Photos by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
On the eve of the first day of early voting in Brentwood, seven of nine candidates for the Brentwood City Commission appeared for a Preserve Brentwood candidate forum.
In just over an hour, the group covered much ground including topics like open space residential development, senior housing, possible development of the Turner property, the need for increased connectivity, and sewer capacity.
As expected, most candidates were quick to note their support of maintaining the city’s one-acre zoning requirement and keeping as much green space as possible, especially as it related to the Turner property.
When it came to issues like senior housing, candidate answers began to vary.
The question, read by a resident, asked, “Will you support or vote for any zoning changes which would allow more homes, apartments, condos or continuing-care facilities in current zoning permits?”
Incumbent Anne Dunn mentioned in a past candidate forum her desire to ensure seniors have options if they are looking to downsize. On Tuesday night, Dunn emphasized the importance of working on that goal within the city’s current zoning.
“I think our current zoning is something that the residents insisted on, as we looked at senior housing, they said, ‘We want it, but we don’t want to violate the one-acre density,’” Dunn said. “That’s why I think that [OSRD] IP is the only way that we can possibly stay within the one-acre density and provide some senior living.”
Candidate Wyatt Rex Allen chimed in during his chance to respond to the question and said, “At the core issue of this, I will not support anything that’s high density. That’s…been echoed by pretty much every single one of the candidates here. That’s a core value of Brentwood that’s not going to change.”
‘Sewage is not sexy’
When it was time to discuss the city’s infrastructure, sewer capacity was in the hot seat.
“Sewer is a controlling factor on whether or not growth and development can occur. The City of Brentwood, in an effort to stretch our limited sewer capacity, is now planning the construction of a massive 3-million-gallon sewage holding tank …The budgeted cost of this sewage holding tank is projected to be $8.725 million, and it is recognized that the cost could be much, much, higher than that. The Brentwood 2030 Plan also states that it may be necessary to modify development standards as needed to ensure existing sewer capacity is sufficient….Should taxpayers have to foot the bill for an expensive new sewer infrastructure? Or should we manage our growth so that the sewer costs are limited and these funds can be spent on our roads, our schools and our parks?”
Candidate Terrence Smith said, “Of course we would like not to spend extra money on sewers…You have to pay to play. I mean, sewers are really, really important.”
Dunn agreed, saying, “That type of thing is never fun to spend money on, it’s like getting a new furnace at your home or fixing a pipe that burst in the yard. If you’re spending $10,000, you want to see something you really like. Sewer is one of those things…in life, that has to be done.”
Planning Commissioner and candidate John Magyar pointed out that the city’s planning of the sewer system is both proactive and conservative in spending. Low-density zoning, he said, is “imperative” to ensuring the sewer system avoids future problems.
Candidate Stevan Pippin, who serves as the vice-chair of the city’s Planning Commission, said, “OK, I’m going to say it: sewage is not sexy. It’s even less sexy if it has nowhere to go once it leaves your house…Folks, this is not sexy, but this is plain old good planning. You have got to plan.”
‘Not a city run by PACs’
One of the several questions asked during the forum seemed to be directed toward a candidate who was not present, Nelson Andrews. Preserve Brentwood focused on Andrews in a March 19 newsletter with the subject line, “7,000 new houses coming to Brentwood!” wherein the group accused Andrews of lying during a March 9 candidate forum.
At that forum, Andrews said he had never accepted PAC money for his campaign. In the March 19 newsletter, Preserve Brentwood said this: “It is public knowledge that Nelson Andrews is heavily involved in a PAC. In fact, he was a founding board member of the Franklin based Williamson Business PAC.”
During Tuesday’s forum, which Andrews was unable to attend due to a scheduled prior commitment, a Brentwood resident read the following question to candidates: “For the first time in our history, Brentwood has a candidate for City Commissioner who is a founding member, major financial contributor and vocal advocate for the Franklin-based Williamson Business Political Action Committee (PAC). This [PAC], of course, exists to influence elections with its money. They have stated that their strategic plan is to become a “force in the region.” The question that you’ll have one minute to answer is, ‘Do you feel it is appropriate for a member of such an organization to be making decisions on behalf of Brentwood residents as a City Commissioner?’”
Most candidates said they did not think it was appropriate, but Dunn, who has run several re-election campaigns since she first took office in 1990, looked at the issue another way.
“I’ve served 29 years. Everybody who’s served with me has been supported by different people who feel differently about progress, density, or whatever over the years,” Dunn said. “I think the character of the person you elect is what’s important, not who necessarily backs them… I like to think that every candidate sitting up here, whether I agree with their positions or not, that they are ethical people. And you have to decide that, not me.”
“I just don’t think a person should be eliminated from running for office because they might be supported by someone that I disagree with,” Dunn said.
Dunn also said she has never taken donations from other City Commissioners, nor has she taken PAC money.
Candidates Pippin, Smith, Allen, incumbent Ken Travis, Susannah MacMillan and Magyar all said they, too, had not taken money from PACs.
Candidate Dale Pacetti also did not attend the forum, citing general disagreement with the Preserve Brentwood organization.
When asked early on Tuesday evening if he planned to attend the forum, Pacetti said this: “No. I decided not to participate after reading about their controversial past and lack of transparency. Their mission statement says they are an ‘open’ organization, but I can’t see anything about them that is open.”
Smith, who previously ran for the Tennessee House District 61 seat, said quite simply, “[Brentwood] is not a city run by PACs.”
A ‘citizen’s news organization’
According to a Gerald Witcher — who corresponded by email with Home Page in March as someone affiliated with Preserve Brentwood — the group is a “grassroots organization of Brentwood citizens who have a common interest in protecting our zoning.”
The group, Witcher says, has no membership, no money or checking account and no officers. Witcher says the group is not a political action committee and does “not endorse candidates, nor do we financially support any candidates or causes.”
Preserve Brentwood has mentioned both Andrews and Pacetti in recent newsletters sent to residents, noting that both candidates are “not aligned with the preserve Brentwood mission statement.”
The group identifies, according to Witcher, as a “citizen’s news organization” which sends regular email newsletters written by volunteers.
“Our readers voluntarily give us their email addresses in exchange for the information we provide. We do not share our readers’ information in any form,” Witcher’s March 21 email to Home Page reads. “Anyone can sign up and anyone can opt out of future emails at any time. We reach a very significant percentage of those who vote.”
Early voting begins Wednesday and will last until May 2. For more information on polling locations, read the Brentwood Home Page here.