I recently had the opportunity to have a few conversations (via phone and email) with Julie Lamb, candidate for the Metro Council seat for the 22nd district (the Bellevue area). She is the opponent of current councilman Eric Crafton. For background, see this article in today’s Tennessean.
Full disclosure: I attend church with Mrs Lamb, she taught my children in Sunday school, and I consider her a friend. I wish I could have posted an audio interview, based on our phone conversation – Mrs Lamb is quite passionate when it comes to education and several of Mr. Crafton’s more controversial proposals.
Mrs Lamb didn’t have to do this; mine is just a tiny blog originating from Nashville. It is my understanding that Julie knows Lindsay ; I cannot give her the exposure she would have gotten there. Nevertheless, I give her what I can, and in return this helps me with my efforts to be a pretend-journalist.
This election will probably hinge on the public opinion of Crafton’s English First bill (which garnered national attenion). Julie is taking a huge risk with this considering the current climate in our city about this issue; I know that I have felt quite lonely as a conservative Christian in the western half of Davidson county for opposing it. But Mrs Lamb is steadfast, and I commend her for it. Her biggest hope is that the people of Bellevue are tired of having a councilman who seems to be primarily a self-promoter. Regardless, her views on English first (which I erroneously called English only in the interview) are reasonable to me. And I am Mr Crafton’s target demographic, so he has reason to be concerned.
Editor’s note: Sorry about the formatting. For some reason, pasting into WordPress from Microsoft Outlook causes all kinds of editing weirdness.
This interiew covers a lot of ground, so I won’t take up any more time with my commentary.
Let’s start with a simple introduction. Before we get to Julie Lamb, the candidate, tell us about Julie Lamb, the person.
I am a person who sincerely believes I can work for our citizens and bring their voice to the council. Much of what I have done for the last five years is strictly volunteer work. In the past, I have worked for several banks and a few small businesses before I began as an Administrative Assistant (Office Manager) for Dengel Appraisal after moving to Nashville. My husband and his partner purchase the company in 1991. I could go on but in an effort to save a little space please see www.LambforCouncil.com where there is an in depth bio about my life. It explains much of my volunteer work.
A big issue in the 22nd district is the near-empty Bellevue Mall. Councilman Crafton presented an ordinance that would rezone the area, essentially stripping the mall of a $10 million value to force the issue. Do you agree with this tactic? If not, do you believe are there other methods that can be tried by the council to facilitate a repopulation of the mall?
I believe there is a better way to work with our business owners. Patience, respect and open communication is a key to facilitating cooperation. Down zoning will reduce the property taxes further, which have already declined due to the current income that the mall generates (comment – the mall was devalued when the tenants left, reducing the rental income which is a factor in determining the real property value in the assessment for property taxes). The absence of retail tenants has affected sales tax collections too. Down zoning would make the land usable only for single family residential housing, and the land parcels under the proposal are not the best location for homes, would further reduce the property taxes and totally eliminate the possibility of potential sales tax revenue. Down zoning is not in the best interest of the community and the planning commission disapproved this measure. Mr. Crafton only deferred the bill; it can come back for the third and final reading whenever he chooses.
I believe that our citizens want retail in the Bellevue area and do not wish to drive all over the county to shop. I attended the Industrial Development Board meeting and the board agreed to see a completed proposal for the Bellevue Center mall. I believe the current owners work with Foursquare Properties. The current mall owners rezoned land from office to retail to try and lure restaurants, and they rezoned the Titan’s practice field site in an effort for Wal-Mart to build a store. The current owners got Sears to move to the mall as they were not there when the mall opened in August 1990. The proposal for the TIF financing will have plans for a rejuvenated site with retail vendors, the current anchors and restaurants in a new look (lifestyle center). It will be several months before the community knows if Bellevue Center will “change”. Only developers will remedy this situation, as the council person must work in good faith with the developer/purchaser to accomplish a quality product the community appreciates and values. Determining the right tenant mix is essential for whoever purchases the property for its future success. I hope they ask for input from the community before the final plans are completed.
One more question about Councilman Crafton. Do you agree with his English only proposal?
This past year, The English First bill wasted the council’s time and our tax payer dollars and this bill would accomplish nothing in the end except divisiveness. There are more productive ways for our council members to serve our community. The State of Tennessee has a law about English being our language and this passed in the 1980’s I believe. The proposal would not address any significant issue and could have possibly prohibited the teaching of languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and German) in our schools (one lawyer’s interpretation of the law). We live in a global economy so we must be able to communicate.
This bill did not address the question of immigration or illegal immigrants. I believe the Sherriff’s new plan is working to help with this issue. We need more opportunities for legal immigrants to learn our language; offering more programs around the city will help solve this issue. One more comment. The English Language Learner students are taught English in our schools, they work to bring these students up to a level of competency in the language so they can move into required classes and graduate with a diploma, they do not teach them in Spanish as I often hear misconstrued.
What would you do to help improve the education of Nashville’s children?
One of the most important issues for me is Education. A community that graduates their students to become productive citizens will thrive and prosper because we will not have to invest in as many prisons cells. The high school dropouts truly cost our community in many ways such as reduced numbers of available educated employees for hire, low paying jobs when they are hired, the need for public assistance and the continued need for affordable housing. We must find a way to stop the constant cycle of poverty. Education is the way out for many children.
The responsibility of a council person is to help the schools receive the funding for such new programming without damaging the current curriculum that is working well in many of our schools. Metro enrolls many students in programs like AVID- Advancement Via Individual Determination, which helps teach students good study habits and what they need to do in Middle and High School to be able to go to a four year post secondary school. Programs like AVID are targeted to students who will be the first in their family to go to college. Encourage the rigor of International Baccalaureate and Advance Placement classes and help the schools add more classes increasing expectations of students who should work harder to succeed, as school isn’t supposed to be a cake walk. Honor programming should also be enhanced for the same reasons. As a council person I will encourage businesses to partner with Metro Nashville Public Schools to help with the Small Learning Communities and the Big Picture School, facilitating opportunities, internships, mentoring, hiring students in a “work study” situation and possibly volunteering in a program, all in an effort to make these academies successful, with students seeing the reason for learning, and understanding where the education works with the real world after High School. We have to help our teens see their future, “dangle the carrot” so to speak.
My opponent will hammer accountability issues with our schools. The graduation rate formula was changed two years ago and is calculated on a student graduating in four years and three months. Exceptions to this are English Language Learners and Special Education Student which are allowed five years. The graduation rates improved significantly across Davidson County this year. Pearl Cohn moved up 18.9% for the class of 2006 but these numbers are reported by the state for 2007. Hillwood High School where my opponent graduated from moved their rate up 5.4%. The accomplishments of the class of 2007 through this session of summer school will be the graduation rate for 2008, reported next spring. The freshman academies instituted in 2006-07 will see the fruits of much effort given to making sure they succeed to their graduation in 2010, which will be reflected in the state released graduation rate for 2011. No Child Left Behind has left the district very little wiggle room for not improving. If a school isn’t succeeding, then the school is revamped by the state. Then the school district starts over with a clean slate in the building, meaning the principal can change the personnel for the whole school if necessary, tenure does not count. Test scores have shown improvement too. The come in big gains, followed by a couple of steady years then another set of big gains will be reported. An example is two years (2004-05) ago the district showed a huge gains, thus last year was steady slight improvement again (2005-06). Test scores will begin to come in over the summer, and will be formally announced when the State allows the district too. If you want more details since 2001-02, please let me know and I will try to get you the information. I believe in accountability, but comparing our cost of education per child to that of Williamson County is not comparing apples to apples, but apples to oranges, due the significant differenced with the free and reduced population and the English Language learners.
Also, anything specific to the Hillwood cluster?
I believe as a council person, I will work locally with our community to help them get to know what great schools we have in the Hillwood Cluster, helping facilitate communications with local residents and realtors. It is important that we build capacity in our existing buildings before we spend capital dollars on building new facilities. New buildings cost the city a huge chunk of taxpayer dollars, thus increasing property taxes. When Cane Ridge opens next year (2008-09) it will cost the City about $50+ million to build and to operate it with staff it will cost about $16 million annually (don’t forget inflation). We must value what we have, which are some awesome schools in this cluster, many that have been updated this decade.
I visited the Bellevue High School picnic this past weekend. Many of the former students lived back then in West Nashville, a few blocks from Cohn High School (Richland Park) but were “bused” out to Bellevue because back then it was a “county school” and where they lived was considered “county”. I believe Bellevue finally populated a school in the late 1960’s with the building of the school which is now called Bellevue Middle School. The middle school then occupied the old building for a while, with the High School occupying the new building, with about 600 students. Again, this is what I was told by folks who lived this history. The High School was closed in the early 1980’s due to court order and all students were sent to Hillwood, a school much closer for those in West Nashville than the long drive to Bellevue and the open fields. Bellevue became a Middle School at the same time and the old building was demolished except for the gymnasium (our community center). When our school buildings are consistently overflowing, then it will be the time to look at building a new facility, but the next question is where do we build it considering the hilly topography in the area? High School sites need about 50+ acres and you need flat land for the school, sports fields, and football stadiums. Blasting costs the city even more money, thus we have to ask the taxpayers for more funding.
To facilitate building capacity, I will encourage local businesses to connect to Hillwood HS, in an effort to provide opportunities for our students to intern with them to learn the value of their education in the working world. This typically motivates student to continue with post secondary education once they see where education will benefit them. The Small Learning Communities need local business and community support to succeed. I will work with our community to match resources to the school programs which are currently in development. We will need input in determining what direction Hillwood will go in the future with their Small Learning Academies. This is a great opportunity for our community to become involved in determining what academies will be offered at Hillwood. The Gates Foundation is highly active with this concept. For examples of this type of programming see these links….
Should Metro government work to keep the Predators or Sounds here in Nashville? And on the more general question, what is your opinion on the relationship between local government and sports franchises?
My belief is that we help provide a venue which also multi-tasks for our community for other events. When it comes to providing guarantees for maintaining the 14,000 ticket average to be sold, or putting up more funding to make the deal happen, that is not the function of government. If the council believes the sports teams benefit the community, it is our responsibility to help encourage our businesses in each of our districts to help support the sports teams, and this is what I will do. The Titan’s have the community support; I believe the Predators are now realizing what our community will do to help keep them in Nashville. The Predators do help contribute to the thriving downtown businesses on lower Broadway and 2ndAvenue. A flourishing central business district is essential to sustaining growth in any city. Ask these businesses how bad it was during the “Lock out” year. The Sounds had a very good deal; the city again was going to double their contribution for annual maintenance on the proposed new facility. I don’t know why it fell apart but a bank merger may have figured into the financing issue or it could be other underlying issues. The proposal for a “music venue” on the old Thermal Trash Plant site will hopefully provide an opportunity for more Music in Music City. The idea is very appealing and might reach a wider audience as fans will travel farther to see their favorite music act. One more thought these folks also spend more dollars per person when visiting than a Davidson County Resident would at the same venue. This contributes more to the sales tax revenue for the City and the State.
Since zoning is a large part of what the council does, what is your general position on growth (“smart growth” aesthetics, jobs vs. quality-of-life, that sort of thing)? Will you work closely with the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, as well as other community groups that exist to restrain growth?
I am a firm believer in planned growth. I will work with the local Chamber, the neighborhoods and our community groups when development is proposed. Good will is essential for neighborhoods to thrive. Smart growth provides what our city needs; it plans for traffic, sidewalks, green spaces and what residents look for in a community. Bellevue must also plan for retail and locations for office which also lends to the quality of life which is important in preserving the community and property values. I am for planned growth that includes a focus on improving our existing infrastructure.
Would you work to expand and/ or improve Bellevue’s greenway?
Yes, I will work to enhance our greenways and add more cycling paths and sidewalks to help encourage more physical fitness, (one of my own personal challenges) and maybe a little less dependency on cars. The community could use a good skateboarding park. We need to work with MTA to make bus transportation available to more citizens including the handicap. I support all the local sports groups that continue to enhance our family life. (i.e. The Steelers, HYSA, Bellevue Basketball and the Bellevue Baseball – hopefully I remembered all of these groups). We need to make sure we maintain our community parks too.
Finally, think of this as your unfettered 3 minutes at the end of the debate. Tell the voters of the 22nd district why they should vote for you.
I will keep this short as I over “talked” above. I am running for council district 22 because I believe in giving the good folks in Bellevue a voice. I have met many wonderful people who live in Bellevue, confirming why we chose to move here long ago. We all want the same things for our community including the library which after this Capital Improvement Budget passes there will be $2 million set aside to acquire the land and begin the plans. I will work with our citizens to provide a safe community. I will support Education for our children and grandchildren. I will be available to listen to our citizens and work toward solutions in a manner that benefits our community. I appreciate your support of my candidacy and your vote. Early voting begins on July 13th, July 18th in Bellevue at the Mall. The Election is August 2nd.