Candidates for the Brentwood City Commission tackled school issues, traffic problems and Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act at a debate Wednesday evening.
Four candidates are running for three seats in the nonpartisan May 2 election. Three candidates are incumbents. They are Mayor Regina Smithson, Mark Gorman and Rhea Little. The only challenger is John Byers.
Around 100 people attended the debate, held at LBMC in the new Hill Center.
The top question of the evening involved talk of pulling out of Williamson County Schools and forming a city school system.
There has been frustration in recent days with a school district proposal that would send some Brentwood students to schools in other parts of the county because of overcrowding in Brentwood schools.
Smithson said the focus for now should be on persuading the county commission to vote for a plan to fund expansions at Brentwood Middle and Brentwood High to prevent the rezoning. Gorman noted that the idea of forming a city school system has been floated before and “perhaps it is time to do a study and revisit it.” Little said it’s not something he has advocated but said he would support a study. Byers called it “a bit premature” but said it might be something to look into long term.
There also was a question related to Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which raises the tax on gas for road improvements and includes a local option for cities to have a referendum on raising taxes for transit. The candidates agreed that they wouldn’t have a problem with a referendum if residents were in favor of having one but were skeptical that that they would be. Little said he hoped that revenue from the gas tax could be used to help with resurfacing state roads in Brentwood.
Traffic has been an increasing problem for Brentwood, the result not only of the city’s growth but that of surrounding areas as well. Because of its proximity to Nashville, Brentwood is a pass-through area for people heading elsewhere.
Candidates discussed other solutions for reducing traffic jams, including encouraging employers to offer flex time, providing a shuttle service on weekdays, setting up food trucks in office parks and backing developments like Hill Center that build amenities right next to workplaces.
Byers, the challenger, criticized the incumbents for not collaborating well enough with developers and for failing to “play well in the sandbox” with leaders of neighboring cities on issues such as growth and traffic. Smithson took exception to his criticism and defended her record.
Affordable housing for seniors is another issue facing Brentwood and was also discussed at Wednesday’s debate.
The Brentwood City Commission has a total of seven members elected at-large for four-year, staggered terms. The mayor and vice mayor are appointed by the commission for two-year terms.