Heidi Campbell

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — State Sen. Heidi Campbell wants to be Metro’s mayor to build a place to live, not just visit, she said emphasizing affordable housing, better transit and public safety as priorities.

Public safety is the “number one thing that a mayor does,” Campbell said. “We have to keep our citizens safe first and foremost. We have real challenges there,” she said, briefly noting Covenant School shootings.

To overcome every day crime and gun violence, Campbell advocates more foot patrol funded by savings from “smart city technology” that may include license plate readers, microphones to report where and when shots are fired, and crime reporting by text, email and websites. Warning residents about immediate danger — it’s done at schools — is a worthwhile city service.

Campbell knows “how important it is to communicate with our citizens and get their support and buy-in before we enter into big projects ,” she said, having learned that as Oak Hill’s mayor.

Campbell would “re-tool” the police department with “alternative response professionals” from mental health cooperatives offering emergency psychiatric services, she said, advocating expansion of services like Responders Engaged And Committed to Help. Such non-police responses started in mid-February for emergencies that aren’t criminal. Mental health counselors are responding to calls when ambulances aren’t needed.

“We need to support our police by not expecting them to do things that they’re not trained to do — things like mental health intervention and social environmental work,” she said. “That means relying upon, not just the finances of Metro, but also the non-profits that are already doing this work. There are plenty of them to help us create programs so that we can let the police do their job.”

Like police, building and code inspectors should be paid better, she says. That’s to keep staff and eliminate “bottlenecks” in the permitting process. Businesses should be encouraged to develop affordable housing. The subject needs an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” she said.

Asked what service needs more improvement to make life better for Blacks, Campbell said,“We need to make sure that people who can’t afford to drive can get good solid transit… A lot of our poorer neighborhoods become social and food deserts because people can’t get to places.”

Campbell’s “very specific transit suggestion” — move Radnor Rail Yard to Wilson County. “It would be a huge game-changer in terms of freeing up municipal train lines so people could get around.” State transportation officials studied it several years ago.

And, she wants more traffic signal synchronization.

Meanwhile, Campbell recommends: renting “14 more garbage trucks” because truck repair is behind schedule; and paying drivers more to maintain staffing.

African-American neighborhoods have long suffered from nearby landfilling.

Campbell advocates “up-cycling” plastic waste in East Tennessee, or “out by the old prison, almost to Ashland City…” She’s spoken with leaders at the Eastman Chemical Company of Kingsport. It’s building a facility now.

Campbell is writing an extended producer responsibility law to assign financial and operational responsibility to businesses for “end-of-life of products” so they’ll use less plastic.

She supports Nashville’s plan to sort industrial waste for recycling It starts in a few months.

“And there’s a plan in the works to barge some of our waste to Obion County” where officials voted to accept Metro’s waste, she said.

Asked if she can “make peace” with the Republican-controlled legislature, Campbell said “I have really good relationships with and really love my colleagues in the Senate. I think it’s important that we stop fighting with one another because everybody in Tennessee wants us to stop fighting.”

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...