District 1 Candidates on Climate & Energy: Knoxville City Council Elections

In this blog series, we share the Knoxville City Council candidates’ positions on clean energy and climate issues in their own words. This blog post contains the 1st District candidates’ responses to SACE’s candidate questionnaire.

Guest Blog | August 2, 2021 | Elections, Energy Policy, Tennessee, Utilities

This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

In this blog series, we share the Knoxville City Council candidates’ positions on clean energy and climate issues in their own words. This blog post contains the 1st District candidates’ responses to SACE’s candidate questionnaire. View the responses of candidates from other districts here

Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites, and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by district.

City Council is the legislative body of the City of Knoxville. Later this year, City voters will elect five members to the nine-member Knoxville City Council. Early voting for the general election runs from October 13-28 and Election Day is Tuesday, November 2. City residents will be able to vote for a candidate in all 5 of the seats up for election during this General Election, no matter what district in the city they live in.  For more information on the election, the candidates, candidate forums, and how you can be a voter, visit the City’s Go Vote! Knoxville webpage or click the links below:

District 1 Candidates

  • Elizabeth Murphy: Has not returned the questionnaire
  • Tommy Smith (incumbent)

Councilmember Tommy Smith

Interest and Experience

Why are you running for this seat?

I was born in South Knoxville and have lived in five places in the 1st District, including Fort Sanders. I am intimately familiar with its history, neighborhoods, people, and businesses. I have helped more than 100 small businesses grow and have served more than 50 nonprofits in Knoxville. I understand the inequities of our city, spent countless hours serving its residents, and am able to achieve effective progress within our diverse community. The best leaders must serve a community in order to lead it, and I have served the most marginalized in Knoxville my entire life. 

Serving this community for years helps me understand its challenges deeply, and as a result, I am able to create solutions that fit Knoxville.

What relevant experience do you have that qualifies you for the position that you’re running for? If you are a current or former public official of any kind, what positions have you held?

I have served Knoxville for decades, before even considering running for office. Serving organizations like Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Girls Inc., Volunteer Ministry Center, SEEED, Emerald Youth Foundation, and more than 20 other nonprofits provides me with an understanding of what is needed to solve the challenges facing Knoxville, more than any superficial campaign slogan.

You cannot lead a community you haven’t served. Countless hours of serving the most marginalized in this community have prepared me to create solutions that uniquely fit Knoxville, both in the 1st District and citywide. A foreign language program for kids at South Knox Elementary, community-wide efforts to secure free PPP supplies for small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, the city’s first Tree Mitigation Bank, advocating for Knoxville’s participation to the TN RiverLine, and 100Knoxville all stem from understanding this community and creating solutions that actually make progress for us all. 

I am able to make effective progress. Most of us share principles of equity, empowerment, and justice, but those principles are only as good as we are able to work with other people to make progress. Advocacy alone without collaboration does not actually help the people it is intended to help. We must be able to be innovative and also work together for progress. Public service is not a zero-sum game. Collaboration is where people really win. I’m running to help people, not for power, pride, or politics.

Climate and Energy Priorities

How would you see your role as a member of City Council in mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis and transitioning to clean energy? What would your climate and energy priorities be?

I support the City of Knoxville’s sustainability goals – 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, 80% reduction by 2050. 

Additionally, there are three areas that I passionate about leading:

  1. Litter reduction in streets and waterways
  2. Protection of green spaces and tree canopy (i.e. Urban Wilderness)
  3. Clean and efficient transportation

Referencing the question above, what would you do to advance those priorities if elected, and do you have prior experience advancing those priorities? 

  • Continue creating clean-ups across the entire City. 
  • Dedicate resources for a multi-year program to measure and reduce waste/litter in partnership with Knox County.
  • Utilize the ongoing Tree Canopy study to preserve the tree canopy in our city. Potentially, utilize this data to implement zoning changes to achieve this result. 
  • Continue improving upon the City’s newly created Tree Mitigation Bank.
  • Continue supporting funding for electric buses.

What is your vision of an energy and transportation system that best serves Knoxvillians?

The City’s fleet of buses can be all electric. I also believe that light rail is possible in Knoxville.

How would you work to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy in Knoxville?

Collaboration and innovation. Businesses, nonprofits, and residents can all play a role.

How would you help lead the electrification of our transportation system (both public and private) in Knoxville?

Implementing pedestrian light rail in Knoxville would have a transformative effect on local transportation for decades.

How would you work to advance social and racial equity in the energy system (for example unaffordable energy bills)? What steps would you take to empower and partner with marginalized communities in your district, especially Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color?

SEEED, KUB, and other organizations play a significant role in helping residents reduce electricity bills. We should support their weatherization and sustainable homebuilding programs to every corner of the City. KUB’s creation of a broadband network will also provide equity to all Knoxvillians for education, work, and many other areas; it will also provide a cleaner electric grid that minimizes the need to increase utility rates in the near future. That means more money in people’s bank accounts that won’t be spent on an outdated electric grid.

How would you work to expand clean energy jobs in Knoxville? 

The University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm is ideal for supporting new energy startups. We will continue to work collaboratively with UT, ORNL, and TVA to ensure Knoxville is where clean energy jobs begin.

Do you have any particular stances on the following energy sources: nuclear, coal, oil (gasoline, diesel, etc.), and fossil gas?

The cleaner the energy the better, both as a financial steward of the City’s budget and a resident.

How would you engage with KUB and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to advance clean energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation options in the city?

The TN RiverLine is one of the more promising efforts where KUB, TVA, City of Knoxville, and its residents can play a collaborative role with UT and other cities in this program. The Tennessee River is one of our most neglected natural resources, and the more access we provide to it, the more people will start to treat it as the local treasure that it is.

Final Words

Is there anything else you feel we should know, relative to mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis or advancing the clean energy economy?

Everyone can play a role, and the strategies pursued by the Mayor’s Climate Council should incorporate residents and businesses alike. It is both a necessity for preserving our natural resources and the most sound, preventative approach to ensuring a vibrant and sustainable Knoxville. 

View the positions of other Knoxville City Council candidates


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