Attracting business to Knoxville and ensuring safer and more vibrant communities were the focus of a mayoral debate Thursday evening sponsored by the by the Knoxville Branch of the NAACP and WATE, Channel 6.
Madeline Rogero and Mark Padgett differed in their approach to reaching those goals during the event at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.
"Growing jobs in our economy is the one thing we can't afford to get wrong," Padgett said to the standing-room-only crowd of nearly 100 people.
He said the government needs to support existing businesses, recruit new businesses and establish Knoxville as a good place to start a business.
He said the city should work to recruit businesses in industries such as clean energy, technology and automotive components.
Rogero said she would continue work she began as community development director for the city of Knoxville when she sat on the economic development team by working with the county, state and area agencies to attract companies.
"What differentiates you is the quality of life you have. Great neighborhoods and great schools are important," she said. Other draws are parks and green space, she said.
Both candidates said it is important to provide strong services to the community and to help have strong neighborhoods.
When asked about the largest issue facing Knoxville, Padgett cited the economy.
"If you're growing the economy and you're cutting waste, then you have the money it takes to do the things that are so important in the community," he said.
Rogero said the primary issue is equity in the community.
"Making sure the jobs we do have, the resources that we do have, that they are distributed equitably in the community, that all people's voices are getting heard and that everybody has an opportunity," she said.
The candidates were asked about how they would address the issue of growth in East Knoxville that is much slower than the rest of the region.
Rogero said a way to address this is by pushing for reinvestment in that area. She said revolving loan funds to focus development in the area are key to this.
Padgett said job training and youth recreation programs would help the area, as well as getting involved in educational initiatives.
The candidates also were asked about their stance on providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
Rogero said a variety of supportive housing should remain available, including single-family housing and larger facilities, which would provide a way for the homeless to receive additional services.
Padgett said he does not support the large-scale approach to permanent supportive housing throughout Knoxville. He said the issue instead needs to be addressed by growing the economy, by having a good stock of affordable housing in good neighborhoods and by focusing on case management to address the root causes of homelessness such as drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues.
"Case management is critical, but you cannot case manage someone who lives under a bridge," Rogero responded.
In addition, she said she would support restoring $70,000 in funding to allow senior citizens to ride the public bus system at no cost.
Padgett said he would support restoring the free ride, but he said finding savings in other areas would be necessary. He said one way the city can fund such things is by looking to consolidate services when possible.