News Sentinel staff writer Rebecca Ferrar posed 17 questions on key issues to the five Knoxville mayoral candidates. Here are their positions, in the candidates' own words (limited to 50 or less)
Mark Padgett, 33, president/CEO of eGovernment Solutions LLC, a software and online services business, previously worked in former Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration on various projects to streamline government. He lives in the Westmoreland/Rocky Hills area.
1. With city pension costs on the rise and expected to grow to $30 million by 2019, how specifically would you solve the pension crisis?
1. Knoxville must offer competitive salaries and benefits to recruit talented employees. The pension program is a large part of those benefits. However, the current model is unsustainable, and reforms are needed that honor commitments and protect taxpayers.
2. Dirty lots and abandoned houses sit in Knoxville neighborhoods for years and years. How would you solve this problem? Would you add more inspectors, and if so, how would you pay for them?
2. The city has excellent codes and a number of dedicated employees. However, Knoxville has too many blighted, vacant and abandoned properties. I would consider adding more inspectors, but I want to first reduce the response time to complaints, provide better support to code enforcers, and incorporate technology that streamlines services.
3. Cite a new idea for continuing the revitalization of downtown.
3. I'd like to expand the Central Business Improvement District (CBID) model to make downtown more dynamic and diverse. I want different districts developed in the downtown area including art, technology and a green, sustainable section surrounding the urban wilderness area.
4. How would you address perceptions of a lack of parking downtown? If more parking is added, how would you pay for it?
4. The real problem is the absence of reliable and affordable parking. The Jackson Avenue lot, for example, used to be free and lots of people parked there. Now, it charges a monthly fee. I park there, and there are rarely more than 10 cars there on a given day.
5. Do you support the ridgetop and hillside protection plan as proposed? How would you balance environmental protection and property owners' rights?
5. My family enjoys our parks, rivers and mountains — so I support any plan that protects our natural resources. I didn't support the original plan because the 15 percent requirement was too aggressive. The plan needs to protect property owners and natural resources while promoting smart growth and economic development.
6. City policy has been to provide South Knoxville Waterfront infrastructure and planning and let the private sector dictate development. With the recession and development near a standstill, should the city take a more direct role?
6. The city has $300 million in developments plans, which won't come to fruition without private investment. We need to facilitate the process and work with existing businesses and communities to recruit new companies that will serve as good community partners and help make these plans a reality.
7. Suppose you're competing with another city for a new business, and that city offers incentives beyond anything you envisioned. Would you match that city's incentives to bring in jobs?
7. There's no silver bullet to business recruitment. Did they offer more creative incentives or sell itself down the river to a company that will leave when it finds better incentive elsewhere? Ultimately, I'm going to recruit good community partners who want to grow and raise their kids here.
8. What's your position on red-light surveillance cameras? Would you add anti-speeding cameras?
8. I don't support. I would sit down with the police chief to review the cameras effectiveness, and if he can provide safety statistics, then I'd be willing to change my position. Even then, I'd prefer to put the issue to referendum and let voters decide.
9. What specifically would you do to increase Knoxville Area Transit bus ridership?
9. One mark of a strong community is having a variety of transportation options. I support public transit, but we face a number of challenges: a spread-out community, little funding outside the city, and poor perception. To increase ridership, I support public education initiatives, incentives, and improving infrastructure and safety.
10. The city's fund balance is more than $50 million. Would you dip into it, or would you try to build up the reserve fund?
10. Fifty million dollars can cover four months of the city's expenses. It's responsible to keep at least 3.5 months of expenses on hand. That way, we are prepared for unforeseen capital expenditures (i.e. natural disasters). Having that money also preserves our pristine credit and makes Knoxville attractive to investors.
11. City government is a $172 million operation with 1,500 employees. What major management experience do you have to run this government?
11. Good management is good management, whether it's five or 5,000 employees. I've started and grown my own small business, and I've served in former Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration, where I led efforts to cut waste and save taxpayer money across multiple departments with hundreds of employees.
12. Explain your philosophy on "infill" development inside the city limits. How would you work with developers with projects involving property that's tough to build on or that abuts neighborhoods?
12. I support urban density, smart growth and mixed-use development. I also support creative techniques to connect and revitalize neighborhoods. I'll maintain an open-door policy and work with stakeholders to ensure we're using land efficiently, connecting the network of existing infrastructure, and balancing new development with the historical integrity of neighborhoods.
13. Would you expand the city's system of more than 80 parks, or would you prioritize improving the city's existing parks?
13. I would improve the parks first, then work on connecting them before considering expansion.
14. City Council has discussed decreasing the height of allowed signs from 50 feet to 25 feet. What's your position?
14. Yes, I support their decision. Good government is all about getting the various stakeholders (in this case, concerned citizens and the business community) together to find solutions.
15. Under what circumstances would you propose a tax increase?
15. I will only support tax increases as a last resort when every other option has been exhausted. If my administration were to propose any large projects, such as a downtown baseball stadium, I would put the issue to referendum. That way, a tax increase is in the hands of the voters.
16. All city employees now get an automatic 2.5 percent pay raise each year. Would you work to increase it, decrease it or leave it alone?
16. While my small business has never offered automatic pay increases, I understand the history of this issue and would leave it as is.
17: Do you concur with the Compassion Knoxville recommendations on homelessness solutions?
17. I applaud their focus on the need for increased job training, prevention methods and affordable housing. Everyone deserves the chance to access affordable housing in a safe neighborhood. I continue to oppose city funding to build large-scale, permanent supportive housing scattered throughout our community because we need to redirect that funding to address the root causes of homelessness: unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness. Now the question becomes: How are we going to pay for these recommendations? The report did not include cost estimates or a proposed budget. I believe we need a mix of public and private financing solutions that Knoxville can afford.