By BROOKE WANSER
Franklin alderman candidates discussed questions on education, growth and city government roles in a forum on Tuesday evening at City Hall.
Eight of the nine candidates vying for four alderman seats in the upcoming election attended the event, which was hosted by the Tennessean. Candidate Scott Speedy is in Denver attending the Williamson, Inc. Chamber of Commerce’s Williamson Forward business trip.
The Tennessean’s opinion and engagement editor David Plazas, along with Williamson County reporter Emily West, were the event’s moderators.
As usual, growth was the main topic. The moderators posed questions on the meaning of sustainable growth, and whether the city’s Envision Franklin plan, adopted in January of 2017, was sufficient for the future.
“Growth is a great problem to have,” Ward One incumbent Beverly Burger noted, discussing the plans the city government has enacted to combat the challenges that come with growth.
“I disagree a little bit with, ‘Are we sustaining the growth?’” said challenger J. Edward Campbell. He mentioned 500 food service jobs in Cool Springs he said had not been filled, though he could only speculate as to why.
Michael Phillips, Burger’s other challenger, was less optimistic.
“The rate we’re going, our roads are already at capacity, they’re failing,” Phillips said. “The perception of many is that we have aldermen who cater to developers and ignore the wishes and demands of the residents.”
In a question asking how many building stories should Franklin allow, Ward Four candidate Elizabeth Wanczak said she was concerned about downtown’s Harpeth Square project going above the traditional three stories of downtown; the project is slated to have four stories.
“That’s going to be the tallest building in the area,” Wanczak said. “And I think we need to exercise caution when given a project that’s fundamentally going to change the look of an area, particularly in the heart of downtown Franklin.”
Across the board, candidates supported a sales tax increase to fund schools.
“What’s good for a public school system is good for all of us,” Ward Two incumbent Dana McLendon said.
On a question about the Franklin Special School District, Phillips pointed out the difficulty of maintaining two such systems within the county.
“It would be my personal opinion that having two separate school board and systems is no longer something that we need,” Phillips said.
As for the future of a proposed $127 million sports complex the board of mayor and aldermen have been discussing, Burger and McLendon said they supported the need for quality sports facilities.
In constructing such a park, Burger said, “I do believe there is room for public-private partnerships,” but stressed she would prioritize working with the private sector to complete the potential project.
McLendon said while the property would not make money, he still would support it.
“We do need the facilities.”
In a study of the park presented last week, the emphasis was on tournaments for visiting athletes. McLendon said he would “ prefer to deliver to the people who live here.”
Candidates agreed on the need for affordable housing, but disagreed about what role the government should play.
“The government can’t provide a solution to every dilemma,” said McLendon. “The better solution is to create an environment in which that doesn’t happen.”
Campbell, who is chairman of the Franklin Housing Commission, said he would like to see a non-profit organization similar to Friends of Franklin Parks provide aid if someone were to be displaced due to taxes and housing costs.
In a series of lightning rounds meant to diffuse any tensions, candidates answered questions about their favorite recreational activity in Franklin, favorite restaurant to recommend to visitors, and their preference between country music and Americana.
“Rocking on my porch, watching the traffic,” Martin said of her recreational activity, to many laughs.
“I am a purple belt in jiu jitsu, so I choke people,” McLendon deadpanned.
“I enjoy canoeing the Harpeth with my dog Cody,” McLendon’s challenger, Mike Vaughn, said.
“He’s sniffing out government waste and career politicians,” Vaughn continued, referencing McLendon’s 20 year stint as alderman.
The evening came to a conclusion with a question that drew audible gasps from the audience: What should be the future of Confederate symbolism in Franklin?
All candidates agreed history should not be erased or rewritten, and it was key to do away with divisive rhetoric.
“We’ve all done a marvelous job at telling the whole story, so let’s continue to tell the whole story,” Burger said. “Let’s not pick and choose what we want to remember about our past.”
Mike Vaughn, McLendon’s challenger, said he thinks the city needs to promote more diversity in heritage.
“I think that we oftentimes miss the opportunity to promote more cultural heritage that exists right here in Franklin,” Vaughn said.
Margaret Martin, the Ward Four incumbent, expressed her opinion about the statue in downtown Franklin, a topic that has been discussed in Franklin paralleling a nationwide discussion on Civil War monuments.
“I believe the statue on the square is exactly where it belongs. It does not honor a person but all the men who died in that horrible war,” she said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with hatred and slavery, simply the grief that was felt all over the United States.”
After the debate, onlookers milled around, speaking with the candidates.
Donna Morton, a resident of Ward One, said she plans to support Burger for reelection after Burger supported improvements to a stretch of McEwen Road between Cool Springs Boulevard to Wilson Pike.
“We went to her and said, ‘What do we need to do to get something done?’” Morton said. “So she guided us. ‘This is what you need to do. Come to the meetings, see how the process works. Write letters. Send emails. Get up and speak.’ And we did.”
What did she think of Phillips and Campbell, Burger’s challengers?
“Not much,” Morton said.
- Beverly Burger*
- Michael Phillips
- J Edward Campbell
- Dana McLendon*
- Mike Vaughn
- Mike Skinner*
- Scott Speedy
- Margaret Martin*
- Elizabeth Downing Wanczak