I’ve done a lot of cool things during the course of this campaign. Met a lot of great people. This ranks right at the top of the list of the positives from my campaign experience. I’ve avoided seeking endorsements because that process sometimes goes hand in hand with the Political Action Committee donations that I’m against and haven’t taken. I’ve gone through the process with a couple of PACs, but not to take their money. Rather, I think I learn about the process by doing so. And hopefully that has made me a better candidate and, eventually, a better representative for the District come September 1.

The process for the Sierra Club endorsement was similar to some other things I’ve done. Receive questionnaire. Answer questions on questionnaire. Return questionnaire. Wait. Sometimes these questions/answers show up in a local paper. or on a website. Sometimes your opponent bothers to answer the questions. And sometimes he doesn’t. I’ve responded to all of these questionnaires except one (the Fraternal Order of Police sent one that was tone deaf to the extreme. I politely declined.)

The questionnaire from the Sierra Club has been the most detailed of any of the questionnaires I’ve gotten. I had to do some significant research on some topics to be able to give an answer. The answers I gave were the best I could give, but I guess that was enough.

The Sierra Club’s goals are to:

  • Protect wild places and endangered species
  • Keep our air and water clean
  • Ensure a clean energy future
  • Curb climate change
  • Keep the pressure on politicians and corporations to ensure safe and healthy communities

In receiving the Sierra Club endorsement, I’m proud to say that those goals are my goals as well. If I am fortunate enough to be elected on August 6, I will do what I can as Knox County Commissioner to make sure those goals are also Knox County’s goals.

I’m including, in slightly edited form, the questionnaire I received from the Sierra Club and my answers thereto.

  1. What do you consider to be the top environmental issue facing Knox County? What actions would you take to address this issue?

The top environmental issue facing Knox County is the top environmental issue that faces the country and the world – global climate change.  As with many of my answers to these questions, I understand that I am limited in my ability to effect change in the area of climate change.  I would be, after all, just one of eleven votes on the County Commission.  That being said, there are a number of local issues that have impact on the environment or are impacted by climate change.  

For instance, I am critical of Knox County’s current direction with regard to property development.  I am for reasonable and responsible development.  My voice and my votes will be used to influence the how, where and how fast development proceeds.

I will place a priority on funding all programs which will ameliorate the effects of climate change, such as the flooding we have experienced the last couple of years.

2) On August 13th 2009, Knoxville City Council passed a resolution to adopt these climate goals:

   Cut city government emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030

   Cut community-wide emissions 80% by 2050

Do you feel these goals could be applied County-wide?  If yes, how do you plan to start reducing county-wide emissions on an appropriate timeline?

I was not fully aware of the details of the City of Knoxville’s plan for 2020/2030/2050 until I had a chance to read through all of the materials in preparing to answer this question.  I like a lot of what I see in those materials, but I’m just not sure what the right targets for cutting emissions would be for the County.  

Here’s what inspires me to think we can start to pursue something like what the City is doing at the County level.  In their brochure, they describe the goal of reducing emissions 80% by 2050 as a “bold aspirational goal” that the City can adopt to help “motivate cross-sector leadership.”  Even though I may be skeptical that a partially rural county such as ours can actually meet such an ambitious goal, I don’t think that means you don’t set yourself the goal at all.

It seems to me that the County could easily piggyback on to some great programs and plans that Knoxville has already shown will work to great benefit.  Specifically, the LED streetlight retrofit ought to be expanded beyond the limits of the city into the county.  Likewise, the county should also phase-in electric, hybrid and alternative-fuel County vehicles.  I also support the idea of adding solar panels to County buildings wherever possible.

3) Will you pursue actions to hold polluters accountable, and will you seek and provide funds for adequate monitoring and enforcement of clean air and water standards?

I support providing sufficient funding in the Knox County budget for adequate monitoring and enforcement of clean air and water standards.  When talking about pursuing actions to hold polluters accountable, I support this, but I think such actions really lie with the executive or judicial branches, rather than within the domain of the legislative branch, i.e., the County Commission.  Where I believe the Commission can make a difference in this area is appropriate oversight of the Mayor and his administration in making sure that they follow through with their mandate in this regard.  I have already pledged to provide such oversight of Mayor Jacobs and his administration in other areas, notably the budget and land development.  I would plan to provide the same level of oversight in this area as well. 

4) YWill you support and actively promote policies that address racial, economic, social, and environmental justice?

If yes, what support are you envisioning for under-privileged communities especially
in creating green jobs, improving energy efficiency, roof-top or community solar panels, car chargers, etc.

The short answer is yes.  I will both support and actively promote policies that address racial, economic, social and environmental justice.

I have already pledged to oppose KCSO’s involvement in the 287(g) program where Knox County officers act as ICE agents.

I support taking steps in police reform, including:

  • A ban on the use of knee holds and choke holds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  • Tennessee’s Open Records Act should ensure officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded for the public.  
  • A working citizen’s review board for KCSO to hold them accountable and build public confidence.

I believe in developing a green workforce for the future.  Retraining and career opportunities to help fuel a transition to a clean energy economy.  Such retraining programs should be made available to under-privileged communities and people of color.

6) Will you support better representation by environmentalists, neighborhoods, and people of color on local boards?

I think this is an under appreciated role that the County Commissioner plays in local politics.  There are a number of boards to which Commissioners make nominations of residents of their respective districts.  I’d like to see some more diversity and progressive voices on these boards and, as Commissioner, I’ll be in a position to help make that a reality.

7) How would you encourage the city and county departments to work with the conservation community and other community groups?

To be honest, this is a question for which I’m not sure I have a good answer.  Until I’m actually in office, I can’t say how great or insignificant my influence as one of eleven commissioners will be in this regard.  The short answer here is that I will be a voice and advocate for the conservation community on the Commission, but I just don’t yet know how much impact I can actually have.

8) Are there particular aspects of environmental protection that you believe Knoxville and Knox County have under-invested in, and if so, what are some examples?

Two examples come to mind.  First, protection from the environment, in the way of flood mitigation efforts.  I believe there is money in the current budget to help mitigate this issue, especially since we’ve seen some pretty major flooding the last two years.  But the fact that it has gotten to this point is an indication that we’ve gotten behind in addressing this issue.  Clean up after the fact is just not enough and I would support increased funding to help us get ahead of this issue.

Second, protection of the water.  We are blessed in Knoxville/Knox County with water everywhere – rivers and lakes and more.  But I don’t think we’ve done enough to keep our water clean.  As I understand, the Tennessee river was found to be one of the most plastic polluted rivers in the country.  That’s just unacceptable.  KUB has a role to play here and I’d like to see the Commission push KUB on this issue.

9) A healthy tree canopy has numerous benefits, including better air quality, moderating temperatures, sequestering carbon, reducing crime, increasing property values, and reducing stormwater runoff.  Knoxville’s urban forester and Trees Knoxville are developing a canopy assessment and master plan for Knoxville’s urban tree canopy. Would you support and adequately fund such a plan for Knox County’s urban forest canopy?

Yes.  It’s important.  I like trees.  This is a worthy inclusion into the Knox County budget.

10) The vast majority of Knox County’s streams are listed by the state as polluted by sedimentation and/or coliform bacteria. What would you do to clean up these streams and turn them into community assets?

11) The Tennessee River ranks as the 4th most polluted river in the country, largely due to storm water runoff.  What can county policy do to help clean the river up?

For both of these questions, the answer might be elect Renee Hoyos and support the Tennessee Clean Water Network.  Also, see my answer to #8 above.  But, generally, as with many of the issues on this questionnaire, I believe I am an ally and would be a voice on the Commission for making positive change with regard to pollution in our lakes, streams and rivers.

12) What funding and procedural strategies will you promote to increase the development of solar energy at various scales (household, neighborhood, and large scale)?

13) What funding and procedural strategies will you promote to encourage more energy efficiency in commercial, government, and residential facilities?

For both questions 12 and 13, I think the strategy for advocates on the Commission will be to work to borrow ideas from the City of Knoxville as much as possible.  It’s inevitable that they will better be able to blaze a trail in these issues than we will at the county level.  But as the projects in the city start to show some success, it will make it easier for allies on the Commission to make arguments about the cost-effectiveness of these programs and the long-term cost savings to the residents of Knox County.  Slowly build out from the center of the city would be my recommendation for strategy in this area.  As far as funding goes, if you can make the pitch for a program that has shown long term success in saving money, it will make the more conservative members of the Commission more likely to vote for a large outlay of tax dollars in the budgets over the next four years.

14) KUB has “frozen its fees” and also promised to not raise rates for another three years.  Some folks think they should go farther and adopt a tiered rate structure to incentivize conservation and efficiency, and also to reduce the energy burden for low-income ratepayers.  Do you agree they should move in this direction?

If so, how would you influence them?  

Just as I support generally a more progressive system of taxation, I would support such a structure within KUB’s rates.  To be honest, though, I am skeptical of how much influence the County Commission might have in this area.  If groups came to the County Commission to discuss this issue, I would be receptive to the idea and would be willing to help facilitate such discussion.  But if I have to prioritize my opportunities to influence KUB on environmental issues, I would focus on improving the water quality and conservation program and also making it easier for people to install their own solar panels and connect that to the grid.

15) If elected, would you support the adoption of an all-electric county vehicle fleet?

I would give a qualified yes to this question.  I’m not sure the technology is available and practical to make all types of county vehicles all electric.  I support transitioning as much as possible to electric or hybrid vehicles in as short a time frame as possible

16) Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) operates bus routes throughout Knoxville. Would you support partnering with the city to expand KAT routes to Knox County locations to serve commuters and others traveling to and from Knoxville?

Yes.  Increased bus service not only can help the environment by reducing miles driven by cars, it also can reduce congestion and help people get to work.  If you don’t have a car, then you can only take a job that is within walking distance of where you live or where the bus goes.  An expanded system of public transportation would be a huge benefit for the residents of Knox County.

17) Electric motorists notice a glaring lack of chargers in Knox County, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.  What will you do to address this imbalance?

If I’m being honest, I don’t think there is much to be done at this time at the county level.  There is probably a place for the state or the federal government to implement regulations that would mandate more chargers around the country.  I don’t think I would support at this time regulation at the county level to do so.  On the other hand, by encouraging the local government to adopt more electric vehicles, I think that would help bring the market along for private companies to build the infrastructure for chargers in Knox County.

18) If elected, would you support legislation to expand public transportation, biking and walking as alternatives to driving?

I absolutely support extending public transportation as far as possible around the county.  I also support making it easier for people to bike and walk to work.  

I strongly opposed the Mayor’s change to the sidewalk ordinance (approved by the Commission) and I support the plan that the Commission approved to improve and increase greenways in the county.  I would support legislation to return that ordinance to how it was before and I will support funding for the greenways.

I’m for reasonable and responsible development.  It’s one of the main pieces of my platform.  I think walkability (and bikability) should be major considerations in the planning process for future development in Knox County.

19)  Would you support the addition of HOV lanes on I-40 and I-75?

Since I don’t drive during rush hour on I-40 or I-75, I don’t have a good appreciation for the need for HOV lanes.  I also suspect there would need to be major coordination at the state or federal level for such a change.  I’m not against it, but I would need to hear more before I would back such a proposal.

20) Do you think the city and county should have more community centers and parks than they have now?

I am in favor of as many parks and recreation facilities as the space and budget allow.  I would definitely support a study to determine if more were needed and, if so, where.

21)  Knoxville has developed a new greenways plan called the “Greenway Corridor Feasibility & Assessment Study” designed to “serve as a guiding document for connecting Knoxville’s greenways and parks.” Would you support the development of an equivalent companion plan for Knox County and work to expand greenways in Knox County?

I believe that the Knox County Commission approved a Greenway Corridor Study in January of this year.  I support their decision to approve the study and I also intend to advocate for and support following through on that study.

23) What strategies will you support to increase the amount of recycling with less contamination and reduced demand for landfills?

In many areas, such as with the County buying electric cars, the County government can show some leadership in an area with the hope of having people emulate their actions.  Just as some leaders have made sure that they wear masks in public as a sign to everyone else (although, unfortunately, not Mayor Jacobs), actions by the County government can make a difference in the rest of the county.  In the area of recycling, I think this is the best way forward for the County.  Try to implement better recycling in government.  Highlight the issue at Commission hearings.

24) Are you familiar with Sevier County’s solid waste composting facility, which reduces the volume of solid waste going to landfills by 75%?  Would you support the installation of a Commercial Composting Facility in Knox County to reduce the amount of methane producing organic materials entering the landfills?

I had not heard of this facility before you mentioned it in this question.  I would support the installation of such a facility in Knox County.

25) Will you support conversion of county diesel vehicles to zero-emission technologies?

My answer to this is essentially the same as #15 above.  I support as much conversion as possible. 

26) What are your specific ideas to improve air quality, to reduce asthma, bronchitis, & COPD?

I came across an article while researching this topic and found that Knoxville was lauded back in 2017 for the improvement in the “state of the air” here.  I think the best strategy for air quality is the same as it is in many other areas where the city can lead the way and the county can build upon the city’s successes.