Candidate: Daniel McDonell
Metro Council District 6
Occupation: “I’m an urban planner managing the Multimodal Planning Office at TDOT. I manage the office that works for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure improvements to our roadways, including pedestrian safety projects on Main Street and a complete streets project on Dickerson Pike.”
Previous candidacy/offices held: “I worked as a Transportation Planner for Metro Nashville Planning Department before my current role as Multimodal Planning Manager at TDOT. I have not held elected office.”
“Shelby Hills Neighborhood Association, current Board President
Walk Bike Nashville – previously community organizer and educator, current Board President
Downtown Connect Taskforce member
Open Streets Nashville (Main St) volunteer
Moving Forward Transit Referendum committee member
Metro WalknBike Plan Outreach Committee
East Bank Plan Steering Committee
Shelby Corridor Arboretum tree planting participant
Neighborhood cleanups organizer
Neighborhood block party organizer
TN Promise volunteer
Volunteering for various events through non-profits like Hands on Nashville, Cumberland River Compact, TN Environmental Council
Traffic calming lead applicant, stop sign getter”
What will be your top three priorities on the Council?
“Infrastructure and Transit: We have to keep up with our growth as a city, and ensuring that we have the funding and attention to things like water mains, roadways, and transit is essential to our livability.
Affordable and Attainable Housing: We need to leverage every sector we have, public and private, to build more housing so people aren’t priced out of Nashville.
Public Schools: Kids and parents should have great schools in their neighborhoods, and teachers and staff should be able to work in the schools where they live, not travel across town.”
What is the biggest issue facing your district? How would you approach it?
“East Nashville acutely feels the burden of growth. Many of my constituents love the benefits of living close to the heart of Nashville- the vibrancy, creativity, and access to local businesses, community, and jobs. We know some of that strain just comes with the territory of living in a city. Still, enduring endless events and short-term rentals causes underlying stress and make people think about moving, and rising prices force people to move.
The Council Member has to work their hardest to mitigate that tension, and they do that by listening to their constituents and delivering the everyday services that make living here great: supporting schools so every child has a great one in the district to attend, ensuring developments are community-led to support the neighbors, and making sure purpose and innovative outcomes that benefit our residents are behind major policy decisions.
I’ve worked to make my neighborhood and East Nashville a better place since we chose to move here. When we bought our first little house almost a decade ago, the city finished the sidewalk gap in front of it, put the first protected bike lane near us into downtown, and started the amazing Envision Cayce non-displacement redevelopment for public housing right next door. So I thought, “Well of course good things like this happen. It’s an inevitable outcome of a growing city!”
Boy was I wrong- after working for nearly 10 years for a better city, I realize that good policy decisions and project outcomes are not inevitable. It takes hard, sometimes thankless work, to understand the nuances of the Metropolitan government, maximize the tradeoffs in funding priorities and push a complicated project delivery process.
But making good decisions and projects is worth it to our community. The Council Member serves a unique role as someone who can align all the competing interests to deliver those good outcomes. Whether the issue is traffic calming, on-time trash collection, stormwater infrastructure, or community benefits from a nearby rezoning, our neighbors deserve a champion that puts their nose to the grindstone on these issues. I am making one campaign promise: I will put the hard work in every day for District 6 and the people that live here.”
Much of the city’s developmental focus, like plans for a new East Bank, have focused on downtown. What’s your vision for downtown?
“I think the last several decades of growth in Nashville have had the general principle of “growth for the sake of growth” without a concrete consensus on what the outcomes of that growth are. And that worked pretty well when we just needed economic inputs. Downtown is a perfect inflection point of that where we’ve had significant business success in the growth model, where residents have felt the pains of that growth, and we can now take a thoughtful perspective and ask, “well now that we have the growth we need, what do we want the specific benefits to look like for the residents of our city?”
Katherine and I take our girls by bicycle to daycare downtown, and I work downtown at the Polk Building. Almost everyone in East Nashville at least travels through downtown regularly. Of course downtown is a destination for tourism, but there shouldn’t be a wall between the entertainment district and the neighborhoods. A sophisticated, well-functioning, vibrant city has a downtown and neighborhoods that support each other and work together.
To East Nashville, that means being able to travel to and from downtown with a real plan to manage the constant event traffic. It means supporting uses where you can take your kids, protecting green spaces, local businesses, and feeling safe and comfortable being a Nashvillian. I currently sit on the working group for Downtown Connect, which is a planning effort to figure out how to better get people and transit through downtown. Metro Planning Department is undergoing a review of its Downtown Code for redevelopment, and there are more and more housing units going online that will help it become a real neighborhood. While parts of downtown should be a tourist destination that helps our tax base, I’m encouraged by these initiatives to make it a downtown for everyone in Nashville.”
Did you or would you have voted to approve the new Titans stadium financing legislation?
“I would have had a hard time voting for the deal without further study and buy-in from my constituents. I think everyone for and against the stadium financing plan agreed that the old deal was a bad deal, and we needed to get out from under it. The real prize from my view was gaining the ability to develop the East Bank into a neighborhood. That’s another question, but with the stadium deal complete, I want to make sure that development serves Nashville with affordable housing, civic uses, and parks, where old and young can live, work, and play.
To vote for a new financing deal like the Titans’ stadium or any other financial package, I would want two things: first, I would need to be certain that the return on investment made sense for my constituents: are the bottom line dollars funding what my neighbors need from our Metro government? Second, if those numbers were a net positive, I would want general compromise and buy-in from my constituents that they approved of a plan of this size. In East Nashville, I’ve heard from the significant majority of residents I’ve talked to that they were not in favor of this plan. A lot of people were worried about the numbers and ensuring that we weren’t jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. They have also expressed a lot of concern about the fundamental planning and management around events, which are not great currently- East Nashvillians already schedule their weekends around game days because we know we can’t leave the neighborhood.
My goal in the process would have been to work hard to understand and ensure the deal was a strong benefit that served our residents and make sure that people were bought into the plan. As a decision maker, my obligation would be to work with our community to build consensus on a deal that was generally supported by my district to enable us to redevelop the East Bank, get out of our current contract obligations, and make sure that traffic and event planning was a forethought in this to make everyone feel benefited from the reconstruction.”
Does Metro need more police officers beyond the unfilled positions?
“We all deserve to feel safe in our homes and our communities. As the leader of my neighborhood association, I appreciate the responsiveness of police community liaisons and their taking the time to come to our evening meetings and fill us in on issues in the district. I’ve also heard from Cayce residents about the positive outcomes of community policing, where officers are patrolling by foot and getting to know the neighbors. Efforts like these take a properly resourced police force with filled positions, which we need to look at filling before expanding. The job of council is to constantly balance limited resources, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of crime prevention and community services. We can have both a completely staffed police force and also invest in other core needs like good public schools, wrap around supports, affordable housing, and public transit.”
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?
“Increasing surveillance and collecting data is something that will always be a tradeoff in our public realm. We need to find people who are dangerous and need to be off of our streets, but there are also dangers in the regulatory framework that allows for misuse of the data. I’ve heard from a lot of communities of color and immigrant communities that do not trust that the benefits outweigh the risks from LPRs, and until we satisfactorily answer those questions and get our minority communities on board with the benefits I would have trouble supporting further deployment of the technology. Similarly with facial recognition technology, I think there are a whole host of complications that would erode, rather than build trust, with our law enforcement in Nashville.”
Do you think a property tax rate adjustment will be needed in the next 4 years? Why or why not?
“Before we consider a budget increase, we have to put in some very tedious and hard work to consider if the current budget is being spent efficiently and effectively. Currently, the council has a rushed job every year looking at the capital improvements and operating budgets that come from the mayor’s office and generally approves them with minor amendments. I think if we work with the mayor much earlier on and take an approach of setting a vision and goals for what we need to accomplish in our budget, we can find some significant improvements to adjust the budget to cover the needs of investments in core needs like housing and transit without a tax rate increase.”
Do you view your role in the Council as leading your district on issues or simply reflecting the views of the district’s residents?
“The dialogue between Council members and constituents is important and continual throughout the tenure of the council member. The communication is two-way feedback loop: as a Metro Council member, I have the obligation to understand and explain some of the incredibly nuanced and nerdy stuff like, for example, the length of time it takes for utility response and relocation during a proposed traffic calming program, so that residents understand why projects take the time they do. But when people’s lives are affected by that lingering construction work, it’s also my job to push where I can to make the completion of that project a priority. On broader policy issues, it continues to be a conversation with residents about their vision for our neighborhood and city and my nuanced explanation of how a piece of proposed legislation could influence that vision. Finally, I have to use my judgment to understand that we have a lot of perspectives and opinions over in East Nashville and that not all residents are going to agree: finding the best pragmatic compromise is a measure of success in the job.”
How do you view the relationship of the city and Council to the General Assembly in the face of adverse legislation from the state?
“The overreach by the State this year is extraordinarily concerning from a Metro perspective. The uncertainty that came with running for Council Member districts has likely had a chilling effect on candidate interest, which negatively affects competitive democracy and the sharing and debate of ideas during an election cycle. In addition, the takeover of the Sports Authority and Airport Authority, the removal of the enabled financing for the Convention Center, and the nearly constant state pre-emption on important issues like affordable housing and short-term rentals all lead to uncertainty in policy making. Further, the attacks on our LGBTQ+ community and women’s reproductive rights are dangerous and sow real fear and discomfort in our community. This uncertainty reduces good decision-making and efficient project delivery, making it very hard to do the job we need to do as Council to support our citizens.
I am proud of our Metro Legal Department for its forceful lawsuit against redistricting. We have an outcome of at least temporary success, allowing us to have elections this year as normal and retain a 40-member council for the time being. I will always encourage communication and collaboration from our Metro Council, Mayor, and State elected officials on both sides of the aisle, because working together is always better. But when real damages to governance and finance are being done, legal action is one of our main tools. State overreach should be forcefully litigated by our Metro Legal Department at every opportunity when it is damaging to Nashville.”
The city is experiencing an affordability crisis. What is the council’s role in creating more housing for buyers and renters in Nashville?
“Affordable and attainable housing is one of my top priorities. I’ve met with affordable housing advocates and affordable housing developers asking how to get more units online. Fortunately, the city offers robust incentives through the Barnes Fund. Though hamstrung by state law that disallows us to require affordable housing, the Council Member has to become an expert in these incentives to encourage developers to take full advantage of them. The Council Member should also prioritize supporting the Barnes Fund in budgetary processes.
We also simply need more units in places that can support density. This density can have major synergies with transit accessibility and ridership on corridors. Unfortunately, current zoning is imperfect to support a lot of this needed density, and we should have a broad community-led conversation on how rezonings can support affordability and the neighborhoods.
The Envision Cayce process, which is increasing housing availability next door to me, can be a model for the nation with mixed-income, non-displacement, and high-quality density. We should prioritize funding the completion of Envision Cayce and take the model to other MDHA locations across the city.”
What improvements do you think WeGo should make during the next four years? Would you back creation of a dedicated funding source?
“East Nashville is the heart of the city, where neighborhoods meet downtown. We have some of the highest opportunities for better transit in all of Nashville. I’ve talked to a lot of constituents and leadership at WeGo and it is clear we need a dedicated source of funding for transit. We learned a lot from the failure of the Amp and the transit referendum, and the clear baseline need is for 1) more frequent buses that 2) run through the night. These improvements would enable transit to be easy and accessible, without having to plan to catch a bus, and it would allow service workers and other people who work late at night to get back home. We also need critical infrastructure like good sidewalks and traffic calming to get people to and from the bus stops safely. Next up is cross-town routes, such as the new line that will open on Trinity Lane this fall. Once we get those critical items tackled, we should look at bigger projects like real Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Fortunately, Main St/Gallatin in East Nashville is wholly owned by the city and would not need state or federal approval for improvements like most of our major arterials would. As a new big city, we need to get around and transit is a major area where we are behind. We need to get started, so I fully support a dedicated funding source for transit to ensure we do that.”
Second-quarter campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $29,690
Link to full disclosure here
Pre-General campaign finance disclosure
Cash on hand: $35,340.23
Link to full disclosure here