Publisher’s Positions

By Steve Hunley

Districts Should Be Districts, At-Large Should Be At-Large

It is an interesting thing to see the Left in Knox County defend the last relic of segregation in our community.  I am referring to the system of voting inside the City of Knoxville for the supposed “districts.”  The Knoxville City Council is comprised of nine seats: three elected at-large, meaning citywide, and six from districts.  The present law requires candidates to run in the primary, which is restricted to the confines of a district.  The general election is then run citywide.  In an article last week, the Knoxville News Sentinel sought an opinion from professor Eitan Hersh from Tufts University about Knoxville district to citywide voting.  “Racial discrimination issues aside, I can imagine for any city where policy differences differ by district, this system simply grants the overall city majority an outsized power relative to a district system,” Hersh replied.  Neither Hersh nor another professor asked for a quote had ever heard of a city holding elections as does Knoxville.

Although the Sentinel clearly has a different opinion, to its credit the daily newspaper did quote former elections administrator Cliff Rodgers as saying, “What business do I have in deciding who represents another district?  What’s the purpose of having an at-large representative then?  It’s puzzling.  You can’t help but question how we got to this place and how it was set up.”

The Sentinel failed to point out Seema Singh has only once carried the district she supposedly represents, but did mention she is an Indian American.  The theme of the News Sentinel’s article within an article seemed to be race and “diversity.”  I’ve said it before and I am saying it again; take out articles about race and food and the daily newspaper would be as blank as a ream of copy paper.

What did surprise me was the Sentinel’s acknowledgment of the fact that the existing method of electing our city councilmen is one of the last relics of segregation as – – – and these are the words from the News Sentinel – – – it “allows a ‘white veto’ of Black candidates. . .”  The daily newspaper says it has rarely worked out that way.  The system seems designed, at least originally, to prevent the election of a Black candidate by forcing that candidate to run citywide rather than in what was then a majority Black district.  While the district is still predominantly a minority district, it is no longer a Black majority district.  Much as the woke writers at the News Sentinel might wish otherwise, there is no guarantee a Black candidate will win either the primary or general elections under the present system.  Each time a Black and White candidate has faced off for the seat, there has been grumbling about changing the law should the Black candidate lose.  Frankly, we’ve moved past this conversation everywhere but in the pages of the Knoxville News Sentinel.  Amelia Parker defeated two White candidates to win an at-large seat on the City Council, one a Republican and the other a Democrat.  Still, I can only imagine what the dialogue will be like the first time a White candidate runs citywide and ends up representing the city council’s 6th District.  There’ll be a quick about-face on the part of the Sentinel and most of the Left.  That much was acknowledged by Bill Lyons pontificating his own affirmation of the current system.  Lyons overlooked the fact Seema Singh’s district elected a Republicans once.  Evidently, that doesn’t matter much as it would only be catastrophic should a person of color not be nominated and elected from the “minority” district.

The truth is the winner of any election is the candidate who gets the most votes.  It doesn’t matter what color the candidate’s skin is, what his or her religion might be, or his or her political party.  As with everything, the Left likes to believe one size fits all, while rational people realize it does not.

Unfortunately, the City of Knoxville government is loath to repair, much less fix its own defects.  That is why the legislation pending in Nashville would restore the ability of districts to pick their own representatives.  Electing every city council member citywide dilutes the responsiveness of representatives who, in name only, represent a district.  One can easily ignore a neighborhood knowing he/she can find votes elsewhere in the city wards.  The current system also puts neighborhoods and homeowners’ associations at a disadvantage, and it aids the special interests who finance city campaigns.  Obviously, it costs less to finance a district race than a citywide race.  One can also easily argue the current system has depressed the vote and the voting patterns in the city, running in off-year elections has consistently spiraled downward.  Much as the Left would like you to believe otherwise, ALL the voices in Knoxville aren’t heard.  When was the last time you saw your city councilman in your neighborhood in a non-election year?  Do you even know who your city councilman is?  It also assumes that every neighborhood is the same – – – one size fits all again.  Are the concerns the same in Vestal as they are in Sequoyah Hills?  Are there different issues in Parkridge than in West Hills?  While it is certainly true Knoxville has many common problems, it is also true that every neighborhood is different and deserves representation.  Norwood is different from Burlington and Mechanicsville is not the same as Bearden.

The members of the legislature at least appear to understand the differences while the city government likes things just as they are.  Can anybody be surprised that the inmates running the asylum think things are just hunky dory?

The entire point of having a representative from a district is that the person comes from that district and is chosen by that district and in turn, represents that district.  It sure is strange to see those who would tear down a statue of a former Confederate or Abraham Lincoln in a heartbeat, support a method that was used to promote segregation and prevent a group of citizens from having representation.  We’re still doing it.


Congratulations And Thank You,  Jenny Stansberry

For 35 years Jenny Stansberry has worked in the office of our congressman.  First employed by the late Congressman John Duncan, Stansberry went on to work for Duncan’s son and successor, Jimmy Duncan.  Finally, Jenny Stansberry worked for Congressman Tim Burchett.  While officially, her employer was the congressman, Jenny Stansberry worked for the people of the Second Congressional District and East Tennessee.  The people of the Second District have always expected good constituent service from their congressmen and the Duncans and Burchett have provided it.  Our congressmen are able to deliver excellent constituent service because of knowledgeable and dedicated staff people like Jenny Stansberry.  To excel at a job, a person has to like it.  Jenny Stansberry excelled at her job and was an asset to her employers and our community.  A woman of charm and warmth, Stansberry’s husband is General Sessions Court Judge Tony Stansberry.  Jenny retired after 35 years of service on St. Patrick’s Day.  Everyone here at The Focus hopes every day of your retirement will be a happy one, Jenny!


Property Tax Increases Not Good For Renters Or Homeowners

Average rental prices are up in Tennessee by 12% over last year and up 35% since 2020.  That’s according to Rent, an apartment search engine.  Tennessee is one of 13 states that saw rents increase by double digits.  Tennessee is ranked ninth in the nation for the largest rent increases.  The median rent price in Tennessee is $1,605 according to Rent.  The median rent in Nashville is $2,117.  The median rental price in Tennessee in 2020 was $1,187, which is $418 less than it is presently.

Both Nashville and Knoxville raised property taxes substantially.  Davidson County property taxes went up 35% and Knoxville’s went up 40%.  At least Davidson County’s Metro government could point to a devastating tornado in downtown Nashville.  Both cities have expensive stadiums being discussed.  What is left unsaid is property tax increases raise the mortgages and rents of the residents of those paying the property taxes.  Contrary to popular belief on the Left, those paying the increased property taxes (and higher rents and mortgages) aren’t the wealthy.  By and large, they are retirees and working families.  The tax burden falls disproportionally on the middle class, which is an indisputable fact.

A fact that seems to be ignored by the real estate lobby in Knoxville and Knox County is there is only so much land for use in building upward, meaning apartment buildings.  The Realtors’ chief lobbyist seems to be a big proponent of always building upward.  Suburban counties became suburban precisely by their proximity to a metropolitan area.  Williamson and Sumner counties are notable examples of suburban counties surrounding Nashville.  The point being everybody coming here doesn’t have to live inside the City of Knoxville or Knox County.  A public policy of continually building upward will eventually threaten existing neighborhoods.  That same policy will send people fleeing to the suburbs, as it has in most metropolitan areas.  Once great cities have become shells of themselves because they pursued policies that caused everyone who could afford to leave, to do so.  That single-minded pursuit of those policies drove out the tax base of those cities and beggared them in the process.  Continuously raising taxes and providing fewer services is not a recipe for a vibrant metropolis.  It is, however, a wonderful policy to build a wasteland.

There’s something to be said for rehabilitating properties.