Nashville’s contest for vice mayor enters the home stretch this week, as more early voting locations open and turnout is expected to ramp up.
The candidates are acting Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner and At-Large Councilman Jim Shulman
The winner will complete the final year of the term and is likely to preside over several intense Metro Council decisions. And — although unlikely — the vice mayor would be first in line if an emergency mayor were needed again.
Weiner, an audiologist, has represented Bellevue on the council since 2011. She gained the trust of her peers and was elected presiding officer last year, which positioned her to take on the role of acting vice mayor when David Briley was called on to become mayor following Megan Barry's resignation.
Shulman, an attorney who directs the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, served two terms as a district council member in the Green Hills area. After an 8-year break, he was elected to an at-large council position in 2015.
WPLN asked the candidates to answer three key questions. Their answers follow, edited for length and clarity.
Q: If the mayor leaves his position in the next year, you would be called upon to fill that role. What are your qualifications for that post?
The role of vice mayor is essentially to keep the train on the tracks until that time when a mayor would be elected by the full community. Having served on Metro government for the last seven years I’ve got a real knowledge of the workings of the departments and of the system. I would be appropriately qualified to do just that.
Should it be for an extended period of time: My moderate approach of finding common ground and working collaboratively with others to find solutions I think would offer constituents the comfort in knowing that we were moving forward in whatever initiatives were appropriate and good for the city.
I’ve served the council both as a district council member and as an at-large. So I have a perspective on what district council members go through, in terms of neighborhood issues: potholes, barking dogs, all those different things. I also now have a perspective as an at-large councilman who considers the whole city.
For the last four years I’ve basically been traveling all over the city to go to as many places as I can to try to get a better sense of what people are concerned about; what are their issues?
… And I think it’s very important for anybody serving in public office to listen. I have the ability to listen and try to solve problems.
Q: We’ve heard concerns about the council being burdened by Metro’s complex policy challenges. What concerns do you have about the functioning of the council, and what would you do to address those?
For 40 members, [the council] functions pretty well. But I think one of the biggest things is we get so tied up with lots of different zoning issues and lots of different things that are kind of floating through. Sometimes it's good to take a step back and look at the overall picture. … Another way of saying this is: What is it that this council wants to be remembered for?
The second part is how does the public see the council, and how does it understand how the council works? I think the vice mayor could certainly spend some extra time during the meetings, particularly when you have a lot of people sitting in the back of the chamber, explaining to the public what is happening during the meetings.
The challenge for us is that you have part-time council members. For example, in so far as the budget is concerned, the system that we work under was based on a budget that was 10 pages long. Today our budget is over 700 pages long. … We need to be actively engaged in the objective evaluation of all these proposals and take a hard look at our government efficiencies. Where can we cut the fat in spending? How can we best put our money to work?
… [It’s also] my opportunity to appoint committees and committee chairs who are people who are interested and have a level of expertise and interest in the different committees. So for example on the education committee, I would want to have people who have had their kids in public school or have a specific knowledge of education … same thing for the budget and finance committee.
Q: In some ways, your track record is similar to your opponent in the runoff. What distinguishes you?
If you want to know how my head works, you have to look to my business background. My day job is business consulting in a medical field. I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive. For the last seven years, my lens as a business consultant is how I have evaluated the proposals that have come before us.
… I would point to everything I’ve gotten done in Bellevue as testament to my ability to get things done and bring people together to make things happen: our new library, the new fire hall, the new community center, and One Bellevue Place, which is turning a mall that was effectively reducing property values and we’ve turned that around. We’ve got the Predators’ ice facility coming to Bellevue, more restaurants, more shopping — a better lifestyle for the community.
I bring people together so they can listen to each other, and I think that that’s a strength that I’m offering.
We all try to be friendly to each other because we are both members of the city council. There are places that we did differ in terms of votes.
In terms of some of the more progressive areas I think you could find some differences. I would describe myself as a very progressive socially. I’m a conservative when it comes to fiscal matters. I’m very careful with taxpayer money.