This morning at 9:30 a.m. EST, I was on TV for the 4th time in my life. That I know of. I spoke about the first time I was on TV during my second appearance. That was this past February when I recorded my “Equal Time” segment on Community Television here in Knoxville. That was during the primary election, so I also did an “Equal Time” segment for the general election. That was number 3, although it was done via Zoom, so I didn’t go into a studio like I did with number two. Or act as a Russian interpreter like in my first television appearance back in the 90s.
This time, number 4, was also done by webcam (not Zoom). We recorded on Friday, July 24th and it was on the local NBC affiliate here in Knoxville this morning. As with all of these things, immediately after I was critical of myself, figuring I had messed up or stammered or something else. Upon rewatch, I thought it wasn’t too bad. I got to hit the main points of my platform – money and development. I talked about how we need to make sure we’re fully funding schools. I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out. There is a clear difference for voters in the candidates in this race. It’s not just a choice of names on the ballot, but a clear difference in ideas.
Here are my main takeaways from the 30 minute show. Down below I’ll provide a rough transcript of my parts of the show along with some parts of what my opponent said. Hey, if my opponent wants a full transcript, he can put that up on his own website. I think the following takeaways are fair. If you want to check me, I’ll be posting the WBIR online clips from the show as soon as they put them up on their website.
- If you were doing a drinking game during this show and had to take a drink every time my opponent name checked Mayor Jacobs, a member of Mayor Jacob’s Administration or some other prominent elected official [cough, Jason Zachary], you would be sleeping it off the rest of Sunday afternoon. Just kidding about the drinking game, of course, please drink responsibly. Unofficial count was 3 Mayor Jacobs and 1 Jason Zachary. At least one mention that I recall of a Jacobs administration member, but I’ll keep his anonymity for purposes of this article. So, I guess when my opponent said in that podcast we both did that he talks to Mayor Jacobs on a weekly basis, he wasn’t kidding.
- I thought my opening was strong and I hit on the idea of how developers are dependent on Commission votes for rezoning and how they also give big sums to Commission candidates. John Becker (host and moderator for the show) asked my opponent to comment on the (his words, not mine) quid pro quo and rubber stamp issues that I raised. My opponent said, obviously, he doesn’t agree and then, in the course of his response, he highlighted the fact that he is a member of the home builders association and his background is in construction and real estate. No mention of the $38,000 in donations he’s taken so far or the developers who have donated to his campaign.
- Our internet should not be as slow as it is. I got hung up in the middle of one of my answers and it affected the flow for the rest of the show. Also, my feed was not as clear as others on the show. Susan keeps saying we need an upgrade. I’ll try bumping up our level on Xfinity, but I may need to look into other providers.
- Susan jumped in after my opponent’s answer to the roads question and asked the same thing that I was thinking. It’s great that we’re scanning the roads. But how does that address John Becker’s point that only 1-2% of roads are getting fixed when it should be 10%.
- A couple of my opponent’s answers (Schools and roads) rely heavily on the typical Republican fairy dust of paying for priorities by finding cuts to “wasteful government spending.” Delusion.
- The last question was what is the biggest issue you’re hearing about from voters in District 4. My opponent mentioned the economy and the pandemic, but he named the number one issue in the district as flooding. Now, I agree that flooding is an issue. It’s rolled into my push for reasonable and responsible development. It’s something we definitely need to work on. I suspect my opponent had come into this wanting to tell the story of how he’s worked with Jason Zachary on getting the flooding issue taken care of. He told the same story on the podcast he spoke on. So, maybe he just figured that was his opportunity. Because, if it’s not that, I really question how many people in the District or Knox County he’s actually talking to. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are spiking in Knox County. Plus, we’re a month away from sending our teachers and a large majority of our kids back into school buildings where they will literally be in harm’s way. But flooding is the top thing on the minds of voters in District 4? My answer was Schools and Covid.
Here’s the transcript/summary of the show.
Thank you for having me on.
I’m Todd Frommeyer and I’m a retired lawyer and 20 year military veteran.
Last year about this time, I came to the realization that 2020 was going to be a pretty consequential year for elections and I decided I needed to do something more than just vote.
So I set out to make sure the voters would have a choice on August 6. And I succeeded in that. But my wife Susan told me that it wouldn’t be enough just to get my name on the ballot and leave it at that. I needed to try and win. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
I did my research and saw how much money was flowing into campaigns for County Commission. I saw the $1000 checks and the names that gave them. I saw that County Commission was very involved in rezoning for development in Knox County. I also saw that some of the people who benefitted from those rezoning decisions were also some of the donors writing big checks to Commission candidates.
So I decided that I was going to do my campaign differently. I don’t take big money or PAC money or really any donations. I don’t put a donate button on my campaign website and that’s on purpose. I’m not taking that money because I don’t want the perception of special access to me.
I’ve also spent a lot of my campaign focusing on how development happens in Knox County. I’ve seen that there’s too much focus on giving developers what they want and not enough focus on the needs of the people who are affected by that development. I want to be a Commissioner who stands up for the little guy. That’s been my career in the Air Force as the military equivalent of a public defender and at the CFPB, where I helped consumers fight back against big banks.
I look forward to talking about these issues and more today.
Follow up question from Susan Richardson Williams (R)
It sounds like you’re not pro development. How do we make progress in Knox County now that we collect property taxes and all the things that help us be a great county if you’re not going to have development through the county.
I’m for reasonable and responsible development. And what I would say is that since I’ve been in this race I’ve been going to the Commission meetings. I’ve been watching how development occurs in Knox County and what I’ve seen is with Mayor Jacobs and the Commission that a lot of deference is given to the developers and not enough consideration is given to the other parts of what I would call the planning – it’s the planning commission for a reason. They don’t take into account the roads, the infrastructure, the floods, the schools. And I think they put the cart before the horse and the developers just get the ok and it should be the other way around. So I think the Commission’s role is, there’s a reason those rezoning decisions are left at the Commission level. To make sure that the Commission has the oversight. We don’t just take the developers at their word, oh yeah sure, I’ll talk to the people, we’ll handle all of that. The Commission needs to play a part in that. I haven’t seen that. I think that’s been the problem and I hope to provide a little oversight at the Commission of that.
Summary of Kyle Ward’s response
I don’t agree. We have a planning commission that oversees flooding and traffic flows and gives their recommendation to the Commission. At the Commission, we go and take a deeper look and take what the recommendation is and everything else. I’m with Mayor Jacobs on the need to do smart development. Do town centers. Smart development. Grow tax base.
I’m a member of the home builders association, my background is in construction and real estate. I know this industry and I know it well, so I feel very confident that when different construction projects come up I’ll actually have highest education level when it comes to construction and real estate and development and ways to do it smarter and better and the impacts it has on our community in general.
Question from Don Bosch (D)
Knox County has educational disparity. 4th district is maybe the crown jewel. How do you further involve the Commission in strategic educational decisions to partner better with the School Board rather than just being a funding source?
Summary of Kyle Ward’s response
Really interested in trades and technical programs being introduced into schools and work with School Board on those programs. Open to idea of Commission being more involved.
Follow up from Don Bosch (D)
How do we do that? Commission has no authority to make these things happen
Summary of Kyle Ward’s response
We don’t have any pull. I would refer to the Law director or Charter Review Committee. Our education dollars aren’t being spent well.
I think you point out a good issue that definitely exists in Knox County. We do have really good schools in District 4. That’s one of the reasons my wife and I moved here. But you can see that is not the case in all of the other districts. There is definitely some inequality of access and just level of education. I think there is not a good answer to the question of how the Commission gets a little more say in fixing issues like that. I mean you start with relationships. I think there is a Joint Committee with members of the commission and the school board. That’s one way that you can do things. But I think we’re in a time where the funding for the schools is very important and so you point out that the Commission is just writing the check. But maybe the check is the way that we help influence what the School Board does. We’re getting ready to do this reopening. It’s very controversial. Some people are going to do virtual. Some people are going to do in person. The kids and the teachers are going to be put in harm’s way, to be honest. Let’s have the Commission step up and, instead of saying you’re going to have to cut 4.4 million from your budget, let’s give them the money they need. I think that is the way you engender a back and forth between the Commission and the School Board in getting other issues taken care of. Make sure that we’re fully funding the schools.
Question from John Becker
We should be paving 10% of roads instead of 1-2% like we are now and we’re going to have 100k more people coming into the county in the next 15-20 years. How do we tackle that problem without raising taxes or investing in some major project for infrastructure?
I think this goes along with the point I’m trying to make about reasonable and responsible development. I understand there’s a certain thought that we want to get the development in there that helps to expand the property tax base and it helps bring in more revenue to the county. By the same token, sometimes the infrastructure is not there and the county owes it to the people of the county to make sure that we’re not pushing ahead on the development before roads and schools are taken care of. [screen froze – rest of answer below]
Summary of Kyle Ward’s answer
County is doing a scan of roads. Instead of guesstimate, plan the money out strategically. Get to roads before they get to a critical point. More conscientious with money to make the dollar go further. A lot of things Mayor Jacobs is trying to do is grow the commercial development in the county to generate more tax revenue. Budgets are tight.
My Follow Up
What I was getting to and implicit in your question is whether we can do it without raising taxes. I think raising property taxes is a real taboo that needs to just go away. We have skimped and cut corners. For the last 21 years the property tax rate has gone down 120 cents. We short the schools, we short infrastructure by doing that. I think there needs to be a discussion about what the appropriate rate of property tax is in order to fund schools and roads, which are not where they ought to be, certainly for the level of development we want to see with 100k people moving into Knox County over the next decade.
Question from Susan Richardson Williams (R)
What are you hearing from people in the 4th district? What is their number one issue?
Summary of Kyle Ward’s answer
Economy and coronavirus are a problem, but the real number 1 in the 4th is the flooding. Working with Mayor Jacobs and Representative Zachary. Pump system. #1 issue for our district.
Schools and Covid. Those are the two big things. We’re getting ready to have this reopening. It’s a really tough decision for families whether they’re going to send their kids to school in person or whether they even have the ability to keep them home and do it virtually. And then what has been the response of Knox County to the pandemic. We follow very closely all of the numbers that come out of the health department and just across the county. The numbers are spiking in Knox County and these are the two things by a large margin that people care about that I’ve talked to in District 4.