You’ve seen the yard signs, watched all the advertisements. You’ve heard the pithy, one-sentence campaign slogans. You’ve been told over and over again that your vote matters more than ever. This election is not only about 2015, but also about the future of Nashville, a sleepy Midsouth Gotham on the rise.
What you’re not hearing — at least with any sort of depth — is how the many candidates for office feel about the big-picture issues facing our city.
With election day rapidly approaching (Aug. 6, to be exact), you’ll be seeing a whole lot more signs, radio and TV ads, and last-second, direct-mail blitzes in the days to come. Many of these will concern the highly contested mayoral race. While certainly of great importance, what is often overlooked are the many Metro Council races, the races which hit us closest to home in our very own neighborhoods.
To that end, The East Nashvillian asked the candidates competing in the three East Side council districts (Districts 5, 6, and 7) to share their positions on issues that concern us all. Six candidates responded to our questions: In the District 5 race, incumbent Scott Davis and challenger Sarah Martin; in the District 6 contest, incumbent Peter Westerholm and challenger Brett Withers; and in the District 7 competition, incumbent Anthony Davis and challenger Stephen Clements. At press time, Pamela Murray (District 5) and Randy Reed (District 7) had not replied to The East Nashvillian’s queries.
Here are the questions we asked the candidates and their responses:
TRAFFIC: By some estimates, close to a thousand people are moving here weekly. As the East Side is justifiably loved for its neighborhoods, how do we keep our major thoroughfares (Gallatin, Douglas, Trinity, and Eastland, to name but a few) flowing and/or prepared for more cars, and what can be done to avoid congestion and parking problems on our side/neighborhood streets?
Scott Davis: I meet with our city’s traffic and parking engineers quarterly to evaluate and address parking concerns, and request that they attend neighborhood meetings and hold phone conferences with residents. Community input along with expert knowledge allows us to solve current problems and address future concerns. We have added four-way stops, new turning lanes, crosswalks, and other traffic- calming and -flowing improvements to side streets and major thoroughfares and helped eliminate demand for parking on side streets.
Sarah Martin: Various people constantly repeat this buzz line: “One million people are moving to Nashville.” Let me be clear: these numbers, estimated by the Metro Planning Organization, actually speak to the growth of the 10-county Cumberland Region. The projection for Nashville is just under 100,000.
Do we need to add some density to accommodate new residents? Yes. However, I don’t subscribe to the idea that density must disrupt the rhythm and flow of our historic neighborhoods. Major corridors are much more suitable for density, and as they become denser, we must ensure neighborhood infrastructure keeps pace — that’s something that hasn’t happened under the current administration.
We are also decades behind in public transit, and with one million people coming to Middle Tennessee, efficient regional mass-transit will become even more necessary. I think, in hindsight, we learned a few things from the Amp. Specifically, the public cares about a transparent planning process that involves their input.
Peter Westerholm: All of Nashville is growing, and East Nashville is certainly one of the most desirable parts of town (for good reason). This trend will continue. Without the ability to expand our roads, we must find ways to move more people along the roads more efficiently. We must present convenient mobility options and the infrastructure, technology, and service levels to make them succeed.
In my first term, I’ve been the council’s leading advocate for mass transit, sidewalks and bike lanes (over six miles added in District 6), bike sharing (three B-cycle stations added in our district), car sharing, and other bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, such as enhanced crosswalks. I’ve made seven intersections safer for everyone by making them all-way stops, and initiated a number of traffic studies for areas seeing higher traffic volumes. A street that’s safe for walkers is safer for cars, too.
East Nashville is an urban neighborhood, and there will be more users on our roads in the years to come. My goal is to make these areas safe for everyone, but my priority starts with the joggers, the strollers, and families riding bikes together. Studies conclude that a walkable neighborhood has higher property values, better health, and lower crime. That’s why I worked with other councilmembers to bring $25 million in new money for sidewalks in this year’s capital budget; I’ll work to make more investments like this, as well as work to get funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure included in any discussion about a dedicated funding source for mass transit.
Brett Withers: East Nashville is attracting unprecedented growth. I favor shaping that growth in ways that preserve the character that has drawn people to our neighborhoods in the first place.
Some recent project approvals have been justified by a drive to increase density without ensuring that infrastructure improvements have kept pace with that growth. This unrealistic planning is the opposite of “smart growth” and has directly contributed to traffic jams along our interior neighborhood corridors. It has created an environment that actually undermines pedestrian and bicycle safety and our quality of life.
Gallatin has the infrastructure to handle density and the traffic that results from it: at least four lanes, sidewalks, plentiful bus service, and traffic signals. Other neighborhood streets, notably Eastland, may be “collector streets,” but have much less infrastructure assets and should not continue to be treated like Gallatin for zone change approvals.
Anthony Davis: We certainly have to keep up with infrastructure needs here in East Nashville. The major and collector streets are built well and fit for growth, and I think Metro is doing as best it can with paving. Sidewalks, we are way behind on, especially from the bad economy years. This year’s capital fund has $25 million for sidewalks, but that is countywide and only a drop in the bucket. With congestion and parking problems, we have to grow sensibly. If we all decide to change zoning and allow for density, it has to make sense and be well-thought. With most density allowances, though, you have to be able to park it. But with future growth, we will have more on-street parking issues, and to me, the issue is continuing to become more walkable. I think our major streets are fine and ready for growth. Let’s keep the growth on those streets and more minimally as you dive deeper into a neighborhood.
Stephen Clements: Two things: make using the buses actually a realistic option for more people, and do a better job of planning how we grow.
First, some people got ahead of themselves in the push for mass transit and overlooked one important thing: how do you expect people to get from their house to the bus? Are we supposed to walk in the road? Dodging cars is not fun, so we should start installing the sidewalks the mayor and council have not given us for the past 50 years, which will make the East Side more pedestrian friendly and remove the first obstacle people have when deciding to take the bus or not. For a relatively small amount of money, we can increase the number of buses and crosstown routes to make using the bus a reliable option for more people.
Second, our neighborhoods and infrastructure are already established: we do not have room to expand our roads to accommodate a dramatic increase in drivers. We welcome new neighbors, but have to keep new development in line with the infrastructure capacity we have.
CRIME: Where are we? What have we been doing right? What can we be doing better?
Scott Davis: Crime has decreased 10 percent in District 5 every year during my tenure — this despite my district having the largest number of people returning from prison regularly. The East Precinct has improved its response time; officers regularly attend community meetings and continue to assist our most vulnerable citizens with crime prevention measures. Jobs also help to reduce crime. My neighbors and I have recruited several businesses to District 5: Restaurant Depot, Emmitt Technology, Grayline tours, and TopGolf, which will add 450 positions and has agreed to target District 5 residents to fill these positions. These businesses have agreed to open employment opportunities to our citizens returning from correctional facilities. I voted for the Ban the Box initiative when the measure came before the city council last year, because I believe that our fellow citizens deserve a second chance.
Sarah Martin: It is true that crime rates are trending downward across the county, so it’s easy to forget we still have a long way to go. One long-term resident called some of our high-crime trouble spots “black eyes” and asked that I not forget that several still exist in our community. We are very fortunate to have a great partnership with East Police Precinct. Our community affairs officer is extraordinarily communicative with our neighborhoods and is quick to address concerns in an effective way. Our community is currently in the process of organizing a neighborhood watch, of which I will be a part, regardless of whether or not I am elected on Aug. 6.
Peter Westerholm: Crime has been on a steady decline in East Nashville during my first term as councilman. One of the biggest reasons for this improvement has been the communication and trust that’s been established between the East Precinct and the community. At every neighborhood meeting, a police officer is present to provide a crime report, offer safety tips, and answer questions.
In addition to relationship building, I will work with the next administration to improve the lighting on our streets and sidewalks. Many cities are taking advantage of improvements in LED technology, and the cost savings are growing steadily as well. This is an opportunity to save the city money while making our streets safer for everyone.
Brett Withers: Crime disproportionately affects the poor and most vulnerable, who have fewer resources to recover from a theft or to remove themselves from unsafe environments or unhealthy relationships.
Strong communication and partnership with the East Precinct has made our community safer. After experiencing break-ins myself, I helped coordinate East Nashville Night Out Against Crime events and included nonprofit and faith-based organizations in order to match neighbors with volunteer opportunities that heal our community. Those events complemented Bob Acuff ’s ongoing weekly crime prevention luncheons at Beyond The Edge.
But there is still work to do. What I think we can do better is to focus on the root causes of crime by reducing poverty and improving educational outcomes.
Anthony Davis: Crime continues to decrease every year in East Nashville, and does not appear to be near the issue it once was. East Precinct is incredible to work with; they attend our neighborhood meetings, and they communicate effectively. There is always work to be done, but I am very confident we will only continue to get better and see crime reduction in East Nashville into the future.
Stephen Clements: We are better than what we were 10 years ago, but we are nowhere near as safe and burglary-free as we could be. Our Metro Police force has done an excellent job being responsive when called (when I was robbed at gunpoint near 5 Points, they were there within minutes and did everything they could think of to help), but they cannot be everywhere or see everything.
That is where we come in: we need more neighborhood watches. I founded the neighborhood watch for my area (Madison Park), and it has been great for educating and empowering our neighbors on what they can do regarding crime, and if they need other kinds of help from Metro. One success story we had came from simply placing Neighborhood Watch signs in mine and a neighbor’s yard: we used to have a drug dealer working our street almost every day, but when he knew we were watching him, he never came back. I am currently assisting our East Precinct community liaison officer to bring that method of telling criminals “we’re watching you” to East Nashville.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: With gentrification being what it is all over East Nashville, what can we do to safeguard existing affordable housing, and what can we do to help create new affordable housing?
Scott Davis: My fellow council members and I put five million dollars into the Barnes Affordable Housing Fund. I work with Rebuilding Together Nashville, local businesses, and builders to fix and maintain the homes of working class and senior citizens. These efforts have helped save over 90 homes in our neighborhoods. I have connected Rebuilding Together Nashville with an additional funding source/ partnership with LIV Development, allowing us to save an additional 10 homes. I passed an inlaw apartment law in Cleveland and McFerrin Park neighborhoods. Metro must expand our property tax relief programs to all citizens making under $40,000 a year and change the current Homestead Laws to provide protection from property assessment increases. These tools along with financial literacy seminars, inclusionary zoning, and increased job opportunities will allow us to address affordable housing.
Sarah Martin: At the YWCA (my day job), we serve survivors of domestic violence, and I see firsthand that housing can be a huge barrier to safety and self-sufficiency. Quality housing that is affordable is a key to lifting up our most vulnerable individuals and keeping Nashville diverse and inclusive. This is a complicated problem. We have a fair amount of low-income housing in East Nashville, but we’re quickly losing workforce housing — housing that is affordable to those earning the median income, about $46,000.
Moving renters into home ownership is one strategy that hasn’t been a huge part of the affordable housing conversation. I’d like to see that addressed through homebuyer incentives and income-based tax abatements for individuals. I would also like to see Metro partner with and fund nonprofits that provide free or subsidized home repairs to long-term residents who wish to stay in their homes.
Peter Westerholm: In my first term, I was proud to sponsor legislation creating the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing. In addition, I helped place part of the fees from short-term rentals towards the Barnes Fund, and I will continue to find ways to make the fund even stronger.
I support tools such as inclusionary zoning and shared equity programs. I’ve worked to expand the areas where accessory dwelling units (alley flats, garage apartments, etc.) are permitted though four conservation overlay expansions, and by allowing these affordable units in other areas. In new developments, I’ve protected the diversity of our community by ensuring that units are available at different price points.
For the past three years, I’ve been working with Metro Development and Housing Authority on the Envision Cayce project. This project will ensure the same number of affordable units, and be built in a phased manner to prevent displacement of residents. At this point, approximately 10 percent of the total units will be workforce housing, and 40 percent will be market rate. Mixed-income, mixed-use projects offer a great opportunity to rebuild and reconnect our neighborhood in a meaningful way. This will be a long-term process, and I’m committed to continuing to advocate for this project.
If we’re serious about affordable housing, increased density is a necessary part of the solution, but this should be done in a way that respects our neighborhoods’ character. Focusing density along major roads and neighborhood centers allows developments more affordable units and brings higher service levels of mass transit. Connecting affordable housing to transit is important for young workers, senior citizens, and other riders, saving them more money for other needs.
Brett Withers: My work with overlays has been inspired by the need to safeguard existing housing that is relatively affordable. New houses tend to cost more than the ones that they replace. So East Nashvillians have used conservation overlays to guarantee that we keep the housing stock that makes us unique. Because protected historic houses cannot be demolished in most cases, they get renovated instead.
I support dedicating more funding to creating new affordable housing. I also believe that Metro’s surplus property sales should be designated for affordable housing in partnership with some of our established nonprofit affordable housing providers. I support Community Benefit Agreements as negotiating tools. Additionally, property tax incentives or relief could help some of our vulnerable neighbors stay in their current homes.
More study is needed for inclusionary zoning. Councilmember Fabian Bedne has introduced enabling legislation for inclusionary zoning. If passed, much analysis and negotiation would follow to craft a final ordinance. My experience working with councilmember Walter Hunt and the Planning Department in negotiating with builders to pass the Duplex and Contextual Overlay bills last year will lend itself well toward finding whether a practical, common-sense solution can be reached for inclusionary zoning.
Anthony Davis: Affordable housing is a conversation going on right now, and I have been working with the current council, MDHA, planning, and other stakeholders to try and come up with solutions. Currently we have a bill filed that will give us enabling legislation from the state to use bonds for the Barnes Fund, which we created and funded some last year, for affordable housing. We can continue to increase units with MDHA, we can utilize the Barnes Fund to keep people in their homes (“Rebuilding Together”), and we can create new affordable stock with new development through density bonus programs and affordable requirements. Inclusionary zoning policy is currently on the table, and we are working through the details of how this could work for Nashville.
Stephen Clements: The cat is out of that bag: more and more people want to live in our neighborhoods, and unless an unrealistic amount of new housing stock appears, the housing we have will continue to increase in price. The ideas coming from the Metro Council will not change that: artificial price controls put in place by law will only restrict housing stocks, distorting prices upward in an already pricey market. In order for Metro government to be able to force home prices downward, laws would have to be enacted to take away people’s right to sell their property as they see fit, taking away their ability to profit from an investment they made and their freedom.
ARTIST HOUSING: Speaking of gentrification, what can we do to keep and help support our creative community, many of whom helped make the area what it is? With more and more development, many of these folks — who, along with your typical hard-working families, help make the area what it is — are being priced out of the area and forced to move ever further from the city core.
Scott Davis: The solutions I have provided around affordable housing begin to address gentrification. We need to create more artist housing similar to the Ryman Lofts and be more welcoming to housing investors offering creative financing opportunities for homeownership. Residents have formed a partnership with local businesses to create performance spaces and galleries to give artists more options in District 5 to showcase their art. Good examples are Paro Studios, Queen Avenue Galleries, Charlie Bob’s, Hound Dog Commons, and Kesha’s Ballroom
Sarah Martin: It is important to ensure Nashville has jobs for our artist community. I like the initiative the Planning Commission took to preserve Music Row. The Arts Commission has a small grant program (“Thrive”) to fund public art for our communities to enjoy. Incentives for our local film industry is something that might be worth exploring. All that being said, I still argue that affordable housing is the most important piece of the puzzle.
Peter Westerholm: I’ve been impressed by the success of the artists’ housing in Rolling Mill Hill, and would like to find ways to bring more projects like that to East Nashville. I’ve been a longtime supporter of the arts, and I’ve promoted our vibrant arts community at every occasion (such as painting the street tomato at our incredible Tomato Art Festival).
Other than projects that specifically target housing for artists, artists often face the same challenges of affordable housing as teachers, hospitality workers, and others. I’ll work to create more affordable housing, whether as a part of inclusionary zoning in a larger project, as a part of accessory dwelling units, or new ideas such as exploring appropriate locations for tiny houses.
Brett Withers: Affordability was a key component in making East Nashville the diverse area it is today. Already some of our valued East Nashville artistic community members have been displaced, and there is a real threat we will lose more if we do not change course. We need to ensure that we can attract and retain a healthy mix of neighbors and businesses. I will work for strategies that preserve and add housing options for a variety of income levels.
Anthony Davis: Hopefully our artists continue to make a home here. East Nashville would not be where it is today without these neighbors creating the vibe, starting businesses, doing public art projects, etc. I think having affordable rental stock, places like the Litton apartments in my district, helps us keep diversity. Those artists that have bought homes, just stay! That’s their property, and their decision, if they want to sell they certainly can and have earned a profit they helped create. But I hope they will stay. And for artists wanting to move in, we just need to continue to try and provide some affordable rental units.
Stephen Clements: Artists of all stripes make their money selling what they do best: making something beautiful. What Metro can do to help them do that is to make it as easy as possible to do business and turn a profit at that business, with sensible business regulations. A good friend of mine has been trying to reopen an East Nashville hot spot for the artsy and the weird, and the kind of illogical regulations Metro has thrown on him have cost an extra $100,000 on top of the renovations he already completed. How is he going to provide a sales venue or performance space for our crowd of unconventional conventionalists, if our legal environment is so difficult and expensive for people trying to bring us something new and different to succeed? Fortunately, a bunch of us pulled together and that place will be open soon.
SCHOOLS: How can we make our hodgepodge of schooling options (public/private/ Montessori/charter) work for the average family looking for the best, cost-effective schooling for their child? Moreover, is there a way to simplify the process where the average person can understand the myriad, jargon-laden literature that’s out there now?
Scott Davis: My wife and I want our daughter to attend a good school within the community. Fortunately, our child lives with two parents who help her daily with her studies and meet with her teachers. However, many of the children in the district come from single, foster, and grandparent-led homes. We are working hard to increase parents’ participation in their children’s education. Our community is using nonprofits, businesses leaders, and faith-based organizations to assist parents with choosing the right schools. These groups, a dedicated group of faculty, staff and principals and I have helped our families understand their options and advocated for great schools. With help of privately funded freedom schools and great community volunteers, we have kept all District 5 schools off the priority school list.
Sarah Martin: I feel East Nashville has somewhat of a unique problem. Our community is saturated with schools and school choice — to such a high degree that some charter schools have open seats; some of our highest performing zoned schools are under capacity and fear closure; faculty and staff knock on doors to recruit students; and the school board has adopted a sort-of moratorium on new schools in our area.
Our schools once united our communities — they were activity centers. Parents, community members, and alumni invested in their schools. My husband and I don’t have kids, but I’m fully invested in and committed to the success of our public schools. Each child’s success benefits us all, and as a council member, I will always advocate for more resources in our schools. I will also encourage community support of our schools to help resources stretch further. Our public schools need a champion. Whenever parents ask me about our public schools, I tell them this: Ultimately, you have to do what you, as a parent, think is best for your child. But don’t make a decision without visiting your community school — it might surprise you.
Peter Westerholm: Over the past four years, I’ve worked with school leaders to make our schools better and make the community aware of these improvements. We’ve seen many schools in our neighborhood get better, and more are on the way, such as the $6 million coming to Rosebank Elementary in this year’s capital budget. Communicating the various options and pathways to parents is something that we can improve as well.
Last fall, when MNPS announced a new plan for East Nashville schools, I made sure community meetings took place that allowed parents and teachers an opportunity to vet the plan, and I helped create an advisory committee that was represented by a diverse cross section of our community, which crafted a plan reflecting input from the community.
Brett Withers: I am concerned about the number of young families considering moving out of our neighborhoods because of uncertainty about schools. I value the public education I received growing up. I earned an academic scholarship that allowed me to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. That’s why I have fought to build strong neighborhood relationships with our schools, which should be the anchors of our community.
I would consider it my obligation to be a resource to parents seeking the information they need to make important educational decisions for their children. Additionally, I would ensure our tax dollars are used wisely to provide a quality education to every child.
Anthony Davis: I am a believer in public, especially neighborhood schools. I recently chaired the East Nashville Advisory Council, in partnership with Dr. Register and MNPS, to get the dialogue in East Nashville moving in a productive manner. I think we accomplished that, and we submitted a full slate of recommendations, which was approved by the school board. We have lots of great choices here in East Nashville, great and improving public schools (Stratford and Maplewood clusters), the magnet cluster of East, and some high-performing charters. Every parent needs to do what is best for their child, and I would never question that. But for those of us engaged parents, if we continue to band together and create the school we want to create, and have the right leadership/ principal in place, we will succeed beyond our wildest imagination.
Stephen Clements: I do not know that there is: bringing a child into the world is a big responsibility, and choosing how that child will be educated almost equally so. As your next councilperson, I will do everything I can to help our parents find the right choice for them, but the information is out there and I cannot make that choice for them.
AVAILABILITY: How do you plan to be available for the average voter to express his or her concerns? Social media? Community forums? Weekly or monthly sit-downs? Or, if you’re already in office, what have you done to this effect, and what would you like to do more/different in the future?
Scott Davis: I attended all seven District 5 monthly neighborhood meetings before I took office, including co-chairing one association, and I continue to attend these meetings on a regular basis. I constantly make myself available to my constituents, encouraging them to reach out to me via social media, instant messages, text, email, and phone. I also make myself available for home visits to my neighbors who cannot attend association meetings. During my tenure, I have been active in neighborhood churches, schools and community centers. I have hired out of my own pocket a part-time assistant to help my senior citizens with daily concerns and issues. I am rolling out a general information website and newsletter available through email, text, and print. The majority of my constituents are not on social media and don’t have access to the Internet. To remedy this, I have sponsored legislation for Google Fiber Web access and advocated for funding to bridge the digital divide and information redlining.
Sarah Martin: I am very accessible via neighborhood meetings, social media, website, email, and by cell phone, and I plan to continue that level of accessibility beyond the election. Accessibility and responsiveness of elected officials are cornerstones of good, representative government.
As far as something I would do differently from our current representative, I would improve communication around neighborhood issues. I want to make sure I always communicate clearly and encourage our neighbors to be involved in decision-making.
Peter Westerholm: For the past four years, I have been a constant presence at neighborhood meetings and other community meetings that arise, as well as organizing meetings as needed. In addition, I am consistently presenting information to neighbors through social media and Listservs, responding to phone calls and emails, and am always glad to make myself available to meet for coffee or a beer.
Brett Withers: As a five-term neighborhood president, I can share my practical experience that there is no such thing as too much communication. The short answer is All of the Above.
I have publicized my personal phone number and email address so that neighbors can contact me even if they cannot attend a community meeting. While there may be only 20 people at a meeting, there may be 100 people who are interested but have a scheduling conflict. They deserve to have phone calls and emails returned.
When our neighbors expressed an interest in overlays, I organized community meetings, provided information to property owners and joined my neighbors in knocking on doors to answer questions and learn opinions. By contrast, my opponent sat on the sidelines relying on the work of others. Then after the overlays passed their public hearings with strong constituent support, he removed areas from the overlay boundaries without letting anyone know with certainty which areas he was removing or why.
This lengthy track record of failing to communicate, especially in the midst of zone change applications, has eroded his credibility among Metro Council members to a degree that threatens his ability to get legislation passed.
Recently, he was forced to withdraw an ordinance to down-zone several properties in the 5 Points area and was subsequently unable to get the 5 Points Redevelopment District land use plan amendment approved by the council without first being forced to accept an amendment by an at-large councilmember. I have demonstrated that I know how to keep stakeholders informed throughout the process of passing ordinances.
Anthony Davis: My neighbors know I am everywhere. I attend my neighborhood meetings, I return calls, and email is always the best and fastest way to communicate with me. I am all over Facebook and Twitter too, so never hesitate to reach out! I just plan to continue to be easily accessible and keep my head down and work hard for the area. I try to stay on the ball and communicate (especially on Facebook, my email newsletter, and the neighborhood Listservs), and will continue to work at it.
Stephen Clements: I am a regular on the East Nashville and Inglewood Facebook pages, and I run a monthly political coffee talk in East Nashville already, where anybody is invited to come see me and share their ideas. I frequent our American Legion Post, Masonic Lodges, and as many churches and neighborhood associations as I can. I have gotten so into the habit of going door to door to meet voters that I plan on continuing to do that once elected, whether to ask for input on big topics or just to say hello. My personal phone number is on my card and website, and I answer it.
COUNCIL SIZE: Some would argue that the Metro Council system, as it’s currently constructed, is unnecessarily crowded/has too many moving parts. Would you be in favor of fewer representatives in the council, if not less representation? Or is it fine as it is, perhaps with a few tweaks?
Scott Davis: Even though our system could be improved, we should not decrease the size of the Council. As more people move to Nashville, our districts are growing. Less representation is the wrong way to go. Decreasing the size of the Council will also decrease the number of women and minorities that represent our city.
Sarah Martin: It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, decreasing the size of the Metro Council makes it harder for people like me — candidates without donors who have deep pockets — to win. Bigger districts mean winning will cost more money, which potentially invites more special interests into local elections. Decreasing the size of Metro Council also means representatives serve more constituents and may therefore be less accessible. On the other hand, in some districts, it’s difficult to recruit capable, dynamic candidates to run — does that mean the districts are too small? I would love for the Metro Council to be more efficient and have more autonomy. Will this referendum accomplish that? That remains to be seen.
Peter Westerholm: I believe the current council system functions well. To the extent representatives are reduced, the councilmember must serve more constituents, leading to less representation. This could adversely impact minority groups, which represent a growing, important voice in our broader community. I believe the proposal to shrink the council will lead to ill-conceived outcomes.
Brett Withers: The voters will decide the appropriate size and term limits of the Metro Council in an upcoming vote. There is a much larger issue at play here for District 6. We have a legacy of strong leadership on the Metro Council. We have lost that. I will fight for our share of city resources. I will continue to build coalitions that achieve results benefitting East Nashville. I will work hard to restore your voice on the Metro Council regardless of the size.
Anthony Davis: No, that campaign doesn’t make sense to me. I do agree with the Charter amendment for three terms (which won’t affect any of us currently in office), but I am not in favor of shrinking the council. I do admit we have a large body, but we have a large county and we have always worked with combined city/county government, and some people credit Nashville’s huge success to that. Our county keeps growing; let’s not make district councilmembers less accessible or have to represent even broader areas. Unless we make the position a full-time job, then a reevaluation of how many members would certainly be on the table.
Stephen Clements: The problem our Metro Council has is not “how is it composed,” but rather “what can it do?” At the moment, if the mayor wants to pass a budget that 100 percent of the council votes against, by charter, he is going to get his way; if the school board or superintendent wants to do something 100 percent of the council does not want, they are powerless to stop it. Two charter amendments I will propose are: the Metro budget has to be approved by the council before becoming law (with monthly continuing resolutions to continue funding until approved), and that a majority of the council voting in agreement with the mayor can make substantial policy decisions regarding our school system. The councilmembers are the representatives closest to the people we have, so they should have the power to collectively set the agenda on anything Metro government does.
NEWCOMERS: Let’s say someone is considering moving to our fair burgh. What would you say to them by way of recommending East Nashville?
Scott Davis: We welcome newcomers to 5th District. We have a variety of housing options available from working class to high-end. We still have affordable housing stock. Since I was elected, about 2,000 new residents have made District 5 their home. We have new retail businesses, restaurants, and commercial opportunities. We have great restaurants, from nationally acclaimed dining establishments to down-home Southern cooking. We have great churches, music venues, and Little Harpeth, the best brewery in town. No schools in our district are on the priority list. A large portion of our business owners and builders live in the neighborhood. Our goal is to make District 5 East Nashville’s most desired community.
Sarah Martin: I never felt like part of a community until my husband and I moved to Cleveland Park. I love this community and its people. When a neighbor has a problem, I’ve always seen the community respond with genuine concern and eagerness to help.
In East Nashville, your neighbor across the alley is your best defense against a thief. The entire community will wrap their arms around you when your home catches fire. Your neighbor down the street will help you fix your bike or give you some milk or flour when you’re out. A dozen people will pitch in a few dollars each to buy a pricy bottle of whisky to cheer you up when your loved one passes away. Your nextdoor neighbor will look in on you to make sure everything is okay when you accidently set off your alarm. People are neighborly here. There’s just really no place else like it.
Peter Westerholm: There are a lot of great communities throughout Nashville, but if you want to live in the one with the best restaurants, best greenway, best parks, best festivals, best music, great neighbors, and best quality of life, you should choose East Nashville.
Brett Withers: Choosing East Nashville to be my home was one of the best decisions I ever made. East Nashville reshaped itself against some incredible odds through faith and persistence over several decades. It is a special place with great businesses and opportunities and dedicated neighbors.
Anthony Davis: First, I would tell them East Nashville is my favorite place on Earth. It is home, I love it. I tell them how proud and fiercely loyal East Nashvillians are to their area and their neighbors. Then I would probably go on and on about locally owned restaurants, craft beer, retail establishments, friendliness, lack of snobbery, and that we are a little bit “grungy” still and trying to stay that way.
Stephen Clements: If you want to live in a place with the best vegan cupcakes you’ll ever have, the best deli sandwiches you can make, more craft beer breweries than most cities hold, the most delicious Mediterranean and Hispanic restaurants and bakeries in town, an embarrassment of good bagels and coffee, more live music, comedy, and alternative entertainment choices than you will ever have time to go to, churches and community groups that take their roles seriously in caring for their neighbors, living among people who are committed to restoring and preserving beautiful homes and architecture left by our ancestors, all while being minutes from downtown and the rest of the county, then this is your place.