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Neighbor with a Plan

Nashville’s growth is affecting the entire city, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. We need more than buzz words and soundbites to deal with the effects of growth and get a handle on it. With my experience being on the council for four years, I’ve got a plan to deal with the problems of Nashville’s growth, that invests in our priorities, and protects our neighborhoods.
These are some of the ideas I’ve put together. I’ll add to them from time to time. Feel free to contact me as I always welcome your input or if you have any questions.
You can view the groups that have endorsed me such as Nashville’s police officers, firefighters, and the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund by clicking here.

I pledge to do everything I can to protect neighborhoods, which I have done the past four years, and city leadership must prioritize neighborhoods. A neighborhood should grow as the residents in the neighborhood want it to, if they want it to. Neighborhoods must be protected against growth they don’t want. Property should only be rezoned after community meetings with neighbors. STRPs can damage the quality of life in a neighborhood where people don’t expect hotel-type businesses in a residential area, but private property rights also must be balanced. Neighborhoods need to be safe, which requires a fully funded and staffed police department.

Neighborhood streets in District 26 are seeing cut-through traffic that must be slowed down or redirected back to main roads One of the biggest things I worked on as the Metro Council Public Works Committee Chairman was neighborhood traffic calming. Previously, we had a program with no funding, run by a contractor, that only resulted in a little paint and a couple signs put up in the neighborhood. I fought for dedicated funding for the program, because I knew a little bit of funding could make a huge impact on the quality of life in a neighborhood. That program has been revamped for 2019, and that change and the funding is bearing fruit. I also got funding to double the number of speed trailers to give Metro more tools to help slow cars down. It’s small investments like this, along with much biggest ones like sidewalks and improving safety at intersections, that can greatly improve neighborhoods. We need to have more investments and policies that help neighborhoods. Neighborhood schools need proper funding. Metro Codes needs more Codes inspectors and STRP enforcement staff. We need more police officers and firefighters to keep our neighborhoods safe. Stormwater projects need funding in neighborhoods, not just downtown. We need to prioritize development and investments that benefit neighborhoods more than downtown. We need more sidewalks, which would be helped by bringing the cost and time to build them, something I’ve worked on with the administration and Public Works for years. Also, reducing the neighborhood street speed limit from 30 to 25 should be studied.

Traffic

Traffic congestion is getting worse and will keep getting worse as more people move here every day, with traffic spilling over to our neighborhoods’ streets. We need to improve our intersections to respond to traffic in real-time, which can best be done by investing in a smart city technology, so intersections communicate with each other to adapt in real-time to traffic patterns. The city’s most dangerous and busiest intersections must be evaluated to make them safer and to see what improvements can be made to move traffic faster. I fought to get two traffic lights installed in District 26 that will save the lives of pedestrians. We need to get to work on a new transit plan, and we need to evaluate every possible transportation option to deal with traffic congestion. Metro should encourage businesses to have employees telecommute and have staggered work times, and require any company getting incentives to give their employees free bus passes.

Neighborhood Traffic Calming

Upon coming into office, I wanted to calm cut-through traffic on many of my district’s neighborhood streets. Metro had a program with no funding, run by a contractor, that only resulted in a little paint and a couple of signs put up in the neighborhood. I fought for dedicated funding for the program because I knew a little bit of funding could make a huge impact on the quality of life in a neighborhood. That program has been revamped for 2019, and that change and the funding is bearing fruit in a merit-based application process to address a backlog of traffic calming projects. Caldwell Abbay Hall was in the first group announced in January, with Crieve Hall just missing the first round but has a good shot for the second round in July/August. Paragon Mills is also applying to the program. We need to increase investment in this program, expand the program to collector streets as well, which are not addressed in the program currently. I also sought and got funding to double the number of speed trailers to give Metro more tools to help slow cars down.

Sidewalks

Nashville needs more sidewalks, period. We need to build sidewalks on our major streets first, and then throughout neighborhoods. Metro appropriates $30 million every year to build sidewalks, but in comparison to peer cities, Nashville’s sidewalks are more expensive and take longer to build. Metro must address this. Sidewalks have been built in District 26 with more coming, but we need more. For decades Nashville didn’t require developers to build sidewalks, which resulted in neighborhoods not having sidewalks, so Metro is playing catch-up.

Transit

Giving people more transportation options is too important to wait to tackle investing in transit and trying to make other options work. To make a significant investment in transit, the city must implement dedicated funding that goes to just transit and related services. Otherwise, we will continue to see city budgets like the current one where transit investments are lagging because it competes for funding with the city’s other priorities. The next mayor and council should examine what a new transit plan could look like, with city-wide public feedback. The discussion should also include whether to pay for and how to do so. The next mayor should get the state and surrounding counties to be partners in a larger transit plan, otherwise it’s not likely to be successful. A smaller plan may be the next step, but the public needs to be involved with crafting it. For a bigger plan, we need the state and surrounding counties to be a part of it.

Parking Plan

I am opposed to the current parking plan. Nashville and Metro desperately need to update and modernize how we handle our city’s street parking, but the current plan isn’t the way to do it. We first should examine and determine how we can do all the things in the plan with Metro employees. This plan (like the sale of DES) is the result of neglecting a key piece of infrastructure for too long, and then the years of neglect often necessitate a substantial and fast change in the current way it’s handled. The current plan does too much, too fast, with a contract for too long, with a private company without fully determining if Metro can do all the things in the plan itself.

Public Works

The way road, paving, sidewalk, and other projects are decided to be built must be more transparent and open. Projects should be prioritized, and project lists should be put together every year so the public knows when projects in their neighborhoods will be built.

Scooters

The future of scooters is, and always has been, up to Nashville. With the city’s increasing traffic congestion, particularly downtown, we need to examine multiple options to reduce the number of cars. Scooters could be an option that would help with that, but there have been too many on the streets (and sidewalks), with no enforcement, lacking bike infrastructure, and no culture of using them correctly. Metro is also not using any of the tools the current regulations give it to reduce the number of scooters. The coming RFP process will limit the number of companies and scooters to no more than three, and it should put in place high permit fees to make scooter companies pay for the program, establishes enforcement that will work, requires significant commitments from the companies for corals and education, and other tools and regulations to give Metro flexibility to implement all of it to hopefully make scooters work. The number of scooters should at least be reduced dramatically as soon as possible, while a ban on scooters is certainly still possible if things can’t come together to make them work. A scooter ban is coming unless things get better.

  • We must fully fund schools. That number may mean different things to different people, but we should establish what that number is and then figure out a multi-year plan to pay for it. Our children deserve no less. My children start attending MNPS this fall, and I look forward to them receiving a great education.
  • State law doesn’t allow the mayor and council to direct how MNPS spends money. MNPS receives its funding from the city, and they get to decide how to spend it. However, all of the city’s leaders need to come together to make our schools better and give children a better education.
  • Right now, there is little confidence in the current school board as a whole, which results in a hesitancy to give them more funding. The mayor should work with the board on an MOU on the expectations of the board and the city. The council and the board should work together on how to accomplish the shared goal of improving Metro Schools, and how to make significant investments in pay for teachers and other support staff, along with other school resources like a textbook for every student to take home.
  • The mayor, council, schools director, and the board should have regular communication to improve their relationship. The school board must make meaningful changes to operate more like a body that can function. While there aren’t many legal ways for the mayor and council to be involved in the schools beyond appropriating money, I think practical and political necessity require an all-hands-on-deck to make MNPS better.
  • Previous pay study said administrators are paid in line with their peers, but everyone below them have salaries that are lagging. A goal should be set on where to get salary levels, and then the school board, mayor and council should decide on a multi-year plan on improving teacher and school employee pay. There’s a lot to do to improve MNPS, but we first must retain our current teachers and employees through a multi-year pay improvement plan and give them the resources they need to help our children learn.
  • Paraprofessionals should be paid at least $15 an hour.
  • MNPS capital needs are desperately lagging. MNPS needs significant investment to renovate and repair schools before they get in such bad shape that they must be completely replaced.
  • I fully support zoned and community schools and oppose opening any new charter schools. Valor Collegiate Academy has shown some incredible value to the community and is serving students in my district well.
  • I am strongly opposed to vouchers, and the state’s voucher plan for Nashville’s schools will drain funds and resources from every MNPS and charter school in the city. 

Even as we’ve grown, we haven’t increased the number of police officers and firefighters on the streets, and we can’t keep the experienced ones we have. In 2012, MNPD had 1,342 police officers. For 2019, it has 1,390 officers with around 120 vacancies. Metro last added a fire station in 2001, and it needs more firefighters on each fire truck. We need to pay our first responders the salaries they deserve. Starting salaries have increased, but experienced officers and firefighters don’t see the salary increases that keep pace with surrounding counties. This has resulted in losing them to surrounding communities. and give them first-class equipment to do their jobs.

The city’s current economic incentive programs and tools should be reexamined and revamped, and we should concentrate more on the people and businesses already here. Metro’s incentive program was put together during the Great Recession, when Nashville wanted any growth that would come our way. Now, we can and should be more selective about the growth we want to invest in and the priorities we have in the economic development we want to see in the city. Many of the deals done ten years ago wouldn’t and shouldn’t be done today. Economic incentives have their place and purpose, but that purpose should be realigned with the city we are today, and above all ask how does it affect the city as a whole and its neighborhoods? Are we investing in city services, public safety and schools that come with economic growth? Additionally, we need better metrics on the impact of economic incentives to know their true benefits and costs. The best way to make changes is with all the information possible. I have supported transparency like the “Do Better Bill” that requires more information from companies that receive Metro funds. Economic incentives can attract certain industries and companies that spur similar companies and investment in the city, which in turn also spur more jobs and opportunities. How the city goes about using incentives in the future should be revamped, modernized, and only given with more transparency and public information.

I want to invest in the Nashville Fairgrounds to preserve and improve the current uses while making it a better public space by adding more venues and uses as the city and neighbors want. The Nashville Fairgrounds will be a vital venue for all Nashvillians for decades to come because of the investments made in the past few years that preserve all the current uses. I’ve gone to the state fair and the flea market since I was a kid, so for me it is a beloved place that I wish would have seen investment years ago. The current buildings needed significant repair or replacement. The property wasn’t tied to the surrounding community, and it wasn’t realizing its full potential. With the soccer stadium, the general improvements to the Fairgrounds infrastructure and buildings, and the development on the ten acres, Nashville Fairgrounds will be rejuvenated and a great place for Nashvillians to use for decades to come. The soccer stadium is largely paid for by the team and tax revenue generated at the site. Property taxes generated by the ten acres will be reinvested in the fairgrounds. I hope NASCAR will come back to the track, and I will work to make it happen so long as it fits with the rest of the property and has a similar financing structure to the soccer stadium. Either way, I want the racetrack to get the proper investment and improvements just like the rest of the fairgrounds. I think it would be an incredible and unique NASCAR racing venue with the surrounding development and neighborhood excitement, and I hope and want to make NASCAR work there. Additionally, for District 26, it will encourage investment in the Nolensville corridor and fits in with the exciting things that are happening there. One development in my district has referenced the soccer stadium as a factor in his investment further down Nolensville, and I think this will happen more often. For more information on the soccer stadium and the Fairgrounds, visit here. Investments Metro has made in the last four years in the Fairgrounds:

  • $12M in FY17 for Fairgrounds Improvements – expended approximately $4.4M on assessments & design, bridge repairs, demo, and paint
  • $8.7M in FY17 for Fair Park – 20 of 46 acres complete
  • $30M in FY19 for Fairgrounds Improvements (along with the remaining $7.6M from FY17) – expenses include new expo facilities including 130K indoor, >100K covered outdoor, arena, lots, landscaping (all work ongoing), SPEEDWAY updates: upgraded restrooms in the concourse, new LED infield lighting, paint, LED concourse lighting, new fencing (remaining work is on hold while we discuss partnership opportunities with Speedway Motorsports, Inc (SMI/Bristol))
  • $25M for infrastructure for the entire Fairgrounds campus and recently contracted with a design firm. Work will include the extension of Wedgewood Ave., regrading and extension of Benton, and improved Wingrove St. with utilities.
  • The Fairgrounds will receive $200,000 per year in rent (offset by parking revenue from stadium events) from the mixed-use as well as 50% of property tax revenue generated by the development (estimated at approximately $1.2M per year). Fairgrounds’ current revenue budget is approx. $3.3M, so this is a significant increase.
  • $25M for Fairgrounds improvements is in current CIB along with $7M for the remainder of Fair Park. It is safe to say that the speedway will see additional investment to improve safety and functionality through funds already appropriated and any new dollars received.

Within the next five years, the landfill Metro sends its trash to will be full. Metro needs to out together a new solid waste plan that reduces the amount of trash in our city, encourages recycling, and addresses that 28% of waste is food and yard waste that can be composted. Soon, recycling will be picked up twice a month, and we need to do more to encourage its use.

We need to do more incentive affordable housing be built in Nashville, maintain/increase contributions to the Barnes Fund, encourage development along corridors so they’re close to transit (and thus reduced living costs), identify Metro property that could be used for affordable housing, collect information for the public to utilize on where affordable housing is, etc. I’m supportive of most of the mayor’s plan, but we still need to do more.

Priorities

Metro’s budget has to realigned after several years of it getting out of whack. My priorities will be fully funding education, public safety and transportation infrastructure.

Revenue and Tax Increases

I voted against two proposed property tax increases because we need to do more to capture revenue from tourism, visitors, development, and growth first. We need to put some of the money that currently goes into the downtown tourist development zone into the general fund so that more of the revenue generated downtown does to the rest of city and into neighborhoods. The current property tax rate was set incorrectly based on a bad estimate on how much revenue it would bring in, a higher than normal number of appeals won at the Board of Equalization, and the anticipated passing of the transit plan, which would have moved MTA spending to the transit plan’s dedicated funding and freed up that money in the general fund to go to other things like schools and public safety. We also have structural issues in our budget due to rising debt costs due to a debt restricting done before I came onto the council. I need to see that we have cut everywhere we can in Metro and done everything we can to capture revenue from tourism and growth before I could support a property tax increase.

Get More Options from the State

We should approach the state legislature about giving us more tools to capture tax revenue from growth and tourism. Many surrounding counties have impact fees that are paid on new developments. This is currently prohibited by state law, but we should at least approach the state about changing this.

In overall growth metrics, Nashville’s economy is doing well with a low unemployment rate as most people can find a job if they want one. However, the growth and good in the city has been spread out unevenly. We have a lot to work on and many things Metro government should be doing better, but they aren’t anything we can’t improve or fix.  There is much more good about our city right now then there is bad. However, every measurable will eventually trend the wrong way if we don’t deal with the effects of growth that are impacting our city’s ability to meet the expectations of Nashvillians and provide the city leadership and services they deserve. The high level of growth is likely unsustainable, but Nashville is likely to keep growing. Every city wants to grow, but it matters how we grow and how we handle it. We aren’t handling it well enough right now. We have a good government for a city of about 450,000, but we have nearly 700,000 in Nashville and Davidson County. We need to make investments in schools, transportation like transit, sidewalks, and neighborhood traffic calming, and public safety. If we don’t make these investments, we will be paralyzed by our growth. Just like a business, any city that isn’t growing is going in the wrong direction, but we must have leadership that wants to tackle handling the growth. That’s the biggest thing I want to work on for the next four years. We must get Metro to deal with growth, which encompasses a lot: make our transportation system work better with the increasingly bad traffic congestion, capture more revenue from tourism and the city’s visitors, improve our schools, pay our teachers/police officers/firefighters the salaries they deserve with the increased demand on them and to attract, add teachers/police officers/firefighters that we should be doing with the increase in students, people and buildings, get the Metro budget in line, and overall make Metro government work better for residents that live here.

With Nashville’s growth, we need to make sure large developments are still safe places to work. While state and federal government regulates this area, Metro can set an example by increasing the safety training required for workers on its projects, including apprenticeships and other education.