I’m Burkley Allen, I am a 12-year experienced person on the Metro Council. I’ve served for eight years as a district council member. And now for four years as a metro Council Member at-large 25 years of neighborhood experience and an eager servant of the people that has more than I want to do.
Did you grow up in a servant family?
Yes. My father was always involved in something. President of Rotary, president of the Boy Scouts, president of the hospital board. So there was certainly a model there to to follow in his footsteps.
You did a lot of work in affordable housing during your first term. Is there anything you wish you had done differently or accomplished?
I’m excited about the things we did. We created the mother-in-law cottage possibility. And in a mixed-income palette, that’s a tax abatement for including housing in multifamily that wouldn’t otherwise be affordable to people that are working, great jobs just can’t quite make the rents that are that are typical. Now. It takes time to do though. So I think we got done what we could in the time that we had. And there are more tools that I’m working with people to sort of develop. And I’ve got, I mean, I’m in the in the works for the next one. So I just want to keep marching on that. So I’m excited about what we did. And, and I’m not done.
So going into your next term, though, what would be the first thing you’d like to accomplish, vis-a-vis housing?
There is a group that’s meeting in September to talk about what obstacles has Metro inadvertently put up that make it more expensive to build housing, and they’re all you know, great things, we need sidewalks in front of everything, that’s a great thing. It adds $10,000 to the cost of the house, we want good materials on the housing, that’s a great thing. It adds X amount to it you know, so just to sort of go through the whole list and say, cumulatively, what have we done here? And are there things that we can that we can simplify, so to get the builders and the planning folks, and the contractors and the planners all together in the same room and say is, is there a way we can simplify some of this and knock some of this cost off? Again, that’s not going to solve the problem. There’s no silver bullet. But that’s kind of what’s next in line. And, and then just to keep marching through the recommendations that the mayor’s affordable task force made, I was honored to serve on that with some really smart people. And they had 10 really specific things that they recommended. And we’ve implemented some of them. And I think continuing to march our way through that list is also important.
Does more regulation automatically mean more expensive?
It can. It often does. I mean, I think often the intentions, as I say, are good. And there’s there’s usually a reason behind it. But it can frequently add just to the complexity or the materials cost or whatever. So I think that in some cases, the market just doesn’t have the wherewithal to simply work within market forces and create something that people can afford to live in. By when and by affordable, we mean paying only a third of your of your income. That’s that’s an official definition of that. And as we know, the median income in Nashville doesn’t give you enough to pay for what most of the rents are in many places where people want to live and work. So I think there are instances where I don’t know that I would call it regulation, but where guidance or intervention from the government tax abatements is a great tool that we can use can help get things over that threshold so that we just got more possibilities for people.
And you see those applying across the board all over the city.
We need them everywhere. And if you look at the tools that are out there now, Metropolitan Development, Housing Authority, MDHA, has great access to federal money, and they can create deeply affordable housing and they tend to be in kind of the central part of the city. There’s another federal tool called Low Income Housing Tax Credits, that the state is really the most adept at connecting builders with that tool. And those tend to be in different places. And when you sort of overlay the different tools that are out there, now we’ve got this mixed-income palette that I think is going to put things in the heart of downtown. We begin to cover much of the county, but not all of the county there. There are still a few gaps that need to be addressed. I think and again, we just need more tools.
Quite a few people were interested in being at-large council members. Yes. What’s the job description?
Um, I think there are three there are three parts to it. One is, you know, we’re charged with looking at the big picture when something comes up that may be maybe particularly burdensome on one district is the district councilmember’s job to fiercely advocate for the concerns of his district and that’s important. I think the at-large council member has to then balance that with how do we address those concerns? But in general, is this good for the city at-large? So having the big picture, as well, I think is an important part of that. Sometimes we’re asked to step in, when district council members are incapacitated, or sometimes there’s a resignation because they get a new a new post before the end of their term. And in that case, the district council member can then step in and take over for a particular issue or for a space of time even. We’ve had times where a large council member was sort of the de facto District Council Member for, you know, months months at a time until the special election was held to do that. And then sometimes on a shorter basis, just there’s the I have a conflict of interest on this one particular project, I need someone else to carry it. The at-large council members are there for that. And then we also, because we’re not doing as many zoning as some council members, that gives us a little more time to focus on county-wide issues, and perhaps work, you know, especially hard on legislation, which is what EF f tried to do in the affordable housing arena,
This next council will have a new mayor, it’s an entirely new ballgame, new priorities for you?
I think I think they’ll they’ll they’ll still be similar because we haven’t solved the issues yet. I mean, housing continues to be one, excellent education is another really important one. As you know, we fund the school board, the school education, but the school board is is in charge of what the specific line items are, that the council I think also has a whole lot of influence on what happens before school in the education line. We, I think can be very involved in early childhood education. And again, another case of regulation where we have inadvertently thrown up a whole lot of obstacles to great childcare, you know, they’re now you have to have a ramp, you have to have a water fountain, I mean, they’re all these crazy things. And if you’re only just in your home trying to keep for kids, that, you know, there, there are different thresholds that have to be passed. But the maze of local Metro regulations as well as state regulations, makes it very, very difficult to create new early childhood education. And that is so crucial to what the basis that kids get before they get to school. So that’s an area that I would like to, to push on at the beginning of the education cycle. And then on the other end, just making sure that we’ve got good alignment with our, with our community colleges, that our apprenticeship programs are aligned with, what the jobs are that are coming here. And I think I think Metro Council can have an influence on both of those ends, as well as working really hard to ensure that our school board has the money they need to keep our teachers and our support staff well funded so that we can retain, recruit returning really excellent teachers, because that’s the most important part of it right there. I think
I’m going to use your early childhood as an example. Let’s say you wanted to pass something related to that, how would you go about lobbying district council members on an issue like that.
I mean, anything like that, is is absolutely critical to bring everybody together. And you know, and to get to all the stakeholders. And you know, no matter how hard you think you’ll forget somebody, so plan on adding them once whatever gets gets introduced. So I think we do a lot of work with special sessions and having just additional committee meetings, where there’s an opportunity to educate people, and especially at the beginning of a new term, often the vice mayor will select different special committees to look at things. So we did that in the last term. And that was, early childhood education was one of the things that we looked at. And we created some tools. But we did we didn’t, we’re not done. So we need to keep working on that. So I think to work through that same process of how do we get everyone on board with knowing what the issue is, and then starting to look at solutions, best practices from other cities. And then anytime you introduce the legislation, there’s something magic about having it on paper, that all sudden a whole new group of people tune in and bring more valuable input. So you have to just plan on introduce it, playing on some deferrals and continue to get information and to fine tune into you got something that that can be meaningful.
Are you encouraged or discouraged by the amount of public participation?
Oh, both? I think it is great that the public is engaged. I mean, we want them to vote. And we want them to care about what we’re doing and to be in to be engaged. And I think that part is great. I’m sometimes discouraged by the rancor and the vitriol that I see it to me if people will come together and say “we care deeply about this. And here’s why.” And someone may have a different viewpoint to listen to those two viewpoints as opposed to “I’m right, and if you don’t agree with me, you must be wrong.” And you have to do what I say. That’s difficult to get to a consensus on and sometimes we just we just have to get to the to the middle I’m so I’m glad people are engaged. And I hope that we’ll learn to listen to each other better and better.
You’ve spent time as a district council member, and it’s an at-large. Uh, how did the two compare? And what were some of the challenges presented when you really had to look at that big picture?
Yeah, I mean, I will say the great thing about being a district councilmember is the, the small victories, I mean, just getting a stop sign or a stoplight or a crosswalk. And, you know, from then on, you can drive past it and go, we did that together. And life is better, because we work together to make that happen. As an at-large councilmember, I think that things are just, they’re just bigger. And so I’m hopeful that I will see the fruits of the mixed-income palette that we’ve created in the mother-in-law cottage overlay, but it just takes longer, and they’re more spread out. So I think the work is just a little mean, sometimes the district stuff you do takes time to lay the groundwork and stuff. But it begins to kind of accumulate and happen. And you can rejoice. And I think for the, at the this at the at-large level, it’s just it’s just a bigger process. You know, as we’re growing, the biggest thing that frustrates people I think about the growth is the congestion that comes along with it. So I think in order to make people excited that Nashville is a vibrant, growing city, we’ve got to show that we know how to deal with that. Our Better Bus program is good, our buses are doing things better than they used to. But ultimately, I think the next mayor is going to have to deal with transit and actually provide some regional solutions that bring the people from other counties in a way that doesn’t add to the congestion. And we can do it. I’m convinced we can do it. And the other thing I would say is voter turnout was only 20 percent. Even if it does rain, people really need to get out and vote. It’s you know, if you’re going to be engaged you need to help pick the leaders. So I hope that I hope that we can have a higher turnout in this runoff election. Everybody’s vote matters. I lost but I mean, I won my first election by 30 votes.
Yes. And my predecessor who was a fantastic council member, one by 10. So you know, a small group of people can change the outcome of an election that can that can make a big difference in who your leadership is. So vote, vote, vote.