Candidate: Zulfat Suara
Metro Council At-Large
Occupation: “I am a councilmember at large where I sponsor and co-sponsor bills that help Nashville/Davidson county residents. I am also the Executive Director of Grants and Contracts. My office deal is responsible for post-award grant administration. My job along with my team is to ensure that all external funds are expended, accounted for and reported in compliance with federal, institutional and agency policies.”
Previous candidacy/offices held: “Councilmember at Large- 2019 to Date”
Community experience: “I have served and volunteered with several organizations over the years:”
“Chair of American Muslim Advisory Council-2011-2019
President- Business and Professional Women of TN- 2009-2011
Treasurer- National Women Political Caucus
Chair- TN Women’s Day on the Hill- 2013-2019
Member- PENCIL Foundation- 2018-2023
Member- Womens Fund-Community Foundation
Founder/President- Hardeman County Junior Achievement- 2003-2015
(Should we do key endorsements, Amount of money raised, Top three donors?)
What will be your top three priorities on the Council?
“Affordable Housing, Budget and Education”
Much of the city’s developmental focus, like plans for a new East Bank, have focused on downtown. What’s your vision for downtown?
“Less traffic. A less tourist-centric Broadway and more importantly, I want the downtown growth to benefit the people of Nashville that help make the growth, in an impactful way”
Did you or would you have voted to approve the new Titans stadium financing legislation?
“I voted for the Titans stadium because I believe it is a better deal for Nashville residents. My analysis is based on cost, liability and method of payment. With the old lease, Nashville is responsible for upgrades to the stadium. Therefore, the comparison is between the cost of renovation versus Metro’s cost to build. According to the TN article in 2022, the estimated cost of renovation was $600M. Also a review of current NFL stadium renovation shows renovations is between $600M-$850M (Bengals). Therefore the average estimated cost of renovation ($600-$850M) is similar to Metro’s cost of building a new one at $760M. It is important to clarify that while the project cost is $2.1B, Metro’s portion is only $760M.”
“Since the cost is similar, the other item of consideration is the liability. If there is increased cost during renovation, Metro will have to bear that burden. Whereas the Titans will be responsible for cost overrun on the new stadium. In addition, Metro is responsible for all future updates to building as well as mechanical and electrical updates to keep facility in first-class shape. Therefore, there is more contingent liability to Metro under the old lease/renovation than building.”
“Finally, the method of paying the associated bond of each bond is paramount. The renovation will be paid for with GO bonds. GO bonds are paid for using property taxes. The new lease will be paid via revenue bonds – Hotel taxes, sales taxes etc. This difference is crucial. Property taxes are paid by residents. Renters see increased rent when property taxes goes up, whereas hotel taxes are primarily paid for by visitors. Nashvillieans asked us the last time property taxes was increased, to please shift the burden to tourist. The new lease and new building allow us to do that.”
“It is important to note that Metro currently pays on the stadium now with GO bonds. This is ridiculous. Even if it is a penny using property taxes to pay for the stadium is not good business. The new lease allows us to divert whatever we are currently paying now with property taxes to schools and neighborhoods. Other benefits include the community impact fund, the additional ticket taxes that goes into the general fund, the release of 66 acres and the fact that TSU is relieved of paying for each home game.”
“I understand residents’ frustration. Folks can barely make ends meet, so giving money to billionaires is annoying. However, the truth is that we are already doing it, and will continue to based on the old lease. At least, the new agreement allows us to shift the burden. Read my blog at https://zulfatsuara.com/the-titans-stadium-term-sheet-my-vote-and-why/”
“Since I wrote the blog, the only thing that has changed is the state encroachment on Nashville, which is serious. However, the comptroller opined that once the state allocates a funding to bond payment, it cannot take it back. Not only that amendment #10 by CM Mendes states that if the state should renege on its obligations, the Titans will be responsible for all costs. Those guardrails are good. I wish we do not have to do anything but walking away does not mean walking away.”
Does Metro need more police officers beyond the unfilled positions?
“No. We need to invest in non-policing alternatives that are preventive and not punitive in nature. Use of mental health professionals on calls as well as community programs on education. We need to engage our community and find alternatives for our children.”
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?
“No. Facial recognition will increase racial profiling, biases and unjust arrest of black and brown residents. See the driving-while-black report for why facial recognition is a bad idea.”
Do you think a property tax rate adjustment will be needed in the next 4 years? Why or why not?
“It depends. I have learnt making predictions before having all the facts is dangerous. Residents are still suffering. The effects of COVID on businesses is still there. Plus we have been very conservative for the last couple of years and our revenues have come in more than anticipated. Therefore, if Metro’s revenue continues to increase, so that we can provide services, pay livable wages and have a decent fund balance, then no. However, if we are not able to provide services, increase wages or if we are dependent on fund balance, then a raise is warranted.”
Do you view your role in the Council as leading your district on issues or simply reflecting the views of the district’s residents?
“I represent the entire county and there are varying views across the county.”
How do you view the relationship of the city and Council to the General Assembly in the face of adverse legislation from the state?
“What the state legislators did last session was intentional and awful. They undermine the state’s economic power (Nashville) and ignore our citizens’ voices and choices. The city must be willing to fight back and defend its residents’ rights as best as it can. Whether its speaking up in session or suing the state. As one of the people that sued the state over council size, we must stand for our residents and represent them the best way possible.”
“After having said that, fighting back against bad policies does not mean we do not work with the state. We can strive to build alliances before there is conflict. We should also try and work through conflict when it arises and finally, we must be ready to fight back if all else fails. Fighting the state all the time is not good for our residents and neither is being complacent and rolling over. It has to be a balance and we must be prepared to do all three, depending on the issues and the situation.”
The city is experiencing an affordability crisis. What is the council’s role in creating more housing for buyers and renters in Nashville?
“The council’s role is to increase funding and create a policy that helps the creation and retention of affordable housing.”
“With my leadership, this council and mayor have added more money for affordable housing than ever before. The funding for Barnes Fund has increased. We have a new office of homelessness with a $50M allocation. We also added a dedicated funding source of housing. Personally, I sponsored 3 bills that have a direct impact on housing. I sponsored a bill that directs 50% of future Oracle property taxes (subject to council approval) to Barnes Fund.”
“In addition, I sponsored a pilot program that provides education, outreach and attorneys for Nashvillians facing evictions. Nashvillians should not lose their home because they do not have the resources to defend their right. Finally, I sponsored a bill that mandates that 20% of Barnes fund should be given to small businesses. This allows us to diversify our housing inventory as well as the producers and types of housing.”
“However, if these actions is not felt by the people, then we must reassess, What I would like to do in this term if elected, is ensure that residents are aware of these opportunities/resources and take advantage of them. Second, will be to continue to look for innovative ways to fund and increase housing”
What improvements do you think WeGo should make during the next four years? Would you back creation of a dedicated funding source?
“The issue with bus rides over the years is lack of frequency/reliability of the buses. While there has been improvement, WeGo must continue to increase the frequency/reliability, where riders can plan according to a reliable schedule. It is also important for WeGo to extend bus hours so that those that work early or late can get to and from work.”
Second-quarter campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $73,739
Link to full disclosure here
Pre-General campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $55,066
Link to full disclosure here