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 Freddie O’Connell.

O’Connell has served on the Metro Council since 2015. In addition to serving on multiple committees for the council, he served on multiple non-profit, civic, and committee boards including WeGo Public Transit (formally known as Nashville MTA) and as Board President of Walk/Bike Nashville. O’Connell is part of Nashville’s software and start-up industry, most recently as Integration Architect for HealthStream.

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 O’Connell’s answers to those questions.

How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville?

O’Connell: “When I drafted and passed legislation creating the Office of Homeless Services, it was an effort not only to bring this issue to the forefront of Metro’s work—and budget—but also an effort to consolidate a complex system of silos that hindered progress. In order to advance affordable options for residents, this work must continue, led by a recognized expert found through a national search. As mayor, I would ensure that our plans also include housing that provides supportive services, like mental health care, because some of our neighbors will never be able to consistently earn enough to be housed.

We must also maximize and multiply every dollar we put toward this issue. As Mayor, I would continue the work I led as chair of our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Oversight Committee to ensure our HMIS is one of the most effective in the country. Having worked on the Metro Homeless Impact Division’s three-year strategic community plan, I know it is also critical to reinvest in our Continuum of Care to increase our competitiveness to earn grants and federal funding. In recent years, one-time CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act federal funds provided MDHA and Metro the ability to offer rapid re-housing and emergency housing options to residents who needed them, and we must be prepared to access new funds when those programs expire.

But, there is an elephant in the room called the “benefits cliff.” I have heard from countless residents in MDHA housing that just when they achieve improvement in their lives, like a new job or a raise, they are faced with quickly increased rent or eviction. They receive help to a certain point of progress, and then instead of tapering off, assistance drops off completely, leaving folks dangling without a safety net. We need to be very careful that benefits cliffs, unreasonable zero-tolerance policies, and other strict guidelines aren’t creating homelessness, especially when people are making positive changes for their families—and I believe that we can find an innovative solution to creating a smooth transition to self-sufficiency that offers people economic mobility and housing stability.”

What does the future of mass transit look like in Nashville, in your opinion?

O’Connell: “Having served as the chair of our transit authority board and as an experienced transit rider, I can tell you that there is low-hanging fruit that can get Nashville moving in the near-term. This starts with addressing the hub-and-spoke system that forces buses downtown and makes riders transfer there to go anywhere else. By creating more community transit centers and crosstown routes, I will bring transit right to the riders, helping people get where they need to go faster and reducing congestion in some of our busiest areas.

As Mayor, I would also use my expertise as a former Chair and board member of our transportation system to ensure that we fully implement the excellent three-year program prepared by WeGo Public Transit (formerly Nashville MTA), which includes investment recommendations within our existing budget — so we don’t need to raise taxes.

Big picture, we need to invest in a system with more mobility options and revisit a conversation about dedicated funding for transit so that we can improve affordability for residents, and ensure our economy remains strong. In cities like Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Portland—cities that we see as both our peers and our competitors—bus rapid transit (basically, trains on rubber wheels) and light rail have been an effective way to move forward. I think our best light rail option would connect the airport to downtown, but nothing is off the table.”

If elected, how would you work to repair the relationship between the Metro Nashville government and the state government?

O’Connell: “Here’s the thing: I’m willing to revisit the relationship between Metro Nashville and the state government, but it needs to come from a place where Nashville asserts our power. Until our city has a strong mayor willing to stand up for its residents, the state will continue to encroach on our rights.

Our city—and cities like ours—are the economic engines of the state. It is our people—and our policies—that have brought in the money that these state legislators use to improve their far-away counties and to fund state-based programs. We have options to fight back, and we should start by reopening negotiations around the shiny objects they want to build in Nashville, like a stadium for tourists using Nashvillians’ money.

There are some candidates who have more experience working with the state than with Metro, and some of them are telling voters they can fix this problem. But ask yourself this: if someone in this race says they have the secret to solving this issue, why is it worse than ever? I think voters will be looking for a candidate with deep experience knowing how to be effective in local government knowing that the state might create obstacles and constraints. I’m that candidate.

I intend to overinvest in relationships offline with the governor, leadership in both chambers of the state legislature, and committee chairs. This won’t fix the issue, but it will at least allow us to step away from dunks on social media, a very active rumor mill, and statements to media and focus on how we govern together.”

What would be your approach to addressing crime in the city and the increasing rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles?

O’Connell: “Of all the plans our city has put forward, none have focused on community safety as a citywide issue, and it’s time to have that collaborative discussion. On top of that, as Mayor, I would ensure that our police can focus on crime, and that means a meaningful conversation about how other Metro teams can provide support on things like parking enforcement, party buses, and noise complaints from short-term rentals. It also means ensuring that mental health crises are treated as such. Our officers also need a new training facility and competitive pay so they can afford to live in the county that they serve and be a part of our community.

To reduce crime committed by juveniles, and to keep the crime rate low, we need a holistic approach that addresses both youth and parents, and creates avenues of economic advancement – because crime is often borne out of hopelessness. That means having good quality schools in every neighborhood to provide youth options for the future. It means recognizing that students and families can be well served by programs directly in schools like Community Achieves, which expanded this year but will need continued funding. It means ensuring we have supportive services outside of school that are directed towards youth, including those that drive down and address adverse childhood experiences and teach meaningful skills. And it means amping up the availability of paid internships and jobs to provide a pathway to success through enhancements to existing youth opportunity programs. It also means helping parents to parent—whether it’s helping them afford housing, giving them a better bus route so they can get home from work faster, or addressing childcare issues that prevent parents from getting better jobs or advancing their education to help their family.”

How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city?

O’Connell: “Frankly, some other candidates have pursued a strategy of growth without guardrails that exacerbated issues of affordability, where I have fought it at every turn. I was a co-sponsor of the “Do Better” bill that added accountability to our incentive model and supported the overhaul of tax increment financing (TIF) to make sure it’s a tool that’s used in a way that isn’t just a fast track to development.

The Barnes Housing Trust Fund has been one of our most important and effective tools at creating new affordable housing options. As mayor, I will do something we’ve never been able to do yet: commit to a recommended budget that includes $30 million for the duration of the term.

I will also create a dedicated Office of Housing to focus on this problem. The office will focus on more than housing units; it will work to acquire grants and federal funds and serve as a coordinator between Metro departments. In recent years, I’ve been frustrated to see projects that I’ve worked on face preventable delays due to things within Metro’s control, like water line connections. This Office would work to create project pathways with clear timelines that reduce red tape, and help the nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and developers looking to make a difference in this space navigate the complexities of developing property and accessing assistance. Affordable housing is interconnected with every other issue our city faces, especially transit, so having a team dedicated to this work will ensure it is always top of mind. It would also work to address longstanding issues with MDHA to rebuild trust and confidence in that agency.

There are other very effective methods of ensuring affordability that we just can’t access, like meaningful unit mandates in new developments, because the state prohibits them. And while the state may try to break our affordable housing tools as quickly as we create them, we have to continue to pursue innovative solutions. I’ve been proud to support one such solution that allows residents to pay an affordable rent while the city pays the remaining amount of market price. There’s no financial downside to developers and landlords participating, so we need to ensure there is both knowledge about the program and support in applying for and implementing it.”

What do you believe is the biggest issue affecting Nashville and how would you plan to address it?

O’Connell: “Nashville needs a Mayor who has their priorities straight. Until we fix that, and focus on the issues that impact our daily lives, we can’t truly move forward as a city.

For too long, Nashville has prioritized tourism and development at the expense of residents. I believe it’s time to turn our eyes from shiny objects and toys for tourists and towards issues that we feel every day, like traffic and trash pick up. It seems simple, but reorganizing our priorities will drastically improve our quality of life. We need to be filling potholes, not wooing companies that will bring their own people with them. We need to be protecting our neighborhoods’ history and their affordability, not letting them be sold off to the highest bidder – whether a builder, or a bachelorette renting for the night. We need people to be the number one priority both in our Metro departments, and in our budget.

As a native Nashvillian who loves this town, I want people to know that their city cares about them, and see that in the work we do each day. I’ve heard more and more people say they are thinking about leaving, but I want people to stay. I want us to reinvest in a city worth staying in, one that reflects our progressive values, one where everyone belongs. This is our home, and we need to fight for it, together. Let’s be clear, more of the same is on the ballot, but I’m campaigning for something different – A Nashville for Nashvillians.”

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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.