Marshall Stair is running for Mayor of Knoxville.
I am a native Knoxvillian and have deep roots in the Knoxville community. I was born and raised in a 100-year-old house in Bearden. My grandfather bought it in the 1950’s. He was a manager at the Standard Knitting Mills and one of his coworkers I met campaigning was convinced the Mill wouldn’t have closed if he were still alive. The house my grandfather bought needed a lot of work, but he saw potential in it. He was a dreamer. Unfortunately, he died before he ever got the chance to finish it and my dad has spent his life fixing it up and realizing his father’s dream.
My life has been shaped by that same dream of a better future and a deep commitment to hard work.
DEVELOPING A LOVE OF CITIES AND RETURNING HOME
Filled with a sense of curiosity, I went to college at Tulane University in New Orleans and spent several years after graduation working in cities across the United States and the world. I worked for a nonprofit environmental group fighting for clean air, national forests and smart growth, which led me to live in Houston, TX, Austin, TX, and Chicago, IL. I also spent time in Mexico City becoming fluent in Spanish and teaching English to corporate executives.
It was these formative years living in such a variety of neighborhoods where I developed an interest in city revitalization, transportation options, walkable neighborhoods and historic preservation. I had the opportunity to see different models of community infrastructure, housing, transit and learned what worked and what didn’t. After almost ten years of experiencing life in other cities, there was nothing more inspiring to me than the transformation occurring in my hometown. This motivated me to return home to attend law school at UT and see how I could contribute to my community.
While in law school, I worked for the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division as a bilingual assistant, assisting federal investigations enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act, Family Medical Leave Act, and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. In 2008, I began working at the law firm of Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C. with a general civil litigation practice focusing on employment law and more recently immigration law.
STEPPING UP TO COUNCIL
While I enjoy law, my true passion is and always has been improving Knoxville. I was elected to the Board of the Central Business Improvement District where we focused exclusively on Downtown Knoxville revitalization, but I wanted to have a bigger impact. I wanted to make a difference on other issues I felt passionately about like addressing vacancy and blight, mixed use development, sustainability and sound fiscal management. This led me to launch a campaign for City Council at the age of 32. I took on a former State Senator and I won in November 2011 and was subsequently re-elected in November 2015.
Serving on Council has been an honor and I am proud of the work we have done together. We implemented significant pension reform, maintained focused efforts on walkable communities with sidewalk additions in areas all over the City, adopted a new sign ordinance that took bold steps to reduce sign clutter and put Knoxville on the map as an outdoor destination with investments in Lakeshore Park and the Urban Wilderness. We also fought to keep employers like Regal Entertainment and Tombras Group in the City to ensure high quality jobs are here to stay. And, we are currently updating the zoning code to ensure quality growth while maintaining neighborhood integrity.
I served as the Chair of Public Property Naming Committee and currently serve as the Chair of the Audit Committee which approves the City’s financial statements. I have also served on a number of non-profit boards, including the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Bijou Theatre, City People, East Tennessee Historical Society, Legacy Parks, Appalachian Mountain Bike Club and have been involved in numerous other organizations.
My wife Natalie and I now have our very own 100-year-old house located in historic Old North Knoxville. Trust me, it is always a work in progress and feels like a lifelong project just as my parent’s house has been! We welcomed our daughter, Stella Dorothy Stair in January 2018. One day I hope that she will see the progress we have made to maintain our City’s character while moving it into the future. However, my dream is not for her to just see the potential. I want her to see the dream fulfilled and to dream even bigger for our City.
I hope you’ll join me in taking the next step. Vote Stair for Mayor to move Knoxville Forward!
Who are you and what brought you into this race?
I feel like I have made a big impact serving on Council the last 8 years and the City has made significant progress. We must take advantage of this and build on it to make sure all Knoxvillians have a great quality of life no matter what zip code they live in, and I know I have the experience, the vision, and the ideas to move Knoxville Forward.
How do you feel about Recode Knoxville, both as a concept for overhauling the city’s zoning code and its handling by the current administration?
I am supportive of Recode and the need to update our zoning code. Recode, the process of updating the zoning code, is about creating a long term blueprint for how our city develops over the next fifty years. It is about creating a vision for a city that our children and grandchildren want to live in, and making sure our values are reflected in how we develop our most precious resource, our land.
Unfortunately, our current zoning code was adopted in the 1960s, a time when the main goal was urban sprawl. It separates the uses and thwarts the use of public transit. The code is so inadequate that when the City looked to revitalize the South Waterfront and Cumberland Avenue it was forced to adopt an entire new code for those areas. We cannot keep patching the code and that is why the Mayor and Council unanimously voted to undertake this process to update the code in 2016.
I am for Recode for three primary reasons:
First, it allows our city to grow in a sustainable manner. It does this by allowing mixed use development on our commercial corridors along with design guidelines which will allow for more walkable communities outside of downtown. We know we are going to grow so we must manage the growth in a sustainable manner. The changes also encourage transit oriented development. For too long we have prohibited housing along our transit lines and forced apartment complexes to be built on our ridge tops, making walking impossible and degrading our beautiful ridgelines.
Second, it addresses the affordable housing shortage by allowing for housing in commercial zones and by creating a middle housing zone that allows for types of housing that are in demand, like townhomes and pocket neighborhoods.
Lastly, and most important, it protects neighborhood integrity. By increasing the minimum lot size and steering growth to our corridors and commercial nodes, we protect the neighborhoods we know and love. I cannot stress enough if you live in a single family residential zone, this update will not negatively impact your property.
Other potential benefits:
Implements the Hillside and Ridge Top Protection Plan
Protects single family residential neighborhoods like Oakwood Lincoln Park and South Haven
Correctly zones residential property that was zoned industrial
Zones Sutherland commercial rather than industrial, better reflecting the current pattern and allowing for mixed use growth
Zones Chapman Mixed use rather than highway commercial reflecting a better vision for South Knoxville
A clearer code with a use matrix and illustrations making it easier to understand
People have raised concerns, the main ones I hear are the following:
Accessory Dwelling Units – First, in other cities which have allowed ADUs, very few have been built, and currently they are often built under the current code by describing them as something else, like a kids room, or man cave. I am supportive of ADUs as a way for families to address challenges like seniors who want to age in place, and for adult children who are not ready for their own home. Also, they allow for mixed incomes in the same neighborhood. We have adopted size restrictions, an owner occupancy requirement, and a parking requirement so ADUs are not abused as for-profit development tools.
The Process- While no process is perfect, I believe the process has been transparent and encouraged much public involvement. There have been numerous workshops and public meetings and all voices have been heard. When Council was set to vote on the measure, I called to slow down the process which resulted in two long meetings and over 15 hours of Council reviewing the text and working with the public to make sure we get it right.
Piecemeal Approach- Some have called for a piecemeal approach. Being involved on Council, I know this would take so long the community would tire and it would not be achieved. To update just the parking section took over two years, and the sign ordinance took over three years.
Notice Requirement- There were concerns raised about the lack of notice and these were heard by the Mayor and Council and we sent out a notice via mail to every property owner in the city. In addition, there is a provision waiving the application fee for the first year after the code is adopted. I would be surprised if there are developers who are unaware of this process.
It is easy for the other candidates to criticize the project and call for the project to be stopped. As Gov Haslam often says, the easiest thing in government is to do nothing. But that is not a solution. That is not leadership. Leadership is not quitting when things get tough. And we need a mayor that doesn’t quit, we need a mayor that continues to bring people together. The codes needs updating and that is what we are doing on Council and what I will continue to do as Mayor. I will continue to lead and work to create a city with a great quality of life for everyone.
What should the Knoxville Police Department to do balance the needs of keeping the community safe without serving as an overbearing presence in communities?
This is a fine line that requires balance. I believe public safety is the number one responsibility of city government. To meet this responsibility, we need to have a fully staffed police department with enough officers to get out in the community and build relationships.
We also need to ensure that officers look like the communities they are serving, and recruiting and retaining minority officers would be an emphasis of my administration.
I think that by adopting a community policing model that embeds officers in communities to allow them to build relationships, while also making sure those officers reflect the makeup of those communities we can successfully keep all Knoxvillians safe.
Share your plan for addressing homelessness beyond the efforts which have already been tried?
First I would make sure people do not become homeless in the first place by getting more affordable units on the market. To do so, we need to expand the existing rental development fund, and find a dedicated funding source for it to make sure the affordable housing stock is always adequate to meet the needs of the homeless community.
I would also establish a community oversight board to oversee the fund, and work with communities to identify the needs, and work to find neighborhoods that make the most sense for affordable housing units.
I think we also need to do more to connect the homeless community with existing resources by doing outreach and meeting them where they are. The city has partnered with VMC on this already, but we should do more. We can also work to get people workforce development training, mental healthcare, and other help they may need to keep them in housing.
To truly address this challenge, we will need to provide supportive housing that provides full time staff that can provide this long term care that some of our chronically homeless population will need.
Finally, I would work to bring the state back to the table because the city of Knoxville should not be solely responsible for funding these initiatives as many in the homeless community come from areas outside the city.
Would you ever support a property tax increase?
My goal as mayor would be to keep taxes low and do not foresee a property tax hike during my administration.
However, I believe it is irresponsible to rule out a tax increase should the city’s tax base decrease, or if the market takes a downturn. I would do everything in my power to find other alternatives and avoid raising taxes.
What is your vision for the City of Knoxville in the 4 / 8 years ahead?
My vision is for Knoxville to continue the progress we’ve made in the last 8 years, but making sure that every Knoxvillians benefits from that progress and growth.
I also want to address challenges like homelessness, by implementing the plans I’ve mentioned above. We need to make sure we deliver basic city services like maintaining our roads and building sidewalks in neighborhoods, and keeping communities safe. Finally, I believe we can improve educational outcomes for our students by working with the county, and expanding the Community Schools model which provides resources to low income students that may not have access to them otherwise.
By addressing factors that affect learning outcomes outside the classroom, we can begin to improve outcomes in the classroom. I truly believe Knoxville is better than it’s ever been, but we have challenges as well. I have the experience and the vision to move Knoxville forward for every Knoxvillian, no matter what zip code they live in. That is my vision for the future of Knoxville.