Candidate: Thom Druffel
Metro Council District 23
Occupation: “I currently work as the Director of Hospitality and Instructor at Nashville State Community College. I teach classes in hospitality and leadership and work at designing classes for the program to create greater accessibility and real-life skills for students.”
Previous candidacy/offices held: “Councilman, District 23”
Community experience: “MNPS Academies of Nashville: Involved for over 15 years with the MNPS Academies. Started as one of the first volunteers from inception. Chair of the Hospitality Academies and Hillwood Hospitality Academy, recognized with the CEO Champions Award and Pencil Foundation Volunteer of the Year Award. The ARC of Davidson County: On the Board of Directors for over 10 years and Treasurer for 5 years.Greater Nashville Hospitality Association: Former President, chair of the education committee and on the Board of Directors for over 18 years.Catholic Business League: Formerly on the Board of Directors, recognized as Catholic Professional of the Year. NAZA (Nashville After Zone Alliance): Executive Committee
Nashville Tennis Association: Former President for 5 years and Board of Directors, formerly on Tennessee State Tennis Association Board of Directors.”
What will be your top three priorities on the Council?
“I am genuinely concerned about our city’s infrastructure and traffic issues. While development has exploded throughout the city, we have not done a good job staying ahead of traffic. Density has increased but the lanes of major thoroughfares are not widened. Traffic lights are not timed. We need to develop mass transit that actually works for us. Along the same lines, we have failing infrastructure. Our bridges and water facilities are aging and need immediate attention. Money coming into the city from development needs to go toward these vital components that all Nashvillians use.”
“Stormwater in our neighborhoods continues to be a development related issue as well. Increased density and impervious surfaces have altered water flow, and I fear flooding in our future if action is not taken.”
“Education and workforce development are especially important issues. A successful city has excellent schools and opportunities for its youth. For the first time we have fully funded MNPS. I know that is not enough, as teachers struggle daily to address the educational and emotional needs of their diverse student body. As our students go through MNPS, I want them to see opportunities in their future, whether it be college or a trade. I have served on the Chambers Report Card Committee, NAZA Executive Leadership and am currently Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Career Exploration to identify summer programming options that provide our youth greater exposure to career paths and provide comprehensive skills such as financial management. “
“The final priority is that we need to remain focused on making Nashville function for the people who live and work here. Visitors and tourists spend their money here, and that provides funding for our programs. But we are the backbone of this city, and we need to have access to safe streets, parking, transportation, recreation, parks, schools, etc. Our citizens are our top priority.”
What is the biggest issue facing your district? How would you approach it?
“Responsible growth. My top priority for our district is to ensure that the character of District 23 with its great natural beauty remains true to the space and neighborhoods that we all love. This includes protecting our tree canopy, ensuring our zoning is followed, protecting our homes from increased stormwater runoff from larger houses and impervious surfaces, and identify solutions to improving the safety of our neighborhoods in areas such as traffic. We are working on both neighborhood and city-wide solutions.
My approach is to be proactive and work with neighborhood engaged teams to help find solutions. We have established very active beautification and safety committees to be proactive until city wide solutions are established. I am working to review stormwater regulations that may be needed to mitigate the increased water events and from the growth of our new homes. In my prior jobs as a senior manager, one of your functions was to problem solve with a committed team. I am applying my same experience in my approach as the councilman.”
Much of the city’s developmental focus, like plans for a new East Bank, have focused on downtown. What’s your vision for downtown?
“Downtown is a strong economic generator that helps provide a greater tax base in optional sales taxes for our city which mitigates the need to increase property taxes. Therefore, our vision has to support continued growth at a quality level. However, we need to be more intentional in providing the infrastructure and transportation systems for the downtown area. We have encountered unprecedented growth but getting around is not so easy. We also need to look at policy that affect issues such as traffic. For example, party buses add to the downtown experience but how do we manage them along with other growing pains to ensure the downtown experience continues strong.”
Did you or would you have voted to approve the new Titans stadium financing legislation?
“I have been on the Metro Council stadium committee as it was formed on 6/24/2022. Our goal was to assess the facts on the status of the current stadium and ensure we understood the terms of a new stadium and east bank. We had numerous meetings talking to experts and community meetings with input. I attended almost every stadium meeting and many of the community meetings.”
“My goal is to ensure that the best decision is made for the taxpayer. I wanted to look every neighbor in the eye with a high level of confidence to acknowledge the right decision is made for taxpayers and Nashville. After 9 months of analysis and work, I feel very comfortable with my decision to support the new stadium.”
“I am in support of the new stadium terms and strongly support the new stadium. Our current contract from 1997 provided terms for which we are legally responsible. They were not the best terms, but we are legally responsible. Currently we are responsible for maintenance of the stadium at $60M and per the contract ensuring the stadium would keep up with standards as a 1st class stadium. The cost of doing this would range from $770 M to over a billion dollars. These costs are not going away and legally we are responsible. They would have to be paid by the taxpayer.”
“The proposed cost of $2.1 Billion new stadium would be financed as follows: The Titan’s would provide $840 Million, the State would provide $500 Million, Metro would provide $760 Million paid by Revenue Bonds that use funding sources such as hotel taxes and tickets to pay for the revenue bonds.”
“The bottom line is that the taxpayer would not have to pay for any part of the new stadium taking taxpayers off the hook for deferred maintenance and upgrades while costing nothing for a new stadium In fact there is funding on ticket sales that would also go directly to our general fund to help mitigate possible property tax increases. The infrastructure is included in the cost of the stadium and the Titan organization is responsible for possible cost overruns.”
“The development of the east bank will improve the area and result in a significant amount of property tax. Currently, that prime land is underutilized, resulting in minimal tax revenue. Development will bring tax dollars to Metro.”
Does Metro need more police officers beyond the unfilled positions?
“Yes, problems such as speeding in neighborhoods require more officers that can improve the safety of our neighborhoods.”
What do you think of the current framework passed by the council around LPR (license plate readers) usage? Do you think Metro should allow facial recognition technology to be used downtown?
“I believe that LPR;s are a great tool as currently regulated. I would have to review the purpose and use of facial recognition technology to be able to answer this question.”
Do you think a property tax rate adjustment will be needed in the next 4 years? Why or why not?
“We are seeing significant growth in optional sales taxes coming from our economic growth that mitigates the need to increase property taxes. We have seen growth over our forecasted optional sales close to $100M each year for the last couple of years. We also are seeing organic growth in property taxes from new development and greater property values. As we can use our growth to drive sustained taxes from these sources, I do not believe we will need a property tax adjustment.”
Do you view your role in the Council as leading your district on issues or simply reflecting the views of the district’s residents?
“Yes, my views should have the lens of our residents as they relate to neighborhood and community expectations. There are city wide issues that may require a different perspective, but I would reflect hard if my neighbors have strong views in an opposing direction and would ensure there were several meetings to discuss varying points of view. My watch words are always- Seek t Understand then be Understood.”
How do you view the relationship of the city and Council to the General Assembly in the face of adverse legislation from the state?
“It feels adversarial. I do think we can improve on it. I have found the best ways is to sit down across the table and build stronger relationships and a clearer understanding of differences of opinion. In leadership roles in business, differences of opinion are not unusual. It is more complex in government, but I do believe we need more direct engagement and building relationships. I recognize it is not so simple but feel there are real opportunities to start over. Again, lets lead with – seek to understand and then be understood.”
The city is experiencing an affordability crisis. What is the council’s role in creating more housing for buyers and renters in Nashville?
“The cost of living in Middle Tennessee, and Nashville in particular has grown to such an extent that it is out of reach for too many. We have made some progress with the Barnes Fund grants and land donations, but we need much more. Upwards of 1500 units are needed each year, and while there is a pipeline of units, it is clear we need to focus efforts on closing the gap. I think some answers may be found in continuing to induce developers to add units with their development and to increase the use of publicly owned land to be developed for affordable homes.”
What improvements do you think WeGo should make during the next four years? Would you back creation of a dedicated funding source?
“I do not want to sidestep this question, but I think more importantly, we need strategies to improve traffic and mobility in a more strategic way and need to look at a mass transit solution for the region. We can only add so many lanes. We have to be sensitive to costs for people that cannot afford cars and have limitations that are be exasperated by affordable housing. A mass transit system within the region also may be able to reduce the pressure on affordable housing since there would be viable traffic solutions for people living outside Nashville with lower housing prices.”
Second-quarter campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $20,980
Link to full disclosure here
Pre-General campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $30,530
Link to full disclosure here