Volunteer State Community College hosted a forum last week with City Council candidates Lynda Love (District 1), Eileen George (District 2), Shawn Fennell (At-Large), and Robert E. Lea III (At-Large). At-Large candidate Pascal Jouvence did not attend the forum. Devon O’Day, radio personality, emceed the event, and Josh Cross, a reporter at the Gallatin News, asked questions of the candidates. Here are some of the topics the candidates shared their views on. To watch the complete forum, visit the Gallatin News Facebook page.
Both Love and George are running for their districts uncontested. Love has served for the past four years, while George is running for office for the first-time. Love said she wanted the city to create a park on recently bought land on E. Main Street. George mentioned paving as a key issue she noticed in her district.
Fennell and Lea talked about the key issues for Gallatin. Fennell, who has been a business owner in Gallatin for 35 years, mentioned traffic, responsible growth, and the COVID-19 crisis. Lea, a former Gallatin police officer and Navy serviceman, said he wanted to be the candidate that supported the police department.
Lea said he would decide how to vote on decisions by asking people who had served in the past. He said he knew where to go to find answers and advice. Fennell said his voting approach would be to listen to citizens, study the issue, and go see issues firsthand if possible.
Lea was asked about his campaign platform of “Back the Blue.” He said that Gallatin has always had support for the police department and that he would like to make sure they can continue to have resources and training to make good decisions. He said he would be there to back them up even when they make a mistake and even if the City has to call in “special help.”
Fennell was then asked about his platform of “Focus on our Future.” He talked about the long-range, comprehensive land use plan that the City had been working on for four years. He said he wanted to give Gallatin’s citizens what they want and “develop the way we’ve been asked to.”
Fennell and Lea both talked at length about apartment complexes in the city. Fennell said that he didn’t really want to see more apartments but that some had been approved several years ago and were only being built now. He said he would like to slow it down. Lea said that the large complexes came with a cost.
“I don’t believe that the taxpayer is ultimate in paying that burden,” he said.
In discussing a recent land purchase, Fennell pointed out that he thought Gallatin should work to keep their green space after seeing Hendersonville struggle to keep theirs as they developed. He also said he wanted a variety of housing options in Gallatin such as homes for retirees, homes for first-time buyers, and estate lots
Fennell and Lea talked about how they would support city departments, particularly the fire and police departments. Fennell said he had been advocating for a police training facility in Gallatin for almost four years as current Gallatin police officers have to go to other cities to complete their mandatory training. He said that since the City had just built a new fire station, it was right to do something for the police department. Lea also talked about bringing training to the City so that police officers wouldn’t leave for other municipalities and counties with better benefits.
Fennell and Lea both talked about protecting Gallatin’s history as it grows, specifically on the Square and in the historic district. Fennell said that the intent of the new Sumner County Courthouse downtown was to preserve and blend in with the Square. He said that while the new Courthouse did not have to be on the Square, he believed it added to the charm and would drive business.
Both candidates said the new parking garage was necessary and that businesses on the Square have struggled because of the lack of parking. Fennell said the garage will be built first so as to not displace workers or employees during construction on the Courthouse.
Both candidates also talked about the boon that the new Facebook data center would bring to Gallatin. Fennell said that other tech companies would follow Facebook, and Lea pointed out that a diversity of jobs would be good for the city.
When asked about raising property or sales taxes, Fennell talked about the history that Gallatin had of not raising taxes and the large rainy day fund the City has. He pointed out that “Construction pays for construction,” explaining that the money from building permits goes directly to the City’s general fund.
“I wouldn’t vote for a tax increase certainly now,” he said. “I couldn’t say I never would, but I don’t think I would want to with the financial shape … that we have.”
Lea promised that he would not vote for a tax increase unless every other option had been exhausted.
“We need to make sure that we are tapping into every possible revenue source that we possibly can without it affecting the average homeowner,” he said.
Both candidates talked about new parks they would like to see in Gallatin. Fennell said the city owned a piece of land in the Big Station Camp Creek area that he had been wanting to do something with.
“There’s really nothing in that area from the City for the citizens,” he said.
Lea said that he would like to see a park with waterslides at the end of Lock 4 Road.
Both Fennell and Lea said a priority was making sure that their children wanted to live in Gallatin. Fennell said the City could accomplish that through diversity in housing and jobs. Lea also mentioned a shortage of affordable housing in the city and a need to take care of the senior citizens.