The Oak Ridge Observer is currently running a series on elected officials in Oak Ridge. The following were my responses to their questions which ran in last week’s edition.
What do you see as a driving force in propelling Oak Ridge to prosperity in the next ten or so years?
The health of the national and regional economies will drive what happens locally. Tennessee is well-positioned to remain competitive because our low cost of living and minimal taxation attract people and businesses from other states. Oak Ridge would be wise to learn from our state’s model.
Much has been discussed about blight throughout the city. How do you define blight and what do you feel should be done to address what are considered blighted properties?
However one defines blight, the problem is best addressed through private transactions. The best governmental approach is to ensure fair and consistent application of the Housing Code. I am hopeful that our recent passage of the Rental Inspection Program will encourage increased responsibility among our landlords and, in turn, improve the conditions of deteriorated rental properties.
Should the Manhattan Project National park come to fruition, what do you want to see the city do to capitalize on those tourism dollars?
The Oak Ridge story has two key components: the scientific and the anecdotal. The Denise Kiernan story has demonstrated that the personal stories of the Manhattan Project workers and their families have the widest appeal. A successful marketing strategy would emphasize the anecdotal and include measurable ways to capitalize on that draw. The Convention and Visitors Bureau needs to develop and implement a 10-15 year marketing strategy that is revenue-focused, appeals to the broadest market segment and can demonstrate return on investment.
How do you envision the completed Jackson Square Revitalization?
I am excited about the progress we’ve already seen at Jackson Square. The state grant prompted new interest and investment which has resulted in a steady, bustling lunch crowd. With improved accessibility and an enticing water play area for children, I can foresee increased nightly and weekend traffic through new merchants and extended hours of the existing ones. I can also see us capturing a tremendous amount of revenue from the ever-increasing crowds drawn in by our beloved Oak Ridge Wildcats!
Are there any particular businesses are industries you would like to see brought to Oak Ridge?
I welcome ALL businesses to Oak Ridge, especially those that rely on a private-sector customer base. Their presence would facilitate a path towards our independence as well as a buffer for our local economy during periods of instability.
Do you envision a way to make Oak Ridge a more business friendly environment and more competitive on the regional level?
The ongoing insistence by some that we put our image before the truth is wearing thin. The only way that council can contribute to making Oak Ridge competitive is to start listening to our constituents. When they tell us repeatedly that the city is too expensive and that certain decision makers are uncooperative or outright combative, we MUST listen and we must respond.
To regain their confidence and, thus, our competitive position, we must reduce the cost of doing business here for ALL, not just those whom we deem worthy of tax incentives. We can reduce our tax rate, fees and utility rates by eliminating the known waste and abuse found in both houses.
We must also jettison the people who have forgotten that they are public servants. We have some truly wonderful, dedicated, hardworking employees. But you know what they say about one rotten apple. All of council is fully aware that we have some bad apples. It’s time that we hold the city manager accountable for plucking them out of the barrel.
How would you attract new residents to Oak Ridge?
By making Oak Ridge more affordable. Our homeowners are paying the rack rate to live here. Many are leaving and more will follow if we don’t cut spending and reduce our taxes.
What can be done to attract younger families with younger children to the city?
In spite of possessing many of the amenities that we are told appeal to young families, we’ve been unsuccessful in attracting and retaining them. A different approach is needed. I’m currently working on an initiative to market some of our under-performing assets to a specific niche. I will share more details in the coming weeks.
The school system is the pride and joy of Oak Ridge. The high school debt is a black cloud looming over the city and the district. Allegations have been made by a former council member that the debt is ten months in default. Is this an accurate statement and how do you propose to fix the situation?
Any solution that does not fully uphold the referendum will cost the taxpayers more money. Therefore, mediation is not the answer. The evidence is irrefutable and commands a swift, legal opinion from the courts. The city has provided evidence on our website, cortn.org, that unequivocally disproves the BOE claim that they are entitled to withhold the revenues collected from outside of the city:
In the May 17, 2004 video at approximately 37 minutes in, then vice chair Tracy Larabee says in reference to the anticipated county move to supersede, “Half of this debt won’t even be paid by residents of Oak Ridge….a lot of the funding will come from people outside of the City of Oak Ridge.” In that same video at approximately 44 minutes, then chair John Smith says that the BOE “fully supports the proposed funding model.” That funding model included monies collected from outside of Oak Ridge after the county superseded and is viewable on page 8 of Exhibit H where those monies were represented by the blue portion of the bar graph entitled “New Sales Tax Schools.”
Bullying in the schools seems to gain a lot of attention on the social media pages related to Oak Ridge. How do you feel we can best ensure that our students have a safe and comfortable learning environment?
First, city and school leaders can set the tone by sending the message that it is o.k. to talk about what is happening in our schools. Second, we should equip school staff with the policies, procedures and resources needed for them to safely perform their primary job of educating our children. Third, we must unite as a community to address the underlying issues. Our culture has rapidly changed and our children face a myriad of challenges unique to their generation. Community initiatives like Not in Our Town are needed to engage our youth in ways that address their specific problems.