2019 Metro Elections Voter’s Guide

The yard signs, robo-calls, TV ads, small handbills wedged into your front door — they’re all back. A sure sign that Metro election season is upon us. On Aug. 1, 2019 the polls will open (early voting began on July 12) to determine the next chapter of Music City history, and if there’s anything the last four years has demonstrated it is this: Your vote does matter and local elections are where it has the most immediate impact. — Randy Fox

Mayor

Transit

The announced budget for WeGo falls $8.7 million short of what they need to maintain current operations. This will mean a 10 percent reduction in service — along with fare hikes, which will directly impact thousands of Nashvillians who rely on the bus to get around our city. How would you propose funding transit in the short term to prevent further cuts, and how would you propose funding transit in the long term, so that we could expand services to make it more useful to more Nashvillians and help address Nashville’s growing transportation needs?

David Briley
I applaud WeGo’s hard work to ensure that that nearly 78 percent of existing customers — and those who use WeGo Access — will see no change to their service, and 20 percent will have access to another new or existing route. We’ve already made steps to address improved transit alternatives. This work includes but is not limited to: expanding bus shelters (particularly along Nolensville Pike); improving speed of service on Murfreesboro Pike by installing priority signals for buses; installing new technology for fare collection; partnering with major employers to increase choice bus-commuters into downtown Nashville; and studying the potential for a true Bus Rapid Transit line along Dickerson Pike. That’s a place where we can build a transit system before the area is overwhelmed by development.

Julia Clark-Johnson
In the short term, if the public cannot afford the fare hikes, walking is a good exercise and other sources of transportation are optional as well. As a public servant, it is my major responsibility to listen to the communities, neighborhoods and the metro council. The majority voted against 26 miles of light rail, four new rapid bus lines, four crosstown bus lines, improved service on existing buses, 19 transit centers, and a suite of improvements to signals, sidewalks and bike infrastructure. This failure is due to a lack of public education. In the meantime, an amended/revised transit referendum is necessary.

John Ray Clemmons
I recognize the importance of expanding bus services and strongly oppose cuts to WeGo.
I would use my experience in the state legislature to work with state and federal officials to generate additional revenue and increase funding. We would overhaul our current transit system to operate more efficiently and work to reduce carbon emissions. In the long-term, we will secure regional buy-in and create new sources of revenue to build a modern, regional transportation system.

John Cooper
Unfortunately, Briley’s cuts to WeGo will hurt residents who need our city’s services the most. We can fund WeGo in the short term by practicing good financial management and prioritizing essential services such as transportation, education, and affordable housing above tourists and unnecessary incentive deals. I am committed to putting forth a cost-effective transportation plan — with funding — within my first year as mayor.

Jon Sewell
The irony in these service cuts is that they are predicated on an improvement in economic indicia for the affected neighborhoods — riding the nexus between affordable housing and transport, essentially a double-whammy where displacement/gentrification alter the community actually resulting in a LOSS of services. But we can think bigger! Let’s drive the conversation on transit toward expanded services and Free Public Transit financed by development impact fees and adequate development/facilities taxes.

Carol Swain
Short-term, we can install turning lanes at 50 already-identified intersections and also better synchronize traffic lights for smarter flow during peak travel times. This recently helped reduce travel times by 12 percent in Los Angeles. Longer-term, I support innovative ideas like Uber-type vans harnessing the technology of our smartphones to pick up riders specifically where they’re coming from and drop them specifically where they’re going, eliminating the waste of empty bus stops and infrequently used bus routes.

Education

What will you do to ensure that Metro Nashville Public Schools are fully-funded every year going forward?

David Briley
Moving forward, I intend to play a much bigger role in our public school system. I am working with (MNPS Director) Dr. Battle to form a memorandum of understanding between MNPS and the city that will lay the foundation for a new relationship that involves higher Metro involvement in operations and HR. Through this agreement, I want to work closely with the school board and the Metro Council to ensure that we can continue to increase funding for our public schools and develop a long-term plan for substantial teacher and support staff raises.

Julia Clark-Johnson
I will ensure Metro Nashville Public Schools are fully funded and moving in a positive direction. After a review of the proposed budget, a
qualified group of council members and public committee team will investigate the public schools’ systems strengths and weakness for allocating funds. Regarding this year’s budget shortfall, it may be necessary to cut spending in other areas that are impacting our public schools constant deficiencies. An overall audit addressing the probability of too much spending in useless areas may be necessary. I ensure that this issue for making proper revisions and amendments to the budget will be top priority.

John Ray Clemmons
As a public school parent, I am committed to fully-funding MNPS. As Mayor, public schools will be my budgetary priority. I will utilize reliable data and educator feedback to create a strategic plan to address schools’ needs. I will restore fiscal responsibility to Metro by protecting our property tax base. To better assist our educators, we will ask more of the business, non-profit and faith-based communities to facilitate increased parental engagement, volunteerism, and educational opportunities.

John Cooper
It starts with good management and fiscal stewardship. I am focused on ensuring neighborhoods are prioritized, and that starts with our education system. City leaders have developed a habit of spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize development and tourism rather than serving the people who actually live and work in Nashville. It’s simply a question of priorities: we can fully fund our schools if we have a mayor who chooses to put them first.

Jon Sewell
MNPS receives money from property taxes, which if held artificially low for political reasons, creates a shortfall from municipal and then state funds. Fully funding means increases in property taxes, which I’m actually cool with (I say that as an owner of a commercial property and other real estate), as long as that increase is accompanied by expansion of programs to freeze, subsidize, and mitigate that increase for our more vulnerable populations.

Carol Swain
The School Board must be held accountable for their waste and mismanagement that has hurt our students and teachers. As mayor I will immediately get to work to re-prioritize city spending, putting vital activities like public safety and education ahead of corporate welfare for big businesses and the politically connected. For example, the city recently spent $14 million on a private waterpark Nashville residents can’t use. That’s wrong, and as mayor I will do better.

Metro Budget

Please address what many perceive as a disconnect between the explosive commercial development in the Central Business District (CBD) and Metro’s inability to correct its budget woes. Specifically, why are Tax Increment Financing subsidies still in place and are the tax receipts collected in the CBD making it into the general fund?

David Briley
The money spent downtown results in more tax receipts in Nashville’s General Fund, where it’s ultimately used for our schools, public safety, infrastructure and other services. TIF is something we have used in the past to incentivize certain development and revitalization projects in the city. While I believe this has been used wisely to date, moving forward we are going to be more diligent and, frankly, stricter about doing it. A Metro-led committee formed specifically to assess the merits of TIF recently concluded its findings, and one of its recommendations was that we need a clearer set of rules for TIF. I am supportive of setting up these better guidelines.

Julia Clark-Johnson
The public assumptions of disconnect between the CBD and their belief of Metro’s Council’s inability to correct its budget shortfalls requires further research on my behalf. Out of respect for the CBD and the metro council members, my comments on this matter will be beyond premature. This question should handle only by those Metro council leaders and CBD officials directly involved with an aware of the factual importance of this issue.

John Ray Clemmons
TIF is intended to spur economic development in blighted areas. This is a well-intended program that is being misused in some areas that are not blighted, and this is costing our city much-needed revenue. All tax receipts in the CBD within the TDZ are not making it into the general fund, because they are being funneled to the convention center. This can and must be corrected by Metro to adequately fund our budgetary priorities.

John Cooper
Metro’s budget is out of balance. We can’t address the costs of growth until we get a return for the growth that we’ve subsidized. MDHA abused Tax Increment Financing in areas that were no longer “blighted” or in need of subsidies. The Convention Center Authority has a massive surplus from accumulated hotel taxes as well as sales taxes from the tourism development zone (TDZ). Only one-sixth of hotel taxes go to the general fund.

Jon Sewell
Downtown- everything’s great when you’re downtown, but not everyone lives or benefits there! The CBD TIFs are certainly an ongoing embarrassment. And what about those up and out in The Hinter County (THC) who don’t have biz or play down there in the CBD? The CBD and THC must be rolled up together, lest the whole metropolitan enterprise go up in smoke. We must pass the green around for a more equitable, fair, and inclusive Nashville.

Carol Swain
This administration has given away tax dollars to big corporations and ignored Metro workers, small businesses, and our local neighborhoods. We need to stop spending millions to attract out-of-state businesses at the expense of funding local priorities and supporting the businesses that are already here. As mayor, I will audit spending city-wide to make wiser fiscal choices and focus on the many varied neighborhoods with their unique needs all across Davidson County, not just downtown.

Advertisement

Council

Metro Budget

While the city desperately needs funding for schools, public safety, and infrastructure to keep up with record growth, Nashville has the lowest property tax rate in the history of Davidson County, which disproportionately benefits commercial property owners and developers. Why aren’t we setting a historically appropriate tax rate so we can make the necessary investments in the city?

District 5

Charles Flowers
Because we have leaders who are afraid to raise taxes during an election year our public service workers salaries have been stagnate over the last couple years. Our schools have been underfunded and as a result student achievement has suffered. We have a city infrastructure that is in desperate need of upgrades causing our communities to suffer as well.  Our city needs to invest more in our people and stop investing in corporate interests.

Sean Parker
While it may not be the most politically popular position, I believe some increase in property tax revenue is necessary. It’s critical that a growing city fund basic services and that schools, public safety, and Metro workers can afford to live where they serve. We also must refocus our fiscal priorities on essential services. We must work to prevent low-income homeowners from being burdened by any increase.

District 6

Brett Withers
The 2017 property tax rate reduction math caused our property tax bills to increase even though the overall rate was lowered because East Nashville’s property value appreciation is well above the average for the county. While a county-wide rate increase would mean that East Nashville property owners will pay even more, I believe that this rate correction is necessary to fund our schools and services.

District 7

Emily Benedict
Our values are affirmed by the way we educate, compensate, house, and transport our residents. We need to improve our schools, pay our employees a living wage, provide options for attainable housing, and invest in a transportation system that will meet our future needs. It takes tax dollars to accomplish these things. We must explore the NCCA reserves, and make sure developers pay their fair share, in addition to a review of a tax increase.

Clint Camp
I supported the Second Substitute Budget which would have raised the rate by 52.5 cents. This rate was still lower than the historic average but would allow for raises to Metro and MNPS employees, funding for transit, and just as important, not result in the sale of  any one-time assets to balance our budget. Our employees deserve a good work environment, and we deserve a City that can function to meet our basic needs.

Stephen Downs
First, I have never seen a time where our City was doing so well but our money isn’t, having said that, when elected I plan to have our property taxes re-visited to ensure we are operating fair and equal in terms of commercial property owners and developers who inherently benefit from the formulation versus property owners. The short answer is “Fair and Equal to All,” strong heads prevail in historical
minded negotiations.

Dan Fitzpatrick
I don’t believe our tax rate being historically low, or being lower than neighboring counties is a justification for raising taxes. A budget for each year is just that — a budget for that year. We need to ensure our budget reflects our morals. Meaning investments in schools, safety, and infrastructure. It also means we need to pay for that. All revenue streams must be considered annually to fund a budget that reflects our values/character.

Stephanie Johnson
You are stating that low property taxes disproportionately benefit commercial properties. Many state that if property taxes are raised it will disproportionately affect low-income residents. Right now, we are in a tug-a-war. City leaders, researchers, neighbors, economics, etc. need to come to the table and make a decision, whether it’s creating some type of tax scale, or allowing residents to voice their option on what tax they would consider raising.

Cole Rogers
Not enough effective communication has been delivered on the lack of investment in our city. Nashville currently has as many firehouses as Chattanooga, an obviously much smaller city. I believe that the celebration of victories in the business community have masked the need to substantially invest in Nashville’s services and infrastructure. The development of business is beneficial in the long term, only when we invest in the foundational programs of our city.

District 8

Nancy VanReece
We need to do our best to ensure District 8 thrives and our city continues to push to have its prosperity extend to the county line and into the neighborhoods. Conversations over the last year lead me to believe that the citizens of District 8 can tolerate a tax rate increase, but ONLY if they clearly understand where the money is going and how it will affect their lives.

Danny Williams
Raising Property taxes seems to be the ONLY answer everyone comes up with, yes I agree that SCHOOLS and PUBLIC SAFETY are things necessary for more funding. I would like to see an audit of the city’s financial structure and see what our tax dollars are being used for when these above aforementioned should be a priority. I would like to research other
funding measures.

Education

What measures will you advocate to fully fund MNPS so that high-quality teachers — every student’s most important resource — are recruited and retained?

District 5

Charles Flowers
If elected as a city council member my plan is to serve on the Education committee to help my colleagues understand the need to make
education a priority. I am an educator by occupation. I know firsthand how hard it is to educate students without resources. My main priority will be to fully fund education allocated for teacher’s compensation. Also, work with MNPS to recruit and retain teachers by creating a leadership pipeline.

Sean Parker
We should reconsider development incentives that capture MNPS revenue — for example half of every TIF dollar would otherwise go to schools (about $10 million each year). Even MNPS’s unprecedented FY2020 budget request would not fully fund our schools. That fact makes clear just how far behind we are. We need to deliver enough funding to MNPS that they can support their students and workers.

District 6

Brett Withers
We need to increase our overall property tax rate to make up for declining State funding for MNPS. The Metro Council does not control the MNPS budget line-items or especially the MNPS pay plan. That is up to School Board, subject to overall available funding from the Metro Council. The MNPS teacher compensation step increment pay plan does have some compression issues for experienced teachers versus entry-level or newer teachers. But Metro must provide funding to MNPS to resolve those step increment compression issues as well as pay cost of living adjustments.

District 7

Emily Benedict
Our school board decides what to do with their budget; my role on the council will be to provide enough money so they can provide wage increases to our teachers, bus drivers, and support staff, in addition to having enough money for operational supplies like textbooks for all students. We cannot attract and retain talent without a robust compensation package. I support a 10 percent raise for our teachers and at least $15 per hour for staff.

Clint Camp
I’m proud of my mother — who retired after 38 years teaching with MNPS. It’s powerful to see her students ask her to attend their graduations, weddings and more. In order to recruit and retain teachers, we need to work collaboratively with our counterparts on the School Board to ensure teachers are compensated fairly, and that they have the necessary resources in their classrooms to help teach our students.

Stephen Downs
I will work non-stop advocating for our unsung heroes. These educators literally give out of their own pockets to facilitate the growth and development of our children, and for that, we owe a great amount of gratitude. I pledge to develop a three-year phase-in plan that will provide a 12 percent improvement in teacher pay, and I will support a comprehensive incentive plan to help us retain our educator family.

Dan Fitzpatrick
I’m running on “Fairness.” With every decision I will ask myself: Is this fair? What’s happening at MNPS is not fair for our children. They deserve all resources — human, supplies, infrastructure in and around the school — to be high quality. Achieving that results in a system people want to come teach at. We need to provide MNPS with necessary funding while ensuring Nashville’s an inviting place for educators to live in the neighborhoods they teach.

Stephanie Johnson
I want to see a “First 5” bill, this bill would ensure MNPS, public safety, public works, and water would be funded at 100 percent, before anything else. It would require a lot of moving parts, but if we don’t start putting some safety nets in place, we are going to keep finding ourselves in the same place year after year. We have to be bold and radical when it comes to ensuring the progress of this city.

Cole Rogers
I would fully support the property tax increase recently proposed by Councilman Mendes and Councilman Davis. In addition I would work on creating a long term, incremental increase so that we can properly fund our schools in the long term. I would also explore creating other funding sources that would be designated to MNPS.

District 8

Nancy VanReece
As indicated, this is one of several needs that our city must address, and I will advocate to make sure that any additional tax dollars have the policy structure behind the intent for them to succeed.

Danny Williams
The cost of education in the county has become a problem that needs to be addressed. I have ideas for funding, but would like to explore the government’s treasury and what is being paid out now. From what I have observed, frivolous spending seems to be the norm for this current council and administration.

Housing

Pro-development policies and activities have ravaged the affordable housing stock in Nashville.  How would you propose we create more reasonable development policies that could help preserve some of the affordable housing?

District 5

Charles Flowers
District Five affordable housing has been ravaged over the last years. This is due to the rezoning properties and the growth in the district. In order to combat this we need to create a policy that require developers to work with non-profits such as Urban Housing Solutions and MDHA to develop a percentage of affordable housing for residents.

Sean Parker
Dickerson Pike is slated for a steep increase in density and we need much of that to be residential. We can’t simply “build our way out” of the affordable housing crisis when many new multifamily units are used for hotel activity rather than residential. Cost-burdened families may never be able to afford new luxury-style construction, so it’s important that our community plan preserve some of the modest, older single-family homes that remain.

District 6

Brett Withers
The affordable housing legislation that the Metro Council worked on this term was almost immediately overturned by the State Legislature. Even in Districts 6 and 7 where there has been relatively little new construction over the last four years compared to other Districts, housing prices have continued to rise because of private market forces. The most effective tools that we have to create and preserve housing affordability are working with MDHA as well as some of our non-profit affordable housing partners.

District 7

Emily Benedict
I’d like density growth mainly along and adjacent to our corridor streets. Currently there is zoning that allows more density in areas that do not have the bandwidth for the type of growth we have seen. The Barnes Fund has been effective, and we must keep funding it so non-profit organizations can continue to build more affordable units. This is a wage issue too. I will fight to increase wages for our
public employees.

Clint Camp
I would like to revisit our short-term rental policies, potentially requiring all new non-owner occupied STRs be in commercial zoning. We also need to continue to follow NashvilleNext to look at where we can provide density in our housing. Gallatin Pike today is underutilized, and with a real transit-oriented development we could see progress towards both better housing options and transit. Let’s also look at homeowner repair programs with our Barnes Fund to keep our homeowners in place.

Stephen Downs
I will develop a plan for vetting purposes that will only bring developers to our great city that will commit in assisting us as a developer/neighbor in our serious crisis of not having enough affordable housing. I will provide advice that we need 15 units per 100 (built) set aside for affordable housing. The time is now in terms of bringing front line attention to our housing crisis and as your councilman, I will lead that fight for you.

Dan Fitzpatrick
For me it’s about focusing our growth on our corridor roads — Gallatin Avenue — and ensuring that we are increasing density there versus our sleepier streets. Nashville is short tens of thousands of housing units. I would much rather have people moving in — who elect to live a walkable, carless lifestyle — and have them land in condos on Gallatin than buying up single family homes in our neighborhoods and displacing those folks.

Stephanie Johnson
I would propose we start treating our Civic Design Center as a huge asset to ensure neighborhoods are being revitalized with integrity. Through the Center we can also start to
introduce competitiveness when it comes to creating and designing affordable housing. We can also support the research and work from the Historic Preservation Groups and Land Trust. We can also look into creating policy around the first rights of refusal where residents can become owners of the property being sold underneath them by working with MDHA, and other groups.

Cole Rogers
The affordable housing crisis in Nashville requires a multi-faceted solution that calls upon all Nashvillians, specifically those who have benefited the most from Nashville’s growth. While I support Mayor Briley’s recent proposal to upgrade our affordable housing stock, it is not a complete solution. Nashville must use its leverage as a city of growth. Specific results could come from proposing an impact fee for our largest developments so as to replenish our affordable housing stock.

District 8

Nancy VanReece
I am pleased with Mayor Briley’s Under One Roof initiative. I am already hearing from local developers about how they can participate in the $250 million challenge to the private sector to step forward with matching dollars. We have been able to protect District 8’s neighborhoods by Neighborhood Maintenance overlays that prohibit over-development. The Dickerson Road Corridor Study is an excellent way to have community input on how moving more mixed-use development to the corridor can succeed in more affordability.

Danny Williams
I feel that the government should research along with developers who want the same to help many of our citizens. Scout areas for development, perhaps working with neighboring counties to address this problem. Right now it appears that many developers and investors are in it just for profit, not helping less fortunate residents.