In the runoff, voters in Nashville are selecting four at-large Metro Council members from eight who qualified. Deciding which ones to vote for reminds us of sifting through a pile of applications to find the right person.
So we've been asking the candidates the kinds of big-picture questions you might get in a job interview.
For the first round of voting, we asked all of the candidates to give us their big ideas to improve Nashville, how they'd navigate thorny projects, and how they'd lead an area as big as Davidson County.
We stuck with that big-picture approach for the runoff. Candidates were given 150 words to say what their top priority would be for the city's budget, what they think the Metro Council should be doing better, and what skill they'd bring to the council that it currently lacks.
The finalists' answers are below.
What is your No. 1 priority for the Metro budget?
Increased funding for our schools. As a mother of five children who are past and current MNPS students, and someone in countless conversations over the years with teachers and staff, I know the importance of providing equitable funding for ALL schools. It is important that the funding take into consideration the unique needs of each school and allows the school board to address the educational and social emotional learning of our kids. It is equally important that the council provide enough funds that allow the board to pay our teachers and provide additional resources (mental health, social worker, etc., for our schools). A good education system will impact earning capacity, workforce development and economic growth of a city. It is the future of our kids and our city, and it is important that we invest in it.
Sharon W. Hurt
Infrastructure. We must have more police, firefighters, better roads, water works. Education, not K-12 education, but educating citizens of what resources are available to better our communities and ourselves. When Nashville citizens can have a quality of life, regardless of their zip code, we are then living the life of what we were meant to be.
Our budget should establish our employees as the priority so that we pay our first responders, teachers and employees equitably — those at all ends of the pay scale. We need to wring every inefficiency out of government, cut wasteful spending, finding sources of non-property tax revenue and identify a dedicated funding source so that we can fund employee compensation consistently year over year.
Council must work with the mayor to come up with a plan to adequately fund schools and public safety. Educating our children and protecting life and property are the most important functions of government, and our budget should reflect that priority. As a former MNPS parent and member of the School Report Card committee, I have seen how successful schools can operate given appropriate resources. We must provide the funding to empower our teachers and to graduate students who are college or career ready. Through my ride-alongs with police officers, participation in citizen police academy training exercises, and many conversations with police, firefighters and emergency responders, it is clear to me that those departments are understaffed and underpaid, and that Nashvillians are at risk as a result. Whether through new efficiencies and savings or new revenue from growth or otherwise, new revenue must be directed to schools and public safety.
My top priority is to follow up on our commitment to the cost-of-living adjustment for city employees. I was the only council member that voted against eliminating our three-year commitment to provide an adequate cost-of-living adjustment. Metro employees work tirelessly to provide services to Nashville, it is disingenuous to claim that we can expand services as residents ask without paying our employees what they need to get that work done.
My No. 1 priority for the Metro budget is to be transparent to ensure funds are spent that represent all the people and all the communities in this city. I support fully funding education but not by increasing property taxes that will hurt those very education employees with an increase in goods and services. We have given tax incentives and/or funds to major companies, such as a million dollars for furniture, while the specific area where that company is located has citizens who need jobs and upgrades in the community structure and affordable housing. This kind of spending is wasteful and hurts the citizens, while a major company is getting richer with taxpayer funds.
We owe it to the citizens to be fiscally responsible in every way and certainly have a balanced budget.
Understanding what priorities actually mean and then follow through with the money to fund real priorities. Public safety, including but not limited to our first responders, but every employee that gives their all in a workday for Metro.
Gary W. Moore
As a former firefighter/EMT, my No. 1 priority for the Metro budget would be addressing public safety. There are many issues that need addressing in the Metro budget including infrastructure, public education, affordable housing and so on but public safety has to be at the top of the list. Nashville has grown but the staffing of police and fire and the resources for ensuring safety have not grown with the city. We have been fortunate not to have an incident yet that highlighted the lack of resources, but it is too late to do after it happens.
What's one thing the Metro Council could be doing better as a policymaking body?
Communication and accountability. I believe the council can always do better at communicating with residents. Not just telling residents about decisions the council already made but rather seeking residents' input/feedback. One of my campaign platforms is community-based budgeting. This is a budgeting mechanism that prioritizes and takes input from the community. It ensures that government funding reflects issues that are important to the citizens. A community-based budget helps enhance communication and ultimately helps reinforce trust between the government and the people.
I also believe that accountability is equally important. No matter how well-intended a policy is, it is ineffective if not enforced. It is important for the council to consider intended and unintended consequences of each policy. The council must also provide resources to ensure policies passed are adhered to and that there are ramifications for noncompliance.
Sharon W. Hurt
I believe as a policymaking body, there needs to be more time allotted for adequate input. Legislation is submitted and pushed so fast that it doesn’t allow for there to be full engagement and understanding among councilmembers.
It’s time to bring Nashville’s budget process into the year 2020 … setting priorities consistent with the needs of all of Nashville, realistic timelines, and allow the council to present the options to the public. Today’s mammoth budget looks nothing like the 10-page budget of 50 years ago upon which our system was built. What $2.2 billion business manages its finances as it did in its infancy or whose part time board of directors determines its budget in 60 days? What city does not seek out all grant opportunities? Why haven’t we instituted an efficiency audit of all departments? How are procurement contracts considered, executed and reviewed? We should have better oversight of our spending so that we can be sure to equitably fund our needs around the county.
The Metro Council needs to determine how to guide and support growth so that it is universally beneficial. In the term that just ended, the council considered almost 1800 bills, the majority of which were rezonings. Most of those rezonings allowed increased density or intensity of use. Decisions were made according to the city’s master planning documents, all of which are based on extensive community input. NashvilleNext, the Walk and Bike Plan, and Park’s Plan to Play all lay out a blueprint for growth, but they don’t include how to pay for the infrastructure that is needed to support that growth. The council needs to compare the cost to the city to upgrade infrastructure and increase city services against the new property tax revenue that new construction brings. Quantifying that shortfall is the first step to adjusting fees to cover the cost.
Better engagement is key. We have made a commitment as a city to listen but in practice it is hard for people to do so. We must insure families don’t have to choose between their children and participation, and we should give residents the ability to decide how to use our city revenue appropriately. I filed legislation to have childcare available at city meetings and to use participatory budgeting to give residents more input into disposition of Metro properties.
The Metro Council should be more equitable with its employment activities and seek out opportunities for all citizens to gain employment and contracts, particularly minorities inclusive of African Americans, women and other minorities. North Nashville and Antioch should not be ignored, while areas like the Gulch, 12th South and East Nashville are flourishing. We should also be more aggressive with funding for affordable housing, because moderate- to low-income citizens are being pushed out of the city.
Furthermore as property taxes increase because developers are building $350,000 homes in low- and moderate-income areas, causing property taxes to increase, then those who have owned their homes for years, should be excluded from that tax increase as long as they own the home. That is policy that embraces the citizens, rather than losing their homes because of increased property taxes.
Stop being a rubber stamp for the mayor. Do our job as the elected officials to represent the people of our district and this city.
Gary W. Moore
I think it is not just a perception, but a reality, that neighborhoods (councilpersons) compete for resources. As a policymaking body, the Metro Council needs to look at all projects and requests as a whole and prioritize, instead of letting it be decided by vote-trading or the most effective councilmember. Each councilperson represents the relative same number of citizens and we ALL should be treated equally. Unfortunately, some districts are populated with more businesses that generate more revenue. However, if we followed the example set by the United States government and Tennessee government, we could have both contributory and recipient council districts. In simple terms, share the wealth with all council districts.
What specific skill would you bring to the council that the group is currently lacking?
As a certified public accountant, I bring over 30 years of experience, which includes working as auditor for KPMG and with county and city governments. In addition, I am an MNPS parent and have been an activist for over 20 years. I am a commissioner with Metro Action Commission. I served as the state president for the Business and Professional Women of Tennessee, chair of AMAC and served on other not-for-profit boards. For the last six years, I volunteered as chair of Tennessee Women’s Day on the Hill and coordinated Legislative Day for 25 organizations. A good budget must be financially sound, but it must also be a moral document that prioritizes issues of importance to the residents. As a CPA, I know the numbers, and as an activist, I know the issues, and I want to bring both experiences to the council to help build a Nashville for ALL.
Sharon W. Hurt
The one skill is the ability to manage comprehensive, complex issues and finding solutions. Such as creating a workforce development program that provided jobs/training for people who were under/unemployed. Or an affordable housing project where I initiated the creation of a consortium of nonprofits that acquired and rehabbed 36 homes for single families.
During my eight years on the council as district councilmember and presiding officer/acting vice mayor, I have earned a reputation as a pragmatic problem solver, willing to listen to, and bring those on opposing sides together to find common ground. I have shown in Bellevue that capitalizing on downtown’s prosperity to reinvest outside the core can turn a community around and serve as the transformative catalyst. I shared that "blueprint" with other councilmembers whose community members have also felt as if they are on the sidelines watching downtown flourish. Collaboration is key to making things happen, and I’m known for getting things done.
The current council frequently approaches issues from a confrontational standpoint. I bring a consensus-building viewpoint that I believe can result in better solutions. As a district council member, I have developed relationships with personnel at all levels of Metro departments, enabling me to solve problems and get results quickly. As an engineer, I have a good understanding of the technicalities of Metro’s infrastructure and an analytical approach to working through all facets of an issue. I treat all issues with honesty and integrity while being willing to listen to all sides, even those that I disagree with. Having all information is an essential component of good decision-making. I work hard to get the relevant information and lay it out in a way that everyone can understand so we can look for common ground.
My background in architecture helps communities shape themselves, both literally and figuratively. I bring an objective, analytical perspective to improve the quality of life. In our profession we do it every day: We look at a set of problems, help resolve them by looking at what we can afford, and how we can make it work for everyone. My 29-year immigrant experience in the U.S. has also helped me see the many ways in which we place unintentional roadblocks on new Americans. I set out to help remove them with some success so every Nashville resident can aspire to live to their potential.
I bring the skill of being a proven leader. As a former juvenile probation officer, teacher, principal and pastor, for more than 30 years, as well as a parent, I am keenly aware of the needs and concerns of the people and will be a voice for the voiceless and represent them with genuine concern, knowledge and ability. I am open, transparent, fair and a good steward of the people's money. I am not afraid to ask questions and will present a different perspective with challenging issues. I will lead the charge to reassess the budget and do everything that can be done for the city to have a balanced budget and live within it, while at the same time, every area of this city can benefit, as well as every citizen.
A conservative approach to our funding and taxing, and then moving into proper priorities.
Gary W. Moore
I believe years of leadership in numerous organizations and at different levels of government is my greatest asset. Having served as President of the Nashville Fire Fighters IAFF Local 140, Tennessee Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Southern Federation of Professional Fire Fighters, the Tennessee AFL-CIO, and eight years in the Tennessee General Assembly, I have handled many dispute resolutions and continued moving the organization forward. I know how to facilitate meetings between the groups with conflicting interests and how to stay on top of an issue as long as it takes to resolve it.