All five Knoxville mayoral candidates were present at the Voice of the Voter forum Tuesday night at West High School.
The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, marked the last mayoral forum before early voting begins Wednesday and continues through Sept. 22.
A variety of topics, including some questions from the public, were up for debate.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs," Mark Padgett - Knoxville entrepreneur - said, highlighting buzz word of the night.
All candidates agreed that job growth is key to keep businesses in Knoxville and to influence out-of-town companies to move to East Tennessee.
Madeline Rogero, who oversaw a $20 million budget while working as the director of community development under former Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, said her plan for an Office of Business Support provides the way to ensure job growth and retention in Knoxville.
"A common complaint is city hall isn't business friendly," Rogero said.
Rogero's proposed Office of Businesses Support, operating like the current Office of Neighborhoods, would include an appointed business liaison to help businesses better navigate city hall.
Mark Padgett said his plan for job growth is not a plan at all. Instead, it is a set of action-based initiatives to bring permanent jobs to Knoxville.
"[Knoxville is] really good at planning, but most plans are waiting on private sector investment. That's what Knoxville needs to grow," Padgett said.
Job growth is the most important aspect of Padgett's campaign, followed by building strong neighborhoods, ensuring that all city departments are operating smoothly and creating a thriving downtown.
All candidates also addressed job security, especially among city employees.
Bo Bennett, a local 911 operator, said that he rarely advocates for tasks forces but believes that a pension task force would serve Knoxville well.
Rogero, who noted that it costs approximately $100,000 to recruit and train a police officer, said that police job retention is important for Knoxville's budget so that fewer burdens fall on taxpayers.
She also said that revitalizing Fort Sanders, the area near the University of Tennessee, is vital to ensuring UT continues to be a leading local institution.
Joe Hultquist, former city councilman, said that revitalizing South Knoxville is imperative to making Knoxville the best city possible.
"The South Knox waterfront is unique in that it gives us something that could be key in redeveloping our city," Hultquist said.
Knoxville resident and audience member Scott Bates said he agreed most with Hultquist's vision for Knoxville's future.
"I'm personally interested as an adult newly relocated to Knoxville," Bates said.
However, John Bates, Scott Bates' son and a sophomore at West High School, sided more with Padgett.
Padgett plans to promote a healthy, greener Knoxville through the use of the city's standing greenway system.
South Knoxville is also home to more than 1,000 acres of urban wilderness, "lungs of [Knoxville's] ecosystem," Rogero said, an amenity that could improve Knoxville's air quality.
Ivan Harmon, first elected to public office in Knoxville in 1985 as a member of the Knoxville Board of Education, said that reducing the size of city buses could also greatly improve Knoxville's frequently hazardous air.
Another health issue for the candidates, one that is a critical part of Hultquist's campaign, is the proliferation of prescription pill mills in Knoxville.
Harmon said that Knoxville citizens collectively spend more money on OxyContin than they do on movies.
"It's really got to be an everybody-at-the-table deal to work on a solution for this," Bennett said, an agreeable statement for all.
Padgett said that drugs, gangs and prostitution account for the worst problems in Knoxville, so he plans to work closely with Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch in combating those issues. Harmon agreed.
"One way we need to be assertive to illegitimate pain clinics is to make them know they're not welcome," Rogero said, noting that an aggressive federal law against illegal pills use should also be created.
The candidates agreed that homelessness is a problem throughout Knoxville, despite their differing opinions on The Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and Compassion Knoxville.
Padgett cited three ways homelessness could be better addressed throughout Knoxville: prevention, adequate case management and affordable housing once the homeless become stabilized.
For more information about candidates, visit the Knox County Election Commission.