Knox County voters have a full slate of candidates to review on the March 3 ballot.

Early voting started Wednesday and continues through Feb. 25. Election Day itself falls on what's called Super Tuesday for Tennessee and other states.

To help you weigh your decisions at the polls, we asked candidates to respond to a series of questions that address the jobs they'll be doing if they're elected.

If you don't see a candidate's name that means we sent them a questionnaire but they didn't respond.

RELATED: Early voting begins Wednesday for presidential primary and county primary elections

Most candidates, however, did answer our questions.

Here are their answers as given to us, presented in the order they will appear on the ballot:

CRIMINAL COURT JUDGE, DIV II

Kyle Hixson, Republican:

What specific qualifications make you the best candidate to be a Criminal Court judge?

When I was appointed to this position by Governor Lee and sworn in on January 1, I felt that my experience representing the people of Tennessee either as a prosecutor or Assistant Attorney General in Nashville were what made me the most qualified candidate for this position.  Governor Lee noted that I had spent my career working in complex criminal litigation.  I have tried jury trials in some of the most difficult and complex cases in Knox County.  I have represented Tennessee before the Court of Criminal Appeals in more than 80 cases.  I have argued to the Tennessee Supreme Court in favor of harsher punishments for child pornographers.  I have fought to enforce the death penalty by defending the State against a lawsuit by a group of death row inmates.  I have fought to enforce criminal judgments by defending the State against habeas corpus lawsuits in all three federal districts in Tennessee, as well as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.  I have filed on behalf of Tennessee in the United States Supreme Court.  With this range of experience, I have worked on criminal cases from the earliest points of an investigation, up until the last stages of federal appellate review.

My most recent work as Deputy District Attorney General makes me uniquely qualified for this position.  A District Attorney, much like a judge, is responsible for all the cases on the docket and therefore gains a global understanding of the trends and issues facing our justice system.  Serving on DA Charme Allen’s executive team, I worked closely with judges, clerks, law enforcement agencies, and lawmakers to deal with some of the most pressing issues in local criminal justice.  First and foremost among these issues was the opioid crisis.  There is much work left to be done, but I am proud of the progress that we made in battling this epidemic.

Judges should be involved members of the local bar.  I am honored that my alma mater, the University of Tennessee College of Law, has asked me to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Trial Practice.  I just finished my third year teaching a younger generation of lawyers how to try cases before a jury.  I am an active member of the Knoxville Bar Association, and I’m honored that its members recently “Strongly Recommended” me to continue serving as Criminal Court Judge.  I am involved in the Knoxville Inn of Court, a legal organization committed to mentoring young lawyers.  I am also an active member of the Knoxville Chapter of the Federalist Society, a community of lawyers and judges who are dedicated to honoring our Constitution and statutes by enforcing the plain language of these documents.    

Judges should also be good members of their community.  My wife Rachel and I believe that public service shouldn’t end at 5 p.m., and that’s why both of us are involved in serving local nonprofits.  I am a past board member of CASA of East Tennessee, serving abused and neglected children.  I currently serve on the board of directors of the Sertoma Center, a nonprofit providing services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Rachel serves as an ally at Restoration House, a nonprofit that helps single mothers transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.  Raising three daughters, Rachel and I are fully invested in Knox County and will do everything we can to make it the best community that it can be.

Finally, my experience as Criminal Court Judge makes me the most qualified candidate for this position.  The bar association candidate survey, mentioned above, was conducted after I was sworn in and after attorneys had the opportunity to practice in my Court.  This demonstrates that I have broad support across all portions of the bar—defense attorneys and prosecutors alike.  The bottom line is that Knox County citizens have trusted me for years to prosecute some of the most difficult cases in this jurisdiction, and they can also trust me in the very important position of Criminal Court Judge. 

Why exactly do you want to be a judge?

I have dedicated my career to public service.  Based on my experience and qualifications, serving as Criminal Court Judge is the best way for me to serve my fellow citizens at this time.  I have worked in public safety for my entire career.  Criminal Court is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to public safety.  As Judge, I make decisions every day that have an impact on the safety of our community.  My experience makes me uniquely qualified to be the person exercising this judgment.  I would be honored to continue in this important role.

What if any changes do you think need to be made to the current criminal justice system in Knox County?

Our Detention Facility is busting at the seams even though total arrests have remained mostly static.  It seems that this increase in inmate population is being caused by increased lengths of stay.  Some of this is unavoidable given our current situation with opioids and other dangerous drugs in our community.  Oftentimes, these inmates are in custody as they await placement in a drug treatment facility, which can sometimes take weeks if not months to arrange.  We must be diligent in seeking creative ways to find bed placements for these offenders so they are not clogging up our jail.  Spots in our jail should be reserved for the truly dangerous criminals and for those who have demonstrated that they cannot comply with our laws.

A criticism often heard in the community about the Knox County Criminal Court system is that it takes too long for cases to get through the system – cases become bogged down and take years to finally get resolved. What’s your response?

I was sympathetic to this complaint as a prosecutor, and I remain that way as a Judge.  Whether you are a criminal defendant or a crime victim, it takes too long to move cases through our system.  Unfortunately, it’s a function of the large number of cases that we currently have on the docket.  I am currently scheduling jury trials in September, and I have on average nine cases set for trial every week between now and then.  There is no easy answer to this problem, but I pledge that I will be diligent in ensuring that cases are brought to resolution as quickly as possible while maintaining the due process protections afforded the parties.  Swift adjudication of cases is in the best interest of all parties involved.  It is certainly one of my main focuses as Judge.

Is there someone who for you stands out as a great representative of the criminal justice system?

I have a tremendous amount of respect for our lawyers who work in public service, either as Assistant Public Defenders, private appointed lawyers, or Assistant District Attorneys.  We are blessed with a talented number of public sector lawyers in Knoxville.  They could make more money working in the private sector, but they have dedicated their careers to serving their community in their respective roles.  They are the backbone of our local criminal justice system, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for the difficult jobs that they perform, and perform well, on a daily basis.

Wes Stone, Republican: 

What specific qualifications make you the best candidate to be Criminal Court judge?

The specific qualifications that make me the best candidate to be a Criminal Court Judge are experience and maturity.  At the age of 45, I am approximately nine years older than my opponent.  I have practiced law for over 19 years;  eight years longer than my opponent.  With nearly 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system for both the prosecution and the defense, I have tried more criminal jury trials than any other candidate in this race.  These jury trials include nine complicated matters involving charges of both first degree murder and one death penalty case.  In addition to my trial court practice in state courts, I have additional experience in federal court where I have handled over 35 cases in Knoxville and Greenville.  My private practice of over nineteen years also includes extensive experience in the appellate courts for both the State of Tennessee and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This extensive experience has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the law, rules of evidence, and rules of criminal procedure that are necessary to render prompt, fair and reasoned judgments and decisions to all parties who appear in this Court.  I have the professional maturity and fortitude to uphold the fundamental fairness required by the Due Process Clauses of our Tennessee and United States Constitutions for everyone by strictly following and applying the law to the facts of each case. 

Why exactly do you want to be a judge?

I want to serve Knox County and the Sixth Judicial District as Criminal Court Judge because I want use my nearly 20 years of legal experience to give back to our great community and the good people in it by ensuring that the process is fair for all parties.  The people of Knox County deserve a judge who has the professional and personal experiences I possess and the ability to lead this Court by promptly making the correct decisions based solely upon the facts and strict application of the law.

I have worked hard with my clients in both civil and criminal matters in identifying and working through their mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and often both.  In these instances, I have always wanted to be a part of their success – not their failure.  By helping clients improve themselves for the betterment of both themselves and our community, I believe I have improved our community by reducing or eliminating the likelihood that they will re-offend. On a larger scale, I want to serve Knox County and the Sixth Judicial District as Criminal Court Judge so I can perform this important service for those individuals who truly desire to improve themselves and our community.  I hold myself to a high level of accountability and will expect nothing less from the individuals who appear in my Court.

What if any changes do you think need to be made to the current criminal justice system in Knox County?

The good, hard-working people who work in Knox County’s criminal justice system – including the clerks, court reporters, court staff, law enforcement officers, attorneys – work hard to ensure the efficient and effective delivery of due process to which we are all entitled.  Before making any changes to the system, I will consult with them and others regarding better ways to ensure that all people and the State of Tennessee receive the prompt, fair and impartial decisions required of me as judge.  For example, I will explore, identify and strongly consider implementing processes, including scheduling orders that when enforced, promote the timely resolution of cases without compromising the rights of both the State of Tennessee and the people who come before this Court.

A criticism often heard in the community about the Knox County Criminal Court system is that it takes too long for cases to get through the system – cases become bogged down and take years to finally get resolved. What’s your response?

This criticism is accurate.  Victims, people accused of criminal activity, the friends and family of both, and the community have a right to the prompt, effective and competent resolution of cases.  I am a tireless worker.  As judge, I will work tirelessly to ensure the efficient resolution of cases without compromising the rights of the parties who appear in this Court.  I believe incorporating scheduling orders is an important tool that needs to be considered for the prompt resolution of cases.  I also believe in earning an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.  Hard work will be required to resolve this Court’s already crowded docket.  I will work full days, Monday through Friday (and Saturdays if necessary), to reduce the tremendous backlog of cases currently pending in this Court.

Between the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays in 2019, there were over 300 active cases in the Knox County Criminal Court, Division II, alone.  Since January 1, 2020, no jury trials have occurred in this Court.  While it is unclear why this is occurring, justice delayed is justice denied.  At the same time, new cases have been added to this Court’s docket.  If elected, I will work harder and smarter by developing processes that ensure the prompt, effective resolution of cases.  By rendering competent decisions based solely upon the facts and the law, I will also reduce the number of cases added back to this Court’s crowded docket by the appellate courts who have the authority to send cases back to the trial court when they determine errors occurred in the earlier trial court proceedings.  Prompt, competent decisions will have the effect of both obtaining finality of judgment for all parties and reducing the costs to taxpayers by avoiding retrials of cases that could have been avoided had competent decisions been made during the proceeding. 

Is there someone who for you stands out as a great representative of the criminal justice system?

Douglas W. Tripp served this great State of Tennessee and his community as a Trooper for the Tennessee Highway Patrol for 13 years before his life was prematurely taken while on duty.  Mr. Tripp was an excellent husband, father, son, brother and friend to so many people.  He performed his law enforcement duties with fairness, honesty, integrity and a high regard for humanity and respect – even to those he arrested.  His legacy as an exemplary man and law enforcement officer still serves as an example to police officers today.    As judge, I will be dedicated to serving this role through honest, fair and impartial administration of justice in accordance with the rule of law that will promote excellence, integrity and competence in the judicial system. 

KNOX COUNTY PUBLIC DEFENDER

Rhonda Lee, Republican:

What specific qualifications make you the best candidate to be district public defender?

My 35 years of working with people and building relationships. I have 17 years of working as a licensed real estate agent and co-owner of a home building company. I have supervised and managed a large number of people in business and community  organizations. I have worked for 19 years in the legal profession, starting as a paralegal and earning my law degree while working in several prominent law firms in Knoxville gaining experience in personal injury, medical malpractice, bankruptcy, family law, and corporate litigation. Also, my other work experience includes the U.S. Attorney’s office as a paralegal, serving as a Special Prosecutor appointed by the Supreme Court with the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office and an internship with Knox County District Attorney Office. Working as a solo practicing attorney entering into my seventh year doing indigent defense. I have done over 20 jury trials in Knox County of cases of D.U.I.’s, Rape, Robbery, Child Abuse, Drug Related Crimes, Violent crimes and First Degree Murder cases. I have handled over 1,000 cases in Knox and surrounding counties. My daily case load in court averages from 12-15 a day in 6 different courts.

*I have received two Trial Advocacy Awards from the Tennessee Association of Criminal

*Defense Lawyers. I have also been an adjunct law professor at Pellissippi State Community College.

Why exactly do you want to take on this job?

I have a passion to make a difference in the lives of others. While I have been a solo practicing attorney doing the work of a public defender I have the compassion for people, the ability to communicate with those who are accused of a crime and their family during the most difficult crisis in their life. It is of the utmost importance that people get treated with respect and know that someone is going to bat for them. Everyone has a story and having the ability to find out where they came from and how they got there and how to we address the issues that they are facing begins with the ability to communicate and build a relationship of trust. Addressing the mental health issues, drug addictions, veterans with PTSD is of the utmost priority and it takes a village with a community effort.

What if any changes do you think need to be made in the way the District Public Defender’s Office now operates?

Fresh ideas. Having the public defender’s office to work in a more collaborative way with private attorney’s doing indigent defense, along with the District Attorney’s office, law enforcement, judges and the community organizations to better serve the citizens of Knox County. Not looking to make staff changes.

A criticism often heard in the community about the Knox County Criminal Court system is that it takes too long for cases to get through the system – cases become bogged down and take years to finally get resolved. What’s your response?

Depending on the severity of the charges and the large of amount of cases, it is impressive how many cases do get resolved in a timely manner. Cases that are more severe take time to fully investigate and prepare for a trial or resolution. If your accused of a crime where you could be facing a life sentence or long periods of being incarcerated you do not want a rush to judgment. A rush to judgment means people get convicted and go to jail for something they do not do.

Is there someone who for you stands out as a great representative of the criminal justice system?

Abraham Lincoln to me is one of the greatest examples of someone that best represents the criminal justice system. He was a man who came from humble beginnings and did not give up. He was lawyer who fought for those who could not fight for themselves. He was defeated many times in business and running for office but he never gave up and became our President. He became on the best President’s we have in our country and he fought to make right the wrongs of the past and unite a divided country. He was my inspiration to become a lawyer. If you want a present example of a criminal justice hero it would be Justice Brent (sic) Kavanaugh.

Eric Lutton, Republican:

What specific qualifications make you the best candidate to be district public defender?

I am by far the most experienced candidate. I am the only candidate in the March 3rd Republican Primary that has ever worked in a Public Defender Office. During my tenure in the Knox County Public Defender’s Office, I have served at every level within the office hierarchy. I have served as a staff attorney, where I have represented countless clients and managed the crushing caseloads that Assistant Public Defenders carry. In 2015, I was promoted to be a team leader in the office, which placed me as the direct supervisor for a third of the office. I was later promoted to be the Deputy Public Defender under my predecessor, Mark Stephens, placing me as second in charge of the office of 28 lawyers and roughly 70 employees. When Mr. Stephens retired from the Public Defender’s Office, Governor Bill Lee appointed me to lead the office and I have been the Knox County Public Defender since last year.

Why exactly do you want to take on this job?

This work is my calling and my passion. I initially attended law school to be a district attorney. However, after working in the system, I came to the conclusion that I could make more of a difference in helping my community by working with those who are the most vulnerable among us. Many of the Public Defender clients have significant mental health and/or addictions issues. By helping to address those issues, we lower crime rates and help put individuals on the path to redemption. There is nothing more satisfying than running into a former client that we helped get on the appropriate mental health medication or into rehab and hearing they have been able to turn their lives around and are now healthy, happy, drug-free, employed, and reunited with their family.

What if any changes do you think need to be made in the way the District Public Defender’s Office now operates?

I believe that there are opportunities for agencies that are traditionally viewed as adversaries to better work together on certain issues, such as addiction and mental health, impacting our community. In my time in office, I have met with Chief of Police Eve Thomas, Sheriff Tom Spangler, and District Attorney Charme Allen. In those conversations, I communicated to all three that even if we were to disagree on certain issues, that there will be common ground where we can work together to make Knox County a great place to live and work.

I started working in that non-adversarial approach several years ago when I reestablished a Public Defender presence at Veterans and Drug Court. The Public Defender’s Office had not had a relationship with the Metro Drug Coalition for years, and I reestablished that partnership and am now on their Board of Directors. I have also become very involved as a stakeholder in the All4Knox committee on Criminal Justice, a member of the Disparities in Educational Opportunities committee for Knox County Schools, and a stakeholder in Safe Baby Court, where excellent work is being done to ensure that expecting mothers with a history of addiction, but a passion for sobriety, are given the resources they need to make sure that their unborn children are not born drug dependent.

A criticism often heard in the community about the Knox County Criminal Court system is that it takes too long for cases to get through the system – cases become bogged down and take years to finally get resolved. What’s your response?

The reality is that all agencies in the Knox County Criminal Justice system are understaffed. We have a very professionally-run Court system here in Knox County, but each employee in each agency can only do so much in a given day. For example, as it relates to the Public Defender’s Office, our caseloads are excessively high. The American Bar Association and the Department of Justice formed a National Advisory Commotion (NAC) to study caseloads. After a significant period of study, NAC caseload standards were issued that indicate that no single Public Defender could reasonably be expected to handle more than 150 felony or 400 misdemeanor cases in a given year. We currently have lawyers handling nearly double that amount per year and would need another 11 lawyers just to get to the point where we are operating at a level that is the maximum that any lawyer could be expected to handle. That translates to cases getting delayed. For example, last week a lawyer in the Public Defender’s Office had three different cases set for trial on the same day. Clearly, only one of those cases was able to go and the other two had to be continued. In order to make sure that trial days are not wasted, Judges, District Attorneys and Public Defenders will regularly have multiple cases set the same day. All participants in the system are working hard, but the system is overburdened.

Is there someone who for you stands out as a great representative of the criminal justice system?

Former Public Defender Mark Stephens is an obvious choice for me. Mark was Knox County’s first Public Defender and built this office from the ground up. In his time as Public Defender, the office became a nationally recognized model for how a Public Defender office should be run and recently was awarded the Jefferson B. Fordham award from the American Bar Association for accomplishments in a Government Law Office. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to learn under Mark Stephens as his Deputy Public Defender prior to his retirement from the office.

KNOX COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 1

Evelyn Gill, Democrat

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

To me there is no single issue that is most pressing, but rather, several interconnected issues such as finding a balance between the rapid population growth and the increased demands placed upon our existing infrastructure, utilities, housing, public schools and funding priorities in Knox County.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances?

Yes, I would consider voting for a property tax increase. Raising taxes has never been popular, but if our current tax rate is inadequate to serve the needs of a growing population, it would be irresponsible to refuse to consider a tax rate increase.  A rate increase may be needed, not just for infrastructure, but also for capital improvements for our schools, libraries and greenways. Supporting a property tax increase is an opportunity to invest in the County’s fiscal health and future priorities which support the general welfare of all constituents in Knox County.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain?

There is no single vote in the past year that reflects a single smart vote. We should evaluate the Commission as a body that has collectively passed resolutions for a broader vision in Knox County. Highlights from the past year include a balanced budget, teacher pay increases, improved infrastructure, contracting for a feasibility study of the Knoxville Center Mall area, the TVA tower deal, and investing in expanded services for the Clerk’s office. This list is a snapshot into the current vision of County Commissioners.

Does Mayor Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain?

Mayor Jacobs and the Knox County Commission are collectively working to build a county that prioritizes jobs, its citizens and improve access to opportunities and services in the County. The Mayor has key projects that are focusing on vocational and literacy initiatives (READ City), cultivating a business environment that bring industries and jobs into the County and dedicating resources to the ALL4Knox plan that addresses the opioid crisis. I think the focus on people, health and policy is on the right track.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county? Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight?

The Growth and Sector plans for Knox County outlines an appropriate land use policy for developers. However, what is needed is better coordination for long-term development to address planning for utilities, schools, transportation, emergency services and economic development. Such coordination is an opportunity for public input between key stake holders of Knoxville/Knox County planners, the City of Knoxville, the Town of Farragut and Knox County.

Dasha Lundy, Democrat:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

 The most pressing issue facing Knox County is the lack of equity in District 1.  Over the past few years, Downtown Knoxville has experienced a surge of economic growth. Unfortunately, the rest of district has experienced a decline especially in the East Knox area. The median income in District 1 is approximately $23,000 compared to the average income in the County being $50,000.  District 1 is starting to get more attention and there are some projects that will begin to bring more housing, people and jobs. The Opportunity Zone will also spark more investors to invest. Our issues are complex, because we live in a diverse district.  The African American Community and others are still recovering from Urban Renewal, which took away business, housing and a sense of community.   History should not repeat itself. My plan is to make the Burlington Station a cultural and economic downtown of East Knox County. Burlington has gained a lot of attention of the over the past few years. The community is ready to have a place where they can live, work, and play in their neighborhood while highlighting a culture that has been forgotten. 

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.  

This question comes up a lot and my answer is the same.  I struggle with this, because I live in a District that has an average income of $23,000.  There are other ways to increase revenue besides increasing property taxes.   

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

The smartest vote was to increase the budget for Knox County Schools in order to build a new school in Lonsdale.  Any increase in investment that has a positive impact on our students is a smart move.  Our students deserve more. 

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

Mayor Glenn Jacobs gained my respect when he created the Diversity Development Manager position. He is showing that Diversity is an unique strength that shouldn’t be ignored.  An appreciation for Diversity can make a positive impact on economic growth for our County.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight. 

I am more concerned about applying the Smart Growth Principles that will improve our County as we think about land use and development.  

-Create a range of employment opportunities.

-Mix land uses.

-Take advantage of compact building design.

-Create walkable neighborhoods and a range of housing opportunities and choices.

-Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.

-Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.

-Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.

-Provide in advance a variety of transportation choices, urban and social infrastructure based on population projections.

-Make development decisions sustainable, predictable, fair, and cost effective.

-Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

-Cost effectiveness in decision-making.

Reginald Jackson, Independent:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

I believe the most pressing issue for Knox County would be the  lack of major industries. We have been passed up due to circumstances that we need to address. I believe with getting trades back in high and middle schools, especially in District 1 will provide the skill sets that the major industries are looking for.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I will support a increase of property taxes to push the growth of our school system and also improvements in these flood areas. I know that district one pays both county and city taxes so I will make sure that I take that in consideration before voting either way.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

I believe that the move to get the TVA tower and the garage was the smartest move that I have seen. I believe the commission is trying to line itself up with the mayor to continue to make great decisions to move Knox County forward and I look forward to being a part of that process.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

I think that Mayor Glenn Jacobs has a passion for Knox County, and he wants to see this County at its best. I also believe that he is moving in the right direction of trying to save money and not waste it on unnecessary spending.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight.

I believe that most of the development is moving along just fine in most areas. I think that we need to look at how we will deal with the flooding issues as developments progress. Also, we need to look at making District 1 more attractive for those already here to enjoy and for those that are moving into the Knoxville and Knox County area to enjoy as well.

KNOX COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 2

Grant Rosenberg, Republican:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

Public Education makes up 60% of the County’s annual budget, therefore it should demand the majority of our attention. Educational attainment impacts other issues such as incarceration rates, economic development, financial independence and improved health outcomes.

An outstanding educational system is the foundation of a strong community; therefore I will work with the Knox County School Board to ensure every child has access to a great education, including competitive pay for our teachers; support for the Great Schools Partnership and its innovative programs; curriculum that prepares graduates for post-secondary education or to enter the workforce directly; and building and maintaining state-of-the-art learning environments.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

Due to strong economic growth, Knox County has not had a property tax increase since 1999, when it was raised $0.55. The tax rate has actually dropped $1.20 since then.

The County is in good financial shape with a strong bond rating and a healthy “rainy day fund”, but our debt burden is pushing its capacity.

Generally, I don’t think government can tax itself into prosperity and I believe the County should continue to responsibly manage expenses and focus on economic growth. However, if we need to make important investments in public education or infrastructure that have a demonstrated return of strong economic growth, I would rather pay for those investments upfront, rather than burden future generations with deferred costs or insoluble debt.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

I think the vote to lease TVA’s East Tower makes financial sense for Knox County and KCS. It keeps functions centrally located and is a much better office layout for KCS administration than a former hotel. Over the long term, the deal saves millions of dollars, resulting in more money for the classroom. It also brings the UT System to downtown Knoxville, which fosters deeper collaboration between the City, County, UT, ORNL and KCS. Finally, it puts the AJ Building (and hopefully other underutilized county-owned properties) back on the tax rolls and into a higher and better use.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

 I think the Mayor has the County on the right path. I appreciate his commitment to issues like childhood literacy, mental health/addiction, and regional economic development. If elected, I hope to build a cooperative relationship with his administration to negotiate successful outcomes for the 2nd District and throughout Knox County.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county? Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight?

Let me state unequivocally that I believe in responsible long-term planning. As our region continues to grow, we must be prepared for that growth. That means we need the appropriate infrastructure (stormwater, transportation, schools, parks, etc) to support and leverage quality development. I consider myself pro-growth because that is the best way to keep our tax rate low; however I would not approve a rezoning or project that shifts an undue burden onto taxpayers, such as unmitigated traffic issues, school overcrowding or stormwater runoff.

I would like to see land use policies that prioritize redevelopment of underutilized property, leverage private investment in our urban neighborhoods and encourage more density along major corridors. These areas already have most of the infrastructure and services in place, so the growth results in a greater net benefit to the County tax base.

Courtney Durrett, Democrat:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County, and how do you plan to address it?

The most pressing issue facing Knox County is development with minimal regard for its effect on residents. Our infrastructure has not kept pace with growth. There have been too many situations where residents have had to fight the loss of homes or experienced flooding because of insufficient storm water construction due to development. Traffic saturation in residential areas is also becoming a problem. For example, the growth of the Broadway corridor, while great for business, has inadvertently caused neighborhood streets to be used as cut-throughs and decreased the safety of those neighborhoods.

As county commissioner, I would insist development plans included complete studies that go beyond addressing the obvious effects and that include forethought with bordering neighborhoods, roads, schools and businesses.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances?

Governments provide services. Services cost money. As the cost of services increases, the government is faced with the fundamental question – to cut services or raise taxes. To say that I would never raise taxes would be unrealistic and irresponsible. The first step would be to ensure all cost saving measures had been attempted and found to be insufficient. The current budget would need to be analyzed to confirm there is no wasteful spending in which funds could be reallocated. I will always be cognizant of the impact tax increases have on those who bear the burden – you and I, our friends, families, and neighbors. If the need arises to raise taxes, I will do so with the greatest care. Specific situations that could possibly warrant a property tax include education and infrastructure. Increases in teacher pay and creating programs to attract and retain quality teachers are a top priority of mine as a public educator. I aim to ensure quality and competitive education in a safe environment for all Knox County students. Infrastructure improvements should be made anytime there is growth. Residents of my district have informed me that roads, schools, libraries and general infrastructure improvements are a priority to them. We need to put our money where we say our priorities lie.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

Knox County Commission made a smart vote when they voted to fund a study for potential uses of the Knoxville Center Mall rather than immediately moving government offices there. The possibilities for beneficial uses for East Knox County are endless at the mall location and when kept in private hands, can produce more revenue for the county. This decision will avoid the cost of demolition, the cost of new structure construction, or the cost of renovating the existing property and bringing it up to code. It seems to me, especially with no development and land use plan, letting the market decide what goes in the mall location is a more prudent decision.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

As an educator, I am very impressed with the Read City USA’s Reading Gives you Wings book drive Mayor Jacobs initiated to promote literacy across the county. Mayor Jacobs is also interested in increasing revenue for the county, and while more funding is a plus, we need to ensure the decisions being made are not adversely affecting Knox County employees and residents. For example, the decision to lease the TVA East Tower with the building still under federal security could potentially inhibit the ability of the general public to access their government. If Knox County Schools Central Office is relocated there as was suggested, parents and school employees may have a harder time accessing the school system. It seems that all actors impacted by the move may not have had the opportunity to provide input.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county? Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight?

The people of Knox County would benefit from greater developmental oversight. The recent vote to decrease sidewalk requirements hinders the walkability and safety of neighborhoods in the county. I will promote smart development that is beneficial to the residents of Knox County and for infrastructure forethought that matches development.

Storm water, traffic saturation and school populations must be taken into consideration simultaneously when considering development policies. I would like to be as proactive as possible when it comes to land use policies. We should provide coordination with all organizations, such as neighborhood groups, schools, businesses, city and county departments, etc., to ensure proper planning policies are created. Perhaps a “town hall” meeting should be a requirement as part of the planning process, one that requires unambiguous explanations regarding the impact of the development project.

KNOX COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 4

Scott Broyles, Republican:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

Basic infrastructure such as roads, sewer, etc. is a major challenge for many locations as our community continues to grow.  Working together, the State of Tennessee, Knox County Mayor, County Commission, the City Of Knoxville and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), must better plan for and prioritize improvements to our infrastructure.  Failing to do so will negatively impact current and future growth across the county. 

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I am a firm believer that our low tax rate is a positive factor on our quality of life in Knox County and is attractive to people and businesses looking to relocate or expand within our community. If at some point, Knox County should have a revenue deficit and does not have the resources needed to operate, I will work alongside the Mayor and fellow commissioners to identify opportunities to reduce overall spending and increase revenue.

 What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

The Commission’s decision to vote in favor of the Mayor’s budget which included raises for teachers and law enforcement was among the smartest votes cast.  The three pillars upon which the County stands are infrastructure, education and public safety.  Focusing on these basic services as the foundation for serving our constituents is paramount.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

I believe that Mayor Jacobs has the County on the right path.  In my experience, the Mayor and his staff have proven to be attentive leaders and of equal importance, they have followed through on commitments. 

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county? Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight. 

Increases in commercial and residential development must be balanced with well-defined and fairly implemented requirements.  It is essential that there be a transparent and accountable process for approving development, which better takes into account the perspective of homeowners and landowners affected by the proposed use.

Kyle Ward, Republican:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

Accessibility and communication will be my top priorities as 4th district county commissioner. The commission serves the people of Knox County, and they know what our community needs. The concerns I hear most when talking with voters in the 4th district are the importance of upgrading infrastructure, particularly maintaining our roads and improving traffic flows, enhancing the quality of our schools, and keeping taxes low.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I will not support an increase in property taxes. At current tax rates, a budget problem is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. That means prioritizing spending to focus on infrastructure and education. We are going to grow Knox County by keeping money in the hands of our community’s businesses and consumers.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

Anytime the county votes to eliminate wasteful spending is a smart vote, and the TVA tower deal is a good example of that. By some estimates, it is expected to eliminate about a million dollars in wasteful spending every year for the next 40 years. The vote also puts a major piece of real estate back into the hands of the private sector, where it will add value to our economy in addition to producing revenue for the county. All of these savings and gains can then be invested into meaningful projects like education and infrastructure.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

Mayor Jacobs is and has been a principled, good Mayor. While it is still early in his term, he has already demonstrated a deep understanding of what makes an economy and community great. Mayor Jacobs has a clear vision for a better Knox County, and I look forward to working alongside him to implement policies which will unleash our community’s full potential.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county? Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight.

I think property owners know how to use their land better than politicians do. Economic growth is good, and I support community input and the community being part of the process. Unnecessary and burdensome regulations can harm our local economy. Developers need the liberty to innovate and adapt to our communities changing needs, and overly strict land use laws would prevent them from best providing for the residents of Knox County and hurt affordable housing in our community. Cities which have stringent land use regulations like San Francisco are a warning for the entire country not to follow their example. I want Knox County to have the most vibrant housing market in the state. The county’s role is to protect property rights, not take them away.

Todd Frommeyer, Democrat:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

The biggest issue in Knox County is how the Knox County government is approaching development. Mayor Jacobs has tried to push through changes to the Growth Policy Plan which would remove the Plan’s authority over development in the unincorporated areas of the County. The Mayor was behind a successful change to a sidewalk ordinance which previously required sidewalks in all new developments, but now doesn’t. The Mayor also pushed through a controversial “purchase” of the TVA East Tower which was driven, in part, by a desire to move the School Board out of the Andrew Johnson Building and then sell that building to a developer from Nashville. I am for reasonable and responsible development in Knox County. As County Commissioner, I would plan to be a voice AGAINST development without planning and FOR a process which takes into account all people who are affected by the development, not just the people who stand to make money from the development.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I believe it is irresponsible for any elected official to pledge that they would never raise taxes. It does a disservice to the residents of Knox County to try to balance a budget on cuts alone, as the Mayor did last year with his cut to the indigent care program. I think if Knox County is going to consider increasing taxes, it should be done through a property tax increase, rather than through sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive and hit hardest the poorest among us. I would not tie a property tax increase to any specific item in the budget, although schools, teacher pay, and infrastructure are big needs. Instead I would evaluate the need for a property tax increase based on whether the needs in Knox County are appropriately funded. If they cannot be paid for by existing revenue streams, I would advocate (and vote) for a property tax increase to balance the budget for all needs. I would strongly oppose any attempt by the Mayor to make cuts to programs to balance his budget.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

I have disagreed with a few of the Commission’s votes this past year. These include the 11-0 vote in favor of the “purchase” of the TVA East Tower; approving Mayor Jacobs’ proposed change to the sidewalk ordinance, which lessened the requirement on developers to put sidewalks into new developments; and deciding, by an 8-3 vote, not to restore the 30% cut to the indigent care program in Mayor Jacobs’ 2019 budget. However, there are two votes that I think the Commission got right. First, their vote to approve the Greenway study was the right call. It remains to be seen whether they will follow through, but that was a smart vote. Smarter still, though, was the Commission’s decision not to pursue a purchase of the Knoxville Center Mall for a move of County government offices to that location. Instead, they approved funding for a study that will allow the County government to play an effective part in helping make sure that the Knoxville Center Mall property becomes a vibrant commercial center for East Knoxville.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

 Mayor Jacobs’ main focus has been to pursue development that benefits the few at the expense of a large majority of the residents of Knox County. The Mayor’s pet project, the “purchase” of the TVA East Tower will make it harder for citizens to get access to their government. The Mayor’s change to the sidewalk ordinance is mostly a boon to developers, and his attempts to change the Growth Policy Plan are aimed at removing government oversight from the development planning process. On top of this, the Mayor balanced his budget last year at the expense of the Health Department’s indigent care program with a cut of that program’s budget by 30%. If your goal is to make sure that development proceeds unchecked, with no regard for anything else in the County, then you probably think the Mayor is doing a great job. I, on the other hand, believe in reasonable and responsible development. So, I think the Mayor has us on the wrong path.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight

I believe the most pressing issue facing Knox County is the Jacobs’ administration’s focus on development that benefits the few, at the expense of a large majority of the residents of the County. Two good examples of how the Jacobs administration has us on the wrong path with regard to developers are the changes to the sidewalk ordinance and the proposed change to the Growth Policy Plan. The County Commission approved the Jacobs’ administration’s change to Chapter 54 of the Knox County Code to lessen the requirements on developers to put sidewalks into new developments. The Jacobs administration also attempted (unsuccessfully thanks to the Farragut Mayor and Aldermen) to change the Growth Policy Plan to remove the Plan’s authority over development in the unincorporated areas of the County. I’m for reasonable and responsible development that takes into account how development affects everyone. I am concerned with how fully the current planning process takes into account questions about traffic, flooding, and schools. If I am elected to the Commission, I would use all of the power at my disposal as Commissioner to make sure that these things are addressed fully by the planning process.

KNOX COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 5

Kimberly Peterson, Democrat:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

Hands down, managing growth and development in Knox County is the
most pressing issue. In talking with the constituents in District 5, I heard
the same complaint over and over again - we have inadequate
infrastructure - roads, utilities, storm drainage systems and sidewalks - to
keep up with the amount of subdivisions and other forms of development
that are being planned. This challenge is not isolated to just my district, in
sitting in County Commission meetings we hear the same problems
echoed from district to district. Flooding is a common problem across the
whole county, for example, and it is not getting better. We must develop a
strategic plan for development that takes into consideration a long range
view and puts adequate infrastructure in place before more growth is
planned. We must create the plan with all the players, if you will, at the
table. This would include representation from neighborhood associations
and community members. It seems the strongest voices being heard of County Commission now are from the developers.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I would not take the decision to raise property taxes lightly. Before a tax
increase would be considered, I would insist a thorough review of the
budget be conducted to analyze areas or items that may be wasteful or
those that could reasonably be trimmed without a detrimental effect to the
County and its members. However, I would not rule out a property tax
increase. As we have heard repeatedly, we do not have adequate
infrastructure to accommodate growth and we have to have funds to
invest in that infrastructure. To create the funds to invest in
comprehensive infrastructure, we may need to raise property taxes. Many
people have opposed raising property taxes because it may make our
County less attractive to those moving into the area. They cite low taxes
as being more desirable. However, I believe that if we invest in our
infrastructure - public schools, libraries, roads and utilities - up front
funded by property tax increases, the more attractive our County will be.
The more attractive our County is, the more people will want to move here
and stay. This will raise property values in the long run. So, I see a
possible property tax increase as an investment in the future of a healthy
and desirable County.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain.

The smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the
past year was to approve the County Greenway study. Developing and
implementing a plan to improve and connect the four major corridors -
Chapman Highway, Northshore Drive, Beaver Creek and a section of
John Sevier Highway - could help alleviate the infrastructure problems
plaguing Knox County. Making our County more walkable and bikeable
could potentially reduce traffic congestion. It could also be a positive draw
for potential residents looking to possibly settle in Knox County. With the
results we must have input from the communities and neighborhoods
where the greenways are placed. Lastly, we must follow through with the
recommendations. The study was costly and we should be able to look
back and see the benefits of the information gleaned in a timely manner.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

Mayor Jacobs is a very involved mayor and I have
been impressed with several of his programs such as his initiative to
increase early childhood literacy, just to name one. Mayor Jacobs made a
good decision to remain in the refugee resettlement program and I was
pleased to hear him say that overwhelmingly the people who participate in
the program desire the opportunity to contribute to our County and our
community. However, I disagree with Mayor Jacobs’s approach to growth
and development in our County. There have been several plans he has
pushed forward which are not only in conflict with some of his other
stances but also with the people in the community who would be affected
by his proposals. I am referencing specifically his recent proposal to
overturn the 2017 sidewalk ordinance requiring developers to make
sidewalks a part of any new project. This proposal was approved by the
County Commission relieving developers of the responsibility. This seems
to be in conflict with the Mayor’s stance on improving greenways and
walkability. I strongly disagreed with the Mayor’s proposed changes to
the Knox County Growth Policy Plan which would soften the protections
laid out in the plan to protect rural areas and reduce the likelihood of
urban sprawl. The Mayor was able to secure the support of both City
Council and County Commission; however, the Town of Farragut rejected
the changes because the plan would not address infrastructure problems.
The Town of Farragut was the voice of reason here and I supported them
standing up for their community to make sure that they would not be on
the receiving end of unfettered growth.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight.

Our current land use in the county is perhaps too friendly to developers
with not as much regard to the neighborhoods and people it serves. I
believe our community would benefit from greater oversight. Knox County
will grow and needs to grow but how we approach that growth is vital. Do
we take a short term view of development and allow developers to simply
build unrestricted without a strategic plan for how this affects our County’s
future? Or do we take a more long term and holistic view which designs
and implements a strategic plan considering all factors - flood plains,
sinkholes, and other environmental factors, how more subdivisions will
affect the number of public services (police, fire fighters, etc.) and schools,
as well as storm water systems, for example? I believe our growth has
been shortsighted and the people of Knox County are negatively dealing
with the aftermath. The answer is not to give more freedom or leeway to
the developers as I believe our current Mayor and County Commission is
doing. This is evident by the way the repeal of the 2017 sidewalk
ordinance let the developers off the hook as well as the Mayor’s desire to
limit the restrictions in the Knox County Growth Plan. We must have more
voices at the table representing all the interests who will benefit and will
be harmed by land use policies. Right now, it seems the Mayor and the
County Commission is listening primarily to the developers. If I am elected
to serve as 5th District County Commissioner, I would amplify the voices
of the people in local government and have their best interests at the
forefront of every decision.

KNOX COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 8

Richie Beeler, Republican:

What is the most pressing issue facing Knox County and how do you plan to address it?

I believe Knox County’s most important overarching issue for the future is growth, development, and planning. There are many things about our central East Tennessee region that make it an attractive place for people to locate. Among those are an improving education system, low taxes, the sheer beauty of East Tennessee, and a technology corridor from the University of Tennessee to Oak Ridge. As our county grows, it is vital that we steward that growth with good planning. Under Mayor Jacobs’ leadership, the county is about to embark upon a two-year comprehensive transportation study that will include analysis of infrastructure needs such as roads, utilities, and public safety. Growth is coming, and we must take a progressive, thoughtful and proactive approach to planning, or we will simply end up with bad growth, leading to economic and transportation gridlock.

Would you ever consider voting to raise property taxes? If yes, under what circumstances.

I am a proponent of limited government and low taxes. Tennessee is a sales and property tax state, which I believe to be the most equitable system of taxation. While I do not believe a property tax increase is warranted or needed in Knox County, I would never say never as it relates to other tax options, as there are a multitude of ways taxes can be structured in terms of specificity and duration.

What is the smartest vote Knox County Commission took in the past year? Explain. 

This answer may be a bit unorthodox, but I believe the smartest vote the Commission made in the past year was electing Hugh Nystrom to a second term as commission chair. Commissioner Nystrom has been unswervingly thoughtful, fair, and even-handed in his leadership of the commission, both to his colleagues and to the public – a moderator in the truest sense of the word. He will be greatly missed.

Does Mayor Glenn Jacobs have the county on the right path or the wrong path? Explain.

In my observations in fourteen months on commission, I would say Mayor Jacobs does have our county on the right track. I appreciate his commitment to low taxes, and his willingness to lay politics aside and think outside the box to get things done. I also have great confidence in his staff, particularly the finance department. One of the most important things Mayor Jacobs has done is bring greater awareness to the drug addiction crisis in our region, and his willingness to partner with medical professionals, non-profits, other governments, and particularly the faith community to find a solution to this massive problem has been groundbreaking.

In general, what is your view of the land use in the county. Are developers too tightly restricted or would development benefit from greater oversight. 

My general view of land use is that we should first identify what the major strengths of our county are in terms of what attracts people here. From there, we develop a comprehensive growth plan for the county as a whole, and for individual sectors based on those strengths. This approach allows for the preservation of our rural areas and natural wilderness, while still taking a progressive approach to growth and development. I am a firm believer that we do not have to sacrifice our treasured way of life in Knox County in order to steward good growth and development. I do not believe the issue with development is one of restriction and regulation, but simply of good planning that prevents bad growth, while allowing quality developers the freedom to create quality development.

KNOX COUNTY ASSESSOR OF PROPERTY

Tina Marshall, Republican:

Many voters probably don’t understand what this office does. Explain why it’s important.

The Property Assessor’s office is a vital part of local government. This office determines the value of property (both real estate and business personal property)for local taxation purpose. The values that are produced by the assessor’s office are necessary to calculate a property owner’s tax bill. 

What specific qualifications do you have to be the assessor? 

The office of the Property Assessor does not carry any election qualifications beyond the general qualifications for a county office. However, the State Board of Equalization provides educational and training courses to be taken by Assessors. I have worked as an appraiser for the Knox Co Assessors office, so am very familiar with the work to be done. I was also a co-owner of a Residential General Construction Company building homes throughout Knoxville.

How will you ensure that property owners think they’ve gotten a fair shake? 

Property values will be based on building inspection, market trend and analysis to establish the fair market value on properties in Knox County. I will also ensure that I have the personnel in place with the knowledge, training and education to successfully fulfill their job duties effectively and efficiently.

What changes if any would you make in how the office operates?

I will make certain that the staff in the office are being utilized in the most effective positions based on knowledge, education, and training. I will implement cross training, along with the use of up to date technology throughout the departments which will provide efficient service for Knox County. Technology and tools for the employees have vastly improved over the past few decades and I intend to introduce these to office immediately within the first few weeks in office. We can’t wait until election time to implement a new system and improvements when you have been in office for 4 years or even decades.

Reappraisal is just around the corner. What do you see as the biggest challenge to ensure every piece of property is appraised at 100%? 

The biggest challenge I will face is the computer system. The current Assessor is in the process of implementing a brand new computer system which will produce new county property values. This system will only be in place a few months before these values are sent to Knox County property owners and I feel there will not be sufficient time to ensure accuracy of these new property values.

John R. Whitehead, Republican:

Many voters probably don’t understand what this office does. Explain why it’s important.

I think most voters do know what this office does. I do not think they understand how we get to the value we use on their property or what makes property tax fair. Property tax is only fair when the values are equitable. The value that we place on each homeowner’s property determines the amount of tax dollars they pay.

What specific qualifications do you have to be the assessor?

Certified Assessment Evaluator (CAE)
Residential Evaluation Specialist (RES)
Tennessee Master Assessor
Tennessee Certified Assessor
Tennessee Assessment Level V
In addition to the above certifications, I have 40 years of experience.

How will you ensure that property owners think they’ve gotten a fair shake?

I believe most people have some idea of what their property is worth. But, if they have any questions about the value we place on their property, they can call us and ask questions. Our office will be happy to explain how we came up with their value and what the process is if they disagree with the value we have placed on their property. 

What changes if any would you make in how the office now operates?

We are in the process of implementing a new state-of-the-art computer assisted mass appraisal system. It is the first cloud-based system in the county. It could reduce the amount of paper used between our office and the Register of Deeds office tremendously.

Reappraisal is just around the corner. What do you see as the biggest challenges to ensure every piece of property is appraised at 100 percent?

The biggest challenge is to gather enough information to analyze and establish a good value for all types of properties. Large commercial properties are probably the number one challenge which are followed by large acreage properties! Once the Notices go out from our office, we will have two to four weeks of informal hearings. This is where the taxpayer can contact us by phone, e-mail or in person and ask questions about their appraisal. After the informal process, they can then appeal their value to the Knox County Board of Equalization (BOE). If they are not satisfied with BOE’s decision, they can appeal to the State Board of Equalization (SBOE) which has three levels of appeal.

KNOX COUNTY LAW DIRECTOR 

David Buuck, Republican:

What do you see as the role of the law director in Knox County? 

The Role of the Law Director as set out in the charter of Knox County, is to “administer all of the legal affairs of Knox County.”

Explain how you think the law director should interact with the Knox County mayor – and with the County Commission.

The charter provides that the Law Director is to advise and counsel county officials and the commission on all legal matters affecting their offices. Similarly to way I have advised my clients for 40 years, I respond to legal matters which officials bring to this office. I do not interject my opinions into policy matters. Policy matters remain the duty of the executive and legislative branches. 

What makes you uniquely qualified to be the next Knox County law director? 

I have been licensed as an attorney for 40 years and have been in continuous, uninterrupted practice for those 40 years. I have never held another job during that period. For the last 7 ½ years I have been the Chief Deputy Law Director for Knox County. In that role, I have attended and advised countless boards and the commission as well having supervised 10 attorneys with average continuous legal practice of 23 years. 

Some critics of county government say the current director has crossed the bounds of what the office is supposed to be. You’re familiar with the operation of that office. How do you respond?

First of all, the premise is flawed. The law director’s office has never crossed the bounds of the office as set out in the charter. A court has held that the law director has an absolute duty to uphold and defend the charter. The charter belongs to the citizens of Knox County. It has been held by the court, that if a branch of government violates the wording of the charter, the law director has a duty to file an action to correct the violation. 

Some courthouse complaints about the law director’s office have raised questions about whether that office should be appointed rather than elected. Your thoughts on that?

I do not know what the complaints are. An elected law director ultimately represents, and answers to the citizens of Knox County. The citizens should have the right to elect whom they desire. We must remember that this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

An appointed law director owes a duty to the person who has appointed him/her. If an appointed law director renders an opinion which affronts the opinion or desire of the appointing person, then that law director can be summarily fired even if that law director upholds the charter and protects the interests of the citizens.

Jackson Fenner, Independent:

What do you see as the role of the law director in Knox County?

The role of the Law Director is to represent and advise Knox County in all civil matters. As is the case with all attorney-client relationships, the Law Director does not make the ultimate decision in most matters. I’m not a judge, a lawmaker, or an executive. I’m a lawyer. Decisions regarding whether and when to settle a case, whether or not to enter into a contractual relationship, and other dispositional decisions, are ultimately up to the County. Of course, we cannot survey the voters every time an important legal decision must be made. The voters have already entrusted the judges, lawmakers, and executives to make those decisions with the guidance and persuasion of the Law Director.

Explain how you think the law director should interact with the Knox County mayor – and with the County Commission.

The Law Director provides advice, counsel, and representation to the County through the County Mayor and County Commission. It is my job to assure that the Mayor and Commission have a full understanding of the legal implications of their options in any given scenario. Just as in private practice, I put my clients in the best possible position with researched and thorough advice. If a member of government is acting in a way that I believe is illegal or unethical, it is my duty to take that concern up the chain and investigate pursuant to the rules of ethics. If I believe that the County Mayor is acting unethical or illegally, and the Mayor refuses to take my advice, then I would carefully turn to the guidance of the ethics rules, statutes, and the courts, if necessary.

What makes you uniquely qualified to be the next Knox County law director?

I come from a humble, Christian, blue collar family. I was the first person in my family to earn a four year degree. Before I graduated from University of Tennessee College of Law nine years ago at the age of 33, I had every type of job. I washed dishes, waited tables, parked cars, loaded trucks, and worked construction. As a lawyer in private practice, I have dedicated countless hours to serving the underserved. With my background and upbringing, I feel closely connected to people of Knox County. Getting more with less, hard work, keeping costs low, and operating on a tight budget are part of who I am.

Some critics of county government say the current director has crossed the bounds of what the office is supposed to be. You’re familiar with the operation of that office. How do you respond?

The critics are correct. I believe the current director violated legal ethics by refusing to settle a law suit that the county mayor and county commission directed the law director to settle. The ethics rules are clear on this issue.

Some courthouse complaints about the law director’s office have raised questions about whether that office should be appointed rather than elected. Your thoughts on that?

I’m torn on this question. I am always in favor of the democratic process. At my core, I want the voters to have as much of a say regarding who is government as possible. On the other hand, the direct election of the Law Director has led to the attorney-client relationship problems we’ve seen in recent years. This is a question for the County Commission, and I’ll respect their decision.

KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, DISTRICT 2

John Meade:

What is the most pressing issue facing the Knox County School District and how do you plan to address it? 

The most pressing issue is increasing the number of students who are performing at grade level in Math, Science, English and Reading. I will push for fewer, better tests to gauge success. We must provide resources and training to teachers in order for students to improve. 

What is the biggest concern you are hearing from people in your district about the state of our schools? 

Valid Testing -The reality is that our kids will be awarded scholarships and admittance to the institutions of their choice based on achievement and test scores. We need to encourage entrepreneurship and creative thinking, but we must also make sure our students master the core subjects critical to their success. While testing is necessary, we must make sure we are measuring aptitude with tests that will lead students towards a relevant path to post secondary education.

Does Superintendent Bob Thomas have the school system on the right path or the wrong path? Explain. 

I have been impressed by Superintendent Thomas’s willingness to listen and his style of leadership. As Co-President of the Central Foundation, I was asked to I was asked to advocate for four teaching positions that were being cut at Central. I along with Tommy Schumpert, Nancy McBee Nevader and Seth Grossman went to meet with Superintendent Thomas and his staff. They were transparent and willing to share their research and discuss ideas. Superintendent Thomas is bright, loyal, experienced, optimistic, and I believe that he truly has the best interests of our kids at heart.

The mission statement of KCS is: “To provide excellent and accessible learning opportunities that empower all students to realize their full potential.” What does that mean to you and can you offer an example of how you can help fulfill this mission as a member of the board of education? 

One of the primary reasons that I am running for School Board is because I want to be a voice for all kids from the highest fliers to the most challenged. We need to continue to push our highest achievers toward better ACT scores with advanced classes. We must also be a voice for kids who come from a complicated home life or who have learning challenges. We need to equip our teachers to reach students who may not learn in a traditional way. Many kids are very bright with a lot of potential but do not learn in the same style as their peers. There is a lot of research with proven success that we should model to reach these kids. I will always put our students first and support our teachers in that mission.

Describe the attributes that make you a strong leader.

 I believe that everything rises and falls on leadership. I have 25 years of business experience and currently serve as Vice President of Sales and Marketing at an equipment finance company. I am a problem solver and a consensus builder who will bring a common-sense approach to decision making on the school board. It is essential to have strong relationships with the people whom you represent. I have many of those relationships after leading PTO’s and Foundations in the schools and am working to build relationships in those schools with which I am not as familiar. I will encourage interaction so that I can get honest feedback from administrators, teachers, parents and students that I represent.

Jennifer Owen:

What is the most pressing issue facing the Knox County School District and how do you plan to address it?

The most pressing issue facing our school district is funding. Nearly fifteen years ago, our legislature set out to revamp and update the funding formula for our schools with plans for BEP 2.0. By 2007, BEP 2.0 plans had been worked out, recommended, and it was ready for adoption. That new funding formula would have increased state funding for textbooks, staffing, infrastructure, and much more. Our legislature never adopted the recommendations.

We have done a good job of helping our local funding body (county commission) and county mayor see some of the problems we are facing and they recognize that we need to do more to address the many needs of our schools. I will continue working with our commissioners, to help them see where our schools need more attention. As I have since 2010, I will be closely following pending legislation and talking with our legislators about the potential impacts of the laws they are enacting. While we have several educators in the legislature, their experiences in their districts are often very different and they may not see how something that looks like a simple requirement could have unintended consequences in larger districts and larger schools.

What is the biggest concern you are hearing from people in your district about the state of our schools? 

Many people are concerned about teacher/staff attrition. Parents, students, and community members recognize the importance of having experienced educators in our classrooms. They want to see us retain our great teachers and they are concerned about turnover rates.

Does Superintendent Bob Thomas have the school system on the right path or the wrong path? Explain. 

Bob Thomas, his administration, and our school board have worked diligently to change the culture in Knox County Schools and create a more positive teaching/learning environment for our students, while working to bring a new level of transparency to all district operations.

We are on a good, but difficult path.

Just like a walking path, all that has gone before and all that has been planted determines how smooth the journey will be. However, a very difficult path can be much more successfully navigated when one has a calm, steady, knowledgeable, and caring guide to lead that journey. This is the superintendent’s role. Mr. Thomas has done a good job of keeping us on the best possible paths to meet his goals for the district, while improving overall staff morale and building good working relationships with County Commission, City Council, our Mayors and Aldermen, as well as with other agencies throughout Knox County.

The mission statement of KCS is: “To provide excellent and accessible learning opportunities that empower all students to realize their full potential.” What does that mean to you and can you offer an example of how you can help fulfill this mission as a member of the board of education? 

Students have many different and individual needs. When crafting the mission statement, we discussed this at length. We wanted to be inclusive of every student’s ability, as well as their potential, while recognizing that we need to empower them to make and meet their own goals.

When we first began having community meetings regarding the strategic plan, I joined the student groups and listened to their input. One group seemed confused about the process and I asked if they knew why they were there. (They didn’t, really.) I told them that we were making plans for the future of our schools and that we need to know what they want and need. I explained that we needed their input so that we could make decisions that will make a real difference for them. Once they understood why we were asking questions about the direction of our district, they were very ready to tell us what they thought, while encouraging others to also share their ideas – even when they disagreed. This kind of exchange not only empowers students to share their concerns, needs, and ideas, but it also empowers them to empower other students.

Many times, I have been able to go back to my notes from those student group meetings to remind our Board of specific recommendations from our students. That has been invaluable and listening to students will continue to be invaluable as we continue working to grow and meet their needs.

KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, DISTRICT 3

Tony Norman:

What is the most pressing issue facing the Knox County School District and how do you plan to address it?

I think there is a massive issue to us involved with education here in Knox County and in the state of Tennessee and that is our accountability/ evaluation system. Without going into the details of its origin or application, I know it is a massive burden teachers to our students, our teachers, our staff and our budget. It is the basis for over testing our students and the growth of a whole new bureaucracy. It is the basis for the stagnation of progress in literacy, math and ACT scores in general.

What is the biggest concern you are hearing from people in your district about the state of our schools? 

The biggest issue in my district is overcrowded classrooms/ lack of staffing.

Does Superintendent Bob Thomas have the school system on the right path or the wrong path? Explain. 

Mr. Thomas’s greatest and most important achievement is the change in culture/ atmosphere. The previous superintendent was completely tone deaf to the climate of fear and intimidation he created (refer to uprisings of teachers at BOE and County Commission meetings 2012-2014). Mr. Thomas has been open to modifications and listens and responds to concerns of the board. There are some programs Mr. Thomas has inherited which I feel need to be addressed with policy changes.

The mission statement of KCS is: “To provide excellent and accessible learning opportunities that empower all students to realize their full potential.” What does that mean to you and can you offer an example of how you can help fulfill this mission as a member of the board of education? 

This mission statement means that we must provide a variety of opportunities to our students regardless of where they are at the moment academically. It is the responsibility of the board to provide and maintain the curriculum, programs, and staffing necessary within the fiscal boundaries we have.

Describe the attributes that make you a strong leader.

Whether I am a strong leader is up to others to decide. Whether I am viewed as a good or effective leader will be decided March 3. I think my main assets as a candidate are obviously my experience (40 years in the area of education), my past political involvement (12 years as a locally elected official), my tenure on the school board ( 3.5 years) and the relationships I have made during my career working for Knox County (42 years). 

Daniel Watson:

What is the most pressing issue facing the Knox County School District and how do you plan to address it? 

One of the most pressing issues in Knox County Schools is recruiting and retaining passionate high-quality educators. There are not enough new teachers entering the field to account for growth while also replacing teachers that are retiring. On top of that only 40% of teachers stay in the field after the first five years and we are losing too many teachers to surrounding districts that are paying more. According to the Economic Policy Institute we will have a shortage of 200,000 teachers by 2025 nationally.

Julie Hassan, an educational researcher says that “Schools can’t become the best places for students to learn and grow unless we make them the best places for teachers to work and grow.” I want to make sure our teachers are compensated as well as surrounding counties, that they are being evaluated in ways that encourage growth and development, and we are providing the additional supports our students need to be successful. These supports include social workers, special education teachers, nurses, and mental health professionals. Finally, I want us to invest more in helping our teachers stay in the profession longer without experiencing burnout. As our teachers are exposed to more residual trauma we need to help them practice self-care.

Of course, none of this can happen without the Knox County Board of Education continuing to work with County Commission, State legislators, and our State Board of Education to increase funding for public education. We are not even close to offering our young people the best we have to offer.

What is the biggest concern you are hearing from people in your district about the state of our schools? 

In District 3, I’m hearing administrators, teachers, and parents talk about the increased challenges educating children that have experienced trauma. We need to ensure that our system is supporting our schools in every district with what they need to meet each student where they are. I’m grateful for the increased understanding regarding the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences on development, while also becoming more Trauma Informed, but as a system we are not yet taking it far enough. We need to help our system become not just trauma informed but, Trauma Responsive, which will take significant investment and collaboration with local subject matter experts, but it is so worth it as our students will experience compounded healing and growth that will allow them to access their full educational potential.

When we consider the physical state of our schools we know that historically there has not been a lot of capital investment in our District 3 schools, with two-thirds of them not receiving any capital investment for 41 years or more.

● Ridgedale - built in 1954 – last addition/renovation 1979

● West Haven Elementary - built in 1958 - last addition/renovation in 1960

I want to ensure that we are making strategic capital investments in our aging schools while also planning for new schools to accommodate growth.

Does Superintendent Bob Thomas have the school system on the right path or the wrong path? 

Overall, I am encouraged by the direction set by Superintendent Thomas. The KCS 5-year strategic plan adopted last year is a great start with its focus on increasing student achievement, eliminating disparities, and creating a positive culture. Of course, the plan is very ambitious, as it should be. Now we need to make sure we are executing in every way.

I am also pleased to see the focus on Career and Technical Education and KCS was recently recognized by the TN Arts Academy as an Arts Partner School System.

The mission statement of KCS is: “To provide excellent and accessible learning opportunities that empower all students to realize their full potential.” What does that mean to you and can you offer an example of how you can help fulfill this mission as a member of the board of education? 

I want to focus my response on the word “accessible”. This means we have to meet students where they are, no matter their circumstance or background. We need to make sure that the Knox County School System never gives up on a child because of his/her life at home, economic status, race, ethnicity, traumatic history, or any other part of a student’s reality. Instead, we must be prepared to engage students and their parents right where they are. In doing so, we also have to make sure we aren’t trying to force them to all get to the same place. Every student should be challenged, but the focus needs to be on growth. Not every student will become an avid test taker, score highly on the ACT and head off to college.

I will push for policies that are student centered, that allow for teachers to focus on student growth, raises the bar to the appropriate height for every student, and are equitable.

Describe the attributes that make you a strong leader.

Over the past 12 years in helping to lead The Restoration House, I have become even more convinced that in order to create lasting impact, thoughtful collaboration is required. Collaboration means seeking shared values, listening to opposing ideas, keeping the mission first and working toward the common good. This is the kind of leadership I will strive for each and every day as a school board member focused on excellence for every student.

My leadership experience is also right in line with good governance, setting reasonable equitable policy, making tough financial decisions, and ensuring resources are mission focused.

I see all these as strong qualifications for serving on the Board of Education.

KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, DISTRICT 8

Michael Leon Daugherty

What is the most pressing issue facing the Knox County School District and how do you plan to address it? 

The greatest issue facing KCS School Board is how to be the best advocate for providing an excellent education for our students. The top priority of KCS should be providing the necessary programs, resources, and instruction it takes to prepare our kids to be successful in school, the workplace, and in life. I would be an advocate for our students by recruiting and retaining great teachers, placing less emphasis on standardized testing, working to reduce class sizes, providing qualified mental health counselors for student support, and encouraging and promoting more parental and community involvement in the education of our students.

What is the biggest concern you are hearing from parents in your district about the state of our schools? 

With the drastic increase in student stress and anxiety and school violence, safety has become more of a concern in our school community. I would be an advocate for our students by calling for qualified mental health counselors to be available for student support. I would also encourage programs in the classroom to help reduce student anxiety. I would support programs in the community for parents to help them recognize warning signs of emotional stress that could lead to bigger problems. I would support additional security measures that make our schools safer and that reduce the possibility of violence.

Does Superintendent Bob Thomas have the school system on the right track? Explain. 

The morale of teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents has improved tremendously since Mr. Thomas became superintendent. Mr. Thomas has the experience, communication skills, and empathy that was lacking from our former superintendent, McIntyre. Thomas has decades of experience in public education. He served as a teacher, coach, principal, personnel director, and assistant superintendent before being appointed superintendent. Thomas’ leadership has shown that there is no replacement for experience. His educational knowledge, communication skills, ability to surround himself with capable advisors and staff, and his passion for our children has made him a great leader for KCS

The mission statement of KCS is to provide excellence and accessible learning opportunities that empower students to realize their full potential. What does that mean to you? Offer an example of how you can fulfill this mission as a member of the board of education. 

The mission statement means for KCS to provide programs that prepare students for success in school, the workplace, and life. A goal of education should be to accommodate each student’s strengths, needs, and interests. Schools should adopt programs for below, on-level, advanced, and special education students, and also, vocational opportunities.

 Describe the attributes that make you a strong leader.

Knox County residents need leaders on the school board that they can trust and respect. I am honest and have the integrity, experience, and the passion for education to gain their support. I am a good listener, and, as a former teacher, I have the experience of being on the front line and better understanding the needs of students and the concerns of the teachers, parents, and school staff. I am open-minded and believe it is important to get feedback from the employees and the community before making important decisions about our children’s education. I believe in transparency and being open about all the aspects of running KCS. Visiting our schools on a regular basis will be a top priority. School board members need feedback from the community, and board members need to see our students in action and listen to the concerns of students, teachers, and school staff.