions Club, a board member of the Knoxville Suffrage Coalition, an executive board member of the CAC Office on Aging, a member of the State of Tennessee Pre-Arrest Diversion Committee, Ossoli Circle, The Faith Leaders Church Initiative and the Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters, and I served as community and family co-lead for the Knoxville/Knox County ALL4KNOX Substance Disease Task Force. I also am a reporter for the state newspaper, The Tennessee Tribune, and I am a writer for the regional magazine AHERN, and I have done a special piece for a national magazine, in2ition. I attend Overcoming Believers Church.