NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This August, Nashvillians will head to the polls to vote in the Metropolitan General Election.
Earlier this year, Mayor John Cooper announced he would not be seeking re-election, creating a wide-open field of candidates in the race to be the next mayor of Music City.
One of those candidates is Alice Rolli.
Rolli is a businessperson and growth executive who has previously served at both state and federal levels of the government. She served as Assistant Commissioner of Strategy for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development during Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. Rolli also served as Special Assistant and later Campaign Manager for U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.
News 2 submitted questionnaires to each of the candidates running for Nashville mayor. The form featured six questions addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues—including crime rates, mass transit, homelessness, and the Metro government’s current relationship with the state government. Below you will find Rolli’s answers to those questions.
How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville?
Rolli: “Nashville recently allocated $50 million of federal COVID relief money to homelessness. That was more than any city in the country and should be applauded. I’d like to be sure that we are deploying those dollars in a way that creates the most housing options for our homeless neighbors. Taxpayers know that if government funds aren’t spent wisely and outcomes managed to ensure the greatest benefit, we end up in a situation where the public’s trust is eroded. Ensuring that those dollars are managed well to make the greatest impact is critical.”
What does the future of mass transit look like in Nashville, in your opinion?
Rolli: “Locally, we need to continue to invest in improvements in service where there is ridership – particularly the work begun to have more cross-town connections and alleviate congestion into downtown through creating and supporting neighborhood transit centers, covered bus stops, and clean and safe park-n-ride lots to reduce congestion.
Regionally, it looks like reversing the “go-it-alone” approach which Nashville followed to spectacular failure with the 2018 transit referendum. To achieve regional transit aims will require regional cooperation to secure dedicated funding not only from Davidson County residents, but from residents of adjacent counties whose residents commute into the city for work or entertainment. My experience as Assistant Commissioner in Governor Haslam’s administration for Economic & Community Development makes me uniquely qualified to bring a much needed reset to build a more productive relationship with our surrounding counties.
Apart from mass transit, Nashvillians want to see adaptive signal control technology implemented – this is common sense and critical to improve the lives of Nashville residents.”
If elected, how would you work to repair the relationship between the Metro Nashville government and the state government?
Rolli: “Trust is repaired by acknowledging and then solving problems, together.
Frequently Nashville voters have found themselves so frustrated with inaction at Nashville’s City Hall, they have gone to the state for relief. Specifically, when our schools would not re-open during COVID, parents in Nashville petitioned the state to get our schools reopened for learning. With crime rising downtown, business owners became so frustrated that they petitioned the state to allow them to have
their own police force downtown. Today a completely separate police force, with arrest provisions, operates in order to manage public safety downtown.
Similarly, the management of our city’s finances has caused deep challenges and frustrations between both the state and Metro Nashville government. Our current Metro-Davidson County budget has $413 million taxpayer dollars to service Davidson County’s debt. In contrast, the debt service of the entire state of Tennessee and all its 95 counties is $342 million.
To rebuild trust, both sides must acknowledge the extent of the challenge before us to improve Nashville’s fiscal position, ensure that our kids are reading on grade level, and to reduce crime.
My experience working both at the federal level for retired U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and the state level as Asst. Commissioner for Economic and Community Development for Gov. Bill Haslam provides me with a unique blend of relationships which we can put to work on day one to better leverage state and federal dollars to effectively solve problems for our citizens. In acknowledging our challenges and finding solutions, together, we will repair this critical relationship.”
What would be your approach to addressing crime in the city and the increasing rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles?
Rolli: “The current rates of crime by juveniles is a direct extension of our failure to teach children how to read. Without reading, children cannot succeed in school – and they cannot gain the maximum wage jobs coming to our city.
For many decades teaching practices were in use that did not effectively teach children to read. Now state law requires districts to use a “Science of Reading” or phonics to ensure effective literacy instruction is used. This approach is showing results and we have several publicly funded schools within the city that are showing strong results. Sadly, we have 19 schools (18 traditional, one charter) within the city that are in the bottom 5% of the state. 11 of these schools have been designated as such since 2015. Greater urgency is required.
Currently only one quarter of our kids read on grade level – and children who cannot read by third grade struggle for the remainder of their academic careers. So first and foremost, we must hold ourselves accountable to delivering on this fundamental civil right – reading.
Second, with more than 200 vacancies in our police force we must look at both pay as well as morale and how we are treating our officers and supporting them as professionals to ensure we have enough officers to maintain public safety. While I have never worn the uniform, my husband is a combat veteran who served our country for 20 years. Those who wear the uniform and swear to serve and protect our citizens – whether it is in our armed forces, police, fire, or EMS – will have my gratitude, my respect, and my support.
Third, we must invest in programming that helps reduce the number of victims in our city and to reset from a Criminal Justice System to a Victims’ Justice System.”
How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city?
Rolli: “In Nashville, 47% of our housing supply is rented instead of owned. This is significantly higher than the national average of 34% and puts plainly what many longtime Nashvillians feel – that Nashville is a place for developers buying property to rent as short term properties or for investments.
Broadly speaking we need to re-examine the entire metro zoning and permitting process – both sides, developers and neighborhood leaders – are frustrated that the “SP” process has overtaken any of the traditional community plans or community plan amendments. The volume of building permits (some $5 billion) has overwhelmed the existing systems and we need to leverage new state laws – such as the ability for electricians not employed by Metro – to be able to conduct inspections in order to help bring housing units online, quicker, which should lower the overall cost of construction. We need to identify other bottlenecks and determine what we can do to build temporary capacity to work through the permitting backlogs which contribute to higher costs.
Specifically to affordable housing we need to review all of our tools (MDHA, Barnes, Catalyst Fund) but also figure out what is missing from our portfolio and bring it to the table. We need to reset our relationship with the THDA so that more Davidson County residents are receiving the benefits of these state programs. Ultimately, any funds used for affordable housing need to be performance managed through to be sure that every dollar is effectively used.
Last, we need to not raise property taxes. Some of our most affordable housing units, older buildings, were made significantly less affordable by raising taxes that were passed on in the form of higher rents.”
What do you believe is the biggest issue affecting Nashville and how would you plan to address it?
Rolli: “Our biggest issue is that our residents do not feel that they are receiving value for the taxes that they pay to run our city government effectively. Today Nashville residents are the highest taxed in the state – residents pay a greater share of their pay in taxes than other cities in the state. City Hall keeps talking about the rate of taxes – but regular people look at their tax bills – and we see that we are paying considerably more than we did a few years ago and getting less – longer wait times for 911, more potholes, only 1 in 4 kids reading on grade level, more than 100 homicides a year. We need to focus on delivering results and value for the money our residents are paying.”
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To read responses from other candidates in the race, click here.
The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.
Candidates have until noon on May 18 to qualify.