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VOL. 39 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 28, 2015

Fox Q&A: Infrastructure costs will be ‘central tension’

By Sam Stockard

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Former Metro School Board Chairman David Fox is calling for the city to take a nuts-and-bolts direction as he faces Metro Councilwoman Megan Barry in the runoff for the city’s mayoral job.

Fox sat down with The Ledger recently to discuss the issues.

Q: You focused on Nashville not becoming the next Atlanta. What steps would you take to deal with congestion?

A: “I look at the process of how to get there. The process I’d like to follow is begin right out of the chute and pull together the governor and the commissioner of transportation, (TDOT Commissioner John) Schroer, Jim Cooper, Marsha Blackburn, state and national delegation, the General Assembly, and pull everybody together like half a day or however long it takes and talk through the issues and make sure we’re all on the same page of saying Middle Tennessee is going to have to rethink its approach to transit. …

“The second step really is to create an approach that pulls in as many community members as wish to share an opinion to figure what people in Nashville, taxpayers, really want to see, because you don’t want to have a bunch of politicians saying here’s our vision and it’s really not supported by folks. …

“And then kind of see what we want to do, what kind of finite timeline as far as what period of time it should take us to come together and get a consensus, we won’t have unanimity, but get a consensus of what we want to do. Figure out the cost of the projects, the funding sources and what our appetite to pay for something is.’’

Q: How do you address affordable housing and balance it with keeping property values up, especially in East Nashville, where things have improved?

A: “There’s definitely a tension in respecting people’s property rights and trying to make sure we don’t become so pricey that socioeconomically it becomes a homogenous city, that the people who do much of the work, whether it’s the police officers, the teachers, the health technicians, get priced out of the area. I’m a carrot person rather than a stick person. I’m not in favor of mandates on people if we can avoid it.

“There are a few things I think we ought to be doing. One is I think we could provide some incentives to developers based on zoning and the density of zoning. … I think beyond that, the creation of the Barnes Fund was a good idea, the Barnes Housing Trust. I support that and getting funding in that makes sense.’’

Q: You’ve talked about cutting debt, reigning in spending and been a little critical of convention center financing and tax breaks for these corporate projects. But don’t these help spur jobs and bring in taxes that might not have materialized otherwise?

A: “My cautionary comments are making people realize that what we do for a period of time is not necessarily what you always want to be doing. And so where we are now where we have downtown so well developed and we’ve spent a significant amount of taxpayer money to get it that way, we need to understand that’s not the most urgent thing now.

“That has happened, and what concerned me over the past 10 months of this race is that there are those who seem to think the only way you can maintain a strong economy is by incurring more and more municipal debt.’’

Q: So you’re not necessarily opposed to spending. But the water and sewer lines, those are going to be pretty expensive, too.

A: “They are, and that’s going to be the central tension for the term of the next mayor: how do you shore up our infrastructure, which will have a price tag, which is water and sewer, if you want to do transit, basics like sidewalks, if we want to do more bike paths.

“How do you do all these infrastructure things at a time we have already spent a considerable amount of money and we have more debt on our books. That might mean we have to sequence what we’re doing a little bit, that we can’t do everything at once.’’

Q: Where do you stand on the measure requiring a certain number of construction jobs be local?

A: “I was strongly opposed to it, because it’s completely unrealistic. It was, I think, well-intentioned, but the problem is even in normal economic times it’s hard for contractors to find all the skilled labor they need in Nashville.

“Right now, they cannot come close to doing it, so the unfortunate result of the enforcement of Amendment 3 is that out-of-state contractors are going to get these jobs because they’re not weighed down by it. You can’t do that for interstate commerce reasons, so it’s going to be an effective way to both reduce local company involvement in Metro and local employment because out-of-state employers are even less sensitive than local employers to hiring locally.

“I think it was ill-advised and it’s going to absolutely damage both workers and it’s going to damage employment here and our economy, so it was very unfortunate.’’

Q: You polled well in Belle Meade and the western part of Davidson County. Do you think you’ll be able to tap into any of the black vote or in these other areas that could be crucial for you?

“Definitely. I think there are a lot of myths going around right now. A lot of people are unfortunately assuming the African-American voters are sort of monolithic. I think there’s also a mistake that … I think Ms. Barry is well to the left on social issues from where many African-American voters are.’’

Q: The race is shaping up as Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal. And you just alluded to that. Considering you would be the conservative candidate, is that a stumbling block for you in a city that’s never elected a Republican mayor?

A: “No, because I’ve been very clear from Day 1, I’m a reliable fiscal conservative but socially I’m a centrist, and that’s what I’ve run on from Day 1. Our campaign has knocked on 70,000 doors.

“I’ve knocked on a few thousand doors myself, and when I describe myself like that, people say that’s what I am.’’

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